Demetrius A. Buckley was awarded honorable mention in Poetry in the 2020 Prison Writing Contest.

Every year, hundreds of imprisoned people from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to PEN America’s Prison Writing Contest, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.

The illustration for this piece of writing was expressly created by an incarcerated artist curated by Justice Arts Coalition. This piece is also featured in Breathe Into the Ground, the 2020 Prison Writing Awards Anthology.


A person in a green tracksuit stands outside a Department of Corrections building. Figures in the background include a Kool-Aid Man and kids with toys.

Image by Robert Nelson

If anyone tells you they understand your deepest need,
thought it through on their commute
to hug their family before dinner; dog
lapping open hand
as to clean off nicotine and fast food residue,
they’re really expressing
their own ideal of struggle
mapping out your pothole of mood
with their GPS system, constructing
atop of old detours and exits,
routes and backstreets to places
you’d rather not travel down on your best day.

So filling you hands with your face
means you’ve seen what prison
does to a person. Loneliness
a styrofoam being handed to you,
kids having a new daddy
being handed to them,
which can go in so many different ways
that you race all possibilities to where
you pop up, maybe a green track suit that says
you’re fun, and a nice tagline like, “Unbelievable”
when it’s all too damn believable.
The ex would laugh remembering
how you used to be so kind, thoughtful, and cute
the way your arms fold when commanding a room
But the fact is         you won’t be home for awhile,
won’t be able to Kool-aid man
through that front door baring assorted gifts,
your red insides a slue of sourness
from all that turning lemon into lemonade
which seems to only work for Beyonce
and skinny white women in lipstick ads.

Loneliness should be called sickness
because everyone stays away like
whatever you have is contagious, and
maybe it is when a program administrator
discusses that it’s against the rules
to befriend those kind of people —

Further Reading

  • Understand the struggles of loneliness and connection with the outside world
    • Temperature Check Vol. 10