Resilience: Today & Tomorrow Poetry Honorable Mentions

Last fall, volunteer mentors who currently participate in the Poetry Center's workshop, FREE TIME: Building Community for Incarcerated Writers (part of our Art for Justice project), solicited submissions from incarcerated writers across the country to enter into our Resilience: Today & Tomorrow contest. You can learn more about the guidelines and call for submissions here. We will be sharing all winners and honorable mentions in the next few weeks, and you can find a full list of winners here.

Today, we are thrilled to present the Poetry Honorable Mentions.

The Prison Tree 

by Brandy Goettel

If you hang from the prison tree you are an orange. 

According to the world, for all intents and purposes you are an orange. 

But not all oranges are the same, they are all different; 

Different shapes, different sizes and on the inside each one is unique, original… an individual. Some oranges blossomed here and matured here, this is all they know. 

While others were grafted, brought to this foreign tree from somewhere else, completely out of their element but here just the same. 

They are now an orange hanging from the prison tree. 

Some, not accepting their new place in this world become bitter, leaving a nasty taste in your mouth. 

Some begin to rot from the inside out, so when they finally fall from the tree they are no longer good and continue to rot. 

While others adapt, making the best out of this new tree. 

Accepting the fact that the universe is unfolding just as it should. 

Even though it is not where they started or where they want to be, they make the best out of it. They grow, they strive. 

They take in the strength and the knowledge provided by this new experience and from the fruits around them. 

And when the new oranges blossom or are grafted they help them strive and grow. Providing love and courage to those who unfortunately followed the same path and are now hanging from the prison tree. 

Then the time will come when you are released from the branches that confine you. No longer will the leaves hide you. 

And hopefully, just hopefully the tree changed you. 

It made you better not bitter. 

You learned to love and laugh in spite of your circumstances. 

You will now live each day to the fullest, embracing the present. 

Let's show the world that the tree does not define the fruit.


Judge Randall Horton, author of Dead Weight and {#289-128} says this about "The Prison Tree": What I appreciate most about the poem is how the poet is able to imagine outside of that which confines, borders and excludes human beings from the American experiment. The insight in this poem comes from deep reflection and experience that cannot be duplicated and it resonates throughout the poem.

I've been 

by Patrick Pantusco


I’ve been thrown against a wall

I’ve been locked-up in a cage 

I’ve been pushed passed my limits

And I was full of blinding rage. 


I’ve been labeled narcissistic 

I’ve been called a sociopath 

I’ve been locked away for years

And I became a slave to my wrath. 


I’ve been beaten to a pulp 

I’ve been told I’d never win 

I’ve been kicked in the balls 

And I’ve committed every sin. 


I’ve been tortured in the mind

I’ve been left alone to die 

I’ve been treated like a beast 

But they’ll never see me cry. 


I’ve been looking for a chance

I’ve been searching all around

I’ve been accepted into STEP 

And now I’m college bound. 


I’ve been cracking all the books

I’ve been reading every line 

I’ve been a sponge for information

And now I use my mind. 


I’ve been the one who used the drugs

I’ve been the one who committed crime

I’ve been the one who did his time 

Now the second chance is mine!


Judge Randall Horton, author of Dead Weight and {#289-128} says this about "I've Been": In many ways, this poem is symbolic of the rhetorical existence of the “inside.” The poetic structure instigates a chilling effect of what the “inside” can feel like, but then too, the language bounces against these confines and breaks free through a poetic interlude of remembrance. I am able to feel what it means to be human in this poet’s shoes.


by Yu Masaki


The time is breakfast and a guard calls out

I wake up hearing the clanks of his keys 


A key unlocks, and the door cracks open

What a heavy sound 


I must be ready by then, or I lose my chow

Well, another day, another tray 


The guard slams the door hard behind me 


The dayroom can be another loud place I’m

soft-spoken and the intercom is too loud

And I must pause between my words It

would say somebody fights somewhere Or

that some nurse must be somewhere else 


Most are things that I don’t need to know 


Back in my cell, I hear drills on the wall

My unit is under remodeling 

The noise reminds my cellie of the cry of cows

The drilling may go away on the weekend 


But the cows 


The noises spend the day in my eardrums

Peace comes around the sunset 


But my cellie flushes the toilet on my sleep

Then I hear the siren of alarm without fire 


What I love is the silent air of the blowing vent

I write and write and write


Judge Randall Horton, author of Dead Weight and {#289-128} says this about "I Write": I am impressed by the pacing of this poem and the visual experience that accompanies language that is trying to provide a first-hand experience, “a report from the inside” as the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks puts it.