Saturday, May 31, 2008


Well, time to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Hmmm....I'm looking down the converging railroad tracks of my ride into life's sunset. I turn 50 this year-just saying it is like saying, "ok, rigor mortis, here I come!" Chuckle. Not quite that bad, but simultaneously with that event comes my youngest child's high school graduation. In this liberated day and age, the glass ceiling notwithstanding, I still have a good chunk of baby boomer life left and I really don't think that includes cleaning the house every day. I stopped changing diapers a long time ago, and since there don't seem to be any in the immediate future (at least not proceeding from these loins), I need to GET A JOB! Sha-nan-na-na....I did follow the more traditional route of child-rearing, and so haven't really experienced full time employment in....ok, a long time. I've done a lot of things, but it's still like a big bag of puzzle pieces. Or like those metal shaving faces you put together with a magnetic wand. I still have piles of shavings and no clear picture.

It's ok-there's time to figure things out. I do have three children I'm so glad I had time for, a swing back to the college campus in my 30's which I have a great talent to attest to, and now there is yet another bend in the road through prison bars and all that goes with that. I need a magic eight ball or a diner table Genie. No, that got William Shatner wearing silly pants and then doing cheesy commercials. (Twilight Zone indeed!!) I've heard the scripture that talks about all things working for good being like having disparate recipe ingredients that mix into something delicious. I guess. Where's the mixer??????

Thursday, May 29, 2008

what might have been

Somewhere there's another land
Different from the world below
Far more mercifully planned
Than the cruel place we know

Innocence and peace are there
All is good that is desired
Faces there are always fair
Love grows never old nor tired

We shall never find this lovely land of Might Have Been
I will never be your king nor you shall be my queen
Days may and pass and years may pass
And seas may lie between
We shall never find this lovely land of Might Have Been

(The Land of Might Have Been-Ivor Novello)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

artists at arms

The pictures above represent two recent expressions of family artistic endeavor. The top is my left inside forearm, sporting new ink. The interior design is a symbol of my faith, and the outside add-on design represents my children. The roses are my girls, and the number is my son's inmate ID. The picture below my arm is a painting Becky did of her own arm, holding a Rubick's cube. I had to include the chair to the right to demonstrate the scale of this painting which Rebecca won an award for at our local Fine Arts Fiesta. The actual dimensions are 3 1/2 feet by 4 feet.

We're always up to our elbows in something creative!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

happy thoughts from hades

Most prison families in the course of incarceration become acquainted with the WONDER, the HORROR, the PHENOMENON...known as prison greeting cards (AAAAAHHHHHHHhhhhhh....insert an offline female scream....!!!!!) Yes, these overpriced gems of subliterary genius and artistic merit are so unbelievably...well, unbelievable, one could only imagine disgruntled employees of Hallmark being to blame (there must be a lesser known company in the shadow of the famous greeting card giant-Hellmark). I received just such a card from my son for Mother's Day, and I simply had to include images. Ok, the cover is acceptable cheap greeting card stock, though I can't imagine who else it would be for except "You". I did have a little trouble deciphering what was around the flowers. Still, you get the idea.

Ok, now proceed to the inside sentiment, "Telling you today what's true through the year-----
you're very special". Now this just can't leave my son's hands without embellishment, which cannot be read by looking at the images. Here we go, "Telling you today what's true through the year-----(where original writer died, mid-sentiment....), you're very special (...the hasty, feeble recovery by a lesser man, Monty Python-style voice over). And then Brandon adds, "What, is that supposed to a haiku? That's aweful, so bad in fact I felt 'awful' deserved an 'e' to add emphasis! Let's not order any more greeting cards from New Zealand, 'tis a silly and unimaginative place." The reason for the last line is because this little beauty was printed in New Zealand.

I have several other cards from male inmates that I treasure simply because they are my friends and because I know if these guys were on the outside they would die rather than send the pap the commissary seems wont to stock-price most certainly being a factor. But send them they do, and I do appreciate it. What might be one person's trash is another's treasure as the old saying goes. Love you, Bran. And your matchless wit.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

one day at a time......

The past two days have really been interesting and encouraging to me personally. I can never predict how a day will go-I don't have a 9-5, though I am busy and work, but how the pieces of life will arrange themselves on a given day I never can tell. Let's see-actually, Thursday afternoon I had an adventure. I have wanted to get the tattoo on my left arm added to, and thought, and though about it, until finally I called a shop and went to see the artist in charge. It took me a detour, two toll roads and an hour to get there, but I found it. I want to have symbols for my children added to the Alpha/Omega symbol for my faith. The shop was a little scary, as was the owner, but something told me, trust this man and do this. I don't know-maybe it's silly, but when it's a gut reaction, I usually do. So next Wednesday I get my ink. His work is amazing. And decently priced.

That evening my daughter and I went to our Fine Arts Fiesta-she got two awards for her work, which was enough in itself!! I was so excited, and so proud. Well, no sooner did we get there and peruse the art tents than I heard my name. A friend of mine was giving my art info to a couple looking for a portrait artist. They needed a job done for Sunday...well, since I'm the portrait ninja I took it! They told me later it was like a miracle-they found parking immediately and me, too! Chuckle.

The following day I was set to go to a "tea" for a maternity home opening, for young ladies needing shelter, which pretty much translates women out of rehab and prison, and one of my 12 steppers was there. She looked radiant. But before going there, I did the portrait job and ran to get it shrink-wrapped so I could give it to my clients after the tea. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to see this young gal doing so well and in the "arms" of people who just want to help. There were county commissioners in attendance, state reps, religious leaders and volunteers of all stripes, connecting the dots of need with assistance. This is so exciting!!

My clients loved the piece, and on I went to a Celebrate Recovery meeting. It was great to be with my recoverying "homies", do music and share in group with them. Without these dear people in my life I do not know what I'd do. There are always tears of relief, gratefulness and thanks for each other and the love, prayers and concern for each other. I thought of the past hours of my life, how many conversations, situations and places I went that I would not have had I not had the confidence I do now, thanks to God and my friends.

And finally this morning...meeting with my "girls". I always pray for open doors, and we got them, literally. I had to go up on the block to be with them because our usual room was being taken by a magistrate. Two women came down, and there was some mix-up about the list, so the COs in charge offered to let me go up, and I have no block clearance. I did, and we all just sat on the cement floor outside the cells and had our time. I love those ladies and the time I spend with them.

I guess this is a slice of Sue's life, and I'm grateful for it!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

inside out

I have forgotten over time how being a prison mom has changed my life and what happened to get me here. Sometimes it takes seeing how other people I care about are potentially affected in their own lives, tangled up with a child, a relative, a spouse, lover or friend inside. The world I lived in suddenly became a really dangerous and unpredictable place. I think of the premise of the movie Poltergeist, how insulation of suburbia is an illusion. It could potentially be the gateway to hell. My home, which I worked very hard to make a safe place, suddenly harbored criminal intent and activity, whether that was truth or not. Brandon wrote in his latest letter to me asking about his personal possession still at home, "I also had a Ronson Superlighter given exclusively to Korean War vets. Sucks that the cops would take my little curios. Shouldn't bother me, but it does". That zoomed me back in time to the day I watched people I did not know go meticulously through my son's possessions and take stuff, and there was nothing I could do about it. They just took.

At that time I never knew what the next phone call was going to be, what I should say, what I should do, who to ask, who knew, what was wisdom-I was terrified in my ignorance and supposed cocoon of safety. Months of that pressure began to work it's effect. Emotionally I was coming unglued. I needed to find help. I think I went through the stages of grieving without putting a name to it all. But I needed shoring up, and I needed to learn to trust with greater strength and energy than I ever had needed to in the past. The safety net was there-I just had to be willing to fall, and I clung to everything I thought I had with all my strength until there was no more.

I still feel mistrustful of authority, still look over my shoulder a little and am extra careful and cautious in ways I wouldn't have been before. There is an innocence lost. Most of my son's possessions either found their way to a garbage can, are rotting in the local police station or I think were sold, at the least the really valuable stuff. It's only stuff, but like Bran said, it still bothers me. At the time it devastated me. My life isn't the same, and my heart is on my shirt for those who have suffered and are suffering as we have.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

correction officer's appreciation day

This was the official poster inviting COs and prison employees to a special day just for them sponsored by the prison ministry I work with, Providing Hope. I am the ministry's administrative assistant, which I think is just a fancy term for someone who does odd jobs and busy work. That's fine. I have fun when I can, and I had fun with this. Honestly, I know anyone who has a loved one incarcerated, is incarcerated, works in the prison system, has to deal with it...knows that it isn't a pleasant business. The people who call themselves DOC or in this case, LCCF, employees, can be just as brutal as their surroundings, or add such grace to them, and every shade of grey in between those walls. At Providing Hope, we depend on these employees to work with us, and we in turn desire to help them, not make their job harder, and so we don't judge them, just try to give them every reason to let us do what we can.

I was told that when the employees saw this poster up in the prison, it was taken down and pictures were added. That made me laugh! I guess they really loved it. And they certainly loved the cook-out spread that was provided for them. The guys kept coming back for more, taking covered plates back inside, telling their co-workers to come out. It was gratifying. I was the bun lady. I kept laying them out on a tray, and it seemed as soon as I did, they were gone. Friends of the ministry donated delicious salads and desserts. The potato and macaroni salads were to die for, as was this pineapple whippy cake thing. It was a good day all around.

When I went in on Saturday, the CO at the desk was one who came to the picnic, and he could not say enough about it, kept thanking us over and over. Then when we went into group, we had this great female guard who participated with us, smiled and encouraged the women in the group, and really added so much to what we were doing instead of sitting there like she was miles away. The men and women who staff jails and prisons go back day after day to a place devoid of much in the way of "curbside" benefits. It's an ugly place to be. We try to make it less so. Thanks to the staff of LCCF for letting Providing Hope do just that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

windexing my perspective

I've just come through a week where I could not seem to control my racing thoughts, my heart rate, my feelings of uncertainty and fear. There seemed no apparent reason for it, so I went to see a dear friend who is also my sponsor, and sometimes you just have to lay it out on the table for another person to look at and tell you, so that's why...I couldn't see it. Don't we, as moms and women, take it all in? Like taking in the whole world's dirty laundry and mending, to return it in neat, sweet-smelling and nicely fixed piles. We try to be like the elves in the children's story of old, working all night to help the poor shoemaker and his wife. I don't recall anyone paying the elves. It's just what we do.

But sometimes that laundry has to stay in another person's basket. I can't do it-it isn't mine to do. People say "let go and let God"...but I feel like I'm in a tug of war with Him. Ok, God, here you go-rip!! Oops, guess I didn't quite let go of that one and made quite the mess. The old saying goes, little foxes spoil the vine. I keep those little foxes in their own house, I think, with hammocks and fox kibble. Geez, why can't I just not worry? Let all those problems work themselves out. I can't force even my own kids to think like I do, or do what I do. So it's back to being reminded for the millionth will work out, really. And if it doesn't, it will work out somehow.

I just read that the universe is actually geared to opening ten doors when one closes, making kaleidescopes out of our broken pieces, giving us five new blossoms for every one that fails to open...really, I do know that. His mercies are new every morning. Mercy triumphs over justice in the end. Love finds native soil anywhere a heart keeps on beating. Daisies push through concrete, tiny droplets of water carve a coastline, faith the grain of a mustard seed moves the mountain when my words and actions cannot. I know I've written about her before, but there was once a lady with a bad reputation who broke a perfume bottle at the feet of a man and everyone around Him said, "Don't you know what this woman is, and the perfume could have been sold to feed the poor?" What they didn't do, as she did, was understand what the moment required and what was truly valuable. It was to focus their attention on the King in their midst. I put out fires with a sprinkling can, when Living Water is always available.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

bits and pieces

This is a long-awaited piece of inmate art from a cellie of Bran's. He decorated an envelope for my daughter. Pretty imaginative and cool. I thought old mom might get one, too, but I guess it took so long to do this one, I'm not going to hold my breath. Brandon is fine. He wrote me recently in a letter that he was flipping through channels and came across Ben-Hur on TCM. Our favorite actor is the man who portrays Pontius Pilate. We call him "pompous Pilate"-when this guy drops his hankie to start the famous chariot race, his face fairly defines arrogance. A funny moment remembered. Last week he was watching blacksploitation movies.

As Bran's stay lengthens, memories are happening and time is going by. Beck went to her senior prom and graduates in a few weeks. Life gets busier-the group at the jail is tightening up and I'm learning to be a leader. I still can't believe I'm there voluntarily, sharing their tears and fears, hopes and shattered dreams, things lost and reclaimed, while living through our own life's drama.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but for today, life keeps happening.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

first. hospital.

Last Tuesday was a milestone of sorts. I went back into First Hospital, the first stop of my son's journey into incarceration. He tried to commit suicide after being responsible for his best friend's death, and First Hospital takes and treats suicides. But this time I went in with a friend I know in Celebrate Recovery who gained entry into the hospital by offering a community outreach program, informing the patients of services in the community available to them after they leave. It is rare to go a full 28 days any more. Insurance does not guarantee a month of treatment. Usually it's a week to ten days, not enough for most people in that condition. Or transfer to another facility with no guarantees of any particular length of treatment. So community programs become a huge part of recovery. But we'd like to see everyone come to CR. It is all inclusive, the person struggling, their families, all are welcome, all are helped. But if someone had told me three years ago I'd be back in that place I dreaded driving to every day while Bran was there, I'd have looked at them like they had three heads.

And there I was, explaining the program to the men and women who had gathered in a dayroom, one very similar to the one Brandon sit in, in thin-soled slippers. When we came to visit, we brought food and some of the loud family atmosphere with us to our son, but somehow that place, and the reality of the situation would leech out the color of the moment and turn it to a faded memory. He sat, comprehending and uncomprehending, trying to be with us, but knowing his fate at the end of a few short weeks. Arrest, incarceration, no guarantees of the mandatory six years being the end. And now I come in offering hope. I can tell them the journey isn't easy, as real life isn't easy, but it is real, and there is life beyond addiction, a bottle, the drama, a life beyond being broken in all the wrong ways. It isn't perfect, but it is theirs for the taking and the making-different this time around.

I don't know if what I said made any difference to them, but it has made a difference to me-all the difference. And I don't know what my son will be when he returns. I just know I've changed. I've grown, and the tragedy of it all has become a rock to climb up and over to a higher view of my life. It looks out into the lives of other people more clearly, and pulls them up, too.

Friday, May 02, 2008

just blowing off steam...

Well, one good thing about having a blog is that you can vent, spill, explode and tirade verbally, feel better, and the flying pieces of word glass fall into an inert universe and remain suspended, not really finding a mark as those spoken might. I understand now that there is a reason God did not write the world into existence, He spoke and it was. The spoken word has tremendous power. The written word does as well, but somehow not the same impact. At any rate, I feel safe here saying my piece and moving on.

Seems like lately I've had a very hard time distinguishing between what I perceive as personal affronts and people just being themselves. I guess I can be sensitive and full of pride, and I sometimes can't tell when my feelings are telling me speak, or they feel ignored like naughty children and need to start a fire or blow something up to be heard. In more than one situation, I felt like the relationship warranted more than was done. It was more or less a case of people in my life making decisions and just expected the outcomes to be accepted without any argument, discussion or apparent thought to how it might appear, be received (or not)...and in those cases I tend to feel like a hysterical female. I resent the apparent misuse or careless use of authority or power, and not even when it comes to people in an official capacity. A case in point-an organization my husband and I are a part of needs church cooperation to exist, and therefore pastoral support. We approached a long time pastor and friend regarding starting a group in his church. We waited to hear anything, and waited and waited, and finally we had to set a deadline. Nothing was apparently being done. When the decision was made, we were not told. We heard through another party who really has nothing directly to do with it. I don't know how to view that. Did he have to tell us directly? No. Being that we've known the man at least 15 years, and a large portion of that was spent serving in his church, it would have been nice. I'm not sure I get it. While I guess it was right for him to act as a pastor first, a one line e-mail would have meant so much. Huh? And now that we are doing this group, and going to be working with him, I feel a pinch of resentment. Should I say something? Should I let it go?

Another situation happened that again, I I being overly sensitive? A person in a leadership position, where I also serve under this individual in a leadership role, had to leave the post due to job concerns. It was a blow to everyone, but understandable. We all expected this person to be gone for a length of time and tried to recover and move forward. Well, he reappeared and was back in the saddle without any of our leadership team knowing except one person (the acting person in charge). I don't know why, but that made me so angry, as though our voices didn't matter. It was just the idea-include us in the decision-making and don't assume things. I'm glad this person is back, but things changed while he was gone. The group was out of balance and needed a more even distribution of authority. I didn't respond, I reacted, but part of me feels those emotions were warranted and now I'm nervous serving under him again.

Two situations came up where my youngest daughter received a summons to appear before a magistrate. In both there may be some valid cause, but it still feels like the letter of the law triumphing over the spirit, and there is more to both situations. In one the officer misused power most definitely, and in the other, the whole picture is not being viewed, I feel (the summons was from her high school because of tardiness). Yes, I agree the situations need to be addressed, but in the latter case, this is a kid with a 3.5 average who has one month of senior high left. Sigh. Is appearing before a magistrate really necessary?? In my view as a mother, she's my youngest, probably the hardest working of my three kids and the only one who will walk the graduation stage because the other two blew it off. If this summons for tardies jeopardizes that walk, I will be crushed. Part of me wants to scream at this high school "keystone kop", geez, give a mother a break! But he's only doing his job.

So I don't know...I'm sort of out of kilter, wanting to do right, wanting to be generous in spirit, understand and respond instead of react, but that can be hard. I need help to see clearly, and sometimes writing does that for me.