Word and Image

The men in our writing class, PHOENIX graduates, PHOENIX volunteers, and OHSU nursing students wrote these pieces last fall. Some were created for PHOENIX posts for 2019 #GivingTuesday. All are from the heart. We hope you enjoy them!

To me, PHOENIX Rising isn’t just two words shoved together to sound cool. I’ve found PHOENIX Rising to be a place where volunteers from the outside free world and guys on this side of the fence are able to come together twice a week and conversate and share opinions as equals, not by last name and SID numbers.

PHOENIX Rising and everyone involved have helped me to realize that I have a voice, willing to be heard and not judged and criticized. We laugh, we giggle, we get serious. When I’m in class, I feel free. I feel welcome. I feel appreciated. I feel understood.

To all the volunteers, Harry and Karen, Emily, Jeff, Peter, Dave, Cecil and Jean, as well as the rest of the fellas from this side of the fence, I say Thank You.

Joshua Hedrick

A gathering of poets
A gathering of friends
      When sharing our feelings we bleed from a pen.
In Phoenix we see no color
In Phoenix we teach one another
In Phoenix we read with each other
And always believe in each other.
Together we meet
Together we write
Together we are a phoenix on the rise.

Brendan Lord

The empowerment of the role of a leader is a unique thing, something that can be abused, or something that, if harnessed and applied appropriately, can bring about great feats and invite necessary change. Phoenix Rising helps solidify your foundation for the latter, creating a platform that it continues to build upon: teaching skills for community organizing through trainings; intentional conversations and plenaries; and tackling current issues while being aware of looming problems. It has awakened in me a desire to play my part, embarking on my role as a leader. 

Trivonne Barnett

Today [November 6th] marks my one-year anniversary of being released from imprisonment. A lot happened in a year.

  • I got out with two jobs that I helped create for myself while I was in, All Rise Magazine and Liberation Literacy.
  • I became a yoga instructor and volunteer with Living Yoga through a scholarship.
  • I was invited to be on the strategy team of the Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good.
  • I was made president of the board of Phoenix Rising Transitions.
  • I got in three car accidents-one sliding on ice attempting to turn; one where I was stopped at a red light and a person ran into my car from behind going 35 miles per hour where I had to go to the emergency room for whiplash; and the third where I hit debris stuck in the middle lane of the freeway that ripped off the front right side of my bumper.
  • I spoke at Reed College with my close friend and co-worker Jarell.
  • I was featured in Lewis and Clark Law School’s Week of Mass Incarceration and held a class on the differences of prison reform versus abolition and told my story.
  • I was allowed to hold a workshop at Lewis and Clark’s 38th Annual Gender Symposium regarding the masking of self in captive spaces. It was one of the most well received events during that week and is the thing I’ve done that I’m most proud of since release. My own Sermon on the Mount, I would say.
  • I was homeless on two occasions and had to live in my car at a rest stop when not working. 
  • I was denied lifesaving medications that came out while I was in prison for my Cystic Fibrosis because I wasn’t sick enough, according to my insurance.
  • I was hospitalized for two weeks and had at least one visitor every single day I was there, which meant the world to me.
  • I was diagnosed with PTSD and kicked out of a re-entry program due to not being criminal enough, and not having a problem with addiction.
  • I was one of two featured storytellers at Living Yoga’s annual gala, that was one of their most successful in recent time.
  • I was interviewed live on KBOO’s Prison Pipeline radio show and got warm feedback on all fronts.

I’ve made wonderful networking connections, ascended professionally while being on a roller coaster personally, and found that I can strongly impact people and make spaces for those that others try to silence or ostracize, simply by sharing my experience and doing my best to behave as Christ of Nazareth once did on this earth.

Thank you all for your help, welcome, guidance, patience, care, concern, love and ability to hold me accountable when necessary. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive.

Joshua Wright

Cast aside by society
PHOENIX still has a place for me.
I’ve grown exponentially
PHOENIX has a place for me.
The peace that reigns within shines
PHOENIX has a place for me.
When all else has failed
When life is derailed,
PHOENIX sets aside a place for me.
Do they even care? In a deep affair?
About helping me out of damnation?
In the crystal of their eyes
The warm embrace of their soul
PHOENIX has a place for me.
They’ve shown me how to renew my goals
With yoga, Qi Gong, politics and even the stars.
PHOENIX has helped me become a better me.
This renewed version of my self
Appreciates and is able to shine love on the world before me.
I’m not afraid anymore . . .
PHOENIX gave a place to me to rest.
They’ve truly shown me that I am deserving of my best.

Logan Winborn

I had the incredible opportunity to work with PHOENIX Rising last winter while I was a nursing student at OHSU. PHOENIX is a community partner of the OHSU School of Nursing, so each quarter, a couple students are placed with them as part of our community health rotation. I was very excited about my placement, but I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I don’t think I could have predicted the profound effect that getting to know the remarkable men of PHOENIX would have on me. I didn’t just learn what it means to be a community health nurse; I gained a deeper understanding of my own community. 

The criminal justice system is designed to put a literal and figurative wall between its prisoners and the rest of us; those of us on the outside are not encouraged to see incarcerated individuals as a part of our community. Of course, this is to the detriment of the men and women who are caught up in the system. Research shows that incarceration has a dramatic effect on the health outcomes of those who do time. Unfortunately, these negative outcomes don’t receive near enough attention from the rest of society, including the medical community.

As a nurse, I am taught that advocacy and empowerment are an important component of the care that I provide, and we are taught to treat all of our patients with unconditional positive regard. These concepts took on a whole new meaning as a result of my work with PHOENIX. Hearing the men speak honestly and passionately about their lives and their barriers, but also their own goals and vision for their health, I came to see how vitally important it is to advocate for and empower those caught up in a system that is so often working against them. My own practice as a nurse is now informed by the truth that our community includes the men of PHOENIX and all those who are incarcerated, and that using whatever power we have to advocate for them has the potential to radically transform the health of our entire community. This is the gift that PHOENIX gave to me, and I am ever so grateful.

Kendra Birnley, OHSU Nursing Student

The human capacity for transformation astounds me.  As a midwife’s apprentice, I have witnessed people transform into parents through the birth process; as a naturopath, I have walked with folks through healing that has extended far beyond their physical bodies; and as a volunteer with Phoenix, I have had the profound honor of sharing space with some incredible human beings committed to the deep work of excavating their truest selves.  The people in our class show up week after week and learn through a variety of lenses how to see themselves more clearly, how to hold themselves accountable with gentleness and integrity, how to shed the labels that have been applied to them by a broken system that has blamed them for their wounds, and ultimately how to reclaim the unique gifts that are their birthright.  Inside and outside folks are equally engaged in this endeavor because trauma, which so many of us have experienced, operates the same way prison does; it locks people up, dehumanizes us and robs us of a sense of self and agency. In our class at CRCI, we find freedom together by consistently mirroring for each other the progress that we’ve made, strengthening ourselves as individuals while building a beautiful community rooted in relationality.  It has been such a gift for me to participate in creating this sacred space with my fellow journeyers on the path of transformation, a blessing that has changed my life as much as I have witnessed change in others.  

Emily Steele, volunteer

This seen, but unseen fire deep within, 
nearly ignited or sparked by cold moist hands of a capitalistic world
Clammy with lust, desperation, and fear
Holding onto its fuse of strength and educational purpose. 
The fire is a passionate hope, radical but a poetic justice 
free to be observed
As if the phoenix rose from the depths of its dark, ashy grave reborn
Soaring high above the clouds, radiant as a blossoming flower 
in the Oregon spring. 
With flames so warm it thaws frozen hearts of lost souls
Marching to the cadence of foretold economic status and wealth. 
The flames are called revolution taught by our ancestors,
Supressed by colonialism, slavery, and treacherous policies 
we have not yet learned to overcome. 
But do not be discouraged and don’t be dismayed. 
Allow this fiery consciousness to awaken the giant within
That roars loud as a lion, tamed to speak as a prophet, 
born to carry its people. 
Calculate its Morse code, combusting into tidal waves of actions
Large as the ocean seas of the hidden Pacific. 
Causing landslides of the mass erupting revelations.
So tend to this hidden fire and kindle it. 
For one day it will ignite revolution.

Christopher Briggs