C. Fausto Cabrera was awarded 2nd Place in Poetry in the 2022 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.

I sit to design another tattoo for another little cousin 

of another little name, of another generation I’ve yet to meet. 

Kasia is the same age as her mother was when I got locked up. 


My design fills the void of my presence, my artwork as an 

offering to be of use when I can’t babysit, or solve financial 

problems. It’s always names, dates & flowers of some sort, 

an appropriate symbol of squandered youth, sketched into skin. 

How else can I contribute to the bloodline? How else to be needed? 


In my pencil box there are tools we can’t order anymore. 

Survivors now considered contraband we call grandfathered. 

The resources are depleting and I worry I’ll run out of what’s needed. 

Mechanical pencil leads dwindle, evaporating ink pens, the erasers. 


The worst is that the world continues without you 

& there is a tangible mark made between knowing that 

& watching it happen from a cage. 


Prison stifles the spirit of most like water to fire 

unless you’re grease. 

Then the paper shrunk—

like they could ever inhibit me 

into 11″x14″ perimeter 

that I won’t spill over. 


Graphite smears, sinks into the pores of the paper, 

no longer pure once marked. But purity isn’t a purpose. 

I can’t even recall where I began, but I push & pull 

& what’s needed emerges with each approaching project. 


I use the edge of my eraser like a pencil to restore, 

not to correct, cause change is an abstraction of farce, 

adjustments are made through adaptability. I start one 

place, end up in another—with dignity & purpose. 


The more I use the eraser, the more friction compiles 

those little dust shards most people just sweep away. 

But if you collect enough of them, roll & bind them between 

finger & thumb you create a new tool—a kneadable eraser. 

For there are no marks I cannot remake, when kneaded. 

Purchase Variations on an Undisclosed Location: 2022 Prison Writing Awards Anthology here.