I sent my prison pen pal “Conway” a copy of an article I blogged about this summer, concerning psychosis-inducing conditions at America’s supermax prisons. This poem was his response. In prison slang, “J Cat” (derived from “Category J” in the California Penal Code) refers to an inmate who is deemed too mentally ill to be housed with the general population.
My understanding is that this is a persona poem; from the tenor of his letters, Conway is not suicidal, but determinedly working on his personal growth and maintaining good relationships with his children and grandchildren on the outside.
California readers, you can help bring their day of reunion closer by voting Yes on 36, the Three-Strikes Reform Act.
Even if you find your mind waking in a padded room,
realize comfort, that it’s not this concrete tomb.
Your friends (in your head) it is said
might share a little love (even if they’re dead)
When the shit goes down, then the goon squad shows up
because of the camera in the ceiling (on the fritz)
paranoia trumpets ill feeling as the comedown side of high
starts shaking behind your eye, shaking all reasons to try
Even if nothing seems zen…
Padded rooms, “they say” are there to comfort the wall
from our fall, crash of bones, attempting to take a leap or
creep out of this dimension, false skin.
Concrete tombs transform toilets to despair, but
they never claimed to be soft, or a silent sensitivity
like a razor blade’s slash.
Even if the edge slid gently across the track
like a Hotwheel zipping around orange loop-d-loops.
The exit burns while the entrance yearns for another track,
another quick trip around the wrist.
Even if you find your mind twisted in a padded tomb
and find yourself listening to those hide-n-seek friends, whom
no-one else can see or hear, not even the broken mirror.
It won’t matter, until you’re in a courtroom, hobbled
like a steer, with a lawyer whispering in your ear.
That’s when, that’s the time those sneaky voices scream.
Where did this radio come from? Why?
I try to find the plug, a battery box, the off switch.
One more blade, I pray. One more slice, than things
will get better, things will get good. Then I’ll be gladder.
None of this will matter…