Category Archives: Featured Works

Stopping Animals

by Rahsaan Thomas

A bear crept down Boyland Avenue, scouting for shade and food in broad day. Urban expansion had pushed in on his habitat, drying the waterways and killing the fish. He had been roaming for hours. The inside of his throat felt like dirt.

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Working in her garden beneath a relentless sun, Maria tended to her flowers. She adored gardening when her husband left for the office and the kids were off to school. Noticing her neighbor’s thirsty brown grass, she sprayed to the right, through the wire fence. Smiling at her good deed, she hummed.

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Through Maria’s fence, the approaching animal saw the water spouting. He headed toward it in a lassitude, not caring about the woman. He pushed through an open gate in the three-foot fence and wobbled to relief.

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Maria heard a strange snuffling sound behind her. When she turned, she dropped the hose and began to wail. Startled, the bear rose to his hind legs and lashed out with a paw, grazing her right arm. Blood dripped onto her tan clogs. The bear drank.

Running blindly into the house, Maria slammed the glass door, locking it behind her. Stumbling to the coffee table, she picked up her phone.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“I’ve just been attacked by a black bear,” Maria screeched.

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A few blocks away, rookie officer Jose Lopez sat with his thoughts while his captain, Michael Conner, drove the patrol car. They were approaching the block where an officer had killed an unarmed teenager a week earlier. Out of the passenger window, a portrait of 17-year-old Rodney Sanchez had been spray-painted on the side of a Wal-Mart. The teen’s eyes stared down from under a baseball cap, a smile on his face.

Beside the mural, a pre-teen with brown skin and Hispanic features placed an old catcher’s mitt among rows of baseball cards, flowers, and flickering candles. Looking up from beneath his hoodie, the kid glared and raised his middle finger at the squad car.

Lopez felt Conner staring at him, heard him sign before speaking. “We have a duty to protect and serve, but you have to stay alive to do that. When you feel danger, trust your instincts and your training.”

The rookie heard what the captain was saying, but still couldn’t shake what happened to the teen memorialized on the wall. Interrupting Lopez’s thoughts, a dispatcher’s urgent voice stated, “The animal attacked a woman and is to be considered extremely dangerous. It was last seen in the back yard area of Eighth and Boyland Avenue.”

“Cut on the siren.” Conner wheeled the black and white, as red and blue lights flashed and the siren screamed. Lopez braced himself against the dashboard.

“It jumped a fence and headed toward Seventh,” crackled the radio.

“We’re coming down Boyland, approaching Seventh now,” Lopez answered.

The cruiser braked in front of Maria’s Tudor. A pathway curved around the side into the back yard. Conner jumped out and sprinted down the passageway. “Get the tranq gun when animal control gets here.”

The wait wasn’t long.

“Where is he?” asked one of the guys who jumped out of the green van, Animal Control lettered in yellow on the side.

“My partner’s in back. Follow me with that tranq,” said Lopez.

They found Conner in a nearby back yard with his firearm aimed at a seven foot black bear, standing on his hind legs. The bear bellowed, clawed at the air, and then dropped to all fours. A brick wall and a six foot wooden fence boxed the bear in a corner, leaving only one escape route. The bear charged toward the officers.

Lopez panicked, drawing his Glock 19.

“Don’t shoot, he’s just an animal!” yelled Conner.

Animal Control moved out of the way, corralling the bear toward another empty back yard. The animal jumped the fence.

Conner grabbed the tranquilizer gun from animal control and gave pursuit. The bear ran past the side of a house and reached the corner of Seventh and Boyland.

“Stop him,” cried Lopez, confused and angry.

The captain pulled the trigger and a shot echoed. A dart smacked the bear in his rear right flank. The animal halted in mid-step, growled and turned toward Conner, who fired once more. This shot hit the bear’s chest. The bear closed his eyes, shook his head slowly, and began to retreat with darts sticking out of him. The officers followed the bear down the empty residential block toward Rodney’s memorial.

The painted boy’s eyes watched the bear struggle until it landed on the ground with a thud, knocking over cards, smothering candle flames, and smashing stuffed animals.

Lopez couldn’t look up at the boy’s eyes.

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Rahsaan Thomas grew up in New York City, but he writes from a cell in California. He’s a staff writer for San Quentin News and the co-author of Uncaged Stories. He has also been published in The Marshall Project, Missouri Review’s Literature on Lockdown, Life of the Law, The Beat Within, & Brothers in Pen’s 2014 & 2015 anthologies.

At age 45, he became a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and a co-founder of Prison Renaissance.

A Conversation Between Rahsaan Thomas & Emile DeWeaver

September 2016


Rahsaan Thomas: How did you come up with Prison Renaissance?

Emile DeWeaver: Bryant Stevenson gave a talk for the Prison University Project and said people looking for solutions need to get proximate with the people most affected by those problems. I’m passionate about prison reform, so I started thinking: How can I become more proximate to people who support mass incarceration, people who fear me? At the same time, something else was going on; I started to see how my writing created proximity between me and editors, between me and readers. I remember someone read Identity in front of me and cried.

It was a moment of connection that shifted and tugged at me during Stevenson’s talk, but I didn’t understand its importance until that day I read your essay. You, Rahsaan, wrote about a renaissance among artists happening in prison, and it hit me. That’s what we need to present to the world, this prison renaissance, this rebirth of humanity and re-connection with healthy, progressive roles in society.

Thomas: You were originally sentenced to 67 years to life for murder and attempted murder, committed when you were 18. This year California passed Senate Bill 261 which may give you a second chance soon, but how did you stay motivated when you thought you were never going home?

DeWeaver: I couldn’t accept that I was never going home, so I didn’t. I didn’t know how I was going to make it home to my daughter, but I knew the only way it could happen was if I was prepared. So I spent the better part of 20 years changing my life and my perspective, not because I think I can somehow earn the right to go home, but because if I ever experience that moment of grace, I need to be ready.

A lot of people thought I was in denial. And in truth it was partly denial, but it was also faith in human potential. And solace because even if I died in prison, at least I’d die a good man. That was as important for me as freedom … I feel the need to be precise when talking about my criminal history, so I want to state this clearly: I don’t think my transformation counterbalances my crimes. Murder is horrible; it’s a vacuum that can’t be filled. I carry that. And I’m able to do that partially because of the strength I draw from the fact that I’ve become a different man.

Thomas: I feel like you draw strength from writing, too.

DeWeaver: Yeah, absolutely.

 

Rahsaan Thomas (l) and Emile DeWeaver (r) at the San Quentin C.A.R.E.S Avon Breast Cancer Walk
Rahsaan Thomas (l) & Emile DeWeaver (r), San Quentin C.A.R.E.S Avon Breast Cancer Walk

 

Thomas: How did you become a writer?

DeWeaver: I’ve always had the talent. In elementary school, I wrote a story where it seems like a serial killer is stalking through a house, but it turns out to be a cat. I wrote it because I was acting out against my teacher, but she ruined my plan by liking it. [laughs] Over the years, I wrote on and off, but I didn’t take it seriously until I was on trial for murder.

It’s complicated. There are a lot of reasons why the lowest moment in my life turned me into a writer. So first, trying to process and cope with murdering somebody as an 18-year-old kid with little family support, I was writing just to survive. It was the only thing I knew how to do that gave me bearing in the world.

Second, my daughter was born while I stood trial, and I began to see the world through her eyes. I saw me through her eyes, and I couldn’t bear the fact that she would grow up and one day someone would ask her, “What does your dad do for a living?” There was nothing I could do to save her from that stigma because I couldn’t take back a lifetime of bad decisions. So the next best thing was to at least give her something to be proud of. If I could give her nothing else, I could show her that no matter how low you’ve fallen, you’re never too low to climb back up. If she internalizes that, I can live with all the ways I’ve failed her as a father.

There’s a third reason [I became a writer], but it doesn’t mean anything next to that.

Thomas: Fair enough. If I remember correctly, you were writing fantasy stories when I met you in Zoe’s creative writing class [in San Quentin State Prison]. Then you read “Superman,” a story about a disabled, gay, Arab man who sets himself on fire. What sparked the 180 degree change in direction for your writing?

DeWeaver: Chance. I read Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. I loved fantasy, and I was stubborn about writing anything else. But when I read Diaz, it felt clear that here is a great writer who loves fantasy as I do, and even though he wasn’t writing fantasy, be found a way to incorporate that love.

He showed me a new way to write, and then came our first public reading for creative writing. I struggled with a horror story about the end of the world where a man in his wheelchair is stuck in his house with a monster in another room. The themes were powerlessness and isolation. The story kept getting longer, too long for a five minute read, so I stripped away everything that wasn’t essential to isolation and powerlessness. What remained was the first line of “Superman.”

Thomas: And “Superman” was the first story you published?

DeWeaver: Yeah. The Lascaux Review published it in 2014 and the editors there changed my life. They saw something in me that I only hoped was there.

Thomas: I’ve noticed the stories you’ve written that have resonated the most with the public – and me – are the ones about your life. How did you turn from fiction and fantasy to reality and why do you think it has been more impactful?

DeWeaver: I wouldn’t say I turned from fantasy to reality because writing fantasy didn’t produce something less authentic than my biographical work. When you write something you’re passionate about, you’re writing about your life. The difference is that with fantasy, I explore humanity in a broad sense in order to better understand myself. With nonfiction, I explore my own life in order to understand humanity. Two ends of the same project.

Thomas: For me, it’s hard to be vulnerable in nonfiction because you’re exposing your weaknesses for the world to judge. Isn’t it easier to write freely in fiction?

DeWeaver: Sure it is, but I feel like its important as an incarcerated writer, especially, to expose myself. There’s a lot of social reasons for this – we’ve talked about proximity before – but right now, I’m talking strictly from a professional standpoint. I don’t have traditional credentials; I can’t tour bookstores to promote my work. What I do have is my voice. Incarceration is like being at the bottom of a well, and stripping bare on the page is my way of shouting real loud.

Thomas: You’ve had poems, personal essays, and short stories published. What’s your favorite art form?

DeWeaver: Poetry. If feels like the closest thing to me. When I write fiction, it’s an arduous process to come up with something worth writing. It’s another journey executing the idea well. Writing about myself is a little easier in that I already have the story material, I just figure out how to relate it. But poetry’s another animal. When I pen verse, I just explode. It’s powerful and sex-good, and I don’t know where it comes from.

Thomas: What do you hope to accomplish through your art?

DeWeaver: I want to connect with people. And reveal new ways to see the world.

Thomas: New ways to see the world?

DeWeaver: Yeah. I guess I’m thinking about a public conversation between President Obama and novelist Marilynne Robinson. Obama sees a correlation between the decline of the novel and the decline of empathy in our culture. When I’m revealing new worlds, I’m trying to increase empathy in our culture. [smiles] Batman fights crime and corruption with tech; my super power is empathy.

Thomas: [laughs] So you’re officially coming out as a superhero?

DeWeaver: I’m Poetman. Hear me read.

Thomas: Okay, what real life heroes inspire you?

DeWeaver: Nelson Mandela. He knew that the way to affect lasting change could never be through division and could only be sustained through unity – even if that unity was with one’s enemies. So he knew how to look at the big picture. His pride, his pain, his struggle – nothing was more important than the good he wanted and that was peace.

Thomas: What about literary heroes? Who influences you?

DeWeaver: Khalil Gibran, he’s an Arab poet. He writes about divinity in beauty and love, human connection, the hells and heavens we create. He’s a humanist – though I don’t know he’d describe himself as such. I have a lot of influences: Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, Junot Diaz, Tolkien. Surprisingly, the Old Testament heavily informs my style.

Thomas: [laughs] That is surprising. You’re an atheist right?

DeWeaver: I am. I’ve never been religious, but my family was, and I used to love the mythology in biblical stories. Samson with the donkey’s jaw, laying down a Philistine army. Moses – Prince of Egypt, leading his people to the Promised Land. Esther, who would become Queen. These stories sparked my love for mythology.

Thomas: You talked about your daughter earlier. Can we talk about parenting from prison? What’s that been like for you?

DeWeaver: [pause] Being a parent serving life in prison is to know that you have failed before you’ve even started. You still have to do all the right you can in their lives, but you know – I know that even if my child got cancer and I gave her the cure, I have failed.

Being a parent here is knowing I don’t know the person I love most. It’s the strangest thing I’ve experienced: as much as she loves me, she doesn’t know me either. It’s hell.

Thomas: But your daughter is doing well, she’s in college, right? What have you done to contribute to her success?

DeWeaver: “Contribute to her success” … those are strong words. I wouldn’t frame it like that. What I do is write to her. Every year since her birth, I’ve sent her something for her birthday. I drew portraits of us for her because for most of my incarceration, that’s all I’ve had, materially, to give her.

Thomas: She’s an artist, too, so your portraits inspired something in her.

DeWeaver: I like to think that. She does manga and anime, commission work. She’s in college learning to design video games. Basically, she’s awesome.

Thomas: Let’s shift topics. I want to throw you under the bus a little. It’s almost election time, and a lot of female volunteers are excited about Hillary becoming president. I’ve heard you call yourself a feminist; but you’re not happy about the first woman president.

DeWeaver: My problem with Hillary is she’s touted as a step forward for feminism, and I don’t see it. By and large, the inequalities that exist are because of the paradigm that it’s a rich, white man’s world. Women like Hillary and Condoleezza Rice have succeeded by becoming the functional equivalent of rich, white men. While that doesn’t make them bad people, it’s not a step forward for feminism.

If the problem were tanks driving around, leveling our communities, the problem wouldn’t be solved by letting women drive them instead of men. Yes, one goal of feminism is to reduce oppression, but sometimes it feels like we’re satisfied with achieving equal opportunities to oppress. Angela Davis talks about that.

Thomas: Last question. Did you just namedrop Angela Davis, hoping Hillary supporters won’t tear you a new one?

[Both smile]

DeWeaver: Absolutely.


Emile DeWeaver is a 2015 Pushcart nominee with creative work in a dozen publications, including The Lascaux Review, Frigg, Punchnel’s, and The Rumpus. You can find his work on his website and by visiting his monthly column “Good Behavior” at Easy Street.

He is a co-founder of Prison Renaissance.

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Rahsaan Thomas grew up in New York City, but he writes from a cell in California. He’s a staff writer for San Quentin News and the co-author of Uncaged Stories. He has also been published in The Marshall Project, Missouri Review’s Literature on Lockdown, Life of the Law, The Beat Within, & Brothers in Pen’s 2014 & 2015 anthologies.

At age 45, he became a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and a co-founder of Prison Renaissance.

 

 

 

 

Objects in Our Rear View Mirror

by Donna L. Roberts, Ph.D.

“But it was long ago, and it was far away
Oh, God it seems so very far.
And if life is like a highway,
Then the soul is just the car,
And objects in the rear view mirror may appear
closer than they are…”
– Lyrics by Meatloaf

The popular rock personality known as “Meatloaf” is by no means a trained psychologist. Nor is he a qualified researcher in the social science arena. He has not attended graduate school. He has no clinical experience. His message is poetic and anecdotal rather than based upon statistical and psychometric standards. He is simply a musician. And yet, his lyrics “Objects in the Rear-View Mirror” reveal the profound effects of traumatic life experience, specifically child abuse, on the ongoing progression of adulthood more poignantly than the finest and most current publications in the field. Simply put, he argues that one does not simply “get over it,” but carries the pain and confusion of early hurts down the road of life.

Childhood is a time of rapid growth and development in the most basic and fundamental aspects of life. It is where the groundwork is laid for the formation of the adult personality. Logically then, a disruption at these critical stages would have profound effects throughout life. Dysfunctional actions cause dysfunctional reactions. When these reactions become incorporated as longstanding patterns of behavior in order to cope and adapt to a skewed reality, “normal” behavior is eclipsed. It has to be that way – for survival sake. Survivors of childhood abuse react to the world differently than “normal” people because they have come to know a much different world – one of insecurity, pain and fear – a world that makes their behavior logical and necessary.

It is generally agreed upon by practitioners from almost every theoretical orientation that, in one form or another, an individual develops basic and pervasive assumptions about one’s self, others, the environment, and the future based upon the messages incorporated and the coping strategies learned during childhood.

Beginning with early Psychoanalytic thought, Freud clearly argued that adult psychopathology resulted from conflicts originating in childhood. He made constant reference to the significance of the child’s relationships with crucial figures in their environment.

Alfred Adler, in his formulations of Individual or Self Psychology, posited the relations within the family as the primary determinant of the lifestyle patterns adopted for adult functioning.

Erik Erikson constructed a developmental schema based on the resolution of fundamental self tasks, and further theorized that their unsuccessful resolution would lead to repeated dysfunction with regard to that specific issue.

Humanist Carl Rogers, who focused minimally on past experiences, acknowledged the contribution of parental conditions of worth in shaping one’s view of self and interpersonal relationships.

Even Behaviorists, including B. F. Skinner, account for the influence of early systems of reward and punishment as influential in directing later behavior.

Thus, it becomes clear that, regardless of the specific mechanism by which it occurs, the many aspects that together form a functioning adult are molded by the experiences of childhood. Following this, dysfunction or trauma in any one of the many areas of development would result in pathology in related areas of adult functioning. Psychological defenses formed in childhood for the purposes of survival become increasingly maladaptive in adult life. These maladaptive responses, which become so pervasive and innate, take symptomatic forms that mimic psychiatric disorders.

In this way, much misdiagnosis occurs as concepts of personality organization and development are applied under ordinary circumstances to victims without understanding the effects of extensive and long-term trauma on basic maturation and personality formation. These diagnoses do not take into consideration the true etiology of symptoms which once represented adaptive survival mechanism and later become maladaptive pathologies. This is the legacy of a child abuse survivor.

In the highly acclaimed recovery book, The Courage to Heal, authors Ellen Bass and Laura Davis recognize the long-term and pervasive effects of child abuse, stating, “It permeates everything: your sense of self, your intimate relationships, your sexuality, your parenting, your work, life, and even your sanity.”

Perhaps, however, the best indication, or “proof”, if you will, of the tragic effects of childhood abuse on adult functioning comes not from a clinical description of ensuing syndromes but, rather from the words of a survivor:

“People have said to me, “Why are you dragging this up now?” Why? WHY? Because it has controlled every facet of my life. It has damaged me in every possible way. It has destroyed everything in my life that has been of value. It has prevented me from having a comfortable emotional life. It’s prevented me from being able to love clearly. It took my children away from me. I haven’t been able to succeed in the world. I know that everything I don’t deal with now is one more burden I have to carry for the rest of my life. I don’t care if it happened 500 years ago! It’s influenced me all that time, and it does matter. It matters very much.”

How can it be that we continue to consider it a revolutionary theory that “Prolonged severe childhood abuse may play a vastly underestimated role in the development of many psychopathologies now ascribed to biological factors, intrapsychic conflicts, or standard family-of-origin issues”.

Isn’t it obvious when we listen to those who have been there and survived to tell about it?


Bio: Donna Roberts is a native upstate New Yorker who lives and works in Europe. She holds a Ph.D., specializing in the field of Media Psychology. When she is researching or writing she can usually be found at her computer buried in rescue cats.

Graphic Novel: Doors of Dementia

Created, Written, and Illustrated by Orlando Smith

The full novel is available in the slideshow below. Click arrows or navigation dots to advance.


Bio: Orlando Smith has created and composed over 57 graphic novels and comic books. His work has appeared in Heavy Metal, and he’s completed a host of commission work including covers for Omega Comics. He did storyboards for the movie Social Tick and for the upcoming film Charlie Charlie. Before Smith was a graphic novelist, he spent six years as a professional tattoo artist and ten years doing custom art on cars.

Gallery: James Sackett – Kitlas

Artist Statement: I’m not good with human forms yet, but lines speak to me. I like to push lines to produce movement on the page. Drawing is a part of who I am. I don’t care what I’m drawing; the process makes me happy.

Art allows me to show myself through my work. So I’ll be remembered.



Self portrait.

JAMES PR PENCIL 1


Odin’s Blessing. “I envision this and Tyr’s Blessing as part of a series of all 118 Norse Gods and Goddesses.”

JAMES PR PENCIL 2


Tyr’s Blessing.

JAMES PR PENCIL 3


Bensozia,  Daughter of Lilith, Knight of Ceremony.

JAMES PR PENCIL 4


Baftis, Knight of Visions & Personal Sight. “I Began this piece with no goals but to fill the page until I didn’t want to clutter it anymore.”

JAMES PR PENCIL 5


IMG_2600Bio: Jim Sackett-Kitlas is a 31-year-old graphic artist who specializes in pencil drawings. Growing up up on his family’s horse ranch, Asatru and steampunk interested him as a teenager and both heavily influence his art today.

Sin of Kingdoms

by Emile DeWeaver

There’s a golf course.
Man in white shorts wiggles
bum and measures his iron
against the task. Swings. Club
and dimpled ball clunk. The sound is like
a single knock on a door, the back door

by the window that frames
the chopping log. He flashes
a smile at his companion, a tan
woman with a tucked-in shirt, crisp

as a knight’s tabard. He struts
toward their cart. Short grass
crunches beneath his shoes. Little, brown boy slips
man’s club into bag on cart,
cocks ear, and grabs shorter
club from woman’s bag.

Lady holds out hand as if awaiting
the hilt of Excalibur. She tees up,
chops ball into nearby pond, and
ducks scatter themselves above the maple trees.

Man kicks one foot forward and tips
his head, laughing. Brown boy hurries to stand
beside her when she crooks
finger and makes stabbing
gesture toward her thigh.
She’s talking.
Her head jitters
like a rodent eating bread, chewing
for all she’s worth
before the kitchen light flicks

on. Boy looks at her white
shoes. She points, and he rushes
to the pond. When he reaches the bank,
he plows into the water,
disappears beneath the surface. Pond
goes glassy. Ducks clear round sky. Boy pops

up near bank and runs ball back
to woman. She chops ball again.

Same pond. Man does not laugh.
Woman stabs

at her thigh again. Boy
dashes to hear side, but she says
nothing. They stand there. Stand there.
And stand there. She lifts her club
and staves in the boy’s skill.
One swing. One thunk,

like a fastball in a catcher’s mitt.
Man takes a call. Woman
shades her face with hand,
surveys kingdom. Another cart

pulls onto scene, two men
with a little, brown boy.
The men wear raincoats and rubber boots.
They retrieve the old boy, leave the new

one, and drive away. Grass snapping
beneath the wheels is louder
than the electric engine. Woman begins
to sob. She grabs brown boy and crushes him
to her khaki pants. Man gets off phone.
Grass falls silent.


Emile DeWeaver is a 2015 Pushcart nominee with creative work in a dozen publications, including The Lascaux Review, Frigg, Punchnel’s, and The Rumpus. You can find his work on his website and by visiting his monthly column “Good Behavior” at Easy Street.

He is a co-founder of Prison Renaissance.

The Philiad

by Eel C. Jesus

 

Part I

O How Phillip wrenches out his heart as
his beloved betrayed thee; she went off
and married another at thirty-three.
A promise once set in stone is now washed
away by tears wrought with anguish and groans.

April – March – June – the seasons crawl by and
he’s locked deep inside the darkest parts
of his soul; living on stale air and weeks
old sweat while his beloved wrestles and
caresses her lover in his old bed.

His thoughts, they cripple every ounce, every
shred of dignity that he possesses. So
now, he’s cemented THIS in his head:
get a gun, shoot both of them, dead. Perhaps,
just him. He’s lost; no reason to live.

Now, Phillip, twisted and seriously
committed, rolls himself off of deaths’ bed;
goes down to the gun store and buys – a chrome
forty-five, pearl inlaid handle, with
an extension clip, plus some hollow tips.

Life is now his to take – his to give. So,
Phillip contemplates until he is fed,
then sleeps restless – quietly with the sweet
smell of sulfur and lead; whispering, “Til
death do us part my lovely, lovely heart.”

To start, he writes his Will along with a
note chronicling the hurt that he feels.
Finished, he wraps his lips around the bitch,
strains to pull the trigger – realizes –
that cowards are doomed to watch their wishes.

Again, Phillip decides, he’ll sit and
write a letter, a confession, or to
ask, why? All of which, he softly addressed:
Dear My Beloved – followed with each and
every word he’s ever left unsaid.

 

Part II

Satisfied with what he writes, Phillip sends
his letter out that night. Three days later,
A husband receives – an envelope with
no return address – just bold print that reads:
TO: MY BELOVED – “Wait, is this, for me?”

With pains, the husband reads a detailed list
of how someone else confesses to love
HIS one and only, HIS most cherished. Oh,
what a wicked game his love plays, and HIM,
a doting, faithless pawn, who shares her shame.

Twelve hours pass, twelve, on a Wednesday and
a wife is not yet home, neither is she
answering her phone. Her husband’s in
the kitchen; cold soup on the table – warmth –
gone since four. Yells, “O’ where is that damn whore!”

A quarter after ten. The wife walks in,
she sees her husband, seething, standing in –
the kitchen with knife in hand, pleading, “O’
my love, where have you been? Please, don’t say
work. I’ve been there – you – haven’t been in.”

The wife, too tired to fight, tries to walk
away, but her husband stands in her face.
“I want answers,” he says. She pushes him;
she wants space. Slighted, he grabs her, holds her
tight, but the knife is pointed out and it –

Slides nicely between her ribs which ends her
life, but he still stabs her: three more times. When
he realizes what he’s done, he
stumbles, fumbles, scrambles, for his gun. “Oh,
my wife,” he signs with regret, and then … Death.

 

Part III

Poor ole Phillip – whom – hasn’t left his house;
He’s a recluse – life is doubt. Maybe,
one day, he’ll find purpose, but right now,
nothing is within sight; his life’s a
constant struggle, yet it is his to fight.

He’s sick of the silence and turns on
the TV – Breaking News: Husband and Wife
Both Dead, Murder-Suicide. Phillips’ heart
stops beating in his chest. HIS beloved –
dead – along with her maybes; his, what ifs.

Now, it’s said that Phillip throws a note
onto the floor – Squeezes – and just as the
Light exits his head, he remembers that,
yes, he’d left one thing, just one, unsaid.
And that, was reason enough to have lived.


Eel C. Jesus lives and writes in Northern Calfornia.

2016

by Rahsaan Thomas

I-Phones
selfies
Mass Murder

Bugattis
Trump Towers
Genocide

Rwanda
white men
Intergenerational trauma

U.S.A.
His-Lam
Drones
Terrorist

American Indians
German-Jews
African American
Japanese
Women
Homosexuals
Civil War

Black juveniles
Black women
Black men
Buffalos
extinction


Rahsaan Thomas grew up in New York City, but he writes from a cell in California. He’s a staff writer for San Quentin News and the co-author of Uncaged Stories. He has also been published in The Marshall Project, Missouri Review’s Literature on Lockdown, Life of the Law, The Beat Within, & Brothers in Pen’s 2014 & 2015 anthologies.

At age 45, he became a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and a co-founder of Prison Renaissance.

Nobodies

by J.S. Long


The dog at the back of the cage is snarling, head and tail low, ears back. My gag reflex momentarily kicks in, and I notice the cage floor is covered in shit. The dog bowls are turned over and stuck in crap. When the dog turns a little, I see her row of tits hung low and drained. She has scars along both sides of her head, ears got old tears that look like notches, and there’s a little grey around her muzzle.

Someone calls my name and I turn, see the front desk kid who’s got the tools of my trade in his hands. I take the oversized rubber boots, square-headed scoop, bucket, and hose from him. When he turns and faces the dog, the corners of his mouth go down and his head goes back. He’s looking down his nose at her. I hope he’s never gotten the chance to get close to her.

I’m a shit shoveler. There’s always a need for shit shovelers, never enough of them. Any town, any city, dog pound or shelter, and presto: instant job. But it’s more about working with dogs; shoveling shit is the way in.

The dog in the first cage is still growling, sometimes snarling, as I pop open her door and step in. I take my time, giving her my back, slowly scooping shit, plopping it in the bucket, letting her get acclimated. It’s been a while since this cage has been cleaned, and I wonder if all of them are the same. I feel her stare at my back as I work.

After half the cage is done, she goes quiet. She still stays as far away from me as she can, but I get her bowls and leave. I scrounge around and find some moldy dog food in a bag, in a closet marked “Food.” Finding some more in a storage room by the office, I grab a bag and start back. The kid sees me and asks what the hell I’m doing, there’s already food out.

I know I have a temper, but that knowledge doesn’t automatically give me control. The bitch who bore me married a punk who thought it his birthright to abuse his wife and kids. I ended up with a whole load of repressed crap, some of which precludes me from taking unnecessary shit from a whelp who still needs a wet nurse.

But I take a deep breath and relax, let this pimply-faced fuck slide, tell him that the other bag was empty. I don’t think he really cares, but he just has to piss on everything to show his dominance. Was I that stupid at his age?

Throwing the bag of food over my shoulder, I head back to the cages. Probably going to need more than one if I can work it so that all the dogs get some fresh food.

After washing and filling her bowls, I take them back to her cage, put them in the middle, and back off. She stares at me, her nose twitching away. She’s been abused, but she’s not aggressive. Got good stature for a mix, Rottweiler and … but she won’t eat just yet.

I pull her bowls, put them at the front, and start cleaning the rest of the floor. We maneuver like a dance, her at my back. The more I move one way, the more she moves the other until she ends up by the food. Over my shoulder, I watch her scarf it down, then slurp the water.

My knack for dogs comes from growing up in a house where dogs got the better deal. Mom’s favorite was a female German Shepherd named after the lady who gave her to us, Avon. As like begets like, Mom and Avon had a strong repulsion for males, including me. Neither allowed me to get close.

When the Rottweiler-mix finished eating, I move around to the front, so we’re back where we started. Having gotten a little closer, I see some caked-on shit in her fur. A bath is in order. It’s not like I ain’t been bitten before, but I try some commands. I have to use a bit of assertiveness, but she responds. I try some hand signals. This dog has had some training; every time she lies down, she crosses her front paws, like a Lady.

I scout about and find a bath in the back, full of garbage. After cleaning it out and making sure there’s hot and cold water, I grab a leash, head back to the cage.

To get a dog on a leash means getting close, and that requires some magic. I enter as before, only this time it’s all about being assertive but not aggressive – steady eye contact, calm demeanor, and the right body language.

She starts one way, and I block. She bares big teeth. I stay calm and steady. Of course, she has to do a little growling. She goes the other way, I block. Not long before she and I are in a corner. I know I’ve won when she lies down at my feet. I reward her with some light pets while I put the leash on. She’s still a bit shy, not sure what I want from her.

I lead her out of the cage, take my time, let her feel her way, and eventually we get to the bath. There are steps for a dog to get up and into the bath, but I’m not sure if she’s willing. She doesn’t even hesitate, climbs up and hops in.

As I wash her, she starts shaking. She’s not cold, just going through some psychological changes, but I use warmer water to rinse. In the middle of her rinse, she starts licking my face. I can’t afford another attachment right now. When I put her back, I pile on more food and watch her eat.

Cage two, three, and four: a poodle, chow mix, and a real Heinz 57, all relatively kept. Means Lady was singled out. I give them all extra rations, along with their friendly neighborhood shit shoveling service. I wonder if there’s a school for shoveling shit. Bet I could get a PhD. I dump the last of the dog food after a few more cages, mark the last cage so I’ll remember where I left off for tomorrow.

I’ve had enough for one night, and head out to get some fresh air. At the front desk, I tell the kid how bad cage one was. He gets all bend out of shape, says, “That bitch ain’t got shit coming,” and then something about, “if she ever bites me again….” Now I get the picture. I like Lady even more.

Leaving the office with the kid still muttering in his self-made turmoil, I hit the street. The first thing I encounter is the aroma of hazelnut coffee. Traffic is light, a couple of delivery trucks parked on the street. As I walk, a dude reading a newspaper and wearing sour aftershave almost bumps into me. After I pass the donut shop, I rush by an alley to avoid the stench of rotting meat.

I soon find my way next to a flowing crowd of seven and fold into it. Never want to be in front, never want to be in back ‘cause those get clipped first. From a couple of people ahead of me wafts the mustiness of a working girl that hasn’t been to bed yet. After a few blocks, I’m alone, but soon there’s one, then two, then more as the street lights get dimmer, the trash in the gutter gets thicker, and I get closer to the pad.

A block from our one-room flophouse, she rises as if out of nowhere. At first, all I see is a mane of dark hair and a lot of alabaster skin showing. Then the john steps from between two buildings, adjusting his fly. She turns and wipes her mouth with a rag, smiles when she sees me. God, what a smile. As we hug, I kiss her cheek and whisper, “I love you,” in her hear.

I ask her how things are doing, she asks why I smell like dog. I ask if she’s done for the day; she asks what I want for dinner. I grab her ass and tell her she is. She giggles and says I ain’t got enough money. This is our conversation, with no answers given. But all is well when she takes my arm, and we head home.

Two hours later, after she’s had her fix, a shower, a pot of mac and cheese, I watch her snoozing. She has a scar down the side of her nose, from a trick’s knife, who thought he got ripped off because he shot his load too fast. I love that scar, or maybe just the way she flaunts it. Her latest HIV test came back positive, but I don’t care. She cried for a little while, then went out and got a fix. I refuse to test now, what’s the use? If she dies first, I’m going to hunt down her stepdad. If I die first … who’s going to take care of her?

We met when I found her sitting on a park bench a few miles from here. She wasn’t crying, but she had some wet trails down her cheeks. I sat next to her. We did that for a while, just sat there. Then she started talking, and she wouldn’t shut up – half the time not making sense, at least not at first. But she was genuine and unassuming, and I loved her voice.

***
The next night and I’m back to shoveling shit. I give Lady some extra food, and while I watch her eat, it dawns on me. “Fuck, now I got another one.” I only clean three cages and then I’m at the front desk, like a junkie needing a fix, except I need a dog. My palms sweat, my eye ticks, and my feet won’t stop moving.

I ask the kid for the necessary paperwork, and he wants to know why I want that “mangy mutt.” I don’t say nothing, yet I feel the ache in my jaw as my teeth grind. He won’t leave well enough alone. After supposedly checking the records, he says that she’s past her date, that she’s going to be put to sleep tomorrow, that nothing can be done about it. And then he smiles.

My turn. I hop over the counter and this kid back-peddles, tripping over his own feet. But I’m right there, grabbing handfuls of his shirt, bringing us nose to nose, hoping my breath stinks.

“Listen dipshit, you either fill out the paperwork, or I drag your ass in the back and throw you in her cage. What’s it going to be?”

Seems that he’s more reasonable than either of us thought. A few minutes of him typing and I have a new member of my family. But then I wonder if the dog will outlive our AIDS. There’s also the melding of the two females. Guess I didn’t think everything through.

I head back to get her, picking up some things along the way. She needs leashes, bowls, collars (I should have brought a shopping bag, but an empty dog food bag will do), some doggy treats (mmm, those ain’t bad), and some premium canine fur cleaner.

Lady and I get to the pad and find my love still home, lying naked on the couch in front of the TV. She knows about Lady, I tell her almost everything. Not that I told her I was bringing a dog home. I introduce the two females and wait to see if any sparks fly. Nope, nothing but bonding. She gets on the floor and starts hugging and scratching. Lady just soaks it up, not quite comfortable, but getting there.

The two of them get curled up on the stained mattress in the corner. Both need to put on some weight. Sometimes I wish I could do better. It wasn’t that long ago that I was strung out, pushing the limit just to get well. Bent feelings always come unbidden, punishing me for visiting my childhood. She always knows, takes one to know one, so I have to hide within myself. Maybe next time I go out, I’ll just check out. Or maybe not.


J.S. Long lives and writes in Northern California.