Freedom For The Private Parts
I hope I still know
what freedom is.
I’ve held so much in my gut,
and twisted the brutality
and asshole peeking
that I wonder
if I still know
what is real.
I imagine my wife
some night saying:
“Bend over and spread ‘em,”
and in half sleep, I say:
There should be a law
on the number of times
a man can have his asshole
inspected for contraband.
One Night In Bed
One night in bed,
I met a poem;
it made me want
to jerk off,
being a man
who can appreciate
One night in bed,
I met a woman;
she made me want
to write a poem,
being a man
who can appreciate
One night in bed,
I met a woman
inside a poem.
I didn’t know
what to do
with my cock
or my pen.
I’m still looking
for her for that,
being a man.
The Unidentified Female
“Minarik — who during his confinement has reportedly become
obtained additional educational degrees, and married
female who was visiting him....'”
The Pittsburgh Press
Like Kafka’s beetle, I wake up one morning to find
reporters have something to report
about a decade-old crime:
because it’s news:
because it reminds us anger
is like an Incredible Hulk inside us all
ready to burst the shirt of civilization,
because some educated criminal won a new trial
on a little technicality like
the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
There is no escape from my past,
but you should leave my wife out of it;
she has committed no crime
unless loving a man in prison is a felony.
You should leave my wife out of it
because you don’t know about:
the snow on the roads in the winter,
the kids running to see Papa:
driving home at 8:00 p.m. without her man,
the sound of a postage stamp.
The grass forgives.
The elevator remembers.
Since I am reportedly a poet,
I go back to my job
in the tunnel,
carrying words like sacks of dirt,
spreading them around so the guards don’t notice.
Basic Writing 702
Take 25 basic convict students,
collide them with
Standard American English,
a dash of
and out come
15 new writers.
5 lost to the
games of prison.
1 fell in love with a sissy,
and I never showed once.
are important in prison,
15 over 25
might seem like a nice fraction,
but somewhere between
commas and semicolons,
metaphors and images,
10 men were lost.
Like a prison within a prison,
10 men were locked into
ignorance of their potential to grow.
“Forget about the ones who can’t make it.”
But here at the last conjunction:
those 10 men are the 1’s
who will sell dope to your children
rape your daughters,
and that’s why
my red pen is crying,
my grade book is ashamed,
and my soul is
a sentence fragment.
What Can A Lifer Accomplish in Prison?
I am one of the lifer-dinosaurs still in an American
state prison in Somerset, Pennsylvania, after 36 years. I am innocent,
but that is subject of other writings. I came to prison after already being
a mechanical engineer, graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, and
working for U.S. Steel in Construction Engineering. Early in 26 years at
the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh (formerly known as Western
Penitentiary), I performed clinical duties in the hospital and was re-educated
in college programs, in English and Psychology. I taught college courses
for 20 years for the University of Pittsburgh and the Community College
of Allegheny County and won awards for my writing: listed in A Directory
of American Poets and Fiction Writers, Contemporary Authors, International
Who’s Who in Poetry, and more. I have contributed to literary magazines
in America over the years, and I have only recently started submitting
writing internationally. With five books published, two college degrees,
having taught over 100 college courses to fellow prisoners, having worked
as a Poet-In-The-Schools for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, having
co-founded the Academy of Prison Arts (the only prisoner-created writing
program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts for a decade), being
the first prisoner ever certified the National Council of Engineering Examiners
(NCEE) examination as an Engineer-In-Training, becoming a full Member of
the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (possible only after showing
a minimum of 5 years of “responsible charge” of engineering work), this
essay could be about accomplishments like reinforcing the laundry floor
or designing, constructing, and erecting a new make-up tank for the boilers
at Western’s Power Plant, or about a redesign and rebuild of the coal handling
system, a $150,000.00 project we prisoners did for $25,000.00. The green
coal elevator still sticks above Galls at Western. This writer was literally
forced to design a new main gate for the prison, which we built.
This essay could be about
mobile bear traps designed for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, trailer-mounted
to harmlessly catch and relocate bears who strayed too close to people.
After we manufactured more than 50 of them through Correctional Industries
(C.I.), once a bear was loose in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. The bear defied
capture. The Warden said to me one day: “Minarik, those bear traps of yours
don’t work.” I said “Warden, the problem is the bait being used. Everyone
knows donuts will only catch cops.”
Or this essay could be about
the four roll-over simulators designed and manufactured at C.I. for the
Pennsylvania State Police, used to demonstrate seat belt safety at State
Fairs. There is a letter in this prisoner’s jacket from the Commissioner
of the Pennsylvania State Police, acknowledging work on that project. Or
this could be about the design and manufacture of 1.5 million dollars worth
of steel furniture for five new Pennsylvania prisons built by Rotondo-PennCast.
Yet one accomplishment means
the most to me: starting a play area for children in a prison visiting
room. In 1972, a group of students studying Child Development needed a
practicum. Our idea of creating a special space for children in the prison’s
visiting room, a carpeted play area with toys, was unheard of at the time.
Fred “Mister” Rogers, a well-known children’s television personality in
America, visited our class. When we could not convince the Warden to allow
creation of the play area, Fred called the Commissioner of Corrections.
As when Fred approached Sears & Roebuck Foundation for money to sponsor
his Public Broadcasting System (PBS) show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,”
children of decision-makers were excited to hear how Daddy talked with
Mister Rogers, so it was with the Commissioner’s children. When the Commissioner
called the Warden asking: “Don’t you think this would be a good idea?”
the only answer he could give was: “Yes.” The Rogers-McFeely Foundation
gave money to remove concrete-block pillars, to put down carpet, and to
buy toys and toy cabinets. Prisoners studying child development served
as play monitors, where we learned: to carefully observe children’s behaviors,
to play with puppets to elicit children’s inner worlds, and to listen carefully.
The idea caught on, and today, in prisons across Pennsylvania and across
America, there are areas in prison visiting rooms for children to play.
American academic journals acknowledge the first prison visiting room play
area for children was created at Western Penitentiary. Fred Rogers was
a good neighbor to the children of prisoners.
Many people do not know that
this writer enjoyed a long friendship with Fred. To share one less-public
story about Fred’s help, when I was chosen by the Pennsylvania Council
on the Arts in juried competition among Pennsylvania writers to be a member
of the Poets-in-The-Schools (PITS) program, there was a sticking point.
The grant award did not cover the transportation costs to another prison.
Suddenly, to resolve the problem, an anonymous donation to the Pennsylvania
Council on the Arts appeared. Although no one would confirm this, I always
believed that Fred made that anonymous donation earmarked to cover those
transportation costs. When I spoke with Fred immediately afterwards, all
he would say was that he hoped it would be the beginning of many good things.
It was, and my teaching in PIS program continued through 1983. Fred Rogers
loved me into being a Poet-in-The-Schools. This is the kind of man Fred
Rogers was behind the scenes: and when I watched on television when President
Bill Clinton awarded him one of America’s highest honors, I thought of
how Fred was a good neighbor to me. In 2003, Fred passed away. I miss him
dearly, and I recommend to you his posthumous book: The World According
to Mister Rogers.
One of my former students
published a book which was later made into a made-for-TV-movie on Showtime,
and several of my former students have published extensively. What can
a lifer-dinosaur accomplish in prison?
Why, he can write this essay
while sitting in a prison cell, typing on a typewriter, for you to read
after it crosses the Atlantic Ocean.