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I am a mommy, scribe, and middle-school English teacher. I am trying to cope with being separated from my beloved. DoUWantMore? email me: theprisonerswife@gmail.com

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Cash Rules Everything Around Me

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"So after a horrendous ordeal my wife felt it better to end our lives and why leave our children in someone's else's hands, in addition it seems Kiaser Permanente want's us to kill ourselves and take our family with us. They did nothing to the manager who stated such, and did not attempt to assist us in the matter, knowing we have no job and 5 children under 8 years with no place to go. So here we are."

~from the Suicide letter of Ervin Lupoe

i always wonder what would make a person take their own life. when i was in college, a friend of mine shot herself after finding out she was pregnant. that shook me. made me wonder how someone can get so blinded by the present that they are unable to see the options just around the corner. i mean, i know life can get very dark, but there is always daybreak after a storm.

on Monday, 60,000 jobs evaporated and Ervin Lupoe, a local man, killed his entire family. he shot each of his five children (all under 8 years old), his wife, and finally took his own life after calling 911. he was driven to this dismal fate by the job losses of both he and his wife. the Lupoes were deep in debt, broke and desperate. bad combination.

when things like this occur i always try to put myself in the other person's head. when my friend killed herself, i couldn't fathom ending my life over something that could be resolved. i mean, you always have options. and with this--the murder-suicide--no matter how deep the debt, the children didn't deserve to die. they could have been adopted or raised by relatives, or their parents could have gotten their shit together and worked their way out of debt. there are always options. always.

the economy is hard on us all. my employer just authorized the layoff of nearly 3000 teachers due to the lack of state funding. as a new teacher, one of those lost jobs could be mine. no matter what happens though, i am blessed to have perspective and the wherewithal to know that even when times get tough, i'll come out alright in the end.

i wonder, if this recession will drive up the suicide rate. i wonder how the loss of jobs and lack of funding for social services will affect the crime rate. i wonder if people will have the foresight to realize that no matter what, tomorrow is a new day with a new set of options. i'm not sure what the next year will bring, but i'm hopeful that we'll all come out on top, eventually.

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 5:36 PM 3 comments


Even if you’re not from Los Angeles, you’ve heard the stories. NWA put this tiny city on the map. Documented its violence and gangs as if it was as our own little Baghdad. Compton, The CPT, has been synonymous with fear for as long as I can remember. Growing up in South-Central Los Angeles, I wasn’t unaccustomed to violence. Echoing gunshots, helicopters, barking rottweilers, and yellow police tape were not foreign to me. When I was 10 there was a man murdered right in front of our house, my dad washed away his blood. But when someone mentioned we had to go to Compton—for any reason—I was shook.

Although Compton is tiny, their reputation looms large. Ten miles hosts 100,000 people and 65 different gangs. Their murder rate has been out of control for years, but last year it dropped, aided by stronger community policing efforts. The LA Times noted that the drop in the murder rate is due in part to “pairing aggressive enforcement with programs designed to improve the relationship between the community and the cops.” They contrasted this new approach, which to me makes logical sense, with that of the hard-hitting tactics of the 1980s, when gangs and crack exploded in LA. They write,

It is a stark contrast to the 1980s, when area law enforcement agencies launched a gang crackdown that resembled a military operation, destroying any semblance of a relationship between the agencies and the communities they served.

Since Ryan took command of the Compton station two years ago, the number of Explorer Scouts has risen from eight to 25, that of station volunteers from 10 to 55, and reserve deputies from just one previously to eight. Neighborhood Watch and business watch programs are popping up all over town.

The department runs the Compton Youth Activities League in a former National Guard armory, and about 150 kids come each month for after-school programs. Almost all have a close relative in prison, officials said, and many have been removed from their families and placed in the foster care system. (read the article here)

Compton seems to be getting it right. Things are far from perfect. People are still being killed, and property crimes are up as of late which can be attributed to the horrible economic situation, but a stolen car is better than a stolen life any day.

I am hopeful for Compton. A lot of my students live in and around Compton and in neighborhoods like I grew up in. When I was growing up, we had a blatant suspicion of the police. They were not our friends; they didn’t live in our neighborhood, nor know our names. This suspicion, and even hated, of police has continued. Any time I speak with my students about the law or police or how their actions may affect them in the future, they express an apparent disdain for police, for many reasons that signal a lack of mutual respect and relationships.

The key to combating any problem is relationships. Whether it’s teachers building trusting and respectful relationships with their students, or parents building relationships with their children, you cannot get anyone to buy into your cause without first building a relationship with them. I am amazed that more communities, especially urban communities, have not followed the community-policing model. Instead of investing money in ways to house more inmates, our communities should be investing in more neighborhood programs that prevent people from turning to crime. After-school programs, job training programs, and educational programs all work; yet they are the first to be abandoned when a budget crisis arises. Why is that? Why do we allow our neediest residents to be relegated to a subpar life?

As we stand on the shores of change and are all still tingling from President Obama’s inauguration, we cannot become complacent and feel as if he will take care of everything. There is so much work to be done. There are so many kids being lost to a cycle of prison, poverty, and hopelessness. Everyday I face my students hopeful that something I say or something we do will spark inside of them. I challenge you to do something, anything, that will help break the cycle our communities are stuck in.

What will you do?

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 11:01 AM 1 comments

Reflections On...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

i am still hyped. today was an amazingly emotional day. i knew it would be deep, knew we were seeing something that few ever expected to happen so soon (if at all), and i didn't think i'd do it, but i cried. yep, cried. right there in my classroom when one of my students asked me how this event made me feel. i couldn't get my answer out. starting talking about my grandmother, and arkansas, and jim crow, and then tears made the words stick to the corners of my throat. my students were shocked. a few of them started crying when they saw my tears. and then it happened...

one student, who is distantly related to me, started to give her testimony and i felt like i was at some sort of youth revival. y'all she began talking about her life. how she was taken away from her grandmother (my grandmother's cousin) and now lives in a group home. how she's been abused and nearly been raped since being in the group home. how she has nothing left but her sister because she chose to fight and cut school and stay out late, instead of go to school. she urged her peers to be thankful. she told them to run home and thank their parents for their support. told them to get their education. begged them to do so. she told the class her mother is an addict & is currently in prison, wanting back in her life, but she won't allow it. she told us she wouldn't allow her mom back in her life because she left her with her grandmother at 2-months old and she's tired of people leaving her.


i couldn't even speak when she was done. thankfully the bell saved us all, and i dismissed the class (barely). i couldn't even wrap my brain around what had just occurred. between the inauguration and her comments, i cried like a baby in the solace of my classroom.

ever since then i have been trying to get my head around what the Obama presidency really means. not just to America, but to my students. to the kids in the trenches with no one at home. what does Obama mean to the kids who have nothing, not even hope to cling to? i've been struggling to make this moment relevant to my students in a deeper way than just being happy he's the first Black president. i mean, that's great, but i want them to trust and believe that anything they put their mind and energy to can come to past. i want them to know that they are valuable and worthy of the dreams they keep tucked deep inside themselves.

but so far...i am at a loss. i am still trying to deal with today's events. i do know this...it cannot stop here. we cannot be happy just having him in office. we have been called to serve, to question, to criticize. and for the first time, i am truly excited about my country and its possibilities.

how did you spend the day? what are your thoughts going forward?

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 7:52 PM 4 comments

Books I Do Adore v3

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Years ago I was perusing Borders’ African-American Lit section when it was still fun to look at and I saw the stunning cover of Blues Dancing, Diane McKinny-Whetstone’s third novel. I prescribe to judging a book by its cover, and that book was begging for me to pick it up. I bought it, took it home, and consumed it in two days, wrapping myself in the lives of the characters and the city of brotherly love. From the start of Blues Dancing, I became a fan of McKinny-Whetstone’s work and have kept an eye out for each of her books. About a week ago, I had the pleasure of finishing, her fourth novel (of 5), Leaving Cecil Street, and she did not disappoint.

McKinny-Whetstone begins the novel with a saying that is so Philly that I almost wanted to run out and grab a hoagie and my Roots CD. She begins by saying that, “Cecil Street was feeling some kinda way in 1969.” With that one, authentic phrase I knew I was in for another lush journey through the streets of Philadelphia. One of her major strengths is her ability to paint a picture through melodious prose that speaks to each of your senses. McKinny-Whetstone’s work is a pleasure to read, and Leaving Cecil Street is another gem.

Leaving Cecil Street is a story of community, of relationships, and of love. The story centers around a close nit West Philadelphia block that is in transition. Although the working-class neighborhood is still very well maintained, the world around Cecil Street is in complete upheaval. King and Kennedy have been assassinated, James Brown is proclaiming he is Black and Proud, and the world is struggling to deal with all of the changes. Although the novel is narrated in the third person, one could ague that McKinny-Whetstone allows Cecil Street to speak for itself. We meet its lively residents—some outgoing, some eccentric—hear the corner boys serenade the neighborhood above a night air thick with greens and macaroni and cheese, and we meet Shay and Neet, best friends who are more like sisters than anything else. Just like Cecil Street, Neet and Shay’s relationship is in a state of flux, and just like the neighborhood, they struggle to hold it together.

McKinny-Whetstone has been compared to Toni Morrison because of her ability to bring the reader into the story, not just on a peripheral level, but to draw them in so much so that they are almost apart of the action. And in Leaving Cecil Street, she draws the reader into the complex stories of her characters, causing us to become emotionally invested in each of their lives. At times I found myself shocked, I found myself talking back to characters, and hoping they just get it together. Being involved, emotionally, is a sign of a great book and Leaving Cecil Street is just that. I encourage you to take a trip to Philly and let Cecil Street be your first stop.

Note: I also recommend her latest effort, Trading Dreams At Midnight. Another great read.

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 7:35 PM 4 comments

Attention Single Moms: It's All Your Fault!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ann Coulter makes me itch. Which is exactly why I try to avoid her pasty, sardonic expressions and severely offensive tone whenever humanly possible. But lately, it’s been hard to ignore her media blitz to promote her new book, which attempts to demonize single motherhood and the children they raise.

Ann Coulter’s bombastic rants are nothing new. In her latest flurry of appearances, she seems to be taking her ire out on all of the single mothers. In her book, Guilty: Liberal 'Victims' and Their Assault on
, she argues that “[s]ingle motherhood is like a farm team for future criminals and social outcasts,” and claims that children of divorce are “future strippers.” She asserts the liberal media has championed single motherhood while actively working against the nuclear family.

Her assertion about single motherhood being the gateway to all social ills is extremely problematic. Although she sites some fuzzy statistics, she does not take into account the socio-economic conditions that ail a great deal of single parents. Raising a child is an expensive endeavor. And raising a child alone is
extremely arduous, requiring you to not only stand in the gaps, emotionally, for your child, but also provide financially. Becoming a single parent isn’t a
choice many take on purposefully, but according to Coulter’s logic, single mothers have become so by choice, aided by the “liberal media’s” attack on the nuclear family.

I’ve noticed something. Whenever white women begin to break away from social norms, somehow an assault on “the American family” has occurred. Black women have been raising children alone for years. Slavery (I know, we don’t like to talk about it) caused many of our foremothers to raise children in the absence of their father because he was sold away. The “nuclear” family was but a dream for enslaved African-Americans who struggled to piece together a family broken by systematic racism, and Black women were left to work and raise children solo, wishing it were possible to
have her partner’s assistance. But instead of dealing with the issue of single motherhood holistically, taking into account the historical plight of people of color, Coulter simplifies the issue to make her point.

In an attempt to further her thesis and to dig her right-wing heels into our President-Elect, Coulter argues that President Obama, as well as other prominent mixed-race African-Americans, have insulted their white single mothers by identifying with their African-American roots. She claims that by identifying with the ethnicity of their black fathers, they have “establish[ed] victimhood status in America,” which helped them become successful. Apparently Coulter needed to explain away the reasons that Obama, Halle Berry, and Alicia Keys, all raised by single mothers, did not fit into her assertion that children raised by single moms are ready for the state pen. She had to come up with something, seeing as the WASPy White House ceiling has been cracked and shattered for good. Once again Coulter doesn’t incorporate the historical significance of ethnic identity. She acts as if mixed raced African-Americans have never been identified as “black” (uh, one drop rule anyone?) and Obama et. al is doing so just to play up their disadvantaged plight.

It is easy to look at Ann Coulter and dismiss her as a self-obsessed, mad woman. I mean, that’s how I see her anyway. The problem with that, however, is that many
agree with her divisive views. Her books have climbed to the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list, and she has found a home on a myriad of conservative
media outlets. The trouble with Ann Coulter, as with any outlandish talking head, is their ability to get people to think like them. It is people like Coulter that carved American into parts, both “real” and “fake,” and attempted to pit the two against each other in a commercialized culture war.

Luckily for us, America has, in spite of itself, elected a man, the son of a single mother, who vows to unite us. I am hopeful that President Obama is the antidote to the divisive discourse that has been permeating our airwaves as of late.

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 7:50 PM 9 comments

Books I Do Adore...pt. 2

Thursday, January 08, 2009

On rare occasions, maybe once in a lifetime a musician comes along and captures our hearts so completely that we often look to them—their music and life—for inspiration and answers. For Shay, the protagonist in Carleen Brice’s debut novel, Orange Mint and Honey, Nina Simone is that guiding force.

At the outset of the novel Shay is jobless, on the verge of getting kicked out of grad school, and at the end of her rope. In a desperate attempt to make sense of her life, she asks, “What Would Nina Do?” One night, the high priestess appears to Shay and tells her to go her home.

Although many in Shay’s predicament would be running back to the comforts of home, Shay has no fond memories of her home life to console her. Shay’s mother, a recovering alcoholic, put her through a hellish childhood, choosing men and booze over her daughter. Shay, vowing never to return to Denver, brushes off the idea until she finds herself being evicted from her apartment and forced to take a leave from school. She calls her mother, after years of not speaking, packs up her things and heads home to Denver.

Dead set on riding out her sabbatical from school by staying as far away from her mother as possible, Shay attempts to lock herself away in her room. Nona, her mother, has other ideas and wants to make amends for her actions during Shay’s childhood. Shay isn’t convinced. She doesn’t buy Nona’s uber-positive outlook on life and is convinced she must still drinking. Shay searches the house for empty liquor bottles, but comes up empty. One night she sees Nona in her garden and is convinced that that is where she must be hiding the bottles, but soon learns that Nona has traded drinking for gardening.
Growth and change is a central theme of the novel. Shay’s bitterness over her mother’s past actions threatens to undermine the positive changes that Shay needs to take in her own life. She is painfully shy and blames her mother for socially stunting her growth. Her resentment toward her mother also threatens the future of their tenuous relationship. Although Nona continues to try to make amends, the possibility of reconciliation seems unlikely until a crisis hits.

In Orange Mint and Honey, Carleen Brice weaves a beautiful tale of a complicated mother-daughter relationship that is as lush and soulful as a John Coltrane sax solo, and as beautiful as a field of wild, blossoming flowers. Brice accurately captures both Shay’s and Nona’s voices as they both fight for the change they so desperately need. Brice, a cultivator of words, uses gardens as a metaphor for the cycle of life—a once barren land can become a beautiful and verdant with hard work and determination. Orange Mint and Honey is a captivating story that is sure to keep you turning the pages and wishing for more.

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 8:22 PM 7 comments

Books, Books, Books I do Adore...pt 1

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Mark Twain once commented that "Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else." And over the course of the Winter break, I've had the pleasure to travel to three interesting places, and encounter a myriad of captivating characters.

Reading has always been an escape for me. A place where I can tune out the stresses/pressure of my life and delve into the loves, dramas, and worlds of others. The books that I love the most have enveloped me in their characters' lives so much so that I think about them once I'm long finished with the book. Although the books I've read over break have all had distinct and unique stories, they have all been tied together through the common thread of deft characterization. Each of these books was an interesting read that I'd encourage you to pick up as well.

I love books. So feel free to comment on any of these (if you've read them) and suggest some that you think I'd like.

Midnight: A Gangsta Love Story

When Sister Souljah's novel, The Coldest Winter Ever, first burst on the scene nearly 10 years ago, the streets were abuzz with her gritty tale of Winter Santiaga, an around-the-way girl who navigates the streets to regain the money and stature that was lost when her king-pin father was imprisoned. Through Winter we meet Midnight, the calm, calculating, and beautiful underboss of her father's organization. Since Winter was released, people have been clamoring for a sequel to the popular street-lit tale. Although the new novel, Midnight, centers around the mysterious character from Souljah's first book, it is by no means a sequel to The Coldest Winter Ever.

When I first saw the cover of Souljah's follow-up Midnight, I was completely thrown off by the byline, "A Gangsta Love Story." I immediately rolled my eyes at the word, "Gangsta" because I'm completely fed-up with the wave of Street Lit that has infected the African-American literature section. But ultimately I put my initial hesitations aside and picked up the book.

At the outset of the novel we are introduced to Midnight. All quiet swagger and confidence. He begins the book by telling us how people, especially women, react to him, and we are immediately taken back to the Midnight of Winter, and fall in love with him all over again. As the book moves on we learn that he is seven and fleeing from the Sudan with his pregnant mother, leaving behind a once-powerful father taken down by some unknown political conflict.

Although I ultimately enjoyed reading the novel, it did move slowly, especially in the beginning when Midnight recounts his life in the Sudan, his family's wealth, and his view of Black Americans. It is clear Sister Souljah was attempting to make a point about the materialism of American culture, but at times I felt she was a bit too heavy-handed in her approach. There isn't a lot of dialogue or interaction in this novel. We see the world through Midnight's perspective and are privy to his thoughts. Everything is filtered through his upbringing, his views, and experiences, which makes for a rich first-person narrative, but is a bit lacking when dealing with the thoughts and motivations of the other characters.

There are many unanswered questions in Midnight. In the beginning of the book we learn that he is the son of a very wealthy and politically important man in the Sudan. Midnight’s father teaches him lessons about life, business and manhood. He also teaches Midnight to protect himself and his family from outsiders. This lesson shapes Midnight’s life and is particularly important when he flees the Sudan and immigrates to Brooklyn, NY. The reasons behind the family's move to New York is never exposed. The reader is left to draw their own conclusions about the demise of Midnight’s father and the reasons behind his family’s sudden immigration.

The book follows Midnight as he navigates the streets of New York, translating for his mother, fighting other boys for respect, running a business, falling in love, and growing into a calculating young man. The book spans seven years and ends when Midnight is 14, which contributes to the unbelievable nature of the novel. For instance, at seven we are to believe that Midnight purchases two guns and is mature enough to not only use them, but to use them wisely while conducting business (collecting money, building business contacts, etc) for his mother's small design company. Another unlikely tidbit in the novel is that Midnight never attends American schools, and no one seems to question why he, at seven, is always in the street, but never in school.

In Midnight we see the makings of the man who would become the mysteriously beautiful character in Winter. In this novel, Midnight falls in love with a Japanese artist and must struggle to win her family's approval of their unlikely love, hence the novel's byline. The love story in Midnight is both engaging and a bit frustrating. Although Midnight and his love are madly infatuated with each other, neither speaks the other’s language, which makes for interesting, and improbable, situations. Their love and the struggle they must go through to keep it fuels the second part of the novel. Midnight must resolve his feelings for Akemi, his love, with his upbringing, which leads to yet another unlikely choice for a fourteen year old, and a cliffhanger ending.

Midnight is a coming of age novel about an unlikely protagonist, a young street-wise, Sudanese immigrant. Although the novel takes several questionable twists and turns, it is an interesting and fun read. As long as you approach Midnight, not as a sequel to The Coldest Winter Ever, but as a stand-alone novel, you will not be disappointed.

Next Up: Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 7:05 AM 1 comments

The Newness

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy New Year fam!!!

the munchkin and i have made it safely back to the left coast after a (frigid) beautiful visit with beloved. he is well, and we were both ecstatic about spending the last few moments of '08 and the first few days of '09 together. the visit got our new year started off right: full of love and laughs.

Winter break has somehow managed to slip through my fingers. i only have four (4!!) days left until break is over. i am not ready to go back. i still have books i want to read, and reading during the school year is very dicey. so far, over break i've read 3 books. those books, however, were read in a matter of a week. a week! when we left to go east i wasn't able to get another book to read so i felt out of sorts, but i'm ready to make up for it during these last four days.

before i left to see beloved i stumbled upon Carleen Brice's blog, White Readers Meet Black Authors. the blog's premise is wonderful. it introduces books by Black authors to the masses. so often "others" (non-black folk) don't read books by African-American authors (unless it's the venerable Toni Morrison), and our books are relegated to the colored section of the bookstore, never to be showcased in the middle of the store with the rest of the fiction. so her site & her mission to spread the word about GREAT books is not only necessary, but fabulous!

i have been meaning to review (or at least discuss) the books that i've read so far. i promise i'm going to do that THIS week. so stay tuned. the new year always brings with it new promise. and because resolutions are EASY to make AND break, i'm not setting them (lol). i will, however, set a few goals. one main one being to write, write, write. i am not going to sell myself short anymore & i will work on my craft. i'm going to find time to write here, work on my novel, and actively seek publishing opportunities.

what goals have you set for yourself this year?
what are you looking forward to in 2009?

Posted by the prisoner's wife On 8:00 AM 7 comments