Finding A Home . . . . In Prison

 It’s said we play with the cards that were dealt us . . .

       There will be a new Prison in a few years and it matters little to me, except that I once spent 4 or 5 years down there, as a teacher, not inmate. and in a way, a bond remains. Once a week I led a class in ‘Change Your Thinking and You’ll Change Your Life”. I have no idea if they learned anything new, but I did.
       One was an idea I learned quickly, for it was  constantly voiced, and came from men in every class I held.  I actually came to expect it and the thought was that if ever they were put out (they didn’t say released) from the prison, they would commit some crime the very next day so they could be back as soon as possible.
       The idea startled me, but as I came to see their life in prison, and hear of their lives before prison, I began to understand their thinking and began wondering how our penal system could be altered to meet that need of so many.
      Over and over I heard the words,  “This is the first time in my life that I know I’ll have three  meals a day, a place to sleep, clean clothes, rest rooms, and a place to bathe. I had never been to a doctor or a dentist until I came here.”
       I served in the Men’s Medium Security, no women, and their ages were from as young as allowed, and on up. The attitudes differed with their ages.
       Under about 40, I heard anger and resentment that they knew ‘dozens’ who had done worse than they had who never were sent ‘up’. ‘So-and-so’  was in on the same arrest where I was taken, and he got off Scott free.
       It was never their fault, but depended upon which Judge they got, and, no fooling, ‘if the judge had a fight with his wife that morning he took his anger out on us’.  Their basic feeling (it seemed to me) was, when they became free, they’d ‘get even’  with someone.
       But over age 45, there was none of that. For the older men, it seemed to me, they had finally found a ‘home’.  A warm bed at night.  Clean clothing.  A rest room, place to bathe, even a place just to sit, read or rest. Oh, and haircuts, yeah, a real haircut.
       One man told that for years he had searched through garbage cans behind Restaurants or Cafes for food. Begging at back doors of bakeries, fast food places, or any place that handled food. Just to ease   his constant hunger. And there were agreeing nods from heads all around the room.
       And I felt their anger to hear that some restaurants, became tired of people going through their garbage, and would pour or sprinkle something in the ‘cans’ to make the food inedible.
       For almost all of the older ones, prison gave them, for  the first in their whole life, medical, eye and dentist care, and when some long-time physical problem was finally made right. Clean clothing was mentioned often. A luxury.
       They mentioned books, freely loaned from the prison library. magazines, and very important, also, was the athletic programs where they could play soccer, football, basket ball, outside or inside where or when they wanted.
       In plain, simple, but truthful words, they said, “They had never in their whole life had it so good.” Sounded horrible to me, but I often drove home thanking The Source for the life that was mine, and wondering just what might have been my life if I had been born into the same circumstances they had been. 

       It’s said we play with the Cards that were dealt us, and a lot of them had really been dealt losing hands.


Fireplaces: R.I.P.

My tardy yet heartfelt requiem

        I mourned the restrictions on use of Fireplaces this Season, and realized they were ‘driving the last nails into the coffin’ of this lovely part of many homes.

        No, they didn’t say Fireplaces, but only specified ‘wood burning’, but where else do we burn wood, except in our Fireplaces? They made their point.

        I was shocked. A fire has been the comforting heart of a home since Cave Man days. And since written history began, all books, paintings, stories, and poetry about homes, have spoken or pictured the Fireplace.

        Kid’s books are filled with pictures of Santa standing at the side of the burning logs while filling the stocking, or, in adulthood, all literature of home, from Charles Dickens before and after, centered as a matter of course at that spot.

        But it’s over.   I hadn’t noticed the change, but now I am aware of what’s happened, I realize that homes, for almost 60 years. have not been built with Fireplaces. And, finding that almost all of those who do have Fireplaces, have, in some way, ‘closed them off’ .

        Those lovely songs of “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, “Throw another log on the fire”, “Stocking hung by the fire, with care”, are now, sadly, only  shadows of another lifetime. Relics of the past. No longer necessary. Bad for our environment and lungs. and nearing the point of being put in the same category as the “One Horse Open Sleighs”.

        It also surprised me to know that it’s been several years since I had the inner walls of my garage lined with cut logs ready to ‘bring in’ for a fire. where I burned them constantly and not just for Christmas.                            

        Not too long ago, it was impossible to ever, ever, ever, find a story or picture of Christmas without that friendly fire being shown. No story, movie, book, of home, could be without the Fireplace.

        In searching for the reason for not needing the Fireplace, it was another surprise to find that the idea of HOME is far different than it was a generation ago. Home until WW2 was where we spent most of our time. Now, the longest stretch of time spent at home is when we sleep

        We eat breakfast at home, but not all at the same times, or the same food and whatever we eat, it is usually a ‘prepared’ meal of some sort. Lunch is eaten where ever we happen to be, and seldom at home.

        During the day the family is scattered. Children dropped off at Day Care. others in School, at Jobs and the evenings and week ends, spent . . . . get ready for a surprise . . . but the favorite hobby for our free hours is shopping and prowling the malls. Movies are favorites for weekends, and only when we’re tired and ‘worn out’. do we go home.  And for what reason?  Only to sleep.

        Our home-life changes began in WW 2 when women were needed in the factories, but whatever caused the change, the family and home of years prior to WW 2, are no more.

        Some retired people choose to still live in their home, but, many often prefer Group Housing where they are with other retirees and their days filled with planned activities. The majority of our lives, no matter what age, are no longer spent at home.

        Today’s homes, and becoming more so, are either apartments or condos, with no lawns, gardens, and, all ideas of former life styles are swiftly disappearing. Fireplaces???? Not even mentioned.

        And I wonder if I’m the only one missing the glowing fire, logs close by, ready to add to the flames, and the home bathed in a warmth that the finest furnace in the world cannot rival. But the truth is; they are no longer needed, and no longer ever planned to be part of a home. The automatic furnace began edging them out, and now regular furnaces are being eliminated by Solar Heat, with other changes right on the horizon.

        But it was like a blow to the body, to actually read, and hear on the news that wood burning (i.e. the use of Fireplaces) is now actually illegal.

       I feel like my words today are a tardy requiem, belatedly written long, long, after the ‘death’ took place. It crept up so slowly and silently that I can but ask: “Where was I? How did I miss what was happening?” But just the same, the use of Fireplaces has become,  truly and now lawfully, a thing of the past.  And I, for one, am sorry.

God’s Pure Canvas

Take a moment and see it . . .

        Winter isn’t my favorite season, but new snow can keep me at a window for hours.

        At no other time can we see God’s earth so untouched. It is an artist’s canvas, or a writer’s paper, waiting for someone to make it theirs.

        My view crosses a Golf Course and nothing marks that white space except the black limbs of leafless trees, silhouetted against the white snow. And if the scene comes at a moonlit night, the allure of a warm bed easily falls into second place.

        With daylight I watch to see who or what, man, bird or beast,  will put the first mark on that empty ‘canvas’, and usually it’s a stray cat, leaping to my back door where I keep food for such homeless creatures.   And at my front door, if I’m lucky, there will be footprints of Paper delivery and snow plows, but that’s another world.

        It is in the back where life reveals itself. I watch as other life comes, and no one can tell me that animals have no brains, for time after time, I’ve seen that no matter what comes  first, every other prowler will follow its ‘pathway’.  In other seasons, each cat has its own route between homes, but after fresh snow, all animal life, even the raccoons, follows the steps of the first explorer.

        The next mark on God’s pristine scene are His Geese, or wild Ducks, and they land on the snow where, most of the year, they found grass, and they begin to peck. They must get down deep enough to find, dig, and eat the thick juicy grass roots which are year-round good eating. They stay and peck for at least an hour.

        There have been no deer for several years, and I understand they were taken to the mountains.  I wish they were still here, for they did no harm, and blessed us with their beauty.   No one begrudged them the few garden goodies they ate in the summer, and their disappearance has left  us the losers.

        Where electrical lines come into the house, snow will pile upon them, until the weight becomes too much and the snow will drop right beneath the wires, making a line as straight as if a draftsman, with his ruler had placed it there.

        Morning time reveals the marks of night visitors. There once were many dog tracks, but now the law says all dogs must be leashed at home and, in a way that is good, but I miss the neighborly ones that I came to know, and who visited to see if we had left a Soup bone or such, for them to gnaw on.   Tempus fugit.

        Within but a day or two, that first pathway becomes wider and deeper, telling me that there is much going on that I never see.  The cat’s dish also tells a story, and if some leftover soup or such that I’ve put out gets frozen solid, I finally see that some animal has fought its crispness and made it a meal. Raccoons?  They are tough little creatures.

        Once upon a time, when I was a child, men and boys were busy before dawn, digging pathways from the home to the barn, chicken coop, pig pen, coal shed and so forth. Now, people pathways are only to mail box and sidewalks.  I must also take a few steps to my garage, but most garages are now attached to the home, and  paths unnecessary.

        By the end of just one day it no longer a pristine world.

        No, I don’t care for winter, but I do love the clean canvas that a snow storm brings and I make it an occasion to sit at my window reveling in God’s untouched world. But I also live in a world of humans, and no matter how wonderful the night and dawn was, when Ron comes with his snow equipment and digs my son’s  and my paths, it is good. And I know that the sound of him putting the snow off to one side, is also a blessing straight from God. And I accept them both.