Paris, after the Great War,
Was none too keen on the criminal element.
They commandeered a ship
With a German registry
And welded some prison boxes
To house the worst of society
Who were stowed away for the harsh life
In French Guiana.
The animals were placed in cages
Smiling the whole three weeks.
The guards, fifty strong,
Thought something must be wrong
With the wits of these awful men
Being sent to the island gallows.
What the incarcerators failed to understand
Was that of human spirit,
Where a life in the harsh tropical air
Might just be the freedom they needed
To help them manage a judge’s sentence.
“They have no idea,” thought a guard.
Only 2,000 would live to tell
The horrors of living as island prisoners.
Prisons don’t change
Based on location…
The forecast for Artis foretold time
Little did he know it was his lawyer in the news
The world thought of him in crime
As he shuffled about in prison shoes
He didn’t make a livin’ pimpin’ pimps
But the negativity was everywhere
Each day he was only able to catch a glimpse
Because his imprisonment was justly unfair
The judge didn’t buy his lawyer’s plan
Sticking with his original ruling
But Artis never thought his innocence as less than
While knowing the appeals would be grueling
Years would pass before he was out
The forecast knew what the law was about
Lament behind iron bars
First and last days
He said, “All I want is to sit
On the grass under a tree,”
An act so simple,
Most of us
With our complex thinking
And rush to get somewhere
Just can’t understand.
His life in a cage,
Was more animal than man,
Told when to eat,
Told when to shower,
Told when to do everything.
The institutional control
Becoming his way after thirty years.
Then he was tossed out,
Freed from the zoo,
Probably less for moral reasons
Than economic desperation, and
Without any real support
The newness of his old haunts.
Yet, all he wanted to do
Was take the time to sit
On the grass under a tree,
For its not the doing of time
That weighs on a man’s soul
It’s the absence of beauty,
Hope, and peace.
Steinbeck wrote, “If we put off our
Duration preoccupied minds,
It might be that time
Has no duration at all.”
On the grass under a tree,
Smashed the man’s criminal past and
His thirty year incarceration
Into something more concrete than
The arbitrary assignment of hours,
Months, and years.
Maybe now he can enjoy moments
For the rest of his time.
Thirty years is a longtime
Steven had all that time
Sentenced for a murder
He committed as a kid.
Left languishing to learn
About being a man
As a ward of the state,
The routine of prison
Hardened his education
Teaching him to be quiet
Saying little of the thoughts
Finally after thirty years
His next life began.
One without the intensity
Of surviving prison
One of reconciling
The existence of prison,
The lessons learned from incarceration, and
How to be a son again.
Either prison’s mission never took or
Steven was just unable to balance
The failing of his past
With the uncertainty of his future by
Taking that thirty year internship
Out on the one person who was there
Then and now…
Who lost her life
Without much of a chance.
Her son was the enforcer
After having paid society for the life he took
With years of involuntary captivity.
He went home to her
Taking his last three decades of guilt
To her house
In the shadows of a crumbling casino city where
The gamble of rehabilitation and prison
As a deterrent was
Evil’s house money for her.
Their reunion was a culmination
Of his evil teenage end
And his sinister schooling in the big house
Just a few days past
Thirty years ago
The creative adventurer committed to
Leaving it all behind and
Began his escape by
Through the cold of winter
Which was partnering with a fading light
To make it necessary
For an overnight in
A wooded territory with
Snow falling lightly
Powdering the tent and
Settling the night’s noises
Morning brought the shine
A renewal of purpose presenting
The promise of adventure
Into an uncertainty located
Within a shackling tomb
The prison rose out of nature’s beauty
A swath of architecture
Being reclaimed by Her
And that insistent touch
The scene drew creativity
From the light
Textured paint patterns peeling
Shadows escaping across endless cells
Where ugliness was once banished
Yet this mausoleum of mayhem
And all of its decay
Invited a man in
Embracing his quest
To find the beauty
When the reformers
Could herd no more
The photos stream
With the composition of decay,
The incarcerated suggestion of rehabilitation,
And ample expression of abandonment
After a trek
Away from civilized wilds