The other night Alex told me that he would describe me as a “martyr”—a term I don’t like very much, but I can see how he can characterize me as such. Lone Heron says that if I get $100, I’ll spend it on the kids before I spend it on me. That’s true I guess, though it is the result of low income and a stubborn dedication to our mission more than to any self-sacrificing instinct. I like creature comforts as much as the next guy. At this stage of my life, though, I just don’t need much for myself. I get more selfish satisfaction from attending to the needs of others.

I asked Alex if that makes me a rube in his eyes, and he gave me a noncommital answer that could very well have been evasive. So I don’t know what Alex really thinks of me. But in a way, I really don’t care. Actions speak louder than words, and Alex is still here. I don’t need any expressions of touchy-feely emotion to keep myself motivated to keep soldiering on.

Anyway, touchy-feely is not a part of his repertoire (nor has it been for his whole life). The normal distance with which he interacts with other human beings has no doubt been intensified by growing up in prison where everyone is on the take. Alex’s life experiences have taught him that trusting other people is truly one of the most dangerous things you can do. He has responded to this conclusion by constructing a rigid set of boundaries around himself that you dare not transgress.

When he first arrived on the train, I gave him a hug of greeting and immediately knew that I had done the wrong thing. The other day I gave him a pat on the shoulder as I passed by, and he told me that he doesn’t like being touched in any way. So I’ve been told in no uncertain terms.

This is fine with me. Putting the needs of others ahead of one’s own needs (or what you regard as normative) is a fundamental aspect to spiritual hospitality, basic to the vision of what Estrella Vista should be about. Every new resident here will have his or her unique boundaries. Respecting the boundaries of others will make Estrella Vista a safe place for anyone to be.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Depeche Mode performing “Martyr


6 Responses to “martyr”

  1. 1 Daryl Watton
    October 24, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    I resemble your remark about being a martyr, Dan! I’m barely able to meet my own needs financially and yet always find a way to share any money I get with my inmate pen-pals, by sending books or printing my own publications — even topping up commissary where I can which is a rare deal. David Childress is one of my main priorities. If I can’t make him comfortable in his poverty, at least I can help him keep his sanity while he awaits his day of redemption.

  2. October 24, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    I understand why Alex would have such boundaries. But hugging, patting and touching in general is the basic human instinct and gesture, even need, coming from being a social species. So, while I agree everyone’s boundaries should be respected, if Alex sticks to his, isn’t he keeping himself in prison? Getting out should be about getting back to what is considered to be normal life and behavior, the things that are simply out of reach (and out of question) while inside. Just because a consequence is understandable and expected does not mean it should be kept and not fought. Not judging Alex in any way, rather.. asking for his opinion. Do you think you will ever be able to relax enough and trust enough to accept the (behavioral) gestures that we take for granted? Do you even want to or is the self-preservation alarm just too loud?

    And speaking of getting back to “normal” – is it even possible? Can anyone, especially a kid, get out and live life as if having never gone to prison in the first place? Or is that.. “ghost of prison” another part of the punishment? An invisible one that can’t be chased away?

    If so, will Estrella Vista be doing the opposite of what your intention is? Giving kids a place where they can remain isolated from the “normal” world and in their “mental” prisons, not fighting for getting their lives back? What is really the best way to help kids, once we fail to keep them out of prison? If Paul Henry finally gets his freedom (soon), will his family (now unfortunatelly broken) be enough to help him wash the prison and all mistakes away, giving himself a second chance? How many friends will he need to give him strength to keep fighting, possibly even more, once he’s back from Hell?

    P.S. No offense intended to anyone, just thinking aloud. And I admit to not having a clue what it’s like.

    • October 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm

      Your questions are very thought-provoking.

      In answer to your question, is returning to “normal” even possible, I think that it is not possible or even desirable. The murder of another and its consequences are a really big deal that can never be washed away as if they never happened. If such a thing were to happen, no learning would ever take place nor any improvement. These young people are responsible for their acts and must endure whatever consequences follow, whether just or not.

      The promise of Estrella Vista is to offer hope to these young people that their lives are not screwed up forever, that there is hope for acceptance and happiness despite what they have done. For each person it will be a unique path, and an arduous one, too. In my opinion, this path does not involve forgetting about the past, but integrating it into a positive future.

      For them, this will involve a level of creativity that is greater than most of us can imagine. Such creativity can only happen in a setting of absolute freedom in which each step forward is freely taken when that individual is ready for it.

      Make no mistake about it and do not romanticize the situation: these kids have had screwed-up lives and they bear many scars. Some of those scars have been put there by their dysfunctional families, and others have been put there by abusive prison systems that have punished and tormented them far beyond what is necessary for reform.

      Estrella Vista offers no secret formula for their redemption, only a chance for it that is better than throwing them out into a cruel, hostile, uncaring world.

      • October 24, 2014 at 5:05 pm

        Sorry, did not mean “going back to normal” as if having done nothing wrong. I meant the “remedies” that a prison brings along without anyone really subscribing them, at least officially. The things that go beyond the sentence. Like.. I really can not imagine how it feels for a kid (like Paul Henry) to be wearing that “Very High Risk” label. And how it can mess a kid up (when a kid says “it’s ok”, he’s messed up). And it’s just a tiny detail in comparison with some other.. prison issues that Alex wrote about recently (I didn’t have time to comment, but did read with great interest).

        I see Estrella Vista (project) as a sanctuary for those kids to use when they just need to “recharge” to keep fighting. Getting mesmerized by its appeal and deciding to live in isolation would make their freedom (and lives) pointless. In some ways, I think the kids should do what gay people have been doing for quite some time. Not hide away and keep quiet, but speak publicly of their lives. Of what they have done, of their prison experiences and simply create a movement that would lead to more just punishments and also acceptance once they are out. Not being proud of taking a life, of course, but being honest about regretting it. Actually, I see regret as the point of a prison sentence. Because regret requires you to understand that what you did is wrong, but more importantly why it is wrong and that you should never do it again. I mean, prison really is (should be?) for things that you must never do. It should mean you have gone beyond the flexibility of “mischief”.

        But it’s still not beyond a “mistake”, especially when it comes to kids. Every kid is so much more than just that single moment when the trigger was pulled. Poeple must realize that and the best way is for those very kids to not keep quiet. For instance, could Alex be telling his story in the form of YouTube videos? Not judging, simply telling his story. What has happened, why, and how has it affected him. I can’t say if he would face further harsh consequences, like not being able to get a job and support himself (though, the videos could bring him enough money), but to be absolutely honest, I don’t see being unable to handle simple touching gesture (as friendship, tease or a sports victory) as a good thing. I see it as a deep scar that needs to be faced. Again, nothing gives me the right to “preach”, I am just.. not keeping quiet, if you will.

        Of course, the kids would have to be honest. With themselves first. I did see that in that documentary in which Colt Lundy said “once the thought of killing him entered my mind, I thought it would solve all my problems”. That is absolutely how a kid, especially a teenager, would see things! And I know he was honest about it. So his story would be important for so many kids around the world having the same thought. And then finding guns at home.

        And just look at the size of my post. I should really start using acronyms. I only write this because I want what’s best for children. It is, after all, what’s best for humanity.

  3. 5 BobH
    October 25, 2014 at 2:52 am

    Americans were so repressed about hugging their kids in the 50s, and beyond. Now, ironically, parents are less repressed but schools treat physical contact between kids, let alone between adults and kids, as close to terrorism and a cause for sanctions. In the fifties, the only time many fathers touched their kids was to spank them. And now in many schools the only time kids touch without risking sanctions is in wresting matches and collisions in football. That’s not good:
    And think of juvenile detention for those imprisoned at a young age; probably never getting a hug from the day they were arrested until they are released.

    • 6 Frank Manning
      October 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm

      Have to vehemently disagree with Bob H on Americans being so repressed about hugging their kids in the 50s. I was born in 1949 into a large Irish-Italian family in Brooklyn. My childhood was filled with visibly expressed love–hugs, smooches, smotherings of affection. Parents, aunts, uncles, and especially the old Italian great aunts squeezing the life out of you while yelling “cuanda bella” (sp.?; how beautiful!) in your face. No “repression” at all there. Even the nuns at school hugged us and made us feel loved. Maybe WASPS in the Midwest were repressed like that, but that was not at all the experience for us grandchildren of immigrants in Brooklyn!

      I understand Alex’s boundaries all too well. I like to hug kids really hard to show that I love and care about them, but for some of the kids at the reform school that is a frightening experience. For them being touched was an act of discipline or molestation, and sure to be filled with pain. After their experiences in life, being loved takes some getting used to.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: