header

The archived messages of Jon Andreas:

from 2016:

* * * *

12 December 2016 • Cool Monday morning

I finally saw the Disney movie "Frozen" last night, three years after it first came out. My youngest niece was only 3 when she saw it and fell in love with it. Perhaps it'll be a musical that shapes her view of the world the way "The Sound of Music" did mine so many years ago. My views on the importance of traditional manners as well as liberated women's roles and freedom of children's learning environments all stem from that early childhood experience.

I have mixed feelings about Disney in general and have both read and thought about the darker side of its enormous influence on popular culture over the past half century or more, but there are aspects of it that are so beautiful, so celebrative of God's good creation ("normative" in philosophical terms) that I cannot help but keep coming back for more. One of those aspects is the music. It is often, in my opinion, perfect. I hesitate to use that word but there are moments when I must. If you have a few spare minutes, might I show you what I mean? Access the "Frozen" soundtrack [iTunes...go to Original Sound Track; track #2, "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?," or easier: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPv1J9otAM4] and follow my commentary below:

00:01 It begins with a simple, fast-moving piano line, capturing the innocent energy of a young child.

00:09 Now the piano line has little phrases with a stop note, like a child's simple sentences.

00:21 "We used to be best buddies": the strings come in to add a feeling of melancholy.

00:36 "OK bye": on the word "bye" the first low (bass) note of the song, very soft, adds depth to the mood. Of course, the young singer, the daughter of the husband & wife composers, sings perfectly on pitch and with just the right emotion.

00:40 The silvery sound, like a curtain of time, begins a transition section moving time forward. No longer a little girl, the "tween" Anna's music is more complex, more orchestral, with a driving beat that reminds us of a more independent, older child. The singer's voice is older, more confident.

01:17 After the all-too-cute tongue clicking, another transition moves us into young adulthood. It is long & complex, full of emotion & yearning, just like the teenage years.

01:34 A brief return to the opening theme, like a wishful remembrance of the simplicity of childhood, yet underlined with sad strings.

01:44 The simple theme disappears into the deep turmoil of adult emotions.

02:05 The turmoil subsides to a lonely oboe.

02:26 The young-adult Anna's voice is, like the beginning of the song, accompanied by a simple piano, but this time it is not fast-moving. On the contrary, it offers only a single chord to emphasize each line, as if each statement takes effort.

02:39 Finally the music begins to move again, but ever so gently, with the words, "We only have each other...."

02:55 And then it stops again. "Do you want to build a snowman?" is entirely a cappella. She's totally alone.

02:57 The music returns with sad strings and a lonely clarinet.

03:14 The ending high note of the violins brings this perfect piece to a heart-aching conclusion.

Disney has done it again. For more amazing writing, try tracks #11 "Vuelie," and #15, "Heimr Arnadalr." [in iTunes: look for the "Frozen" Deluxe Soundtrack version to get these additional tracks]

[An additional note from Kay: As soon as 11 books were listed on Jon's Amazon "Wish List," they were all snapped up in 2 days. Although he hasn't seen the books yet, he is aware of your immense generosity. Thank you for your abiding love and be sure to tell him what you ordered for him.]

* * * *

10 November 2016 • Cool Thursday evening

I am so embarrassed to be an American. Actually, truth be told, I’ve always been embarrassed by American belligerence—when I traveled Europe I’d tell people I was Canadian—but now…now that Trump is President-Elect I’m literally ill. I’ve slept little and eaten less over the past 48 hours. At first I thought maybe I’d just been swept into the political theater a bit too much, but this nausea I feel is rooted deeper. The wind has changed, and I’m not just talking about politics. My studies have kept me close to the updates of our planetary health and, according to the best science we have, there is no more time for waffling. We either act now, retooling the US in ways not seen since World War II and hopefully leading to only limited human suffering over the next several thousand years, or, if we postpone any longer, the runaway effect is predicted to lead to MAJOR human suffering over that span of time. If Trump and the Republicans do what they say they’re going to do, people 100 or 500 or 1,000 years from now won’t be discussing victories over abortion or gays, they’ll be cursing our generation for committing them to hell on earth. We happen to be alive during—and entrusted with—the biggest test in human history, and the world’s biggest polluter (USA) just elected a climate-change-denying pro-oil-and-coal billionaire.

I implore you, make 2017 a start of a lifestyle of LESS: Less Energy, Stimulation, Stuff.

* * * *

20 October 2016 • Cool Thursday morning

It's 4:28 AM and I can't sleep. For two reasons.

First, we received new mattresses yesterday—a miracle really, after 5 1/2 years of complaining. Every other prison has vinyl-sheathed "mattresses" (sleeping pads, actually)—easy to clean—but this one has only ever had cloth pads, about an inch thick, colored with all sorts of questionable stains (blood? urine?), and often with equally questionable smells. I was lucky; I inherited an (illegally) custom-stuffed 3-inch pad from a friend who transferred out about 18 months ago. Futon-like luxury. Others looked on in envy. Yesterday we were all equalized in good communist fashion. We all got brand-new dark-gray vinyl-covered pads that looked every bit of 3 inches thick on the open-bed trucks that delivered them—men whooping for joy in anticipation of a comfortable night's rest—but our expectations deflated along with the "mattresses" as they were reclined upon and puffed out that hideous new-plastic smell until they were/are, yes, a mere one-inch thick. And so here I am with a sore shoulder and hip and with a raging headache (thank you, Obamacare, for the ibuprofen) from eau de plastique.

mattress

Second, and equally troubling, I watched the third presidential debate last night. What the heck has become of our country that nearly half of our voters think that babbling idiot is a viable leader?! And Hillary, utterly lackluster and weary-looking (and she hasn't even begun her sure-to-be presidency yet!), is not much of an alternative. I'm a feminist and a tree-hugging social liberal (a hero of mine talks about caring for the poor & widows & visiting/rehabilitating those in prison) so I have no problem with her policies (in general), but pleeease, Hillary, a little less changing-the-subject and avoiding-the-question??? Trump's an egomaniacal ass, but Hillary's a slip-sliding back-room dealer—probably a good thing for a senator or a chief of staff—yet not an inspirational leader! Give me an Elizabeth Warren anyday! (Warren for President in '20!) My greater concern, though, as I work on my dissertation and plumb the depths of the planet-wide problems that Western culture has bequeathed us (from consumerism to pollution to poverty), is that neither candidate and neither political party sees the bigger picture. The god of Progress (infinite growth!) looms so large (yes, even within Christianity) that it blinds us to the basic economic and ecological laws of limits. But that's another story.

Here's wishing you a restful night's sleep.

* * * *

Warm Saturday morning • 16 July 2016

Today I’m 50!
Celebrate with me—won’t you?—the beauty of old age.
Just for a day, reject the Cult of Youth,
Call it the lie that it is,
Rejoice in thinning hair—less to worry about—
And graying hair—can’t be tamed so why try?—
And moving slower—to have time to really notice things.
Magical things.
Things that resist classification and reduction.
Things that are OK just as they are.
Things that are so infuriatingly wrong that you could just spit!
Life with all its gifts
And all its mistakes
Is truly a miracle,
A becoming of who you really are.
Amor fati.

* * * *

Cloudy Wednesday morning • 15 June 2016

My heart goes out to my LGBTQ and Muslim brothers and sisters.

I was awakened at 4:30 am yesterday and spent 10 hours in chains to see an endocrinologist (outside hospital) for 10 minutes. I appreciate the medical care but don’t appreciate the accommodations.

* * * *

Overcast Saturday morning • 11 June 2016

Hello friends! Sorry it's been so long. I've been extremely busy with my studies. Here's the latest:

In our building of about 140 men, we have 7 shower stalls—usually only 2 or 3 work at any given time. Those that work either spray too widely (like a mist) out of the vaguely phallic nozzle or like a jet stream (painful on the scalp) or just dribble. The amount of water is not variable, just on or off. The temperature is theoretically variable but in reality each one has its own fine line between scalding and freezing—and regularly flushing toilets in the next room keep it a moving target. It's been this way here in Chino for as long as I've been here (5 years 8 months)—except for when the accrediting agency came through a couple of months ago; then everything worked (temporarily). Although I shower daily, of course, I'd come to hate it until about a week ago when, out of the blue, a maintenance crew installed one entirely new shower in one of the stalls (perhaps because we're a designated disabilities building(!) and the temperature control actually works! For the past week I've had the best showers since I've been locked up!

With my doctoral studies coming out of my ears, I take occasional refuge in fiction. Of course, working in a library gives me a wide selection of options! I recently tried a couple of books that jumped off the shelf at me and have been deeply moved (and enriched) by them. I must share. The first was Margot by Jillian Cantor. It's a historical "what if" book: what if Anne Frank's older sister Margot escaped from the Nazis and went to live in America? It's 1959 in Philadelphia and Margot, now Margie, is a legal secretary. It is a beautiful story of love and self-discovery and a must read for all who have been touched by the Anne Frank story.

The second book is Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It is the classic tale of a wayward youth meeting an elderly sage and they are both changed. In this case it's Molly, a Goth teenager, who's been tossed from one foster home to another, crossing paths with Vivian, a 91-year-old rich white lady whose unfolding history is based on the true story of the orphan trains that brought more than 200,000 children from NYC to midwestern families between 1854 and 1929. It is both tragic and uplifting. You'll laugh and cry. An incredible story of Great Depression deprivation and the power of love (then and now). I'd like to share a quote that accurately describes my situation—as well as that of too many foster children:

"When Vivian describes how it felt to be at the mercy of strangers, Molly nods. She knows full well what it's like to tamp down your natural inclinations, to force a smile when you feel numb. After a while you don't know what your own needs are anymore. You're grateful for the slightest hint of kindness, and then, as you get older, suspicious. Why would anyone do anything for you without expecting something in return? And anyway—most of the time they don't. More often than not, you see the worst of people. You learn that most adults lie. That most people only look out for themselves. That you are only as interesting as you are useful to someone.

"And so your personality is shaped. You know too much, and this knowledge makes you wary. You grow fearful and mistrustful. The expression of emotion does not come naturally, so you learn to fake it. To pretend. To display an empathy you don't actually feel. And so it is that you learn how to pass, if you're lucky, to look like everyone else, even though you're broken inside."

To be clear, I share this quote because it seems to me to be a good diagnosis of what too many men around me suffer with. From abusive homes to juvenile hall to prison, they have never known true, loving community.
I grew up in a loving family that was connected to a larger church community with a caring (if a bit insular) ethic. But the upside-down world of prison—"don't trust anyone, least of all the authorities"—chips away at me constantly. I repeat: this is not a healing environment. Quite the opposite. It reinforces inhumanity. I fight it every day. Don't worry about me; I have a rare support system (mainly those of you reading this). But our tax dollars (and fear-mongering media) are supporting a system that makes people worse, not better. For an effective, healing, community-centered approach, look to Northern Europe.

And in other news...

My health is good—other than the fact that I had a kidney stone (OUCH!) this past weekend due to my chronically high blood calcium level. I've had no new skin cancer spots for some time now.

My job at the library is great. I'm the "top dog" at the "recreation" library and have two men assigned under me, one very capable, one not very capable, but both pleasant enough to be with in close quarters all day. When the inevitable rush slows down each morning, I have a few hours to work on my dissertation at my desk (with an actual real padded office chair!).

My doctoral work remains a sheer joy. I bask in the intellectual challenge. At present I've developed a working outline and am going through all my files (articles, notes, previous essays) and books (looking for underlinings and notes and valuable quotes) and slowly building an archive of reference material organized around that outline. If you'd like to read a short summary of what the dissertation will be about, click here and then click "Précis."

SHALOM to you all!

* * * *

6 April 2016 • Sunny Wednesday morning

inside chino (click for larger image)

This is the first picture I've seen of my current living conditions. Although it was taken in 2013, it is still just as overcrowded here in Chino. What you are seeing is 4 rows of 10 bunkbeds = 80 men. The yellow bags are our clothing bags (= our dresser and closet). The only place to hang wet towels is on the ends of our bunks. We have small lockers at the head of each bed and a little storage space under the bottom bunk (where I keep my books and files). Everything one owns must not exceed 6 cubic feet. Our yard has 8 such long bunkhouses for a total of over 1200 men. And this prison has 4 yards. And California has 34 prisons. And each prison guard, most of whom spend their entire shift just sitting or standing around (or sleeping), makes twice as much as the average police officer and more than most university professors. If the California taxpayers only knew the billions of dollars being thrown after the prison industry's indolence and corruption each year...—and only a tiny fraction of the prisoners ever receive any sort of meaningful rehabilitative help (hence the 79% recidivism—failure!—rate).

Back to the photograph: In my dorm, my upper bunk would be along the left wall, 8 bunks down. That is where I sit cross-legged reading and writing and typing when I'm not at work in the library or making music in the chapel. My building is the designated ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) housing unit, so the average age is higher, there are several walkers and wheelchairs, and—thankfully!—it's quieter than the other buildings. But, as you can see, there's still no privacy. Nonetheless, when the doors are unlocked, I can go outside and sit under my favorite cottonwood tree. This is one of the few prisons that actually has trees and bushes and flowers (and a little grass—the drought has wiped out most of it.) Sometimes I will follow one bee from flower to flower and marvel at how proficiently she does her work. It inspires me.

P.S. One of the things I enjoy most about being a librarian is matching the right book with the right person, so it was a joy to find this note inside one of our returned books:

thank-you-note

* * * *

24 March 2016 • Warm Thursday afternoon

profs
(click for larger image)

What a week! Sunday was a day I've been waiting for most of my life: my doctoral oral exam. Two professors and one board member from Edinburg Theological Seminary (Texas) met me in the Visiting Room for five hours of Q & A. I was nervous going in and exhausted coming out. I passed! Now I am a "doctoral candidate" and begin my dissertation on a holistic Christian philosophy of education that prepares students to heal a world broken by an addiction to consumerism and its ensuing environmental destruction. I am already hard at work on the preliminary documents.

Monday two large boxes of 100+ brand-new books arrived at our library—all to be sorted, cataloged, labeled and shelved ASAP (before the new catalog is printed). I'm in charge now, so it was crack-the-whip time. We just completed it all today. Whew!

Tuesday a 300+ page manuscript arrived from Polebridge Press to be proofread. I've been proofing for them for ten years—this is book #45—and have never missed a deadline. This one will be close.

Wednesday was our 2-hour afternoon rehearsal for this weekend's Easter service—and last night's one-hour Stations of the Cross service. The latter was an oasis of calm during this whirlwind week.

Of course, all told, Sunday was the highlight, not just of the week but also of the decade! Dr. John Van Dyk has been my guardian angel since this ETS doctoral plan unfolded three years ago—and a role model and trusted friend since he taught me at Dordt College 30 years ago. Drs. Hilbrands and Sandlin are Christian shepherds of the dirty-feet variety, firmly grounded in bringing shalom and justice to the marginalized. I am in good hands.

P.S. Thank you, Mom, for making ALL of this possible: the emails & snailmail, the web research, the travel plans, the transportation, this website, and so much more! Ich liebe dich!

* * * *

7 February 2016 • Sunny, cool Sunday morning

"God is Change." Or so Octavia Butler writes in one of her novels. It's an interesting observation really. Change is ever present, so is God. Perhaps we could say that God is present in the change.

Things have changed in the library. The rarely-enforced rule that you can't hold any job for more than two years was suddenly enacted by a new administration, and one of my coworkers, Michael Skoor (former Lutheran pastor), was removed. The other coworker, Thom Duell (professional musician & recording engineer), paroles next month. I'm training the new guys, who are nice, but the dynamic just isn't the same.

Things have also changed in my bunk area. My friend and neighbor, Jim Bishop (former fire captain who grew up in a CRC community in western Michigan), was suddenly moved to another building—apparently he complained too much about our lack of heat (he's 74 with arthritis)—and an older black guy, Mr. Brown, was moved into his bunk. Mr. Brown's nice enough, but so far his main topic of conversation is getting out in two years and getting drunk.

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. My least favorite days of living in an open bunkhouse are playoffs and sports finals of any kind. The building erupts at unpredictable moments of loud cheering and clapping. Perhaps I'll spend the afternoon outside under a tree. I would like to go on record as a pro sports "hater." I believe that pro sports worldwide is a dangerous false religion and am frankly appalled at the number of Christians who unblinkingly support such violence, consumerism, and economic injustice. To be clear, I am not anti-sports. I love sports. Even violent sports like boxing and martial arts can be done humanely with padded equipment and strict rules. I love local sports and regional competitions, but once big money and university scouts become involved, sports begins to lose its neighborly community-centered humanity and becomes an impersonal name-branded gladiatorial commodity. And pro sports only ups the ante. We all have our own demons to confront, but beware the false idols we don't even know are in our lives.

from 2015:

* * * *

10 November 2015 • Sunny, cool Tuesday afternoon

As of today I've been here in Chino 5 years. The more things change, the more things stay the same. Correctional officers, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, and wardens change regularly making life a constant flux of (mostly arbitrary) rules and expectations. No correction. No rehabilitation. Just lowest-common-denominator, one-size-fits-all, bureaucratic human warehousing. I'm used to it; after all, it's been 13-1/2 years. I'm also sick of it. What an obscene waste.

Fall is finally here. The crisp morning air is most welcome. I sleep under both of my blankets now as our nighttime temps dip into the 40s. Mt. Baldy, in the distance due north, got a bit of snow on its pate last week. Our most recent batch of yard-cat kittens—each a variation of gray and white—are growing bigger and bolder. One strides right into our bunk area like she owns the place, meowing at me as I brush my teeth. I wiggle one finger close to her face and she touches it with her nose.

The library is my sanctuary. The three of us working the "rec side" (the recreation library, as opposed to the law library) have specialized. When not helping customers, Thom is the book surgeon, Michael's flying fingers are typing all 6,000 books into a catalog program on our new computer, and I'm the "shelf guy." Thanks to our activist librarians—we have four free-staff lady bosses—I've sorted through hundreds of donations over the past few weeks, boxing some for other yards, labeling the ones for our library, and then endlessly shuffling and reshuffling the shelves to fit in all the new titles. We've had custom shelves built (thanks to the vocational carpentry inmates) to stash books in every nook and cranny, maximizing our tiny space. I love the smell and feel of books, the quiet atmosphere, the humor of my coworkers.

The chapel is my recreation. I am created anew, knit together from the inside out, every time I get to make music with my friends: Greg on keyboard (from pipe organ to jazz flute), Jim on bass, Peter and Phil singing, and Mike and I singing and playing guitar. I've fully embraced jazz improvisation and often add little guitar solos to our meditative pieces. I've been the leader for the past two or three years now, but despite the positive feedback on my vocal solos, I'm not interested in making it "The Jon Show," so I spread the cantorial responsibilities and solo opportunities around liberally.

My doctoral studies are my joy. My brain is alive in this mind-numbing environment! After 18 months, my classwork is complete, my exams are around the corner, and the dissertation is on the horizon. Educational philosophy is my discipline, holistic education is my interest, and a changing planet earth is my concern. We are facing several firsts in human history and I'm wondering how we might best prepare the next generation.

Speaking of which, my greatest joy is reading books aloud over the phone with one of my nieces and one of my nephews—as well as talking with their siblings. Hearing their tales of growing up is a treasure!

Grace and shalom to you all!

* * * *

14 August 2015 • Hot Friday night

Today was 106 degrees outside, 96 inside. Too hot for me! Why don't they build prisons near the beach?

Last month I turned 49 and received a handful of cards and presents (books) for which I am very grateful. In my 20s I thought I knew everything; in my 30s my career was skyrocketing, then exploded; my 40s have been my lowest lows and some of my highest highs. My 40s are precious to me. I've discovered more about my true self these past nine years than all the years previous. The past 18 months of doctoral studies have been invigorating in every way (intellectually, spiritually, etc.). I am really looking forward to the next year as I hope to begin working on my dissertation.

I also look forward with great anticipation to turning 50. My lifelong heroes have always been old, wise men like Merlin, Gandalf, and Albus Dumbledore. I am earning—and celebrating—every gray hair, but unfortunately, my thinning, balding genetics precludes me from having either a silver mane or lengthy beard. Maybe someday I'll get the pointy hat anyway.

On the Tonys earlier this year I saw a segment from the musical "Fun Home" and had my mother order me the CD and the book by Alison Bechdel that it is based on. They arrived as belated birthday presents and today I finished enjoying and contemplating both. It's powerful! I look forward to seeing it someday.

Shalom to you all!

* * * *

12 May 2015 • Breezy Tuesday evening

During the first weekend of May every year the neighboring small airport hosts an airshow. Rumbling WWII hulks and billion-dollar jets fly overhead to oohs and ahhs among my peers. I can think of far better uses for our federal tax money. At one point a chirping blackbird swooped into a perfect, silent touchdown near me. Now that was impressive.

The end of the sidewalk outside our building is a feeding place for birds and squirrels. Offerings of bread and fruit are deposited every day by my fellow prisoners. Many of us enjoy standing back and watching the animals; there's even a couple of small plastic bowls for bathing and drinking. Then there are those prisoners who enjoy walking right into the middle of it all, waving their hands, shouting, and then looking at us to see our reaction.

A young deaf guy named Adam recently moved into our building. He makes barking sounds, not unlike a seal, to get people's attention. Several guys (of all ages, including a few with gray hair) have taken to echoing his barks and laughing uproariously. The immaturity never ceases to amaze me. I'm one of several others who help Adam with his questions and needs by writing notes back and forth.

Most California prisons have no trees or bushes. We have a number of precious trees right outside our building: 2 large ones, a cottonwood and an ash; 3 medium-sized ones, a cypress, a pine, and one I have yet to identify; and 3 small ones, 2 palms and a fruit tree. Just minutes ago, while walking outside, 3 muscle-bound prisoners were attempting to tear a lower branch from the pine. Bending, twisting, pounding the 2-inch-thick green branch with a stone, the tree finally yielded most of it, leaving a shredded stump. The purpose of this violence? To create an illegal weight bar upon which to hang illegal bags of sand for weight-lifting. If the guards ever found out? They would assume the branch was being sharpened to make weapons and would therefore tear our beds and lockers apart looking for them; they might even cut down the tree because it was being used for illegal activity. Some people never learn.

* * * *

5 April 2015 • Cool Sunday evening

kay+jon Happy Easter! I had a wonderful visit with my mother today. See the attached picture (click to enlarge). I have been busy, busy, busy with my academic work these past few months. Between my chapel music, library work, and doctoral studies, I am—dare I say—content in my life right now. Life is a gift. I don't dare waste a moment of it. If you're interested in sampling any of my recent papers, try "Rorschach Messiah" on my "Writings" page. Shalom!

* * * *

12 January 2015 • Cool Monday evening

A Report from the St. Agnus Homeless Shelter in Chicago (November 30, 2014):

"Yesterday a tall black man with graying temples and stubble on his chin shuffled into our shelter to register for a couple of our 3-and-1 (3 meals and one bed for a night) passes. His left leg and arm were stiff. Desert Storm, he said. His clothes were old and dirty, his hands well-calloused. I helped him fill in the paperwork. Born in '72 (42 years old). Unemployed. Work skills: construction. Staying for 2 nights? No, just one. The other pass is for my...friend, he said. Friend? He left and returned with—a pregnant Hispanic girl. She didn't speak English. He said she was 18. She was obviously not 18. I looked at him. He looked down. She was maybe 16—or younger. Another pregnant child. I gave them their passes. And called Social Services.

"The girl was picked up by Child Protective Services and taken to a group home. The police took the man and charged him with a sex crime against a minor. I followed the story in the news. A few weeks later, the girl, Maria, went into early labor and gave birth to a preemie, a tiny thing with a shock of black hair, a miracle child she named Jesús. The State took the baby away and put him in a foster home. Maria was deported to Mexico.

"The black man, babbling about his innocence, was heavily sedated, the paternity DNA test was lost. He was found guilty, his public defender signed his plea agreement (20 years in prison and lifetime sex offender registration) since he was declared 'incompetent' by the State. He'll be sent to the state penitentiary soon where the safety record for 'baby rapists' is not good."

A (fictional) nativity story. Happy New Year.

from 2014:

30 November 2014 • Sunday morning

What a difference a day makes! The morning after Thanksgiving we were dealt a double whammy. First, some "serious contraband" was discovered in the Visiting Room so our whole facility was locked down: no yard, no showers, no phones, no church, etc.—till further notice. We're still waiting (although we did get our showers turned back on).

Second, a stomach bug (norovirus?) attacked our dorm. We woke up to the sound of several people wretching in our (echoing) bathroom. There are 140 of us confined to this building so it's spreading like wildfire. Over half of the building has had it (it's a 24-hour deal) and it's still on the move. My bunkie got it last night. I'm one of the unaffected—so far. Needless to say, our building's been quarantined. I won't go into detail but in a dorm full of the elderly and disabled, not everyone can make it to the restroom in time. It's not a pretty sight!

* * * *

27 November 2014 • Thursday morning

This morning I was greeted by five Canadian geese flying overhead.
A single diagonal line.
Two adults in the lead, two more bringing up the rear,
And a youngster in the middle, flapping his little wings for all he was worth.
Maybe it was his first time out with the grown-ups.
Imagine how proud—and nervous—he felt.

* * * *

9 November 2014 • Warm Sunday afternoon

As of today I can say that I've been locked up 12-1/2 years with 11-1/2 to go; that is, I'm over the hump. And slowly, painfully, I'm learning to love my life as it is. As Nietzsche said, "Amor fati" (Love your fate). I will, of course, forever regret the hurt I've done to others through misplaced love—and I have a lot of anger to work through at the systemic evil of our (in)justice system, an evil that has robbed me of the chance to make amends with my victims and their families, that has stolen my opportunity to be a husband and father in the prime of my life, and that has taken away most of the simple joys of life (swimming in the ocean, playing my cello, hiking, raising a dog, solitude). On the other hand, it has forced me to come to terms with my overdependence on the affections of others; it has increased my self-knowledge....(for example, that I'm "highly sensitive," see HSPerson.com) and knowledge of others....(I'm learning compassion for thugs/bullies, drug addicts, the mentally slow and undereducated—all people I otherwise wouldn't associate with); and it has freed me to experience God as larger than any organized religion or philosophy (though I choose to continue knowing/experiencing God via the tradition I was born into, namely, Christianity). This is NOT life as I would've wished or planned it; but it is my only life, so I choose to embrace it and, when possible, celebrate it.

Tomorrow marks four years at this prison. I've been to six prisons so far and only one other for four years. All things considered, this is the best one so far. I'm also in the quietest building (of the eight on this yard) and have the best job on the yard (in my opinion), recreation library clerk—and I just got a raise from 0¢/hr. (non-paid position) to 11¢/hr. (minus 55% for restitution)!

* * * *

10 October 2014 • Warm Friday afternoon

Yesterday I had a dream come true. After buying four copies of all the music for Jesus Christ Superstar, my "band" of Catholic Chapel musicians and I sightread our way through the whole thing during our rehearsal. What fun! You should've heard me screeching out the high notes (high G!) of Jesus and Judas. I've always wanted to do that.

Our prison yard has cats. Several. And the population just went up (again). We have eight housing units (single-story bunkhouses) and each cat has staked out one or two for free food and affection. Our unit has the most beautiful one: a black cat with light-green eyes named "Shadow." A few weeks ago she gave birth to two tan (with black paws and ears) kittens. They are adorable! It's funny to watch some of the most macho guys competing for the kittens' attention.

Almost every evening I walk around the yard for an hour or so listening to my radio/CD player and stargazing. First I check KUSC 91.5 (classical) to see what they're playing. Their program host, Jim Svejda, is the best I've ever heard—erudite and hilarious! If the music isn't to my taste (string quartets? yes! opera? no!), I switch to CD. My recent favorite: Jesse Cook's "The Blue Guitar Sessions." I'm in love with the woman who sings track 8: "Ne Me Quitte Pas"!

* * * *

3 September 2014 • Hot Wednesday afternoon

I've been in my new job, library clerk, for the past two weeks now and love it. I've enjoyed reading on and off for most of my life, but prison has turned me into a real bibliophile: reading 805 books over the past 630 weeks of incarceration. Our prison library is a small, former classroom divided in half: the rec(reation) side has about 3000 fiction and 1500 nonfiction titles and three clerks (of which I am one); the law side has several bookshelves of law books, a dozen seats including two law computers, and four clerks. It's a quiet, office-like setting that is less torrid than the dorms, and I work with two friends (who recruited me for the job): Tom Duell, a professional musician (guitarist, singer, songwriter) about age 60 who goes home in 18 months, and Michael Skoor, a former Lutheran paster about age 70 who goes home, like me, in 2026.

Also, I'm sorry if this is TMI (too much information), but I really must tell you about the restroom. It's private. Yes, for the first time in I-don't-know-how-many years, I can relieve myself on a porcelain & plastic (not steel) toilet with no one watching.

The former classroom building is shared between the library and the chapel, so I don't have far to go for my Wednesday afternoon chapel rehearsals (for which my boss generously gives me time off).

I worked in the library at my last prison for about a year and I'd forgotten how much joy I get out of helping someone find just the right book. Philosophy? Religion? I've donated a goodly portion of those nonfiction books over the past 3+ years here. (Most prison libraries are made up of inmate donations.) Looking for intellectual postmodern fiction? Try Neal Stephenson.

Speaking of books, my thanks to all of you who sent me birthday books or sent money for my next semester's textbooks! My first semester at ETS was a big success and the next semester starts any day!

Shalom to you all!

* * * *

29 July 2014 • Hot Tuesday afternoon

I'm watching the news and the picture of a two-year-old girl with terrible facial injuries comes up, and my neighbor, an outspoken Evangelical, asks with great concern, "What happened to her?" I respond, "She's in Gaza," and immediately his demeanor changes. "Oh," he says woodenly. He goes on to quote the Old Testament, that Palestine is part of the Promised Land, that Palestinians should know better than to provoke God's people. I give him a couple of examples of Israel's recent war crimes—targeting civilians, etc.—and he walks off muttering something about God's will. At this point my bunkmate, a Pentecostal, gets off his lower bunk and chimes in: "Besides, how can you trust those news reports? Hamas hides behind civilians!" "So," I reply, "the right thing to do is plow through the civilians to get to the bad guys?" My bunkie quotes something from the Book of Revelation and I let him have the last word—for the sake of peace.

The news program I'm watching is "Democracy Now!" on PBS. My devout Catholic friend, a multimillionaire from Silicon Valley, calls it "liberal," but I see it as more "populist," focusing on human rights, social justice, and the plight of the common person—something we see woefully little of on the major network news. "NBC Evening News" might spend 60 seconds on Gaza; "Democracy Now!" might spend 30 minutes. Why is that "liberal"? "Democracy Now!" is critical of government corruption on both sides of the aisle.

I'm currently reading a giant book called Capital by French economy professor Thomas Piketty. I can't stand economics, statistics, or pretty much any kind of number crunching, but it was a birthday gift, so I thought I'd at least peek at it. I'm well into it and utterly surprised at how interesting it is! Of course, it's written for the layperson (me!) and focused on wealth inequality over the past few centuries. I've read a National Review (conservative) book review calling it liberal trash and a Time review calling it "Marx 2.0," neither of which are true. If you want liberal, here's liberal (from me, not Piketty): one of the book's tables shows the global per-person income average (in 2012) as approximately $13,000 per year. Wouldn't it be cool (in some ideal world) if we all got that amount for our work so no one would have to starve?

May we all love our neighbors (Palestinians, Central American refugees, et al.) as ourselves!

* * * *

18 July 2014 • Warm & breezy Friday afternoon

"Butch" is a fellow prisoner in my building, a big-boned man in his 70s who walks with a cane. I'm sure he was a powerful man in his youth, but now he can barely move; every step, he says, is painful. The 100-yard walk from our housing unit to the pill line takes him 20 minutes which includes a couple of stops. He's also hard-of-hearing, so he wears a flourescent green vest that says "Hearing Impaired" in large letters on the back. Recently, an alarm went off while Butch was struggling across the yard. (An alarm might mean a fight or a medical emergency is happening in one of the buildings or on the yard, during which we're all expected to sit down immediately wherever we are, rain or shine.) On this particular day, Butch forgot to wear his "Hearing Impaired" vest. He heard the alarm but couldn't sit straight down—he's physically unable to fold his body like that—so he ambled to the nearest wall to use it to help him down. A new sergeant, a giant, burly man, saw him and yelled at him to sit down. Butch apparently didn't hear him. The sergeant ran full speed at Butch—now just a couple of steps from the wall—grabbed him and slammed him face down onto the concrete, bloodying Butch's face. The outcome of this situation? Butch was given a 115 (serious rules violation = permanent bad mark on his record plus a loss of "good time" (early release) credit). Butch is struggling to and from the pill line, now with scabs on his face. The sergeant still patrols our "high risk medical" yard.

* * * *

Friday the 13th of June 2014 • Cool & breezy evening

It's time for a Jon rant. Blame it on the full moon.

Today the Democracy Now news hour was mostly dedicated to reporting about the thousands of child refugees pouring across our southern border from Mexico and Central America—and I am livid.

I may be a convicted criminal but that doesn't mean I've lost my sense of right and wrong—if anything, because I'm a convicted criminal, my morals and beliefs are constantly under consideration. And those morals tell me that America's shenanigans over my lifetime are coming home to roost.

Deny global warming all you want, but spend 15 minutes online and you'll discover that times have changed for Mexican and Central American farmers. Poverty is rampant.

Spend another 15 minutes looking up US economic policies regarding Latin America over the past several decades and you'll find that we are the Number One reason for their economic and political instability. In a word, we've sucked them dry of resources. (So much for "love your neighbor"!)

Now pretend you were born in, say, Nicaragua in 2000. You're 13 going on 14, your mom moved to the US for "a year or two" when you were five but has yet to return, you miss her terribly, your dad is a violent drunk, and you barely have enough to eat. Just to provide for you and your little sister, you have two choices: join a gang to kill others and steal what you need, or head north to find your mom. Riding atop a train with your sister for thousands of miles, your money is stolen, and your sister is raped at gunpoint right in front of you, and a fight has left you with a deep, infected wound. You finally make it to the US...and meet the Border Patrol. Once again, two options: hope the legal system will help you find your mom, or be deported back to Nicaragua.

Meanwhile Democrats and Republicans wrangle over so-called immigration reform. (Yet there's plenty of money for new over-budget fighter jets.)

World climates are changing, poverty and starvation and climate refugees are on the rise, wars over resources are on the rise (which leads to more refugees; look at Iraq and Syria), and the poor and desperate are flocking into southern Europe and U.S. at record rates. That's the "coming home to roost" part. Europe has sucked northern Africa dry; now it's time to provide for those they left destitute. Ditto for us.

Some say there's plenty of food to feed the world. Maybe so, but think about it. Are we going to ship tons of grain and vegetables to millions of people living in drought-stricken lands or war zones? For how long? No, they want out. They want to go to where the resources are. But the resources are here, in the wealthy regions of the world.

I'm speaking in broad generalities, of course, but once again I see only two options for humanity's future: share or not. The first option means opening our doors—not just our southern border but the doors to our homes—sharing our wealth with the have-nots. It's not a comfortable option: lowering our standard of living, redistributing our wealth, rethinking what we consider to be "necessities." But all of that beats the second option: the status quo, don't share, cling to what is "ours" (while our multinational corps steal from the poorest nations), and basically let social Darwinism run its course. That is, feel sorry for those poor Mexican kids, those Syrian refugees, all those strange others, maybe even send some money to Doctors Without Borders, but meanwhile drive your SUVs, live in your air-conditioned homes, use your high-tech goodies, support "tough on crime" prisons that pay $100,000/year to warehouse a guy like me, and don't look too closely at the international price (in human lives, in children raped on trains) for the American economy to keep "healthy" and "growing."

I, for one, am sickened by the whole thing.

* * * *

25 April 2014 • Cool & windy Friday night

daydream

On 26 January I wrote that the prison gods are capricious. A couple of weeks ago my counselor called me in to tell me I was being transferred (to another prison several hours north). After much gnashing of teeth, sackcloth & ashes, and prayer, it turns out a mistake had been made; I'm staying here (for the foreseeable future).

On top of that blessing, I got the perfect job: building porter (janitor) here in Joshua Hall. I'm the sink man, taking pride in polishing all 13 of them every day. It's "perfect" because it doesn't conflict with my visiting or music rehearsal hours/days, it leaves me plenty of time to work on my doctoral studies, and it gives me a sense of helping to keep our "house" clean.

Another blessing: the troublesome sergeant I wrote about in my 25 December entry left earlier this year on sick leave. I wouldn't wish sickness on anyone, but he's been gone ever since and we're all hoping he took early retirement.

As I'm devouring books these days (2-3 per week), I must mention a few highlights. For those, like me, frustrated by a world of different religions, philosophies, and worldviews, Ken Wilber offers a wonderful overview that holds all that messiness loosely in one model. Try his Integral Spirituality and Integral Psychology. For those, like me, who have left God and yet feel drawn back to a radically different experience of God, try Richard Kearney's Anatheism.

OK, back to work. I've got sinks to polish and papers to write.

* * * *

7 March 2014 • Late Friday night

Can I just say how much I love my gay and transgender friends? Am I allowed to say that? They are among my best friends here in prison, adding levity and a feminine spirit to a place bereft of both. And to those of you on the outside who have bravely "come out" to be true to yourself—and who continue to shower me with love and support—bless you!

My spiritual journey, ever full of surprises, has spiraled back home. I'm happy to call myself a Christian again. I've come to really admire the Catholic Church and her new pope (and, among others, the author Fr. Richard Rohr), but I'm way too liberal for her confines. I'd fit better in the Episcopal Church with her married clergy, women priests, and a gay bishop. I can also say that, from my current vantage point, after several years of exploring other religions, I realize that God was present in each of those places, even, paradoxically, in atheism. It's hard to explain; it's not really a logical or lingual thing, just retrospectively experiential, something I'm sure of in my gut. God is alive in all those places but most alive for me in the stories of my youth and in the person of Jesus.

This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. Our regional (Catholic) bishop made his annual prison visit, and our poor chaplain, Sister Elizabeth, was all a-flutter! No problem for us musicians. I worked my five guys hard, and it paid off. It was all a big success. Even the warden, captain, lieutenant, and a few members of the press showed up!

Today I made a 12-hour trek (5 AM-5 PM) to a local hospital for a routine dermatologist check-up. She found a few spots on my head and biopsied them. Also a couple on my arm. Skin cancer will be my companion for the rest of my days, but as long as I catch the spots early, everything should be OK.

I've started my doctoral readings and am having a blast! I admit it: I'm a school-a-holic.

Shalom to you all!

* * * *

26 January 2014 • Cool Sunday night

I'm surrounded by Baby Boomers.

To my right is Jim, 70, a former fire captain, who grew up in a Christian Reformed Church in Michigan, who has an endless store of jokes. To my left is Ernie, 60, from New York, with a sarcastic tongue and a warm heart. On the bunk below me is Bob, 72, a Pentecostal Christian with a dry sense of humor. Norm, Eddy, and Mike are nearby, in varying states of health, all with old-fashioned manners and kindness. Norm's bunkie is a middle-aged retarded fellow, and nearby is a man both physically and mentally crippled, who can barely feed himself.

I still can't believe I can go almost an entire day without hearing the f-word. Almost.

For the past five years I've been pining to return to a cell, just for the quiet solitude. No more. I'm happy here. The dorm is calm, people are respectful, and I'm close to Mom.

I hesitate to share how content I am. The prison gods are capricious. I'm learning to live in the now, to be thankful for each moment's passing blessings.

* * * *

1 January 2014 • Sunny & warm Wednesday afternoon

HAPPY NEW YEAR ! ! ! Here are two things for you to do as we enter a new year.

Hug a Tree! Here's a picture from Germany to inspire you! tree-x (click to enlarge)

Read this short article: "Lessons from European Prisons."

Blessings to you all!

from 2013:

25 December 2013 • Warm & clear Wednesday afternoon (Mittwoch Nachmittag)

MERRY CHRISTMAS one and all! Here's the good, the bad, and the beautiful.

THE GOOD
I've been accepted into the doctor of education program at Edinburg Theological Seminary (in Texas) under the tutelage of Dr. John Van Dyk, one of my favorite former undergraduate professors and a good friend. I'm very excited about this opportunity to achieve my personal "Mt. Everest."

My wall is covered with Christmas cards! Such love and support in here is rare—and I cherish it. Thank you!

My niece, Adeline, is a new member of a Grand Rapids (Michigan) youth choir. I am so proud of her! Choral singing has played a formative role in my life and remains one of my fondest memories; may it be so for her as well.

THE BAD
I'll keep this short—but I also want to keep it real.

My good friend and sometime bunkmate over the past three years, Scott McKelvey, was unexpectedly and suddenly transferred to a prison in Arizona (leased by California) a couple of weeks ago. I miss him.

Over the past few months, our dorm has had an influx of young, immature, loud, and rude individuals. I've gently approached two of them about keeping the noise down; the result is I've been threatened with serious bodily harm. I'm looking into moving to another dorm.

Also over the past couple of months, a rogue sergeant has gone out of his way to discriminate against religious services. We're all hoping he retires soon.

THE BEAUTIFUL
Have you seen the PBS show "St. Olaf in Norway"? (St. Olaf is a Lutheran college in the Midwest.) It's not too late to download it or stream it or whatever it is you people do these days. It brought me to happy tears remembering my college choir days and our beloved conductor/composer "Mr. G" (Dale Grotenhuis).

Our Christmas service this morning in the Catholic Chapel was amazing! My "band" guys did a great job—we've really grown into a nicely blended sound—and I love the cantoring. (I also won a Godiva chocolate bar in the raffle! My fellow musicians and I devoured it on the spot!)

* * * *

11 November 2013 • Warm Monday afternoon

Yesterday marked three years here at Chino Prison. The days drag by; the weeks and months fly by. A strange reality. My buddy Fritz visited on Saturday, my mom yesterday. Each visit is a taste of normalcy, an experience of kindness, politeness, intellectual interaction—not to mention love and affection—that I never otherwise get.

I continue to be flummoxed by prison. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) requires neither correction nor rehabilitation. It should be CDBHW, The Cal. Dept. of Boredom and Human Warehousing: how to fit as many bodies in as small a space for as long as possible. I look around me: the waste of human life ("resources") is monumental. Multiply 120,000 inmates by 80% unemployment, then figure in half of those jobs require working about 30 minutes per day, and that's a lot of idle time! The black market is a thriving place to make money: selling food from the chow hall, pens & pencils from the classrooms, and pornography, heroin, and cell phones from visitors, guards, and nurses. If you want to hone your criminal skills, come to prison!

It's my belief that every prisoner (myself included) struggles from some area of immaturity: social, sexual, an inability to deal with addictions (drugs, violence, power, affection), etc. The way to help an immature person (of any age) is to parent them. If they won't voluntarily accept such an intervention of authority, boundaries, and discipline, then remove them from society (e.g. prisons or mental hospitals) and give them every incentive and opportunity to grow up in that restrictive environment. I didn't commit my crimes because I wanted to hurt anyone! Indeed, I thought I was being helpful (liberating) and that the laws were old-fashioned and puritanical. I thought that the punishment for such things was, at most, a few years in prison. I was willing to risk that in order to do what was "right," to be a social reformer.

Does that sound crazy? It was. I was. I see that now. Clearly. I came to that realization years ago. I have pursued my own rehabilitation by reading books and begging for therapy. Over the last 5 years I've had 5 psychologists: 2 good, 3 mediocre. My immaturities are maturing; the psychological roots of my crimes are well mapped-out and understood; and the steps needed to prevent reoffending are firmly in place. As I said, I didn't do what I did because I couldn't help it. I did it for what I (wrongly) thought was the greater good. My usurpation of parental authority is unthinkable to me today! Not only do I have no desire or intention to repeat my crimes, but the sheer thought of returning to prison for life (if I did) makes me nauseous. I will do anything and everything the law requires to make sure I never return to this place and never hurt anyone again!

So...

What now?

Next spring marks my halfway point. 12 years down, 12 to go. Why am I being punished when I never intended to hurt anyone in the first place? Why must I continue to be punished when any psychologist will tell you I'm safe to return to society? Why is our so-called "justice" system all about revenge and not about healing? Why are the justice systems of the predominately atheist European nations (e.g. Denmark, Sweden) so rehabilitative and those of our supposed Christian nation so callous, punitive, and inhumane?

CDCR is the worst kind of "parent" you could imagine: capricious, demeaning, uncaring, constantly changing the rules, too lazy to follow up on threats of discipiline, and viewing each of us as dollar signs. No consistency. No acknowledgement of improvement. No help in building self-discipline. In a word, no social or cultural maturity. (Except for the rare good teacher or psychologist.) It's bureaucracy at its worst. Bloated, lazy, and self-serving. This is no place for an immature person to learn anything except that immaturity is normal and rewarded.

Three years ago, 33 of you wrote letters on my behalf to the governor of California as part of my appeal for a reduced sentence. (Once again, thank you!) As far as I know, that appeal remains in a binder of such things in the governor's office. No action on his behalf has been taken. I'm not holding my breath.

In the New Year, we may see some relief from the intense overcrowding in here. At least that's the deadline set by the Federal Court. How it will happen is still anyone's guess.

My every effort to create programs like teaching music has been thwarted by a dysfunctional administration (constantly changing personnel and rules). I'm tired and frustrated. My medications (antidepressant and anti-anxiety) dull my spiky reactions to the noise and chaos around me, but they also deaden my emotions. I have yet to cry for the loss of my beloved Papa Richard. I miss him so much, but I feel like Spock. I just want to go home.

* * * *

22 October 2013 • Cool Tuesday evening

This past weekend I had one of my best visits ever. I was smothered in love and hugs from four women! My Grandma Lee (nonagenarian!), Cousin Jacquie, Aunt Karen, and my mother (see pic below). We laughed and cried and they fed me till I could barely walk.

family [click for larger view]

On a more sober note, someone stole my biggest tomato this morning. I guess it comes with the territory. I'm having fun growing tomatoes from the seeds of the tomatoes they occasionally give us in our lunches. I've got four plants, three of which are producing tomatoes the size of hacky-sacks.

I've read some amazing books lately. Flight Behavior, by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver, is a celebration of nature's beauty, a novel about a small town in SE America and their unexpected visit from millions of monarch butterflies. Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World, by Sabina Berman, is a moving story told in the first person by an autistic girl. Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin R. Meyers (a pastor), is radical and inspiring. And Richard Rohr's books, Falling Upward and The Naked Now, are deeply devotional. I'm currently reading Paul Churchland's Plato's Camera; it's about neurophilosophy.

* * * *

16 August 2013 • Hot & dry Thursday afternoon

A month ago was my 47th birthday and since then I've been grateful to receive more than a dozen cards and a stack of books as presents. Thank you, one and all! The mailroom's been slow lately, so I'm learning patience—and pretending I live in the days of the Pony Express. The books are delivered to me without receipts; if you sent one, please let me know so I can thank you personally.

Summer has brought with it a bouquet of surprises.
• I've been longing to make friends with women my age with whom I can be open about my life. I now have a few European penpals who are wonderfully & surprisingly encouraging.
• I've been longing to complete the life-goal of earning a doctorate. I now have a very real possibility on the horizon. (I'll keep you posted.)
• I'm experiencing a bit of a homecoming with regard to my spiritual and philosophical journey. I find the metaphors of my youth speaking more powerfully to me again.
• I'm inundated with more proofreading for Polebridge Press. I've proofed almost three dozen books for them now over the past seven years: most recently the Didache and Marcion's First New Testatment (144 CE). It's been a great education in biblical criticism and liberal theology. [See Polebridge's acknowledgement]
• The Catholic chapel music group ("band") leader just paroled—and guess who got chosen to be the next leader? Leadership in this dysfunctional place is usually more of a headache than it's worth, but Sister Elizabeth O'Keefe is a real joy to work for.
• We have half-a-dozen yard bands here at this facility and the inmate coordinator for the program just got charged with drug possesion (drugs were smuggled in). Guess who got chosen to be the next coordinator? More craziness in my life! The program has been notoriously disorganized and needs a firm administrative hand. I'll do my best to put it back on track.

So suddenly my days are VERY full! Thank you for your thoughts and prayers and cards and books! Please pray for the comfort of my mother, and for the healing of my victims and their families.

* * * *

22 June 2013 • Heavy Saturday afternoon

My stepdad, Richard Anshutz, died this morning, age 82. I have been blessed to know several people in my life who embody Unconditional Love in the fullest sense; Richard was one of them. I treated him coldly at first, a quarter century ago, when he reentered my mom's life. He had been carrying a torch for her for the previous quarter century, never marrying, devoting his life to sharing classical music with people young and old around the world. I've never met a person with a more encyclopedic memory for names, faces, places, and musical trivia. Everyone who met him loved him. He eventually won me over too. I could tell he was good for my mom right away, but I didn't realize how good he was for me until I landed in prison. He never once judged me, condemned me, condescended to me, tried to tell me prison was good for me or tried to spiritualize this whole ordeal. He just loved me. Nothing, it seems, would stop him from loving me, encouraging me, being proud of me, telling me funny stories, exploring my intellectual interests with me, or visiting me every month—until his body gave out. His religion, if you could call it that, was subtle, full of Mystery, the love of Life and humanity, and best expressed through music. If all of his friends from all over the globe could gather to say goodbye to him, I'm sure they would fill a cathedral—and form a full symphony orchestra! Oh, what I would give to play the cello in that requiem! Goodbye Papa Richard. You were the best husband my mother could've ever had—and an incredible father. You will never be forgotten. (Written to Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture.")

* * * *

15 June 2013 • Lazy Saturday afternoon

THE "LES MIS" SAGA, PART TWO

Well. I got to see it again last night after all. It was quite the ordeal to make it happen, but basically two of us started it at 10:00 PM and, after some interruptions, finished it about 2:00 AM. It was well worth it! I had a chance to marvel at more of the cinematography—incredible camera work.

Of course, I cried again. Prison is not a place where I feel comfortable crying. It felt so good, so cathartic, to let the tears flow last night. It's no secret that I've had a love-hate relationship with God and Christianity these past many years, but I was reminded yesterday that sometimes love-in-the-name-of-religion can be done right. The Catholic priest in the story was an incarnation of Love. Will I find that when I get out?

The truth is I find that even now. Thank you to all of you who incarnate Love to me.

Now if I can only embody that Love to the guys in here (inmates and guards) who make my life miserable. The miserables—all of us—needing a fresh start.

* * * *

14 June 2013 • Sunny Friday afternoon

On one end of our long barracks-house (80 bunkbeds) is a separate "dayroom" with two bolted-down metal tables each with four bolted-down metal stools, a TV & VCR bolted to the wall, and several bolted-down wooden benches. This was my theater this morning as I watched the new "Les Miserables" movie. DVDs of two recent movies are rotated around the yard every week, most of them trash, but every once in a while, like today, worth watching. (VCRs and DVDs are all paid for by inmates and their families.)

I know "Les Mis" well. In 2002, when I was out on bail for one week before returning to court to be sentenced to 28 years in prison, the last thing I did on my final evening of freedom was drive into Los Angeles and watch "Les Mis." I haven't seen it since. I feared I may not see it again till my release. Today it brought me to tears (once again).

It is, of course, a story of a draconian justice system in a divided society (the have's and the have-not's), of a man's mistake plaguing him to his dying day, of the cancer of legalism, of the power of forgiveness, sacrifice, and hope—and a love so great that it binds all wounds. It is my story. It is your story.

And it is a bitter irony that I watched this film in a room where four card-player-gamblers were slamming their cards on the table and laughing and speaking loudly—as if the handful of us movie-watchers weren't there. And that guys kept walking in and out, scoffing, "Oh, a fuckin' singin' movie!" And others would stand in the back making fun of the singing in high, warbly voices and raucous laughter.

Have I mentioned recently that I hate this place? And many of the people here?

They're supposed to show it again tonight, but the evenings compete with NBA games and TWO poker tables!

So. I tried to soak in what I could (leaning forward in the front row) this morning. I guess I'm lucky I got to see it at all; many other prisoners in many other places and times haven't had this opportunity.

fantine

I think I was moved most this time by Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway). No one should have to go through such humiliation and degradation! It makes me want to find someone like that and love her and marry her and remind her that she is worthy and lovable—without the sex—forget the sex! And the children, Cosette and the little boy who was shot, to raise them with love and discipline—to give them a life!

note "Who am I? I'm Jonathan Peter Andreas, T83733!" note

* * * *

20 April 2013 • Warm Saturday evening

I often awake in the morning from amazing dreams: my victims and their families have forgiven me, or I'm teaching in a classroom again, or playing my cello in an orchestra, or in the warm embrace of a lover. And then reality sinks in...and I begin to think of how I'll fill the hours of another empty day. When not immobilized by loneliness or depression, I realize I'm blessed with so much time to read and watch and think and write. My brother is so busy every moment of every day—the whole world seems to be moving at fast-forward from my vantage point—and here I sit. When I am paralyzed by the overstimulation of my overcrowded environs, I feel guilty for not doing more with my life.

I've had several anxiety attacks these past few months due to that overstimulation: too much noise, movement, too many people, and no privacy, ever, even on the toilet. I need downtime, a chance to retreat at the end of a chaotic day, but there is no retreat, ever. No solace, no solitude, no silence. The officers are unsympathetic. The psychologists are impotent. Meditation and medication help a little.

Nonetheless, I try to stay busy. I'm still a building janitor, though I've progressed from cleaning toilets to mopping floors. I love mopping. Seriously. Slow, repetitive movements, a bodily meditation, a gentle workout, and keeping our house clean. I've written two songs, one to Scripture and another to a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I'm teaching two classes of Introductory Music Theory to my fellow inmates. And I'm once again leading the music for the weekly Catholic Chapel services.

Finally, a plug for some of the best books I've ever read—yes, right up there with JRR Tolkien(!): George RR Martin's "A Song of Fire and Ice" series beginning with A Game of Thrones. There are five hefty tomes out now with two(?) more to come.

Please plant a tree for those of us who can't. Blessings to you and yours.

from 2012:

11 December 2012 • Late Tuesday night

Just a few random thoughts to share with you as we wrap up the year:

My two favorite TV shows: "Downton Abbey" (PBS) and "Parenthood" (NBC). I consider myself very critical of TV, so I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm hooked on these two shows. "Downton Abbey" is an award-winning worldwide sensation and needs no explanation. But "Parenthood" caught me by surprise. Its stark realism of the joys and frustrations of parenting as well as the ups and downs of life in general are profound. Tonight's episode had one of my favorite actresses (Monica Potter) dying of cancer and had me in tears. Cathartic tears. I've screwed up my life and the lives of others so badly—the pain (guilt, grief, depression) is often more than I can bear. I can't laugh at the silly jokes of sitcoms, but I can cry with people struggling together just to make it through the day. "Parenthood" gives me strength.

Tai Chi and Chai Tea. This year I accomplished one of my New Year's resolutions. Starting the first week last January and adding one move per week, I've learned the entire Yang Short Form of Tai Chi (8 min. long) and do it every morning after breakfast. And chai tea? Well, it was my favorite hot drink before prison, and it's finally available to us in here! I've stocked up and will be sipping it often this winter.

Several years ago I had a dream that I was reciting an epic poem that summarizes the modern version of all of history, from the Big Bang to our current ecological crisis. A web search (thanks to my mom) for just such a thing came up dry. So I started to write it myself. This fall I finished it and got it copyrighted (my first such endeavor)—and now I share it with you. (Click HERE to read "The Universe Story: An Epic Poem.")

* * * *

22 November 2012 • Thanksgiving Day

10 November marked two years here at the California Institution for Men in Chino. I'm thankful to be here. There are much worse prisons. I'm particularly appreciative of the grass, trees, nearby mountains, the local airport next door that sends small planes overhead, and most of all, the chance to live close to two of my parents.

Last week a House finch accidentally flew into our bunkhouse. The poor thing flew back and forth along the ceiling, obviously very frightened. I, too, was scared; I've seen inmates do cruel things to our fellow animal-residents. But this time was different. We all worked together, standing on our upper bunks, to shoo him out the open door. Finally, someone caught him in a laundry bag and gently carried him outside where he gladly flew off unharmed. I was thankful for that moment.

Watched an Andy Williams Christmas Special retrospective on PBS last night. It brought back such wonderful memories of Christmases at my grandparents' home in Pella, Iowa. Those were such innocent times. The way the actors danced and sang back then would be called "gay" today (as an epithet). The freedom and naivete of the 1960s and '70s formed my soul. I'm so thankful for that—and wish I could find it again today.

"I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams." I love this time of year and wish you and your family Joyeux Noël, Feliz Navidad, Fröhliche Weihnachten, and Merry Christmas!

* * * *

17 October 2012 • HOT Wednesday afternoon

We all have a cleft down the middle of our brains, dividing them into left and right hemispheres or halves (LH and RH). It used to be thought that the LH was in charge of doing math and language, and the RH was the artsy side; however, that's too simplistic. We now know that both sides of the brain are involved in math, language, art, etc. As it turns out, the two halves don't split up what they do so much as how they do it.

For instance, math. The LH is better at raw calculation and manipulating symbols (think algebra) and the RH at "number sense" or the feel (intuition) that the solution is heading in the right or wrong way. The LH likes rules, steps, procedures. The RH tends to think outside the box.

Or take language. The LH stores vocabulary and the rules of grammar. But a person would sound like a robot speaking straight from the LH. It takes the RH to inject emotion, body language, vocal pitch and the ability to "read between the lines" on paper or on a person's face.

And art. The LH very importantly (and very stubbornly) holds the techniques and rote knowledge that every master artist knows. But it takes the RH to unlock the imagination and create something new and astonishing that moves the soul, brings tears to the eyes, and changes one's view of the world.

All of this I've learned from Iain McGilchrist's The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale, 2009), a thick but inspiring book that I found eminently applicable to my life. I have long felt "schizophrenic" or divided into two selves. Am I a Classical person (philosopher) or a Romantic (artist)? In high school: do I want to become an engineer or a film maker? In college: a physician or a schoolteacher? Master's degree: focus on administration (power, control) or curriculum (creativity)? Each of these could be rephrased as living out of my LH or RH. Even my doctoral work was an attempt to do a PhD (LH) on the imagination (RH).

McGilchrist describes the danger—both personally and culturally—of living out of primarily one side of the brain. His answer, as both a psychiatrist and professor of English, is a healthy give-and-take between the two hemispheres: R-L-R. The RH takes in the world around us as a whole. The LH picks and chooses details out of the whole to analyze, categorize, and manipulate. The RH takes those now-organized specifics and places them back into their holistic context, giving us the chance to work within our world in a balanced way.

But what happens when culture begins to emphasize one side of the brain, one way of thinking, over the other? When kids get into college based primarily on grades (LH) and SAT scores (LH); when diplomas are issued mainly for job promotion (LH: utility, control, power) instead of the love of learning; when scientists (LH) with a high IQ (LH) are considered the voices of authority; and when the arts (RH) are the first things cut from federal government and school district budgets? Then you have a R-L way of living. The RH embraces the big picture, the LH focuses like a laser on what it wants to manipulate, and actions are made without the RH having a chance to put things back into context.

People become human resources. Criminals become disposable. Our living, breathing Earth becomes a mound of raw materials. God becomes a "psychological projection providing parental comfort." Art becomes esoteric and rational and abstract (causing a pop culture pushback of primitive, tribal intuitions: e.g. rap "music").

It's not a pretty sight. Welcome to the 21st century.

So how do we bring our brains, our bodies, our societies, our planet back into balance? To give you a 5-point plan would be very LH. To let you wrestle with the angel of ambiguity would be very RH. I say we wrestle.

* * * *

10 October 2102 • Cool Wednesday afternoon

After another sizzling summer, the weather has finally broken. Clouds, cool air, a chance of rain. With yearly new record highs being set, I wonder what this place will be like 14 years from now.

For ten years now, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has made no initiative to rehabilitate me. I look to the prison systems of northern Europe with envy; they strive from Day One to bring healing and reconciliation. Nonetheless, I've filed endless requests and finally, these past few years, found help. Stabilizing depression was the first step, to help me think clearly. Then exploring the root causes of my crimes, including how I could be so confused as to think I was doing good when I was actually doing harm. For what it's worth, I get it now. Loud and clear. And have no desire to repeat my crimes. And wish desperately I could go back in time and erase the harm done to the individuals and families I genuinely cared for.

One really has to strive to find healing in this system. Every inmate suffers from some form of social and/or emotional immaturity; it's an overcrowded gathering of 13-year-olds in adult bodies, most of whom have had no real discipline in their lives. And this system, at $48,000 per year per inmate, offers no discipline and no opportunity for social or emotional growth. On the contrary, the rules change with each correctional officer (and his or her mood), with each work shift, and with each new (frequently replaced) administrator. No consistency or regularity. Capriciousness and confusion reign. How to survive chaos? Just like on the streets (or so I've learned), keep your head down and do whatever it takes to protect yourself. Of course, I wasn't raised "on the streets" and refuse to abide by those survivalist ethics, so I stick out. I hold out hope for things like the Golden Rule and kindness and hard, honest work being rewarded, etc. It doesn't always pan out, in fact it rarely does, but I just try and do my part.

I'm all for tough love, discipline, and opportunities for real social-emotional growth. I do not think we should go easy on criminals. Not at all! But somewhere in the equation ought to be rehabilitation and reconciliation, don't you think? We currently have neither in this state. Restorative justice (as opposed to retributive justice) is used in a few US states and many other countries (e.g. Sweden and Denmark) and the crime and recidivism rates there are far lower. Our prison systems need a massive overhaul. You might want to email that to your state representative.

Until next time, go outside, throw a handful of fallen leaves into the air, and spin with your arms out wide as they fall around you!

While Jon struggles to handle the chaos in "dorm living" with immature mentality all around him and he yearns for a single cell, click on this article to learn how BAD solitary would be for him.

* * * *

21 April 2012 • Hot Saturday afternoon

I'm back. Over the past few months I've been rethinking a lot of things, including the existence of this website. It is surely not intended to ignore the reality of my crimes. On the contrary, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss them—it is a topic in need of airing out here in America—but my very safety here in prison depends on my being discreet. Pecking order and all that. This website is my virtual presence in the larger world, a chance for me to be more than the sum of my wrongdoings, and a chance to share with family and friends my life journey.

I've said it before: I needed to come to prison. I needed to have my life shattered so that it might be rebuilt more authentically. Enough living others' dreams and burying my own.

Last week I completely lost my cool. The incessant noise in my barracks finally got to me and I began shouting sarcastically, "Turn up the TVs! Talk louder! It's not loud enough in here!" A few people looked at me oddly and went about their (loud) conversations. (Does no one know what an "indoor voice" is anymore?) I'm sure for the guys on the other end of the hall my shouts were merely blended into the cacophony. It felt good to not have to be "Gentle Jon" all the time, to give voice to the rage within. But it also wasn't the most mature way to handle it. I still have much to learn.

I've been trying to find my way back to Jesus, to the hero of my youth. Two books have surprised me to that end: Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton (2012) and Embracing the Human Jesus by David Galston. (I'm proofreading the galley proofs of the latter for Polebridge Press; it should be out in a few months.) Sifting through the apocalyptic/messianic Jesus (the Christ) to find the very human, very witty Jesus the wisdom teacher has been refreshing (if a bit unorthodox). This is the Jesus who celebrates the kingdom around us in the here and now (as opposed to the hereafter), who celebrates life with all its ups and downs. I have much to (re)learn from that Jesus.

L'chaim!

* * * *

17 January 2012 • Sunny and cool Tuesday morning

Shortly after receiving my 28-year prison sentence, a seasoned inmate offered some sage advice. Upon reaching ten years, he said, there will be no one left to write or call; all will have dropped away. On the other hand, I will have accepted my fate so that it won't matter anymore. 2012 marks ten years since my arrest and I'm pleased to have avoided that dire prediction. Thanks to you, all of you, my guardian angels, my cloud of witnesses, I have not had to walk this road alone. I hope and pray the same for my victims and their families! No harm was intended, much harm was affected, may we all find healing.

I received a wall full of Christmas cards and family pictures last month. Thank you! Your persevering love throughout the years has been truly remarkable. As I reflect on the past decade, our journey together has been unpredictable, to say the least. Not so surprising, perhaps, was my initial arrogance, the thought that I could preach to you from prison. I was struggling to find my voice, to maintain some semblance of self-worth and meaning. The initial experience of prison was so crushing that I had no emotional space left for guilt or shame; it was all I could do to keep my head above water, to catch my breath, to want to keep on going.

When I finally got my feet under me (at California Men's Colony, '05-'08), I began to reevaluate everything in my life, including my faith. I could no longer reconcile my belief in a loving God with the underbelly of reality in which I lived, so I walked away from Christianity. God faded like the morning mist. However, thanks to some helpful counseling, I was finally able to begin dealing with the guilt, shame, sorrow, and grief of my crimes and their ever-widely-rippling effects.

Whatever stability I had regained at CMC was knocked out from under me when I was randomly assigned to Avenal State Prison, the infamous dumping grounds for problematic correctional officers. I had reached a lower level of hell, and I fell to pieces. The guards were cruel, the atmosphere inhumane, and, near suicidal, I was prescribed my first drugs (anti-depressants). Nonetheless, at "Avenhell" I discovered the power of community (in the Jewish group) and, thanks to a gifted psychologist, began a deeper journey of self-discovery (starting with Dr. Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Person).

November 2010 I was granted the request to live closer to my parents. Chino State Prison is a 35-minute drive from their home and is a world of difference from Avenal. I continue to help those around me: singing in the Catholic service, teaching a Jewish friend to chant in Hebrew, tutoring a small group in Beginning German, teaching guitar lessons, and helping to create a new yard music program. I also enjoy learning from others: Tai Chi, college algebra, and esoteric philosophy. 2011 was a full year of invaluable counseling with another gifted psychologist. Dr. Smith, now gone due to budget cuts, helped to reawaken my decade-long dormant empathy, my desire to meet others on a deeper, more authentic level, and to continue peeling away the "masks" (false selves) that I wear. It's a painful and exhilarating experience!

That sage advice I received so long ago was not so sage after all. After ten years my mailbox remains full and I refuse to capitulate to the darkness of this environment. But I have not done it alone. Even though I walk in dark valleys, you are with me, strengthening me. Maybe by looking at the sky I've been looking for God in the wrong place. Maybe God is to be found in all of you.

* * * *

from 2011:

22 December 2011 • Winter Solstice

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Check out this homemade Christmas tree that a fellow inmate and his friends built next to his bunk (just across from mine). [click on the image to open another page for the full drawing]

xmas-tree

The branches are rolled newspaper painted green; the snow is cotton balls (from the medical clinic); the star is carved from soap; the nativity scene is a fold-out card; the fence is made of tongue depressors; the decorations are cheetos, dried jalapenos, and homemade doo-dads; the bricks and fireplace are drawn on paper and taped to the wall; and the wall and locker are covered with Christmas cards and drawings. Prison ingenuity!

I've been elected the Vice Chairman of the new Yard Music Program and asked to sing Christmas music (accompanying myself on the guitar) in the Visiting Room on the 24th and the 25th—both positions I didn't seek, my fellow inmates have put me up to it. I'm honored. It's a good end to a year full of growth. I look forward to what 2012 has to offer. All the best to you and yours!

* * * *

1 December 2011 • Windy Thursday morning

Where did November go? Sheesh! It's true: as you get older, time accelerates! I had two enjoyable performances last month. First, I sang the national anthem (a cappella) and a couple of other patriotic tunes for the veterans' group's Veteran's Day gathering. I dragged along my star guitar student (and bunkie), Scott, for his first public performance (he did great). Second, the regional bishop made his every-few-years visit to the prison and the chaplain, Sr. Elizabeth, invited me to sing "Ave Maria" as well as chant a couple of the parts of the liturgy. Both occasions went well. It's nice to be able to exercise my gifts.

I've been drafted to help design a proposal for a yard music program. There's already an ad hoc yard band (rock & roll, rhythm & blues, etc.) in place and they'd like to expand it to include educational classes and more musical genres. Who knows? Maybe a year from now I'll be teaching music history, beginning violin, and building a chamber music group.

I continue to enjoy my lifelong exploration of the Big Questions, reading widely in philosophy and religion. Most recently I've picked up Carl Jung and am reviewing his ideas of the collective unconscious, the shared genetic patterns that structure the unconscious mind.

This is a wonderful time of year: the rain here in California makes everything green, the Christmas lights on the surrounding hills, the holiday music on the radio, the magic of the season, time spent with family and friends. I hope you find it both deepening and uplifting!

* * * *

23 October 2011 • Sunny Sunday morning

It's a rare quiet morning. Some are off to church, others to yard, others sleeping in. I'm still processing last weekend's meaningful visits: Saturday with my brother and sister-in-law, and Sunday with my good friend Kate. My brother, Marc, is my best friend and his wife, Shelby, is the sister I've always wanted: kind, artistic, and free-spirited. Their visits are rare and precious and always go by too quickly; the chance to see their kids (albeit from a distance) melted my heart. Kate has been through some life-changing challenges these past couple of years and is emerging as one of my heroes. Weekends like that are bittersweet: they simultaneously lift my spirits and squeeze my heart with guilt.

* * * *

21 October 2011 • Foggy Friday morning

I find it troubling, as I grow older, how many of my own words I have to eat. How is it possible that such divergent—even contradictory—ideas can coexist in one mind? For the past several years—my postchristian phase—I have become increasingly socialist and "green." And then three months ago I picked up Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and—whammo!—I was a pro-industrial libertarian. What was that all about?

My experience of growing up—and I've grown up a lot these past nine years in prison—is a series of painful and rewarding expansions interrupted by periodic short-lived retractions to a former comfort zone that, in truth, has lost its luster. And so, after a breather in what used to be sweet air but has now become mawkish, it's time to move on. Ayn Rand (she said her first name rhymed with "mine") was for me a return to heroic self-confidence, rational clarity, and inventive genius—none of which, I hasten to add, are inherently bad. All of which might be very helpful to a man crushed by prison, but only—and here's where maturity grows—when balanced in a healthy context. Unfortunately, Ayn Rand extols self-confidence at the expense of sacrificial love, rationality at the expense of emotion and intuition, and genius at the expense of the common man. Some have called her evil or antichristian; I would prefer to think of her as a much needed corrective for those suffering from fear, overemotionalism, and mediocrity.

I loved her novels and will read them again. Her first, We the Living (1936), is a passionate and moving exposé of life in post-revolutionary Russia; it is a damning critique of communism and bureaucratic dysfunction (and, analogously, the California prison system). Her next, Anthem (1938), a novella about a dystopian future, reminds me of the movie "Logan's Run." Her third, The Fountainhead (1943), is the one that first made her famous and is my favorite. By today's standards it's melodramatic, but I find it inspirational and thought-provoking (especially her philosophy of aesthetics). Her fourth and final novel, Atlas Shrugged (1957), is widely considered her magnum opus and is indeed a monumental (and melodramatic) work of philosophical fiction. In many ways it is prescient of our world today—and a warning against overcentralization.

To round out my Ayn Rand education, I also read three of her nonfiction books, a book summarizing her philosophy by her best student, a book critiquing her ideas by a group of philosophy professors, and several lengthy articles in a similar vein. The worst thing I can say about her is that she became a victim of her own stubborn (rugged) individualism. She was, I believe, a brilliant thinker who refused to dialogue with her peers and therefore missed out on the invaluable opportunity to sharpen her ideas even further. She often misconstrued or dismissed her philosophical adversaries with broad sweeping (melodramatic) statements which resulted in her losing their respect. It's a shame, really, because I think her critique of relativism and postmodernism (especially in art) is still relevant today. Nonetheless, many of her conclusions must be taken with large chunks of salt, especially in light of the recent comingling of philosophy, psychology and neuroscience in the theory of mind—and the fact that we are highly social animals.

And so, after three months, my Randian-individualist comfort zone has become cloying and it's time to move on. I tip my hat to Miss Rand, keep a copy of The Fountainhead in my back pocket, and step back into the social, emotional, and largely mediocre world in which I live.

* * * *

9 October 2011 • Cool Sunday night

This past week I resigned from the volunteer position as the white inmate representative for my housing unit, Borrego Hall. It's a huge load off my shoulders. The job has two parts: (1) in the building, be the pincushion for my fellow inmates' constant jabbing of petty concerns, and (2) as a member of the yard-wide council, help to push for more inmate programs. (1) gets old really fast; after nine months I've had it up to here with all the bitching and complaining. I've discovered that (2) is a farce. We live in a dictatorship. The Powers That Be will give us what they want when they want. Period. I've got better things to do than play charades.

Besides, get this. The inmate council chairman, Mark, someone I know well and think highly of, just got written up (disciplinary action) for a ridiculously petty issue and is being forced to resign. But that's not the worst of it. You see, Mark is a lifer, someone who has to go before a board every year or so to beg for a chance to go home. Mark has already done more than 20 years on a 15-to-life charge. He is a mature, dependable, and self-confident middle-aged man with no disciplinary write-ups in more than a decade. He was poised to go before the board next year with, in everyone's estimate, a very high chance of "getting a date." That's all out the window now. Any write-ups nowadays equals a five-year denial. Get the picture? Mark has done as much as possible for the inmates here over the past year—a real thorn in the administration's side—and his reward? A cheap shot costing him five years of his life. Hence the prison proverb: Never draw attention to yourself.

* * * *

29 August 2011 • Cool Monday night

I'm done with religion (again). I stepped away from the Wiccan group today, leaving the grounds keeping to a very capable nature boy (with dreadlocks). The chapel here, especially the so-called Christian inmate workers, is scandalously inbred and territorial.

I'm experiencing a bit of a personal renaissance. Ayn Rand is the catalyst. She's nudged me toward self-confidence, boundaries (saying "no"), and renewed my love of excellence (something that is, frankly, non-existent in prison life).

On a more somber note, I've lost one of my faithful cheerleaders. My Cousin Jerry (Lyman) died a week or so ago at the age of 80. I had hoped to see him at least one more time. He was a constant source of encouragement. I would have liked to have played my cello at his funeral.

* * * *

6 August 2011 • Warm & breezy Saturday afternoon

I had a piece of my face removed yesterday. More skin cancer. Just below the right eye. My first black eye in prison. Hopefully the last.

I've now read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and Anthem and have started reading Atlas Shrugged. I see parts of myself in both her protagonists and antagonists, and the subsequent introspection is proving to be fruitful and therapeutic. The issue of a lack of self-confidence has played a major role in my life including, tragically, my crimes, and Ms. Rand's writings are helping to repair my broken bits. My goal is to leave prison a radically changed man. My journey toward that goal continues to be filled with unexpected turns.

I am taking down my "Sacred Ecology" and "Highly Sensitive Person" pages until further consideration and possible revision.

* * * *

16 July 2011 • Cool Saturday night

My birthday. Halfway to 90. A meaningful visit with my dad & stepmom last weekend. Likewise with my mom & stepdad today. I am so fortunate to have such a loving and encouraging family.

I've been avoiding Ayn Rand for a long time. She finally tackled me this past week. I still haven't recovered. I may not for a while. Bear with me. In the meanwhile everything's on hold. Everything's up for grabs. Ms. Rand may be the catalyst for the next step in my journey. Prison may be the very thing I've so desperately needed.

* * * *

4 July 2011 • Beautiful Monday evening • Waxing silver moon in the western sky

There was a fireworks display in the city park adjacent to the prison this weekend so we got to watch too. Today's my dad's birthday and I've always associated the celebrations with him.

The weather's been hot lately but the evenings are cool and breezy. And tonight's sunset...breathtaking.

I think my depression is mostly triggered by the sheer frustration of being trapped inside the world's most dysfunctional bureaucracy. Suspended animation. Boredom and loneliness. An utter waste of humanity. Where's the rehabilitation? the restorative justice? This is neither relevant punishment nor correction. It's human warehousing...at a profit. Please, I ask you to take ten minutes and read this excellent article, "The Role of the Prison Guards Union in California's Troubled Prison System." [If the link fails, go to my "Prison Reform" page and copy/paste the link in your browser]

My 45th birthday is coming up. I know times are hard so all I ask is for you to read the article mentioned above and send me a brief letter (with pictures!). Or give a few dollars to an environmental organization (see my Links page). Or, if you have the means, I'd love a book. My wish list is posted HERE at Amazon.com. Thank you. My love to you all.

* * * *

16 June 2011 • Cool Thursday night • Just past full moon

I struggle with depression. When I'm down I don't want to write or call anyone—just curl into a little ball. And yet I know it's that interconnection that keeps us all going. So here I am, connecting.

Some recent good news: One of my very few trusted prison friends, John D., has followed me here from our last (inhumane) prison. I've been here seven months now and like it much better. I hope he does too. The only bummer: he's been assigned to a housing unit on the other side of the yard and our yard times are alternated in such a way that we're never out at the same time. Another hurdle.

* * * *

30 May 2011 • Monday morning • Almost a new moon

Location, location, location. About a week ago my bunkie, Scott, and I moved nine bunks, from one end of our barracks to the other, from right next to the front door and the bathrooms (and all that traffic) to a quieter cul-de-sac (of sorts). There is no perfect neighborhood (especially in prison!), but so far this seems to be a good move.

There's a part of me that really loves nature and is really upset by all the damage we're doing to our planet. This part wants to be a Luddite, to live like the Amish. (Check out Paul Shepard's outstanding book, Coming Home to the Pleistocene.)

There's another part of me that misses my laptop, the Web, my offroad vehicle and symphony concerts—all products of (post-Enlightenment) western civilization. I marveled at the royal wedding a month ago! The aesthetic of Great Britain's pageantry, castles, cathedrals, legends, and landscape is utterly charming.

Perhaps there's a middle way. And one more thing: Happy 80th Uncle Doug!

* * * *

14 May 2011 • Cold & windy Saturday night • Near full moon

Have you ever actually gone to an animal shelter and looked into the eyes of a dog who desperately needs to be loved? How much more heartbreaking is it when they're the eyes of a child? How about when you look out at the face of the land around you? A land scraped clean, paved over, drained of its resources, soaked with poisons, and inhabited by a teeming mass of humans in climate-controlled boxes. A myriad species (including aboriginal humans) driven to extinction and replaced with non-native plants and animals requiring supplemental resources for support. Shouldn't we be heartbroken enough to adopt a piece of our local region and nurse it back to health? Or, to reverse the metaphor, since the land is much older and wiser than us, maybe we should allow the land to adopt us and teach us its ways. To renativize us. To rewild us. What might that look like?

* * * *

9 May 2011 • Cool Monday night • Maiden (waxing) Moon

Can you call the celebration of a future event an anniversary? Today is "Release Day" 15 years from now. Nine years down, fifteen to go. A long journey. What will the world be like when I walk free from prison? Difficult to say. This past year I've learned much, become thankful for my prison experience, for being stopped in my tracks and forced to take a close look at my inconsistent life.

The crucible of prison has facilitated several paradigm changes ("conversions") for me. Most recently, over the past year or two, I've drawn closer to Nature and deepened my relationship to her ways and cycles. (Google "deep ecology" and the inspiring author "David Abram.") I just finished reading another novel by Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow: slow, contemplative fiction about what we've lost by destroying rural America. Berry is a prolific, wise and brilliant farmer-philosopher. Pick any of his books, savor each page, and prepare to be changed. It's time to get out of the fast lane.

* * * *

2 May 2011 • Hot & dry Monday afternoon • New Moon (almost)

I heard last night that Osama bin Laden is dead. I don't like living in a world where we rejoice over someone's death. I don't care what a person has done, my reaction to a criminal is (1) to pull them aside to a safe place where they won't hurt any more people (including themselves), (2) find out why they did what they did (what were they thinking?!), and (3) work with them closely to help them find healing and bring healing to those they've injured. Most of us here in prison acted out against others because of the deep-seated injuries in our own lives. In some ways, much or all of our lives has been filled with punishment (e.g. inner torment) already. More punishment accomplishes nothing. Break the cycle of violence! Plant seeds of healing.

* * * *

24 April 2011 • Misty Sunday morning • Waning (Crone) Moon

Easter Sunday. Celebrating life renewed. Clouds hugging the ground, water on eyelashes. Plants standing tall, looking happy. Mama duck and her ten little ones waddling across the prison yard. Where did they come from, someone asks. Eggs, someone else replies. Very funny. I whisper a prayer that no one messes with them. So delicate, so vulnerable.

* * * *

17 April 2011 • Mild Sunday night • Full Moon

Since my last entry, I've spent almost every morning landscaping the Wiccan Grounds. The Native Americans and Wiccans (Native Europeans) split about a quarter acre in one corner of the prison yard. The former have turned their half into a beautiful oasis over the past several months; the latter, on my initiative, have begun to reclaim the other half, a weedlot-eyesore. All I can say is this: Why didn't I work the land a long time ago?! Any land...garden...whatever. Decades ago. I love it! I've nearly destroyed my new sneakers and socks with mud, but, oh, the glorious feeling of dirt on my hands, under my nails! I'm serious. I'm also embarrassed that it took me till 44 to revel in the feeling and smell of the earth. The ground is rock hard, full of clay and concrete leftovers (a former "weight pile" area). My hands are getting calloused and my shoulder and back muscles are wonderfully sore as I use a spade and hoe to loosen up the soil. With the help of a couple of friends, I've trenched and planted a grass-sod circle (about 14 feet in diameter) with extra-large pieces extending out to mark the four cardinal directions. Next project: putting plants every few feet along our border with the Native Americans. I'm out there watering it all nearly every morning (hence the muddy sneakers) and watching the sun come up. Maybe I should've been a farmer.

* * * *

17 March 2001 • Overcast Thursday morning • Maiden Moon (almost full)

You know that feeling you get when the preciousness of something hits you, when tears spring into your eyes, your throat & chest tighten—the feeling that you want to physically hold this moment and never let it go? I had that twice yesterday. Once, while walking laps around the yard I stopped and watched several of our 40-foot trees twisting in the wind. Like women dancing in hoop skirts. The second time was last night as I sat in the cool grass and stared at the moon. That "preciousness" feeling engulfed me like a wave and I wanted to hold it all: the moon, the drifting diaphanous clouds, the grass. But I couldn't, of course, so I just hugged my knees to my chest. I haven't felt that feeling for a very long time. Far too long. Perhaps something is melting within.

Nature, for me, has always been a conduit of religious experience. As Dr. Elaine Aron writes in her latest newsletter, "Carl Jung was certainly speaking of [highly sensitive people] like himself when he said that unless you are lucky enough to be contained by your religious tradition, you will be forced to find your own path." Prison has freed me from my religious tradition, so I'm enjoying a journey of spiritual exploration—and a reawakening to the Voice of Nature.

* * * *

28 February 2011 • Chilly Monday night • Crone Moon

The precipitation this past weekend has left us with powdered-sugar mountains to the north, or, in the words of a guy behind me in line this morning, cocaine mountains. It's all a matter of perspective. I found out today I was elected to the Men's Advisory Council (MAC) as a representative for our housing unit (Borrego Hall). I'll be one of a few dozen inmates representing our needs to the administration, helping to shape the formation of this new yard. Honestly, it's a job I've been avoiding all these years because it comes with a lot of headaches (and sometimes fistfights), but I think it's time I step up. On the religious front, I'm an occasional soloist for the Catholic service, the secretary of the Wicca group, helping to start the Buddhist group, and still waiting to meet the rabbi (after 3 months). In true Joseph Campbell fashion, I'm celebrating the Go(o)d in a variety of traditions. God isn't contained by one religion only, is She?

* * * *

16 February 2011 • Rainy Wednesday evening • Maiden Moon

I love the rain: the smell, the cool air, the smiling plants. This web site is like rain: a gift from above. I treasure the circle of family and friends that have walked with (and sometimes carried) me on this prison journey these past nine years. I thank you all with hugs and kisses—especially my mom who has done the lion share of the work on this site.

I also welcome any newcomers. It is my hope that this glimpse into who I am will help you to see that many of us behind bars are not much different from you. Yes, I am guilty of my crimes, of hurting those I cared for deeply—including, by ripple effect, my family and friends. And yes, prison has done me some good, opening my eyes to a larger, troubled world, and freeing me from immaturities that desperately needed to be outgrown. I have also learned that the American justice and correctional systems in general (and Californian in particular) are discouragingly corrupt and tragically harm more people than they heal.

May the nourishing rain of blessings continue to fall on us all.

"We can't ask for what we know we want;
We have to ask to be led someplace we never dreamed of going,
a place we don't want to be.
We'll find ourselves there one morning,
opened like leaves and it will be all right." ~ Kathleen Norris