Heart on the Wall by Scott Strothers

Heart on the Wall

I can’t believe this, I thought. It’s as though two worlds are colliding.

I was walking around the track with my teenaged brother and sister, and my mother and grandmother were also on the yard, sitting on a bench alongside the track, taking a rest break.

Today was Madison’s annual Family Day event. Usually, inmates could receive visits only in the small, crowded visit room. Today, we were able to visit with

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This Is Who We Are, We Incarcerated
By Christopher

Today I ask you, Who are we incarcerated? I want you to consider this question if only for a moment.

It’s easy to view incarcerated people through a narrow optic shaped by Hollywood and personal prejudices. When this occurs judgement inevitably follows. Our sentences are, sadly, enacted twice. Once by the court and again (perpetually) by the court of public opinion.

When I stepped foot through the doors of Madison Correctional on a Summer day in July of 1995 I thought my life had ended. “I did this,” I thought. “I put myself here.”

As the years unfolded I began to comprehend the depth of my actions. No one else was to blame. Not family, friends, nor the public. Gone were the excuses I selfishly clung to as an excuse for my actions. I put myself here.

Like large waves cresting, the decades crashed onward. I swam within this ocean of time and came close to drowning more than I care to admit.

From behind these cinder brick walls and razor wire fencing I’ve found purpose and meaning to my life. Through pain and inner reflection I’ve found answers. I alone put myself here, and I alone hold the keys to my freedom. I always have.

What is freedom anyway? Is it being able to go places whenever you want? Is it being able to see who you want or buy what you want, live wherever you choose? I suppose those are possible answers but I have a different definition.

I’ve witnessed the young and old suffering quietly, grappling with never ending grief yearning for one’s children and family. I now understand.

I’ve witnessed moments where fathers surrendered to this world, snuffed out by one’s own hand. I now understand.

I’ve lost loved ones that I never imagined Id lose. In the end I wasn’t able to be there for them in those final moments. I now understand.

To me, freedom is the discovery that I once lived in a prison of my own making. Except, it was a prison without bars or walls. Its foundation poured from ignorance and its walls molded from a lack of insight into myself.

To me, freedom is about others. Its about how I choose to help others and in so doing open doors in life that lift me, guide me, and heal me.

To me, freedom is the happiness that grips my entire being day in and day out because the universe reflects back upon me that which I send out into in. Over and over again.

So I return now to my original question: Who are we incarcerated?
I hope you now have a broader understanding to that question. We are fathers and mother’s, and brothers and sisters. We hope and dream and laugh and cry like everyone else.

Each voice you read here seeks to give back to the communities they’ve impacted. They’re engaged in restorative justice efforts at their facilities and help those around them. They’re leaders in organizations behind prison walls, and many of them are college students or engaged in programs run by outside organizations within their facilities. Some, like myself, are active with national organizations dedicated to answering the same question I posed in the first sentence of this letter to you, Who are we incarcerated?

What isn’t apparent are the struggles writers of this blog have had to overcome in order to express themselves here for you. Through their poetry you will capture a glimpse of their journey and struggles, discover a fuller definition and understanding to the question: Who are we incarcerated?


Finding Me
by Melissa Germain

These visible scars make me worry
That they’ll see my past and dub me unworthy
Please give me a chance; let me explain
How all this was vital to the woman I became.
For and throughout all these lost years,
I must have shed thousands of tears,
To finally learn I AM WORTHWHILE
To actually know a genuine smile.
Because I had lost ME along the way
I myself — didn’t know how to think, feel or say
I was kept in the dark rose colored sight
Even during the day it felt like night.
And when life fell apart before my eyes
They were forced open — determined — intensified
So I had to trip, stumble and fall,
To get a grip, become humble, walk tall
I’ve said goodbye to where and who I’ve been
And allowed my heart to now beat again
And though many lessons have come at a cost
I’m living proof that all is not lost.

Melissa Germain (Women’s Huron Valley, Michigan)

Fallen Angel
By Victoria

I rise through the mist,
My feet off the ground,
I look straight ahead,
and don’t turn around,
In all I do in here for you,
I’m your fallen angel.

Your tears will come,
and the years will pass,
The pain may never end,
But remember life goes fast,
I’m in Heaven and I get to
always be near you,
Talk to me because now
I can hear you.

I rise through the mist,
My feet off the ground,
I look straight ahead,
In all that I do, I’m here for you
I’m your fallen angel.

Victoria (Women’s Huron Valley, Michigan)

A Heavy Weight
By Christopher

“Welcome to prison,” I heard the guard say.
“Good luck to you, I hope you find your way,
because I can’t help you,” he went on to say

And so, I went into the unknown,
to serve a sentence of my own
A young man in a world that I knew not,
concerned about myself
but for others,
I did not.

The heavy door banged shut behind me,
as I entered the cellblock
Assaulted by intense heat,
for the Summer sun
bakes the concrete

Sometimes, it can be a bit much

I’m here to tell you,
that I’m one of the lucky ones
My sentence spans decades,
and I’ve lost loved ones
There are days where I sometimes cry,
but I am grateful
and here’s the reasons why

One day I found myself in the cellblock laundry room,
where more than laundry sometimes happens.
Where I’ve seen fists find faces,
and where I’ve stumbled upon lovers,
in secret embraces

But on this day it was just me,
came back in to start a dryer — I’d forgot
but something stopped me,
what I know not.

So I went toward the dryers in the near corner,
slumped in between, I found a man.
Gaps across his wrists like crimson mouths,
rivers of red…

I’m here to tell you,
that I’m one of the lucky ones
My sentence spans decades,
and I’ve lost loved ones
There are days where I sometimes cry,
but I am grateful
and here’s the reasons why

I once knew a man behind these walls,
Forty Five years he’d done,
but that’s not all
He often told me he’d die in prison,
that he’d never make parole
because of an uncaring system
that had taken its toll.

Then one day he was granted release!
and I saw…fear on his face
after forty five years, it meant,
he’d have to leave this place

On the morning of his release,
as his family waited in the parking lot
he was found in his cell,
eyes seeing but not

They say he had a heart attack,
but…I know that’s not right,
because he told me he’d die in prison
just the previous night.

These are some of the reasons why I now advocate,
for my fellow man,
nor about my plans.

Life is about others,
our fellow man
how we help others,
is part of life’s plan.

I’m here to tell you,
that I’m one of the lucky ones
My sentence spans decades,
and I’ve lost loved ones
There are days where I sometimes cry,
but I am grateful
and here’s one more reason why

There’s a group, called the Harmony Project
rare in this nation, came to my institution
here’s a summation!

For several days we sang and were merry,
and through song discovered that we’re much alike,
travelers on life’s paths,
some in darkness others in light

On one of those days we made tissue paper sunflowers
for a children’s hospice, in a far land
the number needed, was quite grand.

Each sunflower represents a child who passed away,
at that children’s hospice,
in a land far away…

and I cradled the first that I had made
…a soft rustle in my hand.

I tell you–
I am one of the lucky ones.
My sentence has spanned decades,
and I know I’ll lose more loved ones.
There will be more days, where I will cry,
But I will always be grateful,

And those are the reasons why.

Christopher (Madison Correctional, Ohio)

*I recited this poem to a crowd of 2300 amazing women and guests at Ohio’s largest women’s prison, the Ohio Reformatory for Women on 6/6/23 as part of the Harmony Project’s first ever Sunflower & Arts Festival. The festival brought 3 prisons together for the first of its kind in the nation event.

*You can watch NBC coverage of the event at NBC4I.com for 6/6/23. You can also watch a short documentary of the event at Harmony Project’s YouTube channel: Harmonyprojectonline. The video is titled,
Sunflower Arts & Music Festival. The Harmony Project also has a Facebook page.

Deepest Wound
By Brandy

Been waking up early in the mornings not knowing why…
Mind running like a horse at a track never ending the race only to come crashing down. Sun peeks through the clouds, shines bright like the fourth of July. Clouds turn grey to bright orange to blood red like crimson.

Crawling out of bed is just a mirage only doing Groundhog day. They said stand tall, put a guard up don’t let them break you. My world comes and goes like a circus coming to town. Laughing at all the faces that seem like everybody is wearing a mask. Fake it to make it but I can’t do that anymore. I’m physically here but mentally checked out. I wear a mask of fear, scars that were hidden begin to show the ugliness.

The closest person to me feels dangerous, deepest wound bleeds like the Mississippi River.

Brandy (Dayton Correctional, Ohio)

One Day at a Time
by Melissa Germain

Another sunset and you’re not here
This morning a sunrise
And you weren’t near
The heat of your skin
The scruff of your face
Your spot in the bed
Is a cold empty place
Even though I miss you
I have to be strong
White knuckle nights
I’m barely hanging on
I can’t let you in
To my heart or my space
God how I miss you
But your love isn’t safe

Melissa Germain (Women’s Huron Valley, Michigan)

A New Start
By Victoria

Battle hardened, war torn eyes
The pain within you can’t disguise
Callous memories deep inside
Love for most has all but died

Gentle father, soothing grace
Holds me in his warm embrace
Debts forgiven, slate is clean
Sins are now to him unseen.

A hint of feelings, soon to grow
Unconditional love to me He’ll show
A fleshly heart where a stone was set
A friend unlike I’ve ever met

His big plan for all creation
The head, the corner of the foundation
His son He sent to bear our shame
So life eternal we would gain

Think about it your heart will melt
Gratitude and feelings you’ve never felt
Rely on Him, our hearts He’ll hold
The most amazing story ever told

Victoria (Women’s Huron Valley, Michigan)

By Christa Pike (2022)

Questioning the worth of my own existence. Through my own eyes…through the eyes of others. Stark contrast.

Encased in love like being suffocated in spider silk waiting to die. My own fear and frustration being the fangs that will drain me. Downward spiral of despair is my comfort zone. Tears bathe my face from lack of any other expression. Every feeling pours down my face in a river…except one time they poured forth from my arms. Raindrops aren’t enough when you feel in oceans. I only cut a river. I should’ve sliced my throat. The horrible part is being lonely. It’s so hard to have love for so many people and miss them so much and be so lonely all the time.

I’m completely isolated yet surrounded by people. I’m always lonely but NEVER fucking alone. I never get any peace because I have some special ones that rely on me for way too much, way too often. Yet, if I don’t feel needed, I don’t feel alive. I have to take care of other human beings or I don’t feel complete.

I’m not okay.
I don’t want to be here.
I don’t want to die yet.

I’m tired of being treated as “less than.” I’m a good person with a good heart and I deserve better than what I’ve been dealt in this life, whether I killed someone or not. I was a kid. I am mentally ill. Bipolar disorder was almost unheard of back then and is still widely misunderstood. I took the blame on myself for the crime committed by 3 people. That’s something a little girl does when she has no self esteem, because she’s taught by NO ONE that she’s worthy to stand tall and feel just as good as anyone else.

Daddy’s teach your daughters well to find the love they need within themselves and show it with your actions so that they may never seek it in all the wrong places. Feeling “less than” never has a positive outcome, Out there back then — or in here now…Only I’ve yet to live out this destiny. So far…it’s not looking too good for your girl. Yet, my heart stays filled with love and I hope I can pass that on. I only want to leave love.

Christa Pike (From death row, Tennessee)

Ahead to the End
by Melissa Germain

Looking ahead at a daunting scene
While coping with captivity
Trying to envision my American dream
While surrounded by depravity
The years endured without punctuation
Despair and it’s stalking companion depression
Are taking a toll, killing my soul
The loneliness only another reason
To just let go of this endless season
Wanting relief, a reprieve from this pain
I can’t handle much more

Melissa Germain (Women’s Huron Valley, Michigan)

Out There
by Melissa Germain

I’m standing in a line
I stand in all the time
Day in and day out
I disregard the ugly
all around me

I close my eyes
And still I know
The beauty of a scene
The lilly nodding in the breeze
The robins in the sky

I will not let
This barb wire and
Fences hold me in
For I am free in spirit
If beyond I don’t forget

Melissa Germain (Women’s Huron Valley, Michigan)

* You may reach Melissa at:
Melissa Germain #629953
Women’s Huron Valley Correctional
3201 Bemis Road
Ypsilanti, MI 48197-0911
and through JPay email

*Please share this post with others. If your heart moves you, please leave a comment for the writers of these amazing poems. And, as always, thank you for following and hearing our voices. We are grateful. —Christopher


It’s All About the Hustle by Christopher

“I can’t do this,” Spider said to me. “I won’t live this way.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I won’t that’s what I mean! I’ll steal or extort one of these guys.”

I sat on my bunk quietly. I let my friend vent because I knew he needed it. His wife had informed him she was leaving him, and that she couldn’t help him anymore. By “help” she meant financially. The hundred dollars a month she had sent from his first day of incarceration would immediately end.

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Ear Hustles & Random Thoughts (Pt.2) by Christopher

A month has passed since my parole hearing and life is slowly returning to normal. I tap away at the soft rubber keyboard as I sit here typing at the same table I have for years. It has become my “office”. The guys know I’m writing–what exactly, few know–but that I do it daily.I’m in the dayroom and it’s loud. As abnormal as it may seem, I find the noise level comforting because it tells me all is well. Guys slapping dominoes on thick tables and animated card games make up this cacophony of prison life. Behind these pale cinder brick walls the abnormal becomes a new normal.

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Reflection by Christopher

The table is clean and smooth, a wooden tabletop bolted to a steel frame that’s bolted to the linoleum floor of the day room. There are ten of them. Guys make food, play cards, work on crafts or sit at these tables watching one of two giant televisions. Tonight the table is my “office”, so I tell the guys, and this is how it is every night.

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