“It is our duty to make the best of our misfortunes, and not to suffer passion to interfere with our interest and the public good.”

-George Washington


“Man, what a day that was. C.O.’s [Corrections Officers] came through and shook my cell down. I mean, they really f’ed my situation up. [Shakedowns are when prison guards rip apart an inmate’s cell, usually searching for contraband, but sometimes planting evidence as payback for some behavior.]

This didn’t seem like one of those typical shakedowns. It felt personal. It was close to midnight and our cell was the only one plucked outta 40 something. They dumped all of our paperwork and commissary in the middle of the floor. Left their footprints on it. They couldn’t have been searching for contraband when I had the stinger [homemade coffee pot, officially considered contraband, although usually overlooked] and a marker out in plain sight. I felt like they wanted me to feel disrespected. I was so angry and frustrated with this being my norm, knowing this wasn’t the last of many. I didn’t say anything to them. I never do. I can’t. 

Over the years, you learn to just let them do them, you know? Even if you engage them in verbal warfare and succeed in landing a few blows here and there, degrading their characters or whatnot, you never win. They’ll go the distance to prove you the loser. The most drastic I’ve seen is when they mysteriously “find a piece of steel” under your mattress, knowing how far an institutional charge like that can set a prisoner back. Or worse, you made a threat and didn’t cuff up…their justification for beating the shit outta you the raw way. 

I was never that impulsive to get caught out there like that. If we had to go there, then there’s no need for excessive dialogue back and forth. This wasn’t the night for that. We were handcuffed in our boxers and shower slippers, barely awake. They, however, were ready, looking for a reason to hit the button. And to be dead honest, they would’ve dish-ragged us in that unit that night had we’d done or said anything. I felt it. They came down there to our cells for that reason. 

That night was really a test of my fortitude. It was late, I was tired and outta my element. It took everything in me not to say anything. But that didn’t matter because how I felt was written all over my features. They uncuffed us with extra precaution. After they left, I was drained. I looked up at the light and saw dust particles dancing in the air. I felt a sense of envy in their descent before I suddenly felt dirty and itchy. 

I didn’t really have the energy to sort all of that paperwork out – first separating my stuff from my cellmate’s, then putting everything in its assigned envelopes. Then making my bed up, washing up, etc. My celly was anticipating the flow of my vibe because if I’d said f’ it, left all that shit on the floor and went to bed, he was gonna do the same. But I knew I couldn’t play it like that. Besides, I had a lot to do the following day. I wouldn’t have the time to do this and handle my business. So I plugged up the stinger to heat up some coffee and got to work.

Once I separated my stuff from my celly’s, folded my clothes up and put my commissary away, all I had left was my paperwork. I separated the legal from the personal. Then of the personal, letters my people sent me from literature I wrote. I didn’t really notice until I got close to the end that my written lit was the most of all the paperwork – mine and my celly’s. 

Man… I wrote A LOT over the last 14 years of my bid. With all of my material dumped out of their  envelopes, and all of the pages from three notepads that that asshole busted, I saw all of my thoughts and emotions spread out on the floor. I rumbled with the idea of throwing it all away. 

“F’ this shit,” I said out loud. I got time to do and I have another year and a half to do at this facility before I would be eligible for transfer. How many more shakedowns like this would I be subjected to? There are four major shakedowns a year, not to mention periodic “walkthroughs,” like the one I just experienced.

The caffeine was beginning to wear off. I was dozing off as I was figuring out my next move. But I had to dismiss the notion of throwing everything away. I didn’t know what was all there and I would’ve never forgiven myself if I had thrown away something significant or special, feel me? I concluded that, at worse, I’ll just downsize. Keep what was most important and trash what wasn’t. 

But that meant I had to go through everything. I had to read over all of my rough drafts, letters where I intended to give the recipient my real but didn’t, journal entries that were personal and ideas I wrote down in unbound notebooks and on loose scraps of paper. 

I think that was when I first saw my own talent objectively; it was at that moment I realized I had a gift that I needed to dedicate time cultivating. Word. In determining what lit had potential and what was nothing more than literary throw up, I was held captive by all of it. And I knew if I could do that to myself, captivate myself, as critical and opinionated as I am, the world would become like fish swimming aimlessly in the deep, dark oceans of my mind. 

I didn’t throw away much. A lot of what was written just needed a few tweaks here and there before meeting the definition of literary art. Good literary art.

Now, looking back in time, it’s crazy how I was so close to trashing all I’d written, just out frustration and convenience. Who would’ve known I had these diamonds in the ruff? Who could’ve discovered them but me? It’s so crazy that I’m still smh…”


Andre Coe is serving life in prison for murder.

Andre Coe  # 1182513

Sussex II State Prison

24427 Musselwhite Drive

Waverly, VA 23891