Viejo Cara de Hacha

Alma de Colibrí

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I was in 8th grade, roughly 14 years old.  I lived in San Ysidro, a border town on the U.S./Mexican border.  We moved a lot, but the one thing that had stayed constant in my life was the school I attended.  So when my grandmother, Tita Carmen, finally received approval for low-income housing, we found ourselves in a little apartment in San Ysidro, about 13 miles away, and an hour-and-a-half on public transportation from my school. Every morning, I woke up before the morning star cast its arms across the sky and boarded the trolley no later than 4:45  in order to arrive to school before the bell rang at 7:30.

There were many men that rode the trolley during that time, mostly construction workers and day laborers or men who worked at the naval shipyard. There were also students who woke up earlier than me, who came from Tijuana and went to…

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The Drive

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I was driving home during evening rush hour after picking Carmen up from school on a seemingly uneventful weekday. She was in 10th grade. We were listening to music, moving at a fairly moderate speed and chatting away about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…It became quiet, but I didn’t really notice until she sheepishly said, “Mom, I have to tell you something…” and nothing prepared her for the hysteria that would take over me. I mean it wasn’t that She couldn’t date or have a boyfriend; it was more about having to confront that she wasn’t my chiquita anymore. Even though I kinda knew this as she had been in full blown puberty for some time. Needless to say, I lost my marbles and let go of the steering wheel, put my hands over my face and screamed, “Oh My God!” More times than God could tolerate. Somewhere in there I could hear Carmen’s drowned out screams, “Mom, grab the wheel! Mom, please, you need to drive! Mom…!” All while trying to steer the car. I imagine this was a very traumatic incident because Carmen didn’t attempt to get her driver’s licence ’til years later when she was 21.

Viejo Cara de Hacha

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I was in 8th grade, roughly 14 years old.  I lived in San Ysidro, a border town on the U.S./Mexican border.  We moved a lot, but the one thing that had stayed constant in my life was the school I attended.  So when my grandmother, Tita Carmen, finally received approval for low-income housing, we found ourselves in a little apartment in San Ysidro, about 13 miles away, and an hour-and-a-half on public transportation from my school. Every morning, I woke up before the morning star cast its arms across the sky and boarded the trolley no later than 4:45  in order to arrive to school before the bell rang at 7:30.

There were many men that rode the trolley during that time, mostly construction workers and day laborers or men who worked at the naval shipyard. There were also students who woke up earlier than me, who came from Tijuana and went to school on this side of the border, chasing the American dream. Most morning, my Tita walked me to the trolley station, but some morning, the cold made her bones swell up. I got lots of stares, a few cat calls and whistles here and there, but most of the time, I didn’t pay attention and focused on finishing my school work.  Until one day, an older man, whom I perceived to be around fifty or sixty years old, started to harass me.  He wouldn’t take his eyes off me. I was like a birthday gift that he couldn’t wait to unwrap.  His eyes glazed over with lustful craving, he’d lurk around the trolley station making sure he was always a few feet away from me.  He’d make noises like psst, psst to catch my attention, and when he’d catch my eye, he’d lick his lips or make some kind of nod with his head.

He started to creep me out enough that I told my Tita about him.  So the very next day, my grandmother accompanied me, but told me to stay a few feet in front of her and to pretend that we weren’t together.  As we anticipated, the old man was waiting for me and began his perverse behavior toward me.  When the trolley arrived, I got on as I always did, but I wasn’t sure where my Tita had gone.  I sat down and as soon as the doors closed, I heard a loud commotion a few seats behind me.  That’s when I saw my grandmother with her cane whacking the shit out of the old man! People all around watched as if frozen onto their seats.  At first I turned back around and pretended not to know what was happening.  I could hear my Tita screaming profanities in spanish. “Pinche viejo cara de Hacha!  Porque no se mete con viejas come yo?  O que, estoy muy vieja, por eso le gustan las muchachitas!  Pinche limon chupado! I was scared for my Tita, but more scared for the man.  He had his hands up in the air, trying to block every blow, screaming, “Ya, senora! No mas!”

A passenger stood up and tried to stop my grandmother, telling her to calm down because she could hyperventilate.  But he was no match for her fierce anger and strength.  So a couple more passengers pulled her off from the old man, and with commanding, sweet language helped her to have a seat, as she loudly justified why the old man deserved to get the shit beat out of him.

He got off at the next stop. So did my Tita.  I don’t know what else happened, and she never talked about it, except to ask me once in a while if I had seen him again.  But I never saw that man, and no one at that station or on the trolley, not so much as looked at me.  That day, my Tita taught me that all women have a roaring tiger inside.  And that it was okay to let him out.

 

*Viejo Cara de Hacha – old man with a face shaped like an ax

Role Play Meets Reality

This weekend I worked with the Donovan prison inmates, again. On Sunday, we specifically worked on role-plays. These role-plays can get quite intense as they can bring out all the areas within an individual where triggers exist and anger hibernates restlessly.  However, they are powerful opportunities for inmates to use the skills and techniques of transforming power they have learned through the Alternative to Violence Program. It is important to note that since transforming power will not work in support of a wrongful or harmful outcome, the scenarios must not be such that they close off all options other than those which are wrongful or harmful.  The outcome, however, must not be decided in advance; the characters must be left free to pursue options that may be suggested by the working of transforming power.  The characters seeking a solution that is just and non-coercive are the ones who will need to be open to transforming power.

The role play for the team of inmates I was grouped with was the following:

An inmate is visiting with his daughter and mother. Another inmate is visiting with his mother. While inmate #1 is discussing all the skills and tools he has learned in the AVP program and other personal growth workshops, inmate #2 who is visiting with his mom is checking out the daughter of inmate #1. The young lady is feeling very uncomfortable, and while inmate #1 notices inmate #2 is a little out of line, he ignores it and continues to engage with his daughter and mother. Inmate #1 gets up from the table to go to the bathroom, at which time inmate #2 walks over to the table where the young lady and grandmother are sitting, and begins to ask them questions, ultimately to get an address or phone number from the young lady. A commotion is created putting inmate #1 at a crossroads between approaching this situation with violence or non-violence.

As the only woman in the group, the inmates though it’d be interesting for me to take on the role of the inmate that was harassing the young lady. It was a role I was familiar with, because for a greater part of my young life, I experienced harassment from men in the form of cat-calling, grabbing, and space invasion. I was a bit anxious about how I would play out the role. I knew part of it would be funny, especially for the inmates to watch me act like a “dude.” But I knew part of it was super important, because aside from them exploring and implementing the tools and skills they have learned through the program, this was an opportunity that maybe they didn’t often get, to think about their treatment of, and toward, women. So I had this deep feeling inside of me that this role play would be more intense and powerful than other ones I’ve been involved in with the inmates.

The role playing began, and I stepped into my role, playing the part of the harasser and aggressor. I looked at the young lady the way so many men had once looked at me, objectifying her like a piece of meat that I found tasty and appetizing. Like something I would use for my pleasure without any regards to her humanity. Tony, the inmate playing the role of the young lady, became tense and obviously uncomfortable. The scene ended with visiting time being called off early and inmate #1 being subdued by a correctional officer after becoming agitated for what was an apparent act of aggression toward his family.

Once we were finished with the role play, each of us were asked to sit in a debriefing chair and one at a time, we were debriefed by inmates who did not participate in the scene, while the rest of the inmates observed the process. We were debriefed first as the characters whose role we played, and then as ourselves.  The debrief is an essential part of the role-plays because it allows to lead the characters out of the role and the emotional state it has aroused in them, back into their real identities and a calmer state of feeling.

My debrief as Christian, the character I played went as follows:

Why did you behave that way toward the young lady?

“Man, I’ve been in prison for so long that I had forgotten what it felt like to talk to a pretty young thang like that?

Didn’t you think it was wrong to disrespect her like that and make her feel so uncomfortable?

“I wasn’t tryin’ to disrespect her. I was trying to tell her how pretty she was and to see if she wanted to talk to me.

But she was obviously shaken up by the way you were looking at her. Didn’t you think to stop?

“I didn’t realize I was spookin’ her, she was just so pretty.”

What about your mom who was visiting you. . . Didn’t you think you were being disrespectful to her?

“Like I said, I was just tryin’ to make conversation.”

How could you have used transformative power to prevent that situation from taking place?

“What’s transformative power?” (My point with this response was to demonstrate that had the inmate whose role I was playing learned about transformative power, he would not have disrespected the young lady the way he did, and he would not have created such an explosive situation for the other inmate.)

I was then asked if I was ready to step out of my role, to which I responded yes.

During my debrief, I spoke of feeling uncomfortable doing to a woman what I had seen so often done to me, my daughter, and many other women. Though I felt triggers during the role, the purpose of the role was much more powerful, and of much more importance than my triggers at the time, so I was able to stay focus.

Once I stepped out of the role I was playing, I was asked how I felt having played that role. I responded that I felt disgusted, as if I had violated every part of who I was. The role I had played went against every principle I lived by, especially my commitment of treating human beings with dignity. I said, “To treat another human being like a piece of meat, made me feel like trash.”

Soon after me, the inmate that played the young lady whom I was harassing came up to answer similar questions about his role.

How did you feel when the inmate kept looking at you in such a perverse way?

“I felt really scared.  He made me feel really uncomfortable.”

What was running through your mind when the inmate approached you?

“I just wanted to leave in a way.  I mean I miss my Dad, but I didn’t know if the inmate was going to hurt me.  Or worse, if my Dad noticed what was happening, he could get in a fight with the inmate and get into trouble.”

How will this affect you the next time you come visit your Dad?

“I don’t know. . . I feel like maybe I’ll be more nervous.  I mean I wasn’t dressed provocative, but maybe I’ll have to not put any make-up on, so I won’t cause any trouble. 

Is there anything you want to say to the inmate who disrespected you?

“Yeah.  I just want to say that I was here to visit my Dad.  I  miss him a lot in my life, and I only get to see him a few times a year.  I don’t want to cause any trouble for him.”

Once he stepped out of the role, he said as a man he had never felt so uncomfortable as he did playing the role of the young lady. He said he couldn’t imagine what other young ladies and women experienced. He turned toward the other inmates and said, “Cuz let’s be real, at one point or another, we have all cat called or in someway harassed women, if not worse.” His eyes began to well up in that moment as he committed to never cat call or harass another woman in any way, again. Looking down at the chair he was sitting in, as if talking to the young lady he had played, he apologized to the women he had ever made uncomfortable, disrespected or harassed.   And all the other inmates began to clap.

At the end of the day, before the men left to their cells, quite a few came up to me and said they were touched and transformed by the scene the other inmate and I had engaged in. They also reaffirmed their commitment to engaging women with respect and dignity. I don’t know how successful they’ll be – like many things, change takes time. But I do know that a seed was planted that day.

Role plays are incalculable.  You never know how they are going to turn out.  Once put in motion, they take on their own life. It is the job of the team to draw something of value out of whatever happens.  All the role-plays I have been involved in have always been a powerful manifestation of the capacity we all have to grow and use just and non-coercive means to solve conflict and engage another being with transforming power.

 

When the flower revealed herself.

Nowhere better can you understand the precious vulnerability of life than in the desert.

Many cacti flower for just one day. It is magical to be able to see the gift of their bloom knowing how rare it can be.  Some cacti endure 30 years of life in the desert before yielding their first flower, and then, just like that, after one day, she fades. Lucky is he or she who stills long enough to recognize this rare occurrence.

The first time I peered into a flower’s universe, she revealed herself. I discovered life in her most glorious form; took a breath, and finally understood.

Life sets her own pace, we have no control over her. The only thing we can do is embrace her fully, for however long she chooses to bloom.  Let us admire and recognize the full worth of every being that comes into our lives; be in awe of their existence, for like the flower of a cactus, they may be gone before we can recognize the beauty they brought into our lives.

What a painful and beautiful experience it is to observe a spirit transition to its next life, and to feel the intensity of life as it is juxtaposed with death.  For what is life, if not but the beautiful expression that is created from understanding and accepting her impermanence.

In memory of every beautiful being I have had to let go of.

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IMG_0938The greatest expression of my life is the beauty that I  create with it.  I visited Anza Borrego Desert for my birthday and captured these wonderful images of Pachamama.  She reminds me of how beautiful life is, even in the most hostile environments.

Thinking about what it means to embrace who I am completely. What it means to love myself, fully – the imperfect part, the part that is still hiding, the part I’m still learning to love, the part I don’t fully understand, yet, and the part I fear. What does my truth sound like.  What beauty does it make in the world when I don’t suppress it? What am I still afraid of? What does unrestricted love feel like? Do I really believe I’m worth loving?

At 43 I’m still probing, still wondering, still learning. Some answers, I still don’t know.  Some answers, I know what I want them to be. Some have come to me in my dreams, and I’m still making sense of them. What I do know, is that I am a woman who feels deeply alive!

The doubts, the uncertainty, the pain, the joy, the magic, the hope – all are part of my aliveness.  All have made this journey absolutely incredible! The doubts have pushed me to search, the pain has challenged me to heal, uncertainty has urged me to wonder, hope has inspired me to believe, magic has dared me to imagine, and joy has introduced me to my soul.

In this new phase of my womanhood, I feel freer and lighter than ever.  And I suspect that is the mark of a woman who is closer to her truth.

 

THE UNFOLDING OF A FLOWER

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Grief is the energy that a flower

needs to unfold her petals.

Each petal is a layer of wound

opened by the tears of pain

to expose life.

The flower misses the sun

during the season

of the snow moon.

In its grief, it praises

what it loves and

honors what it longs for.

As the sound of grief reaches her core,

the flower finds the courage

to open herself up so

the world can see her pain.

As she feels the warmth of

the sun on her face,

she gets her life back.

Her petals will wither once again, and

as her process for metabolizing grief commences,

she will comprehend

she was given enough life

to experience both love and loss.

This peom was inspired by this beautiful flower, my own grief, the courageous people who have given me the honor to hold space for their grief, and one of the most profound books I have read about grief: The Smell of Rain on Dust – Grief and Praise by Martin Prechtel.