Sharing our Poetry with Voices Unbarred and The Justice Arts Coalition

We created a little magic with Voices Unbarred and The Justice Arts Coalition! First, allow us to introduce our friends: Voices Unbarred is a nonprofit theater company whose actors were all once incarcerated. Lori Pitts created this amazing nonprofit, and will perform double duty in January as their founder and as the Artistic Director of the Ally Theatre Company. In October and November of 2021, Voices Unbarred actors read and performed at events hosted by The Justice Arts Coalition, run by the amazing Wendy Jason, throughout greater Washington.

We were thrilled when we contacted Lori and she asked us to send some of our favorite poems for the Voices Unbarred actors to read. It was hard to choose among all of the great poetry on our site, and eventually we sent “I Cry“, “Tough Love,” and “Untitled” – all prize winners written by authors from the Alexandria Adult Detention Center and the Arlington County Detention Facility.

Lori was gracious enough to share these photos with us, and we want to share them with you.

On the left, actors perform during the “We Belong Here: Reclaiming Space through Art” event on October 24 at Rhizome DC.

On the right, Lori and four Voices Unbarred actors strike a pose during The Justice Arts Coalition’s “Incarceration and Creation: Art as a Human Need” on November 6 at the Sandy Spring Museum.

This is not the last time you will hear from us working together to help the formerly and currently incarcerated be heard…stay tuned!

Clean, Laugh, and Pray

Clean, Laugh, and Pray

by Aaron Bunche

Heard/Arlington County Detention Center/OAR writing contest, August 2020

I am convinced, with a zeal of a crusader, that I’m in the safest place, a twelve by four cell. I’m a recovering addict addicted to Fox News, and I fear knowone but God. For I have with me the whole armor for germs. I have on my gloves of laytex, my mask which is the preparation for the virus, and a bar of soap and water which is sharper than any two-edge sword; may you find yours today.

I have my own swag, I wear nothing but clean. If you want what I got on then you gotta pick it up at the showers. I’m a year sober from narcotics but I picked up a mean habit of washing my hands. I told the nurse my issue, she showed me tough love, she said “you’ll live.”

My hobbies are mopping my cell and scrubbing down my toilet and sink, but on the seventh day I rest. I can say then that my quarters were pleasing in my sight.

For sport I watch Trump reflect and dodge questions during briefings; if you say he won’t make the championship then you decieve yourself and reality may have passed you by.

On my shelf I keep many books. I have literature on the respiratory system to pass the time. I read articiles about how the Caronavirus swept Rome. I practice distance-learning, I stand exactly six feet away from the television as I watch the forcast’s temperatures decline like our stock market.

I look out not only for my own interests, but also for the interests of my mother. She would always tell me “submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee. I’ll tell her “commit to using hand sanitizer, resist touching your face and you will live.” For this is the victory that will overcome the virus—stay home.

Also, bless those who are not cautious like you, and pray for those who spitefully go out and about. What profit is it to man if he goes out to gain income, and looses his health and dies.

I have no vociferous rebellion to the state law anymore. When I leave this safe place, I press on towards the next safe haven, my home. Once I make it there I can truly say, I have fought the good fight, I am home and safe, I have kept the faith.

Mine Still

Marc Williams

Poetry, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021


You mine still

Sometimes I lay back and cry still

Love kills time heals and I haven’t had time to

unwind still

I mean for real you still be on my mind still

But I digress

And they say you live and you learn

and since you left I haven’t lived

The world gonna turn and for your love I will give

but yet still take

and our past dictates every decision that I make

The effect is quite prolific

And our union was explicit

And since you left I been feelin distant

Moment came but I missed it

But girl you got it

I just want peace, I don’t want problems

It’s like you gave up cuz things got tough

Either that or the love I gave you wasn’t enough

Felt the pain of your blows got the scars and it shows

And my heart’s on my sleeve and I wear it like clothes

And the pain still grows

Easy come, easy go I guess that’s how it goes

And it’s like I’m stuck in that moment and I’m froze

Icebox where my heart goes

Relationships won’t start those

Because my insecure intuition parts those

But it’s like you never missed it

Found you another but my heart’s in a prison

Waiting for you to release it

Or maybe I’m just trippin

See, the lessons that you gave me was cold to the touch

And I ain’t a quitter so I’ll never give up

You got peculiar expectations and I’ll never live up

And honestly that makes it worse

So I’m on the road to riches sexin every woman on its course

Hoping that I’m forgiven for misleading women

Offering it all and I didn’t have intentions

And I’m not blaming you it’s just one of my imperfections

And yes I have many and you thought that they were precious

And I just want to be the one that gains from my progressions

Celebrate my successes

And yes, I get the message

And naw I ain’t messy

So don’t worry about me coming for your boo and try to stretch him

Cuz you know I be the one to see slim and get to lunchin

And I know it’s not becoming

But for you the limit’s nothing.


by Betsy Stewart 

Poetry, Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility/OAR writing contest, August 2021

I spent each day just searching for my purpose here in life

and still i could not find a reason to survive.

I struggled through my childhood without a loyal friend,

And every broken heart just [n]ever seemed to mend.

My parents didn’t have time to tell me they cared,

They never came to comfort me those nights when i was scared.

They told me to toughen up an’ don’t cry,

All i want to do is break down an’ just ask them why.

Soon my life fell apart,

All i wanted was there heart.

they couldn’t understand.

I turned to anything that could numb and bury all of my pain.

When my glass felt empty,

I’d fill it up again.

Over the years I drifted through many different towns.

Longing to find something to turn my life around.

I spent many nights alone, cold, hungry, and ashamed.

Desperate to find a warm place to stay.

As I lay on the concrete steps of a church to get some rest,

I felt the presence of someone gently kicking at my feet.

As i open my eyes a stranger stood and smiled.

I brought you something to drink

You’ve been sleeping for quite awhile.

He reached a sturdy hand to me an’ helped me to my feet.

I thanked him for his kindness an’ my heart began to weep.

This stranger gave me so much more than a drink to quench my thirst.

He taught me compassion and the value of self-worth.

From that day on, I grew to love those concrete steps much more.

For one day as I reached the top, I opened the door.

I held on to my tattered coat in hand and searched to find a pew.

I heard the voice of someone saying there is a seat right here for you.

For on that day my life began

an’ soon would understand

that even though i’ve made mistakes I was still worthy,

An’ this will always be my story.

This church Became my loyal friend,

the home I never knew!

I will always now have HOPE!