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From 2009 to 2020, I  facilitated a creative writing workshop at Garner Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in Newtown CT. Each year I edited and published a collection of the inmates' work called Sentences. In 2023, Woodhall Press published an anthology of these writings under the title Closer to Freedom. Here are some selections.

Art by IAN

Key Ring (by Ian C.)


You signify freedom. Not freedom—liberty. 

You’re easily forgotten, left in coat pockets, purses, fallen in between couch cushions, left in the dish by the door or on the dresser with the spare change.

I had a set made of plastic dangled in my face as a toddler, bright, multi-colored.

When I got my first key ring, I sought out any key to call my own.

Errant padlocks became mine by virtue of their key on my ring.

A house key. Another house key, for the door no one uses.

It would be a few more years until you got your own car key, that true symbol of freedom.

By the time I was a teenager, you looked like something a school janitor would carry, laden with so many keys for so many locks, too heavy with keys to be practical.

But that bulk signified more . . . importance than pragmatism.

Locks sometimes protect secrets.

Locks for valuables, locks for doors.

A few short years later and I had lost you.

Not in a couch cushion.

I lost you as I lost everything.

Freedom. Liberty.

I don’t have a key ring of my own now, though I see them every day.

Ican’thave you, because you mean freedom.

And you keep me here.

Every day.


 In Relegation (by Veronica-May C.)


A window hides the night sky

A clock lies on the shelf

A chair made of plastic stands in the corner and cries


A rug lies dead on the floor


Junk food together with friends feels lonely

The ceiling separates the angry walls

Porcelain basks in the dark


A hot pot burns with desire


There’s a gender non-conforming spoon/fork combo

The bunk is afraid to admit she’s an anvil

Marks on the wall tell only those who know


The cell objectifies


There’s a pile of books forced into a life of hard labor

The T.V. constructs a new light saber

The door begs forgiveness for all it’s done


The blue pencil’s mad that the green team has won

Art by Veronica-May 

Portrait of Ken 

by Ian

Me, My Cell, and I (by Ken Marak*)


The anger                        erupts like a

volcano.                       Bile spews

from                         me as I sit

in my                     cell, my mind

spiraling                  down as

I feel the                     pain I’ve caused

my loved                    ones, like a tornado

that’s about              to hit ground and cause

chaos to                 everyone I touch.

Like a                   hurricane landing on shore

causing               tears to spray from my eyes,

the hurri               cane tossing boats, smashing

them against            houses, people yelling and

screaming             in my cell,

tearing               things apart. Like those poor people

I feel                the sadness dragging me down

as I               put my hands on my face and cry,

I feel          the calm before the storm.

In it         there’s losses all around:

my         freedom, humility, time, the list

goes on        and on. Then the storm hits

and I feel       like dying, so I

curl up in the     fetal position till the

storm rages    past, as I try to let

go, as I shout  out loud, “When is my

rainbow going to come?!”

*Ken was released from prison in April 2018

Untitled (by Jerrell A.)


The white-tee was troubled by the black face

The hoody’s hood begged, “Please, not today”

The belt was uptight, but the jeans liked to hang out

The J’s were the perfect match for so many different routes

The Mitchell & Ness was slightly depressed

Because the chain was a free spirit but stayed tucked to the chest

The timepiece read green

And the spec lenses looked wise

A mirrored disguise under a suit and a tie

Residence (by Marquis Jackson*)


I’m a prison cell. Look around, it ain’t hard to tell. When I’m unoccupied, I feel naked and afraid; but with company, I’m alive, well, and vibrant. My heart beats for you. The ’70s was when I became a hot item. I was the new “it” thing. Some people couldn’t avoid me, no matter how hard they tried. Some people just couldn’t get enough of me, and Connecticut couldn’t make me fast enough. I come in many shapes and sizes. Even when you leave me, I’m still on your mind. When I get you in my cobra clutches, I rarely let go. When I have you, I own your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. You can’t beat me, nor defeat me, so why don’t you just greet me with a hug. Come one, come all, ball till you fall. I was made not to discriminate. Take a seat, relax on my back, tell me your plans. Oh, you were the man? Not here. Cop a squat, tell me how much time you got to rot. Oh, three-to-five? Damn, I was hoping for at least a dime, or at the very least, twenty-five to life. But oh well, I’ll take what I get from you on this stint. Top bunk or bottom bunk, take your pick. Aren’t I so generous? Me, I’ll take the walls, floor, door, sink and toilet, and whatever else you want to call it. I wash my face with your tears. I gain strength from your many years. I run circles around your brain, my workout regimen is insane: laws. Like I said, you can’t beat me, so why don’t you just greet me. Trying to defeat me is an exercise in futility. Even if you are one of the lucky ones to escape my loving embrace, don’t worry—I’ll replace another with your same face. So when you receive your freedom clothes, with holes, just know I’m never close. Remember, I’ll be here, waiting, just waiting, waiting for that day to come: our reunion.

*Marquis was exonerated & released from prison in May 2018.

Art by Lex

Still Life with a Door, Two Windows, and Three Walls

(by Lex M.)


A steel door weighing

As much as all the doors in your house would weigh,

Protecting in value what you would put on the curb

With a “Free” sign on it. With the exception of family

Photos, which we hold dear, sort of like the family heirlooms

You keep locked in a safe.

Two windows, yet still no view,

Just like I wrote my last line without my “eyes.”

No, for real, without the letter “I”!

Three walls that sweat in the summer

And freeze in the winter like something left outside,

Like that bum you step by on your way to get high.

They claim to be painted white, but white is bright,

So that ain’t right. It’s more like the color of depression

With a splash of hate, as if hate and depression had

A color! But hey, welcome to Cell A-123.

The Truck (by Nathaniel C.)


The truck that initially passed inspections flawlessly

The truck that was totaled and was rebuilt

The truck that turned from daily driver to daily drifter

The truck that had its power rack swapped out for a manual one

The truck that had its air conditioner removed for less clutter weight

The truck that had all six windows open during summer and spring

The truck that took a hit of the Go Fast crack pipe and was never the same

The truck with all emissions removed

The truck with assorted vinyl vacuum caps in place of OEM ports

The truck with ceramic coated pacesetter open headers

The truck that didn’t have a catalytic converter

The truck with DEI titanium exhaust-wrapped headers

The truck with a 2.5-inch bottle style resonator and straight pipe

The truck with a 2.5 Mandrel bent driver-side exit exhaust

The truck with blue polyurethane eBay exhaust hangers

The truck with 12-point chrome ARP intake and exhaust studs

The truck that ditched its stock carburetor

The truck that replaced it with an outlaw 38/38 Weber carburetor

The truck with an electric choke

The truck that had its grille hacked in order to fit a velocity stack with integrated intake              tube from Weapon R

The truck with a universal open element breather on the valve cover

The truck with Blue Dash-6 Push-Loc hose plumbed into the intake manifold

The truck with a Jegs 2-row aluminum Ford-style radiator

The truck that used a folding KHE BMX tire to snugly mount the aforementioned radiator

The truck with its Mashimoto blue stainless steel hose kit

The truck that advanced its timing

The truck with an MSD high vibration blaster coil

The truck with NGK ceramic spark plugs

The truck with a cad-plated blaster coil bracket

The truck with Lucas oil additive installed with a funnel each gas pump

The truck that should have had an oil cooler installed

The truck that drifted in front of a state trooper and only received a warning

The truck that would hit its 110 mph top speed frequently

The truck that beat both a third generation Eclipse owner and his pride

The truck that out-cornered and outpaced an Acura RSX

The truck with a cracked windshield and equally cracked owner

The truck that lost on the highway to a Toyota Tacoma

The truck with no cup holders

The truck with soiled carpet from spilled milkshakes

The truck with S5 RX7 black and gray bucket seats

The truck with an FB RX7 Sport 3-spoke steering wheel

The truck with a Pioneer CD head unit with a detachable faceplate with SD card, USB,              and AUX slots

The truck with an eBay black, weighted shift knob

The truck with its 15-inch OEM six-lug, six-spoke chrome Nissan Pathfinder rims

The truck that tucked 225 wide (fusion) tires front and back

The truck with an 18-pound Braille racing battery

The truck with Apex carbon fiber brake pads

The truck without its Blue Gates performance pulley belt

The truck with its imperfectly perfect four-color patina

The truck with its smoked corner lenses and taillights

The truck with a black bed liner

The truck with a silver pinstripe

The truck that was sold.

The truck that was a Mazda

The truck that was my Mazda.

Art by Nathaniel

The Love of a Rose (by AndrewT.)


Your love for me is like a rose

         Beautiful and sweet-smelling

                  Tall as forever goes.

My love for you is like the soil

         Dark and rich

                  Your roots deep inside me.

Your love for me is like a rose

         The thorns on which I grab

                  And there on you I bleed.

My love for you is like the rain

         Cleansing and refreshing

                  Hydrating you drink me.

Your love for me is like a rose

         Your petals bloom in glorious life

                  Your petals fall in glorious death.

My love for you is like the sun

         Bright and shining

                  Warmth without a fire.

Your love for me is like a rose

         Your roots reaching far underground

                  Sucking the life of all it can bear.

My love for you is like a rose

         It grows and it wilts

                  It blossoms and it folds.

My love for you is perennial

         Your love for me is pristine.

Our love is together forever

         Our love is our own.

Holes (by William)


There is a hole in my heart,

A leak that leaves me a couple of

Degrees cooler than warm,

A bell with a crack making a dull sound,

A hole once filled with belief,

A wound sutured with logic

And objectivity.


There is a hole in my hope,

Cut for a bigger man,

A soldier waiting for a battle

Worth dying for,

A hole in my soul where it

Once had a mate,

Driven away by a heart off its

Leash and running wild.


There is a hole in my heart I filled

With drugs and delusions,

High performance, running over red-line

And leaking coolant.




And repeat.


This hole in my heart almost put

A hole in my head.

Children and dogs, sensing

Something alien, kept their


The adults were less circumspect,

Reminding me that I didhave a

Hole in my head, staples in my skull,

But no bullet holes in my brain.


They tell me I’m lucky.


Art by Nathaniel

King of Hoarders (by Solomon B.)


You got a cold, I got a pill,

Got a rag for every spill,

You want to blow your nose, I got a tissue.

What’s the issue? 

I’m the King of Hoarders. 


I got every baseball card from 1951,

Even got the gum.

This guy here, like most of them

His rookie year he was a bum,

His second year, though—50 home runs.

After millions of dollars he’ll now tell you

Steroids is dumb.

His name is Mark McGwire. 

I’m the King of Hoarders.


I went hunting because I want a deer on the wall,

And a bear on the floor,

And a bear on my back.

But I can’t bear to see all this meat go to waste

So I bought three freezers—

And I’m a vegetarian. 

I’m the King of Hoarders.


I may be broke, but that’s a joke,

I got a house with a junkyard in the back yard,

Old cars look like junk,

Got trunks in the trunk,

Inside the trunks more junk, like boxes,

Inside the boxes, bags,

Inside the bags, rocks—

You know, the shiny ones you hold onto forever.

I’m going to send my daughter to university,

She’s going to be a doctor.

Yeah, I’m the King of Hoarders.

The Soothing Bowl (by Tadd L.)


The bowl that looks cool

The bowl that was cheap

The bowl that was new

The bowl with no meat

The bowl that served Gerber’s

Or stuff, so to speak

The bowl when she’s up

The bowl when she sleeps

The bowl that she breaks

The bowl that I fix

The bowl that make cakes

She loves chocolate mix

The bowl to be cleaned

The bowl that she licks

The bowl I re-gift on

Her sixth birthday wish

The bowl that she used

When she needed a dish

The bowl that she used

To help save her fish

The bowl that was empty

With no Cap’n Crunch

The bowl left alone

As we went out for brunch

We had to rush home

The bowl she had missed

We walk in the room

And there the bowl sits

The bowl filled with Cheers

When she made a friend

The bowl filled with tears

When he made a friend

(There the bowl goes as

it soars through the wind)

I pick the bowl up

And fix it again

She studies the bowl

And thinks while she ate

She has to sneak out

And escape to the lake

She pulled the bowl out

And poured Frosted Flakes

She confessed to the bowl

Of her late night mistake

If the bowl talked it’ll say

“Damn that boy Jake”

(With a new bundle of joy

the bowl cannot wait)

Hi, Mr. Bowl

I am the plate.

m handwriting. It’s sure to grab your reader’s attention, especially in short paragraphs.

Art by Tadd

Love Thy Enemy (by Exodus)


My archenemy, an enraged psychopath, was at death’s door,

Beating on it with the ferocity of a caged gorilla behind a steel door.

Never did I think I would have the opportunity to gloat over

Her being so close to being in a closed casket, life over.


I stood above her with a joyous grin, yet weighed down with a heavy heart,

For I believed when came the day of her demise I’d have a cold heart.

But as I looked on her frail condition, my emotions no longer frost bitten

Toward her—anger, rage, animosity gone—by kindness I was now bitten.


After all the years of trying to annihilate one another, being the other’s pain,

I found myself gravitating toward peace, wanting to ease her pain.

I grasped her hand and she looked upon me as a dearly beloved friend,

With a slight smirk—in that she acknowledged that I was the furthest thing from a friend.


With the end of a war we both hated to love, we came to grips,

Knowing at this moment that my hand may be the last she grips. 

Georgia (by Thomas S.)


You’ll see a homie,

You’ll greet that homie,

You’ll remember after today why

Your homie was such a homie.

Every time you see that homie

You’ll feel that true connection

That not even combination could unlock.

You hungry, baby?

You long to hear those words

After a long day at the shop.

You’ll shower, then eat,

You’ll watch TV, then sleep.

When it’s time for you to wake up

You’ll know

By your homie’s speech

That motherly love,

Your homie,

Your peach.

Art by Ian

Taste Your Worth (by Kevin S.)


You bit a bite that was bittersweet and more forbidden than a bit of sweets,

Before you eat so before you ate,

You smiled a smile that was full of taste.


You embraced a world that’s uncursed while nature’s pearl spoke and conversed

And confessed on the Braille of your tongue that it’s worth

All the worth and worthless that lurks,

And the worst shall unspoken what it speaks till it hurts.


You opened your eyes ’cuz it opened your eyes,

And it opened the size of truth in the lies,

Designed to surprise but instead it deprived

You of your prize, so you chose a disguise


To hide, and you hid what was felt inside,

Tears drowned in your eyes but you don’t let them slide

Down a cheek, past a nose, to a corner of your lip,

’cuz your beauty can’t take those heartaching drips


nor drop, so you drop, disregarding if it rots

on a rock by a croc or gets eaten by a fox

or the flock that you saw and you watched from the top

of a hill on the way to this very same spot.


Your taste buds call and your eyeballs fall

To that shiny red ball lying next to the log,

You wonder if it tastes like it tasted before,

Before you taste more you wonder ’bout it no more.


You face it, grab it, taste it, have it, hate it, love it,

Can’t shake its habits,

It shows you he knows you,

He hisses and hopes you

Go and get Adam and tell him he can have it . . .

A Day Will Come (by Letroy)


A day will come when you talk with your mother, 

and she’ll express her wishes for you, 

stress the importance of patience toward your brother. 

Your pancakes will come 

and after you’ve lathered them with butter and syrup 

she’ll ask for a forkful, 

and it will irritate you because she doesn’t eat. 

She’ll continue to talk, you’ll nod in agreement 

and listen as she sips her coffee 

and points out your sister’s dislike of her meddling. 

She’ll say your sister can do better 

and deserves true love, 

and you will look up from your breakfast 

and notice the wrinkles around her eyes. 

Though you’ve noticed them before, 

each time you look at her 

it’s like seeing them for the first time. 

She’ll tell you again, as if for the first time, that 

your shirt is nice, that 

you should stop partying and settle down, that 

you’re not getting any younger. 

She’ll say she’s sorry for not being more 

financially stable when you were growing up 

and that she feels she failed you—

as if she hadn’t shown up each time you cried, 

you called for bail, 

or when the principle requested her presence. 

You’ll remember her younger 

and feel guilty for stealing her youth. 

You’ll proudly pay for the meal 

and she’ll smile at you, 

believing in you, 

and you’ll hold her hand, 

believing in yourself. 

My Hands (by Rashad W.)


My hands, man, I see in relation to my father’s . . .

My hands, man, I see hope, prosperity and promise . . .

My hands, man, I see a way out these hardships . . .

My hands, man, I see motion pictures, television shows, and novels . . .

My hands, man, I see millions and millions of dollars . . .

My hands, man, I see wisdom, understanding, and knowledge . . .


His hands, damned, I see tenements and projects . . .

His hands, damned, I see rodents, roaches, and garbage . . .

His hands, damned, I see heroin and cocaine . . .

His hands, damned, I see life trapped in the dope game . . .

His hands, damned, I see old age and lost youth . . .

His hands, damned, I see pimps, hustlers, and prostitutes . . .


My hands, man, I see Egyptian pharaohs and black queens . . .

His hands, damned, I see indentured servants, slaves, and trap fiends . . .

My hands, man, I see palaces and Bugatis . . .

His hands, damned, I see calluses and used Caddies . . .

My hands, man, I see white sands on the beaches in St. Thomas . . .

His hands, damned, I see night stands on skeezers with the AIDS virus . . .

My hands, man, I see are those of my father’s . . .

His hands, damned, I see attached to the arms of my grandkids . . .


My hands, man . . .

His hands, damned . . .

Our hands, man, DAMN . . .

My hands.

Remember . . . Before She Bore U (by Shakur C.)




Remember . . . before she bore U I adored U,

Stressing on how we would support U,

Feeling the pain as I think of a name to call U.


Before U, liquor was my baby. It was all that I needed.

I would drink that poison until I felt completed.

I would drink that poison until I felt conceited.

I would drink that poison until, finally, I was defeated.

I would drink poison and rejoice in the choice to get bent.

Now babies drink poison without a choice, or consent.

I think it’s time we repent.

As I think of U now I’m reminded of the name Flint.


Remember . . . before she bore U I adored U,

Stressing on how we would support U,

Feeling the pain as I think of a name to call U.


Your mother’s womb is your home,

Now U wanna be free, my little refugee,

Free from the sounds of hand grenades,

Free from the sounds of helicopter blades,

Free from the sounds of 47-AKs that rattle off while people say

Alhamdulillah—translated, To Allah Be the Praise.

Man, what a phrase.

I know U would trade tyranny for security.

You’re welcomed to America.

As I think of U now, I’m reminded of the name Syria.


Remember . . . before she bore U I adored U,

Stressing on how we would support U,

Feeling the pain as I think of a name to call U.


It’s strange, living in a land that’s occupied by “The Man,”

Who needs to be forced to understand


So I wonder what would be the MATTER

My unborn BLACK child will face trying to LIVE.

Will a hoodie get him killed?

For his safety, anything I would give.

Several shots didn’t make him stop,

He thought he did no harm.

As I think of U now, I’m reminded of the name Trayvon.


Remember . . . before she bore U I adored U,

Stressing on how we would support U,

Feeling the pain as I think of a name to call U.


Nine months have come and gone.

You’re here, my dear, optimistic as the sun brightly shining.

As I look at U now, I’m deeply reminded,

Reminded of the past so that your future doesn’t suffer the same fate.

So it’s important that I feel justice when saying your name,

Justice for their sake.

’cause now she bore U, and God knows I adore U,

forgetting all that made me stress on how we would support U,

feeling the pain as I give U this name:


Yeah, Dhakara is what they’ll call U,

The Arabic word for Remember.

So remember, Dhakara,

That Daddy loves U, and I’ll do anything for U.



Lettering by Kevin

Flowers grow inside

Just as well if shown the same

Love and kindness

               -- Veronica-May C.

                   Behind my masks you see

                   What you want me to be but

                   I don’t even know me

                                      --Ken Marak

                                 Endless days and nights

                                 Trapped inside a bad dream

                                 Helpless, dripping water spouts

                                                         -- Jeff P.

                                                Waves gently crashing

                                                the song of the bait runner

                                                my keeper striper


                                                                 Golden ticket

                                                                 drive her wild, no wheels

                                                                 wet sheets, honey love


Metal doors and bunks

Life peeks in through the window

The mind free to roam


                 60 yards, wall, two fences

                 so close,

                 yet out of reach


                              gasoline fumes and oil stains

                              mountain highways

                              caged soul’s last rest stop

                                                    --Patrick W.

                                                  Few drops trickle down my cheek

                                                  Oh, beautiful autumn day! Leaves of every color

                                                  and the reality of my cage.


                                                                   Light fades, summer ends

                                                                   Dark creeps across the prison

                                                                   Shadows of darkness



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