Class exercise – some writing from our students, post #1

Posted: April 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

We recently gave our students an assigment related to using description in their work. Not only did every single student do the assignment despite claims of it “being the hardest assignment yet!”, but they wrote some of the most powerful, vulnerable and honest pieces we’ve received to date. I’ll post a couple at a time over the coming days. Please remember these are only assignments, so rough drafts (you know how sensitive we writers can be). That said, I hope you will see the not only the work they put into the assignment, but also the raw emotion. Comments of course welcome.

The assignment: Write a 250-300 word description of your “house” (cell) without using the words, dirty, cellie, cold, steel, bars, clang and bunk. You can create a scene from your real life or a fictional scene, but put yourself inside of the “hero”–use his point of view. The idea is to be as original as possible, to use no cliches or stereotypes.

JH – serving multiple life sentences, already served 30+ years
I woke up in utter darkness. Not as dead as I would have expected, but hardly alive. My final resting place is louder than one would hope for. For a coffin it is crowded with obstructions and dubious amentities, but no less confining. How many others have lost their lives only to revive in this concrete tomb? My dead, atrophied claws fumble for a light. So many have met their end here. The aged paint peels away from rotted cement where updates could not reach. The greasy oil of ancient corpses seep out of corners where a body fell as it burned, staining the already dark slab. What horror in a victims’ death throes could leave fingernail scratches in stone and metal? How many dreams died here as the living dead slowly realized their fate? I can neither breate nor wake up, yet I can’t fall asleep or simply stop. For a century this casket has played host to the shambling undead, a rotating roster of hate for misery. Death is the ultimate punchline to the joke of life.

I have a hard body with an appetite for destruction. I’m 6×9 with room for growth. I generally eat books and sip music but lately I’ve been dazed by days of TV. I’m cold blooded with a warm soul consoling 100 years of spirits. My life is the story that never ends. My breath is the burberry oil cooking on the flickering light bulbs that shine the pictures on the walls of my memories. Two seconds on, two seconds dark, two seconds light, the light has passed away. The pull of lost love has twisted my feelings into a dreadlock. The revolution rolling off of the nappy tongue of rap music plays in my ears. The secret deposits of vulnerability bark within me. I’ve witnessed every emotion. I paint the face of cowards to look brave yet they pray behind me for the courage to demand respect. I could pray all I want but every 30 days I am raped and pieces of me are stolen*. All I can do is watch the cops pull their pants up and buckle their belts. I have a sketch of their faces written with ecstacy in my memory and I’m paid with a search report in my pocket. I scrub myself for hours removing the cheap fragrance and stale cigarettes from my skin. My expectations faded their way down the drain and my imaginations are floating bubbles wishing heaven would hurry up cause I’m sitting next to alone just exist. It would take years to know me but 300 words to feel me. My name is B406, but you can call me house.

* the reference here is to a cell search — when custody offers enter a prisoner’s cell sometimes when the prisoner is there and sometimes not and “toss” the cell looking for contraband. Prisoners, as you can imagine, have many feelings about these cell searches, and though certainly an important protocol for prison safety, imagine, if you can, having to stand and watch your home be “searched” in this way with you having no ability to control what is removed or the reasons why.

  1. Thanks for helping the prisoners find a creative outlet in writing! I served 10 years in California prisons on drug charges and turned my life around writing novels and novellas! I now have 7 on Amazon selling well with great reviews!

    • islandwriter says:

      Glenn, thanks for leaving your comment and for sharing this post on your Twitter. And thanks for letting folks know that there are guys out there who have served their time, gotten out and are making their way in the world. I know it takes a lot of work on your part, but folks need to know there are men trying to do the work–both while in prison and when they get out. Congrats on your writing. I’m glad you are a part of the conversation here.

  2. Cindy Zelman says:

    These guys are so talented. It’s so wonderful that you help them find a way to express the best parts of themselves. Congratulations, Erika. You’ve been at this effort a long time.

  3. This is fantastic. Working with underserved populations and bringing those voices to the forefront starts a human dialogue that we all need to hear and share.

  4. islandwriter says:

    Bridget, indeed it is the dialogue between those locked up and those not that most excites me about this work and that I feel is so important on so many levels. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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