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decorative element

Published on July 15, 2020

Drawing and writings by inmates from Garner Correctional Institution, CT

Drawing and writings by unnamed inmates, contributed by Chris Belden, instructor of creative writing at Garner Correctional Institutions, CT

 

Prison Cell

M. Greene

Click, click, click, click…

What is that loud noise? Ahhh, I stretch to relieve the tension in my entire body from sleeping on this little bunk. I slowly open my eyes to envision a wonderful sight on the wall: a picture of my family—the main reason I wake up and try to make the best out of each day. Finally, the clicking has stopped. The only alarm clock I can’t seem to get used to. The doors are all opened. I gaze slowly across the room and it hits me: I’m in a cell. And reality sets in. I wipe the sleep out of my eyes to take in the full view of my surroundings. Not a wonderful sight, but as we all learn, it could be worse. I sit in the bed for a little while feeling the cool breeze that hits me ever so lightly from the fan. I’m comfortable, but still a bit chilled. I hear small whispers at a distance. I give that final stretch and muster up enough energy to get up out of bed. Touching the floor one foot at a time, I feel the cold surface tickle my feet. I’m up. I gaze outside and focus on the tees, and try to bypass the barbed wire fence in my vision. The sun is shining, what a beautiful day. I stare out the window and drift off to when times were better. Slowly snapping out of my daydream, I start my day with some music. I turn it on low enough to still hear what’s around me. There’s a stale scent in the air and I inhale it just to be thankful I got the chance to see another day. The background noise (music) eases me just enough to deal with whatever I have to face today. I make it to the sink, reach for my washcloth and proceed to wash my face. The water is slightly cold and instantly I feel more awake than ever. I brush my teeth, and it’s the most pleasant thing I’ve done yet. Fresh, minty fresh, now the air tastes so much better. I look out my cell window and see inmates lined up to go to school, work, or whatever. I slowly get ready to go to rec. And there it is again: click, click, click… My door opens. I think for a minute. I’m getting up earlier tomorrow, because no one’s ever going to fix this &%@# alarm clock.

 

Good Morning, Self

M. Rivera

 

Good morning, self.

Funny how I have to start the day off by talking to myself, but hey, if not me, then who? Not these four walls. Anyway, damn, that was a good rest. Just my luck I had to wake up, but then again would I have realized how good it was if I didn’t wake up?

Funny, that’s how life works. You really don’t appreciate things while in the moment. Truth is, that’s been the case since Adam and Eve. Had that damn snake not convinced Eve to stuff her face and get kicked out of paradise, Adam and Eve wouldn’t have realized how good they had it. So in a way the snake helped them out, or was it God who allowed all of it to happen the way it did? But what about free will? Doesn’t that take away from something being pre-destined?

Anyway, self, it’s too damn early to be thinking like this. Wow, it’s bright in here. I guess it doesn’t matter how small that window is, as long as the sun shines, it still manages to light up this dark place. Man, if that’s not an old saying.

Okay, seriously, self, get up. It’s almost time to eat. Besides, it’s only two steps to the sink. In fact, everything is two steps away. Reminds me of the projects. Seems like everything is two steps away: corner store, liquor store, school, park, church, and clubs. Makes you wonder why everyone tries to leave, even knowing they got everything two steps away. Maybe that’s the true project: how many of us can go and live outside a place that has everything one needs to survive, entertain, and learn.

Some people see this place with four walls, one sink, one toilet, one desk, one chair, and one very small window as a coffin, but only because, like a coffin, what you see is what you get. I could paint the walls zebra colors but there will still be only four walls. Others, like myself, see this place as a sanctuary. You see, here in this “cell,” I can reflect on my life without distraction, and now I enjoy the good times I had even more.

I see people trying everything they can to get out of their cell, from signing up to do fabulous programs, which they know they can’t benefit from, to playing best friends with the ones who lock them inside every night. I ask myself how can one be friends with a person who considers us drug dealers and drunks that are all the same kind, so they act sore with all the convicts and treat all as a body. But hey, I guess that’s what works for them. As for me, I’ll continue to stay in my cell and be happy—happy because I now realize that compared to this I lived one hell of a life.

Well, self, time to eat this garbage they call breakfast. Hmmm. Remember how good mama’s blueberry pancakes were?!

 

Self-Portrait

N. Gaines

Strip me of my cover, my skin
See I for what I am
Look to discover and you will find
One mind, one body, one soul
Colorless as the transparent sky
Defined by the speech of my words
And intent of my actions
I’m an individual
Bounded not by group or race
Others declare…
To proclaim me black
Denies the brown for which you see
The brown of my skin, my hair, my eyes
Inherited from the various shades of continents
The water, the air, their beginnings, their ends.

Strip me of my cover, my skin
Look to discover and you will find
A noun amongst a menagerie of nouns
A person of a zoo of people
Mirrored by the hands of humanity
Singled out by his emphatically unique prints.

Strip me of my cover, my skin
See I for what I am
Look to discover and you will find
A self-portrait of you!

 

Self-portrait, 2010

M. Jackson

Long black-colored corn-braided hair
Hanging out the back of a black doo-rag cap.

Caramel-colored skin, high-structured cheekbone
Camouflage-fatigue skin, thick like Nestle Quick
Wrinkle-free and compressed tightly
With a couple of slash marks here and there
From the years of battle tears.

Light brown cloudy filtered eyes
Hazy from the years of passersby
Those days of passersby
By-by until another time.

Button-less shirt with butterfly collar
A pair of brown zipper-less slip-on pants
Black on black feet protectors, size 9.

Two back pockets filled with lint and emptiness
And with the hope of one day obtaining
And gaining the papers of a parolee-inductee.

 

Waking Up in Hell/Cell

M. Jackson

I am awakened by the sound of keys. From the lower level of the two slabs of metal which protrude out of a brick wall, I gaze toward the perpendicular slit located at the rear of my enclosure to see if the sun has risen yet. It hasn’t. I close my eyes again, praying that sleep overtakes me before the grim reality of my incapacitation keeps me awake all morning. A few seconds later I hear the sound of clicking—twenty one times, to be exact. This sound I heard all throughout my densely populated circumference. I hear doors opening and closing; I hear movement, footsteps two at a time, then another two, then another, a cadence not quite in sync but heading in the same direction. I calm down, realizing it’s only breakfast time. It must be 6:30 in the morning. This reminds me of yesterday, and the day before, for that matter. After securing my designated institutional parcel of confinement, I return to my assigned protruding slab of metal and contemplate how to articulate what I am currently feeling. I curse the name of my writing instructor, Mr. B., for asking me to describe the feeling of waking up in captivity day in and day out. I wonder how he would describe the feeling of being subjugated. How would he describe the feeling of being treated with less than contempt? How would he describe the feeling of being captured, conquered, and made subservient? This feeling I am being asked to describe has taken me all of a decade to suppress. But before I become too discouraged and elect not to complete the assignment, I convince myself that this assignment is to assist me to grow as a creative writer. So I abandon my uncertainty for the greater good of creative writing. Once my doubt subsides, instantly, through my peripheral vision, I am confronted with my daily confinement in this prison/mental hospital, which physically isolates me behind razor wire fences, barred windows, and locked metal doors—all designed to keep me and people like me (CONVICTS) confined within its perimeters. In this setting not only am I sequestered from the rest of society, but an administrative staff also manipulates me. First comes the supervision of all my daily routines: where I eat, sleep, s**t and work. Then there is the highly standardized environment, with institutional food, uniforms, and one set of activities for everyone. The rules and schedules dictate when, where, and how Inmates/Prisoners/Convicts/Patients/or Clients—whichever category you prefer—perform their daily tasks. By carefully controlling the environment in this way the institution becomes the prisoner’s entire world. Cut off in this way, and by controlling my access to the telephone, mail and visitors, the administration believes it will be easier for the staff to produce an everlasting change in my antiestablishmentarian attitude, or at least my immediate compliance. The more I think about it, the more I realize that managing incarceration is all psychological, the science dealing with the mind-state. To erode the existing identity I had before I arrived into the motherly care of this institution. The staff uses degradation and humiliation to break my will. For example, before my incarceration, I used to maintain a distinctive appearance, one that was more compatible with my personality. Now I am provided with a standardized issue of clothing, one which makes similarly situated people look similar. There is also the self-mortification that the staff subjects the prisoners to. These include strip searches, medical examinations, fingerprinting, and the assignment of a serial number. Once you are confined behind these walls your right to privacy is rescinded. Guards routinely monitor your living quarters. Last but not least, there is how the staff tries to build a new self in the resident through a system of rewards and punishments. Having a book to read, watching TV or making a phone call may seem trivial to someone on the outside, but in this rigidly controlled environment, thee very simple privileges can be powerful motivators to conform. Over a long period of time, this rigidly controlled environment can leave some men/women who may not be mentally prepared institutionalized—left without the capacity for independent living. After this last thought I am awakened out of my comatose state by the mouth of my enclave being clicked by the correctional officer, signifying my presence is needed. Once I reach the threshold of my enclosure I am asked by the CO if I will be attending the library this morning. I reply, “Absolutely.” Attending the library is the only bright spot in my otherwise repetitious day.