Feathers: (An Epic Prison Poem)
By David Beck-Brown
Dedicated to Thomas F. Kelly (aka ‘Boston’)
Initially this article was to be about the American Constitution, checks and balances and our precious Bill of Rights, due to the recent passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) containing the Indefinite Detention Provisions clause. I scheduled interviews with Assemblymen Duncan Hunter and Brian Jones to discuss their views on a shocking policy that would permit the government to arrest any American citizen without due process or Habeas Corpus for a life sentence. Why did Obama hurriedly sign this legislation over Thanksgiving when the public was distracted, (ironically), by a national holiday? What law allows a standing president to blatantly breach the existing language contained within the 5th amendment… and now the 1st amendment with PIPA?
Yes, I am abhorred when I witness our Constitution and our Bill of Rights being undermined, so I will keep my appointments to hear the opinions of my elected officials. However, as someone who has worked with convicts all my life, and as a proponent for amending the draconian California 3-Strikes Law, an event occurred recently that has caused me to shift the focus of this article. My inmate clerk of several years, Thomas F. Kelly, escaped from a Level 4 State prison driving a shiny, new, yellow CDCR fire truck.
I know Kelly. He’s Irish Catholic, hails from South Boston, loves his family and is hardworking and loyal. Why would ‘Boston’ risk an extended sentence for a mere two days of freedom? The answer lies within this poem I wrote while I was still working inside as an Arts-in- Corrections Facilitator. Let it be a window into ‘Boston’s’ world.
Feathers: (An Epic Prison Poem)
They fly in and out of prison, them jailhouse birds.
-- White & gray black-etched seagulls scream.
-- Florescent-green, purple-throated pigeons flap wing-halting zombie walks.
-- Red-winged blackbirds scatter & divide the sky into a 3-dimensional chessboard.
-- Sky-ground squawking-birds shriek belligerent sounds of segregation and divide the flock into e-x-c-l-u-s-i-v-e clicks.
-- Scores & scores & scores of birds, in the hundreds & hundreds & hundreds feed on bread-crumb-crime discards the convicts have tossed away – flung near the outdoor blue latrine and the gun towers of blue, erected in the spirit of BLUE Old Folsom, the sentinel set against sky-blue.
OUT OF BOUNDS holler official black-stenciled letters, painted in a white square formation & slapped against the gray drudge of the concrete block wall. You know that wall. It’s the one with the blue-steel handle-less door, the door that won’t open. The wall with the blue portal that leads n-o-w-h-e-r-e, except to the slim space separating the razor-wire-topped storm fence & the wall itself. No-mans-land.
Cactus GREEN cops in mirrored black glasses shout, “Do not TOUCH me muthaf* ckuh” in harsh keep-away-from-me loud needle-like stabbing colors that masquerade the i-n-v-i-s-i-b-l-e man. No nods of acknowledgement. No friendships lost.
GREEN-landscaped cacti protect themselves with shank-like needle-sharp defenses. Only skilled convicts dare approach. Common-inmate-grifters habitually cluster instead amongst the feathers of their own.
Red-winged blackbirds throttle sonorous songs. Perched like lyrical notes upon a barbed stanza, they position themselves as M-U-S-I-C recorded in the moment. They perform their symphony in the security of the whirls & whirls & whirls & whirls & whirls of sharp-cutting Constantine wire, safe from the swooping hawks & them beasts below whom roam amongst us, you & me.
Far away across the prison gladiatorial coliseum, a man in blue sits on a blue bench, constructed of cold metal pipe, painted blue like a locked cell door ground-slammed against the earth. The blue-man stares outwardly-inward toward his personal vanishing point from where there is no escape.
Inmate in BLUE: blue denim, blue beanie cap, blue over-sized jacket inscribed with the label P-R-I-S-O-N-E-R etched in capital, happy-faced YELLOW font & worn every day (despite the heat) to protect himself from gettin’ stuck.
-- Bone says, “It’s about food.”
Standing & staring down…down…down…down…down…down at the once pure & white prime childhood of innocence, he looks at his rubber foundation, stained deeply into the moment of now & a little grayed by the prison grime, grounded even darker in the very fingernails of his once bright blue soul & present being.
-- Bone sings the blues in silence.
Only them birds are allowed to squawk wildly about like madmen yelling, “Give me this! Give me that! Give! Give me what I need…NOW! I want you, handsome man.” Them birds take what they want, them do. Take it (ever so hard) off the hook like a fresh flapping fish, wishing to be free from the insanity.
Them birds have had their share of bread this day in society’s landfill, the prison dump. Them got what them wanted, them birds. Them got what them needed, them birds. Them got them crumbs. Them birds.
However, them birds do fly away, into a b-l-u-e sky -- swept away toward a sea of b-l-u-e pasture toward….. f-r-e-e-d-o-m.
David Beck-Brown is prison-reform chair with the San Diego-based A New PATH (Parents For Addiction Treatment & Healing). PATH is a member organization of the Sacramento-based Coalition for Effective Public Safety.