The Beauty in Me
Based on text by text by WM. Peeples, music by Ivan Rodriguez
Please look at me, see past my scars
To the beauty in me.
Don’t focus on the wrongs I’ve done
That’ll increase your scorn,
Instead feel the warmth of my heart
And the light that adorns. When I
Walked in darkness my pain was all I had,
Fear, abuse and neglect drove me mad.
How can you love others when you’ve been taught
To hate yourself?
All your hopes and dreams for a brighter future
Relegated to life’s bottom shelf.
I had to be sentenced to die to find purpose to live,
On death row I discovered what I was put on Earth to give.
The gift of unconditional love that I never received, and an abundance
Of wisdom for which I’ve bled and grieved.
If you can suspend judgment and with compassion see, only then can you behold
The beauty in me.
I dedicate this poem to my beloved sister Kim who, despite my worst deeds always saw beauty in me.
Why They Wanna Cage Us
Text by James Soto, music by Del’Shawn Taylor
They tell us to live on minimum wages
Put us on public aid so our mama can raise us,
That’s supposed to save us.
We learn to survive, life don’t phase us.
But when we hustle in ‘dem streets
They wanna cage us.
When we see the police kill one of us
It enrages us.
But if they don’t kill us,
They wanna cage us.
The world’s lockdown for a virus
Just another way to cage us.
If they really want to save us,
Don’t enslave us.
Abolish 13th Amendment – don’t try to cage us.
Free us from incarceration,
Give us true liberation,
Like free higher education.
Black and brown bodies locked up in cages
When will the system change for us?
Somebody please tell me why they wanna cage us?
A Brick in my Cell
Text by Shareaf Fleming, music by Jake Berran
A brick in my cell just grew a mouth
You wouldn’t believe what tumbled out
Stories of this wretched cell,
How warriors barely made it out
Now I am locked in a box
Trying with everything I have to box with a lock
As I struggle with my homework
I kick myself in the ass “you should be at home jerk”
Now I walk the prison halls with two masks
One to hide my emotions, the other to save my ass
Writing = survival
Text by Joseph Dole, music by Patricio Molina
Writing = survival.
I write to release anger.
I write to release pain.
I write to release stress.
I write to obtain and gain.
I write to gain my freedom.
I write to obtain sustenance.
I write to grasp my own knowledge.
I write to expose Injustice.
I write to fight,
to protect mine,
and others’ rights.
Writing is my sword and my shield.
I write offensively and defensively,
and I offend and defend accordingly.
Beware to those who try to take the pen from my grip,
because without the pen all that’s left is my fist
Text by Hal Cobb, music by Drew Amendola
my hands will smell for days of onions, garlic
and jalapeños despite repeated washings after slicing, dicing
and mincing with my trusty lid-o-matic and plastic picnic knife
essential utensils of a prison prep
8 chef in a concrete and steel cell-cum-kitchen
I love the feel of a ripe, juicy tomato
the fresh earthiness of chopped green pepper
the abundant aromas attack my olfactory senses
tempting and teasing my palate with anticipatory explosion of first taste
and in that moment I am awakened, enlivened, emboldened
transported from bland greyness of confinement to
full sensory recall of my essential humanity
All of Us, In Prison
Text by Jevon Jackson, music by Adore Alexander
Some prisons are pistol-thick,
with a long electric fence that wraps
and some prisons are softer
than the molecules in muslin,
as it drapes across the bundled bed,
clinging to your body;
Some prisons taste like
salt, copper, sludge
when you bite and crunch down
to the marrow,
and some prisons are
and challah bread,
enough to comfort you
Some prisons sit on ominous hills,
hundreds of miles from where
your mother, brother, daughter lives,
and some prisons are closer than
the whip speed of electrochemicals
that dodge collisions in the brain;
Some prisons have
unassuming names, like this:
Havenworth, Hiker’s Island, Eagle’s Bay,
The New Lisbon Correctional Institute,
and some prisons
are simply called by their
Heroin, Oxycontin, Vodka, Blackjack,
Molested For Years By Him;
some prisons, by the night,
will never let you go,
and some prisons, in the light,
will never let you go.
Text by Terry Hedin, music by SiHyun Uhm
* El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma is a transfer center for federal inmates, who are then transported from there to other federal prisons throughout the country.
Today, I gazed upon the Oklahoma plain,
felt the wind blowing upon my chest.
The same breeze that, in its journey,
ruffled the white fur of the Arctic fox,
traveling freely across the land
as I once did.
Today, when I felt the wind,
I could not travel with it.
Past the guard tower it blew,
over and around
the cyclone fence and razor wire.
The obstacles that contain me,
meant nothing to it.
It caressed me in passing,
and went on its way.
Text by Devon Terrell, music by Andrew Conklin
Whisper me a secret lyric
grind the melody with my bones
let the wind from the trumpet
scatter the ash for miles
winner’s prize in loser’s grip
empty me with tease o’ sleaze
bankrupt emotions in debt
there’s no play left
I dropped a tear in the coin slot
gambled it away on games
did you make then break the rule
we both played but you cashed out
Text by Dana P.R. Schultze, music by Johanny Navarro
A single feather fell from my ceiling
I certainly was not expecting that
Nor was I expecting such a feeling
From inside this jail cell where I’ve sat
Minute after day after month, sitting
Waiting for a sign, waiting for a hope
A feather falls and I guess it’s fitting
That something so simple would help me cope
Coping’s not living, it’s just getting by
But it’s also getting up out of bed
And giving this life the best you can try
I can’t get that image out of my head:
How did a feather get into this place,
And the smile it put upon my face
Text by Sarah Allen, music by Sarah Taylor Ellis
I hear a song,
such a sad, sad
song, yet beneath
the words there’s
hope. I see tears
of pain, of longing
and regret. I hear
dreams strum on
a guitar. I crave
to look at my life
and retrace the past
which floats before
me like ghost music,
I want to close my
mind to the what
ifs, should haves,
and whys. I want
to glance away and
drop my head in
shame. I don’t want
to hear your honey
reminding me of
what I don’t have.
I want to shake
you off, close my
eyes and forget.
But your music
is insistent, creeping
into the deep
crevices of my mind.
Prying open my eyes
and forcing me to
look. So I do, straight
into the abyss of nevers.
You tease me with
your chant, seduce
me with your blues
make me miss what
I never had.