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Photo by Tom Wheatley on Unsplash

(This spoken word poem is a collaboration between Prison Journalism Project writers Kory “Hussain” McClary and Tariq MaQbool at New Jersey State Prison)

COVID took my guy, six thirty in the mornin’
My boy, my dude … died
Breathing hard, struggling
he gave up right there in that bed
Tubed up, cooped up, sippin’
the Reaper’s tea
They diggin’ his grave, so that he may rest
My breathin’s heavy, like a rock on my chest

Shit jokers plan, dusk till dawn
mornin’, till night
never ever knowin’
where the sickle might smite
Rollin’ through the life
as if a broken kite
this shit ain’t right
Gotta chill, let this slide
like every other bullshit in here
brotha just gotta fight
Need a break, a little mental like

“Yo, Hussain, you down wit this workout right?”

“Got this my brother, Yo Akhi, chill aight!”
“Let’s get to the ‘Graveyard’,
we just gotta get our mind right”

SPARRING in the Prison Big Yard
A Graveyard where gangstas are laid to rest
Shadow boxing in a cemetery, full of tombless plots
Bobbing and weaving, side stepping and jabbing
The ghost that float above, excavate the Earth
The Earth to which they must return
but refuse to go
Ducking and hooking the air,
the air copiously filled with demons
The specter of a gangstas past …


ROPE-A-DOPING on the side of a mausoleum
Maneuvering away from a zombie’s bite
The dead want a nigga, these evil forces tormentin
Wantin a nigga’s soul on site
to dwell in hell forever like
Mentally ducking,
wondering if the Mind’s Eye is
playing with reality,
Or is this total misery and wretchedness,
absolute and,


JOGGING through the Graveyard where
the forgotten rest
Viewing the nameless headstones with trepidation,
beads across the forehead, shimmering cold sweat
The dissonant howl of a wolf fills the air
A werewolf!
A translucent spirit flickers the peripheral sphere
it converges, quickly
Running from death, chasing the full moon
A rat’s skeleton scurries on spurs
A cat roars a shrieking purr
A black cat!
A woman’s grating scream comes from beneath the Earth


Terror grips the soul
Chills grab the flesh
A light jog turns into a heavy dash


Death is whistling, Life is silent
A man draped in black hooded cloak, appears
seeming violent!
Grimm Reaper?
Final destination?
The precise truth remains elusive
Death shall remain, however, exclusive


JUMPING ROPE in a Graveyard
where real niggas are dead, but still
Where Life means digging ya own grave,
and jumping on top of the headstone till Death
Where Life means forever, and Death is coveted
In this Graveyard, Life’s smell is putrid
and Death smells sweet
In here,
Life is Death or Death is Life
Life is jumping rope in front of ya plot,
until Death did y’all apart from your misery
Death is precious,
and Life is a Groundhog’s Day ball of anguish
But fuck it!
This is where the gangstas is at … a prison!


Breathing heavy, sighs slowed to a cadence
“How you feelin’?”
“Doin’ good my brother, though I’m still reelin’”

Casting shadows in the Graveyard like
Brothers Grimm
Life got many avenues, but in here
they slim

Still gotta get to feelin’ normal
Can’t be dealin with this impendin’
It’s getting darker …
Soon it will turn to
Still feelin’ heavy
Carryin’ a dead man’s tune!

“Come my brother,
you wit me?
Once more around this mothafucka!”

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Kory "Hussain" McClary

Kory “Hussain” McClary is a writer from Atlantic City, New Jersey. He especially likes writing short story fiction because it helps him to escape the reality of a cell. He enjoys listening to music, reading, writing, working out and is a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. He loves his family and can't wait to be home. His writings can also be found at his personal blog

Tariq MaQbool

Tariq MaQbool is a writer incarcerated in New Jersey. He maintains Captive Voices, a blog where he shares his poetry and essays as well as the writings of other incarcerated people. His work has been published in The Marshall Project, NJ Star Ledger, Slant'd magazine and The News Station.