Poetry and Transformation
Did my poetry change from being in jail? Well I changed. When you have bars in front of you day in and day out your perception does change. I'm not going to make it sound like I was inside for a good long time. I was a short timer; I was barely in for four months.
It's enough though to make you think about who you are, and what the hell your place in the world is. I toughed up when I went inside; you have to. There is no one to cry to or bitch to. There is a good chance that your cellmate is in for worse than what you're in for, which was always the case with me. I tried writing when I was inside, but I wrote mostly letters to my now ex-girlfriend. I can't blame her for letting me go. I thank her for taking my letters for as long as she did.
People don't understand that going to jail is hard on your family and friends. When I was on the jail bus going in the song playing on the radio was "When a Man Loves a Woman." I almost cried. I about thought about the girl who probably wouldn't forgive me.
I read the Bible twice, but I wasn't looking for God, just something to read. I'm not sure how close to God I got. I admit when I went to court I prayed for forgiveness, I prayed for strengh. You have no rights in jail. You're behind bars so you're the bad guy.
I never had a problem with the deputies; hell, some cellmates were guilty. You could tell, and they weren't in there for little shit. You can't really judge people when you're inside. It just leads to fights. One cellie bragged about being a cook. He went on and on about it. Then he told me he worked at Carl's Jr which led me to crush his opinion of himself.
There's a lot of bullshit in jail. Again, it's not a vacation. Jail is where they send fuck-ups who can't live by rules; life needs rules, so breaking them isn't a good idea. I've believed that if you were in jail, then you deserve to be there; that opinion never changed. Some people are innocent, but not everyone. I myself wish that they would house everyone in a different way; that the lesser offenders weren't stuck with the real fuck-ups.
I'm straying from the idea how jail has affected my writing, but being away made me realize that I was losing a lot of things. It's hard when you have to focus and just deal with each day. Going to church was just a reason to leave one's cell at times. I don't know if I really was at church, or if I was just getting away from my cell. Half the people went to church because they just wanted out of their cells. No, make that more than half.
How does one explain a friendship with a racist to the outside world? It's funny who'll turn out to treat you better. The funny thing about Blockhead was that he was pretty kind, considering who he was. I once saw him punch a guy for not giving up a lower bunk to an older cellie.
My poetry has changed because life is more serious now. Everything looks different. The sky isn't the same sky as when I went inside. My brothers are diferent; I love them more as I love my father and mother more. Friends I now protect with a wolf's anger because they have stood by me. Life affects your writing, so everything changes it. So, going to jail flows into my writing. I'll write a lot of poems about being inside. And then sooner or later, I won't have to. I don't know if this essay is well written, but it doesn't matter. It is what it is...
another letter from Blockhead
he's going to trial
early morning coffee
has no direction
when I first got a good look at myself
after I walked out of jail
I saw fragments
that weren't coming together
the cab ride to Glendale
was harder than the jail bus ride
I knew when I was on the jail bus
that my hands were cuffed
there was no illusion of freedom
there still isn't five years of probation
on the jail bus ride
sometimes eyes would get wet
not enough to cry
crying days are over
in the cab as I headed to see my father
I felt shame
I felt wrong
even if my family forgives me
even as friends stand by me
I can't explain what the world looks like to me now
my brother Carlos got the lawyer
that saved my ass
how do you repay that
my mother & brother put up the money
I was ready to do five years
close my eyes
forget every dream I ever dreamt
only a few inside I called friend
Blockhead was one
strange where friendship grows
I write as much as I can
he writes back
his environment is different than mine
it's more angry
& I have anger to spare
I don't talk to my father or brother much
about my time inside
I fight harder everyday
to find the broken fragments
I know scattered
somewhere between downtown LA &
able 8 the cell I lived in
for a short time
any amount of time lost changes you
you never know anything
even when you think you do
Rafael F.J. Alvarado was born in Hollywood in 1965, and has been writing poetry since he was ten. His Granduncle Luis Cardoza Y Aragon was a famous Guatemalan poet who knew people like Pablo Neruda and called them friend.
Rafael wishes every day to write as well as his granduncle; his Grandmother Laura Cardoza Muller was also a published poet, and a big influence in his writing.
He is currently writing poems about running marathons; he has run the L.A. & San Francisco marathons, and recently completed the Long Beach Marathon. Rafael believes there's a Zen to running; he writes about what's in the mind of the runner during long runs. He is the co-publisher of The Daisy Standard, a new arts and literary magazine that will debut in 2007, and the co-host of the a companion reading series of the same name at The Backstage Cafe in Beverly Hills.