in Creative Writing

Clifton Collins Jr. – Actor and Inspiration

This article has a few points to make. So if it had a secondary title it would be:

Unreliable Narrator: A Creative/Personal Reaction to Capote and 187.

In the world of literary criticism there is what’s called the Unreliable Narrator. This is the speaker. The writer. This fictitious person either doesn’t have all the information or has misinterpreted the events or circumstances of what they have experiences or witnessed.

Hang on to that a moment. It becomes important later.

Recently I’ve been watching my way through Clifton Collins Jr.’s filmography. Not only is he a very captivating and stunning performer, some of these films are just as powerful. His eyes draw you in like the inescapable event horizon of a black hole. With a look he can break your heart as easily as he can make you laugh. I will write about more of his films (like Boodock Saints: All Saints Day!) later, but today I’m writing about CAPOTE and 187.

Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith

Sometimes, when I am profoundly affected by something I have watched I will write about it. After watching Capote, I wrote a short story as an outlet for all the emotions it stirred up. I will insert that short here, but keep reading after. I have more to say. And I have to tell you how Clifton Collins Jr. inspired me to give back.

Broke In. 

Six feet wide. Three sides as solid as my sentence. Six feet of steel bars. The same width as the length of my coffin. The same depth as hole of my grave. But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

Thing is, you have a lot of time for introspection in this concrete box. What if… this or that. Contemplations. Rationalizations. “Moralizations”. Maybe I should’ve prayed more. Read the Bible. Or something. Whatever. Problem is, thinking outside of this particular box only brings more pain. And the box I’m heading for is much smaller and nothing gets out of that one.

 So what do I say now? Sorry? Do I explain? Do I try to defend myself one last, fruitless time? 

No. See, you’re expecting a twist. You’re expecting me to lure you in and shock you with some sensational, heartbreaking story of betrayal and abuse. But the cold-blooded truth is I’m here for a reason. And as if by some sick joke, the sixes have it. Six feet across. Six feet long. And – soon to be – six feet under.

 Skid row to death row. That’s me. 

But in all reality, we’re all on the latter. Standing in a row, one long line, pointing directly toward a headstone. Well, if you’re lucky enough to get one anyway.

Guess what I’m saying is – I could’ve had worse. I’ve done worse.

Am I a product of the broken system? My broken family? Or some other broken something? Who the hell knows and who the hell cares… I’ve been broke and broken all my life. So when I broke in and shattered that family I couldn’t say that I knew any better. It isn’t an excuse. Call it a confession. That’s what you do before you die, right? 

I don’t want your pity. Hell, I don’t even want your mercy. Wouldn’t know what to do with it if I got it. I suppose I’m just talking because my minutes are numbered and I’d like to spend my last breaths saying something… truthful. This truth won’t set me free, but it can’t hurt me anymore either.

I played the hand I was dealt. I just wasn’t very good at the game and I had shitty luck. Maybe the deck was stacked against me from the beginning. They say the House always wins. Well tonight, the Big House will win again. And who says the die are any different? Go ahead, shake and let ‘em roll.

Yeah, the sixes have me. 

Remember the Unreliable Narrator? Well, guess who’s talking? Yeah. In my short story the unknown speaker has come to believe he/she belongs on death row. The speaker believes his/herself to have been trapped in an inescapable lifestyle.

In Capote, Clifton Collins Jr. plays a character who had a rough upbringing (and that’s putting it very lightly). It’s as if Perry, his character, was set off on a dark and brutal path that led him to the murders that put him on death row.

Then in 187, Collins Jr. plays another character (Cesar) who sees himself trapped by his own lifestyle. A violent world of gangs and intense cultural need to assert dominance Cesar is seen witnessing a young man get gunned down. He doesn’t even flinch. Toward the end of the film the teacher Cesar has set out to kill is wildly confronting him, calling his violent machismo out as “bullshit”. Cesar screams back, “It’s all I’ve got!”

Clifton Collins Jr. as Cesar Sanchez

After watching 187, I found myself crying. A lot. As someone who works hard to set myself on the best path I can it really affects me when I see a destructive downward spiral. My Dad worked in a jail ministry for years. I grew up hearing how he would see the same people over and over, returning after their release. He would talk about the problem with the justice system.

They call it a “correctional facility” but that isn’t what it is. It isn’t correcting anything. My Dad described the pattern. When a person is released from jail they more often than not end up going back to the same friends, the same neighborhood. They get caught up in the same activities that had put them in jail in the first place. Without an option, a way to break cycle, the system keeps pulling them in.

I’ve been aware of this fault in the system for a years. I’ve wanted to help, but how? My Dad always said that he wanted to create a place for people to go after jail. Teach them the skills they needed to change the course of their life. It just never worked out for him to do that here. But I recently learned of just such an organization. A place called Homeboy Industries. I had heard the name before, but Clifton Collins Jr. and his Instagram got me looking closer. And I love what I see.

Homeboy Industries does exactly what my Dad had always wanted to do here. So once I’ve moved back to Los Angeles I’m going to find a way to get involved. There are people who have helped heal me from my own internal battles. People who have saved me from self-destruction, from giving up. I’d like to repay them by giving back. And I think I’ve finally found a way to do that.

Clifton Collins Jr. his films and Instagram have been part of that inspiration. So, thank you. I felt the need to say so.