How to Build a Prison (a poem)

January 22, 2014

By Quincy Scott Jones


for Philadelphia, USA


Scott Jones-How to Build a Prison


Always hated that building and never knew why

The one right before the on-ramp for 95

Cross-corner from the statue of Tamanend

Riding the world-turtle stretching out his hand


William Penn got along with Indian

That’s why it’s not Fort Philly

That’s why there’s no wall

But there’s this building


Five stories tall all boarded-up

windows and blackened red brick

where Philadelphia starts to unfold

where the City of Brotherly Love sold slaves



MOVE: 1 city, 2 stories

They lived like animals.                       .They wore dread locks

They ate garbage.                                . They grew organic fruit

They shot from the bunker.                 .There were no guns in the house


Rebroadcast on Chanel 10

The bomb the blaze the heat

That which we all agree

MOVE: one neighborhood, 2 survivors




Rebroadcast on Chanel 10

Every year the police helicopter

releases the bomb like  New Year’s Day

releases Mummers on Broad Street


Follow it like City Hall Scandal

Follow it like Eagles-Cowboys game

Follow it like 4th quarter Hail Mary

going… going… going…


 Scott Jones-How to Build a Prison 2



The security guard locks doors like forgotten trauma

I’m in my office late grading papers that analyze poems

that protest against policy

I’m in my office marking in red when students misspell “Sanchez”


The security guard stops to remind me

Every Liberal is a Conservative

that hasn’t been mugged yet

He was a cop before I was born


back when Philly was a Police Force

Crack a head through a windshield

in order to protect

Light a block on fire to serve




Order a cheesesteak

in South Philly

Notice the sign



Notice a T-shirt

for sale HELP




Go across the street

Notice the sign






My students ask me if I

will take a haunted tour

of historic Eastern State Penitentiary

I tell them As a Black man


I try to never set foot in a prison

I tell them

I live in Philadelphia

I already have bars on my door.



QSJ photoQuincy Scott Jones’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as the African American Review and the Journal of Pan African Studies and such anthologies as Draw to Marvel:  Poems from Comic Books, Heroics: Strange Tales of Absurd Superheroes, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Let Loose on the World: Celebrating Amiri Baraka at 75. With Nina Sharma Jones he co-created the Nor’easter Exchange:  a multicultural, multi-city reading series.   His first book, The T-Bone Series, was published by Whirlwind Press in 2009.

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2 Responses to How to Build a Prison (a poem)

  1. Cynthia on January 31, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Beautiful and deep and speaks so strongly to my sadness. Thank you brother for penning words like these.

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