Sunday, May 08, 2005

Saturday May 7th, 2005 – 2:35PM

At the top of a snow-capped mountain, there is a lake which the Indians called a long time ago, Teardrop of a Cloud. This is where in the heights of the Adirondack mountains that Hudson River begins.

Not far from here last night I had three Pain Killers (two kinds of rum, some sort of coconut liquer and fruit juice) and two shots of Black Seal rum at an establishment that calls itself Caribbean Cowboy. I headed back to my hotel room after that to drink some warm beer and giggle at Three’s Company until 2AM.

Earlier I did a workshop with 35 students from 7 different high schools in the surrounding area. I also read at the Ray Brook Penitentiary, a medium-security federal prison up here. The prison industry is big business and the prison dorms were originally built as dorms for the Winter Olympics back in 1980. The story is that the dorms were built with the intention of having them converted into either a university or a prison after the olympics. Of course, we chose… Prison. As a result though, this prison is far less intense feeling than any other prisons I’ve ever been to. There aren’t huge metal doors with bars that make that huge clanging sound that rings with such finality and the prisoners here say they “like” it much more than any other prisons they’ve been to. The warden insists that all prisoners be addressed as Mr. So-and-so by the staff, the guards and by one another. It is one small step towards promoting real rehabilitation by making respect a more routine pat of their daily lives. Apparently this prison is also really big on the idea of providing programs for the inmates.

Still, it is a prison. Still, it is filled with more than 90 percent folks of black and latino descent, and staffed with mostly working-class white folks, so the sad ironies still apply. What folks don’t seem to understand is that more educational opportunities not only means less crime and less prisons but also less need for jobs such as corrections officer. All poor people – black and white come off better in the long run.

The guys stayed the whole way through, milking every last second of our time together with questions and requests for more poems. Even in the depression of being in a prison, it was a calming feeling to know that what I do offers at some junture a real sense of hope and escape for people in this predicament. One guy asked why I would decide to come in there and read for them, folks who have nothing to offer back, the “scum-of-the-earth” (his words). I only figure that from time to time, one has to “show and prove”. While I think my “purpose” as I understand it, is toward my poetry, the closing of the gao between the person I am and the person I would ideally be dictates work like this - it dictates a whole bunch of other stuff as well, but it definitely dictates work such as this; so I go. Jerry Quickley took his ass all the way to Baghdad for chrissakes.

From time to time I feel bad that I don’t do stuff like this more regularly. I’ve done programs like this on a weekly basis before at Rikers Island, for instance, nut io can never keep it up because the emotional drainage of spending three hours every week in prison becomes too much for me to handle. But, I feel stupid saying this when there are folks who have to spend large sections of their lives in there, so whenever I can I have to ‘man-up’ and do some real work.

So, now I get to writing some poems (or one poem) and see if I can make the return trip a little more productive than just sitting up in the café car drinking neat whiskeys till I see the projects in the Bronx loom up from the train window.


Blogger ruth-e said...

hi roger...

cool post. thanks.

1:57 PM  

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