Fiction without Freedom


Safiyah Riddle

Voices in order of appearance:
Rayne Vylette
Guy Zapulla
Lamarr Ried
Marvin Wade

[00:00:00] Rayne Vylette: The artist can be very particular about, you know, what conditions are most conducive to the writing process. You read about that, you know, uh, it’s, it’s between eight and 10 every day and it, I have to have my mint tea before I, I write and I have to have a perfectly sharpened number two. Um, and I get that.

I would sit. Cross-legged on the top bunk of my bed. Cause I was on the top bunk, that’s where I lived. And I would take the end of my mat. We didn’t really have mattresses. They were these really terrible mats. And I would fold the mat over and make, and then put my pillow on top of that and then put my notebooks and books on top of that.

It would become kind of a desk. I would orient myself so that I was facing away from the room, maybe I was facing the wall so that that wouldn’t be a distraction, and I would play some music on my headphones, so to whatever extent possible, I wasn’t having to hear everyone else in the dorm.

[sounds of muffled crowd speaking]

My name is Rayne Vylette, and I am a 40 year old trans-feminine, formerly incarcerated person. For a lot of writers, ritual can be very formulaic.

[bell dings twice]

It is a way to exert control over your environment and for the incarcerated writer, that control just may not be possible

[phone rings twice]

[00:01:40] Phone operator: Shewangan Correctional faci– If you know your party’s extension, please dial it now.

[00:01:47] Guy Zapullo: My, my name as, uh, Geiser, um, down 25 years originally from Brooklyn, I very much know what that first piece was about.

[soft whistling]

It was about a seagull, I’m gonna use the word epiphany. I had my version of a really life changing, “Oh my God, what just happened to us here?”

And I wrote it. I actually sat down and I was able to articulate it on paper. I’ve had three homicide trials right in the middle. I think it was my third one, or I might have just ended it. I’m not even sure I was ad-seg, um, for, for multiple years. Ad seg means you’re in a cage with no human contact. You do not ever come outta that cage.

You get one hour a day rec in another cage. Anyway, I’m going to the wreckage and I hear a, a seagull, you know, screaming, just walking, you know, doing what they do.

[muted horn blows, wings flapping]

They’re, they’re not exactly quiet birds. It’s blowing. Um, it’s a brutal winter morning. It might not even have been light out. Um, I’m up on the roof in Manhattan and the seagull is screaming.

Now the guy puts me, my CO puts me in the cage. They uncuff me. Once you get in the cage, I turn around, look, I realize the thing is caught in a barb wire. And I’m watching it. Um, it really – I, I don’t know if it did damage or it did something positive. Um, it actually did something to me. Uh, anyway, um, I tried saving it.

Long story short, I tried saving it, couldn’t save it. The thing was stuck there. I actually had to go back into my cell at some point in time. I sat in my cell. Now mind you, I’m ad-seg. I got no human contact. I just blew on another homicide trial. Um, I’m probably finished

[muted hum]

And the only thing I could think about was this. Well, I, I write the story. Um, it took off from there

[Phone rings three times]

[00:03:50] Operator: thank you for calling Eastern Correctional [phone gets cut off] Party’s extension. Please dial it now.

[00:03:59] Lamarr Ried: Uh, I’m originally from the Bronx, but I kind of migrated to the capital region area, old East Connect, Detroit area. Uh, I’ve been currently incarcerated for 23 years. I fell in love with these like mediums because they was like a release for me, right?I didn’t have to be judged in between the margins or like be who the world wanted me to be or expected of me to be.

[sound of ripping paper]

I pull from like anger, I pull from like being tired, right? I pulled from trauma. I pull from having to be a witness to these things. I feel like is the medium where we can kind of just scream, right?

[dial tone]

[00:04:48] Marvin Wade: I was incarcerated at the time. I was in the beginning of my incarceration, maybe nine. Seven. I was in a prison called Kasak Coxsackie, and they had a industry where we did tailoring and we did a lot of the garments that. Uh, the brothers and and sisters wore in the prisons. We did the pants, we did the underwears.

[theme song of a 1945 The Alfred Hitchcock radio Show plays]

So while on the machine, and I was, I would, I was always thinking of, um, stories. I love, uh, uh, uh, Hitchcock and Christie, all these different, like, I love who done it

[00:05:23] The Alfred Hitchcock Radio Show Host: once upon a midnight…

[00:05:26] Marvin Wade: at lunchtime, I would sit with the fellas at our lunch break and I would say, Hey, listen, I, I got a riddle. See if y’all can figure this out.

And I tell a short story with a riddle, and they, and they tried to, they had to try to figure out who did, you know, whatever the riddle was. And, and, and I made little, you know, paragraphs, stories riles into story

[theme song of a 1945 The Alfred Hitchcock radio Show plays]

[00:05:47] Alfred Hitchcock Radio Show Host: dedicated to the hearty listener who favors the tale spiced with mystery and imagination.

[00:05:58] Guy Zapullo: You know, on a good morning I’ll be typing, singing, fly me over the moon. It happens. It’s funny as shit coming out of a jail cell. Cause it’s not like Eddie Murphy singing Roxanne. No, it’s the deaf guy singing Sinatra with a typewriter. Not cool. Prior to me getting a tablet, I never touched a computer. So some of your, um, terminology and some of the things you use often, um, I’m gonna say take for granted.

Cause you, you, you have the technology. Um, I just learned about, for instance, cut and paste. Well, when you are doing, for instance, I did a full length memoir. When you are doing that on a typewriter, cut and paste means exactly that. So you’re gonna cut a piece of paper off and tape it or paste it to the next piece of paper.

[Hollow whistling]

That’s just the way the editing process works. Um, that’s an enormous difference.

[Hollow whistling]

[00:06:51] Guy Zapullo: I’m kind of stuck recently. I’m, you know, in a bad jail place. Uh, not that there’s anything wrong, it’s just, it’s jail. It happens, and we all go through these cycles. I’m in one of those cycles right now. I really can’t create anything.

[00:07:09] Marvin Wade: The system made it hard to write at times, you know, that they would tear yourself up, you know, you know, wait searches all night sometimes, uh, take your pens or pencil your paper. I fought 25 years to be the man I am. Be, and, and. You know, prison wanted more, the sister wanted more, and, and if there was a different place and space to heal and, and get healthy, and without the negative stuff, it would take less time for brothers and sisters to come out and be the person that they are expected to be by society and themselves.

[Out of service phone noise]

[00:07:53] Rayne Vylette: Now, the last time I was placed in solitary, I was participating in a writing project and I had written a short story about, um, an officer who stayed after their shift and they would watch from their car as people were reunited with their loved ones. And it would remind them that the people that they guard every day, despite the cat cause or.

You know, the names or the rudeness, whatever, whatever crazy prison stuff they had to deal with. They were reminded that, that these are real people with real families, people that love them and people that they love, that they are guardians of, of real people.

I thought it was really compassionate and I thought that like there was no way I could ruffle anyone’s feathers with a story like that, but it turned out that the name of the guard in my story was the name of an actual guard at the institution that I was staying at. And, uh, of course I modeled it after the institution I was staying at.

So all those names were the same, you know, so it was this officer at my institution and, um, yeah, that was enough to get me put in solitary for being a security threat.

[two bell sounds]

[00:09:31] Marvin Wade: Man, I, I wanna, I wanna write, I wanna screenplay, I wanna do like movies or plays, you know, something where I could see it, you know, my, my writings, you know, uh, my stories, you know, go to the next level, you know?

[hallow ringing]

[00:09:52] Lamarr Ried: It wouldn’t be bad to see like my work published. Or it kind of like get into the heirs of the people administering the injustices, right. And people suffering from injustices. So as long as it’s like in the world and it’s doing something in the world and it’s making people kind of like question systems and institutions, and that’s what I would want.

[phone rings twice]

Music Sources:

  • com, user name: primejunt, sound: 135645__paper-rip-long
  • com, username: tjandrasounds, sound: typewriter_bell
  • com, username: theflyfishingfilmmaker, sound: violin-single-note-swell
  • org, “Alfred Hitchcock: old time radio pilots”, 1945, uploaded by ThePaleWriter