Poetry Class

Poems Written By L.I.F.E. Tutors For ABC Literacy Introduction To Poetry Class, Spring/Summer 2003

From time to time ABC Literacy Resource volunteers will teach enrichment classes for L.I.F.E. inmate tutors at the New Jersey State Prison. This poetry class was an eight week survey of outstanding poetry. As part of this class, prisoners wrote and presented their own poems. Several wrote in poetic forms studied in the class, including the sonnet and the villanelle. A second five week poetry class was held in late summer 2003.

Poetry Class Members


By Stephen F. Azzolini
When is it ever not

30 years ago it was

30 years from today
it will be, Now.

No matter how many times
I look at my watch,
it’s always, Now.

What is time
if it’s always Now?

When will it ever not
be now?
So what is time?

It’s Now all the time,

You understand,

By Stephen F. Azzolini

Staggered thoughts wandering
through pathways of my mind.

Some resemble drunkards on
city streets, not knowing
where to go to find rest.

Others, like lifeless bodies
remain purged against cell walls
waiting for cranial fluids
to move them to their next stop.

Somewhere, somehow, in time,
they will all gather as one strand,
resembling clear notes of music
like whales singing under water
they will find their way into a memory
locked forever in my mind.

If I Could Write
By Terence Brewer

If I could write I’d write a song
A sad and sorrowful tune
Or maybe a beautiful lively one
Or one to make you swoon.

If I could write I’d write a book
Of adventure and suspense
Something for the intellectual
To challenge the common sense.

I would write of nature
The wind, the flowers and the trees
Hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes
Or other catastrophes.

Maybe I’ll just write of you
Your demeanor, gentle yet complexed
The way you teach that words have meaning
And how to find the text.

Of the challenges you give me
To search a writer’s mind
To seek the soul of what he wrote
And reveal all that I find.

Or I would just pen thank you
For coming here tonight
Spending valuable time with those confined
If only I could write.

By Terence Brewer

As I sit here cursing doom
and the path I choose to take,
I wonder if this accursed tomb
will soon become my fate.
Mulling through ashes
feeling I’ve become inured
to these self imposed lashes,
yet ’tis quite absurd.
Away with you ole indigo mood
I’ll entertain you not my friend!
For a higher authority assures me
I shall arise yet once again.
My transgressions were forgiven
for I’ve learned to submit.
My heart no longer cold and icen
My lamp has been relit.
And through this transformation
I’ve learned the reason why
Caterpillars enter cocoons
and emerge as butterflies.

Beat the Drum Slowly
By Terence Brewer

August 2003

Beat the drum slowly, tap the taps light
A son was lost in battle today
No one cares if it was wrong or right

Though he fought bravely despite fright
As both sides clashed in the fray
Beat the drum slowly, tap the taps light

Bursting bombs roared through the night
Infantry advanced during the day
No one cares if it was wrong or right

Each man contemplates his own plight
Yet all too emotional to say
Beat the drum slowly, tap the taps light

While watching fires burning bright
How did it come to be this way
No one cares if it was wrong or right

Onward they marched, t’was a magnificent sight
Leaving the fallen as they lay
Beat the drums slowly, tap the taps light
No one cares if it was wrong or right

Speak Not
by Raymond L. Franklin (Sifu)

With filtrum stretched I hear
The call of a mocking-bird,
Having to use my hand-covered ear.

Oh how needy it is to leer
Into a creature’s heart where comes its word.
With filtrum stretched I hear

Truthful lies seeming sincere,
Hearing no silence which is much preferred,
Having to use my hand-covered ear.

Pressed lip to lip because of fear
Rage suppressed in a gird,
With filtrum stretched I hear

Affronting all that’s herald near
At a distance keeping all I’ve heard
Having to use my hand-covered ear.

Stripped of beauty, I now revere
To rid this world, so absurd,
With filtrum stretched I hear
Having to use my hand covered ear.

What to Do?
by Raymond L. Franklin (Sifu)

Follow me, to rid “our home,” if you will
Of contrary thinkers. Those who much like
You, can plant, and grow, and pick, and can till.
Lay down your true weapons that nurture life,
And bear these arms. Arms from arms of fatigue,
Used to remove the very thing you hold
Above all other things one doesn’t need.
Hang not your head to a ground staring cold
With eyes of honest men, whom before lived,
And now, wait with questions, answered by you.
Though I know, I have no answer to give.
For if I had told, I would not have you.
She needs you greatly, if not, she will die.
Follow me, bear arms, as others have tried.

Note: Since the beginning of time, one caveman picked
up a rock and hurled it at another caveman. The message
was quite clear… Survive!

Mother, Mother
by Raymond L. Franklin (Sifu)

Mother made many mistakes.
Monumental mishaps, making me
Morally misguided.
My memories mostly maneuver
Misleading messages.
Making my mind motionless.
More-so melancholic.
Our oaths once opened objects
Of opportunities, opportunities
Offering only objurgation or
odious occurrences on occasion.
Our oration obtained only offensive
Optimism. Our overall option?
Outright opposites!
Times tends to tell truthful tales.
Though today, time tiptoes tenderly
Towards thee, trying to tenderly tell thee
That time’s through.
Too tired to talk, time takes thee
Through that timeless tunnel,
Terribly tormenting thy travels.
Her home had happiness.
Her home had hate.
Her home had health.
Her home had heroism.
Her home had heroin!
Her home hosted huge, hooping, hollering
House parties. However,
Her home hadn’t him.
Even though, every evening, elders entertained
Everyone, echoing, echoing
Exciting egotisms.
Eating. Emitting emotions,
Enacting erotic ecstasies,
Ecstasies early eyes envisioned.
Remember running rampant?
Ranting, raving
Rushing, rioting
Rarely resting.
Rap records rotating round.
Reflecting rueful remembrances,
Respectfully reasoning reality.
So simple, so serious, so sweet,
So sorry.
Still, so strangely satisfying.
Something says she still sees.
She still shows signs showing strength.
She sometimes, still strangely
Sends subliminal suggestions. So
Mother, Our True Heroine, Ever Resting.

© Raymond L. Franklin, August, 2003

Sunrise, Over the Wire
By Forrest D. Fuller

In the early morning, before dawn’s break,
My mind drifts back to ‘nother time and place.
Oft’ times I lie here, in the dark, awake,
Wondering where I am in life’s great race.
Then I see the first shadow running ‘way,
I know soon marvelous things I will see,
The break of a new dawn, another day,
As if God gives them, but only to me.
Happiness and joy, ‘lo I can afford,
To live my life as decent as I can.
My heart and spirit lift heaven toward,
I know with the new day, comes a new man.
This is why I always watch for the fire
That comes with the
sunrise, over the wire.

Man of War
By Forrest D. Fuller

August 4, 2003

I am a man of war, hear my story;
I am a man of battle, hear my tale.
Blinded by greed, on a quest for glory;
Without a clue, only destined to fail.

Never looked back, only sighted ahead;
Amassed many riches, wordly things all.
The more I had, the more my greed was fed;
I was just setting up, for a great fall.

When it came, I was surprised as can be;
I fell a great distance, far from the top.
Who would have thought it could happen to me?
Once falling, I never thought I would stop.

Has the war, and the battle, ended yet?
It may seem so, but I’ll never forget.

Years Since I Ran
By Forrest D. Fuller

August 25, 2003

When I was a young man
I never thought I would
Grow up to be anything
But decent, kind and good.

I went through phases
In my earlier years,
Just like all teens
Still wet behind the ears.

Grown up I thought I was,
But eighteen doesn’t make a man,
Whenever I didn’t get my way,
I panicked and usually ran.

For many years I hid myself
Behind a shield of lies
Until one day I realized
I was still a child but now man-sized.

It took me almost forty years
To become the man I am
But I’m proud to say now
It’s been years since I ran.

My story doesn’t end here
I’m still trying to decide
How much control to give up
To the child who still lives inside.

Have You Heard?
By Samuel Moore

The Ku Klux Klan turned in their white sheets for a familiar face,
now they go by the name Self-Hate.

Like a germ they contaminated every race, we’re just too blind
to see it’s not the next man, it’s me hating me.

In the body of gangs dwells the spirit of Jim Crow; ain’t that
some shh, a blackman telling another blackman where he can and
can not go – after our ancestors built this country through
blood, sweat, and tears you got the audacity to tell me what colors
I can wear.

That only goes to show just how far we have to go before we
claim to be free; right now, self hate got us moving at a
stagnated pace.

By Sammy Moore

This jelly-donut is not a part of the revolution
and its devouring will not be televised.

You won’d find it in a blackhawk in Somalia extorting the natives
for their diamond mines

Nor will you find it cutting through foliage in the jungles
of Asia fighting a political war it was destined to lose.


Because this jelly-donut is not a part of the revolution.

You won’t find it marching through the streets of Montgomery,
Alabama fighting for the rights of a people who should have
never been stripped of them in the first place.

Nor will you find it dressed in blue trying to intimidate those
same people with attack dogs, billy clubs, and water hoses, from
standing up for their rights.

Although, its brown skin is coated with powder sugar, I assure
you its white coat is not an alliance with the Ku Klux Klan.

How do I know this jelly-donut is not a part of the revolution?
Because, it is my jelly-donut
and it already surrendered its sweetness to appease my appetite.

No, its devouring will not be televised
because you might just want a bite.

In My Life
By Trevor Mercy Purkett

I’ve seen
Love in the distance,
but as close as your heart.

I’ve seen
Love in an instant
just as fast fall apart.

I’ve seen
Blue birds whistle melodies
While my mother smiled.

I’ve seen
Doves outside a window
And tears dried on the ground.

I’ve seen
Rainbows through waterfalls
And stars cross the sky.

I’ve seen
Children cold outside
As walkers pass them by.

I’ve seen
Grown men befriend small girls
Acting like they cared.

I’ve seen
Some on their way to a rape
Good thing I was there.

I’ve seen
Other men and women die
While in a police chase.

I’ve seen
As a child my grandmother smile
After being robbed and smashed in the face.

I’ve seen
My uncle before he passed
Work hard most of my life.

I’ve seen
A man driving on the highway
Get punched by his wife.

I’ve seen
People tell stories without a single sound
Using verbs as their movements and things as their nouns.

I’ve seen
More than this and still
I haven’t seen enough.

Someone once told me
The way the world is
Be grateful to have seen this much.

Death Without Weeping
By Trevor Purkett

In a world that seems
so unbearable to me,
with a life that was given
and a soul that now
longs to be free.

Different worlds,
Lives, People,
the skies…
these are the things
my mind explores.

Days of light
forever given air,
crowds and piles of
dead people

Days of darkness,
now with silent skies,
now with too many different religions.
Which one lies?

Places full of hidden people,
dead bodies now
beginning to smell,
some who have
hundreds of years,
behind a wall–
languishing in a jail cell.

I see someone
who wants to know
what makes life worth living.
“None of this,” I say.
Death without weeping.
Tell me, now is it time to go?

Heaven’s Gift
By Clifton Staton

Clouds roll back their sleeves
Giving a great roar, clap and heave
casting a mighty light for all to see.Behold! A common woman of old,
upon the dirt, she walks, & bold
Wherever her feet tread
turns to a path of gold!

War for a Place in the Sun
By Clifton Staton

War is inevitable as I
engage in conquering.
War to struggle out of the
womb of darkness into the
light of the sun.
War to cut the umbilical cord
of complexes imposed on me.
War to grow from babyhood
to childhood without suffering
from addictions passed through
War to protect and honor the
mother who is abused, mis-used
and re-used.

They cry peace but make not peace!
War for a place in the sun.
War to search for the genes that spring
from my ancestry.
War to defeat aging. (Did you know
Fifty years ago, fifty was old?)
War from unrest and police brutality.
War to stand after I’m knocked
down by failed promises.
War to fight for my own liberty.
War to know my own culture, science
and numbers.
War for a place in the sun
as I struggle to find my identity.

Life Defined by Master
By James Washington

Trapped, shackled, and shipped overseas
Women, men, and children packed as cargo
By men who say they do what the Lord please.
Should I live my life in their image? I don’t know.

The crimes I commit are sins in their books,
But centuries of force democracy can be cruel,
Slanted for genocide because of my looks,
I pledge to never follow master’s rule.

Whether I am Zulu, Muslim, or Blood,
I will never live my life as defined by master.
So, if this means I perish in the next flood,
Dying defying the oppressor is not a disaster.

Freedom is not freedom if the mind remains
Trapped, shackled, and shaped by the overseer.
Escape the mental hold of evil man with many names
And take a last look at lady liberty and leave her.

By Jeffrey Zhu

They gave me 120, when I was 20;
Care not. Spare none from his might.
The heart might stop, but my soul has plenty.
Scare no more, stop the sight
Pray to die, but death can’t hear thee.
Mom, please don’t care so much,
Pretend you never had me; don’t come to see
So it is not painful when we touch.
How is this possible
When I was judged, feeling, incapable?