Monday, July 23, 2007

post prison letter

Dear Friends,

I have for a while wanted to put out a post prison letter. I would start one, even got one pretty close to done and then could not get it done. This lack of focus, restlessness, nightmares, and unpredictabliltiy has been called Post Tramatic Stress. I am not sure what it is but having read a dignostic manual defination from a book loaned me, it seems like it could be this. Anyhow, I am getting help. It is a humbling experience to sometimes not be able to put two thoughts together or to "loose it" and simply just cry for a while.

It seems impossible just two months at Carswell could provoke such strong experiences but when I think about my friends being there, in some cases for the rest of their lives, well, there is a depth of sadness I never in my life have felt before. The inhumane treatment of the guards comes up when I read the account of an article I am enclosing. It is hard to put into words but the helplessness, the feeling one gets that they are not really human in the eyes of those just gets to you. Even if you have a very high self esteem, you begin to feel less than and then start feeling as if you don't have any rights as a person.

I wanted to give some hopeful news. It seems that people have taken parts of those prison letters and presented them to their Senator. Well, she has asked for more information and is getting other Senators involved.

In another development, one friend from Carswell asked me for an immigration lawyer who works with the poor. Well, someone put me intouch with another person who was able to help find an organization in Ft. Worth!

I am absolutely certain peacemaking is a communal activity. Together people can achieve what they could not achieve alone. This is so true here. So if you want, I will continue to write with news from Carswell and related prison news. I am including a part of an e:mail from one of my friends in Carswell. She encourages us to support this early release Bill currently in committee. Please click on the link and write your congressperson in support. This gives so much hope to the women there that people care and are willing to write, call and advocate for them. It is all they have, really.

I did receive an e:mail from one woman, Ms Smith, who we call the DA of Carswell because she helps so many women with their appeals and 2255 forms. She wrote to me that an officer told a woman who had put some clothes in the washer on the "hot water" cycle to remove them or go to the SHU. She told the officer the water was too hot at that moment. The officer screamed at her to remove the clothes. The woman had third degree burn on her hands and had to be taken to the burn center. The officer bragged to the other women that she would not get into trouble. Well, the officer was "rotated" early from that unit. I am sure she not be in any kind of trouble but at least she was investigated.

I am so grateful for you support. It helps to know there are places on this earth where people are treated as people. It is my hope that bit by bit people will be able to "sow love where there is hatred...and where there is despair there will be light instead."

May peace fill our minds and love fill our hearts,


18 July 2007
BORDERLANDS: Everybody does not love Raymondville

by Haven Whiteside

[Note: People wishing to follow the progress of Christian Peacemaker Team's
Borderland's Witness drive may do so at]

Everybody does not love Raymondville, a federal detention facility forty
miles north of the Mexican border, near Brownsville, Texas. Run by Management Training Corporation (MTC) of Utah, under contract with the Department of Homeland Security, it holds persons suspected of immigration violations of various kinds. Currently 2000 prisoners are awaiting processing there. The U.S. authorities have brought from all over the United States, so most of them are far away from family or any other support.

According to attorney Jodi Goodwin, who works with these immigrants,
processing can take from weeks to many months. The only inmates to receive legal advice are those with money to hire a private attorney, or lucky enough to find one pro bono.

Jay Johnson Castro, a border activist from Del Rio, Texas, calls Raymondville a "concentration camp." Elizabeth Garcia (CPT-Brownsville) and others have nicknamed it "RITMO," because they see it functioning in ways similar to the GITMO facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where prisoners from the U.S. "War on Terror" are held without due process and mistreated.

Some refer to Raymondville as "Tent City", because it consists of ten huge tents of Kevlar-like material, holding 200 people each. In the middle of each are the toilets, with no privacy. Food is inadequate and does not meet the nutritional needs of people from the many different countries and cultures there. Surrounding the facility are two 14-foot chain-link fences, with double coils of razor wire on top and in between.

Most of these prisoners are only accused of various immigration violations and are not required under the law to stay in detentions while being processed.

On Sunday morning, after Mass and breakfast at San Felipe de Jesus in
Brownsville, the CPT Borderlands Witness team headed to Raymondville for a vigil. We parked in the lot out front and got out our banner, saying "Close RITMO Now." To our surprise, we found no signs restricting our presence. But before long, two guards driving the perimeter road stopped and told us to go back. While walking towards the front, were able to show our banner to some young men in the yard inside. They gave us thumbs-up signs. The guards walked respectfully behind us, just making sure we kept going until we reached the front corner of the administrative building.

There they said we could hold our prayer vigil on the sidewalk, which we
proceeded to do for the next half hour. Later, apparently on word from
above, an officer directed us to the parking lot, where we continued our
vigil. The only audience was the guards. When invited, they declined to join us, but some appeared to be listening.

As the hour drew to an end, a county official came out with him and said the sheriff was on his way. Not sure of the implications, but apparently free to go, we packed up our banner, got in the car, and headed down the road before noontime, on a quiet Texas Sunday.

Here is a web site where you can support the bill advocating early release for non-violent prisoners over the age of 45:

Click on the email link to your own congressman, then write a brief statement of your support for the bill HR 261.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

final letter--finally!

Yes, it is finally here. No more waiting for me to get on the internet, since you can call and email Tina yourself! I talked to her on Saturday and she is working on the big transition back home. It is certainly a blessing that she has the summer to just be with family. Being with her on this journey from crossing the line, to trial, and now through prison has been quite an experience and continued prayers and support will be most appreciated. Coming back to the "free world" is certainly no walk in the park. Thank you for you patience and support of me these past two months as I sometimes struggled to get messages out.


June 11, 2007

Dear Friends,

This will be most likely my last letter from prison. I honestly never thought these days would come, EVER. My sisters here have asked me if my time has gone slowly or quickly. In all honesty days felt like months and months felt, especially in the beginning, like years. But now I am down to 3 days and an overnight as they say here.

It is a bittersweet leaving for me. I am SO ready to see my kids and family and my dog. I am missing all my friends on the outside as well. The bitter part is that I have come to love my sisters on the “inside.” Leaving them behind is not easy. I need to go. It is my time to go. I have come to question a lot and find very few answers. Often times I have this experience of seeing SOMEthing out on the horizon but I am not sure what it is I see. It’s like a distant vision. I have this now as I try to understand the impact of these two months. I don’t do too well with blatant injustice but it is such an everyday occurrence here…I just question again and again, I have no answers…I go over it with God all these questions in my heart. Why? Why? Why are such innocent folk here? Why the elderly? Why are people psychologically tortured here over and over? Why don’t we have simple things like toilet paper and hand soap? Why are we treated like dirt? Why do I make $5.25 a month for over 40 hours a week of work? Why are families torn apart? I could go on and on. Sometimes as I listen to story after story, esp. these last days, it takes everything inside me not to throw my apple or curse loudly. The only thing I know to do is to pray and write, pray and write, pray and write. Sometimes I talk with a couple of friends, a woman from Arkansas and one friend from Kansas. They listen and we talk. It helps. Not that I understand any better but the gauge inside me that is overflowing comes back within more normal ranges.

Please continue to shower people with prayers. I feel so…how to say, powerless in one sense to make any change or heal any pain and yet I know all I have really to offer anyone is my prayer. It is a powerful commitment to pray for someone, to lift them to God and hold their concerns and spirit up to the Light. When I am not hearing such horrific stories, believing in the power of prayer comes easier. But now I am leaving these women I have come to so love and respect to an atmosphere and system that is so brutal and terroristic. It is so much harder to believe in prayer now when I have to believe with all my heart. Now, I must understand that the power of prayer is more powerful than the power of presence. I am trying to believe and understand.

I went to a jailhouse farewell party tonight. It was for a woman who was falsely accused by her ex-husband in order to get custody of their son. She spent 2.5 years in prison on a 15 year sentence. Talk about great food out of NOTHING…tamales made with ground up corn chips filled with beans and chicken and pork rinds (softened in water!), a fruit salad that rivals anthing I have ever made and served in orange rind cups…Flour tortilla shells made in a reused cheese dip container filled with a great rice with broccoli…bean dip and chips and the best of all a cheesecake made with graham crackers and I am not sure what else, chilled by putting it in a dishpan filled with ice and wrapped in trash bags. The decorations were cut out magazine pages hung in curls from the ceiling, a table cloth made from taped magazine pages, a card made from cut outs from magazines. It was festive, colorful, and whimsical. You would not believe you were in prison. But the night officer had to be on or they would shut it down. Mr. C. is the regular officer and he knows us but in case we get too close or too comfortable or he gets to know us too well, they (BOP) will rotate him at the end of the month. I think they get 3 month shifts. So ALL will change…from the way mail call happens, to the way washer times happen, to what level of noise or what dress at night is allowed. Some officers are so picky that even the slightest form of creativity, like needle pointing their initials on their houseshoes or putting glitter on their shower shoes…All seized as Contraband. Head scarves are made fom ragged bedsheets…contraband. I had found a plastic spoon…I got rid of it right away b/c if there is a shakedown, I could get a shot for, you got it, contraband…if you have move than I think two pairs of tennis shoes, more than ten books, more than a shoebox of letters, it is considered contraband. One officer went so far as to accuse me of running a political card business b/c I get “too much stupid mail.” He is the same officer who tried to humiliate me during mail call by smelling an envelope and asking me if I get a lot of FATHER’s Day cards! (He was suggesting I was gay.) My sisters here were outraged b/c many feel as though I am still a nun. They wanted me to report him. I is not worth my time. But I guess my point is that they can pretty much say what they want and construe what you have as contraband. Right now I have nothing sice I had to pack everything out. I still laugh at the political card business.

I don’t know where this experience leads me. Sylvester Brown’s article suggested I have a “new cause.” I thought about this…I really don’t have any causes…what I see is all of this is born of loving people, consequences of loving. I could go to jail and just do my time and get out and continue my life. That is permissible. It is a possible scenario…but when you love someone, when your heart has been touched by people, then it is difficult to ignore their plight. It was suggested to me before I began my prison time, to keep my heart soft. I’ve thought of this often during these two months. It is easy to harden your heart here. There is so much pain, too much pain. It would be reasonable to protect your heart here by hardening up. But when people are involved, people whose sorrow is written on their faces, in their tears, when I read Pema Chodron’s book and she suggests to lean into the pain…well how can I harden up my heart? How can I not be touched? How can I not feel the pain and despair? If I did this here, I would not be receptive to my children and Sandeep or my friends I love in the “free world.” I can’t pick and choose, hardening for some, softening for others. And while I face the fact everyday that I am NOT God, that I am just a person I see that loving people bears consequences. I don’t know what exactly that is other than feeling their pain and listening but it is not a cause. It is about a way of living and seeing and, I am sure with a lot of questions and a lot of errors, trying to find where this all leads to, if it leads anywhere.

Alec, my son, wrote a paper for me on a woman, Elizabeth Fry. Elizabeth was a Quaker who had a bunch of children and worked for prison reform. She believed in the Gospel and felt serious about living it. She saw her role as a mother and as a Christian not mutually exclusive. I found it significant that my son, my first born, gentle boy chose to write to me about this woman who worked for prison reform b/c she saw it as part of the Gospel. Sometimes the wisdom of a child is the hand of God.

I wanted to close with a quote I got on a letter…the card is by Gen Cassani, SSND, the quote by Kay Weaver…”…and my road is a little easier cause she (you) were here, I see a little clearer through the darkness called fear…” I could add each of your names as Gen included the names of women who have made such a difference…But I think Beth might quit before I got home…just too many names. But each letter, card, note, phone call, prayer, song, book…each meal cooked, lesson taught, child loved and toted…All this and more eased my road and dispelled a fear. I am more convinced than ever before that any act of peacemaking is a communal act. It is not an individual action. So all I have to offer is my thanks…from deep down and heartfelt…I love each of you and again, loving has consequences. So I hold each of you in prayer. I am grateful and humbled by your love…I am more convinced than ever that God works in our lives in ways we can never know or understand. It is, for me, just keeping my heart soft through love and prayer and my eyes open to the daily ways God works…

Next time I write, I will write a homecoming letter!

I want to ESPECIALLY thank Beth w/o whom these letters would not get transcribed. I don’t think she knew what she was getting into when she offered to do this (hahaahahah, very true!). I am so grateful, Beth.

With hope and sorrow and love,

Two women who do not get any mail and would appreciate a pen pal:
Denise Burruss 79086-180
Daria McAdams 13267-078

Saturday, June 16, 2007

end of May and beginning of June (I think!!)

Sorry this is soooo long--internet issues on my end. So here are some letters and Tina's last letter from prison is on its way. She got out on Thursday, June 14 and flew home the next day, so now comes transition time for everyone!

May 28, 2007

Dear Friends,
Texas Humidity has hit. I’m sure St. Louis humidity has hit as
well…Actually given how freezing cold they keep our unit (they say it keeps
the germs down) the humidity feels good…at least outside I don’t need the
long underwear I wear inside.

The days are ticking down to freedom. I am READY. It will be hard
leaving the women I have met. Someone I think once said, “No one is really
free until we all are free.” I don’t know who said it but I now understand
that in a way I never understood before. Yes in 16 days and one overnight I
will go home or at least begin the journey home. And I will go where I want
to go and do what I want to do (which is hold me kids and kiss my husband)
but deep down inside I know too much and that knowledge keeps places in my
heart yearning for everyone’s freedom or at least just sentences and humane
treatment. How can I hope for less. I guess again it is a consequence of
loving and living.

It is Memorial Day and the schedule is a bit more laid back. I am now so
used to getting up at 4:00, that waking at 6:00 to do laundry seemed like a
luxury. I was outside early when it is cool and ran a mile and walked two.
After lunch I walked another mile. Everyone is outside so it is getting
crowded. I went inside and the only place to sit and write is in the Spanish
TV room. A Novela is playing…It helps my Spanish, I guess. At least every
other word is not F—K. I am getting tired of everything being a F—King
thing. The English language gets a work out here…I am tired of the fights,
the cursing, the yelling. I am not a person with virgin ears or a virgin
mouth for that matter. I am not one who needs to be kept with kid gloves
either. But the harshness and anger is the norm rather than the exception.
I find myself saying less and less. It is this introverted part of me now
just rebelling totally…there is no more placating it with an extra long
shower or miles of walking o nthe HAMSTER wheel (the track). I dream about
working in my garden and digging my little pond!

I took a walk today with Ms. BB. She spent 7 days in an outside hospital.
She told me that inmates were segregated from the general population. She
described trash overflowing on the floor, 8 beds in a room, with beds packed
into the room so tight she could reach out and touch the next bed. She said
the first night she woke up with a used bloody syringe on her bedside table
along with bloody dressings from the lady prisoner in the next bed. She was
shackled to the bed and if you had to use the bathroom both feet are
shackled. She told of dirty bathrooms and guards who talked about and
laughed at the people they (were) sent to “guard.” She said it was hurtful
and humiliating. She is facing 34 years on a conspiracy charge. She would
not take the plea agreement because she knew she is innocent so she took it
to trial. People she asked to testify for her were threatened with
conspiracy charges if they took the stand for her. No polygraph tests were
allowed. I know there are lots of jailhouse stories but her story I believe.
She was building a home for kids in need of a meal and a place to stay. She
is a Native American woman. One of many for whom a large part of their
family is in prison. They are on Federal land and have a “U”-number (I am
not sure what this is). Conspiracy charges usually carry 10-15 years with a
plea agreement and 25-45 if you take the charges to trial to try to fight
them. Funny thing….you try to prove your innocence: you presume you are seen
as innocent until proven guilty but it is not really how the system runs…here
you are guilty and often times strong armed into filling up the jails and
prisons. I now understand the “prison industry economy” a little better.
Here at Carswell inmates run the prison (I make $5.25 a month to work in the
kitchen 8 hrs. day) but the main money maker is Unicor. All federal prisons
have Unicor units. Here inmates answer directory assistance calls for
between 23 cents to up to a dollar twenty five an hour. Now think of how
much directory assistance operators make in the “free” world…maybe 8 to 10
dollars an hour + benefits. Here they pay no benefits and there are no
unions…So you can imagine the money phone companies save and the money the
BOP makes…Someone said some new men’s prisons are being built and factories
are being built for inmates to make cars!!! I have not read this for myself
but if it is true…Some car company has a SWEET deal…No automakers’ unions, no
pay raises, no benefits…Talk about the “perfect” storm…this seems perfect.
No wonder we need more prisoners and more prisons. The economy depends on
it! Sorry to say…

I am reading a Philip Gulley novel called Home to Harmony. It is a sweet,
innocent novel. The author has little stories about a place kind of like the
town I grew up in. I read it and most of the time, I laugh because it
transports me back to growing up in Smithton…small town where everyone knew
everyone…including your business…my parents have lived there all their
married life and my mom grew up there as well. Harmony, IN and Smithton, IL
are the same…The story is told from the point of view of a Quaker minister.
Her is a part that struck me today…I felt it describes something about
prison. In this chapter the “Friendly Women’s Circle” decided, in addition
to their chicken noodle dinner fundraiser for Brother Norman’s shoe ministry
to the Choctaw Indians, they would stitch a quilt. On the 25th anniversary
of quilt making, they wanted to make a special quilt…One of the women during
Sunday worship thought she saw Jesus’ face in the quilt which drew crowds
from all over the Midwest to the Harmony Friends’ meetinghouse. Finally one
woman confessed she had taken the quilt home to finish it and had spilled
coffee right where people thought they saw Jesus’ face. So Sam, the Quaker
minister, offered these thoughts for his Easter message: “I don’t think we
ought to look for Christ in a quilt. I think we ought to look for Christ in
the poor, in the common, in the lady who rings up our groceries, in the man
who mops the grocery floor, in the kid who delivers our pizza.

I told (in my Easter message) how we always look for Christ amid
magnificence. But that Christ has a history of showing up amid the unlovely.
Born in a dirty stall. Crowned with thorns. Died gasping on a shameful
cross atop a jagged rise. We don’t need to be beautiful for Christ (or the
Divine in us for that matter) to take us in. He is equally at home when
we’re broken-down and dirty. It’s like George Herbert wrote:
“And here in dust and dirt, O here,
The lilies of God’s love appear.”

We think magnificence is in short supply, that dust and dirt choke out the
lilies. But that’s not true and never was. Lilies (I actually love irises)
may root in dirt, but they reach for heaven—and in the reaching, reveal their

Now that is a wonderful stopping place for this letter. But just now the
fire alarm went off and guess what…we are LOCKED in! Being different, I went
to the guard’s station and asked Mr. C if maybe we should leave the building.
Amid the deafening noise, he scowls at me and says, “Hell no!” For a second
I forgot Mr. Barnes first instructions to me when I came to Carswell: “All
questions are stupid!” (His exact words) So Mr. C leaves and LOCKS US IN! I
stood there thinking how dangerously ridiculous this is. I made up a plan in
my mind. I would break the window in the officer’s station and use the phone
to call 911 as our inmate phones would not accept 911, not an approved number
on any of our lists. This is the idiotic part of prison. Hell we’d all
perish because of BOP red tape and I am not kidding. Besides the noise is
beyond deafening now.

And so life goes on…I never could make up this experience…NEVER! From
tornadoes (in locked second story prion alleys) to fire alarms in locked
second story prison alleys and beyond….it all continues.

Jesus or the Higher Beings within us all reside here as they do in the free
world. I guess maybe it’s a little easier to recognize this here because
there are fewer “things” and less busy-nesses to distract us…and then there
are the women themselves who find God walking around in khaki brown or
bright orange jumpsuits from the SHU.

Anyhow, Now I will obey this stop sign and will write again soon. Please
look up HR261 and read about it. If you can support it, please call your
representatives and please call Obama’s office and thank them and encourage
them to look into Carswell’s record. Tell them to look DEEP. Women’s lives
depend on them looking deeply into Carswell’s practices. And call your
Senators and ask them to look as well.

I wanted to give an update. Remember the 23 yr. old with cancer in her sinus
cavity which has spread to her brain due to delays in the BOP…well she ended
up in the hospital b/c she started losing her sight in one eye. Please pray
for her, hold her to the light, please…It is so hard to watch her suffer. I
put myself in her place and it takes my breath away…Honestly, it does. She
is being so courageous and brave. But she needs surgery badly…How do you
push a clogged enormously slow machine like the BOP who could care less about
inmates..the only way I know is Congressional investigation.

Love to all and more gratitude in my heart than I can write about,

May 31, 2007

Dear Friends,
Tonight I wanted to just write and go to bed. So instead of going to “chow” I
ate tuna from a pouch and a packet of instant oatmeal. I am an unimaginative
microwave cook! You can’t begin to imagine what they cook here in a small
little microwave. Such creativity: tamales made from crushed corn chips and
reconstituted beans…cheesecakes of pudding, cookie crusts, and candy
bars…jail house suckers made of Now and Laters melted down and swirled around
a Tootsie Pop…I can go down the list. I have eaten great pasta salad and
wonderful Mexican rice and beans. But I am so uncreative. I just open a
pouch of tuna and a fork…simple! The other day I tried to make a creative
snack. I have some powdered milk, a little honey and some coffee (I ALWAYS
have coffee. I even now enjoy instant coffee…wonders never cease nor do
miracles). Well I got some hot water and made a paste of milk, honey, and
coffee…It was as awful as it sounds. Take my word for it. But you know I
was hungry so, I ate it…every bit. I had an awful stomach ache afterward.
So instead of wasting my efforts on creative microwave cooking, I write and
eat RTE (Ready to Eat). I am happy with that.

The noise is considerably less now that most folks are at dinner. I can
write in peace. I wanted to share a few things about some women here. One
woman on my unit is a prime example of getting sent very, very far from her
children. She lives in Washington state. She has a 7 yr. sentence. I don’t
know for what but it really doesn’t matter her crime. She was sent to a camp
in Florida. There she wrote “cop-outs” (the way inmates communicate with
staff) asking to get transferred closer to home. It would cost around $5,000
to fly her mom and kids from Washington state to Florida! She kept on asking
her “team” for a transfer. She started plumbing school and made it to grade
one (the highest pay grade which is maybe at tops $1.50 an hour). She did
nothing wrong, only asked for her rights. They transferred her to Carswell
behind a fence, took away her camp status, and said she was “Harassing the
staff!” She said she was ALWAYS polite but persistent. Now she has to stay
at Carswell for at LEAST 18 months before they review her request. She must
work to get her “camp status” back. She found out there IS a camp in
Montana, four hours away from her home. She is 1000’s of miles away all b/c
of retaliation and asking the staff to do their job. My heart breaks for
her. I could not honestly imagine being away from my beloved children and
husband w/o seeing them for 2 years. She is NOW on Prozac due to depression.
She said she was never on drugs before in her life.

Retaliation is a way of life in prison. I am sure I have not made myself
popular here with the staff…I know they are pissed off about OBAMA’s
investigation (Thanks, Mom and I mean that positively). They don’t know what
to expect with the cranes and they are aggravated that I will NOT sign the
papers for a half-way house…which by the way, comes down to MONEY!!! I did
some digging in the Law Library. One woman who has done 7 yrs. of an 8 yr.
sentence ( ALL conspiracy of which she knew nothing by the way) is a legal
expert. She taught me how to look up legal documents, how to cite law and
what books are important. I found out some interesting stuff…You know that
“half way” house would charge me 25% of my gross income to stay there for 3
nights but I don’t pay for 3 nights, I would pay for the month. They would
put another inmate released to a half-way house in my paid for but vacated
bed and guess what, charge them for the whole month…Now they are making
double on the bed! I am not sure if the BOP gets a kick back or not…the
half-way house is double, triple, or even quadruple billing so something is
in it for the BOP. Ms. B told me that guards here clamor for out trips where
prisoners need to be chained (shackled and cuffed) b/c they get “extra” pay.
Now Ms. B is camp eligible so when she goes out (which is never now) b/c she
refused to be chained due to her camp security status!!! So they do not take
her to her outside doctor appointments or tests b/c she said “No”. Pure
retaliation and why can they get by with it? B/c they hold all the power and

Another small example…one officer named Limon (his last name, we never get to
know their first name!) was handing out the mail. There were many cards and
letters for me. He said, “Nema, you are running a business (which is illegal
here) a political card business, aren’t you? I think I’m going to shake you
down!” This means he could go through my stuff and take whatever he wanted.
Now I have nothing “illegal” but he could cite anything and even make up
stuff. I have women here willing to take up for me should he do anything.
One woman said, “BP 9 him, Tina. What he did is humiliating.” (A BP 9 is a
way inmates write up staff members when an inmate feels they were treated
unfairly. I will do what I need to do but I will not antagonize him. Still
it is just b/c he doesn’t want to “DO HIS JOB!” It happens all the time.

An update on Lisa, the 23 yr. old with sinus and now brain cancer. She began
to lose sight in her eye so they took her to the hospital. Have I written
this already? Ms BB the Native American looking at a 34 yr. conspiracy
charge b/c she tried to fight the charge instead of taking a plea
agreement…she finally got out of the hospital but she told me of some scary
stuff. Imagine you are in a “ward” of like I believe she said 6 to 8 beds.
You wake up to find a used syringe and bloody gauze on your bedside table you
eat off of and that your water pitcher and cup sit on. And worst of all the
bloody gauze belongs to your neighbor and was left by the nurse. You are
shackled to your bed. The guards are constantly with you, watching you use
the bathroom, cracking jokes about patients, being LOUD and in the middle of
the night with laughter and jokes, the floors have overflowing trash on them
and the bathroom is filthy. This is what she found. She said one night the
woman next to her fell out of bed! Ms BB hollered and hollered till someone
came. Ms BB had an abscess at site of her colostomy. She had pneumonia and
other health problems I have forgotten. She is back now at Carswell. She was
collecting sticks to make a teepee out of paper. She wanted to use a sheet
(a piece of a sheet) but would get into trouble for “destroying gov’t
property). She struggles to have her culture survive. She told me her story
as well. I bet we walked a good mile and a half as she poured out the pain.
It was as if she only needed someone to know the TRUTH, to listen to her
story and know the truth. She has in effect a life sentence b/c she will
only get out on appeal and she is poor so she can not afford a good lawyer.
There are some good public defenders but not a whole lot is what I am
learning. So I listened and listened and listened as we walked around and
around. What can I say to her? How do I comfort her? She tries to be
self-sufficient and strong but she is scared, sick and alone. I just pray
and ask her everyday how she is and listen.

There is a woman here who is a doctor. Stella is here also on totally bogus
charges. She has 6 children at home ranging from 20 to 9 in age. Most of
the time she is this bulwark of positive energy. Tonight as we walked what I
think I will now call the “path of tears” or the track, Stella just started
crying. She misses her children so much. She has sole custody…her brother
helps but she misses her kids and they her. I know from the absolute depths
of my soul what she means. I know her tears and despair. I prayed so hard
b/c I had no words of comfort. All I could say is “I know and understand.”
I thought “God please help her. Please give her hope, give her peace.”
Another woman heard her and tried to comfort her. We talked and named the
evil of GREED that trumps up charges and how power, misused by, in her case,
a judge, can rip up families. Then she shared about this nanny her brother
hired who she’s never met…how this woman told her over the phone what
absolutely wonderful children she has…how they care for each other, how they
carry Stella’s spirit. Then I remembered how one of you had written these
beautiful cards with compassionate quotes for the ladies at Carswell and so I
gave them to Stella, Theresa, and by this time two other women had joined us.
We sat there reading and passing around these cards. It was a prayer. I
began to weep b/c it was so obvious to me how God was holding us in these
loving tender arms and had given us comfort of words I had lacked. In the
end, another woman joined us. Stella went to check her messages and was
laughing. They are taking one each and passing the cards with the beautiful
messages to other women. There was healing and peace. We cried together
tears of joy. What had been tears of pain were transformed all by God using a
few cards. You see, cranes, small squares of paper, cards written by a
stranger, a hug….a chance meeting, God uses all these ways, I KNOW this so
surely. There are times when I despair, when I am scared, when I just want
to hold my kids and i think what I have done and where I am…. then some small
miracle, some small seemingly insignificant chance meeting, some “accident,”
some small window opens and whoosh God sweeps in and light dispels this
darkness which just a few minutes ago seemed so dark, so black, so heavy.
“Nothing is impossible with God.” My how the starkness of Carswell proves
this point. It may not be on our time or in our way but the light comes and
pushes back just a little of the suffering, the pain. It is like opening
Christmas presents as a kid…the sense of wonderment, surprise, the
anticipation knowing God will be there…God’s love holds us and is displayed
in such wonderful ways. And so maybe everyday is Christmas her at Carswell.
God continuously being “born” in the women and (maybe even the staff?) and
God using people to “gift” each other? What a miraculous gift God gives. I
mean even for me when I thought and sometimes still think, my God why have
you forsaken me? How in the hell did I get here? And then I look back at all
I have seen, what I have learned, what I have been given and have given…It is
an ABSOLUTE, honest miracle…so I just praise God.

(There is one more small portion to this letter that I will send out on Sat.)

The end of the last letter from May 31, 2007
I want to share a poem/ and maybe a song…at least there is a melody in my

Dusky light of orange and purple
Shimmer through ancient cottonwood with such
beauty that I almost had forgotten the prison fence
surrounding me.

As I stand here my soul sings
Glory, Glory, Glory, Glory, Hallelujah
Yeah, I almost had forgotten
That prison wall surrounded me.

As the sky continues turning
hues of pinks and orange and purple
And the birds roost, bedding down
in the ancient cottonwood tree
It’s as close I’ve been to heaven
all these days, yearning to be free

And my soul sings, “Glory, Glory, Glory, Glory, Hallelujah”
Yeah it’s as close as I’ve been to heaven
while my soul longs to be free.

Now that lethal razor wire takes the
color of the sky, shining pinks and orange
and purples
Turning what’s meant to imprison, a thing reflecting all the beauty God can

And my soul sings, “Glory, Glory, Glory, Glory, Hallelujah…Now my soul sings
Hallelujah and my spirit is set free. Those prison walls cannot contain me.

I know it’s a work in progress but Oh! Gosh how good it felt to write it
down, to find it because I just was struggling so these past few days as
these last two weeks seem like 2 years.

Thank you so much for your prayers---please, please, please continue to pray
for us here, especially the dying and the despairing. A young woman
approached me wanting to know why I get so much mail. She said she rarely
gets mail and, with a palatable sadness and loneliness in her voice said
she’d give anything for some mail. I include her name and number if anyone
has some time. Jessica Ortega #60416-053

Last thought, it occurs to me…yes, your letters to these women are a gift but
also as they write you will continue to learn about Carswell and prison life
long after I have returned home…

With huge love,

June 2, 2007

Dear Friends,
An annoying thing happened this afternoon. I went outside after work. It
was funny that I had the energy b/c usually after work I am dog-tired and go
to bed, laying there amid the noise to try to rest. But today I had energy
to spare. I saw Stella and Betty under the roof-like shelter by the raven
tree I’ve described in an earlier letter. Stella was very sad, I asked her
if she would like to learn how to make a peace crane. Kind of reluctantly at
first, she agreed. I had two Smithsonian magazines someone gave me. I found
my scissors and went outside. I cut squares of paper and we talked about how
depressing Carswell is, the unfairness of the justice system and how much we
miss our children. Then somehow I thought “But despite all this, God is
faithful.” Really God’s faithfulness is all we have to trust in. We talked
of how we got to prison. Stella’s story is especially poignant. But despite
all the injustice, all the tremendous loss and sorrow and separation…amid all
the DARKNESS God’s faithfulness is like manna from heaven, sustaining life
and in the harshness, the nastiness of prison. And all the while we talked
we folded cranes. It was healing for both of us…As if those scraps of paper
were empowered to perform miracles. People would come up and ask about the
cranes and I would tell them the story of Sadako and the thousand cranes.
Some would make a crane, some would watch. Then a woman named Alice came by.
Alice has some psychological issues. She listened with an unusual
intensity. She asked for four cranes, one for each woman in her room. She
carefully picked four as if she was considering with great deliberation which
bird was meant for each person she lived with in this tiny, tiny cell room.
It was close to 3:00 PM when she came out again saying…”Everyone loved them,
can I take more?” I invited her to learn how to make her own and told her
about the Carswell peace crane project. Honestly, she caught on amazingly
quickly. Her enthusiasm and intensity were contagious. At 3:30 PM we were
yelled at to “Get ready for 4:00 count.” Alice asked if I could come out and
teach her more after supper. I agreed. I wanted to know more about
Alice…And her absolute, childlike joy as she made her first bird lightened
Stella and Betty in a way all the theologizing and philosophizing could never

After supper I was ready. Armed with new squares I cut after 4:00 count and
while I waited for “C-H-O-W.” I listened to one quite ill woman in a
wheelchair talk about how the ceiling in her bed caved in and six inches of
standing water, along with mold and mildew filled her room. I knew what she
said is true b/c other women on the 5th floor shared similar stories and b/c
in the dining room the ceiling tiles in one part have fallen in due to leaky
duct work…It constantly leaks. It is like it is raining indoors all week.
It fills up a 33 gallon trash can in 2 days. The floor there is constantly
wet no matter how much we mop it. I cringe as older, sometimes disabled
women walk past this area with the wet, slippery floors.

Alice came out and waited somewhat impatiently for me to finish listening to
the woman’s story. Her radio and headphones seemed to give her a sense of
groundedness that without them she would lack. Finally I broke away and she
asked if she could learn where “No one could watch her.” Now if you could see
this campus it is tremendously overcrowded. Everywhere people sit, stand,
walk…I suggested we sit under the cover by the raven tree to escape the sun…I
wanted to escape the crowd, too but we had to settle for escaping the
sun…Alice again dug right in with the intensity of a dog with a bone. I told
her maybe we could fold 17 new birds, one for each woman in Maximum. Helen
Woodson is here in Max. Helen is a peace activist. If you want to know more
specifics about Helen, go to the Johan House website. They tell her story
and ministry of civil disobedience. I wanted to make these cranes for these
women b/c we have absolutely no contact with them, so they could not even
find out about the Peace Crane Project going on right outside their building
b/c of the lack of contact. I am hoping Sister Ille can bring them a crane
and tell them the story.

Alice made one, then two. By the third crane she had it…she almost jumped
out of her seat, she was so proud of herself. She had amazingly caught on
very quickly. You could see her visibly grow stronger, prouder of herself.

Alice’s story…well, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps she really does have CIA
contacts and know Saddam Hussein personally. Maybe she has seen a nuclear
weapon and has electronic tracking devices in her leg. It really doesn’t
matter b/c it was as if Alice needed a task to center and ground her spirit
and God gave her the task of peace crane maker. We whipped out 17 cranes in
an hour.

Alice shared with me her radio. It is the first time in almost 2 months I
have listened to the radio. Alice has all the preset stations to Christian
music. “It’s all I listen to,” she confides. I offer her headphones back.
“No, I have another one,” and she whips from her pants another radio. Now at
Carswell this is “CONTRIBAND,” the catch-all word for anything they deem on
any given day that they want to harass us with and threaten to take. Alice
says she traded it for some tennis shoes. I wonder to myself how many times
Alice has been taken advantage of in a place where getting “the Advantage” is
the main task of the day. With her fantastic story, her child-like trust and
intensity, I could only imagine the hell her life must be. I marveled at
God’s goodness…in this simple woman, in letting her “find” me and the magic
of a folded square of old magazine paper. Miracles, I believe, can not be
categorized by big or small, major or minor. EACH and every miracle is an
act of God’s faithfulness. Each a gift to us. So all are marvelous,
wondrous and joyful. Each one is special. I had my doubts that the peace
crane project would ever get off the ground. Honestly there are 1700 women
here and a new bus load will be packed in this week. But I’ve learned a few
things in the process. First, it really does not matter what the outcome is,
whether we can make enough or have a way to disperse them. It is clear that
the process is far more important, miraculous than the actual outcome. And
second, if the officials were to shut down or try to shut it down, it’s
unimportant b/c so VERY many people know how to fold squares of paper into
cranes and the DEED (the seeds of peace) is already done. The women who fold
and pass on the knowledge have a centeredness, a lightness, a purpose that is
simply a gift from God and nothing, no punishment or punitive actions can
take this away.

I know I just wrote a few days ago, but I so need to write down these
miracles I see. To me, in this place and time they seem so beautifully
poignant. The contrasts here of light and dark, of kindness and cruelty, of
tenderness and harshness make it so visible. Honestly there are so many
things I see and hear, I could NEVER, even if I had a 10 year sentence (for
which I am ETERNALLY grateful I DON’T) I could never write it all down.

Yesterday even one of the guards asked me why I am here and listened intently
as I told them about SOA and Fort Benning. I so grateful to Helen Woodson
and Kathleen Rumph who have paved the way for me here. Some (a few,
actually) are interested most aren’t…But this one listened intently.

Well, I got to get up at 4:00 AM. Must sleep.

P.S. You know as I read this I thought of the Beatitudes and I made up
another…Blessed are the simple, for they know the joy of the wonderment of

P.S.S. Here are two women who would love to get mail
Eva Brasker #20191076—from Yakima, WA misses her family, the BOP put her far
from home.
Lisa Taylor #08253003 from Mobile, AL—very nice, compassionate woman

Saturday, May 26, 2007

May 19, 2007

Dear Friends,
There are times when the fences of Carswell press on me and I feel as if i can't move or really breathe. I feel hemmed in. It is then when I have to look up at the's spacious and wide....Right now, the light blue calms me and the orange-tinted clouds of pre-dusk still the restlessness that haunted me today. There was a fight on our unit last night. Now this is not the first fight I've witnessed but it is the first one I've seen in our unit. No one was seriously hurt, thank God. But in the flash of an eye it happened and the jeering and encouragement of some of the other women bothered me a lot. We were all locked down and confined to our beds after that. At first no bathroom breaks were allowed and then bathroom breaks were granted. There are times the cruelsness of this place astounds me. I found it hard to sleep then. When I did, I kept having dreams about having to leave and not be allowed to enter. I'd go, in my dreams, someplace pnly to be told I was not allowed. I'd turn and try another way. I'd take Thunder (my dog) with me and the dog was not allowed. Needless to say, not a very restful sleep.

I keep busy writing, mostly letters to you all, some poems and now trying to write something on healing and stories. I have found toward the latter half of my stay at the Carswell Hilton, a prayer spot under an old cottonwood. It is still too close to the compound but no one walks right by. I have seen this tree every day but only today when I was so in need of a hug and a quiet conversation that I wandered over to this tree. I can feel the rootedness of this ancient tree. It helps root me in the present moment. I also close my eyes and I see myself under a tree of my childhood relishing a late spring day like I've done since I was a young child. I find the outside healing...inside the echo chamber of our unit I sometimes feel stifled. I will so need to canoe down a quiet Missouri stream when I get home.

I want to tell you the story of a 23 yr. old woman who came here about 2 weeks ago. Lisa just found out the cancer they found, at another prison, has spread to her brain. Originally it was in her sinus cavity but delays in treatment have made it such that they will have to perform extensive surgery now. I can not imagine at 23 yrs of age being told I have cancer w/o the support of family or friends...she was alone, save a strange guard, when the doctor gave her the news. Now she will have to have this enormous surgery and when I asked when, she said they won't tell her for security reasons. She will be shackled to the bed, shackled in the van. Shackled after surgery. One woman told me when she went outside Carswell for tests, she had to sign papers that said should the van become disabled or there is an accident en route, she will wait by the roadside for security to pick her up! She is a very trustworthy source.

My heart hurts for Lisa. Please, please hold her in prayer. She is such a sweet woman. Very brave. She is teaching me so much about FAITH--practical that is REAL not words but honest to goodness real life.

In three days I will observe my birthday (It was the 22nd). I don't think there will be a fiesta. I told Alec (my son) that I wanted them to go out and celebrate for me. I think I will celebrate in my heart with gratitude for being alive, for all the gifts this past year of life has brought and for the gifts of this present moment of life. I have given up counting years and instead use it as a kind of landmark. A time to say thanks for what has been and a hopeful yes to what is and what will be. At first I thought it will be a bit of a depressing birthday given the place but then I thought of what I am celebrating and that does not preclude any place...besides Carswell has given me gifts and has been and is a teacher. Maybe that day I will look for SPECIAL gifts. Each day brings gifts of its own. Some days I am able to recognize the gifts better than other days. So really I think it will be a fine day-that part is really up to me, isn't it?

I want to share with you all some poetry and writings of Thomas Merton from the Book of Hours, which by some miracle reappeared in the chaplain's office. I want to also apologize to you all b/c it is a bit long. Mostly I apologize to Beth who has to type this up!

"Go tell the Earth to shake
And tell the thunder
To wake the sky
And tear the clouds apart
Tell my people to come out
And wonder

Where the old world is gone
For a new world is born
And all my people
Shall be one.

So tell the Earth to shake
With marching feet

Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race

For the old wrongs are over
The old days are gone
A new world is rising
Where my people shall be one

So tell the Earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race

And say
The old wrongs are over
The old ways are done
There shall be no more hate
And no more war
My people shall be one.

So tell the Earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.

For the old world is ended
The old sky is torn Apart.
A new day is born
They hate no more.

They do not go to war
My people shall be one.

So tell the Earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
TO every nation
Every race.

There shall be no more hate
And no more oppression
The old wrongs are done
My people shall be one."

Then I close with the end of Victor Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning" (no underline or italics available on here!)

He writes, "So let us be ALERT-- ALERT in a two fold sense:

Since Auschwitz, we know what people are capable of,
And since Hiroshima, we know what is at stake."

Thanks for your love and prayers...I will write again soon...please call your congresspersons and let them know about SOA and issues I have mentioned, please. Read between the lines, you know what I mean--
With love,

P.S. Another young woman in need of support...SHe has 3 young children and is SO trying to do right by them. Encouragement would be wonderful for her.
Katrina Rodgers #04521-063

Two writings Tina included in the last letter. These are her personal poems typed on a typewriter originally.

"Doing Time" by Tina Busch-Nema
Here in prison we're all doing time
serving an arbitrary punishment
for a crime, real or imagined.

But while doing time, how to measure time?
Crossing days off a borrowed religious
calendar seems as impersonal, dehumanizing as
the prison itself.

Measure, perhaps by the blossoming cottonwood tree
Pregnate with grape-like pods
Sending downy white balls floating gently
down to litter the earth.

Or maybe measure by the gift of ripening
fruit of the mulberry tree.
Where for days, birds, squirrels and humans alike
pluck dark purple berries
And savor an unexpected sweetness from a bitter place.

Perhaps measure by the daily antics of the raven
fledglings who just weeks ago lay as eggs in
messy, toilet paper strewn nests
Now frantically they flap around squacking
Noisely, demanding food from weary mothers

And so it goes, days fade into the dark of night
And nights give way to the light of day
as seasons come and go.

And trees shed their seeds
and bear fruit
and baby birds leave their nests
All while we're doing time.

"Through the Razor Wire" by Tina Busch-Nema
Blurs of yellow and black feathers dip and soar
playfully chasing their mate or their supper
through the razor wire

Some perch gently, as light as air
Watching, waiting, singing without a care, all the while we watch
through the razor wire

From inside the fence I watch in wonder and envy at
how these tiny finches escape the glint of the blades meant
to slice and mame

And as I watch the women corralled by this wall of deadly wire
I notice that inmates, too, fly, in their mind's eye
through the razor wire

Friday, May 25, 2007

May 17, 2007

...Maybe it is not a one time shot.

To be honest, I am finding little patches of clarity where I sense God's presence and have the sense that miracles are happening as we speak. The peace crane class continues and I am hoping we can make cranes for everyone here at Carswell--guards, staff, and inmates included. I am astounded that the squares of paper have been folded into a thing of beauty and from that, some hope and goodwill has happened. God's small miracles on a grand scale...Grand b/c you can't imagine what this means at a place like Carswell.

Somehow I have a hunch that it is this concept of accepting our lives, holding the journey of our lives as sacred that we find peace. Maybe peace is achieved not as much by outward revolutions as it is by inward revolutions of the heart. And maybe, I'm not sure but just like a deep, deep wound it heals from the inside, from inside each of us bring healing power to the world outside. Again I am not sure of what I feel but somehow through out history horrible atrocities happen and the healing happens from within and moves on outside. So if I can forgive and heal my own hurts then perhaps this is how I forgive the guards. And I can forgive them than perhaps some of the bitterness and heaviness is relieved not by me but by them.

Oh well, I want to close with a couple of Merton quotes from The Book of Hours...
"Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!"

A door opens in the center of our being and we seeem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us; all eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact.

THis is the litany for tonight:
"No matter how simple discourse may be,
it is never simple enough.
No matter how simple thought may be,
it is never simple enough.
No matter how simple love may be,
it is never simple enough.
The only thing left is the simplicity of the soul of God,
or better, the simplicity of God."

My prayer to God, who can do all things and for whom nothing is impossible is to own this mystery which is love well, not properly, but well with a fire simply and generously love. Somehow I think it is in loving, giving love that we receive peace. And the world will know peace-

PLease, please, please hold the so very sick and the young, confused and scared women who are here...please hold them lovingly to the light so they might know love and peace.

With so much respect and love to and for each of you as you live peace in the world,

Continue to send origami paper!
"While there is a lower class,
I am in it,
while there is a criminal element,
I am of it,
And while there is a soul in prison, I am NOT FREE!

May 17, 2007

"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you."~Lewis Smedes

Dear Friends,
As I was wiping tables yesterday I found a question welling up inside me. Many of the women I am with constantly ask me if the protest I did was worth it given the circumstances I find myself in. I consistently say yes and I do not lie. I do mean it. Yes, I do not regret for an instant.
But the question that welled up in my heart is a little different....I thought, what is the most important thing I can do? Is closing the SOA? Is it standing up to the powers that cause such death and destruction? Is it ending torture or war or poverty? And what came from deep inside me was this...I think the greatest most important thing I can do is to simply love! And out of loving comes the rest. The stand I took at Fort Benning was simply an act of love and prison is a consequence of loving people. Here in prison I have come to love some the women here and listening to them and doing what I can are acts of love and consequences of loving. I have come to understand that what is done out of love is what is my heart's desire and that wanting the SOA to close, working for peace and an end to torture and war in and of themselves simply acts of loving people. This is not theory or nice is my heart's desire. It burns in my heart. It makes my love for my husband and my kids burn inside of me in a deeper way.

I am by no means a saint..I am learning. THis prison is one of the more unlikely places to learn about loving kindness. I keep on thinking about the words to one of Carrie Newcomer's songs..."God speaks in rhyme and paradox. THis I know is true." And as I listen to the Mother F---ing this and M.F. that banter that goes on outside my little cell...Ironicly there is God, too. A real God or Grace or Spirit not a theological there is Maria and Elaine talking, one comforting the other..there is the lone deaf inmate who just found a new arrival who is deaf and their hands FLY in their desparate yearning for conversation. And paradoxically, there is God in that "thank you" from a guard or just the sheer absence of the usual crude, rude, and demeaning behavior we usually experience. There is Grace in those small and large miracles as I witness one wheelchair-bound woman teach another how to make a peace crane...and the light in her eyes when she sees her handiwork!

Last night we had some unusual drama. A poor mother raven got up our 4 flights of stairs and eventually got into our unit. If flew from rail to rail to rail on the second tier. Women were screaming, cursing, laughing, and running around with towels draped over their heads. There were 100's of ideas on how to catch the poor thing. I tried to throw a sheet over it. Others threw food, popcorn, crackers to it. Some tried to throw shoes at it or hit it with their mesh duffle bags. And where was the guard? Locked in his office. I left, went to Mass and came back. Finally we got the bird in the bus-stop which is a little larger room. One woman is swinging her commissary bag, screaming. "I'm gonna kill the f---ing bird." A few times she nearly hit me in the head. I finally grabbed the bag and held on while one of my roommates caught the poor thing. An enormous cheer went up along with some more coloful language...and I thikn an audible sigh from the congregated group of guards. I'm happy to say the bird lived! That was enough excitement for an entire year.

I have also had the experience of having someone "packed out" on a moment's notice. Ms. Mary is perhaps the one and only kindred spirit I have on my unit. She is from AK...we work the dining room together. ONe minute we are running around wiping tables and the next she is gone. No chance for good-byes. I did catch up with her after work to give her a hug. Mary was the only person I felt comfortable asking for a hug when the weight of this place was just too much. There were not strings, no layers of anything, nothing hidden with her. She is simply a good soul. They are not relling her where she is going. She was just told to throw her belongings into a trash bag and take it to Registration and Discharge. She even had to pack her own shoes, underwear, and bras...she had to give back her khaki shirts and pants and socks. She was issued "flight clothes" which are a sportsbra that is so stretched out it gives no support, a flimsy khaki shirt and pants about 5 sizes too big. THey gave her blue slip on deck shoes which flopped off her feet. No socks and the soles of her slip ons were completely through. If it rains, she might as well go barefoot. These are her only clothes till she gets to where ever they are transferring her. She will probably spend days if not weeks in these same clothes while being transported from county jail to county jail. Folks, this is common...she will find out where she is going once she gets there. Meanwhile she can't call her daughter to tell her anything...the reason: securit risk. My heart aches for her.

Then there is a young 23 year old who just found out she has cancer in her sinus cavity and nose. the cancer has also spread to her brain. She was told shackled and alone. Her parents were not there. She will see doctors, go through surgery and recovery on her own. She will be guarded 24/7 even when she uses the bathroom. She will be shackled to the bed or while being transported. Even in the recovery room while she is unconscious she will be shackled to the bed. If she dies on the table her death certificate will say escape by death and she will be "soft-cuffed" in the body bag. Hopefully she will live...hopefully her age is on her side. Those of us who know her pray for her. She made a peace crane yesterday. Think of your 23 yr. old son or daughter or brother or the time when perhaps they need family around the is denied.

This, my friends, is so inhumane. I know I keep on using that word. I have witnessed inhuman treatment before in my life but the DAILY manifestation, the hourly manifestations, time after time, after time beat down on one's heart...and what keeps people human are those small and large acts of kindness that pop up day after day.

I am continuing to pray for the ability to forgive and not carry the heavy sacks of anger around. I found, in a Woman's Day magazine of all places, a page on for-give-ness...there is a small blurb about the "F" word. Now the other "F" word is used her with the regularity the likes I've never seen but this "F" word is about a website called I will be looking this up when I get home. If anyone finds out what this is please let me know. I try day after day, incident after incident to forgive the cruelty, the indecent behavior, the contemptous, rude and brutal treatment. It is a very, very conscious effort on my part. It is like literally slowing down my natural reaction of anger and contempt and dropping those stones which come in the form of thoughts and/or words or snide remarks. It is so hard. It goes against the grain so much. SOmetimes quite a few times, actually, I fail. But there are those times when I drop it all and do Tonglen instead. I breathe for myself and for them. I realize we are both victims of an injust system. It seems to help if I can think about how we are alike rather than isolating myself and/or them into us vs. them camps. It is so much easier to forgive someone I identify with than someone I have out in a foreign camp. Perhaps these are the first steps to loving enemies...finding ways in which they are not enemies anymore..finding them human.

Our Peace Crane Project continues on. By now you have gotten the internet message to send origami paper. Please do if you can. The women on the 5th floor chronic care unit have taken up the idea to make a crane for each person in this prison. It's too hard to cut squares from magazines...I am typing up a small message about peace cranes to hand out with the birds. I don't know if I will be here to see each person get their bird but I feel as if a strange seed of peace has been planted here in the most unlikely place. And so it goes on and on.

I willl try to write more frequently in the remaining time I have. I have many stories to tell. Women who have specifically asked for advocacy of media or just word of mouth. Women who just want a voice and of course I will oblige. Please continue to hold us to the light which dispells all darkness. The light which heals and keeps reminding us we are precious human beings.

With love,

May 14, 2007

Dear Friends,
Someone passed on this Maya Angelou quote. I love it. She says: "I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refused to be reduced by it." Definitely I say I will not be reduced!

I write at the half point of my stay at the Hotel Carswell! I am sitting in the law library! Six chairs...that's it! If someone else comes and wants to study law or look up their case...well I will have to leave. The typing room has 12 typewriters! There is one copier and this is for ALL inmates, 1700 of us. It is not working well at all so if someone, like Ms B wants to make copies of legal documents on her case and the copier is not working well...(It leaves a black streak down the bottom of the sheet) well then we all, esp. Ms. B and those working on their appeals SOL (shitty out of luck) I kid you not. One lousy printer and she could not file it on time b/c Carswell might not get the one and only copier fixed on time...

These "little" things are so annoying and can turn deadly. FOr example two elderly women each told me how one has an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure and the other has blood clots in her legs. Neither one could get a pass for the elevator b.c the doctor who saw them said that decision had to go before the Medical Reviews board. A friend of mine said the one with heart problems should wear a sign around her neck that says I am a heart patient. If you find me unconscious on the stairs, please call my family. So they walk 4 flights of stairs everyday, many times a day while the Medical Board decides if the can have a pass for the almighty elevator no less...Ridiculous!!!

I continue to read Man's Search for Meaning. It is giving me so many insights into how even the horrors of the concentration camps have very, very similar dynamics to what happens here at Carswell. I know we don't have the gas chamber threat or physical deprivation like the Holocaust but the psychological dynamics between inmates and guards, inmates and inmates, and inmates and the God! I wonder if people realize we are recreating in a small way, yet a powerful way the same dynamics. Honestly I am sure people don't know. In a way unless yhey lived through being in prison they could never really know. I don;t say this braggingly, not at all. It is just the reality. It is the same with someone who has fought in and/or survived a war. I may imagine the fear, the horror, the adrenaline rush, etc but I really really don't know. Now I am not saying I understand the horrors of living through the Holocaust. But how Frankl talks about the dynamics of suffering, apathy, stealing to survive, picking through another inmate's clothes or bedding when they leave, the dynamic of guards, the picky rules meant to demean and keep someone under their thumb. I can go on and on. I find it fascinating and sad! The wastage of life over and over...young and old, well and sick, guilty and innocent. And the wastage goes on and on in ever widening circles...the children of prisoners, the spouses, the parents, the friends, All of the ripples of destruction continue to move out generation upon generation.

I wish I could discuss this book with each of you point by point b/c it seems so importatn at the moment. Frankl puts into words much of what I have felt and feel. He talks about apathy, blunting of emotions...I see this ALL THE TIME! It is a way to control and keep people under thier thumb. It is also one of those emotions that keeps one self centered, despairing in a quiet sort of way.

Thw way food becomes the center of prison life. Here poeple live by either the menu or the microwave law. The microwaves are controlled by few and fought over frequently. It becomes like the lowest common denominator. Commissary is another issue. It is the small, little seemingly insignificant stuff that become big issues here.

He talked about the spiritual development or lack thereof. My gosh how I see this dynamic. He says that he realized at one point that the salvation of people is through love and in love. How true this is with or without prison. He goes on to say,"Love finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self..." The inner life of a prisoner tends to become more intense that they experience the beauty of art and nature as never before. I have seen this in myslef. I walk outside and notice birds, flowers, trees, even ants. It is as if takig away the big things like freedom and controlling our every movements make a person focus on what they can't take away or control.

Then he talks about suffering. I am still digesting what he talks about on this subject. He talks about how he sensed at one point his spirit piercing through the gloom. He talks aboout how he struggled to keep his mind and inner freedom intact, his yearning for privacy and silence. my God how this fills, this morning was my day off and so I got up and spent the morning outside before it got too hot. THere was silence...only the song of the birds and occasional hello from the women walking the track. Honestly this was the very first time I had silence and uninterrupted time to just meditate, write and drink in the silence and beauty. I came back to the unit and I felt as if I could do it again. I could be here and find peace amid the absolute chaos and noice. Yes! I think there can be stillness in noise...there can be a space un between all the chatter that one can find some stillness. I am amazed at this. I hit points, walls such as when I was so sick and could not get time off the rest or when the noise got so loud and out of control and constant that I was so tired when I had to get up at 4 am...I hit the wall again but the amazing thing is when I hit that wall and I think, "my God this is impossible, please help." Then just as I ask, there is is right there and I just have to smile and then laugh right out loud!!! And i realize that I am walking with Psalm 23 says, I fear no evil for you are there with your rod and staff to give me courage..And yes...if we walk through the valley of death...I fear no evil for you are there with me to give me courage." I can not tell you how very very real these words are. I've said this psalm MANY MANY times over and over...But now, now the words are so very real. Now the words are living words not just nice or kind or thoughtful words...

I am realizing that each person walks in this world, with in their own skin. Yes we are loved, carried at times, and we carry others but that basic living, loving, suffering, joy and sorrow we live through and live with...this is ours and ours alone. Each of us have this sacred journey. We make choices on this journey. I think there are times I want to run away from suffering, hoping someone can take it away. But now I realize that somehow all these things are not to run from but to be embraced, cherished, they are part of our living and by God, I want to live every speck of it. It is not lonely, this is a Holy aloneness that I believe strengthens our commonness...strengthens the human family. It is as if when I take responsibility for myself and my life, then it adds something to the dignity of the world...a small light of a life lived...maybe, and to be honest, gratefully, not lived perfectly..I don't want to be perfect b/c it would not be any fun really...and I would have nothing to learn from and grow deeper from...But accepting what life gives rather than wanting something different from life. THis is a glorious gift tihs living...even in a place like Carswell where Hell seems to be made real on earth. No somehow in embracing where I am, I am finding small bits of freedom...I don't know if I am more loving or compassionate. I still get so angry sometimes at the just plain old meanness. But I am praying for them (the officers) I pray esp. for the nasty and seemingly hateful ones. Honestly I want to forgive them. There is one level that says I want to forgive them then there is another level of actually forgiving. That next step is a bit of a mystery to me honestly...I want to but when they act like jerks and idiots then I feel the disgust rise up in my soul. then i find actually forgiving seems I pray about it. I actually do LOTS of times. And maybe it is something I have to do agian and again and again. Maybe it is not a one time shot.

(I will finish the end of this letter at the beginning of the next, tomorrow) Sorry!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

May 9, 2007

Ok, I am almost caught up! One more after this one and everyone will be up to date as far as I have received letters. Thanks so much for your patience.

Dear Friends,
I sit here looking out the window which is about as long as my arm high and wide with these square gray bars that run vertical from top to bottom. My window looks on to the base. I see the fence that keeps us in,a few sheds and lots of trees. There are water towers in the distance, one is painted red and white check. In the very distance I see cars. But they look very small from my vantage point...not real!

I try to imagine myself on the other side of that fence. WHen I see the cars, it reminds me of going someplace. I sometimes forget what the "outside" us like. I remembered the first time I realized this, it scared the hell out of me. Now I honestly don't panic. Somehow even with the avalanche of mail I get, I find it hard to remember any other life but this one. Psychologically speaking I thikn one's world while in prison gets whittled down to work, inmate concerns, court cases, and appeals and mean guard complaints. Inmates can become very isolated and self-centered. There are exceptions...Like the women on the fifth floor chronic care unit. I have taught them for the past two afternoons how to make peace cranes. Now they are getting the hang of it and teaching others. I've told them the story of Sadako and the Ten Thousand Cranes. They are making cranes for the very ill on the 4th floor. (These are women who are sicker than they are.) When I got to class today there was an envelope with folded cranes to add to the shoebox collection and paper they had painstakingly cut from old magazines. (Lots of things get reused in prison). One woman with tears in her eyes told me how two years ago she saw this address to send cranes to...A children's peace project in Japan. She was going to make the 100 cranes and in return they would put a plaque with her father's name who fought in WWII. She told me her father was dead but she wanted to remember him. Then she had a couple of strokes and a heart attack and could not remember or figure out how to do this. She said she has been praying for someone to teach her this for two years. She told me all of this with tears in her eyes. She is confined to a wheelchair and will "escape by Death" when her time comes. It's the only way she will leave prison, when she dies. But you know she is now teaching others on her floor and is the biggest contributor to the Carswell Peace Crane Project. She does not yet keep them for herself. I feel so humbled as I work and hang out with these ladies. Despite strokes and severe handicaps they try and are determined to learn. Their futures are not rosy and bright but their spirits are so strong and alive and vibrant. I learn so VERY much fom them. My crane class is just my excuse to hang out with and learn from them!! And so the peace crane revolution goes on! I'll update later.

I have discovered the joys of ear plugs. Now the noise is muffled. it is stil there, just not as loud and distracting. I am learning as I go..."seat of your pants" school here at Carswell. Let me say my pants are wearing thin by so much "scraping by." But I have clear conduct and I hope I can keep it that way. I'm sure my brother Bob will be happy to read this.

ANd I hear more stories...Now people introduce me to people who tell me their stories...Today one woman told me of her friend who had to leave the prison grounds for chemo. The guard from here would bring her to the hospital. It was an all day wait. The woman would have no sack lunch so while it was bad enough she was having to get chemo, she would sit all day hungry! Remember prisoners are NOT allowed to handle any money. The officer from Carswell would send out for her lunch, eat it in FRONT of the woman waiting hungry and then give her the empty container her lunch was in and tell her to throw it away~

Two women told me of medical issues...One has an enlarged heart and is put in a second floor unit where she MUST climb 4 flights of stairs b/c the Medical Board must REVIEW her request for an elevator pass. Another elderly woman who has a blood clot in her leg also must climb 4 flights of stairs to a second floor unit b/c her case, too, must go before this board before she can use the elevator. I just find this mean spirited and bears no purpose.

I am reading Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl (thanks Reggie). (Beth's added explanation: This is written by a man who survived the Nazi camps in Germany--how his search for meaning in that horrible place actually kept him alive. Some of it is difficult to read but it is definitely an important account) I just had happened to shove it in my pocket before I went to my "job" this morning. It is NOT allowed to bring 'personal items' into the dining room but I had a call out to the eye doctor which would mean a long (in this case 2 hr) wait and the book is small so I could get it in my pocket. I am only about 50 p. into it b/c people wanted to talk but I was so struck how his insights into the psychology of the camp is so similar in some ways to the psychology that happens here, especially among long term folks. He talks about self-defense, how prisoners get down to primitive levels of self-preservation. He talked about how apathy blunts people become desensitized to the brutality and about the mental anguish injustice causes. How anxiety over one's own future takes center stage. I have seen these things he describes on a small scale here. While it is not that people are getting physically beaten, they are beaten down psychologically. I have seen people get dressed down and am grateful it is not me...instead of standing up to the guard. I am looking forward to reading more of this book. I think he speaks to universal human emotion and behavior in crisis...I find it interesting that the concept of imprisonment regarldless if it was the horrific scenes of Auschwitz or behind the razor wire at Carswell.

I wanted to apologize for my preaching in the last letter. I realized more and more as I read another chapter in Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart that somehow it is a blend of internal changes that lead to external change. I am only reading this book a chapter at a time so I can digest things. Sometimes I have to read a chapter twice. THe last chapter I read was "Servants of Peace." One thing that stuck out was the challenge to not become moralistic..she encourages the 'flexible mind.' She uses the phrase "a kind of bull shit detector that protects us from becoming righteous."

She writes, "When we are training in the art of peace, we are not given any promises that b/c of our noble intentions, everything will be okay. In fact, there are no promises of fruition at all. Instead, we are encouraged to simply look deeply at joy and sorrow, laughing and crying, hoping and fearing, at all that lives and dies. We learn that what truly heals is gratitude and tenderness."

When I thought about this I looked at the women around me, those who are sooo tender. Those who are so grateful (some who have gotten letters or I've shared books are sooo grateful to be thought of and/or remembered). The statement of Pema's seems to hit the nail on the head...all we have is the pressent moment, the simple joys of talking with someone, or walking on the track or watching the yellos birds zip in and out of the razorwire fence. The sorrows if the women's stories and the pain in their eyes when they share. THe laughing at Ms. J or Ms. B's statement--they have this dry, state-the obvious-sense of humor that has me rolling...So I guess it is not the big things that lead to change but the small things that bit by bit, step by step, sharing of one story and then another that we learn how connected we are, how much love and loving there is..How precious human beings are...not b/c of any great or small thing they do but b/c of the pain and laughter, the tears and smiles, te loving kindnesses and not so loving deeds...It is not about trying to be good but perhaps just about BEING...The goodness or badness...those things are byproducts of being and I am finding the being part, if I am faithful to not running away ffrom just being in the moment. From that change happens in is as if it really doesn't matter if I am "good" or not. I is not a matter of trying to be anything but present...the rest just happens out of that honesty.

The 250+ women in my unit know that all the mail I get contains prayers from you all to them. THey express such child-like, simple yet powerful can't imagine. And while I count the days till I get home with my family and friends, my heart will break to leave my sisters. THe strong ones and the sick ones, the young and the not so young, the guilty and the innoecent, the ones who know God is with them and those who are still discovering that reality....I will be BROKEN inside to leave them behind the Fence. I wish I could "set the captives free." Oh! I cannot tell you how I long for that day. Please Dear God, tenderly yet with the strength of Hercules, hold these dear women...Blessed are the poor in spirit...yes these are blessed women. Like Mary b/c all they have honestly their poverty is so extreme. Their spirits are so in tune with God's love b/c the have NOTHING else. I know I have repeated this insight over and overbut just like when you see a newborn and you KNOW that within you how horribly much you love this fragile being that is how REAL the reality of God's spirit moves in Carswell.

Well again, I write by the book light I bought and it is very late, 4 am will come far too soon. I've made it a habit of sleeping in my clothes for the next day so I don't have to do as much to get ready in the AM. 10 minutes extra sleep is like a 2 carat diamond.

Good Night, Dear Friends--May the Lord Bless you and keep you close. May God shine her face upon you with a loving and gracious glance and br gracious to you. May God look upon each of you kindly and give your heart intimate knowledge of Her Love. Amen

With Love,

P.S. Could anyone give me the name and address of Jackie Tobin's prison ministry. A womean here will come back to StL in Oct.