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Punk Hostages Practice the Healing Power of Literature

Posted on Sep 11, 2013
Neil Kremer (CC-BY-ND)

By Michael Juliani

(Page 4)

San Bruno is a very progressive jail. It offers Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings in certain pods. If you wind up there and you don’t have a high school diploma, officials will bring teachers in to help you get your GED before you leave. Despite some concerns about “off-color language and themes” in Razor’s poems that he had to explain to administrators after that first reading, it looks as if Razor’s relationship with the jail will continue at monthly workshops.

Razor left behind signed copies of his books and helped stock the jail’s library. Ellis said she would have Razor teach workshops there every week if his schedule permitted it. “Some of the guys here tell me straight up, ‘I write to understand myself,’ ” Ellis said in a phone interview. “We give them black wide-ruled composition books and they fill them with poetry and journaling. They say that getting it out of their head and onto paper is the best way to understand themselves. They’re processing why they’re there. Average everyday people don’t go into those kinds of issues—family issues and such—but [the inmates] do.”

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a study of his time in Nazi concentration camps, remains an important work for Razor. “The people who were able to keep themselves together the best were the ones least attached to the environment they were in,” Razor said. When he was in prison, he adopted this attitude, and used reading and writing to keep his senses sharp.

Razor sees Words As Works as a method to break through the clouds of the system and transcend institutional politics. “If people can empower themselves to heal within this forgotten, written-off part of society then that tool might be powerful enough to help in schools and at-risk youth, and it could be what makes a difference for a whole generation of people,” he said.

Almost every night I see new poems by Razor pop up on my Facebook feed. He tells me he writes them on the computer when he finishes his shifts, sometimes at 4 in the morning.

“The hardest job I ever had in this country was being a homeless person with no money … ” he explains to me. “I’m going to see if I can pull someone out with me and if I can document it and use that to get more results and help more people.”

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