pushing a rope

I just couldn’t get motivated to write yesterday. I awoke three hours before dawn to begin the day’s work on the phone and computer.

The day started off on a discouraging note when a lawyer pooh-poohed a day rate that’s comparable to an amount I can live on for a month. Another person called to say a payment that was to have shown up in my mailbox yesterday was just going into the mail and would be here late. A couple other folks told me they would be late doing other things I’d been waiting for. Other phone calls were not returned.

I have an expression to describe days like this: “Pushing a rope.”

Three people told me about vacations they were about to take, were on, or had just returned from. One chastized me for not having joined them. “I’m chained to this phone,” I replied lamely. “Anyway, I live in a vacation paradise year-round,” I said without a whole lot of conviction.

After dealing with a succession of problems, delays, and disappointments, I finally ran out of gas. So I took a time out. Screw it, I said.

I fell asleep in one of my wingback chairs and had a disturbing dream about being behind the wheel of a car, physically paralyzed, as the car moved forward controlled by dumb luck alone. And yes, the dream expressed exactly the way I was feeling about the day and all the good I’d been able to accomplish.

I woke up disoriented with cobwebs between my ears. This day wasn’t getting any better. The sky had clouded over while I’d slept, and I could tell there would be no rain to fill my empty water tank. Only depressing gray light.

I spent a couple hours researching choral music, hoping that might cheer me up. It didn’t. It all sounded so churchey, nothing particularly uplifting.

Alex called and I told him about what I’d learned about the Okeechobee Jail over the weekend. “Are you alright there?” I asked. “I mean, do you feel safe? Are the staff people treating you okay?”

“It’s sufferable. But I will be glad to leave here, even if it means going to a different institution,” he answered.

That didn’t make me feel a whole lot better. If anything I began chiding myself for being such a sad sack all day. I should look up to Alex as an example. I should stop feeling sorry for myself and be a stoic like him. Yet I just felt worse because I felt so powerless to help him. He still hasn’t gotten his books. The people who run that jail just don’t give a damn. Spiritual hospitality—dream on!

Right about now you’re probably wondering when in this story am I going to pull out a razor to slash my wrists, but the day didn’t end that way. The day actually ended on a high note.

Earlier in the day I’d received some disturbing news about a staff member at Pendleton who has been making threats about giving Paul Henry trouble. I’d made a phone call to ask some questions, and by 9:30 last night a phone call was returned with my answers. I got a virtual peek into this staff person’s personnel file and learned everything we need to defend the boy. I learned enough to anticipate what this staff person’s game is and what we must watch out for. If a finger is raised against the boy, we will be ready to nip it off immediately.

So I’m not feeling so powerless and paralyzed afterall. I went to bed last night energized, ready for the next day’s challenges, and feeling the day was a success.


Groove of the Day

Listen to James Brown performing “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”


12 Responses to “pushing a rope”

  1. 1 Matt
    March 22, 2011 at 9:12 am

    In somnis veritas.

    I wrote three letters this past weekend, In each, I told the boy about a high school friend who is now a quadraplegic but has remained mentally strong and positive about his life, such as it is. I told them that while my friend’s nightmare will never end, theirs will, but they must remain strong and focused on their future. Seems I must now add vigilance to that as well.

    In somniis angelos video flentes.

  2. 2 abram
    March 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    I think you could use a vacation – a time out. Go away for a few days – a long weekend or something.

    • March 22, 2011 at 1:05 pm

      Thanks Abram. I’m planning to get away for a couple days next month. I’ve received an invitation to meet a man I’ve admired for years, an historian who has been hounded, jailed, robbed, and attacked for speaking truth to power. Just shaking his hand will be the restorative equivalent of spending a month relaxing at the beach.

  3. 4 D.P.
    March 22, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    This news about Pendleton amazes me in two ways.

    First, in a negative way: that these “bad apples” can continue to exist among the staff. It seems like there would be enough people in central Indiana who care enough to do their job responsibly that they could clean house and replace the bad staff members with good ones.

    Second, in a positive way: that you, Dan, have been able to build such a good network of “guardian angels”; this gives me hope that there is potential for improvement in the system. I thank God for you, and for them, every day.

    • March 22, 2011 at 8:22 pm

      Whoa, D.P., I deserve absolutely no credit for “building” the network of Guardians. I am only fortunate enough to have been granted access to it and to the information it provides. I am privileged to have been allowed to be the first writer to publicly disclose the existence of this network of unsung heroes.

      These prison staff people are “good apples” who had already organized themselves to protect the kids in their care–long before I ever came onto the scene. If I have not given credit to others who are so deserving of our admiration, it is simply because these people are all at risk of losing their jobs if I were to say anything that might help identify any of them.

      It would be an easy but irresponsible thing to tar everyone in IDOC with a broad brush of shame and distain. Yet I must point out to you that, after the dismay and paranoia my revelation of the Guardians initially created, it does not appear that the higher-ups in IDOC have made any great effort to root out the identities of members of this secret network. There is an urgent desire within IDOC to reform its organization and root out the “bad apples” instead.

      I join you in thanking God for the “Guardian Angels” and for the enlightened leaders within IDOC who are earnestly working to make things better for kids.

      • 6 Matt
        March 22, 2011 at 10:36 pm

        Hear, hear!

      • 7 D.P.
        March 23, 2011 at 3:03 am

        Knowing that the Guardians had already organized themselves before you came on the scene gives me even more hope for the future of the system and of these kids. Thanks to God for all of you!

        I do still have to give you credit for making me more aware of these youth justice issues than I ever was before.

  4. 8 Wolfgang
    March 22, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    I like to say: Don’t play games with a guardian angel of a child specially not when he’s angry

  5. 9 Gloria
    March 22, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    I think staff member at Pendleton who has been making threats about giving Paul Henry trouble, shouldn’t even be given the oportunity to lay a finger on Paul or other kid in Pendleton. If they know who he is why they don’t fired him?

    quoted from your answer to D.P: There is an urgent desire within IDOC to reform its organization and root out the “bad apples” instead.

    Really Glad to hear that Dan, that gives me hope in the system and the human being. But what about if the IDOC starts now and gives that particular “staff member” a kick out? Don’t give that piece of S%&* the oportunity of harm any child. Is my humble opinion btw.

    I thank for those Guardian angels and for you too Dan:)

    • 10 Stephen
      March 23, 2011 at 8:13 pm


      The individual who is causing issues with Paul Henry at Pendleton is not a male-the person is a female.

      • 11 Gloria
        March 23, 2011 at 9:27 pm

        well, then sack her. lol, sorry for assuming was a man instead of a woman. shame on me.

      • 12 D.P.
        March 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm

        This is interesting to know. I also had the assumption that it was a male. But as a quick google search reveals, there were four female employees at Pendleton fired and arrested a little over a year ago for inappropriate conduct. Apparently, it’s important to make sure the bad apples are rooted out in an “equal-opportunity” way.

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