I’m overdue posting these student pieces. As always, comments welcome. The guys appreciate hearing what other writers/readers think–even the suggestions for improvement (please do remember these are first drafts by novice writers).

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.

The Letter, by J.D.
“Hey, John,” hollered my neighbor. “What’s for supper?”

“T-bone steak wrapped in bacon,” I replied. “You know, a baked potato with all the trimmings, corn on the cob dripping with butter, maybe a fresh baked dinner roll and a big ass piece of apple pie for dessert.”

“Damn that sounds good,” he sighed.

I grinned and reached past the cheap plastic hangers that wore my pressed “Sunday Service” dress shirts and matching slacks into the box at the back of my closet-bookshelf-pantry combo area. “Too bad the packing says ramen noodles,” I chuckled. I scopped up some of the loose papers from on top of my desk and dumped them on one of the already overloaded boxes of stuff at the foot of my bed, then set up my hotpot, plopping down on my swivel chair to watch a litle TV while I waited.

A short time later the slop was done and I readied myself to choke it down when an envelope was shoved under my door. The only mail I received was either catalogs or crap I ordered from them. This was different and I picked it up for a closer inspection. Though I hadn’t seen it in twenty-six years I knew the return address and I swallowed hard at the lump that had formed in my throat. It was my wife’s address. Forty-seven years of living with the angriest, most bitter men this state could offer hadn’t hardened my heart enough to prevent the river of tears when I tore it open and read, “Dear John…”

The door slid open with such force I was jarred back to reality by the vibrations that rippled through the solid stone floor beneath my feet. A preacher was quoting verses on TV so I guessed it must be morning, and I had lost track of the last eight or ten hours.

“On your feet, convict,” boomed a voice form the hallway.

Without a word , I stood and pushed the chair aside like I’d been conditioned to do.

“Pack your shiit. Your ride leaves in an hour,” came the voice again.

I stepped outside of my bathroom-sized studio apartment and was met by the warden and one of his lackeys, a scrwny little kiss-ass we called “Fencepost.”

“Pack it yourself,” I snapped back, snatching my release papers from his hand before he could react. “And my name isn’t Convict. It’s John.” I turned to face the piss an beside him. “But from now on you can call me, Sir.” I shoved my wife’s tear-soaked letter in his chest before turning to walk toward the exit gate.

“Hey, wait!” called Fencepost. “What about your stuff? Don’t you want it?”

I paused a moment and closed my eyes visualizing my confines from the last third of my incarceration. “For forty-seven years I laid on a concrete slab you call a mattress committing every detail of every item in that rat-hole to memory, and staring at pictures of people who do nothing but stare back. People who forgot about me a long time ago. What would you have me take with me? A guitar that collects dust in the corner? A lifetime of crap ordered from catalogs tha I never really wanted in the first place? Foul smelling soap or toothpaste I couldn’t pay to get rid of? Nah. There’s nothing in there I want or need.”

“Well, what the hell am I supposed to do with this shit?” The warden glared at the overflowing shelves and boxes inside the elaborate broom closet with a toilet.

“Same thing I always tell you, warden.” I glanced back over my shoulder. “Shove it up your ass for all I care.”

As I walked away, I overheard his say, “Poor bastard. He doesn’t even realize he’s going back out into the world with nothing. Ten bucks says he’ll be back.”

“I don’t think so,” said Fencepost. “That lucky bastard just got his second chance.” He handed my wife’s letter to him with a crooked smile. “He’s going back home where she’s still waiting.”

The warden read the letter.

All nine words of it.

“Dear John, I still love you. Please come home.”

Untitled, by M.J.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that my cell’s dimensions were designed to be for people without comprehension. This is not fiction. I’m basing truth on all these cement inventions that have taken the place of lynchings. Injustice attacking powerless victims, benefits the structural systems of people like Rockefeller to President Nixon. Contemplate that and then decide if *powder cocaine and crack are not the same chemically as well as in fact. So who’s worse in this community pack? The ones without power or the lab techs setting the inevitable traps? The walls of the hood are quite similar to the ones in my room. Brick after brick confining every dream to the space of reality’s tomb. No glass ceilings so the skies out of reach. Just like the roof of the womb, all is dark and the souls of the youth are consumed by the tortuous doom. And they call us violent whenever we finally become conscious of the government tyrants who are running rampnt destroying the minds of the vibrant then close our mouths around pipes and fifths until we’re drowing in silence. My floor look like the streets in the ghetto, stuffed up, cracked and controlled by the string of Gipetto. So how can I get to the front row when I’ve only been allowed as far as my rope goes? Like I’m a dog chained in the yard to pole? It’s fucked up I know, but what can be the source of change? Are we to play the game or rearrange our brains and unshakle the chains? They say it’s for me and even though oxygen is a product of trees we’d rather inhale the smells of rot when the lungs of a prisoner breathes. So it seems my reality is drunk, boxed in and boxed out without throwing a punch. The noises of men clapped at televised junk invades my ears with a thump as I stare at my reflection contemplating my wants. It’s hard though, you understand what I’m saying? I’ve turned my whole world around but am never acknowledged for changing. So life makes religious men lose faith and stop praying, turn away from communication and embrace the teachings of Satan. No I’m not hating, what’s to expected? We live in a grave, but we can’t rest in peace because we’re alive and the reaper is delayed. So at times I feel like a slave. One that captured and turned in myself to live in this cave. Betrayed my family and friends because I was in it for the bling. A multitude of us lyin gin ruin, destruction caused by the hands of delusion, mistaking truth with confusion while wearing the mask of illusions. I’m beyond that, the face we paint on our essence instead of becoming invested in the lessons given to the sections of poverty’s veterans. And I reckon th eworld spins on God’s middle fingernail, so I’m not the only one trapped in a jail, waiting for mail, hoping for heaven not hell, but never released from our cells. And we’re told to have hope, convinced it’s cool to sell dope. What a joke. Yeah, we all laugh in the clouds of blunt smoke, but nothing is funny once we find friends hanging from a sheet turned to rope.

*Starting with the War on Drugs possession of crack cocaine came with a minimum sentence of 10 years, while possession of powder cocaine could still receive a misdemeanor sentence. Crack was most often found in minority and low income neighborhoods, while powder cocaine was most often used by upper-class whites. Under President Obama Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine to only 18:1 (for what that’s worth).

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Comments
  1. Cindy Zelman says:

    I really loved these two pieces, the wonderful narrative of the first, told so well and with the surprise ending. And also, I loved the poetry of the second, beautiful poetry, as far as I can tell. These are talented guys.

    • islandwriter says:

      and just as a follow-up: these are two of the hardest working writers in the class who have really thrown themselves into the concept of learning the craft, taking feedback and pushing themselves to improve their writing. I’m really proud of them.

      • Cindy Zelman says:

        I can hear the effort in the writing. These were not the works of beginners, that’s for sure. You’ve done a great job working with them and they, in turn, have done a fabulous job taking the opportunity to show their best selves through their writing. I hope they keep writing.

  2. islandwriter says:

    Thanks, Cindy. I’ll pass on your words to the writers. It’ll make them smile.

  3. Melissa J. Varnavas says:

    F*ing great stuff. J.D.’s got terrific story, plot, character development. Dialogue at the outset draws reader into the story and sets the stage. There is an irony and sarcasm in that dialogue that lingers in the background of the entire piece. Even the warden and his “lacky” somehow feel three-dimensional.
    In MJ’s piece (my close high school friends still sometime’s call me MJ), I have to echo Cindy. Poetry. I actually copied it and broke it out into lines with breaks. Because of the rap-beat to it, it doesn’t quite work that way but it did help me understand the rhythm better.
    Right from the get-go…”It doesn’t take a genius
    to see that my cell’s dimensions were
    designed to be for people without comprehension.”
    What huge irony and poetry in that first line. Great. Great. Great. The assignment was to describe the cell and he doesn’t. He says “see…my cell’s dimensions”… and the rest of the piece describes a larger social “cell”

    Look at this line:
    “Are we to play the game or rearrange our brains and unshackle the chains?” You can feel the long internal-a like a hard thump, not like a hammer, that would be too hard, but like hand against a wall. Thump. Thump. Thump.

    Look at this line: “My floor looks like the streets in the ghetto,
    stuffed up, cracked and
    controlled by the string of Gipetto.
    So how can I get to the front row
    when I’ve only been allowed as far as my rope goes?”

    I broke it on the long-o repetition. What a great rhyme that is ghetto/Gipetto. Although I sort of feel like that rhyme might have been done (if it hasn’t he hit it out of the park because it feels full and like it should have always existed to me) What really is amazing is how he keeps turning on the “rope” and “string” throughout the whole piece.

    The only thing I might change would the the “friends” in that last line. The image is too strong and I end up “seeing” multiple people hanging from bedsheets. I might make “friends” into a metaphorical “us”.

    so… “but nothing is funny once we TURN TO find
    OURSELVES hanging from a sheet turned to rope.”

    • islandwriter says:

      Melissa! Thanks for taking so much time with your response here. You’re fantastic. I’ll take your suggestions in to MJ re: his piece. He’ll be thrilled and fascinated and honored that a real live poet took so much time to think about his work. It’ll mean the world to him, I know it. xoxo. e

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