My Soup Story

A few days ago was Renny’s birthday, so I looked back on my journey in the last six years.

I thought about my friend who went through a hard time with depression. She told me that during her hardship, there were two kinds of people who supported her: those who brought her a bowl of soup once a year and those who brought her a bowl of soup on a regular basis. My friend, you know who you are and I thank you for that talk; Now, I’m taking the soup metaphor a bit further.

After Renny went to prison, I received many bowls of soup from my families, friends, and people in general. However it didn’t last long.

I still get soup that are made of materialistic needs, such as a roof to live under, a bed to sleep in, food, and clothes, and school for my son. These soup still comes and I always appreciate them.

What I’m was talking about is the soup for my mental and emotional well-being. When I stopped getting as many bowls of these soup as I would like, I realized if I want to keep on living, I have to learn how to make my own well-being soup.

At first, my soup was messing with my emotions and it tasted awful, but I had to eat it to survive. As time went on, the flavors of my soup changed; they tasted better. I even began to add various vegetables and spices to my soup to make it flavorful. I was proud of my delicious soup. I enjoyed making and eating it so much that I thought my soup was sufficient and so I stopped accepting soup from others.

But that didn’t last either.

I became tired of making my own soup on daily basis. I had to make a second bowl of soup for my son every day too, so I didn’t care as much about the flavors or the nutritious vegetables and spices in my own soup anymore. Some days my soup was watery and bland or consisted of just broth, and it would give me just enough energy to get through the day.


I missed the soup made by other people. You know how a soup tastes better when it is made by someone else? But I didn’t want to always have to ask them to make the soup for me. I would just cover up the flavor of my own soup with some salt and act like everything’s fine and dandy. It is a mistake that I have to learn to undo.

Few days ago, the Stanford rape victim wrote a statement 15 pages long to her attacker about her rape experience, and what she wrote in the letter will remain with her for life. It doesn’t matter how long you were in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if it was a marriage or a date rape. It doesn’t matter. Domestic violence, sexual abuse, and other traumatic events can fuck your brain up. I know time heals wounds, but when you get all better, it’s already carved into your heart for life and yet, time still goes on. That’s why we need to continue making and feeding each other soup. There are many people who can’t or don’t know how to make their own soups at all and they are starving.

I’m not just talking about domestic violence and sexual abuse, I’m talking about mental health and physical health, parenthood, family, relationships, education, career, money, and more.

The Deaf community is a tight-knit community, and yet I still see people don’t feed each other soup. Do you know what will happen if we don’t feed each other? We become hungry and we are forced to make our own watery and bland soup and we are barely surviving. Why is that a norm?

Would you be content to receive a bowl of soup once a year or receive a bowl of soup on regular basis? Why do you want to settle for your own half-assed soup if you can get delicious and nutritious soup from others?

I still get well-being soups from my close friends and kins and I always appreciate them. I still make good soup for myself most days, sometimes it’s so good that my families and friends want more and I am more than happy to make them more.

I am not perfect, but I am not my own island and do not assume that as long as I can make my own soup, I am always fine.

Please don’t tell me I am brave or courageous for sharing my stories with you; I don’t want to hear that anymore. What I want you to do is to start making soups and give to those who really need them the most. Soup always tastes better when you offer it to others.
We all are always hungry. Just a small bowl of soup can make a world of difference.


What ‘‘night, Mother’ Taught Me About Mental Health and Deaf People


‘night, Mother, written by Marsha Norman, tells the story of two women, Thelma the mother and Jessie the daughter on one of their mundane nights which like every other night of their lives, was dictated by daily routine. However, on this night, Jessie made a decision to do something about it.

By the time I have grown to know the script by heart, it is apparent that Thelma and Jessie’s experience in relation to the mental health care closely resembles the experience of many deaf people between 1970 to 1990.  According to one theory, Jessie meets nearly all symptoms for clinical depression in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), but it is just one of the few theories behind her mental state; she has other misfortunes in her life, too.

Imagine yourself inside that living room, and instead of Thelma and Jessie, you are with someone who you know and more or less love. Imagine that this person is suffering a lack of treatment for their mental issues because they are deaf and the flaws in the system have squashed their rights to full and equal accessibility to mental health providers. Taking a look at our deaf history with the mental health care system, we have endured a long history of systemic oppressions and prejudices. It is still happening everywhere. I have seen it myself, and what I have seen is just the tip of a huge iceberg of miscommunication, mistreatment, and mismanagement that have caused the deaf and hard-of-hearing population to receive inadequate mental health care.


I experienced some typical PTSD symptoms after my marriage collapsed for a while and I somehow coped with them. I felt depressed, but I didn’t have most of the symptoms that suggested depressive disorder. I was never at the point where I couldn’t drag myself out of the bed or viewed the world as a dull and lifeless place for more than two consecutive weeks. I knew I should have seen a therapist though. I can imagine how helpful it would’ve been for me. I tried to look for one online but the information I found was minimal. If I found one that was accessible in ASL, they typically did not accept my health insurance. In addition to my introversion and the stigma of domestic violence, I lost my motivation to seek for help and eventually figured it out on my own. That was only five years ago.

However, not treating your mental issues such as anxiety disorders, ADHD, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, suicidal, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, social phobia, alcoholism, substance abuse, other addictions, and more can lead to much more severe consequences. It is already evident that the majority of deaf homeless people who live on the streets ended up living there because they have not met a single person who knows how to not only communicate fluently in American Sign Language, but also how to adjust the range of their receptive and sign language skills from disfluency to fluency of their clients’ signing ability. Professionals like these are few and far between. As a result, deaf people endured their mental illnesses or simply left them untreated. Like Jessie, deaf people with a disadvantaged status, likely uneducated, and living in some form of isolation, either physical or communication-wise, are at high risk of never receiving much needed help.*


There are many other deaf people who have mental illnesses but they also have jobs and homes and families. They are educated and serve as participating members of society yet they still hide behind the thinly veiled windows of their homes, trapped in their own minds. This play is not only just a reminder of this sad truth, but it is also a reminder of why we should discuss about mental health openly with our families and friends. The more we talk about it, the mental health care system in America will hear us. If we do not do something about it, it will remain broken.


Thanks to the growing numbers of available resources on Internet today, we can look in the comfort of privacy and find out what we need and where we can get help. We can access to the directories such as:

Gallaudet University Mental Health Directory

SAISD National Directory

NASMHPD’s Mental Health Links

However, it is still not enough, we don’t know if all of the professionals on these directories are really fluent in ASL and culturally inclusive. I just became aware of this new online mental health network consisting of ASL fluent and culturally inclusive professionals that serve deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The concept is wonderful. Please share and spread the word about this!

The Bright Side

If you want to know more about ImaginASL’s production, ‘night, Mother, go here

Want to know what happens to Thelma and Jessie? Last chance to buy your tickets here! The dates are March 11 and 12 at The Bug Theatre, Denver, CO

*Unique Considerations for the Deaf Needing Mental Health Care

Why I Suck At Dating

I am a survivor. The difference between a survivor and a victim is that survivors are healed from their traumatic experiences and display no signs of victimization. We got the support we needed and made the necessary changes to move on and live our life to the maximum. We got help and counseling and overcame PTSD. So we are fine now, right? Not necessarily.

The leftovers of pain still remain, but it is not pain anymore, it becomes a defense mechanism. Especially when it comes to start dating again. Dating? Ugh. That’s what I thought to myself, but it turns out I was not the only one who feels that way. Often women and men who have endured domestic violence in a relationship dread dating again. There are victims who continue to be in abusive relationships after abusive relationships; they often do not focus on healing themselves first, thus they are not fully recovered from it. That’s why they are still called victims.


But still for the survivors, dating is not a breeze. We wonder to ourselves, How will I ever be able to trust that the next person I fall for and want to be with is not another abuser? The reality is, and I’d like to believe so, that most of us have already accepted that the abusive tendencies of our exes has nothing to do with our taste in partners. The three possible reasons why we view dating like a toddler with a plate full of veggies are:

~The person you loved betrayed you and deeply hurt you. You fear for another betrayal.

~You became vulnerable to a person who may used that vulnerability to control you, and you don’t want to become vulnerable again.

~Your trust is lost, or seriously damaged, and to rebuild that ability to trust takes time.

But I think the main reason is, why would you want to risk opening your heart and getting hurt again?


That goes for me too, but I’m about to be able to count the years I have been single on both of my hands. I wondered why it took me so long, and I realized my reason is:

~I forgot what a healthy relationship feels like.

It is common for anyone who has underwent such a severe isolation for a long time. That means all contact with my family and friends were monitored and inquired, and eventually severed altogether, because it was easier just not to keep in touch with them at all. I had no one to turn to and that was when he had complete control over me.

In the aftermath, I didn’t trust myself to rebuild a normal relationship with anyone, especially with men who were talking to me. I couldn’t look them in the eyes because I could still see his face and feel him judging me in my head.


It took me a long time- a couple of years and plenty of pinot grigio to bond with my girlfriends again, a lot of dirty diaper changing to join back in with my family, and endless soul searching to finally remove him from my mind and reconnect with public life.

After some time, I convinced myself I am ready for the real thing: DATING. Yes, I’ve told people I’m ready to date again, but it wasn’t easy. I had to start all over again and relearn how to date. I made many assumptions and misunderstandings and tons of communication mistakes along the way. Trust issues have a lot to do with it too.

I KNEW for a fact that in order for me to have a healthy relationship with a partner, COMMUNICATION is the KEY. But if someone said, “We need to talk.” I immediately feel a pang in my stomach, Did I do something wrong? I overanalyze things because sometimes petty comments could trigger strange reactions from me that I couldn’t explain because it is too “complicated”. But the truth is, I couldn’t find the words to describe my feelings because they used to be dismissed as worthless. I couldn’t even bring myself to say I’m sad or scared because I was brainwashed to think it’s my fault. So, I appeared to be “too strong” or became emotionally closed off from other people.


I envy those people in healthy relationships with open communication and trust; they always seem to have so much fun together. However, a healthy relationship does not just happen. It requires a set of skills to maintain in a safe and healthy way that was lacking in my last relationship. I need to understand those skills. I need to learn to stop punishing myself (by avoiding and shutting people out) and reprogram my mind to remember that I will not get punished for wanting to communicate my feelings. I must forgive and trust myself so I can break free from my shell and let other people enter my life. I guess I still have a long way to go in the dating department, but if you ask me for thousandth time, I will tell you for thousandth time I prefer to be SINGLE and HAPPY than to be in a TOXIC relationship.

As for you who are returning to the dating scene after an abusive relationship, I strongly encourage you (and myself too) to keep on alert for any possible red flags. Here are a couple of informative links with the lists of red flag behaviors that you should pay attention when dating other people:

Confession of an Introvert


Why didn’t you ask for help? Why didn’t you go to a counselor? Why didn’t you tell anybody? The questions I got too many times, before and after marriage and single motherhood. They always bothered me until somehow the word introversion came to me too often enough that I can’t ignore it anymore.

I know what it means. Hell, I even took a college course on Emotional Intelligence, but I was stupid enough to forget everything I learned in that course. Since now it’s part of my process of healing, I have a real interest in the subject so it’s time I face my introverted self and understand it better.

Carl Jung, the psychiatrist who was the first to develop the concept of archetypes, collective unconscious, and yes, he is known for coining the words extroversion and introversion. The explanations for both personalities are simple: Extroverts become energetic by external stimulation. Introverts revive energy from within, in solitude. The difference between them is not social skills, it is the way they recharge or gain energy.


Marti Olsen Laney wrote in her best-selling book The Introvert Advantage that 25% of all people are introverts and a result from a 1998 Myers-Briggs computation of introverted personality types revealed that as high as 50% of the general population is made up of the introverts. Hey Introverts, you can jump with joy knowing you are not alone. Even through I know you may prefer jumping by yourself, but for my sake, just do it!


In fact, all of us have dominating personality trait of either introvert or extrovert with little of the opposite in us and that’s what made us a tad more interesting (or weird, but it depends on how you take it). Knowing that, no one is purely introverted or extroverted because then nobody’ll want to live with us.

Now, I understand why I was pulled strongly toward to the word. It defines who I am and more importantly, it explains why I didn’t ask for help during those troubling times. Looking back, so many things just clicked and made sense to me.

In these situations, I should have reached out, but I didn’t. To my family and friends, no hard feelings for not reaching out to you like I should have.

Reasons why introverts do not ask for help

Most introverts are reluctant to confess their seriously personal stuff except to most trusted friends or family members, so their support circle tends to be small. Bringing other people into their business means they have to explain things, answer questions, and feel more external pressure. All of that exhaust their energy reserve, so they become overwhelmed and may retreat to isolation.


For that reason, introverts often prefer to work their problems out on their own, even during the difficult situations. When facing a stressful situation, our body will switch to energy-saving mode in order to survive and the introverts’ energy-saving mode is to turn inward into self.

Other possible reasons are:

Retaining control by dealing with things alone.

Fear of losing control of the situation when asking for help with it.

Fear losing control of who knows about it.

Fear of having to explain to someone why you didn’t take their advice after considering all the options.

Fear of rejecting the time and effort other people want to give you.

Asking for help means admitting you are a failure.

You are embarrassed that you need help.

You let the fact you asked for help defines who you are.

What can introverts do to help themselves ask for help.

I can’t continue beating myself up for not doing any of these listed here when I needed to. I have to just accept what happened as a learning experiences.

1. Take a breath. Nobody’s judging you. Get over that, okay?
2. Start with one. Ask someone you would like to know more out for a coffee. If that person thinks alike, she will make time for it. It always works. But this means you will have to make small talk and that is what we hate the most, so start with asking questions.
3. Have one or two close friends within your reach and who can see you anytime without delay. It’s great to have many long-distance friends, but it is imperative to have someone you trust nearby. Also, nothing can beat the quality time with friends in person, so schedule a time out with a friend at least once every two weeks or whatever works for you.
4. If you don’t have any trusted friend close by, make one. Quickly. I know you’d say it’s easier said than done. We are not in kindergarten anymore! Well, a good way to make friends is through common interests. Yeah, that means you got to get off your ass and take classes or volunteer your time outside of your job, or if your job has projects, sign up.
5. Seek professional help. Better sooner than later. Start with one-to-one therapy and then move on to group therapy.

6.   It’s a good chance that you have extroverted friends who are not familiar with introversion. Explain to them that if you haven’t responded to their calls or emails in a while, it doesn’t mean you’re ignoring them. It just means you may need more time and energy to respond.

 What can you do to help introverts

1. It’s normal for an introvert in need to want to be alone or have some kind of time for solitude. So, encourage her (when she’s ready and able) to reach out to others who can help and support her. This is vital to her psychological and physical well being.


2. The introvert may resist admitting that they have a problem and need help. The key to helping her is to listen to her, ask her for her opinions, and when she opens up, encourage her to reach out for help in a way that honors the nature of her personality.

The act of asking for help reconnects people with their own inner power and the possibilities in the world. Asking for help doesn’t mean you will lose your power. Actually, you’ll be more likely to gain something beneficial for yourself. People love being asked for help. It gives them the warm and gooey feelings the equivalent of cute little critters that got you wasting hours on YouTube videos (is it their fault they’re damn irresistible?) It’s simply a part of human nature to want to be needed.

And last, but not least, we are living in the present moment. That means in every single moment, we have the opportunity to choose how we will act. Abuse can have a profound and long-lasting effect on adults and children to the point they can become so introverted or even worse, depressed. Just because you’ve experienced abuse in the past doesn’t mean that you have to live in the same pattern today. The past is all a memory in our mind and the future is all guesswork. They do not exist in our present reality because there is only Now and you have the very real ability to respond differently.

It can be hard and terrifying at first; it may take all the guts and nerve you have. But when you take this first step, the rest will be like a snowball effect- you are more confident the next time, and so on.

My name is Bellamie Bachleda and I am an introvert. I just gotta get it off my chest, so there.

How Being Married to a Felon Made Me Mindful


November 13th marks one year since my divorce was finalized and I packed my entire life into my white Toyota Corolla and drove from Texas to California. I didn’t celebrate it because it reminds me of the ugly stuff that happened to me, but I’m going to share what I learned from my marriage to Renny that turned out to be a few of the most valuable lessons in my life.

When I worked on my inner self, I came to the term that it’s no question that my marriage has changed me for the better. Before meeting him, I was all about me and me was the only thing that mattered. I was self-centered and acted indifferent. Alas, when he went away, I didn’t do a 180 degrees turn and became Mother Teresa. I slipped and said not-so-nice things sometimes. I judged the people I don’t know that well without thinking twice. I slept in on Sundays when I could have spend them volunteering to make this world a better place for our children.

I woke up.

Instead of wasting my emotional energy away by staying angry at him, I managed to discover the courage to forgive him and move on. Now, I just feel sorry for the guy. I don’t think I could do that before I met him. I wasn’t brave (or wise) enough back then.

I’m far from being a spiritual guru but ever since I backpacked in Brazil a year before meeting him, I have unexpectedly started a spiritual journey and discovered affirmation and mindfulness. I felt like I was awakened. I’ve found a better way to live, opening my way to the brand new world. I finally understood and it was just a beginning. Then, I met him the following summer.

My friends, it’s been nearly four years since he went away. I’ve come a long way. I made tons of mistakes on the way, but I made progress too. When I finally moved past the final stage of grief- acceptance- I started relearning how to love myself and be mindful again. I had to do things that nurtured me and made me stronger spiritually. I finally learned how to allow myself to heal from within. I want you to know that, in a relationship or in any other situation, no matter how long the night seems to feel to you, the sun will always come up next day.

Don’t ask me why I fell for him because it’s in the past. I know that few of you are going through crappy times now because you decided you want to remain with somebody with a past that resembles an episode from Prison Break or Breaking Bad or something with “Break” in it. Well, the good news is, you’re not alone.

Since I like to discuss about this kind of stuff with like-minded people, I thought I’d take a step further and blog my thoughts about it. If you beg to differ, that’s fine with me, because what I’m going to say next is based on my observations.

Don’t get me wrong- the career criminals are, hands down, pathetic cowards, period. They have blatant disrespect for their communities and society. They are too wimpy to face their fear. They hurt other people or animals, directly or indirectly, to get what they want. Be it out of necessity: I was so fucking hungry and depressed I stole a muffin, or just because: that person annoyed the fuck out of me, it doesn’t matter what the reason is, they act like the laws don’t apply to them. They believe that they can do whatever they want. They just go out and break the laws without thinking about the consequences. And don’t get me started on their ignorance, it’s still not an excuse.

What I noticed while living and making the documentary with Renny is that most criminals are naturally impulsive, even if they are living a clean life. Unless they show an ability to control that, they will always be impulsive in other parts of their life.

They don’t think about the future because they are in the present like wild hungry animals looking for ways to survive. When they are committing a crime, all they think about is what they are doing at that very second, not what they will tell their spouses and children when they get the phone call from jail.

That feeling of nowness gives them the rush they so love and come back for more. That’s why Renny was a career criminal and when he got out, he failed again. He would tell me the stories of his bad boy heydays, like the one when he stole and maxed out his ex-best buddy’s credit card on crack cocaine and a sportfishing boat. His eyes glistened as he recalled evading the LA cops in a stolen Dodge Viper and sleeping in it for a week before selling it to a chop shop for few bucks.

Of course they deserve to go to prison because they did stupid and hurtful things and not only that, they dragged a whole lot of people into their mess.

But the very second they are committing a crime, they become one in the moment. That philosophy of living in the present moment (of course in a nonviolent way, the Gandhi way!) is effective and we need to do it more often.

You may wonder how could I come up with such comparison, but that’s what it was like living with him. I saw many things I never saw before. It’s a lame example, but don’t tell me you never stole a candy or made copies of your butt on your company’s copier. Think about that moment. When you swiped that Hershey bar or pressed the Copy button in the spur of moment, you definitely weren’t thinking about what to wear for your date tonight. You were so focused. Remember that intoxicating feeling? Well, we need to reprogram our mind and start taking regular dosages of that feeling. Any time we are in midst of stressful times, we need to be more mindful, take a breath and let go of the toxic tension. Appreciate what good things we have right in front of us. The more we do it, the more of a rush we will get out of it. We need to make this habit into a necessity. Your problems will go away and solutions will come to you. You can’t think about problems with the same kind of thinking that caused them in the first place.


We all have compassion inside ourselves. It’s just matter of how much you are aware of it. If you’re not sure, nothing works best to discover it than looking in eyes of the people who have nothing but way bigger baggage than you. While I still do believe in giving second chances, I know many valid reasons to be skeptical of dating a felon. It’s a matter of how trustworthy that person is, that he or she will not hurt you. If you are involved with such a person, think about why you are with that person and if it is worth your well-being to continue dating that person.

And be more mindful. It’s so easy to forget the small good stuff that make our life worth living, not the stuff that gave you the instant gratification, but the stuff that you cultivate with love and joy.

DeafHope’s Lavender Film Festival


Around a month ago, I wrote, performed, and edited (with a help of Terri’s filming talent, thank you!) and submitted my début film to the DeafHope’s Lavender Film Festival. This video is very special to me not only because it is my first film that I edited entirely by myself, but because the subject is very heavy and sensitive and painful. If it never happened to me, I would not have a gut to create something like this, but it did and I just felt I had to do it. When the project was finished, it’s like I underwent an emotional purging and it was a really surreal experience.

Thank you DeafHope for making me do it. It’s truly a great honor being part of something remarkable and meaningful. I applaud to all other who submitted in their films, even through I haven’t seen theirs yet, I know they are brave enough to spread awareness that it is okay to speak up. Also thank you everyone who’s involved in this film, without you, it will not happen. Thank you again!

“Accept no ones’ definition of your life; define yourself.”

Orange is the New Black’s Summer Release

“Orange is the New Black” just announced its release of the second season on June 6th so OITNB fans will get to kick off another summer in their living rooms with Crazy Eyes, Taystee and Red.

The very final scene of the first season left me shell-shocked and wondering about the future of Piper Chapman, the rich Smith graduate blonde snooze. She was found guilty for money laundering and drug trafficking with her oh-so-exotic and cool ex-lover who snitched on her in exchange for a lesser sentence. That’s all good, but really, it’s the curiosity about the rest of the cast that is killing me.

Oh, Alex, where are you? What’ll be become of CO Matt and Daya? Is Pennsatucky still alive? What will be the latest hairstyle Sophia masters? Who’s Nicky’s next lover? Oh my, it’ll be like having a tea party with Ho Hos and moonshine made from toilet water! Exactly how I imagined starting my summer. So much fun!

When I first watched the show last October, some commenters on my Facebook thought that Piper was the most boring character of all. I agreed, her background and crime are advantageous and trivial respectively in comparison to the others, but as I read more about the show, I understood why Piper Kerman and Jenji Kohan wrote it that way.

It’s a television show for pure entertainment. Therefore, it’s racist and sexist because in reality, prisons are full of racism and sexism. If it only shows the white lesbians or religious nutcases, blacks with ever-changing hairstyles (and genders,) Latinas who don’t know how to keep their legs closed, and oh-so-ever disgusting perverted correctional officers with a bad case of blue balls, people will switch to different channel or take their deep-rooted prejudices somewhere else.

Remember Netflix is in this for money. So what will they do to bring in millions more viewers and bucks? Throw in a self-centered chic blonde and somehow, the masses will suddenly decide to watch.

Jenji Kohan, the show creator, said in her interview:

“Piper was my trojan horse… You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories… The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful.”

Piper Kerman, the real Chapman, said in her interview:

“Most of the women in the Camp were poor, poorly educated, and came from neighborhoods where the mainstream economy was barely present and the narcotics trade provided the most opportunities for employment. Their typical offenses were for things like low-level dealing, allowing their apartments to be used for drug activity, serving as couriers, and passing messages, all for low wages. Small involvement in the drug trade could land you in prison for many years, especially if you had a lousy court-appointed lawyer. Even if you had a great Legal Aid lawyer, he or she was guaranteed to have a staggering caseload and limited resources for your defense. It was hard for me to believe that the nature of our crimes was what accounted for my fifteen-month sentence versus some of my neighbors much lengthier ones. I had my fantastic private attorney and a country-club suit to go with my blond bob.”

Kerman knew her advantage and I applaud her for noticing and using her access to her privileged world where she was served her amazing defense lawyer and 15-months sentence on a silver platter. She, in this position, was best able to have her voice heard and receive all necessary support to increase the awareness of the corruption in the criminal justice system among the correctional institutions across the country. People will more likely listen to a college graduate blonde than a high school dropout who lives in the projects.

However, it’s not the reason why I watch the show. Yes, it’s not fair that it has to be the white one to have a story, but it is just a marketing tactic. I didn’t care about the controversies and so on, but I have to admit OITNB does bring to light some of the whole truth about the life in (and out of) a prison.

When I was watching the entire season in October, I ended up visiting Renny twice that month. The first time I visited him, he introduced me to an inmate, “Jose”, a short, balding and meek-looking man who went to Texas School for the Deaf way back then in 80’s but never graduated.

“Hi, nice to meet you.” He said, sighing and grinning shyly. “I love him, Renny, my man.” Renny beamed with pride, his muscular arm wrapping around his tiny shoulders. As Jose left, he turned to me.

“He killed his own brother. He was drunk and shot him and doesn’t remember one bit of it.” It’s been nearly fifteen years, he said. “He broke down crying on his desk in my classroom sometimes, and I had to comfort him. He looks up to me because I’m his teacher.” It hit me that they have built-in culture inside prison and how ignorant I am about it because it seems so distant, somewhere so far and untouchable… much like a television show.

After hours of driving back and forth from Huntsville and several episodes later, one character in the show emerged oddly familiar to me. It was Larry Bloom, Piper’s hapless fiancé.

Last October when I got hooked to OITNB. Talking about awkward family picture.

Pulling a Larry here. The picture was taken last October when I got hooked to OITNB. Talking about awkward family picture.

I could somehow relate to him and his situation; he loved Piper and supported her regardless of her criminal past like I did with Renny. Being engaged or married to someone criminal is completely different from being born to someone criminal. Being a child to a criminal is a force of nature, there’s nothing the child can do. However, I, as an adult, could do something and choosing to be with a person with a criminal’s type of moral values made me feel like I was agreeing to what was really against my values, my beliefs. I felt guilty for remaining with someone with baggage of that magnitude because I loved him. I think it’s hard to accept what happened in the beginning because like Larry, I made the choice to commit to him regardless of the risks and in the end I couldn’t help but ask myself- did I do anything to cause it? I could have just walked away a long time ago and saved myself the pain.

My favorite episode with Larry was the one where he gives the interview with NPR that made his insultingly exaggerated and humiliating article in New York Times seem nothing but a series of banal and naive observations in comparison. He said hurtful things in the interview. However, despite being the clueless little guy he is, I felt for him because I understood the pressure and anticipation of admitting to the world that I was engaged or married to somebody behind bars as well as the misunderstandings and assumptions that come with it.

With my thoughts put aside, I am still looking forward to the drama swirling around the OITNB and hope they’d answer one burning question: Will dirty Joe Caputo and the superbitch Natalie Figueroa get it going? Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but I’m going to switch on Netflix this summer because like another Facebook commenter said, “Jenji Kohan is a genius.”

Day of Remembrance

I remembered the entry in my journal I wrote on my 29th birthday a few days after I moved back to DC and lived on the Gallaudet campus. The journal is the flip-top spiral notebook with a drawing of a young girl on it I just bought in Peru a week earlier. Feeling sentimental, I decided to track down the book and when I found it, I finally opened the pages for the first time after three years. It is the only entry in the book. I read and reread it, and I remembered that day very clearly like I was in a brightly lit studio, watching myself in the middle of a television show and no one could see me. I was marveled at how powerful the sensibilities of a memory that lasted only split-second long could do to a person.

The birthday wishes I wrote on the pages were not my true wishes, they were written out of fear and heartache. The words on pages began to fade away and didn’t matter anymore, the feelings of the desperation during that moment overwhelmed me, I just wanted to have everything to be normal again.

I was there in the bright Social Security Adm. office, with the framed print of newly elected Obama hanging above the ticket machine, reminding the poor and the disabled while they wait in a line for their number, It’s time for change. I stood by 29 years old me who spent my birthday waiting for my number to be called, because I was recovering from a bug I picked up in the flight from Peru just three days earlier, and I was seven months pregnant. I wrote in the book on that day because I only hoped for the best, or even better, for the normal life.

Today, I almost lost my nerve writing this blog post. Why? I already admitted in the past that I was a victim of the abusive relationship and spouse’s struggle with substance abuse, and it was not the most comfortable thing to do. Honestly, I’d rather swim in a stagnant pond than to share my fears and flaws with the world, but I wanted to share my vulnerability with you and others, to admit that I’m human and I struggle.

I had to get myself out of the victim mentality and tell myself I will use this experience to grow as a person. To show you the real me, I have to accept myself first. It took me more than year to finally accept myself as a single mother. I felt it was so wrong, that I should be already having a family by now, but was it wrong for me to feel that way? Perhaps you look at me as just somebody who’s trying to get your attention and fulfill the need of your validation and that I should just get over it and move on from my past.

I told myself the same often enough that the thought itself prevented me from doing what I truly wanted to do all along- to get it off my chest and give others the opportunity to read my stories, get inspired and liberate themselves from their ball and chain. My experiences are becoming just stories and no longer a part of me. When I tell my stories, I stop identifying myself with them. I separate myself from them. The stories stay on the paper. They stay in the past, where they belong. Telling them help me burn the pain that I suppressed for years and now they are ashes I rose from.

I knew by starting this blog, I have to build the courage to be OK with who I am and trust the process. Things did and didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, and I learned to come to terms with the state of things in my life and go with the flow. If they are not doing me any good, I’d have to move on. I have an intention why I ventured out in the first place and there’s a reason why it turned out good or bad. Doing something about it is better than feeling bitter about it, but doing nothing about it is worst of all. I still want to see my project comes to its fruition and I don’t know when, but as long as it finds its way to share with the world one day, I will be able to close that chapter for once and for all. Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Freedom is about what you do with it.”

P.S. Thank you to all my friends and family for your birthday wishes!

Deaf Inmates and Videophone Petition- Please sign before Friday!

*Please show your support and sign the petition here before Friday the 13th! Thank you very much!*

This was brought to my attention just recently. I intended to post about it last summer, but I decided to hold it until some day and that day is finally here.

On July 10th of 2013 in Washington, D.C., the Federal Communication Commission hosted an all day workshop on reforming prison phone calls. It was headed by acting chairwoman of the FCC, Mignon Clyburn.

At the opening of the workshop, she commented, “The inmates went to prison because they broke laws and they deserved to be punished, so why should we care? We care because of two set of numbers: 700,000 and 2.7 millions.”

We’ll get back to those numbers in a moment, but here is some background information.

Why should we reform prison phone calls and how did all of this get started?

Ten years ago in Washington D.C., a grandmother named Martha Wright got tired of spending hundreds of dollars on monthly phone calls with her grandson in prison. She filed a petition to the FCC about reducing long distance calling rate. After 2003, the calling rates between inmates and their families skyrocketed and tens of thousands of people complained to the FCC. Their response: nothing. In fact, this workshop was their first actual response to the matter in a decade.

To get an idea how expensive a phone call to an inmate can be: 42 states that have limited or no reform on inmate phone calls can charge as high as $4 for just connecting the call on top to their established rate of $.89 per minute. A family of an inmate in a Pennsylvania prison will have to shell out 11 dollars for a 15-minute call.

The folks at the correctional institutions said they are just abiding the security protocols while making outgoing calls outside of the prison.

However, the inmates in the eight states with the reform bill such as New York can have 15-minute call for less than a dollar. How fair is that?

Those eight states with the reform bill still abide proper security protocol while keeping the rate low, proving that it is attainable to maintain secure phone lines without charging the families extra. The independent phone companies working with those states with limited or no reform bill already knew that and yet they still turn a blind eye to make a profit off them.

Of course the legislation doesn’t just sit around doing nothing, but their pathetic efforts to work with the independent phone companies to improve the system ended up worse than a Lifetime Original movie.

Delegate Patrick Hope, a Democrat representative of Virginia, talked about his failed endeavor to introduce a legislation to reform prison phone rates in Virginia, the state that rakes in about $3.5 million in revenue each year from prison phone calls. The reason is self-explanatory.

The next part of the dialogue turns for worse.

Charlie Sullivan of CURE suggested that the FCC should look into Skype technology for prison calls. Talila Lewis of HEARD agreed and emphasized that FCC needs to pay attention to ever-advancing technology that is making communication cheaper or practically free.

Delegate Hope responded that Virginia is already charging for Skype usage in prisons.

The last time I used Skype was last week. It was for a video conference with my seven classmates and it was FREE. With the way the legislation and money-grubbing phone companies are running the business, we are on the express lane back to the Stone Age.

The dialogues in the workshop briefly included a discussion about the issue that hit closer to our home: the deaf inmates.

Lewis said, “A deaf prisoner faces isolation apart from solitary confinement that hearing inmates experience. Deaf prisoners pay higher rates for phone calls.  TTY communication requires at least 4 times as normal vocal communication. A deaf prisoner’s fiance paid $14 for a local phone call. That same call is free for hearing inmates. Affordable and accessible calls for deaf prisoners is a must because: 1. It’s the right thing to do and 2. because the federal laws mandate it.” She’s right, TTY is the outdated technology invented during the Stone Age and no Deaf person I know still use it.

She stressed that providing deaf inmates with videophones is very easy and cost effective. The video relay services provide videophone devices for free. Prisons only need an internet connection. It’s so simple I could cry. Alas, many prisons won’t install videophones in their institutions for the same reason they charge outrageously high rates for their “security protocols” purpose.

So why do we still care? Back to Mignon Clyburn’s numbers: 700,000 and 2.7 millions.

700,000 inmates are released into the general population every year.

Numerous studies demonstrate that having significant contact with people on the other side of the prison walls can promote rehabilitation, reduce recidivism, and strengthen the family and community ties. Most prisons are hundreds of miles away from where inmates’  families live, including myself, so phone calls (beside writing letters) tend to be the only way of keeping in touch.

2.7 millions children in the United States have at least one parent currently incarcerated. 1 in every 28 children (3.6%) has a parent incarcerated, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

Those children are affected. The teachers and school counselors say they do notice the difference in the children’s academic performances and social behaviors and attitudes when compared with those children who do not have a parent in a correctional institute.

Ask any family members or guardians of those affected children and they will agree: Yes, it does affect their relationship with the children and how they take care of them, from an emotional standpoint to a financial one.

Accessible communication is essential because it can be helpful with coping with the anxieties and insecurities of having a parent in prison. The daughters and sons want to talk with their parents, but families suffer economics hardship because they have to pay the high price of calling their imprisoned family members.

The Impact (facts from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Find Youth Info)

• Children of incarcerated parents mourn the loss of their parent.

• Witnessing the arrest of a parent intensifies the child’s loss, sense of helplessness and creates additional trauma.

• Many children of incarcerated parents exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

• Social stigma causes families to avoid discussing the absence of a parent. Being kept in the dark can influence children emotionally and psychologically and impact the restoration of parent‐child relations when the parent in prison is released.

• Literature suggests that parental incarceration can have profound consequences for children including:

*feelings of shame, grief, guilt, abandonment, and anger;

* social stigma;

* disconnection from parent;

* poor school performance;

*impaired ability to cope with future stress and trauma; potential addiction; negative perceptions of police and other authority figures.

• Children with parents in prison need support and there are very few programs and social services specifically designed to serve their complicated and layered needs.

• Approximately half of children with incarcerated parents are under ten years old.

I understand the importance and support for reforming inmate phone calls. It is not only because I desire to keep in contact with Renny- his actions were inexcusable and not entirely forgivable- but I want Liam to have the option of having a connection with his father. I have moved forward. I have written to Renny less often than before and the last time I visited him, it is clear we are in two completely different worlds. However, one day Liam will ask about his father. When that day comes, how am I supposed to answer? He will eventually face the very small Deaf community who will know and ask about his father. It becomes much more complicated.

Liam has a great family support system and positive upbringing. He is thriving so well that perhaps he doesn’t have to have a connection with a father that he doesn’t even know, but I don’t want to be the one to make that decision. He may be too young right now, but after seeing the numerous studies stating that having constant and stable contact with incarcerated parents will help their children cope better in life made me really think. I want to empower Liam so he can stand up for himself. How will he react to the facts about his father? I don’t know. It’s my responsibility to raise him the best I can. Like every other parent, I’m constantly thinking ahead about the stuff that could likely harm him and what can I do to protect him, yet at the same time, allow him to become his own person.

I support reforming inmate phone calls for families in general and especially for those who are improvised or enduring financial hardships. It’s up to each family to decide if it will benefit them to maintain regular contact with their imprisoned family member through phone calls. However, every one of us has the right to keep in touch with our families no matter what or how. If it happens to you, you would want that too.

Please show your support and sign the petition here before Friday the 13th! Thank you very much!

*You can go to these links for more information about the FCC’s actions on the matter and more statistics about the children of incarcerated parents:

HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf)

Federal Communications Commission Prioritizes Prison Telephone Reform

Campaign for Prison Phone Justice: Live Blog of the FCC Prison Phones Workshop

Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

International CURE: Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants