Collected Poems


Jamar Russell

I. Uncommon

Often on the compound, niggas’ll call me or say I look like Common

Even the C.O.s’ll say, “You look like that actor”

Not having knowledge of Common Sense the rapper


I occasionally tell people common sense ain’t common

Due to different backgrounds and points of view,

People just don’t think the same

I even feel like that about Dude

The man they say I look like ain’t common, and here’s what I’m saying


Dude came from the hood, became a B-boy, rapper, and made it to the silver screen

Moms moved me from the hood, I became a D-boy, sold crack, and left a murder scene


In my opinion, oh boy is exceptional

Few have done what he did

Playing roles opposite Paula Patton

Wit her fine ass

Having relationships with Erykah and Serena

Wit they beautiful, thick, bad asses

Then having the good fortune to be part of Hip hop and cinema classics

That’s uncommon


Being a Black man in prison

That’s common

Being a distributor and user of narcotics

That’s common

Leaving a woman behind to raise a child

That’s common

Using violence and leaving a mama crying

That’s common

I guess that make me a common mutha fucka

A common nigga


So when they ask, “Do you know who you look like?”

I answer for them, “Common”

Wishing I could be in his place

Or like him, be doing something better

Using my words, performing in shows, being in commercials and motion pictures

Yea, I wouldn’t mind that at all

I don’t mind being said to look like Common

I just mind being a common nigga

I’d rather be uncommon


Live from the Pen


Jamar Russell

II. Look At Me

In this climate of prison reform

I’m tryin’ something out of the norm

No, I’m not housed in a dorm

Or anything like minimum

I’m in a facility that’s medium

Amongst various levels of criminals

I am an individual

Puttin’ work in

Hoping my work can

Deliver the outcome

To get me out from

Circumstances that’s miserable

Still, I keep my head up high

Keep my head to the sky

Like Earth, Wind, and Fire

My containment will allow me to experience earth and wind, but not fire

So it’s with the strongest desire

That I continue to write

I continue to fight

To bring attention to my situation

So I can get back to life

One without guard shacks where I’m subject to frisk

And shake downs

I want to use my experience to become an activist

To bring recidivism and mass incarceration way down

I’m doing something out of the norm

Writing these poems

Producing these books

So folks can have a look at what’s going on

Now I see Kim K. on T.V.

As well as Meek Mills and Jay-Z

Trying to help guys like me

But I only know a few guys like me

Who are putting the work in

Trying to make certain

That when people start searchin’

For who’s a good candidate to be helped to get released

They’ll look at me

My actions can speak for me

Check my jacket

My track record

What do you see?

I’ve formed habits

In the midst of madness

Impressive of not just a confined man

But of even one in society

I just want to be free

Let me be of service and offer the youngins something that wasn’t offered to me

Yea, we have to reform prisons

But my real concern is out in the streets

Why do I have to catch them here for youth programs after they’re already in correctional facilities?

I ask for you to let me to be of use in the community

I ask that if you want to help someone get free

That you choose an asset

Look at me!


Live from the Pen,

J.S. Russell

III. Does My Life Matter?


After masked men in the name of the law swerve and jump out

Guns drawn



On the same corner that I seen police frisk Yo-yo and Tracy

Pulling out wads of cash

The most at the time that I’d ever seen

Years, over a decade later, it’s me

Waiting to buy drugs

And for what?

What was left to us?

My brother, cousins, and daddy used and sold drugs

And all have been to the County

I just took it a step further

Convicted for murder

Serving my sentence

I’ve learned systematic injustice and disenfranchisement

Much too late to fully know what I’m up against

School to Prison Pipeline

I was an Honor Roll student

Still, I supplied coke to be stuffed in a pipe and put to fire


Can I blame it on injustice in a system that existed before I was an infant?

Raised in the Crack Era

Born into Reagan

To fund a war

Flooded drugs in communities like mine


Been killing us

From a War on Drugs

Laws setup by the same mutha fuckas

My crime

Being black

Tryna get some stacks

In a game I’d never win at

My opposition was the cops and the robbers

Crackers and niggas who hate

Why bother?

Tryna escape?

Not money or education can save me from The United States

Me not being a human is in The Constitution

I’m a slave because of the 13th Amendment

Minority communities heavily policed to put blacks back in slavery

Amend it!

All the contributions we’ve made to this country

Acknowledge it!

How better things could be if we’ve had the resources

Invest in it!

I wish I had it

I would have been an Engineer

But instead I’m here

Do they care?

Could they understand my fear?

Scared that I wouldn’t see 18

They didn’t out line me in chalk at a murder scene

But they got my ass at sentencing

A different lynching

But does it matter?


Live from the Pen,

J. S. Russell

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