Dope.

“Hey.  Excuse me.  Have you seen my man?  He’s about this tall.  He got a little mustache.  Well, I don’t really know how to describe him, but he’s so handsome.  Wait, I know what he SMELLS like.  He smells like astral aspirations and grand phenomenal expectations, like newsworthy outcomes called forth by the ancestors’ drums.  Everything that I need to survive, that don king that keeps hope alive.  I can remember his breath.  Damn…  He smells like my favorite chocolate.  You know how the good chocolate smells, like it’s smooth, like it’s got some kind of cream in it.  It’s not too sweet, with a little bit of a bite to it.  I know, girl, he’s got some really nice lips.  Well, I don’t remember what they look like, but they feel like butter dipped rose petals, the red ones.  Never mind, you not feeling me.  I’ll just go look for him myself.  Can I borrow your flashlight?  What?  Excuse me.  I know it’s still daylight.  I wear glasses though.  I can’t hardly see.  Anyway…”

Where is my phone?  “Hello.  Is this information?  Listen, I need a phone number.  Yeah, no, I don’t know his last name.  Nah, I’m not sure how to spell his first name.  Ok, listen, you are asking too many questions.  I’m just trying to find him in case, well, so he won’t forget about me.  Never mind, but if somebody calls looking for me will you give them my number?  My number is 343-84-057.  My address is 13 Lower.  Oh and my name is Claudia.  That’s C-L-A-U-D-I-A and Shivers, like you’re cold.  And I have a website too.  Just tell him for me though.  Ok.  Thank you.”

I’m already in the car.  I might as well ride by his house.  I’m not a stalker though.  It was dark when I went the last time, but I feel like I’ll know it if I see it.  Alright, let me slow down.  Where are my glasses?  Never mind.  I can see well enough.  Ok, this is block 400… 500… 600, it’s around here somewhere.  I think that’s it right there.  Yeah, I think that’s it.  I’m just gonna get out and check.  How many houses have these kinds of flags in the yard anyway?  This has to be it.  I’m getting out.

“Hey.  I’m just trying to see is my man here.  Well, he ain’t my man, but… Can I just come in?  Wait, who is that back there? Behind you?  You know who I’m talking about.  Just turn around.  Bae! Bae!  It’s me.  I’ve been looking for you.  Tell him to let me in.”

“Hey babe.  Can we just go in your room?  I think I left something.  It was, well, you got some of that whatever you had the last time I was here?  I need it.  It was dope man, it was so dope man.  It felt like candy, like dark, honey, chocolate candy on my gums.  When I swallowed some of it went in my nose and now my nose is open.  Can I get a tissue? 

I think it’s in my veins.  Look at my arm.  Come on Zaddy, you got it, stop being selfish.  I would give it to you if I had it.  Just give me a little bit.  I came all the way over here to get it.  I’m chasing it, that, that up in the clouds, I’m a beast smoke you keep blowing in my ear.  It sort of smells like gas.  No, I don’t have a problem.  I can quit at any time.  It’s just, well, when I get it I feel so fly, like a bird in the sky.  Ohh Papi, that’s it.  Thank you…. I’m just gone lie back for a minute.  It’s so good.  I’m on the clouds, I love these clouds.  Oh, dang, I got something on your covers.  Sorry about that.  I’ll get it up.  I didn’t mean for you to see that anyway.  That’s just my vulnerabilities, insecurities, and intricate defense barriers that I built up over time.  I’ll get it up.  You don’t have to worry about it.  I’ll keep it in my bag until it starts to hurt my back.  I’m good.  I can control myself.  I’m about to leave.  Can I just get it one more time?  What did you say it was called?  Unconditional Love and Benevolent Acceptance…” 

Lift EVERY voice and sing

Why social justice? Why healthy re-entry options? Because before there was a #GeorgeFloyd there was #DarrylHunt and he told us, and nobody listened. The police did not kill him, our silent indifference did. Our souls tone deaf to the pain of brothers and sisters because “that’s not my…”.

My mans said he was innocent and because he cried in solitary in muted bass tones, it was easy for us to ignore. His accusers sang in a high treble soprano chorus so loudly we were intimidated. Anyway, it sounded good. It sat right with our spirit. It got the world back to normal. We were willing to sacrifice one man to get back to normal. What about when one becomes one million? Where do we stop?

Why social justice? Because social silence let my man die in a shopping center parking lot, alone, of a self inflicted gunshot wound.

Not why social justice, but why NOT social silence? Lift EVERY voice and sing. Every voice friends. Til earth and heaven ring. Well the phones lines of earth and heaven have been lighting up for far too long from the cries of the indifferents. I’m calling now. I’ll hold… “Hello. This is Sista Number 34384-057 and I have a message. My mans wanted to let you know that it’s a war going on outside no man is safe from. Oh yeah, I’ll hold. Yeah, you can transfer me. I got time. Is help on the way though? I’ll just have a cup of hot, strong, burn the back of your throat, put hair on your chest while I wait. Yeah, He can call me back. Tell him Queen Coffee Bean is calling.”

Ring, ring, ring. Yeah, that’s the sound of liberty calling me back. Not why social justice, but why not social silence. Because the only way to save every man is to save every man, one man at a time.

Peace

What to the Inmate is the 1st of April? (Shout out to my man Frederick Douglass)

April 1, 2020 was our Independence Day. Will Smith did not come to make the announcement, but it was a fact, nonetheless. The free population of the United States of America would not celebrate until July 4th, but we quietly celebrated just the thought of our freedom. We celebrated a notion. We celebrated that our basic human right to be free would soon be restored. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. might have said, “We may not have known the day. We may not have known the hour, but according to Attorney General William Barr, we would be ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty! We would be free at last”.
The warden came through after 4 o’clock count on March 30th to let us know that we were going on full lockdown, a change from the modified movement plan we had been under since mid-March. Her information to us was that we would do this for 14 days and then a team would re-evaluate the situation. Her words grazed our ears but carried the same value as a penny with a hole in it. The coronavirus had spread and spread rapidly. Thousands of Americans had lost their lives to it, and thousands more had been infected. A virus we had previously just heard whispers about was now, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a full-blown pandemic. While you all were becoming anxious and disheartened, we were feeling the hopefulness of a Barack Obama rally. “Can we go home early? SÍ, se puede! Yes, we can!”
The pandemic produced two types of inmates. Inmate 1 had so little time left on their sentence, a relatively short sentence, or had been down so long that they felt they deserved a chance to go home soon. Inmate 2 had pending charges somewhere, had just started a long sentence, or did not have a place to go no matter when they were being released.
Inmate 1 got up early every morning for their time to go in the TV room to watch CNN. How many more people were infected, and how many more people had died while #1 slept, were almost the only questions on their minds. They used mathematical precision to calculate at what point the mortality rate need to increase, while their sentences decreased to put them in the optimal position of getting back to people they loved, or at least, living situations they understood. 1 quietly rejoiced at the lack of urgency the United States government exhibited when it came to this now, global pandemic. Inmate 1, well, they were actually women, humans, treated as embarrassments to society. It was so easy to forget, but on that day, April 1st, women gathered by the hundreds to fill out “cop outs”, or a Communication to Staff Forms, to let the warden know that they needed to be on any list of people going home early. They formed a united front. There was strength in numbers, whether the people who made up of those numbers were dead or alive.
Number 2 was annoyed with the disruption of our schedules. Incarceration is all about schedules and any disruption was enough to make a person go crazy. A schedule was the last safe haven for a mind and spirit that had lost all other control of itself, and the world around it. Most of the women who fell into this category were the ones who ironed their clothes at the same time every week, were always up early for work, and took at least three showers a day. They needed be in control of how they were perceived, because no matter what society said, they were human citizens to be respected. That rite was earned and exhibited by their pride in appearance and rigidity. And so now, they were restless because they wanted to go back to their prison jobs.
I fell into neither one of these categories. I was still trying to figure out what was happening and how I got there. Every day welcomed me with a new revelation that I articulated with the, “Wait a minute, you mean that was…?” or “What the hell is that?!” set of questions I became well-known for after some time. There was so much I did not understand about prison culture and criminal culture that I lacked the mental space to decide if going home was a fantasy or not.
I was dazed, but not too dazed to notice the excitement and enthusiasm with which my group 1 sisters pranced to the TV room. The way they watched church every morning, and then CNN brought on their daily coverage of pandemic mishandling USA. They praised the Lord with their hands in the air and thunderous shouts about the glory of God and how no man could keep them imprisoned if God did not say so. Every message from every televangelist was for them and spoke their freedom and without it the destruction of America would surely come. Evidence came like clockwork with the beginning of the daily news cycle started. Governor Cuomo was almost in tears because his citizens were dying at such an alarming rate. Evidence came when George Floyd was murdered. Evidence came as the country broke out into protest. Sister 1, Sister 1, I saw you praising your god for his ability to show forgiveness to you and offer you early release while smiling out loud at the destruction of so many people, death in biblical numbers, because the options to keeping incarcerated citizens safe were getting more limited by the day. Sister 1, I understand, I know that all you wanted was the Malcolm X Get You Home Plan, “by Any Means Necessary”.
I was on my bunk, doing nothing at all. I was just trying not to think too much about “outside” and not too much about “inside”, when an administrative staff member came into my cube. “Shivers, 13 Lower”, was all she said initially. It was not a question, more of a miscategorized statement. I always thought the gatekeepers asked questions that way intentionally. It gave the impression that they already knew the answer, they were just checking to see where you were on the integrity spectrum.
Ms. Gatekeeper had papers in her hand. She looked at me and said nothing for a moment. I almost immediately started defending myself. I did not know what she wanted, or who had given her the evidence she had documented and was bringing me to review, but I was postured to tell her it was all a lie. Then my subconscious intellect kicked in, from where I had no idea. I simply sat up on that twin, metal bunk bed and waited for what was to come next. She signaled for me to walk over to her as she leaned in to show me a sticky note. There was a list of names on it, maybe nine. Mine was on it. The list was people who met the criteria to go home earlier than expected to complete your sentence there.
On July 8, 2020, four days after the Independence Day of the American descendants of Britain, I was released to my oldest daughter and my son. Less than a year since I had become a resident of Alderson, West Virginia, and ten and a half months into a twenty-one month sentence, I was on the way home. The aggressive spread of the coronavirus had made it abundantly clear that there was no efficient way to protect members of our society who were left without a way to take care of themselves. The prison population had to be reduced drastically and quickly so the government would not be left with thousands of dead bodies on their hands.
So, friends, I have heard your cries and sad stories about the loss of loved ones, the loss of being able to walk outside without protective gear, the loss of whatever you perceive you have lost. For so many, the pandemic about loss. I tell you now though, there always has been, and always will be two sides to every coin. That coin, worthless penny, on the other side of it was the freedom for so many American citizens who cried themselves to sleep at night and medicated themselves to sleep in the day. April 1st was our Independence Day.

June 18th

I read a quote that said that life is about the journey, not the destination.  I skimmed over it without acknowledging its importance because I was still so caught up in getting to all of my destinations.  At 46, I got it. 

At 23, my belief system was that complete independence, and not asking for help were the best ways to navigate life.  I gave every part of myself, while never replacing what I had sacrificed.  At 33, I made some modifications, but for the most part, I maintained that efficient system of self-destruction.   At 43, I realized that having a crisis advocate in my life was mandatory. 

At 46, I have learned that healthy, interdependent relationships a non-negotiable.  I know that sums up one of those 7 Habits, but I don’t know Stephen Covey, and I am not just taking his word at face value.  My interdependence has sustained me and moved me into growth.  Now I observe catastrophe and crisis from the sideline rather than being the main attraction.

When my mom was 46, I was 26.  I have no recollection of that time.  I remember being 26.  I remember she was alive.  I do not remember her being 46, and more importantly 46 and present.  She was always my mom.  Once the perfect specimen of love in my eyes, she had fallen from maternal grace and become a mere mortal when she ran my dad away from our family.  That was a sin punishable by a lifetime of harsh, unreasonable judgement, outrageous expectations, and absolutely no understanding. 

I offer this entry as an act of gratitude to my mother for allowing herself to be vulnerable enough to engage in her version of love with my dad so that I exist today.

With every page I have written a layer of trauma has been shed.  I have been a trauma amphibian, a chaos chameleon.  I have been cold blooded because that was what was required.  I have changed colors and shed my decaying epidermis as life has demanded.  It was just hours ago, as I was learning the difference in a Mexican coffee bean and an Ethiopian one, that the following moment reintroduced itself to me. 

I was pregnant for the fourth time.  The relationship wasn’t a real one.  We met on a community college detour from the dreams of our former lives.  We had agreed to enter into a fun, commitment free, zero stress, physical relationship.  Forethought escaping us, and fertility chasing us, there I was, full with a heavenly blessing and earthly motivation growing in my womb.

June 18, 1998, I called my godmother to ask her if she would pick up my three children, ages 6 and younger, because I was in labor with sunshine number four.  She did.  Not much conversation, she just wanted to know what time I was picking them up the next day.  There was no emotion, no words of wisdom, and I did not expect it.  I was just grateful that she had agreed to come get my precious cargo because I had no other options.  My three sockless, highly intelligent souls left as they were instructed, but not without some questions.  We have always had open communication because it was just us, the terror squad. 

As they left, I got into my white 1985 Ford Mustang and drove myself to Lexington Memorial Hospital.  I checked myself in telling the staff that someone would be there with me shortly.  I felt the weight of telling that necessary lie, while also knowing that if I told the truth the security of my family could be in danger.  If not in danger, at least questioned, highly scrutinized and closely monitored by individuals and agencies who did not know me or my children, and whose only concern was “what was right” according to policies written by inexperienced people for a population extremely experienced in the dance of statistical poverty and non-traditional family make-up.  So, “yes, someone is on their way.  Oh, yes, my mom because my daughter’s father was unavailable.”  After the staff had been adequately assured, I was checked into the maternity ward.

I had been in labor since the previous day.  I waited as long as possible to head to the hospital so that my children would have to spend as little time away from me as possible.  At 4:00 pm, on June 18th I told the nurses that I would be having the baby soon.  The doctor came in, he was young and new.  He put his gloves on and examined my cervical dilation.  “Ok, we’re getting close.  We’ll have us a baby about 4:30.”  Poor, naïve man.  I had a family to protect.  I did not have 30 more minutes.  You see, the hospital allowed you to leave 24 hours after giving birth, so the earlier I welcomed Andréa into the world, the sooner we could both go back home.  I spoke up.  “Doc, it’s going to be 4:15”.  He disregarded my prophesy and took off his gloves.  He reassured the nurses, “It will be 4:30”.  What no one knew was that I had been quietly pushing with all of my recent contractions.  I learned that the quickest way to stop contractions was to give my body what it wanted, the allowance another beautiful soul to enter the world. 

About 4:10 pm the nurses called for that very confident, book smart obstetrician.  He had relied on what his medical texts had taught him without acknowledging there was an actual person in front him, a woman, a young, scared-brave, mother.  One’s humanness was a variable that changed medical text from reliable to more of a guide for general expectations.  In the words of Kevin Hart, “He was gone learn today.”.  At 4:15 pm he came running into the delivery room still putting his gloves on, just in time to keep Andréa from hitting the floor.  That sight just tickled me.

Hours later someone on staff brought my traditional steak dinner, as well as the one for my mom, or whoever they still thought was going to arrive shortly.  I ate both of them.  Two steak dinners, and a breakfast later I was preparing to leave.  I filled out all of the appropriate paperwork and by the afternoon of June 19th I was getting into a wheelchair with my bundle of responsibility, to be rolled to the lobby to wait for my mom to retrieve me.  Again, I lied enough to get the nurse to roll me to the exit area and leave me unattended. 

When I could no longer see her, I stood up and walked Andréa and myself to my car.  We stopped at the grocery store and bought pampers, food, the necessities, and went to gather the remainder of our band.  I got us home safely with just a few more battle scars.

I had, in those ten months prior, been impregnated with purpose, carried the weight of a higher calling and emerged with a new life.  Oh wait, that sounded familiar.

Sometimes the smallest events trigger my muscle memory.  Sitting in a cube at a Federal Prison Camp, I was filled with purpose and weight, I emerged with a new life.  There were days when I wanted to cry, but my sorrow was second to my passion for freedom and justice.  There had to be a way to remedy mass incarceration, broken homes, and poverty.  I was going to figure out a few solutions. 

I write, I tell my story, because I need to be seen, as a human, a person, a woman, a mother.  I need being seen to be the new normal.  I need you to see me so that you will then see all of humankind that same way.  As always, thank you for listening.

Prison Prayers in a Pandemic

Prison prayers sounded more like Torey Lanez and Bryson Tiller that morning. “Keep in Touch”. God please let somebody keep in touch with me. Let my name be called at mail call. Dear God, please don’t let me be forgotten. I learned what so many others before me had already accepted. After about six months, “out of sight, out of mind” became more than just a cliché. Most relationships, no matter their nature, had about a half year shelf life when someone was incarcerated. Of course, friends and family mean well, but the shock would wear off and your absence was the new normal. At this point, I had been down about eight months and had to work hard to stay encouraged.

Since the announcement and implementation of a full lockdown on April 1st, I had stopped rising quickly to meet the day with gratitude and optimism. I would just lay there, in that twin metal bunk bed, with my eyes closed for a moment repeating my mantra of a prayer silently. “God, please let them call my name today. Please let them say I am going home soon. You know I can’t make it eight more months.” Every day was the same and I was running out of the fuel of gratitude to sustain me.

I would lie quietly just to prolong the reality that inevitably flooded my consciousness. Fluorescent lights, someone trying to steal my cereal, back pain from inappropriate accommodations, something would remind me of my location soon enough. When my mom passed, I used to have this feeling as the sun came into my bedroom window and crossed my closed eyelids. I could see the bright yellows and reds that filled my soul with comfort and relief. For just a second, I lived in the paradise version of my life. In that place, that cerebral Garden of Eden, I was still in the last place I stood before the newest tragedy fell on me. Suddenly, as if I had been shaken by an invisible messenger, I was awakened. As my eyes popped open, I realized that, again, for the 200th day, that this was still not Eden. I was still in hell with no ice water and no escape plan. I prayed for more sleep, but slumber and freedom were on the run from me like fugitive slaves. They ducked and dodged me, as they ran through streams and puddles so that I would lose their scent. I was in a great chase and did not even have a pair of good running shoes, just those busted Reebok Classics that Ms. V gave me when I first got there.

Dear Reader,

This is where I leave you to write more. As opposed to just making blog posts, I am working on a gourmet piece of non-fiction. I will now use this blog to serve you appetizers as I work to prepare a delicious work of written culinary satisfaction. My goal is to produce a meal that touches all of your senses as you work to digest it. My desire is that you savor every bite of information, so that it feeds your soul and you can then share an intellectual meal with someone else.

This is where I am your spa director. I plan to massage you to awakeness and you float effortlessly into a being who heals and helps, and chooses to never pass judgement again.

This is where I am your tour guide. You have already bought your ticket, so you might as well sit back and enjoy the journey. We are going to travel to places you have been many times before, but this time I will give you a new set of glasses so that you can see through a different lense.

Thank you Reader. I offer my sincerest gratitude for you agreeing to trust me and be a kind receiver of my vulnerability.

Sincerely and Respectfully,

Claudia

Cloud Chasing

Dear Reader,

Thank you for waiting for this entry. I hope you enjoy.

Claudia

Cloud Chasing

I want to experience love with someone who makes me see poetry while we touch. I want to speak in the tongues of Rumi. My new spiritual ritual, he is. I want to feel a heat at the base of my spine. That heat will rise to my naval and run down my thick, chocolate colored thighs. Put on repeat, that flame will rise to my chest and pulse with my heart emitting an energy so powerful it will kiss my teeth and I will spew the light of passion. Mental explosions of purposes will fill my head space and my feet will move toward justice. My steps guided by him lightly holding my hand as a reminder he is always with me. My steps lead me to heaven, my head in the clouds. Unconscious ingestion of sweet, warm ethereal precipitation. It is in my mouth. It is my skin. It is in my nose. I want to live here, with my head in the clouds.

My head is in the clouds and my Boo got me. He is on his Psalms 23 vibe. He knows how I am. He knows that I serve myself, the Universe, him, better this way. Deep breath in, clouds fill my pores. I am moist. Lying back, I close my eyes and blink in the clouds. Deep breath out, I release the pain of generations from my tear ducts. Holding my head back just a little more, parting my lips and exposing my tongue, I drink in the future. I feel it rolling through to my fertile places and I give birth to hope, song, and joy. My head is in the clouds.

He is always there, surrounding me with his sunlight to all at once inhibiting me from drowning, but letting me live in the waters of all that has been beautiful since time was not time. If this is what the Creator felt, I know why the Universe was brought forth. Celestial orgasms bring forth esoteric back spasms. Life is inevitable. My head is in the clouds.

My lover cleans my wounds of vulnerability so they do not get infected. He is my healing.

Dear Lover, I am waiting for you. I am the pretty one over here making drinks with her head in the clouds. I may have missed you before because I was cloud chasing, chasing clouds, and the rain was loud. Dear Lover…

Words

I am a lover of words.
Words, I am your lover.
“I wake from my slumber
Miss how you put your love on me” -Daniel Caeser
Love make words to me.
Words, I want to have your baby.
Baby words will grow into paragraphs
Words, make love to me so I can have lots of little paragraphs.
I’m gone tach those paragraphs to be revolutionary
Revolutionary paragraphs turn the world around
Revolutionary paragraphs, revolutionary words
Words, I wanna be your lover.

Words, I love you
I am your lover.
I want to hear all the ways you roll off tongues
Words, I don’t want to miss not one of you.
I missed you, Words, and you broke out in riots.
I miss you words.
Don’t leave me.

I am a lover of words.
Words, I am your lover.

Channel Zero

“If you’re not careful the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing” – Malcolm X

Y’all, for the past week I have been trying to write something about the countless incidents in America that the media has shown us of police officers murdering Black people. I was angry, but I had not articulated it before. I thought I had it last night though, especially after watching Trevor Noah. He’s black and I was black, so he knew what I was thinking, right? I was ready to hit submit and post it to this page, but my writing just felt incomplete.

If you have read anything else from me, you know that I take my art seriously. I will not waste your time nor my platform to offer a piece of regurgitated, shallow, false narration. I refuse to do the work of the puppet master. My work serves to represent for Basquiat and Sister Badu and they wouldn’t go out like that. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I couldn’t feel it rolling down my eyes and I didn’t make the blog cry, so I hadn’t delivered a message from my parents. Universal Love and Courageous Perseverance were my genetic donors, but Unrelenting Ego and White Noise kept trying to adopt me.

I slept on it. All that being woke wore me out anyway. As I rested, Venus descended into my bedroom and hovered eloquently over my back. Using only her breath, she moved my beautifully twisted hair away from my ears. I think she was allergic to something because she sneezed, and I was awakened. The sneeze left the wetness of love on the side of my face and it rolled into my eyes. Since I was up now, I decided to grab my cellular device to see what joys the world of social media held for me. At first, my vision was blurry from that esoteric moisture, so I had to put on my rose-colored glasses to read. There was a message. “Sister, do not forget who you are. The media will have you…”, well y’all know the rest. The deliverer was not Brother Malcolm, but Brother George, one of my social media friends, and fellow artist. His art was tattoos, but when you spoke the language of the ancestors it the results were always the same.

As I read the note meant only for me, I choked a little. Godmother had infected my system with the antidote to my ignorance and I was alerted to what was missing. There was no love, no acknowledgement of my connection to humanity. My deepest truths were not in the content of my written confessions.
Originally, I asserted that I had been in a constant state of fear for my son because he was a Black man in America. In my initial scribblings, I explored how my concern was more for my one son than my four daughters. I spoke of Maurice as a victim and my passion project, and myself as his only savior and protector. All of that was bullshit, total malarkey, mere recitations from my oppressors. All the information I had neatly placed on paper was from the curriculum of the College of Self-Destruction, and not what the soul of me knew to be true. There was no connection from my heart to the pen and thus no translation into humanity for me to share.

I have always carried with me the knowledge of who I am. I am Isis, wife, mother, and sister who can not be defeated. The goddess who took her broken brother, patiently picked up all the pieces of him, and made him whole again. My brother, Osiris, was a king in Egypt and when he descended into the pits of the underworld of Any Ghetto, America, he ruled that with brutal, graceful dominance. It was not my purpose on this planet to accept a place at the soles of defeat, but to always exemplify and glorify love. I was my brother’s keeper. I used my wings, not to fly above others in the winds of sorrow and self-pity, but to scout for the broken and help put them back together again. My people just needed time to rejuvenate themselves. My love taught Horus to service humanity with passion and adoration.

I was not afraid until the media told me I was. Warriors have not ever wrapped themselves in the weak coverings of doubt and fear because that was a sure path to destruction. Maurice was not an example of the racist practices of a sick nation. Maurice was not a movement. Maurice was himself, just as we all are. He was not to be protected because he is endangered, but to be empowered to rebuke aggressors. “There’ a war going on outside, no man is safe from…” -Prodigy of Mobb Deep. I have always wanted justice and peace and have always moved to those ends. My son, my daughters, your sons, your daughters all need to be taught to swim in the vast oceans of abundance that have been left to us by our ancestors. I have sought to understand and then, and only then, to be understood. I was not afraid. I will do no harm, but I will take no shit.

I submit myself to you in peace and love,

Claudia

Sister

“If this world were mine,
I would place at your feet
All that I own
You been so good to me…” Luther Vandross

Dear Net,

I wanted to write you a letter of appreciation for your companionship on this journey we call life.

I apologize for not being here when Jef died. That was tragic. He was a terrible husband, and a lost father, but a wonderful friend. The conflict you must have felt as you fought the incongruent emotions of grief from the loss of your best friend, and the comforting feeling of not having one more argument about the destructive nature of alcoholism must have straddled you with burden. I knew what you felt without your formal acknowledgement because I was your big sister. My responsibility was to instinctively know what you felt and to speak light into your empty spaces.

I wanted to tell you that I had always been blessed by your willingness to drop all of your commitments and be the VP of Operations at Claudia Shivers Central, where the job description said only that you be able to cover my children with unconditional love for an undefined period of time and with no monetary gain. Neither of us knew what love without conditions looked like, but I was determined to figure it out, and you were determined to follow my lead and, as a result, be a brilliant aunt. You mostly strived to be different than the examples we had seen from ours who sat idly by as we were homeless at the ages of fifteen and sixteen. You loved my babies so much that you bought a chair just so they could write on it. Ultimately teaching them that no matter what they did they were always welcomed wherever you resided. You loved them with an energy that proved to be its own antidote to the harm you endured from years of abuse from your own parents. You loved them with a passion that has passed through them and into their children so that a four year old’s remedy to anxiety is not to yell, or strike someone, but to take a minute to take deep breaths until she finds her center. Thank you for that.

I wanted to thank you for not calling the refs for each time I pulled you off the bench and put you into my game. This time it is coffee. Last time it was prison. One time it was breast cancer. Hey, do you remember when you had plans on coming down to go with me to my oncology appointment, but then we had to plan an impromptu wedding in 48 hours? What was my child thinking? We had a wedding on Sunday or Monday and went to see the doctor on Tuesday. You the realest.

I always felt guilty about that time you got raped. I tried so hard to protect you from all the predators that visited our house to see our mom, but that one got by me. Maybe because we were on our own then and I thought we had escaped any immediate threats. That memory still haunts my subconscious though. I know I was only seventeen and you were a year younger, but I should have seen it coming. Whenever I have seen you in tears that memory returns to me. I should have done better.

I missed you, Net, when I was in prison. I missed calling you throughout the day and forgetting what I called for and staying on the phone anyway. I missed hearing Jef in the background trying to interrupt us just because he wanted attention. I missed that you didn’t really care about many social issues because you just wanted to hug trees and write poetry. There were so many social issues in prison chile, it was exhausting. I missed telling jokes about everyone we knew and everyone we wanted to know. I missed friending people on Facebook with you just because their page was funny. I just missed you when I was in prison. A lot.

Thank you for coming to visit though. You took a couple of buses and caught a ride with the kids and slept in a house with strangers so that we could sit together and laugh at people we knew and people we wanted to know. You did not care that you had to ride for twenty-one hours just to visit for 8. Thank you for that.

My dearest little sister, thank you for riding and always being down like fo’ flat tires. Thank you for not bringing up old shit. Thank you for having faith in faith and not in fact. Fact told you that two little Black girls from a small town in North Carolina with an alcoholic mom and a philandering dad were only ever going to be two little Black girls. Faith told you that the Creator of all that is divine would not send us here without a purpose. Thank you for believing in my coffee dreams. I have seen where this is headed. Thank you for being a social entrepreneur and opening a Black owned bank, the North Carolina Bank of Gratitude and Trust, Inc. You gave me my first credit card and it could not be paid off in cash, but only in service to others. I still have that account in good standing.

Thank you for rocking with me for 40 plus. I look forward to 40 more.

With all love and gratefulness,

Sis

Redemtion Song

My dear Brittany, my dear Chevara,

You have helped me sing, my song of freedom, when all I thought I had, were sad, sad songs.  Thank you Brother Bob Marley for that.  I’ll take it from here. 

On August 26th of last year, I pulled up to a federal prison camp to surrender myself, or self-surrender.  Before I got out of the car, I made a few phone calls, one to Chevara.  Her gift to me as I relinquished my right to be free was the opportunity to use my voice.  She encouraged, damn near insisted, that I write her letters so that my story could be heard. I embraced that present and the harder I squeezed, the more it oozed self-reflection, love and opportunity.

At times reflecting on myself looked a lot like my lack of acceptance of another inmate.  Sometimes it sounded like the voice of a Baltimore drug dealer speaking with a tongue laced with venom.  “Who the fuck are you Claudia?!”  Who was I?  Who am I?  I didn’t know, but I did remember Chevara’s gift.  I ran to get to my pen and my notebook and began to write. 

I had several mis-starts. “Hey Girl!”  No, that sounds like we’re teenagers. “What’s good Che?” Nah, I don’t call her that.  It sounds kinda fake. Finally, I settle on, “Hey babe.  I’m here doing well, and I think I’m losing my mind.”  I go on and on from there, giving examples of the disappearance of my intellect.  Other ramblings of other things and ending with the conclusions I had come up with since the commencement of that correspondence.  All ways and at all times she was a vessel of acceptance.  She accepted my letters from the Postman.  She accepted my reflection as the work I had to do for myself.  She replied with a simple, short, intense email.  “I’ve received your letter.  Your penmanship is beautiful.  I cried as I read it.  I love you.”

With so much time in isolation all I could do was take another look into my mental mirror, but this time with my friend’s words as my rose colored lenses. That mirror slowly began to show me an image I had been missing since I was a very young child.  All this time I had been wearing the dollar store shades which caused my eyes to deteriorate and my ability to see my beautiful self began to fade. The words of my mother, “You are an evil child,” played in my head so many times before that email. I never questioned her because her tone was low and intentional. Anyway, mommy said it, so it must be true.

Loving, caring Claudia made her final exit when her daddy left.  In a pain-filled tantrum, Minnie Lou Clodfelter Shivers looked her directly in her eyes and spoke matter-of-factly.  “I only had you to keep your dad and you couldn’t even do that.”  With that, the Daughter of Innocence was transformed into the Mother of Self-Destruction and now sat in isolation in West Virginia.

Remembering those words, I again got out my pen, my notebook, and wrote an urgent message to Chevara.  “Hey babe.  I am here, doing well.  I am just afraid that if I love gang affiliated Angie you all won’t love me when I get back.”  She emailed yet another volcanic response, “I love you beautiful spirit.”  The email was hot.  It burned my useless, protective layer of self-doubt to ash and produced fertile soil.  My love was able to grow. 

On July 7th of this year, I went to my cube and regifted Chevara’s gift to me.  I got out my pen and my notebook and scribed a note to my Bunkie and Kelsie, my two PBF’s (Prison Best Friends).  “As long as I can speak, you will always have a voice.”

As friends do, all of mine kept their promises.  They welcomed me home on July 8th with enthusiastic caution.  They checked on me and brought me the resources I needed.  Chevara brought Brittany.  Brittany told me I looked like Rakim and handed me a microphone.  Now I am a microphone fiend.  You can witness my addiction to sharing my story for the healing of others and using my voice to bring attention to issues that make us feel ashamed, by going to The Winters Group website and watching the podcast on “The Inclusion Solution”.  My sisters honored me by helping me sing my song of freedom, my redemption song, because that’s all I ever had.