A Black Boy Born the Fall of 1980, What is Blackness

A Black Boy Born the Fall of 1980, What is Blackness

Aaron Connelley

Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility writing contest, August 2019

A proud influence and example of success gained was right in front of me the whole time, Blackness.

The Contrast of a Gold Nugget Watch against Midnight black skin

was a silent way to say I’m Proud

even though times for me have been trying.

The Black suit work to work

The Polished dress shoes

The Pride earned from years of hard investments

The limousine drove for a successful thriving Black Owned Business

For me to Embrace a Culture which has produced

Generation to Generation of Strength by

Standing on Faith and the Strong Willpower of Black Men/Women

with tight jaws facing injustices, that smile even though,

is my pain misunderstood also silent.

A lot has been unsaid.

Schools filtered what about my Blackface,

the sufferage, the Family dynamic that was disrupted and broken

enslaved never to be set Free

also to be Equal given a fair change after Emancipation.

No one wanted to explain the reason I was found in a common law adoption

probably never to know of the Lands of Ancestors originated.

The truth that they were brought Literally to an adopted Land themselves.

The Gold bracelet that was worn on the right wrist

A picture, Black & White of a Mother and Father posing side by side unsmiling.

Their chocolate skin draped in the nicest dress wear

A Black couple could obtain in the year, 1912

A Dollar Bill Enclosed inside the frame below

Serious melancholy Faces which sat atop a Bookshelf

Inside the zen inside our home

A lighter Hue my own complexion told Another secret.

Never, was I told I was weaker or that success couldn’t be mine.

This Ethnicity I Embrace, my Blackness

For all the unknown Silent messages

my immaturity wouldn’t allow the communication

from one Generation to the next did I miss a lesson, yes.

While I grow with interest for coming Generations

kissed with a Blackface,

concerned because the struggles will be real,

beginning to Erase ignorance within myself I too must pass on

A Silent message through action and example

Rather than not tell colored babies about their Black History,

Strengthen their knowledge about the Building Blocks

which from visions formed

the Pyramids in Africa

to the design of stones used to create the Washington Monuments

created within Black and Proud Minds

Rather than hold back because of Pain or Hurt.

Let’s empower the strength the Negro Skin exemplifies.

The Sacrifices, the torn Backs, the inequalities, the non-violent movements

in time against a Profound ignorance,

the stands took, the sit downs to disrupt injustice

was the Silent Cry in the Eyes of A Black Proud Man

right in front of me the whole time,


I Ask that you Smile knowing the Silent message has been discovered…


Land of the Free

Land of the Free

Marlan Barrington

Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility writing contest, August 2019

How can we call this the land of the free? When we have a major human rights issue, we have more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world. How was this nation ever great or ever will be great? The honest answer to that is, it never was great and maybe in due time this nation can become great, this nation treats its people like numbers more than they are treated like actual human beings and that just isn’t humane. I believe it’s time for a change from these outdated laws and lawmakers whose mind states are in an outdated time period, things in this era change fast and I believe certain things such as laws and people should change just as fast to keep up with the climate, as they say in Jamaica “Ah young people time now”.

I believe drug abusers should receive more mental health care, not jail time. Jail doesn’t provide the right means to rehabilitation for an abuser, it adds pressure and stress that builds up in a person. This causes them to relapse when they are released from incarceration, the War on Drugs was a failure considering drug use was on the decline before the “war” was declared, and the drug that boosted the “war” was “Crack”, which didn’t mysteriously hit the streets till sometime after the “War on Drugs” was declared, there were two “wars” that was declared but the one involving the Contras is the one that turned its people into monsters.

If we put the same amount of energy into helping those who need it mentally, that we put into trying to arrest them and properly rehabilitate them, we would have a much better society, I believe honestly feel that the jail/prison system should be for violent offenders, such as murderers, rapists, child molesters, etc. As a capitalistic nation there’s other ways to make money besides Mass Incarceration, which is hurting us, putting out a bad image of us to the rest of the world, making our nation look just as some of the same nation we look down on such as those in the Middle East.

How can we say we want world peace when we don’t even have peace within our own nation? Once we as a nation find our sense of community things can start to improve and problems will begin to find the best humane solutions. Some issues shouldn’t be issues in this nation, such as the sickening issue of homelessness. Those in need of assistance can be placed in facilities with or provide them with social work programs, to which they can complete and get on their feet. America is a capitalistic nation, we would want people to spend money, so why not give them what we want them to spend, at the same time boosting the economy, reducing the homeless numbers and also reducing unemployment rate.

The education system needs some improvement also, instead of when our youths grow up and enter the real world running into stressful situation, schools should start from Junior High School teaching kids about taxes, interest, mortgage, investments, debt, credit, and trades, so we can properly prepare them for the future. The money spent on the “Space Force” is insane. If aliens are real, how are we so sure they are a threat when history says our nation is usually the threat, or how do we know there will be some sort of galactic battle? Even the extreme amount of money we put into our military can be used for better things and the betterment of America’s social climate, Also since this is a capitalist nation, putting money to the society will increase education and jobs encouraging more workers, which would result in more money for the nation. Equality can’t be a quality without unity in the community!!



Shopping While Black

Shopping While Black

 Phillip Anderson

 Nonfiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility, August 2019

 When walking into the room, the smell was uplifting the warm air made me feel comfortable. Just the smell of fresh fabric was enlightening to the environment. The salesman and woman were very nice and welcoming with smiles on their faces.

The layout and display of clothing was eye opening, the mannequins were very well styled which tells me the visual is creative. As I walk through the department store the music was relaxing. With nothing less than luxury brands surrounding me me me just want to shop.

As I get to the sportswear section to the far right back of the store, I noticed an army green silk Dries Van Nuton suit. My first thought was “I’m here for a client not myself.” Nuton happens to be my favorite sportswear designer.

As I’m admiring the silk luxury green fabric on the inexpensive suit (it was on sale) an young black sales man approaches with an very expensive Gucci suit in hand. He smiles and says, I have a better option in blue. Of course I checked it out, the only difference was the color and of course the price tag (Because it wasn’t an sale item)

Like most salesman who work off commission he’s trying to make me believe the suit he’s holding is better option because hes the person working in the high end store so hes right and of course to make more money for himself and the store today.

I went into a deep thought while still listening and being very polite…

“I’m a visionary, I see things others don’t in themselves. I’m very creative but quite, a really heavy thinker. I can listen to 12 conversations at once and still think through everything. I’m very well dressed also know what works for others, as far as clothing. Outrageously talented in seeing through people in their true colors a great observer. Most people think Im an easy target but I’m like a bullseye hard to hit home.”

This guy is trying his hardest. Very interesting piece I say to the well dressed salesman. The scent of his cologne was Satel 33 a very intruding and expensive smell. I simply thanked him for his opinion and moved on with my purchase.

While walking back to the front of the dimly lit store towards the register I noticed another mannequin with 3 amazing David Yurman bracelets, none of which on display for sale. I thought “Damn just the pieces I need to complete the look. Once I reached the register I noticed an older white guy standing about 6’3 dark hair blue eyes, wearing a navy colored suit white button up shirt with a red tie. His first words were…”How are you paying” with no emotion but a very stern look in his eyes. I thought hmmm, “No how are you”. “Did you find everything ok” or “Who helped you with your purchase” being that they do again work off of sales. I then realized he looked me up and down, I’m wearing a comfortable gray Nike tech sweat suit with blue and white Nike running shoes. I’m a little flamboyant with my mannerisms but not too much, just kind of in my shopping element but I’m almost sure he noticed I was Gay, and of course Black.

I went on to say I’m interested in your stores studio services.” Studio Services is a service most stores offer to creditable wardrobe stylist. He says this location doesn’t offer that service. Once I got that response I asked for the manager Chris which whom I work with all of the time who by all means know me very well and offered me these services on several locations and yes I’ve used.

My warm uplifting feeling all turned around now I’m feeling angry and very unhappy. After realizing I knew more than he thought, he started to try to explain he misunderstood what I was asking and he’ll be happy to help me. However at that point I figured I’ll deal with him later being I was pushing for time, I pulled out my card and ID, made my purchase and headed for the door.

What was supposed to be a very productive working day turned out to be very disappointing and stereotypical.

The following day I contacted Chris made him aware of my experience and he comped me my entire purchase. Moreover just because I didn’t lost my cool and act as expected I received a very expensive suit on the sake on me just keeping my cool. After being judged on who I am and what he thought I stood for, which I’m sure he thought was “NOTHING.”



Untitled – Non-fiction

Untitled – Non-fiction

Aaron Connnelley

Second place, Nonfiction, Arlington County Detention Facility, August 2019

Ima look back on my life and roar with laughter if my frail body allows me to do so. I can see me now khakis, suspenders, a fishermans hat and orthapedic New Balance somewhere in a rocker. No smokes, no 1800 vodka or Remy 1738. Why, because I gave all that up a long time ago. My hope is I’ll see some grandkids and maybe some great-grands. Humph.

Let me tell you about my Pop-Pop. Truth is I can’t wait to see him in heaven. I want to see 2-Pac too but first I need to talk to Pop-Pop. When Pop-Pop died I was just a kid. Was he spiritual I dont know. I didn’t see him in a church until his funeral. He looked peaceful in his blue three peace suit with matching tie. See he had this blue ring around each of his eyes from the cadiracs. I’d miss looking in his face as he gave me a toothy grin. He didn’t care to much for his partials.

The truth is I’ve been lost and stressed. When will I find my peace. Let me tell you some more about Pop-Pop. His grandparents were slaves. He witnessed the movement of civil rights. Somehow during the pressures of the times he found his place in a crazy world. His trade a mason working with bricks, stone and concrete laying a nest egg while providing for his family. Not biologically connected to the family tree his wife extended herself and their home to a innocent baby produced from ignorance, youthfulness and the naievity of a sixteen year old child, my mother.

Pop-Pop, I wish you could’ve told me what the good fight was all about or so I didn’t continuously fail repeating foolish behavior. Left just a note detailing how to manuver in a cruel world until I grew myself I wouldn’t get it. If he ever did suffer it wasn’t for him to share with a boy. His brain was stronger in the end that his sight so while the evening news broadcast detailed the war on drugs then in a sense the epodimic touched my mother causing her to escape responsibility leaving me as a addition to his home.

As a little boy I watched uncle “J” as I called him, Pop-pop’s son tend his garden located behind the house. In summer watermelons, peas, tomatoes, tall corn stalks. I dashed through the rows until I fell tierd in the grass exausted but content unaware of the true meaning I lived in Pop-Pop’s home. I can’t forget the grapevine aside the back garage, the rose bush with thorns I’d better watch for as I circled the house running at top speeds as fast as my short legs would allow me. Pop-Pop had made it though navigating in a world through world wars.

Oh I didn’t tell you about the two rifles I found in his bedroom closet. I’ll save that for another time.

One time PopPop with his failing eyesight drove me three blocks to school in a nice Caddilac he’s kept in his garage. I knew he kept a liquor bottle hidden in the kitchen in the top cabbinet. Was it rasicm, was it marriage, was it having a cancer that was slowly eating away at his life. I got some questions for him.

So, Pop-Pop dies I moved. Still little in a grown up world I didn’t understand. As I tell you all this I know, one day Ima be able to lean back and laugh so hard that tears fill my eye’s unashamed to fall because I’m happy not now though. No way I can laugh. Ain’t shit funny. Its not a game. I feel like its me or its you.

Life isn’t easy. I hooked up with some people started smoking cigs smoking weed and drinking. I lost intrest in school. Began to hang out with some other not so interested people. Hanging out turned into putting in work. The living situation I was in couldn’t contain a hurt looking for exceptance growing boy. The streets excepted me at least I thought so. The game will use you up and discard of you in a jail cell or a deep grave.

A negative energy has covered me. A man-child in a place dark as a black screen. Bitting my nails placing the bit nails in a neat pile. I need to get myself together. Lost in addiction holding on to my life with a thin thread. Let me pray maybe someones listening. Why am I in this abandoned place all alone. Hope Pop-pop cant see me like this. I’ve embraced ignorance. After I crawled out for some air the revelation is in the end of carelessness, self-pity, addiction, alcohalism, drug-use, sex out of marraige, incarceration and personal abuse. The insanity.

I choose even though I was served a bloody hand dealt challenges which come in forces of negativity. I will reflect the good and the bad. Journey into tommorrow’s with sure confidence. The reason I cried will be the significance that one day I will laugh. Successful like Pop-Pop (a black man) against all odd’s made it through. In the end yes, one day I will laugh with tears of joy and then share with all the history of my Pop-Pop and of the Malcolms, the Martins, the Mandelas, the Marcus’s, the Micheals, the Marvins that made it. I wont segregate the truth of our history but allow knowledge to set the chains free untieing the oppressing demonds of the past, present and future. Yea, one day I will laugh.

Truth under Attack

Truth under Attack

 Bryan M. Zemanski

 Third place, Nonfiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility, August, 2019

             In modern America, most of us are constantly bombarded with news and information via mass media and technology. Staying informed without following false or misleading information can be challenging, and in this age where information is ubiquitous, facts appear increasingly subjective. As events in the real world are often nuanced and complex, and because bias is a relentless human tendancy, no single perspective or resource ensures absolute objectivity.

However, there exists a growing public sentiment that the mainstream mass media does not even strive for objectivity or honest. With much clamor about “fake news,” we see frequent heated controversy regarding basic facts of current events, historical and scientific information, and the actions and reputations of public figures. Narrowing down truth often requires diversified and critical research. To understand how we’ve gotten into such a conflicted state, we need to look at some of the history and complexities of modern mass media.

In the mid-twentieth century, mass media in America consisted of newspapers, radio, and a few nationally broadcast television networks. In recent decades, the media landscape has broadened to include a vast array of mediums thanks to advances in technology. Today, we enjoy twenty-four hour access to news and information as we’ve developed the infrastructure to equip the majority of people with uninterrupted communication via internet, satellite, cellular devices, and social media.

We can find dozens of raging pundits and sycophants screaming on cable so-called news networks, podcasts to entertain every interest and belief, and opinion-based news often dominates the headlines. The proliferation of misinformation and disinformation has rendered many skeptical, and conspiracy theories abound as some try to make sense out of nonsense. Often, what is portrayed as news at noon is debunked by six in the evening. The truth is on the move.

Realistically, fairness and objectivity are not ideals to which many journalists even aim to aspire. Information is often cherry-picked amongst the facts of real-life scenarios and is tailored into sensational and polarized narratives. The practice is neither new nor unique to our current cultural and political climate. Even in our nation’s earliest days, pamphleteers and tabloids dominated the media landscape with biased rhetoric. But in our modern society where limitless information is available at our fingertips, objective truth is often obscured not only by the slant of the author’s intentions but also by the sheer mass of interpretation available.

Mass media is a big business. With corporate financial stake in the mix and the practice of selling information for ads, ratings, and influence over public policy, we have grown accustomed to a daily prophesy of impending doom. Extremism captures the public’s attention thus that’s what sells the news. We have become desensitized to fear and anger as powerful influences prey on our basest instincts. Crisis, controversy, and terror are ever present, both real and contrived.

             When so-called facts are portrayed by media sources, nowadays we can easily access “alternative facts.” To many, this phenomenon of parallel narratives conjures up a disturbing likeness to the dystopian worlds created in the mid-twentieth century novels of George Orwell and Ray Bradbury. These authors wrote prophetically about societal and political interests destroying or manipulating the integrity of information to satisfy specific agendas. Although these authors’ works have long been used as instructional satire in academia, we have seen their popularity surge in recent years as they again top major bestseller lists.

If we base all of our beliefs and assumptions about reality on front page headlines, tickers, tabloids, and talking heads, we are destined to be fooled by spin. Certainly there are legitimate facts conveyed by some popular media sources and pundits, and there lies value in weighing the opinions of learned individuals, but the value of any argument lies in the accuracy of the information being expressed. As agendas and opinions run rampant, we need not be naively shepherded into tribalism or swayed by narratives disguised as news.

Of profound significance is the freedom of speech and freedom of the press afforded us in this great nation under the first amendment to the Constitution. We enjoy liberties and promote a culture of public discourse unparalleled in human history. In these United States, we may express ourselves as we wish without fear of imprisonment, but with these freedoms comes the risk of intellectual peril at the hands of those whose motivations exceed their integrity.

If we strive personally for objectivity and wish to glean truth in the age of information, we must be responsible to educate ourselves. This does not require pursuing a formal degree nor does it need to cost us a penny. A great place to begin is at a public library. Delving into historical documents, archives, public records, biographies, and other time-honored texts at least make us harder prey for purveyors of falsity. If we broadly research the past and present in concert, we can better understand how our current state of affairs fits into the context of history and the world about us. Objective truth exists but finding it may require some research.

The Written Smile

The Written Smile

Sikandar Imran

First place, non-fiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Facility writing contest, August 2019

As I was driving to work on a crisp winter morning, mechanically consuming my usual breakfast of coffee and a protein bar, my mind was filled with a number of distractions. I had recently moved to Virginia from upstate New York for a clinical fellowship and training in Hematology and Oncology at a university hospital in Washington D.C. I was taking my time getting used to the intricacies of daily life in a bigger city. The familiarity of my old life and routine had been replaced with a nervous anxiety of even mundane things such as figuring out the nearest grocery store or the cheapest gas station.

My mind raced randomly between distressing thoughts as I moved at a snail’s pace through bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic. I had multiple valid reasons for consternation: I had left my brother and his family and many of my close friends behind in New York; I was going through a terrible break-up; my cost-of-living had gone up considerably and my earnings had drastically reduced in the new training job; my car needed repairs as did the ventilation system at my apartment; I kept putting off seeking medical attention for the unremitting back pain going down my leg; I was struggling to find time to prepare my talk on HIV associated cancers; I was gaining weight due to my unhealthy eating habits paired with a lack of exercise and was very self-conscious about my appearance; I felt a gnawing sense of underachievement at having reached the third decade of my life and being single and without a family of my own; my rigorous working hours were leaving me drained and spent and I still wasn’t sure if I was making adequate progress in my learning and expertise.

It was the first day of my rotation at the head and neck cancer clinic. As a trainee, my assignment was to study each patient’s file, interview and examine the patient, discuss my thoughts and findings with my attending physician and subsequently go see the patient again with my attending in tow to have an all-encompassing discussion.

“Why don’t you review the chart for the next patient first and then we can go together and see her. She’s been through a lot and we have really run out of options. Her cancer came back recently and I really don’t know what else to offer her. She’s so young and so strong, but her cancer has been very aggressive. Let’s talk to her together once you review her chart.” My attending, Dr. Smith, said with a furrowed brow and concern in her voice, an emotion which is not unusual for an oncologist to express, but I could sense added pain and empathy in her voice.

I nodded and started reviewing the chart. Kelly was a 34 year-old woman who had been diagnosed with cancer of the mouth about a year and half prior. She had developed an ulcer in her mouth initially which upon further investigation proved cancerous. She had gone through four different grueling chemotherapy regimens, each with its own set of challenging side effects ranging the gamut from hair loss to painful numbness and tingling in her arms to loss of fertility; all with short-lived disappearance of disease and recurrence with a vengeance shortly thereafter. She had just finished her last treatment about a month prior and unfortunately had started experiencing difficulty swallowing leading to imaging scans which revealed return of the cancer yet again. A student at a local university, Kelly had been married for about 4 years, and had a 2 year-old son. She was now coming in to discuss her new symptoms and further options.

I registered this and other pertinent information in my brain and quickly looked up key points about cancer of the oral cavity so I could better understand the case and keep up with what Dr. Smith was saying and answer her questions.

“Is there nothing else we can offer this patient Dr. Smith?”

I asked with both concern and curiosity.

“I am going to offer her immunotherapy which has been beneficial in recent studies, but I’m not entirely confident it will make any difference. Her cancer has been relentless from day one and I’m afraid this is turning out to be one of those cases where we are helpless.”

Dr. Smith said.

“But if you think it’s not going to work, why put her through another treatment? She has had so many adverse effects with her prior treatments. She couldn’t even complete some of them because of toxicity.”

I asked.

“That’s a very valid point. I think we have to make some tough choices. The one thing we don’t want is for our treatment to add to her suffering for no good reason. But this is usually a curable cancer, and keep in mind that her youth and lack of any other medical issues means that she can tolerate much more therapy compared to an older patient. I want to try absolutely everything even if the odds are against her.”

Dr. Smith said, with discernable ache in her words, a glaze setting over her eyes.

“That makes sense.”

I said.

“Let’s go and see her now if you are ready.”

Dr. Smith Said.

I knocked on the door and entered the room to see Kelly with Dr. Smith.

There was a young woman sitting in the room with a man by her side who she introduced as her husband, Mark. She was dressed in loose clothing with a surgical mask over her nose and mouth to conceal the devastation cancer had wreaked over her face. Her head was covered by a scarf; an attempt to hide alopecia due to chemotherapy. Part of a long-term use catheter poked out from her shirt. Most of her body was covered by clothing to reduce photosensitivity. Her emaciated frame, wasting temples, pitted nails and prematurely aged skin were testament to the fact that her body had become a battlefield. Her big eyes conveyed anxiety, hope, anticipation, sorrow, and exhaustion…all at the same time.

Dr. Smith introduced me to the couple and then started talking to Kelly, like two best friends having a focused conversation. Kelly couldn’t speak comfortably or coherently because of the destructive anatomic effects of her cancer. Mark answered most of our questions and Kelly added her input through written notes and gestures.

Kelly was dying, and it was slow and agonizing, more like drowning in quicksand instead of a car accident. She had no appetite and was readily losing weight. She was unable to chew and swallowing was painful; mostly pureed food through a straw. Her pain was better with a hefty concoction of painkillers and sedatives but the numbness and tingling in her limbs had worsened to the point where she couldn’t fasten the buttons on her shirt or tie shoelaces. Persistent foul smelling nasal and oral discharge distressed and embarrassed her. Her short term memory and cognition were worse. She was especially sensitive to changes in temperature. Her frailty resulted in a challenging instability at home; she had dropped out of school and mark had reduced his working hours to take care of her and their child.

Kelly and mark looked at Dr. Smith with cautious hope in their eyes, imploring and pleading with their gaze, understanding that our attempts at fighting the cancer had been in vain. Not only had we run out of options but Kelly’s physical, emotional, financial and mental resources were all fading away. They comprehended their choices, or lack thereof, but were not ready to accept them yet. Dr. Smith offered them immunotherapy as a last resort and discussed associated side effects but was realistic about outcomes; she did so in the manner of both an intellectual expert and a commiserative comrade, a skill which takes years of honing and similar heart wrenching encounters.

There was an uncomfortable silence in the room for what felt like a very long time. Kelly reached for her note book and pen and scribbled something. She held the paper up in front of her masked face for us to read as a tear rolled down her cheek.

“I’m smiling.” The note said.

Dr. Smith smiled and embraced Kelly and mark. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. In that moment, with Kelly’s inability to convey emotion through her face and yet show such resilience and strength in front of everything life had flung at her, to continue standing up to cancer with dignity and courage, I forgot all my worries. Everything about my life that I thought was problematic or went wrong fell apart and seemed trivial. I lowered my head in sympathy and vowed to exercise more gratitude for all that I had. We exited the room and I moved on to the next patient, hoping and praying I didn’t have to witness someone else’s pain, suffering and fortitude before realizing my own blessings again.

(The names and any other identifiers of individuals in this essay have been changed in order to protect their privacy)