Words by: Ronit Pinto

Long time artist Fury Young met Spoon Jackson while researching prison arts programs for his upcoming project, “Die Jim Crow.”  Spoon was sentenced to life without parole in 1978 when he fatally stabbed a man during a fight. He was 19 years old.Spoon has served time at half a dozen state prisons. It was during his time at San Quentin, where he found his voice as a poet after enrolling in a four-year poetry workshop run by teacher and writer Judith Tannenbaum.Since then Spoon has achieved many accomplishments and accolades and has discovered himself in other arts including:

  • Gained international attention as Pozzo in the 1988 production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”
  • Authored plays, poetry, novels, fairy tales, short stories, essays, and memoir, which have been internationally published
  • Has won four awards from PEN American Center Prison Writing Program
  • He started the “Peace Gang” with a group of friends in Sweden designed to spread and share his poetry
  • Was featured in Michel Wenzer’s award-winning documentary “At Night I Fly: Images from New Folsom Prison” who took the title from one of Spoon’s poems.

It was Spoon’s work that attracted Fury, prompting him to reach out to and collaborate with Spoon on his upcoming album, “Die Jim Crow.”

“Die Jim Crow,” is a concept album covering songs written by formerly and currently incarcerated black men and women from across the United States.  The album comes as a response to the book “The New Jim Crow”, written by Michelle Alexander, which makes the case that prison is a “modern day racial caste system” in which African American men are often unjustly imprisoned or kept in prison a ridiculously long time. While Alexander states that the targeting of black men through the War on Drugs allows the U.S. criminal justice system to function as a contemporary system of racial control, Fury’s artists are in prison for various reasons and will express their perspectives and experiences on the “New Jim Crow.”“Though I didn’t immediately fall in love with Spoon’s poetry,” Fury said, something did stand out. “In this fast-moving world that we live in one must really digest a poem to truly get it… (His words) went to places far beyond the prison walls, but then he could capture his prison experience so deeply. He was laconic – he did not waste words. Ah, a true poet.”After reading “By Heart: Prison, Poetry, and Two Lives”, a dual memoir Spoon co-wrote with Tannenbaum, Fury solidified his inclination to correspond and collaborate with Spoon for his album. After getting the green light from Judith he wrote his first letter, and the two have been in close contact since.  In addition to the music, Spoon has also inspired Young’s art piece, “No Hope Bars.”“When ‘Die Jim Crow’ is complete,” Fury said, “I know that Spoon’s deep-diving poetic words and vocals will add a whole other layer of ‘realness’ (to borrow a term from a friend) to this music project.”We’ve decided to publish Spoon’s poems, as well as  Fury’s inspired work, along with a mini Q&A with Spoon for Honeysuckle

Fury: What is your background as a poet?

Spoon Jackson: I found out on my journey that I was a poet in 1986 after signing on for two poetry classes. I had no idea what poetry was and had only read about it because of my journey to study philosophy and psychology. Anyway my first poem was No Beauty in Cell Bars and it has been getting published almost each year since the late 80s. After I unfolded as a poet, other areas of the art world opened up to me. Poetry was my journey into myself, into the world, other people, and the universe, and I feel blessed to bring words alive and have a purpose in life.

Fury: How has your perception changed since writing these two poems?

Spoon Jackson: My perception has deepened, and life being always in a state of change and growth — things change and people grow — I’ve grown and expanded into other arts.  I remember my second mom from Sweden said “Beauty in Cell Cars” has all of life expressed in it. An ex-girlfriend of mine said “No Beauty in Cell Bars” encompassed all of life’s nuances. These two poems have traveled to Sweden, Norway, India, Canada, Germany, France, and Russia, and have been translated a few times. The two poems seem not to get old like my heart, spirit and love — my dreams.[hr style=”single”]Note: Spoon has no access to internet, but if you feel inclined, write him here:Spoon JacksonB-92377 CSP – LACA5-141, P.O. Box 4430Lancaster, CA 93539-4430 USAHis other writings can be found at www.realnessnetwork.blogspot.comA site that is frequently kept up by his Swedish friends.Disclaimer: His writings will pull at the heart strings.

“NO BEAUTY IN CELL BARS”Restless, unable to sleepKeys, bars, guns being rackedYear after yearEndless echoesOf steel kissing steelNoiseConstant yellingNothing saidVegetating faces, lost facesDusted facesA liferA dreamerTomorrow’s a dreamYesterday’s a memoryBoth a passing of a cloudHow I longFor the silence of a raindropFalling gently to earthThe magnificence of a roseBlooming into its many huesOf colorThe brilliance of a rainbowWhen it sweetly lights up the skyAfter a pounding rainfallPicnics in a rich green meadowWe saw the beauty in butterfliesWe made it our symbolTiny grains of sandOne hour glassA tear that may engenderA waterfallThe memoriesThe dreamsAre nowLove is nowThere’s no beauty in cell bars.— San Quentin, 1986

“BEAUTY IN CELL BARS”We lock ourselves upnot because of the bars andsteel that surround usnot because life doesn’t bendto our every whimBut because of the projectionswe place onto our worldsThe judgments, the I cant’sThe trying to please everyonewhile not pleasing ourselvesBy seeking the beauty on the outsidethat is surely withinFor prisons are created internallyand are found everywhereWe allow unnatural and unreal thoughtsto be our walls, our limitsBecause of the dam we build tostop the universal love, the lightlt’s all within ourselvesthis paradise you go to of beautyand loveThere’s peace, where along with theeagle you may soarA place inside that was inspiredfrom the inner and abovewhich are one and the sameThe world may not bend toyour every whimBut it will flow wherever youwant it to go,where it’s supposed to goThere’s beauty in cell bars.—San Quentin, 1987