Samples of writing produced in the workshops ...

Rising out of the Dark
R. L. Love

We are about to begin each journey
We settle down to dig deep
Perhaps to find solutions … perhaps perhaps perhaps

We hear the familiar echo
We welcome … who will be reading today
… some raise hands to the sky
     some raise hands in a pensive manner
     some do nothing ... they know names will be called

We don’t bring a thousand pens and pencils
We bring a shovel to pass from hand to hand
We don’t come with reams and reams of paper
We come with the proverbial burial ground
… and we dig … and we dig deep

We dig to purge those hidden pains
		   those forgotten lies
		   those lost loves
		   that brick wall

We meet the next phase with: I have an assignment for you
… or: Can you write about what hurt
		                about what’s different now
		                about what happens when
		           … please see your story all the way

Somehow we do
As we cry and rise as we laugh and rise as we write and rise

Coulda Been Me
                                    Ollis Flakes

This morning Dennis Richmond
Blurs on alert a double homicide
In a ’hood where I hang, two people
Had died
On Eddy and Scott someone’s son
Was shot dead in the street
In the wee hours of the morning,
He shoulda been home asleep
’N’ not even a mile away on
Golden Gate and Lyon
And probably less than an hour later
Someone else was dying

Sitting back to think about
This issue in silence
Capturing with pencil upon paper
A city infected by violence
So as I place myself
In my mind on the corner of Scott
Settling upon a place
Not far from where this brother got shot
I can sorta picture a man
Of middle age walking towards Eddy
In a place where I hang
On a street where I be
I figured, this coulda been me!

This here brother that’s walking
Probably not knowing
He’s becoming the victim
Of a predator stalking
Now, was there ever a chance
Of warning this brother to run?
Before the last sound he hears
Would be the blast of a gun
Or for the brother resting in
Peace down on Lyon ’n’ Golden Gate
Who probably didn’t realize then
That his time was too late
Or who probably didn’t even stop to think that
Today he might meet his fate
Becoming another statistic
Of somebody’s hate
But wait!

Things seemed different
As I laid on the concrete
Staring into the eyes of my killa
Who was standing on the street
’N’ the first thing I thought was,
“Damn, this brother looks like me!”
But I guess I’ll never know
As I fade into eternity
Now, ’fore this to be my last morning
I never woulda thought
That I’d pass without knowing if
My killa’s been caught

As the blood spilled from my body
I looked towards the skies
Then the breath left my lungs
And I closed my eyes
Still cogitating in silence
I observed the death of the two brothers
Feeling the pain of their loved ones
Hearing the cries of their mothers
So before I began to write about my feelings
I turned off the TV
And the first thing I thought was,
“Damn, that coulda been me!”

Then Comes Rain . . .
Deborah Walton with Dale Walton

May 3, 1985
A dope fiend was born
Molestation by Daddy
Eyes full of scorn 
Innocence was taken 
Mommy called the cops
CPS takes three children
But the cycle don’t stop
Blinded by pain 
Rebellion and hate
Got adopted at six
It happened 
Too late
Grew up with a fire
That no one could tame
Yeah, some days were 
Sunny . . .
But then came the rain
Now they tell me I’m 
Pretty . . .
My sex appeal shows
Inside I hate sex
But I hide it
No one knows
I feel overrated 
My outside ain’t
Compared to my mental
But they all want to hit
Why no one asks questions
Does no one really care?
There’s more to me than
Pussy, pretty eyes, and lustrous 
Intellectually splendid, more
Caring than most
Talented and funny
Mind expanded 
God’s the host
I once was truly happy
Thought my life would
Soon change
The sun peeked out for 
A second
But then came the 

Dear Mom
                Michael Payton

I know it was hard raising a kid like me
Especially with four other kids who was just as bad as me
But I was the outcast, born in the middle
Two older and two younger, three different dads, I knew two of them but mine and my sister’s dad was a riddle
No man around the house to show me the other route
Me being the oldest boy, made me wanna run the house
My big cousins was selling dope and it kept them dressed clean
Pops never did shit but tried to call me once when I was thirteen
I took the phone from you, hung up and never spoke
It was hard being twelve on welfare needing school clothes
My cousin Turtle-T fronted me a sack
At that age was when I found out you smoked crack
I don’t know what hurt me more, me finding out or my cousin
selling it to you
And it hurt me more when my friends was visiting playing Nintendo smelling it too
I couldn’t blame my cousins, I sold it to my friends’ mothers too
That was just a part of that game that I never knew
Two years passed, I’m getting older now
My aunt Ruby passed, but you not slowing down
You caught two cases and the CPS was getting in your business
The family was talking, saying Loyce can’t handle her children
I was damn near on my own, but I loved school
The sports, the girls, and the money I made from selling dope
had me dressing cool
Broken promises, is what you gave me
Until I was sixteen and you went to the rehab, you never raised me
I don’t know what it did but that program made you better
You relapsed twice but the third program made the whole family
go together
That was the one, the one that changed our life
We went from eating EOC boxes of honey sandwiches to shopping at Safeway overnight
I still rebelled for those lost years
Started getting into fights at school, just to hide my tears
At the age of eighteen, I caught my first case
Turtle taught me well, but he never taught me about this place
In and out after that, the police knew my name
I started selling weed, I had to change the game
I was supposed to be a real man now, but making boyish mistakes
At the age of twenty selling weed out your house, got you kicked out your new place
And when I called you and you said that everything would be alright
That was the first time I sat in jail and cried
mama loved me, pops left me
Since that day I’ve been apologizing indirectly
You’ve been through it all, you a strong woman
That’s why just like you is how I want my own woman
I know I don’t say it much, but Moms, I love you
I’ve been buying you all those things to make it up to you
Paying phone bills sometimes even paying rent
Even though I don’t stay with you and not that much time is spent
When we do talk and chill, I know all of this was meant
mama raised me and i was lucky
Mom, all we’ve been through, you must’ve loved me.

                        Tina Tate

Tired of jail
Tired of people thinking they’re going to hell
Tired of people tryna use me
Tired of people thinking they can school me
Tired of people tryna do me
Tired of some people ooh wee
Tired of being mad
Tired of being sad
Sometimes I just want to be glad
Tired of portraying to be happy

Why Me, Mama?
Wesley Simms

I’m thinking about the day you slapped me and sent me to my room.
A stick, belt, switch, extension cord, hairbrush, hand, fist,
and also a broom.
These are just a few of the things you used to break my spirit.
You used to whip me and beat me where the whole neighborhood
could hear it. 

Eight years old, Ma, what could I possibly do to deserve such abuse
and pain?
All the words of hate you screamed still remain on my brain.
My life has been scarred, filled with doubt, worry, and trauma.
I haven’t seen you in two decades, yet still have compassion
for you, Mama.

How could you bring me into this world and then hate me
at a tender age?
I’m not my father, Mama, but became the recipient of all your rage.
My wounds healed, but your words are forever etched in my heart.
I was only a kid, Mama, when my life began to fall apart.

For those who feel my shame, these words touch and heal.
Those cards was dealt to a kid, but now I’m old enough to deal.

White Boy in an Asian Body
        Kristian Marine

I was born somewhere in Seoul, South Korea, on November 28, 1976. Surnamed Kwon, meaning power or authority, and given the name Myung Sung, meaning future success. Nothing in any of the circumstances surrounding my birth suggested fulfillment of such an auspicious name. Soon after I took my first breaths of life, I was housed in an orphanage with countless other infants awaiting an unsure fate. Without even saying so, Korean culture’s weighty emphasis on bloodline widely discouraged adoption. Most orphans, therefore, would grow to become tolerated through generally disdained blemishes in the Korean social fabric, having no provable lineage or genealogy. As I lay there fidgeting and crying, I had no idea that my life would take me halfway around the globe, where I would grow to understand who I really am.
    Thousands of miles from Seoul, in a small Norwegian town in northeastern Iowa, lived Konrad and Kay Marine. Konrad, the only orthodontist in Decorah and the surrounding towns, was enjoying early success as the owner of two busy practices. Kay carried a light workload as an administrator at a nearby college in order to spend time caring for their two three-year-old children. Three years earlier, while living in Panama, this young couple had discovered they could not biologically have children. It was a difficult reality for them to face. After some serious thought, they decided they would adopt children and, soon after, they were the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl. Kara Kay Marine was born of a Panamanian aboriginal girl of the Cuna tribe and left on a doorstep in the wealthiest district of Panama City. With no birth records accompanying her, her date of birth was designated May 16, 1973. Months later, Konrad returned from San Jose, Costa Rica, with a malnourished baby born May 25, 1973. He was later named Kirkland Konrad Marine. The little family was growing.
Konrad, Kay, and the two Ks, as they affectionately referred to their little ones, returned to the United States. They settled in Decorah, Iowa, where they had met as college students several years earlier. Konrad bought the practice of a retiring orthodontist. Kay found work at Luther College, and their life took off. Diligence and strict financial responsibility—two prominent characteristics of my father—led to the young family’s monetary success, stability, and abundance. With an already comfortable lifestyle and sufficient resources, they started thinking about adding some more Ks.
    This time they chose to work through an adoption agency in St. Paul, Minnesota. The agent they consulted with was a young Korean woman who knew about a large number of Korean orphans who needed good homes. Pictures of the newborns were posted on the wall of the agency and, after some serious consideration, Konrad and Kay selected two—a boy named Kwon Myung Sung and a girl Kim In He. At that time there was a limit to the number of internationally born children a family could adopt. Konrad and Kay worked diligently with their state representative and congressman and ultimately obtained two documents signed by President Jimmy Carter to allow the     adoption of the two infants.
    We arrived on December 7, 1977, fat cheeks, thick yellow baby outfits with fake Mickey Mouse logos, and all. We were greeted hesitantly by our four-year-old siblings. Pictures of our arrival show them with bewildered expressions. Konrad and Kay were all smiles, though. We were the new center of attention and would remain the center of our parents’ attention as we grew, much to the continued bewilderment of Kara and Kirk. We were taken to our new home, far from the familiar faces, voices, and aromas of Seoul, and given the new names Kristian Kwon and Kaili Kim.
    Decorah was a good place to grow up. It was a small, safe community where children were allowed to roam around unattended. Among my earliest memories are summers filled with explorations in the woods on paths cut by curious children long before me. My home at 719 Ridge Road was situated at the border of the woods. The quiet, never-ending expanse of hills, trees, and valleys with ruins of old forts and hideouts created a magical world far from a sometimes turbulent home life. Just standing in the woods hearing the wind rustle through the green canopy high above and seeing bright beams of sunlight break through to the forest floor seemed like a heavenly experience. There was an electricity that ran through me when I contemplated the incredible beauty of     nature. This same feeling still occurs within me today.
    My childhood was also filled with friends, picnics at the park, and thrilling Christmases of Transformers, cars, and video games. And, like all children, I also had a fair share of bumps and bruises.
    Early one summer afternoon, I returned with Mom and Kirk from the bike shop where Kirk’s bike had just been repaired. Mom popped the trunk and went in the house, leaving us in the garage to get the bike out. Being five at the time, I was not very coordinated. As we worked together to lift the bike from the trunk of Mom’s little maroon Dodge Omni, my left hand slipped off the tire and my left pinky was thrown in between the sprocket and chain. One of the teeth of the sprocket was driven through the top joint of the finger. Without stopping to assess the situation, I started yanking wildly to get my finger out. After a few desperate tries, I succeeded in freeing myself from the sprocket, only to discover the top third of my pinky was missing. As my eyes relayed the shocking message to my brain, I did the only sensible thing a five-year-old would do—I stood there and screamed. Two fountains of blood sprayed forth from the mutilated nub into the trunk of Mom’s car. The top third of finger lay on the garage floor, propelled from the bike by the force of the separation. Kirk stood in front of me in wide-eyed horror. Fortunately, my panicked screaming reached Mom’s ears and she came running to my rescue. A quick car ride to the hospital, a short surgery, some stitches, and a candy bar later, things were pretty much back to normal—all except the missing digit.
    My childhood accidents and injuries kept me in touch with my mortality and helped me understand myself on a human level. Children are resilient and generally bounce back from these experiences. But the experiences of discovering who I was—my personal identity—have really shaped the man I am today. Those experiences began in Decorah, too. I came to understand myself in the context of my community. The beginning of this awakening is illustrated in an interaction on a playground when I was eight years old.
    “You . . . you . . . you nigger!” he sneered at me. 
    “Nigger?” I thought. My reaction was a mixture of hilarious disbelief and hurt. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t one. I mean, I didn’t think I was. “That’s just black people, isn’t it?” I thought to myself.
    I wanted to laugh but the humor quickly turned to anger inside me. Whether I was a nigger or not wasn’t the point. He was trying to hurt me and I knew it. Mrs. Hulk, my third-grade teacher, and the rest of the recess duties had already filed in through the doors of the red-brick school. My classmates, in the safety of the classroom, were already returning their jackets to their coat hooks, designated by name stickers, and were getting ready for class, oblivious to my plight. Three of us stood at the far end of the asphalt playground in the sea of small rocks that housed the tall metal swing set. I knew there was nothing I could do. Danny Pitts, the class bully, stood there looking down at me threateningly in his dirty green jacket and red freckled face. His eyes were cold and mean, daring me to do something. Larry, his nerdy sidekick, stood just to the right of Danny, glaring through thick glasses. To my surprise, neither of them made any threatening advances. After all, maybe this nigger knew karate or something. No words were exchanged, and after a moment of thick, angry silence, we all just started walking toward the door of our classroom at John Cline Elementary School. It was a sour ending to a gray day of recess, and no one, not Mrs. Hulk or my parents, would ever know about that day on the playground.
    Thinking back, I can’t remember what immediately preceded that confrontation or what made Danny call me that name. I seem to remember pushing Larry off the swing or something. That’s not the point, though. Even the name he called me is of little consequence to me now. It is the deeper meaning behind the name that keeps this memory etched in my mind. It told me that I was different.
    Growing up in an all-white community, I inwardly became a reflection of what I saw. When I say all-white community, I mean I can only remember seeing ten non-Caucasian people in that town (three of whom were my siblings). As a child looking out of my body and not at it, I failed to internalize my physical difference from those around me. I often forgot I was Korean—jet black hair, the shape of my eyes the subject of children’s jokes. But that autumn day on the playground, I awoke to a realization that I was different, and the white boy in my Asian body could never change that. I felt helpless and hurt.
    I was just as good as other kids. It wasn’t my fault that I looked different from them. I was white, too! Everything about me said that—my speech, my tastes—everything but my body. And that is what people saw. They saw a gook, a chink, or “were you that Chinese kid in that movie?” I was constantly asked about martial arts and Asian languages, neither of which were part of the culture I was familiar with. So who could I identify with?
    Since the Asian community in the Midwest is basically non-existent, I continued trying to be accepted by the larger white community, the same community that enjoyed making fun of people that looked like me. The resulting loss and confusion from this social amputation was greater than the simple loss of a finger ever could be. Didn’t Jesus say, Fear not that which kills the body but that which kills the soul?
    No help from Mom, surgery, or candy bar could help with this.

From ONLY THE DEAD CAN KILL: Stories from Jail
(c) 2006 Margo Perin
All works copyrighted in the name of author.  For permission to quote, please contact Margo Perin.

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