A plea to be heard

Quick: What springs to your mind’s eye when you hear the word “prisoner”? A burly, scowling thug, male with three days’ stubble, a striped jumpsuit with a number plastered across his chest, probably non-white, likely illiterate?

That may be OK for the comics, but let’s try this again. First, though, we will talk about “I’m Telling You Now, Wherever You Are.” This 74-page booklet is the product of a workshop conducted last summer by Tyler Barton of the Adirondack Center for Writing at the Adirondack Correctional Facility in Ray Brook. Simply put, it’s loaded with the inspired, inspirational, often moving writings of eight inmates: Ben, Harold, Maurice, John, Donald, Kelly, Louis and Miguel. Their last names are not divulged, I assume to protect their identities, nor are their crimes and sentences revealed — although a couple hint at their impending parole — because there is no need for any of that. The writing speaks for itself.

And speak volumes it does. These gently edited writings are mostly prose with an occasional poem, many memoirs and some imaginative fiction (including some for which it’s hard to tell the difference, which is a good thing). They introduce us to people — human beings — who are sensitive, insightful, creative. They are pragmatic; whatever they have done is water over the dam, and they do not explain or apologize for it. They find the strength to accept where they are, like it or not, and they are moving on.

A recurring theme, however, is poignant regret over losses. In the first entry, “I remember the times I met you,” Harold, who implies he is of Caribbean heritage, writes: “I remember my first fish. / I remember my macaw, a big blue and yellow parrot, Simon, who had a long blue tail. / I remember the deaths of some of my pets. / Most of all I remember my two loving children. / I still love and miss and grieve the times with my two beautiful children.”

In that vein, Ben has his mother in his thoughts: “Somewhere in the vast canvass of time and space, / you occupy a pleasant corner in my own remembrances, / and when my mind chances at calm and comfort / I can see the masterpiece I couldn’t.”

Do you still picture a thug?

Writing techniques abound. “My destiny is like a coconut / that got tired of its palm / and fell to the ground groping,” writes Miguel in Spanish and English. There’s internal rhyme, extended metaphor. They paint pictures: “A cool ocean spray rode an easy west wind, blending with the sound of seals barking on the beach,” Ben recalls.

They know Shakespeare. They know Edwardian architecture. (Do you?) Religious beliefs appear, as in Maurice’s humorous “Dear God,” in which he begs God to take better care of, yes, his mother, in Heaven than He did on Earth. Kelly asks, “Why do we suffer, and why do we make each other suffer?”

So let us suspend judgment and, as Donald puts it, look not at “what you see of a person, but what you see IN a person.” Allow yourself to understand that these people wish to be listened to — thus the title. Now, once more, what springs to your mind’s eye when you hear the word “prisoner”?

— — —

This book be obtained at the ACW office, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 15 Broadway in Saranac Lake, or via https://adirondackcenterforwriting.org/give-now. It’s free, but a donation toward defraying production costs will be welcomed.


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