Prison Poetry Program
Poetry is a language that speaks directly to the heart. Part of the work of JCP is to bring greater levels of feeling and authentic experience into prisons. Poems are often read in our prison circles as an invitation to go deeper and touch feelings. Spoken poetry is one of the most effective ways for men to access what is at their core.
Do you have a favorite poem that you would like to be read to men inside?
Send us your favorites and we will read them to men who are seeking wisdom and inspiration on their journey. Poetry may be sent to us for sharing at the address below.
Here is poetry inspired by the work we do and the experiences
of entering and leaving the prison.
Herring Run
They come in a tin can, neatly packed side-by-side.
To open the can, you need to pry the key from the underside,
fit the metal tab into the slot and roll it up.
How quietly they sleep inside that cozy can,
waiting for spring to stir them back to life
The electric door grinds along its track as I enter the trap.
Shoes off, pockets inside-out, hand stamped, book signed,
Arms to my sides, I rotate in all directions-east, south, west and north-
passing silently through the archway to the other side.
Smudged by the magic wand, I pass through another sliding door,
then a swinging door into the yard.
Crossing the yard into the building where we meet,
I wonder whether we will find the key to roll back the tin.
Will they surf the tide, scurry up the stream and through the locks?
Will their leaps and pirouettes carry them around the rocks to
the spawning ground?
The scent of spring is full in our lungs today.
We thrash, dive and leap through the currents to the sea.
At the center, bubbles rise from a deep source
and a secret spring carries us beyond wire and walls.
Boys frolic in the surf, combing the beach
for bits of concrete, glass and metal washed up on the shore.
But now it is time.
The men line up neatly, side-by-side.
To close the can you need to find the key,
fit the metal into the tab and roll it down.
How quietly they sleep inside that cozy can,
waiting for spring to stir them back to life.
-Steve Spitzer
Prison II
Dead latch hums, disengages,
Steel door growls against its track.
Drives shut, pawl clicks in.
Badges, heavy belt, radio,
Pendulous keys, chain, clipboard,
Crew cut, scrubbed skin,
Watchful eyes, straight back, taut arms.
Footfalls echo, spotless vinyl,
Bright lit glare,
Blank walls, hard edges,
Bars, gate, thick glass.
Scrub grass,
High fence, straight lines,
Concrete, steel,
Gray light, cold wind.
High cameras,
Huddled men, hushed voices,
Uniforms, empty hands,
Standing, waiting, bare halls,
Locked in, locked out.
“ Attention on the compound…”
Rules, numbers, repetition.
Black fear, stoop shouldered
Red anger, black veiled
White reality, open faced
Orange-bright courage, golden hope.
Gift for my soul, this
Wheeled gate rolls open
Invites me to its
-Vern Ludwig
Copyright Jericho Circle Project, Inc. 2003
P.O. Box 398045, Cambridge, MA 02139
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