I’m a card player. Quite different from what can be referred to as a gambler. Gambling is to bet money on a chance occurrence. Whereas a card player uses his or her natural gift of card sense, plus the acquired technique of manipulating the variables to manifest his or her financial gain.
I am a card player.
I was in the hole of the county jail when I seen my first poker game. The Officials in charge of the jail had put me therre after I received a threatening letter in the mail, saying sum thing to the affect I wudnt make it to trial alive. I didn’t know it at the time, but I figured out yrs later, my co-defendant was behind the whole thing. He wanted me moved from General Population, where I was, to the hole, where he was, so he cud continue to manipulate me thru out our trial proceedings, jus as he had during the crimes we committed.
There are very few images I can recall from that time back then and walking up on that poker table for the first time is one of them. Seeing my co-defendant and four other cats sitting on the semi dirty floor of a county cell range, encircling a grey, itchy wool county blanket used as the table. They were playing with a deck of cards so old, they had to sprinkle baby powder in between the cards in order to stop them from sticking together. Using even older decks of cards as poker chips, marked appropriately for their monetary value.
Standing on the side line, watching, curious, eager, back thru the eyes of the player I am now, what a mark I had to have looked like. Knowing so little, yet didn’t know I didn’t know. Sum players remain that way their entire careers. Others of us develop our games onto the level of a card player, more commonly known as sharks, while others remain marks and the rest jus fall sum where in between.
Poker, to me, is like life. A way of life. I can tell alot about a guy by how he plays poker. Being a social gathering in nature, it’s as much about who the player is, as it is about how the player plays the cards. With wins, losses, and a changeability that can be difficult to keep pace with if the player is not properly prepared. You gotta have a short emotional memory and a strong mental game, remembering in ne particular hand, if the wrong card hits the board, u can go from a winning hand, to a hand that can’t win. Most of all u can’t be afraid to lose or have too big an ego to fold.
I guess I’m a lucky dude when it comes to playing cards, that’s all I kept hearing evry since I started, how lucky I was. Though I don’t feel so lucky, but maybe luck, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Playing cards has paid the bills around here for a long time and provided me the comforts money can buy. I believe if I were on the streets, I cud very play cards as a profession.
A couple of years or so ago here at Marion, I was living in 5 Dorm. A place more commonly known as the “dirty nickle”. Dirty for two reasons. One, it was literally a dirty place to live, I’m talking filthy. Trash discarded mos places, food droppings left all over the microwave areas, and the showers, man, absolutely disgusting, Second, it was the dirty nickle cos not many of the guys living in there cud pass a piss test.
There was a card game going on almost every day in the dirty nickle, fitting nicely into my life style. On one such day, I was matched up against these two young cats who were no doubt trying to work me, two against one, or as it is better known, “two friends and a stranger”. But I didn’t mind, I was accustome to the odds being against me, taking on three, four, sum times even five different competitors wanting to see ne one win but me, as we sat around wooden tables instead of itchy wool county blankets.
When it came to these two young dudes, I was handling them easily. Winning big, had both down and chasing. Things took a turn for the worst by my own doing. The truth is, I got thirsty, and pulled a petty move when I didn’t have to. Manifesting what my Uncle told me back when I was a young blood in the game, to not jump over a dollar chasing after a dime. Doing so gave the young cats the position they were looking for to welch on a bet.
Well, the story gets a little fuzzy here, but I believe a fight broke out between this old school light skinned cat and these two young bucks. Wasn’t nothing much, but old dude was holding his. When the police came running to see what the commotion was about, and u know those light skin cats can’t hide bruises at all, they light up like a Xmas trees at physical contact. It was clear old school was involved in a fight so off he was taken by the police to the hole. They never did find who old school got into it with, and I heard the cops tried to get him to talk, Ibut come on, he’s old school.
So there I was, locked in a single man isolation cell with a pen, sum scrap paper and a vivid imagination.
For the longest of times I’d been experiencing an overwhelming sensation to jump into water with all my clothes on, idk why, or where it came from, but the image of it brought to me a sense of free beyond the form of words or thought, like a pure sensation. Now that I’m thinking and writing about that sensation at 4:09 in the morning, not only did I love swimming as a kid, but what other activity wud best let me know I am not in prison other then swimming?
In that isolation cell, I told myself to write a poem about what I wanted, not in the material world but in what else prove I was free? What else I wanted that wud release the tension of my life. The first line I wrote was what I thought about doing every time I saw on TV a lake, river, pond or swimming pool…I wanna jump in a swimming pool fully clothed and not care……and what followed is this.
“I wanna jump in a swimming pool fully clothed and not care
sit around with my friends, talk about jumping out air planes but not for real
I wanna wake up, in the middle of the night, hit the frig and eat a cold slice of pizza
sit on my back patio and smoke a whole ounce of reefer
I wanna fly
not cos I’m high
but cos I’m on a plane for the first time
straight out to Vegas
blow my whole bank roll in a weekend
fall in love with a rookie escort named Jennifer
who confessed she never did this before
but like the way I turned her on
I turned her on
forced myself to turn my back on her
I wanna turn back a few chapters
or at least learn how to better deal with the shit that happens
I wanna hit the road
back pack across the country with no money
and no worries
find a stage in front of a million priest
so I can confess my sins
it’ll help my Sons get into heaven
I wanna frolick about
I wanna know who I am when there’s no ne else around
I wanna triumph in life
tell little white lies to my wife
I wanna go all in
and be good with it
wreck a relationship and not try to fix it
I wanna keep it moving
only stay in the same place as long as I’m made to
see new places and not remember the names to
I wanna be famous
I wanna attend my own funeral to see what ppl really think of me
if they really loved me or they was jus happy to be rid of me
I wanna know if I’m the one tripping
head first of this wagon
with no luggage or baggage
jus this wrinkled up flag
that looks alot like a toe tag
and its flapping
in the winds of inevitably
I wanna not be afraid to tell ppl God’s really with me
or believe it when she says she misses me
but not really
I wanna be the man
have the time of my life and do it all over again
even if its on a Monday
partying my way to that place called “Someday”
where I’ll finally be able to relax
learning how to live on the minimum
instead of the max.”
Yea, that poem there, its special to me. It’s also the first poem I wrote I didn’t edit much at all. How it came out is pretty much how it stayed, a touch here or there, but that’s it. I remember back to writing the line, ‘I wanna know who I am when there’s no one else around’. I remember the hesitation I felt, the impulse to change it to sum thing else, sum thing that wud make me feel less afraid of how I was being seen thru a set of slanted eyes I placed into other ppls heads for them to only see the worst angles of me. Deciding not to, cos if I can say whats real in my poetry then where else can I say it?
True transparency is to say what ppl wudnt know about u unless u told them, so I say it and maybe that’s why sum of the kids in here gravitate towards me and why sum of them don’t. Bringing to mind this one youngster who ended up coming to the hole while I was back there during this time of the story. I use to kick it to him while we were both lived in the ‘dirty nickle’. He was a good kid, and I told him as much, that if stayed focused, he wud make it out there in society. I did my best to encourage his realization of that on his way home. He went by the name Brandon Leeper, but I jus called him “kid”. Even tho we were both in the hole at the time, we were happy to see other. Especially since he was due to be released in a number of day, we’d atleast be able to say our goodbyes and what not. We wud talk thru the door of the cell I was while he was getting his hour recreation ea day.
On his last day, I jotted a few encouragements down on paper to give to him as things to ponder in his final hours of prison, things he ought not forget when he leaves. Surprising me, he wrote back, with words, insight and emotion impacting me as much as I hope mine impacted him. A letter I still carry with me to this day.
So out of prison the kid went, and after a little over two weeks, out of the hole old school went. Back out into the land of the living as we say, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
One of those programs was the weekly poet gathering me and sum of the other poets around Marion formed as a workshop slash slam session slash thearpy group. Where we wud work on our stuff, get practice in for ne up coming shows or kick it about whatever was on our minds.
Well, the crew knew whenever I went to the hole, I wud come back out having written sum thing nice. Sure enough, soon as the crew got together that week, they were on me about letting them hear what I’d written. I decided to let them hear what I wanted.
I’ve never been one to name my poems, too complicated of a task for me for sum reason I’ve jus come accept as the way I am. I jus write them, and let my crew, mainly Rooster, name them. And they named this one “I wanna”.
I didn’t think much of it, u know, to me, the piece was jus another expression of me trying to figure me out. Turns out, it was much more to my crew. When we got back together the following week, four of the crew members had written their own ‘I wanna’ pieces. To be honest, I didn’t know how I was feeling about that. I’d started to hear how I was beginning a influence in the crews writing, how my advise or suggestions were being taken, but never so overt. It didn’t affect me egotistically, well maybe a little, but more so it made me happy.
They said my writing that piece while I was locked up in the hole, inspired them to write what free meant to them, to ask themselves what they wanted. They say I started a movement. Can u picture that? Me? Starting a movement? Crazy.
From there, the ‘I wanna’ movement took us to the 2016 TED stage where we wud all have the opportunity to tell the world, atleast our little worlds, what we wanted.
The title of that years event was “Revisionist Destiny”. Tho I cudnt see the polarity between that title and what was taking place in my little, small world, revised is exactly what my destiny wud be.
One day, while in a rehearsal meeting for the up-coming event, Jo Dee Davis, a 70 sum thing, HWIC, red headed spit fire, who played many roles and figures around this place, but to me, mos imoortsntly, she prison Mom. She turns to the other decision makers in the room, Daniel Royston and Wayne Snitzky and asks curiously, “when is Jason going to give a TED talk?”.
Having been my fortune to perform poems at the two previous TED events, and being fearful of doing a talk, I quickly jumped in with, “I don’t to talks Jo, I do poetry!”
Goes to show how much I know. The Event was in need of an addtional ‘inside’ talker, (meaning a prisoner who gives a talk along side several “outside” talkers who come into the prison for the event). Wayne, Jo Dee and Rooster threw my name in the ring as the best candidate. Intimidated yes, but more so encouraged to embrace the experience for how it wud stretch me beyond what I felt and knew myself to be. So instead of representing the ‘I wanna’ crew, my destiny change into giving my first TED talk, entitled The Voiceless. (first blog I posted)
When I think back to my experiences that day, being in front of over 300 ppl, on a stage with lights so bright, I seen but shadows of faces beyond the first few rows, there are a couple images always popping up first. The short haired, middle aged fair skinned woman with kind eyes, sitting in the front row, directly in my line of sight from the stage. Her tears streaming down her cheeks without shame or secret. The moment my emotions almost got the best of me, referring to Melissa’s and I’s Mother’s, glancing over to my right, seeing the eye’s of Amy Ponn’s sad yet respecting, and I struggled to keep it together, thinking to myself, ‘can’t look over there again!’. The way the crowd
shot to their feet in a standing ovation for a reformed murderer like me.
Off that stage I came right into the presence of an older but fit looking man with glasses, standing beside who he introduced as his Wife, and together they made an interesting couple. Reaching for my hand, clapsing it with his own and shaking it firmly he said, ” I wanna tell u sum thing Jason” looking me square in the eye, “I’ve been listening to ppl talk on stages for about 37 yrs now, and I’ve never had my jaw dropped open for as long as I did until hearing u.”
For a moment, I can almost see myself thru his eyes as if I were him watching me up there performing, and the compliment makes me feel uncomfortable and I didn’t know why, wondered without answer, thought maybe sum thing was wrong with me until I seen an old interview of Jimi Hendricks on the The Dick Cavett show. It was there I’d hear for the first time Jimi say what I felt, and cudnt find the words to describe. He said he didn’t take compliments well because he didn’t think he deserved them. (I wrote a poem entitled Jimi Hendricks afterward, I’ll share it later).
Destiny. Revision. Deserving. Or not. Things have a way working themselves out that can amaze us, scare us, make us cry or crack a smile, but either way, it’s made jus for us. And we may not know it while were in it, it can hard to seen that close up. But later on, looking at it from the vantage point of our rear view mirror, we discover it happened jus the way it had to for us to become who we are and for us to be in the position we are presently in.
In the same way my original ‘I wanna’ piece wasn’t destined to join the movement it started on a TED stage. Tho I wudve liked that, I liked better writing and performing the short story of my life and sharing it with my little world. Its what I was meant to do.
Jus like it was meant for to inspiring a world wide traveler and well known poet Bryonn Bain, who one day came into the prison with a couple of his cats to hang out, kick it and drop sum poetry. Our poet crew was invited to the get together, along with 20 or so audience members from around the prison. I had the greatest of times, the best part was receiving the criticisms and encouragements from such a creative and well seasoned poet like Bryonn. In what he call “the rose”. Listening to sum ones poem and then saying what u liked, what made u feel good ( the rose), what u cud supported in what u heard (the stem) and then what u didn’t like or what u didn’t get (the thorns).
As the day with Byronn wound itself down, it was time for outside guest to go. I was invited up to the mic to drop one last piece to close out the session. My crew requested I spit my ‘I wanna’, which as im telling u this story, was destined to happen, it was the only fitting ending. Cos I tell u, I dropped that piece in a way that even had my crew saying that was the best they ever heard me spit it, and they’ve heard it a hundred times.
It evev brought sum thing to the surface of Bryonn, instead of letting the session end on that note, he was inspired to spit a piece he said he wasn’t going to share in public because of its significance and intimate meaning, but felt compelled to in light of what I jus dropped and how it made him feel. It was this performance of his that inspired my Jimi Hendricks piece.
I wrote a poem from inside an isolation cell that started a movement. A movement that wudn’t include me on the same stage as it, but provided me instead the platform to grow as a man, as a writer, as a person. A movement that had the part I wud play be in waiting until almost a year later where I wud move and inspire one of the liviest poets I’ve see or heard. Who wud then inspire me back to become who I am in this very moment. How’s that for revised destiny?
Jus today, while in our same weekly poet meeting, my man Chi-Town, a black revolutionary type who spits mostly about the plight and life of black ppl in America, but definitely can change it up nicely to other subject matters. I was talking about writing this story and how the varying elements tied together stemming from a poem I wrote when I was in the hole. He says, “u always write sum of ur best shit when ur in the hole!”
Jason B. Thompson
Categories: Jason Thompson