One of our favorite parts about our annual writing contests that we hold with the Alexandria Adult Detention Center and the Arlington County Detention Facility is the enthusiasm of our returning judges to be part of this event. Each of them has a strong background in writing, editing, and publishing, and each year they tell me and our authors (during the awards ceremonies) how much they appreciate this honor. Our judge Mary Wadland, Publisher and Editor in Chief of The Zebra Press, gives an insightful and interesting glimpse into what she learned and how she felt reading these inmate’s stories. “The Claw“, the first place fiction winner from the Alexandria Adult Detention Center, “had me on the edge of my seat…”, she write. Me too. Read Mary’s entire feature here.
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!
Did you know our founder and executive director, Jane Collins, is also an Air Force veteran? She served from 1981 – 2009 as an active duty and reservist, and was also attached to an Air National Guard unit in Springfield, Ohio. Talk about total force! Jane retired at the rank of colonel and continued serving in her post-Air Force life. Listen as Gwen Tolbart of DC Fox 5 interviews her about the importance of sharing stories as part of the Library of Congress’ Veteran’s Stories: The Veterans History Project. This is the largest oral history project in U. S. History.
Are you a veteran? You need to be heard! Share your story here.
We are thrilled to offer etiquette again with the residents of Friends of Guest House! After so much time being isolated and indoors, who couldn’t benefit from a little refresher on the basics? Our etiquette teacher Fannie Allen of The Allen Protocol & Leadership Institute, LLC brought it! Over the next month the residents will learn the finer points of social and business etiquette skills, presentation and dining (yes, dining!)
The Women of Friends of Guest House, October 2018
I gave him a dollar.
He gave me coins.
She rushed in to the house and tore off her scrubs.
Eight minutes later she was ready for dinner – heels, purse, little black dress.
Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, pleads Miss Liberty.
Children to the right. Parent to the left. Your will be reunited after the hearing.
The smell of grandma’s ginger cookies.
The smell of potatoes, dumped from the cardboard box into boiling water.
He was captivated by me and endlessly fascinated.
He turns coldly away, ice leaving small entrails behind him.
The more things change the more they stay the same I’m told.
Change constantly repeating itself, like six-second gifs.
I want change on my terms.
My brain can change.
My body cannot.
My relationships can change, exactly as I dictate.
The world can change, but only if we become kinder, more compassionate, and committed to justice.
Otherwise things must stay the same.
I am still young.
Third place, Nonfiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility writing contest, August 2021
I can still hear Da Bronx and smell the Bronx. It’s his own world. Very different very unique very alive in spirit, in culture. All different types of races, ethnics, different flags hanging from windows, Puerto Rican, Nigerian, Cuban, Dominican, Jamaican, Ethiopian. We all from different countries but we stick together here in America, here in the Bronx. If we can make it in New York City, we can make it anywhere. I’m proud that I was born there. I still hear police sirens, honking horns in morning traffic different languages Chinese Swahili Spanish.
I hear car alarms going off and ambulance too. People screaming inside the Yankees stadium. I hear Mr. Softee ice cream truck. I can’t forget I hear the A, B and D train. Music playing through thru windows speakers blaring Salsa, Rap, Merengue, Reggae, Hip-Hop, Soka, Bachata, Danie Hull. The fire hydrant popped because it’s hot that’s all. White man pull-up in the white vans, asking for papers. Pops working late to put food on the table.
You see me I ain’t have the same luxuries I have 2 grandmothers in different countries. I’m a first generation born American I can’t say I’m going to grandmoms today she 2,000 miles away. In the Bronx I can hear families argue about eviction notice. From High Bridge, Kings Bridge, 3rd Ave. Big Brother telling Little Brother don’t be a loser be a winner.
Moms going to a corrupt church the pastor is the biggest sinner. Moms cooking food, gun shots go-off her son ain’t coming home for dinner. In the corner smells of delicious Jamaican food, curry chicken, coco bread, and beef patties and in the other corner Giovannis Italian Pizza up the block, the Chinese spot. Down the block Dominican restaurant fry plantain with everything delicious. Never mind that half the buildings are rat and roach infested, Black and Brown around here we got Big money invested. We unite U.N.I.T.Y Latinos, African Americans, East Africans, West Africans. We all learn from each other different foods, dances, languages.
This is the Bronx. We are stars. On the rooftops we look up we don’t see stars. We see Police Helicopters and the Goodyear Blimp above the New York Yankees stadium. Shout out my Puerto Ricans, Jamaicans, Hondurans, Haitians, Dominicans, Nigerians, Trinidadians, Asian, and Italians. The good men doing time in Rikers Island. People taking meds in the Asylum. My young youth in the street wilding. No matter where I go I represent where I’m from (The Bronx) I’m from DA B.X.
First place (tie), fiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021
May 17th, 2017 (New York City) — The bathroom faucet is running as I splash cold water on my face, looking up to see my reflection in the mirror. The moon cast its silvery light across my face revealing a wide-eyed, gauntly gaze staring back at me. This couldn’t be me, could it? Night after night for two weeks I’ve had the same dream, leaving me baffled. It never changes. I’m walking through a field of tall grass with a mature maple tree looming in its center. A woman swings from an old tire hanging from a lower limb, her back is to me as the wind flutters her rich auburn hair. She looks over her shoulder spying me.
“Who are you? Do we know one another?,” only spoken words I could muster in this unconscious mirage. Facing me finally all I saw were her eyes, her gaze illuminated her hazel eyes surrounded by a green ring. She seems happy to see me… I feel the same way. This is crazy, right? Caught in the rapture of her eyes, she opens her arms to greet me. Holding her in my arms I … POOF!! I’m jolted awake in a cold sweat. The simple words of who, what, when, where & why flood my mind. Is she my future love? She means a great deal to me… right? Now to figure out the face that go with the soul warming auburn locks. Face equals a name. Searching the old memory bank of women who I know, work with, and those passing on by.
Tired & stressed to the max, I sat at my desk the next morning going over notes for todays pitch of a new study. S.P.I.E.S.— 007? You wish — short for Schizophrenic Penitentiary Inmates Education Study, it’s a long title. I know… The research being done is ahead of its time. Think what we will learn about the makeup of schizophrenia genes — the early signs & opening doors to finding cures. Those who are acutely affected to be reversed and a vaccine to prevent it for all others.
Ring, ring, ring. “Bradly Allen, how may I hel —“ I said after picking up my office line. “Okay, thank you. Uh huh. I’m on the way Connie,” I replied before picking up my notes and heading to the elevator. Connie’s our scheduling executive, she does it all. From meetings to family vacations for the top brass here at Cranial Research Institute (CRI). We’re a research study group with mental health patients all over the United States, plus here at Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.
There are occasions of field work on special projects, like, SPIES. The connection of schizophrenia & incarcerated people has been my baby for five years or so. Minorities & poverty stricken families have the hardest time seeing doctors for regular visits, mental health counseling isn’t an option for most. Here we can learn about the inmates mind, possible past episodes or warning signs before being diagnosed, if ever. Straightening my tie & displaying my million dollar smile, I walk through the blonde oak door say,
“Welcome everyone, lets get started.” The clients are none other than Baron of Devonshire and his business partners — investment lawyers. Hopefully we’ll get the contract signed today.
After lunch everything in my office was ringing, beeping or chirping. How can I concentrate on rewriting the contract with added agreed compromises? Oh well, full participation, decorative home furnishings in the interview rooms is what Baron Maxwell Anthony Thomasson IV — aka MAT — wanted. Only the best technology & personnel to run the trials at “The Point” (highly secure prison for mentally disturbed criminals).
MAT said, “Mr. Allen you will have 168 test subjects, ranging from 12-81 years old. Only two are housed separately from the others, and you’ll see why…” Intrigued by what he meant, but also thinking that I’m not the one who’s running the project abroad. Wakening from my thoughts he was still saying “…I expect your presence & leadership on this expedition. Also you’ll be guest at Whispering Willows, my country house.”
With that tidbit of information, a hand found the arm of a chair as I fell back down from his shocking statement. Mr. Carrington, President of C.R.I., could only shrug his shoulders while lifting his palms to the ceiling. Hearing his voice in my head, I already knew what that meant.
“Shut up and go, or we lose the deal. Then I’ll fire you.” Why me? Hands covering my face, thinking “three months abroad won’t be so bad…will it?”
Travel plans were made by Connie once she was contacted by bailiff Johns, MAT’s secretary. A private lear jet & ground transportation was waiting for the ten man team. S.P.I.E.S., filed team consisted of * Research Assistants (RA’s): Robert Collins & Veronica “Roni” Williams * Electronic Mech. Tech’s (EMT’s): Eugene Stiles & Daniel Johnston * Head Researcher: Dr. Lauryn Mallory & Dr. Phidas Bryant * Lab & Radiology Tech: Lucy & Lionel Chen (twins) — cool right. * Clinical Psychologist: Elizabeth (Liz” McCall. Lastly myself as the Psycobiologist & ring master extraordinaire.
Behind me the younger staff members — 30 & below — are getting familiar with floor plans, assigned rooms and staff names that work in the seventeen bedroom country house. Hmm… wonder what his “regular house” looks like. The three doctors are sleeping, we’re due to land in two hours. So, I’ll join them for a last chance at peace & solitude. Touching down at 1700 hrs (5 pm) British time, we cleared customs with appropriate visa’s, passports & Government documentation for the substantial equipment (14 cases — custom military lockers), all worth $1.6 million.
Forty-five minutes later I was pulling the emergency trunk holding rations & solar powered gear, in case of natural or manmade cataclysms. Storing cases & luggage in the four waiting SUV’s, we climbed inside ready to go. While driving we saw an extravagant rose garden off the two lane road we were on. Unaware that this was part of MAT’s country estate. Stopping in front of an open wood & steel dungeon-like door, where we were greeted by forty members of Baron’s staff and family. Curtsies and handshakes propelled us into the foyer behind the dungeon door, where we met the Head Butler, Mr. Whiteford. He removed our outer garments handing them over to a waiting maid, she wore a tight black skirt, green Oxford shirt with the family crest, black flats & lip gloss that sparkled on her full pouty lips. All the men were quite excited by her look.
Three months won’t be so bad after all.
After squaring myself away I was summoned for dinner in the formal dinning hall. Open collar dress shirt & slacks will hopefully pass the “formal” dress code — it’s all I brought. We were housed in the west wing of the mansion, on the second and third floors. Making my way to dinner, I stumbled upon Lucy Chen decending the staircase of the upper floor, she smiled which made me return one to her. Offering my arm to escort her down, we clamored on about this fabulous house and the rooms within it.
“My suite is joined to the Ladies Library, how cute is that. Oh there’s a solarium as well next to Lionel’s suite too,” she said excitedly. Taking our places behind our seats MAT & Krystal (Baroness) entered gracefully while we all bowed and curtsied. Taking their places at the head of the onyx lacquer table, inlaid with gold filigree leaf designs, we were able to start our first course — celery & cream gazpacho. Conversing with an investment lawyer (Emilio), I felt pin pricks in my left thigh, it was Lucy. Shrimpfork in hand giving me the hint of rescuing her from Sir Carters animated chat about dung beetles and their digestive process for the eco system.
Trying not to snicker while raising my arms tapping my wine glass for a toast. What the hell… here goes nothing. “On behalf of CRI we’d like to thank all of you for welcoming us into England & your lives. A special thanks to the Baron & Baroness’ hospitality and graciousness of their home also believing in the S.P.I.E.S. trials. With God’s will I’d like to bless us all with kindness, love & patience… Oh! God bless the Queen!”, glasses raised clinking while “Here, Here” is cheered all around. Multiple people started conversations while I resumed my seat, now Sir Carter’s informing me about the types of bug the Queen allows in her rose garden — God help me. Lucy silently mouthed “thank you” as she rose headed to the powder room down the hall.
Enjoying the mint ice cream with handmade chocolate pirouetts, plates where cleansed leaving a sweet and refreshing feeling. The gentlemen retired to the study, while ladies donned the tea cart heading to the parlor. Seeing the credenza laid out with pipes, cigars, cigarettes and two thumbed tumblers filled with 100 year old burbon, we couldn’t wait to pick our poison.
First up, Lord Willis trying to convince Daniel, Phil & myself that the NFL is a shite organization — to funny. Now a shouting match, US vs. Brits on the NBA players being washed up only to flee to European & Asian Leagues. Wiping tears from my eyes at the mention of Dennis Rodman, I spy the grandfather clock by the fireplace chiming at half past eleven. Lost in thoughts of preparation — interview rooms decor & equipment setup — Phil calls my name.
“Bradley… Bradley, what do you think of the British women we’ve seen so far? Bradley!”
“Oh sorry man, in my head. Umm, the women they… they’re very lovely if they all look like the Baroness & the maids. I wouldn’t complain,” I said as MAT smiled.
All the guys laughed whole heartily as if what I said was all lies — making me blush on the low-low. MAT’s study distorted the laughs and conversations in the hallway near the main staircase. Lionel crept over slidding the pocket doors open only to be greeted by the twin. All she said was “Hi me,” with the biggest smile her face could hold.
“It’s the twin-lepathy, we’ve had it forever. It comes in handy at work,” he said glancing over his shoulder.
“I know it was her.”
“Great to know,” I said as Lucy winked at me. Such a small gesture from a friend & co-worker, that make me see her in a new light. Her smile seemed more alluring along her dark hair, cascading over her right shoulder in a waist length braid. My pulse stirred. At the ancient age of thirty-five, it seems like I’ll never met “the one” who can acquire my pledge of Love & more. Time to look closer to home — or work — with other interest besides quality research reports & brainiacs to talk shop. If she continues with the small sexy & flirty gestures during our stay, I can ask her out. Coffee, lunch, drinks or… or something.
Hesitation? Not here especially if she’s just looking for friendly extras only. As she chats with Phil, I ask myself, “Can she be the one in the dreams? Are her eyes hazel with a green ring?” Awe hell, I’ve never looked before. “Damn it Brad, pay attention! You’re surrounded by beautiful women everyday… Everyday you only see the work & not the person. Wake the fuck up!” My conscious said while kicking me.
Log entry: 6/14/17 (Mon). Location: Devonshire, GB
— S.P.I.E.S. Trial — Facility: The Point
Notes: Access badges given out for entrance passageways. Interview suites are family room style, not sorrowful solitude. Staff introduced to following guards: Sgt. Helmsly (supervisor), Office Treavor (male) & Officer Smithers (female); all seem eager and competent. Their knowledge of daily habits of subjects will be a major asset. Start interview tomorrow if Daniel & Eugene have equipment up & running. “Big Gulp Crazy” is how the guards refer to inmates, 7-11 puns, go figure. Midafternoon: EMT’s done, Lab’s up and rooms staged. 4 subjects to be interviewed. Now with their Family inventory, childhood story plus 6 basic MH questions. Authorization of recording, videography, biological test & imaging scans; All signed by subjects.
Subject: Browne, Stanley. Age: 47. DOB: 1/28/70 Home Status: Orphan
Parents: Browne, Paul & Stien, Bette Siblings: unknown
Childhood Summary: (Browne, S — speaking) At 4 years I was left on the rise of a church. I sat in the cold rain until parishioners showed up in the morning. They feed, bathed then picked up boy babies heading to the orphanage. Lost, alone & bloody unwanted, I ran away at 15.
Q1: What age did you notice there might be something mentally wrong?
Stanley Browne: Well… Sir I’m not sure. I didn’t know there was any such thing until my early 30’s. Taking a swipe at it… uh, maybe 12 or 13 years old, when manhood came.
Q2: Did you ever seek help?
SB: No, I acted out, leading me to run with the ruffians of the alleys.
Q3: What age was your first criminal act & charge?
SB: I’m sure 15 I went to jail for burglary.
Q4: What or who lead you to commit your first crime?
SB: With no real family there wasn’t many options for me on the street. No food or shelter, only an attitude & knapsack of clothes. Breaking into empty flats to stay dry & eat. I found permanent place but no money for necessities, so back to burglary. Caught with a .38mm after breaking into Tower House (upscale). Guy came home & found me loading up his fine gold wares. I shot him 7 times then ate’m.
Q5: When did you start seeing a MH specialist consistently with medication?
SB: Bollocks! Help for me… Not til I arrived here. 7 years back.
Q6: What’s your diagnosis?
SB: Mild Schizophrenia & Clipmoanic (Kleptomaniac). Stealing is a comfort.
Watching Dr. McCall thank Mr. Browne for his honesty & hoped to see him again. Exiting, Officer Treavor was there to escort him back to his cell. Hailing them from the adjacent room to stop, I said “As you’re our first group, I’d like to say thank you.”
Browne & Treavor looked at me ask “Why?”
With a grinning reply of “That’s my good manners. Once the others are done, please jot down your favorite foods. Skies the limit! Give ‘em to the Sgt. by Wednesday, celebration on Friday.”
Nodding as he walked back Browne mumbling to himself, smiling with more pep in his step. Sgt. Helmsley popped by at 4:15 as we packed up ready to go for the day.
“Just leave those on the desk, thanks,” I said.
“Uh, well… well you may want these request rom the inmates seen,” he said drily.
“Ah, forgot about that. Is that a problem Sgt.? Replied while crossing my arms.
Authoritatively he stated, “No, but you will be faire to a ll the other inmates. I assume that you will do this again at the end, right?”
Fuck…“Yes we are with the staff too,” said while pulling out my phone to make the note. Driving along, my mind drifted to the dream. Whoever she is I can’t stop thinking about her fragrance & how her skin will feel once in my arms. Feeling a twinge I starred at my pants seeing an erection. I really need to get laid, my thoughts going left.
December 6, 2012, in early afternoon groomsmen, bridesmaids, flower girls ring bearer and the groom — me — were in place at the altar. On time! Anxiety and perspiration building waiting for the bride to enter. Fifteen minutes later an usher brought a folded napkin down the aisle, looking her I took the napkin.
The scribbling read, “Sorry.” She didn’t… No! She… she jilted me! Tears falling freely from my 6’3” muscular frame. Helplessly, I faced God wailing and embarrassed beyond all means. Leaving a shattered & crumbled heap of nothing at the pastors feet. After that there’s nothing, its been locked away (File name “Soul Snatcher”).
My mother checked me into St. Mark’s MRC for Catatonia, the next day. My mind was reduced to one word, like a scratched record. “Sorry” fucked me up.
Don’t ask what they taught me, but after fourteen months, two weeks & three days… I walked out a fixed man. That morning was the best day, released and headed to a job interview at CRI. Paying it forward, I needed to help those suffering find themselves again. Two years, nine months and sixteen days later, look at me now. Help comes in many forms, you just have to ask for it.
Long story short my bride was pregnant by her ex. Now she’s a single mother on welfare. The ex ended up marrying her best friend. Karma’s a bitch, aint it.
Adjourned to the upstairs library following dinner, Phil, Lauren and myself sat by the oversized hearth. Sipping English tea, while sitting on on 17th century chairs, we discussed todays findings and hypotheses of the subjects.
Lauryn stated, “With these subjects, it seems that adolescent puberty (10-14) is possibly their psyche trigger. This changes the conscious thoughts…” interrupted by Phil’s rude addition, “Quite right, the conscious now pairs with the subconscious inventing characters that are helping or hindering them to relate reality from fantasy. Deflection & assimilation of these emotions, thoughts and wants become chaotic. Thus resulting an undiagnosed, schizophrenic teenager,” he said winking at Lauryn.
Reviewing their statements plus the test results and questionaires, we have a wealth of new unfounded information. Nodding in agreement my cell phone rings, retrieving it reveals the boss on the line. He must still be in the office with the time difference.
“Mr. Carrington, good evening,” said as I excused myself to the far window. “Hope I’m not disturbing anything. I’m calling for a verbal report on your first day,” he said while the elevator chimed in the background.
“No problem sir, we’re able to interview four subjects. We’re reviewing as you were calling. Lauryn & Phil believe…,” said as my cell vibrated on my ear. Not listening to Mr. Carrington’s dramatic take on what I’ve told him, I checked my W.I.M.P. (work influx message portal), seeing Lucy’s message: Come to the lab when you can. Lucy C.
Minutes later excusing myself, I headed for the back stairs leading to the unused Larder our makeshift lab. Opening the door showed both Chen’s jotting notes with a microscope between them. “What’s all the fuss about?” playfully I said.
“We found some similarities in three sets of test samples…,” she said in one breath.
Lionel continued, “Bradley look!” pointing at the slides. “We’ve found a mutated chromosome,” as I peered into the lens showing triple split hematological samples.
Flabbergasted, my mind reeling in awe, I give them celebratory hugs. Lionel, the non-emotional hermit, side skipped walking out the door muttering curses at me to only slam it.
Still embraced she looks up at me, her eyes hazel… with a green ring, captured my soul. How come I’ve never noticed before? Lost in “what if” she makes the first move. Guiding my lips to hers for the sweet supple kiss to linger on my trembling lips. “What happening?” I whispered as the scent of daisy’s and jasmine overwhelmed me. Tightening my grip around her waist, pulling her closer to me. Desperation came over me, I didn’t just want her, I needed her, hopefully she needed me too.
Breathlessly stepping back to see her eyes dancing revealed water droplets, Lucy is the water in needed. Drinking her in, my mouth opened and shut as she spoke.
“Don’t leave me, I’ve waited so long for you to see me,” her voice less than a whisper. She continued, “For two years I’ve dreamt of a male silhouette, his touch on my skin, his scent branded in my olfactory, while the sun rays penetrate my soul. Mr. Carrington offered Lionel and I positions at CRI, touring the building you shook our hands welcoming. us. Do you remember? You…. Your cologne trailed you, and I knew that scent, the silhouette dream man. I tried to get closer to you by advancing in the company, but still nothing. This was my last try, I was giving up.”
Tears escaped from the eyes I knew so well. Her dream was my dream. Our dream. But how? Not aware I was nearing her again, the table was her perch. Kissing while shedding her clothes, shoes fell, buttons flew and pants were snatched off. Her hand roaming the muscles of my chest there was no more talking just bodies shifting, excessive moaning, hurried respirations & enough body heat to fry eggs. Our wants, our needs. Slid her to the end of the table kissing her neck, breast & navel until my hands grasped… God she felt good. Teasing her with lavish kisses I fell into a dreamy seventh heaven state crossing her golden plain.
Climbing back down the hill through the forested valley, stumbling and lashing out to drive back saplings to reach the Ho-lee water. The water give man the strength and penetrating ability to drive forward. Following the stream north, I spied a man in a boat. Paying homage to him gifted safe passage to the Chalice I seek. Speaking in tongues brought a whirlwind vortex, around the boat as a helping hand guiding through the rapids Donning my blackwood staff in its prophylactic sheath, headway was made around the mounds of rock & currents in to the cave. Scraping my staff against the tight enclosed cave walls to and fro, the Ho-lee land comes to view.
The sight before my eyes brings a breath taking euphoric emotion, only tears can explain. My sheathed blackwood staff guided me against the Chalice’s walls, protection when thrusted in the waters. Picking up my pace, running sweat dripping down my entire body to the forbidden door. Fighting crashing waves that guarded the entrance, I heard my name whispered as the succulent ground thrashed beneath me. “Bradley… Come to me, I can be yours,” said the Chalice. The blackwood reverberated in hand as beads of water soaked through the sheath. Restless movements, clawing and a rapid drumbeat called out to me as the wood became overly engorged with the waters essence, taste, feel & sound. No longer a staff but an appendage of me, we were one.
Holding back her waters she spoke to me, “Find me, take me, I need to be with you.” Wishing I could speak to her, I mumbled “I need you too. I’m yours now & always.” Facing the crystalline cervical passage, power filled excitment, submissiveness & positively scary long for her pulsed from the blackwood. Still mumbling through tantalizing pain I cried out “I’ll honor, protect & love you, if you’ll have me.” Wrapping both hands around it felt strangely wonderful. The weight of my palms running up & down its engorged sheet sent quivers to every nerve. Behind the door she said, “Don’t stop, feel the power caress your soul.” Abiding her words & closing my eyes to her lights as the doors opened, I felt her spirit. A kiss was laid on my wanting lips. “Give yourself to me. Let me drink you in” echoed around me. An authoritative discharge cut thru me, “Take me, it’s yours!” That moment the wind and water rose around us. Pulse racing, sweat dripping had me struggling to breath as my heart and soul poured out for her. The Chalice was now filled with my essence. Her lips parted, giving way to our coexistence. Walking over and pulling her into my embrace she whispered, “I am yours & you are mine,” in my ear. Knowing now what it is to be wanted & loved, I basked in the ambience hearing the heartbeat of one.
Hearing faded screaming in the darkness around us, I reached out for her. Slowly blinking my eyes a bright light started to appear, I…
“…Beeeeeeep!” Good morning,” I heard.
Springing up covered in sweat confussed of my surroundings, blinking away the haze showed me where I’m at. An automated voice sounded. TV? Rescue team? Mom?… NOT BY FAR! “Current time — 7:15 am. Breakfast: Oatmeal, eggs, milk and juice. Lunch: Pea soup…,” the speaker announced. Standing barefoot on the cold floor shocked I hear uncontrollable laughter — it’s me. Which meant I’m really…. The door opened eyes captivated on what’s in her hand, I barely hear, “Mr. Allen lets get ready for eletroconvulsive therapy!” A chippy woman said. “Do you remember me, I’m Lucy,” while holding out a straight jacket. All I could do was laugh to keep from crying.
This story is purely fiction. Created by a vivid imagination while incarcerated at William G. Truesdale Detention Center @ Alexandria, Va. Characters and locations mentioned do not exist in reality. Thank you for the opportunity, I hope you were entertained.
—D. Miller, (1A Women’s Program Unit)
Nonfiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility/OAR writing contest, August 2021
I am human
I am a citizen
I am not the criminal conviction
It is with premise that I sought a way out of my dispair. A dispair due to the fact that I and many others were sidelined during the 2020 United States Presidential election because of incarceration. So, on November 3,2020 and the days immediately afterwards, an idea was spawned to create non-profit organization with the focused pledge to aid all eligible formally incarcerated citizens returning to their community exercise their democratic right to vote. This pledge would be achieved, in part, through advocacy, voter education, and voter registration.
The organization would be branded/named: The Returning Citizen Initiative ©
– We’re home, we’re voting – ©
A 501(c) non-profit dedicated to the voting rights of the formally incarcerated citizen returning to their community.
What follows is a considered snapshot of the content to be included in the formal business plan for the establishment of The Returning Citizen Initiative.
Let us concisely place this unique form of the disenfranchisement of ex-felons (the “invisible punishment”) in a historical context.
“[T]he slave went free, stood a
brief moment in the sun; then moved
back again towards slavery.”
Black Reconstruction America
In Michelle Alexander’s landmark book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, she opens with a penetrating introduction to Jarvious Cotton:
“Jarvious Cotton cannot vote. Like his father, grandfather, great-great grandfather, and great-great-great grandfather, he has been denied the right to participate in our electoral democracy…the freedom for those who will make the rules and laws that govern one’s life…His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy test. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many in the United States has been labeled a felon…”
During the previous generations of the Cotton family, there were historical periods referred to as the Reconstruction Era (1863-1877) and the Jim Crow era (1877-1945). Blacks went from a time where a host of federal civil rights laws protecting the recently freed slaves were passed including the Fifteenth Amendment. This change to the U.S. Constitution provided that the right to vote must not be withheld on account of race. Then came Jim Crow (a racial caste system). It was at the beginning of Jim Crow that the criminal justice system was used to force Blacks back into a system of repression and control, a tactic that would continue for decades to come.
The National Book Award winner, Stamped from the Beginning: The definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by the Harvard University facility member, Ibram X. Kend, artfully details how the “Jim Crow Codes” denied Blacks the right to vote through various devices including felon disenfranchisement laws.
“Blacks were disproportionally charged with felonies – in fact, some crimes were specifically defined as felonies with the objective of eliminating Blacks from the electorate – felon disenfranchisement laws effectively suppressed the Black vote as well.”
Now fast forward to the 1983 Drug Reform Act; the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, 2013 Supreme Court ruling on the 1965 Voting Rights Act; the “Big Lie,” and the current sweeping voter suppression efforts underway in several state legislatures. With this historical backdrop, The Returning Citizen Initiative’s onramp onto the stage to join with those voices crying to front the returning citizen the right to vote will be a starting point.
Aside from the required process of launching a new 501(c) non-profit organization, the mission of The Returning Citizen Initiative is to ensure the voting rights of the formally incarcerated citizens to their community through advocacy – voter education and voter registration. The vision of The Returning Citizen Initiative is to be a nimble; data-drive, and best practices organization effecting legislation and policy, first on a state level and then on a national level to the benefit of the formally incarcerated. Thereby, creating an opportunity for our brothers and sisters, who have “paid their dues; did their time” to enjoy the dignity, self-confidence, and purpose that participating in the political process – as a full citizen – can endow.
As we approach this important work, we will partner with like mind organizations and policy generators to fill any needs gaps. Armed with a plan, persuasiveness, and persistence, The Returning Citizen Initiative’s initial political lobbying will involve approaching the Virginia State Assembly to pass legislation allowing for the voting by convicted felons while still incarcerated in jail/prison.
On a final note, The Returning Citizen Initiative was born out of dispair. However, I have the unyielding hope that this organization will have an impact on bringing overdue solutions to the issues of the formally incarcerated citizens fully participating in their right to vote – to have their…”moment in the sun.”
By Sasha Carlisle
Poetry, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021
Never thought I would be grateful for jail – but –
What can I say?
I clearly see how I’ve failed
I recognize my mistakes
My life got knocc’d [knocked] off the rails
I’ve learned to channel my rage
There’s no missteps in my rage
It’s my time to be in this place
Meditation has brought growth
I finally love myself
Nature’s displaying her motions
She labors in my cell
Silence followed the storm – like –
The tropics I’ll rebuild
So I write what I know
The vision is mine to sell
Opportunity’s what I feel
Exactly where I stand
I now find it daily
Since I’ve lost all I’ve planned
My horizon at my feet
My mirage in my hands
In deserts souls deplete
Gotta move through the sand
My oasis is my work
I’d suffer if I’d sleep
Through the streets I would lurk
I’d starve and I’d feast
At least I didn’t get merked
Although I sowed what I reaped
God revealed the jerk
I no longer will be
Once this winter is over
And I stop this hibernating
The grizzly’s gonna emerge
The world’s mine for the taking
Through faith I endure
I’ll make up these days I’ve been wasting
My eyes are filled with vigor
Patience gained from frustration
Through this all we keep advancing
We will pass Satan’s tests
Been to Hell and beyond – shout out –
The homies out west
Prove to me that I’m blessed
Considering how it could’ve gone
My life’s been its best!
Poetry, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021
Started off social wasn’t really drinking like
Turned into a habit
Now I gotta have it
You saw you was my weakness
But you ain’t take advantage
I’ll slow sip your love and let it work its magic
I left my first addiction and ran to you
And for a minute I was juggling between the two
But your intoxacation was so strong
I felt like with you
I could do
At my weakest point you made me feel so strong
But now you are so gone
And I’m on my own
All in my zone truly yours
My precious patron
Now let me get inside it was just me and you
I’ll drink you all night I’ll be sweatin’ when I’m through
See that’s just what you do
Put me on another level
You cater to a man make a nigga feel special
That’s why I never left you and I never would
I had a lot of problems and you always understood
And when I went to jail you waited till I got out
I took you straight to the crib and drunk you all
Through the house
Out now hmmm…
You are so gone
And I am on my own
Truly yours my precious patron
Now time rolled forward you got a lil older
I started to notice you got a lil colder
I would shrug it off like maybe I’m just tripping
Give you a lil minute then I’m right back to sipping
I was Ray Charles boo I couldn’t see the ending
You found another sipper but he don’t drink you same
He mix up with cranberry he a real lame
You say he different and I don’t wanna change
I guess all the drinking just clouded up my brain
Cuz now you are so gone
And I am on my own
Truly yours my precious patron
And sometimes I still reference you in my discussions
You left my mind stuck like a million concussions
And sometimes I hate you just for being
Wishing you was gone and I could continue breathing
Then I get to thinking like am I still in love with
You and wonder if that’s the meaning
But hey my thoughts twisted and I guess I’m still
A dreamer yes I’m still a believer
Pray for peace but keep a nina
Keep it shaking like a seizure
Tried hard to please ya
And my feelings still strong
But now I know you never know what you got till