The Next Page: From the Allegheny County Jail writers' workshop

As described in today's news story, writers from Chatham University's Master of Fine Arts program have been holding creative writing seminars with inmates at the Allegheny County Jail. Here is a selection of work produced under incarceration.

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William Arrington
'Stressed' by William Arrington

Loneliness dark dank dreary and cold emptiness growing like a cantankerous cancerous tumor eating throughout my weary soul black bleak bland hopeless I stand alone on an island with my head buried in the sand I fear the things I yearn to understand discernment flees me leaving me with the lack of feelings empathy nor sympathy woe is me my inner being is my deepest enemy violence is kin to me anger hate rage dismal dark days tears sears the flesh burning like acid rain death is my playmate the strain to maintain and go on is vain nothingness is still simple and plain sweet like death's sickle the blood trickles the madman laughs but yet he's sane calm like the sea after tsunami rain but still he's blood guilty forever falling from families favor fleeing from ferocious feelings feeling filthy free me distraught doomed destruction delve deeply dangerous thinking or dangerous being dysfunctional functioning disgruntled senseless grumblings as I go on wondering what is wrong with me pins psychotic manic depressant schizophrenic whatever that means yes i'm stressed struggling with the noises choices and voices restlessly running rampant within me I try and keep my mind at ease but the itch overwhelms me like a dog with fleas my blood's boiling no outlet like a pot with a sealed lid no let out like a secret behind sealed lips the steam builds molten hot lava liquid throttle thrash tormented torture too tempting to think things totally treacherous toward those too twisted i'm sufferin silently inside i'm screamin struggling with this stifling sickness oh how wicked I look for a shoulder to lean on one I can draw my strength from but all I'm left with is this hand I was dealt wit lookin for the hand to help me but it's out of reach so I'm helpless in this quicksand I'm sinking and my mind keeps thinking is this all I'll ever be a dark dank dreary being losing grips on reality until the curtain closes for the last time finally I smile cuz now I'm free finally.

'Concrete Menagerie' by Melissa Coyle

Come one, come all and step right up and join the festival of thieves a celebration of fiends, singing and chanting, ranting and raving completely misbehaving. This place is more than a far cry from help, it's much more than the hand you were dealt, and now I have been shackled by hate, unable to escape, and this is where I reside, I'm no longer free, they locked the door and threw away the key, it's a concrete menagerie.

I miss the savory scent of cinnamon at Panera, when eating my freshly baked biscotti and sipping my double mocha latte or chai tea, instead now I'm told to gather for the feed. Here the food smells like the plastic tray it's served on with a fresh side dish of cardboard. Oh I just had an epiphany, I'll pretend I'm having breakfast at Tiffany's, and it's not easy to be a vegetarian, not to mention a first-class world Samaritan, and wouldn't life be sublime if I had a Diet Coke with a twist of lime.

Also forgive me for being so melancholy, I seem to find it hard to laugh and be jolly, my soul waits and bleeds because of all my foolish deeds, but I have no remorse or hesitation when I receive an affirmation, it brings out the sunshine in this dismal vacation, and just like you I have many needs so I sit patiently in my concrete menagerie.

I miss watching hockey games, laughing in the rain, and spending cash because of some half-ass computer class, well at least I get to attend Catholic Mass, and I hope I don't develop any kind of rash, because this place is devoid and unsanitary, I wish I had a jail fairy to bring me all kind of commissary, but wait I take that back she might be hairy or worse yet named crazy Larry.

And last but not least, this is not a four-star resort or a mission you can just simply abort, you will not find a blow dryer for your hair, let alone even proper attire to wear, it does not seem fair, so I just look out the window and stare and wish the world would sympathize with me and care. And is it too much to ask for a few plants, trees and a little greenery guess so, well until I'm set free I'll go back and sit in my concrete menagerie.

'My Pen' by Dwayne Thompson

Don't you get sick and tired of people asking to use your pen!

Well, I do because I feel that I've been taken advantage of. See, being new to the game for the first time, the first few pens got away unbeknownst to me, and I loved them so much. The people that asked to borrow them were far cleverer than I thought. This game was new to me and I didn't know better.

My first pen got away from me like a great fishermen trying to reel in a great marlin. This pen was special to me because it was given to me as a gift. The individual who asked to borrow it knew what she was doing. The sweet smell of perfume, straight teeth and a sundress took away my attention every time she came back to borrow it. Each time she returned, I noticed something different about her, a great personality, a pretty smile, and the persistence to achieve her goal, however this was an after fact.

The last and final time was when I was distracted by a soft whisper in my ear that caught me off guard. The soft voice, the smell of fresh berth behind a light scent of strawberry lip gloss, arose my senses once more as she reached over my shoulder purposely placing her breast within my comfort zone and retrieving my pen. This broke my concentration to what I was doing and where my pen was going.

As time went on, with the anticipation of the return of my pen I pondered to myself, maybe I could strike up a conversation and ask her name, to get to know the person that was trying to have a relationship with my Mont Blanc, but to no avail my eloquent writing utensil was never returned, It was "the one that got away."

All that was left was the memory of my fine writing interment that was the means of expressing my thoughts which flowed to the rhythm of the hand that guided it. The slender blackness of the capsule, smooth as silk and free flowing with curves of elegance and richness was lost forever.

'Numbers' by Terra Lynn

12 and 8 ... Do those numbers mean anything to you?

They do to me. 12 is the age of my beautiful daughter. And 8 is the age of my gorgeous son.

What about the numbers 11-2-09? Those numbers are a date for me ... it's the last time I saw my beautiful children.

How about the number 65? That is the number of days I was a patient in Torrance State Hospital.

What about 144? That is the number of days I've been in Allegheny County Jail.

209 is the sum total of being away from not just my children, but all my family and friends.

1,000 is the number of pieces my heart's been torn into.

The numbers 8-9-10 is another date. This is my scheduled court date.

48 ... that number is my favorite number. No clue why. It just is.

Did you know that 7 is God's perfect number?

And 6 is man's perfect number.

27 is the first cell I was in on 5MD.

219 is my current cell number on 4E

2 are the number of sisters I have and 5 is the total number of nieces and nephew I've been blessed with.

12:21 ... I'll bet you don't know what those numbers mean to me; those numbers are from the book of Romans, which happens to be my favorite scripture in the Bible: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

These numbers might not mean much to you, but these numbers help remind me of the life I've lived, mostly this past year.

I'm sure they'll be more numbers to come of importance to me, but for now I can look back at these numbers and realize that the ones that relate to the Allegheny County Jail are the ones I want to avoid in my future.

The very last number I will add is the number 1. That is the number I am fighting for now ... which is myself. I've come to realize that I'll never get better unless I look out for myself first and foremost.

'Struggling' by Jason Toombs

This thought is one I haven't been able to dispose of. Like a flower it has been preserved in my psyche. The door is open. You're welcome into my mental apartment, so to speak.

(Waving my hand backwards as to welcome you to my company ...)

Windows were stressed struggling to stay up. Seat belts held the pistol in place as I drive forward. Inner strength became gas for that particular taxi down the runway.

Running one way; the life in me was running in a total different direction simultaneously.

Somehow I brought myself back like a Furian. Fast pounding heart, African drum sounding so loud, I heard it clearly as if my ears wore a stethoscope. Face twisted like a Twizzler, but I don't think it was red. No, twisted as a wash rag. Yes! Not a drop left my expression.

Pain became my black leech; red fire inside felt hot, so presently unquenchable. There wasn't any comfort in me whatsoever. I literally despised the lips of pain.

That was 10 minutes ago, but something transpired prior to that 10 minutes. Ten minutes is now behind me & time is still on my side.

(Exhale for emphasis.)

Laid there on the stretcher motionless. Not too long ago my visual windows collapsed. Dead still, dead Egyptian still, paralyzed from the face down, couldn't move a thing, stagnant parts. Without motion for real. Not complete, feel completely obsolete. Never know what you've got until all is gone. Want to find where I once was, but my condition is in hiding & I am unable to seek.

Reduced to a few levels above a vegetable. Inedible, almost empty plate, five crumbs for the crumb gallery. Hear, taste, smell, feel & think, new responsibilities. Could check out without someone having to pull the plug.

Casket paramedic taking me away. Irregular breathing; my last breath may reach me in this paramedic box.

"We're losing him." Heard the man say ...

"Tell me something I don't know; I'm losing myself," I thought ...

Felt the soft plastic respirator cover my nose & mouth.


Wasn't used to oxygen in its purest form. The taste and smell seemed to reek of some form of medicated air. Body & sight out of order; still hearing clear. Felt myself falling deeper into a black abyss, a dark place, dark space, no stars; not even a twinkle in an apple of an eye.

Anesthesia rushed through me like a narcotic. A blade broke the skin at the top of my stomach.

Pain, fire & agony no longer registered and neither did I.


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