A poem submitted to Free Verse by Horace Thomas at Salinas Valley State Prison, Soledad, CA 93960. You can find recordings of Thomas reading his work aloud through Prison Radio: https://www.prisonradio.org/media/audio/horace-thomas.

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A light is going off in my head

warning circuit overload

I can’t stay here 24/7

or my mind will explode…

 

I drift away from the prison

on a fairly regular basis

using my imagination

an abstract oasis…

 

Prison suits some people.

Hard core women and men

here inside these walls

is where their life begins…

 

“Hotel California”

An Eagles classic song

but this is not my destiny,

fate got it all wrong…

 

I sit here and often wonder,

my thoughts blowing in the wind,

“this is just a setback,

surely not the end!”

 

I have a sense of humor

but I am also dead serious

prison life is a cancer:

incurable, mysterious!

 

A percentage of the guys

have started to slip.

Loose their hold on life,

each step is a trip…

 

The games the guards play

you try to do your best

turning your mind to other things

an attempt to avoid the stress…

 

There are inmates

who manipulate the pig

they take turns

and treat it as a gig…

 

It’s a two-way street though

the pigs take it a step further—

manipulating the inmates,

playing them against each other!

Through all the madness

the bump and grind,

the hardships of prison life,

doing time…

 

The first the that goes

is the minds of the men.

It’s another aspect

of life in the pen…

 

Crime and punishment,

the war on drugs,

locking up the gang members

and neighborhood thugs…

 

There’s no getting around it

the ramifications of doing time

in one way or another

it affects the mind…

 

Criminals on this machine

tighten its nuts and bolts

anytime they come to prison

to serve out a jolt…

 

Some prisoner’s lose touch

from the fiction and the real.

Turning around in circles

strapped to a spinning wheel.

 

Everybody’s human,

this includes the guards,

they’re always gambling

against the fate in the cards…

 

Just like the criminals

they know crime doesn’t pay

some people just get lucky

and never serve a day…

 

Anyway you look at it

this is not life at all.

It’s the most terrifying,

intense wake up call!