i committed a crime
i was arrested
i spent a night behind bars
i paid my dues to society

as part of the penalty, i was to engage
in 32 hours of community service,
otherwise known as the Alternative Incarceration Program.
we were due at the facility
by 8 am, and i taught myself, finally,
how to show up fifteen minutes early.

our assignment one day was to clean
the very offices that meted out our punishment.
a boy being raised by a single mom in the ‘70’s
often meant you were known as “the cleaning lady’s son”
this programmed moral code would haunt me
as much as the guilt of penance,
and it’s permanence.

“why don’t you start by vacuuming the carpets
on the second floor. the vacuum is in the utility closet.”

i find the utility closet easily enough,
and came upon three different vacuum cleaners.
i decided the blue one looked to be most of service,
the first of many mistakes on the day.
apparently, the criminals such as me had no idea
that a vacuum cleaner depended on filters,
and maintaining them.

i spend the next two hours using different
combinations of the three vacuum cleaners
to remove the inch thick debris buildup
from years of neglect.
i was unaware, completely out of my element,
in this alternative penitentiary, that cameras on closed circuit
recorded and broadcast my every move.

as I meticulously revived these machines of convenience
the entire staff of the AIC
was watching
with bated breath
the broadcast visual
of myself and my mother’s lessons on cleanliness
“do it right, Richie!”
an echo more imprisoning than my impetuous sentence

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