Suicide Prevention Project: 7

Second Grader’s Pantoum

by Madeleine Simmons

I spent so much time in silence
I’ve almost forgotten talking
the sensation of pushing the air out
through twisted tongues and chipped teeth

I’ve all but forgotten that talking
is just conversations that become
twisted in tongues and chipped through teeth
never really asking, never really answering

Conversations become just
a game of pretend, “How are you doing?”
never really asking, never really answering
I reply with the only answer, “Fine, Thank you for asking.”

Pretend this isn’t a game, “How are you doing?”
they ask because I haven’t gone to school in three weeks
“Thanks for bothering to ask” I answer but still reply “Fine”
how does a second grader explain their depression to others

I hadn’t gone to school in three weeks, they ask
it’s funny because some of them thought I was dead
a second grader never explains their depression to others
no one bothers to ask

It’s funny because some of them thought I was dead
I wished I was when crawled up under my bed
no one bothered to ask
my family always got ready and left for the day

I wished when crawled up under my bed
that when I crawled out they would all be there
My family always got ready and left for the day
alone, I learned how to communicate and understand myself

Madeleine Simmons is currently attending California State University, San Bernadino for her MA in English. She received her AA from RCC and BA from UCR. Her focus of study is in Narrative Medicine, and spoken at conferences on the topic. She is dyslexic and battle with the chronic pain condition, fibromyalgia. She has been a junior faculty member for Inlandia Institute’s “Poetry is Power” for the past 2 years.

Suicide Prevention Project: 6

Quietly Sinking

by Jules Ochoa

I entered an emergency therapy session, lacking all sense of emotional modesty. Instead of articulating recent trauma, I delivered the heaviness of my internal experience between labored sobs. Bearing a sense of taint, a rot inside that I couldn’t contain. Feeling stunted, like I would never measure up. Wandering through a world my soul fled from a long time ago, only pretending to exist in the reality where others live. Combatting the sensation of soul deformity, through perfection of healthy routine. Prying myself out of bed feeling more tired than the night before, each day failing to meet my own expectations. Choking down my own existence, like a piece of badly cooked meat at a polite dinner party. The deeper my dedication, the deeper the stink of defectiveness sprawled.  As my inner turmoil raged, I grew more complacent, disengaging from relationships, abandoning my groups and social media accounts, until I was left drowning in the deafening silence of my own hush. I found convalescence in the distraction of drunkenness, only to wake feeling more desolate than the night before. Each dance with booze bolstering my sense of failure and depravity. 

Like an unweighted corpse, the thought of my mother’s recent actions rose to the surface. “How do you reach such emotional anguish that you are willing to douse yourself in gasoline and light yourself on fire?,” I asked. My therapist squared eyes with me and in solitude she said, “Through isolation… Just like any other act of suicide.” My breath was swept away. I stuttered to speak. Tears erupted from a space deep within me, as I began to grasp the seriousness of my own state of mind.  With the intention of bypassing mental illness and addiction where my mother had firmly planted her feet, I had fastened myself into the same putrid landscape. Painted myself into the psychic cage of suffering and silence that my mother failed to escape. A merry-go-round of trauma, anxiety, depression, and self-deprecation.

I broke my silence that night. Leaving behind the need to fulfill the expectation of emotional monotony, as a measure of grounded-ness and spiritual strength. I leaked the staggering trend of calamity that seemed to plague my existence. I shared the elaborate façade of unshakable indifference that hid the iced over sting of rejection. The fictitious positivity deflecting the darkness of the casualties of a wedding, a job, the faith in a parent, and the life of a child held dear. The loss of trust in myself to be worthy of love, and the loss of trust in others, to accept me as I am. I shared my recognition that by exiling my own vulnerability, I had sacrificed my capacity to exist authentically.  I was both validated and devastated, to learn just how many are grappling with the same feelings of abnormality. In my resolve, I was astounded to find myself not in desolation, but quietly sinking just an arm’s length from my neighbor. All I had to do was speak.

Jules Ochoa is an emerging Southern California based writer and visual artist.  She relocated to the Inland Empire from Northern California at the age of 18 after aging out of the foster care system. Jules Ochoa is a self- taught artist and began painting in 2015 to express and cope with past trauma. She was selected to participate in the Format Classics 2018 digital showcase and in the Fabrik Hero’s 2019 showcase. In 2017 she began writing about her life experiences as a way to reclaim her voice. She was a ghost writer for an entrepreneur and metaphysical educator and is currently writing a memoir. Her intense childhood experiences have shaped her unique perspective of the world. She uses surrealist imagery and flowery language to birth that sense of being into reality. Through her writing and art, she hopes to shine a light on issues of trauma, mental health, addiction, poverty, female suppression, and racism. 

Suicide Prevention Project: 5

We Could Be Doing This (Instead)

by Ruth Nolan

–for Philip, 1985-2010, who died by suicide

So, we could be driving together to Forest Falls
Sweltering our way to the water songs at the creek
Then jumping, shocked, then invigorated by the cold,
Escaping an impossibly hot summer day in the I.E.

We could be standing in the cool rain at South Fork
Having pulled off the busy highway at the first drops
Laughing when it starts to hail, our clothes getting wet.
From 110 to 69 degrees, just like that. We got away.

We could be irritated by the slow motorcycle up ahead
Frustrated at Onyx Summit, traffic far to slow, impatient
Deciding not to stop at the lake, too many people, this
Awful pandemic. We’d drive farther out, rip our masks off.

We could be racing through deep mud holes, splashing,
Not a care that tomorrow, the underbelly of the car
Will be caked with hard dirt. We’d drive a little reckless,
Knowing we were still in control. We’d have fun.

We would most definitely live at the edge, and be okay,
Taking the tight turns and mudholes in race-car mode
Because neither of us can stand monotony, being bored
We would take such risks on this narrow, steep road.

We could be standing at Old Jim’s grave, add another
Beer can to the pile, we’d explore the ruins of old miners’
Dreams up here, at the meadow, the old cabin now home
To rats and snakes. We’d feel a little spooky, seeing how

Final and how un-erasable this feeling of life and death,
Hovering side by side in Holcomb Valley on a hot day,
Thick smoke from statewide wildfires, realizing there is
No escape from this. We could be together, seeking beauty,

Finding beauty in harsh terrain, painting our world again.
We could watch the sunset, hauntingly orange this eve,
We could be best of friends again, never mind the wildfires
Or heat, or hardship upon tragedy: you should have stayed.

Ruth Nolan is coeditor of Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California (Scarlet Tanager), editor of No Place for a Puritan: the literature of California’s Deserts (Heyday) and author of Ruby Mountain (poetry, Finishing Line.) Her writing has appeared in McSweeneys, Women’s Studies Quarterly, LA Fiction Anthology (Red Hen), Desert Oracle, KCET Los Angeles, News from Native California, Inlandia Literary Journeys and Desert Sun/USA Today. She has writing forthcoming in Boom California and a book of poems, Fire Regime, forthcoming from Moonrise Press in 2020. She is a former wildland firefighter based in the southern California desert and mountains, and now Professor of English at College of the Desert.

Suicide Prevention Project: 4

Life after Attempted Suicide

by Sarita Sidhu

“I don’t understand why anyone would want to commit suicide,” my husband said to me.

“That’s because you had an idyllic childhood in Kenya which gave you self-confidence and security and ambition. And joy,” I responded.

“It’s a selfish act,” he proclaimed.

“You don’t know what it’s like to feel that you’re not wanted, you’re not valued, you’re not loved, you don’t matter.”

I attempted to commit suicide twice in my late teens.

When the light of hope is absent in your dark world, when you have no dreams to elevate your spirit, you have no reason to think your life will ever change, death seems like the only way to end the pain of existence.

I grew up in an abusive authoritarian house with my three sisters. We were told ad infinitum that we could do as we pleased after our arranged marriages. But Mum looked neither happy nor liberated. 

My father did give us the choice to attend university before getting married. We lived in a social democracy that wouldn’t deny us a higher education simply because my working-class parents couldn’t afford to pay for it, so I took that opportunity. Education in India, my country of birth, was too expensive for most families, and was considered a waste of money on girls. 

I certainly had more freedom after marriage than before, but in my in-laws’ house my life was still not my own. I now had to answer to my mother-in-law. I still felt trapped and powerless and deeply unhappy. My life began to change slowly after she suggested I become a teacher and I enrolled in a program led by a strong female professor whose focus was on the education of girls in mathematics and technology. This centering of girls gave me the courage to ask myself what it was that I really wanted. This was easy; I had always wanted my own space in which I could exhale and escape judgement, and feel free. My marriage remained rocky even after I moved into my own house with my husband and daughter. It was only when we moved from England to America that my life changed dramatically for the better.

You already know your life will not be easy. But I want you to know that you are not who you have been told you are. You belong in this world as much as anyone else. Our lived realities are based on social constructs that have been designed to perpetuate the existing power structures, which are entirely manmade. Literally. The world is not created to work for all of us, and it is within this understanding that I have sought meaningful work. I put my energy and time into remaking the world so that it is more equitable. 

The world needs you. There is no one else like you. We understand the loneliness and pain of despair and hopelessness. In extending a hand to another, we are also lifted. 

Sarita Sidhu is a writer and activist in Southern California, who takes our collective work seriously, and understands the importance of laughter and fun. Instagram: saritaksid

Suicide Prevention Project: 3

What Comes After

by S. Kay Murphy

My only tattoo is a distinct but unobtrusive semi-colon on the inside of my right wrist, inked when I was sixty-four years old and meant as a memorial to two friends whom I have lost to suicide. In recent years, semi-colons have become a subtle symbol on social media to promote suicide prevention and awareness. I’d been thinking about a tattoo for several years, but the loss of these sweet, passionate, endearing men from my life catalyzed my resolve, along with the total eclipse of the sun in 2017.

Remember that? What an extraordinary phenomenon of nature that was. I had lost both friends the year before, and I was still grieving their loss. Although the two never met, I know John would have loved Michael’s youthful exuberance and the fact that he was already honing his writing skills at the age of twenty. No telling what Michael would have thought of the old man with the shaved head, gravelly voice, and as many stories as he had tattoos. They were different in nearly every way, but they shared one similarity; both had despaired of ever finding relief from their emotional and psychological pain.

For me, watching the eclipse revealed a small truth that I have stashed away, to be brought out at times when I need to be reminded.

That day, I watched as people gathered with excitement and anticipation. A spontaneous cheer arose as the sky began to darken, and one of the reporters on scene mentioned the sudden drop in temperature. I scanned the crowd and saw faces that were absolutely enthralled. They were about to be shrouded in darkness, yet not a single person appeared to be fearful. Because no one doubted that the sun would appear again.

Imagine, though, what early humans must have thought and felt during their first experience with a total eclipse, how terrifying that must have been. We understand now that it is only temporary, an occurrence of nature, to be appreciated with awe for the fleeting moment it exists. But how must it have felt to watch as the sun’s light disappeared, to think that it would never return? This is a bit of what my friends experienced when they found themselves shrouded in sadness. Both felt, at the depth of their despair, that the world would never hold light or love or joy for them again. The pain of that perception so consumed them that they ended their lives in order to end their own suffering.

In my own life, I have felt despair as well, have endured intense bouts of depression when a release from pain loomed as a sinister temptation. But my tattoo is a reminder that a pause is not a full stop. It’s okay to not be okay for a while; those hovering shadows will not last forever. If we can just hang on, the darkness recedes, the light returns, and what comes after may just be the best part of our lives thus far.

S. Kay Murphy is a graduate of UC Riverside and the author of four books, including two memoirs. She lives in the Inland Empire where, despite heat, wind, fire and politics, she is grateful for every new day.

Suicide Prevention Project: 2

How I knew by Alan Girling

for Andre

How I knew the moment
you revved your motorcycle
and sped from my house
after hours locked in
your agony in the bathroom
the water running loud
that you were headed for the bridge
I do not know.

Nor do I know
upon spotting your bike tilted
red and forlorn on the gravel shoulder
how I was able to climb with the traffic
to the highest point of suspension
where you seemed to float
staring down at the waves below.

And when I gently rested
my hand on your arm
you white-knuckled gripping the rail
and I felt the steel of your tendons
I don’t know by what mystery
you were able to ease
finally to let go to follow me
on our precarious descent
back to earth.

And later while sitting
in that fluorescent diner
me shivering at the bottom of a well
you and your eyes an abyss
no one would ever truly fathom
I don’t know how I came to believe
that you had been saved
that I had done something
that could stop the riptide
coursing so resolutely
through your narrows.

Alan Girling lives in Richmond, B.C. and writes poetry mainly, sometimes other forms. His work has appeared online, in print, on the radio, even in shop windows. Such venues include Pif, The Ekphrastic Review, Hobart, The MacGuffin, Smokelong Quarterly, CBC Radio and the streets of New Westminster. He is happy to have had poems recognized in local poetry contests and to have a play produced for the Walking Fish Festival in Vancouver, B.C.

Suicide Prevention Project: 1

Teens and Suicide: Risk Factors and Prevention 

by Paulina Rael Jaramillo

The alarming increase in suicide rates during the past decades have forced us to deal differently with an issue that not very long ago, was rarely talked about. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) more than 48,000 deaths by suicide took place in the United States in 2018. This amounts to approximately 1 death every 12 minutes! Males are 4 times more likely to end their own lives than females although females attempt it two to three times more often.

The National Institute of Mental Health lists suicide as the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults between the ages of 10 – 34. The top three methods that are most commonly used include: firearms (50%), suffocation (28%), and poisoning (14%). The teenage years are often filled with stress and pressure from various sources including parents, school, society and peers. It’s also a time when self-identity is beginning to form and sexual development is at its peak. Those with a strong support system that includes family, friends, involvement in the community, religious connections and social interaction, stand a better chance of coping with tumultuous emotions. Unfortunately, many find themselves alone, frustrated and disconnected. Some factors that increase the risk of suicide include the following. 

  • Psychological problems are by far the leading cause of suicide and include bipolar disorder, depression, as well as disorders associated with alcohol and drug use 
  • Overwhelming emotions that create a sense of hopelessness 
  • Feelings of worthlessness that are compounded by failing grades at school, violence at home and isolation from friends, family and society 
  • Previous suicide attempt and/or a family history of suicide and depression. 
  • Experiencing physical and/or sexual abuse
  • Coming to terms with homosexuality compounded by an unsupportive family, and/or bullying by peers 
  • Ongoing preoccupation with death (talking or writing about it, including methods)

Suicide prevention begins by recognizing and paying attention to the warning signs. If someone you know is exhibiting several of the risk factors above set time aside to talk to them. One way to open the conversation is by expressing concern and encouraging them to seek professional help in a non-confrontational way. Encourage them to make positive lifestyle changes, ask them to commit to calling you or their counselor if they feel like harming themselves and remove any possible means of suicide (weapons, prescriptions, etc) from easy access. It’s important that you stay in touch and check to make sure they follow through with their commitment. For additional support consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or you can visit their website They have trained and experienced staff available to help

Oftentimes people hesitate to bring up the subject of suicide for fear that they may make the situation worse. However, talking openly about thoughts and feelings and listening without judgment can be the difference between life and death. 



Paulina Jaramillo has a Master of Arts degree in Rehab Counseling and has worked with youth and families in various capacities including crisis intervention. She is currently facilitating classes for The Stephan Center. Her most recent book is titled, “Life Resumed: After a Catastrophic Event or Other Loss” (available on Amazon). To download free healing from loss articles visit


Suicide Prevention Print (&Writing) Exchange – details

Suicide Prevention Week

The week starting September 6 is Suicide Prevention Week. This week we launched a juried online exhibition of prints created by talented printmakers on the topic of suicide prevention.

We will also share additional information/artwork and mental health resources on our social media channels throughout the week to help spread awareness and shed light on this difficult topic.

If you or someone you know is in crisis:

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.

If you are a veteran, dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone or send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder. You can also start a confidential online chat session at

If you are Black and looking to find a licensed Black therapist, click here.

If you live in Riverside County, you can also call 951-686-HELP, the Riverside County Crisis & Suicide Helpline or call 211 through Community Connect. Like the National Suicide Lifeline (800-273-TALK), they provide emotional support and suicide prevention, but also provide accurate and culturally-competent referrals to thousands of local resources for ongoing support. 

For additional resources, visit the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

Call for Prose/Poetry (Part 2 is still open)

The Riverside Art Museum and Inlandia Institute invite you to submit a written piece on the theme of suicide prevention. 

Guidelines for Writers:

All genres accepted. Length: Maximum 500 words (double-spaced prose) or 3 pages (poetry, all forms). There are two opportunities for response: 

  • Respond to the general theme of suicide prevention and submit before August 28.
  • Respond to one of the individual online exhibition artworks that will be on view beginning September 6 (exhibition will launch September 8 due to Labor Day weekend). Submit before September 20.

Selected works will be included in a series on the Inlandia Literary Journeys blog, the Riverside Art Museum’s social media accounts, and/or included in the online exhibition. 

  • Submissions must include your real name, email, and phone number.
  • Multiple entries accepted.
  • If selected, a permissions release form will be required that clearly indicates the work is solely your own original work and that you consent to our including it in the exhibit, on social media, and/or the blog series on the Inlandia: A Literary Journey (

Email your submissions as a Word document (.doc, .docx) to with the subject line of “Suicide Prevention Project:” and your name. Example: “Suicide Prevention Project: Your Name”.