'smärt-, fon-, ('ǝ)-,pa-lū-za n: festive celebration
By: Ali Moseley
Ali Moseley is currently incarcerated at California Men's Colony. He is serving 82 years to life for the first-degree murder and attempted murder. Ali is the author of the novel Broken Wing.
San Diego, California, 2015
Donovan State Prison is flooded with illegal cellphones, I buy one for $350.00. I get caught with it 30 days later. I buy another.
On most days, I come "home" from work, sit on the bunk, and play on my phone for an hour, first catching up with the tweets of the day, then scrolling through my instagram feed, then reading over a couple of last emails. My home is a small room with four walls and a slit for a window. The bunk is only three feet wide and six feet long, a couple feet above the floor. I've been here for 11 years.
Once all the notifications have been cleared and all the tweets have been read, and I'm in the prison exercise yard grunting out push-ups and chin-ups, I find some reptilian part of my brain is still thirsty. So I return to the cell and the cycle, opening apps to diminishing returns, until I'm up to my eyeballs in photos of Nicki Minaj and Kim K, footage of Kevin Hart clowning, and updates from people I've never met- an endless stream pouring in from all across the globe.
I am risking 90 days of good time credits. I go around telling my boys, "If I got rid of my phone, I could finally attend college!" I read countless blurbs online plugging do-it-youself doctors for publishing. I don't have much faith in these DIY's, as nobody I know in prison has ever succeeded in self-publishing their own book. But what if publishing really was easy as discovering one simple dotcom? Then the only suckers would be those writers who didn't try.
So I decided to try, starting with a time-consuming manuscript and networking. I spend five years banging away at my typewriter before I break the Swintec. By 2015, I have a copyrighted Broken Wing, a 600-page, Bible-thick manuscript. Very much like Richard Wright's Native Son, the slum ghetto residents of my novel are doomed to an anomic world of norms and beliefs in conflict in South Los Angeles. The current problem is I don''t have an agent.
After a dozen polite rejection slips from East Coast agents and publishing houses, the manuscripts sit on my locker, going nowhere. I now only use my phone as a handheld computer, and I can't say I'm looking for a reason to stop. Scrolling up on my Facebook feed, my eyes freeze on Createspace.com; I tap it, a DIY publishing arm to Amazon will afford users advanced tools. Maybe now I'm ready to become an author.
Next come apps that temporarily turn my phone into a laptop. I watch YouTube videos and download Microsoft Word one afternoon; my amazement at seeing the first draft of Broken Wing in Word made me double down on the manuscript at night. The moment feels empowering, and revising my urban novel in digital makes it feel that much more real. But I'm a writer, not an editor. I need another affordable solution.
Where social media networking fails, I turn to a friend-friend- meaning I connect with a friend of a friend who is a professional editor. I go back to my Facebook feed and "friend" an artist who doubles as a mall cop in Antelope Valley. He creates A-! cover art for rap CD's and believes we can photoshop a book cover in one week.
"How do I send payment" I ask.
"PayPal", he says.
"Thats a problem for you?"
I am on YouTube. PayPal accounts. 'Nope."
My first months are a constant stream of YouTube, tutorials about NetSpend and GoFoundMe and Createspace. Even after the initial novelty wears off, I find the results to be pretty impressive.
Createspace is functionality without fun. DIY publishing is as thrilling as a college math final exam. Writing was still artistic, yet somehow more professional. I still waste time on PornHub, but I waste much less. Over the course of six months, I somehow manage to pay my bills, for my phone, an editor, an artist, and a creative consultant. Turns out I'm a natural at fundraising. The Broken Wing project has gestated a more grown up attitude in me, giving my life after a life sentence a fighting chance.
Jobs and Woz started in mom's kitchen. Jay got his start on a Brooklyn street corner. Zuckerburg launched from a Harvard dorm pad. I established City of Angels Publishing in a Southern California Prison.
The disappointing thing, I find, is that I am not rehabilitated by this. I'm a real ham for petty forms of celebration- double-decker Taco Bell chills in my food box (from mom), gangster flicks starring De Niro (or Pacino), rap music, MMA cage matched, the sleekness of the phone as it powers on. When I come home from the yard, I crave easy escape through text messages and endless streams of shallow, undemanding forms of private celebration.
Rehabilitation can work, but the question is: Do you really want to change? Harder than saying no to cellphones in prison was admitting to myself that I owed Tre, the younger man I murdered in a 2004 drive-by shooting, so much more than I had given.
It didn't happen overnight, for sure. It was, and still is, hard to say no to cellphones in prison. I miss the face-to-face time with Mom, who lives in Ontario, Canada and the instant messaging on Facebook, and I still don't socialize much with inmates in the TV room. But I know its okay and the craving will pass. There are always solutions. For example, a while back I set a goal to earn a college degree in Behavioral Sciences with emphasis in Addiction Studies.
I knew that going to school would help me keep the faith that people can arrest their psychological addictions here in prison, as they do outside. I believe that with education and moral convictions miracles can happen, and perhaps God has given me the gift of sitting in a well-earned seat as a an example, so that the next person will have a less difficult time of it, knowing that it is possible to say no to contraband cellphones for good in CMC-West.