Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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Prison is a Place

My father once told me that prison is place we send people to punish them. The problem with prisons, he said, is that we continue to punish them for the rest of their lives. We were driving downtown and saw a prison work crew on the grounds of the courthouse. My father believed it was wrong to dress these men in orange jumpsuits as if to humiliate them even further. There is no sense of rehabilitation, he said sadly, only punishment. 

Over the years, I have come to understand the wisdom of his thinking. Prisons are necessary but we forget that inside those are people. They are brothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and husbands. They are sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers and wives. For every person incarcerated, there are at least four more who are impacted by the loss of the loved one. People. Human beings. My father, nor I, intend to minimize or gloss over the crime. He firmly believed you don't do the crime unless you can do the time. But what should set us above the criminal mind, should be the voice of redemption, forgiveness and rehabilitation. If we believe in justice, then we should also be mindful of its practice. Prisons should be institutions of hope and education, rather than revolving doors where the inmate is more likely to die inside than live outside.

This is an open letter sent to me. The author unknown but I felt it was meant to be shared. As you read, I ask you to see this place through his eyes. Think for a moment that it is your son who wrote this and then, perhaps gain a new perspective on this place.

Prison is a Place

Prison is a place where the first person you see looks like an all-American college boy, and you are surprised. Later you are disgusted because people on the outside have the same prejudices about prisoners that you used to have. 

Prison is a place where you learn that nobody needs you. That the world outside goes on without you.

Prison is a place where you can go for years without feeling the touch of a human hand, where you go for months without hearing a kind word. It is a place whre friendships are shallow, and you know it.

Prison is a place where you feel sorry for yourself. Then you get disgusted for feeling sorry for yourself. Then you get mad for feeling disgusted.

Prison is a place where you lose respect for the law because you see it raw, twisted, bent, ignored and blown out of proportion to suit the people who enforce it.

Prison is a place where you forget the sound of a baby's cry. You forget the sound of a dog's bark, or a cat's meow.

Prison is a place where you see men you don't admire, and wonder if you are like them. It's a place where you strive to remain civilized, but lose ground and know it.

Prison is a place where you go to bed before you are tired. Where you pull the blankets over your head when you are not cold. It is a place where you try to reading, playing cards, or by simply going mad.

Prison is a place where you promise to become a better person. Some people succeed, some people fail. Some don't even care. 

Prison is a place.



Cansurvivor is a term my oldest daughter coined for my recovery from breast cancer. After four surgeries, chemo and radiation, I was sent home with a pat on the back on my birthday, September 25, 1990. My daughter gave me a t-shirt with the words Cansurvivor printed on the front. After 23 years, I still wear that shirt when life weighs a bit heavy. It reminds me of all I have gone through to get to this moment and all the strength I have to meet whatever life dishes out.

I recently spent time with an old friend. Martha and I have been friends since we were kids, so the history is long and deep. She is finishing up her own round with breast cancer. Our bond deepened as I welcomed her to the sisterhood of survivors. Even after all these years, knowing what I know about the disease and the emotional havoc it plays, I wept with her. There are no words to express this grief, only heartfelt tears. Her rage, her sorrow, her darkness, are real and part of the journey. I was confident that she would come through this ordeal but if I had the ability, she would have been spared.

How do you tell your dearest friend that it will never be the same, knowing that is all she wants; some semblance of what was so that all the pain was somehow rewarded. I selfishly wept for myself as well. Tears for what I lost 23 years ago, a sadness that lies beneath the surface waiting to grab you by the throat and bring you once again to your knees. There is no living in denial. It is there everyday when you take a shower or dress. A reminder that this is not a breast enhancement but a reconstruction and will never be the same.

For breast cancer survivors, our wounds run deeper than the tissue that has been removed. It robs our very core, our identity, our self image as a woman, a mother, a wife. We have to learn to reconnect ourselves with our body that is now completely foreign. Nothing feels the same, looks the same or acts the same. It doesn't fit in a bra, no cleavage, no bounce. We hide in our clothes rather than dress to impress. All of which, with time, we learn to live with, accept as best we can, and make a hell of a lot of lemonade. 

Martha will survive. She is one of the toughest women I know. Welcome to the club, my sister. You are officially a Cansurvivor! And to all those who have walked this endless mile, you know the courage it takes to look cancer in the face and flash a winning smile.

Images: Flickr image by Neo-grapher


Saturday morning

Saturday morning! No need to jump out of bed. No alarm clocks to disturb my peaceful slumber. Yet, there is a definite change in attitude from the Saturday mornings I remember as a child.

I have traded hot chocolate and Saturday morning cartoons for chai tea and Tai Chi. I could write a whole piece on the lack of good Saturday morning cartoons. On occasion, I pull out a DVD of the Lone Ranger or Annie Oakley, just to remind myself what it used to be like to watch my heroes and heroines take care of evil in the Old West before 9:00 am. Now, I stumble into the shower, make myself a cup of tea and ride my bike to the park for Saturday morning Tai Chi.

Strange. Instead of a child bouncing on the couch with energy that knows no bounds, my get up and go is focused on slowing down. A meditative art in itself, Tai Chi can not be done quickly. This is a discipline that I have never experienced. I am always in fast mode and often angry with myself for not accomplishing the staggering number of To Do's on my list.

My beverages are all decaf. Odd? If you knew me, caffeine would be the last thing you would recommend. Tai Chi is a challenge for me, not because of the learning curve of the postures, but because I am forced to slow down to do them effectively. Each posture flows to the next and I must concentrate on my breath and balance to achieve them. Fascinating.

If you suffer from the malady of not enough hours in a day, or move faster than a speeding bullet (Yes, I have a few Superman cartoons in my DVD stash) then I highly recommend Tai Chi. I do yoga, as well, but Tai Chi has been the discipline that truly makes me stop and smell the roses. 

In a world that demands we go faster, it is a moment of peaceful resistance.

What are your favorite ways to stop your world from spinning out of control?


Images: Flicker image by DolphinDans


Wrestling with my conscience

Making ends meet these days becomes more of a struggle than a strategy. I used to enjoy clipping coupons, switching off lights or turning the thermostat down to save a penny here, a nickel there. Anymore it seems like wasted effort as grocery prices rise and my paycheck shrinks.

Then there are days when all of it comes into perspective. Days when the blessings suddenly seem to fill the half empty glass.

We have all seen the man or woman on the street corner announcing with their creative cardboard sign the blessings that any amount of money will bring to their efforts to survive on the streets. I have fallen victim to the pleas on more than one occasion. I have seen the homeless sleeping under the bridges, or in the alleys. An endless cycle of feeling guilty for what I have and saddened by the misery of their plight. I was witness to a young man who died of a heroin overdose in a porta potty down the street from my office. His mother found him in there, needle still in his arm, when he didn’t come out. The next day I found a makeshift tent behind our office, with a few belongings, empty liquor bottles and evidence they had sought privacy under the outside stairscase to use as an outdoor privvy.

It is heartbreaking to see the choices people make. Pinching pennies is a choice to keep the wolf from the door. Choosing to use pennies to buy alcohol or drugs invites the wolf inside the door. I had to make tough choices this week to clear away the menial possessions, clean the outdoor privvy, paint over the graffiti and post no trespassing signs. It has been a wrestling match with my conscience but also an opportunity to be grateful for the choices I have made.

Images: flickr image by David Blackwell 


Newspapers are a dying breed

I find it rather sad that newspapers are fighting their way into extinction. I grew up with several daily newspapers dropped at our door. Whenever we traveled, my Dad picked up the local newspaper. Perhaps as an aside, I should mention that my parents were journalists. My Dad said that journalist was a fancy word for reporter. He considered himself a reporter until the day he died at age 82, and on deadline.

Being the daughter of newspaper parents, I understand the lifeblood of the daily is the advertising, not the subscriber. The subscriber is the tool for the Advertising sales team to show numbers of interested readers. The meat and potatoes revenue stream for any print media is all about how many ads fit on a page. Today’s reader has the attention span of about 8 minutes. We fast forward through commercial TV and national news is served up on our computer with coffee in the morning or dinner at night.

What we want is local news. How did the high school football team do? What did the City Council decide? Is anybody doing anything about the homeless situation at the park? These burning questions are what make us open the newspaper, fight the ads and get to the meat of the story. Alas, newspapers don’t see it that way and have forced themselves into extinction by not focusing on what the subscriber wants but on the advertiser’s needs.

My monthly column, along with many other local writers, has recently been dropped from the daily paper. We were told that the paper’s new editorial policy is to use AP stories. If my Dad were alive, he would mourn the loss of another newspaper dinosaur gone to the newsprint bone yard.

My writing career began as a child. I was editor and publisher of the Duncan Family Daily News. The pages were filled with the stories that happened at our house and in the neighborhood. I wanted my Dad to be proud of me. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. If I could resurrect the Duncan Daily News I would share the stories that fill our lives with hope and humor. Here are today's headlines.

• Mrs Libby, still lives down the street at age 96. She recently fell and broke her hip, but reports that she is doing well and expects to limp along just fine.

• The Byrum dog, Beau, ran off this morning, only to return an hour later full of brambles in his tail. Although questioned extensively, he refused to comment.

• The Lllama Mamas on Vineyard Lane, have a llama named Bunny with a terrible cough. Apparently she munched on a sticker weed that caught in her throat. The vet was unable to remove it and suggested cough syrup.

• Henrietta, a Winedot hen, has developed rooster like characteristics, a rare scientific event. After three years as a productive member of the feminine feathered sisters, she now crows every morning, and is no longer laying eggs. She is reportedly, however, still a hen. Owners have decided to legally change her name to Henri.

Now that is news truly fit to print. 


Images: Flickr image by Yaisog Bonegnasher

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