“I seen u on the prison TV station last night,” said a familiar voice from over my left shoulder. Knowing it was Bass, I turned my attention away from preparing the service line where most inmates wud get their dinner that night.
“Oh yeah,” I said, “that’s cool, they must’ve aired the new ‘Convicted Lyric’ spot light. I tried to hide my pride.
In the midst of Bass talking about poetry, in came my friend Hilton, the jailhouse attorney.
“What’s up fellas, what y’all talking about?” He was standing in the door way of the kitchen with a streaigh back, hands on hips, squared shoulders. Hilt is friendly, but direct.
Hilt told us there was an upcoming event being held in the prison chapel to support a movement known as One Billion Rising.n Then event was being organized to bring awareness to the many forms of violence against women — and he suggested that I write sum thing on the topic and perform it.
He handed me a single sheet of white paper with suggested topics.
The last bullet on the paper reward: “What wud u say to ur victim, ifmu cud talk to them?”
Suddenly, sum thing shifted, as if a door had opened.
Talking about a murder charge, or being known as a murderer, may seem like no big deal for a man in prison. It may seem like sum thing we talk about like the food and the guards, as we shoot the shit waiting for dinner to come. Or it may even fit into sum stereotypical view that such a man wud wear his crime as a badge of honor.
But most of us aren’t like that at all; we speak vaguely, act like it doesn’t exist.
Only my closest friends knew the real story of what I did. There was so little knowledge about my case that a rumor hit for a short while hat I might have done sum weird sex crime. But I didn’t care — an ugly lie was easier to defend then the truth.
As I set to work on my poem in the next few days, I felt a sense of duty to be authentic. I wud catch myself drifting away from the truth of my crime, into semantics, and I wud have to stop, go back, and start over again.
Then the day came.
Walking through the front double-doors of the chapel, I saw 50 or so prisoners milling around with a handful of male and female outside guests.
I was bustling with nerves, now, literally, talking to myself: “You’re a star.”. I was nervous about being on stage, but more so about what I wud be saying.
Then it was my turn to walk out on stage. The lights were too bright to see past the silhouetted faces in the first couple of rows. I wondered whether Bass or Hilton were out there watching — and for a moment wished I cud jus be back in the kitchen talking about bullshit.
I soon heard a strange voice echoing out of the speaker before realizing that it was my own.
“This is my first time hearing my voice through a microphone, and I have to say it sounds pretty good,”. I smiled. There was laughter, I relaxed.
“What mos ppl don’t know about me is why I’ve been in prison for 26 yrs now. At the age of 18, I committed an aggravated murder, and was given 105 yrs to Life. Ever since, I’ve been unable to answer two seemingly simple questions: Why, and how cud I have done what I did? So I wrote this poem.”
Exhaling deeply, clasping my palms together in front of me, I started to perform. The poem is meant to be heard, not read, but here it goes:
You see this here, this here’s a knife
and what I’m tell u is a story about my life
and if u cut me open,
I’d be sure to bleed a sadness
that had this
feel or sense of my own inner embarrassment
my known shame
that I’ve kept hidden away
until right out here on this stage
where I’m a release it
I’m a let u see
that this shit leaking out my veins is liquefied pain
and its pouring on the floor forming to words that spell one name
born the 18th of December
and every yr I remember
innocence and beauty
her uncertainty had her thinking oh my God he’s not kidding
thru teary eyes and a shaky voice
she pleaded with me to make a different choice
begged me for a chance
but her tears fell on ears jus too immature for the circumstances
she said, u don’t have to do this
I jus told her to get down
now its over with
NOW ITS OVER WITH STUPID
WHAT THE FUCK WAS I THINKING
what nif sum body killed my kid
took away my baby and destroyed my family
in one split second
I ended up wrecking
not one, but two lives
loosened not one but two family ties
broke two Mother’s hearts
tore two families apart
watch two Mother’s cry
while every body else stood around asking why
Life…is what I took so its the book that thrown at I
crying for me, forget it
cry for Melissa, I don’t deserve ur tears or ur sympathy
cos Melissa died for nothing, literally
and I feel like nothing, internally
cos no matter how hard I try
I can’t go back in time and stop my younger self from committing that crime
if I cud, DAMIT I wud
but, in writing these lines, in way, I’ve brought her back to this life
back to this time
so while I have her here, in this place
there’s jus sum thing I have to say…
I can’t forgive myself so I don’t expect u to
but there is sum thing I’d like for u to do
if u’d ask God if I cud give u this knife, so u cud cut me open, PLEASE
release these infectious diseases of regret and bad dreams
What? What did u say?
Oh, OK, now I get it, its like what Piper Kerman calls restorative justice
where I begin, to see, if its possible, to make things right,
by how much I cud give of my own life
I hear her and I thank her
cos from this day forward I’ll no longer be a coward
I’ll sew up these veins
face this pain
and live my life in proof she didn’t die in vien
simple and plain….I’m sorry
but what I really want to say is…I’M SORRY!!
Heading into that last and mos important line of my poem, the reason why I was up there, I said it: “I’m sorry!”
After I came down off then stage, about halfway out into the audience, sitting in an aisle seat, a woman was crying uncontrollablly.
“Are u OK, Elizabeth?” said the young man sitting next to her, with his arm around her shoulders.
Elizabeth continued sobbing in silence. Her hands covering her face.
Suddenly, she excused herself from her companion, hurrying out into the chapel hallway leading to the restrooms and the outside garden area.
Outside, unafraid and unapologetic, she turned to me and said ina direct tone, “I want to tell u sum thing about what I’ve been through, so u can better understand why ur poem affected me the way it did.”
“When I was a young girl,” she continued, “I was molested for yrs by my older brother. I hid the fact for sum of the same reasons u talked about in ur story, feelings of shame, embarrassment, thinking ppl wudn’t believe me. And they didn’t! When I finally got up the courage to talk about it publicly, everyone believed his lies, that I was making the whole thing up for sum attention, trying to sell a book.”
“That’s terrible,” I said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with ppl.”
“I don’t either. In the end, all I wanted from him was a sorry. I think atys what really got me about ur poem. I need a sorry from a person who won’t give it, and u need to give a sorry to a person who can’t get it.”
She out her hand on mine.