Archive for October, 2010

I attended a play this morning. Yes, this morning. It wasn’t an ordinary play or an ordinary time but it was a play about a subject that has become much too ordinary in our world.  Control, Assault, Delete is about the life and death of a beautiful and bright young woman who was abused and murdered by her ex-husband. 

John King wrote this very emotional play about his daughter. He and his wife Linda perform it whenever and wherever they can. Today it was at the Ft McDowell Recreation Center. A few weeks ago it was at Perryville Prison.  Imagine a naked stage with only two people. On that stage, the play takes us from birth to death with just the use of minimal props and maximum naked emotions. The Kings depth of feeling compells the audience to carry their emotions out into their communities to Fix The Hurt. 

The King’s have turned their unbelievable pain into power. Through this play and their organization, Fix The Hurt, they seek to bring attention to this ordinary yet horrible crime that is rampant in our world. Women, children, and even men are being abused by bullies who prey on their weaknesses. Feeling helpless and trapped, the victims stay because they mistakenly believe no one cares or can help then. It’s a vicious cycle of abuse that seems never ending. 

If you know anyone who is suffering from abuse or if you feel helpless yourself, go to http://www.helpfixthehurt.org/ , Linda and John King’s website. It is full of useful and timely information about how you can protect yourself. No one needs to suffer. There is help.

I know everyone has a story. If you have a story on this painful subject, I would like to hear how you are doing. Send me a message on my Facebook page or contact Linda King through her website. Do not feel alone.

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Marissa continues to stun me with her keen observations and depth of feeling for what she is learning during her internship with GINA’ s Team.  Recently, she made her first trip into the women’s prison.  I urge you to go behind the wires with Marissa and view vicariously what she experienced there.

“Finally, I was excited. I had gotten over my random kicks of nerves and had been looking forward to my prison visit the whole week. It’s a strange thing when the highlight of your week is driving 45 minutes to the middle of nowhere and sitting in a sea of bright orange for a few hours, but at this point, I’ve accepted the fact that excitement in my world hasn’t been aimed at anything ‘normal’ in a while.

That night, all I knew was that Linda and John King were somehow involved in bringing a play about domestic violence to Perryville. I had no prior knowledge of the characters, the actors or the plot before I got into the van that evening. I started to learn more when we met the couple at Paradise Bakery for a little ‘pre-prison snack’. There is no way I would have imagined that these two people radiating strength and genuine smiles had gone through so much. Not only was their daughter a victim of domestic violence, but several of their other children had been lost to chance traumatic experiences, and the fact that they had kept going in light of all this made those smiles that much more incredible. There was no reason they had been singled out to go through so much pain, and it made me think about the low points in my own life. It makes you realize that those trivial moments were just that, trivial. An argument or little mistake that you thought were the end of the world, were really just little blips on the path to the person you are now. When you see the optimism in the Kings’ eyes, after all life has thrown at them, you’re given a perfect example of when things really do get that bad, there’s always going to be a reason to wake up in the morning, and something great to be thankful for in life.

Of course, over ‘snack-time’ there was the usual light hearted conversation ( a term that may or may not mean something different to me now that I’ve been involved in GINA’s Team, but I’d like to think it was a light conversation) to contrast my wild over-analyzing mind. ”What year are you in school? Oh you look so young. How many siblings do you have Kim? What about you Marissa? Is that Poppy seed?” I admit, there was a point I kind of spaced out and could hear one of my favorite songs on the radio playing in the background of the restaurant.  Even then, I knew how foreshadowing it would be to the rest of the night. The lyrics played,

“He’s born to shimmer, he’s born to shine.
He’s born to radiate.
He’s born to live, He’s born to love,
but we’ll teach him how to hate…”    
-Shawn Mullins, ‘Shimmer’

 As we pulled up to the prison, I tried to make out all of the buildings and maybe remember some of the names. It was hard because it looked so different now that the sun was out and the rain clouds had left. Perryville was now less of a story-book dungeon, and more just of a wasteland on a dirt plot. Neither description I’m sure is very appealing, but neither is the concept of prison in general.  I stuffed everything into my purse as we neared the gate, ID and water bottle ready to go, waiting at the van door like a horse waits for his pen to open in a race. Maybe not that extreme, but I was excited to go through security and get into the prison. Now I would be more aware of my surroundings instead of feeling like I was aimlessly swimming through new sounds and new pictures passing before my eyes. This time though, I watched the faces, sketched the picnic benches down in my mind, and took in the general atmosphere of the cafeteria, the atmosphere outside of myself. And as far as I could see there was no difference between the people underneath the orange and those under the brown, and those of us in bright pinks and blues. Apart from some decisions that differed between all of us to get us in those different colors, we were all living the same life, enjoyed chatting with a friend, eating the perfect dinner, and were now all waiting for the show start.  

I was now used to just jumping into things that probably would have scared me half to death just three months before. Because of this, I sat down right next to an inmate, something I would have probably avoided at all costs before because of the misconceptions among my peers that all inmates will shank you for looking at them wrong. What surprised me more than anything was that she didn’t treat me like a ‘Blonde little white girl whose daddy pays for everything,’ but as another person waiting to be befriended. For someone who’s usually relatively shy, this was one of those moments that sent me spinning. If everyone approached strangers like this, how much further along would we be on a global standpoint? On a local standpoint?  If people stopped dodging glances of someone they knew passing by and just said hi, how many more people would feel appreciated? If we reserved judgment until we knew someone, how many more best friends would we have? Moments of laugher would we share? How many more shoulders would we have to cry on when times got bad, or people to celebrate with when times were good? How many more doors could we open with just a smile? Maybe this is too much to get out of a small little encounter, but I’ve never exactly been known to under-think situations. 

“Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things in which smiles, and kindness, and small obligations, given habitually, are what win and preserve the heart and secure comfort. “ Sir H. Davy

So many things caught my attention even before the play had started that night. About 5 minutes away from the start of the show, one of the girls turned around and noticed the GINA’s team flyers lying by my feet, waiting to be passed out. She immediately asked for one, sparking me to start passing them out. I realized how hungry these women are for anything with color, with words, with a connection to anything outside the barbed wire they are fenced in. 

And all of this before the show had started. 

I was a little unreceptive in the beginning to the simplistic approach of the play, but over time it began to grow on me. I had blended into the audience, mixing my bright teal skirt with their state issued orange uniforms to form one laughing, attentive bunch of people listening to the story unfold. We were one single unit in my mind until the Kings’ started playing out the story once the physical violence happened. All of these women knew this part of the story inside and out and in each ‘Aw hell no.’ and F bomb dropped, I could hear them relating their life back to this girl’s story whom they had never met or heard about until that night. Later during the discussion/question portion, one women actually stood up and said that seeing this play touched her more than her own story, because she was never able to step back from her situation and see all the details played out like the King’s had done. 

The slow realization that the person behind the black and teal was in a different place in life than those seated next to me was when the biggest impact of the play came. The man who murdered the King’s daughter was found innocent of murder, but guilty of aggravated assault. I could see everyone’s mind whirling but for all different reasons. I couldn’t put the two and two together. What did they think she died of other than his blows and forceful ingestion of cocaine? How could he only be found guilty of assault? That’s what caused her death! He received 10 years in prison for murder (whether or not he was found guilty, that’s essentially what it was). I could tell some of the girls were rendered speechless by this fact that he had committed murder and only received 10 years. I knew there was one inmate in Perryville that was in prison for 5 years for giving her abuser 5 stitches in self defense. As much math as I have taken, 5 years for 5 stitches and 10 years for murder. That would make 10 stitches equivalent to murder, to 23 blunt force trauma areas, to a life gone. 

It doesn’t add up. 

And as I walked away from the night instead of remembering how overwhelmed I was, I remembered faces, stories, and people. That behind the barbed wire fences and color differences, there were real human beings with stories and lives with more obstacles in them than I had ever experienced in my life. Three months ago, I didn’t think that taking this internship would lead me to the experiences I’ve walked into, where it has taken me, and how much more I appreciate a kind word or smile and life in general. The immense new understanding of my world is something that I could never fully express how grateful I am for. Everyone is a person with a story and there will always be a brighter tomorrow and reason to jump out of bed in the morning excited, not nervous, for what the day holds for you. 

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”Edward Abbey”

Marissa is seeing the stories and understanding there power. If Marissa’s words have moved you, please leave a comment. I want to hear your story.

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When I was released from prison, I told everyone where I’d been. “Hi, I’m Sue Ellen Allen and I just got out of prison.” I got the most interesting looks, frozen smiles and raised eyebrows.  Lots of speechless smiling and nodding. No one knew what to say and neither did I. What do you say to someone who’s just gotten out of prison? I had no idea. 

One day in my third week of freedom, I was pumping gas at Circle K downtown. Money was tight and I was counting my pennies. A man off the street approached and asked if I had any spare change. Apologetically I said, “I just got out of prison and…” before I could finish, he threw up his hands, smiled broadly and said, “Lady, congratulations. Welcome home.” 

 The man on the street taught me what to say. He said what no one had said to me in three weeks. “ Welcome home.”

 On Friday, October 1, my publisher, Nick Ligidakis of Inkwell Productions, held a book launch for me to introduce my new book, The Slumber Party from Hell, a true story of turning pain in to power. I was thrilled and humbled when over a hundred people, old and new friends, came to say “Welcome Home.”

The fabulous White House in Scottsdale is the perfect venue for a party. Owned by the lovely and brilliant Mary Lou Waldburger, her elegant club was just the right setting for the cross section of people I love. We had legislators, lawyers and activists, socialites and students, professors and speakers and other writers, entrepreneurs and ex-prisoners. One of my friends from CASS even made his way down on public transportation and I was very grateful. Just imagine, eighteen months ago I was in prison. This is a perfect example of never giving up. You have no idea where God will lead you.

Although the party was for me, my thrill was listening to my beloved friend Renée Morgan Brooks sing my favorite song from Wicked, “Because I Knew You.” If you have never heard Renée sing, please go to this link and listen to the BEST rendition of the Little Drummer Boy that you will EVER here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHEAtVMmuss&feature=related  Right here, I have to confess that this is not my favorite Christmas song. Too much barumpapapuming for my taste. Except that Renée takes you into the stable and lets you feel what it was like that night so long ago. If you are not moved to tears, you must be related to Scrooge. Go ahead. Costco has the Christmas ornaments out. It must be time to hear a Christmas song.

 Back to the party. To summarize, I felt like a movie star and princess rolled into one. It was a wonderful reward for surviving the long challenging journey through prison.  The book is the visible manifestation of my dream to inspire a conversation about who and how we incarcerate and how much it is costing us in money, family, children and our very spirits. Besides that, all my proceeds go to pay restitution. For many reasons, I hope it sells zillions. I can’t repay that money any other way.

And what does a movie star/princesses do after such an event? She goes home and helps her husband take out the trash. Life has a way of keeping us balanced. After we took out the trash, we sat and thought about those we have left behind in prisons all over the world. If you know someone released from prison, welcome them home. With 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S., there are more and more opportunities. Arizona releases 20,000 inmates every year from a population of 40,000. Problem is, they intake 22,000 to replace them. Every one of them has a story and a hope for a better future. My message to them and anyone reading my book is never, never give up your hope. Anything is possible. Look at me.

What’s your story? What’s your hope? I’d love to hear your comments.

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