Archive for August, 2011


close call

I might be dead or dying right now if things had gone differently. I didn’t expect it in the chicken coop. I wasn’t being observant. I was more intent on just dumping the bucket of chickenfeed, cabbage, and carrot shavings into the chickens’ feeding tray. I didn’t see the snake. I was lucky. It rattled and I jumped back several feet.

Folks have been saying the rattlesnakes aren’t rattling these days. They just strike first. This one didn’t. Good thing, because this was a Mojave. There’s no anti-venom. It’s certain death if one gets you.

This Mojave is dead beneath a pile of sharp rocks. I stoned him. I’ll move the body tomorrow when I can see he hasn’t moved.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Blind Lemon Jefferson performing “That Black Snake Moan”


how soon is now?

A little before noon I had an unexpected surprise. The phone rang and a familiar sonorous voice asked for me. I said “This is he,” and he said, “This is Bill Kurtis.”

Bill Kurtis, as you may know, is the well-known American television journalist, producer, narrator, and host of A&E crime and news documentary shows including Investigative Reports, American Justice, and Cold Case Files. He is the former anchor of the CBS Morning News, and was the longtime anchor at WBBM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Chicago.

In the course of doing some background research, I had contacted his production company expecting to hear back from an intern or, at most, a producer. I had not expected, even in my wildest imaginings, to hear from The Man himself.

We had a pleasant conversation, and he asked me to add him to the Diary’s subscriber list and to send him a detailed description of the work of The Redemption Project. I also took the opportunity to share with him my experience of observing Derek as he watched “Blood Brothers,” an American Justice episode about the King Brothers that Bill’s company produced.

“Watching ‘Blood Brothers’ was the first time Derek had ever seen his story through the eyes of someone else. He had never even read about the crime because it was not allowed in prison,” I said. I told Bill that I watched Derek, not the video, through the whole program. I told him I was sure Derek’s reaction was sincere and true.

“What was it?” Bill asked.

“Derek couldn’t believe that kid on the screen was him. It was as if the boy on the screen was a completely different person.”

Within two or three weeks of Derek’s arrival here after his prison release, my cassette of “Blood Brothers” appeared on top of the television set as part of a small stack of films Derek had heard about but had never seen. Derek said that lots of inmates and staff at the prison told him they’d seen him on American Justice, and he always pretended to know what they were talking about. But he didn’t really know. It was a bluff, a way of showing no weakness that someone could exploit and use against him.

So Derek was curious. He was very curious. But as the stack of films was watched and re-shelved, eventually “Blood Brothers” was the last one remaining. It must have sat unwatched on top of the TV for a month. I never pushed the issue. I never said a thing.

After we’d sat side-by-side at the computer and watched PBS Frontline’s “When Kids Get Life” (a profoundly disquieting experience for Derek, by the way), Derek resolutely announced: “Okay, I’ve put it off long enough. The time is now. We’re going to watch “Blood Brothers.”

When a Pensacola detective was interviewed on the screen, Derek exclaimed, “Yeah, and you were caught lying on the stand!”

He sat silent for a long time, his eyes riveted on the screen. And then at a key part of the story he exclaimed,  “Aw, man, this is so screwed up!”, shaking his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe that was me. I would never do that today!”

Derek seemed to be disoriented by what he was experiencing. I could tell he remembered being at the center of the events he was watching, and yet there was a jarring disconnect at work. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“I am shocked,” he said at the end of the program, “as shocked as anybody.”

“Was the program accurate?” I asked him. “Yes, but I still can’t believe it,” he said. “I feel like a person who has been grazed in the forehead by a bullet,” Derek said. “I could be in prison right now for the rest of my life, or dead.” (He must have still been thinking of those JLWOP kids in Colorado.)  “But instead I’m here, outside the prison gates.” There was gratitude in his voice. His fate had been nudged to the good by just a hair’s width.

Afterwards we took a long hike over some nearby hills and mountains and he walked yards ahead of me, absorbed in thought, still getting his head around it.

For me it was a dramatic illustration of what we are always talking about, repeatedly, almost ad nauseum. Kids’ brains are not fully developed until they reach their mid-20s. That boy on the screen literally was a different person than the young man who was living with me.

In pursuing its continuing vendetta against Alex, the State of Florida is persecuting the wrong victim. They are only persecuting an outer shell. Inside the shell today’s Alex, too, is a different person from the 12-year-old who was manipulated into a terrible deed. He and Derek are not unique.

Yesterday I was reading the diary entries of Nathan Ybanez at Nathan is serving life-without-parole in Colorado’s Sterling Prison for killing his abusive mother at age 16. He is 29 now. He has grown up in prison and, aside from the outer shell which he compares to a cardboard box that is kept empty by the bleakness of his circumstances, Nathan is no longer the same person who committed the crime.

Yet (his empty-box analogy notwithstanding) Nathan is a remarkable, gifted young man. He is full of good. In the crucible of prison Nathan has, in my opinion, transformed himself into a Living National Treasure.

Yet the State of Colorado continues to inflict upon him a string of cruel punishments that have long since lost any meaning except that such a state has no moral right to rule and should be dissolved.

In the days since the release of the West Memphis Three, my colleagues and I have spoken often about how important it is for people who are in the public eye to embrace our causes. In this culture, if a cause cannot achieve prominence in the public mind, it may as well not exist at all.

I hope Bill Kurtis reads the Diary and is moved to give our kids’ causes greater visibility with his audience. I hope he’ll help us bring about a transformation of public consciousness that will result in a mindful, more compassionate, and just society.

This change must happen soon. It cannot wait. Our kids are not growing younger.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Smiths performing “How Soon Is Now?”



I’ve put in an 18-hour workday today, and I’m about to crash and burn. No time to write. Sorry again. This is one of my all-time favorite songs. I hope you enjoy it, even though it’s quirky.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Mason Jennings performing “Butterfly”


family love

I’ve just gotten back from the fourth Sunday night supper at the Grub Shack, and I’m ready to crash for the night. Tonight’s affair was pretty low-key, in part because everyone knows that Jerry and Eva are experiencing some hard days right now.

Two days ago Jerry learned that his brother had died. Jerry is distressed that he must miss the funeral which is being held in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He seemed distracted tonight. In a few days Jerry and Eva will be leaving to be with Eva’s sister in east Texas who is also mortally ill.

We will have to make other Sunday supper plans for the next two weeks while they’re gone. I’ll miss them and their get-togethers.

Strange to say, despite the edge of sadness, this was one of the most enjoyable gatherings of them all. After most of the guests left, a small group of us sat around razzing one another with jokes and insults that no one took seriously, but interpreted as heartfelt affection. It felt like family.

As the last of us left, Jerry and Eva fixed all of us “care packages” of leftovers to take home. Just like family love.

Yesterday I must have looked at over 1,300 love songs before making yesterday’s Groove selection. As I got into my car, the sappiest one of them (by the Troggs) began running through my head. I briefly considered posting it but came to my senses after I listened to it for a brief moment.

For me this one from 1929 is more in sync with the mood I brought home from the Shack. I’d be surprised if you’ve ever heard it before. I hope you enjoy it.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to King Oliver’s Orchestra performing “What’s the Use of Living Without Love”



Every day, almost seven days a week, I deal with such unutterably sad and ugly things. Ours truly is a world of woe.

Until I moved here I spent most of my life insulating myself from these things and did my best, successfully, to avoid them. I did such a good job that most of the time it seemed to me I was the only person in the world with problems.

Now all of that has been turned upside down. Since I have become absorbed in the problems of others, it feels like I am the only person in the world without problems.

Part of the explanation is certainly that whatever problems I do have pale in comparison to those of a child who is jailed for murder or a family that has dedicated its every waking moment to hate and revenge. But more to the point of this post—and I was thinking about this last night as my head hit the pillow—my problems just don’t matter to me anymore like they once did. It feels to me like they don’t matter at all.

Yesterday Otto and I got into the car to make a run for ice and the mail. In his old age, Otto is becoming markedly weaker and frailer. For the first time he was unable to help himself into the car. I had to lift him in, and he was unable to climb onto the back seat where he usually sits. It demonstrated to me in a dramatic way that his days in this world are numbered. It was a blunt reminder that my constant companion of more than thirteen years will one day no longer be by my side.

What was my reaction?  I felt empty. “It doesn’t matter,” I said to myself.

Oh, when he is gone I will surely be heartbroken, and I will feel like I am missing an arm or another part of my body. But my honest reaction was and is that it just doesn’t matter. “When you go, I’ll go too,” I told him. He will have to wait for me—I have much yet to do—but I will follow him and we will be together again with everyone I love. In the meantime I will continue rubbing his ears and loving him and keep making him comfortable and cleaning his ass when I have to.

I have done all this before.

Yesterday I spoke with Chris Brown and he told me about the latest outrage in his ordeal. He spent some time yesterday with some social services bureaucrats who informed him that he will be forced to make child support payments to the state if Jordan is found guilty and incarcerated in a youth detention program. Chris has not worked since the murder, he has sold everything he owns to raise cash to subsist and continue supporting Jordan. He has been impoverished by the wrongful actions of the state. And now these comfortably-employed bureaucrats are telling him that the state wants more! If he were to fail to pay, the state could put him in jail too.

As Chris told me about this, I could hear the emotion rising in his voice… and what did I feel? Empty. No outrage. No hate. No fury. “Don’t worry about it Chris. You’re not in this alone,” I said. “I’m with you and Jordan for life. We’ll get through it if it happens. Yet I believe with my whole heart and soul that Jordan will be acquitted. We won’t need to cross that bridge.” I am sure of it.

One reason I am so confident of this is that I’d had such a good day on the phone lining up support for Jordan. I spoke to a woman I’d never met before, and she agreed to help in a significant way. “I don’t even know you but I love you!” I exclaimed into the phone. I could tell she felt good about her decision. I could tell she was glad I’d contacted her. People want to help.

This was not the only positive call in the day.

I ended the day last night exchanging e-mails with a young friend who said, “I am having the worst day of my life.” She’d had a fight with her mother, an unhappy woman who slapped her daughter—my friend—across the face. “I moved to my car crying and I’m having beers, but not feeling better,” she texted from her phone. Her mother was wrong. She had accused her daughter of something she didn’t do. And now the daughter was suffering.

If she were here I would hug my friend, tell her I love her, and that we would see this through. But she is many thousands of miles away, on another continent in fact. What did I feel? Empty. No outrage or anger. Only love for that girl and her unhappy mother.

All I could do was tell her that.

As I went to sleep last night I imagined myself as an empty wallet, empty of all the dirty emotions most people accumulate in the course of their days and years. I realized that my wallet is empty because I am always spending love out of it. I don’t understand how I can keep spending and there’s always more to spend… it is a mystery to me… it’s like having an infinite line of credit… the last thing I remember before slipping away to dreamland were the words, “Fishes and Loaves.”

The first thing this morning I checked to see if Otto was still with me. He is. I rubbed his ears and he groaned with pleasure. I think he endures whatever infirmities he suffers for the love he receives. Love does conquer all. It is the only thing that lasts. It is the only thing that matters.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to Buckwheat Zydeco performing “Secret of Love”


try it

I’ve been asked to take on some new tasks to assist in Jordan Brown’s defense, so I’ve been on the phone all day while finishing up the content for James Prindle’s website.

So that’s my excuse for why I haven’t had even a minute to think about doing a post. Sorry. The best I can do is post a piece of favorite music.

For as much as I love it myself, I usually hesitate to post classical music—especially opera—for fear you may not like my picks. But you may just enjoy this selection, which was a piece of “pop music” in its day very long ago in 1791.

Try it. You’ll like it.


Groove of the Day 

 Listen to Herbert von Karajan conducting “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute


please be kind

“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; Yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.”
                                                                                                       ~ Khalil Gibran



Groove of the Day 

Listen to Django Reinhardt performing “Please Be Kind”