Spoon Jackson: Writing From the Inside Out

 Spoon Jackson has been behind bars since 1977, and trying to tell his story in poetry for much of that time. He spoke to the Good Men Project about what he does and why.

Beauty in cellbars

We lock ourselves up
not because of the bars and
steel that surround us
not because life doesn’t bend
to our every whim

But because of the projections
we place onto our worlds
The judgements, the i cant’s
The trying to please everyone
while not pleasing ourselves

By seeking the beauty on the outside
that is surely within
For prisons are created internally
and are found everywhere

We allow unnatural and unreal thoughts
to be our walls, our limits
Because of the dam we build to
stop the universal love, the light

It’s all within ourselves
this paradise you go to of beauty
and love
There’s peace, where along with the
eagle you may sore
A place inside that was inspired
from the inner and above
which are one and the same

The world may not bend to
your every whim
But, it will flow wherever you
want it to go,
where it’s supposed to go
There’s beauty in cellbars


What is a good man to me?

A good man walks in his own shoes, and as a human being seek to balance in a nonviolent way his one foot in darkness and one foot in light. Some of us, bad like myself, had to transform into good, and you can imagine how hard it can be when in prison. I walked in darkness as a youngster and as a result I encountered deep life changing darkness. I could have enveloped myself in this darkness and become worse, but I chose to balance the darkness with light and love and realness. I chose to walk in my own shoes.

It took a deep fall for me to see the light about myself and share the realness and talents inside me. (I speak about my journey in my memoir book By Heart and in my poetry book Longer Ago)

I had to be real and not allow myself to hurt or destroy lives, but to build up lives with wisdom, love, peace, understanding and shared struggles.

I have been incarcerated now for 36 years, and transformed from a young troublemaker to someone who cares for and mentors young folks. I encourage them to to know themselves and to walk in their own shoes and avoid gangs and a criminal lifestyle. (See the films At Night I Fly and Three Poems by Spoon Jackson) My poem Go On speaks to that experience.

I learned decades ago that I had been on the wrong path, influenced to sleepwalk through life, doing the dirty deeds of others. Thus I began to walk and to create my own path of growth, love, peace and realness. I have become a teaching artist of poetry and known some around the world. I put young prisoners of all colors into my classes to encourage them to walk in their own shoes, and to help them out of trouble. I give them a safe space to express their realness.

A couple of years ago, Rosanne Cash came to New Folsom to do a concert and I had the honor to open for her with poetry and she loved it. She also sang one of her dad’s songs.

There are some good men in prison, and I use that word “good” under protest, because as human beings we are all good and bad at times and nothing human is alien to any of us as we walk with one foot in light and one in darkness. I know the power of words and sometimes young people can be encouraged or awakened just by having an older cat tell them they believe in them, which can be a catalyst to great change.


When was the last time I cried?

The last time I cried was about two weeks ago, when I found out I was going to the committee for transfer to another prison. I was sitting in front of the art room where I work and Kari, who is supervisor of the art room asked me why I was so sad and I could not look up at her because my eyes was full of tears, that began to run down my face. When she asked me more questions and I was too choked up to answer and stuttered and then went silent, she knew to leave me to my tears, so that no one else who passed would know I was crying. I cried not so much because of the pending transfer, but because I won’t have my poetry and prose classes to teach any more. I also wont know if I’ll be able to play my native American flutes at the new place. Also I’ll miss guest poets and writers who come into my class like Anna, Corinna Delgado, Godfather and the One Soul Sound group from Alaska. I cried because there may be no art room and no Christmas gathering in the art room. I cried because I’ll miss the realness of the art room and the young writers I’ve mentored and the bird friends I’ve made.


No Beauty in cellbars

Restless, unable to sleep
Keys, bars, the guns being racked
Year after year
Endless echoes
of steel kissing steel

Constant yelling
Nothing said
Vegetating faces, lost faces
dusted faces

A lifer
A dreamer
Tomorrow’s a dream
Yesterday’s a memory
Both a passing of a cloud

How I long
for the silence of a raindrop
falling gently to earth
The magnificence of a rose
blooming into its many hues of color
The brilliance of a rainbow
when it sweetly lights up the sky
after a pounding rainfall

Picnics in a rich green meadow
We saw the beauty in butterflies
We made it our symbol
Tiny grains of sand
One hour glass
A tear that may engender
a waterfall

The memories
the dreams
are now
Love is now

There’s no beauty in cellbars


Please visit Spoon Jackson’s blog here for more of his writing and art.

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  1. Wow. We need a new word, one that describes the beauty that lies between poetry and prose. Proetry?

  2. Tillith Governs says:

    Spoon’s spirit is so strong and so soft, so persevering, with so much desire for true insight, love, altruism and freedom. He calls it realness. He touches us through 35 years behind bars, given no second chance by society.


  1. […] Note: The Good Men Project initially published this poet at San Quentin in “Spoon Jackson: Writing From the Inside Out.” His work will appear weekly here on The Good Life in a new section, “Poet Behind […]

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