Lessons Learned while in Prison

As I heard the gate clink, the guard transmitted my name over the radio.  Blood drained from my hands as I shuffled to the next gate.  Like the Mighty Oz, some person in front of a screen controlled the mechanism that automatically sealed the doors behind me.  I wondered how did I end up in federal prison.  As the guard escorted me to  the next station. I couldn’t take my eyes off the rows and rows of razor wire that trapped me inside.

I didn’t dream this experience nor was it a nightmare.  I was awake as fear sank its teeth into my soul.  I cannot remember the walk from one building to the next.  The setting Sun accentuated each razor that adorned the rings of wire that lay in front of the chain link fence topped with barbwire.  As the sun set, my poetic heart clung to some loosely fitting analogy.  I was stuck behind all of these barriers and I was about to meet the individuals I would spend 24 weeks with in a federal prison.
“I am already lost,” I declared to the guard as we passed through a maze of hallways, rooms, and corridors.  I was mentally stuck on what happened before I stepped foot past the threshold of the prison gate.  “If I am taken hostage, you will let them out, right?” I sheepishly asked.
“We do not negotiate with prisoners,” the guard gruffly stated.  His voice showed no sign of inflection or concern.  His reply might not have even been “gruff” at all.  I think it sounded callous since it was my life that was at risk in this fictitious scenario.
“What if there’s  a shank at my throat?” I quickly retorted.
“We don’t negotiate with prisoners,” was repeated with no reassurance.
I went full tilt with, “What if my throat is being slashed?”
With all of the warmth of a concrete teddy bear, “We’ll try to take the prisoner out before you lose too much blood.”  Barely a nanosecond of a pause was allowed before the guard called out, “GATE!” over the radio.  His voice was so loud and piercing, I was certain the radio was unnecessary as his command to open the door must have carried to every cell block on the grounds.  Surely everyone had been alerted that fresh meat had entered the prison.
Finally in the room I would spend 6 months in, the guard said, “They won’t open up to you if one of us is in the room so I am going to sit on the other side of the door.  Knock if you need something.”  My heart sank lower.  I nervously went through my stuff to reorganize them since the guard pulled out each item to inspect it for contraband.
Maybe I had watched too many movies or mini-series on life in prison.  I expected to be randomly stabbed, taken hostage, or have my neck snapped before I ever reached the classroom.  To keep me focused on the positive, I never thought or referred to the women as anything other than ladies.  The guards and prison officials may use whatever labels to ensure proper boundaries.  These were ladies convicted of serious crimes but, for my purposes, they were ladies.
The year was 1996 and my early twenties had me cling to black and white scenarios.  I had little life lessons to draw upon and I had nothing in common with my image of an individual convicted of a crime.  I didn’t possess enough intelligence to realize the uphill battle I undertook until I was inside the prison walls.
I heard the echoes of a woman singing.  I wondered if there was some church group in the chapel when the sound of this lone voice came closer.  The sounds were angelic and set my nerves at ease.  The woman walked in the room, turned to face me, said “Hello”, and immediately returned to an enchanting melody.  She sat closest to the door.  More ladies entered the room.  Each lady sized me up.  At the time, I had a full head of quaffed hair, a full beard, and a flannel shirt tucked into my khaki pants.  My cowboy boots peeked out from my pant legs with my riding heels giving  me a slight boost in height.  Outside of the cowboy boots, I could have been “Al” from Tool Time’s stunt double.
One night a week for 24 weeks, I would spent two hours in a Women’s federal prison to educate these ladies about communication, relationships, and self-discovery thrown in for good measure.
I began with what was on my heart and mind, “I was so nervous to come here today.  In fact, my stomach had been in knots ever since I decided to come speak with you ladies.  Now that I am here, I feel a little more settled.  If you ladies will indulge me, I would like to learn your names and find out what you would like to learn from these classes.”  Eight women, from all around the country, shared a desire to make better choices in selecting a partner or to strengthen the relationships with their loved ones on the outside.
The lady who sang her way into the class was named “Belle” and she said that she didn’t have anyone on the outside waiting for her.  She was terminally ill and would die in prison.  “Thank you for sharing.  I am glad you are here.  I will do my best to bring in ideas and maybe there will be something you will find of value.”
One woman was the loud, talkative person who overshared and laughed so hard she would go into coughing fits.  She was the wild stallion of the group and I knew I could rely on her to give me unfiltered feedback.  If the entire group fell silent, I was certain I had my “Go To” person.  Gabby was the type to say something offensive without realizing the impact of her word choice.  Gabby would, also, be a superb barometer of the impact of my lessons.
A tiny lady sank into her seat and whispered her name.  Alice had not adjusted to incarceration.  With a petite frame and bird bones, she was physically and emotionally vulnerable.  Since this was federal prison, I assumed the crimes these ladies were convicted of doing had to be serious felonies.  In a moment of suspicion, I wondered if Alice pretended to be terrified to mask her true identity of a criminal mastermind. The knee knocking, teeth chattering, and hyper vigilance squelched any lingering doubt that Alice authentically was traumatized.  Several of the other ladies comforted her and gave her encouragement.
As I watched the other ladies support an individual in distress, I remembered a strategic goal I had for these classes that I forgot to mention.  “You have just demonstrated a key skill I want us to practice while in these classes, let’s encourage each other.  Let’s make these classes about building each other up.”
At the end of the class, the ladies paraded past and used encouraging phrases towards me for a job well done.  Belle was the first to leave.  She stood up, made eye contact with me, stated “Thank you, Mr. Chad. I liked this,” and began to sing as she walked through the door.  Five of the ladies came up and fired a barrage of questions at me.  I noticed Alice about to leave and I asked her if she could stay a moment.  I thanked all of the ladies for their encouragement to me and each other.  They smiled and chatted on their way out.  Alice had a look of concern and I immediately assured her she was not in trouble.  I wanted to make certain that she was not currently in danger.  She did not fear her cellmates or anyone in the class.  She had not been free since her arrest, had not seen her family after the sentencing hearing, and she was from a different state.  Alice was isolated and drowning in the unfamiliar, intimidating environment.  “I hope you will come back next week.  I am grateful for your honesty and taking the chance to participate.”  Her look of concern had morphed to a general sense of being uneasy.  She gave me a nervous smile and expressed a willingness to come back.
With my bags packed and every item accounted, I met the guard at the door.  “Chad Duncan requesting early release,” I joked.  Unamused, the guard escorted me to the front gates.  My muscles did not unclinch until my car was ten miles away.
As I returned the following week, I heard that same voice serenading the spirit of peace.  Belle was the first to arrive.  She sang her way into the room, stopped long enough to look at me, said “Hello, Mr. Chad,”, and picked back up where the song left off.  I arranged all of my materials as I noticed that her inner peace calmed me.  Part of me wanted to ask more of her story but my instinct told me she needed to sing.  I needed her to make the choice to speak.  I heard ladies come towards the room except now there were more ladies to our group.  “I told my cellies about your class and they wanted to come,” Gabby excitedly told me.  Alice showed up right before we started the class.  With the comfort of knowing the class was valuable, I had a sense of completeness.  I had typed up a calendar of event dates and topics so the class’s agenda would be clear for the ladies.  I re-introduced the component of encouragement and used the example of everyone’s return and the compliment it was to have  new students.
As I concluded the week’s lesson, I added an element.  I had continued to role modeled encouragement and the second lesson was about taking the most of an opportunity.  I explained I wanted to get information that would be taken anonymously yet the results would be shared to the group.  “Even I won’t know who answered what question.  I will share the breakdown with all of you ladies as a community.  We can explore what experiences we might share as a collective”  I had typed up a survey to gather their demographics and life experiences.  I had to use golf pencils as ink pens were strictly forbidden.  Each lady finished the survey and left.  When Belle finished, she placed her’s on top of the others, thanked me with piercing eye contact, she nodded as she said, “Mr. Chad” and sang quietly as she exited.  I gathered up the materials and counted the pencils.  Two ladies remained behind.  I observed Alice’s bewilderment at the paper.  The other lady smiled at me as she slid her survey on the pile and left the room.  Alice’s face had her panicked appearance.  “Alice, you don’t have to answer it.  The survey is optional.”
Alice looked up at me and a tear streamed down her face as she mouthed, “I can’t read.”  My internal composure fell as my heart dropped to the ground.  I made sure my face remained steadfast.  “I will read it to you if you would like me to.  If you would rather not, I understand.” I attempted to settle her anxiety.  “There is no shame if you want to turn it in blank.  I won’t share your secret.”
“Would you read it?” she inquired.  Her voice reminiscent of the very first time she whispered her name.
“It would be my honor, Alice” I conveyed with reverence for her willingness.  She shared her answers.  I would have to point where to mark with the pencil.  “Thanks for trusting me.  I hope to see you next week.”
The next twenty two weeks entailed lively discussions, intense participation, and heartbreaking circumstances.  Each lady’s story was uniquely their own but had foundational experiences.  All came from abusive childhoods with an extreme majority surviving sexual trauma.  Each got with the “wrong” guy they knew was a mistake but couldn’t leave for one reason or another.  A third did not graduate high school.  All but two ladies had children under the age of 18.  Most were coerced to use hard drugs.  None felt there was anyone they could trust when they were growing up.  A pervasive instinct was trust had been too easily given and consequentially scattered.
Belle rarely interacted with the other ladies and they kept their distance from her.  There was something underlying that I missed or didn’t know.  Again, I wondered if Belle was a drug kingpin or head of some mob family.  Obviously I watched too many TV shows with cheesy plot twists.
Gabby let me know if she was bored or didn’t like an activity.  She would begrudgingly participate and always had a turn around of attitude when the true purpose of the activity revealed itself.  Gabby laughed at my punchlines and vocalized when she didn’t understand my humor.  She kept everyone motivated and would ask, “What are we gonna learn today?”  Every class felt like a melodrama when Gabby announced her presence.  Booing and cheering, Gabby was the ally I needed to be energetic for those two hours after a full day of work.
Alice’s self confidence blossomed like a butterfly that emerged from the chrysalis.  She signed up for GED classes, worked with her case manager, and found some elders with good intentions.  During classes, she interacted with the other ladies.  She smiled with her eyes.
A key to my success was my constant insistence to think of the participants as ladies and not anything else.  All too often. a person’s label can limit compassion, understanding, and tolerance from the beholder’s point of view.  The ladies noticed the way I referred to them in a relaxed, open manner.  It was important for me to keep in mind they were individuals before incarceration and it would be shallow to paint them with the same paintbrush since they resided in a federal prison together.  Each had dreams as a child that could not have imagined their current reality.
Reaching out to Alice taught me to look for the Outliers.  I had no responsibility to speak with her privately.  In fact, I was concerned that I drew attention to her and it could negatively impact her with the other ladies.  Also, I had concerns about being alone without anyone else in the room.  The experience showed me to monitor everyone in my class.  While the message may be aimed for the average receiver of information, I can tailor some aspects for those that fall outside the median participant.  Alice helped me to recognize the need to address issues, that may be interfering with a personal sense of well being, in order to help them stay focused.  Her blossoming self esteem could have been attributed to the class or it could have happened over time due to unrelated circumstances.  Over my career, many bridges of communication were built by taking the time to notice when someone has struggles and to encourage those that may not fit the mold.
I have reflected on Belle many times over the years.  She never opened up to the class; yet, she would come early and offer a glimpse into her life.  Her innocence was stolen at an early age, then as a teen, and many times as an adult.  With the belief that God had forgotten her, she lost her identity.  She self medicated to ease the pain only to spiral out of control.  It was not until she was diagnosed after her incarceration that she could begin again.  Singing brought her peace.  At times of loneliness or uncertainty, music connected her to God.
Her voice emitted a light from within that was undeniable.  “No one can take my joy from me, Mr. Chad. No one.” she declared.  The internal harmony resonated the feeling of true joy.  The reassurance that she was safe, how she would die, and own her identity empowered her to experience real freedom from oppression.
Her diagnosis carried a stigma that kept the other ladies away out of fear.  As Belle’s illness closed the door to relations with others, it opened her to herself.  Her life was full of unpredictability and a lack of control until her arrest.  A life sentence, both legally and biologically, Belle finally had stability that  allowed her to find herself, inner peace, and a connection to God.  Her joy rang out for those who cared enough to hear.
The music she created touched me.  It took being stripped of everything she knew and a terminal illness to enable Belle to find her voice.  The isolation gave her the opportunity to see the strength inside her soul, experience the love her God provided, and be a beacon of actualization.  Belle passed away about six months after the last class.  I am reminded of Belle when I hear people sing to themselves.  I am grateful to have met  Belle and absorb her calm nature.
It is my honor to share a small piece of what I learned inside the walls of a prison.  Out of respect for the ladies, their names were changed to protect their identity.  All the other details are exactly as I wrote in a journal I kept from that experience.  While I hope there are some nuggets of knowledge for you, I was given the chance to meet some dynamic ladies that continue to give me peace and inspiration.
The world presents opportunities to learn from others and especially in emotionally challenging environments.  Belle’s peace was revealed in her singing.  My desire is that you may feel the vibrations of joy in others and be an amplifier of the positive.  It is in this awareness to authentically listen to people, rather than filter through preconceived notions, that truths can be heard with our hearts.  It is taking those chances that only makes me stronger.

Blind is not a four letter word…

As my eyes failed me, I found that I could not even admit to myself that I was going blind. I remember in an email to my fiancee/now wife, I referred to it as “my problem”. Typing the word was scary.
In public, I pretended to be able to see. When I would knock into something, I played it off as inattention or I came up with some reaction to save face.  While I may not have been able to see the elephant in the room, my other senses could not mask the stink it made in my life.
With my friends in public, I would say, “I’m visually impaired.” Having watched the levels of denial and dysfunction, a friend said, “Say you are blind! When you tell them that you are visually impaired, that confuses them. They don’t understand. You have to say you are ‘blind’ first.”
I had to accept those words of truth. There were lots of struggles both emotionally and visually.
I believe I resisted using the word blind as as it implied helpless or hopeless. My deepest fear was to be insignificant.
At one point, I was able to create a moving graphic that would demonstrate a basic thumbnail sketch of what blindness was for me.  It was strange to have the ability to see enough to make a digital representation of my vision but lacked the ability to see much at all.
I laugh under my breath when someone refers to me as having a “visual challenge” instead of blind.
In society, blind is never good. “I may be married but I’m not blind”, “Justice is blind”, or “I’m not blind to the facts” are some of the phrases people use to make a point.
Even when used as a positive, there is another intention. “Blind Faith” or “Blind Luck” still are not positive.
Blindness is not binary.  Vision has a deep spectrum of abilities to a lack of sight completely.  When blind is used, the word refers to a total inability.  I was blind yet I could see.  I could not describe what I saw with the vision that remained.
You can call someone blind and it is not offensive. Feel free to use words like “see” or “watch”. I watch TV or go see a movie. Movies are experiences these days. It took me a while until I told my wife I wanted to go see a movie. I went for her sake.
The removal of those words that entail the ability to see made it feel like a death of a loved one. There are words that are scary to hear like cancer, suicide, Alzheimer’s, or Multiple Sclerosis. There is a power from admitting the truth.  There is an ownership over the meaning of the word.  The fear stemmed from, “Maybe if I say the word, it will be permanent.”  My eye sight was bad no matter how it was stated. For me, the veil insulated me until I was ready to admit reality.
I am blind.  The process and journey to acknowledge my strengths, weakness, disabilities, and abilities Only Makes Me Stronger.

Beeing Hopeful…A guest blog by Cozette Clark

I have a problem. It’s not a problem that most sixteen year old’s have. The problem isn’t boyfriend drama because he doesn’t exist, he lives in a book. Teachers aren’t driving me crazy because they cook my dinner and kiss me on the forehead at night. No, my problem is rather unique to my generation. First of all, I live in Africa which could be a problem in itself. My family and I have lived in Uganda for over a year now but we’re originally from Texas. My current issue, is a beehive I inherited. The hive itself has been abandoned for years on end and is contaminated with leaves and dead bugs. It’s falling apart. The bees don’t really understand that I’m on their side so I never walk away without stings.

I first got excited about beekeeping several months ago. My Dad went to an agriculture school and I got to sit in on the two days of beekeeping classes. The teacher made it sound so easy and goodness, all the beautiful systems! I’m sort of OCD so I was fascinated by these tiny but meticulous creatures. After the classes, I was ready to hit the ground running, build a hive and buy equipment, and start making some honey. Then I learned that the organization that we work for already has a hive and the proper equipment but no one knew how to take care of it. I volunteered, wanting to help in some way. The hive belongs to a group my Mom leads called Women of Hope. The group helps women who are HIV positive and/or have AIDS. The hive was going to help them financially since most of them are too sick to make money the traditional way. Missionaries came, built and filled the hive then left, passing it in the hands of caring but easygoing Ugandans. Six months turned into a year, then two years. Now three years later, a sixteen year old girl is trying to find something to salvage. Even though none of this is anyone’s fault, it’s hard not to feel frustrated at people just abandoning the hive. Harder still is resisting the urge to patronize the Ugandans as if they’re children that don’t know any better. It’s simply the culture. If it’s raining, nobody goes to work because it’s raining. If the man with the keys doesn’t come, everybody else sits outside and waits. There’s no hurry. It’s not the end of the world. “African time” means a few hours after the agreed time and its common for everybody to show up late. That is just the way it is. So the hive has been sitting, the bees have been improvising and now I’m scared out of my wits.

When Dad and I walk down to the hive, you can hear the bees before you can see them. Dad comes along because the hive is made up of three wooden boxes stacked on top of each other. They’re way too heavy for me to lift. Through the banana trees you see it, the small white tower of hives with a swarm of bees all around it. We set down all our equipment a few yards away and I begin to question just what I’m getting myself into. How will the bees react this time? We have to start a fire in a bucket to generate smoke. The smoke is supposed to sedate them, to make them sleepy and want to consume lots of honey so they become sluggish. I’ve come to believe we have the only bees that are immune to smoke because it seems to be doing zip. The fire is started and I’m filling up my smoker. We’d rather do it with the smoke than without because we want to believe that the smoke is helping a little.

Dad lifts off the top box and the bees immediately start going crazy. The humming starts at a lower frequency and gets higher and higher as we carefully cut around the wooden bar that the honeycomb is attached to. No one has been taking care of these bees so the combs have all grown together. When we try to pull the bar out, the honey comb breaks. The mayhem that was going on before this incident looks docile now. Honey spills out all over the rest of the combs. The bees are landing and stinging in mobs faster than you can blink. Dad sets down the top box on the ground and we quickly but cautiously flee the scene. Once we’re out in the open and the bees have stopped chasing us, we breathe and discuss our options. Of course, there are no options. We have to go back and put the top box back on. We calm down a bit then head back.

It’s a mad house. Bees are swarming all around the spoiled honey and I feel really bad. This is their life’s work and because of our neglect, it’s splattered all over their home. But there’s no time to fix it, we’re getting stings all over the place and the buzz is up five octaves since we arrived. Dad picks up the top box and I feel bees crawling all over me, even in my boots which I swore I taped up. I knew I should have worn socks. Then I look at Dad and I don’t feel so bad anymore. His face mask is covered with bees, all of them swarming and angry. We put the top box back on, probably crushing a few bees but we have no way to brush them off. Then we run away with many stings but no honey. We’re both pretty shaken and discouraged.

The main problem is I know exactly what I have to do. I have to kill the queen which means I have to find the queen. This means I have to go through comb by comb, bees swarming me, and cautiously but quickly find the aggressive queen whose bad mood is spreading throughout the entire colony. My pulse quickens just thinking about it. I can’t get the image out of my head of Dad’s face mask black with angry bees. It’s not so much the pain that scares me, I can take stings. It’s more of the swarm that’s almost cartoon-like. I’m sure if I wasn’t behind the mask, it would be hysterical. But I am so it’s not. Sweat pours as you feel them buzzing in the palms of your gloves or when they come right at your face stingers blazing. I feel so vulnerable even in my suit. When there’s only one bee, perhaps one caught in our house, I’m not afraid at all. I’ll even carefully grasp it with my bare fingers and set it free outside. But all of them, with the high pitched buzzing and eerie sensation of them crawling on you, it is the stuff of nightmares.

Responsibility. That’s all I feel now. And guilt. That too. This is my project and I’m the only one here with any book knowledge at all. I doubt the women even know about this whole endeavor. Still I can’t help feeling like all the women in the group are counting on me. Beatrice needs school fees for her children, Grace can’t pay for housing, Joy needs money to pay for transport to the hospital to get her antiretroviral medication and it kills me. To our family, these women are more than just names on a page. They’re ladies who come to our door and kneel at our feet and ask for $6 to pay rent for the entire month. The worst thing is I feel so… philanthropic. I’ve grown accustomed to it, this is my life now. I’m the white Oprah Winfrey of Africa. You come to a point while you’re here when you say, “It’s okay that I have nice things. I don’t have to feel guilty. God doesn’t love me more than them or vice versa. This is my life, and that is theirs.” But when their faces looking up at me? Goodness it makes my stomach clench just thinking about it. I don’t know what more I could do. I don’t want to be another white person perceived as being a big-shot hero. Taking pictures of suffering infants, passing out candy and yet doing nothing practical or lasting. I’m probably over-thinking this but I can’t help but worry about what kind of person I am in their eyes. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. It’s a horrible feeling.

We’re constantly handing out money because they need it but our resources are running low. That little voice in the back of my head keeps saying, “If I could just kill the queen, if I could just clean up the hive, if I could just process the honey faster, then I could fix everything.” But could I? Let’s face it, Dad and I, we’re just two people. And even though he literally does all the heavy lifting, I’m the one who’s got the book knowledge and so a lot of this is on me. Frankly, I’m terrified.

Why am I afraid? I’m not afraid of bees and wasps, I’m usually the one to shoo them out. Really, my only fears are spiders, body parts being where they don’t belong and clowns. However, when you’re in that suit and the hum of the bees is so loud and high and the swarm is coming at you with their stingers pointed right at your face, I might as well be the seven year old girl I used to be. The one who screamed her head off when she got her first sting.

So here I am, not even out of high school, trying to save some bees and solve a problem I didn’t even start. Where’s my gold star for effort and participation? Where’s my medal for making it this far? All I know it’s that my treasure is in heaven and as much as I’ve done it for the least of my brothers (and sisters), I’ve done it for God. And that’s in the Bible so I can’t really argue. So I’ll keep going no matter how scary it is. This honey will still be sold and the proceeds will still be given to the Women of Hope. The grand master plan is to help the women who are interested get their own hives and we’ll start a business spanned out over multiple villages and communities. From there, websites will be started and hopefully we’ll get international and local sponsors. The “Bee Hopeful” business will be selling honey and beeswax products to support these families. The money won’t entirely be coming from foreigners across an ocean but it won’t entirely be coming from the honey products either. God’s hand has been in this the whole time. From the moment the idea took off, to now while I’m facing my fears and getting things done and into the future where everyone will see God’s provision through success. All we can do now though is keep pushing, continue to fight the fear that is the enemy’s weapon and “Bee Hopeful“.
I am completely impressed by this young lady’s determination to make an impact on her community.  I hope we can all consider fostering this young lady’s drive and talents by going to www.beeinghopeful.com.    We are hoping to get updates on the progress and ultimate success of her endeavors.
–Chad
PerrBee says, “Give to Cozette’s cause!”
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The Vice of Advice

“You really should stop smoking. It is bad for you.”  Sound advice, right? HOGWASH!

 

“Give up sodas. You would drop a lot of weight and you’ll feel so much better.”   (Whatever expression that conveys outrage more than “hogwash” but less than a curse word)
 
“Just exercise or go for a walk. It will help you lose weight.”  A heaving pile of festering rhinoceros dung! I put all of those “gems” of advice in the category of drink 64oz of water a day to feel less hungry.
 
A 32 year old man approached me at a community meeting recently. He has a progressive eye disease and he asked me a bunch of questions about my sight. There were a lot of similarities to his circumstances.  Want to know what advice I gave him?
 
Not a single word. I listened and let him know that his experience sounds very difficult and challenging.  I don’t know his life, support system, metabolism, or even his coping skills. I wouldn’t dare to presume that his loss is my loss.
“Why don’t you go for a walk,” people would suggest to me. 
 
If people knew how their words scarred me and did more damage, I would hope they would stop talking and begin listening. One good friend didn’t give me advice. That friend would just show up on my doorstep and invite me to join him on a walk.
 
“She should just leave him,” has been echoed with the Ray Rice assault clip. Society got a slight insight that it is more complicated than just leave. So many brave ladies shared their stories of “Why I stayed.  A national dialogue began due to a willingness to listen with our hearts.”
 
I walk a 5k every day now.   A year ago, I could barely endure a walk to the corner and back. There was physical and emotional anguish.  Somehow eating a triple burger felt like an accomplishment a year ago and eased the pain in my heart at the time.
 
The guy at that community meeting did not want advice. He sought to be acknowledged for his struggles and  begin to comprehend the unintelligible language of fear. He wanted to share his story and feel a little less anxious about his uncertain future. No word of advice would have relieved the emotions and breath he has held in for the past six years since he experienced loss in his vision.
 
I share the tales of adventure Perry & I get into by getting out. I open up about my experience of whatever situation occurred. I bring out my thoughts and I project what Sighters may have been thinking. Sighters is the term I use to describe the able bodied individuals who do so much damage to the dignity of a person who is blind. Some of their choices are fueled by good intentions and other choices are made from the cold, arrogant ignorance that presumption conceives.
 
I am astonished by what I am able to do now. My feet, shins, knees, and back would hurt me for three days after a five minute walk. When I went to Michigan to get Perry, I took six Advil three times a day and I was in serious pain the entire time. A half mile walk involved four sit down, breath catching breaks. The physical pain was matched by the emotional angst. I sat in my room in Michigan each night next to Perry with my bare feet on the cold tile floor because they were swollen. I would cry for the last bit of the day as I grieved over the life I lost. The stench of Icy Hot permeated my aura, like Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon, as I hoped it masked the hurt that emanated from each sweaty pore as I battled to adjust to a new path in life.
 
A cliche or antidotal quote would soar far beyond the “Not Helpful” rating but qualify as making me feel worse about myself, the “SHOULDs” hindsight uses to torment the soul,and every decision I had made in the last forty three years.
 
The vice of advice is the presumption of thinking one knows what is best for another person’s life.
 
There is a simple principle that is missed by many. The wise sages have put this lesson into practice. Listen and acknowledge the person’s feelings. If the world did half of that basic strategy, a healing understanding may begin to flourish.  Using my heart to listen has shown how to hear what is really being said.  Knowing this difference only makes me stronger.

The Success of Failure

With my face on the cold tile floor, I watched as police officers and assistant principals ran towards me.  My thoughts centered on one point: “This was not in the brochure.”
 
Not certain how most teachers recollect their first day on the job.  I would have labeled it a complete failure but I had no idea what was in store for me.
 
I had spent the past few years as a community educator presenting sessions about communication and other relationship skills.  Some organizations allowed me to spend a week with the clients or students.  For the most part, the contact usually was short and lacked depth.  I yearned to venture beyond the surface as I saw the young people needed more than what my role could provide in three to five 50 minute presentations.
 
Originally, I wanted to work with elementary  students in  Special Education.  Clearly with a limited grasp of the teaching profession, I went back to school to become a certified teacher in 1997.  I looked forward to helping the “sweet kids who had problems doing addition & subtraction.”
 
Tall and broad shouldered, the district had a plan to utilize my stature unbeknownst to me.  The first interview was successful as I accepted a position that taZeus' Temple ught students with emotional disturbances.  A long way from the students I figured I would instruct, I had no concept of what was entailed.  My principal instructed me to get certified in BoysTown Behavior Modification and made the arrangements for the week long, intensive training.
 
Inspired and equipped a week before school was to start, I was prepared to use the methods that were the bedrock of the BoysTown philosophy.  A master of efficiency in my own world, I elected to disregard the more labor intensive aspect of the cumbersome processes.  My superior intellect and intuition, I streamlined the schedule, ignored the touchy feely “Praise” elements, and fine tuned the punitive strategies.
 
The training left me with a sense of confidence that the system of rewards and consequences would win over the most difficult of personalities.  I was the authority figure and, luckily, an equally large man, Mr. J, agreed to be my teacher’s assistant.  He didn’t go through the expensive training; yet, he bought in to my abilities to lead our students to the Promise land of educational achievement.
 
Of the twelve students enrolled, two of my students had an involved parent.  Unfortunately, the rest answered to probation officers who had a turnover rate that would boggle the mind.  
 
My size 12 black cowboy boots were the center piece of my First Day ensemble.  I felt like I dressed the part of the new sheriff in town.  My focus on the methods of BoysTown blurred my ability to see the complexities of each individual circumstance.  All of that didn’t matter as the system had potential and my “improvements” would make it even better.
 
Eleven hardcore gang members and one freshman, that didn’t seem to belong in that classroom, sat quietly as I taught the procedures.  One student had enough of my salesmanship to buy into the system.  He walked out of the class.  I followed and countered with every strategy I knew to redirect him back to his seat.  In the hallway, the agitated student, taller than me, pulled back to punch me and in nanoseconds, I had the sophomore in a restraint on the floor.  The student was naturally angry and yelled.  I calmly recited the script I had been taught to help soothe the frantic student.  I am sure he was shocked how agilely he had been taken down.  Over and over, I calmly spoke to him until the police officer hand cuffed the student.
 
In the ensuing chaos, my adrenaline overwhelmed my senses.  With the student on the way to the office, I had a job to do.  I walked back into the classroom and continued where I left off.  The students attempted to get my attention.  I redirected their outbursts and recounted the proper procedures to get the teacher’s attention appropriately.  As I wrote the steps on the blackboard, my overactive sensory input noted something falling as I drew the chalk across the dusty surface.  I could hear the students whisper and vibrate in the seats.  I was on autopilot.  The training had prepared me and I remained insistently faithful to the strategies.  Whatever was falling sporadically developed into a trickle.  I looked at the chalkboard’s wooden tray.  The new pieces of chalk had what appeared to be blood on them.  I stared at my writing hand.  “I am bleeding,” I said in a monotone voice.  “Would you take over please?” I inquired as I passed Mr. J on the way out of the class.
 
As the nurse bandaged the back of my hand, I ruminated on my choice to become a teacher.  I could not concentrate on my failure as I still had eleven more students to convince to buy into BoysTown.
 
The assistant principal reviewed the video and praised my “restrained” restraint.  I limited the force exerted and absorbed the fall to the ground instead of putting the student at risk of injury.  The tiny success would have to be short-lived as I had to project that I was unfazed by what happened in the hallway.
 
By the end of the day, the final bell could not have come any sooner.  I felt like a boxer that had to wait for a bell to rescue them and put a stop to the beating.  The next two days were filled of drilling my adapted BoysTown system to understandably skeptical students.
 
The evening of the third day,  I sat at home in the dark with no radio or television on.  I was on overload and could not handle any further stimuli.  Much like extreme gravity, failure taxed my body’s movement.  The force of my failure pulled me deeper in my sofa.  Each decision and word chosen reviewed and scrutinized.  I had failed and the water was waist high of the ship I poorly piloted.  In my self analysis andover extended accountability, I discovered my error.  My “way” had not worked.  Why did I think I was smarter than BoysChad and Egyptian columns Town?  This epiphany  would be a beacon of light to steer this ship to safety.  Even if it was for the remaining two days of the week, I would implement BoysTown’s entire system.  Mercy was bestowed upon the class as four of the students ditched that Friday.
 
The rest of the year flew by as the BoysTown system worked.  I took it one day at a time until there could be two successful days in a row.  Occasionally a streak of three successful days would energize Mr J and me.  I had saddled myself as the lynchpin for the day’s success or failure.  I am certain there were worse days; yet, nothing could surpass the shock I felt as my cheek touched the tile floor on my first day.
 
When we measure our efforts, we assume the opposite of success is failure.  We, also, tend to seek the truth in the immediate rather than remain steadfast for the longterm.  I acknowledged my mistakes and adjusted to weather any future storms.  In retrospect, I would have done so many things differently.  I should have never modified the BoysTown system.  I am glad I did as I learned so many lessons about myself and the importance of program integrity.  Without hesitation, I would not have followed the student into the hallway.  It took several de-escalation/crisis management/restraint training systems to realize the student would have simply walked home.  Restraints need to be reserved for instances when the danger of not restraining is higher than doing the restraint.  The student cocked back his arm to strike me and I had no choice at that juncture.  Now, I would have never done a restraint that took someone to the ground.
As an aside: the student was sent to a discipline center for six weeks and returned venomous.  In the six weeks, I had found a groove and used my sense of humor to disarm the verbal barbs catapulted at me.  The student and I eventually made each other laugh.  On days the student got grumpy, I sang The Barney Song to him until he let down his guard.  He had a warm smile that contrasted his harden, gang member persona.
 
Failure is a part of most success stories.  The failures brought a rich understanding that remind me I am human, the feelings of defeat are temporary, and always get back up when I get knocked down.
 
The opposite of success is not failure.  The opposite is quitting.  The knowledge of the probability of failure does not ease the gravity of disappointment.  I may need to wallow in the mud of “Should” and “Could” until I am prepared to fight another day.  I know my introverted need to analyze what could have been done in place and form a more effective action.    
 
The reason I have not quit after losing my sight is I am not willing to allow my last chapter to be written.  I am not ready to have my story end now.  There may be another chapter unwritten.  Dare I say, another book awaits the prose only dreamers yearn to be penned to paper.  Knowing I am far from quitting only makes me stronger.