Tuesday, March 25, 2008

good friday visitation

We made it to Somerset on Good Friday to visit Brandon. The trip is simply grueling no matter how well we plan or how nice the weather is. It is 8 hours or more on the road and 4-6 hours of visitation with only vending machine food to choose from. I was grateful to be there, though. We hadn't seen our son since the graduation ceremony in December. Every time I see him I'm surprised. Last visit he was shaggy as a grizzly bear, and this visit he had a shorn head with a Van Dyke beard. It always takes me half a second to adjust to see him coming out of the door of his block. I think we are getting to the point in this journey where I really wish he'd be just even an hour closer. Of course we wanted him closer before, but now it's just...c'mon on, must the family be punished as well? But God knows.

Of course, it being Holy Week, I was thinking about our own family's passion, if that is not too irreverent a way to look at it. I suppose my thinking is this-as a believer I'm finding more and more that the events and struggles of my life link me closer to Christ and this time of His suffering on earth. I remember how painful it was after years of living as well as I thought I should, and being the mother I thought I should, to read the newspaper accounts of Brandon's crime and his home situation. The humiliation was more than I could bear, as though running downstairs to get the paper as soon as it hit the porch and reading it first would make things go away. Then I realized how totally and completely Jesus' character was called into question and reviled by His enemies, even though He'd done nothing at all except be who He was. If my Lord and Master was called the devil himself by people, what could I expect? No one should have to suffer that, but suddenly I understood so much more clearly the cost of my own faith.

I suppose I have learned humility, but not shame. As I see Brandon now, I'd like to think that if he were a character in Christ's passion, he'd be the thief on the cross who asked to be remembered by the Lord when He went to His kingdom. I always receive comfort when I read His words, "This day you will be with me in Paradise." That is the forgiving nature of the God I serve, and His love. Jesus was not spared His earthly mission, and I'm reminded, too, that He asked that the cup be passed. I didn't have to choose whether my son would suffer-it happened and we were carried through the storm. Jesus made a choice to go through agony for the sins of His people. But in hindsight, part of me would ask...let this cup pass our family, please.

Still, when we got home after spending the day with Bran, I felt a sense of peace. I know he WAS spared in many ways. The young man that calmly sat there in faded brown and flat sneakers is not the same person who left our house that Friday night in a blind determination to be his own master at any price. Once again I thought to myself how I had prayed, "Lord, do whatever it takes to save him..." That prayer was answered in ways I could never have foreseen, and I'm glad. But I know I couldn't not have been alone through it-in another time and another place, a Father watched His Son have nails driven into His flesh and was forced to listen to His cries without being able to answer. I can't fathom it. Well, yes, maybe I can now.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

latest white letter day

Brandon wrote a long letter after not having written for some time, or it seemed like that was the case. I'll include the first page of his letter, which had some funny and well-written bits:


Ohh geez, I really should keep a log of what goes on. My memory is so damned poor, interesting things that go on manage to slip my mind. Let's see.....a guy I used to hang out with who made parole came back. Cased up with 20-40 years worth of armed bank robberies. That's too bad, 'cause he's a funny guy, tells a good yarn here and there. Just can't seem to keep himself under control. Perhaps late in my 11th year I'll catch a technical and pay him a visit...just kidding. (Mother feels several more gray hairs sprouting on her head. Sue)

Another casual acquaintance (Pete) lost his kitchen job and went to the Bucket over bogus contraband charges. They claimed he had a tattoo gun in the drop ceiling, something like that. Well, Pete appealed and demanded an inquest. He told them he had a documented permanent injury to his shoulder which would have kept him from climbing up into the rafters in the first place. It checked out, so the hearing examiner dropped the "unauthorized area" charge and even made a written testimony that Pete was physically unable to enter the area in question. Logic would demand that if you could not have possibly entered the crime scene, you either didn't do it, or you had an accomplice. None of the snitches made mention of any accomplices, they claimed he did it himself (the official paperwork stated all unnamed sources were inmate informants, I use the term "snitch" literally, not derogatorily). Somehow the contraband charge stuck, the hearing examiner contradicting his/her own belief that Pete was never in the unauthorized area. Pete went on to tell some funny stories about the only other time he was in the Hole, that is, Camp Hill about 10 years back. He was in the counselor's office on the phone with the DA or his attorney: "....yeah, the feds offered 280 years? Ok, let me think about that. Yeah, tell them to kiss my ass, yes the whole thing..." when he hears the distinctive foot falls of someone running towards him. He leans back out of the way and follows with a blind right hook, phone in hand. It was a guard, a sergeant in fact, by the name of Silver who had been giving him trouble most of his stay. Pete had knocked him clean out on the carpet with the phone. The only reaon Pete hadn't caught an assault charge was that the counselor testified the Sarge had attacked him unprovoked. Most likely because of his shame, the guard didn't press charges. While relegated to much SHU time, Pete caught himself a pet bird. Camp Hill's hole retains some of that old-world jail charm, that is, the windows have no glass. Sgt. Silver made sure he was the one to catch him with the bird. Didn't take long, during a round sarge saw the damn thing on the desk eating crackers....

Sarge: "Storer! What the hell is that? A bird? Is that a pet? Pets are against the rules!"
Pete: "No, he just flew in here."
Spanish guy next door through a hole in the ceiling: "Hey! Hey, meng, jou got a burd?"
Sarge: "He's eating crackers, you're feeding him!"
Pete: "No sir, he's stealing them."
Spanish guy: "Hey, pass off! Pass off de burd, meng!"
Sarge: "It didn't budge when I kicked the door, he's trained, so he'd a god damned pet!"
Spanish guy: "Jus' give uz de burd, meng, he won't see!"
Pete through clenched teeth: "He's staring right at me, giving me a write up!"
Sarge: "Who are you talking to? What's going on back there?
Other Spanish guy: "C'mon, meng! Quick!"
Pete: "Shut up!"

I suppose Pete would have "passed off" if he didn't think the Mexicans were going to turn the thing into wraps. Probably had a fire going already... "Why does my burrito have feathers? Heeyyyy!"

Well, that's the latest from cellblock S! We're going to visit tomorrow-the day is supposed to be clear a sunny. Here's to hoping!!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

group hug

I was asked by the leader of the 12 step group I'm a part of to share my story with the group-my recent history anyway. I belong to a group called Celebrate Recovery, and we do definitely name our Higher Power as Jesus Christ. It's been an interesting journey, a hard one in some ways, but one that isn't over yet. Coincidentally, or not so, my sister called me the other day and said she had been asked as well. She lives in Tulsa, OK, and was asked to address her church's congregation at large on Easter Sunday, which means 700 people and two services. I do not have to do that! She was asking me what I thought about what to talk about, and gave me her ideas. I think we came to the same conclusion independently-that you cannot live life without the help and support of other people who love you unconditionally.

My older sister and I are very close, even though I have three other sisters. Our bond is special because we shared a significant part of our family's history together and not too far apart developmentally. At that time period I think families tried to stay together and put a good face on for the world, even if there were severe problems within. The only thing Cleaver about our family was our lawn in summer, after us girls took turns with a two-wheeled push mower going up and down the grass like tag teams. My father refused to get us a power mower. He was an obsessive-compulsive with a drinking problem and who quadruple checked door locks and drove down the wrong side of the highway at times. I know my parents loved me, but the philosophy was basically that everything that happens to us stays within the four walls of our home. And some of it really, really should not have.

I thought the disease of alcoholism would escape our family and my children, but it did not, as well as the coping mechanisms and behaviors I learned to deal with my dad. My son's incarceration turned out to be one of the greatest mercies I've ever experienced. Because of that, he is still alive and forced to face his own habit in the most public way possible. It's undeniable, and after having lived with denial for my entire life, I can tell you that is a gift. I came in contact with my 12 steppers, who have saved my life, too. I was still operating in behaviors that I had no business being a part of. What I lost in childhood and gained back in group was my identity. I think my parents only knew how to handle a child from Pleasantville, and got a Gothic hairshirt deep-thinking and brooding loner who was constantly making messes and feeling things I could not articulate for fear of the reaction.

What I have learned in group is to accept and realize the miracle of the human condition. God didn't make perfect people. He made people to love Him and each other, because not one of us is complete without that. We all have giftings, missing parts, idiocyncrasies and weaknesses that suddenly, like pieces in a puzzle, fit into the people and places to which we truly belong. The scriptures say "bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ". My "groupies" do that amazingly, as do other people I'm meeting along this road. I'm thinking to start out my own story with the four friend in scripture who poked a hole in the roof of a house and lowered their paralyzed buddy down right in front of the Lord Himself, and it's no wonder love like that created a miracle.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

300th post

Well, this marks my 300th post since starting the Prison Mom blog. I guess in terms of blogs that is not much. But it is a reason to reflect back I suppose. Today I spoke with a radio executive about advertising my portrait art on the radio. I'm very excited, very anxious to make a real business of something I truly love doing. My son's old bedroom is now my art studio, and I want to make good on a promise that the room, the scene of Brandon's attempted suicide, would become a place of life and hope. I remember how I felt after that night, after he was taken by the police. I could not empty, clean and repaint that room fast enough. The police assumed I was trashing evidence. They really don't know women and mothers very well. Anyway, talking with the radio guy today, I felt such a sense of completeness and hope that my goal will be achieved.

And now, after a day of goofing around and doing my thing, it's time to really do my thing! Back to the studio!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

60 minutes

If I really reflect on my time and the things that happen in some very short space of it, I am truly amazed. The minutes pass by so very quickly and I forget even by nightfall or quicker what happened in the day. But yesterday, packed into the space of one hour of prison volunteering, more happened than my mind could comprehend.

I come without expectation and pray always that I'm used in that time however I need to be. I saw a parking spot right by the fortress and pulled up behind someone who was just getting out of her car. I stared for a second...it was another artist acquaintance of mine. I tried to quickly scan my mind as to why in the world she could be getting out of her car in front of the prison at 9 in the morning, and then I saw her face. She looked at me and a flicker of recognition came over it through the distress. I walked over to her, hugged her, asked what was going on-her son was arrested and she was terrified. I tried to calm her down, explained my own situation as we hurried up the stone steps to the front desk and told her to stay in touch.

I was already just a little nervous as usual-plus my partner was sick and so I was flying solo that morning through the series of metal doors. Male inmates were using the library area where our female 12 step group typically meets, so I had to set up in the GED room-not ideal. Guards continually walk in and out, it's noisy, annoyingly bright and seriously lacking in intimacy. It is hard to get the women to share openly in that situation, but they did. We went over Step 8, making amends, and got to talking about family, upbringing, parents...all of that. The sharing just blew me away. One woman was abandoned by both parents and the only stable adult she knew was a grandfather who was alcoholic and her drinking partner. Another was orphaned. Another was left by her mother, who moved to the West Coast and never sees her daughter. Call me old-fashioned, but behaviors like this don't even remotely cross my experience radar. Another was raised in a good home, but by the age of 20 has 5 children. Another was a college junior and fell into drug use. One young lady was visibly pregnant. How do you explain amends to women under the age of 30 with that range of relationship minefields?

After my hour was up, I walked out unable to even put a frame of reference around what I had just experienced. Believe it or not, one thing they did understand was a scripture in the old Testament book of Isaiah-"Come, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow..." I asked them what that meant to them, seeing that reasoning with God was a rather abstract concept. The one young lady said, "Oh, that means I can come to Him anytime with my problems and He'll listen". Whoa. I bet a Havard grad couldn't grasp that concept. What a world we live in. And that was only one hour.