Op-Ed

O, Miami is here; Let the poetry flow - even from prison

O, Miami Poetry Festival 2019 presents almost 100 opportunities during the month of April for our community to encounter and to engage with a poem.

Among those taking part in the project is Eduardo “Echo” Martinez, who is the first Luis Hernandez Florida Prison Poet Laureate. This is an honorary position awarded once a year by Exchange for Change and O, Miami Poetry Festiva. The Prison Poet Laureate was created to increase the visibility of our country’s prison population and promote rehabilitation through the arts. Here is Martinez’s story and poem:

<drop_initial>What meaning do words have behind barbwire, a concrete societal border wall? In prison, self-esteem and self-worth are constantly stepped on. Purpose does not fit into the equation of a life sentence. Blind dates don’t have romantic walks with hope.

Opportunity is an endangered presence, a stranger most of us don’t recognize pass us by. We swallow our words with pride and a sip of regret. Writing can be a dangerous attribute in prison. Words with certain content carry consequence, they can be convicting or convincing. Freedom of speech is not a constitutional right in a state institution. As I drop these lines my words tiptoe on the tightrope trying to keep balance.

My mind operates in metaphor, my imagination in similes. I avoid clichés; gently peel off painful labels that have been placed upon us. Ignoring the music society has come to like, the stereo-type. Before becoming Poet Laureate, I played with words like a banker might play Sodoku with numbers. But I was muzzled, a handcuffed voice, spitting the phlegm of the condemned. Sharing my views with men locked up in rooms with no view. My pencil has always been the composer of my incarcerated life’s instrumental. My ink pens A’cappela serenading four lonely walls.

O’Miami and Exchange for Change crowned me the first Prison Poet Laureate, providing me with an orchestra, a hungry audience with an appetite for the truth.

I mean, my words made the Miami Herald, a paper that held its own seat next to my grandfather in our household when I was a child . . . That’s big for me. So is this crown I wear proudly and respectfully, in tribute to Luis Hernandez (RIP) a great man, and great friend.

I was chosen to represent Florida prisoners. To amplify their whispers, put spotlights on their bruises, pick the scabs mistakes have left us with and bring awareness to a broken system, and a society that has deleted us.

Florida has more problems than a math book. But there has to be a solution, an answer. And it takes us as a whole to find the right formula. Not just for our betterment but for the children that will lead us into the future.

And that would be poetic justice.

Quarter Choices

by Eduardo ‘Echo’ Martinez

not everyone was crazy in the mid 80’s

when cheap metal coined washers

where fake quarter slugs

being force fed into newspaper vending machines

squatting on corners, plazas and Winn-Dixies

all across the magic city

before spell binding night lights turned voodoo

and tattoos weren’t fashion statements

just an unemployed ex-felons taboo

when one slug earned the Herald’s trust

before options were coffins

and school desks became bulletproof vests

choices, take one paper

or the whole stack off the rack

beating the Ave at a traffic light

trap selling, the paper for 50 cents to folks

commuting on their way to work

that was back then

when the paper could be a window washer’s squeegee

and junkies found God before preachers did

and Miami Gardens was still Carol City

and people still respected sun-burned veterans

on the boulevard with spare change written cardboard signs

when everyday people had sympathy to spare

like a tire in the trunk

but those were good years

when you rolled your car window down manually

like a workout

phones got answered with hello’s not finger tip taps

you know, there was roughly 27,500 locked up in 84’

fried egg hit the frying pan propaganda

I was five and still alive

now I’m 97,000 strong behind a cell door

nobody really ran from the police back then

they use to scream freeze before they squeezed

before bullets became atheist

and having an accent didn’t make you alien

or a drug dealer with a Jesus piece

seems as if the last five letters of community

skipped town with its head down

only thing loyal was the Herald

quarter flip decisions, grip an issue or the stack

this city has always been a hustle

it’s just lost its magic

and forgotten how to forgive

O, Miami Poetry Festival 2019 presents almost 100 opportunities during the month of April for our community to encounter and to engage with a poem. (OMiami.org).

Exchange for Change teaches writing in South Florida prisons. (exchange-for-change.org)For more information go to OMiami.org.

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