New Haven University professor writes poetry about prison life

Dr Randall Horton is Professor of English at New Haven University, who teaches creative writing and specializes in African-American, post-colonial and prison literature genres. Horton himself contributed to these genres, with books of poetry and memoirs.

His most recent book, published in 2020, is “{# 289-128}: Poems” (The University Press of Kentucky). He received a 2021 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, an organization focused on multicultural literature.

Horton will be attending the Connecticut Literary Festival at Real Art Ways in Hartford on October 23. He will also be doing a reading on campus at the Seton Art Gallery on November 8 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in conjunction with an art exhibition. about containment.

The title of the book is the number Horton received from the Maryland Department of Corrections when he was jailed after years of involvement in the drug trade.

“I titled the book because I wanted to license it, to show that no one has control over me. This number follows me to this day, but I control my own narrative,” Horton said during from a phone interview. “If I want to talk about the criminal justice system, what better poetic way is there than using my number? He takes the story from their hands and puts it in mine.”

Horton extracted his personal story from previous books, the “Hook” memoir and the “Pitch Dark Anarchy” poetry book. A new thesis, “Dead Weight”, will be published next year.

By telling stories of his youth, his imprisonment and his redemption – in the form of three college degrees, several literary awards, a professorship and mentorship of young offenders, activists and writers in the making – Horton does not seek revenge. He even states on his website that he is “the only full professor in the United States of America at a university or college with seven felony convictions.”

He just wants to tell his story in the hopes that someone can relate to it.

“People may think there was a big miscarriage of justice, that my incarceration was a bad thing. I do not do this case. I made terrible choices. I’m not hiding it, ”he said.

“I never asked for sympathy. I mean, I’ve been through something and hey, listen to what I have to say, you might learn something, ”he said. “I want to use myself as an example that if someone makes terrible decisions, there is always a way to come back.”

Horton grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. He attended Howard University, but didn’t finish because his criminal lifestyle took over. “I just got caught up in something,” he said. “Coming from Birmingham, which was so restrictive, I was taking risks. But trying to find myself, I got lost.

This way of life came to an end when Horton was sent to prison for eight years. The sightings from these years form the first part of “{# 289-128}: Poems”. While in prison, while accepting his guilt, he encountered many inmates who were not guilty. His poem “Animals” tells their story:

“The cells are chock full of culprits

who pleaded although very innocent

7 sounded better than 25 in a row “

He also tells stories of people destroyed by their time indoors in “Nothing As It Seems”

“Juvenile judged as real adult questions

the authority kind enough and by magic disappears

make a broken boy irreparable.

The physical and spiritual boredom of prison life is recounted in “The Making of {# 289-128} in Five Parts”:

“At one point, the repetition sets in:

hard-boiled egg, flour, white bread, bland coffee

for breakfast reminders

what has become of you {# 289-128}

a non-being from where

escape or liberation is a fairy tale.

The second part of the book describes the life of Horton after his release from prison. Horton could roam the city for inspiration, but sometimes life could be just as bleak:

“People refuse to see who of what I am

since before post-racial. I am tagged:

armed, dangerous, known to pack,

dark & ​​hyphen, the typecast

commemorated in perpetual fear.

In this segment, Horton writes about a particular element of the black experience that occurs too frequently in the outside world: “A Primer for Surviving a Traffic Stop”:

“If you’re sitting in the car, stay calm.

stop. position the hands

at eleven and three, suppose

it will not go well. recall

brown, bell, martin …

the facts will be poorly remembered: he

rushed, seemed to have—

a bulge, poorly dressed,

reached. a large metallic object—

… take a deep breath and get ready

for the approaching figure “

Horton admitted that “it was a little sad that I had to write about this”, but he still felt obligated to do so. “It’s just about paying attention to what’s going on in the world,” he said.

He did not let himself be stopped by these indignities. After his release, Horton received a bachelor’s degree from the University of District Columbia, a master’s degree in fine arts from Chicago State University, and a doctorate. in poetry and poetry by SUNY Albany.

His writing has garnered much praise. He has received the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, the Great Lakes College Association New Writers Award for Creative Nonfiction, and a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature.

In addition, he acts as a mentor. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Pen Prison Writing Program of Pen America, served as a poet in residence for the Civil Rights Corps in Washington DC, is a member of the performance group Heroes Are Gang Leaders. He goes to detention centers for adults and minors across the country to lead workshops.

Like when he was inside – he wrote “a book could save my life after the lockdown” – reading and writing saved him. Horton recalled the mentorship of Bunnie Boswell, a case manager who worked with him in prison.

“She told me that after I got my time, I should keep writing. She thought there was something in the way I wrote. No one ever told me that I could be a writer, ”he said. “I got it. I took it to heart. That’s what kept me sane.

For more details on Horton, visit

Susan Dunne can be reached at [email protected].

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