“I’m Not Usually This Dark” by J.S. Dean

This is a post I’ve been trying to write for some time. This means a great deal to me, but I wanted to show it the respect it deserves by conveying it with the gravity it demands.

When I was a child, my older cousin J. murdered another man over drugs and money. It wasn’t justifiable, and still isn’t. J. is, unfortunately, where he belongs – in prison. I’ve had a hard time dealing with this over the course of my life, and in reconciling my familial connection with J. to my abhorrence of the choices that put him where he is. In a way, I experienced a microcosm of what society tends to do with violent criminals – we file them away in a deep dungeon and we do our best to forget about the fact that they’re still people – that people can be both monsters AND victims – that all human beings, even those too dangerous to be allowed among us, still feel, think, breathe, love, and fear.

Unbeknownst to me, my cousin has been writing, and I was recently made aware of it. He even wrote a chapbook from behind bars, and two other inmates helped by illustrating it and printing/binding it. I read this chapbook in one sitting, both because the poetry was excellent and because it was the first time in my life, I think, that I really got to know J. as a person. It was the first time in my life I had that “namaste” moment with this stranger I share blood with. The first time I think I really loved him as a human being.

Many of you know how I feel about incarceration, and how broken I think the system is, but I do believe that J. deserves to be where he is. I think that, in order to make incarceration more humane, it needs to focus on healing and rehabilitating those undergoing the process, and I think that being heard by the outside world might be one of the MOST important ways we can take an active part in that process.

I think it’s good for J., and other inmates, to have their voices heard, and I think it’s good for us, on the outside, to hear the voices of those we have so easily written off.

In light of this, I will be selling J.’s chapbooks for $5. If you’d like one, please get in touch with me HERE. If you’d like to carry a number of them in your shop, bookstore, coffee shop, etc, please let me know. We can accommodate. Every dollar will go back to the inmates who put it together. I only wish to facilitate the interaction. I think its an interaction that will benefit everyone.


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