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August Book Review

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

Heather O’Neill is a talented writer who grew up and currently resides in Montreal, Canada. Her novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, is an excellent read and a masterfully told story.

Lullabies is about the troubled lives of young children under the aegis of their troubled parents. The story is sometimes told from inside the homes, sometimes from the streets, or sometimes within the system. Heather O’Neill really opens the reader’s eyes into the world of these troubled youth who might be considered “little criminals” by some.

The story is more than entertaining, it is emotional, thoughtful, and well worth the time to read it.

Rewind

Sean Michael, July 2015

There’s no button on life that says rewind
Can’t take back my mistakes
Can’t reverse time
So I carry on and do the best I can
Here I am strong
I make my final stand
So many demons in my mind
So much to do so little time
The voices screaming in my mind
This much is true there is no rewind

 

Posted for dVerse Poets, Open Link Night #201, August 10, 2017

***********   I’m having a poetry contest–check it out and enter. ***********************

English 101

This summer I’ve been taking English 101, composition and reading classes, with Feather River College. I received a high grade and good feed back on my first narrative essay. My professor said I had a good intro, good story telling, liked my conclusion, and said essay was well composed. My major errors ere with punctuation: a few misplaced or absent commas and semicolons. I was really nervous turning in my first essay, and here it is for you to read.

 

Never Too Late

The first thing I ever stole was a pack of Skittles from the corner store. I’d seen my parents steal many times and, at this early point in my life, believed it was okay to take what I wanted. My mother realized I’d stolen the Skittles as I ate them on the walk home, but she didn’t reprimand me for my behavior until the next time she caught me stealing. She’d told me that what I’d done was wrong, which only confused me since I’d seen her and my father do it countless times. I loved and admired my parents, so how could it be wrong? I continued to steal throughout my childhood and into my early adulthood, but I never thought that it was a big deal; in fact, I took pride in my exceptional abilities as a thief. Then one night everything began to change after I accidentally killed a man who had been trying to protect his property. I was sentenced to twenty five to life in prison, and suddenly, all the crimes I’d previously been proud of became terrible thoughts that haunt my memories today.

Crime was something that I’d taken pride in because it was one of the few things I’d considered myself good at. I’d been in high speed chases and gotten way from the police, committed robbery and beat the charge in court. I could easily steal from large chain stores like Kmart or Walmart, but I found myself unable to maintain a healthy relationship with a woman, my home life was made up of dysfunctional drug addicts, and I’d lost the only three jobs I’d ever had. My self esteem was at benthic levels in a sea of melancholy, but stealing made me happy because nine times out of ten I succeeded.

I first stole a vehicle when I was fifteen years old and now, at the age of twenty one, grand theft auto was no complicated endeavor for me; this time I even had the keys which was supposed to simplify the task further. The thought that somebody could lose their life never crossed my mind. As I pulled the truck away from the driveway and paused in the street to turn on the headlights, I heard the voice of an irate man scream, “Hey, that’s my truck! I’m going to kill you!” I absolutely believed that he would try to kill me if he caught me, and I sped off down the street, unaware that he’d been able to jump into the bed of the truck as I drove off. In my haste to get away, I swerved down the narrow, dimly lit street, hit the front of a parked car and lost control. As the truck flipped through the air, the owner was thrown in one direction, hitting a tree and dying instantly, while I was flung in the other direction, landing in the middle of the street with hardly a scratch on me. I sprang to my feet and ran, but in short time, I could hear the police closing in from every direction and wasn’t able to run very far before being captured.

Two San Diego Police officers stood guard over me in the hospital, where I’d been taken to be checked for internal injuries, and as I lay in the bed surfing the television channels one of the officers snatched the remote from me. He said, “People who kill other people don’t get to decide what they watch on TV. You’ve been causing problems in my town too long and I hope they put you away forever.” I was in complete disbelief at the officer’s accusation of murder. It was true that I’d been having run-ins with the law in that part of town, so I figured he was just trying to unnerve me. It wasn’t until I was transferred to the county jail and I was formally charged with murder that it hit me.

I spent the next two years in jail awaiting trial and contemplating the fact that life can change in the time it takes to breathe a single breath. When I was sentenced to twenty five to life in prison every foolish crime I’d committed in my life began to play on repeat in my mind and every ounce of former pride nascent self-loathing and shame. I refused to consider the notion that my life could be anything but chaos and misery, and why should it be? I’d killed someone and something like that just doesn’t go away.

I’m turning thirty one soon and I’ve decided change is possible. I don’t have to live a life of crime. I can go to school and attend groups and vocational training in search of knowledge that will help me grow as a person. I can give instead of take and I can be happy if I want to, maybe even make it out of here one day.

How to Save a Life

(That’s also a song title by The Frey!)

If you have been following my blog, then you probably know of my troubled past and my love for the youth who are currently traveling a path I’ve already tread. Not long ago I put up a post about a program called “Prison Letters for Our At-risk Youth.” I’ve continued my correspondence with the head of the program, and I am going to begin facilitating this program on the yard. I hope that the letters will help deter youth from seeking out this criminal lifestyle, as well as help some of us develop compassion and remorse by sharing our introspections. I hope that people will discover the true power of writing—a poem, a story, a letter—and that it will help save lives.

As a facilitator, I will simply connect individuals with the program, make sure that “Thank you letters” from the program to prisoners are being delivered, keep a roster of those involved, and assist indigent inmates.

No prisoner, under any circumstance, will contact any child or parent directly, but their letters will be screened by the program and used in videos, publications, and seminars. I will also be slightly selective in who I ask to participate, such as some of the members from “Criminals and Gangs Anonymous,” another group I co-facilitate. I seek sincere individuals who have no charges against children, and mostly, “lifers.”

I have 20 beautifully hand-woven bracelets with words like “love,” and symbols like “hearts,” “arrows,” “crosses,” etc. woven into them (see photo). Please donate one book of stamps, and I will send you a bracelet as a gift, token of my gratitude, and symbol of your love for these special youth in need. Most of the postage will go to the program, so that they will be able to easily reach facilitators at other prisons, and the rest will be used by me to communicate with them and to assist indigent inmates who wish to participate.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and even done some outright bad things, but I think I can use those experiences to give back now. Rather than remain in a vicious cycle of anger, addiction, and self-abuse, inevitably hurting others, I can use this program as another tool and coping mechanism to stay on the right path and not let the lessons I’ve learned in life go to waste.

I haven’t always been good at asking for help, and I’d have to be damn near dead to ask a stranger to help me without offering something in return. That’s because I believe in the exchange of energies and the exchange of gifts. The spirit in which this is done must be with honor and grace for it to be true. So, I’m asking you to give me 1 (one) book of “20 American Forever Stamps,” and I will give you a bracelet. One style of bracelet is clearly feminine and the other is meant to be masculine, but could be worn by either sex. Let me know which style you’d like. They’d also make great gifts for your spouse, kids, or friends.

Thank you for your time, please write me soon.

Sean Michael Couch, AA9603
Mule Creek State Prison, A-5-229
P.O. Box 409020
Ione, CA 95640

Please click this link and listen to one of my favorite songs:

White Lion, “When the Children Cry” 

“LUCKY13” Poetry Contest

Today is July 13, 2017, my thirty-first birthday, and it is my great pride and honor to announce the
first LUCKY13 Poetry Contest and invite all you poets out there to participate. I’ll write a poem on each subject myself to share after the contest ends.

There are three subject categories for poets to choose from, with no limit as to how many poems or categories one may submit to. (Write to your heart’s content.) There will be a first, second, and third place winner, plus honorable mentions, for each category.

CATEGORIES

1. Home—country/ state/city, etc.
2. Major Wars
3. Outer Space

SUBMITTING

To enter the contest, send a digital version of your poem to Mad_Poet@aol.com. Please include the words LUCKY13 and the the category number in the Subject.

An anonymous version of the poem will be sent to me to be read and considered for the contest. Winners will be contacted privately via e-mail and announced publicly on my Blog. Submission deadline is midnight September 1, 2017; entries will not be accepted after this time. Don’t miss out, submit your poem today.

PRIZES IN EACH CATEGORY

FIRST place will receive a copy of my book Stygian, as well as a guest blog spot here on Mad Poet Enchained, in which the author may write about and promote their work (and leave relevant links and plugs, of course). Their poem will also be posted with links to their social media.

SECOND place will receive a guest blog spot with all the same conditions and liberties. Their poem will also be posted with links to their social media.

THIRD place will have their poem showcased with links to their social media.

HONORABLE MENTIONS will all receive a public shout out with gratitude.

RIGHTS AND PERMISSIONS

All rights and control over the work remain with the author. All I ask is permission to post the winning entries once here on my Blog, where it will remain in the archives for future readers.

Strap Your Boots on Tight

Imagine this: about forty “correctional officers” forming “scrimmage lines” around a quarter of the prison yard. You are laying on your belly on the pavement and the sun’s shining down bright. It’s tough to make out who’s who, but easily recognized are the orange straps of the “non-lethal” black guns the C.O.’s are carrying. There are gunners with mini-14s in each of the six towers around the yard and another gunner, an extra pair of eyes, on the catwalk.

Recently, there was a gang riot involving about 20 people. It lasted maybe a minute, and only one person was injured badly enough that he couldn’t be treated at the clinic. I bet he was the one I saw fall and get kicked several times in the face as he tried to stand up.

The riot took place on one of the basketball courts where I’d been working out not long before. I began to see groups huddle up, sending emissaries back and forth shaking hands. I could feel the tension, then I could feel it getting tighter and about to snap. At that point, I quit working out and went to the other side of the yard and sat down. Sure enough, after fifteen or twenty minutes passed, the violence erupted.

No shots were fired by the guards. The rioters were dispersed by grenades that explode into a white powder that’s supposed to take your breath away.

Now imagine this: you were in my shoes but unable to detect the sights of the impending violence. Well, you’d have been right in the shit!

Been Some Time…

It’s been some time since I’ve posted anything, because my life has been a bit full lately. For one, a friend of mine attempted to hang himself in the middle of the night.

I’ve learned to sleep light in prison, and I woke to loud bumping and yelling. When I went and looked out of my window, I realized the guards were at my buddy’s door.
I wondered if he had overdosed. Only a few days earlier, a young man had overdosed a couple of cells down from him. My buddy wants to be sober, but can’t seem to break the habit.

I watched them bring him out of the cell and put him on a stretcher. The next day was when I learned it had been a suicide attempt and was able to learn from my therapist that my friend was recovering.

I didn’t think I’d see him again, figuring he’d be transferred, but he is back on the yard. Someone told him they missed him. I said, “Yeah, I missed you too, but only for a day, after that I had to harden my heart.” He said “Fuck you,” and we both laughed at the joke. But I think we both knew there was some truth to it…

In approximately a two week span: someone overdosed; two dudes attacked a Corrections Officer, who’d slapped a tray out of one guy’s hands; another guy pulled out and began masturbating in front of a therapist during a session; and my buddy tried to kill himself. Needless to say, the prison was put on lockdown for another couple of weeks.

A lot of pretty crazy stuff happens in here sometimes, and I’m just trying to stay afloat and not drown in a sea of misery where my spirit could be dragged to a benthic death. I hold it back but every now and then I just have to let go and cry.

I don’t like it here, so I figure I must fight tooth and nail. Before I was fighting the wrong kind of fight and getting into a lot of trouble. Now, I’m just trying to stay out of trouble. I’m going to groups, school, working out, and practicing to be a positive and productive person. I’m getting better all the time.

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