The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) allows mp3 players and has contracted with an outside, for profit, company to provide secure players (at a high price for inmates) and access to purchase music from a database of approved music. Any music with “explicit” lyrics is excluded; or if discovered removed from the database. Being in a federal prison does not mean a lack of access to information to the outside world. And all the women at the prison I was at in 2013 knew that Alicia Keys had dropped a new single at the end of 2012 and in 2013 it hit our database of music for purchase.
I bought the song and at any moment at any time on the compound, in the units, showers etc., women were screaming loudly ‘This Girl Is On Fire…” One day as I walked down from the upper tier to the lower tier where the computers and other cells were, I was smiling as I heard all the different voices at separate stanzas of the song singing —then a woman walked along side me and said, “Well I wish someone would get some fucking water and put her out!” She was mad that she did not have an mp3 player and probably sick of our singing.
Tonight as I stood preparing cakes for a woman who was incarcerated with me, to celebrate her 50th birthday and freedom, I was listening to Pandora and as I thought of my friend, the song, “This Girl Is On Fire,” came on and I started singing at the top of my lungs. I mixed eggs, and butter, chocolate and sugar and kept singing and it was amazing.
Alicia Keys is a part of the movement to end mass incarceration, and I just want her to know that incarcerated women are buying her songs and finding inspiration in them. I want Ms. Keys and all of you to help shed light on the collateral damages of women who are incarcerated: the children left behind; the physical and sexual abuse that we suffered prior to prison; and the lack of adequate and appropriate mental and physical health care while incarcerated. I want you all to know that we suffer and that the criminal justice reform movement is not just about men. We women are unjustly incarcerated, over sentenced and suffer in ways I cannot express without shame and fear of losing what mental stability I have.
The woman who is celebrating her freedom and birthday tomorrow is ON FIRE and is FREE. She was sentenced unjustly to double digits and served over five years. We were and continue to be friends. While incarcerated I often told her, “You will not wear this time.” In 2014 we were cell mates and we promised each other that, “A year from now we will celebrate each other at Christmas and our birthdays.” This has come true. This is Grace. Faith. This is Justice in the midst of an unjust system. While I did all of my time, my heart sings for each and every woman who has her case over turned or sentence reduced. Lucille Clifton says it best in her poem, “The Lesson of the Falling Leaves”:
the leaves believe
such letting go is love
such love is faith
such faith is grace
such grace is god
i agree with the leaves
I agree with Ms. Clifton. I believe in change. I believe in all of us. I believe…