What I Learned in Prison

Geo Prison

I have been living in the California desert for awhile now, renting a room in a family’s home.  My almost seven-year marriage to a Turkish man broke up, and he is living somewhere on the streets of Los Angeles, stuck in his paranoid delusions that everyone is after him.  He leaves voice messages on my smartphone, though I had to get a restraining order against him, and he should not contact me.  I hope he goes home to Istanbul for medical help.  I feel alone, as the desert wind howls across rocks and sand, and autumn sun cools beneath clouds.  Better to be alone than yelled at, used . . .

Who would have thought that I, a free-spirited writer who has traveled much across this globe, would land in a regular job, from 07:30 to 16:00 Mondays through Fridays, 40 hours a week–teaching inmates in a prison?  I got the job after a 5-week background check (I had to list everywhere I lived since I was 16), a physical exam, and drug tests.  I drive to work across a desert Apocalypse landscape.  It is littered with rock queries, railroad tracks, and old industrial warehouses with broken windows and metal pipes.  Homeless people scarcely populate it, pushing metal carts or baby carriages without a baby.  I lost my three-level, wood-carved home in the mountain forest near a lake.  My children are young adults now, and I don’t see them much.

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My 2 oldest children have completely shut me out of their lives (and my grandchildren’s lives).  An enemy has much to do with this (an ex-husband who once laid me on a bed and strangled me, which I wrote about in my book “Fire and Ice”).  I don’t know what he’s said or why they listen and refuse to meet so that I may answer charges laid against me . . .  My few friends call me “Sweetie.”  I am not a serial killer or assaulter, some crazy grandma gone wild.  I can not understand how my own daughter, my firstborn, could take away my little remaining family . . . I lost my father at age 4 and my mother and only brother (that I knew about) not long after.  I never had a sister.

So . . . the best part of my life is the “Special Needs Yard” prison where I teach male inmates their high school GED course.  We cover mostly English reading, writing, social studies, and science (my inmate clerk helps with the math).  Most of the inmates are sex offenders who could not be in the general population; some are ex-gang members or ex-cops.  My classroom is the last one on the left, near the moving white-barred gate and blue door that leads to the desert yard.  I must have my special ID and my keys on a chain to enter the prison.  If I lose my ID or keys, the whole prison would be locked down until we found them.  I must wear professional clothes (like black slacks and a collared shirt, sensible shoes, my hair clipped back, with no identifying jewelry showing).  I walk through a metal detector, surrender my clear plastic bag for inspection, and pass through 9 gates.  A young guard in his khaki uniform with silver badge says, “Morning, ma’am,” as he holds the heavy door for me at Central Control’s Sally Gate.  I peer into the dim room filled with camera surveillance screens and many keys.

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Free Davut

Freedom 2

My dear #friend Davut (David), a Turkish Army Officer, has been languishing in a Turkish #prison for many months, with 200,000 of his people arrested by their #dictator. His #sister asked for #prayer for him. #freedavut#davidvsgoliath. Remember #ataturk.

Read about the struggle for freedom in Turkey.

Freedom Is Fleeting in Turkey

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I lived and taught English in Turkey for 2.5 years.  I fell in love with that beautiful country and even married a Turkish man.  When the Gezi Park freedom protests began a year ago today, I covered them first-hand, writing articles, taking photos, and uploading videos.  I even got attacked by the Turkish police, and my Turkish husband was tortured by them.  We left Turkey days before police showed up at our old apartment near Istanbul to arrest me for a photo I’d published.

Of all the photos I took in Turkey, this one defined a turning point.  I was in Antalya, watching some high school students march with the Turkish flag even though their Islamist Prime Minister had forbidden any parades.  I stopped being just an American English teacher and became part of the Turkish people when I witnessed how much they want freedom.

Read my tribute to the Gezi Park protest anniversary here:

http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/a-year-after-turkey-s-gezi-park-protests-freedom-elusive/article/385149

Walk with Me in Turkey

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My “Walk with Me in Turkey” eBook came out today after 1.5 years of working on it.  I started by doing photo essays for “Digital Journal” of places I visited and photographed in Turkey (thanks so much to Editor David Silverberg).  One of my photo essays, “Faces of Turkey” even won an award.  Thanks to my friend and editor Jeremy Gotwals of Holon Publishing, who helped design the eBook’s cover using one of my photos, my book is now available in Kindle format.  If you don’t have a Kindle reader, you can download a free one for your computer, smart phone, or tablet.  For only $2.99 you can see the beautiful, historic places of Turkey, read about their culture and food, and enjoy my adventure stories!  What a lot of work (sigh).  Hope I find some readers 🙂

Here’s the official book summary:

Walk with me through ancient temples, churches, castles, mosques, and palaces of Turkey where I spent 2.5 years teaching English and exploring that beautiful country.  I learned the language and culture and even married into a Turkish family.  Stand with me at the spot where key battles defended the land from invaders and where Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was buried.  See archeology opportunities with Greek and Roman columns and tunnels directly at your feet.  Tour Istanbul, a city built on 7 hills and divided by a waterway that separates Europe from Asia.  Get caught in the rain by the Black Sea, feast on shish kabob in Kocaeli, dance the horon at a Turkish wedding, explore Kar Tepe’s mountain forest, and swim in the Mediterranean Sea.  With my vivid photos and stories, you’ll feel as though you walked in Turkey with me.

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Since it costs so much to print so many color photos, my book will probably remain in electronic format (with links to other Internet sites for more information).  Let me know if you enjoy it!  Find it here.

The Photo that Almost Got me Arrested in Turkey

I lived in Turkey for 2.5 years and did photo essays about that beautiful country with its variety of landscapes, historical places, and people.  Then I began to write about the freedom protests that began last spring because of Turkey’s oppressive government.  That led to an article about censorship.  Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country.  As I witnessed the freedom protests close-up, taking videos of peaceful people walking in unison for the right to speak freely in their own country, I felt a close bond with Turkey.

My Turkish husband, who had been tortured by the Turkish police, went with me to meet friends one Sunday afternoon for tea in Istanbul.  We witnessed police attacking tourists with water canon and pepper spray.  As we made our way home, the police chased us, and the pepper spray I was engulfed in made me sick for days.  Ironically, I left Turkey just days before police showed up at my old apartment door to arrest me for a photo I had published.

See the photo here, minus the woman whose image used to be in it (she complained to the police).  It shows the Kocaeli Book Fair building with a banner of Ataturk, founder of the secular, democratic Republic of Turkey next to its current ruler, the Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan, who makes his image as large as Ataturk’s.  Notice the flag poles like bars in the foreground, layers of oppression.

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Freedom is Fleeting

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A Turkish business owner holds up a portrait of Ataturk, founder of Turkey’s secular democracy

Freedom is in danger throughout this planet.  Dictators in all corners of the earth try to control people’s behavior and even their thoughts.  This past week in Turkey, protesters who had enough of such control took to the streets to make their voices heard.

Although freedom may be fleeting, dictators always fall.  No matter how high he reaches, a tyrant eventually becomes the sand that children play in.  Men who establish freedom for other people, however, are remembered like lights shining in a dark place.

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Lights inside Ataturk’s tomb (Anitkabir) in Ankara

Freedom Day in Turkey

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Students proudly wave the Turkish flag to celebrate Freedom Day (October 29) in Antalya

Today in Turkey, despite the orders of the current repressive Islamist regime not to celebrate, many people around Turkey are celebrating Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s proclamation of the secular, democratic Republic of Turkey in 1923.  At a big gathering in the country’s capital, Ankara, police opened fire with water canons and pepper spray bombs on the peaceful marchers.  However, the Turkish president told them to stand down because of popular opinion against his police actions.

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Students play music to celebrate Freedom Day in Antalya

To see more photos about Freedom Day in Turkey, see my album “Faces of Freedom”:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.4339024707212.170127.1035210848&type=3

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Silhouette

I snapped this shot through a bus window outside of Izmir, Turkey, near the Aegean Sea. I was amazed to see a giant silhouette of Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, carved into a marble cliffside. Notice the Turkish flag below.

Ataturk believed in freedom of speech, religion, and the press. He established a secular democracy in Turkey. This Monday, October 29, celebrates Ataturk and his ideals. The current administration in Turkey is not happy about this day and wants to limit its celebration. Long live Ataturk and freedom!