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The prison system is a like nation within a nation. It has its own border walls, its own vast population. To enter, you must abandon your belongings, pass under the gaze of correctional officers, and walk through the arch of a metal detector. “Same as at the airport,” they sometimes tell you. Into the prison, you carry an ID that confirms your citizenship in the outside world.

This is the first piece in A World Without Cages, a collection of creative writing by and about the incarcerated, proudly published on The Margins. The work gathered here stands watch over a system that is always watching. “What I don’t get,” says a voice in this poem, “is why you choose to come here.” These pieces are a choice—to seek out, and speak of, what might otherwise be erased.

—Daniel A. Gross, Editor

 

Security

 

OPEN GATE ONE step in

put your keys and your ID on the table walk through
the machine whoops

take your belt off try again

it smells in there by the way OK GATE TWO

grab your things

come in I even set up fans and everything but man it’s awful like
a bunch of ’em forgot to shower

set your things down on the counter sit down

take off your shoes
and socks show me your feet

turn your shoes upside down and knock ’em together

you staying with family
or somethin’? stand up lift your tongue say Ahhhh

turn around lift
your hair you come a long way

pull out your pockets

inmates
they get three meals
and a roof and a bed

and me I get paid I been here twenty-one years

I get seniority
on holidays this year I got Christmas
and Thanksgiving

I hope I get out on time today ready

grab your ID
and locker key I ain’t kiddin’

it’s awful in there OPEN GATE TWO

I been holdin’ my breath all day step out

spread your legs
arms out like a airplane

what I don’t get is why
you choose to come here

Leigh Sugar previously facilitated creative writing workshops in prisons and edited the Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing, both through the Prison Creative Arts Project. She is now curating an anthology of writing by artists who have taught in carceral settings. She received an MFA in poetry from NYU, where she was a Veteran Writers Workshop fellow.

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