Dear Family and Friends:
So much has happened this year, the fourth quarter is already here! We have been grateful for every blessing, and each of you is counted twice. Thank you for joining us on this journey of hope, faith, change, and personal growth.
In this issue, we asked a few inmates to write about their personal journey, with emphasis on the positive. We are very grateful for their willingness to be honest and forthcoming, using this forum as a stage to share from. One woman in particular requested that her identity be confidential, and as always, I will honor that.
I understand that many have questions about how my parole hearing with the BPH went on September 11th so I wrote a summary report that I hope makes the realities of that experience absolutely clear. It would not be clear without a little history that led to the decision; therefore, I included that, as not all readers have been privy to the facts.
As always, we hope this edition finds you doing well, safe from harm, and embracing each day as the gift that it is. We are grateful for your support, and ask that you continue to share this publication in any way available to you, even on Facebook, blogs, etc. Knowledge is to be shared. Each writer is a living testimony, as they too celebrate their uncaged voice.
TC & Mama P
When California Senator Loni Hancock introduced the Senate bill, SB-260, in March 2013, she knew it would be a battle. The bill recognized that juvenile offenders differ from adult offenders, mainly due to the lack of brain maturation. Hancock pushed this bill because she believed in experts like Lawrence Steinberg and advocates such as Human Rights Watch, who were speaking out about the barbarism in sentencing youth under the age of 18 to lengthy life sentences in adult prisons. I’ll refer to them as JOSAA.
SB-260 passed on May 20, 2013 by a vote of 27:11, and again on July 2, 2013 in the Public Safety Committee by a 4:2 vote. Whew! The big vote on September 6, 2013 by Assembly members was 51:21 in favor of passage. We’re happy to report that Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill on September 16, 2013.
This does not mean that all juvenile offenders will automatically be released. It simply means that there will be an opportunity to be found suitable sooner than they would have using the adult matrix set term protocol. The matrix is determined by case factors. So far this is what we know:
• Any JOSAA with 15 years or more will be eligible for parole after 15 years, but only by a special BPH panel.
• Those serving life sentences will be eligible after having served the base term of their actual crime; this means minus the enhancements that got stacked on top.
• Adults don’t begin life term until they enter state prison, which means county time does not really count at first until after found suitable. JOSAAs will begin their life sentence or determinate term from the day of initial arrest and incarceration. All time credit counts.
o Example: A 16 year old, sentenced to 25 years-to-life for homicide, plus an additional 10 years for a gun enhancement, is received in prison in 1998. Her time begins at arrest in 1996, with the 20 year base of the life term, minus the enhancement. In other words, she is eligible for parole in 2016 instead of 2028.
For more information on SB-260 go to http://www.hrw.org or call Elizabeth Calvin: 310-477-5540. Thank you so much for all of your support in passage of this vital bill. Everyone who helped made the difference. Thank you!
Not Everything About Prison is Negative, by Cora Murry
My story begins on August 3, 2003 when I arrived at prison a very angry person. When I was sentenced to 24 years, I thought it was the end of the world. It seemed like a lifetime away. I had only one thought and that was to make a name for myself behind these walls. Fighting was an outlet for my anger until my dear friend, Shawn, reprimanded me. She bluntly got my attention with “Cora, you’re not going to succeed like that! What about our plans?” At that moment, the light came on. It was clear that if I was going to make it in here I wouldn’t get very far by fighting. From that day forward I managed more control over my emotions and began planning for my future.
About eight months later I obtained a job on the yard crew. I performed my duties so well that I was recommended for a seamstress job at my facility yard clothing room. All I knew about sewing was what little I had gained from watching my mother years earlier. However, I accepted the job offer to stay on course with reaching my ultimate goal of working at Joint Venture. In order to achieve that goal I needed to build a strong resume. I was hired as the clothing room seamstress.
After doing well in that job for six months I applied for a position at PIA Fabric, a warehouse setting very similar to the 1920s sweatshops. I was quickly hired but the position required that I move from B-yard to C-yard, leaving the very peers who had mentored me to that point. It was scary relocating like that, but I adapted to new people, roommates, and the yard change in general. If nothing else, prison forces adaptation and you can either resist or go with it, and in this case, it was a new path toward my goal. I left the seamstress job at $36/month for the PIA job at $75/month. My goal at that time was to receive my five cent an hour raises every three months in order to raise my earnings to upwards of $100/month. Given all of the overtime and Saturdays that I worked I was well on my way.
I added being a WAC member to my responsibilities. WAC stands for Women’s Advisory Council. I became a voice for the women who couldn’t, or simply did not know how, to speak up for their prison rights. I spent one year doing this, keeping myself busy with as many positive activities as possible. Life was good by prison standards – until May 5, 2004.
I had done well for myself and was reaching goal after goal. Then I received the call that every prisoner fears, which is to report to your counselor’s office for a personal phone call. That was the day that my family informed me that my beloved mother, Alma Murry, had passed away. My flame began to flicker as I felt the oxygen leave my body. I had never been more crushed. I cried for three straight days in my solitude of bereavement, and then I knew that I had to make a decision. I could pick myself up and move forward or rebel in my pain, losing my job while other inmates waited to fill my position. I did exactly what my mother would have wanted me to do: I pushed forward, refocusing on my goal anew. I didn’t quit.
Exactly one year later, on the anniversary of my mother’s death, I was hired at my prison dream job: Allwire Electric Company, operated under the prison title of Joint Venture. I had made it! I went from one goal to the next until I reached my then ultimate goal. I started at the legal minimum wage as opposed to pennies on the dollar and did well for three years until 2008, when 15 others and I were laid off due to reduced work production. Still, I’m grateful for all that I learned.
My next goal is to be hired at PIA Dental. I earned my GED on August 5, 2013 and now intend to pursue my AA degree. It hasn’t been easy but I’m living proof that hard work and dedication does hold priceless rewards. In sharing my story, I hope my message is loud and clear: a lot of positive things can be achieved in life, even in a place like prison. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved thus far, but I’m still a work-in-progress. You can do anything you set your mind to, and like me, you too can be your own success story.
There are a good many of our friends scratching their heads, trying to wrap their brains around what happened at my parole suitability hearing on September 11, 2013. Given my positive prison record and impressive C-file, many cannot grasp the idea that not only was I denied parole for three more years, but that I asked the panel to permit me to stipulate to such a decision. I will do my best to explain how that sort of thing happens.
First, we need to time travel backwards to the year 2005 when my first suitability hearing was held. Prior to any hearing, all lifers must submit to a psychological evaluation that not only digs into their past but assesses their risk for recidivism likelihood. The BPH relies on these reports, providing them with the professional opinion of a licensed psychologist, which carries a lot of weight in that room. I had 602’d the report for its inaccurate assumptions and biased declarations that I have since proven false, but my 2005 hearing was held with that 2005 analysis used heavily against me. I learned something that year: I learned to fight lies with real evidence. But, what lies?
My interview with Dr. Hartung had lasted all of 45 minutes, with three phone call interruptions, one of which was so private he had me step out of the room for about seven minutes. I had answered questions about my childhood including the ugly truth of abuse. I explained how when I was five years old I was a chronic bed-wetter and my parents had me see a doctor to fix the problem. I told him, “They scheduled me for surgery. A surgery that was not necessary, because I didn’t have a bladder problem; I was wetting the bed on purpose to keep my stepfather out of it. The smell of urine appalled him, so even at five years old I had figured out a way to protect myself.”
In his report, however, Dr. Hartung had said that I had completely fabricated the story about the surgery. He wrote that not only is such a surgery for chronic bed-wetting unheard of at such a young age, but that I was narcissistic to think that I could manipulate him into believing the story of a conspiracy against me by my parents and the doctor for this unnecessary surgery. I never said it was unnecessary in the cruel sense of a conspiracy. I said it was unnecessary because I was wetting the bed on purpose to keep my stepfather out of it.
Oh, it gets better.
During our interview, on at least three occasions, he asked me if I had ever set fires or tortured animals. I was annoyed when he asked the third time. I’m in prison for killing my stepfather, yes, but I’m not a serial killer, for Pete’s sake! However, in the printed report, the good doctor based part of his claim that I lied about the sexual abuse on the fact that I had denied being an arsonist or sadist. I was raised to respect other people’s property and everyone knows I love animals. I don’t know what textbook he got his theory from, but not all incest and rape survivors resort to arson and sadistic acts of animal torture.
In a nutshell, he called me a sociopathic, narcissistic, antisocial liar without empathy or remorse. He called me a freakin’ liar! I was so outraged to have my voice shoved to a dark corner like that I decided to put that anger to good use. Instead of acting out, I responded with a mission to prove that Dr. Hartung’s report wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. I had to find the evidence, so I wrote every hospital in the Bay area until I obtained my medical records, and I had the proof staring me in the face. I not only had records of what led up to the surgery and the surgery itself, but other medical records that, had my trial attorney done this research before the 1992 trial, the jury would have had an entirely different perspective. Armed with those documents, I was actually grateful that Dr. Hartung set my anger on fire because it sent me into action. No survivor likes to be called a liar. As a matter of fact, it is that very fear that prevents most victims from speaking out. It takes guts and raw courage to speak up and it is almost condemning to not be believed when you do. Thank God I was already ten years into my recovery when that happened; otherwise I may have just shut down. However, I had found my voice. I didn’t shut down. And I didn’t shut up.
In 2008 I had a roommate named Echo who advised me that I could put a free ad in the Craig’s List website to draw attention to our case. We certainly couldn’t afford legal counsel so I thought, why not place an ad? I asked Steve and Carolyn to place the ad for me and they did, using their email address for responses. There were several hits which eventually led to my mother and I both gaining pro bono legal representation.
In 2009 I was scheduled for my subsequent parole suitability hearing, therefore [sent] to see a psychologist to perform a new assessment analysis report. I explained that I had legal representation that was putting together a Writ of Habeas Corpus and that I had already waived my 2009 BPH hearing because of this. He agreed that holding the lengthy interview would be irrelevant if I was not holding my hearing and also seeking to go back to court. He excused me from the interview, then once I left he proceeded to evaluate me without my being present. He used the 2005 report as his test subject instead of using me for that purpose. If that is not illegal, it should, at the very least, be deemed unethical. In essence, the 2005 report was still haunting me.
Fast forward now to 2013. I had to tell you all of that in order for what I’m about to tell you to make sense. When changes were made to BPH policy after passage of Marsy’s Law, it was determined that all psychological evaluations of lifers up for parole would carry a shelf-life of five years. The 2009 report is still valid until about 3rd quarter, 2014.
Due to the unethical nature of the 2009 report, my state-appointed legal counsel, Michele Garfinkel, requested of the panel that I be allowed to postpone my hearing so that I can be re-evaluated for a fair and impartial hearing. The panel denied that request. Michele then asked to speak to me privately to review my options, which we did.
Okay, I could go forward with this hearing using that foul report full of false accusations and risk what could have amounted to about a five year denial of parole. Michele, however, patiently explained the benefits of option #2 which was clearly in my best interest. I chose to stipulate to the minimum denial of parole which was three years. By doing so, I could wait out the shelf-life of the 2009 report and then take my medical records and evidence of abuse into an entirely new interview process for a new evaluation. That should help nip presumed assumptions of sociopathic lying. Well, I’m hoping that seeing the proof will make a difference. After a year I can file a 1045A formal request to have my next hearing held prior to the three year wait. Yes, in other words, I still obtained a postponement to obtain a new evaluation, but we’re calling it a three year stipulation of denial of parole. It’s just part of the political process. Had I faced the panel with the warped 2004 report it certainly would have been freedom suicide. This is not a matter of manipulating the system. I see it as a matter of using their written policy as a means to pursue my path to freedom, even if it requires that I file extra paperwork in order to do so.
I’m very satisfied with my decision and definitely grateful to Michele for her careful explanation of the law and my legal options. She says she does BPH law because she believes in the process. Her demeanor and professionalism was evident that those were not just words. Any lifers interested in a competent and caring BPH attorney, contact Michele Garfinkel, 1611 S Street, Suite 202, Sacramento, CA 95811.
There’s Nothing Funny About It
While it is true that the California state prison system has become a warehousing debt maker to hold inmates bulging at the seams, it has also warehoused the mentally ill. With the closures of many of the psychiatric hospitals, those patients need to be placed somewhere to obtain the help they need. They are being housed in prison, where they may not necessarily receive the medical attention that they need. Budget cuts have decreased the available staff and options for the mentally ill are limited.
Inmates who hear voices walk the grounds here, arguing and socializing with those voices. Those of us who cannot hear their voices are clueless as to what they are going through. There is nothing funny about an individual who is struggling on the brink of sanity and insanity. However, there are those who point, laugh, and even mimic the women devoured by inner demons in a fight for control. It is sad. It is preventable. It is inappropriately on display to be ridiculed by those who are fortunate not to be one of the mentally ill, lost in a wasteland of voices and finger-pointing. It is a lot of things, but funny it is not.
I learned that prison has a pill-popping policy that is their answer to everything. Now mind you, I can grasp that in some cases people need a pill for this or that. In 1995 I was having trouble sleeping. I was battling my own demons of the past. The staff here in white jackets wanted to give me Elavil, a psychotropic medication. A mood changer. I didn’t need a pill, I needed to talk. However, being overworked and understaffed, they would rather give you a pill and send you on your way. Since I refused pills to numb my pain they removed me from the list to be seen. By the way, the guy who did that was eventually walked off the job for inappropriate sexual behavior with a patient. Need I say more?
There are a good many individuals who are doing well with the use of medications but what about the ones on the walkway who argue loudly with the voices in their heads? The ones who officers walk right past? The ones who are getting the short end of the stick? They don’t belong in prison. They belong somewhere where they can receive help. Real help.
CCWF has a policy in place called EOP – Enhanced Outpatient Program. There is a unit in the receiving yard that houses those not ready for assimilation into the general population of inmates. There are rooms in each of the general population units that have “step-up” rooms. They are called that as a means of stepping up [or transitioning] from EOP. If the women can’t make it there they are returned to EOP. What is sad is that there are many who really aren’t making it as opposed to barely hanging in there. Since these step-up rooms are in G.P., we are all mingled together. If the EOP/Step Up inmate attacks one of us, they get a pass. No repercussions because they are deemed mentally ill. If we defend ourselves we can get a write-up. So not only are they vulnerable in this situation, but we are as well.
There are a lot of things broken in the penal system, but especially at the level of incarceration. There are people who do belong here, most certainly, but there are way too many who should be in a different environment. Definitely not criminal isolation. So when you are saying your prayers, add one for the mentally ill prison population. Someone needs to care about them, and if it’s not the system, it needs to be us.
When You Complain, You Remain by Niki Martinez
Who among us just gets frustrated and walks around saying, “I hate this place!” or “I’m sick of being here!”? We all have those days. And it puts you in a crappy mood. But I need to remind you: when you complain, you remain! It tends to set the tone for your day, your attitude and your perspective. It is so easy to get caught up in the mentality of “I hate it here.” But what we need to realize is that it could always be worse. When we change our perspective, we change our attitude, and when we change our attitude, it affects our lives! Why walk around feeling crappy, making life worse than it has to be, because we choose to? We have to know what thoughts to ignore, and respectfully, what people to ignore.
Too many people are negative and discouraged because they don’t like where they are. It’s just not where they want to be. They missed the unlock, their roommate locked them out, they’re stuck at the gate, they want in, they want out, they can’t wait for the door to open to go program, they get to work and they’re still irritated. They want to shop, they come back and they’re mad about being locked out and not getting this or that! They are always fighting against something. They are always trying to be somewhere else. We really need to begin to understand that change begins in us, not in our circumstances. The wrong attitude will keep us right where we are! So often, we find ourselves fighting our way to happiness, thinking it’s some sort of destination. We’re always trying to reach somewhere else and then we will be happy. “Once I shop, I’ll be happy.” “If I could just move then I’d be happy.” “If I had that other job, if I could move off this yard…” Or the bigger one that all of us are so convinced of: “If I could just get out of this prison, then I’d be happy.”
When we think of it like that, it only holds us back from our own happiness. A better approach is “This is where God has me right now and until He moves me, I’ll be happy right now, right here.” It is our choice. Our happiness doesn’t involve our circumstances or our place of residence, it involves our perspective and our attitude. We have to be determined to enjoy our lives no matter where we are living them. And when we understand that God has us exactly where He wants us, and when we learn to be happy where we are, He will take us where we want to be.
If we want to see God open new doors, the key is to bloom right where we are planted. We cannot wait until everything becomes better before we decide to have a good attitude. We have to be the best we can be right where we are.
When we change our approach, slow down, and just enjoy the journey, or take in all the journey has to offer, we will arrive where we’re supposed to be, but our lives will be much more fulfilled. And then we will be blessed with the perspective that it was all worth it. Instead of looking at what w don’t have, be grateful for what we do have. Somebody in this world would gladly trade places with us. Somebody would love to able to breathe like us, or be able to walk like us or see like us. Somebody would love to living where we are living.
Complaining only delays better days.
Choices by Christina Francis
Life is about choices- good and bad, positive and negative – and the consequences of actions taken because of the choices we make. My own choices led to my being a juvenile offender sentences as an adult. I entered State prison only three months after turning 17 years old. At that time I was the youngest person housed at CCWF, not exactly the claim to fame one strives to reach. I was instantly defined as a lost cause and led to believe that this was true. My truth. Not knowing any better, I embraced that [stigmata]; that is how I began serving my life sentence.
Through many trials and tribulations, today I now know that this is not true. That it need not be my legacy. I’ve learned in my own way to turn that around and to re-evaluate my views and values. Incarceration really is the biggest time out ever. It has brought me face to face with the here and now. Although I am separated from the outside world, prison has offered me the grand opportunity to stop and think about the natural flow of life, and to reflect on my place in it.
It has not been easy to grow up in a women’s prison. To be raised in such a volatile and angry environment. My vision, hope and faith were distorted by the daily madness; I simply let it envelop me and became a part of it. I somehow settled it in my mind that not only would this be where I will die, but that I was okay with such a desolate reality.
Over the years, however, that 17 year old kid has grown up, and in that development process I forced myself to look deeper into my core issues. I did not do this alone, but with the help and support of good friends who had pure motives and who hoped to see me reach my true potential. It took time but I found that it really is possible to overcome challenges. It took all the super-human dedication and effort that I could muster, but I grew tall enough mentally to see over the mountains of what I perceived as impossible. I’m content with the struggles that I’ve encountered. In life, every struggle, every circumstance of pain and chaos is in itself a lesson in progress. I have gained wisdom and personal strength through this philosophy and it allows me to perceive and respond to things as they are.
Growth requires limitless courage and through the experiences that taught me that I now believe that anything is possible. Before I could ever take control and rebuild my life I needed a firm desire to make my wishes sincere and real in every way. The more progress I made, the closer I drew toward becoming a useful person with a purpose in life. I learned that making excuses for not growing and feeling sorry for myself and my predicament was wasted energy. The negative sources of stagnation that I surrounded myself with only delayed my growth process – time I can never get back. When I hear someone say that I never had half a chance, I hear a voice of knowing that says, “You create your own chances, or lack thereof.” And I know this is true. At least for me it is.
I am a true believer that an inner drive for growth will push you forward; I’m living witness to how you can conquer many obstacles by demanding such commitment to personal growth. Being incarcerated, I have little control over many aspects of institutional life, but I have control over myself, how I see things, and most certainly, how I react to all of it. We can choose to advance or sit in our self-pity and rot. The choice is ours. As for myself, I keep putting one foot in front of the other and progressing forward. Doing so has made all the difference. A difference I now embrace.
I Saw God Today by Patti Garrison
I saw God today,
In the sunrise;
Beautiful hues of pink and purple,
Brush strokes in the clouds;
Painted by a master painter.
Yes, I saw God today,
And I can tell you, He is beautiful.
I saw God today,
In the forest;
Awed by the majestic trees,
Which have stood against
Winds and storms, yet stand proud.
Yes, I saw God today,
And I can tell you, He is strong.
I saw God today,
In the eyes of a man;
He rises early to feed the hungry,
And help the needy,
His only reason being that help is needed.
Yes, I saw God today,
And I can tell you, He is kind.
I saw God today,
In the actions of a woman;
She stopped to help a homeless man.
She extended her hand and he was hesitant,
Until he saw her smile.
Yes, I saw God today,
And I can tell you, He is compassionate.
I heard God today,
In the laughter of a child;
So pure and sweet,
Filling the air,
With happiness and innocence.
Yes, I saw god today,
And I can tell you, He is joyous!
I thanked God today,
For allowing me to see and hear Him,
In the simple, yet beautiful everyday things,
Which surround us all,
If only we take the time to notice.
Yes, I thanked God today,
And I can tell you, I am blessed.
The Gift That Keeps on Giving by Strictly Anonymous
I, like anyone else, have a story to tell. I believe we are all the walking proof of our pasts. While my story may not be pretty, the truth is that for prisoners it never really is.
In high school I never really had very many friends. The jocks all thought they were gods, the cheerleaders were total snobs, and the in-crowd could see that I was more out than in. I felt like an outsider looking in to a world that didn’t care if I even existed. I felt alone in the world.
And then I met him. He made me feel like I mattered. He actually wanted my time, my attention, to hear my own thoughts; he even asked about my dreams. His name was Jeff. I was 16 years old and in the 11th grade. Jeff, however, was 21; he worked as a forklift operator at a large warehouse. He made money that he readily spent on me. I had never felt so special in all my life. For the first time, I felt loved.
Because of our ages we had to keep our relationship a secret. Even from my sister, who almost always knew what I was up to due to her snooping nature.
We had been dating for over a year when Jeff hit me for the first time. I never saw it coming. He kept it invisible to the peering world by leaving marks only where clothing hid the bruises. Somehow he had convinced me that it was my fault. That I made him so mad at me I had it coming. I actually believed that.
In a relationship like that things never get better. Ours got worse and when he realized he had gotten me pregnant, he expected me to get an abortion. Hiding the relationship was one thing, but hiding an abortion from my devout Catholic parents was a whole other idea. Jeff and I argued over this. I was 17 years old by then and he kept telling me how he could get in trouble if I didn’t get the abortion. The final straw was when he began to threaten that he’d kill the baby himself. I imagined his kicking me in the stomach. I agreed to the abortion to escape that sense of a beating. The next day I disappeared from his life.
Jeff couldn’t contact me at school and he couldn’t contact my family for fear of statutory rape charges. What he didn’t know was that I’d told my parents the truth. It was all I could think of to do. First I told my mother, then with my mother’s support, my father too. I went to live with my aunt in southern California and spent my son’s first two years under her roof. She was my saving grace. I was able to get a job and my GED with her help and daily encouragement. I made a life for myself in southern California and life was good. Jeff was only a memory.
When I was 24 years old, my son Dalton was six and in school. I was working at an office building that had a front desk with security personnel. One day I was called to come down from my office to see a visitor at the front desk. I was told his name: Jeff had found me. I felt my breath get trapped in my lungs. The walls were closing in. I couldn’t even speak for the first few seconds. Reluctantly, I agreed to meet him at the front desk, but I warned Perry, the security officer, on the phone, “This may not end well. Please stay nearby.” Perry assured me and I reported to the desk.
Well, this story actually did end well. Jeff asked me to sit on a couch in the lobby with him and he proceeded to tell me how he had found me. It wasn’t very hard; I had never changed my name. He assured me that he had grown up, changed his ways, and was a better man than the immature person I had left behind. He apologized and then he asked, “How is life? Tell me about the baby.” I told him he had a son. I gave him ten minutes, and then had to return to work, but agreed to meet him in a very public place – a restaurant. I showed him photos and literally let him see his son grow up in pictures. Our son. My intuition was that Jeff really had changed.
Although Jeff and I never got back together again, we were able to maintain a personal relationship of respect and I introduced him to Dalton. After about three months, Jeff relocated to southern California to be closer to his son. They have formed a beautiful bond and I am grateful for that. Had I held on to my anger, hatred and mistrust of Jeff, I would have robbed my son of the privilege of knowing his father. I chose to accept Jeff’s apology, and I truly forgave him. Once I did, I was freed from the past.
A few years ago, I took the law into my own hands against a coach, to protect Dalton. The law didn’t like my idea of a mother’s love and I was sentenced to 16 years in State prison. However, Jeff brings my son to see me twice a month and on holidays. My one act of forgiveness has come back to me over and over again.
When I began telling my story, you may not have expected this ending, but what it amounts to is this: Life is beautiful, even in prison.
Hey, Sports Fans!
Joe had tickets for the Super Bowl with a seat on the 50-yard line. As he sat down he noticed that the seat next to his was vacant. He asked the man on the other side if anyone was sitting there.
“No,” the man replied. “That seat is empty.”
“This is incredible!” Joe said. “Who in their right mind would have a seat like this for the Super bowl and not use it?”
The man looked up and said, “Well, it actually belongs to my wife but she passed away. This will be the first Super Bowl we haven’t been together since we married 23 years ago.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” said Joe. “Couldn’t you find a friend or relative or even a neighbor to take the seat?”
The man simply shrugged, saying, “No. They’re all at the funeral!”
From the Heart
I remember my first trip to Yosemite National Park in 1982 with a few of my co-worker friends. We drove late at night so didn’t see much scenery going through Mariposa. We couldn’t see much more than darkness around us beyond the bit of road in the headlights. It wasn’t until daybreak that we really saw the beauty of the valley floor. It was nearly intoxicating.
After checking in and locating our canvas tent cabins the four of us set about exploring the park. We headed straight for the tourist spot of the magical and fantastic Yosemite Falls. The way the mist kissed your face you knew you were somewhere special. I wasn’t the most religious person in the world and even I felt as if I’d been misted by God.
Garfield, Lynn and Lori were good company as we hiked up the fall, the slippery wet rocks beneath my boots. We could feel the change in altitude taking effect, the higher we went. I think it was my legs that felt the burn equal to what Garfield’s lungs did. That’ll teach her to smoke! Lori and I wanted to go up higher but Garfield couldn’t make it, and well, abandoning her wasn’t an option. We did make it to a high pool where we could sit on some boulders and just take it all in for a moment. It was absolutely magnificent. Here was clearly a landscape that paintings could not do justice to, for it was a creation not of man, but of a power greater than that.
In those few minutes before we trekked back down the falls I took it all in. I breathed it in. I soaked it up like a sponge and I have kept it all these years. It was one of those experiences that photos cannot convey but can only capture frozen in time. In those few minutes, I truly appreciated that I had the opportunity that not everyone does. I’ve met many women here that never had that chance. And every time that I do, I feel blessed all over again.
So I say from the heart to you: Don’t ever take anything for granted. Not your knowledge, mobility, senses, or next meal. Don’t take it for granted that you can breathe or talk or have clothing and clean water to drink. It is said that the best things in life aren’t things, but everything. I agree. When you struggle, it is part of your life’s blueprint, and even the butterfly must struggle out of the cocoon before it can fly. A woman goes through pain when her child is being born but she is grateful for the priceless gift. Stop and think about the people you haven’t spoken to or seen in awhile. Then tell them that you’re thinking of them. You just may make their day. Better yet, they are given the opportunity to make yours. Works for me. May you all have a safe, healthy, happy holiday season.
Love and Peace,
TC and Mama P
T.C. Paulinkonis Barbara Paulinkonis
W45118 (514-16-04U) W45120 (514-15-02L)
P.O. Box 1508 P.O. Box 1508
Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508 Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508
(In typing this newsletter, some minor edits were made for clarity. Words in brackets indicate that the handwritten version was unclear.)
I am old and full of days, and I know this because I get gift certificates in the mail, small bordered, blue; staccato messages to me approaching a distinctly marked age, as not like my twin’s age of 68 when her soul pierced the body’s shell and flew onward and upward, and when I had a feeling or wrote something like, “We will see each other once again -against the dark space and within the illumined lands of God, and we will remember our days as three year olds, sitting on tricycles of resplendent fire engine red and sturdy wheels, not yet aware of the rivets and tunnels we would face in our growth as twins and as souls, an intertwining of hate and love.
Fraternal twins. She from my father’s stock, the ones that produced fine men and maybe a sister or two who vaulted into business, and he, our father who was very much on earth, despaired at his life, the alcoholic wife, the kids like cartoon blocked figures with hair all over them, reminiscent of cave days, as witnessed by their teenage grunts from, “Where are you going?” and their toned and chanted response, emitting from their closed lips, “Out.” And indeed they went out.
The older girl, older in months; neighbors say they are all Irish twins, born within so many months of the other, tskk, tskkk. The older sister, yeah, you know the one who won the Margaret O’Brien Look Alike contest in Boston? Oh yeah her, she went out, out indeed.
She conceived a child as she melted into the arms of her teenage lover, the one who laughed and came from a poverty so cruel, and she was sent away to a home for pregnant girls, and all I can say is, “Thank God, she didn’t live in Ireland,” the Ireland of the Magdalene Sisters, in whose convent, young girls of impure type were housed in terror. For it was a time of sheer cement walls and slaves blending in, Irish girl slaves, those who might have had an impure thought or wrested themselves away from a pushy boy, or better yet, did the dirty deed and used the portion of her body referred to as “down there.”
Out also went the twins who by this time had finished throwing pitchforks and ice choppers at one another, but who had graduated to nasty, slime-ridden comments, of “I’m not sitting in the car, next to Esther,” or she, of the famous Hebrew Queen’s name, ran away from the Randall G. Morris Elementary black tarred school yard before Liz could cream her, she ran blocks and darted through the back door of the twelve- room house on Fernwood Road, in West Roxbury, and double locked the old brass locks against an avenging twin.
Not quite like the caves and battles of Beowulf and Grendel, but darn, didn’t Liz thrust her fist through a small paned window and reach down and unlock both locks and burst in and pin the curled up Esther into the coat rack of old winter coats and jackets?
And then that twin and her queen-named counterpart would, miraculously at twenty-one, be kind to one another. The catalyst for such kindness was a brain stem injury on behalf of our sports figure, Liz, of the mighty fist, which rendered her, well let’s just say, “Rendered her.” From those days of miraculous recovery, a mother had died, the father remarried, the sister gone and married; the brother disappearing and last heard was a used car salesman. We proceeded to fill the pages of our lives and we would always help each other out in a crisis. One day of cumulus clouds in Caldwell, Idaho, she passed on, at age 68 of cancer. The first bracket of the hyphenated, “tell-the-twins,” passed, piercing the body’s shell, her soul going on, leaving husks of giant blades of a sad, sad life, but at peace and loving her boys, one who would marry a pure soul and produce golden children, but that is another story.
The story is now 7-8 years later, I, Esther, who was born twelve minutes later, am approaching that demarcation known as “Full of pages of life,” of skin like parchment paper, but also of still ever sturdy hips.
And so this has turned out to be a prose poem, for what does the poet do? They pierce the state of the mundane and rise to astonishment as words from an unseen ocean spill and spill out onto the earth of one’s mind.
Boston feels like a sink hole, an asphalt taffy road with unexpected, unplanned for sags, taking the nation down and then up. Our hearts run to each other in times of tragedy, and someone else’s child is ours. We claim him, her.
Boston is in my marrow, even though I left there when they still hadn’t found the Boston Strangler, you know the guy who was murdering old women, and I was renting a room in Belmont, and the other roommate, Miss Bell, was very old.
I waited for the Cuban Crisis to be over, kept huge boxes around in my small vertical room, with tops open. I had ended a relationship and just couldn’t do law firms, relationships, or disregard from relatives anymore.
I had a VW grey Volkswagen convertible, with actual orange, Marx Nixt sticks, which to this day I don’t know how to spell, but I tell you, that car would go 55, and that was it, and by the time I edged out of Buffalo, my second morning, I was glad, because the heater was frozen, and I wouldn’t have made it through a Boston winter.
What’s in me from Boston? Libraries, libraries, libraries. Books, and my autodidactic self which took itself around books alphabetically, until I had read everything every author I fell in love with had written. In high school, as a rebel, I quit checking out books, and just stuffed them under my raincoat, and returned them that way.
Boston had the Charles River and the Harvard Teams crewing, but before that West Roxbury had Billings Field which was flooded in the winter, and my boys’ black hockey skates flew over this field every day. It was a time of Roast Beef in the dining room with the family on Sundays, and weekly meals in the kitchen for just us kids: leftovers on Mondays, Spaghetti on Tuesdays, Wednesdays I don’t know, but it was an era of the same type of meal each day, and our clothes were picked out the night before. School, the Randall G. Morris Elementary School was one block away, and on the first floor almost at the end was my mom’s room, and it felt as if I had a night light, even though we kids couldn’t have mom as a teacher.
I remember the smell of tight, smell of rubber, pink balls which bounced against garage doors with a thwap, and yearly visits to the Constitution, walking down narrow steps to its innards, and I remember visiting the Bunker Hill Monument, reading Johnny Tremain, and everything else for that matter, all stitched inside my soul as “Boston.”
I don’t remember girls having showers in high school, so the concept of running a marathon didn’t hit me until I was in my early 40s, and started running 3 miles a day.
In my era, we witnessed black out curtains, shortages of tobacco, sugar, and we jumped on tin cans, and later fought over who could massage the round orange ball inside the plastic covered white lard package to make margarine. We rooted for Ike, and laughed about having a naked man swing in the trees at the top of the hill where the Water Tower stood, a silent sentry to his bizarre behavior.
Boston’s a town that changed quite a bit; a town where prejudice of skin color and class etched pain in anyone’s heart in the 1950s. In my small patch anyone who wasn’t Catholic and Irish were suspect, except at high school, Roslindale High, and then we kids didn’t draw any type of line around, through, or over friendships
But somehow, maybe because change was in the air, always necessary, and because of books, and unobserved deeds of kindness, I didn’t pick up the alcoholism in the family quilt, and I moved to California, leaving the idea of skin color scorn and judging someone who didn’t speak the King’s English. Los Angeles in the early 60s was bizarre and multifaceted. Still, Boston, was a good place to be from, despite James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger, Jr.’s cavorts, and the horrible racism of Louise Day Hicks. I somehow knew change would come when we managed toe holds on the crust of the 60s. So now when I hear of newscasters laud the tightness of solidarity, I wonder. Is that really true?
But I tell you, we are all from Boston, or Newtown, or New York, or Baghdad, or Congo when atrocities hit us or others. The human heart has a way of moving borders. Got to tell the leaders about this. They need to know.
I am a woman of rich inner means, of hips which widen, and of feet which grow clumpier as the years go by. The word “dance” does not call to me as it did in my younger years.
At twelve, my twin Liz climbed out of a tree, swung into the back door of our twelve- room house, and ran up stairs to our bedroom. We shared. She drew a line down the middle of the room. No crossing. Twins are like that. But on Friday nights at 7.30, all the twelve year olds in our town dressed in either suits for the boys or dresses, stockings and shiny patent leather shoes for the girls.
Harry Raymond’s Dancing School, Friday night sessions ,were held weekly in a sagging huge yellow house with white trim on Centre Street in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, near the Shawmut Bank. My father or mother drove us, and we sat in the back seat feeling like victims in a Black Mariah, wheels silently thwopping towards Harry’s.
Dressing for Harry’s was weekly penance. Red silky type dresses; made by my mother, with tiny cloth buttons and Peter Pan Collars. Under the dresses, the dreaded undershirt, and down further the garter belts which were like magnets to the seamed beige stockings we reluctantly hauled over our young girl thighs.
This was a mournful time for us; a time we didn’t fight, too locked into the mutual tragedy of garter belts – long floppy rubberized stretchy thin bands with hooks on the end. The clips at the end were like a snake’s mouth – open, slide over nylon stocking, close, and clip, a metal slider of small proportions would pull the length of the strips tight. Ugh. A beginning rite of passage where I would learn women’s looks are for pleasing, pleasing men. Am I okay? All right, as in are my seams straight? Liz and I were poised on the edge of some type of womanhood, reluctantly brought into the fold of How Do I Look, Does This Please? Will He Like Me?
Once left off on the curb, we clumped up beat up wide stairs next to a rickety white banister and head towards the powder room. Jannie Cleary with her curly red hair seemed unfazed. I wondered if she wore a bra, maybe that’s why she seemed to carry an aura of confidence. “She likes boys,” Liz whispered to me with a downward twist of her mouth.
We filed out and sat on chairs in a huge circle around the edges of the ballroom. We sat like cows watching Harry Raymond, a thin double for Liberace, glide across the floor, moving by each young girl saying, “Girls’ legs are meant to be closed.” Then, each week he’d tap Liz’s ankles with his slim black and gold cane, and say, “Ladies do not sit with their legs apart,” because Liz always sat as if ready to spring upon a horse and ride off into some elusive West.
First we learned the Fox Trot, l clump, 2 clump, 3 clump, sway together 4. During the week at Ruthie Anderson’s house, we danced the fox trot with each other. Ruthie was Protestant, and we were Roman Catholic. Our mothers were best friends – daring in a world of people who kept to their own.
Then we learned the waltz – l, 2, 3 – l, 2, 3, feet stomped instead of slid on the old wooden floor as we stood like fledgling dancers auditioning for a musical. Eventually we sweated through the waltz.
Girls had to sit and wait to be asked to dance. The boys liked Liz; she was cute and sporty. I sat there like a female Prince Valiant, a large red square of silk, my hair a dark clump of blunt and my bangs sort of straight, but not really. My throat filled with doubt, as one by one, the seats around me emptied. Finally after thinking I’ll just put my throat on a hook, tall, small-headed, round-chinned Holland Morgan stood silently before me. His brown eyes questioned me, and his right eyebrow went up as in a “why not,” and we wordlessly cobbled our dancing feet together.. A fox trot. Step, Step, Step and Step; learning to hoof in a measured square to a musical beat.
Then, as if Zeus threw a thunderbolt into my mouth, I heard myself motor mouthing about dogs, our once poodle who died. Holland knew of this sad event. I spoke droolingly of our beige non-altruistic pug and our copper-toned farting boxer. Words poured out of my mouth like an overfill of chicklets spilling out.. I don’t remember his response.
Years later, when I was twenty, I met Holland again. He was a friend of my step-brother. I fell in love with him because of his writing. He called me Cynthia one winter night as we walked over to Howard Johnson’s for coffee in Kenmore Square, and I was shattered. He was at Dartmouth, and I worked down on State Street for attorneys. I lived with roommates near the back of Fenway Park, near Kenmore Square.
I still dream of Kenmore Square because my mother died one icy day in our apartment on Bay State Road. Old issues maybe, or deep wounds, not all caught up by the therapist’s dustbuster. Liz and I were seventeen. We had a pug and a boxer, and Liz and I would walk them across Storrow Drive, and walk by the river, the wind whipping through us in the winter. It was a good day when I realized, after Holland, after Bob, after blah, blah, I wanted what they had: words, empowerment, not to be lost. I was a dance in progress, and it’s taken a long time to become myself. I no longer wear stockings with seams, although they are coming back, and I’m glad that time period is over. Some people want to go back when times were good. Good for whom, I might ask. Then I think it’s all some sort of a dance – this life – a dance indeed.
Reader: Janine, a wonderful member of our verbally weird and adventurous, skilled, blabby CHPercolatorCoffeehouseforWriters – suggested a prompt overusing adjectives. Here’s my take:
Muffy Kincaid, that lustrous blonde with just a wee bald spot on the top of her head, revealing a dot, a splot, a mere quiver of pink flesh, under which spot, a brain whirred, as if agile and liquid,
and our Muffy conjured up ways to attract Alfred to her yoga class, in which she would point her long, long, long, long, limber, limber, limber legs and elegantly formed, mushroom like in its splendor big toe to the dappled white ceiling which was in tiles if you want to know, and they were becoming loose,
as Harry Raymond, a swish of a guy, who stood on head in his irritable, Terrible Tempered Tommy Bangs moments of anger, sweating, frustration, brought on by glaring at the cellular, no – not cellular — oh why had our Tommy Bangs, histrionic hero of the Yoga Loaf, on the top floor of a bakery, a hot, hot, hot floor, why could he not, indeed, could not find fame, and then our little mischievous Muffy, with a nickname of misky tisky, conjured again, under that pink spot of the brain,
having listened carefully, her spike-like cilia open to Harry Raymond’s needs and desires, thought, “Why I can kill 2 birds with one stone,” and thought Alfred twisted and twined his “Hi I’m from the Maine Woods,” thick lumber-like legs, would come and discover the lascivious twists and turns of
Dear Muffy, who not only thought under that pink spot on her head, but lusted, yes, our audacious mild mannered heroine Muffy admitted to lust,
and if she could entice Alfred into a yoga studio, surely Alfred would receive a memorable metaphoric epiphany and envision, using his yet to be developed connecting skills under his skull, yes our Alfred, had a skull, but opposites attract, pink spots vs. skull and
Alfred from Maine would visualize throwing Muffy into the clover and violating her in the vilest way, all the while, thinking, this all started because I left my man cave, my man ways and went to Yoga, and Harry Raymond, that insipid white crow of a man, actually had some tricks up his sleeve with which to twitch and turn and perhaps thrust (oh dear an inflammatory thought) and so I would end this earnestly written tale with the motto,
“Yes the Muffies of the world, can conjure, and the Harry Raymonds of the world, will live to see another economically assured day, in this time when men of reptilian brain, and smaller anatomy down there, trot and scheme behind the crooked corridors of power.