“Barren Walls and Screams” – Poetry During COVID Outbreak by Incarcerated Mother at CDCR’s Central Women’s Facility

This report is written by the Covid In-Custody Project — an independent journalism project that partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic in California’s county jails and Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to the public eye. Refer to our website to view and download the raw data.

By Koda Slingluff

In the midst of lockdowns, fear and wide-spread illness, an incarcerated woman at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla has found an outlet in poetry, and she has generously shared some of her work with the Covid In-Custody Project for publication. 

30-year-old Aycee Cynthia, a mother of two, has been writing since the age of 6. She dreams to “impact others in a positive way through [her] words.” Her poems “Metamorphosis” and “Criminal vs Human” have been published in prison-related magazines.

Cynthia resides in the largest female correctional institution in CA, with a population of 2,069 at the time Cynthia sent these poems. A massive outbreak of COVID-19 swept the facility in early January 2021, with more than 1 in 4 incarcerated people infected. As of July 2022, the population is now 2,178 – more than 9% over the institution’s design capacity.

Cynthia shared five poems that describe the isolation of solitary-confinement- style quarantines, the ever-present threat of COVID-19 infection and the fear of losing loved ones to the virus. 


Unknown, the world wonders

What can be in times of departure

Unexpected from the familiar


The stripping force

Out of element

Hear them cry in storms of dread

Cocoons weave across naked bodies

Hidden in secret

For treasure to form in blackness

And covered with mercy’s gold

Lullabies are sung

Over cradles gently rocked


Another arrival

For what to become

In the break of strongholds

Like the breath of new spring

No hell shall conquer the fields of green

Through dancing breeze

Fly away

Where the rest of sleep is unrelated to death


Illusions of Reality

Freedom fighter

The searing pain of hunger beneath my bosom

Cries out for cool hands

To iron wrinkles smooth on my forehead

Send a message

That I’m still here

Standing against tricks in mirrors

For the love of my land

Stripped of security

I can hear you clearly

As the wind whispers

“Fear is only true to itself.”

Humbly I ask

The desires of my heart

End the drought and famine

Even my mind with the kiss of a dive

Rippling sensations throughout my being

As I lay me down to sleep

Dreaming to fly

Approach the gateway

And see my name spelled out in heaven


Sojourner’s Lamentation

Tall tales were made to believe

Evil has conquered

With no way out

I am a prisoner

In steel cocoon

Covering my soul

Goodnight to the sun

For my starving bones


They don’t show loyalty anymore

They don’t rebuild broken hearts

All they have are barren walls

And screams

All they have are barren walls

And screams

Split rivers open

Swallow the thirst

I drown in my own ocean


I am a prisoner

Crime does not pay

Education is the jingle in pockets

The price to set me free

Is to slave for the dollar


I ask for a prayer

My integrity viewed in the eyes of the Lord

See time hand out faith

A bodyguard demanding

I rise like dawn

Carry the Cocoon

An armor


And blask the walls like Jericho

The chance to walk away

Realities of freedom

Now fulfilled in the house of exile


Criminal vs. Human

Am I not human?

I raise my voice to protest

My rights are violated, I contest

But you jest at my request

Because I am a criminal

I broke the rule

The fuel for you to be cruel

With badges shining like a jewel

A tool to make me look like a fool

In what is alleged to be justice

Am I not human?

Why do you ignore my cry?

I’m in need but you deny

Lie, saying I defy to comply

Because I am a criminal

Scum under your shoe

Crushed beneath you

If they knew, had a little clue

The things you do

Greatly should you rue

Am I not human?

I bleed the same

Carry a name

Yet in my shame I am maimed

By your game to tame

And claim I am to blame

Because I am a criminal

Who committed ill

Chill and swill the pill

To kill my only will

Forced to become nil

Because no, I am not human…

Indeed, just a criminal


Growing Pains

As answers wait to be sought

I hold a revival

For frost consumed slowly

Desperate to salvage leftovers

Illustrations telling

What once was

Upon a time

When night sat silent

Eager to become

Unclasp and release

Becoming means to be

Infinite as wind for living soul

I am deep

As answers wait to be sought

And spit me up from earth’s womb


About The Author

The Covid In-Custody Project partners with the Davis Vanguard to report on the pandemic's impact on California's county jails and state prisons. See www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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