Part 1

The netherworld’s sordid secrets, disclosed,

brook no remorse for the dead nor regard for

those barely alive. Brutal eruptions

punctuate detention's boredom. Nor does night’s

darkened cell ease despair. With 6000 not 3000

confined to have a cell is rare.

Shower stall and cage “sleep” test whether you'll

survive. Slip a shiv along your leg. Keep one eagle

eye alert against a taut and tattooed body's

inadvertent flexing limbs lest latent rage ignite.

Oh and when the Warden's gate should somehow set

me free will I stagger out a hollowed shell from trauma

wrought by months or years alone, assaulted in the Bing

or can I steel myself, transcend my fear, pass every test

keep body, spirit strong?

Bias toward the Black and Brown poisons those in charge.

Their jungle law prevails. Irony lies in how that provokes

the self-fulfilling prophecy of resistance breeding rage.

Part 2

You say that you’re entitled to a prompt and speedy trial

before a jury of your peers? Friend, you must have read

the textbook. You then passed your civics course.

Good grades mean nothing here! Did you not notice on

the bus ride how the guards will break you down?

They glare at you or else ignore until they say you’re shit.

Listen as I clue you in on what insiders know and what your

mama’s morning paper headlines may or may not show.

A Captain barred subordinates from aiding in a cell.

The man inside displayed a rope around his neck.

He'd climbed atop the bed, then said “I’ve had enough.

I’ll jump to end it all.” “He’s faking,” said the “leader”

as she ordered officers away to some undisclosed location

until she ultimately summoned them with a piercing cry

to see him dangle back and forth beneath still piercing eyes.

I’ll bet the tragic realization made that Captain shiver

down her spine. In court she felt no pity for the victim.

Her mournful closing statement was for herself alone

having forfeit her career. From her fate she could not hide.

Her plea for mercy met deaf ears. The judge pronounced

the Captain’s sentence for negligent homicide.

Part 3

In a distant hallway on another day in hell

a different man collapsed from choking

on an orange as a guard’s eyes watched through glass.

The first guard station being empty, other captives

carried him for help but could not save him so

his mournful face while still alive

made next morning’s tabloid front page,

tragic tribute to a life gone down the drain.

If there is a God in heaven may S/He open pearly gates

for redemption of the prey of those who pull the strings

to profit from the miseries of poverty and race.

May they too receive their due.

May God’s still small voice culminate in commensurate

crescendo showing rage for the cruelty they have wrought

on those detained at Rikers Island and those who still may be.

Will our hypocritical society some day set its victims free?

Celebrity and dollar signs. Morality be damned!

God as I bear witness may I reach you with my prayer?

About the Author

Michael McQuillan

Michael McQuillan is a former US Senate aide, Peace Corps Volunteer, and history teacher for 19 years. He also chaired the NYPD Training Advisory Council’s Race Subcommittee in the aftermath of the killing of Eric Garner. The Write Launch has published Mike’s poetry and Creative Nonfiction.