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TALES of TOMMY by Lou Simelou

When I worked at Mount Sinai as a Peer, part of my job was to work with people who had come out of prison who had been incarcerated for periods of time and to help them restablish their life in a program called Coming Home.

I met a man who was incarcerated for 33 years, 19 of those in solitary confinement. His name was Tommy, who spent those 33 years incarcerated for crime they discovered he did not commit so, he was set free.

I was sitting at the clinic one day and Tommy turned to me and said.. “How do I use this? ” and he handed me something looked like a cell phone. He then told me about his incarceration and said it was his first week home. It blew me away so I opened the phone showed him how to use it.

Tommy had been incarcerated before cellphones and laptops existed. As we got to know each other we became friends, good friends. I told him about life outside of prison and Tommy told me about life inside of prison. One day I asked him Tommy …”How in the world did you survive and keep your sanity in solitary for 19 years?” He said…”Every morning the guards would slip under the door, a piece of paper and a pencil and I would write every day.”…that kept him sane, he said for all those years.

And so he began his new life and every day he would go sit in in Riverside Park and sit and write. While he was there he would notice owners of cats who would dump their pregnant cats in the park and walk away and the mother cats would have babies. Tommy begin to care for those kittens and bring them home and so he started a website called.. Tommy’s Kittens. From his website he would find homes for these kittens and get them adopted. Tommy was a big man 6 foot 4 and almost 280 lbs. He loved those kittens and he loved to write so, in one hand he would hold the kittens and the other hand he would write in Riverside Park. But sadly, and unfortunately only 2 years home Tommy died suddenly.

That experience continues to move me and inspire me. I got you know an unbelievable man who still had a lot to contribute to the world because he was a young man when incarcerated. I got to share my life and experiences with Tommy and he began to open up to me ..unlike prison where no one will listen. I got to hear some of his creative writings and how by simply using a pencil and a piece of paper he kept his sanity all those years. I only saw the kind caring side of Tommy, never anger or resentment. He taught me a lot and told me how important it was that he wrote his thoughts down every day. I treasure my time with Tommy because he confirmed that writing is a great tool to heal and communicate a message that you want the world to hear. So I write this poem in honor of my friend Tommy.. may you rest in peace.

It’s called….In Solitary…….

Prison touches my brain on losing Freedom.

Entrapment sets in.

Tastes like food without salt all the same taste and texture.

Claustrophobia sets in.

Darkness enhances.

Food is no longer what keeps me alive.

I hear thunder in my head.

Each day I work to control the rain crashing down on my brain.

I listen for the sun to come out. My mind could be my enemy or be my ally.

My escape is in my pen that finds a route to the paper. It’s escape route is one of many directions.

I feel and see the tunnels end in the touch of my pen. I taste the quiet in my mind.

I smell the freshly cut grass on my front lawn. I see sunlight after the rain. I feel the freedom in my mind .

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