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 dying...in 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,