Hard Rock Returns To Prison From The Hospital For The Criminal Insane

Hard Rock/ was/ “known not to take no shit
From nobody,” and he had the scars to prove it:
Split purple lips, lumbed ears, welts above
His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut
Across his temple and plowed through a thick
Canopy of kinky hair.

The WORD/ was/ that Hard Rock wasn’t a mean nigger
Anymore, that the doctors had bored a hole in his head,
Cut out part of his brain, and shot electricity
Through the rest. When they brought Hard Rock back,
Handcuffed and chained, he was turned loose,
Like a freshly gelded stallion, to try his new status.
and we all waited and watched, like a herd of sheep,
To see if the WORD was true.

As we waited we wrapped ourselves in the cloak
Of his exploits: “Man, the last time, it took eight
Screws to put him in the Hole.” “Yeah, remember when he
Smacked the captain with his dinner tray?” “he set
The record for time in the Hole-67 straight days!”
“Ol Hard Rock! man, that’s one crazy nigger.”
And then the jewel of a myth that Hard Rock had once bit
A screw on the thumb and poisoned him with syphilitic spit.

The testing came to see if Hard Rock was really tame.
A hillbilly called him a black son of a bitch
And didn’t lose his teeth, a screw who knew Hard Rock
>From before shook him down and barked in his face
And Hard Rock did nothing. Just grinned and look silly.
His empty eyes like knot holes in a fence.

And even after we discovered that it took Hard Rock
Exactly 3 minutes to tell you his name,
we told ourselves that he had just wised up,
Was being cool; but we could not fool ourselves for long.
And we turned away, our eyes on the ground. Crushed.
He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things
We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do.
The fears of years like a biting whip,
Had cut deep bloody grooves
Across our backs.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Etheridge Knight's poem Hard Rock Returns To Prison From The Hospital For The Criminal Insane


  1. Shannon Dale-Adams says:

    Just a reference for Rhonda, these men were not in a hospital, they were in prison…The “screws” were the correctional officers. Read it again and consider the civil rights violations these men had yet to receive as the laws were not enacted until 1970.

  2. Ronda says:

    I have never heard of E.Knight until about aweek ago. I am so pleased to read his poems and this one encouraged me to read more on him and his work. I have also made home adjustments for my teenager and his “TEENAGER” attitude to write down his feelings journal them. I also write poems and journal my feelings and thoughts and concerns have been doing so for 14 years it really works not that it all makes since when you go back read it and i can almost feel the feelings all overt again. This poem to me was very strong i also like “straight up” talk just give it to me straight and frank. this poem i felt like i was in the hospital with the other “screws” I felt as if i was waiting for Hard Rock to act out. this was exciting to me interesting and I wish our Literature teachers would teach us more poets and authors of color. Give our children hope to that ther eis an escape from these streets and poverty. GREAt!

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