Second Place — "If Prison is a Grave"

BY DANIELLE GALLAGHER (23) | Monroe, CT

••• 

“I was in prison and you visited me” Lord, what if “prison” is a grave? because this world is set to put to death the same child you died to save 

••• 

I sat down across the table 
from a man three times my size 
with ink all up his arms 
and tattooed teardrops by his eyes 
I looked around, heart beating fast, I knew I was out of place 
he said “It means so much to have you here” with a soft smile on his face 
he told me of his fears and hopes 
and of the dreams he once would pine as I winced a bit with uneasiness 
at how alike his were to mine 

••• 

I’d assumed we’d be so different 
due to our circumstance at birth 
as it seems today that that’s the thing to determine what a life is worth 
where I knew love and playgrounds, he knew fear and gangs 
fighting for survival but now 
his life in the balance hangs 
because the same system that had failed him all throughout his life 
seeks to come full circle now 
to end his ceaseless strife

••• 

it seems those walls are not impenetrable they’re meant to keep the people in, 
but to the injustice of the outside world cement walls become quite thin 
a system built on racial bias 
that looks upon the poor with harsh disdain where the mentally ill and the impoverished are those most likely to be slain 

••• 

a world fallen to hypocrisy 
with logic oh so feeble 
where we declare with pride that “I’m pro life!” all while rooting for the needle 
because a life lived behind bars 
is not seen as a life at all 
they dehumanize our sisters and brothers and set them up to watch them fall 
vengeance and discrimination 
define the system we’re told to trust 
but calling it the “justice system” 
doesn't make it just 

••• 

so I’ll return back to my question: 
what if prison is a grave? 
are we qualified to end the life 
of a sinner You forgave? 

•••

Third Place — "The Tools"

BY ZURI DAVIS (26) | Jacksonville, FL

The whip 
The rope 
The bullet 
The needle 
These are the tools used to kill my people 

My great-grandpapa got the whip 

It started off like any other day 
He did the tasks until his back was sore 
While plotting his escape 
When night came, he saw his chance 
And tried to make his way to freedom 
But master caught up and dragged him to a shed Where blood replaced sebum 

My grandpapa got the rope 

It started off like any other day 
He was tending the citrus grove 
In the hot Florida May 
His bountiful crop put a neighbor to shame 
So a crowd came that evening 
They beat him, drowned him, burned him 

My papa got the bullet 

It started off like any other day He was driving to the office 
When his Jaguar’s engine gave way He pulled over and called for help When an officer saw him standing there Reasoned the car couldn’t be his And shot my papa when he got scared 

I got the needle 

It started off like any other day I drove a friend to the gas station He went inside to pay 
He came back with blood on his hands And $80 in his pocket 
I swear I didn’t know he would kill a man But my name is still on the docket 

The whip 
The rope 
The bullet 
The needle 
And left his body swinging 
These are the tools used to kill innocent people


Honorable Mentions

"If Jesus the Christ Were Alive Here Today"

BY GEORGE DOYLE (23) | Montgomery, MN

If Jesus the Christ were alive here today,
Would he face his death in the very same way? 
Cross up on Calv’ry and tomb where he lay? 
Or Capitol Hill who denied him a stay?  

Would he as incarnate beloved of God 
Be blinded and shot by a firing squad? 
Perhaps as our savior and kingdom’s true heir, 
Be fastened and fried in the ol’ ‘lectric chair?  

Maybe in show of his love for the least
He’d hang as a millstone from our lynching tree?
Conceivably due to our sinful rejection, 
He’d pass as a victim of lethal injection.  

Truth is, he does—he dies every day,
In each of his children we make share his pain. 
We scorn and revile them, and tear them apart, 
Bury their mem’ry and stop still their heart. 

"Our Cross"

BY KATE LETTERMAN CONWAY (29) | Jasper, IN

In these United States, 
We remain ununited, 
Namely on the right 
Of the states to end 
Human lives. 
27 stand in favor 
Of capital punishment, 
Nearly a 
Dead 
Split. 

In these United States, 
Who could be surprised 
That those states 
Which use the death penalty Most frequently, 
Are the same who 
Gripped so tightly to 
Old Jim Crow, 
And continue to hold fast To this system with racist roots? 
How can we the people 
Profess to believe in 
Liberty and justice for all When what our 
Criminal justice system 
Deals out is 
Justice 
for the white, 
Liberty 
for the rich?
How can we the disciples 
Profess to believe Jesus’ words “Blessed are the poor” 
When the only poor 
We seem to be interested in 
Are those that can be served 
For a day or two– maybe a week– And whose pictures can be 
Used to flood our feeds? 
#HeyGuysLookAtMe 

How can we the Church 
Profess to believe in 
The sanctity of life and 
The dignity of the human person While standing for the killing of Our fellow man? 
I suppose it’s much easier 
To defend only the lives of the unborn, But our savior never said 
This work would be easy. 

He said 
Take up your cross 
And follow me. 
He said 
Whatever you do for 
The least of these 
You did for me. 
He said 
Forgive 
And you will be forgiven.
Can we look into the eyes of The victims of violent crime See their hurt, Validate their pain, 
Serve them in their grieving, And trust that they can be sincere When they pray, 
“As we forgive those 
Who trespass against us” 
Instead of thirsting for revenge? 

Can we look into the eyes of The guards 
Whose duties are to 
Take these inmates, strap them down, And be the last pairs of eyes They gaze into 
Before they leave this earthly life, And help these professionals live out The commandment 
Thou shall not kill? 

Can we look into the eyes of The lawmakers 
And pray that they will work Tirelessly to dismantle 
A system that is unjust 
To the poor and marginalized, That gatekeeps healthcare, 
A system which only 
Contributes to the creation of People who commit violent crimes?
Can we the people, 
The disciples, 
The Church 
Decide to practice 
What Jesus preached 
To extend mercy, 
To serve the poor, 
To love the marginalized, 
And see the inherent dignity 
In every human life? 

Abolish the death penalty, for we know It is not a mere human’s right 
To determine who lives and who dies.

"Trials of Men" 

BY ISAIAH BRICKUS (28) | Philadelphia, PA

I
Caiaphas

They came in the night. The darkness hid them. It did not hide me. It only followed.
They found me on 33rd and Olivet. 
A dozen men on the same corner, but it was clear they wanted me.
Some men scattered. One stayed. He unsheathed his knife.
The protective fire left his eyes when he found is neck held beneath a baton.
Yelling ensued. Three times he told the accuser that he had nothing to do with me.
I did not know what I had done. Surely, I would be informed later.
I found myself on the very same pavement, under the very same baton.
Blood rushed from the crown of my head.
Obscenities booming in my ear and spit spewing down the side of my face.
Insults shot from his lips as my own lips cracked on the concrete.
Suggesting criminality and a corrupt heart. 
Burnished bronze skin like war paint. 
Falsehoods uttered as authoritative decrees. 
I said not a word. 
The accuser decided to be judge and jury.
All I could do was wait to see if he so desired to be executioner.

II
Pilate

Those who seized me left me in a small cell overnight. 
Occasionally, they would enter and remind me how they felt about my alleged crime. 
Lacerations on my back like lashes. 
No amount of intergenerational preparation can truly equip one to endure blows to the back, or to the face, or to the soul, or to the identity.
 A night of no respite. 
A gaze of no mercy. 
They brought me to be judged. 
Silent as an Innocent while they search for the Lamb.
My guilt, never questioned. 
My innocence, never assumed. 
“If he were not a malefactor, would we have delivered him up to you?” they all said with a straight face. 
Even then, the court admitted, “It is not lawful to condemn any man unto death.” 
Until it was.
They soon addressed the elephant in the room. 
In their eyes I was not a man. 
Denounced, as a bastard son of slaves.
I know my Father.

III
Herod

Humiliation. 
Once I was truly caged, everything changed. 
Living was both a toll and an offense. I have no reason to be here. 
Others give their reasons as to why I am here. It doesn’t make sense to me.
The officers on the outside were presumptive.
The officers on the inside were gruesome. 
The back of my jacket read unrepentant black man, in less kind words.
Everyone seemed to know why I was there, except me.
They made sure to treat me accordingly.
They assured me, I was only in their care for a short period of time.
They, like the judge, wanted nothing to do with me. 
A problem to be solved.
A man to be executed. 
All the same.

IV
Caesar

Remorse from the judge was possible. 
Nonetheless, I was just another degenerate number. 
They wanted my head on a platter, no different than my cousin. 
Each moment dwindled into nothingness. 
Each year sunk within an abyss. 
It was not long before I found myself if front of the same judge who condemned me to prison. 
He was now condemning me to death. 
Parole was forsaken. 
I did not recognize who I had become. 
I had grown into how they saw me.
Much has changed since I was first slammed on the pavement.
I waited for redemption to be around the corner.
No.
Justice wears the same robe.
I wear the same skin.
I didn’t do it.
I held to that conviction for years—decades even.
The conviction for truth.
After decades of spiritual assault, maybe I did do it.
They think I did.
Originalists, constitutionalists, positivists, and the like,
All appeared to me as relativists.
Their truth was not THE truth, yet it had become MY truth. 
I had no final words. 
The needle went in to my vein 
Yet, I could not elude the feeling of a rope around my neck.
A glass window between me and the family of my alleged victim.
I went from feeling like I was in a zoo, to feeling like I was in an aquarium.
This is the most I have seen the outside world in decades.
I saw their tears. I saw their grief.
I wanted to comfort them.
I wanted them to comfort me.
“I love you,” I said in my heart as I remembered my first time losing a loved one.
A tear fell from my eye. 
Suffocating in grief. 
Whoever’s blood has been institutionally placed on my hands, I love him too.
I assure you. I did not do it. 
I am sorry. 
Exhaustion hits my body.
Perhaps from the execution solution.
Perhaps from all this system has put me through. 
I desire to be seen.
I desire reconciliation, even for those unmended relationships not of my own doing.
I desire freedom.
I know now that freedom will only come at the hands of the Just Judge.
I am getting sleepy.
Justice finds rest in mercy.
I am…

…going home to Glory.