Friday, April 23, 2010

Feathered Horses

I have returned from the outer reaches.

My friend is guilty as charged. Of that there is no doubt, but the law stinks. I see him sit there in prison blues with the psychedelic orange logos identifying him as a convict. He is a little overweight, a little puffy looking. He has aged in five years. Lately he has erupted in hives on his right hand, mainly his fingers. He looks for solutions but has not yet found them. I assume he is allergic to doing this much time. He is not yet fully at six years. He is convicted of three counts, six years each. He is not eligible for any reductions for good time, no parole, nothing but straight time served or longer if he misbehaves or is caught in one of the weird twists that can happen in there. He is almost complete on the first count served, but still has two more to go.

I weep each time. This is a good man. He was of value to the community in all other ways and he earned in the six figures for his engineering marketing expertise. Now he is involved in Buddhist and Christian services, tutors the other inmates in a variety of subjects, mainly math, and he directs and sings in musical groups. He has gotten into honors housing and even found a way to cell up with his best friend. When he first got to Snake River he was wise enough to figure out how to pay rent, a mild form of extortion among the convicts, where you pay to have a guy watch your back. If you are known to pay rent then with some care on your part you never get into any beefs with the other inmates because they know you are connected. When he first got into honors housing he stopped paying rent but then some people figured it out and now he is back paying rent but it is reduced by a third.

Jesus. He writes poetry from time to time. He wrote one called Doing Time which was published in a special publication for inmates. He wrote another poem where he pointed out that an inmate he knew convicted of second degree murder was getting out in eight years where he is doing eighteen for a crime that involved no violence.

The journey itself was fine. My car behaved well and I was comfortable enough on the way over. This is absolutely the best time of year for the mountains and hills of eastern Oregon. They are still green. Soon they will dry up. The journey east on I-84 takes one through the Columbia Gorge, carved out when Lake Mazama broke loose and drove to the sea, not once, apparently, but several times. Lake Mazama was a huge inland sea at the base of the Ice Age glaciation in the region. It is worth coming to Oregon just to see how the Columbia River sets in its gorge. Further east the highway drifts south into the flats which are farmed, then ascends into the mountains in a dramatic rise up to Deadman Pass. The highway then passes through evergreen forest before descending again into hill country and winding through eastern high desert. There is one operating cement plant and another that is abandoned and ghostly. Then one hits Farewell Bend and the rich farmland near the Snake River. Headed into Ontario, one goes under the overpass for Stanton Blvd. and off to the west, there is the prison.

I got to Ontario just in time for a big thunderstorm with sixty mile per hour gusts.

We break in mid visit for lunch. I carry food, so I went to a nearby park on the Snake and napped because I knew I was going to push for home straightaway.

My cat is sitting with her forepaws resting on my hand rest, breathing on my right hand while I type. She approves this message.

Feathered Horses

On the willows' verge
are three small feathered horses.

I will ride today.

I will load the two
with an iridescent glow,
saddle the other
with my hope for peace.

I will depart for outer
reaches, still looking
to give you more time.

May 11, 2009 6:50 AM


  1. Justice? You gotta wonder. Rights? You gotta plunder. Friends? Gather. Gather close and know their sins as your own, that you might never forget, but for the grace of God go I.

  2. I have no idea what your friend's crime was, but to do more than twice the time that a murderer does seems insane to me. I still don't understand jailing people for certain things, especially those where they are harming only themselves. But there's much I don't understand about this world.

    Love your poem. And your heart.

  3. The concept of justice fails in the face of reality. There is no way to render justice without hypocrisy. We are forced to attempt some form of control, some way to counter the simple fact of defiance as it manifests in human life but every time we try to apply some rule of justice we increase injustices at the edges of our focus. There will always be falsehood found in the process, people falsely accused, intentions twisted, imbalances between acts and retribution. The attempt to apply justice also allows certain groups to inflict cruelty on others because they like to inflict cruelty.

    We select jailers with interest in criminal justice. Some of those certainly have a prurient interest. This was illustrated in The Green Mile very well, except that usually such a man is better at hiding his nastiness as a prison guard, knowing that he is across the line and can be condemned for it.

    Jesus invites us to love our enemies precisely to end this impossibility. We are simply not in the right position to be judging each other. We do not have the balance for it and there is no way to get God on our side. Not ever. That we are in the position that we are, that we must add to the burden in this way, is a matter for regret and grief and dismay.

    However, we must protect the social fabric. We are driven to it by the sheer misery of human preying on human. What a mess.

  4. your poem is very beautiful, the whole post is.
    'to give you more time'
    time a strange thing in many ways. i cannot imagine being in jail for that long. just a normal person, like all of us. all of us living on the edge, even if we do not know it, we are all the same, some of us are on this side of these wall and he by what fate on the other side.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

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