Nine Days Into Her Freedom

Nine Days Into Her Freedom

Actually, I saw her on her fifth or sixth day of freedom, but I couldn’t remember her name. I have prison name amnesia (PNA). While every woman and her mother, sister daughter, grandma, seems to remember my name from the jail and/or prison, I do not remember most names of the hundreds of women I encountered during the time of being locked up and away.

On Monday or Tuesday of last week I was walking pass the dodgy section (it’s a city so even my block is shady) a block or so from my apartment building when I saw this chunky White woman and my mind and heart told me I knew her. I did not get that heart sinking, stomach acid feeling so I was sure she had not caused me any direct harm in prison or jail. I tried to make eye contact (which I normally do not do when I recognize someone from that time away because so many of them were just assholes to me), but she turned her back to me. She was standing with some Black men and I knew it was not a good scene, because I have seen these men around and they say things that cause me to pull out my mace. “I’m never for sale,” I have said back, “and if I was trust you couldn’t afford me!”

Each day that I saw her, she would turn away and I knew she was prostituting herself. DC is an interesting city, while there are actual “ho strolls,” there are also, “ho pickup” spots. And this particular section near my hood is a “ho pickup.” I’m not judging, just explaining what I learned from the women in prison who were forced by circumstances to sell themselves. I am a collector of stories and often while I sat knitting or reading in the common area of jail or prison, I paid close attention to the things I heard. I learned a lot about myself, and that by Grace I have not ever had to sell myself, and that substance abuse has not been a side effect for me as a survivor of much trauma.

On Saturday, I was walking with one of the four women I can honestly say is a friend I met in prison. M and I were taking in the sites of the city as she is recently free—because her case was overturned and instead of unjustly doing double digits she unjustly did five years (there is Grace)—and wants to touch see and smell everything. This was me a year ago. We saw the White woman as we neared my apartment. I nudged M and said, “Don’t we know her from prison?” M said, “Girrrl that’s Cindy!” Well “Cindy” was leaning on a Washington Post Express Paper stand. She was wearing a black sleeveless knit top and a long knit black skirt. Her long sandy brown hair was swept up in a clip. It was like 100 degrees with the heat index. Cindy was clean, but not looking well.

M called her name and Cindy turned her back. I was like, “She doesn’t want to see us.” M is not the type to be just dismissed so she walked right up to the woman—who had turned her back to us at this point—and said, “Hey! Cindy that’s you? When you get out?” The woman turned and said, “It’s Crystal.” M smiled her big warm smiled and said, “Girrrl I’m sorry. Crystal. Crystal when you get out?” Crystal responded, “On the 11th.” M lied and said, “Well you sho lookin’ good.”

Crystal did not want to look at me, but I greeted her and said, “I saw you a few days ago, but I don’t think you recognized me. I live right around here. Are you living round here?” She nodded yes and I asked, “Are you safe? Are you okay?” She barely mumbled in my direction, “I’m fine.” Then she turned to M and smiled and said, “I heard you won your case. How you doing?” M said, “God is good. I’m doin’ good.” I tried again, “Crystal are you safe? How are you feeling?” She ignored me and kept up with M. “I’m so glad I’m done with that shit. I’m off of papers and everything.” I said, “Congratulations.” No response.

Then M and I explained that we had to get moving and Crystal turned to me and asked, “Y’all got any money for a drink? I’m hurtin’ bad.” We told her no, but it was me she was asking. And I can tell you by the track marks on her arm it was not a drink she needed, but dope. My heart sank. M and I dropped off my packages at my apartment and crossed the street and we noticed that Crystal had also crossed over. She was sitting on a stoop of an abandoned house. We nodded to her and wished her well.

Then M said, “Her name ain’t Cindy or Crystal! It’s P!” Yes that is exactly who she is, P. I keep looking for her. Even though I have had to move from the apartment, I’m staying with a friend just down the road. I go up to the area and look for P. I want to call her by her name and give her information of those who will be able to help her.

Nine days into her freedom, P deserves so much more.

I am furious. I am furious at myself for having the audacity to have Prison Name Amnesia. Who do I think I am? I am Angry that P cannot see me—Returning Citizen, no fixed address, struggling with my mental illness, survivor of trauma—and thus felt such shame that she turned away for fear of my judgment. I am often mistaken and pass when I am not trying.

I am ENRAGED that there is an organization—created for the sole purpose of helping women (and men) like P—run by poverty pimps and they could have been in the know that she was coming home, no longer under supervision; and they did not reach out to her before her release. I am world weary, bone tired, and deeply burdened because I am but one person and can barely take care of myself.

I am so grateful. I am not on the streets. I have no fixed address, but I have hope and support.

The world is too much with me and I am struggling to survive. Yet, I have never had to sell myself for housing, drugs, or food etc. Maybe I have sold myself for love, but that is another conversation and blog. Yet by Grace there go I.  Keep a look out for P and tell her when she sees me to stop and look at me, I know some people who Truly do reentry work.

You beautiful, lovely AMAZING people in the business of service to those of us who are Returning Citizens—Thank You For Your Service. I know if we all continue to stand together this struggle will be eradicated.

Amme Voz

 

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Questions. Judgments. Curious Minds Want to Know.

 

everywomanneedsasafehomeThe organization that houses me now has three types of housing options: Group Housing for people who cannot manage living on their own; Crisis Housing as an alternative to emergency hospitalization for mental health breakdowns; and Supported Independent Living (SIL) for those with mental illness who are high functioning enough to live on their own and are able to work towards independence. I am in the SIL program.

Before I moved in here with a roommate I kept telling my advocates that something was wrong. The roommate, after we met, kept calling me at all hours of the night but did not know who I was and the Director of Housing kept pushing back my move-in date. I was very nervous, but everyone believed this was a good way to move me out of the fake reentry house and into an apartment where I did not have to be subjected to group living that created triggers because of my complex PTSD. Yet, the very core of me was saying that something was off about the roommate.

Against my judgment and fears I moved into this apartment that is owned by a private company. The organization that offers the SIL program, leases apartments and then subsidizes and subleases them to their clients. My very first night here my roommate made it clear she did not want a roommate. She had lived here for seven months by herself. She spent hours threatening to kill me. I started recording her as she spoke to a friend on the phone. She said, “She look like a crack head.” [Note: I’m very thin and small, but I have never used drugs or even smoked a cigarette a day in my life.] And, “I swear ta God I’ma drag this bitch, slit her throat and watch her take her last breaf.” I sat in my little den room silently crying and sent text and emails to my friends and support network. Everyone was up all night long texting and calling me.

I sent an email to the Director of Housing from my cell phone and detailed what had happened. The next day he came with his son to the apartment. It was a Saturday. The director told me, and the roommate, that he was furious with us. Not only did I offer to play the recordings of her threats, but also she admitted to making the threats. This is what he said (I recorded the entire meeting), “That’s just how she expresses herself. If I thought she was serious I would do something about it.”

Now keep in mind that when I first met with this man I explained to him that I did not want to be partnered with anyone that had a history of violence, as I am a survivor. This Director of Housing told me that the roommate I was moving in with was quiet and had been rescued from a domestic violence situation.

[Later I learned that she was the perpetrator of dozens of domestic violence acts and that she had an open case when I moved in with her for attacking two female residents at a DV shelter where she had worked.]

Then the housing director told me that my problem is that I spend too much time in therapy and that I need to let God handle my suffering—remember this is an organization that works with people with mental illness and therapy is mandatory to receive housing. He was serious. He quoted the Bible to me and tried to get me to let the roommate give me a hug after I had spent the night waiting for her to kill me or at least do some serious damage. I declined the hug which made everyone upset. Then he and his son went away.

This is what I soon discovered. The roommate was abusing her medication: two Fentanyl patches for pain at a time, Percocet, Valium, Lithium, Seroquel and anything she could buy and trade with the various men she had coming over. I pretended everything was okay because she had a voucher and was going to move out. I thought we could work it out until she moved. Plus, the Director of Housing made it clear that he was not going to do anything about the roommate and would report anything to her that I told him. Why? He explained, in front of my attorney handling the grievance against them, “She [the roommate] can say what she wants it’s freedom of speech.”

Then 10 days into the living situation in the middle of the night the roommate was so high she forgot who I was and when I went to the bathroom she pulled a knife on me (she slept with knives, carried them in her pocket, kept one on the dresser) and I had to call her name and remind her that I lived with her. She said, “Oh. Ahight! We cool.” And then fell back into her drug haze.

The next day I went to work and told my boss. She said, “Right now go to the court and get a Temporary Protective Order.” I was so outside of myself I needed my boss to order me to go and get help. I took my phone that had the recordings and played the threats that I had been receiving from the roommate and a TPO was issued that ordered the police department to remove her that day and a hearing was set for a one year Civil Protective Order (CPO) which was granted two weeks later. I still fear her.

The housing organization knew they were in trouble once the CPO was granted. How did they support me for protecting myself? They relinquished the lease—without notifying me—with the privately owned apartment complex, which in turn filed an eviction notice for a Jane or John Doe stating I was a trespasser or squatter. As a subleaser I have very little rights. I tried to fight it, but even though the private property owner colluded with the organization to get me out of their program it is very hard to prove. The housing organization cannot terminate me from the program because 1) I am in compliance with my mental health treatment plan and I follow all of their rules; and 2) when there is a pending formal grievance against and organization with the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) the organization cannot change my level of services or reduce them.

Thus the organization relinquished the lease without telling me and because the DBH hearing is not until July 1, 2015 they are willing to wait until DBH sanctions them and mandates they house me in the same standard. Where does that leave me? I will be homeless in 10 days.

woman alone

Here is a partial answer to the question of what are these organizations doing with the money? They are providing substandard care and puting people in situations that could be physically harmful or even fatal. These organizations are hiring unqualified staff to run programs as cheaply as possibly, giving minimal services, barely keeping up the housing and paying their executive staff more money than they could make any where else because they are not qualified.

I have representation for the DBH grievance, as there is a legal organization that represents people like me for free. They give quality representation, are overworked and underpaid and rely on funding to do their jobs well. I try to show my gratitude and I volunteer for them as much as I can. I am still fighting to live because they are not just my lawyers they care about me. They truly care for all of the poor consumers with mental health issues who fall prey to these abusive organizations.

Most consumers of these services designed for the mentally ill who are poor do not know their rights or are too afraid to speak up when they are abused by the very people who are there to help. They go silent for fear of what I am facing—rejection, being painted in a false light, and eviction. In short when I ask, “Who Speaks for Me?” I am asking for all of us who are so marginalized by our “status” that we know even if we are heard we often will not be believed and will suffer more.

Unlike most returning citizens with mental illness who are poor—and this is who I am at this moment—I have learned that silence only empowers the abusers. I document every thing and then I go with my evidence to those organizations and people who can help. This means I am willing to pay the personal price because there is a cost for truth.

Who Speaks for Me? I am trying to. I want to heal and live instead of survive. I want to turn my life into a vocation and leave a legacy of help and healing. This is my truth.

 

Amme Voz

Sunshine in the Rain

Sunshine in the Rain

sunshine_rain_sunflowers

Monday morning I listened to WAMU for over an hour and every damn weather update informed me, and all the other listeners, that it was going to be “sunny” and “highs in the low to mid 80’s” with “a scattering of showers in the evening.”

At around 5:45 p.m. I was leaving an appointment and before I even got out the door the sky cracked open and thunder sounded. It only lasted five minutes, but this was not a “scattering” of showers. Then I headed to a session (read Therapy). Afterwards, I hung out at the library for a while and around 8:15 p.m. I started home. E phoned and I relayed the above story to her about the weather and I said, “You should have seen all these people running. God was looking down and saying, ‘you jackasses’.”

E laughed and said, “I was just thinking Gods got jokes.” [Of course I should tell you that when I think of God speaking and thinking it is in my voice which is totally inappropriate—but hey you read my disclaimer and God knows my heart so whatever.]

At any rate, God does have jokes because as I walked home I was just between 16th and Park when it got even darker and I said to E, “I gotta go it’s about to pour.” It was pointless to jump on an S bus (not nearly as interesting as the 50s, X2, 42 or 90s) because I would still have to walk two blocks north and one block east to my apartment from the bus stop. Thus I pulled out my umbrella and secured my big bag beneath it (can’t have my MacBook Air getting wet—it was a gift).

Evidently attributing my potty mouth to God was about to get me my comeuppance. The rain was hard, fast, and the wind was blowing. I started slip sliding in my leather flip-flops and I couldn’t walk my fast walk to get my ass home quickly and out of the rain. So, I took off my flip-flops and started walking barefoot. The ground beneath my feet was still warm from the Sun when it was smiling earlier.

I paused for a second and tried to remember when was the last time I had walked barefoot in the rain. I know I’m a huge cliché. Then I caught a glimpse in the corner of my right eye. It was of me, the summer before I turned 12. I was in Tampa, Florida, visiting my grandmother (who used to be my namesake, Not the one that this blog is in honor of) with my father and older brother.

The sun had been bright all day and I had drawn a hopscotch pattern outside the little complex of attached houses where Grandma lived. I was in a skirt because the religion I practiced, with my mother, forbid women and girls to wear anything in the likeness of men and boys—no pants. I didn’t care because it was summertime and even to this day I love skirts and dresses over pants in the summer.

hopscotch_feet

I was playing by myself. M, my older brother, was sitting on the curb with some much older boys. Then I heard a noise and I looked up and it was raining, but the Sun kept smiling at me. She shined even brighter as the petals of water dripped dropped all over me. Then the rain, washed away my hopscotch drawing, but I kept throwing the rock and hopping. M went inside and came out with his fishing rod. He has always been odd. The entire drive to Florida he had talked about getting a fishing rod and a boat to go fishing.

Why the hell he had come up with this idea I do not know. However, my father obliged him with the fishing rod as soon as we got to Florida, but no boat. So, as I hopped and skipped on a washed away hopscotch drawing, M cast and recast his fishing rod into the puddles alongside the curb. The rain was warm, the sun was hot, I took off my little sandals and the ground was warm.

I looked to my left and my father was snapping pictures of me. I turned away and kept up my barefoot game of make believe hopscotch. Grandma came to the screened door and said, “Chile a mine Ima havata redo yo hair.” I smiled at her. I was her favorite and I said, “Okay.” And the Sun kept shining and the rain kept coming and the ground stayed warm and it all felt like life would get better.

At almost 12 I knew of physical and mental pain. I did not play often and I rarely smiled or laughed. I was never a relaxed child. But that day, I loved the feel of rain, bright Sun, and my bare feet lightly stroking the ground. I look back now and I see that it was the last time I would ever see the Sun together again with the Rain in my life. Everything changed that evening.

My life. My life. There is Sun and then there is Rain. There is Light and then there is Darkness. And all I want is to go back to that moment when I was almost 12 and plant my bare feet on ground that is warm from the Sun that continues to shine while it is raining.

Amme Voz

What Will You Do With Your Gifts?

What Will You Do With Your Gifts? (Lessons from “Choose To Bless The World”)

On Friday I was just entering the shady building where I live when my best friend E called. I have a special ring tone for her (it’s an old fashion phone ring) and it makes me smile just to hear it. I answered the phone and I said to her, “I need to do something with my gifts.” I had just finished a meeting that made me feel like the woman in the Alicia Keys song, “Superwoman”. Yeah, I felt like I had under my dress, “…a vest with an S on my chest,” and that I could possibly fly. E’s response to my declaration of doing something with my gifts was, “You do. You just need a handler. Someone like A or T.” A and T are amazing women and when I finally grow up I am going to be a combination of them.

Then I realized what I was saying to E. It is not that I am not “doing something with my gifts.” What I was saying is that I need to get paid for using my gifts in a positive manner. And on Friday I did use my gifts for the good—most of the time I do, but sometimes I use my gift of words to take on the poverty pimps and some people think I shouldn’t do this—but it was not about being paid. I use my gifts to speak up and out for those who are like me but not as capable as me as standing up for themselves. This goes back to the Cost of Truth.

I do not need to be paid to do something with my gifts. What do I do with my gifts? I will tell you:

I stand on truth.
I speak up when something is not right.
I wear the internal psychological and external scars of the damage done to me by poverty pimps and batterers and emotional abusers when I expose them.
I advocate for women like me who you might think are not like me.
I refuse to wear the shame of being stigmatized because I am still a survivor and moving towards a woman living and loving her life.
I fight with integrity.
I fight fiercely and with honesty for others without care or fear of the consequences.
I stand on truth.

What Will You Do With Your Gifts?

I am going to create and organization or a program within an organization called, “Who Speaks For Me?” Because I know that when a woman is marginalized and harmed while incarcerated she can scream at the top of her lungs when the gatekeepers are abusing her and her voice goes unheard. I will Speak for these women when their voices will not be heard because of their isolation and stigmatization. I will bring together other allies to speak for them until they can stand with us and speak for themselves and others. And until Change happens I will not be silenced. And when Change happens I will not be silenced.

“Who Speaks For Me?” That is my truth and I stand on this now and forever. This is my gift. What are your gifts? How will you use them?

Amme Voz

When Harry Potter Came To Church

When Harry Potter Came To Church

My son was a huge Harry Potter fan when he was a child. He was only six when the books first started coming out. I remember when he finished Book IV at age seven in five days and it was a “Big Fat Book.” He made me take him to the opening night of the first movie. I had only read the first and second books. I’m not a fantasy/sci-fi kind of reader. I can totally believe in the reality of Mikhail Bulgakov’s, The Master and Margarita and his cat that walks upright and drinks vodka like water. Yet, I have struggled with Harry Potter and finding believability in the story’s premise.

Then the Dementors from Harry’s world came to the church I attend last Sunday. Well they actually came during Lent but I did not participate. On Sunday, the minister posed a question in her sermon: What is Church? Then she started talking about the series on Harry Potter that was conducted during Lent—and I did not participate because as I said I’m not a sci-fi/fantasy type of chick and plus there is loss and sadness when Harry comes to mind.

I will not retell the sermon. You can listen at this link and it is not long (http://stmargaretsdc.podcastpeople.com/posts/60921). I want to share the part that was the heart of the sermon for me. The minister first explained Dementors to those of us who are not in the know (http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Dementor). They take all of your light and any happy thought you have ever had and leave you empty. Then she explained that J.K. Rowling said in an interview that the Dementors represent depression to her. When the minister went in this direction I was floored. I leaned forward, propped my elbows on my knees, balled my hands in to fist and rested them on my chin. I thought, “I need to be ready she is going to tell me something powerful. Something about me.”

And she did. In the end she explained how during Lent they had set up a coat rack with a coat and immolated a huge Dementor. The leader of the workshop created several Patronus (http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Patronus_Charm) out of volleyballs and some kind of tape. The participants had to knock it over. But what if you couldn’t knock over your Demontor (the poverty pimps, the soul killers, mental illness, unjust incarceration etc. etc)? Here is what church is: Then everyone else gets together and pools all of their light—their Patronus—and they help you bum rush that Sucker. Right? That’s what she said. Because that is what Church is—coming together and helping when someone cannot fight their Demontor and all of her light is gone and it is 20 degrees colder for her than everyone else—coming together with your own light and Patronus and knocking her darkness back and helping her stand strong.

Today, someone who was giving me very upsetting news also said something yucky to me. The news was further delivered with indifference and a hunch of the shoulder. It hurt to my core (especially because I believe that this person cares deeply for me and has helped me). The Dementor arrived and took all the goodness and happiness and light I have been finding and I was stuck with nothing—I felt empty and cold.

Then I went to Trader Joe’s to shop for an upcoming picnic at Jazz in the Sculpture Garden tomorrow. I felt bleak. I called E, my best friend, and I told her everything. I was not crying I was still in shock from the news and behavior of the messenger. E listened and then she became enraged. I was long beyond anger and was detaching. I was just shopping and checking things off the list. Eventually I found my way to a cashier. I was still talking to E as I parked my cart and handed the cashier my reusable bags (don’t want to pay that .05 per bag tax).

As the cashier rung up my items I said to E, “I just feel like no one is fighting for me the way I need to be fought for. I want a Me fighting for me. I’m so tired of having to do this. It’s just too hard.” The cashier finished up and before he started to bag my food he said, “Hold on a sec.” And then he disappeared. A few minutes later he returned and said, “I wasn’t trying to ear hustle, but we are fighting for you. Trader Joe’s is fighting for you.” He handed me a lovely bouquet of flowers. flowers_patronusThe tears I had stuffed down escaped in crocodile size. He went back around to the register, bagged my groceries and I stood there like a fool crying. There was a female customer at a register next to me and she started crying.

The cashier, Omar, came back around and offered me a hug. He asked, “Do you want me to hug you?” He was so innocent. There was not a hint of sexual intention. But since I was a wreck and didn’t know him and I’m not a hugging whore I said, “No thank you. But thank you.” E was sobbing on the line. As I left the store, Omar called out, “It’s gonna get better.” The other woman crying (without knowledge of why she was crying) said, “Yes. It has to get better whatever it is.”

I love flowers and I thought that someone would have given me some by now (You know the whole you went to prison and survived here are some flowers). It wasn’t time was it? What is Church? Turns out I found it in the Trader Joe’s today. Thank you Omar for using your Light to fight off my Dementor. Thank you Kym for defining what we do in Church and its purpose. The flowers are on a table that sits near a window in my bedroom and I can see them from my bed. I’m going to dry them and make them my Patronus.

Amme Voz

Absence of Touch

Absence of Touch

According to my mother, I was a baby who did not like the touch of humans. As I grew up I would be reminded over and over again of how I rejected her as a baby and preferred hanging out in my crib with a cloth diaper next to my face to her (or any other adult’s) touch.

It was the lack of a desire to be touched as a baby that started the belief amongst family that I was/am mean. I don’t know why I rejected my mother and the other adults. I know at some point I allowed my older sister to cuddle and hold me. I also know that there is not one baby picture of me, although my father took plenty I am told. I am not a person who enjoys random hugs, especially if I am very upset.

When I am at my saddest or angriest I cannot stand to be touched. Not even eye touching—no contact. And I don’t like it when people believe it is their job to decide who needs a hug and just assault me because I look like their embrace will make my life better. Seriously, there is this group where I go searching for mental health and these hugging whores just assault me and I’m like, “I’m good. No thank you.” They really take offense.

During orientation week at Alderson FPC (they pretend your first week like it’s some damn University “get to know you” and then it all falls apart) we learned that it is a violation of the Bureau of Prison (BOP) policy for inmates to touch. The code is a 408 I believe and it is cited as, “Inappropriate touching of another inmate. (e.g. hugging; holding hands; kissing. Etc.)” No big deal as I did not really want anyone touching me. We were taught by a psychologist at Alderson FPC that, “You have no friends in prison. You can be friendly with people, but no one here is your friend.” This same psychologist taught us that incarceration, “Is not a traumatic event.” For the most part she was right, about the friendship thing.

Initially, during orientation week, I laughed when the Associate Warden met with our “cohort” of incoming inmates and explained the “no touching rules”. Sex. Now sex is a criminal offense and can get you another charge. Again, this was no problem for me; sex was the last thing on my mind, as I looked around at all the khaki colored dressed women. Who the hell wants sex? (Turns out a lot of women do…)

I had a great line while incarcerated, “Sorry. I’m a lesbian on the street, not in prison.” I absolutely stuck to this and did not engage. What was the point? Eventually, I met a couple of people that I did want to hug or hold their hands just to be in community and friendship. My bunky that is from Armenia and is almost 70 now (and still in prison) kissed me on my forehead one evening as I sat in our cube crying. I remember thinking that we could get a “shot” for her peck of comfort. But it felt good and caring. She took such good care of me and I of her.

Then I met another woman from DC. We worked in horticulture together and we became very good friends. She is still my friend. Before she left prison she wrote me this note and told me how amazing she thinks I am and how worried she was to be leaving me. (Prison was not kind to me.)

We had a chaplain at Alderson who is Episcopalian. The BOP cannot interfere with religious practices and this chaplain took full advantage of this fact. I mean we even had the Holy Eucharist with real wine, because it is a BOP policy. Chaplain would have us “Pass the Peace” as is a part of our religious practice. She would hug each and every one of us and call us by our first name. As we passed the peace if we wanted we could hug one another. I hugged a lot of people on these Saturday evenings—others I passed by because you have no friends in prison. At the end of the service, as we exited, Chaplain would hug us again. This service was powerful and needed.

One day, as I sat alone knitting, I remember thinking how they can take everything from you in prison. Obviously your freedom is taken. They take your individuality—hence we all wore the same colors and uniform. They take away your right to see and love color—you can’t wear any of the pretty things you make with yarn so I always kept a ball of some knitting so I could see and touch bright colors. They take away your right to touch and be touched—to be human.

While I was locked away I remembered every hug from my past that I turned down because I was too sad or hurt. I conjured up those moments in my head of people I know and love and recreated the scenes and in them I was wrapped up so tightly in their embraces that I could almost believe they were right there with me.

I’ve been home for almost a year and I let people I know hug me. I’m by no means a hugging whore, but I let myself be embraced from time to time—when I’m not too sad or angry—and there are moments that I even ask for hugs.

. hands As far as the stories of my infancy and rejection of touch this is what I believe: I was very smart when I was pre-verbal and I knew about kindness and hurt. I want to go back to that time, before I could speak and relearn how to turn away from that which I can see a mile back is not good for me and say, “No thank you. I’m good. I’ll have a cloth diaper instead of you.”

Amme Voz

Bus Stories

Bus Stories

One day when I told my friend J about an experience on the bus she said, “Oh so you one of those crazy people yelling on the bus you tell me about?” I had to really think on that one. The answer is yes, but my rants are not random or non-sequiturs and this makes it all legitimate.

A few weeks ago I was on the 90 headed northwest from southeast. The 90 is a fascinating bus because I get on at the place where I go searching for mental health a couple times a week and a lot of other people from this place ride the bus with me. Many of the consumers of mental health quests are also homeless and psychotic. However, the 90 changes at some point and a lot of riders that get on are young to middle age White professionals heading towards the 14th & U Street area and Adams Morgan.

On this particular late afternoon I was sitting in the back of the bus, which is a new phenomenon for me as I used to say (prior to prison), “My people fought really hard to ride in the front and I sure as hell am not sitting in the back.” However, I notice that a lot of White folk sit in the back and there is a reason for this: because a lot of the Black people, on the path to finding their mental health, sit up front.

All of a sudden I looked to the middle of the bus and I see two Black men sitting together. The one sitting next to the window was wearing a red baseball cap and the other man had on a sort of fisherman’s tan hat. The dude with the red hat said, “Well if that’s what it mean ta be bi-sexual then I bi-sexual nigga!” Okay, it was late afternoon; the time children are coming from their afterschool programs with their parents or caregivers.

The man in the tan hat said, “No. No you ain’t. You just a faggot. ‘Cause Tony took it out a yo’ mouf and put it in mine and I got him off and then I fucked him.” The red hat man said, “Nah I got mine.” Then Tan Hat said, “Man you full a shit. Tony put it in my mouf. Then I fucked him and then he fucked you. You ain’t bi-sexual. You just a faggot.” I pretended not to hear for a while but the White folk were looking to me for explanation. And I was just appalled and it showed on my face.

Then the bus driver got into it. She was like, “Hey y’all need ta cut it out. There children on this bus. Don’t nobody wanna hear this shit.” Oh, but Tan Hat was not going to have it. He said, “I paid my money and I say what I want. Tony fucked him.” The bus driver screamed, “I will pull this bus ova and put yo’ ass off.” Tan Hat was feeling pretty spunky or something because he said, “No you won’t. I paid my fare and Ima git off where I wanna git off.” Then it just turned more ugly. The bus driver—and keep in mind she’s female—said, “Listen ta me Tan Hat. You need ta shut tha fuck up ‘cause I ain’t Tony bitch!”

I just hung my head. I was so overwhelmed and trying not to laugh at the complete insanity for all involved. At the next stop Tan Hat got off. And he started talking big shit through the window and the bus driver yelled, “Yeah. Whateva. You knew I was gonna put yo’ ass off. This ain’t where you wanted ta git off at.” Then Red Hat started shaking and said quietly, but loud enough for all of us to hear, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry y’all had ta hear that.” There was an older Black woman behind him and she just rested her hand on his shoulder and said, “It’s alright. You alright.” And then a tear appeared on my cheek and I had trouble breathing.

I got off at the next stop and went to Trader Joe’s for wine tasting and thought about what was happening. What’s happening? I had wrapped myself in Red Hat’s shame. I was ashamed that the White folks thought this was funny. I was ashamed for the Black children. What’s happening? I’ll tell you what’s happening, there is no help. Those of us who are marginalized because of our marginalization as poor, mentally ill, convicted felons, sexuality etc. etc., are giving up and giving in to the madness.

A woman got on one of the 50’s the other day and she had all of these grocery bags. I thought I should get up and help her navigate to a seat. When she saw me looking at her she yelled, “Why you all up in my bags bitch?” I looked at the ground. I was not having a good week (life). Then she made her way to the middle of the bus and someone she knew greeted her and asked her why she was upset an she replied, “Cause that bougie ass bitch all up in what tha fuck I got in my bags. Nosey bitch!” I thought, “Don’t make eye contact.” Then I got off the bus.

What’s happening? I worry I’m headed in this direction. Last week I was on a Circulator and the bus was two feet—I kid you not two feet—from the stop at 14th and Irving. I needed to get off and transfer to a 50. People outside started walking over to the bus, as the light was red so the driver could not move forward. She would not open the door and I said, “Um can you let us off?” She answered, “No. That’s against tha law. I can only open the doe’ at tha stop.” I laughed loud and said, “Really? Are you going to pick and choose which laws to follow? I’m pretty sure it’s against the law for you to be reading the newspaper while you are driving.” Then she tried to hide the newspaper and said, “I’m not readin’ a newspapa.”

I asked, “Are you crazy? I saw the paper on your lap. Open the damn door.” She said, “I was jus holdin’ tha papa on my lap.” People had started moving away from me as if I was the problem. They headed to the back door. The light turned green and she moved the few paces up and the people waiting to get on were pissed. I said to her, “You are a very unhappy person.” She replied, “You have a nice day Mam.” To which I yelled, as I walked slowly down the steps off the bus, “You JackAss!” And all the people waiting to get on knew exactly why I was calling her that and they laughed. Plus I looked really cute so it just made it all the better. See what I mean?

The buses are a stage and the performances are endless. When I am player the story is often absurd and makes me laugh. Too often my bus stories are tragically funny. If you want to know the state of our city (and perhaps our country) I suggest you spend some time on the buses this summer—especially the 50s, 90s, X2 and the 42. The divide in this city is great and the desperation is deep. If you see a thin Black woman with one or two ponytails that looks put together, that’s me and do not expect anything because I am only “bougie” in my looks and speech. I am one of the many marginalized by my marginalization and it is baffling to see myself in the Tan and Red Hats in this city. We need your help, not your judgment. We need compassion, friendship and love.

Amme Voz

Cheap Sunglasses

Cheap Sunglasses

Before I met my adult best friend over 20 years ago, I used to buy myself sunglasses made for children. I have a very narrow face and I looked (still look) ridiculous in adult size sunglasses. Then one year she (my then and now adult best friend) purchased me a really nice (read: expensive) pair of adult size sunglasses and they fit beautifully. They did not slip and slide and I did not look like a little girl playing dress up with her mother’s too big sunglasses.

Then after I moved away from her I made enough money to buy myself lovely sunglasses in grown-up sizes that fit my face. Sunglass Hut (are they still around? I’ve been away for a while) used to offer birthday gifts of 20% off all sunglasses. And I would take advantage of this every year—because you know sunglasses wear out when you use them for almost a year.

The last pair of nice (read: expensive) sunglasses I purchased  before I went away, and they survived with my ex even though the relationship did not. And when my younger brother picked me up at prison to bring me home, of all the things she (the ex) did not return the sunglasses were returned. I left prison in style and have pics in front of the BOP sign to prove it.

Sadly, my sunglasses that survived my imprisonment (and their own to be truthful—they were stuck inside the velvet lined case for as long as I was locked away) were stolen from me at that shady reentry house. No more sunglasses and no more brother. I miss the sunglasses more than the younger brother (another day another blog).

Two weeks ago I was with my niece and great nephew at like a Dollar store or something and I picked out a pair of child size sunglasses. I put them on and said to my niece, “How do I look?” Her look was suspicious even though she smiled showing her teeth. She said, “Yeah. I think you should get those. They look great.” But she giggled a low almost silent laugh. Then my great nephew—who is not quite five—looks over and says, “Hey Auntie I have the same sunglasses.” I whispered to my niece “Jackass” and she laughed really loud. I put the sunglasses back.

Today was really sunny so I stopped by Walmart to pick up some necessities. Let me explain, I hate Walmart. But my niece told me a while ago, “Auntie you don’t have money any more. You are poor so you can’t be political about where you shop.” She is so wise and a smart ass. Thus, I went to the world’s largest corporate poverty pimp to get affordable toilet paper, some fruit for my homemade sangria and saw some sunglasses—adult size. I took off my eyeglasses and tried them on. Which is problematic anyway, because I don’t see well without my glasses. However they seemed stylish and were CHEAP. So, I purchased them, took the tags off and headed out of the place feeling guilty for participating in Walmart’s exploitation of the WORLD.

I got to the bus stop and put on the shades. While my ass, thighs and hips have spread and gotten round, my face has not. My face refuses to grow up and the sunglasses would not stay up. I mean really they just kept falling off, either slipping down my face or just falling from my ears. When I pushed them back in to place the handles stuck out way pass my ears. I tried and tried and looked like a jackass attempting to make these cheap ass shades stay on. I did not look cute. I stuck them in my bag and put my bifocals back on.

cheap sunglasses

Next time you see me I will be wearing a pair of sunglasses sized to fit a child and I really don’t care. They will not be the same style as those of my great nephew. I’m thinking Hello Kitty or some female super hero brand. If you have any suggestions let me know. And if anyone wants these Cheap Sunglasses from the king of poverty pimps they are free!

Amme Voz

The Weight Of Sadness

The Weight Of Sadness

Some of you may know this about me, but most of you do not. I love regular flavored Bubble Yum bubble gum (and not that sugar free shit); it’s very hard to find. But with this particular flavor and brand of bubble gum, I can blow bubbles inside of bubbles inside of bubbles. I can blow a bubble as big as my head and make smaller bubbles inside of the big one. The trick is not to let the biggest bubble, the main one, pop. If one of the smaller ones deflates, there is time to put the whole thing to rest before there is an entire mess all over my hair and face (that sounds really provocative but let that image go okay). When the smaller bubbles pop, there is time to avoid a complete bubble melt down. Bubbles inside of bubbles are very light.

The weight of sadness is as light as one huge regular flavored Bubble Yum bubble gum bubble and as complex as bubbles inside of bubbles, but way more dangerous. I have been walking around in bubbles of sadness and it is as light as air and just as invisible to outsiders. The weight of sadness is deceptive because it does not weigh me down, but insulates me.

For over a week sadness has engulfed me and I have been living inside of bubbles inside of bubbles inside of bubbles of sadness. I first noticed it one day I headed to work. It should have been a simple trip that involved me taking one of the #50 buses down to U street and then hopping on a 90 or 92 headed east to work and then walking a few blocks. However, I remember getting on one of the #50 buses heading south. I remember being irritated that as I left my apartment building I saw the fucking mailbox sans the lock.

mailbox with no lock

Before I stepped inside of the multiple bubbles of sadness, I remember being really pissed that the 50’s were running late and it was still rush hour. I know I did not let any of the men get on the bus first because there was a pregnant Latina and so I blocked the way until she got on the over crowded bus. I then remember that nobody gave up their fucking seat and I yelled, “Somebody needs to give up their seat there’s a pregnant woman here!” And several people jumped up (it turns out I am one of the crazies that yells on the bus—whatever that is another blog in and of itself).

Then time and space disappeared and I noticed I was on the Metro almost at the place where I go in search of my mental health. I knew something was wrong. I had lost an hour or more and so I got off the train. I stood still for a minute and looked around and then I got a text from my supervisor that politely asked, “Hey are you coming to work today?” Silently I thanked her for reminding where I was supposed to be.

I sent a text back that traffic had been bad and that I had gone too far on the train. I was wearing the lightweight of sadness and my mind got lost. When I arrived at work I sent an email to my therapist and then I went to talk to my co-worker/lead caretaker. She was upset and wanted to know why I hadn’t just stayed on the train and gone to find some mental health. I was like, “Because I have work to do. I have to keep it together.” And yet I wasn’t keeping it together, I had lost an hour or more to the weight of sadness and was trying to keep the big bubble from popping. “I’m okay,” I told her, but she admonished me and told me to talk to my therapist.

My therapist and I did do a phone session and then I slowly pulled myself from each bubble of sadness until I reached the big one and I did not let it pop. Instead, I allowed my soul to inhale them and buried them inside my stomach and moved on.

Then black Tuesday came and the big one almost popped. The small sadness bubbles popped one after the other as I waited at L&T court because some very bad poverty pimps have a hold of me. Then I stood in front of a judge who knew my “history” and she and the lawyer for the poverty pimps said some really untrue things about me and more bubbles inside of bubbles of sadness popped.

I was given a 10-day reprieve and it all was too much. My co-worker/lawyer/lead caretaker sat with me as we waited for the lawyer—that volunteered to represent me for that day only—who specializes in L&T law negotiated about me being able to  get into the building (remember the damn lost keys) with the lawyer for the poverty pimps. We waited and I knew that I was about to lose the big bubble of sadness, because all I could do was cry silent tears and then yell at my co-worker/lawyer/lead caretaker. Then we got the answer about how I would be able to access the building until Friday of this week.

I started heading to meet someone that is trying to help me fight these poverty pimps, and my co-worker/lawyer followed and then I got lost again in space and time and ended up with them at a table at a restaurant in China Town and had no memory of how I got there. I was eventually sent home in an Uber Cab (don’t judge me I don’t like them either but someone else was paying for this).

Later that night, I sent a weird email to my therapist. A few people claimed they called and I talked to them. I remember my best friend begging me to stay on the phone with her until I fell asleep. I remember that I wanted it all to end. My sadness bubble was as big as my head and there were no more bubbles inside of bubbles and I took a shower instead of a bath. The bath would have been the end.

I woke up the next day and I had kept the big bubble of sadness from exploding. I stayed on the couch all day long and then my boss came by with ham and a mango (she knew a little but not all and had promised me the ham two days before). I met her at her car and came back up and ate big chunks of ham and inhaled the smell of the mango and put it in my fruit bowl. I went to bed and woke up on Thursday and knew that I had stepped free of the weight of the sadness. I pretended I had on under my clothes, “…a vest with an S on my chest!” and I went and fought another group of poverty pimps successfully—not for myself because they have already done their damage to me—for others like me.

Sadness weighs nothing, but cuts sharply and deep. When you see me, look at me and see if I am there or if I am carrying the weightlessness of my sadness. In this way I know I will learn to live. Because, as I told someone recently, I can left swipe all the bullshit, but sometimes I need someone to hold my right hand.

Amme Voz

The Cost of Truth

The Cost of Truth

Before I went to prison, I purchased a necklace from the Sundance Catalog (http://www.sundancecatalog.com). The necklace, as you can see says Truth in English and Arabic. It was a time in my life when I stood on my truth and accepted the choices I made and the consequences for knowing and acting on my truth. When I saw this simple but power necklace, I bought it because I wanted to be reminded that there is a price for truth. That cost is sometimes deadly.

truth necklace_front truth necklace_arabic

The question was posed on Sunday by the minister (I know church keeps coming up and I’m like this church lady what are we going to do?), “What are your fears? What are you afraid of?” She explained that we all probably have a long list. The message was about the cost of standing up and on truth. As she explained the price for our truth is what we are most afraid of, because in the end we might pay for it with physical wounding, or in our psyche and/or soul—we could pay with our life.

What am I afraid of?
Truth: The tiny little Black girl, not yet two, standing at the bus stop with her father and baby brother who was in a stroller. The dad slapped the little girl as many of us stood on 14th & U Street NW waiting for the 90 bus. She cried silent tears. I was listening (and this is eerie) to Nina Simone’s The Desperate Ones. “They walk in silence. They cry in silence. They disappear in silence.” I watched the little girl; silent tears streaming relentlessly down her cheeks. She walked over to Baby Brother in the stroller and dripped her tears on his hand as she lifted it to her mouth and kissed him. The father told her to sit on the bench and she just stood stone still. He then yanked her by her little arm, and slammed her on the hard bench.

-“Be gentle with her,” I hissed.
-“What”, he yelled. “Why don’ chu mine yo’ own business. Bitch!”
-“I said, be gentle with her.”
-“What tha fuck are you gonna do? Bitch!”
-“I’m going to call 911. That’s what I’m going to do. And I said BE GENTLE WITH HER!”

My teeth were clenched. I spread my legs apart and stood firm. And he said, “Yeah. Police ain’t gonna do shit. You gonna make a call and then I’m gonna make a call and who gonna have tha worser day?” I smirked. “Let me tell you something,” I said. “You don’t know me. Anything you are offering to do to me, it’s been done. I’m not afraid of you. I spent four and half years in prison and I am still here.” Then I stood taller glared and said again, “Now. Call who you want but be gentle with her.”

There were lots of people at the stop. An older Black woman walked over to me and said, “You sho is right baby girl.” Another woman nodded and smiled at me and a man with a cane walked up to me as the bus approached, “Look sweetheart you gotta be careful.” I laughed and said, “I just look like this trust and believe I ain’t nobody’s bitch and that man is just a bully to little kids.” He nodded his head, looked me in the eyes and said, “I see you. Trust me when I say I see you. But chu sho need ta be careful.” What were they afraid of?

The father continued to call me various bitches and so on as I boarded the bus.

I did not stand on truth. Why was I afraid to call the police? Lately I have had too many interactions with the PoPo because of the violent sociopathic roommate and the shady apartment complex and I was not willing to sacrifice myself for the little Black girl more than saying, “Be gentle with her.” This is the only truth I could manage. What I really wanted was to pick her up and tuck her in my sweater and run. Run so fast and far away. Because once I was a little Black girl and my mother and stepfather beat me and humiliated me in public and nobody ever said, “Be gentle with her.” And so I do not know how to be gentle with me.

What am I afraid of?
Truth: Dying as painfully as I have lived.

What am I afraid of? Truth:
Killing myself because life is too painful.

What am I afraid of?
Truth: A life that passes before me in disappointment like, The Jilting of Granny Weatherall.

What am I afraid of?
Truth: That no one will ever love me, because mother said it was so.

What am I afraid of?
Truth: Never seeing or holding my son again. Ever.

What am I afraid of?
Truth: Discovering that I can speak the truth and make change and goodness for everyone but myself.

What am I afraid of?
Truth: That I am strong, lovely, and loveable, but too damaged beyond repair.

I carry the physical, emotional and mental scars of standing for the truth. One of my advocates said to me last night, “It’s a calling and you have it. You just have to know the truth and keep speaking it.” I will, but at what cost? My sanity? When will it be better?

I will continue naming the perpetrators and poverty pimps, not for myself—the damage to me is already done—but to make it better for the next person. For the little Black girl.

And you. What are you afraid of?

Truth…

Amme Voz