Prison Radio
Spoon Jackson

This is Spoon Jackson, at Solano State Prison, and, uh, I wanted to let the people know about my latest podcast on the commutation in California, Color of Mercy, and, uh, how the Governor Brown only commuted a hundred or so people out of 5,200. And this podcast is KALW Uncuffed. Or Uncuffed KALW. Google, and you will get to hear the podcast.

Right now, I’m going to read an excerpt from my book, “By Heart,” which you could find on, uh, Amazon. You can also find all the poems that I have read in my other book called, “Longer Ago.” This excerpt is from when I was at San Quentin. It’s called “In Silence.”

Indian summer at San Quentin, in the sweet sun, brings back the times I ran the dry river with the Greyhound dogs and laid under the heavy Blacks Bridge as the trains rumbled across, shaking in the soft sands. In those times I watched the shuttles of the rail cars dart by, and when night fell on a hot day, they kicked the can in pure desert darkness. There were no streetlights on Cook Street when I was a boy.

My skin feels warm and alive this San Quentin September, as though I am a lizard sunning on a big rock. Instead, I wear prison blues, shirt, pants, and coat, plus brown high-top boots and dark shades. The coat and the shades I put on whenever I’m outside the cell. I sit in my spot on the winding metal stairs of San Quentin education building and see Judith bouncing down the stairs from Arts and Corrections office.

I noticed her healthy pale skin and small feet, slightly curly brown hair, long flowered skirt, and tire track sandals. Yes, I noticed that Judith is a woman and at the same time, a human being, struggling with life, death, truth, and imagination. Just like I am. She has already shown me new doors to step into and even in my silence. So, I am able to absorb and appreciate Judith as a woman in an all-male prison, but also a leader and teacher of the poetry class.

This warm September afternoon, Judith was not as much a stranger to me as I am to her. Cause she had to put herself out there to be credible. I have watched and learned and listened to her share her truth, views, life, wisdom, and poetry. I know her through her books she suggested, the poetry she read aloud, and the way she related to others in the poetry class.

I’ve been through many summers in prison by this particular September. I arrived in 1977 from a small desert town and have walked in dark shades in silence most of the time since then. None of the other prisoners, guards, or [inaudible] staff had a clue to what I’m about, or what I am capable of doing. They only had my prison file, a few pages gathered hastily together by the court, a probation officer, and a couple of detectives, and the psychologi- psychologist. Who after one or two, 10 minutes sessions, purported to access, reveal, depict and predict my entire life in one brush stroke.

In the file was nothing about how my mom made me Arkansas meatloaf instead of cake for my birthday, a date we celebrated on August the 21st instead of August 22nd for the first 10 years of my life. Nothing in the file about how I spent time under Blacks Bridge or how I ran the dry river with semi-wild dogs.

The guards, the prisoners, and prison staff could not place me anywhere. Not in any street or prison gang. They did not know that I had learned to despise violence and to love peace. I look forward to lock down, to all the silence and reading and studying given by those long stretches of time, confined to my cell. When the cell doors close, doors to other places open up. Prison people did not know the inside meeting, with a desert thirst for knowledge to know and explore new things.

That’s an extra from, “By Heart,” and I hope some listeners would go and check it out. Gloria Steinem loved it. Ani DiFranco loved it. And many others.

(Sound of a cell door closing.) These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.