Killer writing: prisoners speak

Incarcerated students are back in my life, thanks to teaching through Adams State Extended Studies. Their words and wisdom hearken back to the 90s when I was a volunteer teacher and administrator of the Prison Integrated Health Program at FCI Dublin, the West Coast federal prison for women. I never thought I’d be doing prison work again, but here it is, and I am immensely grateful. So instead of my words in this blog post, I want to share the words of two who have given me permission to do so.

excerpted from R. Stewart’s Introductory Paper to The Prison Memoir, ENG 279:

Who are you? is a question that most people would answer with simple facts such as name, date of birth, occupation, marital status, and geographical history. Yet from my perspective we are all more of a river, a flow of cause and effect, a continuum from the singularity and the subsequent Big Bang, to the universe becoming conscious of itself in you and me. I am poor choices, good choices, genetics. I am the manifestation of circumstance. I am who I am at this moment, different than who I was, or will be. The raindrop falls into the sea, the sea evaporates and becomes the cloud, the cloud condenses and becomes the rain that becomes the river, I drink of the river and it becomes me.

I spent fourteen years on death row. I had met the clinical definition of addict by twelve years old. In 1989 at twenty-five years old, after sixty sleepless days on a meth run, I snapped at what someone said, at what I finally saw, and a juggernaut of rage burst forth, and in seconds, I shot three people. It was as if I was taken over by an external force. I never intended it and couldn’t believe what I had just done. I ended up telling a jury to execute me. It just seemed easier than living with it all. My death penalty was reversed on a technicality, a Fourth Amendment derived voir dire error that would be named after me, a “Stewart Error.”

I went from death row to a Security Housing Unit, because of gang validation. Six years later I was released into the mainline.

During close to twenty years spent in solitude, three quarters of it was spend in litigation for my life. Writing was my means of expression, salvation,and catharsis…


excerpted from R. Tiran’s Introductory Paper to The Prison Memoir, ENG 279:

My status as a criminal seems to always enter a room before I do, infecting any true introduction. The scars on my wrists bound from the past and my ball and chain of regret are of little help. Furthermore, explaining who I am is difficult due to who I was. I have regretfully discovered that the greatest mistakes are eternal, and this fact of forever ruins any meaningful “nice to meet you.”

I was once a young man who killed another. Providing a “why” somehow cheapens the gravity of my actions. While some reasons are more digestible than others, taking someone’s life should never hold a “because.” Yet while I will always be that person, he exists so far off in the distance; he is distorted and unrecognizable. This year I am 36 years old. I am from the snow capped mountains of Lake Tahoe, California. For the past 12 years I have been serving a life sentence, and I will likely die lying in this bed I made.

Before recently, I was on a crusade of discarding anyone who showed me love. However, upon stepping under this incarcerated sky, I found the skeleton who whispered to throw away love, and other lies. While I have evicted him from his closet, I find that today I still wear a mask. This armor protects an unemotional man who walks within fences littered with razor wire, protecting himself from all this battleground has to offer. Yet within such Kevlar lies the authentic me, struggling to shed such a shield, but terrified of the sky falling. To be human while under a gun tower is spilling blood while sharks circle.

I enjoy writing because when my pen moves, masks no longer hold value, and I feel no pressure of having to be anything else. I’ve found that paper holds little judgment, and loves me like a mother. When surrounded by fences, writing provides wings…


1 comments on “Killer writing: prisoners speak
  1. Wow, Kathy! Both these tales are shattering!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *