Category Archives: 30 days 30 words

Dutch oven



Day 9 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:


Dutch oven,  1.  an iron kettle for baking, with a tight-fitting convex lid, on which live coals can be placed.  2.  a metal container for roasting meats, etc. with an open side placed so that it is toward the fire.  3.  a brick oven whose walls are preheated for cooking.



The casseroles started arriving on Sunday. Large glass baking dishes covered in foil. Aluminum pans. Dutch ovens in every size and color. Usually, scotchtaped to the top was a handwritten note with the same kind of words and the name of the family who left the dish. We took the casseroles off the stoop and lined them up on the countertop. Then we took post-its and labeled them: broccoli and cheese, sweet potato and marshmallow, tuna, baked ziti, lasagna, shepherd’s pie. There were round tins of quiche. There were a few kinds of pie. Someone had started a list on a legal pad with columns drawn down the page: what dish had been brought on what day and by whom, ostensibly to know how long they would keep or for future thank you notes. None of us felt much like eating. It’s funny how the impulse in times like these is to want to make food: as if the void that needs filling is in someone’s stomach. And it’s funny how at this time of others’ great generosity, it is hard to bring yourself to cut a piece of something, put it on a plate, and stick it in the microwave. These meals are gestures made to simplify but they serve as reminders of how much energy it takes just to decide to put food on a fork and stick it in your mouth, of how much time it takes to chew. We kept filling the refrigerator, stacking and organizing and reorganizing, negotiating apple pie and potato salad, until there was no longer any room. We didn’t want to be wasteful so we put a sign on the door that said, “Thank you for your thoughtfulness but there’s no more room in our fridge.” We heard the sounds of people coming by, their footsteps on the front walk, arriving and receding, but none of us could bear to go to the door. Instead, we sat in the living room with the lights off and the T.V. on a program that none of us was watching. We didn’t need to go out. We had all that food already. We knew it was there, just in case any of us ever felt hungry again.


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Day 8 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge!


ma·ha·lo  /ˈmäˌhälō/   [Hawaiian] :   thank you



How many times during the course of your day do you say the words “thank you”?


Most of us are well trained to offer thanks throughout the course of the day: to the person who lets us go before them in line at the grocery store, to the barista who pours our coffee, to the fellow rider who offers us his or her seat on the bus, to the person who whispers a “bless you” or “gesundheit” when we sneeze. The act of giving thanks can sometimes lose its meaning in mundane repetition, even if the words are sincere. How often do we actually connect with what we are saying? How often are we really offering thanks rather than going through the motions?


Sometimes, we can say the word “thanks” in a way that actually implies the opposite. As in “thanks a lot,” when we don’t feel we have gotten what we needed in an appropriate time or manner. Our “Thanks” is canceled out when we add “for nothing” to it.


Anthropologist David Graeber writes about the origins of niceties in the English language. He writes, “Consider the custom, in American society, of constantly saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ To do so is often treated as basic morality: we are constantly chiding children for forgetting to do it…We often assume that the habit is universal, but … it is not. Like so many of our everyday courtesies, it is a kind of democratization of what was once a habit of feudal deference: the insistence on treating absolutely everyone the way that one used only to have to treat a lord or similar hierarchical superior.”


He writes about it deriving significance from commerce: “it is the language of bureaus, shops, and offices, and over the course of the last five hundred years it has spread across the world along with them.” He continues to say that it is related to assumptions about “what humans are and what they owe one another, that have by now become so deeply ingrained that we cannot see them.”


But I wonder, isn’t offering thanks more than fulfilling an unwritten obligation? Doesn’t saying “thank you” have the capacity to be an act of generosity rather than a repayment of what is owed? Regardless of what our collective rituals are, isn’t there some desire within us to acknowledge someone else standing before us with his or her gifts?


The Hawaiian word mahalo is translated as “thank you” but much is lost in this translation. Kūpuna, Hawaiian elders, speak about the word as a spiritual blessing. Ma means “in.” Hâ means “breath.” Alo means “presence” or “front” or “face.” So a more accurate interpretation of mahalo would be: “May you be in Divine Breath” or “May you be in the presence of divine spiritual breath of life.”


In this way, saying mahalo is not dependent on having had anything done for you. Saying mahalo can be an honoring of what another is offering just by being alive and present, standing before you.


In the United States, we live in a culture that very much thrives on a scarcity mentality. We are told we need more and more to be happy, and when we get more and are still not happy, advertisers tell us it is because we didn’t get the right kind of “more.” We are sold solutions for problems we didn’t even know we had. If we continue to believe these stories of scarcity then what we have is never enough and it becomes nearly impossible to be satisfied, much less grateful.


Photo by Andrew Pescod

Photo by Andrew Pescod


I keep hearing in different stories in different places that although you may think that giving would grow in proportion to one’s income, the reality is the opposite. An NPR story last week discussed the work of UCLA researcher Patricia Greenfield who tracked families in Chiapas ,Mexico over four decades. Many of her study’s participants began poor but grew in wealth over time. She explains wealth increases, “We become more individualistic, less family and community oriented.”


Greenfield argues that this trend has happened in the United States over a longer period. This shift where individual wealth is the ultimate goal is reflected in the way we communicate with one another. According to the article, Greenfield did an analysis of more than one million books published between the years 1800 and 2000 in the U.S. As the country grew wealthier over that 200-year period, Greenfield found a difference in the words used:  “the frequency of the word ‘get’ went up and the frequency of the word ‘give’ went down.”  Her study also revealed changes in the way in which Americans referred to themselves, with “individual,” “self,” and “unique” becoming more popular than words that reflect community like “give” and “belong.”


I worked in the lower Garden District of New Orleans at a small nonprofit community center when I was in my early twenties. This was years after the St. Thomas Housing Development had been torn down and the River Garden “mixed income” housing development had risen in its place. Those who worked at the center talked about how, yes, there had been issues with drugs and violence, but these were spoken of as a hindrance, as something that could have been fixed with time and attention. They spoke with grief in their voices of what had been lost. When the housing development was torn down, the community was torn apart. Neighbors used to be able to rely on one another for childcare. They would look out for each other, making extra food when they knew a friend was hurting or slipping a five or ten dollar bill into their next-door neighbor’s pocket when she wasn’t looking. There was a sense that times were hard and nobody had a lot, but that what they had could be shared, had to be shared. When the housing development was torn down, community members were left to fend for themselves.


This same issue was magnified years later when the city council chose to tear down many housing developments after Hurricane Katrina. None of these had much or any damage from the storm; most of them had been built in the sixties and the materials used easily withstood the winds and water. The damage that did exist was from years of neglect from HUD, not from the impact of the winds of the storm or the levees failing. When I would check in with friends back at the community center, they talked about how many calls a day–80, 100–they were getting about rent assistance and utility assistance. People couldn’t get Section 8 housing. People weren’t able to afford rents. Residents from public housing were scattered around the city, which not only made living hard but less joyful. When we don’t live in community, we don’t have as many opportunities to be generous or as many opportunities to be grateful. Our failures become solitary and have to be borne alone. We believe we have to make it by ourselves and when we can’t (as we all experience at some point or another), it is easy to fall into despair.


Professor of Psychology at U C Berkeley Dacher Keltner grew up poor himself and felt a shift in his responsiveness to others when he moved into a position of prominence and wealth. Data from his research quantifies what he felt in his own experience. On NPR, he said, “ In just about every way you can study it, our lower-class individuals volunteer more, they give more of their resources — they’re more generous,” he said. “The poor, say with family incomes below $30,000 and $25,000, are giving about 4.2 percent of their wealth away, whereas the wealthy are giving away 2.7 percent.”


As people grow wealthy and able to take care of themselves, they don’t have to rely on the support of their community and so they may not strive to maintain or create new connections. And they may not feel the need to help others.


When we are focused only on ourselves and our own wellbeing, we not only lose sight of those around us but we cheat ourselves out of the opportunity to be part of a larger community. We cheat ourselves of the gift of offering our generosity and the gift of accepting the generosity of others. We deny ourselves the beauty that can only come through connection.


I know that using the sanskrit word namaste has become a sort of cliche, mostly because of its use in the American yoga community. And I understand the problems with cultural appropriation. However, I think the desire to use this word–to bring in words like namaste or mahalo–comes from a deep yearning for a word that is stronger than thank you. Namaste translates as “the divine in me honors the divine in you.” To recognize the divine in someone else is to imply careful, deep attention. To offer a spiritual blessing means that you honor the other person in their complexity, that you see them for their deepest and most divine self.


I think that we need opportunities to give to one another. I think we crave this. We are not completely fed when we feed only ourselves. The Buddha said, “If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.” In the African dance classes I go to regularly, there are certain moves that the teachers refer to as “give.” Arms and hands are extended, palms open, to the sides or to the front or to the sky, the gesture an act of offering the energy of the movement and of oneself. And as we do the movements, the teacher will repeat the reminder as we move our arms to the beat to the drum, “And give, and give, and give, and give…”






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sheep dog




Day 7 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:


sheep dog,  a dog trained to herd and protect sheep; specifically a)  a collie  b) a large, gentle dog with a short talk and long, rough hair covering the face and eyes: also called old English sheep dog.



O’Brien looked at the pup.  He had been the runt of his litter. When he was just born, O’Brien had to put the other dogs away, in a pen, to let him feed. Otherwise, he was always just waiting behind the others, still blinded from new birth and unable to find a way over his brothers and sisters and to the teats. O’Brien named him Bídeach, but most of the time he called him Bid or Biddy. Siobhan thought it was a waste to time to train him for the herd, “Such a bitty body, bitty brain,” but O’Brien sensed she was wrong. And the first time he let him out with the sheep when he was barely a month old, he didn’t run them ragged the way most young pups did. Without training, he began to move closer to the herd, to crouch low, and after a moment, to move close again. From that time, O’Brien took Bid out to the fields with him almost every day, even when the other dogs were working. And when the other dogs herded, Bid stayed right by his side until the color started to drain out of the sky and they headed back to the house. O’Brien had been raised to love animals but hold them at a distance, and he had been able to do that most of his life. He knew that animals came and went and that was the natural order of things. It was best not to become attached. But something about the way Bid had changed things.  So when Bid started to take breaks when he was running, to pant and lie down, O’Brien felt a knot form inside his chest. Runts are apt to live shorter lives, to have more health issues. Nature makes them work harder to survive. “You’ve done a good job here,” O’Brien said, reaching down to stroke the pup’s black and white fur. “You can leave whenever  you’re ready.” Such a small thing to have taken up such  a large space, he thought to himself. Such a very small thing.


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Day 6 in the 30 words, 30 days challenge.


I happened to be sitting around a table with Elizabeth Frankie Rollins and Elizabeth Smucker today so I asked them to join me in the challenge. Thanks for playing y’all!  The three of our compositions included below.


shelled  (sheld), a combining form meaning having a (specified kind of) shell, as in soft-shelled.


Elizabeth Frankie Rollins:


It had another meaning. Paul searched his memory while gouting dirt showered him, while the booming deafness sank into his brain, shelled, shelled—it was so obvious, why couldn’t he think of it. Next to him, Harry clutched his rifle and stared resolutely at the sky. Shelled, of course, was what it meant to be in war. He knew that. A call came down the line—they’d be going over soon—so he’d better think of it because once they went over he might not ever think again. He kept seeing the kitchen, Carmelita stirring a pot and smiling, but it wasn’t abou thtat but it was about something like that. Sh-elled. It came to him. Pecans. Nuts. Shelled. Where you peel back the hard surface to reach the meat inside. Of course, Paul laughed with relief. And so much the same, he thought. And the call came down the line, Harry standing beside him.



Elizabeth Smucker:



He shelled her out of her dress. She shelled him back inside.

The beach had been shelled by morning, the waves that had brought them now trying to uncover on their way out.



Shelled to death.

Shelled of death.

Shelled from death.

Shelled under death.

Shelled around death.

Shelled over death.

Shelled by death.

Shelled to death.

Shelled until death.

Shelled upwards of death.



Lisa O’Neill:



She sat down in front of the mirror, vials and jars and brushes spread out on the countertop. The bulbs burned as she applied herself: a sweep over the brow, a slick black line on the lid. She layered lashes. She tweezed and teased. She lacquered her hair and nails. Lips red, hair high, she slowly pulled on her sheer stockings. She slipped into her strapless dress. She stepped into her heels. Her pinky corrected a smudge at the corner of her mouth. She assessed. She nodded. She headed out the door.




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Day 5 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge.


1stem  n.  1  :  the main stalk of a plant; also: a plant part that supports another part (as a leaf or fruit)  2  :  the blow of a ship  3  :  a line of ancestry: STOCK  4  :  that part of an inflected word which remains unchanged throughout a given inflection  5:  something resembling the stem of a plant —stemless  adj  —stemmed adj.



When I was a kid, I used to love diagramming sentences. Every time the teacher asked for a volunteer, my hand would shoot up. Sometimes she would pick me and I would walk down the narrow aisle to the chalkboard. Getting to write on the board was always exciting as it bestowed a feeling of authority and significance, but I didn’t love it when I had to answer math problems, when I worried I might get it wrong. But words, I understood how words worked. I wanted to understand how words worked. What they meant, how they were spelled, how they were connected to one another. There was something thrilling about drawing that initial horizontal line, placing the subject and verb there, and then finding where the diagonal lines needed to be made, where the other words fit in. I could feel the chalk pressing into my hand and could feel that this was important work: learning how words were arranged to make meaning. As a kid, I worried a lot: about grades, about friends, about what to wear to school on non uniform days, about what it meant that I was picked last when dividing into teams for freeze tag, about running or not running for student council. I also had an active imagine so I worried about potential catastrophes that could befall me, my family, the world. I didn’t often feel like I had much control over impacting any kind of change in the injustices I saw, even from a place of privilege, around me.  I was a kid in need of something to rein these worries in. I was a kid in need of a refuge. I found one in language. Diagramming, I felt reassurance in the words’ connection through these lines. The lines made the words’ existence tangible and real. They weren’t just things to be said, tossed away into the air. Here, they were concretized, even if momentarily so given the ephemeral quality of chalkboards, of chalk. As I drew the lines and continued to build the branch of the sentence, I understood that words could be made to do something, that the way they were positioned mattered, that they could be used to make meaning and that I could learn the system for the time when, maybe, I would want to use them to make meaning of my own.





*Author note: funny where my mind went with this. I wonder if I was still also ruminating on chalk from yesterday. I guess one possibility with this month is that the words could continue to unfold and also fold over and touch and interact with one another.

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Day 4 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge.


chalk  (CHôk)  n.  1.  a soft, white powdery limestone consisting chiefly of fossil shells of foraminifers.  2.  a prepared piece of chalk or chalklike substance for marking: a blackboard crayon.  3.  a mark made with chalk.  4.  a score, tally, or record of credit  v.t.  5.  to mark or white with chalk.  6.  to rub over or whiten with chalk.  7.  To treat or mix with chalk: to chalk a billiard cue.  8.  To make pale; blanch; Terror chalked her face   v .i.  9.  (of paint) to powder from weathering  10.  chalk up, a. to  b. to charge or ascribe to: It was a poor performance, but may be chalked up to lack of practice  —adj.  11. of, made of, or drawn with chalk.  {ME chalke, OE cealc  <  L  calc- (s. of calx) lime]  —chalk`like, adj.

























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Hollywood Sign, 1978

Hollywood Sign, 1978


Day 3 of the 30 days, 30 words challenge:


de·fame  (diˈfām), v.t.  –famed  —faming.  1.  to attack the good name or reputation of, as by uttering or publishing maliciously or falsely anything injurious; slander or libel; calumniate: the newspaper editorial defamed the politician.  2.  Archaic. to disgrace; bring dishonor upon  3.  Archaic. to accuse.  [ME defame(n)  <  L  defam(are), equiv. to De– DE- + famare, deriv. of fama a report, rumor, reputation (see FAME); r. ME diffame(n)  <  OF diffame(r)  <  L  diffamare, equiv. to dif- DIF-  + famare]  —de·fam·er, n. —de·fam·ing·ly, adv.


I don’t pay attention to the negative because I’ve seen this play out
so many times
how many times have we seen this?

     Hayden Panettiere!
     Incredible Ass!
     In Incredible Bikini!

You know now.
You know what’s happened.

     Fergie and Josh Duhamel hire Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan.
     Dancing with the Stars is furious.
     Tom Brokaw is a bully.

Anyone that performs
That’s what you’re looking for.

     Jennifer Lopez.
     No longer the best **s on the block.

You’re wanting to make history.
     Ex-Disney Superstar
     Death Certificate Released
     Gunshot Wound To Head

We said, “You know we’re about to make history right now?”

     Should she do her daughter a solid and tone it down?
     But at what an enormous price?
     The floor is yours!

What’s amazing is, I think, now we’re three days later they’re still
talking about it.


     Lamar is giving Khloe the silent treatment.
     Amanda Bynes is ensconced.
     Kanye West banks millions.
     Disney is none too pleased.

They’re over thinking it.

     Justin Bieber’s Perfectly Chiseled Torso Was Threatened

You’re thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it.

     Snooki in a High-Waisted Bikini, Looks Better Than Taylor Swift?

Like, I didn’t even think about it, ’cause that’s just me.


All plain text taken from
All italics taken from Miley Cyrus’ official statement about her recent VMA performance. (

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All photos courtesy of

All photos courtesy of











Day 2: I’m realizing that one of the challenges of the 30 days, 30 words challenge is being okay with letting go of a piece once I have written it. Usually, I have a week to let the ideas simmer and to come back to drafts so writing a draft the same day and then putting it up is a challenge for sure. This is especially true when I feel I have so much to say and am trying to figure out the right way to do it. It’s an exercise in non-attachment, I guess. Or at least being less attached to what I am writing in this particular iteration on this particular day.



cap·tive  (kap’tiv) n.  [L. captivus  <  captus, pp. of capere, to take; cf. CAITIFF],  1.  a person held in confinement or subjection; prisoner.  2.  a person who is captivated.  adj.  1.  taken or held prisoner  2.  captivated  3.  of captives or captivity.




Of Captives or Captivity



Herman Joshua Wallace participated in a project several years ago where he worked with a visual artist to design a house. I imagine that the process was not much different than when most people work with designers and architects to design homes. He described in detail what he wanted his house to look like, how many stories it would be, what features the room swould have. He talked about the landscaping and the outdoor pool. But there was one major difference. Herman Wallace was designing a house he would likely never live in. He designed his house from the confines of a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell in Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana.

Angola is an 18,000 acre former slave plantation which takes its name from the country most of the slaves who worked the land traveled from. Able-bodied prisoners, 78 percent of whom are black, are required to work for four to twenty cents an hour a minimum of forty hours a week: working the fields of sugar cane, soybeans, cotton, and corn or looking after the 1,500 cattle herd.

Herman Wallace has been in solitary confinement for 41 years. Solitary confinement at Angola State Penitentiary means a minimum of 23 hours a day in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell, 7 days a week. For 41 years. The last time he was a free man the Vietnam War was in full swing; Richard Nixon was planting the secret taping system that would blow up in Watergate; Ben Hur played on television; Radio Hanoi broadcast Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner”; Tom Jones and Barbra Streisand had hits on the radio; a first class postage stamp went from six to eight cents; Ed Sullivan hosted his final broadcast; Walt Disney World opened in Orlando; the U.S. performed nuclear tests at the Nevada test site; and Don Mclean’s eight-minute song “American Pie” was released.

Wallace had been convicted of armed robbery in 1971. That same year, in prison, he and three other inmates: Ronald Ailsworth, Albert Woodfox, and Gerald Bryant established the Angola Chapter of the Black Panther Party. The goal of the chapter was to improve prison conditions, and chapter members spoke out against unjust treatment and racial segregation in prisons, which many believe made them targets to the administration.

In 1972, prison guard Brent Miller was brutally murdered at Angola, and in 1974, Wallace and Woodfox were convicted of this murder despite there being no physical evidence to link them to the scene of the crime. The victim’s widow does not believe in their guilt. Wallace and Woodfox have fought their convictions since, claiming  one eyewitness was legally blind and another witness, rewarded for his testimony, was known for being a prison snitch. Known as the Angola 3, Wallace, Woodfox, and Robert King (who was accused of another separate prison murder) were put in solitary. King was released in 2001 after 29 years when his case was overturned. Wallace and Woodfox have been in solitary for 41 years.

Visual artist Jackie Sumell first wrote Wallace in 2002 when she heard of his case. She was a graduate student at Stanford University and was given an assignment: “to speak with the professor of my choice about spatial relationships and indulgent dream homes.” Sumell writes in The House That Herman Built, “I struggled to balance the futility of this assignment with the reality of Herman’s condition. So, with the support of Herman’s lawyer and his personal advocate, I asked Herman Wallace a very simple question: “What kind of house does a man who has lived in a six-foot-by-nine-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?”

For the next five years, through extensive letter writing and occasional phone calls, Herman and Jackie worked collaboratively to design that house. She asked questions and he answered them in words and drawings. The letters are also a document of Herman’s emotional condition as they range in time from when he was in Camp J (the harshest camp nicknamed “The Dungeon” by inmates) and back in regular solitary (or Closed Cell Restriction, CCR).

In one of the letters, Wallace writes: “I don’t have the measurement of the cell but here is the best way to do this. In width when I outstretched my arms I can touch both walls with about 3 inches to spare. Lengthwise, I got this much: … That would be one arm, body, body 2 arms. Its best to make your measurement this way because now you could built it according to the person who would have to live in it. Let me know if I’m making sense or not. The above is where I live, the worst unit and cell in the prison. Yesterday one man next door to me tried to take his own life. They took him off 4-point restraint this morning and I’ve been talking to him to help him relax. Security lied on him and got him knocked down to level 2, forcing him to do 6 more months back here and he just snapped–so sad.”

The design of the house bears the mark of someone who has spent the majority of their life in a confined space without access to air, to light, to outside. Flowers and plants are ever present on the grounds and also in the greenhouse (“I’ve attempted many times to grow plants in my prison cell, but would only gain a stem and the plant would soon die. I learnt that concrete walls and steel bars stifle growth which is why it is so necessary this house be made of wood.”). There is attention to detail in the colors used and the types of wood. One bathroom features a 6’9” bathtub– “the exact size of the cell I lived in for 26 years.” The design also reflects a sense of isolation and enclosure and anxiety about outside dangers. “The wrap around porch was not constructed for the purpose of beauty but rather to discourage stray animals from getting too close.” “The chimney connected to the house is really an escape tunnel….this escape tunnel leads beneath the patio to the swimming pool…beneath the bottom of the pool’s concrete for is the bunker for safety measures. If attacked, seriously under attack, the house can be set afire to with more than enough time for you and your family to escape unharmed.”

The project was first done as an interactive art piece. Herman’s cell was reconstructed. Letters he and Jackie exchanged were hung and an animated tour of the house, much like a video game, played on a television screen with Herman speaking about different features of the house. In July 2013, a documentary based on the project, Herman’s House, was released. Efforts are underway for the physical house to be built. Herman said, “Whether I live in the house or not, it makes no difference. The symbol of the house is what it’s about.”

In June 2013, announcements came out that Wallace has been diagnosed with liver cancer. Petitions called for his release. But Angola Warden Burl Cain stated in a deposition that “Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace is locked in time with that Black Panther revolutionary actions they were doing way back when.” He said that, if released out of solitary, “I would have me all kinds of problems, more than I could stand, and I would have the blacks chasing after them.” One of Wallace’s lawyers Nick Trenticosta told Mother Jones magazine:  “The level of inhumanity I am not used to. I am used to bloodthirsty prosecutors who want to kill people, but not this sort of thing.” Wallace will likely die in captivity. Not only in captivity but in solitary.

Wallace and Woodfox may have some of the longest time served in solitary but they are not alone. Based on available data, on any given day, there are at least 80,000 prisoners in isolated confinement in America’s prisons and jails, including some 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons. According to the American Friends Service Committee, the average term served in supermax prisons is five years. In the federal system, Thomas Silverstein has been held in solitary confinement under a “no human contact” order for 28 years.

In solitary at Angola, inmates can use their one hour a day to shower or walk down the hall of the cell block. They have the option three days a week to exercise alone in a fenced yard. Wallace and Woodfox’s lawyers argued in civil suit about the physical, emotional, and mental injuries suffered from their long time duration. Medical reports reveal the men “suffer from arthritis, hypertension, and kidney failure, as well as memory impairment, insomnia, claustrophobia, anxiety, and depression.”

This summer, Netflix launched an original series called Orange is the New Black. Some have lauded the show for its diversity of women: race, class, sexuality, body shape, while others have said that the show kowtows to stereotypes about different kinds of people and about prison. Having watched half of the season, I witnessed the refusal to deny any of the prisoners dignity and a series of storylines that reveal inmates as complex, beautiful and flawed characters. As someone who is concerned about prison issues and who has taught writing workshops with incarcerated individuals, I am grateful that, for once, prison is in the limelight. Prisoners are getting attention in pop culture and in a way that doesn’t immediately dismiss them as evil or irrevocably damaged and deserving of bad treatment.On the show, one thing all of the women inmates speak of with dread is the SHU (Security Housing Unit), or solitary. There is a shared understanding that noone who goes to the SHU comes back the same.

I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be confined to such close quarters for so long. What it would be like to not have anyone to talk to. What it would be like to be able to reach out and touch the walls on either side.

To be held captive can have positive connotations: to be engaged, to be rapt.

But far more often, it has the connotation of powerlessness, an inability to get out: whether that be out of an enemy’s hands, out of a particular situation, out of our own thoughts, out of a jail cell.

And captivity, on the behalf of the captors, shows kind of denial. It is a denial of the wholeness and the dignity and the largess of spirit of those who are held captive. And it is an arrogance that we have any right to put them in a cage and throw away the key. I know the reason prisons and jails and juvenile detention centers aren’t talked about in presidential debates. Because prison isn’t popular. Because we would like to pretend that the human beings held in these spaces we have made are different than you and I, that they have somehow forfeited their right to any decency or care because of crimes they committed (or, in some cases, didn’t commit). But to pretend this is to hold ourselves captive: in the belief that there are some among of us that are chosen or safe or saved and others that aren’t; in the belief that people are fixed and unchangeable, that the way we are is the way we are; in the belief that only some of us are worthy of redemption; in the belief that we can commit atrocities to one another, deny the humanity of one another and not personally suffer.

Wallace said of his house, “[This project] helps me to maintain what little sanity I have left, to maintain my humanity and dignity.”

May we all remember the humanity and dignity of one another. And may we challenge one another whenever we try to hold each other in spaces too cramped for our bodies or for our deeper truths.


Filed under 30 days 30 words

30 days, 30 words

This is a photo series I took a few years back for my 30th birthday, but I think the range of emotions is fitting for this challenge too

This is a photo series I took a few years back for my 30th birthday, but I think the range of emotions is fitting for this challenge too


The 30 days, 30 words Challenge


Greetings Dictionary Project Followers! I hope this post finds you well and enjoying the first day of September. Here in Tucson, it’s 93 degrees at 9:13 at night so the weather doesn’t feel much like fall. The season delivers in other ways though: the sharpened pencils, the full bookbags, the undergrads taking over town like army ants.


I’ve always loved September and the beginning of the new school year which brings with it new and exciting challenges. Inspired by the new academic year and month-long challenges artist friends have taken on, this month will be the first ever 30 day, 30 word challenge at the dictionary project.


For the month of September, a new word and new post will be added to the site every day.


I will write a post each day, and I invite you all to bibliomance (close your eyes, flip through dictionary, select a word) your own words (for all 30 days or for some of them) and post your words, definitions, and writing in the comments.


pre reqs:

1: a love of language

2: a curiosity about words

3: the desire to write

4: the desire to bibliomance


necessary tools:

1: a printed dictionary

2: a pen and paper or access to computer

3: an inquisitive mind


The idea for this challenge is not to strive for perfection in every post but rather to see where my mind takes me and to produce a piece every day, whether it be a few lines or a few pages long. I hope some of you will join me!



Filed under 30 days 30 words