143: Cutting Needless Words

143: Cutting Needless Words
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Today on our show, we’re sharing another story by Corey Devon Arthur. Corey’s stories have been aired on Episode 120: My Pen Uncovers the Real Me and Episode 128: My New Manifesto.

Corey Devon Arthur has served 25 years on a life sentence for robbery and murder and is currently housed at Otisville Correctional Institution in New York. Corey is an artist and writer who has been published on Writing Class Radio andThe Marshall Project

The story Corey wrote for this episode was in response to our callout for men’s abortion stories and it came in at 3,000 words. Allison loved the entire story, because she pretty much loves everything Corey writes. She made a few edits, asked Corey a bunch of questions, and the story got longer. She sent it to Andre, sure she would love it. Only, Andrea was like, What is all this? Andrea whittled it down to 1,113 words. So today we’re talking about omitting needless words and why that is important.

We have a guest host. Xaire Vii co-hosted the prison series to help us get things right. Xaire is a poet, singer-songwriter, actor, and educator who teaches writing and poetry to kids in the foster care system and kids caught up in a detention center.

This episode of Writing Class Radio is hosted byAllison Langer, Andrea Askowitz and Xaire Vii. Audio production byMatt Cundill, Evan Surminski, and Aidan Glassey at theSound Off Media Company. Theme music by Justina Shandler.

There’s more writing class on ourwebsite www.writingclassradio.com including essays to study, editing resources, video classes, writing retreats, and live online classes. Join our writing community.

Follow us on Patreon to join our First Draft weekly writers groups. You have the option to join me on Tuesdays 12-1 ET and Zorina Wednesdays 7-8 pm ET. You’ll write to a prompt and share what you wrote. 

If you’re looking to take your writing to the next level, we have two Second Draft writing groups. Each week, three people bring a finished draft for feedback. 

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Allison 00:00:03
I'm Allison Langer.

Zaire 00:00:11
I'm Zaire

Andrea 00:00:12
I'm Andrea Askowitz. And this is writing class radio. You'll hear true personal stories and learn how to write your own stories. And today we have Zaire guest hosting again. Zayer, thank you so much for being here.

Zaire 00:00:25
Thanks for having me.

Andrea 00:00:26
Zaire hosted most of our prison series, and he's back today to again help us get this right. Zaire's a poet, singersongwriter, an actor who just got a partner play at the Broward Center, and he's a teacher who teaches writing and poetry to kids in the foster care system. Also, he teaches kids caught up in detention centers. Thank you so much that year for being on our show. Of course, together, we produce this podcast, which is equal parts heart and art. By heart, we mean the truth in a story. By art, we mean the craft of writing. No matter what's going on in our lives, writing Class is where we tell the truth. It's where we work out our sheep. There's no place in the world like writing class. And we want to bring you in.

Allison 00:01:15
Say you're like, oh, God, they're still with the shit. They do the same thing. Have these girls not evolved?

Zaire 00:01:21
I did it. I did it. Would you hear me? I was there. I was ready.

Andrea 00:01:25
I heard it.

Allison 00:01:26
Okay, so today on our show, we're sharing another story by Cory Devon. Arthur Corey stories have been aired on previous episodes of this podcast. You might remember his story from episode 120 called My Pen uncovers the Real Me. And another one, episode 128, my New Manifesto. Cory is the shit. I love him, and I love his writing. So when he heard that we were doing a call out for men's abortion stories, he's like, I got this. I want to do it. But the story came in, and it was 30 words, and I was like, oh, Jesus, andrea's never going to go for this. But since I love everything he writes and I always want more information, I just sent it to her, like, hoping, okay, maybe she'll let it slide. Is that how it went down?

Andrea 00:02:21

Andrea 00:02:29
When it comes to editing, I was like, Whoa, there's so much great stuff here. But wait, this story has way too many tangents. And really, my question was, what is this story about? So that's why we sent it back to him. I mean, I remember giving him some notes, like, do we really need this whole section? Do we really need this whole section? I'm like, Come clear. And he omitted, would he omit to 1800 words? So now his story is 1113 words. And it's so good and so clean and clear. So that's why today on our show, we're talking about omitting needless words.

Allison 00:03:07
You know what was funny, too, before we get into his story, is that when I sent it back to him, I said, I always blame you. And I was like, what? Andrea said you need to cut this back. And he since asked me to have me send you something you've written, because he's like, I just want to get a feel for this girl. He's like, if she's your girl, I trust her. I'm going to do whatever I'm here to please. He's really good about the edits. I mean, he's not going to change his story or his tone or anything like that, but he got it. He's always open to learning about how to make the story stronger. He's a lifelong learner, and so he was really good about it. He's like, I got this. And he cut it back on his own, in addition to some of the suggestions. With the suggestions, yeah, I think it's super strong.

Andrea 00:03:46
Wait, are you saying he was going to try to trick me?

Allison 00:03:49
No, he was not going to try to trick you. He was just trying to get an idea. Like, we know each other and when we get to see each other and we get to have a conversation about the edits.

Andrea 00:03:58

Allison 00:03:59
So you're like, are you mad at me? And I'm like, yeah, or no, or Why? Or why'd you do this? We have a chance to talk it out, but when you're in prison, you don't get that option. He could call and discuss it, but you would have to be on his call OutList. It's just a process, right?

Andrea 00:04:16
He doesn't know me as an editor the way you do is what you're saying, right?

Allison 00:04:20
Corey Devon Arthur has served 25 years on a life sentence for robbery and murder and is currently housed at Otisville Correctional Institute in New York. Corey is an artist and writer who has been published on Writing Class Radio and the Marshall Project. His story after the break.

Zaire 00:04:37
And we're back. This is Zaire, and you're listening to Writing class Radio. Here's Corey Devon Arthur reading his story. Life comes with choices.

Corey 00:05:00
Venus and I slept together several times. The last time was different and we both felt it. Four months later, Venus would have to make a choice. We weren't in love. She was my homegirl. We sat in my car in front of her building on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Whatever, Venus. Somebody did something to you? I asked. I'm pregnant, she said. Venus told me it could belong to someone else. That didn't stop me from believing the baby was mine. Thinking Venus was pregnant with our child turned me the mush. Google, Gaga, cold rubber. Her Tummy team knew of life. She let me carry on like this for a while. Then she pushed my hand away. Who says it's yours? You don't own me, motherfucker. I don't care who pumped the seat into you. I'll be the baby's daddy. I met Venus six months prior to Altel Comedy Club in Harlem. My comrade Mandal Warrior asked me to help him do security for the club. Venus and her girlfriends were frequent patriots. She was a cute little Tina. We hooked up once or twice a week after that. Venus lived with her uncle Theo her grandmother and younger sister Hope. Venus took pride and raised her little sister. Venus didn't tell her family she was pregnant right away. After her first trimester, she hit the fan. Venus told me her family was flipping on her because she told him I was the baby's father. Venus grandma's uncle had issues because I was black. Venus uncle was having an adult game. I connected him to my peoples in Brooklyn. He pulled up on me and said I know you're trying to be a real nigga, man. I know, man. I respect that. He raised his hand to give me a pound. I left him hanging. He smirked and went on, but she's good. I don't know if I told you or not, but Chulo is the father. You know Trulo from the four building, right? Hi, my nigga. I got a breeze. There was a slight chance that Shulo could be the baby's father. My question was why hadn't Shulo stepped up? I felt that was being played. The next day I told Venus. My uncle said venus straight back, squeezed her shoulders and looked at my eyes. I know you all think of some type of Pudda, but we only fucked three times. The first time he never finished. The second time, he wore a condom. The last time I just sucked this ticket. He came in my mouth. No, Chula is not the father. I said, fuck it. I'm still going to ride with you. I know your uncle is going to catch feelings. I can do my part, but you got to handle your family. Two days later, I bumped into Trula at the weak spot two box for Venus crib. Trula wasn't convinced Venus was carrying his child. You know how he is. It could be either way, bro. It ain't personal at this point. And then you're the only one that ain't Bobby Gwanda's mix. Fall back, bro. Get money and stay out of it, he said. I left without saying another word. I was claiming a baby and Venus I fucked up. I fight for her, but I wouldn't force her. I doubled that towards Venus. Block Zulu caught up to me and pressed the chrome does the Eagle 50 caliber against my temple and the commits are stomping me out that's I heard the metallic click of the guns round action. I feed a fuck niggas like you. Remember that. Leave it alone. Sure. I only don't the pavement. Still and humiliated block. I took a chance to hold after the subway. I was coming back just now. How he thought. I came back from hours later to get some payback. Before I could get closed, Venus came running up to me, crying. My grandma slapped me. I'm getting rid of it. Fuck it. I can't do this. Anymore. Venus took off running, pulling me down a block toward my car. We got in and drove to a clinic where Venus went to see her doctors. They didn't want to do it. That day, Venus started having a nervous breakdown. I tried to calm her to no avail. I don't believe in abortion, but I did believe in the woman's right to make a choice. During my two years locked up, I felt firsthand what it was like to have no freedom over my body. Other prisoners used shanks and ice picks to penetrate my body. Officers stripped me and made me perform those sexual acts. It wasn't exactly the same thing, but it was similar. A woman doctor took Venus to Sign office. She gave her time to date. 6 hours later, Venus stepped in out of one of the procedure rooms. She shook her head slightly from side to side. She wanted silence. We drove for hours to nowhere. I don't want to go home, but hopi I miss hoping, she said. We drove until she decided she was strong enough to face with a way to her home. Venus wanted nothing more to do with violence. My car on the car she just took part in week by SWV play. While we drove. I watched Venus week it started to rain. I pulled in front of her belt and the drops disappeared from the sky. And this place was a double rainbow. Venus saved an unborn child from the savagery of our lives. At least that's how it makes sense to me. Venus stepped out of the car, slammed the door and left without saying a word. Three days later, I went to check on her. Venus, Hope, Theo and Shula were outside the benches in front of her building. She ran over and stood in between them and me. Cory, could you proud of that? Come around here anymore? Her face pressed into my chest. She put my hand on her bare belly where bumps should have been. She looked at me to turn her eyes about work. Her name is Scott, she said before she sucked in a sharp breath that stopped her tears. She walked away from me. As sad as she could have saved. She made her choice. I made a choice. To continue living a life of crime. Trying to be a father from a cell would have killed me. I did one thing right. I supported Venus the best way I knew how.

Allison 00:11:11
It's really hard to understand over these phones at prison, so it's the best we can do. But I do think that it's really beneficial to actually hear his voice. For me, I think a man reading his own story is always more impactful than, you know, somebody else reading it. You get a real idea of the person.

Andrea 00:11:33

Allison 00:11:35
So what did you guys think?

Zaire 00:11:36
This is a really touching story. I know touching might not be the word that would come to more people's minds. But one line that really stood out to me was when she said she wanted no part of violence, my kind of the kind she just took part in. That's a poet line. That was incredible. One thing I took away was just the familiarity of the feeling of knowing that this probably isn't the best thing. I'm probably not ready. They're probably not ready. But wanting to be a father, like, understanding that, that could be a possibility, and despite the fact that nothing about you says you're ready for that, being excited about it, because it's something that might have been something you were lacking as a child, so you get an opportunity to be that for someone.

Andrea 00:12:35
I thought it was so beautiful how he wanted to be the dad, even though he knew she knew he wasn't really kind of ready for it.

Zaire 00:12:44
I obviously can't speak for him for his past, but I know that something that I've seen in myself and something that I've seen and other young men in my community is just being excited about the prospect of being a father because it's sort of like wanting to prove that you could do it because you never had that example of it. Like, I want to prove that I can do this. Admittedly, that's not anywhere close to the best motivation for having a child, but at the same time, there's something special about a child being born into the world and there being, at the very least, one person where like, no, that person wants this child, but the person needs this child in this moment for whatever it is.

Allison 00:13:31
Yeah, well, that's beautiful.

Andrea 00:13:32
I felt that I loved that part, and it made me really kind of it endeared me to this. Narrator I love what you're just said. I don't know, sort of we're assuming that there's kind of a motive underneath. Like, I'm going to be that father that I didn't have, but maybe all of it. It's like the way that he said that the idea of being a dad turned him to mush, and then he shows himself being like singing to the belly, he's so sweet and he wants to be the baby's daddy, even if it's potentially he's not the biological father. He's moving forward. He's like this woman. We're together, we had sex. I'm going to assume that this is my baby. I thought that was really cool.

Allison 00:14:25
I just want to look at the contrast real quick of like, here's a convicted killer. I don't know if our listeners know that, but from his previous stories, he reveals that this is a guy that people look at like a savage. But you hear his words through his story and you get to the real him. In my opinion, that is a beautiful side. And yes, everybody has a bad side. His bad side is worse than mine. Right? Okay, if we're going to compare because people say, oh, blah, blah, blah, and how can you be friends with these people? Well, I can be friends because I choose to focus on the good side. And I think in general, I try to focus on the good side. And I think it's really important to share these stories because everyone has a good side. And this side endears him to us because he's so caring for a child that might not even be his and wants to bring it into the world and really care for this child and this woman and support her rights. I just thought that was so beautiful.

Zaire 00:15:29
I thought that was incredible because that showed, at least to me when I was listening and reading along, that when he was saying he wanted to be the father, he meant it in every sense. I think the most fatherly thing he did was making sure that the mother of the child got what was best for her out of the situation, because that was what was best for the child. Because from what I could tell, that was not a good environment to be coming into. And he recognized that. And even though he wanted a child, he knew that she was not ready for it. She did not want to bring a child into that situation. And she fully supported her in that decision, even though it's not what he wanted.

Allison 00:16:12
I felt the conflict and the tension between her family and him, and I found that so sad, her family being.

Andrea 00:16:20
Latina and him being black. Yeah.

Allison 00:16:24
Yeah. Because it sounded like she was game for it. Like, let's do it. This is great. And you never know what could happen. But because she was Latin and he was black, it couldn't happen according to her family. And I find that horrible.

Andrea 00:16:38
I mean, the uncle cut it off. The uncle was so violent, you know, get out, you're not wanting it was.

Allison 00:16:46
Made really clear by his uncle and the grandma. So we know how tight knit Latin families are. And the grandma slapped her. God, so sad. But the interesting thing is it wasn't even like in the end, he wasn't blaming her or anyone or anything. He was saying, trying to be a father for myself would have killed me.

Zaire 00:17:10
It's just I think that's an important part of it is a lot of the time, what we take away from situations can be the negative, but the very end of peace, though it may not seem like it to everyone, he ended on two positives. He recognized that he wouldn't have been able to be an effective father from the soul. And he recognized that he did a good thing in supporting Venice's decision.

Andrea 00:17:36
The part that really brings that home is there's a paragraph that I highlighted, and it goes, I don't believe in abortion, but I did believe in a woman's right to make a choice. So there he's basically just laying it out there that he is going to do whatever is right for the mother. And that is another beautiful thing about him. But then what do you think about this part, you guys, where he says, during my two years locked up, I felt firsthand what it was like to have no freedom over my body. Other prisoners used shanks and ice picks to penetrate my body. Officers forced me to strip and perform lewd and sexual acts. It wasn't exactly the same thing, but it was similar.

Allison 00:18:17
Remember there were double this amount of words. So he addressed a lot of this stuff. He talked more about some of the conflict in her family and the conflict that there was sort of gang violence around tension between her family and him. So there was that in there that we kind of took out because this is about racial tension. I mean, I felt it was a little bit, but that wasn't the main crux of the story, was not that. And also the torture that he's endured in prison and the fact that he was there for two years and then left and then came back. That's a whole other story in itself. But that's not this story. So we kind of had to take out a lot of that. Right.

Andrea 00:18:57
The part that remains serves the story because the part that remains is about because I think the story is ultimately about choice. And that's the name of the story. Life comes with choices. Venus would have to make a choice that's right at the very beginning. And at the end he talks about how he I mean, choice is such an interesting word when we're talking about abortion because the whole abortion debate is centered around that word. But so when he says, I don't believe in abortion, but I did believe in a woman's right to make a choice, the part that I thought was I thought it was really interesting when he was equating his own lack of bodily integrity. Like he was raped, he was penetrated. I mean, we didn't need to know that he was he did say, during my two years locked up and maybe we should have cut that line because now I'm like, oh, I didn't realize that he was in and out. That's not the story. Basically, all he needs to tell us is that he knows firsthand what it feels like to have no control over your body. And because of that, he's going to say, I support your choice.

Allison 00:20:00
And then at the end he says the second to last line is I made a choice to continue living a life of crime. So he's a poet also. So he did carry the choice all through. And that word came up a lot. And I found that to be really effective and definitely something that you see a lot of.

Andrea 00:20:23
Poetry well crafted.

Zaire 00:20:25
Absolutely. One thing, a friend of mine who is also a poet that you guys know, Martino, always says, Love Martino. He always talks about how you invite someone into a piece and how you walk them out and I think the opening and closing is just both so strong, so very strong. Obviously the whole piece in itself is terrific, but the way he opens, the way he welcomes you into the piece, sort of like laying the groundwork and then the last two lines I made a choice to see living trying to be a father from herself would have killed me. I did one thing right, I supported being the best way I did how that's how you end up. That's how you do it. Wonderful ending. But I also trying to be a father from myself would have killed me. I also just need wonder that whole making the choice to continue living a life of crime, would that have happened if he ended up becoming a father? I think that's probably a thought that he has a lot.

Allison 00:21:28
I just got the chills. I mean, I get the feeling from some of his other stories it wasn't really much of a choice. He was there and he was stuck. And also what happened to him in those two years where he was in prison in Rikers Island really destroyed every bit of innocence he ever had going in. I think he was maybe 17 going in and came out at 19 and it was downhill from there with the prison system did to him, destroyed him.

Andrea 00:21:58
The line where she says she walked away from me, a savage she couldn't save, she made her choice. I wonder if he still thinks would this have turned me around or is he saying and I feel like he's saying Venus knew and I knew that I was still going to choose to live a life of crime at this point. So I love how he takes responsibility for where he was at that moment. That's the way I hear it.

Allison 00:22:30
Yeah. And that goes back to what I was saying. I just don't think it was much of a choice. I mean, once he got sort of immersed in the whole drug culture, selling, making money, surviving streets, lifestyle, it was really hard to extricate himself.

Andrea 00:22:48
Awesome story. I love it.

Allison 00:22:51
Thank you Corey, Devon, Arthur for sharing your story with us. And thank you Zaire, for coming and helping us really get another perspective.

Zaire 00:23:01
Of course. I love it here.

Andrea 00:23:02
Me too.

Allison 00:23:03

Andrea 00:23:03
I just love having sight here. So smart and good and interesting. Yeah. Thank you.

Allison 00:23:09
If you want to hear more stories from Corey, check out the Marshall Project and episodes 120 and 128 on Writing Class radio. If you want to hear more stories from the inside, please listen to the Prison series. You'll get to hear Zaire hosting with us during that ten part series xia also read some of the stories from the inside that we couldn't get recorded. We had nine incarcerated writers share their stories and my story about how I got involved teaching in prison, and Andrea and I spoke about why we aired the stories from the incarcerated and basically how we changed after hearing those stories.

Andrea 00:23:49
If any of you live in the Brooklyn area, please visit Corey Art Show. More information will be available on our website as to date nears here's. Just a New Beginning thank you for listening.

Allison 00:24:06
This episode of Writing Class Radio is hosted by Ziyir, Andrea Askowitz and me, Allison Langer. Audio production is by Matt Cundill, Evan Surminski and Aiden Glassy at the the the soundoff media company. Music is by Justina Chandler. There's more Writing class on our website, writingclassradio.com, including stories we study, editing resources, video classes, writing retreats, and live online classes. Follow us on Patreon to join our first draft weekly writers group. You have the option to join me on Tuesdays, twelve to one Eastern time, and Serena Wednesdays, six seven PM. Eastern time. You'll write to a prompt and share what you wrote. If you're looking to take your writing to the next level, we have two second draft writing groups. Each week, three people bring a finished draft. For feedback, join the community that comes together for instruction, an excuse to write, and most importantly, the support from other writers. To learn more, go to patreon.com. Writingclassradio a new episode will drop every other Wednesday.

Zaire 00:25:06
There's no better way to understand ourselves and each other than by writing and sharing our stories. Everyone has their story. What's yours?