Poems by a woman on death row

A note about identification: Although nearly all of the writers who are currently incarcerated gave permission to have their full name and address included, Positively Aware was advised to print only their first name and their state. PA will forward mail to them as is possible; incarceral systems often have complicated rules for communications. We apologize to the writers.

I am a 40-year-old transwoman on Ohio’s death row. I’ve been a huge advocate and voice for trans and HIV-positive inmates in prisons basically all my adult life. I enjoy the opportunity to network with other like-minded people.

—Victoria, Ohio


Born in captivity mentally

Inside my transgender identity

Eventually it manifests physically

Stripping my true femininity

Imprisoned in forced masculinity

In prisons and state penitentiaries

Every day my safety in jeopardy

With no one but me there protecting me

Insecurities ate at me constantly

Economically raised up in poverty

With thoughts continuously taunting me

And dreams seem to always be haunting me

Sexuality became a commodity

My body just traded like property

Like the cheapest spots on Monopoly

Unaware what it actually costed me

My biography lived post traumatically

Systematically the system’s attacking me

Statistically supposed to die tragically

Most likely some transgender casualty

Surrounded by such inhumanity

The enemy threatens my sanity

HIV threatens to banish me

As I fight for those who come after me.

The Row

The road that we stroll

The price on our head

The ropes on our throats

Like yokes on our necks

Like the edge of a ledge

We choke on the smoke

Of the lives that we’ve led

Broke down from the load 

And the crowns on our head

With the boulders we hold

On our shoulders and neck

It’s cold on the Row

Alone as we thread

Taking toll on our souls 

As hopelessness spreads

An oath to the ghost

Of the dead in my head

I know what is owed 

For the tears that were shed

The lives that were stole

The pleas that were pled

‘Tis my ode to the souls

For the blood that was bled.

Beyond Death

Not enough doses,

To cope with emotions.

Live every day hopeless,

Just go through the motions.

I try to stay focused,

When everything’s broken.

And everyone’s bogus,

Hearts frozen and soulless …

I know what defeat is,

I know what a creep is.

I know how it feels, 

When they feed off your weakness.

Ate crumbs with some bums,

I know what the street is.

Fight demons with demons,

I know what for keeps is …

Nowhere left to hide,

No tears left to cry.

The pain still remains,

The rain won’t subside.

I take life in stride, 

No fear in my eyes.

I’m sentenced to die,

As if I’m alive.

Coyote Christians Contemplate Modern Man (2022) by Paul, Illinois, who has been previously incarcerated and is on probation, pondering

“what we can do as spiritual people to address the problems of the world.”