We put ourselves on death row in the thought processes we perpetuate. We do this in the lies that we subscribe to about ourselves, and that we spread to others like manure, through our sometimes faulty words and actions. We become a waking, walking morgue in this thing. We need to change our thinking. Sometimes we need a thought, a friend, a song, or an action to set ourselves in another direction, more toward hope, gratitude, and growth.
In spite of a wonderful bright day of warm, healing sun breaking through the bitter cold of winter. In spite of stepping across the threshold into a safe warm home, I am occasionally not the positive person I pride myself on. At times I can see only a dirty, neglected kitchen upon my return. Realities. Just this morning I scrambled eggs as I scrambled to clear and wipe off the table before clutter would be seen by video chat classmates. They did see the Mix Master I’ve renamed Mister Mac, because of the baked goods it ultimately produces in prompting missionaries to buy larger FAT suits. They asked if I baked. I was half-baked in this and had to laugh and say, “No, I burn things. That is my baker daughter’s thing.” Hours later, after this international conferencing adventure, and at the conclusion of a mid day romp with Mark and the dogs, I came back to this very same spot. Back to my computer and a stiff, high back wooden dining chair.
In the other room I can hear interesting noise on cable. The program my daughters are watching is a Lifetime Movie Network special and has only ten minutes remaining. It is about women on Death Row. One individual has been accused wrongfully, and after serving time has been released back into society. She is shunned. I think…why doesn’t she move away from this town with horrible memories and judging eyes. It’s not that easy though.
I feel myself drawn into listening with fascination. I begin making connections like a coveted dot-to-dot, finding metaphors, and conclusions toward writing. At the same time I feel a pain in my heart and stomach. I wonder…is this empathy, personal guilt, or am I hungry and still not well? I hear the lyrics of a song that has been playing in my head since yesterday. There must be a reason for this thing. I wish I knew. I remember that I simply don’t and can’t know everything in this life. Even though I want to , I can not fully understand the internal workings of myself and of others. Neither I, nor they volunteer this easily. I yearn to learn and understand more the things of the heart. I wonder if this feeling, this gut feeling, is a gift to bring me down to where I ought to be. I find myself in a place of humbling.
The song I am singing in my head could easily find it’s way into the LMN program. It does not though. It is exclusive to the imaginary headphones I am tightly wearing on my head. This SkullCandy sometimes become more skulls and less candy. ha ha. A residual sweet candy aftertaste from a regular diet of “The Message” on Sirius lingers. I find myself thinking and singing these songs increasingly throughout my day. Most are more upbeat and hopeful than the beginning of this song, My Name Is by Michael West.
I look into the eyes of these convict women murderers on death row. I have never been convicted of a crime of this degree. I have never done time in this way. Strangely, I connect with them on some level. They do not look or sound dangerous or threatening to me any more than I typically sound to others.
They wear monochromatic, heavy blue cotton jumpsuits. I look okay in blue with Grandma’s sparkling costume jewelry necklace. These women have become comfortable with surveillance cameras. I know these at school. They seem comfortable with visible guards, bars, bricks, and chain-link in the background. Yes.
The women sound as though they have been getting an education. They are articulate in talk of children whom they miss, and of goals they aspire toward. They have a kind of presence. I wonder if they have had leadership training and follow the PRES model. I think I could be them, and they could be me in being a woman and in having a few things in common maybe.
The high security facility is not all that different in appearance from some public schools. The women look like me, although they are African-American, not white, and live in the south, not in the west. They don’t appear frightened of being put to death even though on any given day, they could get a phone call ordering an injection. I have not had a flu shot yet.
They do look and sound regretful and lonely. I wonder if they ever wake in a panic in the middle of the night. I wonder if they wake to urgent prayer and thanksgiving for the gift of another day, for another breathe, as light spills through a barred windowed cell.
While I am not a convicted, or cleared murderer, I am a sinner, subject to my own cruel conventions and real natural consequences. I self impose convictions, I lie to myself, dose and swallow negative self talk at times. Somehow I expect these women to break into song with me at any minute. I think perhaps they would have amazing gospel singing voices, even for a Christian Rock menu featuring Matthew West.
“Hello, my name is regret. I’m pretty sure we have met. Every single day of your life, I am a whisper inside that won’t let you forget. Hello, my name is defeat. I know you recognize me.” Just when you think you can, I’ll drag you right back down again, ’til you’ve lost all belief.”
I am grateful I have never lost all belief. Forgotten in distancing a time or two, or three… but never lost it. Each time, in my most simple, broken state, the truth is, I find Jesus in a greater sense. Incarcerated women must know this thing as well. I realize……I need to change away from this channel. This negativity.
Then my daughter changes the channel again, flipping through commercials toward Cartoon Network. Ha ha! I hope this channel choice is short lived though. It grates on me like the sound of vacuuming. During this time my thoughts turn back to the morning when my team discussed our first assignment for Story Telling for Change.
We briefly explained stories of our Life Maps. I was feeling a bit vulnerable in this thing. The prospect of speaking and sharing some raw things from the person I once was frightened me a bit. I had not held back much in this composition. The team had been given entry to this pdf already, but this was different. This was me verbally confirming this past life. I felt naked, vulnerable, and wanted out of this thing. It felt like a fear factor. For someone who is fearless, this felt uncomfortable.
Thankfully, the audio part of the video chat malfunctioned. Instead of speaking for my allotted two minutes, I typed a brief explanation, and team members read this in silence. It felt like blogging gone live. I could still hear everyone’s voices, and their discourse, but they could not hear me. This was strange and kind of thrilling, having this command. It was also familiar. It kind of felt good.
Sometimes, in reading Freshly Pressed I feel I can hear the blogger’s voices as I read their words. A few have audio of poetry recitals. In my own posts though, I feel largely unheard. This is why I love the comments. They are sometimes very satisfying. The likes not so much. These feel more like a patronizing wave on of the hand. That’s all. I should be grateful, I know. But I am not that satisfied in this. I prefer a dialogue.
Typing for the team felt soothing. I am relieved I did not have to speak in the moment. Eventually the sound came back and I was participating again. This due to my daughter Devon setting things right.
It all worked out. This exercise, an introduction to collaboration, but also the beginning of exploration toward the selection of a topic for the next assignment: Develop a presentation that tells a story of that engages an audience in order to teach a concept to bring about change. To me though, the Life Map assignment was an opportunity for a new start, a new introduction to some new international friends.
“Hello, my name is……
In my mind I substitute my given first name, and adopted married name for another.
“Hello, my name is Child of the one true King.”
Yes, but this is not the name I say out loud, or use in my Life Map. One team member made her map in web form with colored markers. I wish I had done this too in admiring hers. I keep emphasizing to myself that my life map introduced a me of the past…..not the me of today or even the me of the future.
I think, I am not defined by the person I once was, but my life has been directly shaped by this former me. This is something I shared in silently typing to my new Indian and Venezuelan friends. This is not me at all, any more than I am a woman on death row. No more than I am the once incarcerated Sabrina Butler of Alabama grieving the death of a baby some still whisper that she killed. No I am not this person who is living in a home town that does not love or even welcome her continued presence. No I am someone else.
I sit in a three hour incredible high school musical of Les Miserables. Hugo is a genius I think. I cry, and cry, and sing silently along, and feel things of the heart larger than possible. All the time asking my soul….”Who am I?” At times there are not enough five digit numbers to fill the breath I have been leased in life. And yet the spinning wheel of life turns on toward the hope that everything will work for the best in time.
The future I speak of are times that I am confident. Times that I am present in smiles and laughter. These are the times others love me best I think. If not, these are the times that I love myself best. These are the times I raise my inner child in singing very loudly,
“I am the Child of the One True King! His name is Jesus, and I’ve been saved. I have been set free!”
I raise clapping hands to praise Him. I press my face and hands to the glass barrier. I joyfully pick up the receiver and speak into the jail telephone a love for HIM and it is a two way conversation. The guards don’t seem to mind that my call is too long. They grant me leeway.
When the thunder of applause clears, my hands are still sometimes raised and I think I can really feel Him and others take my hands in love. I wonder if the women on Death Row have ever felt this thing, or heard His voice. I think yes. I decide in this moment that I will see the spinning wheel on my Mac not as a wheel of death, but as a color wheel of eternal life. And then I smile and say Amen.