AN ANTHOLOGY OF
VOICES ACROSS THE
CARCERAL WASTELAND (Selected and introduced by
Sara Biel & Wanda Sabir)
I never thought that another person could understand what I have been through, but after reading the poems and essays selected and introduced by Sara Biel & Wanda Sabir, I saw that I was wrong.
The tome contains letters and experiences of families, victims, perpetrators, survivors and others affected by mass incarceration and the criminal justice system.
People both inside and outside prisons nationwide, but primarily from institutions in California, wrote the poems in Colossus: FREEDOM – An anthology of voices across the Carceral Wasteland (2022). The stories of incarcerated contributors who wrote about their families; about separation, love, traumas, isolation, humanity, and freedom, resonated deeply with me.
Timothy Young, a friend, introduced me to the book. One day he hustled down the tier, excited that his poem, titled Corona-Virus, was in the book. He asked that I read it and “tell me what you think.” That sparked my interest because I love to read and write poetry.
Still, I let the book sit on my shelf for two days before I opened it, because the subject matter was folks’ experiences with incarceration. I feared it would only bring my focus to the cement walls and floors of prison life, and to the textures, sounds and smells that permeate these congested quarters. I don’t want to read about these things; I want to escape them.
But at my friend’s request, I skimmed the pages randomly without any real motivation to read the entire book — until the poem Night Rain grabbed me hard. Professor Wanda Sabir, activist, poet, arts editor and senior writer at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, wrote the poem.
Night Rain evoked emotions that I have never experienced reading a book. The poem spoke to my childhood traumas. “We hard ‘cause we learned drinking formula, the formula. Even family is unreliable. Family can hurt you worse than an enemy. Something about the blood. The way family organs are stitched together along a seam (that fits perfectly next to kin). … We are the girls who live in cars. Who walk the streets. Who ride BART all night.”
These paragraphs are like a narration of my early life. I did all of those things as a runaway teen. The first person to hurt me, verbally, emotionally and physically, was my stepfather; Night Rain got it right; family hurts.
As I read other selections, a sense of urgency came over me. Soon I dove deeply into the poems as the words seemed to jump off the page to tell the story of my life. In this connection with the book I felt less alone.
It took my imprisonment to make me understand that many people have experienced situations at least as bad as mine, if not worse. I believed that no one else could relate to sleeping on a public transit bus in San Francisco. This book, showed me otherwise.
I recommend this book because it reminds us that, in spite of life’s pitfalls and challenges, through writing we can help each other understand that things are not all that bad and that we are capable of overcoming.
“Reading changes people’s lives and causes them to excel to their highest heights. There is power in words … It inspires us to want to become better when we read about someone else accomplishing their goals,” wrote Bobby Bostic in his essay titled Reading Makes Me Free.
All proceeds of Colossus: FREEDOM go to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, an advocacy organization that supports incarcerated women’s rights.