I have to start by saying that the title of this article doesn’t do Kenneth’s work enough justice. His book is so much more than poetry. This collection of poems is filled with raw honesty, evoking vivid images of what Kenneth (and others) go through, and it is bound to leave a lasting impression.
These poems are more than just to be enjoyed, they are a message, a cry for help, a wake up call to what is happening right under our noses.
A Voice from the Killing Machine – A Trilogy of Poems
At the beginning of the book, Kenneth explains that these are three separate works of poetry that were written at different points in his life.
The first part of the book is called Tribulation’s Eyes and it compiles the first poems Kenneth wrote when he was on death row.
Part 2 is called Texas Tears. This was written when his appeals were denied and the date of execution was looming closer. This was the part where I paused many times, researched the names of the people he honored through his writing, and just thought about the injustice and errors of it all.
08-30-07 is the title of part 3. Those poems were written to celebrate his departure from death row. In 2007, only hours away from his execution, the governor of Texas commuted the death sentence to 40 years to life imprisonment.
Update: Kenneth’s birthday (22 October) is coming up, and to celebrate it Rise Kenneth Foster on Facebook has organized a raffle! 🙂
According to Wikipedia, he will be eligible for parole in 2036 which seems very late, considering that he only drove a car and was sentenced to die because of the law of parties which condemned him due to his presence at the murder – of which he had no prior knowledge.
To learn more about his case, please see my blog post Books by Inmates (the article will open in a new window, so you don’t lose this one 🙂 ) You can also watch an episode about his case in the Netflix series I am a Killer, season 1 episode 2, called “Killer in the Eyes of the Law“.
Note: the law of parties condemned a man or woman to the death penalty for being present at a murder scene even without committing the murder or having prior knowledge about it. Fortunately, a few months ago the Senate passed a bill to limit death penalty eligibility for defendants who do not kill. Nonetheless, as far as I know, Jeff Wood and Rudy Medrano who were also convicted to death in the law of parties are still on death row …
Besides the poems, A Voice from the Killing Machine also features a few essays by Kenneth, an interview with his daughter, Nydesha Foster, who grew up with her father being on death row, and letters that Nydesha sent to her father.
When you read the interview and her letters you’ll quickly see the strength in this remarkable girl who had to grow up fast, unable to touch her father, always knowing that one day he could be taken away from her. Imagine having this hanging over your head, ever since you were one year old …
“And if I could just hug
I’d have the strength of 100 men”
By Kenneth Foster, poem: The Final Call, in part 2, Texas Tears
“My father is more than half of my heart. I mean, I love him so much. And if the state of Texas kills him just for driving a car, it’s like you’re killing my heart. It’s like you’re killing half of me.” – Interview with Nydesha Foster, by Jan Baumgartner
Kenneth’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but the struggle is not over.
Kenneth is a talented poet and writer. This collection of poetry will take you on his journey through tribulation, the threat of death hanging over him, but at the same time you will also be shown the light he finds amidst all this darkness. The poems cannot leave you unaffected, and they frequently made me pause.
I often put the book down to let a poem and especially its background sink in. I say background and not meaning, because these poems have more than just a meaning. These poems paint vivid pictures, paying homage to the power of faith, courage in extreme adversity, redemption, love, and activism.
His words are not only written to send a message, but to challenge the reader to think outside the box, to look at what really happens, to see that texacutions are not about justice (and that doesn’t only apply to Texas, as we well know).
Kenneth is an activist, loud and clear; and the struggle is not over.
I urge you to read his book and follow Kenneth’s journey, his work that calls strong attention to the prison system and its flaws.
I will end this book review with Kenneth’s words:
“I extend these works to you hoping that you will not only see my individuality, but my transformation and also my desire to leave my own positive mark on the world. And I push and push until I get there. Until then, through your eyes, ears, and heart is where I feel it. Thank you!!
In Struggle and Love,
Kenneth E. Foster Jr.”
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So, I am very glad I found this blog. I was in my last year of law school when I found myself in an abusive relationship, numbing myself with pain medication. I was finishing up the last few credits of my law degree when the pills stopped working and I switched to narcotic heroin.
Within five months, I was homeless.
It took me 5 years to get my act together enough to finally finish my degree. During those five years, I was arrested and in and out of jail 9 sepoerate times. Not a single one of those visits did anything to help me get off of the drugs at had such a strong hold over me.
This is not anywhere near as severe as what this man is going through, so please do not think I am comparing apples to apples.
My point is that the justice system in America is broken. Felony murder laws, minimum sentencing requirements, and the absence of any work towards rehabilitation plague our jails and prisons, in which a large majority of inmates are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes (like Kenneth) and substance abuse disorders. (like myself)
The last few credits that I had to complete to get my degree were satisfied by writing a thesis paper. I wrote the paper on the programs (or lack thereof) offered in prisons to help rehabilitate inmates. (Ill sum up my findings quickly. Most prisons do not offer what most people would think they do)
Interestingly, after my experiences, I had a totally different perspective to write my paper on. I finished that paper last semester and finally graduated, thank god. But I get so frustrated to hear that people like Kenneth are in there rotting away when they have so much to give to society.
When I was locked up, I saw a quote on the cell door, written in pencil, by some previous inmate. It said it all for me.
The quote said, “What if the cure for cancer is in the minds of the incarcerated?” I was shaken after reading that and I am sure you understand why after reading Kenneth’s work.
I am sorry to write so much in your comments, but I cant wait to check out this book. Thank you for the recommendation.
Ever since I started being a pen pal to inmates my eyes have opened wide. It is true, most prisons do not offer what many people think they would do in regards to rehabilitation programs or any other programs. And it’s very true, the justice system is broken … Only yesterday I published a book for one of my prison pen pals, called Corrupt Courts and Crazy Convicts: Doing Life at Fort Mad, and this book talks about exactly that.
Your experiences can now be used to help others who are going through similar situations. With your law degree you can really make a difference for some people. 🙂
Your comment is very much appreciated, and please don’t be sorry for it being long. I like those long comments, you really added valuable info to this blog post.
Thank you for stopping by!
It’s imposible to not read Kenneth’s work and not plunge into deep thought’s. How is our justice system? How would it be if it were perfect? Would we still have complaints? How do we know when complaints are just and when they are not? It’s a very thought provoking topic and it hurts inside when you realize there are people suffering for years without true justice.
Yes, it hurts. It is heartbreaking to know that Kenneth and many others like him are stuck behind bars, without justice. Please share this article on social media, let’s get the word out.
Thank you for your visit!
I found this post fascinating. Too many times does someone get stuck in the justice system and the outcome can spiral out of control. Many times the outcomes are far beyond the individual’s control. There is a lot of good in our justice system, but it is important to point out it’s flaws as well.
True, there is also good in the justice system, but at the same time it is also riddled with flaws which we have to fix. The ones who are affected by its flaws have little to no control over it …
Thank you for your comment!
My heart hurts for him if he had no knowledge of the crime, didn’t commit the crime and has to spend so much time in prison for it. Glad to see that he is using his time there to create works of art that will teach and inspire others. Will definitely look into checking out more of his works!
Thank you, Alicia! He is a wonderful writer and he has also published several great essays. You can find out more about Kenneth on freekenneth.com
Very inspirational and emotionally poignant article!
I am touched by this post. You have really opened my mind to the idea and execution of inmates writing poetry. Not only does that concept refute generic inmate stereotypes but also offers a fresh, raw, and novel perspective.
In my opinion, the death penalty should be abolished, or outlawed. Karmically speaking, an eye for an eye never works; it merely perpetuates more of the same – insanity.
Above all, I think we can all relate to the unfair, biased, oftentimes racist persecution by the criminal justice system, which encourages a narrative of sympathy. Great job seeing the forest and the trees all the merrier.
It is true that there are generic inmate stereotypes and I think that those stereotypes eliminate any compassion towards them or the realization that there are many in prison who shouldn’t even be there. As soon as those men and women are behind bars, society tends to forget about them and the aspect of their humanity is also often ignored …
I agree, the death penalty should be abolished. An eye for an eye doesn’t work, it destroys lives and a system of revenge cannot bring healing.
Thank you for your comment!
The fact that Kenneth could never hug his daughter is really heart breaking.
“And if I could just hug my child I’d have the strength of 100 men.” This talks about the healing power of love…. not the destroying power of incarceration or isolation from society.
If a man is guilty for driving a car in the wrong place at the wrong time, then I think most of us have committed this crime at some point in our lives. We were just fortunate enough not to be with the wrong people.
It saddens me to learn that the prison systems are not really interested in rehabilitation. They are more like businesses where they can only thrive of the suffering of others and the repeat business they get by not rehabilitating their ‘customers.’
Anything that can help an inmate connect to their heart center should be encouraged as they will then naturally become more caring, compassionate, respectful, and considerate human beings. With this in mind, studies have proven that meditation and yoga programs, to name a few, reduce violence in prisons and re-offending rates once prisoners are released……
And, or course, it goes without saying, that inmates should be allowed to hug their children…. what greater medicine is there than pure love.
I couldn’t agree more. What greater medicine is there than pure love?
Thank you very much for your wonderful comment!
Well, i have to say that i think what you are doing here is an amazing thing. If you want to know what’s really going on in the world, the prisons are defitely one place you can find this out. Unfortunately though, i fear that many will still turn a blind eye because deep down they already know. But they don’t want to know because that would piss on their scummy little comfort zones
I think you’re right. Many don’t want to know, they don’t want to get involved …