Tampa poet Yuki Jackson reflects on past arrests and the ‘oneness of good and evil’

Poet’s Notebook.

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click to enlarge Tampa poet Yuki Jackson reflects on past arrests and the ‘oneness of good and evil’
Dave Decker

I have been arrested three times. One of those times involved me actually going to jail and staying for a heaping several hours. The charge? Failure to change address on registration. Don't get me wrong, I strutted into Orient Road Jail like I had done some hard crime, as coached by my then boyfriend as tears and snot ran down my face, while being handcuffed by the cops. As the cruiser I was in the backseat of arrived at the intake doors, I pulled myself together, ripped T-shirt and all, bearing in mind my boyfriend's jailhouse conduct words of wisdom, spoken through experience. I had gotten pulled over after I went on a late night cigarette run to the corner gas station following an argument turned physical altercation. As traumatizing as the arrest was, especially since I refused to get out of my car and got mouthy with the cops—the kind of behavior that led to me acquiring that charge and warrant in the first place—I was also relieved that our cycle of violence at home was put at a stop for the night.

And during those rough few years where I lived and participated in domestic violence, I have also called the cops for protection. Although I like to think I held my own during many of our brawls, the reality was I wasn't as physically strong as my partner, so I often used the threat of calling the police as a way to end the argument. It worked. I would throw my clothes in a suitcase, eventually living out of one, just so I was always ready to leave. If he wouldn't let me take my bags, then I would call the cops, so I could get my stuff. Get my stuff so I could leave only to return within 24 hours and repeat our living nightmare.

We were young people who got caught up in a bad pattern. The kind of pattern that sucks you in with court fees, fines, getting your car out of impoundment, marks on your permanent record. According to the way the American criminal justice system is set up, we were good customers. A system where freedom is bought, like any other commodity. 

When I finally left that relationship, I decided to go back to school. Initially I majored in English with a focus in literature, but after a couple semesters, decided that I hated Shakespeare and Chaucer. I didn't connect with it, at least not then (I still don't). I longed to study something that was more directly relevant to my passions and settled on criminology. It made sense since I had mildly experienced it firsthand and knew many who had experienced it more intensively than I did. I also often thought about all the people locked up, and watched documentaries and shows centering on prison life. Based on this attraction to prison life and the desire to help those incarcerated, I was determined to teach the arts in prison. 

It was not surprising that I was only one of a few majoring in criminology who wanted to help those who go to prison. I quickly learned through class discussions and side conversations that many of the other criminology students were studying to be cops and had a thirst to catch the so-called bad guys. Most of them were young white males who, on more than one occasion, openly expressed white supremacist and misogynistic views. During my time studying criminology, there were no Black male students in my classes. The more I learned about the issues in policing, mass incarceration and would hear the opinions of the aspiring cops I was sitting next to, I understood why the deep corruption within the American criminal justice system festers. 

As I went on to get my MFA in creative writing, I started working part-time at a public library and started working with children in a neighborhood with high crime rates. During a shooting that took place right outside, I thought about starting a youth program in the neighborhood that would empower children through poetry and martial arts. It was through the efforts of The Battleground when I realized the crystallization of having studied both criminology and creative writing, which, on the surface, didn't seem connected.

Recently, I was cleaning and came across some old papers which included an outline I created towards an essay about rampant corruption within police departments across the U.S. According to my outline, I began the essay with a poem of mine titled “Blurred Lines,” ended it with some Tupac lyrics, and throughout, spoke about the similarities between police and gangs. I was reminded by my student self, how police have much in common with gangs. They both set out to protect a domain, have a strong sense of pride, thrive in a machismo culture, and tend to operate on the dark side, since ultimately, they are all humans. And humans with pride, power and weapons, can easily abuse their positions. 

The oneness of good and evil is an important concept to instill. It reveals the danger of elevating people onto pedestals, since we all have to fight each moment to ensure we don't succumb to evil. I realized both as a student and now as an educator, both as an "offender" and now as a community builder, that there are more blurred lines than definite. But what's clear is that "good" is not a matter of criminal record nor authority to arrest; it is a person who can contribute positive value to others, with an understanding that we are equal.

Off the Cuff

when I look in my rearview
it's blurry like what's primary 
is spinning and missing the color of caution

only flashes that demand,
follow me, wailing

where once inside I'm separated 
through a wall 
with holes like membrane, 
so he who binds my hands
can breathe the air I expel--
and the rest I keep, 
trusting it travels 
where it's needed

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About The Author

Yuki Jackson

Yuki Jackson is an African-American and Japanese poet and educator based in Tampa Bay, Florida.Her work has appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Foundry, Entropy and other publications. She is also the founder of The Battleground, a youth program in the Sulphur Springs...
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