I penned that poem a year earlier when I was extremely frustrated with the 45-day cell restriction that I was serving. The disciplinary action limited me to one hour of recreation in a yard about the size of a baseball field with one pull-up and dip bar. I also lost one month of good time, all telephone and commissary privileges for 90 days, and I was restricted to one five minute shower every other day, not including weekends. And the officers working my cellblock were rarely eager to open my cell to allow me to get that one-hour of recreation and that bi-daily shower. My cell was on the top tier of a three tier cellblock, so walking all the way up there to open my cell was too arduous for them and I paid for their laziness by missing showers and recreation. Maybe they felt that I deserved the harsh treatment. After all, I had violated a serious rule, a rule so serious that it had not been written yet.
The violation--taking a picture wearing my father's jacket.
I was granted the privilege of participating in the Family Reunion Program, a.k.a., "trailer visit," with my parents. The FRP is a two-day/three night "vacation" in which family can spend that time with their incarcerated family member in a cabin-like setting right outside of the prison grounds, but still inside of the intimidating skyscraper-like cinder block prison walls.
During the trailer visit the inmate is allowed to take 10 Polaroid pictures with their family with a camera provided by the facility. The rules:
- Do not take nude pictures.
- Do not take pictures facing the prison wall.
- Do not allow family to take pictures wearing inmate issued clothing.
Apparently, they forgot to mention that we weren't allowed to take pcitures wearing our family's clothing, and I was the sacrificial lamb that would help with their forgetfulness. Adda boy!
Understandably, I was disgusted with the whole situation and that poem was a product of weeks of maltreatment by a clique of rogue officers at the Green Haven maximum-security prison.
I figured that the students would get a mentally tangible feel from the poem. How I felt about the gravity of my bad decisions of the past and how they affected me throughout my incarceration.
Boy, did it work!
About two weeks later, sitting on my cot in my cell and Lite sitting on the top bunk listening to his walkman, an officer dropped a 9x12 manila envelope on our cell window. Lite jumped down to collect the mail because he thought that the parcel was for him, and so did I. You see, I received mail once in a while; however, Lite got mail just about everyday.
Reading the envelope and with surprise on his face (probably because it wasn't for him), Lite said wryly, "Yo, Marl, this is for you."
After he handed it to me, I said, "Oh, yeah, I wonder who sent all of that?" The envelope had some weight to it and it was bulky.
The return address read N. Lopez, Susan S. McKinney JHS. Like a seven-year old at 12:01 a.m. Christmas morning I tore the envelope open slightly ripping the flap opening. There was a stack of loose-leaf in this Christmas present and the letter on top was from Nadia:
I pray that when this letter reaches you are in good health and spirits. The letter [you sent] was a GREAT success (see attached). For wahtever reason God has chosen to be the season of prosperity on both our ends. Through you I have been able to find my purpose. I felt such a rush when I shared your letter and to see my students' reaction. This brings me to a fabulous idea! Creating an outreach program that allows you the platform to speak to the youth and provide them with the wisdom you have been given. I know I sometimes go hard, but look, I'm focused. I see this vision and the man above is making it all possible-- feel me. (Holla at me and let me know what you think).
Holla at your girl
I remember reading a self-help book that gave recommendations as to how someone could fully experience eating. It explained that while eating you should keep your mind present and experience the sensation of eating food, and to not allow your mind to drift to other things; make sure that you are entirely focused on the experience of eating food. The author went on to add that you should try to enjoy all the sensations of chewing food in your mouth and swallowing, this way the food is absorbed into your body perfectly.
What followed Nadia's letter was individualized letters from my "Young Scholars." Over the next year and transfers from prison to prison, their words became that meal I focused on and I implore you to focus the same way. I want the words of the Young Scholars to assimilate into your heart perfectly and hopefully inspire you to pay more attention to the Young Scholar in your presence. because the reailty is that I am a caged person, a convict. yes, I am an example of the good tha tlies behind these walls. I am a firm believer that it still takes a village to raise a child irrespective of the location of those villagers; however, I am the anomaly.
So please pay more than the usual attention.
NOTE: To preserve the "feel" of the original letters that were handwritten, I decided not to edit many of the grammatical and spelling errors. Though not to the point of being incomprehensible, the unrehearsed language of each letter allowed me the privilege of getting to know the Young Scholars on a level in which they felt comfortable relating their thoughts. By no means is this exploitative, but content is the focus. The mere fact that they were motivated to write their thoughts was a cathartic and academic success, as one of their teachers would later inform me. The names of the Young Scholars have been altered so that their right to privacy could be respected.