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children receive others with warmth and guileless invitation, never suspicious of a toucher’s intimation, smiling exhortations, shrouding dark and evil motivations, 

the butterflies that pollinate goodness in my soul knew, in anger and they flew, the beating of their wings the rhythm of mourning, their cries a song of sadness and warning, fleeing the feasts of innocence, 

years older, but I was a just little boy when my innocence became his muse, a game, his toy, the blank canvas of a little boy, painted with dark and lurid secrets, brush strokes were his stark relief leaving me an impressionist’s portrait,

like strange fruit black and brown children sent away to nurseries for a peculiar kind of cultivation, we survived on compost hastening our mutation, broken homes forged bonds between us as we groomed each other’s alienation, we traded tales in exaggeration, placing out of season Christmas ornaments on the barren trees in the enchanted forest of our imagination, 

our acting out was always the itching discomfort of damaged skins, scarred by the vagaries of someone else’s sin, we sought out pricey shrouds to cover our shame and keep others from looking within, there in the Catskills we dreamed of living life in color in the land of black and white, in a moment of photosynthesis I absorbed the light and realized black could never be made white, wrong could not be made right

for a while I stopped throwing shade, but unhappy when I looked inside, I sought the distractions of someone else’s pain to hurt them more than I hurt when they came too close 

to the heat of my burning hostility, a world of smokeless, dark fire devoid of light, I could never get out of own my way long enough to harness all the rich possibilities that called me to the light, I was tethered to a past I could not change, something about feasted innocence makes you feel like you have to keep shouldering the blame,

evolution and aberration create unique variation when left to flourish without predation, I could have been something else, but comfort in my skin was always somewhere else and I was always looking for me in someone else,

lost, suspended in the eye of the storm, many of us ended up dead not long after we were born, finally granting our mother’s tears that for so long stalked their fears,

feasting on innocence 

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.

Reginald Stephen is a writer incarcerated in New York.