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.
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 emotions...how 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 me...it 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 gratitude..you 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
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.