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Prison inmates provide poetic insight

Miss Mississippi Asya Branch addresses nine Alcorn County Correctional Facility inmates after their poetry reading.

Staff photo by LA Story

Nine prison inmates held a poetry reading Wednesday and a Mississippi beauty queen showed up to enjoy it.

Miss Mississippi Asya Branch of Booneville arrived at the courthouse adjacent to the Alcorn County Correctional Facility where nine inmates were scheduled to read their poetic creations.

The program that sponsored the creative writing classes which helped these prisoners learn to express their creativity was provided by the Prison Writes Initiative and taught by Northeast Mississippi Community College Writing Instructor Amanda Garvin.

Nine inmates took turns at the podium dressed in the typical uniform striped pants and white T-shirts.

They looked like the prisoners they were. At least on the outside.

However, once they began to read their work, they reached out with the same humanity as everyone in the audience as they shared their regret, their passion and their insight.

The first to the podium was Gevante Nason who thanked Garvin and ACCF Warden Josh Davis for giving the inmates' voices a chance to be heard by the community.

Nason's first poem was called Inspiration where he advised that "giving up is not an option." In his poem, Motherly Love, he spoke of his love of his mother about her "teaching him the meaning of compassion." He assured her that despite the way things seemed "nothing she had done has been forgotten."

In his poem Change, Carlos Hunter spoke of good times and bad times and said "I will take the time to change because every day is the time to change."

Keno Vernado also expressed his appreciation and love for his mother in Mother of Love. He said, "Mother, your love is something that I cherish from the time I was conceived until the time I will be buried" and he spoke of how her love "refused to give up."

Georgia native Danny Solomon provided a heart wrenching expression of regret in his poem, Broken Heart. He said the poem had a lot to do with his mother.

"All of us, we're striving to rehabilitate ourselves and we've hurt our family members and our friends ... this poem is for my mother," said Solomon.

In the poem he said "I promise you with my life, I didn't mean to break your heart" and "Life has come down hard on me. How can it be erected?" He ended with the statement, "broken, broken, oh, I am broken."

Solomon's second poem was called The Love of My Mom is not in Vain and he said he recognized that time was slipping away and "I have come to my senses that I need to be there with you because death has gotten closer and colder" and he spoke directly to his mother when he wrote, "I appreciate you for not giving up on me and remaining tender-hearted like a dove."

In The Golden Law, inmate Dustin Meagher wrote, "Love God and and thy neighbor, that is the command. How can I love God, when I am just a man?" and ... "To love my Father, I must love all men. This is the Law from beginning to end."

In a portrait-inspired poem called Gandhi, Meagher begins, "To see your face, I am surprised. I see great kindness in your eyes."

In Meagher's poem, The Being of Man, he used a horse and carriage as a metaphor for the composition of a man and how the composition can affect the direction of the body, intellect and will.

J'Martio Robinson's poignant but hopeful poem, Redemption, he spoke of the things he missed such as "the opportunity to take my girl out" and he wrote, "I've cried all my tears up" ... "I wish knew then what I know now while I sit pent inside walls and can't go out."

In his poem, She Who Holds The Key, inmate David Obermiller said he originally wrote the poem for his wife. The passionate poem states, "This is the key to my heart, guard it with your life" and "My love is yours to cherish, my heart is yours to break."

He wondered at the brokenness of the modern world in an untitled villanelle written over the course of the class.

In the poem he pondered, "This is not the way the world's meant to be" ... "We must throw all our hatred away, why is it so hard for people to see?"

Lester Bledsoe traveled in a metaphoric direction in his poem, Power of Poetry, where he stated, "To me, poetry is mysterious power conjured from a heart's depth of a soul."

In Bledsoe's poem, Human Uniqueness, he spoke of how each human life plays out and expressed how each human uniqueness combined makes a whole.

The final poet to take the podium was New Orleans native Darrell Craig. In his poem, Trust, he cautioned people — "If you can't trust a person, you shouldn't keep them around. Eventually their deception and mistrust will take you down."

Craig said his final poem, The Life, was special to him.

"This poem is dear to my heart because a lot of us found ourselves in this position — as men in prison — for following the wrong ideas," said Craig.

In the poem, he told a story about growing up poor and spoke of how "food didn't go far." He said there was "no school clothes or support checks" and he knew his mother needed help, so "I jumped into the street, I gave her some help. I tasted the nectar of the street, I thought it was sweet. I tasted it more and more and starved for more to eat ... Now, I'm in too deep ... too far gone in the street and I'm starting to lose focus."

The poem continued as he moved his mother into a "suburban estate," but the sweetness of the street had turned sour.

He said, "I was blinded by the light, I couldn't see the hate. People who was closest to me, was becoming the snakes, ready to eliminate me as soon as I turned them down ... This was never my goal to be whooped this big. I just wanted a better life than be a poor, black kid. These are are the things I think about as I sit in my cell, as I look at some pictures I just got in the mail."

Among his final thoughts, in his cautionary tale, Craig states, "Stay away from the street, because it's the Devil's plan."

After the poetry reading Asya Branch addressed the poets and praised the program.

"I think this program is so beneficial and I'm so thankful that you all got the opportunity to truly express your creativity," said Branch. "I really enjoyed hearing all you have to say.""ĘShe explained that she has a unique perspective for those who have been incarcerated. She has a platform titled "Finding Your Way" empowering children with incarcerated parents.

"My father is in prison. He's been there for about half of my life," Branch told the inmates. "I have a different perspective than most. I do a lot of work in the prison system, so I enjoy opportunities like this. This was incredible to me."

In closing, Branch told them to make the change, show the light to others and to be an example. She expressed her support for them to make a better way.