The cutting-edge international magazine “Ozy,” with offices in California and New York, has published my love story about how Jose and I met in the prison where I taught. You can read it here.
See my 7 books on Amazon.
Thank you, Ozy!
“You are crazy to do this for a prisoner!” my former best friend screamed at me as I was trying to return my U-Haul rental van on a hot June afternoon. She and her 4 kids had helped me move from Victorville, California (in the High Desert) to Bakersfield, California (in the lush Central Valley)–to be close to my fiancé, Jose. She was not happy with me for a long, hot weekend of packing and unpacking–with no restaurant treats, a too-small budget, and a cheap motel (at least they gave us a free Continental breakfast).
“You volunteered to come,” I reminded her. “I can write my books anywhere, and most places need an English teacher.”
“Well, just stay away from me!” she yelled before getting out of my life.
Not everyone thinks I am crazy for loving Jose, a prisoner in a private prison that contracts with the State of California. He was born in Mexico and lived most of his life in California, where he got involved in a gang and then was arrested, tried in court, and given a too-long sentence. We met when I was teaching the GED course in an Adelanto prison. He was my student, new to class, who gave me a Christmas card, a New Year’s card–and his whole sweet heart. For weeks we secretly exchanged love letters and sometimes met alone in the classroom to talk after other students left. I wrote him into my new Selah book. I got caught with 2 of his letters, was fired on Valentine’s Day, and then was banned from visiting him. For 4 months we did not see each other. Faithfully, he sent me cards for Valentine’s, my birthday, Easter, Mother’s Day. He drew them with his own hand, with bright pencils that brought the color back into my life.
He called me at 11:30 p.m., 6 weeks ago, excited to tell me about his transfer. His voice was calm and strong, like baritone music. I thought that, as long as he spoke to me, I could never be afraid or sad. No longer would only write each other letters or talk on the “monitored and recorded” telephone! We chatted excitedly, both nervous about having our first hug and kiss. I could not imagine how it would be to walk, sit, and eat together for hours on Saturdays and Sundays, in the prison’s Visitation room and courtyard, but I felt elated as if in a lingering, long-awaited dream.
My favorite of my 7 books is the perfect little fantasy novel called “Selah of the Summit.” I poured my own true life experiences into that book but made it look like fiction. A lot of the details were added fantasy elements from my imagination, but the basic tale was true. Writing fiction is much easier than writing a nonfiction, reveal-all book with my name as the main character and the awful viewpoint “I.” Victims of abuse often find it easier to distance themselves from the abused person they are by creating another persona and objectively telling their story (like a drama or puppet show they can control) as if it happened to someone else. So “Selah” tells my story of being an abused wife and survivor of other traumas, set into the deliverance tale of a desert slave girl who is freed from her castle-like prison and led to the mountains. I even made the San Bernardino Mountains (where I lived for years) the setting for that journey.
Now I’m writing “Selah 2.” I call it “Selah of the Desert.” It shows my more recent history and adventures. For over 9 months I taught full-time inside a California High Desert prison for male felons. The hours were long and difficult, security was crucial, and I (as well as prisoners) was always closely watched. I never expected to find something valuable there (or, more precisely, someone)—until love slipped between the prison bars.
I was miserable, sad, and lonely after the break-up of my marriage to a Turk. I was stranded in the desert, not adventuring overseas, and very few family or friends knew that I existed (except thousands of people on social media—but they were not exactly real). Christmas approached. I wasn’t invited anywhere except to the Geo Company Christmas party (one night) and church (where I was new and not a member of a special group). I kept catching viruses from the inmates and struggled through long days inside the prison sneezing and blowing my nose, always holding a tissue in one hand. I had one friend to meet at Starbucks, but later that fell through. I gave everyone who worked at the prison hand-signed Christmas cards, fancy ones I bought at Costco. The last thing I expected was a sweet Christmas card from one of my inmate students.
Passover and Resurrection Sunday (which some people call “Easter”) have a lot in common. They usually fall on the same spring weekend and are celebrated all over the world. Passover retells the story of thousands of years ago (this is year 5779 in the Jewish calendar) when God sent Moses to set the Jewish people free from slavery in Egypt. The Egyptian Pharaoh did not cooperate even though God used Moses to show many signs and miracles. Only after Passover did the Pharaoh send the Jews out of Egypt with added gifts from Egyptians who wanted them to go.
At Passover, the Angel of Death swooped across Egypt, taking the life of every first-born child. Each household was affected, from Pharaoh with his wealth and power to the servant who guarded him. Moses gave Pharaoh advance warning, but the stubborn king ignored him, so the Angel of Death took the life of his child, too. The only way to prevent death was to do as God instructed the Jewish people: sacrifice a spotless lamb and sprinkle its blood on the top and sides of each house’s doorway. Then the Angel of Death would see the blood and pass over that house, not striking anyone dead.
OK, now for some light-hearted, fun writing. I love Starbucks. People tease me for that, often saying, “But it’s so expensive! You pay $6 for a cup of coffee.”
I try explaining that I do “star dashes” and gather little gold stars on my smartphone that count toward free coffee and food. Plus, I get anything I want to order on my birthday! People usually roll their eyes or shake their heads, not believing that it could be fun and not-so-horribly expensive to frequent a designer coffee business. I don’t go out to dinner at restaurants, I argue. Doesn’t that count for something?
When my kids were teenagers, we often went to Starbucks in Southern California, sitting together outside under a green umbrella, wearing our summer t-shirts, shorts, and sandals, squinting in the sun. We talked and planned together, ate the Best in the World Lemon Cake, and got free house brew coffee refills because I have a Starbucks Gold Card.
My family is my daughter Jessica, the only one of my 4 children who wants me in their lives. She is having a baby soon, the only grandchild I will see–unless things change. Jessica spent Christmas with me in a nice (but inexpensive) hotel in Ontario, California. We stayed there before–during the Miss California competition and Thanksgiving. The hotel has a cheerful, red-hued lobby; a pool; and walkways with a gazebo and rose gardens. It reminds me of hotels I stayed in throughout China. We gave away some of my books to curious staff members and enjoyed green tea, butter cookies, and a few wrapped gifts. I am thankful that, though I do not own my own home, this year I was not homeless. I have a good job and can afford a hotel near to where Jessica lives.
Jessica read the story of the first Christmas as written in the Bible’s Gospel of Luke. As a Messianic Jew and a Christian, I could be criticized for celebrating Christmas, a holiday not well steeped in valid history. However, I love Christmas for the songs whose words I memorized when I was a child, the tiny blinking lights, angels, and evergreens. Jesus came as the “light of the world.” He died on a tree, our sacrifice to wash away our crimson sins, and rose again to bring new life. Somehow these ideas do not erase older traditions of Hanukah, but fulfill.
How was your Christmas?
It has been 3 years since the terrorist attack in San Bernardino that left 14 dead, shot many times by their own coworker and his Islamist extremist immigrant wife at their company Christmas party. The main target was my friend Nick, a Messianic Jew like me. We attended Shiloh Messianic Congregation together, in the San Bernardino mountains. I was just down the street from the scene of this attack when it happened, watching it unfold on the TV news in a restaurant. I had just returned from teaching English for 5 years in Turkey, Russia, and China.
Oddly, I have stood in the exact spot of terrorist attacks in all 3 of those countries. Two were in airports in Russia and Turkey, and one was in Tiananmin Square in Beijing. My timing was good–before the attacks occurred–but I could have been a victim like Nick. Any of us could be victims–as could any of our children.
May we, in the new year of 2019, stand against anti-Semitism and terrorism. May we truly promote the peace that Yeshua–Messiah–came to give. Shabbat Shalom.
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 abused . . .
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. The prison felt that I was safe enough to enter.
I drive to work across a desert Apocalypse landscape 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.
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.
Love is not from a distance;
up close and personal, it comes close enough
to pierce us
like an arrow through the heart, a spear.
Can we get the hook out?
Love is the unexpected baby on its way to a stone-cold world.
How did you get in there, so soon?
I will try to love you, and I will often fail.
I feel you hiding in my secret place, moving
like a white swan’s feathers (or maybe black)
brushing up against me, about to take flight
over waters of a vast lake, splashes of yellow against blue,
ripples in growing circles toward the rising sun
too bright to look at directly, creating, consuming . . .
You are not really mine; I borrow you for a time (too short).
I will hold your small hand tightly, sad to think that
maybe after yours grows big enough to break away
–you will forget me– Continue reading
“Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” Psalm 30:5.
Sometimes it seems as though the night will never end. I am writing the 4th book in my “Survival” series, “Darkest before Dawn.” I survived cancer, car accidents, loss of my family, abusive men, and teaching English overseas for 5 years–in Russia, Turkey, and China. What more must I survive? How can we all survive what is coming?
Have you ever noticed that it really is darkest–and coldest–before the sun rises? I often have trouble sleeping and have stayed up until dawn. Just knowing that the sun will rise gives me hope. Then, ironically, when that yellow orb breaks upon the eastern horizon, I can relax and go to sleep.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” In the book of Revelation (written by John), Jesus is “the bright and morning star.”
I often do my writing at night. If you like my blog, please check out my books.