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A Song of Lament

Listen to Marsha recite her Psalm of Lament (RealAudio)
While in prison, Marsha wrote lots of letters to the boys and told them she loved them. She had relatives bring them for visits from time to time.

And yet, while Khire is sunny and affectionate, his big brother Michael is quicker to show an angry edge - and a bruised sense of trust that his mother will stay around this time. When Marsha, talking with a guest, describes something she wrote for a prison drama program, Michael overhears her and asks what she's talking about.

"One of them's a lament," Marsha says of her writings. "And it's about coming to prison and leaving you and Khire."

Michael misunderstands. "What?! You're leaving us?"

"No, you'll be with me," Marsha says.

"Oh." Michael seems reassured for now.

Since her release, Marsha has continued to perform with C.H.A.I.N.S., a drama troupe made up of women inmates. On a winter evening the group performs at a Church of Christ in Raleigh. One of the show's most dramatic moments is Marsha's performance of the monologue she wrote - her "Psalm of Lament." As she recites it in a strong, impassioned voice, her eyes well up and her voice breaks.

"The worst pain I have ever felt was the day Michael lashed out at me, telling me he hated me and he would never forgive me for coming to prison. 'You're my mommy. You should have known better!' my son said. Michael later hugged me and said, 'Mommy, I love you and I forgive you.' I'm glad Michael forgives me, but I cannot forgive myself for the pain I've caused my son. God of mercy, save me from hating myself! Give me grace to forgive. Heal my son's wounds!"

Michael does seem more wounded than his little brother, Khire. Michael was four and Khire just two when their mother and father went off to prison. And when their parents committed the crime that got them sent there.

"I remember the day that they did the drive-by," Michael says. "Khire might not remember it 'cause Khire was really young. All I remember my mom saying, she was going to the store, and like that's what I really remember, and that's when she came back and everybody started crying and stuff like that. And she was real scared."

On the way to the store, Marsha says, she and her cousin saw their boyfriends and stopped. Marsha's boyfriend was the father of Michael and Khire. He and his friend were drug dealers.

"They both caught a ride and on the way back, they both got out of the car and ended up shooting and killing two guys," Marsha says.

Michael has heard the story from his mom and dad.

"They was in this car, and these two dudes, they wouldn't give my uncle his money back, and he had a gun, and he shot both of them while they was driving. And then that's when my mom got real scared so she drove off. My momma didn't know nothing about it, though. She didn't know it was going to happen," Michael says.

Asked how he feels about his parents' involvement in such a crime, Michael says, "I really don't feel sad about it because I know they didn't do it. But if they did do it I'd be kind of mad at them."

Despite Marsha's relatively minor role, she still served hard time.

"In the beginning I felt like it was unfair," she says, "because I didn't actually, you know, kill anyone. But then I had to realize that I still played a part."

Next: Michael's Troubles

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