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Poetry

» Poetry

I am 33 years old and breathin’

it’s a good year to die

to myself

I never felt such extreme peace

despite being mired in constant ear-deafening screams

from the caged occupants – triple CMS1, PCs2, gang validated,
drop-outs, parole violators, lifers,
drug casualties, three strikers,
human beings

in San Quentin’s 150 year old solitary confinement

I don’t want to start things over

 

@ 33

I am very proud of being who I am

I wrote a letter to a stranger who said
“You deserve to lose at least your youth,
not returning to society until well into middle age…”

after reading an article about me in San Francisco Weekly

I told him
“A hundred years from now when we no longer exist on this earth of humankind the seriousness of my crime will not be changed or lessened. I can never pay my debt to the victims because I cannot turn back the hands of time…I will not judge you.”

whenever I think about my crime I feel ashamed

I’ve lost my youth and more

I’ve learned that the more I suffer the stronger I become

I am blessed with great friends

I talk better than I write
because the police can’t hear my conversation

the prison officials labeled me a trouble maker

I dared to challenge the administration
for its civil rights violation

I fought for Ethnic Studies in the prison college program

I’ve been a slave for 16 years under the 13th Amendment

I know separation and disappointment intimately

I memorized the United Front Points of Unity

I love my family and friends

my shero Yuri Kochiyama and a young sister named Monica

who is pretty wanted to come visit me

somehow I have more female friends than male friends

I never made love to a woman

sometimes I feel like 16

but my body disagrees

some people called me a square

because I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs

I am a procrastinator but I get things done

I’ve never been back to my motherland

I started to learn Spanish

escribió una poema en español

at times I can be very selfish and vice versa

I’ve never been to a prom, concert, opera, sporting event

or my parents’ house

I don’t remember the last time I cried

I’ve sweat with the Native Americans, attended mass with the

Catholics, went to service with the Protestants, sat and chanted

with the Buddhists

my mind is my church

I am spoiled

in 2001 a young lady I love stopped loving me

it felt worse than losing my freedom

I was denied parole for the ninth time

I assured Mom that I will be home one day

after she pleaded me to answer her question truthfully
“Are you ever going to get out of prison?”

the Prison Industrial Complex and its masters attempted to control my mind

it didn’t work

they didn’t know I’ve been introduced to Che, Yuri Kochiyama, Paulo Freire, Howard Zinn, Frederick Douglass, Assata Shakur, bell hooks, Maurice Cornforth, Malcolm X, Gandhi, George Jackson, Mumia, Buddha,

and many others…

I had about a hundred books in my cell

I was internalizing my politics

In 2000 I organized the first poetry slam in San Quentin

I earned my associate of art degree

something that I never thought possible

I’ve self-published a zine

I was the poster boy for San Quentin

some time in the ‘90s my grandparents died

without knowing that I was in prison

 

@ 30

I kissed Dad on the cheek and told him that I love him
for the first time

I’ve written my first poem

I called myself a poet to motivate me to write

because I knew poets would set us free

in 1998 I was granted parole
then it was taken away

the governor’s political career superseded my life

some time in the 90s
I participated in most of the self-help programs

in 1996 I really learned how to read and write

I read my first history book “A People’s History
of the United States”

my social conscious mind was awakened

in 1992 I passed my GED in Solano Prison

I learned how to take care of my body from ’89 to ‘93

in 1987 I turned 18 and went to the Pen from youth authority

the youngest prisoner in San Quentin’s
Maximum Security Prison

I was lucky people thought I knew kung fu

 

@ 16

I violated an innocent family of four and scarred them for life

money superseded human suffering

I was charged as an adult and sentenced to life
with a possibility

no hablo ingles

I wish I could start things over

I was completely lost

 

@ 12

I left Communist China to Capitalist America

no hablo ingles

I was spoiled

in 1976 I went to demonstrations against the Gang of Four

life was a blur from 1 to 6

on 5/29/69

I inhaled my first breath.

 


1 Correctional Clinical Case Management System Mental health condition of prisoners
2 Protective Custody of Prisoners

» Poetry

Have you ever experienced being the fastest runner in the world?
Jogging lightly next to a slow moving jeep,
My curiosity
Starts to itch. I sneak behind it
And grab hold of its shining silver bumper.

Then there is a loud scream —
Sixty wild horses take off as if they are
Being chased by starving tigers.
Gasping for air, I run
Tip-toeing on an endless black road
My heart beats like a bass player
Slapping notes in a heavy metal concert,
While my mind is racing against its normal limit.

Oh, yes, I’m flying now. My legs no longer
Belong to me as they fly on their own.
The wild horses let out thunderous groans
Monsoon wind whistles by my ears
The black road becomes a blur under my feet.
The limited existence of my life flashes by my mind
I’m just a kid. I don’t want to die.

Panic takes over me. What would happen if I just
Let go? I’m too scared to find out.
Stop! Stop!! No one can hear me
As I yelling at the top of my lungs inside my head.

Then — as if the tigers disappeared,
The horses finally decide to put on their brakes.
I release my grip and fall on the black road
As everything turned back to normal.
Ha. Ha. Ha. I can’t help but laugh
Out loud as my body is drenched in sweat.
What a ride!

» Poetry

Mt. Tamalpais disappears
slowly in front of everyone’s
eyes. The morning traffic jams the
congested road that not even water can leak
through. The road spreads its limbs flatly to accommodate
the dead load of metals and flesh.
The ferry tickles the tranquil bay leaving
a trail of white bubbly waves behind. While the
wind yawns out a howling cold breath, seagulls and
little black birds extend their wings for a warm up stretch.
The trees stand silently bathing in the sweet mountain dews.

Mt. Tamalpais sits firmly in deep meditation.

Inch by inch the clouds creep around the
mountain and blankets it. The sun escorts
the clouds by beaming its ray as a guide.

Mt. Tamalpais sits firmly in deep meditation.

Just as the mountain is about to be consumed, the sun
vanishes. The milky white clouds panic and transform into
gun metal gray. It backs off from its attempt to conquer.

Mt. Tamalpais sits firmly in deep meditation.

The strength and serenity of the mountain
inspire the clouds’ creativity. It spontaneously
starts to decorate the mountain and blue sky with its flexible
and fluffy feature, creating a post card for millions to enjoy.

The clouds unite as one with Mt. Tam.

» Poetry

It is
my ninth
parole consideration hearing
appearance in front of the
Board of Prison Terms (BPT)
so far
the judgment has been the same
parole – denied

Noooooooooooooooooooooo
expectations
for an ounce of hope
parallels to ten thousand miles down
the bottomless pit of optimism
chaperoned by endless questions of
Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

Breathe
for I know I am alive
Breathe
for I know I will never
forget to fight

I sit
with a eerie sense of calm
my feet grounded to the earth
before two men
whom I have never met
but will hold my life
and dictate the course of my future
in the intricacy of their frontal lobes, neurons, synapses
hoping that they are functional
somehow

The parties present are
newly appointed commissioner (African American – God #1)
deputy commissioner (Latino American – God #2)
deputy district attorney (Caucasian – society)
female documentary producer, two camera men (Caucasians – public eyes)
San Quentin Public Information Officer (African American – restrictor of public eyes)
three Peace Officers (African Americans – enforcers)
my attorney (African American – protector)
and I (Asian – the sinner)

The mode of operation
God #1
is to talk about my commitment offense
God #2
is to talk about my institutional behavior and parole plans
Society
gets to make a closing statement
Protector
gets to make a closing statement
The sinner
gets to make a closing statement
Recess for deliberation slash coffee breaks
Judgment

Though
I have no faith
in the BPT
to uphold the law
without bias
to consider the suitability
of my parole
somewhere
that ounce of hope
that I will receive redemption
is hidden among the cells of my mind
after all
I am fighting for my life

As always
my strategy
going into the hearing
is to speak from the heart
only this time
I want to be
in control
of the hearing
I want to answer
in detail
whatever questions, concerns, uncertainties
the BPT has concerning
the crime I have committed
at the age of sixteen
my remorse
for the victims
my development
as a person being reared
in prison for 15 years
my readiness to be a productive person
in society
I want to eliminate
any excuses the BPT
might use to deny
my freedom

As the camera
starts rolling
God #1
reads from the highlighted
cheat sheet guidelines on
how to conduct a parole hearing
I cannot help but notice
that on the back of his cheat sheet
is the signed pink slip
which I would receive at the end of
the judgment day
the only thing left for him to do
is to make an X in the denial box
at that moment
the ounce of hope
vaporized

Breathe

The only thing
left for God #1 to do
is to go through the formality
of the judgment guideline
speedily

He states the charges
of my crime on the record
asks me a couple of questions
and turns the judgment over to
God #2
the usual questions and discussions
on the factors of the crime
are no longer important
after all
the decision has been made

God #2
speeds through
only some of the self-help programs
in which I have participated
only a few of my support letters
asks about my parole plans
and wants to move on
after all
the decision has been made

I stopped him
and pointed out
that he has neglected
to mention all my support letters
along with a petition of about 140 signatures
in support of my release
that he is holding in his hand

I made sure
he read all the documents
concerning the hearing
I answered all the questions
that the Gods have
in extreme detail

Then Society
gets his turn to
make a closing statement
he used his best performing voice
and restated the seriousness of my crime
as if he was trying a capital punishment case in front of the jury
to convict me
he is opposed to my parole

The Protector
states the facts
of my case
the lack of prison disciplinary record
my educational and vocational achievements
my overwhelming support from family and friends in the community
my solid parole plans with three job offers
and that I have met all the necessary requirements
set by the BPT to be granted parole

The Sinner
gets his annual chance to speak
to fight for his life
I expressed my remorse for the victims
the shame and suffering that I have caused them and my family
that in another 30 or 50 years the seriousness of the crime will never change
that I am no longer the sixteen year who committed the crimes
that I am a compassionate 32 year old human being
that I have been eligible for parole since 1993
that in previous parole hearings
five different commissioners have found me suitable for parole
until the Governor refused my release due to his blanket ‘no parole policy’
and that I am ready to be a productive person in society

Next is the recess slash coffee break
when the Gods will deliberate
my suitability for parole
it took them about fifteen minutes
there is nothing to decide
after all
the decision has been made

Judgment time
I already know the outcome
Breathe

God #1
recites
from his cheat sheet
“The panel unanimously finds that you are not suitable for parole and that you would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society if release from prison at this time. This is due to the heinous and cruelty of the crime and a callous disregard for human suffering… and the lack of therapy.”
for a nano second
I thought I heard
him choking back
tears

Breathe

As
each syllable
each word
engulfs the space between
the moralizing God
and the sinner
I diverge
from those venomous sound bites
that sealed my possibility of a future
at least for another year or so

years of moral jousting
with different chameleon BPT Gods slash parasites
strengthened my antibodies
to shield me
from their poisonous psychological abusive
attempts to dehumanize my essence

Breathe

The judgment is final
Sinner engages the Gods into a dialogue…

Sinner, “What about forgiveness…?”
God #1, “The victims will never forgive you… society might forgive you one day…”
Breathe
Sinner, “Why are you still treating me as a criminal?”
God #2, “You were a criminal, you are a criminal and you will always be a criminal!”
Breathe
I got stuck in Peter Pan’s Never-never Land
never had a chance to be seen as older than a sixteen year old
after all
the decision has been made
Breathe

My actions
to break the laws of society and government
got me in prison to be rehabilitated slash punished
The question is
will the same laws of society and government ever going to let me out of prison?

The words of Anatole France echoes in my mind:
“The law,
in all its majestic equality,
forbids the rich
as well as the poor
to beg on the streets, sleep under bridges, and steal bread.”

» Poetry

Briiing!… Briiiiing!!… Briiiiiing!!!

The authoritative sound of the bell
Dis-con-nects
the transient humanistic bond

like well-dosed sheep in experimental labs
we herd ourselves up the stairs
the two flights of concrete steps
that lead me to another struggle
another reality check

to savor every moment of that precious
censored
human connection
with
the teaching assistants
I drag my feet
and plant each step
mindfully and instinctively
to resist the drug of conformity
holding on to every second of our exchanges
their words
their smile
my hopes
my dream

The authoritative sound of the bell
Dis-con-nects
the transient humanistic bond

“I’m tired.” She says to her comrade
as she slowly climbs the stairs
feet tired as her mind now
only a few more steps
and she will be closer to the comfort of her home

she’s tired…

it has been a long day
she went to
her classes
her job
and drove straight
to tutor
the men in the Pen
she hasn’t had time to rest
she hasn’t had time to eat
she hasn’t had time for herself
to breathe mindfully

she’s tired…

her comrade acknowledges her
with a moonlighting smile that she knows will help
rejuvenate her
long enough
for the journey ahead
her comrade puts
her arm around her shoulder
she wraps her arm around her comrade’s waist
the flashes of their generous smile
embrace each other
for they know
before the long drive home
they have to walk among the shadows
of confined spirits
through the gauntlet of checkpoints
leave behind the microcosm of a gated community
brace the star filled night sky
and the awakening cold wind from the bay

The authoritative sound of the bell
Dis-con-nects
the transient humanistic bond

I’m tired…

I’m tired of hearing the bells
that
dis hyphen con hyphen nects me
from humanity
I’m tired of the same ritual of
walking up those steps of reality checks
that remind me of
my inhumanity
I’m tired of the hesitation I feel
when I ponder whether I should
leave in quick steps or stay back to shuffle my feet
as we wait by the area where we will part ways
I’m tired of the panopticon effect that is
indoctrinated in me by the Dis-con-nector
contemplating the threats of retaliation
upon myself and others
if I lingered a few seconds too long

I’m tired of the feeling of vulnerability
that shakes my defense mechanism
I’m tired of knowing that while you’re
floating across the bridge of incandescence
heading to the comfort of your homes
I’m already confined in my assigned cage
that is home
I’m tired of the conditions
that erode any meaningful relationships
with people in the outside world
I’m tired of not knowing
when I don’t have to feel tired
anymore
I’m tired of being
imprisoned

I’m tired…

The authoritative sound of the bell
Dis-con-nects
the transient humanistic bond

while you leave seeds of possibilities
and touches of humanity
you leave with a small sense
of fulfillment and satisfaction
that you have made a difference

at the same time
I leave with an unsettled mind
a longing that cannot be fulfilled
and a continual sense of defeat
no arm on my shoulder
no arm around my waist
no smile that will rejuvenate me
for the endless journey ahead

The authoritative sound of the bell
Dis-con-nects
the transient humanistic bond

Briiing!… Briiiiing!!… Briiiiiing!!!

» Poetry

Uno, Dos, Tres… Uno, Dos, Tres…
Uno Dos
Uno, Dos, Tres… Uno, Dos, Tres…
Tres Cuatro

Cadence in unison
Bounces off
Walls & razor wire
From the
Adjustment Center
Where

Murderers, fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, grandfathers & human beings

Are
Isolated
In single
Animal
Cages
Exercising
Their
Bodies-spirits-solidarity
Fighting against
Authority
Fighting for
Life

I sit in the
Library
Surrounded by
Thousands
Of Books on

General Works-Philosophy-Religion-Social Sciences-
Language-Science-Useful Arts-The Arts-Literature-History

By people
Who are

Dead, alive…
Black, white, brown, yellow, red, green, orange…
Tall, short, fat, skinny, young, old…
Gay, straight, women, men…
Reformers, revolutionaries…

Sharing & expressing
Their

Knowledge, experiences, thoughts, theories, praxis,
Creativity, artistry, humanity

As my eyes
Glued to
Asha Bandele’s
“Poem 4 the students at the city university of new york who questioned why we need 2 struggle”
Instinctively
My thoughts
Lead me to the
Slaves slash prisoners
Who are
Enrolled in the
College program at the
Prison Industry Complex of San Quentin University
The one & only
In the State of California
Volunteer
Professors, scholars, students
From universities near & far
Flock
To the
Plantation
To
Educate & cultivate
The minds
Of
Society’s outcast

Slaves slash prisoners
Young & old
Embraced
The opportunity
To learn how
To
Read & write & pursue
An Associate of Arts Degree
An education
Often not
Afforded to us
In society

Uno, Dos, Tres… Uno, Dos, Tres…
Cinco Seis
Uno, Dos, Tres… Uno, Dos, Tres…
Siete

Yet
I wonder
How many
Slaves slash prisoners
Have asked, “What kind of education are we getting?”
Will the education
We are receiving
Enable us
To overcome
Ethnic, religious backgrounds & color lines
Will the education
Enable us
To conquer
Classism, Racism, Sexism, Hatred, Prejudice & Institutions of violence
That have been
Indoctrinated
In us
Will the education
Enable us
To pull ourselves
Out of this environment
Of oppression & dehumanization

Is it
Enough
That we can
Read & write
But can’t
Think critically
About
Our lives
Is it
Enough
For us
To get
An education
Get out of this
Physical enslavement
Go get
A job, cower in gated communities, drive fancy cars, wear designer clothes, rear children
Reduce
Recidivism
Become
Poster boys, puppets, statistics
For the
Prison industry complex

Uno, Dos, Tres… Uno, Dos, Tres…
Ocho Nuevo
Uno, Dos, Tres… Uno, Dos, Tres…
Diez Cuatro

Still
I wonder
How many
Slaves slash prisoners
Are asking, “Why do we need to struggle?”
Maybe
It’s because
We
Refuse
To hear
The invisible chains
That are rattling
Around our necks
Refuse
To feel
The shackles
That are weighting
Us down
Refuse
To realize
The apathy
That is sucking
Our lives away

Maybe
It’s because
We have
Conformed & accepted & allowed
The authorities
To dehumanize us
By trashing
Our property
During cell searches
Making
Hundreds of men
Shower in a
Segregated stall
Confining
Us in cages
Smaller than
A regular size
Bathroom
Forcing
Us to work
For pennies, less than a dollar or no pay in exchange for privileges
So they
Can profit in
Millions
Ordering
Us to

Strip naked, open our mouths, stick out our tongues, lift up our testicles,
bend over, spread our cheeks, cough & lift up our feet

Each time
We finish
Visiting with our
Loved ones

And so I wonder

If we don’t think critically about our conditions, who will?
If we don’t raise awareness about our lives, who will?
If we don’t fight for our lives, who will?
If we don’t do it now, when?
If we don’t use what we’ve learned to liberate ourselves and others from this physical and mental enslavement, why do we need an education?

So
Think…  Be critical
Take action…  Together

Uno, Dos, Tres…

Uno…

Uno, Dos, Tres…

Dos…

Uno, Dos, Tres…

Tres…

Uno, Dos, Tres…

Cuatro…