taking the words of Jesus seriously
<   By George Wilkerson   It smells like pee, it must: they crinkle their noses in disgust every time I walk by wafting it in their faces.     It seems to follow me and precede me and hangs in the air like a cloud all around me,     only I can’t smell it because I’m acclimated. I’ve seen it choke off conversations and invitations mid-sentence.     I’ve seen hands fly to mouths to cover gasps of giggles while they pointed down their throats,     gagging and looking down their noses at me, causing me to look down at myself,     looking for a spreading stain that never came, yet what else could it be? I lift my arms and sniff     cup my breath into my hands and whiff the contents: minty fresh. Is it just me, or does poverty stink? It poured cold water on my cotton candy confidence,     melting me within myself. Since when did being poor become a sin? I’m too scared to raise my hand or sit at the front of the class     lest I draw attention to myself. I’m scarred by Salvation Army clothing, burning with humiliation dripping with self-pity,     shrinking…     I am less of a person now.     George Wilkerson is incarcerated on North Carolina’s Death Row. He edits Compassion, a journal written by and for men and women on America’s death rows.


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