Prison Radio
Kenneth Hartman

This is Kenneth E. Hartman calling from the California State Prison, Los Angeles County in Lancaster, California.

“Affirmation” by Assata Shakur.

I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And I believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.

I believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.

I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.

I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if I know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.

I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.

And I believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
to port.

The wide swath cut through the revolutionary movements of this country by Assata Shakur and the continuing place of honor she holds lend to this poem a deeper significance to those of us who remain trapped inside walls.

In six stanzas, we traveled down a long road through memories of days gone by to the trials and tribulations of a life spent resisting unreasonable and unaccountable power. There was revulsion that the witness of destruction and revolts in at the site of genuflection to the undeserving, there is pain and shame and loneliness: the loneliness of misunderstanding and abandonment.

There is the clanging of the hippie brass keys of confinements. The shudder that runs from the back of your head, down to your toes every time one of those metal gates slam shut with you on the wrong side of it. It’s a brutality that never goes away, never. 10,000 times later, still the same.

But the rising comes: the realization that what can be stood up can be brought low. Life and love, that which matters most of all, rears itself again wiser now, tested and tempered by the journey down into the perdition of man’s inhumanity to man. Last: a final affirmation to us all.

A promise that we possess within the power to find our way back, that the North Star of our longing is a compass seaworthy and true.

Thank you, Assata. This is Kenneth E. Hartman, executive director of the Other Death Penalty Project from inside California’s prison system.

These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.