Me and Jim Crow

By PJ

Twenty years in ADX.*
I’m asked, a lot, one question:
How long have you been here?
First, let me tell you something I know:
(Feared, is the unknown;) it is the confined person’s ghost.

When I was told: “the short trip,”
I couldn’t wait to get with “it”;
to act a fool.
For two decades, really, I haven’t moved.
It seems: I’m going in circles, but before
you jump to conclusions, understand: basically,
we all (are going in circles). Some big,
some smaller than others; we live by: clocks.
The earth revolves around the sun; I crossed a lot.

Administrative Maximum is a microcosm of society.
All the problems, symptoms, epidemics in our cities
are gathered here (again), interacting.
What wasn’t solved there,
resurfaces here.
It’s an environment where: you’re constantly
fighting insanity.
That, accompanied with: maintaining your safety
and trying to stay alert.

As an African American today,
in the Criminal Justice System, ADX,
has been a way to search: myself.
As many things here, the inside becomes: meshed,
in adaptation with outside forces.
(Weakening, or strengthening, building, or destroying.)
Sometimes what we consider: a curse,
can be: a road (a beginning), a door; our cure.

In the Era of Mass Incarceration,
as an African American,
I feel: very much, like a commodity;
as I come to the realization: (monetarily),
others have “set-up,” (taken liberty),
to map-out what they feel is: my destiny.
(A rightful place) as they gain. From a
long ago, enacted (scheme) to hamper the slave.
As with The United States Penitentiary, ADX, now I know:
(That scheme) has become known
as: Justice, Criminalization, Incarceration, The New Jim Crow.

*ADX refers to a maximum security federal prison. Everyone incarcerated there is held in solitary confinement.

Comments

  1. PJ,
    This poem is very well written and I really enjoyed reading your insights. The prison system is truly a problem that America must comes to terms with. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. -Pat

  2. PJ,

    Your poem makes one think about the era that we live in and realize how much has changed and what needs to be changed still. The way you describe the United States justice system is honest. “The New Jim Crow” that you mention is an ongoing issue that many people might agree with and is an unfortunate one that needs attention. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I hope you keep on writing and have hope for the future.

  3. Hi PJ! I just discovered this blog and your poem. Wow it is so powerful. Thank you for sharing it. I’m currently in school and would love to share your work with my class, would this be alright?

  4. Jordyn Salmon says

    PJ,

    Wow, this poem is so very powerful. The points you bring up about solitary confinement and mass incarceration are important to discuss, especially in our times. The fact that these thoughts come from a personal place makes your poem that much more compelling. I hope that you are able to continue writing about these issues that tend to make people uncomfortable. When people are uncomfortable, that’s when change happens.

  5. PJ,
    Thank you for allowing others into your experience and for sharing your work.
    Learning from the outside about mass incarceration and the injustices within the justice system is so much different than hearing a individual testimony–it feels all the more real, urgent and, eyeopening….so thank you.
    You inspire me to even further fight against the injustices of America. Your last stanza especially spoke to me.
    Thank you again for your poem.

  6. Arina Borodkina says

    I was stunned by this after reading it. I want to start off by saying that you have such a way with words and I felt so moved by this. I learned of the New Jim Crow a couple years ago and as a white individual, I feel so ashamed and disappointed in our country and the way we have systematically continued to harm Black individuals. I am studying Sociology and about the criminal justice system at university and I will be passing this poem onto one of my professors. I will be thinking of you PJ, stay strong. Thank you for sharing and educating. -Arina

  7. PJ–
    Thank you so much for this poem. It’s hard to describe how much your poem has impacted me. For one, you’ve inspired me to go read the book The New Jim Crow. I need to keep educating myself and learning about the American Criminal Justice System, so it was really meaningful for me to get to read your poem. Please keep writing, and I hope to get the chance to read another one of your poems.
    Hannah

  8. This was extremely powerful and well written. The flow of the words was melodic and I could hear the rhythm in my head. Thank you for sharing this.

  9. Coughlin / Johnson Family says

    Very inspiring and truthful, intense. Great use of vocabulary,. I feel forever changed, Thank you for your strong perspective. (13yo Nick)

  10. Alison Losey says

    This is an excellent piece of poetry. Reading it gave me a feeling of vast emptiness – like the sky on a cloudless night at least 200 miles from another person or thing. Perfect and true clarity – the way a fleeting moment of enlightenment has been described as feeling.

    Please continue to share your wisdom with the world.

  11. Elizabeth Diaz says

    First off, thank you for sharing a little about what you have experienced and learned there past twenty years while incarcerated. It was creative to say that we are all basically going in circles. It made me think about how true that is. We are all stuck in a routine that we measure with time. I liked that said, what we might see as a curse could be a cure or a new beginning. One of my favorite lines is when you said that others have taken liberty to map out your destiny. As a minority, I can understand that. Because of the lack of equity, what we have, and what is available to us is not enough to let us succeed. Many obstacles cause us to live the same life as our parents and other generations before us. Great short story!

  12. Lynette Tapia says

    Wow, this was a magnificent read! The dialect and structure of this poem made it flow so nicely that it was almost song-like. My favorite aspect of this poem was the underlying theme of time. Firstly, you painted a stark image of the extensive time that passes as an individual in a maximum security prison. In addition to that, you pointed out significant parallels between history and present time by relating your experience to Jim Crow laws. The exploitation and criminalization of black individuals in the U.S. has been an ongoing issue that has affected the lives of numerous indivudals. In fact, this issue is part of a vicious cycle that dominantly targets impoverished, minority groups. You drove this concept of the cycle home when you stated, “It seems: I’m going in circles…” This is a powerful statement that truly raises awareness on impending issues such like the faults in the prison system, the criminalization of marginalized groups, and much more. Your poem greatly contributes to an important conversation we as nation must have to develop a solution for these social issues. Great work, PJ!

  13. PJ — Recently I have learned of the systemic oppression that has led to the goal of mass incarceration of the African American people within the United States, and what I find most–and least–surprising is how little the idea is institutionalized and learned by the general public. The strategy is blatantly racist and targets this group of peoples, making it a serious issue that must be addressed, yet it is purposely not due to it being a strategy that was formulated by the old governments of yesterday and the new governments of today. It would be very unlikely that those in power would blatantly state that what they have done, and continue to do, is wrong–especially if they are still attempting to continue this mass incarceration today. The government continues covering up their failures through the criminalizing of colored persons rather than admitting past mistakes and working to better them. “What wasn’t solved there, resurfaces here.” Your line resonates this idea, This issue is costing the lives and mental health of many, for both those in prisons and those associated with those in prisons. There are many battling to address this issue and receive answers from those in power, and your wisdom and personal experience holds great importance in describing this injustice. Those in power may attempt to rid the world of your story, but I will remember it. With hopes for a better tomorrow -Tyler

  14. PJ,
    All of us hear a lot about the way that the prison system takes advantage of society and has wronged a lot of people and is extremely racial biased, But unfortunately we don’t so often hear from people that are living through it. Your personal take on what it’s like to live in that world in my mind moved it from a political debate raging across the country to a personal one. People are suffering in a system that profits off keeping as many people as possible in prison , and does it in a way that by far disproportionally affects African Americans. I do agree with you that in many ways it is the new Jim Crow.
    Your poem is also very well written and I liked how you took your time before setting it up to compare your experience and thoughts about prisons and the prison system to Jim Crow. I also really liked your thoughts about going in circles and feeling like you’re not moving forward, and how this is true for individuals as well as society as a whole.

  15. Oscar T. says

    It pains me to hear of your struggle during these unjust times. I’m deeply grateful to read your words as someone whose voice is so deeply suppressed and systematically silenced. Your poem is cleverly written in a way to reflect the struggle with insanity that comes with solitary confinement, while also making a point to highlight the historically framework that has led to your abuse. I sincerely hope for a change to this inhumanity that is being inflicted. Please keep making your voice heard.

  16. Dear PJ,

    This is such an important poem. The first stanza sets us up for a powerful encounter with the truth that is hidden away from most of us who are not incarcerated (and whose loved ones are not). “The confined person’s ghost” is such a haunting phrase. I wonder about the narrator of the poem living side-by-side with their own ghost. But also, after thinking about it more, maybe this ghost is going out of the prison to haunt people like me, who are not confined. It’s powerful and intriguing. I also really love the use of the words “curse” and “cure” right next to each other, how they almost rhyme but don’t. I also really like the parentheticals which give the poem another layer and an interesting rhythm. Really powerful work. Thank you.

    Megan

  17. Christina says

    Hi PJ,
    Your poem is very deep and full of emotion and meaning. I can tell that you really put your heart into it and I can appreciate that. Thank you for sharing your feelings and experiences with us and allowing us to see things from your perspective. I really enjoyed this poem.

  18. PJ, This poem is a lot to take in. Expressing your experience in this form and connecting it to greater problems in society as a whole give the words even more power and meaning. I especially liked you mentioning that the problems in society resurface in prison, as if the issues meant to be solved by incarceration end up being moved, rather than solved. I encourage you to continue writing and exposing how our criminal justice system is broken and how it affects people.

  19. Dear PJ,

    Firstly, your writing style is amazing, your imagery is great and your words really let readers know your deepest thoughts/observations. You’re also very perceptive about the criminal justice system and their perception of African Americans and your observations remind me of the book “The New Jim Crow.” The author details the history of the justice system as a new form of slavery/segregation for modern-day African Americans. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to other impactful pieces that you may write in the future!

  20. PJ,

    Wow. This was such an intelligent poem. I felt like every word was carefully crafted, and every line is a masterpiece. I learned so much and I nodded a lot and lines surprised me. This poem is so great. I loved these lines a lot:

    I’m going in circles, but before
    you jump to conclusions, understand: basically,
    we all (are going in circles). Some big,
    some smaller than others; we live by: clocks.
    The earth revolves around the sun; I crossed a lot.

    We are all walking in circles. Thank you for writing this poem. I hope I keep reading your poems in the future. You should keep writing and publish a book one day (if you want) because you really are a great writer.

  21. Maria Pareja says

    Hi PJ. I want to start off by thanking you for being so raw in sharing your truth. It saddens me to read this poem, however I think the emotions come from your writing. The poem is amazing. In a way, it connects to me to you without ever having met you. It’s as though I can feel your pain. So, please continue to write, as it is impacting myself, and so many others. I hope that one day you can take your destiny back that was taken from you. Don’t let them take it. Don’t let them dictate your response. Lastly, I want to thank you for opening my eyes to the seams that so many are falling through as a result of our broken criminal justice system.

  22. Zak Davis says

    Thank you for sharing this piece. I thought it was extremely thought provoking and powerful. The flow of the piece was strong as well.

    When I was told: “the short trip,”
    I couldn’t wait to get with “it”;
    to act a fool.
    For two decades, really, I haven’t moved.
    It seems: I’m going in circles, but before
    you jump to conclusions, understand: basically,
    we all (are going in circles). Some big,
    some smaller than others; we live by: clocks.
    The earth revolves around the sun; I crossed a lot.

    I really liked the word flow, and the ideas behind this stanza of the poem.

    Thanks for sharing PJ.

  23. PJ, thank you for sharing your experience. I thought that these lines were especially reflective and thought provoking: For two decades, really, I haven’t moved.
    It seems: I’m going in circles, but before
    you jump to conclusions, understand: basically,
    we all (are going in circles). Some big,
    some smaller than others; we live by: clocks.
    The earth revolves around the sun; I crossed a lot.

  24. Ray Ryan says

    Hey, I really liked how well written your poem is and I found it very enlightening about the justice system. Hopefully things eventually change so we are no longer going in circles. It felt very intense and passionate. Thank you very much for sharing and I wish you all the best!

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