Messages from Within

Messages from Within

Hello readers. This is Alex Ross, Humans of San Quentin’s poetry director. Those of us in prison have all made mistakes that we cannot take back. We were prisoners to our ignorance. We cannot give you advice, but we can offer some food for thought from our own perspective. Before you pick up that gun, hit a person, or decide to use drugs, consider the outcome of our mistakes and ask yourself: do you really want prison to be your final destination?

“Food for Thought” by Alex, 54

Question
If I were four fingers,
A palm, and a thumb
Attached to a wrist
Who would I be attached to
Who would I work for
What would my mission be
Would I be just a limb
Or a boxer’s knockout hand
Would I be an audience’s clapping hand
Or a priest’s praying hand
Would I be a woman’s hand doing the job
Of a man’s hand
Or a woman’s hand rearing children
Again and again
Would I be a chief, a thief,
Police, or a creep?
A hand has no choice
You do.

“Falling Forward” by Dennis, 49

Look back at the cold air floating around the child
who decides the world is unnurturing

 Look back at the doors life drags us through
these gateways to beliefs that weren’t the truth

Look back at the sum of your choices
pretending everything happens for a reason

Look back at the prisons I built for myself
long before I even came to prison

Look back at that long night of tears
My conscience weeps over the faces I’ve harmed,
the faces I can’t remember

Look, back through the multiverse to the life I
could’ve built if those days never happened

Look back at the change the next minute offers on endorsement

LOOK. We can breathe again. We are perfectly
imperfect alchemists capable of turning our hard
things into gold

I’m much better for looking more repentant,
humble, wise,
knowing I have my own answer. 

“More than Enuff” and “Trickle, Trick, Treacle, Trauma” by Paul, 64

More Than Enuff?

Am I not a man?
If I am not,
Then what I am?
Can I not bend light
So as to be unseen,
Like a double-heliotroped,
Mirrored magazine?
Like condensation,
Slipping through walls?
Cannot I reconstitute
My nucleoid mass,
So that I may drift,
Like a vapored gas?
May I not twist time
Returning history,
Like a reimagined memory?
Cannot I bend reality
Travel through space,
Within Dark Void’s
Desperate face?
He has heard my plea
Beyond this place
Saying that I must yet flee
To truly be free
I dream through these walls,
Unseen, yet still me
Within memories’ halls,
My mind drifts away,
A macabre mystery
Life’s distorted play
Neglected history
Trying not to be annoyed
Still existing
Within this dark void
I am all powerful?
I am utterly helpless?
I am neither?
I am both?
Yes,
And No
Lord God
Thank you though
For Grace
Within this place 

Trickle, Trick, Treacle, Trauma

Lusted,
A beautiful angel I mistook
Thrusted,
A hearty pebble under her brook
Busted,
A flying fish she did hook
Trusted,
Misbegotten pole
Encrusted,
My beleaguered soul
Trickle, Trick, Treacle, Trauma

Stomped,
Into roiling soil
Abused,
Navajo mud toy toil
Disused sock puppet,
On grass
Her hand,
Hear my love-song,
So crass
Trickle, Trick, Treacle, Trauma

Blue,
Phosphorescent specter
Taste,
Of love’s sweet nectar
I could only
But concur
Did not deter
Trickle, Trick, Treacle, Trauma

This was not
His blessing
A flight from above
Of God’s most merciful dove
No, twas a soulless succubus
For me to love
Trickle, Trick, Treacle, Trauma

Hidden, black mass
Heart breaking like glass
Lustful Fool
Fell into the deep end of the pool
Trickle, Trick, Treacle, Trauma

I could not break free
Of this terrible responsibility
Please release me
Trickle, Trick, Treacle, Trauma

Itch,
In my teeth,
Fear,
My feet,
The Abyss beneath
Myself,
I do hereby bequeath
Myself a funerary wreath
Trickle, Trick, Treacle, Trauma

“To Know Your Strongest Power” by White Eagle, 63

A Sundance Woman
Like the Morning Star
Different, powerful
Equal partner

 Mother Earth
Father Sky
Heart and mind
As one

They give us knowledge
Our ceremonies bear the best

 Honor
Respect

Men
Women

 Song
Dance

 Family
Tribe

 Children
Generation 

Power and Beauty
Spirit and Heart

 Mother earth
The Indian Woman

Michael Moore

Michael Moore

A Typical Morning

September 8, 2022

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed in prison can’t be helped. Since the beds are attached to the wall on one side, there is only one side to wake up to, and that’s in prison. But the quietest time in prison is from 11pm to 5am. Out of respect, all TVs, radios, and loud conversations cease after 10pm. I wake at 4:30am when the guard slams the locks open on our doors. Some guards put a little more snap into turning the key to ensure a bang loud enough to be heard 50 feet away. Occasionally, a guard will not be such a hater and will thoughtfully unlock it quietly. That kindness is always appreciated and welcomed. My celle rises and makes us both coffee. I often continue in lying in bed with my eyes closed. I hear him say, “Coffee’s on your shelf.” “Thank you,” I sleepily respond. Then I hear all the sounds of a person getting ready for the day. Going to the bathroom, washing his face, getting dressed, and when he’s finished, he lets me know by saying, “The floor’s all yours.” The cell is five and a half feet wide with only 22 inches of walkway, so there’s room for one of us on the floor at a time. At 5:30am the porter can be heard preparing a mop bucket that has one bad wheel to mop the tier before we are let out for chow. By that time, we are both fully dressed with spoons and forks in our pockets, ready for the walk and line to pick up our trays in the chow hall. That’s when the noise starts and doesn’t stop until 10 or 11pm.

 

Thanks, Steve

September 5, 2022

After eight years of ducking and dodging prison politics, I was finally in a Level Two prison–in San Quentin–and walking to my first for-credit college class. I was with another student named Steve. I explained how I had made a decision to abandon being a criminal in exchange for going to college. It was the first long-term plan I had ever made in my life. I told Steve that I thought I could earn a passing grade if I worked hard enough. He said that I should shoot for better than that. I argued that whether a doctor gets an A or a C, he’s still a doctor. He asked which doctor I would want working on me. For some time, Steve would not know how powerful that question would be. It haunted me. The fact was, I did not believe I was capable of earning an A. He motivated me to put my all into my new class and I earned an A- in intermediate algebra! Today, with only four credits to go, I’m holding a 3.51 GPA. Thank you, Steve.

 

What a Trip

August 28, 2022

What a trip. For over two decades I’ve listened to other prisoners describe their trips to ‘outside’ medical appointments. I often wished for a reason to be taken. Having to dress in an orange carrot suit, handcuffed to a waist chain, and shackled. This is enough for many to refuse the trip. When the opportunity finally came and I was asked if I wanted to refuse, “Hell no, let’s go!” was my response.

I came to prison at forty and am sixty-two now. I eagerly accepted the chains. Two guards were my armed escorts. The vans have cages constructed in the interior and there are two-by-four inch holes in a grate that covers the windows of a white van. It is enough to view the world from inside. As soon as we cleared the big gate, passing through the 25 foot walls, the visual world exploded. A panoramic of colors and distances not seen in so long, except on TV, captivated my whole being. I shifted my trussed up body so my face was flush to the grate, excitedly peering through one of the holes. Instead of seeing in yards, I could see for miles! The depth and dimensions of the real world are not captured on a TV screen. I could see the sunlight dancing off the water of the bay. The surface appeared to be covered in dazzling diamonds. Absolutely mesmerizing! All of the sudden a deep sense of sadness began to well up inside me. The realization of all the beauty I have been missing for so long threatened to overwhelm me. My eyes began to water. Everything blurred as I shook my head refusing to succumb. I’d waited a long time to take this trip and wanted to miss nothing.

I didn’t miss a thing. Besides all the vivid colors there were thousands of cars of every shade and shape. The same I noticed were the drivers. One lady looked over and saw me peering out of the van and smiled kindly. It felt good to be seen and warmly waved to. For years I’d been watching “Motorweek” to keep up on automotive technology. Now I was identifying all the different makes and models. Combustible, hybrid, and all electric. The freeway is like a huge moving car show. The award by far went to an Eddie Bauer Special Edition truck with everything a person would need to tackle and conquer the Badlands. Big knobby tires, lights everywhere, and protective armor along the bottom edges of the lifted body. The driver of the van made me feel like I was on a roller coaster ride. I laughed out loud from the giddiness of traveling so fast. Then I was shocked into silence by the surprising size of the windmills. I knew what Don Quixote must have felt like. Those machines are gigantuous! I’ve never seen anything that big moving.

Arriving at the hospital I walked, if that’s what it can be called in shackles, past people that either smiled warmly or kept their eyes averted nervously. I had my thumbs hooked into the waist chain like a cowboy and held my head high. Broken or not, I didn’t want to look like it. Shackles are difficult to master. I still have scabs on my achilles tendons from taking too big of a stride and the stainless steel digging into my skin.

The return trip was just as exciting with one significant difference. When I saw the prison in the distance, I was taken back by how small it is. The world I have created on the ‘inside’ has all the activity of the outside. I rise from my bed, commute to work five days a week, take night classes in college, engage in healthy activities on weekends, make new friends, and forget old ones. I do laundry, clean the house, read, watch TV, and go to sleep just to do it all again the next day. But, I do all of this within a walled area of five to ten acres. I was surprised at how big my world is in such a small space. I would eagerly go out into the outside world again. All I can say is: what a trip.