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Letting Go of the Crutch

(written December 4)

I’ve been incarcerated for ten years now, and a few of my friends have passed away during that time. It’s difficult to be locked away and watch my loved ones move on from this world before I get to have a chance to be with them again.

I just received the news that my grandfather passed away (quite suddenly and unexpectedly), and

I’m deeply saddened. He was a good man and I am feeling the loss. He was scheduled to come and visit me this coming weekend, and it would have been nice to see him one last time…

I’ve done a fair amount of drugs in my lifetime and, after hearing the news of his passing, I spent a while crying and worrying about my grandmother, then I spent a while convincing myself that it would be alright if I did a little heroin and got loaded. After all, I can control it, it’d only be once, and it’d stop the sadness for a while…

After convincing myself of these lies, I spent a while reminding myself of the truth. I was using my grandpa’s death as an excuse to go out and get high and that was in no way honorable to his memory. For so many years, I used drugs as a crutch, and it’s really time to let go of that crutch; in fact, I haven’t used heroin in over two years, and I’ve only used meth once in the last ten years about four years ago…

Old habits, old ways of thinking creep insidiously into my life and that proves the importance of vigilance, standing fast and standing strong. I did not use any drugs, and I didn’t even waste my time inquiring about where to get any…

I am grateful for the friends and family who have been there for me during this time, and I am grateful to be able to be there for them, despite the difficulties we face with my incarceration. My grandfather, Riley, was a good man, 6’ 6” tall with long arms; he gave great hugs. He told jokes and he was living life the way he wanted. I know that he was content and happy while he was with us, and I couldn’t really ask for more.


False Prophets for Profit

Sean Michael, November 2017

World leaders or false prophets?
Hands in your pockets
Nothing will ever change
Until it threatens their profits—

Three hundred plus murders
But that’s not what ended prohibition
Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929
Still they wouldn’t listen—

The stock market crashes (uh-oh)
Greedy souls quickly consume greenback rations
Preparing for economic downsizing
We need more products to tax—

The people want their moonshine
They drink it and go blind
Stomachs are pumped and some die
Bet the good stuff’ll fetch us a pretty dime—

Stubborn politicians add amendments to the Constitution
Just as long as it suits them
And never to remove them
Reluctant to admit that they were wrong—

But they aren’t the only ones who try to string us along
Last week I heard this ridiculous song
“I could make a million sayin’ nothin’,” the rapper bragged
It was true and it made me sad—

The preacher man comes on television
And tells us how doomed we are
Dial the number on the screen to make your contribution
And he’ll drive off in his new car—

False prophets want your hard-earned cash
And they’ll tell you anything to get it
The truth is in the fashions and the trends
Spend Spend Spend—

You don’t have to be a lamb of society’s skullduggery
Forget your own wants and needs
Silver-tonged prophets will arrive in the masses
But who will you believe?

Suff (E) rage

Sean Michael, October 2017

“Your wife’s a fucking disgrace….”

Was a time
women knew their rightful place
in the kitchen,
in the bedroom,
under a man’s thumb.


The right to cook
Bear offspring
And leave manly matters to the men
The right to be supportive

No business in politics
Running for office
Or casting a vote
The ballot box
was no place for a woman’s thoughts

They fought…

For a say in political affairs
In the matters concerning country
Homeland and family
To have a hand in government
To think outside the pantry

Educated women
Willful women
Beautiful women

Working women who lost their jobs
For being a part of the movement
That lit fire to voting boxes
Wives were thrown from the homes they’d maintained
And separated from their sons

Sleeping in alleys and safe houses
Always on the run
They fought to have a voice
and to be heard


Today there are powerful women
Elected officials
High-powered CEOs
For some change comes too slowly

And for others
Enough will never be enough
But remember the women who suffered to be heard
For a man’s world
Would be nothing without all that a woman has to offer


Posted for dVerse Poets, Open Link Night #208, November 16, 2017

English 103: The Color of Racism

“No, my grandson ain’t playin’wit no white boy,” the aged and stern-looking black woman informed me from behind the screen. I had knocked on the neighbor’s door expecting that my new friend would be allowed to come outside and play. I did not know about racism, and I saw no difference between the boy and me, but the old woman recognized our differences all too well. She did not look upon me and see a child, also living in poverty, who only wanted to run around with his new friend; she saw the son of a slaver, an oppressor, with more privilege than her grandson. In reality, I lived on the same block where there were shootings and spent the same amount of time standing in the welfare line with my mother and younger siblings—we weren’t so different. In today’s society, I feel that racism is overly recognized as being an attribute of whites and that prejudice toward whites is somehow acceptable due to history’s sorrows.
In Gloria Anzaldúa’s essay, “Entering the Serpent,” she makes sweeping statements against white racism that in themselves are insidiously racist:
“No matter to what use my people put the the supernatural world, it is evident that the spirit world, whose existence the whites are so adamant in denying, does in fact exist.”
The denial of her “her people’s” spirit world was not by an opposing “white race,” but by a faction of the white race and a religion that was once the foundation of this country’s settlement; in fact, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant were even disdainful toward other Europeans who did not conform to their beliefs, such as the Irish who were once enslaved.
My own progenitors were also victims of WASP-prejudice, despite their white skin. It is time for us to start looking at the world through twenty-first century eyes and a better understanding of history. Many battles were fought to bring us to where we are today, and to hold onto the tragedy of those battles without learning a lesson from them is to continue inflicting ourselves and each other with worthless wounds. It is time to stop embracing the role of victimhood for what our ancestors had to endure and simply be proud of their abilities to endure.
“Pinchi gabacho! I hate gabachos!” the Mexican boy said, then spit at me, as we did jumping jacks on the recreation yard of Juvenile Hall.
Growing up in poverty, on the streets, and in institutions, I was the minority, and I had to fight for “respect” and “acceptance.” I could often feel the bitterness and resentment of the other races and maybe the simplest explanation is that I was outnumbered and different, although, I believe that it goes much deeper. I think that in some way, shape, or form, minorities in the projects are taught that all white boys are somehow automatically dealt the better hand in life—something known as “white privilege”—and for this reason my own struggles were denied. The expectation was that I did not belong there in their neighborhoods. Historically, white’s have occupied the upper and middle class, locking minorities into the lower class through segregation, but today there is no such thing as lawful segregation. All races are given a much fairer chance, especially with affirmative action programs and minority support groups like the NAACP.
“They say it’s the white man I should fear,
but it’s my own kind
doin’ all the killin’ here”
—Tupac Shakur
My grandmother is the best! When I was riding in the car with her as a teenager, she would allow me to play whatever music I wanted, and I was listening to a lot of Tupac. Grandma sometimes winced at all the cursing, but she was usually able to find the message in his lyrics. Tupac’s poetry was insightful and profound enough that it is still relevant today, twenty years after his tragic death. For instance, the news of white cops killing black men is splashed across the headlines, creating a nationwide outcry against racism and white hate, but as Heather MacDonald relates in her book, “The War on Cops,” merely four percent of black homicide victims are killed by cops. Furthermore, according to a report released by the National Review, victims of black crime are overwhelmingly other blacks. Tupac himself was murdered by other black men. These facts reflect his lyrics with a pristine image of truth.
Still, every time there is an altercation between a white cop and a black man, both whites and blacks take to the streets and begin marching to the mantra of “Black Lives Mater.” The racial conflict is exacerbated by the news media broadcasters who put extra stress on one syllable words, like “white” and “black.” There is no noise when a white man is shot or beaten by a cop; in fact, nearly twice as many whites were killed last year by police than blacks. It is also true that black cops, as well as white cops, were involved in the deaths of both whites and blacks. White police are not assassinating black men the way that they were when J. Edgar Hoover was running the FBI, and the Black Panthers marched through Sacramento and took over the state capitol, resulting in a days long stand off and a shoot out. I think that history has made society sensitive to any situation involving different races that may not be amicable, and sadly, racism seems to be a dark cloud hanging over white America.
1968, The Black Panther Party
A Corrupt Government, and the Future of Humanity
There is rage in the streets
Tangible as the blood that marks the pavement
There is a revolution at hand
To be free or see the grave
Even children march the town
Young, proud, and brave
To be released from oppression
Police brutality and a government depraved
Men are captured and tried
Imprisoned and locked in a cage
Sentenced for no sin except to be black
Proud warriors wear shackles and chains
“Liberty!” is the cry in the streets
The march for change
Fight to topple this totalitarian pseudo-democracy
Corrupted and deranged
Come together now people
And witness the end of a dichotomy
For if they could bind and gag Bobby in the courtroom
Surely they c ould do it to you or me
Not for black
Not for white
But for the future of humanity
Works Cited
I. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky, “E`ntering the Serpent.” Ways of Reading, An Anthology for writers, 8th Ed. Boston, New York” Bedford/St. Martins, 2008 29-41 Print.
II. Shakur, Tupac. All Eyes on Me, “Only God Can Judge Me.” Death Row Records, 1997
III. National Review, Police Shootings Black vs White, n.p., n.d.

English 101: What is the Point of Writing?

Before the advent of an actual alphabet, the Ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphics to convey ideas and preserve history, and the early Germanic peoples used runes. Today, I use the English alphabet for similar reasons—to convey ideas and preserve history—but writing is sort of a universal tool for me that I use for so much more. As a published author, I believe in the words of Amy Tan, “Writing is an extreme privilege, but it is also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone else.”

I’ve always enjoyed writing letters, even before my incarceration. I’ve had numerous pen pals, and writing is an intimate way of conveying thoughts, ideas, and emotions. This is true beyond letter writing as any essay, story, or poem should strive to evoke a response from the reader.

I think that the world would be a dull place without good story tellers, and this goes for fact and fiction. In earlier days, there were minstrels and jesters who gave the gift of their stories to the audience, and now we have authors of novels, playwrites, script writers, and lyricists who utilize the written word to reach the world. With zero doubt, I know that writing is an extreme privilege and gift.

English 101: Personality vs. Environment

(The Driving Force Behind Our Choices)
The word prison is likely to conjure dark images in the mind of the average citizen. Criminals! Racism! Ah, I know, violence… Prison is undoubtedly a violent place, but what makes it that way? Do people make prison a violent place or does prison make people violent?
In August of 1971, Dr. Philip Zimbardo led a study meant to expound on the psychological effect of prison on both its prisoners and their guards. Dr. Zimbardo, who has long advocated the notion that “bad environment” impels “bad behavior” set out to spurn a conflicting theory that congenital personality traits are the main cause of the violence that occurs between prison guards and prisoners. Seventy-five students volunteered to participate in the study, and researchers selected twenty-four males, who appeared to be in the most physically and mentally sound health, then split them evenly int two groups—“prisoners” and “guards.” The prisoners were sentenced to spend fourteen days in a thirty-five foot basement of the school that had been sectioned off into 6’ x 9’ cells meant to hold three prisoners each. Dr. Zimbardo designed a model for the experiment which was supposed to perpetrate disorientation and denude the prisoners of individuality. He used the guards as a means of doing this.
“You can create in the prisoners feelings of boredom, a sense of fear to some degree, you can create a notion of arbitrariness that their life is completely controlled by us, by the system, you, me, and they’ll have no privacy… We’re going to take away their individuality in various ways. In general, what all this leads to is a sense of powerlessness. That is, in this situation, we’ll have all the power, and they’ll have none.” (Dr. Zimbardo instructing the guards in the Stanford Prison Experiment.)
The experiment quickly surpassed Zimbardo’s expectations. After only one day, Prisoner #8612 flew into an uncontrollable rage, screaming and cursing at the guards. Dr. Zimbardo allowed this to occur for a lengthy period of time before deciding the mock-prisoner was indeed suffering and should be released. A short time later, cell #1 rose up in sedition and, despite being instructed not to physically harm the prisoners at the start of the experiment, the guards resorted to spraying them with fire extinguishers as they attempted to regain control. Researchers noted that as the experiment went on the guards became increasingly cruel and approximated that one third of them displayed veritable sadistic qualities.
Due to mounting ethical concerns, the study was brought to an abrupt end after only six of the scheduled fourteen days. Despite this, Dr. Zimbardo concluded that the participants had “internalized their roles” and that environmental factors had been the chief causes behind the disturbing abuses that had taken palace. Dr. Zimbardo’s methods and findings, though, have been widely criticized by others in his field. For example, Dr. Peter Gray is dubious of Zimbardo’s conclusions, citing the so-called demand characteristics of the experiment, which is to say, that the guards were instructed to behave a certain way for the sake of the study. Eric Fromm also disputes Dr. Zimbardo’s findings and asserts that personality does indeed play a role in people’s behavior while in prison.
I find Dr. Zimbardo’s experiment lacking, and Fromm’s statement leaves much to be desired. Both seem to be generalized sweeping statements based on little evidence as there are too many variables of prison life that were not considered, such as gangs, nuances between institutions in various states and countries, sentencing and cultural differences. There were also no interviews or studies done of actual prisoners and guards to be compared with the results of the experiment. In Zimbardo’s study, there was also very little said about the actual physical structure of the environment and how, for example, being locked in a tiny cell with two other men may have affected the prisoners mentally.
I have been incarcerated for 10 of a twenty-five to life sentence, and my conviction, along with the crime I was convicted of, was a profound contributing factor to the stress I felt, exacerbating my already negative world views and encouraging my raucous behavior. Couple this with being separated from my family and placed in a very small cell, and I was like a tiger plucked from the wild and placed in an exhibit at the Zoo, pacing back and forth, resentful of the faces that peered into my window. They did not need to tap the glass or yell at me; just knowing that they were there and in control of when and whether my door opened was enough.
As time has gone on and I’ve adapted to my environment and have matured emotionally, I have been able to open my mind to greater possibilities, such as the fact that negative situations don’t produce only negative results. For the first eight years of my incarceration, I hated prison so much and, with a lack of coping skills, lashed out similarly to Prisoner #8612 in the Stanford project. During my tenth year, I loathe prison as much as I did the first eight, but I’ve realized that going out of my way to create problems is a poor coping mechanism that amounts to nothing more than self-sabotage. More recently, I’ve used my hatred of this place to fuel me in a new, more positive direction, so that I can get out of prison. It’s not my environment alone that has caused me to change, but the ability to see something new in my environment and grab hold of the little bit of good that is there.
From 2013-16, fourteen-hundred lifers were released from prison. If environment were a “controlling” cause of an inmate’s behavior, then no lifer would make parole, let alone fourteen-hundred in three years. Furthermore, a more recent study conducted by Stanford in which they tracked 80 “murderers” who were paroled from 1990-2010, they found that five reoffended, but none for the crime of murder. If these prisoners had “internalized their roles” as criminals and killers to such an extent that it erased all sense of self and they were unable to mature and grow into their own personality, then they would not have made parole and remained free.
While it is clearly true that environment has a significant impact on the choices we make (especially when we are young), it is ultimately the individual who makes the choice to do right or to do wrong. In considering whether personality or environment is the driving force behind a person’s behavior, I would argue that environment effects an individual’s personality just as much as one’s personality, or grouping of personalities, effects an environment. For instance, there are many sociopathic and antisocial personalities in prison, and it is usually these prisoners who rise to the top of the food chain due to their charm, ability to take charge of a situation, and inspire fear with no qualms about using violence. Mafia leaders who run the prison gangs obviously fit this profile and are not effected by the prison environment, so much as they thrive on it as contributors to its harsh existence. As my cellmate, Scott, explains:
“Why’d I go SNY (Sensitive Needs Yard, the equivalent of ‘protective custody’)? Because the shot callers somehow got it into their heads that I was supposed to stab a lieutenant. I thought about doing it since I am a lifer and had nothing to lose. I once hated the prison guards and resisted them as much as possible based simply on their job title and the fact that they were in control. Plus, I’ve seen them do some messed up stuff. As time has gone on, I’ve just learned to avoid them and, even though they still agitate me from time to time, I’d rather just go to my cell and listen to some music or something than get into a fight and end up in the hole.”
Scott has served twelve of a fifty-five to life sentence, and this is an attitude that I find prevalent among long term offenders who have a decade or more under their belt. Instead of allowing our environment to control us, we find a way to maneuver. That takes personality.
Works Cited
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 5/18/16:

Fly High

Sean Michael, October 2017

I sat down and cried today,
I wonder if I got it all out,
All the things I wanted to say,
The words that might hurt,
The causations,
The blame,
My selfish pain,
And the foolish things I might do to push you away,
Must I regress to cliche?
“it’s not you.
It’s me.”
Two dead birds in a bush,
And one in my hand,
It’s time I set you free,
As the sky begins to bleed,
And fill my sea of melancholy,
Spread your blood-stained wings and flee,
Above the blackened clouds that hover over me,
Fly, my love, fly,
And be free.


Posted for dVerse Poets, Open Link Night #207, November 2, 2017

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