06 July 2014

Eight Months and Counting

Bless me, friends, for I have sinned. It's been eight months since I last put anything on my blog.

Much has happened. Much is still the same.

What's the same:
     ---I'm still a jail chaplain
     ---working in downtown Seattle
     I still meet with men and women on the various floors who are somewhere along a timeline that will get them into court, to facetime with a judge and maybe a trial, to conviction or acquittal, to more time inside either at the jail or in prison, or else a ticket home.

     I carry tissues and scratch paper and a pen. Sometimes I forget the keys to my office (a pox on women's clothing designers who can't manage to put pockets on basic jeans or slacks!).

     I spend a lot of time waiting for elevators to take me where I need to go, and it's been four years since I've heard "You can't get there from here" when I ask for a floor. My first summer here, that was the constant refrain. Not all elevators go everywhere.

     I ride the bus most days, but drive when I have to pick up boxes of bibles or greeting cards to bring into the jail. The back seat of my car is in permanent disarray. Any thief is deterred by the markings on the boxes. BIBLES FOR JAIL.

     Conversations begun in elevators often start with, "Hey, you look familiar!" My standard response is, "How long since you were at Shelton?" That gets us to remembering that I used to work at the  prison, no I don't go there anymore, and maybe a bit of updating on what's gone on in this man's life since we last crossed paths.

     The stories are just as entertaining and heart-breaking as ever. The resilience and humor still shine.

So what changed?

     The greatest change is that my mother died last November. She was 83 and lived with Alzheimer's for at least fifteen years, the last ten at a care facility nearby. Mom's story was very separate from this blog, but much of the reason I do the chaplain job is because of her influence. She was never one to be limited by anyone. She always encouraged me to look beyond the teacher-nurse-secretary tracks that were available in the 60s and 70s. Her snarky sense of humor is why, when my (male) guidance counselor told me in 9th grade that I should take typing so I could put my husband through college, I told him, "IF I take typing, I'll be putting myself through college."

     Mom stopped talking several years ago, but before then, she wanted to hear stories about what happened on my job--much the same way I loved to hear her stories about working for California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, enforcing civil rights laws. People have asked if I miss talking to her or getting a hug. I do, but I had to let go of those things more than five years ago. What we could both enjoy, all the way to the end, was good chocolate.  

      We had a grand family gathering and a memorial service that was so fitting. The work of tying up loose ends has kept the siblings busy in the mean time and "Gas money!" has a whole new meaning for me. I miss her.

     Yet, as Ted Kennedy said, "The work goes on." Back to stories, while I can still tell them, about the jail and the people I meet and the grace I find there.


18 November 2013

Learning to think differently

"Lock them up and throw away the key." I've heard that line too often, and it has been an overused refrain in the American system of corrections. Two recent articles would have us think differently, but it means we have to look beyond our own borders (and think outside the box!) to gain some new perspective.

Take a look here for a look at what's happening in Europe.

And what happens if you have a jail with no one to put in it? Look what Sweden is doing here.

I find these somewhat ironic because the jail in my town--bright spanking new--but whole sections of it aren't used. They can't afford to staff it, and a number of officers have been laid off due to budget cuts. The city doesn't even house its own people in there. Instead, it contracts with smaller and cheaper jails in the neighboring cities.

And then there's the brand new jail built on the Native American reservation that looks nice on the outside, but they don't have the funds to run it. What are people thinking??

01 November 2013

The Saints Among Us

On the eighth floor of the jail Tuesday, I met with a man. His wife had died last Saturday. He needed to talk. He was feeling bad about being in jail and away from her. 

Early in October, Dave and Olga came from Nanaimo in Canada to Seattle, on their way to Fort Lauderdale in Florida, to take a cruise in the Caribbean. It was a last fling. Olga had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was getting sicker. In fact, she had no control of her hands and arms. One last trip, they thought, then they’d face her final months together.

But in Seattle, Dave was arrested. Turned out there was a warrant for him out of Alabama, for breaking his probation almost thirty years ago. Dave went to jail. He was going to have to wait to see if Alabama wanted him.

Olga went to a local hospital. She wasn’t sick; she was managing the ALS, but without Dave, she didn’t have a caretaker and she did need care.

“All I know,” Dave said, “is that she got home. Someone escorted her to Victoria. Then she died at home with a friend with her.” He wanted to find out who had taken his wife to Canada. He knew it was someone from a local parish, but that was all.

I said I’d try to find out. With the name of the hospital, I started making calls. The chaplain didn’t answer, so I left a message.

A call to a woman who works in the diocesan Pastoral Care office pinned down the name of the parish close to the hospital. I called St. Francis of Assisi parish. I laughed when a long-time friend answered the phone. She works as the receptionist. I explained I was looking for someone from their parish who might have helped a woman get back to Canada.

She didn’t even let me finish my question.“That’s Frances!” Frances was over in the church with a funeral, but she’d call back.

When Frances called, she told me this:

At the hospital, a social worker spent two days on the phone, trying to figure out how to get Olga back home to Canada. Finally, Olga said, “I’m a Catholic. Maybe someone at a parish could help.” The social worker called the hospital chaplain. The hospital chaplain called the local parish, St. Francis of Assisi.

At the parish, Frances the Pastoral Care Minister answered the phone, and late on a Wednesday afternoon, arrangements were made. Frances met Olga at the hospital at 6am on Thursday and they boarded a cabulance with Olga’s luggage and wheelchair. To the waterfront and the Victoria Clipper they went. The cab driver helped haul the luggage to the ticket counter. The boat personnel said, “Don’t worry. Whatever you need, we’ll do it.” Frances and Olga got on the boat and went to Victoria. Along the way, Olga talked about the people in her life. “She was so upbeat about everything!” Frances said.

Once in Victoria, a friend met Olga at dockside, collected the luggage and the wheelchair and set off for Nanaimo. Before she said goodbye, Olga gave Frances one hundred dollars and insisted she have a good time in Victoria. Frances took a bus to see the Butchart Gardens and had tea at the Empress Hotel, something she had long wanted to do. She was back on the boat at 6pm and returned to Seattle. That was October 10th.

Frances had been wondering how Olga was, had told the story to a number of people. She’d explained that Olga couldn’t pick up a phone and call, and she certainly couldn’t write a letter. But Saturday, Frances thought she really should write Olga a letter.

She wanted to know, “How is Olga? Do you know?” 

“She died at home last Saturday,” I said.

“Well, I guess she got my letter then!”

Olga died at home two weeks after she’d returned from the interrupted trip. She never got her cruise, but she was with a friend and she died quickly. She and Dave had talked about the slow death that can be part of ALS.

That hundred dollars that Olga gave Frances? Frances brought it home. She knew a better place for the money. St. Francis of Assisi parish has a sister parish in El Salvador that is rebuilding its church. Nine thousand dollars is a lot of money in that country. Olga’s hundred dollars will go a long way and her name will be among those who helped in the effort.

Late in the afternoon, I talked with the hospital chaplain who told me about the efforts of the social worker at the hospital. "Can I tell them what happened with Olga? So often we don't know what happens to people when they leave our care, and everyone remembers her."

On Wednesday, I went to talk with Dave again, to tell him I’d found the woman who had helped his wife. He met me with a big smile. “Have you heard the news?” I hadn’t.

The Canadian consulate had been working on his case. He was being released in a few hours and headed back to Canada. He’ll have to come back for a hearing later in November, but he was heading home in time for Olga’s funeral.

I told him about Frances and the boat trip and the $100 and the parish in El Salvador.

Dave chuckled at the loops of connection: his Confirmation name is Francis. The woman who helped his wife was named Frances and worked at St. Francis of Assisi parish. Just how big a two by four does one need?

Dave and Frances will be in touch.

Olga’s name will be included among the names of the dead this weekend at the Seattle parish. 

Now you know the story. Isn’t it good to know there are saints among us?

11 September 2013

A rerun

Here's my 9/11 remembrance from a couple of years ago.

And the prayer of Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, first casualty in NYC.

Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say; and
Keep me out of your way. AMEN.

26 July 2013

Go and read

There are wonderful things everywhere on the Internet these days. Take some time to read this reflection, which comes by way of a good blogging friend.

 The friend at midnight

14 June 2013

Another Shannon Worth Knowing

You're going to want to know Shannon Moroney. You won't like her story. It's pretty ugly all the way around. But you're going to want to know her.

I found her book at the library, one of those "oh what looks interesting?" sorts of rambles. It was on the New Books shelf. Maybe I picked it up because her name is Shannon.**

But to Shannon Moroney. Here's a link to her website. The basic story is there: a month after her marriage in 2005, her husband brutally assaulted two women. The aftermath is devastating. Shannon chronicles how his arrest affected her at work, among their friends, in the court system. There's not much support for family members of offenders. Shannon's book includes a critique of the Canadian justice system and it isn't a far stretch from the American system. But what I really want to recommend is her consideration of restorative justice: what it is, how it can be applied, why it is needed to hold people accountable and make healing possible.

It is a very tough book to read. It is well worth the effort.

**I've met all sorts of interesting Shannons in the last year or so--including another Shannon O'Donnell who is a travel writer. Both of us tried to get the domain name ShannonODonnell.com--but it's owned by a teenager whose dad just isn't willing to let it go... and then there's the local weather person on a local channel who is Shannon O'Donnell as well. People at the parish once teased me about having a second job: prison on the one hand, weather-guessing on the other. I pointed out that the camera is supposed to add ten pounds--clearly that wasn't ME because the camera would have been subtracting like crazy!

02 June 2013

Time Out!

I suppose it's a holdover from childhood. Time out. The "naughty chair." The classroom corner. We use all sorts of things to punish people for their bad behavior. If we're honest, much of that punishment aims to get "those people" out of our sight so we don't have to deal with them.

Recognize this? 

Did you have one of these in your house when you were growing up?

Here's the Puritan version of the Naughty Chair. 

Maybe you had a corner where you spent an impossible amount of time.

"Go to your room!" The words come in a flood of frustration. Nothing else is working, not the firm tone, not the raised voice, not the escalating emotions. Nothing. "Enough already! Go to your room!"

The response? Usually a verbal snarl and a door slammed so harshly that things break. The warring parties retreat to their own territory, muttering over the wrongs, reciting what will happen next, resolving some variation of "You'll be sorry."

"Time out" is a well-worn disciplinary tool. Depending on the expert, it's meant to provide a cooling-off time, or a reordering of strategies. Maybe there will be an acknowledgement of wrong-doing.

It isn't always that clear cut.

For some, "your room" is really a haven. It is a sanctuary, a safe place where the violence is at a distance. It is a buffer zone, a place apart from chaos and rage.

For others, "your room" means being set apart, isolated, "You're not worthy to be among the living."

Most childcare experts will tell you that simply sending a child to her room will not, in itself, create compliant behavior. You have to teach the child what she did wrong. You have to help him gain insight to the causes and consequences of his actions. You have to reassure her that her behavior, not her person, is objectionable. In the best of circumstances, that can happen.

But what happens when you are trying to adjust adult behavior?

We send people to jail and prison and call it "time out." We cross our fingers and hope those convicted will connect the dots and change their behavior.

 And the first prisons? The penitentiaries were meant to use the tool of penance, so an offender was given a room and a Bible and plenty of alone time. No talking. No contact with others. Most went stir crazy.

Prisons went on to a variety of models. How about making people eat and work lock-step, and chained to one another? Or live in a gym with dozens of bunkbeds and not much space? Practical questions have to be considered. When the number of offenders goes up, how do you manage them efficiently? safely? cost-effectively?

Even in prison, there are times when the frustration level reaches a point that someone says, "Enough! Go to your room!" and an inmate gets chained up and hauled off to segregation. He's locked in a small room with no movable parts beyond the button that flushes the toilet. He can't see out the window; it's frosted over. He can look out the door, but there's nothing to see except the officers who check him every half hour and shove the tray of food through the cuff port three times a day.

For an hour a day, she can "exercise" in the concrete yard, by herself, walking a groove into the floor. There's no one to talk to, except the voices in her head.

How long will he stay there? Your guess is as good as his. Sometimes a fixed amount of time, punishment of some specific behavior: ten days, thirty days. More often than not, the stay is indefinite. All that time in solitary and the inmate has to figure out just what behavior is required so he can go back to general population. Solitary confinement has a way of exacerbating mental illness.

Word came in May that Washington state is beginning to shift that approach, training those in solitary confinement how to manage their anger and avoid confrontation. They're beginning to work toward integrating offenders back into general population and from there, back to society. (97% of the people who are currently behind bars will be coming back to the community. What kind of mindset do you want them to have?) Here's the story in The Seattle Times.

Finally, one more thing to consider: