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.

Monday, May 21, 2007

May 6, 2007

Hello from the Great State of Texas and tornado alley.
We have had two tornadoes spotted in our area. The last one was a "headed this way" one. Guess what our precaution was...get in the rooms and we are on the second floor. The first tornado warning was the same. I didn't ask the second time if it would be a better plan to go to the first floor b/c I knew the answer from the first time..."shut up." So we remained LOCKED in the second story of the High Rise which is a large two story building. Sitting duck, I think you'd call it.

Each morning we are greeted with a loud speaker rendition of the Star Spangled Banner played base-wide. I find this a bit ironic b/c many of the women here are extremely angry w/ the gov't and America in general, as it was Them vs. The United States of America that got them here in the first place. People would think that of course every inmate feels they are innocent and of course, we all know they are ALL guilty. I have found out that just the opposite is true. Many who are here on fraud, drug, even murder charges will readily admit they did something. The ones here on CONSPIRACY, they feel railroaded. Most of the elderly and many women, in general I think, get this charge b/c they just happened to own the car their child or grandchild was using when they got busted or someone said they were involved. Heresay gets many people 10-12 years. I do not lie!

If you are poor or stubborn and will not plead guilty, you will do time. If you can't afford a lawyer you will do more time. I promise you I am NOT exagerrating. Prison reform is a real flesh and blood issue to me now.

I am sitting outside this morning. It is windy and warm. There is some sort of tree near the center of the compound where the ravens love to nest. It is a thick, compact tree with a tight tangle of branches which must give their nests and young ones the protection they need fro the almost constant wind which blows through here. It is hard to count how many nests are built in there b/c of the gnarly branches and the oval waxy green leaves that are so tightly woven and give lots of privacy. I have tried but I can't get a good count b/c I can't stand on the grass (another one of the myriad of Carswell's silly rules). Plus i really don't want to get pooped on. These raves are very messy birds! But I think this must be their community tree. They call and chatter with each other from dusk to dawn, fighting, flying, chattering with each other like old washer women gossiping over their clothes line on wash day, except for them everyday is wash day. I am grateful for their playful entertainment but their noisy shrieks and stacatto chatter only adds to the constant din of noise. Even though it is Sunday morning and it is a restful day, the human bantering and arguing that goes on wears on one's ears. Just now one woman yells across the compound, "You come up to my floor and mess with my people again I am going to knowck those gray hairs out of your fucking head." I am biting my lip to keep from laughing out loud. It truly can be comedy central bere sometimes. I know it's really not funny b/c many mentally ill people suffer deeply from the torments of depression, personality disorders, and other severe psychiatric problems. It seems to me that they only receive drugs to try to keep them sedated and manageable. There seems to be no meaningful therapy to go with the extensive drug regiment. Probably the talking they do with other inmates is the closest thing to therapy they will ever receive while here at Carswell. It is a sad warehousing of human beings, many of whom only decompensate further falling into the depths of despair from which they may never recover.

I sometimes wish fro a quiet room away from teh angry exchanges and just the normal chatter of 1600 women plus the shrieking, shrill callings of the ravens...But at least outside on the coupound the endless space of sky and air lets the noise disapate and be blown away. Up on our unit it just echoes around and around till you honestly believe there is no more airspace for sound waves. It is a contant noise chamber. I thought being a mom and used to the fighting, singing and yelling of three active kids, I would be immune to the noise factor of prison. I was wrong. Having lived now for almost 3 weeks w/in the cinderblock walls of the High Rise, I know the chatter of my children will sound like a beautiful opera. I never in my life thought I would say that.

From my vantage point i can see the first wave of visitors filing in . I was shocked last week when I saw children. It was then I realized how much my body ached to hug an innocent little soul, to hold their small, vulnerable being close. I want to breathe in their joy and freshness. It is so unnatural not to have kids around. THey are such a contrast here where constant anger, bitterness, and despair seems to saturate the air we breathe. Just seeing children from a distance seems to bring a ray of light and hope to me. What a paradox someone so small and vulnerable has the power to cleanse and heal even the deep, deep pain incarceration brings.

It is particularly windy today. I watched the branches of the trees sway with each gust. This seems obvious but I realized that the trunk of the tree does not bend with the wind, only the branches are disturbed by the blowing. I thought of how God or a HIgher Power is like that trunk of the tree and how we are the branches. The closer the branches are to the trunk, the less disturbed and shaken they are by the stong gusts. Only the outer branches are whipped about. I thought to myself, I am really one of those outer branches as I still get whipped about by the emotional and spiritual gusts that seem to come my way. Hopefully the closer I get to the trunk, the less disturbed I will become. Perhaps one of the many lessons I am learning from prison is that all we really have here is the promise of God's loving faithfulness. All the rest is smoke and mirrors. I think it is only this absolute that moves people here emotionally and spiritually closer to that trunk, to some SOLID center point which provides the stability to allow people to remain sane and weather the tornadic-like conditions of prison. I am reminded of Pema Chodron's book "When Things Fall Apart." Her words of wisdom "to lean into the pain," I believe are the only way to this solid spiritual center. There is not way around, only through. Maybe it is the "going through" that makes me feel so tossed and battered...but then there are days of peace and I think, perhaps I can do this, I hang on to those days of strength and peace, remembering them b/c I know the days of pain turmoil will come again.

I have about 40 days to go. It seems like a long time. Heck, it seems like I have been here a long time already. But in reality I know once I hit that half-way mark time will fly. I so want to document my experience here. I t is not only an interesting story, it is a slice of life folks on the outside would not even believe.

Just now amid the clammer of the noisy Inmate Raves and the chatter of Spanish and English conversations, I hear the lovely deep voice of a black woman singing, like a prayer, a plaintive, soulful spiritual. It is as if she is pleading with and praising God at the same time. It is simply lovely. What a wonderful Sunday gift. I guess if I sat here long enough, I could record many, many of these small gifts most of which I miss b/c I am occupied with some sort of distraction.

It is such a blessing, an inspiration church service all it's own just to sit here in silence and solitude and write. Maybe finally, I am learning to find the contemplative spirit I so hunger for amid the constant conversations, noise, and activyt of a severly overcrowded prison. Somehow, I am astounded that I don;t mind the noise and chatter as much as I did just an hour ago. Another small miracle.

A mourning dove just cooed her mournful gentle call. It stands out b/c it is such a contrast to the shreeking ravens. It sounded as if it was right next to me and when Ilooked under the blue open waffle bench I am sitting on, there was the beautiful soft brown mottled feathers and these gentle eyes right underneath me. Her soothing call makes me forget for a second that I am behind these prison fences...see another Sunday miracle...they are all around.

I had to move from the solitude of my bench to the echo chamber of the high rise b/c the compound closed for 10:00 count. My unit is called the "Dirty South" and the slum of the high rise b/c of our dirty bathrooms and constant noise. Count is an interesting process. On the weekends we have two Standing counts with means in total silence we stand by our bed to be counted. I think 4:00 pm will be forever seared into my mind of the indignity that happens in Federal Prisons all across America. I will, when I can, stand in solidarity with my sisters and brothers in prison at 4:00 pm.

Soon it will be time for Mass. I have been volunteered by S. Ille for the choir. I really don't mind, but the hour-long homily is tough to sit through. Last Sunday I swear he ran right through at least 20 stop signs. it is an out right slaughter of words. He should geta two month sentence I swear (remember swearing and prison go hand in hand!). The blessed silence of a Quaker Friends meeting would be absolute HEAVEN to me right now. People look at me a bit oddly b/c when asked what religion I am I say Quaker Catholic. But it is true. Catholicism is in the marrow of my bones from little on and saturates the pores of my soul. It only seems natural to me. One woman asked if I would get a Quaker meeting together here at Carswell. I told her we just needed a room and we could just sit in communal silence and speak as the Spirit prompted. But I can bet you it will not happen given the MASSIVE amounts of red tape in the BOP bureacracy.

WEll, I will sign off for now. As always I am so enormously grateful to Beth who transcribes these mini-novels. Please join me in thanking here. SHe is a very busy student. I am sure she did not know what in the hell she was getting into when she offered her services. (Funny to type what someone else has written about you!!!)

I am grateful, more than you could ever know for all the prayers, cards, letters, books and love you all send. it is MORE important to me than food. It keeps my SOUL together.

Finally pleace take every thing, every reflection I write with a grain of salt. It could be a flash of brilliance but more than likely it is the result of being cooped up too long with monotony pounding down on my mind like a jackhammer on concrete. Weird things can seem completely normal under these circumstances!

I wanted to mention one more woman who would like some mail. Bernadette Appa #31800051.

With a gentle embrace and a whole shit load of gratitude for the powerful presence of your love and prayers,

a reflection

From A Book of Hours by Thomas Merton

"The forms and individual characters of living and growing things,
of inanimate beings, of animals and flowers and all nature,
constitute thie holiness in the sight of God.

Their inscape is their sanctity.
It is the imprint of His wisdom and His reality in them. The special clumsy beauty of the particular colt on this day in the field, under these clouds in a holiness consecrated to God by His own creative wisdom
and it declares the glory of God.

The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this window are saints.
The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of that road are saints
looking up into the face of God.

This leaf has its own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape, and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength.

The lakes hidden among the hills are saints,
and the sea too is a saint who praises God
without interruptions
in her majestic dance.

The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God's saints.
There is no ther like him/(her).

He/She is alone his/her own character;
nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way.
That is his/her sanctity.

But what about you? What about me?"

This is from a book Joe Z, from Loose Leaf Hollow...It is called the Book of Hours featuring the writings of Thomas Merton.

When I was a novice and on retreat I found this book called The Seeds of Contemplation. It became like my bible. One of my favorite elderly nuns, S. Noreen Slattery, found me a copy of my own. The part I just copied for you all is from that book. I remember it shook the depths of my soul and nurtured my contemplative spirit. As I rediscovered it in prison, it seems to have aged inside me like a fine wine. Ans the question what about me? pierces my heart. And so I ask the question of God. What about me?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

May 5, 2007

First, Tina is asking for everyone to send her origami paper. They are going to have a "peace day" at Carswell!

Dear Friends,
I apologize for writing so much. I do so for several reasons. First and foremost it keeps me SANE. It is the only way I process "stuff" and there is so much "stuff" here. Second, I feel the need to share what happens. Somehow I think ignorance of situations, while it is blissful to 'not know,' it is by knowing that change can happen and third, it is an opportunity to share ideas. Should you have ideas you want to share please use the blog or my email address (You know I almost forgot my own email address that I use probably more than my home address and phone number combined!) I find it astounding that I DO NOT miss the computer nor TV. I have yet to sit down and watch anything! Needless to say the downside is I really don't know ANY news at all from the outside world.

I wanted to put minds at ease. I am on the mend from my bout of food poisoning. I finally got an "idle" from work today. I will get 2 days off followed by my two "regular" days off. I will not bore you with the saga of poor/nonexistent medical care...I could write pages. Needless to say, I had to get, what for me, is NASTY. It is the only language the staff undstands if you want to get anywhere. I wish it was different.

I slept most of the day despite the constant noise of an overcrowded unit made of cinderblock and concrete.

My sisters here are so special. Many have asked me how I am and have offered to cook soups for me, seared up tattered green tea bags and offered the home remedies from their countries. I can now keep plain rice and bread down. Tomorrow, oatmeal and maybe cereal...I want to go slow to make sure it stays where it belongs and doesn't run right through, if you know what i mean.

It was perhaps a blessing in disguise that I got sick b/c now i know first hand what happens to women everyday...and this is a medical facility! In fact, when my boss asked me why I didn't go to sick call yesterday and I told him they ran out of time and did not see me, he said, "And this is supposed to be a hospital?" I about fell over.

I want to share a humorous story just so you know we do laugh sometimes. There is a treat here made by inmates called Jailhouse Suckers. They are made by taking "Now and Later" candy and melting them around a tootsie pop. Well, a bunch of us were sitting outside talking and taking turns holding the umbrella to shade Ms J who is in a wheelchair having had two strokes. Ms Gail went to scare up some suckers for us and gave on tto me and Ms J. Folks were talking and just jawing when Ms J who had been sucking on her jailhouse sucker with all her might pulls the sucker out with her teeth, announcing her teeth were STUCK to the sucker. I thought we would all pee our pants laughing! She would stick her teeth which were wrapped around the sucker back in her mouth and suck some more and some more all the while she is trying to pry her teeth off. Finally she says through the sucker..."Darling wheel me in. I got to get this off here." Honestly I thought I would not be able to move I was laughing so hard. We went inside looking for a bathroom her wheelchair would fit into. The only one we found had NO water...none at all. So I found one (she could not get her chair in) with water and she handed me her teeth and after lots of HOT water, her teeth finally were free. She told me, "Throw that damn thing away!" (Meaning the sucker, not her teeth!) SHe laughed at herself, saying "And I thought I was doing such a good job of sucking on it. I NEVER want another one of those things." So much for jailhouse suckers and Ms J!!

One thing I am struggling with is how do I forgive the torturers, the guards and officials who constantly treat us like garbage? The question came up in prayer and I struggle so much with knowing how to do this. It seems as if I just keep running into this subject over and over in my reading and in letters and books that are being sent. I will share two of these. One came from a nun I really don't know personally, it was a copy of something she sent along with a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus knocking on the door.

The reading is called Sand and Stone
Two friends were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt but w/o saying anything wrote in the sand. "Today my best fried slapped me in the face."

They kept on walking until they found an oasis. There they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning but the friend saved her.

After she recovered from the near drowing, she wrote on a stone: "Today my best friend saved my life."

The friend who had slapped and saved her best friend asked her, "After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now you write on a stone, why?"

The friend replied, "When someone hurts us, we should write it down in sand, where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it."

I think I have been doing the opposite, writing in the stone of condemnation, the litany of hurts I see and experience. I guess I am afraid that if I forgive I will condone. I still struggle mightily with this! What Jesus said about loving enemies is so damn hard. To forgive, really forgive!! SOmetimes I just pray that I want to forgive but I don't know how. I am reminded of the AA philosophy of praying for what I want for myself for my enemy, even if I don't mean it and have to fake the prayer. The second thing is from a book I just received called "YOu Will be My Witness" by John Dear, SJ.

I am reading a saint a day as the book is about saints, prophets, and martyrs. Today I read about Josephine Bakhita who was born in Darfur in 1869. She was sold into slavery at the age of six. During her youth, she was tattooed over her entire body except her face with a razor blade, having salt poured into her open wounds. Josephine chose to forgive her torturers during the course of her life. John Dear writes..."Josephine finds true healing only when she decides to forgive her kidnappers and torturers. Many might dismiss this act as simplistic or pious by it is neither. It is brave, daring, and bold--the key to healing, inner peace, and personal transformation. Indeed her act of forgiveness opens n ew doors in her life by freeing her to reach out in loving service to others, as a follower of Jesus who forgave. Most of the world's problems, including most of the Church's (catholic and all other religions, I think he means) problems, stem from our refusal to forgive. If we dare let go of our hurts, anger, bitterness, and resentment, if we forgive everyone who ever hurt us, we, too, will discover the contemplative depth of healing and radiate a peace not of this world."

I don;t have much more to say. Somehow I thikn this time and the harsh psychological cruelty I witness calls me to this, though I would by lying if I said I was there. I struggle. The most I can say is...I WANT TO. Maybe this is a first step. I'm not sure.

I am also reading Thoreau's essay on Civil Disobedience. I just started it. I have read it long ago. I am grateful to Tom who sent it.

Most of all I am so VERY grateful for all the cards, letters, and books..I can not tell you how much they mean to me, to us! One of the women on the unit said jokingly during mail call, "Busch should get her own mail bin." ANd everyone laughed. I share the books and pass around some of the cards. So many women HUNGER for news from the outside.

You know scraps of tape, empty jars, bits and pieces of things are used and reused here. Some of the beautiful cards I give the front to some women. Holy cards and other pictures, like the one of Jesus knocking on the door, go up in people's even though I get the mail, they love what write and the beautiful cards and spiritual material you send. Prison is perhaps the MOST spiritual place I have ever been. Honest, faithful, trusting, soul-searching and heartfelt...a cathedral of testimony to God's loving faithfulness. I am, with so much love and gratitude, your sister,
P.S. If someone could send the Big Book of AA it would be gratefully appreciated...thanks.

Monday, May 14, 2007

May 1 & 3, 2007

Dear Friends,
I am enclosing parts of a reflection I wrote this morning. I went to the library (I had to get a pass. You need a pass for EVERYthing. I even had to just now ask the guard if I could use the restroom. Yes, I feel like I am in gradeschool). I went there hoping for some peace. I usually go outside but it was threatening rain and I did not want to get stuck locked up in the unit which is simply an echo chamber.

I want to ask you to pray for people here PLEASE!!! I mean I have never in my life witnessed the constant degrading, dehumanization of people. It is drop by drop trying to wear away at a person's soul. It is one of America's dirty secrets. This "industry" makes money on the backs of poor people who get caught in "conspiracy" laws. I am not sure if that term conspiracy law makes sense. I don't want to insult anyone but I will try to explain. Here is an example. Mrs. B was vacationing with her family. Her son in law was arrested at the same hotel room with drugs. She was indicted b/c SHE WAS IN THE SAME HOTEL ROOM!! Ms. G is here having had 2 strokes b/c her son is accused of selling drugs out of her home. She has 12 years. And the list goes on...guilty by association whether you knew of the activity or not. And then there are mandatory minimums. First offenders get very lengthy 12, 19, 20 year sentences. Now why would we want to lock up elderly or wives or first time offenders for such long stints? Well, we have privatized the prison "industry," we need to keep them full. Prisoners bring profits. They are a commodity. Just like legalized slavery in a sense...If the services are contracted for 95 to 100% full then the Gov't loses money if the prison is not full. Also we have started having private companies building and staffing prisons. Profits can be made, HUGE profits. This encourages the building of MORE profitable prisons. And so it goes....on and on.

It is up and down here. The women I have come to know help buoy my spirit. Some of the women are not so helpful. But I NEVER feel in any danger. Rapes and assaults happen but b/c of the volume of mail and how gossip flies through a prison faster than a California wildfire, most folks either leave me alone or talk with me.

There is a Toastmasters Club here. One of the inmates has asked me to give a speech. I am also invited to sing iin the Catholic choir.

I sing regularly. I sing while I wipe tables. I sing while I do the laundry. I sing while I walk the "Hamster Run." No one has asked me to shut up yet so I just keep on singing. It soothes my soul and connects me when I feel sad or alone or when I miss you all. They say music soothes the savage beast. maybe this is my way to try to soothe the savage beast here at Carswell.

We are having an "inspection" tomorrow. They have been "forcing" volunteers to clean for days now. Rat feces in the kitchen, roaches--they have painted and waxed and scrubbed. I refused to volunteer or be volunteered. I will work for my sisters here but to spruce things up for a lie, no way.

I kind of "hit a wall" this weekend. I ended up crying a good portion on Saturday (I think I typed this before...). The pain of the place, the stories I hear, the cruelty and disrespect I see just collapsed on my heart. But then Sunday evening as I was pushing Ms. G to the Law Library to meet Ms. S. who is dubbed the DA of Carswell, I ran into Lana who stopped me really said that she sensed a spirit of gentleness and kindness when she passed me. She asked to talk. We did and I stood there slacked jaw and again in tears b/c this woman, facing basically 2 life sentences is at peace. She is thriving at Carswell.

She told me stories that would make your hair curl. But she is at peace with spending the next 50 to 60 years in these 4 walls and razor wire. She will die here. I told her she was a saint. She said no. I told her what I thought a saint was...not a perfect person b/c there are no perfect people but a person who puts there life into God's hands and their heart wants to do what God is calling them to do no matter how difficult. With tears in her eyes she asked me if I would tell this to her 5 and 7 year old daughters. I hugged her and said, "Of course."

My heart breaks for her. THe greed of the prison industry is, as I am sure I have said before, really as horrific as the institution of slavery. Families are torn apart for years and years. Children grow up w/o parents, setting them up to perpetuate the "system." All for profit, all for greed. Just as slaves were part and parcel of the economy of the south in the 1700 and 1800s, so too are prisoners of the economy of the prison industry. A 78 yr old woman told me how she got 10 yrs sentence b/c she had been asked to deliver a "birthday" present. as it ended up, the 'present' had drugs in it. She got 10 yrs. conspiracy sentence thgouh she had no knowledge of the contents of the present. She is a very educated woman, retired school teacher. She has done her research. She told me the gov't "wins" 98% of all its cases. Not since Hitler's Germany has a gov't "won" 98% of the cases they try. She said by 2050 if the rate of incarceration stays the same, over half of the US pop. will either have beenin prison, on parole or probation. HALF of the population! and you acan be sure the majority of those people are the poor who cannot afford private lawyers at $1000/hr.

My family asked me not to get involved in any "trouble" while I am here. But how can I not tell what I see? How can I say, " I'm out in two months so I am not concerned?" I can no more do that than I could not help a friend or family member in need. These are human beings!!! I am not actively seeking issues. I am just keeping my eyes alert and my heart soft. It is not easy to do sometimes and other times it is the easiest thing in the world, such as when I talk with Ms BB or Ms G...when I listen to their stories and they tell me about their grandchildren with this fierce pride in their halting voice, I can't help but be moved. I cannot forget. It is nothing noble or special, listening to their stories. It is just what human beings do for each other. Please do not forget them, please, please speak out about conspiracy and mandatory minimums! Wasn't it Margaret Mead who said something about how always it has taken just a few concerned citizens to change the world? it is true. Think about civil rights, abolitionists, about equal rights...think about how the SOA/WHINSEC might close and about the exposure of Watergate...always a few concerned individuals moved mountains. My friends, we are the modern day leaders...

Someone sent me a card that quoted a poem from Maya Angelou. it said, "I think a hero is ANY person really intent on making this a better place for ALL people." You, my friends, are heroes. Your desire, your actions leading all of us to beter places are heroic acts. We all do them each and every day. And sometimes we are called to actions above and beyond our normal routine. Keep listening to your heart. It is there where the love and courage resides. It is the well spring of hope and from whreer the yearnings for peace are born. May peace be born in our hearts. It is my constant hope. I wanted to tell you so perhaps this gets to some senator or representative. They have been preparing since I came here for an inspection, I believe to try to get their accreditation as a hospital back. They are working inmates like dogs. The kitchen was FULL of rats and roaches. It still is roach infested --when I take down chairs in the morning there are roaches on the table. One women who was volunteered for detail cleaning found mouse and rat poop where the baking pans are.

My roommate went to sick call. She was asked by the doctor, in front of a waiting room full of people, what she was coming to sick call for. She politely said that she would rather tell him in private. He told her gruffly to leave before he had her escorted out. Ms BB has a colostomy and a feeding pouch. Her colostomy is infected and has bursted on her when she was sitting outside. She said she was totally embarrassed and that no one is concerned or will see her. She got here the same day I did. And the list goes on. I am disturbed at the hypocrisy of this place. It is phony and fake.

Thesre are now snacks in machines that are always empty, soap in dispensers that are always empty, toilet paper ON holders when there are usually none. Two people dispensing pills and a staff person supervising when there is usually only one person dsispensing and the pill line is usually to the basement. Elderly and sick waiting a long time....but for inspection they have more staff for the day. I wish the inspectors would see a normal day at Carswell!!!

Reflection: Living on Many Plains

One plain is solid...the world of tables and chairs, of doors and of buildings...but it is just a world of things that break down and our own bodies, I think...

Then there is an emotional level...this level is like a mist moving here and there. It's not solid, not even close. Happy turns to sad in an instant (esp. here) then back to happy again. This part is like the weather, always changing, always moving.

As I walked around the prison, at first the walls and fences were very real...all too real...hemming me in, pushing down on my spirit. There were fences I wanted to climb both inside of me and out. Buildings, walls I wanted to tear down and pull apart. But what I found is that the the internal fences and buildings came down NOT by the abuse of the guards but by the kindness of strangers here, women, inmates care for inmates and it is the only way we survive.

Then there are the stories, everyone has one whether in prison or not. It just seems prison stories are sad. I see constant pain, suffering, lonliness, the longings and the ANGER--the enormous anger--at injustice, at the inhumane treatment. I listen to story after story and breathe in the sorrow. I feel the heat, red hot heat of the anger. It rises up within me like an active volcano and I am surprised at how active it is. Then there are the tears which drown out and temper the white hot anger.

Oh Lord,I pray, please set us free. A stupid prayer, I know. But it comes from someplace deeo within the recesses of my heart. It is said to end the pain-mine, theirs, and ours. Maybe, I think, it is only a FAKE prayer, one meant to just run from the pain and not said as a way to "lean into the pain."

But what is real prayer? Perhaps it is simply a sentence...Lord, that I may see. Really see...I want to see. and then one of the small miracles happens. A woman passes by then stops and turns around and says to me,"Hi, I wanted to talk with you. There is a spiritual energy I catch when I pass by you...Can we talk?" You see she is here for LIFe! One life term and then 70 years more for added measure. (Isn't this always how the gov't does destructive enough nuclear weapons to destroy the Earth 100 times over. As if destroying it once is not enough!) So we talked. I babble about how unfair this place unjust...about the pain of women's stories...about the cruelty of some of the guards (actually most) abot the wasting of lives...about the filthiness of the Feds...and she listens and then speaks her she finds God here. How she is not angry anymore about spending her life here. How she had asked God to send her to help people and then she finds herself here with so much need, perhaps the neediest place she could be. ANd I realize that while she walks with her feet on the ground like you and I, she lives a few feet above. It's as if she has resurrected from this temporal place to some other level of Existence.

Suddenly I understand I have a choice, to allow this injustice to pin me down or to acknowledge the injustice, loathe it even and then allow myself to rise, to resurrect. But you don't just resurrect, you can't maybe. Maybe there is a dying, a letting go of the elusive, ever changing emotional level that leads to this type of resurrection to this spiritual level. And like Jesus after Easter, He rose and walked on the ground again, he felt and was aware of the disciples pain and sorrow, he was tender and compassionate with them but he was ablso not held down by the emotional part anymore. He had resurrected. He understood the pain in a whole new way. He was part of it yet no held down by it.

Like Lana..she is here. she has a number which is probably used more than her name. But it doesn't really matter does it? Because inside her there are not 12 foot double razorwire topped fences anymore, no punitive rules. She has more freedom than she might have had outside. Maybe it is only b/c she was sentenced here, b/c she became one of the condemned that she could have the opportunity to find this kind of freedom. She had to be as each inmate here, stripped of ALL the trappings. Stripped naked and then clothed in borrowed clothing, sleeping in a borrowed bed with borrowed sheets..putting her feet in borrowed boots. She became one of THOSE, a beggar really...condemned by society for whatever she did, but like Jesus' forgiveness in the Gospel when he looks up and says, "Woman has no one condemned you?" "No one, Sir." "Then neither do I condemn you." Like that woman in the Gospels, Lana has found forgiveness and peace. This peace has let her come here and she has become a SAINT who ministers to fellow condemned sisters, to the throw aways. Prison is one great big trash can where people who society (or the gov't) feels have committed some grave (or not so grave) or even nothing indiscretion are disposed of. And then, as a society, we promptly forget them. No wait! actually we remember them long enough to figure out how to make some profit on them and THEN we forget them.

Somehow now when I hear "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" it means more to me. it is more REAL as if it is solid, not on a physical level but on a spiritual one. Like what used to be pious words or noble thoughts have solidified and somehow become spiritually solid. A Carrie Newcomer song says "God speaks in rhyme and paradox, This I know is true." Paradox...coming to prison and finding amid the cruelty and the harshness and pain and vulgarity that faith, spirit, THE WORD is here. Dwelling with all the crap. Dwelling among the condemned. Not b/c the condemned are any better or worse. there is nothing glorious about beign condemned. But it is quite simply that they don't have all the trappings, the stuff, the power, the pleasures, the control and FAKE freedoms of the outside. Oh God, it feels so good to drive your own car or take the bus to wherever you want to meet whomever you want to meet when ever you want. To go get a good cup of coffee and cook your own food. Heck the joy of going to even a grocery store and buying your own food. ANd oh yes, to get up when you want and walk where you have money to buy the things I want to buy. But somehow this freedom becomes routine and we think WE are in total control. And we forget that most of our "stuff" will rot away or fade. It seems that perhaps for some living on the outside is harder b/c of all the trappings that give us the illusion of control.

Here precious little is in our control, at least the physical things. But the emotional trappings, those are perhaps the sticking point, the pitfalls for the inmate, the condemned. The angers that injustice breeds, the despair and sorrow that forced separation builds. The despondancy that monotony brings. The constant distractions of how to get out of this hell. But in the end we are all asked on whatever level we are able to Jesus asks us, "What do you want me to do for you?" ANd it seems we are only able to respond when we realize our need...when we lose or give up or are forceably stripped of the pitfalls.

Sometimes when we are caught up in the drama of our lives, the day to day stuff that seems to consume us and we can't even hear that tender ? "What do want me to do for you?" Then sometimes it is only when we step back and put that physical/emotional levels into perspective that we are ablt to rise to the spiritual level which we each possess. But even when we can't hear the ?, for whatever reason, the tender question is always there. "What do you want me to do for you? How can I show you my love for you?"

May 3, 2007
The contrast of this place is astounding. From walking saints, to scared "kids" acting tough, to bully guards and incompetent officials. (Incompetent is generous). It is mor elike corrupt and vicious but maybe that is not mine to judge.

I think one reason the contrasts are so evident is b/c of the harsh living conditions. On the outside, the lines are blurred somehow. This is in many respects, a third world country w/in a first world country.

I want you to know other than being pushed from Peter to Paul ( and a few other names I'd rather not use) I am OK. I continue to have diarrhea and a sour stomach. (A small fever 99 down from 101). But what will get me through are the wonderful advocates I have in my fellow sisters who have been here for years and know the system. The staff just make it hard b/c most of the time they could make it easier for us but don't either out of spite or think inmates don't deserve a break.

So I continue to rise at 4 AM, try to go to sick call (which gives you an appt time then sends you back to work) only to be told that sick call is running behind (after waiting 2 hours) and come back tomorrow. I still Must get up by 4 for count and work and take the abuse when you say you need to go to sick call. It is a totally idiotic system. I only pray the recent inspectors see the facade. this place does not deserve accreditation as a medical facility.

Well, peace to each of you. Please pray for us is my constant plead. Thanks so much to the folks who wrote my friends. They all thanked me with such humble and profuse thanks, it made me cry. Two people told me they read your letters with tears in their eyes. Thing is there are at least a thousand folks here who have th same need.

I love you all and hope you are fine...I'll be home in 40 some days
(remember that this is old and she is not sick any longer!!)

some brief thoughts

These are some excerpts from a letter Tina wrote to a friend..she wants everyone to know as much as possible about the conditions of a prison, so I will copy some of it here.

"I want to tell you all that has happened in this long (it feels as if I have been here months already) and yet short (I have met so many marvelous, wonderful women) week.

On Sunday night, I went to the Protestant service at the invitation of my unit friends. These people came with the minister from the outside. As they came around greeting us inmates, I thought to myself, "I wonder if they know that the y are shaking the hands of saints." You see I realized "saints" are not perfect people, just people whose faith in God is really all they have and that faith "moves mountains." Mountains of despair, mountains of pain and sorrow.

When I see some sisters I share this compound with who are looking at 3, 5, 10 years, life sentences, my heart breaks...How can they do it? It is so unjust. Mandatory minimums, conspiracy laws, lack of federal probation...I could not understand the MAGNITUDE of suffering until I see it, live it with my own eyes and life. The US prison system is the dirty little secret of the United States.

There is no messing around here. I am officially working in the dining room. I wipe tables from 4:40 to 12:30 for 12 cents an hour. I told the officer I did not care about the money, I was working for my sisters here. And you know what, God is leading here. I sang to myself a little song of peace...smiled and greeted people as I wiped up after them, took the trays of the elderly and got food for them. In a word, I wanted to just spread Love!! I told people to take their time when they ate and tried to just make their meal pleasant. Usually officers walk around bellowing "Hurry up" "eat, don't talk" and you RACE through a meal like there is no tomorrow because you don't want to get locked in.

I cut up the sandwiches of two elderly women in wheelchairs. One just got here yesterday. She told me, "I have to get used to this place. I'll be here 12 years." She will die here in 12 years. I cried but hid my tears because I don't want to be put on psych.

I noticed something else while I worked. At the noon meal they have Mon-Fri what is called Main Line. Key captains, Lieutenants, Officers, Doctors, etc. line up and if tyou have a complaint, you can bring it up to them as you get your food. i noticed that they RARELY smile. In face, the staff in general doesn't smile often. Now this is not everyone. Some are decent and seem to care or have some respect. But I would say the majority have a look of contempt as if you are trying to get someting over on them. So overall there is an atmosphere of DEEP mistrust and lack of respect. DEEP, very deep.

And I continue to listen to stories of women...I listened as a woman told me how she had a tubal pregnancy and they would not believe she was pregnant. She sat doubled over in pain at 2 am. Finally they took her to the hospital and she sat there until 9 am, not believing she was pregnant until her doctor here got in at 9 am. Then they did tests and found her fallopean tube had ruptured. They removed one tube and an hour AFTER surgery, they dressed her and sent her back here. 1 HOUR!! They did not want her to stay in the hospital outside b/c they would have to pay."

Friday, May 4, 2007

next letter...

Postmarked April 30, 2007

Dear Family and Friends,
I hope I am not too boring or writing too much. I just feel compelled to write as much and as often as I can b/c in part it keeps me sane and also b/c I want people to know about the ways of prison.

I spent Saturday mostly in tears. Sometimes the sadness of this place just seems to build up to a tipping point. I work in the kitchen now wiping tables. It is very easy work and I get to talk, briefly, with women here. This is a blessing b/c I meet so many people, wonderful women and I learn from them...a curse b/c I hear their stories and feel their despair and profound sorrow. Folks if you can please write to the "powers that be" and ask them to repeal mandatory minimums and conspiracy laws. But if that did, the prison industry would lose money because I bet half or more of the population would be free. I do n ot exaggerate when I say this. Most of the elderly are here b/c their son or daughter had drugs in the house belonging to the mother. So when one goes down, the all do. Honestly I'm surprised they don't start sending minor children who happen to live in the house to juvenile prison!! THis is the case of Ms. G, an elderly black woman in a wheelchair. She is looking at a lengthy sentence...most probably life b/c of her extensive medical problems of stroke, etc...common sense tells you she is NOT running drugs. My only consolation is tht Ms. S, we all affectionately call her the D.A. of Carswell, can build her case and write her an appeal.

Ms. S is also an older black woman, retired teacher. She has her "spot" in the Law Library. I can't tell you how many people she has helped. She is a beacon of Hope b/c she KNOWS the law and how to use it. Many people come to her to learn about appeal or how to file a 2255. Don't ask me what a 2255 is, I just hear it is a way to get either a reduction in sentence or Freedom!

I think the despair I feel is I look at those with long term sentences and I think "My God, how can they do this?!? Carrie Newcomer has a song called "This Too Will Pass." It is a beautiful song that I sing often to myself especially when I am at the end of my rope and have not had the foresight to put a knot at the end! But I realized that for many, many women here, this nightmare will NOT pass. Oh my how my heart aches as I write this. No really my heart BREAKS! YOu have no idea, I didn't believe till I have seen it with my own eyes. The number of sick and prison. And MANY of them will be sick and die here, in prison, in a hell hole called Carswell. Why does someone have to live their final days w/o compassion? Why do they have to die w/o their family and friends? I don't want to sound overly simplistic but I think that short answer is GREED. I'll write more on this later.

Someone wrote me a prayer and one of the lines was..."May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be." Folks, I openly question why God would mean for some of these people to be here. How could God want elderly, sick, dying...mothers of small children, the innocent caught in conspiracy traps? How??? Ihave a million questions of God and they are not gentle, loving ones. I know God is loving. I see God here wearing khaki all the time, but I see so much cruelty and I wonder how anyone could be MEANT to be sentenced to Hell for all of their life? WHat could they possibly have done to deserve this and my answer, the only answer that makes any sense to me at atll is NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

I wrote this observation to a friend...Even the guards who have the POWER, who hold the keys and set the tone of how things go...EVEN they stand, often times, slump shoulder as if the culture of cruelty, that pervades this place, is weighing them down as well.

You know, I have seen starving children and abject poverty. I have witnessed children dying of diarehha and yes, it always broke my heart. But somehow all of this seems to be CRUSHING my heart. I wondered why and I think it is b/c I am ONE of the oppressed here in a very intimate way. By this I mean, when I see the horrible poverty of India, while it does hurt to see it, I am not the beggar.. As much as it hurts, it is NOT ME. WHen I worked in the refugee camp, I could leave. I was not the refugee. But here I am #92944-020. I KNOW in a very intimate way the humiliation of wearing borrowed clothes, wearing borrowed boots, sleeping in a borrowed bed. I am an inmate who doesn't deserve some soap and TP in the bathroom or to be believed or to have timely or competent medical care. Here an inmate is trash, pure and simple...In this culture of dehumanization an inmate is NOTHING but trouble, more work for the guard who doesn't want to be there. Inmates on paper have rights but in reality have none and what they want is for us to believe this. TO BEAT us down. But you know where the MOST used place is here besides the diningroom? The Law Library! It is always full! Why? B/c people find a loophole, the appeal that might set them free or reduce their time. These are the folks who always have hope and never give up. They should name that place Hope Chapel.

Pema Chodron says in a book I have here that we should lean into the pain. I think I wrote about this before. THese past two days I have questioned her wisdom. How does on LEAN into the pain w/o feeling despair here? Perhaps I am suppsed to learn more loving kindness as I lean into the sorrow, I am not sure. I am finding it is a choice. I can be more loving ,more compassionate or I can become angry and bitter. I do not judge anyone b/c the latter, the anger and bitterness is so easy to come by. It is an Honest choice, believe me. I think the turn toward compassion at least here is pure grace. I pray for this always. I wonder to myself how do I forgive these officials and this system? A system that holds human beings in such inhuman, slave-like conditions, in some cases, for the Rest of their lives? When we say stop the torture, we need to include this system as well. For this is torture plain and simple. How does one forgive their torturer? Is this possible? To lveo the person by not love their actions? But when the actions are meant to beat someone or someones down so badly, how do I forgive that? At the moment, i don't think my heart is big enough and I am not sure it will ever be. THere is part of me that knows the path to peace leads me to forgive them but i think to myself, if I forgive them am I condoning the torture?

I think back to the book the Hiding Place, how Connie's sister found it in herself to forgive even those who were torturing and demeaning her. She actually loved them. I wonder how one's heart gets that big. In theory, it is easy to say,"Sure, that is the RIGHT way." That is the way of Jesus, but now when I am faced with the Reality, now I know how impossible this seems. But what was Dorothy Day's favorite Scripture quote "With God all things are possible." Now I know she knew the despair and sorrow of prison. She is a creditable person in my book. So I know it is possible to forgive those who oppress. I just hope I can find that grace. I wonder if it is something that comes out of the blue, like a bolt of lightning or if it is a Daily Stuggle, a bit by bit thing...i am not sure. I bet it is the latter rather than the former. I pray for this grace b/c all I feel right now is contempt for these folks. I am sorry I have to say that but it is how I honestly feel.

I am sure this issue of loving our enemies is not just my struggle. It is probably something we all face from time to time or at some point in our lives. Perhaps the grace is just to ask the question and from that grace of asking comes the answer. I am honestly not sure. But it makes me so VERY aware that I am not God. I am just Tina and I am struggling at the moment. Please pray for me, for all of us. I am not even sure what good prayer does, honestly, I question it. But it is all I can hang onto now. ALL the hope I have is in prayer. I remember how God got me here and so I know that part was real, is real.

Well, I bet Beth who types this all up and you all who are reading this are tired of my ranting.

One beautiful thing I saw today...the sunrise. ANd you know, the sunrise glints off the razor wire making something that is meant to maime and kill beautiful. And then there are the women I talk with as I wipe the tables. I get so much, so many little hopes as I wipe their table and get a smile, a hello from them. Someone today asked me to sing "This Too Will Pass" to them. I did right there in the dining room. They asked me if it was a prison song. I said, yes...

With much love,

update and a letter

Hi everyone.
I created this listserv yesterday b/c when I tried to send this brief sequence of events, half of them came back and my email account was disabled per a breach of contract on bulk mail. Oops! So I am sorry to those of you who have been waiting for news. Below is that message from Cynthia who talked to Tina yesterday morning. I have not received any updates since. Following is one of Tina's letters that I received this week.

This is the most current info on Tina that I have. She got sick from food poisoning on Tuesday night.

This might be rather scattered and disjointed because Tina
talked fast and time was running out on the phone to say all or wait till
I wrote everything she said. At any rate, Tina wanted you to put this
out on the blog, or whatever you do, so people know what goes on inside a
prison ... (in our country this is). The following is what I quickly
wrote but had no time to clarify with her. My impression is that most of this has already been said in some
way...but it's difficult not to do what she feels is important.

9-12midnight Tuesday --- she vomited and subsequently was very weak.
1am ---went to Medical Surge...was handed a bowl to throw up in
Waited 30 minutes
had fever---nurse said no she didn't have a fever---then "yes, a little
She got two regular Tylenol
Went to bed---had to report at work at 4:30am
Medical did not give her any paper regarding her condition so the
supervisor said "If I don't have word from Medical, you are not sick."
At 6:30 am she was sent to Med Surge again climbing 4 flights of stairs,
stopping often---no one was on duty.
Returned by elevator to work; was told to leave by supervisor; returned
to her compound (where she sleeps) still with no papers. {papers are
essential otherwise guards on duty do not believe the person's word or
Went by wheelchair to Med Surge--- to PA on second floor, to Unit
officer far away---her blood pressure was low
Got a day off---went to bed
Next day---up at 4am---begged to go to sick call again, etc., etc.

"There is cruelty and bullying in here."

April 26, 2007
Dear Friends,
At mail call I get so much mail people think I am some celebrity. I tell them I am just lucky and that so many people who are praying for me, are also praying for all of them too.

Some folks wanted to know what this place is are little details...The locks on every door but none on the inmate bathrooms are Monster locks which are opened with ENORMOUS keys. Each "officer" has a set of huge keys on a chain which is attached to a chain that goes around their waist. You can hear a guard coming for miles. It is the way you know to scatter if you are someplace you are not supposed to be. Of course I am NEVER where I'm not supposta be, right!?!

Small things here like there is NEVER soap in bathrooms. When I complained about how unsanitary this is, I got a smartalec remark from the staff. And I have learned in the first week if you find a bathroom with toilet paper, (these too are rare) you'd better take some extra b/c there is usually never TP when you really need it. I am now used to using TP only when I need it! Sorry if I grossed you out.

Then there are the lines...OMG the lines...they are long and often schedules conflict so if you are supposed to get soap and you are waiting by the laundry well, they may or may n ot open and if they do, it will be late. TYhis will cause you to weigh if it is better to WAIT or miss soap to go to a call-out (prison talk for an appt.).

There are three washers and dryers on our unit for over (we just got new people) 250 women. My wash time is 12:00 midnight on Monday. I have 45 min. to get it finished. I have only 3 bras and 6 underwear, 3 pants and 4 somethings HAVE to be worn and worn. I do stink! I try to air things out. I only have time for ONE load of wash so when I HAVE to do sheets and blanket (I think I will wait till they stand up on their own) I will not be able to do clothes that week unless I can get some friends to put some of my clothes with theirs...

The thing that ABSOLUTELY breaks my heart...the elderly here and the sick. Very old women behind the fence! I think to myself, there is NOTHING they could have done to warrant this treatment! I think the "prison industry" is greedy! I know this is a medical facility but it is sooo very much a prison where comfort, compassion, care is so short.

In this department, too, I find the small things are all I can do and so vital. For example, if I hold the door, or say hello or ask someone how they are, these seem like HUGE miracles..It is the little acts of kindness that seem to catch people by surprise and I can only hope and pray it lifts someone's spirit and in turn they spread some kindness which ripples out all over this hellish place. Honestly, here kindness, love and faith live side by side with despair, pain, loneliness and suffering. I see it everyday. Faith in God is all most of these women have. When I say that, here is what I mean...Imagine you are poor or lower middle can't afford a lawyer so you have to settle for a public defender who, in many cases, does the bare minimum to fulfill his/her obligations. They don't tell you options or appeals and heck, most of us, no matter what our socioeconomic class, don't know the law. So you get sentenced to 10 years or 5 years or 20 years or more. YOu come to Carswell, where strip searches are common, degrading attitude of the staff is the norm. You are "trouble," a "bother." You are told as I was told..."All questions are DUMB so don't ask any." (I am not lying). YOu are always "guilty," "faking," "a pain," you always wear khaki brown or at night sweats. YOu follow a myriad of picky rules and if you violate ONE, just one, you can go to the SHU (security housing unit--like solitary confinement, punishment). You live behind two fences topped with razor wire and rolls of razor wire in between. YOu work hard each day for 12 cents an hour while the "supervisor" stands over you to make sure you "Do your job." And you do this over and over and over again for 10, 20, 30 years of your life. Meanwhile. your children grow and do all those "first" things you dream about seeing...the baseball games, prom, driver's license, graduation, first boy or girlfriend...and the list goes on. In essence, life goes on without you while you sit in a place where the red tape bars you from the smallest of pleasures, where you wear "borrowed" clothes...where you are told what you can buy, where your mail, both in coming and out going along with your phone calls are listened to, read, and censored.. For 10 or 20 or 30 years or LIFE!!! Do you get the picture? YOur life is in a 10 ft. by 10 ft. room you share with 3 other women, your clothes, and all items are in a tiny locker or a grey box under your bed. Honestly we take turns getting dressed unless I get dressed in my top bunk. For 2 months, three months, six months, you might be able to do this with hope...but for 10 or 20 or 30 years!?!? My heart aches here! It aches so much. One woman said, "Don't ever forget those you leave behind." OMG, how could I? I am #92944-020 an I live with #05467-140 and #48621-046...One week seemed like months, 10 days and I feel as if I am forgetting what the "outside," the "free world" as it is called, looks like. Do people really get to drive wherever they want? Oh yes, that did happen once.

Even scraps of tape used to reseal envelopes get reused. It is reused to tape pictures in the lockers, but God help you if you tape them on the outside of the locker door, they are gone and NOT returned. So for some, like the man born blind in the Gospels, Jesus is all the women at Carswell have. They are the condemned of our society...They have the extraordinary faith b/c it is all they have to give hope in the midst of despair. Jesus asks them, in the monotony of the day by day, month by month, year by year sameness, "What is it I can do for you?" And so many with ALL OUT humility say, "God, give me hope, keep me from despair." I tell you I am HUMBLED. I shake the hand, stand in lines, walk the "track" with SAINTS everyday. I am so blessed to be with them. Yes there are angry women here, fakes, liers, frauds, and cheats...But I have found if I show any kindness, the smallest kindness, like holding the door, it is returned to me a hundred fold. Honestly, I do not fear any woman here...and this is a total mix..violent and nonviolent, innocent and guilty.

I so want to put up on my wall by my bunk Gustavo Guttierez's words "The least human being has ABSOLUTE value and hence an ABSOLUTE right to be loved, whatever the price may be." I know I would be yelled at to take it down.

Many of you have asked what I need?? Well, I go through stamps and phone money like water, but I have money or can get it sent...what I need most is you all to hold us up to the light. TO hold to the light those who are suffering here. For the elderly in wheelchairs. But most of all, please pray the "Free Public" Americans who are not behind the fence, that they come to understand and care. THat we understand how human beings are being used to make profits for the "prison industry." Yes, prisons are big business. Conspiracy laws and mandatory minimum equal profits fo this "industry."

I am think about Negro spirituals. During slavery times, they gave hope to people, many just like prisoners my head one runs just now...
"My life goes on in endless song, above earth's lamentations. i hear the real though far off hymn, that hails a new creation. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that ROCK I'm clinging. Since love is Lord of Heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

With much love, Tina