John Graham and Chris Freeman

Verse:

37

Reader:

John Graham and Chris Freeman

Location:

Scottsboro

Verse 37

You laggards there on guard! look to your arms! 
In at the conquer’d doors they crowd! I am possess’d! 
Embody all presences outlaw’d or suffering, 
See myself in prison shaped like another man, 
And feel the dull unintermitted pain. 
 
For me the keepers of convicts shoulder their carbines and keep watch, 
It is I let out in the morning and barr’d at night. 
 
Not a mutineer walks handcuff’d to jail but I am handcuff’d to him and walk by his side, 
(I am less the jolly one there, and more the silent one with sweat on my twitching lips.) 
 
Not a youngster is taken for larceny but I go up too, and am tried and sentenced. 
 
Not a cholera patient lies at the last gasp but I also lie at the last gasp, 
My face is ash-color’d, my sinews gnarl, away from me people retreat. 
 
Askers embody themselves in me and I am embodied in them, 
I project my hat, sit shame-faced, and beg. 
Textual Analysis
Section 37 begins as if it is continuing the story of the Battle of Flamborough Head that the previous two sections narrated. But then something strange and terrifying happens. The confident "I" that we have become accustomed to in "Song of Myself" now seems to have been taken over, literally "possessed." That ...
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Textual Analysis

FILMMAKER’S NOTES

John and Chris are two sides of the same coin. I reached out to John first. He’s a circuit judge up north in Scottsboro.

When I first met John, I watched him hold court, and it was such a sight to behold. I knew then I was going to try to push the envelope and ask if he'd let us film him behind the bench in the midst of drug court. He agreed. I was flabbergasted.

Before we filmed, John started doing his homework, and he had his own ideas about which verses he might like to read most (and least). Then he texted me:

Some of this is 19th century porn! I like Verse 16. Less risqué than some.

I told him that verse was already filmed. But I had a passage for him: #37. "The keepers of convicts, it is I that is barred in the morning and let out at night."

He wasn't sold.

Was hoping to avoid the judge-y ones—especially that "pronouncing a death sentence" one.

Verse 37 is also about identifying with those we tend to judge. I thought it was kind of perfect. But if he had strong objections, we could find something else. I texted him and waited for his response. Not long.

No, I’m fine with it. Looking forward to this. It’s gonna be so cool!

The day of filming he posted a sign and let everyone know what we were doing. The defendants could opt out of that session if they wanted. I’m not aware that anyone did.

I don’t want to romanticize anything here, but John was like that judge you think only exists in movies—the small-town judge who recognizes everyone who approaches the bench, chatting them up with details about their kids, their jobs, their lives. It’s good to know this can be real.

We also asked if one of the defendants might be willing to read that day. Chris Freeman said yes. We lucked out. I figured we might be able to create an interesting dialogue between Chris and John—a call and response kind of thing. I didn't know exactly how it would go. I just tried to create a space for what that and they might offer. Chris seemed into it. I think it went well. And I can't be more grateful for how open everyone in the courtroom was that day.

by filmmaker Jenn Crandall as told to writer Liz Hildreth