Deep Summer

Deep summer

I had a long telephone conversation with one of my brothers the other day, We relived for a time some of those sweet moments of our youth. Recalling the teachers we had in grade school, the little neighborhood park where we played pick-up baseball and touch football games through endless summers, it was fun being able to share our experiences growing up in South Buffalo. What we were talking about were the never to be repeated moments of our boyhood. It was warm and rich and comforting to be able to be unashamedly nostalgic about the summers we passed as kids.

It felt a little jarring to be roused from the telephone conversation with my brother by a knock on the door from a ten year-old girl asking if I had a charger for her i-pod. The transition for this old head was a bit challenging and kind of humorous, too.

I felt for the umpteenth time that I'm a lucky old dude. Living in an intergenerational village, as I do, I’m surrounded, at the age of 76, with the life and energy of children. It’s precious to be able to recall moments from my own childhood but for me, it's the forward excitement of children that stirs my blood. Living with kids reminds me that life is about what is happening now.

Did you ever have the experience of asking your kid or grand kid how he liked that camping trip or whatever that he went on yesterday. In my own experience, he or she will sum up the outing in less than two sentences. In a heartbeat, the trip is gone, kaput, over with. “C'mon Dad, let's play catch.” Savoring those memories has to wait until they are into their adult years.

Living with kids makes it difficult for this old geezer to spend a lot of time reminiscing about the old days. The youngins will occasionally ask me what it was like when I was a kid (eight-year-old Mercedes asked me if I had an I-pod when I was a little boy) but, for the most part, they live in their own time and place. I suppose it is as it should be.

When I was a young man, I used to think that folks in their mid-70’s were in the autumn of their years. No more. Not for me. Thanks to the opportunity I have to hang out with these bright and beautiful children, I am still in the deep summer.

Visit to a state prison

Visit To a State Prison

Last week, I became one of hundreds of people on visiting day at the Kern Valley State Prison in Delano. I was paying a visit to a young friend of mine, a kid who I had mentored through a life spent in a series of group homes, a kid known now as inmate

G-49102.

The atmosphere was surreal; Visitors and inmates were jammed together at beaten-up card tables with little space between each table. The noise from so many people trying to talk with one another at one time was unnerving. We had to shout just to make ourselves heard.

While I waited to see my young friend, an inmate walked by with his arm around his 12 year old son. The man in prison garb was intense, holding on to his kid like he needed to make every moment count. I wondered what Dad was whispering to his boy and was shaken by the irony that this father-son moment should take place here in a prison.

Waiting at the table next to mine, a young mom held a baby boy in her arms. The little guy had a warm and bubbly personality, one of those babies that would bring a smile to the sourest of faces. His mom shared with me that this would be the first time he saw his Daddy since he was two weeks old.

I looked around at the number of visitors crowded into the visitors’ center. Most were people of color. Only a handful of white faces. Lots of children. I reflected on the fact that the thousands of men and women locked away in California prisons are only a small percentage of the number of people affected by the prison system. Every inmate is part of a family, part of a community. His incarceration affects the lives of many others.

I had to admire the loyalty of the families who come to visit those imprisoned. Visiting days are limited to weekends between the hours of 9 A.M. and 2:30 P.M. People come from long distances. The drive from Santa Rosa took me five hours. If you are traveling with small children or have to stay overnight in the town of Delano, it’s a costly and time-consuming trip. Sometimes, because of the difficulty in handling so many visitors, people have to wait several hours before they can see their family members.

I came away from my experience convinced that visiting those in prison is the toughest of all the corporal works of mercy. What hit me in my gut was this overwhelming feeling of sadness at seeing so many wasted lives, young men locked up for 15, 20 years; many for life. The young man I am visiting was 19 when convicted. At the earliest, he will be 37 years old when he is released. What chance will he have to resume a normal life?

Yes, you can say he committed a heinous crime. He deserved it. You’re right. Society has to be protected. And yet. And yet. I have to think we can do better. Locking human beings in prison should be a last resort not the quick and easy way to proceed. We’re smarter than that aren’t we?

Promptly at 2:30 P.M. we were told that visiting hours were over. We said our goodbyes and made our way to the prison gates. Strangely, people leaving the prison didn’t talk a lot or trade stories. The atmosphere was subdued. Each of us lost in our own thoughts. As we reached the gate, I saw a middle aged woman, rosary beads in hand, pause to take a final look at the barbed wire fence that enclosed the man she was leaving behind. I pictured my own young friend, in his prison blues, trudging back to his cramped and airless cell. It didn’t feel very good at all.