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www.lansingcitypulse.com City Pulse • October 21, 2009

Arts&Culture art • books • film • music • theater

Flying over the fence

Poetry Project echo of support, others with tears.
Listening intently was Debra Butler,
who brought a variety of her colorful draw-
links listeners to ings and other artwork to the fundraiser to
complement the spoken word. Butler con-

Michigan prisoners nected with ARRO after being released

from prison last spring. During three years
of incarceration, she re-ignited her child-
By JESSI DE LA CRUZ hood passion for drawing and painting.
The microphones and speakers were She received support and encouragement
turned on, but it wasn’t karaoke night from people in prison who saw her talent
at Grand Café Sir Pizza in Lansing’s Old and fostered it.
Town. The typically boisterous atmosphere “Art gives people a better outlook on life,”
at the riverside restaurant quieted as local said Butler, of Burton, a suburb of Flint. “If
community leaders took the microphone I don’t do this now, I’m never going to. It
Wednesday, Oct. 14, and read poetry by made me realize my own value.”
men and women incarcerated in Michigan Her experience fleshed out ARRO’s phi-
prisons. losophy that human beings are a precious
The mood was somber but hopeful at the resource that should not be “thrown away”
third annual Prison Poetry Project fund- even if they have broken the law.
Jessi de la Cruz/City Pulse
raiser, put on by the NorthWest Initiative Even those who happened to be dining
Carl Williams, an official with the Michigan Department of Corrections, reads at the event.
to raise awareness and money for its pris- during the reading looked up from their
on re-entry project, Advocacy, Re-entry, pizza and laptops to listen. Soon all that For Ke’aira Freedom Through a Window
Resources and Outreach (ARRO). could be heard was the phone ringing for By Anthony Clay By Efren Paredes Jr.
The project helps recently released pris- pizza delivery and the swish of the door.
How do I begin to apologize for leaving you behind, Lying in the top bunk of a steel bunk bed,
oners make the transition back into soci- Many of the readers praised the unseen
When I’ve never really been a functional part of Each morning I open my eyes.
ety, offering services from free bus passes authors’ courage and openness. I look at the tan brick walls,
Your life
to job search assistance to cell phones and Michigan maintained a prison popula- When I’ve lived less than 4 blocks away The white ceiling.
medical insurance. tion of more than 50,000 in 2008, a slight And never found the time; The yellow covering which hides
Although the poets highlighted at the decrease from the year before. Or when your mother demanded money, The two long florescent lights.
fundraiser couldn’t be present, their verses “There are not a lot of programs that And I wouldn’t give her a dime, Two metal desks,
were delivered by local community lead- assist with basic needs,” said Peggy Vaughn- How do I begin to apologize Two gray wall lockers.
ers such as New Citizens Press owner Rina Payne, NorthWest Initiative’s executive For all that you’ve been through, Two steel chairs with blue Formica seats.
In and out of foster care A large beige bulletin board faces me across the rooms.
Risper and community organizer Chris director. Vaughn said it’s a pleasure to
Fearing more abuse, I still Next to it a polished steel mirror.
Singer. pass the creative work of ex-offenders to A closed door with a small window
The overall mood was festive, but the an appreciative audience. Fault myself for all of the years
I’ve failed to protect you. Faces the inner part of the housing unit.
underlying messages were often sober- In addition to its basic assistance, ARRO Two glass encased rooms outside my door window.
And I know because we haven’t spoken
ing. The themes of wanting to be heard, offers a range of services in areas such as It may seem as if daddy doesn’t love you. Officers sitting at the desk on the base floor.
remorse for past action, and loss of friends housing, employment, medical coverage, I think of you daily
A clock appears above the desk.
and family were woven throughout the mentoring and transportation. The group Behind them two telephones on the wall.
And through Grandma’s photos
night’s readings. offers workshops, help for people who are Next to the phones a Pepsi pop machine.
I’ve watched you grow.
A pool table, and ping pong table
Marcus McKissic, executive director of filling various applications, a computer It’s still hard for me to believe
Entertain the prisoners using them.
the Stockbridge Downtown Development room, and an ex-offenders’ support group. You’ll be 17 soon, and finding a path of your own.
I look at the large window in the back of my room,
Authority, agreed to participate as a read- ARRO also accepts personal needs I want you to know that I’m sorry
Facing the western sky.
er after visiting a prison facility with an donations such as hygiene products. Even though it won’t ease the pain,
I pull back the tan curtain
ARRO employee. Vaughn-Payne encourages anyone who It can’t dry up the tears you’ve cried,
To expose the prison yard.
And it doesn’t remove the shame.
“It’s a privilege to give voice to the voice- has recently been released from prison, or I hear the birds chirping
If I could rewind time back to
less, regardless of why they may be there.” family members of those recently released, October 10, 1992
See the leaves on trees
said McKissic, who also read for the fund- to call (517) 999-2895. Blowing in the gentle wind
Knowing what I know now The blades of grass glisten
raiser last year. “People need to hear what My life would have included you. With the cool morning dew.
it is like on the other side.” How could I ever apologize Chain-linked fences surround the yard,
Lansing poet Dianne Hicks-Flourry, When you’ve been told I’m no longer your dad Decorated with their razor wire.
author of “The Power of Love: From the When I know you heard nothing good about me Two basketball courts,
Well of Life,” said she agreed to reading at Pertaining to my past A weight lifting area.
the event because she was felt a kinship You may be afraid to contact me A security vehicle speeds past,
with the poets. Well I’d be just as uneasy to face you, Once, twice,
But if I were ever given a second chance Several times.
“It’s nice to hear their thoughts,” said
I swear, I’d never betray you. The bright sun shines radiantly
Hicks-Flourry. “I feel connected.” And, I’d try to be the closest friend In the deep blue sky.
Some speakers read softly; others You’ve ever had… The white clouds move effortlessly
emphasized loaded words such as “free- Jessi de la Cruz/City Pulse I guess I should go for now. Across the horizon.
dom” and “innocence.” The audience Lansing poet Dianne Hicks-Floury reads at the Love Always & Forever, Dad This is freedom through a window.
responded in kind, sometimes with a soft Prison Poetry event Wednesday.

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