Prison Poet “Conway” Speaks

Since last fall, I’ve been corresponding with an incarcerated writer at a supermax prison in central California who discovered our Winning Writers website. “Conway” (he’s asked that I not use his real name) is serving a sentence of 25 years to life for receiving stolen property, under California’s three-strikes law that imposes life sentences for a nonviolent crime if the defendant has two or more prior felony convictions. The Supreme Court (wrongly, in my view) ruled in the 2003 case Lockyer v. Andrade that such mandatory sentences do not violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

From what I can tell from Conway’s rap sheet, his priors were burglary and grand theft auto. Without access to his case history, it’s not for me to judge whether he ought to be at liberty. Nonetheless, as I read his letters, I was struck by his descriptions of unnecessarily brutal prison conditions and his drive to better himself through literature and art, despite the constant interference of guards confiscating his books and writing supplies.

I’ll be posting his poems and excerpts from his letters on this blog from time to time. I’m not in a position to vouch for the accuracy of everything he writes. Read them for yourself and see what rings true. My goal is simply to provoke further inquiry about how we ignore the humanity of the incarcerated.

Cell Widow
by “Conway”

Black spiders build traps on my window,
Their intricate veins with morning dew glow,
gray butterfly caught in deadly net,
a victim devoured by my bloodthirsty pet;

On lines creeping it approaches and overtakes,
the gift of life so simply forsakes,
captured before destiny can finish its flight,
dread spider consumes with sweet delight;

Bonded to be drained drop by drop alone,
abandoned heart bled dry to the bone,
as I watched the tiny wings crumble away,
I felt life’s loss, as I do every day…



steel teeth, cell doors
concrete tongue tasting
my soul wasting
inside locked corridors
concrete wasting
my soul tongue tasting
cell teeth, steel doors
locked inside corridors
wasting my soul
out of control…


Life Seeks Relief

This wise old owl must not
be so wise I fear,
for it has chosen to build
a nest in the most absurd
of spots precarious,
the tall menacing tower
where gunners seek targets
human, on barbed perimeter.
A lair of predators on hunt
perpetual, a death stalk
from above, in chain link
spiderweb’ belligerent
boundary of nettle surrounds;
“The no man’s land”
Yet unperturbed/unbiased
this odd creature, then bizarre
occurs to me, as I stare
out my cell window, I realize
how safe the chosen roost,
for the gun towers that menace
my mind, are no threat to
this nocturnal interloper:
Those large eyes stare back
accusingly, every time
I check to assure myself,
unwise owl is safely rested,
realizing it is I who is
unwisely nested…

11 comments on “Prison Poet “Conway” Speaks

  1. Alegria Imperial says:

    Thanks, Jendi, for posting the poems of Conway. A peek into a new panorama of the soul is always a satisfying experience. That of Conway is startling because of its stark truthfulness. More than the desperation he naturally and understandably evokes in his lines, what strikes the reader more deeply is his boldness and skill to confront his bedeviled consciousness. By impaling his despair on paper, I feel he entraps it and thus breaks away from physical prison though only for a lyrical moment. I like the ‘darkness’ of the first poem, the contrast of images such as the spider web: such sheer silken quality it even catches the sun’s gold flecks yet how deathly it really is. But the third poem to me speaks more eloquently: it is another ‘world looks back’ version where truths reveal themselves in mirrors.

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  7. Patricia says:

    My brother never committed any violent crimes such as rape,as far as I know,but accepted stolen property.Many times violent criminals who commit violent crimes such as rape,molestation,murder,robbery,etc,,. get less time.Three strikes isn’t working because they would rather let these heinous criminals go,so the state & fed. governments can say we need money for prisons and get the voters to fear.Some of the prisoners tried on the three strikes you’re out law,are there stealing batteries,a bicycle or gum.Don’t get me wrong I believe someone they should for they’ve done,but ”let the punishment fit the crime”.

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