Poetry from Behind the Wall

for the officers who walk each day
amid the violence of our state prisons.

All poems on this page are copyrighted
and should not used without the author's permission.

Instinct

Have you ever felt a tingle
That runs up your spine?
Or sensed a sudden chill
As you passed a certain line?

Has the hair on your arms
Suddenly stook up straight?
Or felt uneasy in your stomach
But not from something you ate?

Do you sometimes hear a voice
As it softly whispers your name;
But each time you seem to find
There is no one present to blame.

Don't ignore these inner senses
Alerting you of impending strife. . .
Heed them as a warning, for
Some day they may save your life.

Written October 28, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

Ghost of Cellblock A

They say every prison has one
Who walks the runs at night;
His presence is often felt
But he seldom comes into sight.

No one knows his real name,
No documentation can be found,
But if you choice to listen,
You may hear him walkin' around.

His feet make no impression
On the floor of the cellblock run
Sometimes you may hear him laugh
As if he is really having fun.

His mood changes on dreary nights
And you may sense his pain,
You may even hear his awful cry
Amid the drops of falling rain.

If you happen to cross his path
A sudden chill may fill the air;
You may even close enough
To feel his breath in your hair.

You may hear the cell doors rattle
In the wee hours of the night;
It's just his way of telling you
That everything is going alright.

The new inmates live in fear,
Old convicts show respect to him,
And the officers who walk his run
Know that he was one of them.

No one knows why his spirit
Has chosen this place to stay;
All of us have a name for him. . .
This ghost of cellblock A.

Written October 28, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

A Texas CO

            I walk the prison runs along
            In a world filled with white and gray;
            Eyes filled with hate stare at me. . . 
            Why have so many gone astray?
 
            I see both the young and the old
            They are women, they are men;
            A lot of things we do have changed. . .
            Some things will surely change again.
 
            Prison has become a revolving door
            For those convicted of a crime;
            Inside, outside, and back again. . .
            It's just a simple matter called time.
 
            I walk the prison runs along
            In a world of violence and hate;
            I am but one against so many. . .
            My life resting in the hands of fate.
 
            They raise their voices above the din 
            To curse to call me colorful names;
            They throw and spit, then laugh. . .
            Just one of their many childish games.
 
            The agency is cold without feeling for
            I am but a pawn in their prison field;
            I am a Texas Correctional Officer. . .
            A member of our thinning line of gray.

Written October 25, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

Etched in Stone

            Gazing up at the Texas lone star
            Very distinct against a blue sky;
            Standing in the midst of the memorial
            Tends to make a person seem small.
 
            Water flows over blackened stone
            As it glistens in the evening sun;
            Humbled by so many memorial tiles
            Engraved with names and inscriptions.
 
            Twenty-one names are etched in stone
            Men and women valiant in their cause;
            Those who walked cellblock runs
            Where some of us find ourselves each day.
 
            Listen carefully and you may hear
            The lessons they learned in death'
            Hear their voices raised in prayer
            For the officers they left behind.
 
            Beware the actions that you take
            As you walk inside the prison wall;
            For in an instant, a blink of an eye
            Your name may be the next one. . .
                                                 Etched in stone.

Written September 9, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

Stories to Tell

The runs are silent now
No voices echo against the steel
No clanging doors closing tight

The light so dimly glows. . .

What stories these walls could tell.


Another time, another place
Scars that time cannot erase
Broken glass scattered on the floor
Silently a whistle blows...
What stories these walls could tell.

Cracked walls with peeling paint
Mold and mildew in the sinks
A broken bed with rotten sheets
The mattress torn, there are no more...
What stories these walls could tell.

Faded pictures torn in half
A broken pen run out of ink
Pages turned in a Bible unread
Someone crying in the night...
What stories these walls could tell.

Blood was shed most every day
Hatred filled the halls with fear
A few died so others could live
Turn the key just one more time
Walk from this prison, don't look back...
These stories aren't important now.

Written September 9, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

Walk in My Shoes

            They Say. . .
                        Our job is easy
                        That we just sit around all day
                        With little to do but
                        Watch a group of inmates
                        While they work and play.
            They say. . .
                        We have it made
                        And that we should be glad
                        To work in a building
                        Instead of outside in the heat
                        During the hot summer months.
            They say. . .
                        We make excellent money
                        With super good benefits,
                        And lots of days off
                        Just because we have
                        A job working for the state.
 
            They say. . .
                        But what do they know?
 
            Have they. . .
                        Ever been inside a prison
                        To walk the runs each day
                        Or watched 500 inmates
                        Turn out to the Rec yard
                        To see a fight take place.
            Have they. . .
                        Ever been inside a cellblock
                        Where the smell of human flesh
                        Reeks of sweat and other odors
                        Because there are no windows
                        Through which even hot air can blow.
            Have they. . .
                        Ever drawn our pay check
                        After all the deductions are done,
                        Or paid our medical bills,
                        Or worked a double shift because
                        Someone didn't show up for work.
 
            They say. . .
                        Our job is easy. . .
                        But I don't see them standing here in gray.

Written September 4, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

Team Work

            My jobs take me to places
            Where few people would walk. . .
            Though I may be with many,
             I am but one person.
 
            Two hundred inmates per block
            With eyes staring out at me. . .
            Though I may be dressed in gray,
            I am but one person.
 
            Smell of body odor is strong
            In the sweltering Texas heat. . .
            Though their anger may soar,
            I am but one person.
 
            In unbearable working conditions
            Where life can be snuffed out. . .
            Though gray is plentiful today,
            I am but one person.
 
            There is need for more officers
            And we talk about our salaries. . .
            Though only a few speak out,
            I am but one person.
 
            Too many are quick to criticize
            But offer no means of solution. . .
            Though I work toward help all,
            I am but one person.
 
            We wage a war for improvement,
            Better conditions and higher pay. . .
            Though I speak and write letters,
            I am but one person.
 
            They teach us about team work
            Yet some still go it alone. . .
            If we wish to win our struggle,
            It will take more than one person.

Written September 3, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

The Gray Line

            Just one of many standing there,
            Teary eyed and solemn,
            Forming a long gray line. . .
            Shoulder to shoulder
            With heads bowed in prayer.
 
            No smiles, no laughter
            Echoes through the crowd
            As they pass before us. . .
            One of our own
            In a flag draped coffin.
 
            Last week we walked
            The cellblock run together,
            Working side by side. . .
            Two Correctional Officers
            In a world of violence.
 
            Now a ribbon of black
            Is worn in memory
            Of the one laid to rest. . .
            Tomorrow is a working day
            For the thin gray line.

Written August 23, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

Inside Cellblock B

For nine hours straight per day
The deafening sounds are heard,
The screaming and the yells
Of angry women in prison cells;
They curse officers and each other,
They curse their own mothers.
The ears roar, the head aches
From echoes on the cellblock run.
Some are there doing life,
And a few are short timers,
But it really makes no difference. . .
They are all dressed in white.
Some try to sweet talk you,
But most will trap you,
They will say and do anything
To see the color of gray begin to fade. . .
To them it's just a game.
Once there was the convict
Who always played by the rules;
Then came the inmate
Who had respect but tried your hand;
The new generation of offenders
Wants to do time their way,
'Cause they have nothing to lose.
A correction officer walks
The cellblock run alone,
To protect the world called society.
No body armor is worn
To guard against their shanks;
No warning is given
When they decide to attack;
Death also walks the beat. . .
HIV, Hepititis and TB;
Despite the odds against them. . .
The correction officer stands firm.

Written August 16, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

The Price of Safety

Standing at my kitchen window
I watched him scale the fence. . .
Eight foot high with razor wire. . .
Then cross to the other side.
The report of a gun shot
Echoed loudly in my ear as
I stared at what happened.
A man in gray outside the tower,
His weapon raised, then aimed;
A figure in white on the ground
Running for his life.

Standing at my front door
I watched her standing all alone. . .
Looking up and down the road. . .
Searching for movement in the distance.
The high pitch of barking dogs,
And A dozen thundering hooves,
Like centurions of yesteryear
Charging across the country side.
A yell, a bark, then a cry. . .
Time for reality to set in. . .
No one will sleep tonight.

Sitting by my bedroom window,
I gaze at lights of yellow and white. . .
A fence glistening in the night. . .
And all seems peaceful and quiet.
Inside the walls a different world
Filled with violence, hate and rage,
Where only the strongest survive
And the weak are consumed in fear.
Thanks to the men and women dressed in gray,
Whose vigilance is never ending. . .
The public is safe once again.

Written August 7, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

Doing Time

Too many times I ask myself
What am I doing behind the wire?
No crime have I committed,
Still I am here doing time.
For almost nine hours a day
I leave my freedom behind
To walk where few people go
In a jungle of cold hard steel.
I am no hero by any means,
My fear is often overwhelming;
But no weakness can I show
Lest they see and pull me down.
Theirs is a world of intimidation
Where only the strongest survive;
Eyes that show no human emotion,
Cold and hard as the hearts inside.
On a pod or narrow cellblock run
I walk beside them all along knowing
That I am one of many doing time,
For I am no stranger behind the wall.
There is no glory in what I do,
Still I come to be locked in
Behind the tall fence and razor wire
In the frightful place they call home.
No one will morn my passing
When I leave this job behind;
Some one else will fill my shoes,
And walk among those doing time.

Written July 10, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

Survival

A lonely path we walk each day
In a world divided by the color gray;
Inside the wire we have no friends,
Our only hope is to walk safely away.

Men and women in county jails
Will soon fill our prison cells;
They will survive, the question is how,
Time is blind and no man tells.

Coming from families bad and good
Before a judge and jury they stood;
For crimes committed and lives they took,
Leave no witness, code of the hood.

Chances to survive each day grows slim
As we walk cellblock runs next to them;
One lone officer watching so many,
Along a narrow path, so long and dim.

Forever looking for things out of sync,
Always alert with little time to think;
One wrong move could mean loss of life,
One blink of the eye, to death's dark brink.

The glisten of razor wire is an eerie sight,
A spine tingling chill felt on a cloudy night;
Our work behind prison walls is done,
Thanks be to God, we are all right.

Written July 9, 2000, by M. L. Brown, COIV

The Keepers

Behind the razor wire we walk each day
Where hope is but a glimmering ray;
In the drenching swelter of Texas heat
It is by choice that we walk this beat.

Often out numbered a hundred to one
But someone must get the job done;
Every day we walk the runs in fear
Knowing that we cannot shed a tear.

No respect is found behind the wall
But we must always stand up tall;
The tension is often sharp as a knife
In a violent world filled with strife.

Cursed at, spit on, often under attack
Twenty-four-seven we watch our back;
In a moment, in the blinking of an eye
One, maybe more of us could quickly die.

Men and women locked away in a cell
From society's exspectations they fell;
For whatever crime they committed
Into our prison system they are admitted.

It is their world, both night and day
They are good at the games they play;
It is imperative we stay on the alert
So no one working the run will get hurt.

Few people really know just what we do
Working in this uniform of gray and blue;
Still they have a name for us, at any rate...
We are the Keepers... the other inmate.

Written June 19, 2000, by M. L Brown, COIII
Inspired from the A&E television series on prisons entitled
The Keepers: The Other Inmates

Hostage

He grabbed me, attacking from behind,
His intentions clearly set in his mind.
Pressed against my neck, a shank,
Blood pressure rising, I couldn't thank.
I said, "It's not worth all of this strife
I know you're already doing life."
He replied, "I know this can't be right,
But they're gonna kill me tonight."
Time stood still and I could see
Moments in my life passing before me;
Cold hard steel I felt beneath my chin,
Then his blade ripped through skin.
One drop, two drops, then a spurt,
Soon scarlet patches covered my shirt;
Tears were now flowing out of control,
I knew for whom the bell would toll.
Like soft clay in the potter's hand
My body gave in to his command
While larger grew the crimson stains
And life forces flowed from my veins.
Gazing into a bright ray of light,
The pain vanished, so did my fright;
A heavenly figure was walking in sand,
And to me, I saw His outreached hand.
In my dazed state of blind confusion,
I thought I was seeing an illusion.
The light grew dim, He walked away,
Almost in a whisper I heard Him say,
"My child, lay still and be strong;
Help is coming, and it won't be long."
My eyes and nose began to burn
A cloud of smoke, I tried to turn;
Screams rang clearly through the block,
A key was heard turning in the lock.
My eyes were swollen, I could not see
The helping hand that dragged me free.
Then a smile I saw from where I lay. . .
'Twas a friend in blue and gray.

Written April 23, 2000, by M. L Brown, COIII
Following the events of a hostage situation at the
Alfred D. Hughes Unit, Gatesville, TX

Mildred L. Brown sustained an on-the-job injury which prohibited her from working as a Corrections Officer for TDCJ. She is now a fulltime graphics artist for the Palestine Herald-Press. She is freelance writer/photographer for a number of other newspapers.

 

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