Don’t Touch the Stove (The ‘lost’ post)

By Tony Casson

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: I found a draft of this post originally begun in November of 2012 by my beloved son, Anthony,  from the chicken scratching I sent him. For some reason probably related to the fact he was a college student with a job and a life, it never got completed or posted. Fortunately, since it was my story, I do remember the ending, so I have finished it.)

“Don’t touch the stove because it is hot and you will get burned.”

How many carry with them, if not an actual scar, then at least a memory of the need for independent verification of that piece of advice?

When I was six years old, it was determined that my tonsils needed to be removed. Many of you may not even be aware of what these little items are, especially if you are under 30, but if you open up your mouth and look way in the back, there they sit, one on either side of that little dangly thing, the name of which escapes me but is totally irrelevant to the rest of this story. Removal of them was pretty common back in the 60’s and 70’s, but eventually became something only done after repeated instances of ‘tonsillitis.’

Something else which is irrelevant is the fact that prior to the surgery, I asked the doctor to save them for me so that I might see what these ‘tonsil’ things looked like. He did just that, and when I came to in my hospital bed, there they sat, in a jar of what I think was formaldehyde, looking like a pair of testicles (as I would have imagined testicles to look like were one to have them removed.)

Of course, I knew they weren’t mine as I still had mine and the items in the jar were too big to be mine, anyway. I was, after all, only six years old.

They did, however, make absolutely the coolest item anyone ever brought to Westfield Academy in Westfield, New York, for show and tell.

But I digress.

When I came back around after surgery, my mother was there, and the doctor was there. My mom was a nurse so she knew about these procedures and she was then, as throughout my life, my medical adviser. Any time I asked her for a medical opinion, she advised me to see a doctor (HA HA).

(Author’s note: This is where Anthony left it, and since I don’t have the original hand-written post, I will ‘wing it’ from here. But hey, I was there, so I pretty much know how it the story ended.)

There was also a nurse present and all were telling me how brave I had been and how wonderful I was, when the subject of a reward came up and I was asked by the nurse if I would like a bowl of Jello or maybe a dish of ice cream.

It was at this point that I first exhibited the strong character trait that would lead me down all of the successive wrong roads I took in life that ultimately led me to prison.

I said, “No. I want pepperoni pizza.”

A simple enough request under most circumstances, but certainly not in this one. After all, common sense should have told me that someone had just rooted around in my throat and physically cut something out that had previously been attached in there, leaving it raw and tender.

I was six. I wanted nothing to do with common sense. I wanted pepperoni pizza.

The aforementioned people all looked at each other and smiled, knowingly, and left it to my mother to be the one to tell me, “Oh, Tony, you don’t want pepperoni pizza. You really should have a nice, cool, soothing bowl of ice cream or Jello.”

How dare she tell me what I want?

“I WANT PEPPERONI PIZZA!!” I declared vehemently, with a high degree of petulance thrown in.

Now, my mother was not given to profane speech, but the look she gave me could only be interpreted as, “OK, you little @%$#!!, you want pepperoni pizza, you got it.”

She turned to the helpful nurse, smiled, and said quietly, “Give it to him.” The reluctant look on the face of the nurse should have told me something, but it did not.

I laid back with what I am sure was an arrogant smile of victory to await my reward, which soon arrived.

In a few short moments, my eyes saw the pizza approaching, my stomach grumbled in expectation, and my mouth watered with anticipation of the first bite.

My throat, on the other hand, was not in concert with the rest of my body and as the first bite of that spicy meat-laden treat began to pass through my raw, bruised and battered throat, the words, “Oh, Tony, you don’t want pepperoni pizza. You really should have a nice, cool, soothing bowl of ice cream or Jello” reverberated in my brain just as the first loud agonizing scream of pain began to escape my tomato-sauce covered lips.

A bowl of vanilla ice cream miraculously appeared to help extinguish the fire that was scorching the spot once inhabited by my tonsils.

I learned a lesson that day.

Unfortunately, that lesson only extended to not eating pepperoni pizza after having your tonsils removed. The bigger lessons of listening to the wisdom of others and giving thought to what we do before we do it were totally lost on me.

And while the story itself may be humorous, the long-term effects of the behavior exhibited that day so long ago proved to be almost deadly. Fortunately, God stepped in before it got to that point, and I have learned to listen better, think more, and pray often.


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Evil Is Seductive

(Author’s Note: What follows was originally posted in 5 parts here in The Oakdale Chronicles very early on during my incarceration. It is the story of my attempted suicide and the week that followed while I was kept in a hospital psychiatric unit in south Florida. I post it now because the anniversary of that nearly successful violent attack is approaching.

It was my dear Son, Anthony, who was charged with typing each part of the original post, and in re-reading it, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for him to do so. While I was incarcerated, Anthony was clear in his condemnation of what had brought my life to this point, but equally clear in his unwavering love for me.

It is possible to learn about love, loyalty, strength and courage from our children.

In addition to it being close to the ‘anniversary’ of my own attempted suicide, suicide has been at the forefront of many conversations and exchanged emails over the past 2 weeks.I heard from the parents of Ryan Loskarn, an individual who I wrote about after his own suicide on January 23, 2014. I have also heard from a woman who is writing a book about a man she knew who committed suicide 5 years ago. Lastly, and very sadly, a man who I met last year through very dear friends of mine I met while working at Central Union Mission, committed suicide recently while living in Cypress.

Sad stories all. Are there answers for any of the people I just mentioned in the story that follows? Probably not, since each story is different in most respects. But each shares the fact that Satan won a victory on the day of that individual’s death. 

Maybe someone will read this who is struggling. If that is the case, I can say only this: Do not let him win!

Here then is the story of how my own personal battle was almost lost, and how God turned a horribly ugly day into a day of rebirth.)

August 18, 2009 began  for me pretty much like any other day in recent memory. I had just returned from dropping off the dirty linens from the tiny, rundown motel where I worked and lived.

It was a typical day in south Florida for that time of year. It was warm early, the sun was shining, and I was looking forward to finishing my “tour of duty” at the front desk and enjoying the day. Perhaps a little afternoon kayaking, a hobby I had taken up about a month earlier and taken an immediate liking to.

After I had returned from dropping off the laundry, I walked to my room at the other end of the parking lot to do something, I’m not sure what. I had moved into unit #4 a couple of months earlier after my siblings and I had sold our parents’ house, where I had lived since December 2004.

I had moved into their house in December. “Pop” (our step-father) had a stroke the day after Thanksgiving while visiting one of my sisters and it was felt that they needed some help if they were to continue living in their own home. It worked out that I was available to move in and help, and I did exactly that for several years until they both passed away within months of one another–9 weeks to be exact–earlier in 2008. Selling their home had caused me to move into the motel I had worked at, which was inherited by a neighbor and his sister when their Mother was hit by a car crossing the busy street in front of the motel. I had decided to stay there until I could decide a new course of action.

Finishing whatever it was I had gone to my room to do, I walked out the door and turned the corner to cross the parking lot and return to the office, roughly 80-feet away.

As I turned that corner, I noticed activity at the other end of the lot, in front of the office. Apparently, a couple of vehicles had pulled in while I had been in my room and I noticed several people moving about. On the backs of two of the jackets, I noticed the letters “FBI”.

I knew then that a new course of action was about to unfold, and I also knew it would not be pleasant for me, my friends, or my family.

The FBI had come to arrest me, and I was about to let down everyone I had ever known or loved…

It took a moment for the reality of the situation to sink in. I had known for about a year and a half that the FBI would come for me sooner or later (more on that another time), but now that they were here and once it HAD sunk in, I did an about-face and returned to my room.

Fortunately for me–at least that’s the way I felt at the moment–no one saw me, as their attention was focused on the motel office where they must have determined I was going to be at that time, on that day.

It is extremely difficult to describe my state of mind at this point. I locked the door and threw the sliding lock. My heart was pounding, my mouth was dry, and I moved about my tiny room wildly–pacing–in a state of panic.

I moved into the small bathroom and  stood in front of the sink, which was right next to the shower, looking into the mirror for what seemed like a long time. I am sure was mere seconds. It’s amazing the amount, and diversity, of information that the human mind can process in a very short amount of time.

It’s amazing, too, how afraid and completely alone a human being can feel.

I stood there, tears forming, staring into my eyes watching them form, trying to look into the depths of my soul where the darkness was. To that part of my being that had been–through the course of my life–so thoroughly seduced by evil. I tried to find a solution to the predicament I was in, and the only solution I could come up with was that the evil had to die.

That part of me that I had despised through the years but was small enough to be manageable (or so I thought) had grown and consumed enough of my soul that the little remaining that was good inside of me suddenly felt outmatched and death loomed as the only solution.

I felt that the predictions of self-destruction that had been made when I was in my teens had finally come home to roost. I also felt that I had betrayed the love and friendship of so many people, and I was unworthy.

For years, various people had told me I was my own worst enemy and now, today, at this moment, I finally agreed with them, and I decided that the only way to win was to defeat the enemy, and to defeat the enemy, the enemy must ultimately die.

Since the room was small and contained a bed, a dresser, an entertainment center, and a table with 2 chairs, there was only a small amount of space to walk in, but walk I did–to the door–to the front window–to the back window.

The windows were old jalousie type windows common in south Florida that had long ago stopped opening and closing, the panes of glass were frosted, and most of the panels were sealed with silicone to keep out dust and the warm, often hot, Florida air. There was one clear pane at the bottom of the front window, facing the parking lot, that I had put in when I had moved in so I could check the lot without going outside, but at that moment the curtains were drawn and I was afraid to move them to peek outside.

I knew they would shortly discover that I was not in the office and would then focus their attention on my room.

My heart was pounding in my chest as I returned to the bathroom. I was breathing heavily, in a totally panicked and desperate state, telling myself, “You’re f—-d, you’re f—-d, you’re f—-d! You’ve got no way out! You’ve got to do it! You have f—-d up your life you stupid, stupid ass. You’ve got to put an end to this now!”

I hadn’t contemplated suicide before, nor have I since, but at that time, in the state of mind I was in, hating who I was and what I had done to my life, my children, my family, and my friends, not thinking that anyone would understand, and not wanting to fight my demons anymore, the decision was made. Now the only thing remaining–and time was surely running out–was, “How do I do this??”

My mind was racing, going through its memory of what was in my room that I could use to end this madness, finally settling on the blades contained in a disposable razor. I grabbed one and broke it, back now in front of the sink. As it broke apart, the blades came free and fell into the sink. I picked them up–they were difficult to grasp because they were so narrow, but they were all I had.

The tears were coming faster now, flowing more freely, the accumulated pain of my life’s mistakes welling up and spilling out of my eyes and down my cheeks.

Holding a blade between the thumb and first 2 fingers of each hand, I raised them to the sides of my neck, lightly pressing on each vein. Standing there, I looked into the tear-filled eyes staring back at me in the mirror, trying to find an answer different from the one I had arrived at.

I no longer knew the person looking back at me, and I found no different answer…

“When you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”  ~F. Nietzsche

The image of myself in the mirror was blurred by my tears, but I could see where the sharp edges of the razor blades touched my skin.

Time, damn it! Time! I was running out of time!

I remember a sound escaping my lips, but I have no recollection of whether it was a word, or just a sob, but it was then that I clenched my teeth, pressed the razor blades down, and pulled them forward sharply. One time, then quickly again cutting both jugular veins at once, the vein on the right being cut more than the left.

The blood spurted through the breaches in the veins with a force that surprised me for some reason. I took a step backwards and then to my right, moving into the shower.

I turned, slightly dazed, I think–a little stunned, perhaps that I had actually made such a statement of self-loathing, but at the same time, momentarily relieved of the pressures bearing down on my soul.

I leaned against the wall, my blood pumping out of my veins, and slid down to a sitting position. I looked down at the front of my shirt and ran my fingers through the sticky wetness, the blood warm in contrast to the coolness of the tiles. A sadness swept over me–a sure sign that my life was going to end here–in this shower–today–in a few moments. And the sadness was for all the things I should have been, and could have done–for all of the good that I was capable of.

And I remember thinking how odd it was that I felt no pain from my self-inflicted wounds–indeed, there was a feeling that the intensity of my panic and anxiety was flowing down the shower drain with the blood that was leaving my body.

Trying to recount the thoughts and my overall state of mind at this point is difficult, because things seemed to be slowing down a bit. There seemed to be a quietness and a surreal feeling setting in.

I was still crying, but the tears had slowed somewhat. I do know that I started talking to my mother, my best friend in life, and now, it seemed, that she was about to become my best friend in death. She had passed away a little over a year before, and I spoke to her now because her faith in God was as powerful, and sure, as mine was not.

God had not been one of my favorites for many years–since I was a teenager, in fact, and my best friend was killed in a car crash.

I wasn’t sure if lying in a pool of blood from self-inflicted wounds presented the right set of circumstances for reconciling with God, but it looked as if that was what was about to happen.

Speaking to my mother, I also told myself that if I was to believe that she could hear me, I also had to acknowledge that she was with God as she had truly believed she would be. I told her tearfully that I was sorry, so very sorry for making such a mess of my life, and I asked her to help my children understand that their father was not the monster that circumstances would make him out to be, but that he had just lost himself for a time back there somewhere and simply hadn’t realized it until it was too late to fix.

It was at this point that I slid down further onto the floor of the shower, until I was lying on my back.

I was getting weaker, time was passing, and I could hear sounds that told me the FBI had turned their attention from the office to my room–voices–calling my name–sounds at the window–sounds at the door.

I know I asked God to look after my mother, and I thanked him for giving her to me. I also asked him to look after my children, and thanked him again.

Apologizing for being less of a human than I should have been, I then asked him for forgiveness.

I prayed for all of the people who looked up to me–who respected me–who loved me, and would now feel betrayed by and disappointed in me.

They should all be angry with me for not giving them credit for having more character than that, and for loving me more than I did myself, but at that particular moment, rationality had long since ceased to exist for me. In a few minutes, it wasn’t going to matter anyway, because I was slipping closer and closer towards death, a slow motion race to beat the people I could hear outside my door.

I read recently, in a Nelson Demille novel, a statement made by one of his characters that said, “Compared to shame, death is nothing.” To me, at that moment, drifting closer and closer to a point from which I could not possibly return–I’m sure that statement would have rung true.

I know differently now, of course, just as I knew differently in the days to come. In fact, I would have thought I knew differently about 15 minutes earlier, before this self-inflicted nightmare began. But at that time, and for that moment, I asked for death, and it appeared that I was going to get what I asked for.

My eyes were no longer open, nor could I open them. I was aware of my shallow breathing, but beyond that, I lacked the ability–or the will–to move.

Muffled voices and sounds could be heard through the walls, along with a metallic tapping–tap, tap, tap………tap, tap, tap. My mind hearing my voice encouraging death, “Just go. Just die. Just sleep. Just end it.”

But still there was that tapping–tap, tap, tap…tap, tap, tap. And other muffled noises and voices. And me, “Just go. Just die…” And then–a voice, clearer, yet still faint, and not mine–saying, “I’m in!”

Suddenly, I could faintly hear people nearby, voices calling to others, exclamations about what they had found, calls for an ambulance.

I felt something around my neck–a towel, perhaps–and felt pressure being applied. At once point, I slipped into total stillness for a few moments, then I heard the faint voices again. I was being jostled, dragged from the shower.

I sensed more activity outside the bathroom–more voices of people maneuvering in the very restrictive confines of my room.

Various sensations of being jostled, lifted, multiple hands on me, various voices issuing directives. I had slight sensations of movement and then what I guess would have been the sensation of being lifted into the ambulance. I must have been fading in and out, there was constant pressure on my neck, muffled voices, like I was listening to people talk with ear muffs on.

The ambulance came to a stop–at the hospital, I assume–I had the sensation of being lowered to the ground. I felt movement, heard new voices, then heard and felt absolutely nothing…

I did not wake up for about 24 hours, and when I did, I was in the intensive care unit, and I was conscious for just a moment, long enough to be aware that I was still alive, that I was connected to all sorts of machines, that there was something stuck down my throat, and my hands were encased in these really soft, really thick gauze mittens.

I was in and out of sleep most of the day, and when I was awake, people spoke to me, but I didn’t respond. Well, couldn’t, as I was still with a tube down my throat helping me breathe.

Towards the end of the morning, I believe, the breathing tube was removed, a wholly unpleasant experience, by the way–kind of like sticking your finger UP your throat. As unpleasant as it may have been, I was glad (yes, I was) that I was around to experience it.

I was moved to a regular hospital room later that day and was treated pretty normally except I had a 24-hour “watcher”, someone who’s only job was to sit and watch me.

Two days later, I was moved to the third floor, where the ‘psych’ ward was located. Until that point, I really hadn’t said much to anyone. People came and went, looked at me, did their assigned task, and left. I was pretty weak initially and had a lot of drugs in me, so I faded in and out of sleep.

Once I got to the third floor, it was different. People were going to seek answers, and I was going to be expected to provide them.

The FBI didn’t place me under arrest at the motel because–as they informed my sister, Kathy–they would have had to provide a 24-hour guard, and they “didn’t have the manpower”.

Once I had physically recovered enough to be moved near the psych ward, I was held under authority of Florida’s Baker Act, which allowed for a 72-hour observation period. The third floor was a secured level with locked doors and controlled access. There was a nurses station, a craft activity room, a day room, and half-a-dozen two-person rooms.

There was never an empty bed, and there were two units like this. I was in unit A. Most were there because they had said they wanted to die. A few had taken pills. A couple had had voluntarily entered. A lot of unhappiness in the world…

I would end up spending almost a week on the third floor at Memorial Hospital-Johnson.

The demons I had faced in the mirror seemed to have fled, leaving the naked truths that had been buried, or hidden, exposed for me to deal with, and for all to witness.

Everyone knows that in order to see something clearly, it must be viewed in the light. If you are talking about the flaws in an apple, or a pear, it’s no big deal. However, when you take the darkness in the human soul and bring it into the light, be prepared to call upon God for help in dealing with what you find there.

The time I spent on the third floor was time well spent. I uncovered things within myself–pain I had covered for years–and discovered little things in the past that had developed into big things over time.

I talked. I cried. I talked.

I examined myself and developed a sense that I could–and would–survive all my current problems and finally deal with all of my old issues.

I would be someone I could love, and I knew those who loved me would help.

At this point, I would like to apologize to my family and friends. I’m sorry to have put you all through this in the first place, and I am sorry for whatever pain reading these last few entries may have caused.

I do not delight in hurting those I love, but I do harbor a fervent hope that, over time, my words will reach out to someone who has been seduced by evil and, perhaps, will initiate a change in direction that will spare him–or her–and his family and friends the enormous spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial price that all of this evokes.

We have not even begun to scratch the surface, and I hope you all have the patience to bear with me as I ramble.

To my children, my brothers, sisters, other relatives, friends–I love you all, and I am sorry.

(Author’s note: Thanks for reading. May God bless each and every one of you and keep you and your families safe.)

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Do you really want to reform our prisons?

The following is something I posted on recently:

No dialogue on prison reform is complete without a serious look at the profit incentives found in the privatization of many of this nation’s prisons, both federal and state.

I will submit here what should be viewed as the best words written on the subject, and the words I quote are part of the majority opinion of a Supreme Court ruling. Unfortunately, it was the Israeli Supreme Court that issued the ruling in 2009 denouncing the concept and declaring its implementation in Israel to be unconstitutional.

The ruling was 208 pages long, but the crux of it can be found in the following:

Imprisoning persons in a privately managed prison leads to a situation in which the clearly public purposes of the imprisonment are blurred and diluted by irrelevant considerations that arise from a private economic purpose, namely the desire of the private corporation operating the prison to make a financial profit,” the Court found.

Imprisonment that is based on a private economic purpose turns the (prisoners), simply by imprisoning them in a private prison, into a means whereby the . . . operator of the prison can make a profit. Thereby, not only is the liberty of the (prisoner) violated, but also his human dignity.”

The Court concluded that “the scope of the violation of a (prisoner’s) constitutional right to personal liberty, when the entity responsible for his imprisonment is a private corporation motivated by economic considerations of profit and loss, is inherently greater than the violation of the same right on an (prisoner) when the entity responsible for his imprisonment is a government authority that is not motivated by those considerations.” This is true, “even if the term of imprisonment that these two (prisoners) serve is identical and even if the violation of the human rights that actually takes place behind the walls of each of the two prisons where they serve their sentences is identical.”

“When the state transfers the power to imprison someone, with the invasive powers that go with it, to a private corporation that operates on a profit-making basis, this action — both in practice and on an ethical and symbolic level — expresses a divestment of a significant part of the state’s responsibility for the fate of the (prisoners), by exposing them to a violation of their rights by a private profit-making enterprise,” the Court held.

“This conduct of the state violates the human dignity of the (prisoners) of a privately managed prison, since the public purposes that underlie their imprisonment and give it legitimacy are undermined, and, … their imprisonment becomes a means for a private corporation to make a profit.”

I have attended several conferences in Washington, DC recently where both Sen. Cory Booker and/or Sen. Mike Lee have attended, and while I admire, applaud, and support any effort to find alternatives to the excessive imprisonment of human beings I would urge that we look to the role private prisons – and not simply the ‘war on drugs’ – played in getting us where we are today. Declaring war on illegal drugs was simply the way the practice of excessive incarceration began. It was what was sold to the American public to justify all that followed.

I served 4 years in federal prison beginning in April of 2010, and while there I researched private prisons extensively and became very familiar with the practices of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). I wrote a very detailed, multi-part article in this blog called “America’s Culture of Incarceration” and is worth a look.

While America has the highest incarceration rate of any country, the state of Louisiana has a rate which is almost double giving Louisianans the distinction of living in the place that incarcerates more of its citizens than anyplace on earth! That issue is specifically addressed in Part 4 of that series and I urge you to take some time to read it.

 I would hope that others will come to recognize this plague of profiteering from the caging of human beings and insist that taking the approach of the Israeli Supreme Court is the only way to effectively begin to reform this out-of-control criminally UNjust system that is an embarrassment to this great nation.

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“Pavlov’s Prisoners and the Prison Program Paradox”

“Pavlov’s Prisoners and the Prison Program Paradox”

“Pavlov’s Dog” illustration (Pavlov 1928 & Goodwin 1991, p. 138).

On Tuesday, February 10, I attended a ‘criminal justice reform’ conference at the Washington Post in Washington, DC called “Out of Prison, Into Society.” It was very well attended by organizations and individuals interested in the current national trend to reform our criminal justice system.

The list of guests was impressive and included Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), as well as Bernard Kerik, former NYC Police and Correction Commissioner and former federal prison inmate.

While this morning’s agenda focused on federal criminal justice reform issues including sentencing and re-entry, the dialogue is identical to what has been taking place all around the country as states struggle to deal with constitutional requirements to balance budgets and look to reducing prison populations as one way to accomplish that.

The rise in prison population is generally blamed on the “war on drugs” but that is just where the finger points. The truth is, money is a great motivator, and particularly so in the area of incarceration. It was greed and profit incentive that created the prison industrial complex in the first place, and it was that industry which created what I termed in my prison blog The Oakdale Chronicles, “America’s Culture of Incarceration.

While Sen. Lee’s bill has come under recent criticism and attack, there is far too much talk on the subject to imagine that passage will not occur at some point. I applaud his efforts and I was impressed with what I heard this morning from Ms. Jarrett, Mr. Lee, and all of the others who participated.

Mr. Kerik offered a perspective that was different in that he spoke from the dual perspective as one who spent a lifetime locking people up, and as one who himself spent 3 years behind bars. Since Mr. Kerik was a federal inmate his stories struck a familiar chord with me since I was a federal prison inmate for 4 years from 2010 to 2014.

One area of his contribution was to talk about ‘programs’ offered by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) as a means of preparing inmates for re-entry into society. In particular, Mr. Kerik mentioned Adult Continuing Education (ACE) self-study courses offered on the compound where he served his time. He named several titles of some of the classes, including ‘chess’, ‘checkers’, and ‘quilting’ and wondered how, exactly, those would contribute to anyone’s successful re-entry into society.

Good question.

I served my time at Oakdale FCI in Oakdale, LA and 24 ACE courses were offered. While some of the titles were on subject matter that might be beneficial, I met not one person who actually completed any of the courses. The common practice was to ‘buy’ completion of the entire series from the library clerk (an inmate) for 2 books of stamps. Stamps served as compound currency, and this was just one of the many prison ‘hustles’ employed by inmates.

The other way to complete the series was to obtain them one at a time and take the ‘tests’ at the end, which sounds good, but each and every book in the series had the answers to the test questions underlined, so all ‘students’ did was leaf through the pages and fill in the blanks.

Everyone is familiar with Pavlov’s conditioning of dogs to anticipate the ‘reward’ of food when they heard him ring the bell. When the ACE series was ‘completed’ a certificate was issued, as they were for all other programs offered, and these certificates became the reward that was anticipated when the programming ‘bell’ was rung.

Unfortunately, it was so important for the prison staff to demonstrate that they were helping to move men forward, to improve them as individuals, to educate them and to prepare them for re-entry that the check-mark of completion became the goal rather than the accomplishment of anything of genuine significance. The promise that a collection of certificates would make them look good to the probation officer that would supervise their release contributes to the conditioning that makes the certificate the benefit, rather than the actual learning of the content of the material represented by the certificate.

The paradox is that while programming seems like a good idea, the results gleaned are less than acceptable or desirable. The focus needs to be on education, and not just of the rubber stamp or ‘book-of-stamp’ variety. It needs to be genuine, verifiable, and meaningful.

While Mr. Lee’s bill addresses the absolute insanity of some of the sentencing practices which have contributed to the 900% growth of the federal prison population since 1980 (as stated by Mr. Lee), there was far too little discussion addressing 1) prison education initiatives, and 2) de-incentivizing the profits that are harvested through the unconscionably large ‘crop’ of human beings incarcerated in this country.

Kudos to the Washington Post, and to all who see the problems that exist in our criminal justice system today and are trying to do something to correct what was an extremely bad idea to begin with, and has only gotten worse since. As we all know, there are no simple answers, but with people like Ms. Jarrett, Sen. Lee, Mr. Kerik, and the other esteemed members of the discussion panels speaking up about the problem, combined with the support of media organizations such as the Washington Post, perhaps we can one day silence the ringing of Pavlov’s bell.

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“Stories of a Prisoner’s Wife”

(Editor’s Note: Diane’s last post was back in August. Diane has had a rough time, as you will read, but her testimony is powerful, compelling, and is something we can all learn from.)

Entry 25 by Diane S.

Eight and a Half Months

I thought I knew this path would be hard.
I knew nothing.
When you think something will be hard and then it is infinitely more difficult than you ever imagined…that will knock you flat on your face. If you aren’t careful there is nothing to catch you, not even Jesus if you choose to not let him.
It’s been around 6 months since I have written an entry here. They have not been a pretty 6 months.
Somehow I got lost, and when I say lost, I mean LOST….total darkness. I stopped going to church. I stopped reading my bible. I stopped praying. I stopped talking to most all of my friends. I even stopped attempting to have a relationship with Jesus. I told Chris I wanted to separate at the end of August and in mid-November I told him I was done & didn’t want to be married to him anymore. I stopped wearing my wedding rings. I got our matching tattoo covered up by a new tattoo. I didn’t visit him from the end of July until January 23. I packed up all his stuff & everything that was “us” and put it away in boxes. I even stopped opening his letters at all for a few months. I stopped contact with Chris’ son. I could go on I am sure, but you probably get the idea.
Everything that was the past was packed away in boxes or the darkest places of mind and heart.
I’m not sure exactly why I had this meltdown of sorts, other than the situation was overwhelming & I just couldn’t cope. Maybe I thought if I walked away the holidays wouldn’t be so hard. Maybe I thought if I ignored it, it would go away. Maybe I thought if I walked away from God I wouldn’t feel so strongly that I knew giving up on my marriage and my husband was NOT what God was telling me to do. Maybe I thought if I gave up I wouldn’t be judged so harshly; people wouldn’t think I was crazy.
I was trying to find happy, trying to find joy, trying to find a way to cope. Nothing I had done until that point had worked so I think I thought if I went in the complete opposite direction and changed everything maybe I would find what I was desperately searching for. The months of May-August were so hard, so sad, so depressing. I broke. I couldn’t cope. I was tired of the looks, I was tired of the comments, I was tired of trying to explain why I was standing by Chris. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, broken, bruised….the list could go on for a while.
I ran. I shut it all out, turned it all off and pretended it was the right choice. It worked for a while.
Sort of.
I still talked to Chris twice a week. I wrote occasionally. I sent books, sermons, photos, etc. in the mail to him but far less frequently. He took the news that I didn’t want to be married much, much better than I thought he would. He wasn’t angry. He was hurt, but not angry. He wrote me letters of bible verses and devotionals when he knew I didn’t want to get a letter from him about just life. He prayed for me, not for our marriage, but for me. He told me over and over that what he wanted most was for me to get back to Jesus and even if our marriage didn’t work out he still prayed for me to reconcile with Jesus. He called twice a week. We talked but hardly ever about us. He didn’t push me. I didn’t say ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’ at the end of calls. From Aug-Jan every single time we hung up he said “I love you, have a good day tomorrow.” Every time…even though I never said it back. That is a difficult thing to do, tell someone something even though you know their silence is going to break your heart every single time. He refused to give up on me, on us or on God. I don’t know what the conversations were like that he had with God during those times, but I don’t think they were angry. Somehow, and I don’t understand how, he stayed strong, he stayed faithful, and most importantly the old Chris never showed up.
I know the old Chris very well, I am just learning about the new one.
The old Chris would not have handled things the way the new Chris has in the last 5-6 months. I fully expected the old Chris to show up and validate my reasons for walking away & giving up. I just knew he was going to prove my point that he really hadn’t changed and it was all just talk…like it had always been in the past. Promises that would be broken & words that didn’t mean anything.
The old Chris never showed up. The new Chris was strong and steadfast. This was different. This was unexpected.
Sometime close to the end of December/first of January my heart started softening. I noticed that I looked forward to calls again. I missed him. God started pulling me back towards him. He kept whispering to me. He didn’t just let me go silently. I went to church a couple of times. I read the bible a little. I started praying again. I started bible journaling. God kept whispering, ‘Trust me, I know what I am doing, I can make beautiful things out of ashes, I am with you, I won’t leave you, I will carry through this, trust me.’ Now, I’ve always been one who never really understood what people meant when they said “God told them” but I understand that now. I have never been able to say that I have clearly heard God tell me something, until now.
I told Chris I wanted to come visit, he had been wanting me to since November but didn’t push me. His birthday was January 23 and I decided that was the weekend I was going to visit. I knew that once I saw him face to face my thoughts of walking away would be gone. That is probably why I didn’t go from August – December…. knew I couldn’t really walk away but I also knew as long as I stayed away I could continue thinking that I could.
I love him with all my heart, even the pieces that are broken. He made mistakes, I made mistakes. It’s not going to be an easy journey and I don’t know what the future holds for us. I do know that all the hard things haven’t gone away. I do know that just because the last 4-5 months happened it doesn’t suddenly make this easy and make all the doubts & fears go away. They are all still there. I know that choosing this path again will be just as hard as it has been and there will be things harder than I can imagine in the future.
I only know a few things at this point:
• I love Chris despite these current circumstances
• God CAN make beautiful things from ashes & I am trusting him to do that
• I am not giving up
• Somehow over the last few terrible months I have found forgiveness for Chris and that is a huge step
• God is on our side and will not fail us
• This, for whatever reason, is His plan for us

I know my choice is one most will not understand. I know my choice is one that others in my position may not be able to make. I’ve heard people say that sometimes what convicts one person doesn’t even have an effect on another person. An example is I have a very good friend who is heavily convicted about getting a tattoo. She would like one very much, but God has put a conviction in her heart about it. Me on the other hand, I have 3 and at least 2 more planned. I don’t have the same conviction or feelings about that she does. I’m learning that is how God and the Bible work, God works in everyone differently. God has put conviction in my heart regarding my marriage. I didn’t realize what it was in the beginning but after the last few months of this never going away, always being there, always nagging at me…I understand it for what it is.

This is my conviction: If I walk away from this marriage & give up, I am saying that I do not trust God to make something beautiful from this. I am saying I don’t trust him to deliver us through this struggle. I am saying that my plan is better and I know what is best.

As I said, not everyone that has been through a situation like mine has had or will have this same type of conviction. Others may choose different paths & God may work differently in their storms. I do know that God is telling me this, it’s not just something I have come up with to validate my choice…because let’s be honest, if I was going to come up with something to validate a choice I would have validated my choice to leave and divorce Chris. God has put this in my heart, He has put this in mind, He has even put in my dreams a few times since I am REALLY stubborn and tried to ignore it. I have no idea if that makes sense to anyone and I know there will be people, a lot of them, that say I am just one of those crazy evangelical Christian types that are just too blind or naive to see what the situation really is. Maybe, but I don’t think so. I think there is a lot to be recognized from the fact that I tried to distance myself from church, prayer, God and everything related; yet still even during those times God never let this conviction leave my heart no matter how much I wanted to and tried to ignore it.

So that is your update on how A Prisoner’s Wife is doing 8 and half months into a journey harder than I could have ever imagined. I’m not sure if I am better or worse than I was from the last post I made in August 2015. I do know I’ve learned a lot since then.

I also know I smile more and cry a lot less.

I’ve (we’ve) chosen not to make big news of the fact that I have decided to fight & not give up. The cheers from friends and family when they found out I was giving up were loud, even the ones who supposedly supported me staying were cheering when I said I wasn’t.

It’s funny how that works. There was only one person that pulled me aside and told me I needed to spend much time in prayer and probably even fast before I made a final decision. Everyone told me how strong I was and how proud they were of me for getting out. Everyone told me how they never really liked Chris anyway and always thought he was a mistake for me…needless to say my circle has become quite small, very small.

We decided it was best for me to just continue on without making a big deal about it. The scrutiny was part of why I ran and shut down. I felt like everyone expected something from me, the responsibility I felt was enormous. In an effort to avoid that, there won’t be any major announcements telling everyone the status of our marriage. No one I know will read this blog post, they only read what I wrote in the past because I linked it on Facebook, which I won’t be doing now. We also decided that I am not going to start wearing my wedding ring again, at least not the one that matches his. Our rings are unique and if I put it back on there will be scrutiny and judging that is immediate. I will wear a ring on that finger, just not my wedding band….at least for a while.

I know that sounds like I am hiding things or not being truthful, and I suppose that may be true. However, I go back to what I’ve said since this journey began…if you haven’t walked this path, you really have no idea. Even if you think you have an idea, you do not. If there is one thing I can be certain about, it is the last two sentences I just wrote. Truthfully, the only people that really need to know our marriage status is Jesus, Chris and I…no one else matters.

And because for a time I did let others matter, I almost walked away and gave up.

These verses are very popular verses, coffee cup verses if you will. I usually don’t like the coffee cup verses too much and try to refrain from posting or quoting them because they are taken out of context a lot and misused/overused in today’s society.

But, these two verses give me hope and I cling to them often because they are, after all, God’s promises.

Romans 8:28
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

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