Alexandria’s Inmates Excel in Creative Writing Contest

Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, Gloria Wright and Jane Hess Collins congratulate Isaura Garcia on her first place award in fiction. (Photo by Amy Bertsch)

Inmates at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center took part in a summer creative writing contest organized by Jane Hess Collins and Heard, a creative arts program that gives marginalized adults the opportunity to be heard under the guidance of professional artists experienced in working with at-risk adults.

Inmates had the opportunity to write original works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction and then submit them in a competition. The panel of judges – City of Alexandria Poet Laureate Wendi Kaplan, The Zebra Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Mary Wadland, and Georgetown University Professor Mike Long – considered each submission’s technical and artistic strength when determining the winners.

On August 16, the Sheriff’s Office held a ceremony at the jail to recognize the award winners and all the participants. Sheriff Dana Lawhorne and members of his command and Inmate Services staff welcomed Ms. Collins, author and volunteer Solveig Eggerz, Heard volunteer Nancy Carson, and Pat Miller, a longtime community leader and arts advocate. Ms. Collins and Sheriff Lawhorne both expressed their gratitude to those who made the writing contest possible. Sheriff Lawhorne also emphasized the importance of creative writing and encouraged contest participants to continue writing.

Sheriff’s Office staff and writing contest supporters listen to Nelly Davila’s powerful personal account which earned her first place in nonfiction. (Photo by Amy Bertsch)

Gloria Wright, the Alternative Programs Manager, announced the following awards which were presented by Sheriff Lawhorne and Ms. Collins:

Poetry:               1st-requested anonymity; 2nd-Robert McCrickard; 3rd-Daryl Torain

Fiction:               1st-Isaura Garcia; 2nd-Jackie McBride

Nonfiction:          1st-Nelly Davila; 2nd- requested anonymity; 3rd-Joshua Mann

After the awards presentation, two honorees shared their winning entries with the audience. Staff, guests and fellow inmates applauded Mr. Torain’s poem, “For So Many Years,” and Ms. Davila’s account of a family tragedy, “A True Story,” brought several audience members to tears.

THE WINNING ENTRIES:

First Place Fiction:

Chapter 1

by Lsaura Garcia

Walking through the mountains, Layla paused for a brief moment. Catching her breath, she felt out of shape at only 35 years old. Reaching into her backpack, searching through the contents of her bag, she removed her inhaler.

Exhaling deeply, bringing the inhaler to her mouth, she inhaled a deep breath, holding…then releasing. Looking at her watch, Layla knew she only had two hours til the sunset. Determined to make it to the mountain top, she had one more mile to go.

Putting her inhaler back into her bag, she grabbed a Jolly Rancher and zipped her bag up and began walking again.

The crisp smell of the fall air was intoxicating, one of the many reasons why Layla loved to hike at the time of the year. The leaves sat on the massive trees in warm autumn colors. Some were mixed with evergreen and a tint or orange. Others were mixed with burgundy and gold, a reminder of her favorite football team, the Redskins.

Pausing for a moment looking at the colors of this particular tree with burgundy and gold leaves, her mind took her back to a core memory years ago. In an instant Layla was sitting next to her best friend Robert at a Cowboys and Redskins game. The stadium was loud. Every fan was screaming – an even amount of fans for both teams in attendance. She glanced over to her right and saw Robert glancing back at her with a smile. Whether her team won or not today, this was the very moment she realized she was in love. She was in love with her best friend.

Being shifted out of her memory, back to the present from a squirrel rubbing against her, Layla looked back down, and smiled. Her cheeks flush with red. She continued her walk.

The branches and bushes one the ground made it difficult to bypass in a timely manner. A lot of the branches had been knocked down by thunder over the past months and bushes that had overgrown from the rain.

At that moment Layla remembered she packed a hunting knife her brother, Mike, bought her for her birthday back in August. Smiling at the thought, she reached around to the small net pocket of her bag and pulled out the 6” pocket knife out of the bag. Looking at it closely she examined the knife. Flipping it back and forth, admiring the carved wooden handle, she came across the engraved name at the bottom of the handle. In cursive at the end of the finished, glossed wood there read “Garcia.” A name that binded her and her brother for life. A name that was neatly inked on both of their wrists, their last name. A name that reminded of the Cuban descent.

Layla opened the knife and started swinging it in front of her. She cleared any twig branches in the path, as if she were a bush whacker. As she froze to catch her breath, she noticed it was a little darker now than when she last stopped. She started to worry knowing she had a half of a mile to go, and if she continued the darker it would get.

As she debated whether to continue or turn around and head back to the main road she heard a sound. A frightening sound. In that moment she heard footsteps and the snapping sounds of branches breaking as each foot step came closer. It was then that she realized she wasn’t the only person there.

To be continued…

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Second place fiction:

The Path

by Jackie McBride 

This story is about a young lady, named Terri, who walked the wrong path. Early one morning, she was on her way to work. She came across her friends she grew up with.

“Where have you been? We haven’t seen you since school.”

Terri said, “Around.”

“How would you like to go out on a Friday night with us?”

Terri said, “OK, that’s fine.” So Mary said, “I’ll pick you up around 8:00 o’clock.”

Terri was glad to be out, having fun with her friends. While at the club, Terri noted how much the both of them were drinking. Terri was in recovery, but she never said a word to her friends. While sitting at the table, Mary asked Terri if she wanted a drink. Terri said no. She was asked again, so this time said, “Yes, I’ll have one more drink.”

Now Terri is drinking one more drink. She tried to stand up, but she fell down. Now she’s afraid. She looks at Mary and said, “I didn’t tell you both, that I have not had a drink in one year.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

Terri said, “I was afraid to.”

Terri asked if they would take her home, so they did. Terri called her sponsor. She said she would be over, to pick her up and take her to a meeting, or detox if needed.

Terri explained to her sponsor that she walked the wrong path one more time.

So now Terri wrote the poem saying what happened that day on the path. (NOTE: Ms. McBride also submitted a poem entitled “The Path”).

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First Place Nonfiction:

A True Story

 by Nelly Davila 

             It all happened in the summer of 1983. I was five years old. We went to our yearly vacation to Mexico. Every summer we drove from Los Angeles, California to Mecca, Jalisco, Mexico. We always passed state to state til we finally would get to our grandparents’ farm. They were my daddy’s parents and family. It would turn out to be the most tragic remembered summer vacation we ever took. It was my daddy, my mommy, my sisters, Cindy, Isa, Daisy, my brother Erick, my mommy’s sister, Maria, and her baby girl, Patty, and me, Nelly.

We were on our fifth day of traveling, almost to our set destination. I was in the front part of the truck along with my mommy and daddy and Erick. We were playing around and he began to tell me, “Mamita, listen…I want you to have my favorite toy here…so you can always remember me whenever you play because I’m going to go away today…And you can’t go with me, ok.” And I started to cry and said, “But why can’t I go with you? Then who will I play with?” And he said, “With Isa because the angels told me that Cindy and Daisy are going with me too.”

My mommy heard me crying and asked my brother why I was crying, and he repeated everything to her. She said to stop saying such things, and then he said, “I swear, Mommy, you know I don’t make up stories.” And my mommy began to get nervous. She told my daddy we should pull over and wait a few hours till it became daylight to continue, but my daddy said, “Honey, we are almost there. See…You can see the lights of the village. See…” And then Boom! All of a sudden the engine of the truck went dead. My dad moved the stick shift and turned the keys of the ignition a few times and the truck turned on again. And he said, “It’s ok. Everything’s ok.” And Boom! It happened again. My mommy began to get frantic and wanted my daddy to pull over, and again he got the truck going. We were really scared and didn’t know what was happening. And my daddy told us, “It’s just too dangerous to just pull over ‘cause the roads are too dark. And we could get crashed into ‘cause the roads are too narrow.” Then my brother said to me, “Ok Mamita. I have to go to the back of the truck now, ok?” He kissed me on the cheek and said, “I need to tell Isa to come over here with you, ok?” And he handed me his little wooden dog. As he began to get out, he whispered something in my ear.

A few seconds later my older sister Isa was getting in the front seat with me. She said to my mommy, “What happened is that Erick told me that you were calling me, that you needed me now…” And my mommy said, “No I didn’t call you.” Then my daddy said, “Ok guys, we are almost there. See, the lights look bigger.” And he pointed towards the village. I remember how scary it looked ‘cause the roads were so dark, high and full of potholes and big rocks. I really hated that part ‘cause all the bumps and steep, windy roads made me so sick and dizzy. Then all of a sudden, Boom! The truck shut down for the third time. But this time even the lights went dead, and my dad had no control of the truck. Nothing worked, not even his brakes. And I just heard my daddy say, “Oh please God, not now.” And we felt the truck go over a steep cliff. The truck rolled over three times. When it stopped, we were upside down with its tires up in the air. We were crying, and I could hear pleas for help coming from outside. My parents were both unconscious so my sister and I started to try to wake them up. My mommy was the first one to wake up and started to try to get out. But the doors wouldn’t open. Then my daddy woke up yelling, “Are you ok?” to us and my mommy. I could still hear everyone outside pleading for help. My mom said, “Do you have your shoes on?” and we said “yes.” And she said, “Ok, look away ‘cause I’m going to break the window.” But it was too hard. My dad was in pain. His legs were stuck, and he was trying to get loose. He did break his window and said, “Hold on. I’ll be right back, ok.”

As we waited I could hear the gasoline spilling out of the truck. The smell was so intense. My mommy began to panic and tried to break the windshield. My sister began to cry and said, “Hurry, Mommy, hurry. They are still crying for help. Please Mommy hurry.” My daddy showed up yelling, “I can’t find the jack. Where is it?” As he helped us out after he broke the windshield off, he said, “Come on, help me find the jack.” That’s when we realized that my sisters and brother were pinned under the camper part of the truck. I could hear them pleading for help, so we began to try to dig with our hands, but the soil was so hard and dry. We were also all surrounded by big thorn bushes that were sharp as glass. We all tried, but all it did was make our fingers bleed because it was so hard and full of thorns.

Everything all of a sudden became all silent. They had stopped crying and pleading for help. That’s when everything began to go in slow motion. My mommy began to yell hysterically and said, “Come on. We need to try and turn it.” We all tried with all our might til we actually did it. I don’t even know how it was possible, but my mommy and daddy, my aunt, my sister, and me turned it on its side. But it was too late…My oldest sister Cindy, 13, my brother Erick, 6, and my baby sister Daisy, 10 months old, were gone. The weight of the truck and camper smashed and suffocated them. We all started crying, still not understanding the reality of things.

Honestly, til this day I don’t understand why they died. All I know is that they are with God. For a long time I just wanted to believe it was all just a bad dream. But it wasn’t. It was real. There are so many details I left out, but it’s just too much. It wouldn’t be right to go into all the sad, gruesome details of their deaths. My tragic story is very deep in my soul. I will never forget what we lived. It is forever engraved in my heart. I still remember my brother Erick’s words that an angel told him. I still remember the smell of the gasoline. I still remember how my parents were going crazy in disbelief when they were being buried. How my mommy lost total control when they began to fill their little graves with dirt. For how much agony and suffering we experienced when days turned to nights.

Believe it or not, I still have my brother’s toy doggy that he gave me that night…We’ve missed them so much, but I know one day we will all be together again because just like my brother told me. Just before he got out to go to the back of the truck to call my sister, Erick whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry, Mamita, the angels told me we will one day be together again, ok.” I’ve learned so much about this experience throughout my life. But one thing I’ll never experience is how much they really suffered and how scared and confused they were, that no matter what I go through and how much I may suffer, be scared and confused, it will never be as much as they did…And I know I will live through it ‘cause they watch over us from heaven.

In loving memory of Cindy, Erick, Daisy Santiago

R.I.P.

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Second Place Nonfiction:

Be A Stroke Superhero 

By Anonymous

Most of us know someone who has been affected by a stroke.  It is important to know the basics about stroke in order to recognize signs and symptoms, help prevent stroke, and know what to do in the case of a stroke. The most important things to know are the signs and symptoms, your risk and prevention, and what to do if a loved one might be suffering a stroke.

Usually when someone is having a stroke, only one side of their body is affected.  Either the left or right.  So if you notice someone suddenly dragging one foot, or a loved one tells you they can’t move their one arm, you should suspect stroke.  Another sign may be facial droops.  You might notice one side of someone’s mouth drooping lower than the other.  When stroke strikes some people report a sudden very severe headache.  Another sign would be garbled speech or trouble forming words.

Everyone should evaluate their own risk of stroke.  Here are some risk factors you can change, and some you can’t.  Men and women are equally at risk of stroke until the age of 50.  After 50 men are more likely to suffer a stroke than women.  As we age we become more likely to have a stroke.  Family history is also a risk factor.  People who smoke cigarettes are at higher risk as well; smoking cessation is recommended.  High blood pressure greatly increases risk of stroke and should be managed, as well as cholesterol. Staying active is a great way to lower your risk, as is maintaining a healthy diet.  You’ll notice the things you can do to lower risk are not only simple, but the same things any doctor would tell you to do to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The last thing everyone should know about stroke is that time matters!  It is of the utmost importance that anyone showing any possible signs of stroke be taken to the nearest hospital immediately.  This is because there is actually a treatment for stroke.  A medicine called PTA can be given to stop a stroke in its tracks!  The trick is, that this treatment is only a possibility if given within three hours of the onset of symptoms.  Too often someone will notice a minor possible symptom and do nothing about it, assuming it will go away, only to end up suffering a stroke and not being a candidate for TPA.  So never ever hesitate if you suspect a stroke!

When someone is having a stroke, it means that circulation is being cut off from the cells, causing them to malfunction or even die.  When brain cells do not get oxygen- rich blood supply they suffocate. This is what causes the symptoms.

A stroke can also be called a CVA, or cardiovascular accident.   Also, some people have min-strokes, or TIA (transient ischemic attack).  This means they have temporary symptoms of stroke that go away.  Having a CVA or TIA puts people at greater risk of having them again in the future.  Talk to your doctor about taking daily baby aspirin to help prevent stroke if you are over 50, or are at risk of stroke.

These are the basics of stroke.  Now you know what you need to do in case of stroke, how to assess your risk, and recognize the signs and symptoms.  You may end up saving a loved one from having a stroke!  Now be a stroke education advocate and teach someone else theses basics!  And remember, time matters.

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Third Place Nonfiction:

New Beginnings

By Joshua Mann

Life seems to throw us multiple “curve balls” with multiple choices involved. My life has been one bad choice followed by another, ending at this point, with a new beginning. Choices in life come with consequences, repercussions, and hopefully a chance to brush it off and pick up the pieces. I’d like to take a journey through time, both past and present.

When two people of the opposite sex become list in a whirlwind of passion and love, accompanied by financial stability and endless opportunity, time seems to stand still. There seems to be no obstacle insurmountable. Choices such as marriage or pregnancy seem to be a normal course of action. At which point two young adults make a choice and stand up against the world, without fear of consequences or repercussions.

Part of being head over heels for someone you love is that you haven’t stopped to see the cons along with the pros. This is where your first taste of consequences becomes apparent. If those cons outweigh the so-called pros, then one feels compelled to make a secondary choice to correct the first action. This is where the pink cloud disappears and reality rears its ugly head. Obstacles from what seems like quantum angles appear, so fast and inconsistently, that your life seems to have a broken glass appearance. These consequences have lasting effects on you and everyone involved.

The repercussion of my journey has resulted in a complete crash. I am left with a date that represents a new beginning! My wife and I had a beautiful baby boy and a wonderful homestead. The rigors of life caused us to realize we hadn’t chosen life partners to the best of our ability. We chose to split up and, on top of that choice, I chose to quit fighting the good fight. The ultimate repercussion involved a significant loss of my freedom as well as a distant stay away from the most important thing in my life. The date I speak of is my release from prison. I am fortunate enough to be given another lease on life. I have a chance to gather my pieces and start putting them back together.

Being a person on this journey called life, I have experienced my fair share of choices, consequences, and repercussions. My “new beginning” begins when I walk out of this human cage. My beautiful son is the first piece I plan on picking up and never letting go!

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Second place poetry:

There Was A Time

by Robert M. McCrickland

There was a time

My life could have rhymed

But it was broken

Like the words inside my head unspoken

Tears rain down soaken

My life but a shadow taken

Of when there was a time.

Don’t get me wrong

It’s still my song

My time’s about gone

If only I could prolong

But no so I carry on

And even long

For when there was a time.

Staring into this air

As if I were still there

Even though the moments rare

I can see them still crystal clear

Cover my ears

Listen past the tears

When there was a time.

The end pounding like a fist

No longer it can I dismiss

My past swirls in a mist

I try to free myself from its twist

Wishing to forever reminisce

And even miss

Back when there was a time.

When I die will you be poken

Pretending that you were joken

Maybe to me a little token

Mend a few things that were broken

Or kindly even evoken

A few words I left unspoken

To when there was a time.

Please, please if you shall

Tell me what happens now

Will I get a second chance

At a new life to enhance

A life like a perfect crystal unbroken

A perfect rhyme softly spoken

Well if I do I promise to say to you

Remember when there was a time?

There was a time…There was a time

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Third place poetry:

For So Many Years

by Daryl Torien

Man upset

For so many years I believed a lie

That men did not hurt nor did they cry,

I would always cover up what was wrong with me,

My concepts of thinking my morals had changed

They said men did not cry so I covered my pain

I would use anything whatever I could gather

Outside of myself just to feel better

I would try and dress good so people would say

Because of my appearance I must be okay

Now the pain is so strong

Just look at my tears

As they drip through my image

That I’ve carried for years

Like I was strong but truly I was weak

With the false perception that I saw suave and unique

Now for so many years I believed this lie

That men did not hurt nor did they cry

But I am here to report and to state my case

Just look at the tears as they flow down my face

Never hold back your tears. Cry if you should

Because there are so many men that wish that they could