Brotherly Love: A Letter of Gratitude

Brotherly Love: A Letter of Gratitude

Dear Twin Brother,

I love you. I know you know that, but I feel it’s important to explicitly reaffirm it from time to time. Where do I begin? I don’t quite know, but there is so much in me that I want to express to you, so you’ll know exactly what’s in my heart.

First, I cannot express how truly lucky and blessed I am to have had you as my brother and best friend my entire life. My dear twin. My brother. My other half. Despite the fact that we are fraternal and, therefore, only share 50% of our DNA, we couldn’t be closer in every other way. We shared the same space for nine months. We were glued at each other’s hip growing up, involved in many years of Little League, Boy Scouts, and Pop Warner football together. Where one of us went, the other was only steps behind. What one of us did, the other was sure to follow. You were my security blanket in school because I knew I was never alone. My shyness kept me from freely making new friends, but with you by my side I didn’t feel compelled to. I cannot thank you enough for that, Brother.

When we came of age and gained some independence from Mom and Dad, boy, did we take advantage of it! We did many mischievous things during our identity-formation years as teens, but then you scaled back and managed to figure things out before life got out of control. I, on the other hand, was a bit more hard-headed.

Even though I wound up in prison at 19, you didn’t condemn me, make me feel less than you; instead, you were there to visit me every chance you got. You were always quick to put money on my books, answer my expensive collect calls, and even sat down many a night to write me letters (Lord knows you dreaded that!). You sacrificed so much to ensure that your twin was okay in this dreaded situation.

When I got out at 22 you were there with Dad to pick me up. Our three-year separation had taken a toll on the both of us, but now we were reunited and vowed to never be separated like that again. You took me everywhere I needed to go (treatment meetings, parole officer’s, dentist and doctor appointments), despite the fact you worked hard and had your own obligations. If there was ever a way to repay you for your tremendous generosity, I would have done it. But then again, you would never accept anything from me because you saw yourself doing what any twin brother would do for his other half. This is just another testament to how blessed I am to have you as my brother, my best friend, my other half.

Then I put you in the worst situation one could have that fateful night in 2003. I disregarded your life when I ignored your dire warnings to slow down; instead I defiantly sped up and recklessly crashed. Thank God you were not injured. I don’t know how I could have lived with myself had I hurt you – or worse. The thought itself makes my stomach churn.

I put you in this horrid situation once again: collect calls, visits, letters and birthday cards through the mail. Saying I’m sorry doesn’t even come close to the level of remorse and regret I have for not living up to my vow to never separate us again. Yet, staying true-to-form, you never held it against me or made me feel worse than I already felt when this happened — that’s not who you are. Having said that, I still can’t help but live with great disappointment for letting you down; for subjecting you to this life of supporting your brother behind bars. But you are not one to complain, and haven’t in the now-15 years you have been in my corner. Words are simply incapable of adequately conveying my immense gratitude toward you.

Twin Brother, I could not have a stronger bond with another human being on this planet. You have been my best friend and role model for many years. I have always admired you for so many reasons — both growing up and now at 39 years old; but not even this can compare to how much I love and appreciate you. Thank you for never giving up on me, supporting me unwaveringly through my darkest hours, and showing me what unconditional love looks like. I love you.

Forever indebted,

Your Twin Brother

All I Want For Christmas

All I Want For Christmas

Christmas is a festive time of year, when family members get together to enjoy robust meals, open presents, and share good ole’ rare quality time. During the holidays, people tend to let bygones be bygones, differences become trivial, and allow their love for one another to rule the day. It’s the season of giving, cheerful volunteering, and routinely putting others before ourselves. Who wouldn’t love this time of year? I have an answer.

Prisons across this vast country incarcerate over 2.3 million people – PEOPLE! This means tens of millions of people are directly affected by this epidemic. Countless children wake up on Christmas morning to open gifts with one parent there to watch their shining faces as they rip open packages of their favorite toys, while the other (in most cases Daddy) sits in a cell, heartbroken that he has missed out on yet another Christmas Day with his family. If he’s lucky, he’ll get to make a limited phone call later in the day to wish his family a merry Christmas, but many are not even afforded this luxury.

I have been incarcerated for fifteen years, and am beyond blessed to have had the love of my family for the entire time. Others around me, however, have not been as blessed. It breaks my heart to see so many men for so many years go without even a single phone call on Christmas. They have no one to call; they have no family to answer on the other end, no family to send them a Christmas card, no family to come visit them. They carry on as though they are unfazed by their lack of family support, but when you’ve been around these people every day, year after year, their pain is evident in their faces, and heard in their voices.

Also evident however, is the camaraderie I have witnessed over the last decade and a half during this time of year. Guys come together unlike any other time of the year, piecing together assortments of canteen ingredients to prepare “spreads,” burritos, nachos, and any other fine prison cuisine they can concoct. The banter is louder, the playing is more, well, playful, and the overall mood is palpably more jovial. It’s certainly no replacement for time spent with our families, but the surrogate families that are created in prison and on full display during the holiday season is encouraging and dare I say even heartwarming. It is, in fact, all that many have to look forward to, accepting they can expect nothing from the outside world during this season.

Some are fortunate enough to receive visits – even on Christmas itself – and cards, to remind them they are still loved, important, and dearly missed. But then I am forced to think about the impact on the family that comes to see their confined loved one. How do they feel when they leave him or her behind and return home to enjoy their Christmas dinner, and open gifts? And how do they answer the four-year old who repeatedly asks why Daddy or Mommy is not home for this special day?

For those of you who have a family member incarcerated and are in a position to support him or her through their hardship, please know they appreciate your devotion more than they can ever express. I thank you for giving them the invaluable gift of knowing they still matter, despite the rest of the world having essentially forgotten they even exist. For those of you who know someone incarcerated but haven’t, for whatever reason, found time or energy to write, visit, or send a card in years, I strongly encourage you to find a way to do so this holiday season. The gesture would be met with indescribable gratitude. As mentioned earlier, I, personally, am grateful for the unwavering support my family has shown and continues to show through my plight; others in this horrid situation are not as fortunate. Therefore, it is my solemn plea to all who read this and know someone who is incarcerated to send a card or letter, or to visit during this precious holiday season. This is all I want for Christmas.

Michael’s Day in Court

Michael’s Day in Court

On this day, which is almost nine years in the making, I wish to dedicate this AI blog post to Michael Henderson. Michael’s hearing is today (finally!) and I am in attendance (we are finally in the same room!).

I have known Michael for going on three years. The past two he has spent in the Pinellas County Jail, most of that time waiting on his Public Defender to show up. Very rarely did he put in an appearance, nor did he accomplish one single thing in 20 months to progress Michael’s case. With thanks to a benefactor, his paid attorneys have taken the bull by the horns and the hearing is finally taking place today, Friday, March 16.

In the time Michael and I have known each other, we have exchanged countless letters and emails (not to mention spent a small fortune on phone calls – you’re welcome GTL!). Though I am quite biased, Michael’s words are pure treasure. In honor of his big day, the purpose of this post is to share some of his words with you:

  • “I have been blessed with an understanding of the difference between what I need and what I think I need.”
  • “I can tell you, without reservation, that some of the best people I have met in my life have been here in prison. The stories behind each one are as varied as the individuals who live it.”
  • “If prison doesn’t teach you patience, tolerance, and humility, you probably aren’t teachable.”
  • “Keep strong in all you face, tempered with compassion, topped with love.”
  • “A slice of life only tastes really good when you share it with a friend; otherwise you keep eating humble pie.”
  • “I won’t claim to have all the answers, but I will ask the questions, and hopefully, that’s a starting point. As for my part, I pledge to have personal accountability and invite anyone to join me, whether you are in a prison or a palace, change starts with you.”
  • “No matter how long I’m in prison, I will not allow prison to reside in me.”
  • “It’s not rocket surgery.”

Please take a moment to send a blessing to whatever power you believe rules the universe for our incarcerated loved ones everywhere. And remember – do all things with Love.

Leah a.k.a. Dove

 

What Really Matters

What Really Matters

It took several agonizing months of listening to cellmate’s stories before I realized that my innocence didn’t matter. At fifty-one, I’d had a pretty full life. So, what really matters?

This 17-year-old African American boy, arrested in front of school merely because he stood next to somebody suspected of a robbery, was in real trouble. By all accounts, he won’t have a future. A felony will abruptly cut short his high school career, and possibly his life.

The police report he shows me rules him out as a suspect. The accomplice he’s alleged to be wears dreadlocks and has a good four inches and thirty pounds on him. Neither the police nor the prosecutor thinks this matters. He will likely plea out because he doesn’t have the resources to fight them. He’s just another defendant, a black one at that, to his court-appointed attorney. To the prosecutor: another notch in her lipstick case. The public doesn’t know and likely wouldn’t care if they knew his story. “He shouldn’t have been smoking in front of the school,” they’d probably say.

I spend hours on the phone at sixty cents per minute, convincing my sister to “sell it all.” She does, but can’t bear to sell my truck.

“I want you to have it when you get out of prison,” she says.

“It really doesn’t matter,” I say. “It’s just stuff.”

Nine months later, at the Holliday transfer unit, I’m in line for commissary when I see the boy from county. He signed for a year probation, violated, and was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary. I tell him I’m sorry.

“It doesn’t matter,” he says. I try not to cry.

My sister and I talk on the phone a lot. The rate is much cheaper than it was in county. It’s only twenty-one cents per minute. We decide to start an organization to help people like the young man I couldn’t help. We call it Adopt an Inmate. Dot Org. I talk on the phone and my sister does all the work.

“It doesn’t matter,” she says. “I think I’ve found my calling.”

Two and-a-half more years pass. I am on the phone with my sister.

“I have bad news,” she says. She draws out the story, hoping to soften the blow. This only increases the suspense. Turns out my truck is probably totaled. Her voice breaks. The accident is fresh.

“What about you?” I ask. “Are you hurt?”

“Well … I don’t know how but I seem to have hurt my pinky.”

A split-second later and she would be a no-answer.

I don’t care about the truck she cries for. She’s disappointed because she wanted to preserve just one thing of the life I had before. But it really doesn’t matter. God preserved what really matters. I and hundreds of adopted inmates around the country know what really matters.


 
Footnote: I vividly remember talking to my brother on the phone while sorting through his belongings, asking him what to sell and what to keep. Craigslist shoppers were traipsing through his house, looking for bargains. Most everything he had was sold or given away in our desperate rush to clear out his house in a few days – once we finally accepted that he was not going to be released anytime soon. We couldn’t afford to keep paying rent on his place in Texas. Then about a year later, the same with my belongings, when I decided to move from California to my mother’s house in Oregon, to be with family until the trial. It was easy to get rid of most of my stuff – except for a few loved items. I can still hear my brother’s voice, “You know what? You don’t need it.” Of course he was right. Sold!

His truck was totaled. We had just paid it off the month before, four years into the nightmare. My mom and I felt like warriors. For a week or so.

The good news is that my brother was just approved for parole. Also, my pinky is healing. Now we just have to figure out what he’s going to drive.

Dandy Lying

Dandy Lying

My brother lives in an old farm house in Ohio with this great front yard of plush green grass that in the heart of the season is carpeted with the most beautiful and brightest yellow dandelions you’ve ever seen. I remember when my son was about 5 and he commented, “Wow!” as his eyes lit up so brightly they could only be matched by the beautiful carpet of nature that lay before him, inviting the run he couldn’t wait to get started on.

It’s been said that if you come out of the penal system a better person than when you went in, it’s in spite of the system, not because of the system. One thing that I’ve been able to have a perspective of gratitude for through this whole experience is the awareness I gained through the deprivation of basically everything beautiful. This awareness has not come without effort though, and I have found practices like meditation and limiting myself of the few distractions that are afforded prisoners such as television sports, television movies, television series, etc., etc., etc.

But one thing that snuck in through the periphery of my self-imposed safety line, was a commercial about a weed killing product that targets only certain vegetation in a given area. The computer generated depiction shows this fellow barbecuing  on his plush, green back yard and he gets annoyed at one, yes one lone dandelion that supposedly could potentially ruin his entire experience. Cut to the spreader throwing the killer chemical all over the yard and this one lone beautiful creation, no matter where you think the creation originated, catches the bulk of this toxin, withering it to oblivion so the man can get on with his barbeque in perfection.

This is particularly sad and disturbing because this method of fooling the human psyche works. It’s not that we shouldn’t strive to be better people, but being misled to believe that we can ever achieve perfection even close to the beauty and intricacy of something as delicate as a dandelion while we are poisoning the air with chemically treated charcoal, our bodies with preservative based ingredients, and drug filled meat that has altered the course of development of the human body, and, the very ground that all life is dependent on to every extent for survival.

My hope for mankind is not diminished over my life or even through the horrific experience of the Amerikan system of injustice, but may have actually increased the need to see through the ruse knowing that perfection is not something we will ever be able to create as we double our efforts at destroying the perfection that’s been blooming right before our eyes long before the merchant quest for power, comfort, and separateness.