How Being Married to a Felon Made Me Mindful

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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.

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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.

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

The Reality Blog Award

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A big THANK YOU to DeafInPrison.com for the Reality Blog Award nomination! I’m truly honored to receive this nomination and I’m more than happy to answer the questions that usually come with the nomination.

1. If you could change something what would you change?

I would change the way Deaf people are portrayed in the media. The hearing people’s pathological point of views and discriminations (audism) hinder us to achieve on the high level in the working world. I’m not blaming every hearing (and deaf) person for labeling us with the inaccurate and offensive stereotypes; there are some Deaf people who live up to those stereotypes, but they are only small in number in comparison to the rest of us who have huge potentials to make valuable contributions to the society. There are many intelligent Deaf people who want to make connections to hearing people and promotes their works, but are oppressed by assumptions, lack of understanding, or fear that we will bully you for not respecting us and our culture. We know better than that.

2. If you could repeat an age, what age would it be?

I just turned 30 a couple of weeks ago, so I thought a lot about the last 29 years of my life and given that where I am now, I wouldn’t repeat a specific age because it is all about cause and effect. Most of times what you do now will impact your life years later. We usually don’t realize that until after it happened.

3. What one thing really scares you?

That we are losing touch with nature.

4. What one dream have you not completed yet and do you think you will be able to complete it?

I have many, but it’s skydiving for now.

5. If you could be someone else for a day, who would you be?

Kate Middleton. I want to see her home at the Kensington Palace!

And now for my nominations:

Jules Dameron

Clara Baldwin

Leila Hanaumi

Leala Holcomb

Time For a New Look

I felt it’s time for my blog to get a new look so I updated the appearance and content on all pages. I found this awesome background image that perfectly represents me and what my project is all about.  n Like I said in the Working Documentary page, my visions for this project are constantly changing.

Good news, the Rise From the Ashes website is up! For some reason it didn’t work before, but now it does. The progress of filming the original documentary is all in there. The last post was never finished because Rex was born around that time and we had to move back to Austin.

Even better news, I’m on www.deafinprison.com‘s blogroll!  Deaf in Prison is a resourceful website filled with news and references about the deaf people and criminal justice system. Tons of information about the correctional systems in the US and around the world can be found here. If you want to know more about your rights to communication accessibility and interpreters, this is the place to go.

I have one more cool news I’ll share with you on the next post!