Crazy Prison Love

thumbnail-2

“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.

thumbnail

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.

thumbnail

Continue reading

Advertisements

What I Found in Prison: Love

Antalya Wedding

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.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Continue reading

“Selah of the Desert Prison” Chapter 1 (a.k.a. “Crazy Prison Love”)

Lonna Apocalypse Desert

I hope you are enjoying my new Selah book.  I’ve decided to make it easier to read by placing the new version of Chapter 1 here.

ONE

A Prison in the Desert

             Selah saw the cold metal gun, strangely beautiful like silver, glinting in the lamp light of the dingy trailer living room. Her mother backed up against the farthest wall, screaming, looking starkly bright in her red nightgown against the faded yellow wallpaper whose pattern once entwined like flowers.

“Put that away!” she kept repeating, lacing her long, graceful fingers over her eyes like a shield.  “Put that away!  I was not serious when I said ‘go ahead.’  I didn’t think you really had a gun.  Where did you get it?  Put it away! Selah is here with us!  Winter Solstice is tomorrow.  How can you react like this when I—simply—asked if we could go to the party at my mother’s mansion?”

Selah walked toward her father who held the gun up near his head.  Dark tresses fell forward on his forehead, and his brown eyes glowed like translucent stones of amber with strange, dead life forms caught within it.

“You’ll be better off without me,” he mumbled. Selah smelled the alcohol on his breath. Did he even know what he was doing?

He saw her step closer and lowered the gun a little.  A shadow seemed to pass across his too-bright eyes, like dark wings beating.  He reached his free hand toward her but still clutched the gun with his other one.

“Daddy, don’t,” she said, too calmly for a child. She reached out her hand to touch his outstretched fingers.

What happened in that moment to make him withdraw his arm and look away from her?

“Nooooo!” her mother screamed.

Her drawn-out word was lost in the sudden clap of sound more terrible than thunder.

“I don’t want to see it all again,” Selah mumbled, turning her face away from bright red streaks that washed up on the faded wall.

Where is the cold, peaceful dark that can hide me from these images?  she wondered.

The midnight poured through closed, barred windows when Selah parted the crimson drapes.  Stars swirled inside the darkness like a firefly dance.  Selah reached out to catch one in her hand.  It glowed between her fingers.  She took a step, wishing for a tree.  An evergreen appeared, draping down its branches around her shoulders like antique lace.  It was the perfect place to hide.  She opened her fist and placed the firefly star upon the closest branch.

“Oh, cover me,” she cried.  “Keep me from the empty dark and memories.  Hide me from the loneliness.”

She ached with desolation, like pain shooting through from head to toe.

“How can I go on like this?” she asked the distant sky where more stars glistened.  “Even my dreams are loss and sorrow.  Even my nightmares end with me alone.”

The distant sound of bells broke through the shifting images of dreams.  Selah reached out to her bedside table, pressed a button, and silenced the Tech device that woke her.

The sun was not up yet.  Faint wisps of pink and orange clouds like feathers drifted above the east.  Selah looked up at them between the open wooden window blinds.

“It was just a dream, again,” she whispered to console herself.

Her mobile Tech device blinked red, drawing her eyes to it.  She sat up and reached for it, staring at its luminescent blue screen that glowed with particles of light.  The red light pulsed through it, telling her that it would not stop until she checked the message that waited for her. Continue reading

Love Is Not from a Distance

tree in sunset

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

Spring at West Lake, Hangzhou, China

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Children and adults play in a park by West Lake

I went to West Lake in Hangzhou, China in May and saw so many colorful flowers and people.  Walk with me by the lake, on paths across stone bridges, through parks, temples, pavilions, and historic buildings with statues.  West Lake is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province.  For 2000 years it has been the source of inspiration for poets, artists, photographers, and even filmmakers.  My students told me the romantic story of the immortal White Snake who became a woman and fell in love with a mortal man.  The turtle god of the lake was jealous, so he imprisoned her under a pagoda.  However, the man still loved the White Snake Woman, and they were eventually reunited and had a son.  This story has been made into television series and films.  Emperors from many Chinese Dynasties visited West Lake and inscribed its famous “Ten Scenes” with poetic names like “Two Peaks Piercing the Clouds,” “Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon, and “Orioles Singing in the Willows.”  As far back as the 14th Century, Europeans visited West Lake, including Italian explorer Marco Polo, who wrote that Hangzhou “is the most splendid heavenly city in the world.”  Spring and romance are here in China!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Continue reading

China’s Treasures

Image

The Empress’ throne room inside Beijing’s Summer Palace

I went to Beijing and saw some of China’s greatest treasures, royal rooms where Emperors and Empresses sat on gold and silver thrones that were surrounded by statues of cranes, lions, dragons, and the elusive phoenix.  After touring the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, we went to a fancy Chinese restaurant that recreated the Emperor’s throne room.  Here I am, sitting among China’s treasures and realizing that the greatest treasure is love, the human heart, and God sending His only Son down from Heaven’s throne for us.

Image

China’s Valentine’s Day

Image

This year, Valentine’s Day in China was on the same day as the Lantern Festival which marks the last day of Lunar New Year’s celebrations, so everywhere there were fireworks, red lanterns, and big bouquets of flowers.  Read more about how the Chinese celebrated on Digital Journal.  I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day.  Even if there was no romance in your life, perhaps you experienced true love!  See how I did in my newest book, Fire and Ice.

Spring in Turkey

Image

A family strolls along a hill by tulips in Seka Park, Izmit, Kocaeli

Spring has finally come to Turkey, and people enjoy walking outside in the sunshine, strolling through parks, planning weddings, and admiring tulips, an important flower for Turkey that can be found in tourism symbols, hand-made lace, and jewelry. Grown natively in Anatolia for centuries, tulips were first introduced to Europe by a German ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the 16th Century. Tulips were the symbol of the Ottoman Empire, courtly romance, and love. Only the rich and refined could truly grow tulips, display them in their homes, draw paintings of them, and write them into poetry. The golden age of the Ottoman Empire, in the 18th Century, was called the Tulip Era (“Lale Devri” in Turkish).

 After a long, cold winter in northwest Turkey, spring finally arrived this April. Tulips of all colors graced parks and hillsides. People planned weddings, relaxed at open-air cafes, and gave each other bouquets of Turkish “lale.”  A duck bathed in a fountain.  I enjoyed all this with my Turkish husband as sunlight shone on his amazing country.  After two years of living inside the Turkish culture, I am hopeful for new beginnings.  I’m writing a new book about it!

Image

My Turkish husband Ömer and I in the park

Image

A duck enjoys the spring sunlight and a bath in a fountain

Image

Turkish tulips shine in the sunlight

Pale like Lace

Image

Spring is here, and women all around Turkey are planning weddings.  There is something lovely in the pale, candle-light color of lace on a wedding dress.  In Turkey, wedding gowns are amazing.  I hope you enjoy my little lacy photos.  Read about the cultural traditions for “Weddings in Turkey” on Digital Journal and see more photos if you like.  Sweet romance!

Image

Image

Weddings in Turkey

In Turkey, marriage is important, so people go all-out for engagements and weddings. Dresses can range from simple frocks to fancy ball gowns, but even more interesting are the traditions and ceremonies involved.

Turkey is a land of contrasts. You can find the traditional next to the modern in architecture, food, and fashion. But weddings remain vital in this society where it is scandalous for a man and a woman to just live together. Many weddings are big, expensive events tied to old Ottoman and Arabian influences and lasting for days. Others are simpler affairs. Since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the Republic of Turkey, weddings have been, by law, secular ceremonies overseen by a marriage commissioner. However, devout Muslims often hold another service afterward to be blessed by an imam at a mosque. Almost always the bride dresses up, from a simple frock to an elaborate gown that would rival Cinderella at the Ball. Families and friends get involved, and music, dancing, and food are part of most celebrations. Perhaps the most fascinating customs are the events that lead up to the wedding day. Continue reading