Ivan Calaff //

Everything seems to be late in 2020; time has been held back, as we say in Greece. Friends send us an amaryllis for Christmas every year, for many years now. But, in 2020, the amaryllis bloomed in late January.

“Shut. The. Fuck. Up! Don’t you dare move!” That was how my first interaction with the police went down. I was only 8 years old.

Every word, a promise of violence to come; the kind of violence that packs- a-16-shot 9-millimeter Glock, wears steeled-toed boots, violence that kicks out teeth, smashes testicles, and makes bones explode. In my young life, I had witnessed that violence too many times.

Fast forward 27 years later. I’m 35 years old and locked up again, this time at Sing Sing. “Shut the fuck up! I better not hear a fucking peep!” every word a promise of violence to come, the kind of violence that packs a solid wood baton, wears steeled-toed boots that kick out teeth, smash testicles, and make bones explode.

Fear snakes through my body, but I can’t let it show. Fear signifies weakness, and any weakness must be exploited. I know from experience that once those words are uttered, bloodshed is imminent. I silently pray, “Not my blood, God, please!” But my eyes are flat and emotionless. My body posture is loose and yet spring-loaded for battle.

Ivan Calaff

Today, I felt like crying.

I didn’t want to “weep” or “sob.” I just wanted to give in to the lump in my throat, lean into the tightness in my chest, take a breath and just…cry. For some reason I needed to feel the sting of hot tears streaming down my cheeks, down to that curve on my upper lip that shuttles the salty goodness of my frustration onto my tongue, where it oddly quenches something in my spirit.

Today, I felt like crying.

I think it had something to do with coming to grips with the fact that I am being chased…stalked…hunted by an invisible enemy. An enemy that doesn’t care that I have a young daughter who found me after being shuttled around for 18 years in the foster care and adoption system. An invisible monster that doesn’t care about my beautiful grandchildren who have not gotten the chance to meet “grandpa.”

Today, I felt like crying.

I think it had to do with becoming paralyzingly aware that I am a sitting duck. A lamb waiting to be slaughtered as I sit in my penetrable open-air tomb listening for a beast that doesn’t make a sound. On the lookout for the spook who doesn’t show himself, that bears his teeth and strikes under the cover of a touch.

Today, I felt like crying.

Today somebody told me that a person I called friend tested positive. Today the news said it wasn’t a matter of “if” but of “when” it would be me. Today, I realized that I was afraid. That I am afraid I won’t get the chance to say goodbye.

Today, I felt like crying.

I didn’t want to “weep” or “sob.” I just wanted to give in to the lump in my throat, lean into the tightness in my chest, take a breath and just…cry.

So I did, and I wasn’t afraid anymore.

Shedrick Blackwell, locked up in a facility in upstate New York,

as recited over the telephone to Ivan Calaff in April, 2020.

We have Shedrick Blackwell’s permission to publish it here.

Author bio: Carlos Ivan Calaff, Sr., B.S., is a Bronx native and the proud father of two sons. He is a graduate of Mercy College, a Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison alumnus, and a Justice-in-Education Scholar at Columbia University. Ivan is currently a Research Analyst at the Center for Justice and a Reintegration Specialist for the Justice-in-Education Scholars Program, where he supports the development of educational programming, including college courses for adults involved with the justice system. He speaks to diverse audiences about the effects of the criminal justice system on individuals and communities and ways in which the system can be transformed, and he is helping develop the Center’s research program on the relationship between education, identity, and democratic engagement for justice-involved individuals. Ivan is also a musician and serves on the Advisory Committee for Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections Program. Ivan’s greatest fear is living a life without purpose.

Image note: Several essays are accompanied by photographs that editor Neni Panourgiá took of flowers at Riverside Park in spring 2020. They are meant as temporal transitional points during the time that the workshop took place, from the last day on campus in the fall semester of 2019 to the last day of class in June 2020.

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