Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Parole denied

May 2, 2011

Well, looks like we're doing another year.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Last Card?

April 16, 2011 I'm hoping this is the last birthday card I receive from SCI Somerset, and "gift" of a label with Brandon's number on it. I ask him to save the labels from products he buys, t-shirts that say "big house" on them and the like, I guess with the intent of making my own unique jewelry or something. I don't know why, but it seems like something I want to do. I did post to my art blog in regard to an inmate art show I'm judging at a prison in Dallas, PA. I did this years ago through the same contact, and it is strange to see how things have worked out. I wasn't familiar with prisons or jails at all then, and now it's like another home we go to. Entry: http://obazart.blogspot.com . Within the next 6 weeks we will know if Bran made parole. How the time has gone by!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Gang

All three kids together after three years...photo taken last November.


April 9, 2011 My son's parole hearing happened Friday, March the 4th. It doesn't seem possible, and this may not be the end of things, but in six to twelve weeks we will have a definitive answer one way or another. I had to stop letting this answer define my life. My son outlined how terribly difficult the parole interview process was, as it is most probably designed to push buttons, test maturity, get at the truth of the inmate personality. He felt, in his own words, like a turtle on its back, left in the middle of a highway, after it was over. Completely hoped for, totally unexpected. So we have no real idea, except that there is concrete criteria the board uses to reach their decision. It is not arbitrary. Brandon has much in his favor...critical institutional support, a solid home plan and family support, a job to return to if he wants it and most importantly, real lessons learned inside. He is not a hardened criminal. He logically evaluates his situation, accepts the possibilities whether in his favor or not, and seems ready to leave for the very fact that he could accept staying. Acceptance, not resignation, seems to be the key.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Before a Fall...And After

May 26, 2010

If I sit calmly and think about the past 5, 6 years of life, I see an arc of purpose stretching over the journey. I am a Christian, and to me that means God is actively involved in shaping my life. He is in control ultimately, and while I have free choice to do as I please, I fully recognize, if I don't bow to, His sovereignty. His job is shaping the raw clay of our lives, those of us who invite Him to do so. I think it was the great Christian writer and educator C.S. Lewis who said something to the effect, to think that people "find" God is something like thinking a mouse "finds" a cat. Healthy respect for His purposes, His plans and His lordship is the foundation of the arc, and humility the broad stretch road overall from then until now. Not that it hasn't been in the past, but clearly, now this is the lesson, the journey, the goal...I must learn to obey.

From the moment we realized our son was in serious trouble, my prejudices and pride have come into bold relief. I was loath to enter a police station, a courtroom, have our names in a paper connected to crime, a county lock-up, a prison, a recovery meeting...you name it, it stung my pride like a thornbush pricks flesh. I hated it. Everything I thought myself to be, or so very much, was based on outward and worldly good looks. I did well, I looked well, I performed well, my family was well (sort of-enough to get by). But my heart was not well. I despised people who were uneducated, dirty, uncouth and ignorant-and that was outside the prison bars. I made assumptions, and God blasted every last one of them. I have had my hard heart broken by people I thought I could never love, I was led by the hand by inmates into understanding and compassion, through circumstances I was sure would ruin our family and that made it better, stronger and more real than it ever could have been without the suffering and shame. It is a paradox that continues, so against the grain of all I had been taught. Loving unfortunates was fine as long as you weren't one of them.

My journey continues at a secular job I need desperately, customer service, $11 an hour. Once again, that stubborn streak of "I'm above this" show its ugly head in my performance and my attitude. I had thought that I'll simply put up with what I MUST do for now, and then when I get where I need to be financially, I'll do what I really should be doing, show the world how really talented I am. Chuckle. Except that God has other ideas, like, listen to your bosses and DO what they say. Respect your co-workers. Respect the job. I shared with my husband and another friend that I keep thinking about the scene in the movie The Devil Wore Prada, where Stanley Tucci's character is berating a whiny Anne Hathaway for her self-pity, complaining about her monster of a boss. He reminds her she has no respect for the industry and the people who work in it, and that there's a line stretching out the door of people who would kill for that job. Our job market here in the Northeast is depressed. To find something with some security, benefits, good working conditions, weekends free, is really tough. God forgive my lousy take on this gift, which it is, and hopefully I'll be a good student of life and listen this time. What else could happen? Oh no, wrong question!!!!!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Forging Ahead

May 8, 2010
Even if I don't feel terribly inspired, I want to write. But this morning it's hard to help but feel inspired. I want to reference the blog of an inmate friend, Shannon Clark. The link is here but I want to repeat it, http://perseveringprisonpages.blogspot.com. I type his blog and the most recent entry was so very encouraging. Shannon is a man who has had every conceivable disadvantage in life. He has spent half of his life in prison. His father was abusive, mother a drug addict who encouraged her son to use. I can't fathom growing up in such a situation. Yet he's found the answer to healing and life that so many people don't find. It's all about understanding and facing our limitations, then not being bound by them and in turn helping others to be free. He has dreams and hopes, is not afraid to wish for them and won't let that hope die.
My other ex-inmate friend, Shaun, is also going places and doing things that most people never do, http://jonsjailjournal.blogspot.com. I am looking forward to hopefully celebrating with my friend by attending a launch party for his new book. Another person who though he had good circumstances in life and a great family, made a terrible situation into a blessing for many and never gave up hope. He pushes on and keeps writing, talking and working for inmates' rights and betterment of their situations.
These men, these lives, should have been a liability to society but they won't be and aren't. And they give me hope for my own son. There is life during and after prison, and ways to move on in that experience that works for the good. I am so proud of these men. They are the first to admit they did wrong and earned punishment, but they were not stopped by it. Isn't that really the point in the end, redemption, a new life, penitence that leads to salvation-and I think a full life of service and determination is the best gift a person can give the world. I do hope for this for my son.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Visitation and White Letter Day

May 1, 2010

I need to jump back in the saddle with some resolve and keep writing. We had a visitation two weeks ago, the first in 5 months. Time just sort of arranged itself that way, but it was long, too long in between. We are approaching parole eligibility (July will put us with one more year), so I know I have to keep up the energy and keep encouraging my son. But he did speak of the 5 year mark as being significant for him. He feels old and realizes the passage of time in a more significant way. Brandon rarely writes about his own feelings on his friend and what happened, but he sent a letter that contained this paragraph, and gave me a launch point to share back with him some of my own thoughts as we contemplate his being home again:

"This week something seemingly insignificant sort of hit me in a bad way. I came back to the cell after work on Thursday, XM Liquid Metal was on Channel 11, and my cellie tells me that Peter Steele from the band Type O Negative died of heart failure. It always sucks when the frontman of a good rock band dies, but it's not as if you knew the guy. You're not deeply effected emotionally. This was different. Type O Negative has become the thing most closely associated with the brother I never had, Steve, our experiences together as friends, and his death. I'm not sure why. The music itself is this bundle of heart-suffering: pain, resentment, anger, nostalgia, past joys stale with age, and some irreverent humor. Hearing it on occasion (as "October Rust" may pop up during between-movie breaks on the jail channel 10) would make me fondly sad thinking of what I really shouldn't call "better times". I was destroying myself and throwing away my youth, etc, but I wasn't alone. With 2010 marking my 5th year in jail and parole on the horizon, I've been in a weird place. I'm a little more isolated, less tolerant of people here, and maybe that is just paranoia talking, but...showing the preliminaries of age. All of that, Pete Steele's death, listening to his music as his requiem, and recalling a flood of sad memories shook me. It came and went, but for a couple days I wasn't all there."

When I read things like that, a knife goes through my heart, and yet the mind behind it shows itself clear-thinking and mature. I must trust that all will be well and I have to hear the truth from my son. It took me several days to feel better after our visitation-even under the most joyful of circumstances and the best possible outcome, it knocks the emotional stuffing out of a body. Yet I agree with what my daughter Rebecca told me-that she grew tired of being sad and just won't let herself go there any more. One day this will be over and a new life will start. I thought about ditching work on the Monday after our Sunday visit, but I couldn't face the kindness of a co-worker who I knew would ask me what's going on. I just didn't want to talk about it.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

One More to Go

We're coming into March, which is Brandon's birthday month. He'll be 24 years old on the 29th. It's hard to believe. We're in the final year he needs to serve before his parole eligibility. I'm so grateful for what I've learned these past five years. I know I'm not the same person. I've met so many people, inmates, families of inmates and people in recovery and been in situations I would never have otherwise, and if nothing else, I have a much greater appreciation for the complexity of the world and the justice system. Not all is as it appears. If I could say anything has been a pleasure, it is seeing lives change as a result of what I have learned and how I have been led to get involved.

I got one such reminder this week. I have been assisting a friend of a friend, and they are two wonderful men, Shannon Clark and Shaun Attwood-see links (jonsjailjournal and perseveringprisonpages). I marvel at the changes in their lives. Shaun in now out of prison and Shannon has only a year or two left. I came home to this incredibly decorated, covered in abstract designs and trompe l-oeil envelope (partially pictured above). We have a mutual love of art and I've tried to encourage his efforts by sending materials and photo reference. But this envelope blew me away. It's just one small indication of the person Shannon is and is becoming. He's highly creative, smart, caring and tough. If anything gives me hope for the future, it is the lives that have found a way to survive and thrive in prison.
It'll be fine.