Inmate wisdom

As my final semester winds down, I am spending a lot of time with friends and colleagues. The extended gang of teachers and administrators from Poetry Inside/Out held our end-of-semester meeting yesterday. We read a few poems, shared a meal and much laughter, and generally celebrated our latest successes and my contribution to the program, which is coming to a close.
Departing is such sweet sorrow.

During one of our first meetings in the county jail, one of the men broke down and cried. Considering the strong cultural pressure against crying in contemporary American culture on the outside of prison walls, you can imagine what it’s like to show such emotion in jail. Since then, raw emotions have surfaced many times, and we’ve had an ongoing conversation about crying. Initially, an inmate said, “there’s no crying in jail.” Right away another inmate pointed out that crying was banned from baseball, not jail. In the end, we created a superb mix of humor and tragedy, as if jail were a microcosm for society. Which it is.
Because the conversation extends to an alternative high school and also to the girls’ pods in the county detention facility, we have abundant, and abundantly rich, material. Consider, for example, this bit of writing from a 15-year-old girl about to leave detention for a stint in rehab:
My last words
by Little Cloud
Sadly this’ll probably be the last time you hear from ‘Little Cloud’ for those of you who remember me. But I hope the words I’ve written will have a lasting effect. But this ‘sister’ can only hope. My last words of advice:
1. We may all be badasses but it’s OK to cry
2. Don’t give up, it only takes one voice to change the world
3. Even though we are convicts we still are human
4. You are loved, whether you think so or not, us writing to you proves it
5. Listen, for you never know what good you’ll hear
6. Make a difference just because you can
7. People will forgive, especially when you think they won’t
9. Believe
10. Keep an open mind because doing so will open worlds you never knew
11. How ever long it will be, one way or another you will be free (especially those of you sentenced to life)
12. You aren’t stupid, retarded or dumb, those people who say you are, are
13. Don’t forget ‘Little Cloud’ Ha Ha :)
14. We all have the right to grow and change
15. No time is wasted, as long as you feel & really learn
16. Breathe
I’m crying myself, as I type her words. She’s fifteen years old and already wiser than me, not to mention just about everybody else I know. I suppose hard times will do that for you.
As we wrapped up our potluck lunch, at the request of my co-teacher and mentor, I read this bit from Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Keeping Quiet.” It seems fitting, as I step away from one life and move closer to the land:
For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
And now, a commercial message from our sponsor: At the request of a former student, I’ll be spending the weekend in Port Isabel, Texas. I’ll be spreading the word at the Port Isabel public library Saturday under the title, “Limits to Growth: Conservation Biology, Economic Growth, and Sustainability in the 21st Century.” If you’re clever and patient, you can scroll down to read about it here. And if you’re in the area, I’d love to visit during my abundant spare time Friday and Saturday. Please join me. We’ll commune with nature, and with each other.

Comments 12

  • Each of us must decide how we face the conundrum of “the engine in the garden”,until nought but the garden remains.

  • Dear Guy —
    I wonder how many alleged Christians actually look forward to the day when the first will be last and the last will be first. The appealing Jesus was about ministering to and healing the downtrodden at a very personal level. Salvation was more of an abstraction to be hoped for after life ended and attributable to grace of God, not works.
    Stan Moore

  • “I suppose hard times will do that for you.”
    Guy, thank you for sharing their beautiful words. I couldn’t agree more with “Keeping Quiet”. As for your assessment, yes, hard times make for a certain depth of soul not found anywhere else.
    Give me someone who has walked in the valley of the shadow of death to keep company with over anyone else, any day. All the degrees and pedigrees and promotions in the world can’t teach you what adversity can.

  • Professor Guy:
    I’m so happy to learn that I’m both clever and patient,and Frank promises that he won’t let it go to his head !!

  • Speaking of “silence,” here’s a poem I shared with my media criticism class last week:
    “Earbud” by Bill Holm (who died Feb. 25)
    Earbud–a tiny marble sheathed in foam
    to wear like an interior earring so you
    can enjoy private noises wherever you go,
    protected from any sudden silence.
    Only check your batteries, then copy
    a thousand secret songs and stories
    on the tiny pod you carry in your pocket.
    You are safe now from other noises made
    by other people, other machines, by chance,
    noises you have not chosen as your own.
    To get your attention, I touch your arm
    to show you the tornado or the polar bear.
    Sometimes I catch you humming or talking to the air
    as if to a shrunken lover waiting in your ear.

  • Make that “machine in the garden”. The correction woke me at 3:00AM.How come none of you smart people here noticed that ??
    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm ???

  • Here is a new poem written just this morning in honor of Guy McPherson
    From ashes to ashes
    from dust to dust
    When the system crashes
    we do as we must
    In life I trust
    and this I find
    That affluence is just
    a state of mind
    What good is wealth
    and stylish living
    Destroy’s earth’s health
    too much taking, not giving
    No, I think I’ll pass
    I’ll give that up
    And survive the crash
    in my new mud hut

  • Charlene
    you may have noticed,
    I think greer has been reading
    some of the posts
    here for inspiration.
    Or perhaps a synergetic coincidence

  • I’m honored you think John Michael Greer is paying attention to this blog, Matt. But it would surprise me: He has quite a large following. For those of you who don’t follow Greer’s thoughtful blog, you can find it here.
    Thanks for the poetry, James and Stan.
    Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be posting the K-5 curriculum for the post-carbon era developed by a couple of students I advised this semester. Comments are particularly welcome on the lengthy report.

  • Guy,
    the last couple of his posts
    seem to have some theme similarities
    with some of the commentary, anyway
    (we are all talking about the same thing here)
    as I said no doubt, it is coincidence,
    perhaps the peak oil blog thinking/theme
    can move/shift with a certain degree of unison
    as our collective level of ‘predictive’
    (mis)’understanding evolves’
    ie we are all pissing into the wind together

  • Here is another fresh poem written this morning and inspired by Guy
    It’s Just the World
    by Stan Moore
    When your life seems strange and thus disconcerting
    And you’re misunderstood and your feelings are hurting
    When the familiar is merging with chaos and the surreal
    Because things are not working as they should you feel
    And when its clear that people cannot understand
    That life will not continue as they had once planned
    And so they cling to the false and long for old glories
    And denial is deeper when hung on old stories
    Those deniers have thoughts which are stuck in a box
    They become very passive when faced with the shocks
    Of a world that is changing in front of our eyes
    As predicted by old sages and present-tense spies
    And the world has changed many times in the past
    But the changes were slower and now they are fast
    So confusion is rampant and intolerably grim
    Folks are stranded like fishes with no water to swim
    But you understand it and know what to do
    And you chart a fresh course that you must pursue
    So don’t think you’ve gone crazy when things are unfurled
    You are doing quite well now — the problem’s the world
    You heard me quite rightly as my comments were hurled
    It’s not you that’s the problem; it’s just this old world.

  • Here is yet another new poem about the professor and the university
    Professor Americus/Emeritus
    by Stan Moore
    Americus woke up
    Emeritus spoke up
    University choked up
    In adversity broke up
    Arizona suffered
    Sweet Sedona buffered
    UA Department restructured
    Knowledge freeway was ruptured
    Americus created
    Emeritus vindicated
    University constipated
    Perversity paraded
    Americus woke up
    Emeritus spoke up
    University choked up
    In adversity broke up