The Incarcerated InkWell

Federal Inmate in a Canadian Prison with a Life Sentence writes about prison life

Guest Writers

The Call


A good friend of mine asked me recently why, after twenty-five years of almost uninterrupted imprisonment in Canadian penitentiaries, I never aligned nor affiliated with any church group, sect or denomination of any spiritual principle. She added that religious organizations seem to thrive inside prisons.

I never gave it much thought. I know the word penitentiary is derived from the word penitence, meaning being sorry and willing to atone for a wrong. I found it ironic that monks live in abbeys that are set up like prisons: narrow corridors; cell-like rooms. I guess that, deeply, I never felt worthy of penitence—wasn’t worthy or capable of it. Plus the daily grind of substance abuse, as a tool, fulfilled my needs of human nurturing.

Today, I was reading and heard, outside my cell door, “Stockton, they just called you to the chapel.” The voice was that of an acquaintance of mine.

“Oh thanks,” Stockton replied, “I was in the shower. I never heard it.”

“Is anyone sick in your family?” asked the voice.

Immediately, I looked at my watch—12:35 pm. Hmmm. At the this hour, the clergy should be with the rest of the non-uniformed administration, having lunch in the staff dining hall.

I know all about oddly timed calls to the chapel: usually very bad news like death; serious injury. Occasionally, “circumstances permitting” notification of a loved one no longer wanting to love you. I’ve heard grown men screaming at the top of their lungs. “The f***ing padre called me down to tell me I wasn’t cleared for a church gathering,” one man said. “I looked at my watch—3:55. Five minutes to count. No-one gets called that close to count.”

“Nobody’s sick,” says Stockton. “Why do you ask?”

“It’s 12:35—lunchtime. All uniformed staff are eating. That includes the clergy. Chapel calls start after 1:00 pm. Besides, movements normally require a pre-signed pass.”

“Bad news,” says Stockton, “I hope it isn’t my girlfriend.”

The running footsteps fade from my cell door.

“Are you okay?” cries the bearer of this sad news.

No response; just the door to the living unit slamming open on the first floor.

Of all the times you’re supposed to mind your business in the federal penitentiary, this is the one time I wanted to peek through the crack in my cell door; see what sort of man Stockton is.

Because this much I know. My acquaintance wasn’t fear-mongering him. Sure, he could’ve had a little more humanity in his delivery of explanation, but let’s face facts: We’re not in the hallowed halls of a Cambridge or Oxford. We’re in a whole different type of scholastic setting, and eloquence of sentence is not a priority. Nor is delivery of it.

In 1987, the year I first got “the call”, I was a very young 27-year old, serving a long stretch. Sure I’d got been called several times before that—but always with a much more sympathetic and humble explanation accompanying it. And sure, comparing 2011 to 1987 is like comparing apples to oranges. But I’ll never forget it.

I was called to the chaplain’s office in Collins Bay Penitentiary. A Programs Facilitator and a veteran staff member approached me and said, “The padre wishes a word with you.”

Maybe, I thought, it’s to do with the 12-step program I was doing. The fourth and fifth steps having to do with moral inventory, many men go through them, for confidential purposes, with the clergy. But I’d never asked for clergy help, so I went and knocked on the padre’s door. He told me to come in. He was on the phone, and motioned for me to close the door. Not looking when I tried doing so, I saw the Program Facilitator man between door and frame. How did he get here? And what seems to be the problem anyways?!

The look in his eyes I will never forget. As cynical as I’ve been, in the up and down trials and tribulations of all the pain and misery I’ve put myself through, this man was showing me, what I know today to be, the epitome of humility and understanding. None of that us versus them mentality which was, and still can be, rampant in our prison system.

“It’s your mom,” says the Program Facilitator, “The padre is on the phone with your sister. Your mother died last night of a massive heart-attack. In her sleep.”

In 2004, I got the call again—this time for my father. Since then, I have received it twice more for friends who have died in prison.

I wish I’d asked for help from clergy in 1987, and every time afterwards. But I didn’t.

I didn’t because, as a young child, the one clergy with whom I came in contact was found to be taking advantage of the underprivileged children–children coming, primarily, from broken homes. That same clergy gave my mother part-time work, to make ends meet.

One day, my mother said, “Don’t you ever go into that reverend’s office alone. Do you hear me?”

I carried that fear around with me for a very long time; harbouring a very hostile bias against anything with religiosity attached to it.

Today, I know the difference. The conversation heard outside my door reminded me how life- and mind-altering their unfortunate task can be. Take young Mr. Stockton, for instance. Depending on the nature of the call, his life can go north or south.

How, having not seen his face, can the writer know he is young? Easy. Mr. Stockton said, “I hope it’s not my girlfriend.” He didn’t say mom or dad; aunt, uncle, sister or brother. He said girlfriend.

And, me, who never associated with the chapel, every time I got the call, my heart in my throat, I, too, always said, I hope it’s not my girlfriend—that raven-haired love of my life.

So I will inquire quietly as to this Stockton fellow and his situation. Stockton, the same man I was twenty-five years ago. I do not wish, when we meet, to have the unenviable task of explaining to him the nature and superstition of the call.

Back to my friend’s suggestion, I took her advice and introduced myself to her clergy friend here at the prison. Swallowing my pride, ego in my back pocket, I knock on the door.

“Come in,” says the bearded gentleman, smiling from ear to ear. Instantly, it’s 1987…my mother’s death notification. But it’s different. Different from all the calls I’ve ever answered: Mom, dad, Peter, Andy, Ron and Larry…

Sitting beside the padre, I tell him who I am, who recommended I meet him, why I just couldn’t find it myself to come to chapel. We talk about everything—the abuse, the calls; the Stocktons of this earth.

To my surprise, he summed it up just as I figured; just as a guy I’d always admired would. “Sh*t happens, my friend,” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“Sh*t happens. It’s not nice to clean up, but we do.”

Just like that man I’ve always admired: Jesus! No, padre ain’t Jesus. But he’s got a lot of his characteristics. That’s why I try now to go to chapel as often as possible.

Oh, and yeah, why Stockton was being so urgently called? His sweetheart had sent a religious cross and chain to him, care of the padre.


The Cell

“Sir, I’m going to secure your cell,” says the young rookie corrections officer, ever so politely, “It will automatically be opened at 3:30 pm.”

“What cell?” says me, the long-time serving convict. “You mean my zygote?”

“What’s a zygote?” says the puzzled corrections officer. “I said I wished to secure your cell.”

“You’re talking about my gamete. Correct, young man?” says the veteran prisoner.

“Sir, I don’t understand. I don’t know what a zygote and a gamete is. I’m here to secure your cell,” he repeats emphatically.

“A zygote is a gamete, which is a reproductive cell that unites with another to form a cell that develops into a new individual,” he explains to this corrections officer of five months.

“Are you on medications, sir?”

“Oh, so now you’re being facetious?” adds our prisoner.

“What does that mean?” says the young man.

“Being facetious means being witty, clever, or joking at an inappropriate time. Are you making fun of me, or of the fact that I may be on some type of prescribed medication?”

“No sir,” says the immaculately dressed CO I, the lowest rank in the correctional service, “And if I sounded facetious, I am truly sorry, sir…. I am just trying to secure your cell door,” he adds, with contempt; trying to save face.

“Could you define what my cell is, please?” asks our prisoner protagonist. “Do you mean my small unit of organization, or perhaps this small hollow I’m standing in, or maybe the container holding an electrolyte. All are types of cells.”

Confused, he says “no sir, your prison cell.”

“Oh, so now you’re assuming I’m imprisoned?”

“Well, yes,” replies the guard. “You’ve broken the law, and now you’re being punished by being imprisoned in this cell.”

“Now I get it,” says our incarcerated pain in the ass, “Not only am I convicted, but now I’m a criminal and deserve to be punished and imprisoned in a cell. Did you ever stop to think that maybe I’m wrongfully convicted, the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and come from a very law-abiding family? Are you finished assuming I’m a criminal in need of medication, despite your being overly facetious enough to make a joke in regards to my own situation that I need to be punished? Don’t you feel at all awful about your character assassination of me?”

“Sir, I just said I was here to secure your cell,” says our flustered corrections officer.

“So why are you wasting my time?” says the convict.

“Excuse me,” says the red-faced rookie guard, reaching behind the convict’s back to lock his handcuffs.

“Look,” says our convict, “I’ve been planning an escape, to be followed by a bank heist. My muscles are sore from weight-lifting, I’m in need of medication, my small unit of organization has been interrupted, I’m living in a small hollow, and you, ‘young man’, are being recorded by that electrolyte in that small container over there. So now I must ask, who’s the criminal now?”

“What!” says out now incredulous prison employee, unsure of himself or his surroundings.

“You, young man, are the criminal,” says the imprisoned one, with a smile like a Cheshire cat. “You’ve read my mind, conspired with innuendo, tricked me into criminal thinking, when all I ever wanted to do was to find my gamete, through my zygote, my reproductive cell that unites with another to form the cell that develops into the new individual.

“I’m working on life skills, channelling all the empathy I possess, and try to be as humble as I possibly can be and come out of this a better man,” says our prisoner, as a solitary tear runs down his cheek. “And you show up, wanting to secure my cell.”

“But sir,” says our prison employee, “That’s all I said. What’s so horrible about that?”

“Can I ask one favour of you?” asks the old convict.

“Sure, anything,” says our defeated young correctional officer. “Anything you want,” he adds.

“Can you close the door to my room? We don’t call it a cell anymore.”

-Anonymous Entry: MK

Anonymous Submission Jan 19, 2011



Gautama Buddha (c. 563 – c. 483 BC)

I recently received a letter from my good friend, ?MK? (a 50-year old federal inmate) which most definitely deserves passing on.

A bit of background first.

MK, having served 25 years, on and off, for numerous armed bank robberies, committed mostly in the Toronto area while under the influence of/in order to buy heroin, finally?at long, long last?achieved parole 7 months ago.

A number of community supports were in place: understanding parole officer, positive halfway house team, AA liaison people… plus ?pro-social? friends?myself and my family included.

In the six months that MK breathed in the heady fumes of freedom, he did remarkably well. There?s not a person with whom he came in contact?e.g., random people on the street, including Canuck coach ?Rollie the Goalie? Melanson; Canada?s first poet laureate, George Bowering; former judge/AG Wally Oppal, etc.?who wasn?t uplifted, and doubtless enriched, if but for a second or two, by his up-beat, patently affirmative personality.

Following his release, MK became an even more integral part of our family?our young-adult boys included. Dinners, coffees, The Grind; helping the boys find employment, throwing a baseball….

As well, working diligently and with his usual sparkle, he dispatched his duties so well that his executive-level employer was on the brink of naming him ?employee of the year?; promoting him to the ranks of management.

One month ago, MK received a damning letter from his long-estranged daughter. Yes, he should have had the resilience to absorb such a blow, see her pain for what it is and respond accordingly, but?suspicious of the confidentiality of CSC-paid psychologists?he had never availed himself of counselling services in jail. So the letter took an incrementally harder toll on him than it would to the average parent.

Reeling in reaction to it, he indulged in what he believed to be a single beer….

Except that, over the next couple of days, the single beer became a full-on binge. This from a man who?d sworn off drugs of any kind years ago.

In a blacked-out state, he returned to his halfway house, assaulted a young worker, and disappeared into the night. Less than 48 hours later, he turned himself into police.

MK has been charged with assault and, pending trial, has recently been returned to his ?home? federal institution.

On a recent visit with him in remand?home of ?hot butter throwing? (and other unmentionable) incidents, I challenged him to begin a ?gratitude journal?. Grinning sheepishly, he questioned what he could possibly find to be grateful about in a ?gong show? joint like that. I said I had confidence in him; however hard it might be, he could manage three things a day?the same quota as me for 2011. Never too late to start!

A week later, he wrote to me as follows:

?So I awoke with the gratitude challenge we spoke of yesterday. My first one?apart from the first breath of the day?is a slam-dunk: the few, but the greatest friends/acquaintances I?ve ever had. (That will almost be an everyday pick….)

So whilst I?m contemplating the second thing to be grateful for, the tier cleaner accidentally knocks over a full bucket of dirty, luke-warm water, directly above yours truly?s head. So the water coming from 15 feet above misses absolutely nothing at my table: my coffee, newspaper, writing paper and, of course, me. Yes, I get my second shower of the day.

So now retribution has to be paid?after all, this is NFPC and someone needs an ass-kicking! Either a hot-butter dousing, or pay the biggest lug on the tier to shit-kick, curb-stomp the retarded kid that should be in Riverview instead of this shit-show but he?s been misdiagnosed, used, abused, fallen through the cracks of the mental health/justice system.

Fifty-eight blood-thirsty punks want to see the comeuppance.

So, what do I have to be grateful for? Try: empathy, sympathy, understanding, humanity.

My reaction to the shower surprised everyone but myself. I laughed out loud, walked up to the desk asked for a clothing change and helped the kid clean up the mess while his peers belittled him, which by now is old-hat to the kid.

Humility is what I?m grateful for. I?ve got a boatload of it and perhaps someone copped a bit of it this A.M….

So, reason number 3? Someone I know challenged me to acknowledge what I could/should be grateful for and, although 2011 has started off as it has, life and the pursuit of happiness is what you make it. Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be….

Happiness is a process, a practice… and I?m trying….

Much love and respect, MK.?

Writing in my own gratitude journal tonight, I offer up thanks for MK?s friendship?for all that he has taught me, and continues to teach me, about the importance of compassion; about treating others as we ourselves would like to be treated.

Thanks also for all that your Blog does in shining light on the lives, and the humanity, of our long-term prisoners, coast to coast.



Poems by Kelly Gurkowitz, January 1 2011

– Only Once –

At great heights ?

I once did stand

The protector of ?

Some far off land

On that edge ?

I once did play

A mind of dreams ?

They went a stray

From the heaven?s ?

I once did fall

Life so bleak ?

No care at all

A forgotten past ?

I once did know

With nothing left ?

That I may show

Where it ends ?

I once did tell

Sold my soul ?

Straight to hell

K. Gyurkovits

Creative Writing, December 2010

My Dream

My dream? is a place of hope and thoughts

Like a open ended bookshelf

Full of ever lasting stories

Past on from one generation to the next

From each father?s, father

Full of happy times and cherished places

By picking up a stone off a gravel road

Tell?s a person who has driven over it

Or just maybe

How it was placed in the spot that it sat


Someone stubbed their small toe on it

During a mid-day storm

While they ran to the porch for cover

The tree that sits in the middle of the yard

Can whisper the list of birds out loud to you

As the wind blows through its strong arms

That has at onetime held the weight of your own children

As you once did not so long ago

K. Gyurkovits

Creative Writing Weekend, November 2010

Nowhere to be found


As I entered the room I could hear the rain drops tapping at the bedroom window, like an unwanted guest at a front door.

The candle flame danced as if it was moving rhythmically to the sound of music, and the ghostly shadows it cast gave a slight indication as to what was in the room.

Their she lay? Half covered by a virgin white sheet, as gentle as the first snowfall cover?s the dirt road in early winter. Cursed with beauty and features so perfect, Da Vinci himself could not even recreate them. Skin the color of honey and with more curves on her body then what a pitcher throws during a springtime practice.

I slowly circled and paced the room like a lost soul, before carefully sitting on the edge of the bed, trying not to wake her.

The thunder rumbled and rolled over the Southern Mountain range like Yankee cannon fire. Closer with each passing second, though each second seemed like an eternity to me.

The bedroom door opened slowly as my youngest daughter entered the room. Frightened by the sounds in the storm outside, she crawled into the bed and whispered in her mothers ear, ?I ?m scared mommy? and ?I miss daddy?, ?So do I? responded her mom, ?So do I?.

As the lightning lit up the room so bright that everything in it seemed transparent? Including myself.

K. Gyurkovits

Creative Writing April 2010

Pen Package December 2010

The Face in the Clouds?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Robert Sand

I?m lying naked in my room ? still poised upon this bed

I can?t stop thinkin? about you ? your face is pictured in my head

… You are the face in the clouds, ah the clouds

… You are my hopes all said out loud

I?ve never known no one like you ? so easily tore me apart

This bein? here all alone ? is like a fire burning in my heart

You are the girl of a million dreams

You are the roar of a million screams

You are the one that cameras seek

You are a prayed-for destiny

I gotta be there when you smile

I gotta hold you for just a while

I gotta no matter how far

I gotta wherever you are …

I musta seen you a thousand times ? heard your voice near every day

When my heart finally did see you? ? you were just walking away

… You are the face in the clouds, ah the clouds

… You are my hopes all said out loud

Girl I need to make you see ? that we are never complete

For without you I?m nothing an? our hearts?ll never be free

For all my life, I?ve known only loss

But I?ve bitten the bullet, regardless the cost

I?ve never given in, though I lose all the time

I?ve kept my faith that you I would find

Is it this easy to find my soul?s mate

Endure a few deaths an? survive all the hate

But if you?re not the one to set my heart free

Then thanks for being on Earth, same time as me

Robert Sand (1978?2023) was raised in a rural northern Alberta community, where his father trained him to wage war against the growing zombie hordes. The survival of the human race was posthumously attributed to Sand, whose sales and marketing of his Zombie: Kill or Be Killed ?How-To? classics were of little concern to the author ? a front-line gladiator who lived and died by the sword during the Dawn of the Zombie Age.

Dear Mother, Dear Mother???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Rod Schnob

Dear mother, dear mother I?m so sorry I could not help you. Being inexperienced, small and frail I could not defend you. This man you said was my father is so much bigger than I. I will not hold it against you because you lied. This mean man makes us bleed and leaves us pleading on our knees. I don?t understand why you make me carry his name. You never saw how he made me feel good by wearing the neighbour?s son?s blood on my clothes. At that moment in time, I was his champion. Dad?s lessons in life are so painful to learn.

The kids on my block jumped me and beat me up pretty good. I ran home with tears in my eyes and he leaned down and told me that cowards don?t live in his house when I tried to run home.

Similar lessons were taught to me by his mother when she armed me with a stick and garbage can lid in order to make my presence known to the neighbourhood kids. Is that how this phoney daddy of mine came to be so mean? All the other boys I hang around and walk to school with have the same kinds of stories. They tell me about the parties, the alcohol their parents drink, the voices that yell and fists that fly at one another. Like me they put their palms over their ears to stop the noise but it never stops the fear that races through our bodies. They get so scared like me and scream in silence hoping that our dads won?t hear. When mom and dad fight those familiar sounds of physical pain cast shadows on the wall.

As we walked and talked to one another on the way to school we tried to hide our homespun fears. Those fears gave us complexes in the names of helplessness, uselessness, worthlessness branding us with emotional scars like slaves. Never vanquished until the date of our deaths. After their drinking, fighting and witnessing of our beaten mothers lying in a fetal position their eyes trying to give us the impression that they?re okay. The sharing of our stories taught us shame and contempt as we needed to feel empowered. Our shame stood taller while we shared our stories of our weekend delights. Oh how we lied, hid and boasted in fits of phoney laughter.

?Hey, Roddy, my mom looks like Spot the dog?

?Yeah, Jake, I know what you mean mine looks like a raccoon.?

?That?s nothing, mine?s got the same look as your mother but she?s got a left hand turn on her nose.?

We all broke out in fearful shame driven laughter that gave us back our power. A power misunderstood by developing youth that had no clue beyond painful experiences of dysfunctional maturity. Only to learn later in our lives that not all authoritarian figures express irrational behaviours at the expense of loved ones.

Dear mother, dear mother I?m so sorry to make fun of your victimization that brought you humbled indignities that skinned your spirit inch by inch so painfully. Dear mother, I?m so sorry for being so selfish. I did not realize what you had to endure to give me a chance to have a life or to be whatever I wanted while discovering the magnitude of life?s embrace. I disrespected and squandered away all opportunities by blaming you for an unforgiving lie about who my true father was.

This story was first published in “Penned In- A collection of literary creations from both sides of the fence”, 2010 by Jupiter Literary Press.

Silent Hours ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?Rod Schnob

Silent hours floating in a cell

With tides of thought crashing in on mind,

Seething in a turbulent pity party

Feeling the rhythm of its blues

Embittered heart tells the news

Dreams shatter on the break,

The tales of unkind loneliness

Tumbles to the shore,

Another tortured spirit grasps for an ending.

Depression lassos regret for comfort,

And a mirror?s reflection becomes thy enemy.

Quickly turning away to defeat shame,

The muffled pleas for freedom screamed internally

As I struggle and drown in a cage of apathy

Strength depleting in the cold waves of death

A blanket tossed upon my face.

This poem was first published in “Penned In- A collection of literary creations from both sides of the fence”, 2010 by Jupiter Literary Press.

Rod Schnob comes from Vancouver?s infamous East End. He now resides in Matsqui Prison, learning the fine arts of mental and emotional torture from the academics of crime prevention. While working on a 25-to-Life sentence, Rod found an outlet for personal salvation through Matsqui?s creative writing program.

More Poems by Kelly Gurkowitz


A special part of life
Some single
Some lack a wife

Many daughters
Or only one son
First birthdays
I?ve seen none

Time we?ve missed
You don?t get back
Sorry my children
It was the wrong track

Year?s build up
Like falling snow
Each one passing
A harder blow

The children I have
Are my own
Still I feel
All alone

K. Gyurkovits
Creative Writing, November 2010

Forever & Ever

Joined by affection
Under skies above
Each one giving
Eternal love

Passion & lust
Are what we crave
Always loved
Emotionally saved

Each one giving
What the other may need
To the point of desire
Wish & plead

When giving up all
To remain together
Remember the words
Forever & ever…

Creative Writing, November 2010

Is There?

Is there…
a doctor in the house
tripped on a nail
his face went sort?a pale

Is there…
a doctor in the house
feeling kind?a sick
more than just?a nick

Is there…
a doctor in the house
bled the color red
to the point that he was dead

Is there…
a doctor in the house
oh… cried
his grieving spouse

Creative Writing, June 2010

Kelly Lee Gyurkovits
The tip of the pen to the internal mind is only a few short feet.
Yet the words that are forged may take you anywhere.
? Kelly Lee Gyurkovits

More Poems by Peter Williams

Castle of the Dead

The way of the unpardonable,

the menacing dead

riding in a car

my child not considered

The question, manner of the nascent

with consuming your milk

encounter salt of flour

my milk not encountered

The anti-mother of the moon

The Age-Confided

for the players with the rut

don’t hail of innocence

The number of your baptism

the flower with said creche

of Olive memory

of the dead period

A venue, a salt with Arena

it’s a demented volume

with truncated variation

the Egg with the statement

Child with mother content

this maze of fish

within the day in the hour

of my solo encounter


Old Woman Census-taker,

Death the trickster

when you’re going along,

don’t meet my baby

Sniffing at newborns,

smelling for milk

find salt, find cornmeal

don’t find my milk.

Anti-mother of the World,


on the beaches and byways

don’t meet that child.

The name he was baptized,

that flower he grows with

forget it, rememberer.

Lose it, Death

Let wind and salt and sand

drive you crazy, mix you up

so you can’t tell

East from West,

or mother from child

like fish in the sea.

And on the day, at the hour,

find only me.


I would claim the title ‘writer’ if I could make someone else believe

I would dare to dream, if only to deceive

I’d resort to imagination -singe paper wings

The spark is a situation which each day anew begins


My mother never doubted me

though trials caused her keening heart to flee

My father is her joy and pain

the look and deed were always twain

The heart that’s followed leads astray

it’s desperate to lead the way

For redemption I’ll not go,

but ‘look of longing’ seek to know

We’re like rivers -deigned to meet

hearts, like hinds, of foot are fleet

Hesitate to shed a tear

to doubt, my love, but without fear

Daddy, Is that you?

A figure with dark hair and intense eyes sat across from me behind glass. Mommy had that receiver pressed to her ear, but her lips kept a thin, straight line. The man said nothing. I wondered for the hundredth time why we were here?here in this towering gray building, in this massive, dull-walled room. Why this mysterious man was sitting behind a glass window with the telephone to his ear, tears in his eyes.

Mommy?s eyes are sad and drooping, but despite the obvious emotion of emptiness she felt, she brushed my bangs from my forehead and laid a kiss as light as a sigh there. After a long blink, she pulled the phone from her ear and touched the warm receiver to mine. My stomach tumbled with nervousness. What am I, a weary, unknowing, little three-year-old supposed to think?

?Say hi to Daddy, Aleyshee-Bean.?

The absence of a Father never bothered me; I have my Mommy, after all. I feel no loss, no sadness when I hug Mommy?s waist and kiss her cheek, even though I know deep down that there should be another set of arms encircling us. Isn?t that what a family is supposed to be? No, I thought. Just Mommy and I, that?s a real family.

My heart never hurt when I saw those big grins of kids playing with their Daddies, asking for piggy-back rides and giggling like clowns when they grazed the sky with their fingertips. In fact, that almost seemed odd. The way I saw it, all Daddies stay in that big gray building until they?re older, then they?re allowed out. These Daddies I see now must be pretty old.

Mommy and I moved to a dark basement suite; away, away from the calm, full-of-laughter complex. Mommy?s smile died. Her eyes got all droopy and strained and that cigarette never left her fingertips. Her happiness went right down the drain.

A wide-shouldered, evil-eyed man knocked on the glass of our basement window. I looked up stiffly from my spot on the carpet. Mommy shifted on the couch and it squeaked in protest, but she didn?t wake. I remained still. The man rolled his eyes and pulled a screwdriver from his jacket pocket. I swallowed and lay there, propped up on one elbow and watched, paralyzed.

The door ?clunked? as he shoved the screwdriver hard into the lock and Mommy?s eyes flickered open. She didn?t say a word, only looked over the ridge of the couch. Her eyes lit up with a joy that seemed so long gone I didn?t think it existed anymore. The excitement emanating from her made me wonder: is this my Daddy? Has he finally been let out of the gray building?

I crouched in the closet, my knees to my chest. Darkness filled my quiet place and I smiled. This dark tunnel is a comfort of being away from him. I jumped as another chair shattered against the kitchen wall. Mommy shrieked. At the speed of light, I covered my ears and pushed hard; I pushed away the noise, the screams, and maintained the isolation of my safe place. This can?t be my Daddy. My Daddy would never be like this. Nobody’s Daddy is like this, I?m sure.

Mommy put her warm arms around me and touched her lips to my ear, ?I love you, Snugglefrax, I love you so much,? she said. The burn of a hot tear hit my shoulder as it fell off Mommy?s cheek.

?I love you too, Mommy.?

?I have to go for awhile. I?ll be back for you.?

I pulled away and ground my stare into her deep brown eyes.

?What do you mean?? I snapped. ?Where are you going??

?I have to settle down. I promise I?ll be back. I promise.? I glanced around her and saw that evil-eyed man standing in the dark night beside her beat up red sports car, two boxes in his hands.

She kissed my cheek and pulled my arms from around her neck. My heart burst, exploded me from the inside out and tore a gaping, black hole as evidence of the loss.

?No! No! Mommy! Don?t leave me! Mommy!? Grandpa?s heavy arms held me back from running to her. Sobs shook my shoulders and I reached with desperate arms as if I could grab her, no matter how many steps she?s taken from me. Red-eyed, she turned and disappeared into the night.

?Want to make some cookies for Daddy, Leeshie?? Nana smiled and happy little crinkles formed at the corners of her eyes. Today we are going to see my Daddy. My real life Daddy! Nana had told me weeks ago that the big gray building was prison, and that?s where he?d been all this time, but I still couldn?t get the idea through my brain.

?Okay, Nana.?

The cookies smelled wonderful coming out of the oven and I hoped Daddy would like them. My first childish impulse was to grab one of those steaming choco-chip cookies, but my stomach felt like I?d just wolfed down a corndog and I was on the final loop of a rollercoaster. Two words: major spew-age.

The car ride went too fast for my emotions. Time was just in fast forward, and everything was passing in a new-experience blur: barbed wire fences, passing barbed wire gates and entering the big gray building, walking through the metal detector and signing in.

Then, there it was. The final door. The final loop. I thought I would vomit right there, but I swallowed, and Nana pushed open the door. There he was. Tall and green-eyed with the smile that could light up an entire city; nothing like I remembered, but I was happy for that. The cookies went into Nana?s hands as I sprinted to him and jumped into my Daddy?s arms for the first time seven years.

Six years later from that moment, sixteen years of age, and here I am. 993 words later, every single one encouraged by the Dad I had missed for so very long. I thought I had lost everything when poor ?ole Mommy left, but I guess we move on. Life goes on, and you have to go with it. Holes will fill, and no matter what you lose, you will receive.


L.E. Writes from the clarity of her trauma, but also writes to overcome it. She is inspired by her dad to write. She grew up with her mom then her grandparents while her dad was in prison and learned from his happiness despite his circumstances.

L.E.’s Blog

A Day in the Life of a Prisoner

Outside the large solid metal door of my cell the distinct call of the morning announcement penetrates the peace of my sleep. I turn to lie on my back. Blinking my eyes open I see the familiar glow of sunlight as it pours in an orange shade. The announcement was for breakfast. I know I have to hurry or miss out. I pull myself out of bed and slip on my jogging pants and a t-shirt before brushing my teeth, using the toilet, and washing my hands.

The cell is roomy enough: 6 bricks wide and 8 bricks long. I guess each brick to be fifteen inches but I?ve never actually measured them at this place. The walls are painted a pink pastel and the door a green pastel. I imagine that pastel colors were chosen because of their calmness ? their soothing effect. The bed is hardly more than a flat piece of painted steel bolted to the wall. A thick hard foam mattress sits on top. We are given two bed sheets and three cotton-knit blankets that I have to fold in half and pile one on top of the other just to stay warm in the cold fall nights. I wonder just how cold the cells get in the winter.

Across from the bed is a ?desk and shelves unit.? This is a collection of three metal drawers sitting in a metal frame along with a few more metal shelves above these. Beside this is a square countertop with a thin long drawer below it for your pens and pencils and stuff. My shelves are filled with clothes ? mostly ones given to me by the prison but some I have ordered in from a department store from the street. I only make $6.90 each day, but after a few moths of saving, you can buy some nice things, like my 14? television sitting atop the shelf above the desk. The television is crowded by a container of coffee, a bottle of aspirin, and other necessities that I have purchased.

My small stereo sits on a metal box where I store all my books ? I have a lot of books ? all of them of a spiritual nature. I also have a small fan that sits on a shelf above the television. Not far from there is the highlight of my cell: a small potted plant.

A high pitch squeal pierces my cell. I hate that noise but I have grown resentfully tolerant of it ? it is my neighbor?s sink, so what can I do? Mine makes the same terrible sound in his cell.

I grab my cup and plastic cutlery and plastic bowl. I press a small button beside my door and a moment later, the lock slips out and I pull my door open. The sound of one hundred inmates getting ready for breakfast impacts like a wall as I walk down the hallway we call the living range towards the common area where there are metal tables with a piece of square tabletop above. Each table has four solidly fixed stool-like chairs. Before I go to breakfast, I bang on the door of a friend of mine and call him through the thin slit between the door and doorframe of his cell – the only way to wake him in the morning.

It?s pancakes for breakfast, I note as I walk past table after table of men sleepily eating. To my left is a large desk behind which sit several guards. The living unit is designed in such a way that these can see all areas from their vantage point.

At breakfast, there is no line up at the food counter so I walk directly up to the window. The lady behind the counter asks me if I would like two pancakes or three. Three, I reply. My pancakes don?t look well cooked, but I don?t care; what else am I going to eat?

After breakfast, I make coffee. This particular institution does not allow coffee machines so making coffee is a process: boil the water in a kettle used by all 12 guys on my range, put a piece of paper towel into a Styrofoam container with holes punched out of the bottom, and add two good scoops of coffee grounds. A ?click? sound from the hallway tells me the kettle is finished boiling. I fill up an equal-sized cup of water as the one in which I am making coffee; this way I don?t add too much water. I slowly pour the water into the Styrofoam container and slowly my coffee is made.

While I wait for my coffee to cool to just the right temperature, I make my bed, strip off my clothes, put on my housecoat and head for the shower. Every second day is ?shave day? for me. When it?s not a shaving day it?s a laundry day. This is my own routine. Today is a shave day, so I put a lid on my coffee so that it doesn?t cool too much. I bring my shaving stuff to the shower with me. Glass mirrors aren?t allowed here but some guys still have them. I borrow one, as I dislike shaving without one. I can do it and do it well, but it?s tedious.

I love showering. I do it twice a day. I like the feel of the hot water pouring over my skin. It?s like as the water rinses over my face – my eyes closed – I am transported to a place of peace. The sounds of prison disappear in the white noise of thousands of water drops splashing noisily over me and over the tiles of the shower. I feel refreshed, made new, and ready for a new day. I dry off and return to my house ? well, my cell, that is, but we call it our ?houses.? I stand on my towel and carefully dry between my toes. I sprinkle powder here and there on my skin and rub it in. I put under arm deodorant on and slip into some clothes. Today I feel like a nice thick warm pair of jogging pants and a t-shirt. I pull two pairs of socks on: white cotton for one pair and wool socks for the other. I like the cushiony comfort of two socks.

I sit at my desk after putting my wet towel into my laundry bag hidden away in a corner of my house behind the door. I take my first sip of coffee ? it?s the right temperature. It always is. In my mouth, the coffee is strong and bitter and I swallow it like it was melted chocolate. Every morning I read a scripture. I always read it after my first swallow of coffee and so I do this now.

The next half-hour is spent carefully studying the bible. (Studying the bible and drinking my coffee.) Soon the coffee is finished and so is my studying. I look at the little clock on the shelf beside my television. It reads ten minutes to nine ? it always says a time very near to this by the time my coffee and studying is finished. That?s because at nine our program starts.

Our violent offender program has different types of sessions. In dynamic group, there is no topic. We sit around and speak our minds on whatever comes up. Sometimes the guys talk about the very terrible things in their lives. We sympathize, we offer our own experiences, but most importantly, we listen. We listen and we also learn something about ourselves.

In other sessions, we learn. We learn errors in thinking; how we might perceive things in different ways; what things set us off or get us angry. We learn so we can change. Today was one of those kinds of sessions and I bring my large binder to class with a pen.

Looking at the other eleven guys in the group, I see tired faces. Yes, they are tired because it?s the morning, but they are also tired because they have been in the same prison routine day after day ? some for five years some for ten, some for as much as fifteen years. The prisoner?s eyes are unfocused. They look inward where stuff happens ? dreams and life ? not outward to the same walls and cold emptiness around them.

Our two facilitators hand out today?s lesson. I open my binder and place it in to the rungs of the binder. Today?s topic is relationships. One of the guys starts reading. This lesson, however, is mostly discussions. The question to discuss first is what types of relationships there is with family, friends, acquaintances, authority figures? and victims. Lots of input from everybody and the group is on a positive note. But as we near the question of victims, my mind wanders. Then my mouth opens and speaks: ?My victim has passed away, but there are other victims.? My tone is of sorrow. The room goes silent. I imagine everybody is reflecting on their own victims.

I continue, ?I mean, the victim?s cousin attacked me when I was in court. And his wife was there, too. These are victims as well.?

?But the biggest ? most tangible ? one to me is my mom. I remember just after I was arrested and I called her on the phone. She spoke like I was dead. She said things like: ?My son was a good boy and now he?s gone.? I was hurt to the core. I tried to comfort. I even remember saying, ?Ma. It?s me! I?m still alive! I?m right here!? It was the hardest conversation in my life.?

The guys are staring at the floor. Some thank me for sharing this deeply emotional thing. Others share some stuff about their own victims. The tone has changed, but I?m happy that it did. This is how people heal.

An hour and a half later, the group ends and we go back to the hallway where we live. Soon it will be lunch. We stand around and talk. Some guys go to their houses to watch television or read a book. Some do laundry.

The announcement calls one range at a time for lunch and soon the common area of tables begin to fill with people. Noisy people. Sometimes I am sick of them and just want to find a place away from people. Sometimes, like today, I am happy to be around others.

Our range is called last and I make two stops before getting in line for the food counter. I stop to fill my cup with milk and I stop to fill my bowl with a salad. I prefer bean salads, but those are rare ? today its just green-leaf lettuce.

I pick up my food from the food counter. It doesn?t matter what the food is. I eat it without tasting much. It fills my stomach to contentment but not full. I eat my salad and drink my milk.

We will be locked down again soon so I bring my dishes over to the sink on my range and wash it out. I fill my cup with cold water that I keep in the tiny refrigerator. I am a little tired from group and I go back to my cell and lock the door behind me. I can still push the little button to get back out but I don?t. Ten minutes later lock down is called and now I am unable to leave my cell.

I sit on the edge of the bed and watch the television program listings to see if a good movie might be on. There?s not. Today ? Friday ? we are locked down for three hours. I?ll sleep for the first hour, but I want to be up by two o?clock as there is a good show on.

I hear the jingle of keys outside in the living range. We all have to stand up and be counted. I stand and watch as the two guards go past the tall narrow window of my door. I return to my bed and close my eyes. If I dream I don?t remember it. Most of my dreams are of in prison so it is usually the ones of the real world ? the outside ? I especially remember. Not today though; they are rare.

When I do awake, I lie on my back and stare at the white ceiling. ?Five more minutes before the show starts.? It?s called ?While you were out.? A person wants to surprise their spouse by sending them away for two days and renovating one of the rooms in their house while they are gone. The carpenter Andrew Jumbo is always given too much work to do and I always wonder if he?s going to finish in time. His helper Leslie Segretto and him always seem to get into some kind of argument. I think those two have a relationship outside the show. Its fun to watch but the best part is when the spouse comes home and sees the room. I like watching their reaction ? especially if that reaction includes tears of joy because that kind of joy is such a real emotion ? pure. It makes me cry, too.

The last commercial break before the show ends I quickly get changed into my track pants. I will only have one hour after our doors open to go and ride the stationary bike and exercise my abdomens.

?While you were out? ends and I begin to pace my cell waiting for the door to open. It?s usually late on Fridays and soon it is 3:15pm. I check the little button beside the door from time to time but without response. I press it again and the whirring of the lock opens the door.

Out I go down the hallway, past the tables of the common area in front of the desk with the guards and out the double door into a brisk fresh sunny Friday afternoon. Sure, there are fences everywhere with its sharp spiky razor wire coiled around its top but there is also the lush green grass, the smell of clean air, a deep blue sky, small flowers and small trees. There is the music filling my ears through the Discman. I smile as I walk towards the gym.

I ride the stationary bike for a mere 15 minutes ? not quite as long as usual but I?m a little distracted today. So distracted I bypass my abdomen work out altogether and go back to my home. ?Well, soon my show is going to start: ?Daily Planet.? So I might as well sit down and get ready to watch it.? Another stand up lock down occurs and then I lie on my back on my bed and watch ?Daily Planet? ? it is basically science news and I always learn fascinating new things about the world and life about me.

Half an hour later, the announcement is made for our unit to go eat supper. Now the little button beside my door is active again and I press it with bowl and cutlery in the other hand. Even how I get my food has become somewhat of a routine. I reach the drink machine first and fill my 10-ounce cup with milk. Next comes the table where I sit. There I put my cup of milk down, place a napkin down that I might be able to place my cutlery on and then I head toward the small salad bar. I put two scoops of salad in the bowl with a couple of small heads of broccoli and a spoonful of salad dressing. It is a creamy ranch dressing ? probably home made, I guess, as the flavor often changes.

Supper is a stuffed green pepper and a small piece of cake. I eat all of it. It?s actually not too bad for flavor (or I no longer know what good food tastes like anymore).

I want to hurry up and eat, though, because at 5:15 is the time we are allowed to move again and its nearly that time already. I give my plate to the dishwasher and head over to the sink where I wash my cutlery, bowl, and cup in the sink. I then fill my cup with more water from the refrigerator and go back to my cell to brush my teeth and change into clothes appropriate for exercise.

I slip on my blue track pants that I bought only about a month ago. I?m pretty happy with these ones; they?re comfortable and light and keep me warm. Already, my workout buddy is at my door knocking and teasing me so I?d better get going.

We head down to the gym and tease each other the entire way. He has a pretty strange sense of humor. Mine is pretty strange at times but at least I keep my jokes clean ? something he doesn?t always do. For my sake I know he tries to clean up the jokes. He knows about my spirituality and the fact that I don?t swear or tell obscene jokes.

The gym is quiet at this time- not always, but for the most part. We push each other in a hard workout focusing on the chest. I?ve only been working out for six months now but its really beginning to show. I?ve gained weight and the tone is really becoming defined. Most important, however, is that it helps me get through emotionally difficult days like it had been today. I feel good about myself.

We finish just before six o?clock and we watch a couple guys from our group play a little badminton. They?re terrible at the game and it?s entertaining to watch. We heckle them a little and they laugh.

It?s nearly six o?clock so we decide to return home ? we only have ten minutes to do so or we are stuck in the gym. Did I say home? Well, there is no other place that I can think of as home ? so I guess that?s what that hallway where my cell is: my home.

I prepare for the shower right away. There are female guards usually working every day so I have gotten into the necessary habit of getting undressed without ever being openly naked. My housecoat provides well at this time.

After my shower, I slip into a different set of jogging pants. They?re so old and I basically use them as pajamas. Relaxing, I lie on my bed and read a few pages of a book called ?Forms of Devotion.? If anyone were to ask me what the genre of this book was I wouldn?t know how to answer. The author has placed several short stories with no endings together into a collage of thought. Reading the book is like eating a pizza.

Slowly nine o?clock approaches: Another stand up lock down. Another half an hour spent in my cell. Nearly another day spent of my life. Another hour before we are locked back down. I decide to reach out and touch someone. By letter that is? and I hope you have enjoyed my day.

Chess Maxims and More


Chess Maxims

to trade
Pieces has cost
me more games than anything else

has won
me more games of chess than any other tactic

Seeking out tough
has improved my level
of play
more than any other training
technique (this

People who avoid playing
computers are embarrassed to
lose against
a mere electronic gadget, even though they’re
and EXTREMELY dangerous.

Playing TOUCH MOVE has
improved my ability to
trust my instincts
more than any
other factor.
Moves which exude

In complex positions, or
time pressure,
our subconscious can do the

Looking at the board for
long periods when it’s
your turn
to move BURNS a FALSE IMAGE into
retina so that
you will BLUNDER, failing to take a subtle CHANGE in position into

Looking at the area of
the board where you’re planning to attack or set a trap will draw
your opponent’s eye to that area of the board and he will
intuitively make
better responses
as a result.

Starting to look at
potential moves for
your chessmen
in response to
opponent reaching for or starting to
will draw his
to your best options,
seeing his move is a BLUNDER before letting go.

  • Peter W.


The car engine thrummed
with an unusual lumpiness. Ricochet envisioned his cohorts moving
through their clockwork assault on the bank with choreographed

-5 seconds; guns out,
warning shots, barking orders for everyone down on the floor

– 10 seconds; two leaping
over the counters with heavy canvas duffel bags being passed to them

He touched the throttle a
little and envisioned the dual camshafts actuating the shiny, oiled
valve heads with precise mechanical rythym.

The engine wrestled in
its mounts as the getaway driver imagined a pistol hammer clicked
back at the ear of the bank guard. Clickety clack.


My dream is
to draw inspiration from a vaugely worded piece and redraft it with
economy of words.

My dream is
to see the masterpiece in the roughly hewn stone and draw it out
with deft strokes

My dream is
to give voice to the muse without care for claim of authorship or

My dream is
drained by fulfillment

This poem first appeared in:”Penned In”,
published in August 2010 by Jupiter Literary Press