One of the most popular pastimes in jail and prison is storytelling. It figures. In a place where TV or radio or even books are not always accessible, and the phone to connect to other people is not always available, you have very few choices of things to do to pass the time. You can write letters, but it takes a while to get the human connection in return. You can play games like cards or chess, but that gets old, and the best part about those games are the stories you get over them. Or, if you’re in a cell with another person, you can share stories with them. And even if you’re alone, you can tell yourself a story. I’ve done it plenty.
I found out about the local storytelling event, Uncle Scotchy’s Storytelling Extravaganza, way too late. My wife and I had a baby about 10 months ago, and I’ve been in BabyLand for 6 months before she (the baby) arrived. So yeah, I hadn’t been out much when I decided to show up one night and tell a story.
Ever since I got out of prison in 2015, I’ve been trying to cobble together a fictionalized account of my 8-1/2 years in the Florida Department of Corrections. I’m a fiction writer. I write fiction based on personal experiences. I write fiction for two reasons: (1) I enjoy crafting stories without the boundaries of reality, and (2) a good portion of my most colorful experiences happened while doing things unsavory and/or illegal.
Basically, I was afraid to tell you the true stories…Until now.
Every time I’ve seen Eric Garcia, “Uncle Scotchy” of Uncle Scotchy’s Storytelling Extravaganza, I’ve thanked him for creating this space for us. Storytelling is ancient. It predates the written word. It’s how we make sense of every single one of our tough experiences. It’s how we learn our lasting lessons. It’s how we heal ourselves. It’s how we pass on knowledge, wisdom, and history.
I showed up at the 2nd to last Storytelling Extravaganza to tell one of my prison stories. Soon after, Eric asked me to retell the same story this coming weekend at Walt Grace in Wynwood. And this is only the beginning. I’ve been spinning tales for my friends and family all my life, and, in prison, I got serious about it. Writing and storytelling saved me. It was the only thing I had for lots of years.
This Saturday, at Walt Grace, I will be telling a story about one of my 90-day stints in solitary confinement. Solitary confinement changed my life. I hope it doesn’t come to that for any of you. But come on in and get some this Saturday. Step into our sacred space. At the end of the night, you can walk out and go home and sleep in your own bed.