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For these Ohioans, poetry offers a post-prison path

A man in a baseball cap and a bright shirt stands with another tall smiling man in front of a house.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Cardell Belfoure interviewed Fred Ward, director of Building Freedom Ohio, about his activism and helped him write poetry about his reentry experience.

When Cardell Belfoure was imprisoned at Grafton Correctional Institute in northeast Ohio, poetry was his refuge. Now that he has reentered society, he’s using his literary talent to center the stories of other formerly incarcerated people.

Belfoure produced Ideastream’s new “Sound of Us” Poetic Reentry series. He interviewed five people who have been to prison that are now working as activists in their communities. Along the way, he coached each of them to write original pieces of poetry on their reentry experiences.

The series was produced in partnership with Building Freedom Ohio, a statewide non-profit organization of people who have been impacted by incarceration.

Belfoure joined the Ohio Newsroom to talk about his work.

On writing poetry in prison  

Poetry, to me, the whole time there, was therapy. Whatever problems I had, I’d write it out and not necessarily about what went on, I’d just write about how I'm feeling, and I sit back and it'd be therapy for me. I’d feel better when I put the pen down, set it down, and read my work. I'm not even thinking about what I was going through.”

I love words, I love the way you can change the language of words. So by me having a love for that, it's no problem for me to apply that to my life … That's what helped me in there. That's what's going to help me out here. So I started doing those same things out here.

Similar to the innate longing to survive,
not merely riding the ebb and flow of existence,
but knowing naturally within oneself
that to be anything other than the quintessential essence of self
is not worthy to have said one existed.
An excerpt of poetry from Fred Ward, one of the people profiled in Belfoure's "Sound of Us" series

On the challenges of reentry 

“When I go back inside to talk to the guys [in prison], I tell them about the real issues, not just what they see on the news. Not the fear, not the housing, none of that. I tell them about everyday life, the struggles of just working a cell phone. A lot of them were [imprisoned before] there were cell phones. So I try to tell them the things that they don't really even think about … to be ready for.”

Review those 25 years in time,
25 years of listening to the points of view turned into how, why, what, when?
Where's my 40 acres and a mule?
Where is my authority to exercise how I live an abnormal normal life?
An excerpt of poetry from Ronald Crosby, one of the people profiled in Belfoure's "Sound of Us" series

On highlighting activism 

“I'm an artist, so I'm going to advocate for the people because I know what's right and wrong in my mind. So [the activists at Building Freedom Ohio], they do the same thing. Each one of them has their own story that is just as amazing or more amazing than the next person’s.

“Like Linda Howard, [of] Young Mothers of Cleveland. She’s advocating for the young females out there that are having babies at early ages. And we need that. We need everybody to be tapped in it. Because when we come out here, regular citizens look at us like, ‘He’s going back’ or whatever. Then, you have those in fear of people coming out of prison.”

How to pull folks together, different nationalities in different communities.
Not knowing that we are dealing with the same things,
you may be scared of a murderer, a robber, even a white collar crimer, especially knowing that we all are together to be greater
to making better and beautiful communities.
An excerpt of poetry from Linda Howard, one of the people profiled in Cardell's "Sound of Us" series

I want people to understand that if they see any hope, that's that light …It was them working on themself. That's what rehabilitation looks like. The system can't rehabilitate me. I have to rehabilitate myself.”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.