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Trick or Treat

 

    As a little girl, I used to get so excited every October waiting for Halloween and planning and dreaming of who or what I wanted to be that year. Just the thought of being someone or something other than ME for one special night was intoxicating.  I would spend hours thinking about it and choosing and re-choosing. Usually, it was something mythical, like a fairy or a princess. Or someone with an exciting exotic life-like a gypsy who danced around a fire and traveled the world.  Or something with super powers that would give me magical abilities for one special night. Sometimes it combined all of these at once, not fitting into any one category other than from the vivid imagination of a child.  Always, it was something that possessed great beauty. It usually involved an elaborate costume with rainbow colors and lots of sparkles.

  I loved purple and pink above all colors. One year I went as a purple butterfly with a pink magic wand who could grant wishes and fly.   I wore curled ribbons in my hair that cascaded down my back and over my wings.  They swirled behind me in the night breeze as I raced from house to house trick-or-treating.  The wind whipped around me adding to my illusion of flying.  I was airborne and free floating on a breeze on my imaginary flight.  The night was truly magical as nights like that should be for little girls with big dreams and bigger imaginations.

  I am all grown up now and magical nights are a thing of the past.   Halloween is just another date on the calendar.  The little girl of my past has been left far behind.  Big dreams died and I haven’t left the ground in a very long time.  I no longer spend the weeks leading up to Halloween dreaming of being anyone else.  In fact, I haven’t even been me for way too long.  I would be hard pressed to tell you who “me” is anymore.  The “me” I used to be no longer exist.  The happy carefree girl who dreamed big has been replaced  by a hollowed out shell of a woman who carries too much sadness and bitterness to ever dream of purple butterflies or believe in fairy-tales and magic wands.

  If only I could for a second be someone else this Halloween.  I would choose to be that girl again.  The one full of life and dreams.  The one who sparkled and truly believed she had wings and could fly.  I would use my pink magic wand and I would grant the wishes of all the broken-hearted moms…doors would magically open and our children would be free.  We would all be airborne together in a flight of fantasy like no other.  Even the night-time stars would not be able to outshine our joy. 

  If only….

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Today, I bought a pumpkin. 

  That probley doesn’t sound like such a big deal to many people, after all, it’s that time of year.  For me, it is a very big deal.  A milestone, even.  In its own way…a triumphant return to the land of the living.  You see, the last time I bought a pumpkin was in October, 2007.    That year, my front yard was decorated for fall.  I was one of those annoying neighbors who decorated to the hilt for every single holiday, big or small.  Haybales and scarecrows and flower pots full of mums were scattered around the yard.  On my front porch step sat a huge, gorgeous orange pumpkin.  I carved my Jack-O-Lantern and proudly displayed it.  October had always been my favorite month.  Crisp, cool temps and bonfires and falling leaves.  I was celebrating the pure joy of living that year.  I had no idea how short-lived my joy was to be.

  October 28, 2007 everything for me changed.  The fall of that year began the descent of my own big fall and I have been falling ever since.  My wonderful son was arrested and I lost contact with reality.  I went into a big dark hole and covered my head.  I became the walking dead.  A shell-shocked woman full of pain and confusion.  My world had tilted on its axles and I could not make any sense of it. 

  Halloween came and went in a blur.  I vaguely remember lying in my darkened room with the curtains pulled tight ignoring the sounds of the trick-or-treaters outside while tears soaked my pillow. 

  Thanksgiving was the same.  There was no smells of turkey cooking, no family get-together.  Nothing to be thankful for.  The pumpkin Jack-o-lantern and the haybales of October remained standing.  A testimony to time having stopped in my household.

  Christmas was truly a nightmare.  While the rest of the world decorated and sang carols.  My house and soul remained dark.  The scarecrow had begun to sag and the haybales were dirty.  The mums gave up and died in their pots.  Jack was not faring so well.  The pumpkin had begun to rot on the front steps.  It felt fitting to leave it there for the world to see. 

  New Years was just a sad reminder of the passing of the worst year of my life and not much hope for bringing in a better one.  Not for a long time to come.  Snow fell that year.  Looking out the window, I could see the contrast of the bright white flakes covering the rotting corpse of the pumpkin.  As if Mother Nature herself was determined to cover up this atrocity on my lawn.  I was just as determined for it to remain, for the world to witness my pain.  Jack was dead and so was I.

  My house remained locked tight against the world.  No one came calling.  A grief like this doesn’t have a protocol.  No one brings home cooked dishes or sends sympathy cards.  You are suddenly a pariah in polite society. 

  February brought Valentines Day.  I vividly remember creaking open the front door to let some light fall into my darkness.  It was the day for love but I couldn’t feel it.  Couldn’t feel anything.  I sat on the front porch and stared at what was left of my pumpkin jack-o-lantern.   Dried orange pumpkin guts stained the steps.  Jack was no longer recognizable as having ever been a pumpkin.  I could relate.  I no longer recognized my own self when I gazed into the mirror.

  Holidays came and went and were ignored over the coming years.  My son was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  Life was just something to get through.  It was an ordeal just to make myself breathe.  The house was sold and all the belongings with it.  All the beautiful holiday decorations that I had collected were sold, thrown out or given to anyone who would haul them away.  The house was left vacant and empty with just a hint of an orange stain on the front steps.  A hint of a memory of a beautiful Jack-O-Lantern and a girl who once celebrated the joy of life in October.

  I live in a new place now.  Much smaller but in a simple, good kind of way.  October came this year and I felt a stirring inside me.  I passed by the pumpkin fields bursting with life and bright orange fruit.  I went to turn my face away as I had done every year since my rotted Jack days.  I heard the quietest whisper in my heart.  Just a small voice beckoning to me….”turn around”.    I could have kept driving, maybe I should have, but life has a way of going on, even when you can’t.  I didn’t let myself think, just turned around and got out.  Families walked through the rows of pumpkins, children laughed beside their parents.  I silently walked alone to the one who reminded me the most of my beautiful Jack of long ago.  I placed my hand on it, feeling the warmth the sun had left and I closed my eyes and let it infuse its warmth into the cold I had been carrying for too long.  I whispered a silent apology to my old friend rotted Jack as I let myself embrace a new one. 

Tears coursed down my cheeks as I said, “yes, I’ll take this one”.

  Today, I bought a pumpkin.

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This was written by a man named Tony Casson who is imprisoned with my son, Jesse, at Oakdale Federal Prison. He writes a blog called Oakdale Chronicals. He wrote this one for his mother and I wanted to share it with everyone. It is titled Letter to Heaven.http://mediarow.com/oakdale-chronic…

 

Memory is the treasure house of the mind” Thomas Fuller

“May she who gave you birth be happy” Proverbs 23:25B NLT

Dear Mom,

Of all of the words I have written in my life, I have written the least number of them to you.

I apologize for this, and I will not add insult to injury by offering any excuses.

In death you remain larger than life and the words “I miss you” are woefully inadequate to describe the feeling of emptiness that moved in when you left and has remained there for 3+ years.

I know you are happily at home with God and I am grateful that your long-time suffering ended. When I see you in my dreams, I see a younger, healthier version of you with your eyesight, hearing and other physical ailments restored.

And, of course, I see that radiant smile of yours that so many people over your lifetime were able to see directed at them, making them aware that true goodness does exist on this earth.

Or did, anyway.

My time spent in prison, so far, has not been spent in vain, I don’t think, Mom. I know you cannot be happy with me here, but I also know you can’t possibly be disappointed by how things are progressing so far.

Since the Lord saw fit to save me death 2 years ago I have been filled with a faith that grows and gets stronger daily. My love of the Lord, for all he has blessed me with, leads me to be at peace and content, even in this – the most impossible place imaginable to be at peace and content.

Yet I am, for I know this is just the beginning, and the best is yet to come.

Sometimes, I can almost feel the warmth of your smile as you look down upon me and from the warmth I have the strength to resolve the past, and the courage to face the future.

I love the time I spend reminiscing = reliving various times in our lives together, both good – and not so good.

Just the other day, I was thinking about the time, – ok, the first time – I ran away from home on a dare by the next door neighbor. I was 13.

It wasn’t until I stood in the doorway of Anthony’s bedroom when he was 13 (Can you believe he just turned 24??). I was watching him sleep (my goodness – did I look that innocent and young at 13?) and for some reason, as I stood there that whole running away thing popped into my head and I thought “Oh, my God! I was that same age as this precious young man sleeping peacefully before me when my mom woke up one day and I was gone!”.

I remember calling you that day and tearfully apologizing, explaining that it wasn’t until the moment I looked at Anthony and imagined waking up and finding him gone that I realized what a horrible thing I had done and how frantic you must have been and how much have ached inside wondering where your little boy had gone and whether or not he was safe.

You reassured me that it was ok, and I felt your teary smile coming through the telephone, but I know that while you were reassuring me, you too were remembering that agonizing sense of panic and loss when my disappearance was discovered.

By the time or conversation ended, we had both laughed and both cried, and I believed you when you said that I had been forgiven long, long ago.

Your capacity for love and forgiveness was greater than that of anyone I have ever known and I believe – now that I know a little more about Him – that you got that directly from God.

Sometimes I am glad that you were not here on this earth to witness my final tumble from grace and to be given the news of my near-successful suicide attempt, but I also think that if you had been alive to get up and speak about me to Judge Cohn, perhaps he would have been more lenient with me, for surely you would have convinced him of that, while damaged, I was not broken beyond repair.

He might, however, have sentenced me to more time for having the audacity to cause pain within someone so obviously full of love and goodness as you.

No matter, you were with me that day, in other, more wondrous – and powerful – ways and you remain with me today.

When ‘Pop’ had his stroke and it was decided that I would move to Florida and hang out with you two and help out where I could, it was as if the Lord was orchestrating all of it as he foresaw what would eventually happen to you, to ‘Pop’, and then to me.

I am very thankful for the time we shared, the three of us, and even though there were rough spots, there were also beautiful moments, happy moments, and humorous ones as well.

When we were 1st together I remember the frustration at the difficulties presented by your hearing problems. Remember when we finally made that appointment, had you tested and fitted and ordered your new hearing aids?

What a beautiful day it was when you went to pick them up. The pleasure in your face was a joy to see – you could be so much like a child in your excitement sometimes.

Remember driving home after we left the store? The conversation in the car was at normal level – no repeated words – no “what did you say?” – no raised voices. Just the three of us, talking normally. The joy you felt at being able to hear was evident in your radiant smile, and I’ll never forget what happened when we pulled in the driveway: I helped you out of the car and you stopped and cocked your head – a puzzled look on your face. I asked “What’s the matter?” “What’s that sound?”, you inquired. I listened for a moment, chuckled, shook my head and said, “Those are birds, Mom”.

It was wonderful to be part of that and to see at least a small portion of the quality of your life improve.

Of course, your eyesight had deteriorated much more than your hearing, and there simply wasn’t much in the way of mechanical aids to help you see better. You have your ‘talking’ watch and ‘talking’ clock both which, with the push of a button would announce the time. Of course, your clock – which was next to your bed – was set to announce when it as 7AM. I remember how it freaked me out when I first moved there and would hear the voice. That “voice” now announces 7AM for Kathy each and every day.

And let’s not forget your lighted magnifying glass – probably the single most important aid. Goodness me! I was just sitting here remembering taking you to Penny’s so you could get a birthday gift for one the neighbors’ kids and started crying as I recalled watching you struggling with that thing looking at sizes and prices and insisting on being independent and self-sufficient.

It embarrasses and shames me how selfless you were and how selfish I was. If only I had learned from you sooner, but you know me – “I knew it all”.

Now that’s funny, right there.

Actually, though – speaking of funny – I get a chuckle recalling the time I planted flowers along the fence in your backyard. You came to the back door and announced how pretty they were. Laughing, I said “what are you talking about? You can’t see them!”. You insisted you could, so I just kissed the top of your white-haired head and said “Yeah, right – but thanks”.

My favorite story is one told by ‘Pop’ and happened long before I got there. You remember your blind dog, Teddy, of course (What is with that place, something in the water?).

Anyway, the story goes:

One day you ‘looked’ out the back window and saw Teddy lying by the pool. (He never fell in, did he?). You opened the Florida room door and called out to him, but he laid just there. You called him again with the same result, so you called out ‘PoP’ – “Roland! Roland!. . . come here please!”

‘Pop’ walked up next to you and asked what you wanted. You told him that you were calling Teddy to come in, but he wouldn’t come, whereupon ‘Pop’ told you that Teddy was in the living room, lying on the floor. You pointed outside and asked him “then who is that by the pool?”. Pop looked past you to where you were pointing, looked back to you and said “an iguana”, and turned and went back in to join Teddy in the living room.

Kind of glad he didn’t come when you called, weren’t you, Dear?

For the most part though, you were incredible to watch in your own home. One would never know you could hardly see. You could bake, cook, clean, wash clothes, iron – you could do it all. You were an amazing woman and I’m sorry it took me so long to notice.

Well, Mother, I could go on and on. I guess what I’m trying to say through all of this is that I love you, I miss you and I think of you all of the time.

I also want to reassure you that, while I would definitely rather be somewhere else, I am using the time that I have here constructively and in a positive way to strengthen my faith in God and to work on His plans for my future.

I’ll write again and let you know how things are going – maybe share another story or two.

Until then, know this: God will help me set this right. I remember the past, but I look forward, and I look up. To my future, and my hope, and my future and hope are with God.

And I’m okay with that, and somehow I think you are too.

I love you, Mom.

Tony

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Who would have ever thought my hands would strike these keys to speak of sorrows such as this. There is seldom a place of refuge or a place for compassion in a world that is ignorant to an experience such as this. We that come here to read, those of us that have in spirit gone to prison ourselves, serve time in a place so intimately our own for few can comprehend the depth of our loss.

Though no one has died, we mourn, though no person
has been laid to rest the fact of the matter is, the person we once knew, has left us forever and will never be the same – neither will we.

Who can know what it is like to manage a face of courage when inside your heart is screaming with fear and frustration? And how can any understand the prejudice that we encounter when others are appalled at the notion that we would associate ourselves with such degenerates. They do not know.

They do not know this journey that we share as the casualties to the varying scenarios that brought our loved ones to incarceration. And oddly enough having once sat in that seat of innocent, ignorance and condecention what they really do not know, is that it can happen to anyone, even them.

Until it comes to your door, you can not imagine or remotely fathom the capacity this beast of agony has to torment your life – and though we have come here to share and expose to each other our commonalities in pain – each one of us silently cries specific tears that only God can understand.

This we know, this we live and may God be with anybody who ever reads this and may He richly console you in your loss. May His promise of His peace that surpasses all understanding be with you.
Author unknown

  The words above were not written by me, but they could have been. 

“Those of us who in spirit have gone to prison ourselves, serve time in a place so intimatly our own for few can comprehend the depth of our loss”   That is how if feels.  We are all serving time with our loved ones behind bars.  Each mother, wife, child, father…it is the same.  Our heart doesn’t beat like it used to, our soul has withered, our hurt takes on a life of it’s very own.  We keep living, going through the motions, really.  Barely functioning ghost of the people we used to be.  Empty shells trying to fill the void left by that person who has been taken away. 

  It sounds dire and depressing.  All days are not like this, and yet too many are.  And unless you have walked a mile in these shoes…you can not begin to know.

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Tears of Blood

 

  Tears are the safety valve of the heart when too much pressure is laid on it.  ~Albert Smith

  A very wise woman once told me that I could cry tears of blood and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference or change the outcome of what was happening to me or to my son.  He would still be in prison.  People would still hate him and judge him and our family and life would still be unfair.  This had a profound effect on me.  Up until this point, all I had done was cry.  Cry so hard for so long that I would get physically ill.  Day after day and night after night, I cried.  For almost 2 years, that is all I could manage to do.  I could have filled a river with my tears.  I was living in a haze of pain and grief and semi-madness.  I don’t know if semi-madness is a real term or not but to me it means that place of limbo where you  should have been committed but you appeared to be still functioning so most people left you alone.  They also steered a wide path around you though, because you just give off a vibe of “something ain’t quite right here”.  In your head, you fluctuate back and forth between wishing someone would just put their arms around you and make it all better and having the urge to climb up on the top of McDonald’s and begin shooting random strangers.  Like I said, people steered a wide path around me. 

  These words came from this wise woman and mother, who by the way, was dealing with her own son in prison.  He was 5 years into a 20 year to life sentence for rape.  Even though the woman had recanted her accusation, the courts had refused to overturn his sentence.  He had been a soldier serving his country, home on leave when the incident occurred.  Somewhere between the Welcome Home BBQ and the Good-bye, Come Home Safe party, he had been arrested and charged and the nightmare for this mother began.  He was in Leavenworth Federal Prison wearing a prison jumpsuit instead of his Army dress uniform and a long way from his Kentucky home on the side of a mountain and his God-fearing and believing mother.  She was an ordained pastor and had a calmness and serenity about her that puzzled me.  I kept wondering what had kept HER off the roof of McDonald’s with a sawed-off shotgun?  During that time, the McDonald’s fantasy seemed perfectly reasonable to me.  (Told you, semi madness).  I never did find an answer to where her serenity came from, I assume it was her faith, something I was sorely lacking in during that time. 

Just as a small fire is extinguished by the storm whereas a large fire is enhanced by it – likewise a weak faith is weakened by predicament and catastrophes whereas a strong faith is strengthened by them.” Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997, Holocaust Survivor and Author of “Man’s Search for Meaning”) 

  Still, somehow, this woman’s calm and knowing words to me was able to penetrate the darkness I was in and I felt them in my heart.  I dried my tears and went about finding my way back to sanity.   Semi-sanity maybe but sane enough to function and have a life again and even manage to smile occasionally. 

  I read just recently about a beautiful custom called a Tear Jar or a weeping bottle.   I could have filled a few of them to the brim.

       “In the dry climate of ancient Greece, water was prized above all. Giving up water from one’s own body, when crying tears for the dead, was considered a sacrifice. They caught their precious tears in tiny pitchers or “tear jars” like the one shown here (lifesize). The tears became holy water and could be used to sprinkle on doorways to keep out evil, or to cool the brow of a sick child.  

The tear jars were kept unpainted until the owner had experienced the death of a parent, sibling, child, or spouse. After that, the grieving person decorated the tear jar with intricate designs, and examples of these can still be seen throughout modern Greece.  

This ancient custom symbolizes the transformation that takes place in people who have grieved deeply. They are not threatened by the grief of people in pain. They have been in the depths of pain themselves, and returned. Like the tear jar, they can now be with others who grieve and catch their tears.”

 

  My son did not die nor did I.  It only felt that way.

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 Oh I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love

  My journey of learning to live with a son in prison has allowed me to cross paths with some of the most amazing mothers God ever created.   Women who also survived the horror of a watching helplessly while your child’s life is taken and their dreams are crushed forever.  One such mother is Mary Duval.  Mary and her son Ricky have been the subject of many television shows, news broadcast and magazine articles.  They have been featured on CNN and 20/20.  When Ricky was 16, he met a young girl at a club who he had sex with on two occasions and who lied about her age.  She told him she was 15.  Turns out she was only 13.  Even though the girl and her parents did not want Ricky prosecuted.  He was.  He was looking at 20 years in prison.  He was advised to take a plea and was then labeled a tier 3 predator status sex offender ( the most dangerous status  of all) for life.  He was no longer allowed to attend school.  He was ostracized and bullied.   Taunted and harassed.  Community members followed him with video cameras. Ricky and his mother and his brother had to move into an old trailer that sat outside of the populated areas and afforded them a place to run if vigilantes came calling.  Oh, and did I mention, Ricky’s mother, Mary, was blind?  But that never stopped her from fighting.  And fight she did.  She took on the elected officials.  She went to Washington.  She appeared in front of cameras fighting for Ricky and every mother’s son like him.  She fought tirelessly.  Until she couldn’t fight anymore.

  Tonight, Mary Duval has slipped into a coma and is on life support.  She has been battling cancer.  I can’t help but wonder how many battles must this woman fight in her lifetime?   Last year, when the word came that there was a group of homeless men who had been released from prison or jail with no place to go and were living under a bridge in Miami, Fl.  Mary packed up and took a camera crew and she went there and she served soup and kindness to those men that society had thrown away and hated.    http://juliatuttlecauseway.blogspot.com/

Americas Dirty Little Secret

She practiced and lived the verse from the bible that many choose to ignore: 

“Whatever you do for the least of these…you do for me”   

A friend of mine wrote some beautiful words about that day under the bridge that I would like to share an excerpt of:

CRYSTAL CLEAR

“Hail Nancy, full of Grace, your public lynchings are a disgrace;

those without sin are now running this place; do unto others with nary a trace”

She must be some kinda saint or somethin’

Ya know, hangin’ the sinners and all

James says God forgives but the government don’t;

That people could but they won’t

No matter who you are or what you did

Don’t seem right

The mood’s pretty good here right now

The guys talkin’ Christmas and Salvation

Charlie’s got an old guitar he got last year from the Army

They ring bells and sing

Think it’s a homeless thing

Makes me lil sad; makes us all a lil sad, to tell you the truth

They’re the only ones who care we are here

Oh, there is one other kind soul that drifts in with a prayer

We call her Mary D

She can’t see our smiles, but she knows they are there

She was blinded by God, not by hate

So much different then the rest of this state

Settin’ up tables and cups for her right now

Mary D’s servin hot soup tonight

Don’t wanna be late

Life is hard

Send us a Christmas card

PO BOX 000 Julia Tuttle Causeway Miami, FLA”

Written by LEE

“She was blinded by God but not by hate”  Wow, no truer words have been spoken.

  We could all learn a lot from Mary Duval.  

 She is a fighter and a crusader who has shown such courage and determination tempered with kindness and love.

But most of all, she is a MOM.

God Bless You, Mary Duval.

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       “Remember, Be Here Now…”               By Ram Dass

One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon – instead of enjoying the roses blooming outside our windows today. (Dale Carnegie)

  Memorial Day Weekend.  Holidays are hard when there is a hole in your life.  Having a child in prison creates a giant void that can not seem to ever be filled.   Today, “normal” families are picnicking and swimming and laughing and loving…and here I sit at this computer missing my son and thinking of what today should have been.  Outside the sun is shining and yet I can’t allow myself to enjoy its warmth. 

Less than 100 ft from my door is a beautiful lake that beckons me to come sit awhile under the shade of the Georgia pines growing along its banks…

      

and yet, grief has a hold on me that refuses to lessen its grip today.

 

  I long to be free of heartache.  I long to forget just for a little while.  I am not one to wallow in self-pity. 

Yet, here I sit paralyzed with pain and longing.

 

The journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step…Lao Tzu

So today, at this moment, I am taking that first step…the step to finding my way back into the land of the living. 

No, it won’t be the life I knew before, or the one I had planned on. 

But at least it will be living again.

  No Regrets – Gratitude – Cherish the Moments – Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Let It Be – Right Here, Right Now – Living in the Moment – Acceptance  – Grounding Spirit – No Regrets – Soul-Centric Living – Soul Centred – Go with the Flow – Let Go, Let God – Stay Present – Fearlessness  

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