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On the Big Yard
Art is everywhere
Etched into the skins
Of former foster care kids
Turned convict

One man walks the yard alone
He wears a shirt that he cannot take off
The ink of a thousand ballpoint pens
Pushed under his skin by the tips of old guitar strings and sewing needles
In group home midnights
Or D Block lockdowns

Across his shoulders; the letters “S O C A L”
And below this
A pictorial history of Los Angeles
The Pachuco Riots, the movie industry, and surf culture
Underneath the left arm
A lifelike rendering of Adolph Hitler
Underneath the right arm
A shamrock with the numbers “666” in the center
Four teardrops from his left eye
A Sistine chapel of convict art
And down the back of two gigantic biceps are the words:
    P
G      R
A      I
Y      D
    E
He is called “Silent”
Because he speaks to no one
And no one speaks to him
No one even speaks of him
Except for an old man who once said in chow line
“There go Ol’ Silent … He don’t talk to nobody …”

I wanted to speak to him
And when he ran past the Woodpile
Where the peckerwoods sat
I said “Good Morning …”

Silent kept running
But the Woods, playing Pinochle with their White Pride tattoos,
Had heard what I said
And one of them said to me: “Don’t fuck with Silent …”

I decided this was good advice
But when we lined up to be searched after our day on the Yard
Silent stood next to me
He knew that I was the one who had spoken to him

You could see it on his arms!
How lonely he was …
I spoke to him, again
“You’ve got some really amazing tattoos, man …”

The room had been a maelstrom of convict clatter and clanging doors
Now it was quiet, as Silent regarded me with a blank stare
too late now
I looked back at him
Silent reached up and lowered the elastic band of his orange convict pants
No one could look away
We saw his tattoos
Black flames reaching down the shaft of an erect penis
A small “happy face” at the very tip

The guard turned
He addressed Silent by his real name
“Miller! What the fuck is you doin’?”
“Man, git yo’ hands up against that wall!”

Silent covered himself slowly
He put his hands on the wall
They shook him down for weapons and other contraband
Then we moved back into the cellblocks
When they called for “Yard” at 11 AM the next day
I stayed in my cell

I left Old Silent
On the Big Yard
But I thought you should know
He was there

Gay Pride, motherfucker ….

STORY INDEX

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Books by prison poet Jimmy Santago Baca
URL: http://www.powells.com/search/DTSearch/search?kw=jimmy+santiago+baca

PEOPLE >

Prison Poet, Dramatist, Jean Genet
URL: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/books/author/genet/index.shtml

Prison Poet Etheridge Knight
URL: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/knight/knight.htm

The Prison Poet by S.H. Wintle
URL: http://dreamsis29.tripod.com/PrisonPoet.htm

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