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Archive for July, 2010

I just had the best day with my friend Misty. Because our lives go at mach-one speed, every month we meet for breakfast and catch up. Today I proposed an adventure. Instead of our regular haunt, I had a plan. We would meet at Two Hippies Breakfast Joint on Seventh Avenue for the “catch-up” and then proceed two blocks south for a shopping expedition. There was purpose in my plan.

I left prison with $50 and very little else. The clothes I wore were a gift from my friend Carolyn. Since prison, my budget is, shall we say, challenged. But that’s ok. I have discovered thrift shops and consignment stores and can’t imagine ever paying retail again. Last week I learned about another “recycle” store to add to my growing list, Flo’s on 7th, www.floson7th.org, benefitting the Florence Crittenton Foundation for girls. On Saturday, they were having a special sale of designer shoes and bags called Heels for Healing. It was too good to pass up.

When we walked into the store, we loved the layout and the very helpful staff of volunteers, many of them from Shutterfly, a very community-minded company. They had indeed collected some fantastic designer shoes and bags, including real treasures from Christian Louboutin, Ralph Lauren, Stuart Weitzman, and the list goes on. Handbags included vintage Gucci and even a Chanel. I could have spent a fortune but restraint was the order of the day. I found a perfect pair of black Kenneth Cole sandals and a St John skirt plus what every woman dreams of, the perfect black bag. It was brand new but without the fancy designer label. Didn’t matter. It was love at first sight and all the other women around me looked envious. When shopping, it always helps to get approval from your sister shoppers. Misty, who is a perfect size six, found the most adorable Kenneth Cole skirt in black and white wool hounds tooth with the tiniest black lace hem to give it real pizzazz. She’s going to wear it with her new red bag that provides the perfect color accent. We can hardly wait for winter now. By the way, the St. John skirt won the prize for best price of the day. It was $4.

After prison, I knew I couldn’t go to the malls. That was way out of my budget. But I did need some clothes. Quite by accident, I discovered, the Lutheran Thrift Shop in Mesa. I happened to wander in on a Tuesday and learned that on Tuesday, EVERY TUESDAY, all their clothes priced under $10 are one dollar. Yes, you read right. One dollar. How can you go wrong? I have found Ann Taylor there and Banana Republic and even Ralph Lauren but mostly I find fun clothes to wear in the Arizona heat. For a few dollars, you can really jazz up your wardrobe.

I’ve also discovered the Goodwill. You know, “Good Stuff, Goodwill.” Because they are all different, I hate to pass one up. You never know what irresistible chachkas are waiting inside. The chachkas are different but the stores are the same. They all have that musty, dusty Goodwill smell, not like the perfumed atmosphere of Neimans or Saks. Never mind. Much of our flat was furnished with treasures from Goodwill. The prices were so good that when we tire of them, we won’t feel bad about replacing them. I think Mesa has the best Goodwills but I’m always ready to explore new ones . Did you know that Goodwill has a website now like eBay where they auction off great stuff from all over the country? Check it out at http://www.shopgoodwill.com/It is brilliant.

For furniture, I can’t pass up the Hospice thrift shop, The White Dove, on 7th Ave. It always has beautiful things and the store is laid out very professionally, like an upscale boutique. Their prices are very fair and the staff is wonderful.

The consignment stores are another shopping thrill. My favorite is Second Look on Shea and 32nd St. It really feels like a proper store. They are very picky about what they take and everything seems new. My husband loves the men’s department and their home wares department is beautiful. Besides the welcoming atmosphere, their staff is always lovely. They make us feel special, like we are spending a million dollars instead of looking for bargains.

I could go on and on but you get the point. There are lots of people who have challenging budgets right now. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m pretty proud that I’ve managed to furnish our “Blue Abode” with such bargains. We call it the Blue Abode for obvious reasons. It’s decorated in blue and white. After the monochromatic grey and brown of prison, blue is such a happy color. It’s the color of sky and freedom. This darling chair is part of a set I found at Goodwill. They were $10 each. The silk flowers were $2 and the lamp and table were gifts from friends. I love cast-offs. They are treasures to me.

If you have a thrift shop store or story, I wish you would share it with me. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

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People imagine prison is like the movies. It’s not. Yes, it is humiliating, degrading, depressing and very hard, but it’s not like the movies. In the movies, prison is always very dark with ominous music playing in the background. Surly guards and inmates are lurking around, trying to hurt you or frame you. That’s the movies. In real prison, it’s not dark and there is no music, ominous or otherwise. People are mostly trying to do their time and get out. If they have a modicum of self-esteem left after being shredded through the system, they seek out educational opportunities and look for a decent job.

During my prison journey, I was always blessed to have a good job. My favorite was teaching GED. The best reward was seeing the faces of my students when they learned they had passed. I love teaching. I love learning. I love books and that was the most difficult part of prison for me. In prison, there is a policy that dictates how many books and magazines an inmate can own. Someone had decided the proper number was seven. Seven books and five magazines. How they came up with that, I’ll never know but it stunned me. That included a dictionary, a thesaurus and a bible. Three down and four to go.

I was going through cancer treatment and wanted some books on cancer as well as some inspirational books on how to survive. I could see right away this wasn’t going to be easy. If friends sent me books, I had to read them and then donate them to the library or mail them out for storage. That broke my heart. I’ve always been a voracious reader and treasured my books. Many years ago, the Duchess of Windsor uttered the famous line, “You can’t be too rich or too thin.” I disagree. I think you can’t have too many books.

One of the first things I did as a free woman was start my book collection again. I’m not proud. I tell friends I will happily accept their cast off books. They have blessed me with fiction, non-fiction, self-help and inspiration. I’ve rediscovered prized cookbooks in the resale stores. I have a growing collection of books on writing and, yes, a dictionary, thesaurus and a bible. It gives me unimaginable joy to see those shelves full of books.

Now I’ve found a new website for readers: http://www.goodreads.com. It is a book lover’s paradise. Goodreads claims to be “the largest social network for readers in the world.” You can recommend books, keep track of what you’re reading, form book clubs. They want to get people excited about reading, but they don’t have to work very hard with me. I’ve been excited about reading since my mother potty trained me by reading Shakespeare. Of course, when I went to the University of Texas, I majored in English.

And now, I’ve written a book that will be out in late summer. It’s called The Slumber Party from Hell, a true story of turning pain into power. It’s the story of my journey through prison. Not only did I live through an amazing story, I heard others that were horrific and inspiring. I will be sharing some of them as we continue on this blog together. Everyone has a story. What’s yours?

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On my fifteenth birthday, I was feeling particularly cool and sophisticated when my mother cut me down to size. She said, “Well, you’re half way to thirty now.”  I think Bob Dylan had just famously said, “Never trust anyone over thirty” and Mother was speeding up my aging process.

Well, Bob Dylan and I both hit thirty and it wasn’t so bad. And now we are both in our sixties. In fact, I just turned sixty-five and never thought I would celebrate but I am. Why? Because I’m now on Medicare. There are so many Americans without health insurance. Many of my friends are in that group and so was I until July 1st when I jumped into the Medicare pool.

On Valentine’s Day, 2002, I was diagnose with stage 3B breast cancer and given a 60% chance to live five years. I’ve passed my 8 ½ year mark, thrilled to be alive and wonderfully healthy. I feel twenty five. I just don’t look it.

I have a lot to celebrate. It has been a memorable year. On March 18, 2009, I was released from prison and felt as if I’d been shot out of a canon. I was blessed to have strong community support. I had a job, a place to live and transportation from loving friends.. Not everyone coming out of prison is so lucky.

In the past 15 months, I have been part of a growing organization called GINA’s Team, designed to help people behind bars prepare for reentering our society. Gina Panetta was my roommate in prison, a darling 25 year old who loved to laugh. One day she collapsed and two months later to the day, she was dead. Why? She had myeloid leukemia and the medical department gave her antibiotics but no blood test to find out why she was so sick. Antibiotics don’t do much to fight leukemia.

Gina, 1977-2003

Gina’s family wanted to make sense of her death and so did I. I always like to know why, don’t you? After Gina’s death, they came to visit me and we started dreaming about an organization that could help people behind bars. We decided to call it GINA’s Team, with G.I.N.A as an acronym for Getting Inmates Needs Addressed.

What started as a dream has morphed into an amazing group of people. We share a common vision of helping a forgotten population who desperately needs attention.

This blog is my story, about GINA’s Team and what we are accomplishing, about our prison system and what we are doing to our fellow human beings, about gratitude and compassion and joy, about how to turn pain into power. Everyone has a story, EVERYONE. The challenge is to take your story and turn your pain into power. That’s the idea that gave birth to my motto:

Been there.
Done that.
Now how can I help.

As you read my stories, consider yours and how you can help the next person who is going through what you’ve all ready been through. Done that! Now how can YOU help? Please, share your stories with me of how you turned your pain into power. Together, that power can impact lives and change the world. I believe that. What’s your story?

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