Marilyn Buck: State of Exile

From the Friends of Marilyn Buck, who is fighting cancer in federal prison. She’s an extraordinary poet and translator (see State of Exile by Cristina Peri Rossi), and a sharp essayist. The article this links to at the Rag Blog is awesome. Note Marilyn’s address change below, and drop her a card of encouragement and blessings. She is supposed to be paroled in August: show them how big and caring her community is.


Political Prisoner, Poet, Writer, Translator, Teacher –

Free Marilyn Buck!

Photo  of Marilyn  2000

political prisoner

Marilyn Buck began her antiracist activism as a teenager in Texas. As a college student, she organized against the war in Vietnam and in solidarity with the Black liberation movement. “After less than a decade as a political activist,” she writes,“I went to prison, convicted of procuring firearms for the Black Liberation Army. I faced 10 years in prison—a very long time for a young woman.”

After serving four years, Marilyn was granted a furlough from prison and did not return. She spent the next eight years in clandestinity. Marilyn was recaptured in 1985. In addition to charges related to Assata Shakur’s escape, she was convicted of conspiracy to protest government policies (the invasion of Grenada and military intervention in Central America) through the use of violence against government property. Her total sentence was 80 years.

poet, writer

“The trials, those years of intense repression and US government denunciations of my humanity had beat me up rather badly. Whatever my voice had been, it was left frayed. I could scarcely speak.” Instead, Marilyn wrote. “For prisoners, writing is a life raft to save one from drowning in a prison swamp. I could not write a diary or a journal; I was a political prisoner. Everything I had was subject to investigation, invasion and confiscation. I was a censored person. In defiance, I turned to poetry, an art of speaking sparely, but flagrantly.”

Marilyn’s poems can be found in many collections, in her chapbook, Rescue the Word, and on her CD Wild Poppies. She has been awarded three prizes by the PEN Prison Writing Program, including first prize for poetry in 2001. Some of her poems are online here.

translator, teacher

Marilyn has long translated for Spanish-speaking women held in prison, and she is now translating Spanish literature to English. In 2009 City Lights published her translation of Uruguayan poet-in-exile Cristina Peri Rossi’s extraordinary collection, State of Exile. Read more about her publications.

She has also taught writing, GED preparation, history, and yoga inside.


One of more than 100 political prisoners in the United States, Marilyn is proof that imagination and solidarity can’t be stifled, no matter how many prisons or patriot acts we face.

her address is:

MARILYN BUCK 00482-285
P.O. BOX 27137


Read a recent profile of Marilyn by a long-time activist friend at Austin’s Rag Blog.

Poetry and prose from prison

Finding a voice despite being locked up

Published: Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Incarcerated women in the state of Colorado face a grim future. According to the Colorado Department of Corrections, the rate of recidivism (a return to prison after violating parole or probation, or committing a new crime) is 47.4 percent.

When half of the people who are released from prison come back to prison, society pays more money to keep prisoners housed, delinquency has a greater chance of spreading through generations, and society as a whole suffers. That’s why Stephen Hartnett, associate professor of communications at UC Denver, has helped pilot a program to stop recidivism through education and creative writing.

The project, Captured Words: Free Thoughts, is a magazine of poems and short works by women who elect to take a for-credit course at the Colorado Women’s Correctional Facility. Hartnett, along with other volunteers, tutors, edits and encourages the women at the facility in the process of devoloping as a writer.

The Fall 2009 volume of Captured Words: Free Thoughts contains work from 19 women. The subject matter in the pieces varies from person to person, but each work contains similar themes: heartache, loss, loneliness, discomfort, pain, regret, acceptance, forgiveness, strength.

The goal of the project, Hartnett said, was to give silenced and locked-up women the chance to gain their voices back. He said, “The women get to come into a space where, instead of being treated like monsters, they are treated like humans.”

“The environment at [Colorado Women’s Correctional Facility] is made to shame and humiliate the women. It’s very judgmental and dehumanizing,” said Linda Guthrie, a senior at UCD and volunteer in Hartnett’s program.

“This is an outlet for them,” Guthrie said. “They talk to each other and see the common threads in all of their lives.”

Some of the women in the correctional facility were law-abiding citizens until drugs took over their lives. Guthrie explained that the women she works with share a background of abuse. “Using drugs to numb emotional pain, having babies when they are just babies, bad family lives, and parents who did not care about them—all of these women see their time with us as a breath of fresh air,” she said.

“Many of these women are still crying because of how their parents treated them,” said Guthrie. “They are just people who have made mistakes. In any other situation, that could be you or me.”

The short story “The Night I Did Meth, The Night I Kissed Death” by Rachel Velarde tells the story of Velarde’s gradual descent from a life as an honor student, taking four AP classes and excelling in high school, to one of a meth addict. “If I had said no to death,” she wrote, “then I’d be in the Ivy League instead of a correctional facility.”

Hartnett said his students at the correctional facility have been victimized in the past. “Almost every one of these women is coming from a case of extreme mental abuse,” he said. “It’s just a complete catastrophe, where these women have come from.”

Most of the stories in Captured Words: Free Thoughts depict women who might be expected to be a heroine, not a criminal. In “9/11,” Frankie McConnell recounts the loss of her husband on Sept. 11, 2001: “My head was exploding as the day’s fear took its toll. The air had the most unusual, nasty smell, and debris in the air flowed around us and made it feel as though we carried 10 pounds of dirt. That’s when I snapped and started screaming into the foul air, ‘James! Where the hell are you baby?’”

At the end of McConnell’s story, a person is left wondering: how could this woman who lost her husband in 9/11 be in jail now? The story doesn’t provide answers. It simply chronicles a moment in McConnell’s life—but the effect of the pain stays with a person after reading the words.

Both Guthrie and Hartnett say they are fighting a losing battle against an outdated system that they see as meant to punish, not rehabilitate. Yet they persevere in their mission, even if the system is hard to infiltrate.

“For me, the key is to say we want to reduce crime, while empowering our neighbors to be better citizens,” said Hartnett. “I tell these women, ‘If you just learn how to write a complete sentence, or give a public speech—those are the tools to regain dignity and become a more functional citizen.’”

In the short story “One Wish,” Jessica Yarbrough wonders what her life would have been like if she was raised without sexual abuse. Her one wish is the wish to “erase” her childhood and “start over” with “no physical, mental, or emotional abuse.”

“Now here I am in prison, begging to take any classes that might benefit me when I am released. I’m desperate to get right with God and my four kids, who deserve only the best,” Yarbrough wrote. “Still, I wonder about what my life would be like if I could have that one wish.”

Volunteers like Hartnett and Guthrie who give their time to provide hope cannot grant the wish of erasing these women’s backgrounds. However, they can help them build their futures.

By Tiffany Fitzgerald
Staff Writer

Link to Article Here

Blood in the sky

In prison I’ve died and rose again. Becoming the phoenix of my own creation, the Frankenstein of my own mind, facing a new battle, a new challenge, every single day, dying over and over again, just to keep rising, like the sun in the sky, who are both blood, in my eye and what I see is what they say, as they relate to each other, each and every day.

This is poetry for the imprisoned, written by the imprisoned body of a man whose mind is free when the sun rises, so do I, when the sun sets why does it leave its blood in the sky? Challenge me, I’ll honor you, betray me and I’ll always remember who you are, just like a scar on my heart, but that’s what they mean when they say time is art.

I´d rather see blood in the sky, than the blood of the land, but I only say that ‘cuz I’ve washed all the blood off my hands. no god, no master, what a beautiful disaster that would, could and should be. Will it be something that I’ll ever live to see and will it be something better than all of the misery and poverty that I’ve already seen?

Picture a snake, shedding its skin. Picture a caterpillar, a cocoon and a butterfly, try to remember the beginning and then, try to picture the end. Picture a picture in a paragraph. Picture a paragraph that made you cry, yell or laugh. What does it feel like to feel? Does it feel like freedom?

In prison I’ve died and tried again. I’ve lied and flied again. I´d hide and decide again; that it was time to ride and then ride again and with all my might I´d fight again and because I’ve done it before I might again, as the day turns to night again and if this is a dream I’m living in, then whose fight am I fighting in? Whose dream am I dying in? Again and again? But here I am, to begin again, as the blood dries in the sky, like the tears from my eyes, again I rise, still I rise, what a pleasant surprise.

MAY 29TH 2007