Tuesday, September 4, 2018

New Jersey Prison For Boys Will Soon Close

The New Jersey State Home For Boys opened in 1867 as a home for troubled youth. Its purpose evolved into a training school for boys and eventually into a prison for boys. It became know simply as 'Jamesburg'. Soon, due in part to public outcry, it will close its doors for good. Why the public outcry?  The Home or the School or the Prison apparently did little that was helpful either for its residents or for the community. Just before he left office New Jersey governor Chris Christie announced the reform of New Jersey's juvenile justice system with a $162 million bond to finance the closure of this Civil War-era youth prison. Two smaller state of the art juvenile rehabilitation centers were to be built — one in Ewing, Mercer County, the other in Winslow Township, Camden County. The facilities are supposed to house between 40 and 72 youth offenders. Christie’s plan to close the home, called the failed youth prison, was hailed by Ryan P. Haygood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, as being one of the most significant youth justice reforms in 150 years. The State Of New Jersey tells us that the Jamesburg facility is the state's largest, housing about 200 male teenagers.  It is a secure facility with a state of the art perimeter fence and 24-hour armed, roving patrol.  The average age of the residents is between 16 and 18 years.  Once in awhile public opinion sways politicians to do the right thing.  This, apparently, was one of those times.




Wednesday, August 22, 2018

He was so organized!

Not only did he write his own obituary trusting others to fill in the dates of his death and funeral.  He has also asked me to give a eulogy.  Here it is.

In my life my brother has never been out of my mind or out of my heart.  Since his death, though, I’ve been flooded with memories.  In this morning’s newspaper I read of the horrible brush fires ravaging California and more memories swept over me. Here’s the main one associated with those California fires. While he was in college my mild mannered, soft spoken brother jumped out of helicopters to fight forest fires.  He knew more about burning forests than most of us ever want or need to know.
         Tom and I grew up in isolation without electricity and sometimes without indoor plumbing.  Our father was a cowboy.  We lived on ranches too far away for friends to come visit. During summers we rarely saw anyone our own age. What we had was each other along with our parents, sections and sections of land, hundreds of cattle, horses, dogs and a lot of chores.  We were ranch hands and we worked hard. There was nothing unusual about our climbing on our horses before sunrise to round up cattle.
         Our parents had very little money and they certainly couldn’t afford luxuries. Toys were luxuries and so we had few. What we did have were our imaginations.  We made toys out of nails and sticks and bailing wire and created worlds in which those toys lived. We narrated and embellished their adventures.
         It is no accident that both my brother and I became writers. We lived childhoods fictionalized and made real by our imaginations. Tom read every word I wrote and responded with his serious edits and observations.  We also wrote stories and screenplays and novels together.
         Because we lived in such isolation, our bond was unique. Sometimes it seemed that we only needed each other. He became my protector and I became his number ONE fan.  Though based on today’s turnout I apparently wasn’t his only fan.  I still claim the number ONE title though.
         I don’t think losing a sibling is never easy nor should it be. My protector died. Life seems very different now and not quite as safe.
         In addition to being my protector, Tom was someone who, along with Linda, accepted and loved me for what I was regardless of what life and society might have expected me to be.
         You all know that Tom had a passion for writing.  He left two big projects unfinished. I don’t feel sad about those unfinished stories. Instead, I’m pleased and proud. Despite his health challenges, he died doing what he loved and holding the hand of the wife he loved. He never stopped writing and he never stopped loving. We should all be so lucky to die doing the work of our hearts and holding the hand of the person we love.
         I’ve lost my protector. However, I have my family and we will protect each other. In my mind and in my heart, though, I have NOT lost my big brother. Tom will always hold that position in my life now and forever.
         I’m honored he asked me to speak today. I’m honored to have been his little sister.
         I love you Tommy.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

My Brother's Last Article For The Arizona Daily Star


My brother, Tom Walker, died on July 27, 2018. He was a writer and a damned good one. He worked as an investigative reporter and eventually as an editor.  After he retired from working for Arizona newspapers he became a grant writer and created revenue for at least two non profits.  We wrote a novel together.  All my life he read everything I wrote and cared enough to make comments.  He even wrote the above obituary.  He just wanted to make sure it said what he wanted it to say.  And in tribute to him his old employer, The Arizona Daily Star, published his last piece. He was a good man.  I shall miss him all of my life and then some.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Unifying Play About A Divisive Time

Yesterday I spent over eight hours immersed in the most powerful, most inspiring, most hopeful theatrical experience of my life witnessing the play Angels In America written by Pulitzer Prize winner and Tony Award winner Tony Kushner.  The play began at 1:00 PM and ended a little after 11:00 PM with four intermissions and a two hour dinner break. I don't think there was an empty seat in the Neil Simon Theatre.  Everyone in attendance came for the long haul. The couple sitting to my left drove down from Boston and intended to drive back afterwards hoping to get home by 5:00 AM Sunday.  During the almost eight hour performance members of the audience developed an unusual camaraderie.  We seemed to support one another believing we could not only get through this very intense experience but also could survive other intense experiences.
In 1981 doctors began to notice clusters of Kaposi's sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia in gay men living in Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome got its name and its stigma.  To this day the name lives, the stigma lives and so does the epidemic.
Angels In America was commissioned by the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco and was first performed in Los Angeles in May, 1990, as a workshop by the Center Theatre Group at the Mark Taper Forum. It has been performed throughout the world and has made at least two appearances on Broadway. This particular run closes July 15.
In its early years AIDS became a divisive disease breaking up families and destroying relationships and taking so many precious lives.  And then came Angels In America with its unifying power and message of hope.  We always need hope.  Right now, though, hope seems to be the thing with feathers about to fly away.  Last night 1.445 people sitting in the Neil Simon Theatre received a message of hope and the belief that it is here to stay.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Anaclitic Depression Again Rears Its Ugly Head

The phrase Anaclitic Depression was first used in 1897 in an editorial in Archives On Pediatrics. The diagnosis was popularized by psychotherapist Rene Spitz in 1945.  The pediatric diagnosis is also called Hospitalism and referred to infants who, suddenly separated from primary caregivers, wasted away in hospitals.  Symptoms included delayed physical development and disruption of cognitive skills including language.  Infants stopped eating and ultimately and literally wasted away.  These delays, we now know, carried over into adulthood to impact issues of trust and intimacy.
We learn from the Babylonian Talmud that, "Whoever destroys a single life destroys the whole world and whoever saves a single life saves the whole world."
During these days when I feel helpless and consumed by despair I pledge to do something to save the whole world one single life at a time.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Torah Thoughts on Shelach Lecha

As the Israelites make their way through the wilderness, Moses sends out twelve spies, one from each tribe, to scout out the land of Canaan.  When they return, the report is at first reasonable – it is a good land but well-defended, and the inhabitants are strong and it will require an effort to overcome them.  But as they speak, ten of the twelve lose faith and begin to exaggerate the situation.  “They were so big, we looked like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we must have looked to them”, they report.  The people panic, and the two good spies, Joshua and Caleb, cannot convince them to give up their fear and go about the task that God has given them.   Midrash Tanhuma (Shelach §7) adds a commentary to the text.  God says to the evil spies, “You looked like grasshoppers in your own eyes; that I can forgive.  But how do you know how you looked in their eyes?  Perhaps I made you appear like angels to them!” 

I think it is good for us to be reminded that the way we feel about ourselves does not necessarily correspond to the way we are seen by others.  We may feel inadequate, but to our loved ones, we are precious, as they are to us.  Perhaps we did something kind for someone a long time ago which we may have forgotten, but they never have.  We are made in God’s image, so each one of us is a reflection of God, and to others, we may well appear like angels.

Friday, May 18, 2018

This time, the Fool Killer isn't walking away

Tom Wolfe

People have been digging up their favorite Tom Wolfe quotes since his death May 14. Here’s mine, from The Right Stuff: 
  “It was the kind of crowd that would have made the Fool Killer lower his club and shake his head and walk away, frustrated by the magnitude of the opportunity.”
  Wolfe was writing about the media mob on the lawn of John Glenn’s house on Feb. 20, 1962, waiting for Glenn to be either hurled into space or explode in a giant fireball on the Cape Canaveral launching pad.
  Now, it seems the situation has been reversed. The “Fool Killers” are the media. And they have some rich opportunities for their shillelaghs. Just to name a few:
   --  Michael Flynn.
   -- Paul Manafort.
   -- Michael Cohen.
   -- Rudy Giuliani.
   -- Scott Pruitt.
   -- Donald Trump Jr.
   -- Jared Kushner.
  -- And Kelly Sadler, a nobody Trump staffer who became instantly famous for dismissing John McCain: “he’s dying anyway.” (As a hospice patient myself, I found Sadler’s remark particularly galling.)
  -- And, of course, the Commander in Chief Fool, who makes all this happen, like a mad wizard flinging poisonous flowers from his fingertips.
  Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are doing an excellent job of chopping through the underbrush in search of fools that need cudgeling. Let’s hope they’re allowed to continue their work unimpeded by the Chief Fool.
  And let’s also hope the Fool Killer doesn’t become overwhelmed by his opportunities, as Wolfe says he did back in the beginning of the Space Age.
  There’s much more at stake now. Our democracy, for example.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Watching Life Through My Window

During my childhood I never lived in a town.  We never had a street address. While our house did have windows what we saw through them was nature in all its glories.  We never saw people except on the rare occasions when we had visitors.  I'm an adult now and I work from home.  The isolation or seclusion feels familiar and comfortable. There's a big difference, though, between the isolation of my youth and my current because I work from home isolation.  We live on a street and our living room and dining room windows look out on that street.  Just about every morning I drink my coffee on the living room couch looking at our street.  Life pretty much progresses though that window.  I've seen deer in our front yard.  I've watched blizzards drop mountains of snow.  Almost every morning people walk their dogs.  And for the last four years I've watched the children of our next door neighbors grow and gain independence.  When we first moved here only the little boy went to school.  Every morning his mother walked him to the school bus which picked him up on a nearby corner.  His little sister got pushed in a stroller.  Sometimes they were all bundled up and other times they wore less constricting clothing.  And suddenly before I knew it both children were getting on the school bus still walked to the corner by their mother.  Lately the mother has been walking several yards behind the siblings.  Clearly there's an understanding of an increased need for independence.  Once when the sister did not go to school the mother only walked part way to the bus.  Then all of a sudden she started running toward it, shouting and waving her arms.  The little boy, possibly, had asked or informed that he would get off the bus by himself.  He then became confused and wandered into the middle of the street.  Luckily our street isn't busy and no passing cars came even close to being a danger.  However, when she got to him and hustled him out of the street and onto the sidewalk they hugged and comforted each other and finally, still embracing, walked back down the street to their home. I watch dogs on leashes grow from puppy to middle age, from out of control to greater obedience.  I think I'm lucky for a work schedule that allows me time to watch through my window life progress and pass. And maybe someday I'll find out the names of the family living next door to me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Sometimes Life Just Takes Time

About a year ago my grandson and I planted an apple tree and a pear tree.  You may recall reading about that adventure on this blog.  While the apple tree thrived, the pear tree didn't do so well.  In fact, I was pretty sure it had died or if it hadn't died by fall it would surely not survive the winter.  My grandson was upset and wanted to keep checking on the pear tree just in case.  He's a bit of a worrier that way but no more so than I.  We were both pretty concerned about the little baby pear tree.  This winter was particularly long and incredibly cold.  And then spring crept in and the pear tree has leaves and possibly even some flowers.  There are a couple of dead branches but the tree itself is obviously alive.  I was never tempted to declare it dead and I certainly never considered pulling it out of the ground.  Sometimes it just seems to take some of us a little longer to get started.