The Good Inside

Over the past few weeks I asked about twenty fellow inmates the following question: 

What’s the best thing about being inside and/or this location specifically? 

I asked because I wanted to write a posting saying something like, “It’s Not All Bad Inside.”  I thought that by asking others I’d hear perspective and views differing from my own.  What surprised me was that all the responses fell into one of three categories, each garnering about one third of the total.

The first category is:

“There’s nothing good about being inside or at this location.” 

Even when I pressed them to be more thoughtful they couldn’t come up with any positives about being here, inside.  Perhaps this response isn’t surprising on its own however it came from some of the people I’d thought were most pragmatic about their incarceration.  Don’t misunderstand, I’d rather not be here either, yet I am and I try to make the most of it.  When I fall into this line of thinking it slows time down and makes this experience more burdensome.

The next category is:

“It’s relatively violence free here.” 

I’m at a low security institution and I’d have to agree with this assessment.  It’s not that I haven’t witnessed, or heard of, fights but you generally don’t have to be constantly looking over your shoulder to know who’s behind you.  You do have to be aware of your surroundings but as long as you keep your nose clean you’re relatively safe – it is still a prison and you’re still dealing with people who may have been violent in their past.  One person even described this location as, “A highly dysfunctional community college campus.”  I don’t think I can agree in total but it is highly dysfunctional here. 

These first two categories made me think of all the people in the world, maybe billions, who would gladly trade places with we inmates – the homeless, the hungry, those in war torn countries, and those without sanitation or safe drinking water.  Would they say there’s nothing good here inside?  And wouldn’t they appreciate the lack of violence?

The final category is:

“Time is the best thing wherever you’re imprisoned.” 

Time to reflect and be introspective.  Time to look at your own history and envision a new future.  Time in these ways is the school of thought I think is indeed the best thing about living in exile.

My040 The Good Inside
Photo by Murray Campbell on Unsplash

When I was on the outside I took time to think but I concentrated on worldly things like material belongings, money, success, and feeding my addiction.  It’s not that I didn’t ever think about the truly important things in life like family, faith, and health but it was out of balance.  I thought too much about the former and too little about the latter.

It took being stripped of all the good things in my life to show me where I should have been focusing my thoughts and introspective time.  Now I can say without hesitation that there’s nothing more important than my faith, family, and health.  Think on it a while and I’m sure you’ll find this to be true for you as well.  I know it seems obvious that these are the important things in life but if we’re honest with ourselves we’d admit that we let other less important items cloud our thinking and take our eyes off the truly critical facets of life.

Keep your eyes on the true prizes of life.  ~jdoe

Sketches, Reflections of Father’s Day

“Who needs fathers?  We all do.  We especially need our Father in heaven, who forgives our parenting inadequacies for Jesus’ sake and who enables us each day with a fresh start.  Just as the loving father in Luke’s gospel welcomed home his lost son, our Father will one day welcome us into heaven together with all others who love and trust in Jesus.” 

~ Dr. Rodney Rathmann

My040 Sketches Reflections of Father's Day

This is jdoe’s lil-sis.

I have been reflecting and sketching out memories, thoughts.   Sparked by father’s day and receiving the most recent blog written by my brother (to be posted next time).  The blog post talks about the impact jdoe’s illness and medication has had on him recently – and in it he talks about having lost his ability to see his future.

The quote that ended jdoe’s last post, and opens mine asks “Who needs fathers?” … We all need fathers.  Our earthly father that God blessed us with, and our Heavenly Father God.

We lost our father earlier this year, so the months that have followed have found us with twisted heart when we read a card or letter from our Mom, now only signed ‘love Mom.’  Or the fact that we didn’t have to shop and send a father’s day card.  Our father for many years prior to his passing was locked in a prison of his own;  one that left him unable to walk, remember, and eventually talk.  For several years Dad was ever there, but darkening – his sun was setting.  This relationship we had with our father is not unlike the relationship my brother now has with his children.  My brother is locked in exile, physically removed from day to day family life and restricted in communication.  Yet, there is a fundamental difference – he is still fully available, and has life to look forward to – a new dawn over the horizon.

I thought I’d write this week’s post, remind my brother jdoe of the vibrant future that lies in-front of him with a strong family that he helped to build.  Remind him of the person he is.

Do you remember these words, bro?  Below is from an excerpt from an email I sent my brother a couple years back – I’d like to focus on the “Father” in him…

I thought about you a lot today.  And I was thinking, I cannot even start to imagine what it feels like to walk in your shoes.  All the feelings and experiences that lay behind you.  Looking out over what looks like very rocky ground infront of you. 

Then I started thinking about the man standing in those shoes, You, jdoe. 

This is the man I see standing in your shoes…

A devoted son, brother, friend, and father.  You have a deep well of love for family, friends, even strangers. 

A man that has raised four great children that have turned into wonderful, loving, hard working, respectful, fun, adults. You instilled family, just look how your kids like to be around each other. 

Your love for jane is deep and strong, obvious to anyone who sees the two of you together.  What an amazing example the two of you have set for your children and others.

Someone whom I, and others, look to for sound advice. 

Someone whom I, and others, can trust. 

You know what to say, and how to say it. 

Intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated to anything you put your head and heart into.  Through your daily demonstration, your children now also live these characteristics out.

Someone who has learned from his mistakes, and grown better from them.  Who now shares his experiences in hopes to help others.

You have a contagious smile and laugh, spreading joy and light.  Fun and playful, wise and thoughtful.

You are a talented artist, with cars, music, stories, painting rooms (lol), re-upholstering, well just about everything you touch.  You are willing to share your knowledge with those willing to learn.

You are thoughtful, tender and compassionate, strong and firm. 

A gentleman, kind and respectful.

Spiritual, believer.

Love Thou jdoe ~lilsis

Happy Father’s Day

“Who needs fathers?  We all do.  We especially need our Father in heaven, who forgives our parenting inadequacies for Jesus’ sake and who enables us each day with a fresh start.  Just as the loving father in Luke’s gospel welcomed home his lost son, our Father will one day welcome us into heaven together with all others who love and trust in Jesus.” 

~ Dr. Rodney Rathmann

My040 Fathers Day

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads

Happy Father’s Day to “My Old Man” 

Lyrics and Song by The Zac Brown Band

He was a giant
When I was just a kid
I was always trying
To do everything he did
I can still remember every lesson he taught me
Growing up learning how to be like my old man

He was a lion
We were our father’s pride
But I was defiant
When he made me walk the line
He knew how to lift me up
And when to let me fall
Looking back, he always had a plan
My old man

My old man
Feel the callous on his hands
And dusty overalls
My old man
Now I finally understand
I have a lot to learn
From my old man

Now I’m a giant
Got a son of my own
He’s always trying
To go everywhere I go
Do the best I can to raise him up the right way
Hoping that he someday wants to be
Like his old man

My old man
I know one day we’ll meet again
As he’s looking down
My old man
I hope he’s proud of who I am
I’m trying to fill the boots of my old man

My old man

 

Dad (Warning, He Cusses)

We apologize for our silence ~jdoe and sis

My-040 Dad

“My father died on March 7th.  His passing was peaceful having gone in his sleep.  My mother, his caregiver, was with him when he passed.

It is always hard losing a loved one, and doubly so when you’re locked away, living in exile as I am now.  There’s nowhere you can go to mourn in silence and solitude.

But this isn’t about me:

It’s about my father.

When I sat down to write this post I had every intention of writing a eulogy that would paint a picture of my father so all could see how much he meant to me.  I also wanted to write something that would make readers of this post wish they’d known him.

But how to summarize the life of a man whom I’ve love for over 50 years?

How do you do justice to the life of someone who was more than a father?  He was a guide and mentor, a parent and friend, a confidant and sounding board, a coach and cheerleader.  My Dad was a man like any other man with his strengths and faults, his positive and negative, his rights and wrongs, his good and bad, his ups and downs.

What made him unique in my eyes was his desire to teach me how to be a man holistically and later how to be a father.  He did these things at a time when society was weak in these things.  His sense of family and his dedication to being a father was in contrast to so many of my friend’s lives.  While my Dad was teaching, my friend’s fathers were busy with sports on TV; not that my Dad didn’t take his time to watch sports but while he was watching TV we were also talking life.

Talking life was something my Dad did often with me, usually late at night when I’d come home from a friend’s house or a date.  I can tell you that at the time all I wanted was to go to bed – now – I cherish those talks and will miss the opportunity to hold them with him ever again.

In some ways I don’t know how to feel.  Should I feel anger that dementia won?  Should I feel relief that he’s stepped away from suffering?  Should I feel joy that he’s crossed over to eternal salvation?  Should I feel sorrow, regret and remorse knowing my father died while I’m here in prison?  I wonder what his thoughts around me were.  I wonder how disappointed he was.  My father and I never had a chance to talk about my transgressions and the outcome there of.  And now the door is closed to that opportunity.

I was asked by the Priest here what  my favorite memory is and if I could say only one more thing to my father what would it be?

I actually have three favorite memories.

One is our time working together on my first car.  He was a huge help and he even worked on it when I went away to college – such was his commitment to me.

My second favorite memory is when we as a family went on a two week vacation.  I was five years old and he spent a lot of time with me that trip as we visited all the sights that tourists visit.  The whole time I felt like his buddy; I felt older than I was and I felt totally accepted.

Maybe my favorite memory, certainly the greatest piece of “advice” he ever gave me, came one of those late nights when I was talking to him about maybe dating someone other than Jane.  He said to me, “It’s always interesting to see your offspring fuck up.”  It’s not that I married Jane because of Dad, but it was his way of presenting a perspective that was really more objective than mine at the moment.  I cannot imagine a life without her really, and I thank Dad for keeping me honest within my own heart.

As for what I would say to him beyond, “I love you”? 

I’d say,

“Thank you.” 

I wish I’d said it before he passed.

Obviously, I won’t be attending his funeral.  My Mom won’t have me there to lean on.  By God’s grace she’ll have my wife and my sister, both of whom I feel are stronger than me anyway.

Genesis 3:19 says we are but dust and to dust we shall return.  There’s a comfort knowing that we will all one day be returned to the earth from which we were made.  I do feel relief in knowing this and Dad, you’re in God’s hands now – better off than any of us.

Dad – I love you – and – Thank You.

~jdoe

My Five Loves

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone.  I didn’t want it to slip away completely without saying something about the five Valentines in my life:  my mother, my two sisters, my daughter, and of course my wife.

When I think of these five women I am humbled by their strength, loyalty, and acts of love where I am, and others are concerned.

my040-my-mother

My Mother is the sole care giver for my Father who is, sadly, an invalid suffering with dementia.  Being sole care giver means she does everything from arranging in home health care to bathing and cleaning my Father daily.  If you know a care giver, hug them and tell them what a wonderful heart they have.

My Mom writes me faithfully.  I receive a letter each and every week.  Her letters are really a love story about her and my Father.  Her letters are structured such that she writes a paragraph each day, so they’re really little diary entries about their daily life.  I read each week about her daily care activities for my Dad and his occasional periods of lucidity when he lets her know he appreciates her.  She closes each letter with love from them both and an inspirational bible scripture reference.

My Mom also puts money on my commissary account regularly.  This allows me to buy necessities like hygiene products and treats like Pop Tarts.  I also use this money to pay for phone calls home and email service.

Beyond my Father and me my Mother reaches out to cancer patients by crocheting hats to cover their hair loss and making blankets to keep them warm – all of these things are donated to the local hospital for chemo patients receiving treatment there.

Thank you Mom for everything you do.  Thank you from all those you touch.

my040-my-little-sister

My younger sister is a bit of a dynamo, though she’d say something to the contrary.  Like most parents with school age children she’s constantly on the run with sporting events, concerts, other kid functions, and a part time job.  Unlike most parents, however, she also homeschools her kids.  My sister invests a great deal of time being a parent and teacher.

Where I’m concerned she also writes regularly.  Her letters are often what she calls “illustrated.”  They are typed and have photos inserted into the body of the text giving me glimpses into her family’s daily life.  I feel a little more connected to her, my niece and nephew, and my brother-in-law.

As you already know she also facilitates this blog.  In fact, the idea that I’d write for a blog came from my sister and wife.  They saw something in my letters home that might possibly be worth posting for others to read.  It was their faith in me that started me on this journey.

Thank you sis for having faith in me.  Thank you from all those you touch.

my040-my-big-sister

In memoriam, I want to say a little about my older sister who died just shy of her forty second birthday due to breast cancer.

She and I were very close and I often felt like her twin though she was almost three years older.

When I think of her, I remember most her contagious laughter and kindness to all she met.  She was the lady who adopted all the stray cats.  Her house was always open to those who were hurting and her profession as a nurse was well suited to her personality.

I can make no tribute to her as great as that given at her funeral when several hundred people came to pay their respect.  There were so many there that a good portion stood outside the church waiting to say goodbye.  To say she touched an entire community would be an understatement.

I miss her.

Thank you my sister for your laughter and kindness and togetherness as children.  Thank you from all those you touched.

my040-my-daughter

My daughter has grown into one of the most amazing women I’ve known.  Everything she does she does with focus and to high standards.  It’s humbling to watch her take control of her life with such alacrity.

My daughter is going to be married this year to a fine man.  I’m thrilled to know she’s found the love of a lifetime.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad to no longer be the “man in her life.”  Like most fathers and daughters we share a special bond, and it’s comforting to know that bond won’t be broken regardless of our situations.

My daughter and I share a love of literature.  When she was small she’d bring me a book titled The Fussy Little Princess to read to her.  I must have read that book to her a thousand times, and I loved every opportunity.  When she was in high school we began reading books together and then talking about our views on what we’d read.  We’d split the book into chunks and then have our discussions.  This actually was set aside when she went to college and I missed it.  When I was taken into custody she asked me if I’d like to start doing it again.  And for the last 17 months we’ve enjoyed this time together again through letters and email.

Thank you my daughter for letting me be Pops and keeping the special bond intact through all things good and bad.

my040-my-wife

My wife and I have been together 36 years this coming March.  How she’s put up with me all those years is a mystery to me.

I could write about my wife every day for a year and still not convey the true and total meaning of her presence in my life.

Together we raised four of the most amazing people I’ve ever known.  And to be truthful, our children are the people they are due mostly to my wife’s love, support, and guidance.  Yes, I know I helped, yet, when I look at what they’ve accomplished and how they went about achieving what they have – I see my wife’s fingerprints in each goal they’ve gained.

My wife also gave me one of my most cherished blessings – my faith – and she’s done it twice.

When we first started dating I was a “Holiday Catholic” meaning I went to church only on holidays like Easter and Christmas.  She however went every Sunday and lived her faith daily.  She asked me then if I’d go every Sunday with her and I said yes.  I was moved by my experiences and stayed with the church for the next 30 years when I turned away due to my internal disagreements with a new priest in the church we were attending at the time.  She gave me my faith a second time after the investigation started into the activities that brought me here.  One day while I was breaking due to the stresses of that dark time she handed me my rosary and said, “maybe you’ll find some peace in this.”  I took the rosary and have been back into my faith deeper than ever before.  What greater gift can one be given than their faith?  I can think of none.

The good Lord knows I’ve put her through many trials; more than any one person should have to endure.  My addiction was always present and understandably hurt her and left her feeling inadequate.  Yet she stayed with me because she saw in me what I, until recently, couldn’t see in myself: a good man.  Her faith, love, support, loyalty, and commitment to our marriage is a thing of beauty and a life lesson I am only now learning how to live.

When I think of my wife I see her smile and expressive eyes.  I hear her laughter and feel her touch.  I know what total commitment and unconditional love are.  She is my rock and the light of my life.

If someone were to write a book about our life together it would be as tragic and uplifting as Romeo and Juliette and would endure all because of the woman my wife is.

When I search for words to express my admiration and love I can find none capable of communicating what is inside of me.  “I love you,” and “Thank you,” are so inadequate for the scope of my emotions are so much deeper.

As I said, I could write forever about my wife and not even begin to tell of her worth.

Thank you my wife for your belief in me and know that my love for you is genuine.

my040-my-five-loves

To all five I want to say thank you for all you do.  Thank you from all those you touch.  Every one you meet is the better for knowing you.

And finally, I love you all every day but most especially on Valentine ’s Day.

Tell someone special in your life how you feel about them and do it today.

~jdoe