Tag Archives: Reality

It’s All About Corrections… or not

Another piece of poetry written by Gordon Grilz. He carefully plies his words and speaks the truth of private prisons. The almighty for profit beasts that warehouse human souls with no concern for positive programming to help eliminate the horrific recidivism rates, at least those in my state of Arizona.

If a private prison has 1500 beds and the state fills 750 beds, the state still pays for all 1500 beds. Isn’t that a fine example of fiduciary responsibility with tax payers funds?

I recently learned that one of our oldest Senator’s in this illustrious state has taken funds from a private prison to the tune of over $30,000.00. I trust the information as it came from a religious website that is adamant about social justice.

Gordon Grilz


The prisoners on the
make-work crew
are creating crop circle designs
in the dirt with their rakes
at ten cents an hour.
Modem hieroglyphics
record their histories
on the institutional landscape.

From the other side
of the canal bank
we hear the report
of gunfire as the guards
sharpen their skills
at the shooting range
pop pop pop
pop pop pop pop pop

It’s a parallel nightmare
in an overcrowded prison,
battleship gray building
full of double bunks
and no hope,
a human warehouse
where failures are stored
out of sight
out of mind.
When there is no more room
Arizona leases storage facilities
in other states
exporting its
throwaway population.

At night the desert reverts
under the shadow of the saguaro
as coyotes reclaim
their territory
from men with their
chain link obsession.


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The Poetry of Addiction

More words from William Aberg. His theme of addiction and despair can tear at the fabric of one’s soul. Although this is a life that I have not partaken of, it is one he allows me to view though his skillfully placed words.

I hope you have found peace in the next world, William Aberg, you who wielded the pen in mighty form.

~The Prison Librarian



for M.

Adios, Arrivederce,
old trailer courts overgrown
with oleander, alleys crunching gravel
and glass under the tires
of squad cars. Legs, lungs: no longer
do you need tense to run

that one crucial kilometer
in slow arroyo sand, dodge Dobermans
and pit bulls to escape the cops,
Bloods, Crips, or whoever
they are after me
with automatic weapons and knives.

Goodbye, good riddance,
dismayed and outraged citizens: I’m off
to the Big Yonder, Someone else
will have to fudge with his fly at the dumpster
or heave in the half-step of the low-life
Serenade. So long, mi vida loca,

it was never sweet, but I have to leave
now:  you have eaten both my feet and still you
are hungry

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Adult & Child Literacy

All literature, and literacy, is born from the human need to tell stories, to tell stories about one self or about others, to tell stories about the world to better understand our existence, the others and the universe we live in. All the stories, the myths, the fables and the novels, including those addressed to children are, in fact, the result of this wish and this basic need: they help us to live, to survive; they help children to grow up and develop.

I became a certified Motheread/Fatheread Instructor in 2006.  In an adult male prison, we called this program Fatheread. Getting this program up and running was a challenge in the prison system!  Especially with a limited budget.

This was a program for fathers with children under the age of ten years.  Inmates would submit an application for consideration and after verification of their children, current disciplinary violations and ensuring the children or child were not victims of their crime, I would select 10-participants from each unit to participate.

These inmates would receive five children’s books and we begin the process of meeting weekly for six weeks to learn to read these children’s stories using expression and character voices.  When the inmate felt “ready” I would record them on DVD reading the books to their children.  They made craft items that highlighted the book themes. When all the “items” were ready, they sent the books, DVD and craft items home to their children.

This program was available to the inmates at no cost, with the exception of mailing the items home.  The inmates have “homework” assignments and reports to write.  For example, one of the books used could be “Amelia’s Road.” A suggested the adult book would John Grisham’s novel, “A Painted House” as it is amazingly similar.

Funding for this program came from the “community.”  After my first run, one family was so impressed with the program; they donated $500 to keep it up and running.  A local community business donated another $500 and I was able to purchase the children’s books through the Scholastic Book literacy project at a substantial savings. My husband and I purchase the mini RW/DVDs to record the inmates and usually the art supplies for their crafts.  You can’t put a price on learning, reading, and parenting when it comes to inmates and their children.

Motheread was developed in North Carolina and was primarily used in the Women’s Prisons. Over the years it developed into a more broad based literacy program, sometimes being utilized in preschool environments and allowing the mothers to be trained.

The Motheread/Fatheread curriculum uses children’s books, and adult poems and narratives to teach literacy skills to adults, with an emphasis on developing skills in all four areas of literacy:  listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Additionally, the lessons help parents understand the importance of reading regularly to their children.  Parents not only learn the “why” of reading with their children, but also the “how.”

Some of the men became very emotional when recording their DVD’s. I allowed them all to add a personal video note to the child/children. Some would expound upon the story theme to relate an even deeper, more personal lesson or family value to their child/children.

These men valued the opportunity to participate in this program and did not jeopardize it by stealing from the program. They also knew if they had any major disciplinary “tickets” while taking the course, they would be summarily dropped from it.

It was a labor intensive program, but well worth the time and cost. Literacy programs are worthy endeavors.

~The Prison Librarian

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The Story… His Story… History

He was tall. Long would actually be a more fitting description. He was as long as a mid-summer’s day casting a shadow across the hot pavement. And he was black, as black as a moonless December night. He had not an ounce of body fat, he was lean and muscular. He may have been in his mid-twenties and he was alone in a sea of inmates on the prison yard. The various races would have nothing to do with him. Sadly, this included the African Americans. Perhaps he was too black.

He pensively entered the prison library. Thus began an evening ritual. He would ask to approach the half door and speak with me. When it was a quiet evening with no pressing issues, I allowed him to do so. And he would talk. He was hungry for conversation, thirsty for human interaction.

After our first meeting I knew instinctively what the issue was. He was a foreigner and it was difficult to hold a conversation with him as sometimes much was lost due to either his or perhaps it was my accent – God only knows.

I was first struck by the gentleness of his eyes, the broad smile and his ever so white teeth, although one of the front teeth was broken. It turned out that was his concern. His tooth had been broken when he was thrown to the ground by the police during his arrest.

It took weeks for the story to unfold. The story… his story… history, if you will. For this we must travel back a number of years to the Sudan for as it turned out, he was one of the lost boys of the Sudan.

In 1983, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudanese Government had been at war in southern Sudan. The conflict had already claimed more than 500,000 lives and displaced huge numbers of people. Among these were at least 20,000 children, mostly boys, between 7 and 17 years of age who were separated from their families. These ‘lost boys’ of the Sudan trekked enormous distances over a vast unforgiving wilderness, seeking refuge from the fighting. Hungry, frightened and weakened by sleeplessness and disease, they crossed from the Sudan into Ethiopia and back, with many dying along the way.

Mind you, I had been aware of the Sudanese conflict back then, and of the displaced children, but what could I do? Even our own nation seemed to turn a blind eye to this plight. Perhaps my taking the time for him was in a sense my act of penitence. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, not as an act of commission, but more so of omission.”

He was employed by a car dealership and detailed cars. Sometimes he was asked to drive a car from one dealership to another. It appears that what transpired was a gross case of miscommunication between managers and this difficult to understand young man. One manager had sent him to deliver the vehicle to another lot and somewhere along the way another manager was in search of the vehicle to show a customer. When it could not be found, the police were called.

They found the vehicle and when the young man pulled over; he was summarily dragged from the vehicle and slammed to the ground. His tooth was broken. He wanted to know if it could be fixed. I tried to explain to him that this could be handled in a civil suit once he had been released from prison. Much, very much was lost in translation.

I feel much was lost in translation when it came to the police department, his employer – who wanted to drop the charges but for one reason or another could not and then of course with the court appointed legal counsel. No one wanted to take the time involved to listen to this immigrant with broken, hesitant English. So he was advised to take a plea, go to prison, serve a term and go home and begin again. How many times must one begin again? That was a rhetorical question.

At home, he had a younger brother and cousins waiting for him to return. They were relocated to this country by Amnesty International. Can anyone argue they were not political prisoners at the most and victims of horrific circumstance at the very least?

Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 3 million supporters, members and activists in over 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights.

Their(our) vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

They (we) are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion, and are funded mainly by our membership and public donations.

After more than 50 years of groundbreaking achievements, Amnesty International is now embarking on a major process of evolution, to adapt to the dramatic changes in the world we operate in, and to increase the impact of their (our) human rights work.

What could I do? I was merely a lowly prison librarian caught up in the story of life. I prayed. I fretted. Finally I contacted Amnesty International and provided them with his name and his number, his location and a brief history of what had transpired. I also told them I could possibly lose my job for doing this. Sometimes, one has to move beyond comfort and become involved. To be a candle in the wind, a voice crying in the wilderness, a heart pierced by injustice.

This experience happened years ago. It was only recently I learned from a dear friend who worked in the prison’s Visitation at the time, that a lawyer from Amnesty International did indeed come to visit with the young man.

I pray this young man has begun again.

~The Prison Librarian

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An Unfinished Life

Mark Spragg wrote a novel in 2004. It was titled “An Unfinished Life.” It was selected by the Arizona State Library as the One Book Arizona selection. The State Library did promotions such as this to increase the love of reading and literacy in the state of Arizona.

At the time, I was able to get a number of copies of the book as well as the Leader’s Guide at no cost. I wanted to facilitate a book discussion group. This title was (and continues to be) an extraordinary tale of love, forgiveness, and of a complex, prodigal homecoming. Fitting, I thought, for a prison.

I advertised the event in the library and utilized a sign-up sheet. Imagine my surprise when all ten slots filled up. The inmates then began to sign names below, just in case someone was moved, released or dropped out.

I learned early on not to ask, “have you read the chapters for this week’s discussion?” These men were adults and my job was only to develop a love of reading in their lives. It was not to make them feel guilty or “less than” for not reading the required chapters. It was my hope that reading would become a discipline they would continue upon their release from prison.

I often told the inmate patrons that getting lost in books could and would help them to “escape” the confines of prison (if you will). Who doesn’t recall the transporting effects of feeling the sand under your feet while reading Johann David Wyss’ “The Swiss Family Robinson?” After all, it was about a shipwreck; a deserted island; a single family wondering if and how they can survive. As a child, I could get so lost inside a book that I would not hear a family member trying to get my attention (to set the table for dinner as an example). Perhaps it was selective hearing loss.

We had great discussions about the selected book. It was exciting to see them show up faithfully every week. With book in hand we would sit and discuss the highlights of the week’s reading. Sometimes they saw more depth of the characters than the leader’s guide brought out. Most amazing to me, was the diversity of the group. Multiple races, multiple belief systems, yet here they were reading a work of fiction based upon life, loss and the simplicity of living the rugged life of the ‘cowboy way’ in Wyoming.

When we had finished our five week group discussion, each of the inmates submitted a “formal” report on the discussion group that was submitted to the Arizona State Library as well as their own comments about the book and program. I located a DVD that was made from the book. I rented it, advertised it though out the library and prison yard. It was produced by Robert Redford and he also starred in it as well as Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lopez. I set a date to show the movie to the population, with hopes the reading group would show up. Indeed they did!

Now mind you, I didn’t show movies in the library often, and when I did it was for educational benefits. There was always a lesson plan and a Q & A sheet the inmates had to answer and submit. When the inmates would exit before filling out the reports it was often months before I would show another movie. It wasn’t’ entertainment – it was education. I always did a cursory count of how many were there viewing the movie. That was compared to the number of reports I received back.

Sometimes I heard my clerks in deep conversation with other inmates saying, “She told everyone straight up reports were required. Because they weren’t turned in there won’t be a movie for quite a while. You did this to yourselves.”

At the appointed time the Reading Group entered the library and one-by-one they sat down to prepare for the movie. Ultimately, what happened was one-by-one they got up and left at various times during the movie. Without a doubt, each one of them had a look of disappointment and dismay on their faces when walking out. One of them looked at me and said, “This is garbage! It isn’t anything like the book!” I told him, “Well then, you got it!” “Got what?” he said. “That there is a vast difference between the written book or a novel and what Hollywood try’s to sell us,” I replied. He smiled and nodded in the affirmative.

By the way, I just went and checked Amazon and this movie had a 4+ star rating! And we thought it was poorly done as compared to the book! Education is always a wonderful thing.

~The Prison Librarian

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William Aberg wrote about the drug scene probably better than anyone else I’ve ever read. He did not romanticize it. He spilled it out in back and white upon a page for you to read. He paints a vivid picture with his words and they become emblazoned upon our brains.

William Aberg was an inmate in the Arizona Department of Corrections. He developed hepatitis C from his drug use and life style. After his release from prison, he moved out of state. It was there he died from the complications of his illness. I find his words haunting.

~The Prison Librarian


William Aberg

It’s too easy
to describe: the match flame
charring the spoon, the blown veins,
the ravenous ghost who throws stolen
gold and gems into a lake
of pain that ripples
out in circles to everything

it loves. I remember
now, in April, the old chapel
on a hill of mountain laurel, windy
maple and oak, grass
speckled white with dogwood blossom—
There in the flickering red

scent of the votive cups,
my mother genuflects and turns to kneel
under the feet of the Virgin, slips
some coins in a box, and prays,
lighting a wick in my name, that I might find
healing, keep healthy, have enough
to eat. That I know how much

she loves me. But that I never come home again.

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The Ghosts of Camacho Hill

Inmates write poetry. It is not the typical Hallmark greeting variety, not the simple iambic pentameter. They are words artfully placed upon a page to paint a vivid picture. I know this because my library hosted a Creative Writing Workshop. I know the importance of words to inmates as they have had a sentence pronounced and the sound of a gavel being hammered thereafter.

The poem I am sharing was written by an inmate in the Arizona Department of Corrections. His name is Gordon Grilz. He committed a crime of passion, for lack of a better term. He came home from work early one day and found his wife in bed with another man. He pulled a gun from the dresser and shot and killed them both. He is serving a life sentence.  He had an issue. He dealt with it.

I am not making a comment or commentary on crime or the sentencing in this post . I am simply, purely sharing the words of this man.

Ghosts of Camacho Hill
by Gordon Grilz

Camacho Hill is the name prisoners
have given to the cemetery at the
Arizona State Prison at Florence

In predawn light
air thick with creosote and sage
coyotes assemble on the ridge
above the graves
camp dogs
singing their mourning song
of a thousand years

Dust devils dance on the graves
under a Sonoran summer sun
spirits ascend
in a sandy whirlwind
vultures ride the rising thermals

When the western sky has blossomed
scarlet and lavender and rose
voices carry
Spanish Navajo English Apache
lost prayers
blown against a chain link fence
in a dust storm

Below a full desert moon
shadows move among white headstones
desperate men
sifting through years
searching for moments
working to redeem
what they threw away with both hands

~The Prison Librarian

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