(Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two part series of poems on incarceration by Rebecca Schumejda. You can read the first one here.)
Before my brother’s incarceration, I held many beliefs that I now grapple with; one is my once vehement view embracing an eye for an eye, the law of retribution. The idea once seemed simple, if you do wrong, you should suffer an equivalent consequence. The problem is I interpreted this guiding principle through the kaleidoscope of my own limited experience, an experience that did not take life’s complexity or the fallibilities of the justice system into account. The variables are endless, for example just pick up Anthony Ray Hinton’s new book, The Sun Does Shine, which discusses how he survived three decades on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit. The number of death row inmates who were set free is absolutely staggering. Then of course, you have to consider mental illness and countless other factors when considering retaliation in lieu of a more magnanimous alternative.
Here’s the thing, I never thought I would be standing on line, shoes in hand, waiting to walk through a metal detector at a maximum-security prison to see my little brother. I never thought I would sit across from someone whom I once knew as the kindest, gentlest person and question every conviction I ever held about him and about all my perceptions. I never thought someone I loved would cause others, including myself, such intense pain by committing an inane act, an act still unfathomable to all affected. Here’s another thing, sometimes you cannot make sense of a tragedy no matter how hard you try. That aside, I want to believe that if you are willing to look at your experiences, even the most painful ones, as opportunities to learn then you will grow as a person and you may even be able to help others along the way. I have to constantly remind myself that good can come from a tragedy, that all is not lost. I use what I know, poetry, as a catalyst for thought and discussion, the chance to make people feel less lonely. I believe poetry is a good place to start any conversation.
Women Who Love Men Like Ours
I drive toward your house
and end up at a maximum-security prison,
knowing I didn’t make a wrong turn.
I witness the woman guard,
at the first checkpoint, turn away
three women for dress code violations.
The woman in front of me steps out of line
to bring those three women out to her car
where she has t-shirts and sweatpants
in all different sizes for moments like this.
I take off my shoes before entering
your house, not to keep the floors clean,
but to pass through a metal detector
before being allowed inside.
The guard gives me a dirty look
for letting the woman, who helped,
back into her place in line and I regret
drawing attention to myself
but then the woman says,
We got to be here for one another
cause ain’t no one else gives a shit
about women who love men like ours.
Since I feel connected for the first time
in months, I nod in agreement as if
I traveled hours to see my lover or husband
instead of my little brother.
At dusk, on my way back to a life,
where I forget my brother’s address,
the setting sun is an orange jumpsuit
crumpled up in the corner of a dingy cell.
About the Author: Rebecca Schumejda is the author of Falling Forward (sunnyoutside press), Cadillac Men (NYQ Books), Waiting at the Dead End Diner (Bottom Dog Press), Our One-Way Street (NYQ Books) and several chapbooks including Common Wages, a joint project with poet Don Winter. She received her MA from San Francisco State University and currently lives with her family in New York’s Hudson Valley. She is a co-editor of the online publication Trailer Park Quarterly.
Image Credit: “Prison, Albany, N.Y” (1865) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program