Mission Statement

Seeking the good, the light and a smidgeon of sanity out of tragedy.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Beyond Expectations

My brother in the USDB is adjusting surprisingly well.

I received a 4-page hand-written letter from my brother in the USDB, and quite frankly, he is adjusting to the news of his twin’s passing and life in prison way better than expected. He thanks me for taking care of the funeral arrangements. Surprisingly, he calls the last two weeks "peaceful".
"I've really made a point to relax and take it easy. I've been exercising, lifting weights again... I had lost a lot of weight from fasting. So now, I'm putting on weight again. I feel good. I'm healthy. I’m also now slowly getting back into reading and my studies and meditations and recording my dreams – which were things I had stopped since (our brother) died."
In fact, his words explain his feelings best, so I will continue with what he says:
"Some people have told me that I’ll always 'have a lump in my heart' or that 'a piece of me will always be missing' – which I have always immediately responded with 'No, I will not always have a lump in my heart. I will move through this, I will make peace with this and get past it. I am whole, I am complete within myself and I’m ok.' Which is true. Y'know, I'll love (our brother) for the rest of my life, and I’m dearly sorry that he was suffering so bad. I really tried to help. I recognize that this radically affects my life both inside of prison and when I get out. There is no denial here. I recognize the significance of this situation. But also, I am not emotionally or psychologically dependent on (our brother) or anyone else."
I knew that. He acknowledges I know that. Our brother wore a mask of bravado, but was definitely the more fragile – and dependent – of the two. That's also why he had an addiction problem – it stemmed from this dependency. Whether it was survivor's guilt, or a feeling of responsibility for what happened to the two of them years ago, he could just never move beyond it. He clung. Desperately, and we both knew he was depressed, even suicidal. And we both tried to help.
"If anyone thought that (our brother) didn’t feel remorse, guilt, embarrassment from all the stupid shit he's done, they would be very wrong. (Our brother) was humiliated from his own actions, and he knew it was his own fault, but gosh, depression can be debilitating."
In my one brother's case, it kept him stuck in one place in time for years.
"I'm not mad at (him). I'm disappointed. He was so close to moving out of Philadelphia and to Phoenix (I did not know this). He tried. So long best friend.
My brother in the USDB has adjusted to this loss in interesting ways.

"I’ve been showing guys around here some origami. I discovered when I was in county that helping someone else with something, even something so minor as an origami piece, can actually be very therapeutic for myself.

I've been cutting the grass outside and I enjoy my job. I find myself in positions to save little critters from getting hurt, like frogs. Earlier this week, I was operating the motorized weed whacker and for a brief moment, I wasn't paying attention to what I was cutting and I whacked a sleeping bird in the face. I didn't know birds slept on the ground. I thought he died instantly, but then I saw he was still alive. I turned off my tool and got to my knees and picked up the bird with my hands. I was so sorry. He gasped for breath and died in my hands.

I'm a vegetarian now by the way. I have been for about two months. I just don't want to eat animals anymore, especially if it's unnecessary, like if I have a nutritious alternate. They mostly give us rice and beans here, or mixed vegetables, but I get what I need from the salad bar. I also eat a lot of peanut butter. I've also been drinking more milk to balance the PH levels in my stomach, so I don’t get bellyaches."
My brother tells me he's reading a book of Zen Koans I sent him. He states that as a Buddhist, he affiliates himself with Zen.

As for his first level appeal, it was denied. As expected. Still, he is disappointed. He was hoping for a reduction of his sentence to "life with parole." He tells me the second level of appeals will take about 6-8 months. I'll take his word on this.

He sends me his love. And our lives go on.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Death In The Family

One twin brother takes his own life; how will the other twin react?

It was only a week ago I got the call. It's the type of phone call where you have an overwhelming sense of disbelief and the feeling of unreality makes you disconnect from all that is around you. I was truly numb. To hear that one of my twin half-brothers deliberately jumped off of a 19-story-high building in Philadelphia at 6AM that Sunday morn still confounds my sense of logic. Even a week later, I can’t imagine the darkness and hopelessness that had to be there for him to even take that step. I try, but I can’t.

I tried to help him four years earlier, but that was a failure. I don’t blame myself. You can’t help one who doesn’t help their self. I briefly played the “what if” game, but I realized it was a futile exercise at this point. My brother – well, I loved him very, very much, but he was broken. The news was a shock, but dare I say, it wasn’t surprising.

Now, it’s my other twin half-brother who is in the USDB – they were identical twins and as close as twins can be. So, how do you get an emergency message to an inmate inside the USDB? I found the answer through a private Facebook group, “Loved ones that are away.” I thank them for their quick guidance. It turns out the American Red Cross handles these type of events through their Emergency Communication Services.  To clarify, this is a service for military families, and thus, the USDB falls under their purview.

American Red Cross
I reached out to the Red Cross and the woman on the other end couldn’t have been more sympathetic and helpful. The Red Cross does verify this type of information before they relay it along, and I gave them the Medical Examiner’s number at the Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. Shortly after that, I received an email that the message had been passed along to the Command at the USDB, and not long after that, one relative and one family friend verified that my brother was calling them with the sad news.

I have not spoken with my brother directly yet. I wanted him to speak with our father, who was on-site and had a first-hand account of what happened. Even now, the pieces are still coming together, and I’m filling in the picture. I will write to my brother soon. I’m at my best when I write. However, I did want him to have the news as soon as possible.

My twin brothers are only 24-years-old. One chose to end his life, and the other is in prison for life. It is not something I wish on any family.

Many are concerned how my brother inside the USDB will take this news about his twin. Several have asked me if he could do something similar to himself – and the answer is “I doubt it.” No, interesting enough, my twin brothers donned facades. The “aggressive” one with the larger than life ego was the one who was the more fragile of the two and the one who jumped. The one with the “gentler, sweeter” disposition was the one who proved capable of murder and is inside the system. He is strong mentally however.

It has been a couple years since I last blogged about either of them, but my one brother inside the USDB has changed – he’s getting smarter and has for the most part accepted his fate that he will be there for years to come. Buddhism and meditation are a big part of his daily ritual, so just based on those practices, I think he’ll hold solid.

Will he change? Yes, I think this will impact him greater than any other individual out there. This was his twin, a part of himself. They talked every week since he’s been on the inside. How he will adjust to that missing influence only time will tell. I know he has friends on the inside, but I can’t imagine anyone will ever be able to fill this particular void.

For me, I have gone through my sleepless nights and fits of anger, but I have come to accept that I will not embrace the one brother again in this life. I have arranged for his ashes to spread by his Boy Scout troop on their annual backcountry trip, where he will be remembered on the Tooth of Time. My brother was an Eagle Scout and was his best in that environment.

For the other, I have promised him that as long as he doesn’t push me away, I will be a steady presence in his life. I write him once a month, I visit him once a year, and I am there for him. When he asks me for something, I do it. He’s in prison, but he’s a good soul. He still has potential, and there is still a life he can live on the outside at some point. I will be there for him if he wants.

For my other brother, may he rest in peace.