Monday, August 20, 2012


It was probably a good thing that I left my Superman x-ray vision at home.  I’d travelled to Battleground to spend the weekend with my sister Deb and her husband Walt and to attend their first public performance since beginning to take West African drum lessons back in March.  On the outside, Deb looked as calm as a country lake at sunrise.  Not a ripple visible.  Only the reflection of the rising sun and peaceful clouds drifting overhead.  But outward appearances are often deceiving.

I learned a little bit more about my older sister this past weekend.  Over the past five years the two of us have come closer than we had ever been before.  We’ve had countless hours of talking about our lives and our past.  What we want for our futures.  We’ve talked about fears and passions.  And through all of that, Deb has shared that the fearless, bold, perfectionist, hyper-confident person that I had always pictured her as was not entirely accurate.  (Well, the perfectionist part was spot-on.) 

In actuality, Deb had the same type of butterflies that I remember experiencing every time I stepped on the football field to compete in high school or graduation day when the entire community seemed to be packed into our gymnasium at the school where I was the principal.  I think for all of us, butterflies are a way of life…but sometimes we think only in “our” life.  For some reason we tend to think that other people are more confident than we are and don’t suffer from those same insecurities. 

When I think about the Deb of my childhood, I’m sure that if she would have had any reservations at all on her performance being anything but perfect, she would have skipped dinner, dominos, breakfast and lunch and spent that time out in the garage (or some other secluded place) and would have been practicing over and over.  But she didn’t.  (By the way, it sounded perfect to me as I sat and watched the performance so maybe she snuck out in the middle of the night when no one might have heard her). 

As I sat and watched the rehearsal and then again the actual performance, what I saw in my sister was joy, not nervousness.  There were moments of a furled brow as she concentrated on the rhythm of the “song” they were performing.  But mostly, there was a smile and a radiance that only comes when someone is doing something they love.  Even as she stepped forward to perform her two solos, the audience was greeted with a smile and serene composure. 

Deb has done a lot of things over the past several years that I am extremely proud of her for.  Taking a leave of absence to focus on her writing.  Facing some of the demons of her past to find healing where she probably felt healing could never come.  And last weekend, being brave enough to invite her brothers to watch her perform on her drum for the first time.  Maybe I should give her my superman cape.

Photo from

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Free At Last!

This day has been coming now for the past 1826 days. I haven’t been counting…not really, but I’ve certainly been aware. At 12:01 AM, my life will change. Most likely no one will actually notice. I won’t look any different. I won’t be driving a new car or living in a big mansion. I’m not getting engaged, married or becoming a dad or grandpa. But they day is extremely significant all the same.

Five years ago today, I was awaked at 4:30 AM from my upper bunk in a prison unit in California. I stuff the few belongings that I had into a double bagged garbage bag and grabbed the 4” thick mattress that I had been sleeping on for past three years. My legs were still wobbly from the vertigo that had kept me in bed most of the previous day. I took all of the extra bedding and laundry items that I’d accumulated back into the laundry room and tossed them into the hamper. I knew that by 8:00 they would have found themselves in a different inmate’s locker.

At 6:00 AM, the yard opened for a short movement and I carried my stuff over to “R & D” (receiving and discharge) and began the process of being released from prison. I was given a stack of papers from the guard and in exchange, I gave him a few drops of blood for the National DNA database and waited in a holding cell with three other men who were being taken to the bus depot for their ride home. Because my friend and Pastor Cal was coming to pick me up, I was held until 8:00 AM. Then an officer came and escorted me to the front and said I was free to go.

I simply stood outside the front door of the Taft Correction Institution for several minutes taking in the moment. My ride was there yet, but it didn’t matter. For the first time in 1086 day, I was outside of a locked facility. Unless you’ve been there, you really can’t appreciate what that feels like. Even having been there, I don’t have the words to describe what that moment was like when I stepped out through those doors, except to say that my life changed in that moment.

At 12:01 AM on August 15, 2012 I will have another one of those moments. From the minute I stepped out of TCI I was on supervised release. I had 72 hours to report to my probation officer and begin what I would call “phase II” of my sentence. For the past five years, my life has been monitored and restricted in ways that haven’t always made sense to me. I’ve endured the stress of multiple polygraphs, never knowing for sure if the stress of “fear of failure” might actually cause me to fail. I spent two years in “group” with a counselor that wasn’t all too helpful and seemed more concerned with the checks that he received than getting to the root issues of why we were all there. And found myself surrounded my other men who had committed crimes that involved illegal sexual contact with minors who had served a fraction of the time I had and each week worked in my mind to rationalize that it was “fair”.

My life was like a yo-yo being allowed to wish that I was going on a golfing trip with my best friend Paul, with tickets purchased and plans made, only to be pulled back at the last minute because my probation officer hadn’t bothered to actually check with the State of California to see if they would allow me to visit their fine state and find out that they didn’t want me there. Out of state trips that had been planned and had to be cancelled at the last minute because the probation officer didn’t get me the travelling papers in time. And learning with a month to go in my supervised release that many of the things that I had been doing in my church with choir and teaching Sunday school and volunteering for activities probably wouldn’t have been allowed now.

When I wake up on Wednesday morning, the sun will come up just like it did on Tuesday. The coffee will taste the same and the dogs that I’m house-sitting will wag their tails and love me in the same way that I have all week. But the day will be different. I won’t be taking unconscious looks over my shoulder. I won’t be wondering if I’ll get a call to go take a polygraph or drive out to the house for an unscheduled home-visit. And best of all…when I go to Battleground, Washington this weekend to visit my sister Deb and her husband Walt and go watch them play in a drumming performance, I don’t have to worry about whether it will be held in Vancouver or Portland. I’m free.

Photo from Flickr, by planetmarsphoto