Going Back To Jail: Tracing My Journey On The Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline

31 Oct

I went back to jail last Wednesday, on October 27, 2016. The night before the surrendering (and it was a self-surrender for me), I sat, going over my talk in my head, I threw-up in my mouth twice—t…

Source: Going Back To Jail: Tracing My Journey On The Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline


Dream Journey

10 Oct


I was on a big ship with others and I was sent out alone to fulfill a mission.
I walked over to where I thought I was supposed to start but there was water.
I returned and asked, “Am I supposed to get wet?
Go through the water?”
And They answered, “No, silly, you take the little inflatable boat.”
So They helped me inflate the small boat, steadied it while I embarked,
and I was on my way.
I was on land next, still in the boat.
But I wasn’t supposed to travel in a boat on land and I got beached.
Then I was driving a little car, with my young adult daughters riding along.
But I could no longer remember my mission.
No matter, I was determined to keep going
without asking anyone for help or direction.
The road was pretty clear: It curved to the right, banked by a high berm
composed of a tall hill of mounded dirt.
I saw the sky and the ground were the hues of twilight,
yellow and purple.

There were lights on in the houses.
As I rounded the curve, I noticed a woman in a police uniform
attempting to direct me,
but I couldn’t hear her over the noise of the car.
I was pointing out to my daughters:
“Those houses over there—one of them is where the shooting was.”
It was a recent shooting I had read about, a 49-year-old man who lived with his parents.
The cops were called during a domestic dispute
the police shot and killed the man when he wouldn’t put down his weapon.
I figured the policewoman was still guarding the crime scene,
and I kinda/sorta knew where I was going,
so I’d be fine not heeding her.
But she threw her arms up in the air as if to say,
“I tried to help you.”
The next thing I knew,
I had driven the car into a flooded pathway.
We were partially submerged.
It was easy enough to exit the vehicle and
scramble back up onto the drier land we had just driven over,
but I was at a loss
what to do or where to go.
My young adult children were expressing their concerns.
I knew I could contact the Ones
who sent me out in the first place,
but I was hesitant to do so.
Embarrassed that I had forgotten my original mission,
unsure that the lines of communication were still open,
somewhat under the delusion that I had to go it alone,
I still didn’t ask for help.
I looked longingly in the direction where
I had seen the policewoman,
she was now nowhere to be found.
I wanted to keep moving forward
but there was no longer a clear path,
and going back seemed out of the question.
I woke up as I was realizing
how foolishly stubborn I was being.

Fear attracts

29 Aug

glass menagerieDid you ever read the play The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, or did you ever see the movie?

In the story, the mother, Amanda, has raised her two children without their father, who deserted the family when the children were young. The daughter, Laura, had polio as a child, and walks with a limp.  Laura is painfully shy and has dropped out of high school, then also dropped out of a secretarial school her mother encouraged her to enroll in. Laura spends her days tending to her collection of glass animals. The son, Tom, is a frustrated poet who works in a shoe factory to help support the family.

The mother has two great fears:

  1. Laura will grow up and become a spinster (an old, unmarried, lonely woman).
  2. Tom will leave them, just as his father did.

Because of her fears, the mother is full of anxiety and constantly berates her grown children. Because of the anxiety the mother projects on Laura, Laura becomes even more withdrawn and shy. Laura never leaves the house, preferring the company of her glass menagerie.

The mother nags Tom endlessly, asking him to find a suitor for his sister, to better himself, to work harder for the family. Tom brings home a male co-worker, but Laura hides in her room while the mother flirts with the guest. Finally Laura comes out of hiding, only to learn that the guest was someone she had a crush on in high school, and he is already engaged to another. The guest also breaks Laura’s favorite animal, her unicorn. Laura is emotionally demolished and retreats to her room.

The mother blames the whole thing on Tom. Tom should’ve known who the guest was, and that he was already engaged. Tom was innocent of these crimes. Eventually he can’t take it anymore, and he packs his stuff and leaves the household for good.

What I took away from this play: by focusing on her fears, the mother brought them into being. The things which she feared most, she caused to happen by her emotions and behaviors. The mother’s negative energy brought her fears to life.

The law of attraction is the name given to the maxim “like attracts like.” The law of attraction is used to sum up the idea that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life. In the play, the mother’s constant negativity brought the very things she feared to fruition.

My philosophy, eclectic at its core, is that I trust there is a benevolent Force in the Universe which is taking care of everything. I can let go of my fears and anxieties by confiding them to someone, bringing them to the light of day. That way I can discern my most of my fears are usually needless, often childish, and frequently not based in fact or reality.

I get reminded that “everything, everywhere, is already all right.” The earth is self-correcting. What is supposed to happen is what will happen. I can choose negativity and anxiety, or I can trust that my Higher Power has my back and positive adventures and gifts come my way. This has been true for me so far, and I trust it will continue to be so.



8 Aug


My daughter, her boyfriend, and I headed down to Gilroy this weekend. My cousin had booked us a room in the La Quinta motel there, because her granddaughter was getting married. That was a fabulous opportunity, to get to know my extended family better and help celebrate a new union.

But that’s not what I wanted to tell you.

This is:

We had to check out of our room at noon on Sunday, but the wedding wasn’t scheduled until 5 pm. So we packed our stuff, checked out, and headed out for lunch. Then we returned to the motel and sat at the picnic table outside my cousin’s room. Since she was staying another night, she still had her room.

My cousin’s room was adjacent to the motel laundry. I noticed the female workers cleaning the rooms, pushing the heavy housekeeping carts, and dropping the sheets from the second-floor balcony. Another worker sorted the linens and towels. These ladies worked tirelessly. Watching them, I realized I hadn’t left a tip for whoever cleaned the room where we stayed. I walked over to that room, 123, the door was ajar because the worker was inside. Knocked on the door, and when she answered, I handed her a five-dollar bill and told her I had forgotten to leave a tip. She smiled and thanked me. I returned to the picnic table.

A few minutes later, the worker came over to the table with my iPad in her hands. “You’re the one who stayed in Room 123, yes?” When I nodded, she handed me the iPad. “You forgot this!” It was my turn to smile and thank her.

I realized that if I had not made the effort to give her the measly five bucks, I wouldn’t have my six-hundred dollar iPad right now. Oh, she would’ve probably handed it in, and then the front desk would’ve put it in the lost and found until I claimed it. But that would require me to one, realize that it was missing, and then two, remember where I had left it.

But my memory has been failing me recently. This morning, my daughter informed me that I left my suitcase in the driveway. I guess I took it out of the car when we got home at nearly one in the morning, and then I forgot to bring it in the house. I’m fortunate that none of the night-freaks who prowl the streets helped themselves to my neglected luggage. And I’m very grateful for whatever Providence prompted me to reach out to the motel worker. Thanks for taking care of me.

Friends Like These

10 Jun

coke machine

It was 1973 or so. I was walking home from school with my old gang. As we passed the roller skating rink, the BP gas station came into view. The group of us noticed the wooden cases full of Coca-Cola bottles, sparking in the sunlight, stacked against the soda machine which quietly beckoned passers-by. I remarked how easy it would be to steal a bottle of soda. After all, they were out and open, unguarded. Of course my very good friends took me up on my idea and dared me to see if I could steal a bottle and indeed, not get caught. Always up for a challenge, I accepted.

I sauntered over to the coke machine like a paying customer. Glancing around furtively (do criminals glance otherwise?) I reached up to the top of the stack of soda cases, grabbed hold of a bottle, released it from its wooden nest and ran like hell, clutching the bottle close. A flurry of activity from my friends behind me let me know they were creating a diversion, covering for me. I ran full speed until, about four blocks later, down by the VFW fence, I stopped to catch my breath.

A few seconds later the group caught up to me, offering congratulations and asking for some of the soda. It was the old kind of bottle that needed an opener to remove the cap. My wonderful friends offered to help and using the chain-link fence, they popped the top. Warm soda bubbled out from the glass-walled container which held it. My sweet friends slurped the spoils and passed the bottle among them. By the time it got to me, there was only fizz and backwash to quench my thirst.  I consoled myself knowing that because I accepted the dare and didn’t get caught, I had risen in stature among the neighborhood gang. We continued our walk homeward.

One by one my faithful friends reached their home destinations. I lived the farthest and walked the final stretch alone, basking in my new notoriety among the peer group. I was humming to myself as I opened the door to my house. The sudden appearance of my mother cut my song short. What was she doing there? She was never awake at this time of day. My heart rate soared and my breath caught in my throat.

“Did you stop somewhere on the way home?”

How quickly the fall from grace. How did she know already? As I searched her face for clues on how to proceed, she cut me off.

“Don’t bother, I know you’re trying to think of a lie to tell me. I know you stole a soda, and we’re going back to that gas station right now!”

She already knew what happened. I just couldn’t figure out how. My mind was racing as she steered me to the car and shoved me into the back seat. The ride back to the scene of the crime was much shorter than the walk home. Gas station alarm bells announced our arrival as she pulled past the pumps. Parking in front of the open garage bay doors, she grabbed her purse and ordered me out of the vehicle.

The overall-clad proprietor rolled out from under a car, wiping his greasy hands on a rag he withdrew from his pocket.

“May I help you?”

The smile faded from his face as he glanced into my mother’s fiery eyes, then looked quizzically at me.

“We spoke on the telephone? My daughter here stole a soda from you a little while ago and she is here to pay for the case she stole it from.”

“That won’t be necessary to pay for the whole case if she only took one soda!”

My mother was adamant.

“No, you can’t sell it as a case anymore, so I insist she pay for the whole thing. How much is it?”

“Well, if you pay for the whole case you might as well take the rest of it with you,” the man offered.

“No,” my mother was firm on this. Neither my family nor I would profit from my criminal activity. She handed the gas-station owner some money, glaring at me as she did.

“Don’t you have something to say to this man?”

I looked up.

“Sorry, mister.” I took a deep breath. “But how did you know? How did you know I stole the soda?”

He scratched his head with his grease-covered hands.

“It was the damndest thing. I was working under the car here, and a group of kids came running up, yelling ‘Hey mister, see that girl? That’s Lisa Overton and she just stole a soda!’ Then one of the boys gave me your phone number so I called your mom. I’d have never known if they hadn’t told me.”

The lump in my throat got bigger and I fought back tears. I wanted to speak, to say something profound about being set up and played for a fool, but my mother stepped in.

“Get back in the car!” she ordered.

As I slunk away I could hear my mother thanking the BP man and promising him that I would never darken his parking lot again. They exchanged a few more words, and she returned to the car.

“You’re grounded,” she informed me. “For the rest of your life.”

That was okay with me. Prior to this auspicious event, I would’ve protested that I wanted to be with my friends.

What just happened

9 Jun

Trying to clean up around the house. In the shed was an old tent, in a ripped bag, probably has parts missing. And a really old, ratty sleeping bag. A former friend had used it when he was camping out in my backyard, homeless, using drugs.

I wanted to throw the stuff in the trash. But the thought occurred that someone would want these items. I loaded them into the car and drove over by the dollar store, because I’ve seen many homeless people in the parking lot there.

Sure enough, as I turned into the lot, a woman who looked older than me was pushing a kid’s bicycle, with several bags hanging from the handle bars. The woman was wearing a black dress and black nylons. She was eating a candy bar.

I pulled up next to her, slowly, rolled the window down and politely asked her if she would like a tent, not in the best shape but a tent nonetheless. She stopped and exclaimed, “oh, yes, how did you know?”

I offered her the sleeping bag, and asked her where to put them. She indicated a shady spot under one of the many spindly trees scattered about the parking lot, so she could “load them up” in the shade. She thanked me profusely, expressing genuine gratitude.

I put the stuff in the shade and she rolled the bicycle over. I have no idea how she was going to load everything onto that bike.

Driving away, I wondered  about life. Why do I have a car, and so much stuff I’m giving some away, and yet the next human is pushing a bicycle, grateful to take my trash?

A Coyote Skinned My Knee

7 Jun

By Lisa E. Overton
©2010 Lisa E. Overton

I sleep next to the chicken coop. To be clear, my bedroom is in the back corner of the house and the chicken coop is right outside my window off the back porch. The coop is no Taj Mahal; I built it out of scrap wood, some chicken wire, and lattice. A Wal Mart tarp shades my hens in the summer and keeps the rain out of their roosting area, which I made by placing a two by four and a sturdy branch across the width of the enclosure. My daughter Maria helped me make a door out of lumber and chicken wire, and the side gate serves as the back door.
For two years, I let the chickens run on the side of the house. I began with four chicks, guaranteed by the feed store salesman to grow up to be egg-laying hens. Since they may not be totally legal at my home—I didn’t ask, don’t wanna know!—I chose not to get a rooster which tends to draw complaints from late-sleeping neighbors. I feed them (the hens, not the neighbors) grains and all our food waste like vegetable peels, unwanted leftovers and the like. Every few months I turned the soil and laid down fresh straw. Over time my girls, as I like to refer to them, composted the entire area. When they moved in the ground was hard-packed dust; now it’s lovely fertile soil. This year I moved the girls down toward the back of the house, sealed off the side yard and planted corn. At this time, the corn looks lush and is thriving.
It turns out I am not the only one that likes my chickens. A few generations of skunks visit seasonally to help themselves to the grain and leftover leftovers. They also drink the chickens’ water. I’ve seen possums in the coop too.
Chickens can’t see at night. Just after sundown they make their way into the covered area, and flap their wings hard enough to get themselves airborne to their roost (elevation 4 feet). The closed gate presents no challenge to the skunks and possums, they just tunnel under. Last night I saw a very large skunk squeeze through one of the three-inch holes in the lattice.
At first I used a decorative picket fence about two feet high to keep the chickens in their area. I figured the skunks and possums hadn’t bothered them so far and as long as I fed the chickens they weren’t inclined to wander outside the perimeter. This allowed the chickens to have a larger area in which to free-range. One day, a chicken was missing. Knowing they like to flock together, I couldn’t figure out why it left. I looked around and eyed my cats suspiciously. Nah, they leave fur or bones or even some lovely entrails on my carpet when they catch a bird, and they’ve never brought in anything larger than a starling. I couldn’t imagine them with a whole chicken. Widening my search area, I checked on the hillside and found some feathers, but it wasn’t enough evidence to make a determination as to what happened.
The next evening, I was in the house when I heard squawking, wings flapping and a general atmosphere of alarm. I ran out onto the back porch just in time to see the tail end of a canine-shaped animal fleeing up the hill. I checked the chickens and sure enough, the count was down by one.
In my naiveté, I thought, well, the coyote had his chickens; he’ll just be on his way. Looking back, that was a stupid thing to think, because the next day, another chicken was gone.
The following day, I was on high alert. The slightest sound from the chickens and I was on the porch, performing a perimeter check. Nothing. The surviving chicken was anxious also, her post-traumatic stress response triggered by the slightest disturbance. I wondered how many chickens the coyote could consume in a week. I learned the answer: as many as he can get. He didn’t come that night, but the next night, the chicken alarm went off, and I was instantly outside. This time, I saw him. He had the sole surviving hen in his mouth, but when he jumped the fence he lost his grip on her. She flopped to the ground and was up in an instant, shaking her feathers and her head as if to say, What in the world just happened? If you’ve ever had a near-death experience, you know how that girl felt.
With one hen left, I realized I needed a higher fence. I made some modifications using wood lattice that I discovered behind the shed. I lashed the wood to the back porch and reinforced the gate. I headed to the feed store and bought three more chicks. I locked my hen inside the coop every night. The coyote appeared to have moved on.
After a few months, my chicks were big enough to move outside. At first the hen didn’t like them and pecked at them when they came close. But the three new chicks flocked together and fended her off. As time passed, they grew to be the same size as the first hen but the pecking order prevailed. I wondered if they knew they were on equal footing size-wise, or maybe they were just respecting their elder. I grew lazy and stopped locking them in the coop at night, thinking my five-foot high lattice fence would keep them safe.
One day, I returned from some errands and checked the backyard. Something was amiss. A huge swarm of bees was buzzing above the neighbor’s tree. Something had created a disturbance, but what? I counted the chickens, and sure enough, only three nervous hens were hiding in the coop.
But I couldn’t figure out how the coyote had grabbed my girl. The fence was secure and the lattice was still tied to the porch. Finally, I noticed the bottom corner of the lattice was broken. The new opening was barely eight inches wide, but it was big enough to allow coyote access. I couldn’t believe the coyote had broken through wood! Then I thought of my dog. I have a cute little pug that sleeps on my daughter’s bed at the other end of the house, that’s why he doesn’t figure into this coyote story. Once I had dropped some cat food kibbles and the dog had ripped up the linoleum to get at a single piece that had lodged into the seam by the back door. If that little guy could get though that…
My current solution is vinyl lattice and some four-by-four fence post. I have double thicknesses of lattice, screwed into the porch and the posts. But the threat remains: I know as long as I have chickens, the coyote will want to order them from the backyard menu.
Sure enough, I awoke one morning to discover my cat on my bed up on her haunches like a meerkat staring intently out the back door. I followed her gaze outside and could just barely make out the coyote. His fabulous camouflage made him difficult to see, but there he was, standing behind some shrubs on the hillside, gazing longingly at my chicken coop. I slowly got up and made my way to the back door, admiring nature’s handiwork. He was as big as a German shepherd, and his multicolored fur blended deftly with the dappled shadows and the fallen dead leaves that littered the ground. He sensed my presence and looked at me. Our eyes locked in mutual respect. I understand that he is hardwired, programmed to kill and eat his prey, and he is good at his job. I like to think he was approving of my new fence construction, but it was probably just wishful anthropomorphism on my part. I opened the screen door and he turned and loped up the hill.
One night last week I was sound asleep when I heard the chickens squawking nervously. Instantly I was awake and again noticed the cat on my bed up on her haunches staring out the sliding glass door. On full alert, I lunged toward the door. But somehow I was wrapped in my bed sheets and could not unravel myself. I crashed to the other side of the bed and fell onto the carpeted floor, still tangled up in the sheets. The loud thumping and clatter was certainly heard outside and I heard a swooshing sound and animal feet running away up the hill. Apparently the noise I made was enough to frighten my coyote away. I managed to extricate myself finally and stood up, making sure the coyote was really gone. That’s when I noticed my injuries. I had pain in my rump, on my ribcage, and across the back of my underarm. My knee was throbbing and closer examination revealed a first-degree rug burn. Now I was injured because of the damn coyote. But the hens are still safe, at least for now.

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