The Lives of Women Behind Bars (Pt. 7): Poetry

 

The Lives of Women Behind Bars (Pt. 7):  Poetry

By Jennifer (Taycheedah Correctional) (WI)
By Victoria (Womens Huron Valley) (MI)
Forward By Christopher (Madison Correcional) (OH)

Forward

One of my favorite poems is the masterwork titled “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde. Wilde was a prisoner at H.M. Prison, in Reading, Berkshire England in 1896. He wrote about the day to day struggles of Victorian prison life and the horrors he witnessed. Despite time a distance separating us modern day prisoners from his words, we can relate in many ways to the horrors and despair he witnessed.
The experience of incarceration is universal. It’s timeless.

The vilest deeds like poison weeds,
Bloom well in prison-air,
It is only what is good in man
That wastes and withers there:
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And the Warder is Despair

—Oscar Wilde (1896)—

Wilde realized early on that through writing he could cope with his time. Like prisoners everywhere, he discovered he could release the thoughts haunting him. This blog is my way of coping with my time.

For Jennifer and Victoria, these poems represent a timeless cycle of struggle and redemption we prisoners experience. I know it all to well, and I can relate to what they’ve written, if nothing but for the fact that we three share a common life situation.

—Christopher—

RAZOR WIRE

By Jennifer (Taycheedah Correctional) (WI)

I look out my window and see a fence,
On top of that fence is razor wire.
They say I’m a menace to society,
I need to be locked up and forgotten about,
So society will be safe.
Who is that razor wire really protecting?
You from me,
Or me from you?
I feel the safest I’ve felt in a long time.
That razor wire keeps me safe from him.
I no longer walk on eggshells,
Waiting for the next bout of verbal abuse,
Or physical abuse.
I don’t have to look over my shoulder here.
I’m allowed to be me here.
I’m free here.
That razor wire is not to keep you safe,
It’s to keep me safe.
He can’t hurt me here.
————-

————————————————-

My Life
By Victoria (Womens Huron Valley) (MI)

As I lie on my bunk
In this concrete cell,
I look back on my life
That’s been through hell,
and I wonder why
I never wanted to live,
When I have everything to offer
But nothing to give
Now I sit here and look
at my life that’s gone by,
With so much regret
and so much lost time.
Is there any way I can change
and make a new start
From the beginning this time,
with a brand new heart,
From all the years I’ve wasted
and the tears I’ve cried,
That have torn up my soul
and left me empty inside.
Can anyone help me
To ease all this pain?
Take away all my sadness
and refocus my brain
To look at the good,
and not only see the bad–
To see what I’ve got
and not just what I had–
To live for the future
and not in the past,
For a new life
of happiness at last.
————————————————-

The Change

By Victoria (Womens Huron Valley) (MI)

I sit here with time to think,
behind these prison walls.
For the crimes I have committed,
are the cause of my downfall.
But I do not blame others,
as I’m the only one,
that I’m in this prison, for the
wrongs that I have done.
I want to say I’m sorry,
to all I did offend.
But there are so many,
the list may never end.
So I ask for God’s forgiveness,                                                                                             and to change the way I am.
Because if he is with me,
I know I really can.
And I have made a promise,
that I will try to keep.
That I will believe in Jesus, and
with faith, I’ll take that leap.
So I will try to talk the talk the
way He used to do, and I will
try to walk the walk that
Jesus wants me to.
I will be with my father
and to Heaven I will go.

 

OH Prisoners Lose Earned Credit Due to Covid

Forward By Christopher
Open Letter By Tara Snyder #102660 (ORW) (OH)

 

Forward

I normally avoid policy issues, but the issue that Tara Snyder, a female prisoner in OH, brings attention to here today is important to inmates and their families.

At the heart of her open letter is the loss of what is known as “earned credit”. Earned credit is the ability of OH inmates to receive a reduction in their sentences for attending certain self-help programs, schooling, and participating in other positive rehabilitative efforts. Earned credit is a driving incentive to OH prisoners to take their time seriously, and to pursue a constructive path.

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I Got Covid Vaccinated! by Christopher

 

This week I received the first dose of the Moderna Covid vaccine. Yes! Finally. I can’t begin to tell you how much stress this lifts from my shoulders (every inmate for that mater). I’ve hoped and hoped for months now that Director Chambers-Smith would make immunizing Ohio’s prisoners a priority. She has.

Since March 2020 my facility has been on modified lock down consisting of restricted movements. NO socializing with anyone outside your unit, NO eating in the chow hall with others from other units, and NO yard or recreation with other prisoners for any reason beyond those who live in your area. NO visits, and NO programs. Typical maximum security wouldn’t you say? Sure, except for one minor detail: I’m in a minimum security facility.

These are some of the Covid restrictions, in place for over a year now. I suppose they’re meant to control the spread of Covid, and I’d imagine to some degree they would if it weren’t for the Covid fatigue experienced by both prisoners and staff resulting in numerous holes in this effort.

None of it really matters anyway. Covid tore through my facility sometime in October 2020, sickening nearly 2,000 men. You won’t read about this in the official figures, because those numbers reflect cases detected through daily screenings only. Through it all NONE of us were Covid tested–not once, save for the cantankerously sick–and daily screening methods of taking our temperatures and checking our blood O2 levels have failed miserably. All of it could have been prevented. Hell, what do I know? I’m just an inmate.

The one thing that I do know is that something has changed since those dark Covid days of 2020. Somewhere along the way, Ohio engaged in a concerted effort to control Covid in its facilities. We went from once leading the nation in the number of cases in its prisons, to paying Ohio prisoners to get vaccinated. Why? What changed?

The cynical side of me says that none of this is born from genuine concern for my or any prisoner lives. A number cruncher somewhere simply realized that it’s cheaper to immunize us rather than continue to ignore us. Everything in corrections is about money, lives are secondary.

The optimistic side of me says that this is in fact consistent with Director Chamber-Smith’s more caring hands on approach. Early on Covid overwhelmed Ohio’s ability to handle it within it’s facilities, and now a year hence after much stumbling and angst, Ohio corrections is on top of things. There was a learning curve, and now that the price of learning has been paid (in inmate lives?), we’re back on track.

I have a unique perspective when it comes to Covid in the nation’s prisons. I correspond with prisoners from all across the country. I know what other states are doing. By default I then know what Ohio is or isn’t doing.

I can say that, at this time, Ohio corrections ranks in the upper percentile of state corrections departments being proactive in handling their prisoner populations and Covid.
As I said, something has changed.

Most states are vaccinating their inmate populations to some degree, some faster than others, but none that I know of are paying their prisoners to do so. When I tell prisoners in other states this, the response is always the same: Are you kidding me?

Ohio corrections is shelling out up to a half-million dollars paying inmates to vaccinate. It’s a savvy move really. So many prisoners are suspicious of the vaccine and the intent of the department of corrections, that many hadn’t planned to get vaccinated. But, because most inmates are poor and have no money, a ten dollar incentive moves the fence sitters.

The nursing staff here has been amazing making sure that shots get into arms. My facility has an incredible proactive medical department, and I’ve been incarcerated long enough to truly appreciate this. If any credit is due, it’s due to these amazing men and women.

I’m told that at my facility plans are being made to relax Covid restrictions once 70% of the inmate population has been vaccinated. I know this to be true, because this is exactly what other states are doing at their facilities. We’re all looking forward to it.

The one thing that I do know out of all of this is that nothing happens within the department of corrections without the blessings of Director Chambers-Smith. She’s in charge, she’s at the helm. The fact that I’ve received the very same Moderna vaccine that so many of you out there have speaks volumes. No law says we’re entitled to it, and it’s certainly not popular with the public.

Though Director Chambers-Smith won’t hear it, tens of thousands of Ohio prisoners along with their families are thankful. And so am I.

Thank you.

Christopher

My First & Only Time Being Arrested By Felicia (Ohio Reformatory for Women)

 

January 24, 2018, pound pound pound (the sound jerks me awake), and I lay there frozen for a moment in time. It has been 16 long days awaiting this moment anxiously. EVERYONE knows that knock. I knew before the door opened that it was the cops and a detective.

My ex is at the door. Before opening he has checked and verified my suspicions. He looks at me and says “are you ready?” Tears well up in my eyes but I don’t blink, I will them away. He opens the door.
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From County Jail to Prison – Women Behind Bars

 

The Lives of Women Behind Bars (Pt. 6): From county jail to prison

By Jennifer (Taycheedah Correctional) (WI)
Forward By Christopher (Madison Correctional) (OH)

 

Forward

One of the things every prisoner remembers is their experience incarcerated at the county or city jail as they awaited conviction. County jails are filthy and unsanitary places. They’re rough. They’re unfriendly and they’re the first glimpse of a life to come.

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