behind the scenes: the beginning


This is a short series of posts I’m writing in response to a recurring question I’ve gotten over the years. Many people have wanted to know what things were like for me. Instead of repeating oft told “prison stories”, I’ve decided that a better answer would involve impressionism. So, these are my impressions of events…


by Alex King

Prison starts at the verdict. Once all the jokes, fears and horror stories of hell on Earth become an imminent reality, the psychological effects begin. A dark gulf yawns before you and you start to feel the weight of chains constraining your entire being. Depression and despair settle in for the long haul, continually threatening a devastating hopelessness. Shock can sometimes delay this effect, but not for long. This immutable reality will soon take you, and try with all its might to crush you, utterly.

This is just the onset of the tempest. It seems like the worst part only because of the contrast. Soon after comes sentencing. For some, the sentence gives a light at the tunnel’s end. For others, a light only exists beyond the vanishing point, or not at all. To be set on a path of torment, knowing it will not end for an incomprehensible length of time, can easily shatter all but the most fortified spirits. The longer the trek through that gulf, the easier it is to become lost.

Waiting for transport is torture. Nervous anxiety builds. It becomes harder and harder to smile. You begin to forget what it’s like to laugh. Many pace. Others fidget. When sleep comes, it’s restless and fitful, providing none but the smallest relief. Pity from those around you, from those you are in contact with, poisons you, corroding your composure. Each day, you hope it will end, and each day, you dread the end’s approach. Then, finally, the hammer falls. Your name is called. You are told to pack.

Transport and intake alike are a nerve-wracking mixture of whirlwinds blended with tense calm. “Hurry, hurry!” “Move, inmate!” “Wait there!” The clock runs, hours pass like weeks. Orders come to perform tasks. Orders come to wait for the next order to move. You hop to when called, so as not to attract notice. Those who are too slow are harassed. Those who are noncompliant are taken away. Certain atrocities committed in these places are carefully kept out of the view of the camera.

Relief and anxiety create a bitter blend as intake finalizes. An entire day of high stress with no hint of comfort, whether physical, mental, or emotional, leaves you exhausted. Your life has been drastically redefined, and this is only the beginning.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Eagles performing “Hotel California”


don’t go breaking my heart



Groove of the Day

Listen to Elton John and Kiki Dee performing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”


a message from above

starry night

by Alex King

There are many types of pollution in the world today, but one of the most detrimental to Astronomers is light pollution. Light generated by cities blanks the night skies. Only the brightest stars can be seen in these places. Out here, in the desert of West Texas, however, cities are nonexistent, and the veil shrouding the stars is very thin.

My first experience with the change occurred the night before last. I found myself outside at night when the sky was clear and , as is my habit, I looked up. Holy hell. Absolute beauty glimmered down upon me from countless points of light on a backdrop black as pitch. Seeming to be just out of reach, these tiny diamonds gave testament to eons passed, representing an imposing permanence. Taking my all-important life and comparing it, I was humbled.

In the far and wide, we are an egocentric race, living our entire lives stuck in our own personal universes, naive and blind. Many never live to know the magnitude of their own obscurity. Placing my life next to that of these glorious celestial bodies, it passes as the flicker of an eye, barley noticed and wholly insignificant. Having lived consumed with my own success or failure, the message I was receiving, to put it in layman’s, was that I needed to get my head out of my ass.

Leafing through historical literature, I’ve found that the individual vanishes behind legacy. A single person is impermanent and frail, soon forgotten. Only those who have impacted the human race have been immortalized. Even so, the only immortal aspect is the impact. As a person, I will die and face, quickly buried under the inexorable sands of time. My only significance is the legacy I leave behind.

Put simply, I gazed upon a breath-taking canvass and saw in it a question. In the end, will I have added my own small brushstroke, or simply watched from afar?


Groove of the Day

Listen to Don McLean performing “Vincent” (Starry Starry Night)


never mind

debtors prison

Never Mind What the Constitution Says, Our Prison System Has Run Amok

by Gerry Myers in The Huffington Post

June 24, 2014

The practice of charging fines and billing fees to defendants dates back to the 1970s. The number of people behind bars has increased 700% by 2010. In the last 30+ years, prisons and courtrooms have become more crowded and the cost of running them has skyrocketed from $6 billion to more than $67 billion a year.

Taxpayers are paying thousands of dollars to send people to prisons when the fines are less than the cost of incarceration. Some counties even brag about the amount of money raised from fines, but they are using false math. What they are spending on jailing prisoners, who shouldn’t be incarcerated, is costing all of us. When the fees of the poor are one of the state’s top revenue producers, there is something wrong.

These practices along with the privatization of prisons create the business model that the more people convicted and housed in for-profit facilities, the more money that can be made.

In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the historic case of Miranda v. Arizona, declaring that whenever a person is taken into police custody, before being questioned he or she must be told of the Fifth Amendment right not to make any self-incriminating statements. The Miranda warning, which is used by police when arresting someone states:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.”

NPR found that defendants today are charged for many government services in more than 80% of our state prisons, some of which are guaranteed rights by our Constitution:

• 43 states and DC billed defendants for the public defender
• 41 states can charge prisoners for room and board
• 44 states can bill prisoners for their probation and parole supervision
• 49 states charge a fee for the electronic monitoring devices that some defendants are ordered to wear.

The Gideon v Wainwright decision of 1963 mandated state courts to provide counsel for criminal defendants who could not afford it. Debtor’s prisons were abolished in the United States in the early 1800s and the Supreme Court has ruled it is unconstitutional to jail someone for failing to pay a debt.

In 1981 Danny Bearden broke into a trailer and was sentenced to two years in prison…not for the crime, but because he couldn’t pay the $750 fine. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Bearden v Georgia, said you can’t jail someone because they are too poor to pay their fine.

In 1991, 25% of inmates said they owed court-imposed costs, restitution, fines and fees. By 2004, that number had climbed to 66% according to the Justice Department. The Brennan Center found that of the 15 states with the largest number of prisoners, 13 of them charge fees for using public defenders. Why are these Supreme Court rulings not being enforced?

Today, some states are waiving fees for indigent defendants, while others are offering to set up payment plans that include extra fees, penalties and interest. This cycle insures that many will never get the debt paid back as their fines continue to grow because of the interest and penalties that are attached.

Justice, in our present penal system, is illusive. If an impoverished person is late on a payment, the harsh reality is that in some states he can lose his driver’s license or food stamps, keeping him from seeking gainful employment or eating.

Many states also block ex-offenders from receiving the right to vote again until all fees are paid — making the fee effectively a poll tax.

While the poor are imprisoned, the rich are often set free. A judge in Texas recently ordered that Ethan Couch — who drove drunk, crashed, and killed four people, go to a lock-down residential treatment facility. His explanation was that Couch was a victim of “affluenza” — the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy. In our upside down justice system, even though four people were killed and two were injured, the driver was proclaimed the victim.

Not only is our present system unjust, but it is also costly. A 2010 Annual Report filed with the SEC, and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) stated: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by . . . leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices . . .”

The guilty need to be punished, but the focus should be on rehabilitation, not generating massive profits. The guilty should not go free because they are indigent, but neither should the innocent suffer because they are poor.


Gerry Myers is CEO, president, and co-founder of Advisory Link.


Groove of the Day

Listen to the Robert Cray Band performing “The Price I Pay”


long in the tooth

Bucky Space Patrol

The phrase “Long in the Tooth” means old in age. The expression originates from one’s ability to tell a horse’s age simply by looking at its teeth. The longer the teeth, the older the horse. Thus, this phrase is used to describe how someone or something is along in years.

The idiom took on a new meaning for me recently when I lost a tooth. When I had an emergency hernia operation about two years ago, I awoke from the anesthesia with a loose tooth that was not loose before. When I asked the surgeon about it, he was suspiciously vague: “Sometimes it happens,” he said.

What happens? How did my tooth get that way?

He changed the subject right away to my wound, and I followed along. Anyway, it was just a loose tooth. It would probably repair itself.

But it didn’t. It became looser and looser. I had a stroke and didn’t think much about it until one day, in the side view mirror of my neighbor’s truck, I noticed that the tooth had become longer. It began to interfere with my speech. And finally, about three weeks ago, it fell out.

If they were still alive (which they aren’t), my parents would have been horrified. Like a lot of upper-middle-class parents, they had invested thousands of dollars in braces to correct an overbite which the orthodontist said was the worst he’d ever seen. To taunt me, the kids in my neighborhood used to call me Bucky Beaver. Giving me a perfect smile was, for my parents, as important as my college education.

Now I’m afraid I look like trailer trash, and my greatest salvation is that I don’t have any mirrors in the house. But even though I’m not obsessing in front of a mirror, the loss of that tooth bothers me more than I can say or would like it to. I should have a thicker skin than that, a more resilient ego.

I had to do something to get over acting like a big baby, so I called a friend named Ron Nelson. He has lost two legs, and it hasn’t interfered with his life.

“Like I tell people all the time, no part of my body defines me,” said Ron.

Yeah, some of my kids—the ones who are most resilient and able to get on with their lives—say much the same thing: “I refuse to let my crime define me. I am more than just one action.”

As proof of his belief, when I first saw Ron standing on his new titanium legs, I swore he looked better than ever before.

I suppose as I get on in years, other parts of my body will fall off or fail to operate properly. It is a normal part of the aging process. It is ironic that as this course of physical decline progresses, we continue to grow in other, non-materialistic ways and become a greater (not a lesser) person.

Of course, I may escape this decline altogether. The other morning, while I was emptying out used coffee grounds, I stepped on a coiled rattlesnake in the dark. Thankfully, it was cool and he wasn’t moving at that early hour. But I was wearing flip-flops at the time, and after beheading the snake, I thought I should have ended up in hospital that day. It is a miracle I wasn’t bitten.

But it reminds me, what old age does not accomplish, the rattlesnakes probably will.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Southern Culture On the Skids performing “Put Your Teeth Up On The Window Sill”


first impressions


by Alex King

Having been raised in a world of concrete and steel, moving to the desert involved a fairly extreme transition. I was already prepared for a more difficult way of life.  I was ready for the remoteness creating a type of isolation from the world at large. I even knew already that living in the desert means a radical environmental change. The extreme transition however came from those things I was unprepared for.

The last stop Dan and I made before leaving the small town of Alpine was at a gas station. He pumped some fuel while I headed in to pick up a couple of things. As I was leaving, a man in a cowboy hat was entering. Instead of just walking into the store and ignoring me, he took the time to hold the door. I was taken aback by a kindness I hadn’t been shown in a long time. I thanked him, and went on my way, my hope for humanity somewhat renewed.

Having slept well out on the desert, the next thing I was unprepared for was the breath-taking beauty the sun revealed. Morning light brushed across open land broken only by lovely hills all around. I could feel peace and serenity washing over me, cleansing me of all the difficulties I’d been having for years. At last, my mental and emotional turmoil was at its end.

As days marched on, I was gifted with a new daily project. I engaged in aiding Dan in organizing, cleaning, planning for the future… always, there was another project. Unlike my experience in the city, those tasks didn’t bring with them the feel of pressure or stress. Instead, they gave me purpose and hope, and, upon completion, a distinct sense of accomplishment.

I have found my paradise. I am healing, finally, from the difficulties of life.   There is a purpose and hope in the vision for Estrella Vista.  Dan and I talk long about what has been done, and what is to come. I simply cannot wait to share this place, this peace, this vision with others. Void of judgement, accommodating of self-expression, empty of emptiness, this is an ideal healing ground.

greetings from alpine


Groove of the Day

Listen to Kid Rock performing “Cowboy


it’s a boy

its a boy 1My neighbor Aliana told me I should be handing out cigars like the fathers in the maternity ward at her hospital, I have been in such good spirits since Alex’s arrival.

She is correct in her assessment of my high spirits, but what she does not realize is that my mood is the result of more than just Alex’s company (which is very pleasant, nonetheless). No, it arises more from what his presence here means, and what his acceptance of Estrella Vista is all about. In short, it means that all my efforts of the last nine years have not been delusional, even though I have had my low moments when ………………………………………………………………………………………………..self-doubt has shook me to the core.

As BobH’s comment to a recent post makes clear, it is very difficult to keep keeping on for these kids when you receive no feedback that you’re on the right track. The only thing that has kept me on my particular path is my hard-headedness (which is sometimes less pejoratively called “grit”). Despite having no positive feedback and a little bit of negative feedback, I have stubbornly soldiered on with the vision when it appeared that Derek and Alex were on courses that kept them miles and miles from West Texas.

In line with my recent post “In Its Own Time,” I simply had to wait a few years until Alex had exhausted other possibilities for his life. He needed to “clear the decks” before he would be ready for Estrella Vista.

But I knew the first night that he arrived that all would work out well. The clue? In the People magazine story about the King Brothers, I had seen the photo that showed that Alex had covered his arms in tattoos, but I had no idea what imagery he had chosen. It was only when we were together that I discovered he is covered in runes.

Runes, for god’s sake! Where else but Estrella Vista could he have gone where his rune tattoos would not only be accepted, but the depth of the lifelong commitment to them would be appreciated? Alex’s spiritual beliefs and mine are not exactly the same, but they overlap enough that I know I can be of assistance to him on a deep level, just as children who are raised in the same faith as their parents can benefit from the coherence of belief with their folks.

If Alex were to live just about any other place but here, he would probably encounter a certain amount of social approbation from Bible-thumpers who would be alarmed by his runes. Here, Alex is calling the shots for himself. If his body were covered with Christian symbols, it would be no different. This place is above all about freedom of personal expression, as long as no one is hurt by whatever you do.

I asked him to pick today’s Groove of the Day, and this is what he chose. Hope you don’t bust an eardrum on it.

its a boy 2


Groove of the Day

Listen to Metallica performing “Wherever I May Roam”


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