Category Archives: Art

Where Failure Ends and Success Begins

Someone, who someone else felt was wise enough to quote, said ,”You only truly fail in life when you stop trying”. I mean that’s not rocket science, so I’ll go with that.

So much that throughout my sojourn in prison, as I continuously try to go against the grain and create a masterpiece out of dust, I’ve adopted this quote as one of my life’s mottos. I mean why not. Corporations have mission statements and mottos, think Google’s, “Do know evil.” And human beings need them to, at least I think so. I also like this quote because in my book inactivity is death. I mean dang, do something even if that something doesn’t work at least you tried.

With this in mind I recently had the chance recollect on some of things that I have tried to make happen over the years but didn’t succeed at. At the time I counted them as failures but today I’m not so sure .

What got me to thinking about this was that the prison where I

am recently had its annual shakedown. For those not in the know, all

prisons in Texas have periodic shakedowns where the COs search inmates personal property for contraband and other prohibited items. How it usually works is that we are confined to our cells from seven to fourteen days and required to pack all of our property in nylon commissary bags and then take it to a designated area where several officers search it, piece by piece. I am pretty sure it goes without saying that it’s a rather dehumanizing process to have all of your personal items, pictures, letters from family, friends, books etc. searched through by a stranger who then decides what you can and can’t have .

Unfortunately it’s one of the indignities that you learn to live with, as being in prison can often be described as the forced endurance of one series of degradations after another.

For me I use the days leading up to the shakedown when we are confined to our cells to go through all my things myself and see what I really need and what I can live without.

In the process of doing so I came across three projects I had worked on in the past that I wasn’t able to do with what I initially set out to. The first was a cell phone wrist watch that I designed and actually tried to write my own patent on. While still in the patent pending stage, I submitted my invention idea to a few companies including Motorola and LG communication and collected a folder full of fancy rejection letters written on 100% cotton paper. And not long after that, the US patent office hit me with my first office action which unfortunately I didn’t have the technical knowledge to overcome and ended up abandoning my application.

Yet now that the Thomas Edison bug has bit me I feel like I got a few more better mouse traps up my sleeve and I am just waiting on the right opportunity. Plus I learned three crucial things about inventions and patents in the process 1. You need to do a exhaustive prior art patent search before filing. 2. Make sure your patent application is airtight with adequate claims. 3. A working prototype works a hundred times better than a pretty picture.

Now don’t get me wrong, this was pretty expensive knowledge considering the filing fee and research time. But when I invent the next I-Phone, it will be well worth it.

Besides this particular incident with inventing there was the time back in 2002 when I was watching a Nike commercial and thought, “Dang, I can come up with something better than that.” That thought prompted me to write the “No Limit Commercial”, which I copyrighted and submitted to Nike’s co-founder and billionaire Phil Knight. Nike told me I had to get with their advertising agency who really didn’t like the ideal of little old me poaching on their turf by suggesting ideas to their number one client. But like they say, it’s haters everywhere in the corporate suites.

Not easily deterred, lightening struck a third time when I designed a pair of tennis that I felt would fit well with either Tommy Hilfiger or Phat Farms casual clothing lines. But the fish weren’t biting.

Still each failure left a small seed of success. Seeds that I’ve been able to replant and try again with. While the validation of having come up with a great product would’ve been nice, not to mention the monetary payoff cause you already know a brother gifted but broke.

Damn, don’t that sound like a T-shirt logo? But on the cool I feel like these still births are paving stones on the road to success. And that the ability to make love to your intellect and birth your ideas is a reward within itself.

No Limit Commercial

Tennis Nike

WatchWatch 2Phone

43,800 Days

The judge gave me 43,800 days

1,140 Months

1,051,200 hours

63,072,200 minutes

To build a nation

His prison, My university

His punishment, My salvation

Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house

Old Pharaoh still feeding Moses at his table today

He fed Malcolm, Huey, Geronimo Pratt, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson,

Big Tookie, Mumia Adu Jabar

And now Old Pharaoh feeding me

Yet I have the blood of Nat Turner in my veins

The brains of Booker T

The brashness of Muhammad Ali

What Old Pharaoh going to do with me?

Right now I am eating in the kitchen, growing strong

Tomorrow I will own the table

Time to rewrite this American fable…

 

Reprinted  from  “A Windowless Room”, Trafford Press

119,000,000 Dollars For That?

Call me unrefined, crude, even barbaric, if you will. I can take it, because I’ve no doubt been called worse. Whatever the case may be, I couldn’t help but shake my head and continue shaking it when I read that Norwegian artist Edvard Munch 1895 ‘The Scream’ went up for sale at high-end auction house Sotheby’s on May 2, and sold for a record 119,000,000 million dollars.

The picture or some version of it has been reproduced in one form or another by everyone from Macaulay Culkin, Homer Simpson, Andy Warhol to Wes Craven in his horror films of the same name. If for some reason you’ve missed it, please refer to the four original versions below.

Allright, now that you’ve seen it, can you or anyone else please tell me why anybody in their right mind would pay any millions for it, let alone 119 million? Because I am obviously missing something here.

For those of us who need a refresher of exactly how much money a 119,000,000 million dollars is, or what you can buy with it, here’s a primer.

 

$50, 000 for 4 years of college at a public university

$150, 000 for 4 years of college at a private university

You could pay for 2,380 degrees at a public university, or 714 at a private such as Harvard or Yale.

You could buy 6 Gulfstream 8 passenger jets for 20 mill a piece

119 3-bedroom loft apartments at 1 million a pop

238 5,500 square feet homes in Houston for $500,000 each

 

1 393-unit multi-family luxury apartment complex for 73 million

Or you could just buy Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. Maybe being a product of the inner city where the closest most people get to any type of art is a cheap framed poster from Wal-Mart. I just don’t get it. But this seems like a no-brainer to me.

Other Outrageously Prices Art on The Market:

Author’s Note: For the record, if you’re reading this and you happen to be one of those rich tycoons with more money than you know what to do with and you decide to buy one of these pictures , excuse me, masterpieces. I feel it’s only fair that for making you aware of these ‘great works’, I receive a small commission off the sales price – how about 10 percent and we’ll call it even.

Sources: Wall Street Journal and Getty Images

 

A Dream — Deferred

For longer than memory will let me recall I’ve been somewhat of a fashion connoisseur. And I have always loved to see a well dressed woman — especially if she had that particular shape certain women have coupled with a outfit chosen specifically to accent it – I can’t say exactly where this aesthetic sense of beauty originated, but growing up as an only child and late addition to the family (l have one sister who is much older and was therefore already out of the house). My mother was still young and good looking with a flattering shape and in those days she loved to step out on the town. As she would be getting ready for one of her numerous jaunts, I often found my seven-eight year old self acting as her personal stylist offering subtle and not so subtle suggestions like, “I don’t like that one, you should wear the red one instead.”

Upon entering my teenage years growing up in an urban environment (the hood), a portion of this fashion-forwardness was suppressed. And I adopted the personal dress styles and taste of my environment. Which resulted in me never paying much attention to the fashion scene, especially not the upscale side of it.

That changed when I winded up incarcerated. Now that I had time I began to read the multitude of magazines that were constantly floating around. In prison guys will do or read just about anything to drown out the mindless soul stealing day to day humdrum of prison life. Name it and somebody has a subscription to it from Robb’s Report and Dupont Registry to other magazines featuring products and services a gazillion times beyond most inmates current or future financial stations— to weeklies like Jet, The Week, Newsweek etc. And there is always a ton of women’s magazines within easy access Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Essence, Lucky, Seventeen, Vanity Fair, and Allure.

Initially I was perturbed as to why so many guys were subscribing to these women publications. Eventually I concluded that apart from looking (and lusting) on the models that the second reason came from what’s called the scarcity syndrome. Which means that whatever unmet needs a person has, that need becomes paramount. Since heterosexual men like myself are prevented from having the loving intimate and sexual relationships with women as we desire to as a result of being incarcerated. All things WOMAN become of immense importance and interest. It’s like oxygen few of us give much thought to its’ importance, but that would change in a heartbeat if we suddenly found ourselves without it.

At first I began to look at these fashion magazines just for something to do. Soon I found myself appreciating the designs of designer like Michael Kors, Valentino, Tracy Resse, Marc Jacobs, and many others. In that instant the old fashion bug that I had long forgotten began to stir. It was then that I began to believe that I had the eye and creativity to be a fashion designer. Motivated I subscribed to several fashion magazines, (funny huh? At first I was a critic of other guys getting all those women magazines and ended up subscribing to a half dozen myself. What’s that old saying about the pot calling the kettle black?) and began to sketch my own designs. Designs that I shared with family and friends and for which I received mostly positive feedback. By then I was hooked and began to have Project Runway dreams.

Along the way, I dabbled in urban design, tennis shoe design, women’s ready to wear, as well as couture. But decided I liked designing women’s ready to wear the most at least in the higher price points. But being that the state of Texas wasn’t about to let me travel to New York, or Parson’s School of design any time soon. I slapped images of Heidi Klum out of my head and scaled down my ambition. Because of my unique circumstances, lack of capital, or fashion experience, decided that trying to launch my own line was probably out the question. And set my sights on finding a small established designer with a in-house seamstress who I could contribute seasonal designs to be integrated with their existing line. Kinda like a nameless, faceless ghost designer.  Dream Deferred Design 1 Dream Deferred Design 2 Dream Deferred Design 3 Dream Deferred Design 4 Dream Deferred Design 5 Dream Deferred Design 6 Dream Deferred Design 7 Dream Deferred Design 8 Dream Deferred Design 9 Dream Deferred Design 10 Dream Deferred Design 11 Dream Deferred Design 12

If My Mind Was A Weapon

If my mind was a weapon

What type of killing instrument

would it be?

Would it be a weapon of mass destruction?

Or a tool of genocide?

Would the victim only be me

A spectacle for all to see

Maybe my mind would be a

silent weapon, Like the Texas

Death Chamber

A sterile place for man’s

blood lust, revenge, and anger

Perhaps my mind would be a piece of forged metal

molded into the barrel of a gun

Locked and Loaded

Made in the good ole USA

Available at your local Sporting goods store

Better still, a scientific experiment

Something capable of wiping out a

Continent

A colleague invented AIDS

But was fired, Because his invention was to slow.

They were hoping for something/more quick and lethal.

Even better, if my mind was a weapon, I would open a book

make a sword from a pen

To mock Caesar and curse Bush, Write an article on Rwanda

An obituary for lil Yolanda, a prescription of antiviro drugs

for Charlene, and a fat check to ACLU

If my mind was a weapon, this is what I would do

But what would you do?

Reprinted from “Beauty In Chains: Poems by African American Prisoners On Black Love, Racism, Politics, Religion and Progress” (CreateSpace Press)

Why Urban Lit?

Street fiction, Gangsta lit, Urban books, Hip-Hop fiction are some of the names frequently used to describe and deride a popular form of African American literature that has exploded in popularity over the last decade. Often these books describe the more gritter side of street life in graphic detail and go by names such as “Dirty Red”, “Scandalous”, “Hoodwinked” etc.

And many of the genre’s top selling authors, Walida Clark, Paul Johnson, Shannon Holmes, Kiki Swanison, Vickie Stringer, are either current or former inmates. Current reigning queen of the genre Vickie Stringer wrote her first book “Let That Be The Reason” while serving 7 years in Federal prison for dealing drugs. The name of her multi-million dollar publishing company, “Triple Crown Publishing” – with a roster of 27 authors, many of whom are still currently incarcerated – is a twist on the Ohio drug crew she used to run with in her hustling days, known as “The Triple Crown Posse”.

To the chagrin of many African-American critics – including reigning Diva of black women lit Terry McMillian, who went on record bashing the genre in Vibe Magazine, along with owner of Los Angeles black book store Eso Won Books James Fugate who said: “The ghetto lit being written today is mostly mindless garbage about murder, killing, and thuggery” – it appears the multi-million dollar street lit market is not only well entrenched but here to stay. Evident by the corporate powerhouses who have hopped on the bandwagon including Simons & Schuster who signed Stringer to a mega bucks deal, along with St. Martin Press who has a long roster of Urban Lit authors, including Relentless Aaron who is himself an ex-con.

Many people trace the rise in popularity of the urban fiction market to the 1999 publication of Sister Souljah’s bestselling novel “The Coldest Winter Ever” which went on to sell an amazing 3 million copies. But while Sister Souljah’s book may have helped to get corporate America’s attention to the genre’s potential, the market for this form of fiction is actually much older, as is the phenomenon of inmate turned author.

In 1969, after serving ten months in the Chicago county jail, Robert Beck, writing under the pen name of Iceberg Slim, published “Pimp: The Story of my life” about his life as a Chicago area pimp. The book has since been translated into at least five different languages: Italian, Dutch, Spanish, French, and Greek. At the time of his death in 1992, “Pimp” had sold over 6 million copies and counting.

Inspired by Beck’s success in the late 70’s, another young black man from the gritty drug infested streets of Detroit set out to put the reality of his existence along with those around him on paper in bone chilling stomach churning graphic detail. The man was Donald Goines, a lifelong heroin addict, occasional pimp and sometimes robber wrote his first novel “Dope fiend” while incarcerated in state prison. Goines went on to write a total of 16 books in 5 years before his life was tragically cut short along with that of his wife’s Shirley by an assassin’s bullet as he sat at his typewriter while the couple’s two kids hid under the sofa.

What the lives of Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines illustrate is that the tradition of African-American authors, without formal training and with criminal records, writing about the bitter realities of their existence in the inner city ghettos of America was well established long before the current crop of Hip-Hop authors. Who are often derided and lambasted by their more educated and successful brethren for the alleged poor quality of their writing and less than stellar content, as there are some individuals who believe that there is a difference between what takes place between a corporate executive in a Four Seasons downtown suite with a paid female escort and what happens between a blue collar worker and prostitute behind a dumpster in an impoverished neighborhood. I’m not one of them.

Yet I must admit that although I’m steeped in both hip-hop and street culture when I first began to write, I stoically resisted the herald call to write hardcore urban fiction. I don’t personally have a problem with people telling the stories which they are familiar with, as one of writing’s sacred cows is to “write what you know.”

For me, it was the view that it was too easy or not challenging enough that made me want to go beyond the norms. In my sight, writing was a way to go beyond that which I was already familiar with or that I already knew and to instead explore new worlds, attitudes, emotions, and people and to live vicariously through my stories.

But in the last twelve months, I finally succumbed to the nagging desire to jump feet first into the street lit market and I wrote my first hardcore urban novel, doing so with co-author K.B. Webb who was my cellie at the time. With us both being native Houstonians, we collaborated on a Houston based hood novel entitled “Clutch City Concierge”, which ended up being about as gritty as gritty can get. Yet even as I exchanged the politically correct names for body parts and sex acts for their less savory equivalents, I still had the desire for some form of elevation. It was that desire that led to the “Concierge” concept being merged into the original vision for the novel. For me, this was a merger of the “street” and “boardroom”.

While it’s doubtful that the book will ever win a NAACP Image Award, I believe we succeeded in writing a entertaining urban story without glorifying the worst while still “keeping it real”. And unlike my previous four novels, which have been set in Beverly Hills, New York, East LA, and Washington D.C., places I’ve only visited in my mind, a part of me longed to return to the city of my birth and the reality of the existence that I knew so well.

As University of Southern California Professor Dr. Todd Boyd – dubbed the “Hip Hop Professor” – said when asked why so many African Americans read street lit he replied, “the ghetto is drama. The ills of poverty are more dramatic than the angst of middle class life.” If that’s true, then perhaps that’s why “street lit” authors write it, to spice things up a bit. If you too need a little high energy, no holds barred fictionalized drama in your diet, check out “Clutch City Concierge”, available on Amazon.com.

Tamisha and Kamisha

God blessed me with

Not one, but two

Wonderful daughters

Entrusted me with the responsibility

Of being a father

No small task

On my knees, instructions I have to ask

Knowledge of Fatherhood

To help me raise my seed

Provide for their need

With God’s grace, I’m up to the task

Of being more than a donor

But an actual father.

Reprinted from “A Windowless Room” by Kenneth West. Trafford Press 2006

I Am An Artist

At least that is what I tell myself.

Between laughing and crying,

I think I am really trying.

I am my own canvas, painting myself,

Constantly working on myself

At least what’s left.

A constant process of re-creation

A daily transformation.

Descendant of African Royalty,

Now just considered a minority,

Entrusted to the state’s authority,

Re-creation is defiant priority!

Yet, the process begins with me.

No more fathering children out of wedlock,

or dealing crack at the bus stop.

No more lying, stealing and cheating!

No more calling women bitches and hos

Time to elevate my prose.

At least these are the changes I propose.

Yet, I have to confess my pictures sometimes fall

completely apart.

Which puts me back at the start.

An artist,

Recreating himself,

On a daily basis!!!

Reprinted from “Beauty In Chains: Poems by African American Prisoners On Black Love, Racism, Politics, Religion, and Progress”. CreateSpace Press