"I was in prison and you visited me"

This week, we're featuring a short blog post written by one of our former book club members, Jarrod Shook, about the importance of poetry. Check out Jarrod's poem "I was in prison and you visited me" at the end of his post.

What does poetry mean to me? For me poetry is a medium of communication through which I can express myself holistically. When I write, and perform a poem, I am engaging all aspects of myself and channelling these forces in a healthy manner. On a physical level, I am engaging my body in the writing and delivery of the poem which often leads to a physical release of sorts and a sense of calm comes over me. At the same time, I am tapping into my emotional side, often looking at the darkness within (but also the light), and connecting with psychic energy in around the worlds I inhabit. Mentally, as I sift through the ideas which seek expression in a poem, I develop the ability to manage and organise my thoughts and develop my creative capacities in suit, but oftentimes wondering in the end how I was able to write the poem in the first place, feeling slightly as though it had written itself. It is here that I recognise the spiritual value of poetry and how this art form assists me in connecting with my interior world and reflecting back to me aspects of my own evolution.

The poem I had written and performed “I was In Prison and You Visited Me” came to me as I was reflecting on how grateful I am to have Carol Finlay and the Book Clubs For Inmates in my life. I wanted to connect my experiences, with what I understand to be Carol's praxis, or the extent to which her thoughts and beliefs are in line with her actions. I know that Carol has responded in life to a call to be with men and women on the margin and walk beside them in their darkest times, assisting them in become the best that they can be. For Carol, this philosophy in word and deed is best expressed, I believe in Mathew 25, which exalts those who reach out to men and women on the margin (societies least), and walk with them. For us men and women who have spent time in prison, the words found at verse 36 “I was in prison and you visited me” are clearly seen in action on the part of Carol Finlay and all of the wonderful volunteers of BCFI, and I think best illustrates the organizations mandate.

“I was in prison, and you visited me”

I was in prison and you visited me

Me, “the least”

Me, “the least”

Whose just deserts he sits and eats

In the belly of the beast

On not my first

And worst of all

Not my second

But my third fall

Behind bars and barbed wire with guarded gun towers and cement walls

And I was only 26

A repeat federal offender—a recidivist

Me, “the least”

Me, “the least”

Serving a sentence of 7 years 9 months and 27 days in prison

For which I broke the law was given

To be served

Until at least 2/3 on a federal reserve

In a penitentiary called Collins Bay

Me, “the least”

Me, “the least” who could find no inner peace

Who would walk the yard

And keep his guard

Up

As he watched the starved

Young men who owe their youth to the State

Slowly turning granite hard inside their hearts

And full of hate

And I’ll admit, despite my pride

And everything I tried to hide

There were times at night that I would cry

And thought to take my life, and tried

But never seemed to find the drive

Or the nerve

So on I went, survive, survive

Me, “the least”

Me, “the least”

When I write, and perform a poem, I am engaging all aspects of myself and channelling these forces in a healthy manner. On a physical level, I am engaging my body in the writing and delivery of the poem which often leads to a physical release of sorts and a sense of calm comes over me.

I’d walk the yard in days to follow

Searching for something to fill my hollow

And satiate my innate desire

To take my life to some place higher

Then this belly of the beast

I was in prison, and you visited me

Me, “the least”

Me, “the least”

It started with a simple book

An invitation to the club

We meet, you said, once a month

Once a month we sit and talk

About the book (but often not)

We laugh, we listen, we want to hear your thoughts

Me, “the least”?

My thoughts matter?

That’s something new

And you’re going to listen too?

Just read the book the whole way through

Your very best is all that we expect from you

My very best?

From me, “the least”?

Me, “the least”?

My worst is all I’ve ever done

Then do your best

And best is what you will become

You said

And I believed

So on I went to read and read

Where starved before I’d feed and feed

And swallow books you gave to me

Voraciously

I was in prison and you visited me

And watched as I developed these

Developmental tendencies

You don’t know what it meant to me

To finally find, and feel, some empathy

Me, “the least”

Me, “the least”

I was in prison and you visited me