Crazy Prison Love

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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

A World of Refugees: Davut from Turkey

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Davut and I posed in an old-time photo in Turkey

I wrote about my dear Turkish friend Davut before.  I met him 8 years ago when I escaped from frozen Russia to spring-like Turkey.  He was a special Turkish Army Officer improving his English at my second language school.  I was fired from the first language school in the first week–for sharing about Russian Easter traditions.  Some Muslim students complained.  I protested being fired for being a Christian when Turkey’s Constitution grants freedom of religion, and I may have got my job back, but I walked around the corner of Izmit, Kocaeli (near Istanbul) and found a better language school that paid more and gave me more teaching hours.

I still did not have a good place to live.  Some female teachers from the first language school had offered me a bed, but I must have offended them, too, for I was told to leave.  I was sitting on the steps in front of their apartment building with my luggage stacked around me.  I looked and felt like a refugee.  Indeed, I did not have much to return to in America:  no home, no job, no husband.  My young adult children had their own lives, and I was not important in them.

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Davut (right) when I first met him 8 years ago in Turkey

Davut and his friends found me there, and he immediately offered me a place to stay in the spare room of his apartment.  I stayed there for months.  He did not even ask me to pay him, but I paid a little that I could afford.  He knew I was lonely, and he invited me to hang out with him and his friends.  We walked through the cobbled streets of old Izmit, stepped into ancient stone churches and tiled mosques hung with tiny lights, drank tea and played backgammon in cafes by the Marmara Sea, strolled through parks lined with multi-colored tulips (“lale” is the Turkish name of the tulip flower which the Dutch imported from Turkey).

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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 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.

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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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