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’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:
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?