Mission Statement

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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Day 2 as a Visitor at the USDB

I have two more visits with my brother, one mishap, and a detour heading home.

The 6AM alarm goes off. I pounce on it like an annoyed cat. I believe I got two hours of sleep tops. The travel, hectic schedule, irregular eating and even the few hours’ time difference messes up my natural rhythm pretty fast.

I estimate I’m facing a 21-hour day ahead of me, so I forgo the silk pants and strappy heels and don what I call my “purple people-eater outfit.” It’s coordinating purple sweats, and I wear a purple turtleneck under it. It’s drizzly and gray outside. At least I’m colorful.

When I get to the main gate at Fort Leavenworth, I make the goof of trying to drive through one of the center lanes – a no-no if you are not military or don’t have a normal pass for the base.

You must enter the far right lane only, so they can log your vehicle. This time, they make me pop the hood, the trunk and open all four doors of my rental car. I struggle with the hood latch, and the MP can’t help me. Autos are not my thing. Finally, I get it.

It’s not too long after that I have my “blonde moment.”

I’m allowed to have a “blonde moment” once every six months.

In my zeal to lock up my things tight in the parking lot of the USDB, I lock in my rental car keys! Doh!

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m in the very back of an Army base in a prison parking lot. The situation sounds rather daunting. I decide to deal with my mistake during the lunch break.

I check in upstairs where a female MP now mans the desk. Same routine.

Bzz. Clang. Clunk. Brother. Bear hug.

He wants to play Scrabble. Good choice for me, probably bad for him. I play all my letters more than once during the game. I also know my two-letter words.

The surrounding Visitor tables are more full this morning than yesterday. I count eight other groups.

We start off with small talk. He misses camping, would like a Jeep Wrangler, and would like to go big game fishing for a swordfish. The Amazon interests him. I tell him about vacations Dad and I took; the boys never really took any trips with Dad, nor did they go to any amusement parks with him. I did. I try to recall the details of our trips.

He remembers skiing with his brother and how they would tackle trails way beyond their ability.

We were stupid, but fearless.

We both enjoy classic rock. I found the local 101.1 radio station, and it turns out that is the very station my brother listens to. He likes the music I grew up with, like Journey and AC/DC, more than current pop.

We talk about diets and exercise. I’ve dropped 12 pounds since January, and he’s leaner and fitter since then as well.

His eyes light up when I mention they have Horticultural and Nutrition classes in Dad’s prison, and they give out certificates for completion of a course. They don’t have those types of programs at the USDB.

He relates his dentist experience inside the USDB a few days after he arrived. His back gums throbbed, so they scheduled him to see the dentist the very next day. X-rays are taken. The dentist comes back and tells him he has perfect teeth. Zero cavities. What does he feel? Well, it turns out the steady throb he was feeling was due to him flossing too hard. His teeth would ache, so he would floss even harder. He stopped that.

Another tidbit – he owns six uniforms, two types. The dark brown he wears now he calls their Day Uniform, and the inmates wear these when they don’t have rec or intend to go to the weight room. For physical activity and around the Pod, they have orange shorts and white T-shirts. They have thermals and matching (brown) jackets for colder weather.

Today, my brother leans in closer to me, and occasionally holds my hand.

He thanks me more than once for coming.

The morning is light and breezy and passes very quickly.

The lunch break allows me to deal with my faux pas outside. I exit the Visitor’s Room to find three female MPs now at the front desk. I explain my “blonde moment”, and one MP notes she has a full slim jim set in her car, but is not allowed to use it for visitors. I was hoping a guard could break into the car for me, but seeing that would only get one of them in trouble, I take charge of the situation and ask them to call AAA Roadside Service. I, in fact, have my AAA card with me and have been a member for 20 years.

Insert AAA Roadside commercial.

The tow truck driver arrives 40 minutes later, and takes all of three minutes to break into the rental. (Probably could do it a lot faster, but he uses an inflatable rubber balloon to protect the window trim as he jimmies the lock.)

Buy AAA. Really, really worth it.

End of commercial.

After lunch at the PX – the usual coterie of fast food joints to clog your arteries – I make a smaller gaffe on my re-entrance. I thought I could hand the Birthday card and photos I brought for my brother to an MP, and they could process the booty through the proper channels. Again, not so.

If it was a weekday, I could pass off the package to the ISB (Inmate Services’ Branch), but it’s Sunday. They are not open. I will have to officially mail the card and photos for him to receive it all.

I ask my brother if he has shared that it’s his Birthday the following day? He responds that there is a rumor that they beat you up on your Birthday, so most inmates keep it quiet.

I really hope that’s a rumor.

Over a couple rounds of Scattegories and a few more hands of Rummy, we cover two more topics that I will note here.

The first is Visitation. Since I was so unsuccessful in getting through the USDB’s prescribed Visitation line, I ask my brother what he has to do on his end. It’s simple. They have request forms they fill out from the CTT office, and one is a Visitation form. They hand it in, days later, it’s approved, handed back, and the inmate maintains his copy. And as long as you are a pre-approved visitor on the inmate’s list, you can still show up without a pre-scheduled visit. It will take longer to wrangle the inmate, but they encourage visitors for the prisoners’ morale. But you have to be pre-approved already.

The second is a weightier philosophical question my brother brought up more than once over the two days – questions Man has been asking since the dawn of time.

Why? Why are we here? What is our purpose?
Please take his question seriously, because what he is really asking is why he should go on. To him, exiting the prison at age 45, or never, is something he is having serious trouble facing, and what he really needs is someone to answer what his purpose is.

I felt very inept at answering his question. I must admit I diverted and told him how I love collecting life experiences. At least he enjoyed my enthusiasm.

Our farewell was not sad. It was the usual bear hug. I will see him again.

My flight home was delayed due to weather out of Chicago holding up my plane, and in turn, I missed my connection in Denver. Lo and behold, I was able to spend the evening with my longtime best girlfriend, who actually lives in Denver now.

We have to take the good things from where they come. And they come in unexpected ways and forms.

Wrapping Up Day 1

This is my second entrance into the Visitor’s Room at the USDB. My brother shares more about how he is adjusting.

It’s only my second trip down the back roads and into the USDB building, but because of the simplicity of the process, I already feel like a pro.

Hand over IDs. Sign. Scan.

Bzzz. Clang. Clunk. Clang. Clunk.

And you’re inside. Cue brother. He enters.

Bear hug.

He wants to play cards, so we take a table against the wall, and he retrieves a well-worn deck from the MP behind the desk.

After he refreshes me about the rules of Rummy, we casually pass the time playing round after round as he fills in more details about his daily life. I have to admit I was initially concerned that when I visited we would run out of things to say to each other. I may be his big sister, but I am 25 years older, and I didn’t expect that we would have the camaraderie he has with his girlfriend or with his brother.

Thank God, I was wrong. Over the two days, the conversation did not lag, and it got more personal as time went on. Let’s just say, under the circumstances, it was one hell of a bonding experience.

And because the conversation got more personal and the topics drifted here and there, I can only highlight bits and pieces, so the musings will be a bit more random.

My brother is now a full-fledged vegetarian – he ate two veggie burgers for lunch and wears a blue dot on his uniform so the cooks can identify him as a vegetarian – and he is very much into Zen meditation and Buddhism. The Llama comes in every two weeks to give Dharma talks to those interested (currently about 15 inmates), and once a month, two yogis will come in, who do mostly chanting, though my brother admits that is not really his thing.

He notes that each pod develops their own culture, and when I asked how his differed, he said he was in the quietest pod, for which he was grateful. His pod is comprised of the oldest and youngest inmates in his opinion.

He has a corner room, thus more quiet and privacy. In fact, I identify a second theme in his utterances – something to note with a bit of sadness, but I keep gently prodding him to keep his mind open to future options. He is struggling with taking what I will call a preemptive strike to cut himself off from the world, before the world cuts him off.

They say people forget about you after five years.
I say there is probably some truth to that, but I will continue to come again and again, but it will be spaced out. I also ask him not to cut me off.

The conversation then shifts to a lighter tone when I ask him what movies he’s seen lately. The last one he saw was Sherlock Holmes, and the inmates are really hoping they will show Avatar soon.

He also says he plays Dungeons & Dragons once a week, that he “got sucked into a campaign.” He plays a Paladin character with a holy sword (he even read the books I sent him after all). Funny thing, his eyes light up when he talks about the imaginary scenarios they go through in the game, but he quickly retreats – and dismisses the game – when I mention he appears to really enjoy it. Not quite sure what is going on there, or why he would feel guilty about enjoying the game – but that’s my perception.

He wants to set the record straight – the inmates have absolutely no Internet access whatsoever.

When I mention I can access the Internet on an airplane now, it makes him sad and cut off from the real world again.

There’s that delicate balance – adjusting and living day-to-day on the inside and how much do you look forward to getting back to the outside world. What is practical, and what is healthy?

He says there are treatment programs for sex and violent offenders, but it can be several years before they even get counseling. For one, they will not treat an inmate if the prisoner still touts his innocence.

There are a few available college courses, but mostly paper correspondence. For some, it takes ten years to get a Bachelor of Arts. My brother could, but does not wish to start any classes right now. He feels he is still getting integrated.

He reads a lot, mostly philosophy and yoga. He has The Old Man By the Sea by his bedside. A few of the inmates are encouraging him to read the classics. He likes Zen methodology where one focuses more on the Now and present. Says it makes his time easier.

The more you do it, the better you get at it.
We touch on family and Dad. The most interesting observation my brother gives about our father is he compares himself and his brother like “privates to a Battalion Commander.” He notes that Dad was always very preoccupied and though Dad was there, he really wasn’t.

We revered Dad like a God, but no longer.
We agree Lost Brother is still very protective of our father, but my brother notes that Lost Brother probably doesn’t know how to really feel about everything at this time and is still sorting things out.

As for his time in prison, my brother feels:

You’re new until you’ve been here a year and a half.
The PA system chimes. Visiting time is over. I promise my brother to see him first thing again in the morning.

Lunch at “The Castle”

A photo gallery as I explore the old USDB facility during my lunch break and in-between visits with my brother.

There is a two-hour break between visitation times (11AM-1PM), so I head back towards the interior of the Army base and the OPEN sign outside the old USDB catches my attention. The old United States Disciplinary Barracks was dubbed “The Castle” before it was torn down in 2004, but it appears several of the original buildings are being renovated for other uses (note the cheerful bright yellow).

There are no guided tours or pamphlets available on its history inside, but there is a cozy new restaurant/café called the 12th Brick Grille.

The menu has fun calling its various reasonably priced sandwiches, wraps and salads names like The Warden, Breakout, The Jailbird, The Cell Block Special, etc.

A little yellow pamphlet explains the café’s name.

What is the 12th Brick?

Commemorating the historic USDB, the “12th Brick” refers to inmate-produced bricks used to build “the castle” of the prison. Every 12th brick was stamped with USMP – United States Military Prison.
I ate The Warden.

It was satisfying.

By the way, they do have free WIFI inside this new café, so if you’ll killing time, it’s a good place to hang out. However, I decide to poke around a bit, though a ten-minute exploration will take you from one end to the other of the grounds, or what is not gated off.

Inside courtyard.

Machine shop for the old USDB and the spot where the "Castle" used to reside — now a parking lot.

Below is an overview of the old USDB and its brick buildings from a nearby parking lot.

There is a small arts-and-crafts/travel store located in the front, but it appears to be more geared for people living on the base as a few enter and seek concert tickets and other local events.

Sadly, on Sunday, I sought out the Grille but it was closed. I do recommend it if it’s open on a day you are around.

I head back down the hill towards the new USDB for round two with my brother.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Visitor: Day 1 at the USDB (cont.)

My brother shares tidbits about his life on the inside.

It’s Monday – officially my brother’s birthday – and I am now home, but two days ago, I was sitting in the Visitor’s Room, knee-to-knee with him, at one of their small tables, pretty much glued to his face and reactions, and only peripherally aware that there were five other small clusters nearby. Each table had one inmate each, dressed in their simple dark brown uniform with their name and prisoner number on it, surrounded by one to three visitors.

The murmur was low, and other than some game board play, there was little activity in the room. In fact, I note to my brother later on that the inmates barely move from their seats.

We’re domesticated.
That gets a good snort laugh from me.

The Visitor’s Room itself is a cement rectangular room with seventeen small tables laid out in four orderly rows. To the right, as you enter, there are a couple of vending machines for various drinks ($1.25) and snacks. The rules say you should carry in your change in a baggie – no purses or wallets allowed. To the left, there is a single bathroom for the Visitors to use only. If the inmates need to use the washroom, they must be buzzed in and out of the back door through which they initially enter.

By the way, my brother tells me they are frisked when they come into the Visitor’s Room, and they are body searched before they re-enter the General Population.

I’m actually giddy with excitement at seeing him, which may be construed as an odd reaction to visiting a relative in prison, but there it is. I’m happy to see him.

One of the first things he asks me is if I sent him the National Geographic subscription?

No, I did not.

My brother loves National Geographic, so here’s a quick shout-out to whoever was thoughtful enough to send it. He has received three issues thus far. He asks me to get him Popular Science.

Then noting my pen and blank paper, he proceeds to give me a mini education about the structure on the inside and how it affects him. I’ll strive for accuracy here, but don’t hold me to it.

There are several grades of custody. My brother is in L-Pod, which is medium security. Generally, this is where most of the inmates will start off. For example, inmates are not allowed to swap or share magazines in medium custody.

In maximum custody, it’s a 23-hour lock-down a day for the inmate with only one hour allowed out in a cage, which is indoors. He says there is a basketball court in the cage, but then backpedaled and said it wasn’t much of a court.

My brother said when he was in Reception, he had to mop the SHU (Special Housing Unit), and this is when he saw that layout.

He mentions three reasons inmates may be in the SHU: 1) PC (Protective Custody) – if they are PC, they never “come out” (I believe my brother meant they never get a lesser security grade until their sentence is served out); 2) DSI (Death Sentence Inmate) – currently five are on death row there at the USDB; and 3) special quarters – my brother says there are three sections, two levels.

Max Level 1 has two sections. One can be in Max Level 1 for 6 months to three years or for their whole sentence. It’s based on a point system.

Max Level 2 has one section, and the prisoner assigned to Max Level 2 can associate with three other inmates four hours a day and play board games, for example.

Back to medium custody, that is the General Population, and there are three pods. Behavior is based on a point system, but we did not go into those details.

My brother is currently considered high-risk, but with an “infraction-free” record, by 2013, he could potentially be reduced to MIO (Minimum Inside Only), which has two pods.

In this reduced security grade, inmates are allowed in each other’s room and permitted to hand items off to one another.

There are two lesser security grades, Minimum and TRU (Trustee), but at this time, my brother is not eligible, because he has no date for parole. No parole date means he cannot get any time cut off his sentence (abatement) or any good conduct time.

Minimum-security inmates can get outside details, like mowing the lawn or divvying up rations.

Trustees are model inmates who qualify for parole, and there are no sex offenders allowed at this level. My brother says it can take 20 years to get to this grade, though one did it in 7-8 years, but mostly, the guys are older in their 50’s and 60’s.

Switching gears, my brother looks forward to his mini promotion this week. Right now, his job involves setting up the food trays for the people in the SHU, and he makes it a point to give them as much as possible without going overboard. In a couple of days, he’ll be a janitor for the offices, which according to him is “a huge step up.” For one, the work is just slated for weekdays, no weekends, and he mentions he’ll be tag teaming with a cool guy, so they’ll cover each other’s backs.

The theme of inmate loyalty begins to creep into various topics, along with the word, “respect”. He mentions the inmates prefer to handle matters amongst themselves before they get to the Greens. That said, he notes there is order and discipline in the inmate community, and that there has only been one rape inside and that was two years ago.

Some of the older guys have taken my brother under their wing, but again, there was a reluctance from my brother to talk about these mentors in specific. My brother is slated for the metal shop, because of some of these mentors. He suspects it’ll be another three to six months before a slot opens up in the metal shop. Currently, there are only 16 inmates in there, and they tend to stay there a long time, especially since it takes about five years to get certified. It is a coveted spot.

My brother is the third youngest inmate in the whole facility.

I'm the Kid.
Today, my brother is 21. And he’ll be growing up in prison. Now, there’s a heavy thought. And it weighs on him as well.

But Saturday, we still had so much to share when the MP announced this visit time was over. We would pick up again after lunch.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Visitor: Day 1 at the USDB

Logistics, first impressions, and the first few minutes with my brother.

Okay, as an out-of-towner, let me clear up some directions right from the top.

First, you’ll notice all the freeway signs refer to the airport as the KCI Airport from the I-29. My plane ticket says it is the MCI Airport. I found the discrepancy explained on Wikipedia (MCI instead of KCI).

Despite requests from Kansas City, the airport has been unsuccessful in changing its Mid-Continent designation of MCI, though they want to… they really, really want to… evidenced by all the freeway signs that say KCI Airport. Compounding the challenge, the FCC has reserved all call letters with “K” and “W” for radio and television stations, so KCI is the unofficial delegation for their airport. But use it for navigation.

Second, dump all Mapquest directions once you cross the bridge into Fort Leavenworth. The street names have changed – and they will muck up the innocent.

Proceed to the main checkpoint gate for Fort Leavenworth and get directions – or use my forthcoming, civilian-version of guiding your way through the Army post. (It’ll be a couple of weeks, but I’m even more convinced now that an Unofficial Guide to the USDB will be a useful tool to someone somewhere out there. I clocked mileage.)

The actual drive from the MCI/KCI airport to Fort Leavenworth is actually lovely and passes quickly. Rolling hills, green farmland and historic landmarks, like the Lewis and Clark Trail, pepper the route. Before you know it, you’re crossing the Missouri/Kansas state line over a steel-blue bridge, and you’re in Fort Leavenworth.

It takes just a couple of minutes to pass through the main checkpoint as the guards check your ID and log the license plate of your car. Then, you drive straight back on Grant Drive about 2 miles and you’ll reach the old USDB, or what was formerly known as the “Castle.” I ate there for lunch. (More on that later.)

From there, you go back, back, and back another 2 or so miles to what I guess is more along the perimeter of the base, and you’ve finally arrived at the new USDB.

It’s very quiet. You hear birds chirping. A railroad steams in the distance. It’s that quiet.

And it’s odd. You’re on these back roads virtually alone. There are no buildings; it’s all green woods. You pass their Sherman Army Airfield, but it’s also desolate of activity with just a few colorful Cessnas and Pipers parked next to the tower.

I park in the lot and walk into the main entrance of the USDB. Here again. Quiet. In fact, no one is there on the main floor. There is a single yellow sign that says:

All Visitors Please Report Upstairs

I climb the steps.

Second floor, there is only one young MP stationed next to one security-scanning gate. I walk to him and present my two required IDs. I read the rules before arrival, so I left my purse, phone, and almost everything else locked in the car. I carry my car keys, one pen and a wad of blank paper, and that is it. They do have lockers in the hallway if you wish to bring your stuff inside – but I would really  be surprised if people had theft on their mind in the parking lot of the USDB. I decided it really wasn’t risky to leave my things outside.

I am already on the MP’s checklist. I just need to sign the dotted line.

He scoots me through the surveillance gate, and then I am buzzed into a double-thick door. It clangs behind me. Another second double-thick door opens in front of me.

And I am officially inside the Visitor’s Room.

This is the maximum-security USDB. The ease of the whole process continues to surprise me. It is nothing like Hollywood movies. Consider me an ignorant civilian.

On cue, the MP behind the Visitor’s Room desk buzzes the door at the opposite end, and my brother emerges like an actor flagged by the stage director. Clearly, my brother waits for expected visitors for whenever they decide to show. I’m about 15 minutes late with previous misguided directions, but we cross the room and hug each other big. It’s an embracing, warm bear hug.

I look at my brother. He’s trimmer than the last time I saw him in December, his face is clear, (he’s so young still) and I’m actually very excited to see him.

He leads me to one of the many orderly little tables situated next to the slit windows. First one he disapproves – the view is just fence and wires; second one, he seats me so I can see the green grass and trees beyond the fence perimeter outside the window.

The next two-and-a-half hours, we just talk. And talk some more. I scribble over four pages of notes about his life on the inside, his current viewpoints, family, philosophy, science – it was literally a roller-coaster of emotion from him with laughter and tears, and with his permission, I am allowed to share snippets of it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My First Visit to the USDB

Winging my way to the Midwest and the USDB.

It’s a hop from sunny Southern Cal to a flat Phoenix, Arizona, just over an hour flight, enough time to skim the in-flight magazine, read one article at length and suck down my Diet Coke to quench my parched throat, and we’re already on descent.

Then a skip from Phoenix to Kansas City, Missouri – a two-hour airplane ride. At least now I have the time to crunch all the ice in my drink and pull out my laptop for a little work and writing.

But yes, I land in Missouri. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and the USDB, according to Mapquest, are on the other side of the Kansas City MCI International Airport and state line, merely a forty-minute drive. So for ease, I chose a standard, clean, three-and-a-half star Marriott near the airport, only three miles away.

So that is where my tush is parked now – at the office desk of the kitchenette/living area of my room. My time clock is still on the 11PM Pacific Coast time, though the clocks here now read 1AM (Central Coast time). I have a 6AM wake-up call. Breakfast is included in the package, so I plan on taking advantage of it.

First visiting time at the USDB starts at 0800.

My brother called me mid-week from the USDB, and he says he’s looking forward to seeing me. He sounded sad, so I attempted to leave it on a more positive note saying we could catch up this weekend and kept the call short.

Oddly enough, that very same day, I talked to my father for the first time in four or five months. He called me from his respective prison.

At first, the usual wariness rose in me, and I was expecting some sort of demand from him, but my Dad said he just felt some sort of concern that something had happened to me. Was everything alright?

Well, truthfully, something did happen. I had to resign from my job just shy of a week ago. The short of it – a fellow employee had created a hostile work environment for me for six months, and despite bringing it to my boss’ attention, documenting the incidents and attempting to resolve it as a last resort through HR, we were unable to mend the situation. It became crystal clear to me that I would be infinitely happier walking away peacefully and finding gainful employment elsewhere.

I have no doubt I made the right decision.

There are some upsides to being unemployed. I was able to rebuild my once-top-of-the-line, now four-year-old MacBookPro back up to its former glory with the latest system, software and updates. It has breathed new life into a good machine that sat unused for almost a year. Now I have laptop, ready for travel.

And I don’t have to worry about my late Sunday flight back. I can sleep in the following day.

Got to take the good things from where they come.

Also odd, my father’s prison calls are not only recorded but on a time clock. I believe I only get five or six minutes of chat time with him before they cut us off. My father is in a minimum-security facility, and his phone calls and canteen account have limits, and my brother is in the USDB, a maximum-security unit, and can chat as long as he wishes, and there is no limit on his personal deposit account. Someone please explain the logic to me.

My brief phone chat with Dad was pleasant. No demands. Told him I was visiting the USDB; he did not know. I guess my brother has put in a request through the proper channels so Dad and he can communicate directly; the usual rule is no inmate to inmate contact, but you can get that waived.

What I didn’t expect, until I checked the weather earlier in the day and landed at the MCI, was thunderstorms – and a tornado watch.

Toto, I believe now we are in Kansas.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Different Perspective

A long-time family friend gives me feedback. Can I forgive my father?

One reader recently expressed concern that I was filled with so much resentment towards my father that I may become “an embittered senior citizen one day.”


I turn towards Captain Flint, our three-year-old Amazon parrot and ask her.

“Captain Flint, am I in danger of becoming an embittered senior citizen?”

She chortles, “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.”

Nope, I don’t think so either.

There is a mild temptation to play this game with our two caiques, twelve doves (six new babies in the last five weeks alone) and six fluffy bunnies (all rescues), but reason gets the better of me.

I turn to my man instead for a more rational response. By the way, we just finished and sent out a mildly humorous audition tape we entitled Life with a Magician for a reality show application, and we donated a morning to charity for the Give a Day, Get a Day Disney offer so we can go to Disneyland. Somehow I do feel compelled to note that this is not the typical behavior of a future embittered senior citizen and the home front of someone harboring oodles of resentment.

His response, “No, if your father just apologized, and meant it, then all these issues would go away. But I was there at the dinner table when he said he has done absolutely nothing wrong.”

I hold the letter from two months ago that says the exact same thing, and there’s the rub. My father has NOT changed during his time in prison.

But his tune has. In two months, his letters to me now have taken on the “woe-is-me” pitch. See, he’s due out in October to a halfway house, or home confinement. The latter is infinitely preferable, because one is not allowed cell phones or computers in a halfway house, and those are the exact tools my father needs to get back to work. I mean, my father is quite frankly an upper-echelon white-collar businessman. He is not a day laborer and will not be packing groceries at the local market.

So, his last letter has a pleading tone to me, because it appears my cousins have told him they can’t take him in – they are overextended with their own family responsibilities; my Lost Brother’s inheritance is tied up with some legal issues; and other key relatives have recently passed.

That leaves our house – and the guest room.

But there are two issues here: 1) I did mention previously that my father left quite a distaste to us welcoming him back after his two-month stint prior to entering the pokey; and 2) we technically do not own the house. My man’s mother, a Superior Court justice, no less, who does not know the full extent of my family mucked-upness, owns our house. I would need to come clean with her before my father stayed with us for up to five months. That is no short relative visit.

Let me note now that above fellow reader has also known our family for decades, but it has probably been at least ten years or more, since I have spoken to this person. Surprise of surprise, fellow reader/family friend called me yesterday – on behalf of my father.

His inquiry: is there anything we can do for Dad for the three months that he needs a place to stay?

Yes, the type of detail my Dad fudges – three, five months… it’s all the same. Cough.

It’s five months, Dad. There is nothing in writing that says you get off early.

Anyhoo, fellow reader/family friend says he volunteered to call me, and that my father did not put him up to this. I beg to differ, but let’s not argue the point.

I tell fellow reader/family friend that we are considering assisting my father, but the decision will NOT be made in the next thirty days. I was also looking for a possible house sitting assignment for my father, but those will not come up six months prior to his release. My father will have to be patient.

This is when I volunteer to send a link to this blog to this fellow reader/family friend for a “different perspective” on what is going on with my father, brothers and myself.

Later in the day, I receive an email. He read this blog and found it interesting.

We usually see our own faults in someone else. If your father recounts his misery, you do the same… Please, let it go.
I’ll be the first to admit I have a lot of traits of my father, but I absolutely do not have suicidal thoughts, his ego or sense of entitlement, all documented in tangible, written form.

We all have to learn to let go of the negatives that keep on nagging at us.
I agree! Thus, this forum. I vent. I move on with my life. Makes me a much happier person.

The experiences of life either harden us or soften us.

Being protective of a happy home front is entirely different than becoming a hardened individual. If you see a rattlesnake in your path, you learn from experience to give it wide berth. That is just plain being smart. Cuddling it is not an option.

Four-plus decades of false promises, outright lies, and my father consistently reaching for the “brass ring” with an all-or-nothing attitude has taught me to be very wary of my father. This is experience and fact, again documented with years’ worth of emails and correspondence. Again, being smart should not be equated with being hard.

You get burned by the stove, you do not reach out towards the flame again.

However, with all this said in my defense, I just came across a quote I like very much and will ponder:

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes

Saturday, April 10, 2010

To Blog or Not to Blog, That is the Question

Missed seven phone call attempts over Easter weekend from my brother in the USDB; we finally connect on the eighth — is everything okay?

I have to admit I’m not used to being the recipient of my brother’s attention, so on the second day, when I saw I had missed five more phone call attempts from him in one evening, my first reaction was concern. I tend to keep my cell phone on vibrate, mostly due to my workplace’s phone policies, and I’m not exactly a social butterfly, so the few who know me best call me on the land line at home in the eve.

Anyway, Monday morn at my job, my phone vibrates with the infamous area code of 913, which instantly clues me in that it’s from my brother. I make the now-traditional dash back into the warehouse.

Is everything okay?

Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine. Just wanted to talk to you.
Wonderful. Again, just not used to him turning to me.

I exhale, and my body immediately relaxes. I rush in to tell him the news. I’m flying in to see him in two weeks!

I tried twice more to call the USDB’s official visitation phone line, and the message pretty much says there is no one there to accept your call and no one authorized to take messages, so “goodbye.” Absolutely useless.

What I did locate that was somewhat useful was their two-page .pdf on their Visitation Procedures, published June 23, 2008, so two-year-old guidelines, but hopefully somewhat accurate. The key piece that cinched my game plan was their official visitation hours: the two visits per day are only over the weekends.

Monday thru Friday visiting hours are normally 1900-2130. On weekends, holidays and training holidays, visiting hours are normally 0800-1100 and 1300-1600.

So, I wanted to see my brother on his official birthday — his 21st birthday, a big one, but it’s a Monday, and I can’t take too much time off from work, so I booked myself to see him the weekend prior. It’s not like I’ll be able to take him out for a celebratory drink or anything, so it’s more about the thought that counts.

He said he would put in the proper visitation request on his end.

Then he made his own request to me — he asked me to take down this blog.

Wow. I was stunned. And saddened.

I ask him why.

I don’t want people to think about me.
Love my brother, but that’s hogwash. He wouldn’t have tried calling me eight times over a day and a half if he didn’t care about any attention. And he certainly didn’t, and wouldn’t, ask any of us not to write or think about him when it comes to his appeals and other matters still pending.

I ask him if there is anything that embarrassed him that he heard about... he deflects and says he just doesn’t want this anymore.

So, I spent the better part of the week mulling over this request, and here’s my response, which I will write to him as well:

1. This is my open-forum therapy, a cheaper and effective alternative in lieu of counseling sessions.  I did not ask to inherit the caretaking role for such a mucked-up side of my family, and in order to keep a semblance of calm and sanity, I need to express my feelings. This is a healthy forum to me, and in these few months, it has come to mean a lot to me.

2. I will not publish his private thoughts without his permission. Up until this point, anything here was with his consent. And frankly, I found his musings interesting…

3. And so do others. We have received a few thanks from others for this small blog, but also, I know for a fact, there is this invisible connective tissue that interlocks a handful of family, friends and a few strangers, who do appreciate being able to log in and on their own time see what’s going on with my brother. He does matter, and as I presented to him in the beginning, we want him to still matter. However, if my musings have to be more from my first-person perspective only, then I do have that right. My dear brother cannot tell me not to write.

4. This blog has temporarily strengthened my own communication with my brother. I have received more letters from him these past few months than I ever did before in my life. It gives us a common goal, and a positive outlet.

5. Last, I actually had imagined keeping this blog going for years, so when he did finally get a parole hearing, I would hand to the committee a binder of how this young man thought and acted in a loving and positive way throughout the whole time – how more convincing could a track record of years worth of material be than that?

I’m looking forward to visiting him in two weeks, and I still intend to play the role of Nancy Drew and document the details of entry and people I see. In an odd way, this gives me joy. It makes me feel like a detective, and I wish to publish my own .pdf called the Unofficial Guide to the USDB with tidbits I have gathered from my brief experience that I hope to be useful to others. I mean, visiting a maximum-security prison was not exactly on my “bucket-list,” other than Alcatraz, which I have seen; so, for me, this turns an unasked for duty into an adventure, and I hope my brother will come to see it that way.