the prison years: warmer now (michigan winter 2016)

Leigh Sugar & Justin Monson


[ inmate in cuffs/inmate in curls/inmate born

into a small world/ ]

                           young poet scrapes up ghosts

                            lunchtime guys                      look up!

                            into hollow atmosphere. open-mouthed, tongue

                            in the wind, catching intermittent


                            from a sky the color

                                                                  dirtywater. that could be a lie (not likely) –

                                                                  thorazine shuffle.

                            youhearme?                youhearme?

                                               youhearme?                  fragmented shit-talkin’

                           penguin stances with the baggy eyes out

                           the buttoned collars.                             youhearme?



                                                                                       mia does not eat on mondays, wednesdays, and saturdays.

                                                                                       she is not trying to become smaller but says

                                                                                       her body needs a break. from what

                                                                                       she does not specify.


                                                                                    everybodys lookinfor someone


[ inmate goes to prom with neighbor/inmate

tweets about it later/ ]


                            radio says

                            ‘we want you

                             to see                                  adele at the palace

                             in september!’                               it’s january, don’t they know

                             how much                           two seasons could explode or expose

                             a singular life                                 into lapses

                             of osmosis,                          of blueandbeige fervor?


                  always the surveyed

                  and the surveyor is outside

                                                                              inside who is the you who was here

                  before the inside you put a value

                                                         and then tried to sell you

                             back to yourself?[1]                  a moment

                             breathes                        too heavily now.


silent ambience: radio was on a timer


[ inmate bleeds from cut from shave/

      inmate in time out (you’ve misbehaved)/ ]



                                view from window

                                 frozen dirt under the orange

                                 lights, an impending trend (the pundits say). a bit of white –

                                           no, not the population –

                                 the ground! distant pines bleached with midnight.

                                 chainlink cathedral.



                                                                                                  mia is all valve and vein and no spine.

                                                                                                  some call this floppy – sure is a floppy

                                                                                                  little girl, they used to say.


lately feelin like a needle in a dank haystack

                     [ inmate raves/inmate craves/

                       inmate studies for good grades/

                       inmate of number, not of name/

                       inmate in race for power, fame/ ]



                                 cell activities on loop

                                              or maybe time-lapse? stone hopped on

                                    the upstate ride then s-dot brought the radio,

                                                             new clientele,

                                                             nail clippers to stash the makeshift motor.

                                 excess pop music.

                                 is it too late now

                                 to say sorry? love & hip-hop

                                 effervescent. kardashians in full bloom.

                                                          I’m burning here. drifting probably.

                                 get a letter read

                                               a letter drop the daily

                                 one week two


                                               pour, sift, pour. ‘what

                                 you writin’ a novel?’ I’m

                                 not sure anymore.





                                   light start new year. frequence

                                   in laughter now – high-five!

                                                                   (look at the elbow, it’s the road to perfection)

                                                                   (gotta make ‘em laugh)

                                 moonwalk with the wagging fingers, doing the jig

                                  goofystyle behind steel

                                   and cinderblock nights.

                                                                   suspension of half-hearted

                                                                   resolutions. Ill be better tomorrow.

                                                                   ARF! when we reverberate and oakland vibrates

                                   slowly behind somewhere

                                    in the quickly aging distance.

                                   when does waiting turn to wastin



mia rests in a pile.


thou knowest this mans fall, but thou knowest not his wrassling



[ inmate quotes lupe fiasco/inmate douses eggs

with tobacco/inmate dozes before The End/inmate

drives to mall with friends/ ]



                                   another elsewhere

                                     gin and tonics foreshadow the uber

                                     downtown. immaculate tears

                                     in ancient

                                     church shadow. party brunch: sunday

                                     funday in the warmer now D.

                                     phone call: ‘I just need to be fucked

                                     senseless’ – vicarious afternoon

                                     to say the least.

                                     rented spot

                                     in ferndale right

                                     on the urban cuff a fringe

                                     we all cling to. molly

                                     at the afterhours.   rage go dumb

                                     stumble out go

                                     numb. high school

                                     friend pocketed an education (fully paid for!) new

                                     data analyst.  see!   things

                                     sometimes do happen. back in hometown

                                     our young ghosts parade through

                                     the old stomping grounds

                                                   dope migration.

                                                    reverse white flight.



                                                                                                     mia grabs pebbles by the handful

                                                                                                     and keeps the smallest one of every batch.


                                                                                                     at the end of the day

                                                                                                     she pools the smallest

                                                                                                     and picks the smallest of those.


                                                                                                     what is this worth?

                                                                                                     they ask

                                                                                                     when she presses one

                                                                                                     into their palms as they leave

                                                                                                     the beach at sunset.


                                                                                                we are all already dying


[ inmate drowning

in student loans/inmate needs second mortgage on home/

inmate so tired of sleeping alone/

inmate sits down to pen a poem/ ]




                                          encounter on the scene:

                                          yellow meets self while

                                          self falls

                                          hard thats what self

                                          supposes. colourblast implodes sky

                                          once-hidden voice suggests.

                                          and yesterday guy

                                          says america's poisoned

                                          becoming feminine, gay and

                                          black. self can’t help

                                          but think, manifest

                                          destiny? green grass

                                          never died just was once covered,

                                          dirty snow and bootprints.

                                          (youhearme?) no one ‘round here

                                          seems to care just ache

                                          for drink and fuck and eat

                                          and sleep.

                                          a couple hardnose cats

                                          flippin’ cards for whitesoaps, ramen blocks.

                                          they hear there’s a new whiteboy

                                          with a few daddy-issues, conveniently

                                          they got a history of problem

                                          solvin’. kid next door drunk

                                          off potato liquor (his own party brunch):

                                          scraping sandals when he walks

                                          head hung low like a creek

                                          along the grudge-march to the great

                                          american west. says he’s part

                                          native. true story. self guesses

                                          all our histories are dyed

                                          or stained. and in strange innocence to boot.



                                                               mia says    I can see them undress me

                                                               I know       I know that look and I don’t like it

                                                               I don’t like it one bit.


                           ‘man, I promise. Im so self-conscious


[ inmate in house/inmate in cell/

inmate gets cancer/inmate gets well/

inmate fights/inmate writes/inmate daydreams

late at night/ ]




                                  bloods crips vice

                                  lords gangster

                                  disciples latin kings

                                  and counts

                                  spanish g's

                                  and cobras

                                  insane prefixes

                                  godbodys (son)

                                  religious affiliations

                                  euros and honkeys

                                  three-one-three letter

                                  crews bike clubs

                                  north south east west

                                  reppin’ time (youhearme?)

                                  recruitment season early

                                  for the summer treaties.



                                     mia takes inventory:

                                           1. woman at crosswalk pushes crosswalk button ten                      

                                                   times in rapid succession

                                            2. store self-checkout attendant checks cart

                                                   for stolen goods

                                            3. dater checks date for evidence of commitment

                                            4. student sits cross-legged across from teacher, waits                              

                                                    for teacher to award score for feelings

                                             5. real change for sale, offers street news-man

                                                    selling real change

                                             6. person cuts line in airport queue to board plane

                                                    (here it’s all grocery aisles and bus stops


you tryin to come home?


[ inmate holding jury instructions/

inmate still working in construction/ ]



                              another here

                                yesterday you called

                                on the phone you don’t have

                                to tell me in the voice I cannot hear

                                that you will get out

                                before you’re out,

                                just you wait, you said.



                                          mia asks about the razorwire above the fence

                                          on the I5 overpass: it’s how we keep people

                                           who can’t keep

                                themselves, they explain.


                                                                                                                   everybodys doing time





                                         LIGO announces

                                            great gravitational waves collide,

                                            make great gravitational energy.     


                                             we are surprised.        for such big numbers

                                             collide                                         seems not up to the task.


                                             the waves were from holes

                                                                                    that met and then sold

                                             themselves to each other,

                                                                                    made another

                                             sixty-two times the mass of our sun

                                                                                     which is, as you’ve reminded me,

                                             a fucking dying star.



                                                                                                        please try to right yourself,

                                                                                                        they tell mia.


                                                                                                        they teach the kids to draw portraits

                                                                                                        with circles for heads and rectangle torsos.


where will your soul go if not in a box?






                                          eyes shut

                                            red eye

                                            west coast

                                            looking around

                                                                  for early

                                            morning antidotes.


                                            midpoint between

                                                        motherland      fatherland

                                            all fairweather



                                            lone reason…

                                                      who you kiddin?

                                                      wore it on your sleeve, kid.

                                            well, no one ain’t howlin’

                                            no regional blues.



                                                                                                          mia's dream:

                                                                                                          ‘GETS FELLOWSHIP

                                                                                                          HOLISTICALLY FOR LIFESTYLEBRILLIANT

                                                                                                          PROJECTS UNDERWAY’

                                                                                               ‘always knew shed do it always


                                                                                               could be

                                                                                               well-structured puzzle


                                                                                                in oakland, frisco.


woke up on the far side of the spectrum



                             [ inmate kisses/inmate fucks/inmate seems

                          to have bad luck/inmate doesn’t say it much

                         but inmate thinks I’ve had enough…/ ]





                                                  marvin listener.

                                                  come-hither breeze slips

                                                  inside open window. nothing

                                                  so clear as the ardent

                                                  stretch. many

                                                  a koan soothed

                                                  with this chanting of the trenchant




                                                when mia writes about the planets and the stars

                                                they say she should leave such topics to the experts.


                   shot down the constellations so we could hang them back up


                                    [ inmate longing for commitment/inmate begs

                              for lesser sentence/inmate in love and – yes! –

                           loved back/inmate killed

                           while driving black/ ]






                                                   it’s always the they who say

                                                   never the sayers of the they.


                                                    who gets to choose

                                                    whose                        side

                                                                           you get to fall on?



                                                         mia’s writes roses:


                                                         trying to hideaway

                                                         they keep trying

                                                         to civilize me


                      decided on the playground we all wanted new flavors





                                                  mr. bureauman, how much time can money buy?


                                                  mr. troubleman, when innocence shifts where does it go?


                                      mr. judgementman, when men hang blankets over cell windows, do they leave any holes

                                                 for some light to get in?



                  a warm front came and went.

              puddles, puddles all around, early

                under the rising light



                                                  1) Theft: John Berger, Ways of Seeing, 134


“We share work primarily in the form of letters, and “the prison years: warmer now (michigan winter 2016)” reflects our investigation into this back-and forth: What is inevitably omitted when two people communicate only via written correspondence? What life is revealed through the cracks in these omissions? What creative universe is possible in the gulf that exists between two lives unfolding in parallel worlds (prison and the ʺoutside worldʺ)?”


Justin Monson is a writer/visual artist/spoken-work artist living in Saginaw, Michigan. Leigh Sugar is a writer and movement artist, soon relocating to New York. They met in Jackson, Michigan through the Prison Creative Arts Project.