Hot Seat Questions for the Candidate

This poem was written for and performed at Injustice Watch’s #SpreadTheWord poetry event on April 22. Artists were asked to write a poem inspired by one of Injustice Watch’s stories. This piece was inspired by our ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the criminal justice system.

What is the world you want to achieve? Can you show me the blueprint? Do you have one? Are we starting from scratch? What do you do with the harm? Is it cupped in your hands, or is there none? Do you believe in dreaming or in fantasy? Are they the same? Can you show me the limits of your mercy? Numerically—can you quantify it? Does imprisonment stain your conscience the way blood does? Is it genocide or simply neglectful to just let die? How do you calculate risk? Morally or electorally?

Jonathan Mendoza

Do you weigh deaths you cannot see? Do you cry when you place them on a scale? Do you thank them? Are they a  sacrifice? Do you kill a thousand to save a thousand? Does it hurt to kill a thousand? Is not-killing the same as saving?  How do you sleep at night? It’s not rhetorical; I want to know. Do you swallow a gun in the morning? Do you want it back? Do you hurt the ones who harm you? Do you hurt the ones who harmed the ones who harm you? Do you want to? What is the labor required to heal, and is it greater or less than what is required to love? Who are all the people you believe are broken? Do you want them whole or do you want them gone? Did the world gift you a system and you didn’t know how to return it back? Did you get a receipt? Did you ask for the manager? Can you tell me how we got here? Can you show me the beginning? Do you remember? Or was it like a dream, and you simply arrived? What do you believe of dreams against fantasy? What do you believe of abolition? Does it speak everything of what to end and little of what to build? What is the world you want to achieve? Can you show me where that one begins and where this one ends? Can you point to it on a map? Can we get there? Can we go there, now? It’s not rhetorical; I want to know.

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Jonathan Mendoza is a Boston-bred, Chicago-based Jewish and Mexican-American activist, spoken word poet, social justice educator, and musician. He is a National Poetry Slam Champion, winner of the 2018 Sonia Sanchez-Langston Hughes Poetry Prize, and a three-time award winner at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational. Jonathan is a community organizer for housing justice and youth power with Pilsen Alliance; a teaching artist with Young Chicago Authors; and a freelance writer, performer, and educator throughout the United States.