Thursday, March 8, 2018

Prison: Day Spa or Hell?

Not long ago, I was talking with several ladies and the subject of prisons and nursing homes came up and how we should put prisoners in nursing homes and our elders in prison.  The argument is that prisoners have it so easy, have three free meals a day, free medical, TV’s, and so on.  The fact is that those who think this do not have a clue what it is really like in prison or even in jail cells.  And if they think being in prison is so wonderful, then I would dare them to spend some time in one so that they can receive a real reality check.  

For the men and women in prison, they have all their freedoms stripped away from them.  Their rooms are very small and they have no privacy to even go to the bathroom. They can’t come and go as they please.  They can’t go out to restaurants, movies, dancing, shopping, or go hang out with their friends.  They can’t travel or go on vacations.  They can’t go out on dates.  If they have families, they can only see those families if or when they visit the prison, and even then, they are supervised.  They can’t have their spouses or significant others lay in bed with them every night.  They can’t kiss their kids before they go to bed.  Every day, most live in fear for their lives.  They never know when they might get beat up, raped, knifed, or even killed.  About 15 years or so ago, I was corresponding with one prisoner who said that one time he got beat up just because someone wanted his Jell-O! 

Yes, they may have free medical care, but they can’t choose which doctor or what hospital to go to.  They are at the mercy of whoever is in charge of the medical facility in the prison.

I once visited a local jail cell in the town I was living in at the time.  Mattresses covered every inch of the jail cells because it was overcrowded, it reeked of urine, and people were crammed in tight.  No matter what a person did or didn’t do, this is no way to treat human beings, some who may even be innocent.

I was also corresponding with another prisoner, and while we were writing, I asked if he would write a letter to children to try to keep them out of prison.  Here is an excerpt from that letter regarding what it is like to have your life in someone else’s control.

“There is nothing more precious than your freedom.  The freedom to go where you want, when you want, and to do what you want.  My every movement is controlled in this place.  I am told when I can eat, when I can take a shower, what time to go to bed and get up, and when to go to work.  In the thirteen years since I have been locked up, I have only seen my family three times.  I have a son who was born shortly after I got locked up that I have only seen eight or nine times.  He is presently in foster care and I don’t even know where he is.  I cannot send him letters, a birthday card, Christmas card, or anything.  Although I love him very much, he probably feels I do not.

As far as prison itself….  The best words I could probably come up with is that it sucks.  It is true that many of us have our own television, radio, and so forth, but none of the “goodies” we have can make up for what we don’t have, and what we have to endure in here.  No matter how tough you think you are there is always someone trying to prove he is tougher.  Every day you live on the edge.  You have to worry about defending what you have because there is always someone wanting to take it from you.  You have people in here who will kill you just for looking at them the wrong way.  If you are black, you have the pressures of being forced into a gang, and even the gang members are not safe.  If you are white, you are constantly on your guard against the other gangs because most of the gang members see you as just another white dude who is part of the system they feel put them here.  And there are other gangs of various races.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are a lot of good white, black, and other races in here, but they are in the minority.

You can never let your feelings or emotions show because at the first sign of weakness, the so-called tough guys will be on you like white on rice.  I am fifty-five years old and I am very capable of taking care of myself, but there is not a moment that I let my guard down.  You have to watch everybody, even your so-called friends, because even they will take advantage of you if you let them.”  (To read the full letter, please go to:

There are many who made mistakes and just want to do their time until they can be released, if they will be released at all.  There are many who are innocent who have to wait months, maybe even years just to get to trial.  Then there are the rest who are in for the long haul, maybe even for life.  Many of them are angry and will do anything to just keep themselves at the top of the food chain, and that includes beating people up and/or killing them over the slightest offenses.

As for those in nursing homes, which is part of this argument, I wish we would take better care of our seniors.  Many nursing homes have some serious issues in the quality of their care.  Our seniors should be well taken care of and shouldn’t have to go broke having to live in such a place.   But rather than link our seniors with prisoners in this argument, how about if we do something to improve the quality of care in the nursing homes, as well as find ways to make it more affordable for them to be there. 

The next time you or anyone else tries to link seniors and prisoners in the same argument, or think that prisoners have it easy, I hope you will remember what I wrote here.  Prisons and some nursing homes are hell, but one has nothing to do with the other.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Very Limber Little Old Lady

Numerous years ago, I came up with a character to use when I spoke at Unity Church of the Cumberlands.  I called her "The Little Old Lady."  My inspiration for her came from Carol Burnett after seeing her for years play old lady characters wearing old dresses, one sock up and one sock down, and sticking her petootie clear out behind her making it look huge.  She’s sassy in her own kind of way and lots of fun to play. I remember one time after playing “The Little Old Lady” at our Unity, someone asked me if my petootie was actually that big.  I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry.  Grin.

Every fall, Unity (UMMAS) has a retreat at the Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, N.C., and I’ve gone almost every year for 15 years.  They’re a wonderful group of people and I always have a fantastic time.  On Thursday nights, we always have a talent show, and no matter what our talents are, we enjoy the show, the laughter, and each other’s company. 

I introduced “The Little Old Lady” numerous years ago in the show and she seemed to go over well, so I thought I’d try it again.  The idea for a skit came to me with her doing the Limbo with a little help from her pals.  My friends, Brenda Kemp, and Dave and Pam Hall, were my cohorts.  We didn’t have a script per se, but just some ideas we would try.  Somehow, we were all on the same page and just followed each other’s lead.  I don’t think the skit could have come out better if we had scripted every move. 

Fortunately, James Taylor filmed it and I was able to get a copy of it.  Besides the point of my being in it, I laugh hysterically every time I watch it just by watching my friends’ reactions and the looks on their faces.

Laughter is so good for not only our souls, but for our bodies as well.  I love to laugh and to make people laugh, even if it’s at my own expense.

Therefore, I would like to share this video with you and hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed doing the skit. 

You can find the skit here:

Friday, February 23, 2018

God and Prayer Is Everywhere

We just experienced another tragic school shooting and my heart aches for all those concerned.  To lose our children at such a young age in such a senseless tragedy is beyond unconscionable.

It is also after these kinds of disasters that people start arguing once again that "this all happened because God and prayer were taken out of the schools.”  This is an insult to every faith believing person who attends or works in the school systems. 

To be clear, God and prayer were NOT taken out of the schools.  There are no signs on school entrances that say God and prayers are not allowed past those doors.  Can you imagine God saying, “Sorry, kids and teachers…  No matter what happens to you in the schools, once you get past these doors, you’re on your own.  You can’t call on me and you can’t pray.”  

Ask any faith believing person and they’ll tell you that God is always with them and they can pray any time they want to.  The only thing we can’t do is force a particular religion/prayer on everyone else.  If we did, whose religion and whose prayers would we use?  Even if people specified Christianity, there are thousands of sub-denominations all believing and praying in different ways.  We live in a beautiful diverse nation where people come from all religions and belief systems and to deny all but one is not fair. 

Most all schools offer a moment of silence after saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  During this moment of silence, anyone can pray any prayer they so desire.  It’s for all religions.  There are also a lot of faith based programs in the schools, students and teachers can bring their scriptures and read from them, and they can meet for studies with one other.  But again, no one religion or belief system can be forced on everyone else, as well it should be.  There are also countless religious groups joining together all over the world to get to know each other in love, peace, and harmony and no one forces anything on anyone.

So many of our children are feeling lost, alone, and unloved.  They just want to know that they matter, that someone cares, and to have their very existence acknowledged.  Instead of blaming God and prayers, how about if we try being there for our children, whether it’s ours or someone else’s?  Let our homes be a safe haven where kids can know that they are loved and accepted just as they are.  Teach our children to befriend those who are considered different.  And if we see children who need help, let’s try to get them the help that they need. 

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility.  It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’  Then there are those who see the need and respond.  I consider those people my heroes.”  Fred Rogers

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper February 23, 2018.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Gift of Compassion

Recently I watched a re-run of the TV drama “ER” titled “Time of Death” which left me in tears throughout the whole show.  It was about the last forty-four minutes of a man’s life and how the ER doctors and nurses tried to save him, but unfortunately were unable to do so.  Charlie, the patient, was an alcoholic and an ex-con who came to the ER with serious issues, but it was too late.

One doctor in particular only saw a drunken ex-con and didn’t think they should waste their time trying to save him.  As the minutes wore on, we began to learn about Charlie’s past and about the trauma of seeing his wife killed. They had a young son and he knew he needed to go on because of him, but losing his wife destroyed him and he ended up losing his way.  Eventually, he lost contact with his son, became an alcoholic, killed a man in a bar fight, and ended up in prison.

A nurse is able to call his now adult son and puts him on loud speaker while they continue to desperately work on Charlie.  When the son finds out his dad is dying, his last words are, “Nice knowing you, Dad,” and he hangs up.  Charlie starts to cry and you can see how it affects the other doctors and nurses.  As the judgmental doctor learns more about Charlie’s past, you can see his heart start to melt, and in the place of judgment, compassion begins to overwhelm him. 

It’s so easy for us to see someone’s current circumstances and judge them based on what we perceive to be the truth at the time.  But every person has a story.  Every past experience makes us who we are today. No one is born thinking that one day they’ll grow up to be a certain way whether that life is perceived as good or bad.  We make choices for whatever reasons based upon our upbringing, culture, experiences, etc., which also determines our beliefs and how we perceive our lives and the world around us. 

It’s one of the best lessons I’ve learned because I can now look at someone and ask myself, “I wonder what happened to them in their life that caused them to make the decisions that changed the course of their lives?”  We never do know a person’s state of mind.  If we can’t have compassion for the adult they’ve become, then maybe we can have compassion for the infant they once were.  Remember, it’s only by fate that we’re not walking in someone else’s shoes. 

The Dalai Lama said, “Love is the absence of judgment.”  And Pema Chödrön stated, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper January 12, 2018.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Coexisting in Peace and Love

In 2000, Polish Warsaw-based graphic designer Piotr Młodożeniec, submitted an entry in an international art competition sponsored by the Museum on the Seam for Dialogue, understanding and Coexistence.  The image consisted of several icons that represented a variety of religions.  Since then, various versions have emerged, but they all represent and honor different religions with respect.  You may have seen these images on bumper stickers.  They’ve become one of my favorite images because they strive to bring religions together in love and peace. 

The Dalai Lama said, “The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love, compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness.”  He also stated, “When there is peace among religions, there will be peace in our world.” 

One thing I’ve learned is that in order to find this peace, we need to come together and learn from each other.  If you want to know more about a religion, ask people from that religion to find out what they believe.  Don’t just believe the speculations, beliefs, rumors, lies, or whatever anyone says on the Internet. Even then, please remember that the person’s beliefs may not necessarily represent their religion as a whole.  Misinformation has been one of the biggest propagators for hate, disharmony, and even wars.  Learning about other religions and embracing them doesn’t have to threaten our own beliefs or the religions we currently belong to.  They can even enhance our beliefs and help us to have more love, compassion, and understanding for one other.

I love the diversity of all our belief systems and I’ve learned from many of them.  I’ve also met and made friends with so many wonderful people from other religions.  Instead of focusing on our differences, we need to focus on what we have in common and how we can get along.  As Prince sang, “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” 

Shakieb Orgunwall declared, “Somewhere in our pursuit of being better Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or Jews, we’ve forgotten to be human beings and what it means to genuinely love and respect one another.  Being human and expressing a common concern for humanity is a prerequisite to membership in any faith.”  

And I love what Paul Enso Hillman proclaimed:  “I say ‘Namaste’ because I like what it means, not because I am Hindu. A lot of people here think I am Christian because they think I talk about Christian values, but the truth is I am really talking about human values.  I’ve been asked if I am a Buddhist, just because I have discovered inner peace.  A lot of my friends are Pagans, and they think I am one, too, because I say that being in Nature is my idea of going to church.  Do you want to know what I really am?  It’s very simple.  I don’t need a label to define me.  I am a piece of the universe, sentient and manifested, and I am awake.” 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper December 8, 2017.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Proverbial War on Christmas

Tis the season of bringing good tidings of great joy!  Children look forward to Santa’s visit bringing them delightful gifts.  Adults attend parties and buy presents for each other and their families.  Homes, stores, businesses, schools, towns, and cities are brimming with holiday decorations, and lights sparkle in an array of colors everywhere you look.  In other words, Christmas is upon us!  People love the Spirit of the season!  They’re a little kinder, more compassionate, and they give a little more generously to those in need.  This is the bright side of Christmas and the holidays, and I love that loving Spirit!

There is also a dark side to the holidays.  It is also the season of fighting and arguing and it can bring out the worst in people.  Some fight over whose holiday should be celebrated and that the season is only for one particular religious holiday.  They argue over whose greeting we should use or not use and they get nasty if you don’t say their greeting of choice.  People fight over whose decorations should be put up and where.  They’ll run over anyone to get the gifts they want, sometimes hurting or even killing others to get them.  People go into debt buying gifts they cannot afford.  Families fight over whose family they should visit and on what day.  For many, the holidays are extremely stressful and not always in a good way.

And then there’s the argument that always goes around this time of year that there’s a war on Christmas.  There is no war on Christmas.  If there were a war on Christmas, it would be illegal to celebrate Christmas at all.  People would be arrested for celebrating, for putting up decorations, for saying Merry Christmas, for going to their Christmas church services, or for even saying they believe and celebrate this holiday.  Raids would be conducted on homes if the authorities even thought that someone may be celebrating in secret.  And possibly, people could be shot for even doing so.

But it’s not that way!  Just look around during this season and everywhere you look, all you see is Christmas!  You can’t get away from it!  On TV there are countless Christmas movies, TV shows, and Christmas commercials, Christmas music is played on many of the radio and TV stations, and there are decorations galore everywhere.  Drive around and see all the Christmas decorations and lights on people’s homes and in their yards.  Walk into any store and see all the Christmas decorations and items you can buy, as well as listen to the Christmas music that plays over the intercom.  There are Christmas parades in many cities and towns.  Schools and churches hold their Christmas programs.  Nativity scenes are in yards. 

And there is no law saying you can’t say Merry Christmas.  You can say any greeting you wish.  Instead of fighting and arguing over what greeting to say, whether it’s Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, let’s show the love that our spiritual masters taught us and greet people with the same greeting they give us and do so with kindness.  

Let’s show the love by blessing and honoring each other’s holidays that also occur during this season.  Christians aren’t the only ones who celebrate Christmas.  There are many different religions that also celebrate this holiday even though Jesus isn’t the Master of their religion.  There are also many who don’t belong to a religion who participate in the celebrations as well.  When it comes to this season, I have rarely seen any decorations or mention of any other holidays during this time such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, and so many others, and these deserve to be celebrated and mentioned as well!

Some people say that Jesus is the reason for the season, and during this season we proclaim, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.”  Lately, though, it’s sometimes hard to find the peace and the good will toward men (and women) with all this fighting and arguing.  The holiday season should be a season of love and peace.  We should be showing more compassion and kindness towards all regardless of their beliefs during this season.  

W.C. Jones said, “The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others’ burdens, easing others’ loads, and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts, becomes for us the magic of the holidays.”  Calvin Coolidge stated, “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind.  To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”  These are two great quotes that say so much.  We can always tell who believes in the real spirit of the season by the way they treat others.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season (whatever holiday you celebrate) with much love, peace, happiness, prosperity, joy, and magic!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Every Day...

Every day, I get to wake up in a warm and comfortable bed, eat breakfast, get dressed, and go to my job where I hopefully get to make a difference.  After work, I come home, sit in a comfortable chair, eat dinner, shower, watch TV, and then go to bed in my cozy bed.  I'm in pretty good health, can get around, have a car, family, and friends.

I think all the time about what others are going through.  For instance, all the victims of the hurricanes and fires and so many losing their homes, trying to get to safety, and survive.

I think of the homeless never knowing where they’ll sleep or if they’ll eat that day.

I think of those who are struggling with health issues and financial issues.

I think of those who are experiencing hate, bigotry, or discrimination in any way, and are fighting for their very existence in a country that doesn't always fight for them.

I think of those who are victims of cruelty and crimes, who are murdered, and those who lose the lives of their loved ones as a result.

I think of all the animals that are harmed, who are left to roam the streets, who may not know when they will eat.

I think about those who are fighting in wars, never knowing if they'll come home in one piece or if they'll even make it home at all.

I think of those who are struggling with addictions that have completely taken over their lives.

I think of all the children who are abused and who are so hungry for love.

I think of those in other countries who are victims of genocide, seeing their family and friends slaughtered and having to live with those memories, of those trying to escape with the clothes on their backs to a place of safety, being labeled immigrants, and wondering if the new country will even accept them.

I think on these and so much more.  Then I realize that I have nothing to complain about.  Sure, I have my share of bad days and I sometimes get down on myself.  I have those moments where I wonder if life is worth it.  Then I think of all those who are fighting just to make it through another day. 

Instead, there’s so much to be grateful for.  In the realm of everything that could go wrong in my life, I'm actually doing quite well.  I've learned that I should not take the life I have for granted for even a split second.  Sure, it could be better, but it could also be a whole lot worse.  I'll accept the life I currently have and accept it gratefully.

My heart goes out to all those who are struggling.  It is only by fate that we’re not in your shoes. 

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”  Cynthia Ozick 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper October 20, 2017.