What I Learned in Prison

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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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Jewish, Christian, and a little bit Turkish

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I am part Jewish.  I call myself a Messianic Jew AND a Christian.  The 2 seemingly contradictive terms CAN go together.  Jesus was Jewish.  The first Christians were Jewish, like Paul who traveled through Turkey to Rome and planted churches along the way.  John, who wrote the Apocalypse, penned letters to the 7 Churches–all found in Turkey. He was exiled on a Mediterranean island not far from Antalya.  My American life has joined with that Mediterranean country that connects the continents of Asia with Europe–at Istanbul.  Once called Constantinople, that city rises above 7 hills adorned with ancient castles, Christian cathedrals, and Muslim mosques.  Contradictions are part of daily life.  Viva la difference!

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The Liberal and the Immigrant

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It’s easy to say, “Let all immigrants come to America.”  It’s harder living with one.  I have been living with my Armenian/Turkish husband “Jack” for 5 years and 3 months.  We survived Turkey and then China and are now attempting America.  Because of language, cultural, and belief differences, our marriage has been difficult.  He can’t drive a car in the U.S., and a Green Card costs about $2000 plus proof of bank savings, home, job, etc.  We haven’t been able to afford one yet, especially since we used up all our savings when my Mazda 5 minivan was totaled in Houston, and I ended up in Texas Medical Center ICU with a subdural hematoma (bleeding in my brain from slamming into metal, no airbag deployed, seat belt bruising my ribs and pushing the air out of me).  Texas sheriffs blamed me for the accident, though I was the one hit by a speeding Houston driver.

We went back to California after that, in an American car with a high-interest loan, high payments, and increased driving insurance.  We slept in that car in the desert, then headed back toward the mountains where I lived before jumping overseas.  Jack got 3 manual labor jobs in a small town.  He quit one and was fired from the other 2, though his English now is pretty good.  After 5 years of teaching English and Journalism for universities, high schools, and private language schools in Russia, Turkey, and China, I have not been able to find a good job in America.  Nobody really needs an older, experienced English teacher in a country where the first language is English.

I found a job driving delivery for Uber Eats in Los Angeles, but with the one-hour commute from the truck stop where we live in the Inland Valley, I make no profits after gas and bill-paying (and my husband’s share, of course).  Uber pays drivers too little, though we wear out our cars, pay auto insurance, and risk our lives on steep, dark roads in the rain.

Turks love to talk, yell, fight.  Centuries of this aggression genetically infuse my husband.  My American friends don’t understand how much of a cultural difference this is and simply don’t like Jack for yelling too much.  Or maybe they question the high rate of abuse to women that Turkey records each year.

Then we lived with a Liberal couple in our small mountain town about 2.5 hours’ drive from Los Angeles. Continue reading

Homeless in America

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All of us face challenges.  In America, our challenges are usually not as difficult as people who face civil war in South Sudan, where children walk miles each day just to find a safe place to sleep.  Yet many people think life is easy for Americans. I say, not true. Which do you think was more difficult for this American (Lonna Lisa Williams) to do:

1. Leave my California home in October, 2010 for Russia to teach English because I could not find a job in my own country even though my grandfather graduated from Yale University, was a professor at UNC, and handed the torch of education to my teacher mother and to me. Endure a long winter where I wore chains on my boots to run across the ice that coated every surface.  Teach English to 13-year-olds only to end up speaking and reading in Russian because no one really wanted to speak English and hated America. Even though my grandmother was Russian, I learned their alphabet and simple words as a child, and I look Russia, most people avoided me because I was the “Amerikanka.” Discover that Vodka is easier to get than good tea, Russian food is bland and full of potatoes, and everyone shares alcohol and violence in the 3rd-class wagons of the Russian train from Samara to Moscow. Endure the 17-hour journey with 50 bunks to a wagon, accidentally stepping on a sleeping Russian woman who screamed when I descended from my top bunk. Cry on the trash bin in the back of the wagon. Kiss a Russian stranger between the wagons, in that blessed cold, dark connector, as snow fields slipped past and a full moon shone on frozen rivers. We, Russian and American, kissed without words, like lovers from a war movie who will never meet again, showing how tragedy is really, really Russian and American.

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Lonna Sells Her Books

Watch Lonna Lisa Williams sell her books in the California mountains, at Big Bear Lake’s Copper Q Cafe, 2 summers in a row (2014 and 2015).  She should be there again this August, so come meet her and get your signed copy!  In the meantime, please buy her Kindle eBooks for just $2.99.  You can download a free Kindle reader to any smartphone, tablet, or computer.  If you like traditional style, Lonna’s paperbacks are about $10.  Enjoy!

You can buy Lonna’s books here:  http://www.amazon.com/Lonna-Lisa-Williams/e/B006ZISIFU

Spring at West Lake, Hangzhou, China

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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!

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Easter in China

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES People of many countries, colors, and cultures celebrated Easter together at Hangzhou International Christian Fellowship in eastern China on April 5, 2015.  The church was packed, and many people stood or sat at the sides and sang joyfully together to celebrate that God loved the whole world so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for sins of everyone and then rise again with a promise of eternal life.  The Nigerian pastor spoke about Christ’s resurrection and message of love, hope, and unity.   Continue reading

Unexpected China

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China always surprises me.  I find the most unexpected things in the country where I’ve been teaching English for the past 9 months.  My life often feels surreal, like I’ve wondered into another universe.  When I was walking by the Songhua River in Jilin Province (northeast), I spotted these giant fake flowers that were left over from the Dragon Festival.  They were near the entrance to the dragon boats.  See more photos and enjoy the serendipity of China with me.

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Amazing Chinese Rooms

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I’ve always loved exploring hotels.  They have endless hallways and so many different types of rooms, nooks, artwork, and cafes.  See various rooms from hotels all over China, like the elegant blue one (above), where you can relax with a cup of tea; and the techno red KTV room (below), where scantily-clothed women will feed you nuts and alcohol while you sing and dance to music.

See more Chinese hotel photos here and explore more rooms.

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Songhua River Walk in Jilin, China

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This colorful metallic boat is nestled along the Songhua River walk in Jilin City, Jilin, China.  Jilin City is located in Jilin Province, northeast China. I have been teaching English at a high school there for the past 9 months. The high school is near the Songhua River that stretches from Russia, through China, to North Korea. After teaching, I often walk along the river and enjoy the buildings, trees, parks, and interesting people. After dark, the river reflects colorful lights of buildings andbridges. Walk with me here and get a glimpse of China you may never have seen before.

See more photos of this amazing place on Digital Journal:

http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/photo-essay-songhua-river-walk-in-jilin-china/article/384535