Archive for November 17th, 2014


que sera, sera


Living with former inmates has its ups and downs. People sometimes tend to romanticize the experience, but I think it is high time for me to burst that bubble.

We have recently been through a “down” which has consumed a lot of energy, and it has been over an issue that most people (I think) should think of as pretty minor: doing the dishes and otherwise cleaning up after yourself after eating. But big doors swing on small hinges.

My own feeling is that a person can best recover from a childhood spent behind bars by exercising personal freedom to do (or not do) everything it takes to survive daily life, but that this freedom must be accompanied by personal responsibility for actions chosen.

Alex used a recent example of “disrespect” (I don’t agree) to justify eating but not cleaning up after himself; however the practice had begun long before the incident of supposed “disrespect.” I had begun to think that Alex would begin to take me for granted as his “bitch” if I continued to clean up after him, so I drew the line one night last week after he had created an especially large number of dirty dishes in the preparation of a stew for his consumption. After first asking him a few times to do his dishes and receiving evasive answers (“I’ll fit it in sometime”), I finally piled his dirty dishes at the base of the ladder to the sleeping loft, so he would literally have to step over them in his frequent comings-and-goings.

He accused me of being “childish” and hardened his resolve not to do his dishes. The dishes remained in place for a couple days until I reminded him that doing one’s dishes is as basic as being responsible for cleaning out one’s own shit bucket, and that his practice prevented me from preparing my meals. I told him that I was not asking him to leave (it is his free choice being here; he is not a prisoner), but that living at Estrella Vista involves making a commitment to a minimal level of pro-social behavior. I said that, unlike him, I do not have a taste for conflict and believe that being in a state of constant conflict does not lead to desirable results. I said that he has got to decide to either “get along or get out.”

Alex agreed that conflict usually results in terrible outcomes, but said that he would never back down (it is not in his nature) and that we had reached an “impasse.” He told me that, given his history, moving constantly was no big deal, and even though he would be leaving with “less than nothing,” he was prepared to return to Pensacola (on my dime), resume going to school, and living with his dysfunctional family.

Even though I’d asked him to take time to think about it before making his decision, I was astonished by his willingness to immediately choose an option which is so clearly not in his self-interests. But he has repeatedly made decisions in his life that he says he knew would turn out badly, almost as if the sub-optimal results were proof that life would always turn out that way.

Now let me be clear: I would prefer that Alex stays at Estrella Vista. I recognize that I am not the most fun person to live with, that Alex has difficulty relating to men, and that life at Estrella Vista can be difficult for anyone. I did not ask him to leave, only to decide that he would make an effort to get along. I didn’t even ask that it be a perfect effort, only that he try.

I gave it a night to think, and I realized that it takes at least two to be in an impasse. My highest value is that however this turns out, it should benefit Alex. I decided that if his remaining here should hinge on my doing his dishes, I would be willing to make the sacrifice. I have no overriding need to “win” a disagreement. So the next morning before he began cooking some eggs, I told him as the older and presumably more mature person in this impasse, I would be willing to do his dishes if he stayed.

However, Alex cut the conversation short and announced that a girl he has been talking to since around the time of his last posting here had convinced him to relent about the dishes—but he was still moving back to Pensacola. As if to prevent me from feeling too magnanimous about my decision, he told me I had her to thank for his change of mind.

We don’t even have the money right now for a bus ticket, so maybe he will or maybe he won’t bail by the time we can afford it. Que sera, sera. Time will tell.

Of the 12 juvenile parricides currently served by the Redemption Project, Derek and Alex are the only ones who received developmentally-appropriate sentences and have been released from the clutches of the System. (Through our involvement, one boy had no charges filed against him and at least two other boys received more lenient sentences, but they are still serving their time.)

My experiences so far have led me to the conclusion that the prison system leaves young people raised in it ill-equipped to deal with even the most basic things that make for a successful life outside the confines. Derek once told me that the rules of survival are all upside-down: what gets you ahead in the outer world can get you killed or injured in prison.

However this incident turns out, it reinforces the need for something like Estrella Vista to ensure that life outside the prison gates can be successful for juvenile parricides.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Doris Day performing “Que Sera Sera (What Will Be, Will Be)”