Sunday March 05, 2017

A poem from behind bars

( Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Listen 4:04

A few months ago, Michael Enright was asked to be part of an event celebrating Book Clubs for Inmates, an organization started by the Anglican priest, Reverend Carol Finlay.

Under the program, volunteers and writers go into the country's prisons and help inmates grapple with the best in Canadian literature. 

Michael's job that evening was to interview a former inmate, a 30-year-old man named Jarrod Shook.

Jarrod Shook

Jarrod Shook speaks at the Book Clubs for Inmates event where he met Michael Enright. (Emily Parr)

In the course of his young life, Jarrod has spent a total of seven years in prison, mostly for robbery offenses. His experience in the book club had a profound effect on him, and he read a poem about it at the event. 

Shook has a degree in sociology from Laurentian University, and is currently studying for a second degree in criminology at the University of Ottawa.

We asked him to record the poem for The Sunday Edition. You can read the poem here, or hear Jarrod's recording by clicking 'play' above. 

"I was in prison, and you visited me"

By Jarrod G. Shook (2016)

I was in prison and you visited me

Me, "the least"

Me, "the least"

Whose just desserts he sits and eats

In the belly of the beast

On not my first

And worst of all

Not my second

But my third fall

Behind bars and barbed wire with guarded gun towers and cement walls

And I was only 26

A repeat federal offender—a recidivist

Me, "the least"

Me, "the least"

Serving a sentence of 7 years 9 months and 27 days in prison

For which I broke the law was given

To be served

Until at least 2/3 on a federal reserve

In a penitentiary called Collins Bay

Me, "the least"

Me, "the least" who could find no inner peace

Who would walk the yard

And keep his guard

Up

As he watched the starved

Young men who owe their youth to the State

Slowly turning granite hard inside their hearts

And full of hate

And I'll admit, despite my pride

And everything I tried to hide

There were times at night that I would cry

And thought to take my life, and tried

But never seemed to find the drive

Or the nerve

So on I went, survive, survive

Me, "the least"

Me, "the least"

I'd walk the yard in days to follow

Searching for something to fill my hollow

And satiate my innate desire

To take my life to some place higher

Then this belly of the beast

I was in prison, and you visited me

Me, "the least"

Me, "the least"

It started with a simple book

An invitation to the club

We meet, you said, once a month

Once a month we sit and talk

About the book (but often not)

We laugh, we listen, we want to hear your thoughts

Me, "the least"?

My thoughts matter?

That's something new

And you're going to listen too?

Just read the book the whole way through

Your very best is all that we expect from you

My very best?

From me, "the least"?

Me, "the least"?

My worst is all I've ever done

Then do your best

And best is what you will become

You said

And I believed

So on I went to read and read

Where starved before I'd feed and feed

And swallow books you gave to me

Voraciously

I was in prison and you visited me

And watched as I developed these

Developmental tendencies

You don't know what it meant to me

To finally find, and feel, some empathy

Me, "the least"

Me, "the least"

I was in prison and you visited me