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!!)

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