Saturday, April 26, 2008

old ghosts

I realize going inside to help female inmates find their way free of addictions and issues really puts me on the spot in terms of "practice what you preach". I am flying solo now with new volunteers, and new format to our 12 step with the hope that we may be more effective doing things this way. It cost me a dear partner. But I have to forge ahead. I was nervous this morning thinking about how things would go, would women even come if we had a closed list for the group, will this work, are we shooting ourselves in the foot? But, the pieces of the puzzle were left in my lap, and as ministry leader I therefore was responsible to find an order to the day. BUT, not before one very huge and significant test.

I found out this morning that last night my youngest daughter was picked up for underage possession of an alcoholic beverage. My husband spared me getting the phone call, the pick up trip to the police station and any mental upset beyond that that would cause me not to sleep. When I spoke to him this morning, he related the events of the night before. Our daughter was at a friend's house, and swore she simply carried a lite beer to someone outside the house. She was immediately approached by an officer, asked for ID, questioned about her brother after he saw the name, and told her family was no good. What is wrong with this picture? If there was an offense, ok, we have a situation. I just wrote to a friend and told her not to become angry with law enforcement and prison issues, just detach and deal with the situation. And pray. And I really wanted to do none of those things when these facts were related to me. I wanted to pound the ignorant jerk who misused his authority and harrassed my 17-year-old daughter. Bully. And all this before 8 in the morning. Sigh.

I was furious. At first. Then what I have taught these women for a year began to kick in...take every thought captive. Find the way out from anger, don't react, respond. And just shoot a prayer up to heaven, "Lord, You know better than anyone about defamation of character and harrassment over Your family name. A little help here?" Immediately I saw faces in my mind, the faces of people who love me and would stand up for our family's honor at a moment's notice...chaplains, ex-inmates, CO's, friends, family, church family, bloggers...I know we have to deal with this situation, and we will. But now my mind is free of the poison someone else tried to inflict on it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

ugly again!

Yay, my program is BACK! I hate to admit an affinity for certain tv programs or the boob tube in general, but I missed "Ugly Betty" during the writer's strike. The first "new" episode was on last night. It is such a great, hilarious mixture of campy fun and somewhat serious issues mixed up in a delightful hourly extended Calgon moment, who can resist? Not moi!! Especially with such a fantastic cast. It is the story of an ugly duckling in the ultimate swan business, the fashion industry. A perfectly seasoned Judith Light (remember Who's the Boss, when Alyssa Milano had no chest?) portrays family publishing matriach Mrs. Claire Mead, who through convoluted plots twists wound up in prison for the murder of her rival and was subsquently proven innocent due to temporary insanity brought on by tainted perfume given to her by said rival...see what I mean?? Her son and transsexual daughter run the money making fashion rag, Mode. But Claire wanted a new start after prison and the death of her husband, and so started her own magazine aimed at aging women going through change, Hot Flash (a smart idea in real life-aren't you so tired of "skin"-tight, bare abdomens that seem to get longer and longer on magazine cover?? )

I watch for relaxation, escape, some fun...but last night's episode did have a real-life application for me. I am going through change, my daughter soon graduates, my son isn't due home for years and when he is he'll have his own life. I can't just sit around the house. Recent challenges have come up that at first I balked at, but I'm rethinking. Perhaps I think of myself in too narrow of terms, determined I can't do certain things, or never thought about it. The episode continued with Claire's son-turned-daughter Alexis pointing out that Mode had no more money to help with the launch of her magazine. She needed staff and had no money to hire them. She decides to call it quits, and runs into Betty in the ladies' restroom. Betty tries to convince her otherwise, telling her she need to use all of her resources, exclaiming, "I believe you can do anything...!" The scene ends with the reflected image of Claire putting her expensive earrings on Betty, who has a special date that night.

Cut to a scene where a group of nicely dressed women are sitting around a table with Claire talking to them about her magazine. Alexis peers in the room, takes her aside and reminds her she can't afford staff. Claire replied that she simply used her resources and hired ex-inmates through a government-assisted program. She said something to the effect, "... who better than these women to express the experience of change in a life? I was one of them, remember?" I thought to myself, that's right. That's right. Difficulty only changes the course of the river, and what an intimate and pointed reminder?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

the big net

I took some time yesterday to read some other blogs and see what's going on in lives not my own. I love running across people who paint such a great picture of their lives with words, the ordinary seems so alive! I think I tend to write "in the lines", close off the magic of the every day, especially things that appear to me to be not worthy of mention or extraneous details. I read JonsJailJournal daily, the continuing story of my friend and outmate, Shaun Attwood and his loyal troupe of bloggers. I enjoy and so appreciate my dear friend Pixie and her band of interesting friends, bloggers, commentors (find them at Sylph Nascency)...I spent a great deal of time reading one, Marmite Toasty-the daily adventures of a single English mum, her chickens Mabel and Janet, assorted cats and sons. Wonderfully silly and so real, homey and gracious. I think this woman should have her own book series and radio show, just reading what she writes in a divine "accent" (at least to me, a Yank). Some of these bloggers are so clever and witty-I love Wood Song and her verbal razor, sharp as any I've ever read, healing when it needs to be as well. From my perspective the mutual bond is the desire to find friends, family and friends of friends of inmates. Shannon Clark and Brett Hartmann are inmates-one I know, the other I do their stories!

In the life of one person usually home, usually unsure of what the future holds and too oft anxious about it, it is so great to have an ever-available window on this wide, wide and varied world of ours. And friends known and unknown who are at the touch of a keyboard. I did hear from Shannon yesterday-how lovely, and I hope that I may meet this one friend and his "fingers" and connection to the outside. I await a visitation form. It's funny how people you've never met can become some of the closest friends in your life. And some who are "close" get too distant (I'm going to have to mail a verbal lashing to that son of mine, chuckle...not really-I sent a great letter yesterday). Good lookin' out, mates!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

all's well that ends...

My prison partner quit, or made a decision not to accept a decision handed down from chaplains regarding our SAV ladies 12 step group. It was this woman who came in with me at first behind the metal doors, the land of trust I would never venture to explore alone. My friend with her sort of manly and brusque manner, cutting wit, and deep understanding of the nature of addiction. It was a match made in heaven, or the weird level that bring a Laurel and a Hardy together. A Burns and Allen. An Abbott and a Costello...or so we were tagged by one inmate. This post is for you, P...I will miss you.

Some favorite quotes: "Ship High In Transit", "AA stand for Anything Addictive", it's the ten commandments, not the ten suggestions, GRACE-God's Riches At Christ's Expense, I'm a mainiac (she was from Caribou, Maine)...I wish I could remember more. But it was always interesting-I never knew what would come out of her mouth.

Can't think of anything worthy to close with except that we have to decide now who's on first. It was always your game.

Friday, April 18, 2008

it's only words

I'm allowing myself one little pity party before I have lots of things to do and 1 1/2 busy days to get through (tonight and tomorrow). It's funny how words, the lack of them or the wrong ones, have the effect they do in our lives. Two friends I've not heard from with any significance in a bit of time longer than usual. Another is going on an extended trip-that friend struggles to maintain contact with even his own family due to work-related pressures. I lost a friend-no, not lost a friend, but in the actual context of weekly events, yes. We probably will not speak to each other or even write that often anymore because of circumstances that will separate us. I haven't received a letter from Brandon in weeks. Now I know tomorrow could bring those words I usually receive right back again, and I know, too, I must learn patience. And trust. But today seems hollow without them.

Meantime, I fill the void with my own words and let that be what I need today.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

identity theft

I can't help loving David, the second Israelite king and man after God's own heart. I just finished reading the book of First Samuel, and there are multiple lessons in it, but I think basically it is the tale of two kings. Both made good starts, both were humble men and unlikely choices for king according to their lineage (Saul was a Benjamite, a tribe that was almost destroyed in the book of Judges because of their gross immorality, and David had Moabite blood in his line). But there the comparison ends. Saul is a man I think anyone could identify with. He was the king of half-measures and self-protectionism. He did not carry out all God told him to do through Samuel the prophet. He did ok, but ok didn't cut it. Saul basically got two chances to do the right thing, and when the people began turning against him, he took matters into his own hands. The judgment for his disobedience was that the kingdom would be handed over to another person who would obey. The worst of it was that the Spirit of God left him and a tormenting spirit then haunted him.

So along comes David. David was not unknown to Saul at first-his brothers were in Saul's army, and after Goliath David became Saul's servant-he played music to soothe the torment he was in. But David's constant presence and obedience were the real torment to Saul. Because of him Saul tried to kill his own son, Jonathan, who was David's closest friend. Saul's reasoning powers left him repeatedly the more he tried to hold on to what was taken away from him and refused to accept that he was being replaced. All of First Samuel records Saul's downward slide until the witch at Endor. Samuel had died, and the Lord was not guiding Saul in any way. So Saul again took matters into his own hands and insisted a medium bring Samuel's spirit back from the dead to advise him. Saul disguised himself, and when the woman realized who it was, she was terrified. Samuel simply told Saul from death what had become true in life-the Lord had departed from him. The end of the chapter shows Saul and his sons slain in battle. Saul was beheaded by his enemies-the final lose of identity.

David was a man who did many bizarre things to preserve himself and his life, but the one thread travels through the narrative of David is that God is his focus. You cannot read about David and get away from that. David feigned madness, had his wife put a goat's hair dummy in his bed to escape his enemies at the palace, hid out in caves, hid out with the Philistines and even pretended to serve Achish, the king of Gath, his people's enemy (but actually he slew the enemies of Israel and brough Achish back the spoil without saying where he got it). Yet he never strayed from the knowledge and responsibility that he would one day be king, and took everything Saul dished out without killing the Lord's anointed. David recognized Saul's authority more than Saul did. Twice David could have easily killed HIS tormentor-once while the king relieved himself in a cave where David was hiding, and again when Saul was asleep in his own camp surrounded by his own men. In the first instance David cut off a piece of Saul's robe and the second time he stole Saul's spear and water bottle. Then he shouted from a distant hill to ask the king "Why are you trying to kill me?" And the answer would always come after Saul recovered his mind, "David, my son, is that you? Surely I have played the fool".

The thing is, if we deny who we are, what we were born to be, don't trust, run from the opportunities to show our true selves, we lose it all. Last night I was at a meeting with other believers from the prison ministry Providing Hope. We were in a public restaurant discussing business, but of course part of that was to open and close the meeting in prayer, and in between share truthfully about our desires for the group and to know what God wants from it. Out of the corner of my eye I recognized a man that I knew, an artist, and knew he must have seen and heard me. The thought crossed my mind, "my life is always on display". Just as Saul revealed his true heart in unguarded moments by deep regret, and David by deep reverence for his king, I hope that I will be a David.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


It seems like lately I have a calm assurance in my life, as much as I sometimes worry where it is all going. Yesterday reminded me of that. Our ladies prison 12 step was packed to max. It was so hot in the room where we met it was hard to sit still and concentrate. We began to implement a certificate program last week, which meant ladies who committed themselves to going through the entire program in three months or so because we do a step a week, and do homework, would get a certificate. All ten who came signed up. This week we had close to double that number and lots of new women. But I wasn't afraid. The meeting ran smoothly, and my partner and another volunteer pretty much let me take the helm. If this had been a year ago, the very thought would have sucked all the air out of my lungs. I remember feeling as redundant as a prom queen in the bowels of Hades the first time I ever came inside to volunteer, equally doubting my ability to speak at all as to have something significant to say. But not yesterday. God's Spirit moved in the room, and there was passion and connection, a certain knowing "I belong".

Right after the group ended I had artwork to deliver to our local Wyoming Valley Art League headquarters for their spring exhibit. I didn't know if anyone would be there, as it was early in the day and drop-off didn't start for another hour or so. Well, the acting president was there by herself hauling display racks and putting away chairs. I offered to stay and help, and listen to her complain about the lack of volunteers and organization in the group. I know this happens-I used to serve in several capacities. But deep down inside I knew I was there just to listen to Cathy. She needed someone to talk to. By the time I left we were laughing and sharing our latest art successes. I was proud to unveil my display pieces and she was asking me about technique. Somehow another place I knew "I belong".

Then home to the quiet and the computer. I logged on and looked at my mail, worked on some letters and wrote some things to close friends. Again that feeling of belonging just swept through me. I felt grateful to have this time, these friends, this life. I do worry about how we will survive, but I seem to remember someone saying, "consider the lillies of the field". My name, Susan, is translated "lilly". O ye of little faith... and I see looking back on my day, how true.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Life has changed me, being a prison mom, I'll admit. I think someone wisely said "normal is just a setting on a dryer". I can't take credit for that salient witty bit, but I live out the realization daily. And even more so as I strive to find my "normal" setting again. I decided I was getting too comfortable in my recovery group, among great people with great flaws, who know mine and don't question me unless I need them to, or ask them. So it was back to a ladies Bible study group, because after being a church greeter I came to the conclusion it is probably good to know people's names that come through the door outside of my "in" crowd. I'll admit, I felt nervous going. I decided to just sit quietly and listen before volunteering too much information. And the needs around the table were real enough including a young mother alone, my friend with an incurable auto-immune disease, divided families, handicapped children. I know no one leads a charmed life. Appearances are deceiving.

After a few weeks I sort of looked upon the last meeting that is coming up with a tinge of regret. And I did share about Brandon. Lesson questions made this inevitable if I were really to be honest and let these women in to my life. But something was mentioned last week that reminded me I'm not the same person I was three years ago. One mother mentioned that her daughter was in the habit of bringing home "weirdos", and lamented, "Why can't she bring home normal kids?" And she added descriptions-kids that wear all black, dye their hair, have multiple piercings, etc. My former pastor used to say it looked like Halloween at the mall every week, which always aggravated me. But to her credit, this mom said she needed God to hit her upside the head. She found a letter in her daughter's jean's pocket from one of the "weirdos" telling her friend she hated herself and wanted to die. When I hear things like this two courses of thought go through my head. First of all I want to attack, "how dare you be so harsh and have no idea where these kids come from...", and "I remember how I used to feel when my kids were small...why do you have to be with people who will probably hurt you". Both trains of thought are me.

What I did say to this mother was to be glad her daughter was such an obviously loving person so full of God that people who need it desperately are drawn to her. Jesus' version of this when asked why he hung around with known sinners was, "It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick". I've been in various stages of wellness and sickness, and I can tell you the people who love me in either case are the normal ones.

Friday, April 04, 2008

the realm of possibility

This is more the log of a spiritual journey than anything else, and so I relate the daily goings-on to my internal growth and what God is teaching me. Hopefully we're learning every day, becoming more and more the people we're created to be, and finding the joy of that becoming.

Last weekend my daughter, Rebecca, had her "coming out" art show. She's participated in shows before, but this was a small group show in a public gallery, which she planned as a part of her high school senior project. The only thing I really helped her with was framing, which would have been prohibitively expensive had she gone to a framer. It took months of planning and preparation. Beck was clearly in charge and the driving force. Her other friends did good work, but seemed merely along for the ride. I could not help but be proud. She's grown up with art all around her, but this is the kid who used to yell at me for having nudes drying on our screened in porch. I would simply turn them around so her friends couldn't see them.

The world is a funny place and judges human beings and their worth in strange ways. I didn't go into art as a career until I was an adult because my brain is so conditioned by culture to only see the value in things that are "practical" and reap a physical reward. Now I know we have to eat, but a huge hurdle in my choice was understanding that I was created to create. I don't know at this point if I would encourage my daughter to make the arts a career even now. It's a tough road to hoe and I have had to rely on the inner knowledge that my path is what it is beyond any circumstantial evidence to the contrary.

I'm reading Eugene Peterson's book about the life of the Israeli king David. I don't think there is a person alive who does not know the story of David and Goliath, even if they have never opened a Bible. The interesting thing about that story is this-the skinny red-headed Opie tramping around in the Valley of Elah that day was not supposed to do what he did. He was supposed to be delivering cheese to his big brothers the soldiers and go back to the sheep. No one wanted him. When Samuel went to his father Jesse's house to anoint a new king, he went through seven brothers and then asked the man, "Are there any other boys?" The father didn't find his youngest son worthy of mention. His brothers got angry with him at the cheese delivery. Goliath laughed in his face when David challenged him. But the only person on that fateful day who was fulfilling his destiny was a young boy wearing no armor at all, picking 5 smooth stones out of a creek. When everyone told him he couldn't, David knew he could because he was born to be a king.