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Prison poetry I

Prison poetry I

Prison cell with the words 'Prison poetry I" superimposed over it.
Photo by StudioTempura

A collection of poems written by incarcerated people.

Feelings by W. P.

You say you love me and that gives you the right
To make me face feelings that I always fight.
You know that these feelings could shape and control me
When in all other things I stand steadfast and free.
And what a lovely, devastated life I have known
With no responsibilities or a place to call home.
Not even a spot of mist has touched my eyes
And not a second thought whether I live or die.
My heart pumped on stubbornly and oh so slow,
And from my wounds not one drop would flow.
Now here you come and make me feel worthwhile
Because to reach me you must have fought through all sorts of vile.
Now I am face to face with life and death
And I can’t choose one as I would right or left.
The me inside of me is afraid to let go;
He has become accustomed to the pain and loves it ever so.
So no choices can I make quite yet
Until such a time me and me is well met.
And even though we must travel through this strange and foreign land,
Do not worry because I will be there holding your hand.

Looking Westward by S. L.

Looking westward
From a bridge,
Golden water
Parsleyed shores.
And silent currents
Tugging ripples
At men in waders

On an Unlighted Bridge by S. L.

On an unlighted bridge
Above oily waters’ slick stillness,
Brushed by comforting coolness
Under cloud-curtained skies.
Behind high sullen greyness
Night’s stars show no brilliance
And the moon’s sleepy jaundice
Floats somewhere

The Mad River by S. L.

The mad river roars,
Ferocious and heavy
I watch how it crushes
And tumbles below
Its rage fills my ears
With an unholy thunder
And its might shakes the banks
Where I sit for the show.

Sometimes I can watch
With a heart full of wonder
And at times full of pity, or love
Or of fear
And at times I am swept up
In the midst of its anger,
Tossed about like a rag doll
By the habits of years.

But I’m learning acceptance
Of its torrents and rapids.
I’m learning to open
And just let it flow
And befriending the currents
Brings a gift unexpected,
Calmer waters and clarity—
The mad river
Can slow.

Untitled by R. S.

I’ve been thinking
about all that drinking
and how I was sinking
into a state of despair
now I can see
what then happened to me
as the insanity
ruled me unaware—
Thoughts filled my head
about cutting the thread
that kept me from the dead
even without drinking wine
but now
I understand
that this life is is good
and with it I can stand
and start on the path so

Untitled by R. S.

Prisons are of two kinds, the outer and the inner;
In each of them one finds, both the saint and the sinner—

The outer is made up of steel and bars and razor wire.
It’s a place without much love, where anger burns like fire;
From outside they look like stone, with big yards of green grasses,
But they’re made of flesh and bone, mere graveyards for the masses.
Within there are concrete cells, where the men are caged like beasts,
In their hearts bitterness swells, which others feed on like feasts;
It’s here you long for freedom, wishing for the time of old,
But it’s here you can gain wisdom, without having to be told—

The inner is made of mind, out of reach of the senses,
Around it you will not find, any gates, doors, or fences;
It is a place no one knows, but is definitely real.
Here is where your inner foes, are stronger than any steel;
The mind can go either way, now happy and then irrate,
The choice is yours every day, but sadly do you choose hate;
It’s here that you need control, if happiness you wish for,
Knowledge can do the patrol, guiding you through wisdom’s door—

If you find yourself in a cage, don’t sit there as on a shelf,
Go beyond the burning rage, and come to know your inner self.

Incarcerated people

Many incarcerated people from all over the United States correspond with Venerable Thubten Chodron and monastics from Sravasti Abbey. They offer great insights into how they are applying the Dharma and striving to be of benefit to themselves and others in even the most difficult of situations.

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