Painted Man

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July 15, 2014 by alexamariekelly

In my life I painted houses
Dripped color on clean walls

I trace the battle scar that spans my stomach
A thick brown reminder 

A fault line that aches and squirms and cracks
When the sun hides 

The strip of sweat-soaked cotton
Wrung around my neck 

They slashed my noose and
I fell
Bloodied knuckles and knotted insides

They gripped my wrist and dragged my chains
Concrete on skin
Inflamed bowels and shattered eyes

In my cell they painted me
My brown scar


This poem was inspired by Jose Bautista, a Rikers Island inmate. He tried to commit suicide. Instead of compassion, he was met with violence. According to investigators, Bautista was beaten so badly by guards that he needed emergency surgery. His perforated bowels left him with a foot-long scar. 

The New York Times published an in-depth investigation about Rikers that I encourage you to read. It speaks to the deep need for prison reform, especially in treating mentally ill inmates. 


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