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‘Sound of Us’ tells stories Northeast Ohioans want to tell — in their own voices.

Poetic Reentry: A Thousand Books in Five Years

Wesley Dirmeyer stands with his pushcart outside a building.
Justin Glanville
Ideastream Public Media
Wesley Dirmeyer says writing about difficult subjects, including certain relationships and his experience with addiction, allowed him to feel a sense of lightness.

Growing up, Wesley Dirmeyer read more than a lot of his friends, but he started living and breathing books once he went to prison.

In the 5 1/2 years he was incarcerated at Lake Erie Correctional Institution, he estimates he read at least 1,000 books, many of them checked out of the prison library where he also worked.

Reading, in turn, pushed him toward writing.

"I would write small things here and there and some people liked my stuff," Dirmeyer said. "So I just started writing a little more and trying to put more of myself into it."

Many of his poems dealt with troubled relationships from his past. Others touched on his struggles with addiction. But even though the material was dark, writing left him with a feeling of lightness.

"Poetry made me more of an open person," he said. "I can talk a little more to people about stuff that I'm feeling, which is hard to do as a guy. It was a doorway — like, you open the door and you can let some stuff out."

Soon after being released in 2018, Dirmeyer got a job driving a truck. He delivers frozen foods and supplies to restaurants.

"I like it because I kind of can be my own boss," he said. "In prison, just you're caged up. You can't go anywhere. You see the same stuff every day. Now I have the whole road in front of me. I meet people I've never met. It's no freedom versus freedom."

He now lives in Tiffin with his girlfriend and 10-month-old daughter. He has two other daughters he tries to see as much as possible.

"Missing all that time with them [while in prison], I think a part of me was like, 'I need to find a way to make up for it,'" he said. "And the best way I can think of is to just provide the best life I can for them. So I work my tail off for my family."

He still buys books with the intention of reading them, but with family and work obligations, he rarely has time to read or write.

"I miss it," he said. "But at the same time, I don't."

Silence | Wesley Dirmeyer

'Where I'm From," by Wesley Dirmeyer

I'm from little chipped blue coffee cups

Heart-covered ceramic plates

I'm from the dirt pit in the backyard

Wasted hours and toys

From a shed, trapped, waiting in a hail storm

Holding on to big shaggy dogs.

I'm from the little green Tonga train riding through the house,

I'm from the church sinners now,

Entire family packed in.

I'm from the sound of open fields,

Wind blowing leaves.

Yet I'm still from the crowded streets, walking home alone.

I'm from the empty house, microwave dinner.

Now I'm from the crowded apartment filled with dolls and makeup.

I'm from the bad father,

Only lesson was how to be a good one.

In my room is my staple, my lifeline, my jukebox,

Filling the house with happier times and sad memories,

Carrying on the party for everyone else.

This story is part of a series called Poetic Reentry, featuring the voices of formerly incarcerated men reading poetry.

Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.