SEEN is a prison portrait and poetry project. But more importantly, it’s a Minnesota portrait and poetry project. Through photography, video, and written word, we share the poignant brilliance of poets and prose writers in Minnesota state prisons, and work together to make the invisible visible, the unheard heard, and the unseen seen. Mass incarceration is dependent upon the ignoring and erasure of the human beings we cage. In collaboration with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop (MPWW) and the thoughtful, intelligent, humble, and deeply gifted writers on the inside, WAAC challenges and disrupts mass incarceration by clearing the pathways for people behind bars to have their voices heard, faces seen, and humanity recognized–and for people on the outside to reckon with the inhumanity of our country’s mass incarceration mass disaster.
This page is dedicated to Louise’s work. For more poets and essayists, check out the SEEN page.
Things I Will Carry
Scripture cards from both New Testament
and Old. They help me remember.
Scars from the basement of the yellow house,
my first home.
Sweet grass bundles,
photos of Ningozi—young.
wretched vows of integrity.
ni mama’s sorrow
Her blessing of life goes on.
Miigwech ni mama.
This is Where
I’m from Bineshi’s bloodline.
That’s Bill Baker if you don’t speak Ojibwemowin1.
Ni migizi dodem2.
I’m from sitting on green boxes on
6-mile corner, watching cars go by.
Sometimes their four doors didn’t match.
I’m from Packer games on Sundays, Greyhound trips for the
holidays, and Easter baskets with Karla.
I’m from women with the same last name and a father
none of us knew.
I’m from the woods; northern.
Where pines and birch bark blanket
both bends of tribal roads,
paved and gravel.
I’m from a single-parent household.
Michael Jackson cassette tapes, Purple Rain posters, and latchkey kids.
I’m from Title V programs. Commods on pantry shelves,
cucumbers grown in
grandpa Jake’s garden, and a
mean ol’ dog named Turkey.
I’m from “crying won’t change anything” and you
“should’ve known better.”
I’m from where silence is normal and
Hugs are warm and forced Catholicism still
weighs heavy on my mother’s shoulders.
At 73—the burden has lightened.
This is where I’ll always return.
1.Ojibwemowin: Ojibwe language.
2.Ni migizi dodem: I am eagle clan.
an empty shell case in an abandoned room.
far from lonely highways
I have travelled before. I recognize
I am my own heroin.
I yearn with anger.
I yearn to fight
to bleed, create new brave scars
standing in snow tracks in these concrete plains—
I am desert sand, proud with no water.
A pipe carrier
with no elder—David has passed.
I am without.
Those thundering storms
resting in steel chains,
losing the woman I want to be.
When I write, I am with my home, with my family, which my Indigenous Peoples. I am not just an offender, I am a woman, a daughter, a mom, sister. It is through and with my writing that I get to be who I am, a multifaceted Anishinaabekwe with a voice and a story to share.
Excerpt from Louise’s interview with Eleanor Mammen for PEN America.