Community Across Cells

The two following poems are some of the first to be chosen for the Volume 23 of the  Prisoner Express Poetry Anthology.  Jointly they expose the painfully obvious and the obscured realities of what living life—for whatever amount of time—between the walls of a cell are like. Thank you to all who have contributed to this program, it means just as much of the world to us on the outside as it does for those incarcerated individuals,  on the producing end of our blog and other published content. Your words are invaluable. Please continue to reveal the truths you come to terms with in your writing and other projects. We here at Alternatives Library and Cornell University love to see it!

David Hehn’s “Safety Valve” brings to surface the relief he finds in expressing himself through poetry. As many of you may know, expression does not come so easily. David, here, candidly faces this challenge and what he expresses is perhaps even more winsome than the ease in which it seems to have come to him: how poetry is the “safety valve” he gets to control when letting out his inner “clutter”:

“Safety Valve” By David Hehn

Too lazy to write a poem

I don’t want to think

I just want to project

To rid myself of the clutter in my mind now

I don’t know what is there now I am writing blind

Without purpose, without intent, diligent in going no where

Hearing one’s voice hoping that if you let yourself go you won’t scream

Letting off steam and whatever else is up in there

No this will not be remembered as some of my finest work but

it did me a mountain of good to just write

Imagine being stuck in middle school. Fun right? Imagine being stuck in detention, but instead of grumpy teachers with meter sticks, you have to put up with armed guards that may or may not have it out for you and much (or in some cases, much better) cafeteria food. What do you do to blow off steam? What can you do? While simply writing poetry lifts mountains of weight of the chests of some individuals, doing so also serves as an outlet for sharing critical reflection:

“Blue Birds” and Barbed Wire By Nate High

    The world called her ugly, but all I saw was her beauty.

When I was angry and on the edge, she was the only thing that could soothe me,

    She would send me pictures, and I would just stare,

I knew that it was dangerous to fall in love, but I didn’t care.

    I called her Aphrodite, she was a goddess on her own,

her letters were my weakness, but still she kept me strong.

    Like every woman I’ve ever loved, her time came and went,

So I boxed up her letters and all the pictures she had ever sent.

    I remembered her being beautiful, but no one else does,

She’s the one who taught me how to see thru goggles of love.

    Our relationship taught me the importance of perception,

and that was beneficial when my happiness was in a recession.

    When the darkness creeps in, I see thru goggles of pain,

I only see the dirt, the trash, the blood stains.

    I only hear the silence, I lose the sound of laughter,

I’m surrounded by violence and nothing else matters.

    We all wear our goggles, some only see the flames in the fire,

I used to only see the fences, but now I see the blue birds dancing on the barbed wire

In Blue Birds and Barbed Wire, by Nate High, the power or perspective becomes apparent. In just two poems, two brilliant mindsets are shared by individuals who are incarcerated. Maybe for the intent of letting off some steam, or writing simply to write. The point is—in submitting poems , there is potential for real learning to happen across cells not just in the same prison, or state even, but across the country! Please keep nurturing your souls where you can and continue to submit what work you would like shared.



Tavo Editor Prisoner Express Poetry Anthology Vol 23