Thursday, November 14, 2019

Untitled excerpt from Zeitgeist (a novel)

By Christopher Thomas Pyles

Her name was Sarah. She said she liked Superman, and it was the first time someone had reached out to me. Not literally, but sufficient enough. The other guys were enjoying their activities, basketball or tag. I was sitting there against the wall, as usual, just observing them. That's what I do. I am an observer of sorts.

Anyway, Sarah spoke to me with this tender voice. Her presence was strong, her demeanor soft and endearing. From only a foot away, I felt the warmth of her body and sensed the radiance of someone whose worth is beautiful. She was confident enough to be natural and she smelled so damn good. Her scent was sweet and fresh.

She was different from the other girls in a way I couldn't quite place. Sure, she was pretty like girls can be, and was also nice like girls can be, but she had a presence that resonated with me like few girls ever had. I was definitely attracted to her, but later on when I tried to savor it, I was too late. 

At some point I learned about limerence, or limerance. I forget which. Oh, not the witty Irish poems. Rather, it is that intoxicating attraction you feel when you meet someone. You know, that visceral sensation. It's usually called “love at first sight,” and has to do with the perfect concoction of chemicals and hormones. Here I go digressing again.

But it doesn’t really matter. What does really matter is human nature.  That's the point of all this. Isn't it?

A while back I had this same conversation with my future ex-girlfriend.

“Panacea,” I muttered.

 “Huh?” she barely groaned. 

“It's the ultimate answer,” I told her. 

“What do you mean?”

 “A universal remedy for our humanity,”  

She indicated I wasn't making any sense. So I told her, “Love, darling.” 

“Yeah, that makes sense,” she said. 

Unconvinced, I continued on. “That's why we experience it. Love and happiness. It's our remedy for the human condition. For suffering.” I attempted to explain all this to her. As she usually did when I spoke too much, she kissed me. Then, grabbing my arm, she rolled on to her side and pressed her back to my front. It always worked.

As Sarah spoke to me I fantasized. I imagined her lying there, on a bed or a floor, naked. She exemplified those mystical feminine powers of woe. Those eyes and lips. Those hands and feet. Her breasts, navel and thighs. She overwhelmed me. It was difficult to take in the whole sight of her all at once. I imagined how she might look up at me kittenishly. Then it made me wonder. Do I have that impact on her? Could I ever impress upon her sensations of completion? The notion of: Ah, I am here, and I've made it after everything I've been through, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. I would have to play it cool, or I'd lose her forever. I envisioned her lying there in complete abandonment. Yet I was bothered by seeing her with all her wiles on display. I wondered if she wanted to be taken because of me, or whether I was just the nearest one and could be anyone.  To be had like a common slut. She didn't demonstrate herself as such, but that supercilious, phony innocence and good girl act wouldn't fool me again. I’d been burned before. You think I don't know the color of fire. I'm a moth to the flame. She was so beautiful and precious at that distance. Is it possible for ardor to be tempered? I can't get hurt again. 

Of course, the day arrived when the illusion of a perfect Sarah was shattered. Although it was just a rumor, I didn't pursue the truth diligently. I should have investigated, or at least asked her: Her friend told me she had a crush on me, but being a dummy, as I'm prone to be, I regretfully never paid any attention to her again. But, the instant she stood before me, I knew that if ever we were intimate I would never be the same again, and that's a terrifying thing to recognize.

One day, before boarding the bus home from school, I noticed a baby bird. It was cute and helpless. I felt a pang of sadness for it being alone. Immediately overcome with compassion, I cradled it in my hands until I reached my backyard. If I’d left it where it was and never taken it with me it probably would have survived, but I couldn't be sure. So, my adolescent mind took it home.

After cleaning it up a little, and noticing also that it must need to be nourished, I remembered the location of a bird's nest with similar looking babies – if that's what you call baby birds – being fed by their mother.

What seemed like good sense at the time soon proved to be devastating. In hindsight, taking the bird was a bad idea. Oh, the circumstances became worse in an instant. To my horror, only a moment after I’d walked away, my rescue cried out in agony as much larger, more devious and nefarious birds attacked and slaughtered the powerless chick.  That's it, a baby bird is called a chick.

This harsh reality was tormenting to me. This poor thing, this fellow creature, knew nothing of the purpose for its demise. This unfair and violent death was a much worse ending than if I would have left it where it originally was. 

For days I was distraught. It wasn't easy convincing myself that squishing it like a bug under a big rock was the most compassionate thing I could've done. I'll never forget the look in its eyes. Afterward, I kept thinking to myself and contemplating what a human must go through moments before death. What do you suppose they experience mere seconds before the end? I hope it's not anxiety, fear and pain. I live with that anguish and would hate to die with it too.

After a serious incident of trauma, if you've never encountered it, there is always a moment of suspension. In a flash, mortality pulls into full context.

What saddened me was how humans are just as cruel as those larger, malevolent birds. We treat anything that’s strange to us with the same vicious contempt. Take Sarah for instance. When I learned something about her that may or may not have been true, I felt like she was full of corruption. My intolerance manifested out of distaste and I realized that my nature is severely flawed.

My edification still isn't complete. Education corrupts you, people corrupt you, the women you love corrupt you, nature corrupts you, and, when you can hardly handle any more blows, life corrupts you. I wonder why Sarah liked Superman. Do you think it means that she believes in saviors? I wonder what she is doing today and how her life has turned out. Do you think she is fulfilled? Could she be plagued by an emptiness? I'll never forget Sarah's breath. It was so orally hygienic. The warmth of her flesh, so redolent with an incomparable scent, lingers in my mind now. 

The other day I was sitting on my front porch and saw some kids passing by. They held hands, smiling and unashamed of their virtue. They skipped together with giddy abandonment, gleefully ignorant. Sudden pain filled my heart.

Christopher Pyles R43795
Stateville Correctional Center
P.O. Box 112
Joliet, IL 60434
Christopher Thomas Pyles was born on the South Side of Chicago back in 1985. He believes in the Flying Spaghetti: Monster and loves to challenge his incompetent suppressors. A voracious reader of post-modernist literature his ambition is to contribute to the grand conversation. Currently serving life in Illinois he is awaiting resentencing.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Twenty and Zero

By S.M. Steele

Most people enter prison and they hear one universal piece of advice: "Do the time, Don't let the time do you." This could mean a lot of things to different people, but in prison this means to never let your circumstance break you down. Now, circumstances in prison are diverse. They range from peer pressures to mental health issues. In addition, people in prison are expected to make it through every challenge they face. Regardless of how much they go through, they're expected to never quit, never give up. Quitting in prison isn't just something you do because you don't want to play a basketball game anymore. Quitting in prison means committing suicide, submitting to psychotropic or recreational drugs, or abandoning your desire for freedom. So to survive in prison you must coach yourself through each day, feed your mind with positive information, and find ways to take care of your physical health.

Coaching yourself through each day in prison is a must. Don't do your time moping around with your head down and talking negative every time you speak. Nor should you hang around people who drag down. Instead, you have to coach your own life. You may see yourself losing time, money, family, and friends over the years and your future may seem like you'll leave prison poor or you may think you'll never leave prison at all, but you have to keep your head in the game. You have to tell yourself that you "got this" and that you "refuse to lose". Even when it gets rough and someone delivers you bad news, you have to suck it up and focus on the next play. If situations are too hard to handle, call a time out and regroup yourself, but never quit. You have to get back on the field and play to win. Now, at times you may ask yourself, well, what am I striving for? Or, why should I care? But you have to see the answer in your circumstances. The mission of your entire fight right now is to obtain your freedom. So, yes, you dropped a few passes in the past, and, yes, you should of held on to that ball on that last play, but as long as you are still breathing your time hasn't ran out. Now its time to take hold of your next move and refuse to make a mistake. Refuse to live a life thinking about the last play. Now its time to earn your keep so you can prove your worth. You have to show the world that you deserve a second chance. That's why no coach chooses to play with a bad play book.

Your play book must be designed to have a chance to win, so you have to feed your mind with positive information. They may tell you that your imprisonment is all about rehabilitation. They may tell you that good behavior could possibly get you out of prison early. They may even tell you that doing the crime means doing the time. No one knows you like you know yourself. If you want a better life, you have to rehabilitate yourself. You have to feed your mind with information that teaches you how to out-maneveur traps. People will take shots at you and try to keep you in a negative situation, but don't fall for it. Educate yourself and bring about the change that you want to be. The system was built off of crime. Never imagine that they want crime to go away. They need it to keep the system going because it pays their bills. It gives them Christmas and medical benefits. When you start to do better, they lose jobs. Doing the right thing will cause unemployment for thousands of state workers. Think about this. However, don't let that be the reason why you give up. If you want to be free, teach yourself how to be great. Defeat the system by doing right and your chains and shackles will fall away. Build your playbook up with positive information and starve the beast, so he never lives again. The belly of the beast survives off of crime.  

Once you sharpen your mind and stop the beast from winning, the only thing to do next is to take care of your physical body. Your body is what protects your mind and carries your minds orders into action. When we are in prison, they force you to sit in cells and rot as life passes you by. But they give you a few hours of recreation to strengthen yourself. Never lose sight of this. Make sure your body stays healthy. Watch what you place inside your body and on your body because this will determine your health. To have good health is to make sure not just your mind stays safe, but that your body stays safe as well. You will be able to defend yourself and keep your body alive as often as you can if you strengthen it. Once you stop keeping your body healthy your mind will follow and vice versa, so its important that you take care of these areas. Do pushups, pull ups, squats, and dips. Make sure you jog regularly and keep your heart healthy. Watch your diet. Prison food was prepared for animal consumption. Be careful of eating too much or eating foods without nutrition. Turn your body into a temple and treat it like the most holiest religious artifact you'he ever had. In the end, the one who plays the game the hardest wins, but if not, you can always be satisfied with giving it your best shot.

Your best shot is the chance you have left, so while you are incarcerated don't let circumstances defeat you. 2019 is my twentieth year in prison and as to date I continue to coach myself through each day, feed my mind with positive information, and take care of my physical body. Remind yourself how strong you are daily and never let someone else still your joy. To this day, I am happy and I forgive myself for all my past failings. Stress is only a visitor and soon will be a distant stranger, but it will never be a permanent resident. I love myself and I remind myself to knock out each year that I face with my mind and body in-tact. Therefore, my goal is to retire undefeated, even if they never let me go. That's why I say that I am Twenty and zero.

Sean Steele 392298
Trumbull Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 901
Leavittsburg, OH 44430
My name is Sean Steele. I am an aspiring writer. I am 35 years old. I have been in prison since I was 16. Since my incarceration, I've worked on myself intensely, and now I desire to do nothing but speak truth to power and place positive energy back into the universe. In addition to snail mail I can send and receive emails via