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,