Guest Blog by Stephanie K. Nead

Guest Blog by Stephanie K. Nead

Guest Blog by Stephanie K. Nead

Some of my childhood memories of alcohol

In my family alcoholism, and its darkness, runs rampant and destructive as a river in full flood. As a child, my small ears listened deep as my father berated my mother. My dad’s cronies backed me into corners with lechery in their eyes as words I didn’t understand, but felt creep across my skin like ice, came from their mouths. I watched my oldest brother strangled into unconsciousness. His skull was fractured, ribs broken. He had seizures for years after. It was my brother who was shamed for being beaten, never my father for getting blackout drunk and trying to kill him—repeatedly.  Guest Blog by Stephanie K. Nead.

 Guest Blog by Stephanie K. Nead

Guest Blog by Stephanie K. Nead
Stephanie K. Nead

These are some of my childhood memories of alcohol. No laughing easy times, no fun and games. Deadly serious. My mother was forever worried. We children lived in fear.

Many years later, I met Karen. She was my physical therapy assistant. I loved her kindness, creativity,  deep caring and awesome sense of humor. Amidst busy lives, we were becoming friends. In one of our casual chats, Karen mentioned she was writing on the topic of drunk driving. Assuming that she too had been hurt by a drunk, I let fly with my gut response, something akin to “The tragedy is the drunk survives while everyone else dies! Should be the other way around.” Karen became very, very quiet. 

After that day, while friendly, kind and helpful, Karen was professional and distant. I knew I’d hurt her but had no idea exactly how. 

Then one day, years later, came Karen’s first blog post for her book. Karen, my wonderful Karen, had been the drunk driver in an accident that claimed the life of her husband and the other driver, and left her two daughters without their mother and step-father when she went to prison. I could not imagine the courage it took to invite everyone in the world to read her story. I was awestruck. I wrote her. I apologized for judging and hurting her. I also explained that my knee-jerk response arose out of my childhood experience with alcoholics. Karen responded with grace and curiosity. We corresponded and she invited me to write this piece.

I’d heard Karen speak of her husband, what a gorgeous, glorious rogue he was, her eyes sparkling with love. I knew she had daughters and I knew those relationships had their struggles, but what mother-daughter relationship doesn’t? I never imagined the nerve I hit when I “went off” on Karen. She was one of “them?!” Ah, can we never escape the us and them? A lesson for me in empathy. As it turned out, Karen, like me, was hurt by a drunk driver. That person just happened to be herself. She was and is exactly all I’ve known her to be, yet she is human and made a horrible mistake that took two lives and irrevocably changed many more. 

Guest Blog by Stephanie K. NeadWhen I was in college, my dad, drunk, hit a car filled with a mother and four children. He tried to get sober then. His voice quavered as he told me, “When I lost control and saw my car moving into them, all I could see was your mother and you kids.” He tried to quit. I know he really wanted to, but he was one of those drunks the Big Book of AA refers to when it says “…some won’t quit, some can’t quit.” My dad couldn’t. 

A lifelong atheist, at the end of his life my dad turned to Catholicism. I hope, for his sake, that by the time he died he felt he was forgiven for the things he did, even those he might not have fully remembered. I also know that for the rest of us the damage was done. It is a legacy I have had to live with and resolve. I always will. Just as Karen’s girls will live their lives with the legacy of the night their parents got into a car and drove drunk. 

What I’ve learned is that holding onto judgment does no one any good. To be honest, some of my childhood memories still make me feel angry. Forgiveness doesn’t come overnight or all at once. It’s bits and pieces. With effort and time, forgiveness and healing deepen. Holding onto my wounds and my pain only leads me to hurt others who have suffered their own faults and paid their own price. They do not deserve the burden of my anger and judgment. 

What Karen shares in this book are many stories like her own — of people doing their best in life, making huge, horrifying, irrevocable mistakes that destroy their own lives and change forever the landscape of multiple lives and hearts. They do not deserve my wrath. We can comfort each other or condemn each other, but either way, we are all in this together. We have all been the wounded and the wounding. Most of us are mostly good. None of us is perfect. We all deserve forgiveness.  Guest Blog by Stephanie K. Nead

Stephanie K. Nead

Sequim, WA 2019

Guest Blog by Stephanie K. Nead

Guest Blog by Stephanie K. Nead


Fights in a Women's Prison

Fights in a Women's Prison

Fights in a Women’s Prison

I witnessed my first violent fight, just ten feet away. Hippie Chick and I were circling the yard. On the opposite side, Helen of Troy, the fancy call girl was walking with her girlfriend. From a distance, we could hear her girlfriend shouting. Helen of Troy kept her head down and walked close to the fence line. She looked frightened.  Fights in a women’s prison are frightening.

Girlfriend is a mean motherfucker

Hippie Chick shivered. “Dude, my cellmate, Angry Girlfriend is a mean motherfucker. If she don’t like you, you gotta worry about it, and she don’t like me. I am only in that cell when I have to be. She’s jealous of anyone who talks to Helen of Troy. Those two argue constantly, then she bitches about it to me.” We walked slower, keeping our distance.  “Sounds like she’s had some pretty fucked up relationships, lots of domestic violence.” 

As we turned the corner, Hippie Chick stopped walking and turned to me. “I used to fight. I saw red when I fought. I blacked out and kept on fighting.” Does everyone fight in here? We preceded in silence.

“I used to love it. Fuckin’ scares me.” Tears spilled down her cheeks. “I don’t ever want to do that again.” She wiped the tears with the heels of her hands.

Oh shit, Karen. I don’t like it.

We were circling closer to the argument between Helen of Troy and Angry Girlfriend. “Oh shit, Karen. I don’t like it.” We were about ten feet away. There was a third girl involved, it looked like a lover’s triangle.

Fights in a Women's Prison“You stay away from my girl, bitch.” Girlfriend shouted.

“I guess I’ll talk to who ever I want.” the third girl countered.

That’s all it took. Suddenly, right in front of us, Angry Girlfriend started to swing. We froze in our tracks. This wasn’t bitch-slapping and hair-pulling. It was pummeling. The third girl fell on the second punch. We tried to scoot back but were blocked by the instant crowd of spectators gathering in sick fascination. The loser was on her back, Angry Girlfriend kneeled over her and just kept on swinging. The only sound was fist and face. Blood flew through the air in chunks, not droplets, maybe it held some teeth or a chunk of cheek. It seemed like an eternity, someone beside me puked. Finally the alarm, whoop, whoop, whoop. The cops dragged Angry Girlfriend off the unconscious woman, her face sweating with rage. They cuffed Angry Girlfriend and Helen of Troy and led them away. Then they loaded the wounded woman into a wheelchair and wheeled her off the yard.

I never knew women were capable of fighting like men

I was shaken. I never knew women were capable of fighting like men, it was like the fighting scenes in a Tarantino movie, only this was in swinging distance, not on a movie screen.

“Why are they taking the girl on the ground?” I called out. “She never even swung. Helen of Troy was just standing there.” A girl in the crowd next to us said,

“They take ’em all. They figure if you’re playin’ with fire, you’re burnt.”

“I am just glad it wasn’t me.” said Hippie Chick. 

I wanted answers. Why do women fight and who taught them to swing like that?” Mittens would know.

My prison survival strategy: Run, Scream and Hide may not be enough.

“Most of the fights in here are between cellies.” My head jerked up, she did not see my alarm. She was pacing, “You don’t have to get all Clint Eastwood and pull a publicity stunt, yellin’ at your roommate. That’s punk ass shit. Just put a lock in sock and get it over with, uh-huh.” Just when I was feeling comfortable with her. I watched her powerful body pace back and forth, I looked at her arms. What did I expect? This was the information I was seeking after the fight at yard. My prison survival strategy: Run, Scream and Hide may not be enough.

I learned to fight from men

“For some of us, fighting is a way of life.” I looked at Mittens as she was trying out hair-do’s in the tiny mirror. I wondered if she was beaten as a child in her own home. As though she was reading my mind she continued, “Yep,” she drawled as she put grease on her hair and wrestled it into high pony tail, her exotic eyes slanted upward. She stopped and stared into her reflection.

Fights in a Women's Prison“Our mama’s fought, we fight. I learned to fight from men. One day I got in trouble in school. The principle called me down to the office. He chewed me out and told me he was going to call my mother. I laughed and told him, “You can lecture me as much as you want. I’ll listen. But, you do not want to mess with my mother. She gets mad. It ain’t safe.”

She went back to pacing without looking at me. When she continued, it was in a soft voice. “My dad didn’t trust women. One time he got so mad, he took it out on me, held me down by the back of my neck and made me eat food out of a dog dish, he yellin’ at me, ‘all you women are bitches.’” Mittens stopped pacing and looked in the mirror. She picked up her comb and just stared at it in her hand. I was quiet, I kept my eyes down to give her privacy. I imagined that scene with her young head over a dog dish, kneeling on the floor. How old was she? How did she get through it?

I was taught to square off and box. I’m fast.

Mittens went back to pacing, this time with purpose as to shake off the memory. She stopped in front of my bunk and held up her fists, “I was taught to square off and box. I’m fast.” She feigned a fast fury of fist work. “I use my hands, legs, and any object I need.” She was grinning, then the smile slid away and she went back to her perch at the window, “It’s gotten me in a lot of trouble, I’ve broken legs.” She was quiet, I waited. “I re-broke the same leg. That’s why I am here. I can’t fight ever again. I ain’t never coming back here.” She stared out window and said in a breaking voice, “I can’t come back here.”

Our cell was quiet the rest of the night. I held back my questions and let the violence rest. How could I make a safety plan living in a closet with another full grown adult who had such a violent history? How could this young girl ever learn to trust anyone?

Fights in a Women’s Prison

Fights in a Women’s Prison


The Journey to Mother Road

The Journey to Mother Road

The Journey to Mother Road

Sometimes I want to be done with writing about prison. Sometimes I am too tired to take a stand. My children want it done. But I read the stories of the women inmates and see their faces and mannerisms. I can remember their smell. I made a promise. When I am stuck, I  take a walk and sit back down at the desk. My deep secret is, I will not get it right.  And so, my journey to Mother Road.

Help came in the form of a talk at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: The Journey to Mother Road, Octavio Solis ( www.octaviosolis.net ). I had seen his play, Mother Road, the night before, and I was transfixed. The play recreated the journey backward from California to Oklahoma, following the path of the Dust Bowl migration in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. I felt a deep connection to his characters as they struggled for survival and acceptance. I recognized aspects of the women inmates in the characters: false bravado, rejection and crushing disappointment. If I could write like him, the women would be heard. I would do them justice.

So the next day I attended the talk like a pilgrim. I was not alone. People leaned forward, the woman next to me called out yes, over and over, like a gospel service. I caught myself sitting with hands clasped under my chin.

Solis described a journey along Route 66, interviewing the people connected to the history of the Dust Bowl. He was not sure if he would write a poem, a short story or a play. He met a Mexican-American man at a Migrant Center for Dust Bowl refugees who said, “I am Tom Joad. This story is about me. We, the people that live here, are the new Okies, and this novel is about my life.”

That’s it,” said Octavio Solis to the audience. “That was the play.” He was a keeper of the words, just like me.

Mother Road

At the end of the talk, Octavio Solis signed books and copies of plays. Theatre goers and  hungry actors sparkled around the table, praising his work. I hung back composing myself. This was my chance to ask for help from someone who understood.

 

Retablos, Stories from a Life Lived Along the Boarder

The Journey to Mother Road
Retablos, Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border

I bought his book Retablos, Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border, opened it to the title page and stepped forward. He greeted me warmly. I asked for him to sign the book to me. He looked up amused. “Make it to Karen,”  I said. “Please give me the advice to honor the voices I am writing for.” I explained it was the voices of incarcerated women. “I hold the pages of their stories. May I find the words.”

“Ah!” He shook his head yes, understanding. He paused and rubbed his chin. “I know just what to write.” He took his time, corrected letters, reread it and smiled. He looked up and stared at me. It would be a masterpiece, just for me. I thought I’d break into tears. I stammered a thank you and scuttled to the exit. I held the book to my chest and walked through the historical district and up the hill, I clutched the book all the way home. I placed the book on my desk and waited until my husband was home. These words would be from the depths and I did not want to be alone. My husband placed his sturdy paw around my shoulders, I cried a moment, then opened the book to the title page:

To Karen-

The secrets are rolled up and slipped into the flutes of your bones!

Salud!

O.S. 7-19-19

The Best Stories are Already Written

 

“I think that the best stories are already written and are already inside of us, and we just have to listen to them,” Octavio Solis

So I sat back down at my desk and listened.

“I felt that I was onto something,” Solis said. “I felt that I was saying something in line with Mr. Steinbeck about my culture, about who I was and who I am, who we are and what we’re going through today. I felt that there was an utterly contemporary message that still resonated with the themes and ideas and story of ‘The Grapes of Wrath.

“More than ever I feel incumbent to take a stand,” Solis said. “I never thought of myself as a political writer. My intent is to tell a good story and present universal stories, but I guess politics are in there. This time I feel like I need to take a stand. These are times that you can’t be neutral, because we’re being nullified, demonized and treated like animals, and we have to take a stand. We have to say something about it.” Fowlkes, Caitlin, Mother Road, the road of flight, Ashland Tidings July 2, 2019

 

 

 

The Journey to Mother Road
Octavio Solis

The Journey to Mother Road

The Journey to Mother Road