que sera, sera


Living with former inmates has its ups and downs. People sometimes tend to romanticize the experience, but I think it is high time for me to burst that bubble.

We have recently been through a “down” which has consumed a lot of energy, and it has been over an issue that most people (I think) should think of as pretty minor: doing the dishes and otherwise cleaning up after yourself after eating. But big doors swing on small hinges.

My own feeling is that a person can best recover from a childhood spent behind bars by exercising personal freedom to do (or not do) everything it takes to survive daily life, but that this freedom must be accompanied by personal responsibility for actions chosen.

Alex used a recent example of “disrespect” (I don’t agree) to justify eating but not cleaning up after himself; however the practice had begun long before the incident of supposed “disrespect.” I had begun to think that Alex would begin to take me for granted as his “bitch” if I continued to clean up after him, so I drew the line one night last week after he had created an especially large number of dirty dishes in the preparation of a stew for his consumption. After first asking him a few times to do his dishes and receiving evasive answers (“I’ll fit it in sometime”), I finally piled his dirty dishes at the base of the ladder to the sleeping loft, so he would literally have to step over them in his frequent comings-and-goings.

He accused me of being “childish” and hardened his resolve not to do his dishes. The dishes remained in place for a couple days until I reminded him that doing one’s dishes is as basic as being responsible for cleaning out one’s own shit bucket, and that his practice prevented me from preparing my meals. I told him that I was not asking him to leave (it is his free choice being here; he is not a prisoner), but that living at Estrella Vista involves making a commitment to a minimal level of pro-social behavior. I said that, unlike him, I do not have a taste for conflict and believe that being in a state of constant conflict does not lead to desirable results. I said that he has got to decide to either “get along or get out.”

Alex agreed that conflict usually results in terrible outcomes, but said that he would never back down (it is not in his nature) and that we had reached an “impasse.” He told me that, given his history, moving constantly was no big deal, and even though he would be leaving with “less than nothing,” he was prepared to return to Pensacola (on my dime), resume going to school, and living with his dysfunctional family.

Even though I’d asked him to take time to think about it before making his decision, I was astonished by his willingness to immediately choose an option which is so clearly not in his self-interests. But he has repeatedly made decisions in his life that he says he knew would turn out badly, almost as if the sub-optimal results were proof that life would always turn out that way.

Now let me be clear: I would prefer that Alex stays at Estrella Vista. I recognize that I am not the most fun person to live with, that Alex has difficulty relating to men, and that life at Estrella Vista can be difficult for anyone. I did not ask him to leave, only to decide that he would make an effort to get along. I didn’t even ask that it be a perfect effort, only that he try.

I gave it a night to think, and I realized that it takes at least two to be in an impasse. My highest value is that however this turns out, it should benefit Alex. I decided that if his remaining here should hinge on my doing his dishes, I would be willing to make the sacrifice. I have no overriding need to “win” a disagreement. So the next morning before he began cooking some eggs, I told him as the older and presumably more mature person in this impasse, I would be willing to do his dishes if he stayed.

However, Alex cut the conversation short and announced that a girl he has been talking to since around the time of his last posting here had convinced him to relent about the dishes—but he was still moving back to Pensacola. As if to prevent me from feeling too magnanimous about my decision, he told me I had her to thank for his change of mind.

We don’t even have the money right now for a bus ticket, so maybe he will or maybe he won’t bail by the time we can afford it. Que sera, sera. Time will tell.

Of the 12 juvenile parricides currently served by the Redemption Project, Derek and Alex are the only ones who received developmentally-appropriate sentences and have been released from the clutches of the System. (Through our involvement, one boy had no charges filed against him and at least two other boys received more lenient sentences, but they are still serving their time.)

My experiences so far have led me to the conclusion that the prison system leaves young people raised in it ill-equipped to deal with even the most basic things that make for a successful life outside the confines. Derek once told me that the rules of survival are all upside-down: what gets you ahead in the outer world can get you killed or injured in prison.

However this incident turns out, it reinforces the need for something like Estrella Vista to ensure that life outside the prison gates can be successful for juvenile parricides.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Doris Day performing “Que Sera Sera (What Will Be, Will Be)”


6 Responses to “que sera, sera”

  1. 1 Donna
    November 17, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I think you made the right decision. Alex has not been taken care of in a loving way, most of his life. Just as a mother will change a poo diaper for her baby, it is not a job she likes, but does it with love for her baby. This makes the baby feel safe, because they know no matter what kind of mess this person will be there for them with love. It is the same with the dishes, Alex needs to feel there is someone always in his corner no matter what kind of mess he makes. We all need a person in our corner, who is there for us, most of the time it is the Mom, but Mom can come in other forms also. Sending Love, Healing, and Peace to you, Alex and all of the people you help!! Donna

  2. November 17, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Sorry to hear, though it’s to be expected with people living together. Personally, I find you both in the wrong. Him acting like a spoiled teenager, not wanting to have a “role” in life as it would sound like being just another cog with no freedom of personal choice. And accepting your “authority”. You being a bit judgemental (“not fit for ‘successful’ life?) and having schedules and roles. Typical of a person living alone. And as such, not wanting to do things for others. Quite understandable, especially in your condition. However, Alex surely has deep scars and needs time. Him coming to Estrella Vista should not be a vacation, but should be about giving him a break. It seems that you ddin’t. From the moment the issue was brought up, you did not try to change the approach but kept becoming more determined. And then cave in, which is not teaching him anything good.

    In this case, I believe two people living together and trying to basically help each other out, should not be individualized by separate chores. That is no way to develop trust, understanding and social skills. Think of a marriage. Should only a wife cook and only husband buy food? Neither of you should simply be doing his own dishes. I think you should’ve started with “can you please help me with…” Be it dishes, groceries, preparing food, etc. “Hey, Alex, can you please help me with the dishes, I did not realize it would strain me this much”. In my experience, asking teenagers (or those who act like it) for help, showing you appreciate and resepct them (and letting them decide), instead of making them face a plan, is a far better way to go. You absolutely can’t do everything yourself and shouldn’t. But I understand his not wanting to feel like following someone else’s plan and rules/orders. I grew up with an older brother. He wanted me to face such plans. “Will you take out the garbage or get groceries?” (not “would you”) Approached like that? Neither. Had he once said “I’m going to take the garbage out and get groceries, can you please help me, I really can’t do it alone”, it would’ve been quite different. Not because I was a spoiled brat, but because I was a kid. Also, before there’s trust, if you try to say “this is how you should do it”, the other person will likely not do it that way no matter what.

    Anyway, I hope things between you will not end like this.

  3. 3 BobH
    November 17, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    I work with one 13-year old who is very resistant to counseling or therapy (and with good reason, because many that he ws faced with were not very good at it). But now the family are starting Functional Family Therapy, which I ‘sold” on the basis that it getting a skilled person to help them all work out how to live together in more harmony wasn’t about his weaknesses. I am keeping my fingers crossed for the first, second, nth session.

    Alex has had a rough time, and needs to find his way. But accepting help is part of that.

    I hope you remain friendly and supportive of each other, no matter who lives where.

  4. 4 Ronnie Savill
    November 17, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Dan it sounds as if Alex is starting to go though his rebellious teenage years now. I reckon the more I think about it that’s probably right. He never had a chance to rebel before he started living with you. And you are most likely the first genuinely adult and responsible person he has ever lived with or indeed spent any time with. And you care enough about him to put your foot down and are mature enough not to pursue an argument. This is probably all pretty strange.

    I wrote to Alex a couple of times when he was inside. And he just sounded as if he was keeping himself under a huge amount of control. That would be so hard.

    I hope he will stay with you and not go back to Florida. Alex would be a bit of a silly boy if he did!

    Does Alex still read? I’d send him a book especially now that he can keep them.

    Keep well Dan. Hoping Alex gets over this wee tantrum and moves on to the next one.


    Sent from my iPhone


  5. 5 Steve Booth
    November 17, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    A bit off point perhaps but…. I was enjoying Alex’s writing and thoughts early in his time there. Whatever shakes down I hope that Alex is able pound out his thoughts and use this or another safe forum to get them out. I suspect many of us got something out of it and despite what I remember as protests to the contrary I suspect Alex did too.
    I know that for me feeling isolated and different is my fallback position so one way to get out of that is talk or write as that helps me to sort myself out. It may or may not affect others..

    I am thinking off my foster son and I stuck together on my small boat for 28 days from NC to the Azores. We have gone through a lot together over the years but that was a lot of time together and we both were glad to be able to have breaks from each other when we hit land.

    Best to you both. Steve

  6. November 18, 2014 at 8:41 am

    I have a theory about this incident with Alex, and it really is just that, a theory (or an assumption) as I have only a literary, research based knowledge of what Alex has been through.

    Prison, particularly that which is as dysfunctional and harsh as those of America seem to be, is no place for a child to grow up. Its further worsened by the fact that, Alex and Derek were taken into that system so young and with very little consideration by the powers that be.

    I agree that Alex has not had the chance to live his teenage years, out of necessity he became who and what he needed to be in order to cope with the situation in which he found himself. One cannot be a snotty teenager in prison. It would endanger your life I am sure.

    He has his freedom now, and it would be fair to assert that this prospect frightens him, freedom comes without fixed times and structure to each day. It isn’t monotonous as prison life. He has never had the option of rebelling against authority. I imagine in prison “compromise” was never an option, the ultimatum would always have been do this, or that, or else.

    I do not agree with his manner of disrespect, given what you have done for him over the years, and I do feel that he should be reminded that people such as yourself have one nothing but support him. Doing the dishes in exchange for your loyal support in all aspects of his life is a small price to pay.
    That said, I do not believe that Alex is a bad person, I do not believe he is being intentionally rebellious. Just confused and uncertain of how to handle the differences between prison and the outside world. Have faith in him, give him time.

    (Perhaps you are reading this Alex, I wish I had the chance to speak to you in a more direct manner, it would be a fascinating discussion I am sure. From your writing and Dan’s posts about you, I know that you are remarkably intelligent. Don’t make any hasty decisions to leave, be patient, seek advice from those you know or trust. You have a bright future ahead, and I would bet that it starts at Estrella Vista.)

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