“Greetings from the southern end of shit city,” Jon had written, to a good friend of mine, from San Quentin. “The tide is out and when the winds blow, one can almost smell the sweet scent of reality.” Although I’m nearly sure that no prisoner was allowed to fish when Jon arrived there—within the mid-nineties—Jon’s consideration to his environment, even when he was simply complaining in regards to the pure stench of the tidal flats, kinds a continuum with the person holding up his striper. Jon was a fighter and rabble-rouser in jail, and he prided himself on “finishing his business.” He ended up in a unit of San Quentin referred to as the “A/C,” or Adjustment Center—the jail’s solitary—which shares a tier with loss of life row. “I only went along with it because I thought A/C stood for air-conditioning,” he joked, in a letter to a mutual good friend. “It’s more like the janitorial suite but I like it. Concrete cell, solo, and a mattress. Most of my neighbors are condemned so the respect level here is pretty good. Except of course for the couple nutters that seem to be standard issue for all tiers. Oh this should give you a laugh: they don’t allow combs back here in A/C so I have to comb my hair with a plastic fork. But I like having the room to myself because I can do burpees. There is a clear sliding partition between my bars and the guards, and if they open it fast it almost sounds like a Bart train heading out.”

Jon was knowledgeable heckler. He made gentle of each facet of how the jail guards and administration tried to manage him. He believed that the joke was on them, as a result of his resistance to their authority was whole, and endlessly renewing. He even situated the sound of residence—that prepare a comin’—within the sliding of a scratched sheet of Plexiglas, a barrier that had been put in to guard guards from hurled containers of piss, in a spot the place kinds of revolt get expressed inside the attainable.

When you have a look at these pictures of San Quentin, spanning many years of institutional life, do not forget that these our bodies and their traces, these folks—whether or not humiliated and stripped to their state-issue boxer shorts, or dressed to the nines for a celebratory go to with household, or little greater than a top level view on a flooring—had been, are, and might be a surplus of human life that an establishment can’t cut back to objecthood, irrespective of how willfully it tries.

This piece is drawn from an essay and images in “Nigel Poor: The San Quentin Project,” which is out in May from Aperture Foundation.



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