Four years ago this month, my friend Siwatu Salama-Ra was incarcerated for defending her mother, her daughter and herself. The community was galvanized and everyone played some part in loving her and her family. Miraculously, her conviction was overturned, but not until she had had to give birth in prison, and had a chance to organize with other mothers there. These two short pieces are about what emerged during her time there.
Secret Unit Baby Shower
Inside my cell, I tore a simple piece of lined paper and wrote “mama’s wish list” at the top and passed it cell to cell.
It was against the rules to pass one thing to another so you had better not gotten caught.
The paper made it around the whole unit without notice from the prison cops.
Never able to have a baby shower with family and friends, or the freedom to pick out cute clothes, each mama wrote with tears in her eyes `Onesies, stroller, play pin, clothes, pacifier, toys, car seat.’
This special piece of paper made its way back to my cell.
I mailed it out to the Freedom Team. They put out the memo.
Over 500 people donated, making sure every item on the list made it to the families who would be the new caretakers of babies birthed under carceral control.
I’ll never forget the smiles on these mamas’ faces when they called home to hear indeed a package had arrived.
I call it, organizing love in hell.
Poetry On The Yard
Time moves slowly in prison, every minute has to be accounted for.
We mamas and pregnant folk sat at the picnic table in a fenced bobwired yard.
Jessica had a notebook, I sliced a sheet from it and passed a piece of paper to each one of us.
I asked if we could spend the next while writing a poem.
Soon with pens in our hands we started to write.
One by one we read our poetry out loud. I could remember the Ooooooo’ s and Ahhhhhh’s, loud laughter and moments of praise after each poem like we sat in a open mic event.
It was some of the best poetry I had ever heard.
After all, some of the best poets are sitting in a prison cell.
Later on, with the permission of my comrades, these poems would be published in a local philly Magazine.