By Eduardo (Echo) Martinez
Before Exchange for Change (E4C) and O’Miami I was bouncing dialogue off dirty walls like a handball. Breaking bread with conscious heads, ghetto men and gentlemen, inside an environment where they’re obligated to dumb themselves down to fresh out of high school authorities or racist bigots. Something like, “boy are you stupid?” giving smart replies to stupid questions like “yes sir, very stupid.” Just to keep it moving and avoid a provoked altercation that only one side wins.
Before Laureate, I scribbled my life scriptures on paper, and then fed them in shreds to a toilet like shit. My pen has always been a weapon. I’ve played Russian roulette with, and have had Mexican standoffs with mirrors.
My words were beautiful babies, but this place will give your pen post partum depression. So I’d abort them, like America aborts babies and adopts puppies.
Guys would slide in to my cell and ask me what my mind has been brewing on paper. They ate hope off my pages like daily bread. Then we’d talk for hours about better tomorrows, but that’s all it ever was, talk.
You would be surprised how deep incarcerated minds dive and the treasures they find when they’re buried alive. Everyone’s gifted; they just need help unwrapping themselves. It’s sad when most men in here feel that society would rather see a monkey with a diamond ring rather than see one of us shine and succeed. Misconceptions fall both ways, like tears fall from both eyes.
Before Kathie at E4C helped manicure my writing hand, before Scott and Melanie at O’Miami drafted me 1st round pick, I was sick of writing. My pen and I weren’t on talking terms anymore. I’d abandoned writing; the papers lines became prison bars. My words were doing this bid with me. No release, like writing S.O.Ss in the Sahara during a sandstorm . . . useless.
At any given time, writing your frustrations, situations, and feelings can be easily twisted the wrong way by authority and interpreted into inciting a riot which is never the intention. Evil can be a vampire. No reflection, no substance. So it’ll get angry when you sketch its nature out in words for them to see.
I had a playground of ideas and thoughts inside my head but I couldn’t let them out to play because of the stormy environment, the precipitation of consequence for expressing myself. Ask any convict, and he’ll tell you the most dangerous weapon in prison is a pen.
The first poem I ever wrote was from one cell to another in a county jail (T.G.K). To a girl a few floors beneath me; 16 years later she is still by my side. I’m a poet today because she is my poetry. Although before Laureate, I never really considered myself a poet, just witty with words. I’d make people smirk, grin, smile and laugh with simile or metaphor or a creative theory or eureka moment. It’s the way I’ve always expressed myself. It’s how I view the world, color it with crayons, highlighters, and pastels. My perceptions 3-D, I want people to see what I’m saying up close, feel like they can reach for it and touch it. Grab my words and wear them like colorful contacts. But no matter how good my talk game, or the word play, fact is, I was in prison . . . And so were my words.
Until, E4C and O’Miami threw a fishing pole inside my fish bowl and released my words into the ocean. They gave my pen penicillin. Saw Laureate in me before I ever thought of looking for it. My words beat their ear drums and now they’ve provided me with an audience that has an appetite for truth. And I’ve got a buffet for them. I’m 97,000 strong in D.O.C, I’m putting them on my back like a jersey. I’m representing an enormous team of good men that deserve a first chance.
E4C gave my words a release date; O’Miami gave them an important job. They let my words come out and play, took my poetry out the orphanage, and gave it purpose and a platform. Scott Cunningham, Melody Santiago Cummins, Kathie Klarreich, crowned me the first Luis Hernandez Prison Poet Laureate. Along with the help and support of other great people and universities tied into the organizations. I plan to make these people proud, and I’m proud to be a part of this. So I’m a rock this crown the right way . . . LOUD!
Because if you’re reading these words, we’ve succeeded, my words are breathing freedom. And that’s my reason to keep pushing this pen again . . .
Believing that somebody out there is listening, and might just care in humanity enough, to help us make a change.