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Archive for the ‘Domestic Violence’ Category

One night in winter, our cell was clammy and freezing and we had on every piece of clothing we could arrange to keep us warm. All lightweight cotton so it didn’t help much.

While we shivered, I grumbled about living with our teeth constantly chattering. My cellmate agreed, but said, “I’m glad I’m here. I’m safe here, My husband and my son can’t hurt me.”

She went on to stun me with some of the instances of their abuse of her, much too graphic to share here. No, she didn’t kill them or even hurt them. She did their bidding and she was in prison.  They were free. The world is full of victims, both inside prison and out. 

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“… according to a 2016 study published by the Vera Institute of Justice, 86 percent of women in jail are survivors of sexual violence, and 77 percent are survivors of intimate partner violence.”

This abuse has been going on for millennium. It takes courage to speak out. Thanks to all who do, especially my friend Linda King, founder of Help Fix the Hurt. Their work is incredibly important.

https://www.helpfixthehurt.org

“There is no agency that collects official data on the number of survivors incarcerated for defending themselves and no national statistics that track the rate of this criminalization. But according to a 2016 study published by the Vera Institute of Justice, 86 percent of women in jail are survivors of sexual violence, and 77 percent are survivors of intimate partner violence.”

https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/8/23/20828367/cyntoia-brown-sexual-domestic-abuse-prison-pipeline

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Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 11.48.40 AM On a day when the temperature has been about 112° for many days, put on your heaviest polyester pants and t-shirt, go out in your garage with a very small fan and spend the day.  Have lunch there, soup (yes, soup) and a baloney sandwich.  Sweep, mop and clean.  Watch a tiny T.V.  Read.  Try to nap on a plastic cot.  Eat a lukewarm dinner.  Spend the night.  This is Arizona prison in the summer.

Summer lasts nearly four months, 1440 minutes a day of sheer, unrelenting, blast furnace heat.  The small bit of grass on the field chokes and turns brown.  The few precious trees are gasping and pitiful.  Looking forlorn, the birds wander into the community showers to drink the stagnant water pooling on the hot concrete.

Prison yards are very spread out.  We walk everywhere, blocks and blocks between buildings.  No shade.  The offices and classrooms are air-conditioned, but that’s it.  Evaporative coolers slog away to cool the cells and cafeterias.  They work until the temperature hits 90°.  After that, the cells become concrete coffins of heat.  There is no relief.

One summer, when the temperature had been 117° for days, there were nineteen heat related seizures in one morning, and there is more heat exhaustion than I can count.  It all ends up costing money in medical attention.  One way or another, the tax payer pays.

My first prison summer was horrific.  The previous director had retired the year before, leaving a final gift to the population.  He had every inmates’ fans removed.  In Arizona, that would be cruel under normal conditions, but I was going through radiation and my chest had third degree burns, blistered, raw, and bleeding. Christine, my partner in cancer treatment, was worse than I was.  We were both suffering from searing pain exacerbated by the heat.  Christine’s father actually called the prison, offering a couple of fans for medical use as a humanitarian gesture.  Request denied.

In the middle of June, Gina was so sick, the heat adding to her misery.  Finally, Gina’s excrutiating death opened some eyes.  We had a town meeting to vent our frustrations and the new director came.  Very little changed in Medical after that meeting, despite the promises.  However, the new director did approve fans.  It was August by then and the heat lay over the prison like a shroud.  We were elated over the new ruling, but it took nine months for prison officials  to source an acceptable clear plastic fan to sells us.  Thankfully, they materialized in April, just in time for the next summer’s heat.  The small plastic fan successfully pushes the hot air around, and if you keep your t-shirt damp, it feels almost cool.

The five summers I spent on Santa Cruz before moving to Piestewa were torture.  Each year, I passed out from the heat.  Once, an officer found me unconscious on the floor of my room.  Twice, I collapsed on the yard on the searing concrete, and once I was sweeping and I just fell out over the threshold.  See, besides the heat, the pill I take to keep the cancer at bay, causes hot flashes as a side effect.  Sitting in a concrete coffin of heat with hot flashes is a different kind of torture.

Let’s get back to your garage.  What can you do in your stifling garage to relieve the heat?  You can’t go to the fridge for an ice cold coke.  You can buy a ten-pound bag of ice for $2.24, about a day’s salary if you are lucky enough to make 30¢ an hour.  For another $1.35, you can buy a very small, thin Styrofoam cooler to keep the ice in.  The ice melts in a few hours, but meanwhile, you can have the luxury of  ice cold water. You can also wet down your shirt and head.  You can wear a wet washcloth around your neck.  You can fill an old hair spray bottle with water and spray yourself continuously, sort of like the misters at an outdoor café.  That’s pretty much it.  Even the showers are scalding.  Maintenance refuses to go to the ‘trouble’ of turning the hot water off in the summer.  No relief there.  No relief anywhere.

My friend Krissy was new to prison the summer the water and power went off.  The entire yard was locked down for three days.  No water, no showers, no flushing, no evaporator coolers in the 6’x11’ concrete coffin.  Staff delivered inmate meals with one eight-ounce styrofoam cup of water that was gratefully gulped.  Krissy tried to stay as still as possible, but she and her bunky poured sweat, constantly using their washcloths to wipe the sweat off.  She said she will never forget the feeling of desperation, locked in that suffocating cell, or the rancid stink of that washcloth.

What’s the purpose of prison? Punishment is higher on the list than rehabilitation and America’s prisons are designed to punish.  Many people think that inmates don’t deserve more than two or three cups of water a day and a rancid washcloth. What does that teach?  It certainly doesn’t teach a person to be kind or considerate.  It does, however, teach inmates that they are worthless, disposable human beings.

Before prison, I was a confident woman.  Prison ate away at my confidence and  I realized then just how much prison had affected me.  It is a daily Chinese water torture of denigration, and if I was affected so dramatically, imagine what it does to others lacking confidence.

In the end, it boils down to humanity.  Is this who we really are?  Are we a nation that prefers to punish in such draconian ways?  Are we really teaching people a lesson?  I learned that what we are doing is treating people so badly that they become bitter, angry and mean, completely unprepared for a life of civility and respect.

I learned other things in prison.  I learned that everyone wants love, but many in prison have never had it…from parents, friends or partners.  Prison is full of horror stories, but the worst was about the girl on my yard whose name I never knew, and she had a nickname too awful to repeat.  She had been abused by all the boys and men in her family and repeatedly raped by her father.  At twelve, she became pregnant with her father’s child and at thirteen, gave birth to her son who was also her brother.  She was never still, always acting out and frequently in trouble.  She was desperate for love and attention, but had to idea how to get it.  Of course, she was in prison.  The abusive men were free.

I also learned that Jesus, Jackie De Shannon, and John Lennon were right…all we need is love.  Of course, that’s simplistic and we have made it complicated.  We have become a nation of fear and anger.  We’d rather flex our muscles than flex our hearts.  Love seems to always have conditions.

We know what we need to do, we’re just not doing it.  Be kind.  Be considerate.  Be respectful.  Stop judging and being petty.  Open your hearts.  Think…Is this the best person I can be?  You know it’s true and you know it works…inside and out.  

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Susie Smith is one in millions, a brain-damaged former prostitute, addict who has lived on the streets for years. She is sweet and simple and completely unskilled. Her background is convoluted and full of abuse. Her memory is clouded from beatings. She is one of the masses of women  and girls who  work in the sex trade and have been in and out of prison, always for low-level prostitution. She has no family, no job skills, no place to go and no hope for a future. She is one of the faceless millions that society does not want to think about. She exists in the underworld; under a bush, under a piece of cardboard, under an abusive man who could very easily kill her as use her for sex. 
 
Yesterday Susie was released from prison without parole or probation or a place to go. I picked her up  and fed her pancakes at iHop. He stomach wasn’t used to such food and she threw it up.  I managed to get an intake interview with Dignity House, a safe haven for former prostitutes. They denied her for being low functioning and hearing negative voices that tell her she is worthless and horrible. They think she needs more supervision than they can provide. We’ve been looking for a place for her and others like her for some time without success. There just aren’t enough beds, too many restrictions, and no budgets. After all, people should be able to pull themselves up by their own boot straps, right? 
 
Finally someone suggested we try the 72 hour emergency commitment offered by Recovery Innovations to see about her mental stability. We took her there and she was finally admitted for an evaluation. They were incredibly caring and we are hopeful she will get the help and resources she needs.  The entire process from prison to final admission took 10 hours and we were very lucky. 

 
If it weren’t for security issues, I would like to take her to the legislature, sit her on the floor of the house and ask them to find her boot straps so she can pull herself up by them. 
 
Where is the place for the Susie Smiths of the world? Where is the religious community to help these faceless, helpless and forgotten women and girls, the sweet, simple, damaged, scarred, addicted ones that no one wants to look at or think about? They are Legion in our community, our country and our world. They need prayers but prayers aren’t enough. THEY NEED HELP. The question to ask yourself and our world: Are we our sister’s keeper?

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I have fallen in love with a children’s book that has taught me more about adversity than anything I have ever read.  Have you ever had something really awful happen to you? Of course you have. Everyone has story. When it was over and you survived, did you look back and realize it was actually a gift? The Little Soul and the Sun is a beautiful book by Neal Donald Walsch that explains how that works.

Picture heaven. It’s just what we imagined, lush colors, fluffy clouds, brilliant, beautiful Light, and lovely little souls who delight in the joy that surrounds them. They know who they really are. They are the Light. But then one of the little souls (There’s always one, isn’t there?) decides it wants to feel Who It Really Is. That’s serious, so the Little Soul goes to God to find out what it feels like to be the Light. Problem is, to know yourself as the Light, you have to know Darkness. Think about it. To know Warm, you have to know Cold. To know Up, you have to know Down. There’s no Left without Right; no Here without There. We’ve got to have those contrasts and those conflicts.

The Little Soul has an inspirational conversation with God. (I imagine every conversation with God is inspiring, don’t you?) God says that the Little Soul can experience just what it feels like to be the Light by choosing a special part of special. “It’s special to be kind. It’s special to be gentle. It’s special to be creative.” The Little Soul wants to experience the specialness of forgiving. It wants to learn about forgiveness. That’s not so easy in heaven. After all, everyone there is perfect. What’s a soul to do?

Suddenly a Friendly Soul comes out of the crowd of Souls and offers to help. “I will give you someone to forgive.” This light, beautiful little soul offers to go into Life together and do something heavy and bad so the first Soul will learn to forgive.

“I will do something really terrible, and then you can experience yourself as the One Who Forgives.”

Then the Friendly Soul asks a favor. “In the moment that I strike you and smite you, …in the moment that I do the worst to you that you could possibly imagine…in that very moment…Remember Who I Really Am.”

“…because, you see, I will have been pretending so hard, I will have forgotten myself. And if you do not remember me As I Really Am, I may not be able to remember for a very long time. And if I forget Who I Am, you may even forget Who You Are and we will both be lost. …”

Think about life’s challenges. My friend G.J. has a son with Downs Syndrome. That challenge lead to the formation of an amazing nonprofit that educates parents about the unconditional love that comes from these children. My friend L.H. works to help at risk women and children because she walked a rebellious path in her youth. They both impact many lives because of those early challenges.

What about your challenges? Has anyone hurt you? Shouldn’t be too hard to make a pretty long list. But did the hurt create an opportunity to grow? Did your divorce allow you to stand on your own two feet? Did the death of a loved one increase your compassion for others who grieve? Did cancer teach you about LIFE? Did a terrible injustice show you what to cherish?

This beautiful story lead me think of all the Little Souls who have helped me grow and learn Who I Really Am. When you’re in the middle of a hurricane, you don’t thank the wind. In the midst of prison, nobody says, “Oh, great, I’m learning so much. This is fantastic.” Nope, it doesn’t work that way. (Unless you’re Gandhi or Mother Teresa.)

I served seven years in prison. I didn’t love it. I didn’t think, “What a fantastic experience.” But prison was a journey I was meant to take, exactly when I took it. It gave me my passion and my purpose, which I know are key to a happy life no matter where you are.

Wherever you are, find your passion and turn it into your purpose. Your life will have a great depth of meaning. You will be like the Little Soul and find out Who You Really Are. Inside or out, you can create meaning in your life. You will become your own best friend and the friend of many as you learn to serve others. God has sent us nothing but angels. Some of those angels are the Little Souls who have promised to help you find out Who You Really Are.

Neale Donald Walsch’s beautiful little book helped me realize that no matter where we are, we are surrounded by Little Souls to help us become our best selves. DO NOT forget who they really are. Love them for the love they are showing to you. Thank them for that love.

By the way, The Little Soul and the Sun was published in 1998 and is still available on Amazon. It is a book to treasure and to give away. If you are inside, see if you can get it in your library. Ask someone to send it to you. Share it. Because of this book,  I look at people and events differently. I hope you will too.

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Vanity prevents me from posting a picture of me, exhausted and feeling guilty because I haven’t written in my blog since May 9.  So why didn’t I? Purpose and passion in the name ofGina’s Team. Our little grass roots organization is growing faster than the oncoming bullet train. I am sure Gina is leading a team of angels to provide the miracles that come our way.

I decided the best thing would be to share our activities and the amazing people who are helping us so here is an encapsulated version with a picture of our team: 

 

 

 

 

Perryville Prison. April program: Control, Assault, Delete, a powerful play on domestic violence by Linda & John King. Please check out their website http://www.helpfixthehurt.org/  These two incredibly brave parents lost their beautiful daughter to a brutal act of domestic violence. They have turned their pain into power, impacting lives with their passion to help others. 

Mingus Mountain Academy.  April program: Olympic Gold Medalist Misty Hyman went up the mountain with us to speak to these 12 to 18 year old girls about the importance of setting goals as they rebuild their lives. Mistyand her Valley Leadership cohort presented each girl with a journal to record her goals. Arizona’s Family Channel 3 accompanied us to film a story on Gina’s Team and our activities. http://www.azfamily.com/news/Ginas-Team-122374394.html  Thanks, Channel 3, Brandy and Mike for such a positive story.

Mingus. May program:  Author and speaker Vickie Mullins spoke to the girls about rebuilding lives with positve memories. Through the generosity of Mingus and Vickie, each girl received a copy of Vickie’s book, I Want You To Know Me…Love, Me. Her website, http://iwantyoutoknowme.com/, explains who the death of a young friend provided  the inspiration behind this book that has impacted so many lives. You may want a copy yourself for someone you love. 

Estrella Jail program: Gina’s Team has made two trips to the jail to visit some of the women there with a positive message of hope. We are grateful for the opportunity. 

ASU students from a class in the College of Social Transformation held two very successful events to promote awareness about incarceration in America. Gina’s Team worked with them the entire semester to formulate these successful events. We are so impressed with their desire to impact change in their communities. This is a powerful generation. 

Gina’s Team partnered with the National Advocacy and Training Network   (http://www.natn-az.com/home) to train volunteers for our new program called Welcome Home, designed to assist women newly released from prison as they seek to successfully reenter our communities. We are blessed with a group of enthusiastic and deeply committed volunteers. 

Gina’s Team has been involved in several events at the ASU Art Museum’s recent art experience about incarceration entitled “It’s Not Just Black & White.” http://asuartmuseum.asu.edu/exhibitions/viewevent.php?eid=824  After a  powerful three month long event, we were crushed to see the black and white stripes disappear and the wall come down in May. Gregory Sale’s vision cast a spotlight on incarceration in a unique and meaningful way. 

After nine months of class, I was part of the graduating class of the ASU GenNext Nonprofit Academy. Thanks to ASU for awarding me a scholarship to be a part of this incredible experience. In prison I missed the opportunity for the intellectual challenge that ASU provides in so many ways to our community. Budget cuts to education are a serious mistake in our state. 

After a great deal of dreaming and planning, Gina’s Team has received permission from the Department of Corrections to start several new programs inside the prisons. 

1. Kingian Nonviolence. Behind the wires violence is too often a way of life. We are introducing this course to the teens in the minor’s unit in Tucson.  We are grateful for this opportunity to teach young men an alternative to violence. http://phoenixnonviolence.org/ 

 2. ATHENA Leadership. Martha Mertz, author of Becoming Athena and founder of the internationally acclaimed Athena International  award (http://www.athenainternational.org/) is taking her expertise behind the wires to Perryville. After speaking there in December, she realized this was a place that would benefit from the eight principle of leadership highlighted in her book. These eight principles are simple rules for living.  They are:

Live Authentically                   Learn Constantly                             Advocate Fiercely

Act Courageously                    Foster Collaboration                       Build relationships

Give Back                                       Celebrate

Gina’s Team is proud to bring Martha and her wisdom to the women of Perryville. 

3. Parenting. Many of the women at Perryville are mothers who miss their children desperately. Learning to be a better parent is a key to successful reentry and reconciliation. Gina’s Team is bringing Parenting Arizona to Perryville to teach classes in this important life skill. 

We are also partnering with Jeanne Robinson and Jessica’s Operation Orange to bring precious books to all the prisons in AZ as well as more juvenile facilities. Please check out www.jessicasoperationorange.com for information about how one all too common mistake can change so many lives. The inspiration lies in how Jessica and her parents have turned their pain into power, helping others through her tragedy. Jessica’s mother  Jeanne  is a force of nature, impacting lives in such positive ways. 

Turn your pain into power. That’s what all this is about. I know that we are alive to help others. The best way is through the wisdom we gain when we survive a tragedy. That’s what my motto is all about. 

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

Find your passion and  purpose. It will enrich your life in ways you cannot imagine. I promise.

 

 

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GINA’s Team is blessed to have brilliant interns who expose me to new ideas every day.  One of these is Kristin D’Souza who worked a facility that held unaccompanied illegal children after they had been processed by ICE. These are children trying to come to our country to reunite with family or due to social unrest in their country. Imagine yourself as a child going though hell to get to your parents. I had never thought about this until Kristin brought it to my attention. I hope her story will give you pause to think about the courage and hope of these children. She is a talented writer whose words moved me to tears.

“A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who doesn’t play has lost forever the child who lived in him and who he will miss terribly.” – Pablo Neruda

“Te extraño, mama. Te extraño mucho.” Tears stream down her face–one hand wipes her cheek, the other grips her very pregnant belly.  I miss you, mommy. I miss you so much.

 “Diez minutos”  I scrawl on a scrap piece of paper–I hate this part. I dread the look in their eyes when I tell them to say goodbye, the look of devastation, the look of frustration and utter sadness–and why shouldn’t they be sad? Anyone thousands of miles away from home, away from family, in a country entirely foreign to them would be afraid, angry and sad. 

“Adios” she says, her voice cracking and eyes watering. Her ten minutes are up and she knows that in order to have her other, precious phone call later in the week she must hang up the phone. “Adios, mama, papa. Por favor, no te llore, mama. Estoy bien.” Goobye, mommy, daddy. Please, don’t cry mommy. I’m okay. She puts on a brave face, but her eyes tell me the truth–what I already know. 

Ana Rosa, from El Salvador, is just fourteen. After being raped, her mother wanted to get her to America where her aunt lived and where she would be safe. When she was smuggled out, no one knew she was pregant. Now she is in a foreign country, lost and alone; pregnant and very young. She is afraid, she desperately misses her family. She hands me the  receiver and blinks her eyes to release the tears that have welled up. I hand her a tissue. 

“Esta bien, Ana” I say softly, “Estas bien.” It’s okay, Ana. You are okay.

 I met Ana a month ago. I was there at her intake, when she was brought to the facility. My first day, I accompanied a caseworker, Amelia, to process a young girl from ICE custody.

 Not even 5 foot tall, little Ana sat in a plastic chair at the end of the hall, her hands clasped tight atop her belly, her toes barely touching the ground. She turns her head as Amelia clears her throat and introduces herself and me. Her eyes are set in dark, puffy bags and her cheeks are emaciated and sunken, She stands to greet us, and I notice she is unsteady on her feet. “Are you okay?” Amelia asks. Ana shakes her head. “What’s wrong? ”

“I don’t feel well,” she says. “I haven’t eaten. ”

“Since when?” Amelia says, kneeling to look at her head on. 

“I don’t know. Since the men took me. ”

“Since ICE took her?” I ask Amelia. “Wasn’t that three days ago?” 

Amelia glances at the form that she has taken from Ana. “Yes.” she shakes her head in surprise. “Go run into the kitchen and get her a plate.” 

I rush downstairs and return with a plate piled high with rice, beans and chicken, with bowls, one with peas and one with fresh fruit balancing on my other arm. 

Amelia has been talking to Ana, who looks white as a sheet and quite sick. “Please eat, Ana,” Amelia says. She is hesitant, but takes several bites. Suddenly, she pushes the plate into my hands and turns to vomit onto the floor. 

I cringe and hand her a napkin. “It’s okay,” I say. 

She looks up at me, eyes shining with tears, and shakes her head. No it won’t be. It won’t be okay.

As I escort Ana up to her room from the offices where she made her phone call, I recall the other horrible things I have seen lately. Teenage boys so dehydrated they collapsed during processing; girls so hungry that they weighed under 100 pounds; a boy with untreated, deep wounds in his leg from his journey into the U.S.; another boy who was hit across the face while in ICE custody with a large cut running down his jawline and bruised eye. 

I remember that the lives of these kids, these young, scared, precious kids, have been uprooted–gangs ripping their worlds apart, violence and sexual abuse plaguing their childhoods, poverty and despair forcing them to leave their homelands. What do they deserve from us? As human beings, as children? Surely not this–surely not what they have experienced that I have seen.

 I tell Ana a joke, and she grins as we climb the stairs, slowly but surely, up to her room. Her smile is bright, her laugh is melodic. When we open the door, three girls come rushing over. “Ana! How are your parents? What did they say? How is your sister?” Another has crayons and shouts, “Do you want to come draw with us?” She nods and they rush off, in a tizzy of teenage giggles and excitement. I look around at all the other kids, laughing and playing, reading and writing–this is what childhood is about. This is what these children deserve to experience. Not cruelty, not mistreatment or hatred. Joy. Hope. 

“¡Alguien quiere llamar a su familia?” I call out. Anyone want to call their family? Ten kids come rushing to me. 

“Tu, Roberto” I say. He whoops, and high fives his friend Pablo.

 “¿Puedo llamar a mi abuelita?” the twelve-year-old asks brightly, following me down the stairs. “Can I call my grandma?” 

“¡Claro que si!” Of course you can! 

His face lights up and he smiles–so wide that it’s almost as if the long scar across his jaw is not there.

___________________________ 

For reference: here is a journal article written about undocumented unaccompanied children’s treatment in short-term detention: http://www.firrp.org/media/BPAbuseReport.pdf. It’s very sad, scary and informative.

Whatever you believe about our immigration problem, the way we treat children is a reflection on us as Americans. We are the beacon of hope for the world. Our beacon is tarnished with every child we mistreat.  Is this who we are as human beings?

Everyone has a story and a point of view. What’s yours?

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December 3rd was an unforgettable day for GINA’s Team and, thankfully, I was there to share it. It was very soon after surgery, but the doctor said it would be good for me to go and she was absolutely right. 

It was the day of our Christmas program at Mingus Mountain Academy. Gina’s Aunt Linda works for State Farm Insurance and sent out an email request to all the employees. Would you be willing to donate one stuffed animal to the girls at Mingus? We need 110. A resounding YES was heard and a parade of animals started marching. Soon her bedroom was a stuffed zoo and she had made more than her quota. 

At the same time, we’d been working on the library for Mingus. This was the day to bring the first of the books up to the school. I want to send a special thanks to Tyson Adams and Leah Heathcoat from GINA’s Team.  Tyson headed up the book drive and drive is the right word. This young man spent hours driving around collecting books from all of you who so generously donated. Leah acted as back up and found storage for so many books thanks to the generosity of the Grigio Tempe Town Lakes.

Finally, we teamed up with Coleen Fitzpatrick and the amazing group from The Raven Organic Café in Prescott. Coleen put out the word and the Raven became the drop off point for book donations there. Then she got her friend Geraldine Thomas, owner of Grama’s Bakery, to donate an enormous amount of delicious cookies for the girls. We definitely felt like Santa’s elves.

The program started with carols. After the carols, the room grew silent. Gina’s daughter, Mariah, had joined us for the day and agreed to speak to the girls. Just 15, Mariah is the age Gina was when she started on her journey, and the age of many of the girls at Mingus.  Mariah spoke passionately about how Gina’s decisions have affected her life and the lives of her brothers and sister. Her simple honesty touched their hearts. This is our purpose, to help girls realize that they have the power to change the direction of their lives and make new decisions, decisions that can keep them safe, out of prison, and on a new path. We are so proud of Mariah, her leadership abilities and her straight A’s in school. She is definitely on the right path.

We then showed them the mountain of books. Can we have them now, now, now???  No, unfortunately, they have to be catalogued, but soon, soon, soon. Their excitement was contagious. We know more books are coming, the mountain will grow and lives will be impacted. Books are powerful. 

Finally, we started the distribution of the animals, worked out by a very scientific numbering system designed by Aunt Linda and Gina’s mom, Diane. There were so many, all different. What if you got a bunny and you wanted a bear? Linda and Diane had figured that out too and at the end, there was even a swap so everyone left with just the right new stuffed friend. 

OK, so that’s nice. Books, cookies and stuffed animals. But here is the kicker. Afterwards, the girls swarmed around us, from the youngest to the oldest, tough and fragile, black, white and brown. They all had the same message. Yes, they were excited and grateful, but here is the statement that stopped us in our tracks, “Never in my life have I had my very own stuffed animal.” Read that again. “Never in my life have I had my very own stuffed animal.” 

Remember in high school when you had to find a place on your bed to sleep with all the animals piled up? Remember the ones that were particularly special, even when you were all grown up? When you felt completely alone, with no one to trust, that stuffed bear or bunny or puppy was  your best friend. 

I told the interns I thought that one sentence was powerful enough to write an entire master’s thesis. The social, economic, cultural and racial implications are enormous. And imagine there are only 110 girls at Mingus. There are thousands, millions of girls (and boys) around the world without that one stuffed friend. Christmas is over, but if you have a collection of stuffed animals you’ve been wondering what to do with, there are places all over the country that will be glad to give those animals a new and beloved home. If you aren’t sure, let me know. I’ll find a place, no matter where you are. The need doesn’t stop in December and that gift just might change a life. You never know. 

If you have a story about your favorite stuffed friend, I’d love to hear it. I have a new favorite. At Mingus, Gina’s family gave me an early Christmas gift. They gave me Molly, a darling stuffed Cocker Spaniel who was Gina’s favorite. Molly now has a place of honor in our home and my heart.  I live in gratitude.

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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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