sábado, 16 de julio de 2011
PRISON BRIEFS, Safiya Bandele
Directed by brother Roberth Roth the free and diverse And Then 16 poetry magazine has just been released. Safiya Bandele and Borther Robert have been so generous in allowing us to publish Safiya Bandele's Prison Briefs.
Chayraqmi And Then poetry magazine qespirin. Chayqa waykinchik Roberth Rothmi qespichisqan. Chaypiqa ancha laya qellqaykunam kachkan. Wakinku sumallaqana, wakintaq chawacharaq. Manataq And Thenta imapas qukunchu, free kancha kasqan rayku. Qakutun sunquyyuq kasqankurayku Safiya Bandelepas waki Robertpas Prison Briefsta reqsichinaykuna qasiwanku.
It was November—late evening—dark, gray, windy. It seemed as if everything was scurrying—
bits of debris, people exiting the subway making their way home. K. and I often exited the same Brooklyn IRT subway stop and had on this day agreed to rendezvous at a tiny neighborhood coffee shop.
We had tea and conversation. Having just met a few months prior, we were (or I was) dancing around meaningful or honest conversation. We only knew for certain that we liked each other’s company. Especially each other’s Otherness.
This was (pre-Starbucks) Winter 1969.
17 years later—Spring 1986—a gray rainy day. No scurrying or bustling. All is relatively
quiet this weekday in the Visiting Room at GreenHaven Maximum Security Prison in upstate New York. Our 1969 friendship has steadily evolved along with our resolve to remain friends (if not lovers)—no matter what. This stance had seen us through decades of his incarceration and my parallel journey on the outside. On this visiting day, we had been outside in the Prison Yard before the rain began. Back inside, we sat for awhile then naturally, rhythmically gravitated towards the open door leading to the yard. I’m sure we were aware of the subversive nature of such a move, but as we stood side-by-side in the doorway watching and listening to the rain, “prison” seemed so far away. By this time, we had grown in loving friendship and emotional intimacy. A prison visiting room, however, is not the place for such expressions. Indeed, certain gestures can result in your visit being terminated – for that day or beyond. The guards watch, eyes hovering, and are quick to call the prisoner out if there is an “extended embrace”—a violation of prison rules. Prisoners must remain seated at their own (usually assigned) table—“no cross-visiting”, no going to the vending machines, no standing, no crossing the yellow line painted on the floor— someone called it “the demilitarized zone”.
At GreenHaven Prison, side-by-side in the doorway in the rain. How many such moments? Let’s see, We met in June 1969; he was arrested January 1974. We have had thousands of prison visits, telephone calls, and letters since his arrest, conviction, and sentencing (November 1974). 36 years and still counting. The fight for his release has been lengthy and complicated. But that story is for another medium.
The elements have always figured in planning the visits. The extended forecast becomes crucial—determining how to dress (layers for the upstate cold) or whether or not to travel if the forecast calls for snow or ice. The condition of the highways and the experience of the driver are major considerations.
Once travelling by Prison Van Service to Attica (an overnite trip) in bad weather, the bus skidded on the icy highway and went down an embankment. This was after the visit; we were about an hour outside the prison town, and as usual, we—the wives, girlfriends, mothers, and children were dozing. We awakened to motion and commotion, gasping and
yelling. Thankfully, the driver was able to control the bus so there were no injuries and we were able to climb out of the slightly vertical bus. The nice townspeople allowed us to wait until a replacement bus arrived.
So, snow and ice often remind me of prison highways enroute to prisons. I’ve sat in prison visiting rooms with K. looking out the window at the rain or snow, and inevitably, as the end of visiting time draws near, I begin to worry about the return trip home. During the visit, we might have sat forehead-to-forehead, scaling the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, but the guard’s announcement “Visiting Hours Are Now Over!” brings us back to prison reality. Separation reality. The reality of competing emotions: not wanting the visit to end and wanting the visit to end. Ready to escape K’s probing eyes and questions but not ready to deal with the return trip home. The prison van trips to and from were frequently high drama. That, too, is another story for another medium.
Sunshine: Image: riding the prison van early morning, departing Brooklyn in darkness,
dozing, awakening to a beautiful sunrise, and watching until the van speeds onward. Image: sitting in the visiting room near a window with the sun coming in directly on K.’s face and eyes - a beautiful sight and feeling.
Water. Wet. Back in the day (early 80’s) we could sit next to our loved one with arms around shoulders—an allowable gesture. K. and I shared many intense intimate moments. Occasionally, the emotional feelings were so strong I had to stifle a moan as a delicious orgasm made its way forward, the wetness coming through my underclothes and clothes, ending up in a spreading ‘juice’ stain on the fabric-covered visiting room chair. Afterwards, I would arise shakily from the seat and head for the bathroom to reassemble my emotions. As soon as I stood up and saw the seat, I knew that circle was duplicated on my dress. “Is it…?” I would ask K. anxiously, not wanting anyone to see it. He would nod, smiling, affirmatively. These prison relationship erotic accounts are sometimes referred to as “wet panties” stories, which some editors prefer, being less interested in our battles against the state’s prison policies and prison injustices.
The Prison Bus Trip
The night before the visit was anxiety-laden: “Lord, please let my alarm go off in time so I won’t miss the van”. There was a group camaderie as we shared that peculiar language and culture of prison rules and regulations, parole denials and releases, prison engagements and marriages, infidelity, and gossip about “that bitch who had the nerve to come see somebody’s else’s man on the last visit. Sometimes a woman was arrested on the spot at the prison for attempting to bring in contraband (generally drugs) though contraband can sometimes be defined as a greeting card with glued cutouts.
Most prisoners prefer to be locked up close to New York City so they can have more visits. The upstate prisons,—e.g. Attica, Clinton—are a 10-hour drive. In the late 1970’s when K. was at Attica, I would take the Prison Bus to see him. This adventure is repeated
weekend after weekend. Go to 59th St. Columbus Circle in Manhattan on any Friday or Saturday night and you will see hundreds of (primarily) women of color and their children waiting to board one of the buses headed upstate. My first such trip to Attica was filled with incredible anxiety and tormenting questions: Will I be able to see him? Will he be in the box? Will they turn me away for some reason? (we learn to wear wireless sport bras to avoid setting off the metal detector) Will all the items in the package I’ve brought be allowed in? Will he and I have an argument about something he accused me of? A lady vendor boards the bus at 59th Street selling items to help us get through the long night: Tylenol PM, pillows, blankets, bottled water, batteries, “Vibrators”? she asks, to laughter. I just pray for relative quiet. An all-night talker is my worst nightmare. In order to look and feel fresh and refreshed, we wear old clothes to sleep in and change at a “Rest Stop” near the prison. There we would pile into the Ladies Room and change clothes, brush our teeth and comb our hair. The transformations are always remarkable—even to ourselves.
One night we’re gathered at 59th Street waiting to board the prison bus. (There are generally
four or five 45—passenger seat buses). A Central Park Horse/buggy clomps past with a group of giggly young women, likely tourists. As they slow down near our group, one sings out gaily—“Hey, where y’all going?” We all just stare at her. She asks again, laughing,
“Hey, whoo whoo, where you going?” No one answers. It was strange. We were bound, not so much out of secrecy, as knowing she could never understand: To prison?
Another time, a group of 4-5 dressed-up folks passed us and asked “what’s going on?”. We were silent for a moment, just staring at them, then someone in our group responded in a serious tone - “We’re auditioning for American Idol.” The passersby smiled but looked skeptical. I imagine we were a somewhat motley crew, dressed as we were for eight hours of sleep on a bus, our “change-of-clothes-to-meet-our-lover” neatly folded awaiting those breathless moments of transformation. Of course, there was sometimes tension and a little unpleasantness when a woman took too long to change. Eyes would roll and you could almost hear the remark: “All that time and she still don’t look much better.”
The Men’s Room
When the bus had a Bathroom Stop at some gas station where the bathrooms were outside on the side of the building, we would line up shivering in the cold, having dashed from our slumber. We would commandeer the Men’s Room since it didn’t make sense for it to be empty while so many of us had to jump from one foot to the next and wait with our impatient bladders. Often, when a man approached the Men’s Room, we would say sternly: “You can’t go in there- a lady is in there”. The man would look at the sign—Men’s Room—look at our glaring faces, and decide to pee someplace else