Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Just What I Needed!

Have you ever had a prayer answered just at the right time in just the right way?  That happened to me in November 1991 when I least expected it.  I had married in May of 1990.  We had our first son a year later in May 1991 and in November of 1991 I was already pregnant again with our second child and was clearly in a failing marriage.  My husband was alcoholic and on a regular basis did not even bother to come home.  I was providing all the income, he was drinking what ever income he made.  I didn't know what to do, because really everything I said or did just seemed to backfire.

It was real clear in my mind what I wanted.  I wanted to have a complete family, I wanted my children to know their father, I wanted to have a husband who was present and I wanted to get back to church. I grew up  going to church but in my adult life I had let my career trump everything and distanced myself from church.  Now with a budding family I wanted my children to know the comfort and feel the security of a church family, as well as learn the many teachings of the Bible.  I just didn't know how to get back, as I had been gone so long (almost 20 years).  I wondered if I would be judged.  I wondered if I could catch up with all the years I missed.  In some ways I felt like the prodigal daughter.

Funny how things happen and the Lord works out the details.  I met with several of my relatives for dinner in that November of 1991.  I brought my infant son and had no idea where my husband even was that evening.  I was just glad to be having dinner with family.  We met at the Galleria in Dallas, ate at El Fenix, sitting right by the ice rink.  I remember it so well.  The occasion was my cousin and her husband had just moved into the mid-cities area and her parents were in East Texas and they had other relatives in from Tennessee.  We couldn't miss an opportunity for all of us to visit.  As we were eating we started discussing the reason for my cousin's move to the area.  Nancy and her husband, Sam, a Baptist minister, had decided to start a new church.  Not just any church, but a church for seekers, a church for the unchurched, a perfect place for me to begin again!!  A pl├áce to bring my family.

They told me their plans.  I knew it would be quite a trek over to the mid-cities from Garland but that didn't matter to me.  They invited me to be part of the core group and help them start the church.  In on the planning...how I loved that idea.  And, what a journey it was.  I learned so much, felt so loved and accepted and was thrilled my boys were learning the Bible and had the delight of being surrounded by fellow Christians.  I've got to hand it to Nancy and Sam, they had a vision, a mission, if you will, and they made it happen with the Lord guiding them the whole way.  Now just over twenty years later Nancy and Sam have written a book.  The name is Bear Valley and Me - Married To A Church Planter by Nancy & Samuel W. Carmack, Ph.D.

What made this church so different is the way it welcomed seekers.  People knowing they wanted more in their life but unsure how to approach the church.  The long established churches quite often seem cliquish, more like a country club environment....how does someone break into that?  How about the human condition...how does someone feel welcome when they have been through so much life, not always doing what a church goer might do?  What if they don't know anything about the Bible and its teachings, would they be ostracized?  Those are all things that were taken into consideration when forming this new church.

The book is written from Nancy's perspective as she kept copious journals throughout the experience.  She shares with us her trepidations, her personal growth, her lowest moments and her greatest moments.  This book is written with so much authenticity and intimacy I just wanted to go running to my cousin and give her the biggest hug for giving me something to read that I could relate to in all areas of my life.  To top it off,  Pastor Sam made comments and provided us with additional learnings throughout the book.  So, we have the journey from a husband and wife perspective, what a rare insight they have provided for us.

I am not going to tell you anything else...go get the book and see what you think and how it relates to your own life... it's available on Amazon.  It reads like a letter from your best friend.  If you have ever read any of Nancy's blogs you will know just what I mean!  Then come back and tell me what you think.  I am open for discussion and would encourage it.  If there were more churches like Bear Valley, we would have a different world.  I believe that.

Happy Reading!



Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks - All Shapes and Forms!

One of the most extraordinary experiences I ever had in my life was Thanksgiving in prison.  Stripping us of all that we have certainly gives way for clearing the clutter and provides the opportunity to really know what is important.  I must admit I have taken things for granted a time or two.

I was recently reading a wonderful Thanksgiving blog by David Protess, President of Chicago Innocence Project.   It brought back so many memories of this day.  In 2007, following my September wrongful conviction I remember waking up in Dallas County Jail on Thanksgiving morning.  I felt sad beyond belief, Thanksgiving had always been one of our favorite family holidays.  I could not imagine going through this day without my loved ones.  I don't think I could have endured the thought of 2 more Thanksgivings like this, thinking I would be out on an Appeals bond in no time.  I suppose it is good we are protected from knowing the future.  It allows us to walk slowly through our life experiences and perhaps find something we might not have seen otherwise.

Indeed, that day I found some jewels to place in my treasure chest.  When I started circulating that morning in the Day Room which was shared by 32 women I began to pick up the festive mood.  Everyone was excited, this is the one day we were allowed a meal with "meat on a bone" meaning real meat as opposed to a soy pattie.  But more than that I began to pick up a family feeling.  With all our divergent backgrounds we had been creating a family, one that would be strengthened by that days events. 
 
As I walked around talking to several women I found many were engrossed in the studies of their Bible.  It seemed even more than usual.  One woman from the streets, a beautiful lady really, informed me that they purposely get arrested this time of year so they have food and shelter.  Hmm, I never really thought of that possibility for the homeless but it made sense I suppose.   Another told me they just wish society would be kinder when they got out, as they really did want to work an honest job but nobody would hire them.  People were really opening up that day, more so than I had seen in the two months prior, talking about their feelings, their hopes, their lost families.  Perhaps I was just more open that day too, allowing myself to feel so many raw feelings of my own.
 
But what struck me even more was what happened about an hour before we had dinner.  All the women started scurring around this enormous room gathering each other, holding hands and forming an enormous circle.  Then a song of praise started with some of the most beautiful voices I had ever heard.  The ceilings were two stories high and the accoustics were amazing.  When the song ended one of the women said to the group we would pray together, going around the circle giving each person a chance to add to our prayer of thanks.  And do you know what each person prayed about?  You might think it was freedom, release, money....not any of that.  Every single person there prayed for others...for family members, their children, their husband, their mom and dad, neices, nephews and each other.  They prayed for their loved ones' safety, growth, health and happiness.  They asked God for His presence in our lives as well as theirs.  And some actually thanked God for being locked up so they could get away from drugs and all that was bad in their lives.  It was a humbling and most loving experience and brought us all so close.  There were a lot of tears, a lot of smiles.  God's love was so evident.  We sang old hymes together, remembered from our church days.  And a couple women with exceptional singing voices did solos...the power of God in that room brought nothing less than awe.
 
Today, as I cook our turkey and sit at the table with my loving family to share our dinner I know I have been enriched by this experience and I know in the many prisons and jails across our Nation the people who have been silenced, many forgotten, are right now holding hands, praying for us and singing praises.  Perhaps we can find a place in our hearts to pray for each of them and for a better tomorrow.
 
 HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Power of Participation

This past Thursday, April 5, I had the honor of accompanying Nate to the Special Olympics, Track & Field Event.  Nate has not attended for several years now and we thought we'd give it our best.  When his brother, Brandon, dropped us off, Nate jumped right out of the car and we happily walked hand-in-hand together.  Nate came to right outside the track where his school was camped out and turned around and started running back toward the parking lot.  I haven't seen Nate run in years so already the exercise was beginning (for both of us!).  A few of the teachers (and it took a few) helped me bring Nate back.  We had to do a whole bunch of sweet talking.  Nate does not like crowds of people, new experiences or lots of noise and activity.  I really wanted him to give it a try, for him to know he was safe and quite able to get through this.  Had he escalated we would have had Brandon come pick us up but it wasn't necessary after all and Brandon was able to go on to his college classes for the day and return in time to help Nate in his last event.  Once we were able to get Nate seated one of his teachers pulled out several books.  Nate has always loved books.  He loves to read and he loves to have someone read to him so we were able to create comfortable territory amidst all the activity.

Besides all the teachers, teachers' aids, parents and students there were many volunteers.  At Nate's school they have a leadership class that spends time with the students in Nate's class on an individual basis.  They are called "pals" and have brought much happiness to Nate during his school days.  These pals helped prepare Nate for the Track & Field events by going on long walks together through the halls of the school, including up and down the stairs.  In addition, they worked at throwing balls which was also one of Nate's events.  Sometimes they all cook together and other times read.  Nate has really responded well to this program and has become more interactive as a result.  You can see them in their green shirts at the event.

Nate had a tremendous day at Special Olympics, accomplished a lot and walked out of there with confidence I haven't seen in years.  Nate doesn't seem to have a competitive nature whatsoever but he was very proud of his medals and wore them throughout the weekend.  In fact today he chose to wear them to school.  Giant steps!  What some people would consider baby steps are enormous for these kids and young adults and we celebrate every one of them along the way.  What a gift, to be a parent to each of my two guys...Nate and Brandon.  Following are a couple pictures from that day.


Nate with volunteer about to start 25 meter walk.




Nate coached by Brandon on his tennis ball throw.
You can see Nate wearing his medal from 25 meter walk.

On the back of some of the kids t-shirts was a great saying: 
 "God please let me win and if not, give me the courage and strength to finish."


Beautiful kids, beautiful day.

A real inspiration.


Monday, February 27, 2012

'Tis The Tax Season

I remember about 15 years ago listening to a sermon by Pastor Sam.  He said something that caused me to sit up straight and listen.  It was a very simple message.  If you are working for someone who is dishonest or has dishonest practices, then leave and find an honest job.  What and whom we associate with will form who we are.  I have learned over my many years that boundaries are vital, in our personal relationships as well as our business relationships.

Another friend and very wise person once said "be careful who you walk with, for those that are dirty will eventually explode into a million pieces and you will get dirty."

Well, it had taken me a year and half to find a full time job with one of these tax services.  I will not mention the name here, but what I saw and heard I knew was not good.  "Come on in" they would say, "we will get you the best tax refunds."  Preparers were given instruction to reduce self employment income or increase expenses or deductions to maximize tax credits.  I was not a preparer, but only a processor so I told myself that is not me.  Then the phone calls started rolling in from unhappy customers.  Those who said there was education credits on their return when they did not go to school.  Or dependents were taken off and other things substituted without their knowledge.  The fear in me just grew exponentially over night, to the point I felt paralyzed.

This past Saturday, I said, NO MORE.  Go out and find an honest job.  Even though I wasn't making those entries into tax returns I was at a place with dishonest practices.  PERIOD.  My pastor and my wise friend were right.  I cannot be associated with that sort of behavior.  I set my boundaries and resigned, effective immediately.  As a result of what I saw I want to point out things to watch for so that you will not become prey to those looking to make a quick tax preparer fee as you travel through the maze of tax preparation.

Number ONE and a very big ONE.  The taxpayer is responsible for everything in their return.  If there is something done improperly, credits taken or deductions/expenses unsupported, it is the taxpayer who will pay interest and penalties and perhaps face tax fraud charges.  So be aware of every entry to your return and make certain you have a copy of what was actually submitted (most often it is an electronic submission these days).  If the electronic submission is rejected by IRS, the tax preparer may decide to fix internally without ever contacting you.  That is okay if there is just a keypunch error they are correcting but not okay if they are juggling things in return without your knowledge...to make it look as though you have a refund similar to what you remember but not the same details as you provided at your meeting.

Beware of anyone who says they will get you the best deal.  Tax refunds and tax returns are not "deals" to be negotiated or tweaked.  They are, in fact, exactly what they are.  They are an historical accounting of what transpired financially in the prior year.  Nothing more and nothing less.

Never go to a preparer whose fees are a percentage of your refund.  They are definitely motivated to help themselves, possibly at your expense.  When filing a tax return, there are no contingency winnings, there are no risks to take.  Your return is exactly what your prior year economics spelled out to be.  Watch out for those who suggest you take "aggressive tax strategies".

Take a close look at your tax preparer.  Is this someone you would want representing you at the IRS should problems arise or a tax audit be required by IRS?

If the "tax office" feels sleazy, then it probably is sleazy.  You are not at a used car sales lot.  You are placing your most confidential information in the hands of somebody you most definitely need to be able to trust.  Protect yourself, put your sleaze antennas on, ask a lot of questions.  If they are evasive in their answers, or don't seem to have answers, that is a sign of someone not qualified to do your tax return preparation. 

In staying with the new title of my blog....Treasures of the Heart.  Take care of yourselves and your loved ones.  Only surround yourself with those who are honest and trustworthy in all of your dealings.  Be prudent and do your due diligence.  If you find yourself in a dishonest situation, remove yourself immediately.  While treasures of the heart refer to those things that are heavenly, how we live on earth really does spell out our priorities.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Thoughts At Christmas

Each year that goes by it seems I get more nostalgic, more appreciative and full of wonder.  As one of my ex-clients used to say "Yes, Audrey life is much simpler when one is less wealthy."  Well, simpler in some respects, less cluttered, maybe?  It seems, for me, my senses are more keen, might be a function of living in survival mode.  I have come to enjoy moments that I previously didn't behold, maybe I was going too fast or had too much piled into my days.  Here are some of my favorites:
  • The sweet smiles, belly-laughs and words coming from Nate, my special needs son, who I was told when he was just 5 years old he was "rather hopeless" and would "probably just need to be institutionalized."  He is now 20 years old and one of my greatest pleasures in life.
  • Watching Brandon become a fine young man, as he works, goes to college and plays the keyboards in a band called "Set The Sun".  He wants it all and is reaching for the stars.  He is not afraid to state his opinion or ask a question when things don't make sense.  He portrays strength, determination, yet still has a place for acts of kindness.  He recently bought me a peppermint mocha at Starbucks, now that is kindness!
  • My husband's resolve to get up each day, move around when his body screams "NO".  It warms my heart to see him fight hard for a certain quality in his life.  And regardless of the pain he can always find room for one more joke.
  • All the people who have never left my side (or that of my family's) through the tough times.  These people have helped when we have needed help, sometimes that help took the form of a word of encouragement, a quoted Bible verse or a heartfelt hug, other times much more.
  • The people at St Andrew's Methodist Church, the Seven Loaves Program, who open their arms to us and always call Nate by name.  They include us in their prayer circles and thank God for the opportunity to serve us.  Nate usually sings through their prayers while I silently include my thanks to God for their being there and pray for the day when I can pay forward.
  • I am grateful for the fine people of Project: Not Guilty who stand behind me on my case and give great encouragement and support.  Likewise for those in the Innocence Project (Texas and Chicago) who provide insight and encouragement even though my case is non-DNA.   I pray also for the day when I am able to give back by helping those in the same predicament (or "pickle" as my husband once called it).
  • I love the childhood memory of growing up in Maryland and eating snow ice cream, dancing around the Christmas tree and sitting quietly by the fireplace....just feeling the warmth and security of our home, family and faith.
I notice this year the outside Christmas decorations seem more sparkly, the colors of Christmas seem more vibrant and the Christmas songs more touching.  We have one Christmas decoration up this year.  It is this beautiful wreath made by my dear and talented friend Michele Mosser.  She made it for us in 2001 and it is still shining brightly.  I tried to take a picture of it to show you but the picture didn't begin to portray its beauty so you'll just have to come see it and stay for a cup of coffee!

Now here is a Christmas picture from the past, one of my favorite places (for Nancy, get out your magnifying glass - there is a manger scene in there):


May the spirit of Christ be with you as you celebrate Christmas and head into the New Year!

Love to each of you,
Audrey

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy Wall Street - Lessons From The Past

The Occupy Wall Street protests are bringing back memories of a different time, one I'd like to share with you.  There are obvious differences between these two movements and there are parallels that cannot be ignored.

On a cool, crisp spring day, April 4, 1968, I had retreated into our basement in our Maryland home.  I was 13 years old and loved to sew.  Our sewing machine was set up in our comfortable family room.  With a finished out basement it was like living in a two story home.  Our old Singer sat on the old red card table.  With iron and ironing board close by and the cutting board splayed across the floor I was busy creating new summer outfits.  Along side me was our radio.  It was tuned to WPGC and I was listening to all the hits of the day with Wolfman Jack as the radio announcer (this was years before he became syndicated).  Wolfman was asking us to call in our requests.  The Vietnam War was in full swing and many of the songs on the radio reflected the sentiments of the war.

Then all at once the radio program was interrupted to report the shooting of Martin Luther King.  I had some knowledge of the civil rights movement as my civics teacher had included MLK and his work in our class lectures during that school year.  I remember how she introduced this subject.  On a little record player she had brought from home she played The Young Rascals song People Got To Be Free.  A presentation I will never forget.

I knew what I had just heard on the radio about MLK was tragic and important.  I ran upstairs to tell my mother.  Later that evening, our family gathered around our little black and white television as the facts unfolded.  His violent death rocked the entire nation, riots were shooting up everywhere.  What scared me the most was the riots and looting were heavy on the Washington DC/Maryland line.  We lived just seven miles south of DC, across Branch Ave. from Andrews Air Force base, in a small town called Clinton.  But, even worse, my mom worked in the office of a retail store called Woodward & Lothrops, located right on the DC line.  My mom felt she needed to continue to go to work and believed she would be safe. But as the riots and looting continued and fanned out, the area where she worked became questionable.  My dad called her at work and insisted she come home while we all waited impatiently for her.  She returned to us safe and we were relieved.

What then transpired after the days of rioting subsided were buses and buses from all over the country bringing black people to DC.  They came as a memorial to MLK, they came peacefully out of respect for MLK's life works and they came to make peaceful demonstrations on the need for government intervention in civil rights.  Their methods were a way of honoring and progressing MLK's messages.  Demonstrating the need for action now.

Shantytown was constructed surrounding the long Reflection Pool between the stately Lincoln Memorial and the towering Washington Monument.  It was made up of tents and lean-to open room shacks set out to house those who were bused into DC.   My parents took our family to see Shantytown.  We climbed up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and looked out toward the Washington Monument.  As we looked over the quiet and orderly temporary town built within the nation's capital my father said to us "Look carefully and remember.  I want you to see this, as history is being made today."  I remember tears coming to my eyes, I was touched.  There before me represented a great deal of pain and determination.  My dad further explained, good people were standing up for themselves, asking for equality and justice.

Their purpose was to get both houses of Congress and the President to take notice and understand the importance and power behind the long needed changes in legislating civil rights for all.  They were perhaps the greatest and most convincing lobbyist of our time, a formidable power.  It was past time to place the Constitution of the United States, as agreed upon by our founding fathers, into play for all citizens.  In this case, laws were needed to direct social issues, ensure equal opportunities and treatment,  and eventually move stubborn attitudes that had persisted since the days of slavery.

As a result over the next several years, there was an outpouring of civil rights legislated and affirmative action programs initiated....and change occurred at all levels.  It is still far from perfect, but there have been great strides.

There were vital aspects of this movement that made it successful.  The people were speaking from their hearts, they were determined, they were highly organized with very specific goals and they approached our country's lawmakers with the greatest respect, even when they were not entirely trusting of those people who had been voted into place.

Our current day OWS have some legitimate complaints, our country has long been in economic crisis and we cannot go on as we are.  We are sorely in need of Congress working together rather than all the political posturing we see.  We agree there cannot be waste of our tax dollars.  This past weekend we saw many people joining this movement who have spent a lifetime working hard and have lost everything.  So many people are unemployed who want to work, they are not looking for handouts.  They are demanding answers, they are demanding opportunities.  They are demanding our country work together to resolve these outstanding issues.  Yes, there are many individual agendas, there appears to be some disorganization but they could learn from the days that followed MLK's death, from a movement that was peaceful, organized and clear about what they wanted to see change. 

One of their biggest complaints is that of greed.  It is my humble opinion they will get nowhere with that approach.  Greed has existed since the beginning of time....its there in the Bible.  Further, are the wealthy people and corporations being greedy or are they operating within the boundaries which have been set out by our laws and maximizing profits as called for in their purpose and agreement with stockholders?  Have we forgotten the massive numbers of charitable organizations funded by these individuals and groups?  On the other hand, is it right for the government to take hard earned tax dollars and bail out the largest financial institutions which turn around and pay millions in bonuses to a few?  That is hard to swallow, especially when we see the unemployment lines and the millions in bread lines and soup kitchens.  And how about the failing small businesses?  We see more and more empty store fronts each day.

The OWS are asking for a return to democracy, whereby we have a government representative of all its people. This is not about Obama, this is not about Bush, this is about a country that is fractured and needs healing.  This is about listening to the people...we the people....   But OWS methods can make them or break them.  They need a responsible leadership group within their organization.  They do not need outsiders from the Mideast coming in and taking charge and teaching violence.  Nothing will be accomplished that way, with violence our cities will just become more broken.

So for today, I pray, if their decision is to persist then they will become more organized, determine how best to accomplish their goals and become very specific in those goals, working within the system as the civil rights movement did in the late 60's.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

More Questions Than Answers!

In my last blog I was telling you about my one week in Santa Fe Women's Detention Center, prior to being released on bail, as a result of the Grand Jury indictment in Dallas.  You may be wondering why it took a week, as we hear about it just taking hours or a day when we read the newspaper or watch television.  I can tell you, I was arrested on April 7, 2004 which was a Wednesday just prior to Easter weekend.  The amount of the bond was not an issue as I was considered a low flight risk, it was set at $20,000 which translates to $2,000 plus I was allowed to remain living in New Mexico.  But, I had at least a couple things creating delays.  One was not having any experience in such matters whatsoever, my family and I didn't know how the system worked or I should say, how to work the system.  The other of course was being Easter weekend and Good Friday, the system just wasn't working, everyone was taking off and coordinating efforts between Dallas, TX and Santa Fe, New Mexico was next to impossible.  Judges in and out, attorneys here and there, families to be with, Easter egg hunts to administer....

As I previously mentioned, my first 32 hours were spent in a holding cell.  Following the arraignment I was given a khaki-colored uniform and taken to the "back" where those staying were housed.  The general population "pod" where I was assigned held 24 inmates with 2 to a cell, the individual cells sharing a day room and showers.  There were tables and a television in the day room.  This was a bit better than the holding cell but certainly not the comforts of home.

My first roommate was a young woman in her early twenties, also a mom.  Evangeline was helpful, explaining how things worked in the system, as well as how to get along within the group of women.  There are many unwritten rules for surviving.

The next day following the transfer was Good Friday.  We had a visit from the Archbishop out of Santa Fe.  He came into our pod and gave a very touching prayer asking for redemption of our lost souls.  I had tears in my eyes and just held on tight. I wanted to be with my two sons.  I didn't even get to say goodbye to them or assure them I love them and would be home soon.  When they took me away from my home the morning of the 7th, Nate was still sleeping and Brandon had spent the night with a friend since it was spring break.  Prior to the Archbishop's visit I kept pushing my boys out of my mind because the pain of possibly losing them was more than I could endure.  With the Archbishop there and God's presence feeling closer than ever I could no longer avoid those thoughts and feelings.

The grief felt unbearable as though it was pressing in on my heart and I could barely breathe.  How could those men who falsely accused me be so cruel?  How could their lies have the power to rip me away from my dear family?  How could people be nothing more than objects to discard when you are finished with them?  Was it just cold-hearted business or was there more?  Was there something else that I had in my possession or was in my memory that they were afraid of my telling?  What was their motivation to destroy another human beings life on this earth?  If I couldn't think like them, then how could I ever figure this out?  In His time, and His way, would God give me the answers and with this, the understanding, grace and protection to move forward?  This was my prayer.

As time passed, I talked and shared with more of the women.  I went to every Bible study and became more hopeful.  A couple women were interested in the Dialogue process that we used at The NOAH Project.  We used this process with the parents of the children and our staff to explore beliefs we held about our special children, discard beliefs that did not help us or our children and decide on new beliefs to replace those that no longer served us.  On an individual basis I worked with each of these women.  One woman explored her self destructive choices with drugs and the other woman decided to explore her tendency toward engaging in abusive relationships.

After the dialogue, each woman commented on how refreshing it was to just be asked questions to help explore and to not be judged.  They were used to everybody giving them advice but this was the first experience they had where the person (me) trusted them to have their own answers and to know they were their own best expert.  I smiled as I knew they were building their own skills to help themselves and this was just a beginning if they so chose.  I suggested a couple books of Barry Neil Kaufman's if they wanted to go further with this learning.  I was inspired by their personal strength and their wanting to heal and grow their lives.

I was bonded on Monday at 4:00 p.m. but it actually took two more days for Santa Fe to release me.  The Judge in Santa Fe had set a "no bond", and had given Texas 10 days to come for me....which they did not do....it took an additional amount of time to get that cleared, bringing my stay to exactly 7 long days (and long nights) which at the time seemed like an eternity.  Even then I'm sure God knew I would have to endure much MUCH more before this nightmare was over.  I remind myself often (then and now) God does not give us more than we can handle and He is always with us, we are not alone. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Transformation Within the Jail/Prison Culture

I want to write often, as many things come to my mind, but so much relates to the details of my case and as you know that part has been shut down for the time.  In staying with the purpose of my blog I have somewhat limited my scope.  In thinking over this dilema I have returned to my book draft and the very earliest experiences of my case, I believe there are things I can speak to as they have nothing to do with my defense, the prosecution, pretrial hearings or the trial itself. 

As a business woman, mom and rule follower, not at all acquainted with our justice system, I found I was in for an enormous culture shock.  Part of the preparation I had to handle this was in the 70's at the University of New Mexico.  I had taken a few sociology and psychology classes and from one of those had a reading assignment that made a tremendous impact on my thinking.  Alvin Toffler's book "Future Shock" was the beginning of my training grounds.  His definition of "future shock" was "too much change in too short a period of time".  Ah, yes that certainly did happen to me.  While Toffler was talking about the accelerated rate of technological and social change leaving us disconnected and with a feeling of "shattering stress and disorientation", I could apply that feeling to the culture I found in the bowels of our justice system, that being the county jail in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  In addition, my many years of attending courses at The Option Institute in Sheffield, MA, coupled with my Christian beliefs brought me through the experience.

I was first contacted by a Dallas PD detective December 9, 2003.  I was then indicted by a Grand Jury in March 2004.  I was officially notified of that indictment by a call from the DPD detective on the morning of April 5, 2004.  Following that call I spoke to several attorneys both in New Mexico and Texas.  I was arrested 48 hours later on April 7, as I was on the phone arranging payment and transfer of information to a Dallas attorney.  I was taken to the county jail in Santa Fe.  It was an entire week before I was released on bail.  That week is what I want to share with you over the next couple blog posts.  Following is an excerpt from my book draft:

     Being in jail was like walking into a whole different country with a completely new language.  My first 32 hours were spent in the holding cell.  There were 8 to 10 of us women at any time, dressed in red pants and shirts, sitting on benches that surround the inner wall, with a metal toilet sitting at one end of the room.  At the other end was the door which was bolted, latched and electronically controlled, with a long thin window.  The walls were made of cinder block and painted a dreary white, the floors were cement, which I understand is quite vogue these days.  This was a stark contrast from the last time I stayed overnight in Santa Fe at the beautiful La Fonda Inn on the square with my two young sons.

     There was absolutely nothing to do, so we all just talked like we'd known each other for years.  Now some had heard of each other or knew of family members or distant relatives and a couple had an old boyfriend in common.  This appeared to be a very small world that seemed to reacquaint itself from generation to generation inside these barricaded walls.  Some were buying their supplies of crack from another's mother, while others were looking for a new source.  This holding cell was a true place for "power" networking, depending on how one defines power.

     Every sentence spoken had the "F-word" at least once and one time I was able to count up to four "F-words" in one sentence.  I had to ask the woman how she did that, I was amazed at how she structured the sentence, and would have written it down if I'd only had a paper and pencil.  The "F-word" can be used as an adjective, verb, noun, pronoun, adverb, even a dangling participle.  To think, Webster's doesn't even seem to know this.

     It took about three hours before anyone asked me why I was there; I hadn't offered and was content to listen to everybody else's stories.  But, even there, the rules of being a group member apply.  Once I started to explain, it seemed they were mesmerized because my story was so different from the others and we spent the next two hours on the subject of autism, belief systems and changing attitudes that create new beliefs.

     What seemed to take place in those two hours was a group of women with very little hope transforming to a place of hope.  After all, if there can be hope for these special needs kids who have been written off by society, couldn't there also be hope for them?  This is a transformation they were able to generalize for themselves, it was not a thought I had directed.  As humans, when we hear something, we naturally put it in perspective by seeing how it relates to self.  After just three hours in jail, I had become an avid student of my fellow inmates, learning and adapting to this new culture.  And, within four hours I found myself informally teaching (albeit to a captured audience) belief systems and how they mold our experiences.

     "No place to go, nothing to do."  Those were the words in a recent relaxation exercise in which I had participated.  These words were meant to clear the clutter and chatter we carry in our heads.  In jail, there were hours where time ticked away slower than I could barely stand, and to think I had actually worked at finding this place in my mind just a few weeks earlier.  Everything I had come to know in the healing of my life was being tested.  I found it difficult to sit still, especially since I didn't know how long I would be there and if they would ship me to Texas, regardless of my fear for my life.  I knew the key to my sanity was to move out of these thoughts and stay completely in the present moment.  I remembered one of the quotes from Barry Neil Kaufman's books "Unhappiness exists either as a regret about the past or a worry about the future.  The cure: be present."  I had the answer, now it was up to me to find that place of peacefulness and calm inside of me, only focusing on the moment.

     While public speaking and training others I had taught people we are in charge of our every life experience, I was struggling to hold that lesson for myself through the long, excruciating hours.  I had to keep taking charge of my wandering fearful and angry thoughts.  In the past I could move on by just consuming myself with doing something and quite often that took the form of allowing numbers to just wash through my existence.  Someone in the cell started counting the cinder blocks to make the time go by.  Those numbers did not comfort me; they only served to irritate me.  I could not use my left brain to hide this time; I had to pull from the depths of my soul to keep going.

     Another thing I had to learn was my every request would be ignored.  I supposed this was some form of behavior modification, perhaps trying to teach us this was not the place to be.  Or maybe this is where people worked who had a need to wield power over those who are helpless and did so under the guise of the penal system.  I suspect the answer is both behavior modification and bullying needs being met; another form of displaced anger which continues to be fueled.  I remember thinking, no wonder most inmates don't rehabilitate, there appears to be two responses to this treatment, one is anger and the other is to withdraw, each a matter of survival.  I thought of the children who had come to us at The NOAH Project (special school for children with autism) from a behavior modification discipline and how some came in very angry and violent while the others were completely exclusive (within their own world), there seemed no middle ground.

     Instead of the two extremes, I wanted that middle ground.  I was looking for a happy place inside of me so time would pass effortlessly and I could create the best experience for myself moment to moment with every person I met, rather that person was a jailer, inmate or visitor.  This became my focus and I found myself a much happier participant of what originally seemed to be an unfriendly, rigid system.  I wanted to move beyond the survival mode to a place of meaningful existence.

     There were times I could feel anger building and building inside of me, like a spiral down to darkness.  There was anger toward my false accusers and the Detective.  Sometimes the anger circled in my head as if it would explode and I would ask myself the questions, "How is this anger helping me?  Is it somehow serving me?" and the answer was always "No."  Then I'd remind myself, what we focus on becomes bigger.  Years earlier, while working with Nate (my special needs son) in our home based program, I had decided to commit myself to love, compassion and being present to live each moment fully.  By the end of the second day in jail I re-upped that commitment and repeated if often through those first four days.

     I found I had to consciously direct my focus on what I wanted.  When I did this, I was able to create much more positive actions which clearly served me.  Eventually my focus for what I wanted became constant and a calm came over me.  I came to believe no matter what happened I would be okay, letting go of the results and trusting, how often I had taught that to parents of children with autism.  I then grew that light by giving myself a mental exercise of listing in my head, all that I was grateful for and sending that list up to God, it helps to share.  I felt an intense sweet joy in those moments, a most unlikely attitude under these circumstances, but oh how it served me and my desire to have a meaningful existence.

I will continue with the story of that week when I make my next post.  Until then, think of all that you are grateful for and up the amps by 1,000.... Don't forget to share your gratitude as part of upping those amps!  WOW, what a difference that can make in your life!
    

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Habeas Update

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 marks a deadline related to the filing of my habeas corpus application.  It is by this date in which the prosecution and the trial attorney for my case have to respond to my habeas application.  Based on their responses the Judge will decide if there is to be a hearing prior to forwarding my habeas application on to the Appellate Court.  I have felt confident and prayed a lot on this.  Although this weekend, coming up to the date, I allowed some fear to sneak in because of what happened previously in my trial, now 4 years ago (9/10/07). 

I have been doing daily devotionals with a dear friend of mine.  We are using Max Lucado's devotional book called "Grace For The Moment - Volume 1".  Each day I find that day's devotional speaks to me in some way.  Today the devotional could not have been louder!  God is such a wonder!  Here are the words from Max Lucado's book:  
 God Our Defender
Here is a big question.  What is God doing when you are in a bind?  When the lifeboat springs a leak?  When the rip cord snaps?  When the last penny is gone before the last bill is paid?...
I know what we are doing.  Nibbling our nails like corn on the cob.  Pacing floors.  Taking pills......
But what does God do?...
He fights for us.  He steps into the ring and points us to our corner and takes over.  "Remain calm; the Lord will fight for you." (Exodus 14:14).
His job is to fight.  Our job is to trust.
Just trust.  Not direct.  Or question....Our job is to pray and wait.
WOW!!  How powerful and true.  I have already proven that I couldn't win this case on my own.  There is only ONE whom is all powerful and has the strength to fight evil.  I needed this.  Have faith!  Pray and wait!  I can do that.  Nothing is gained by sitting in fear, in fact it diminishes my faith and trust.  Once again, the lesson here is SURRENDER, allow God in my life, to do what He promises.  I need to stop getting in His way.

I found another verse (one of many) that was so applicable and comforting:
1 Peter 3:12-14
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened."
Source: Holy Bible, New International Version
My job...to pray and wait.......


Monday, August 22, 2011

"A Child's Bill of Rights"

My cousin, Nancy, has an excellent post about really giving children the time they need to make decisions and do things their way.  And, oh, what a freeing experience for all involved.  Her blog post is entitled School Is Starting.  It inspired me to share with you "A Child's Bill of Rights", which is so very important to keep in mind as we parent, teach and care for our children (even after they are grown).  We framed this and had it hanging at The NOAH Project.  As teachers and administrators at our school for children with autism, we respected these rights as they were at the core of our belief system.  When children literally cannot speak up for themselves these rights become even more important, as they are more likely to be overlooked. 

A Child's Bill of Rights
by Fred M. Fariss 
  • I have the right to live rather than exist.
  • I have a right to personhood rather than being an object of possession.
  • I have a right to equality with every other human being regardless of age.
  • I have a right to be respected with regard to my worth.
  • I have a right to be uniquely myself with my own identity.
  • I have a right to speak my thoughts and feelings, and to be heard.
  • I have a right to ask "Why" and to receive answers.
  • I have a right to receive discipline without hollering, discounts and put-downs.
  • I have a right to be encouraged to grow to maturity at my own pace.
  • I have a right to be free from physical harm at the hands of resentful people.
  • I have a right to be loved for being me.
  • I have a right, with valid guidance, to think for myself, and to make decisions.
  • I have a right to be responsible for myself.
  • I have a right to feel joy, happiness, sorrow, bereavement and pain.
  • I have a right to be a winner.
  • I have the right to care and be cared for, to nurture and be nurtured, to give and to receive.
  • I have a right to form my own convictions, beliefs and standards.
  • I have a right to know and experience personal freedom.
  • I have the right to recognize and accept the rights of others regarding their Bill of Rights.

While on the subject of rights, as I was in my last post, and with the new school year beginning it seems appropriate to post this.  Interesting enough, many of us need to give ourselves these permissions as grownups.  Some of us did not get these permissions growing up and in other instances we gave them up as we matured.  This is really a format for basic human rights.  They sure would lend themselves to a healthier and safer world for us all to live in.