another omelet party

My most quoted line was said completely off the cuff. Some other editors at Ms. magazine were throwing me an omelet party at some restaurant in the neighborhood for my 40th birthday. And a reporter said to me, kindly, “Oh, you don’t look 40.” And I said, just off the top of my head, “This is what 40 looks like — we’ve been lying for so long, who would know?”
– Gloria Steinem

Only July 18th, 2015, I walked out the California Institute for Women, in Chino Hills, after completing 438 days of incarceration in the care of the State.

It was raining, and my mom and I drove immediately away from the gates and towards tacos.  I changed in the bathroom of the cozy taquería, removing my prison-casual wear with the business attire my family had prepared for me.  It is what I am accustomed to wearing, here in the real world.

I am educated.  I am close to my support network.  I believe heartily in our responsibility to give back to our world and community.  I like eating tacos, playing with dinosaurs, and reading Sherlock Holmes over and over again.

I am the 1 of 32 Americans who are incarcerated every year.

People want to hear my whole case study to weigh the merit of the accused crime and arranged penalty.  Unsurprisingly, I am reluctant to tear out a painful piece of my life story — to rip out a piece of my gut and heart– and place it on someone’s singular moral scale.  I am not the fresh pick of the deli today.  Besides, every Scale of Justice should be calibrated the same…

but of course it’s not.

In a single hallway down a prison dorm, you’ll find women with matching charges and entirely different sentences.  You’ll find women doing time because of things they did to survive while doing time.  You’ll find women who still don’t understand the terms of their penalty because they cannot read, or were under the influence– or in mental duress– while arrested.

In a short walk down a hallway, you’ll find women whose stories you can’t avoid– stories that sit on your heart and break your scale because you know they were legally-sound decisions.  Just as you know– just as you pray— that if your little sister or daughter found herself in the same corner that she would find the strength to take the same action, even knowing the cost.

But most importantly, you will find women.

You’ll find mothers who stay up all night studying Algebra so they can keep up with their too-smart middleschooler.  You’ll find wives who painstakingly turn greeting cards into frames so they can look their husbands in the eye every time they walk out the door.  You’ll find great-grandmas, skipping meals to be available for their assigned phone time with their brood.  You’ll find daughters, kneeling by their bunks, reciting family prayers.

And sisters.  You’ll find us everywhere.  The ones related, and the ones connected by sheer fate.  We’re hopscotching from one person’s room to the next, playing rapid scrabble in the wee hours of the morning, and decorating our rooms for every celebration we can hold onto.

In the work arena, it’s young girls with prison G.E.D.s leading the march to offer classes promoting women in S.T.E.M.  It’s mothers who are laying the concrete, and grandmas who are fixing the air filters, and daughters who are immersed in electric studies, twisting pear wires with flawless rapidity.

I was a wife.  I was a fire fighter.  I did good things.
Like all the women in there, I did those good things while horrible things were happening on the outside.

And yet, when we come home, we’re shushed.

Don’t tell your story, don’t check the box.  Don’t let anyone know unless you have to.  Whatever good you did in prison is diminished entirely by the fact that you were there.  You were there, so you were bad.  You are bad.  Society removed you, and never looked back.

It’s a hauntingly-intentional melody, a consistent echo from all corners of society.

Oh, Ra, it’s said to me– often, kindly, firmly– you don’t look like a felon.

It’s a different context, time, and issue– and I’m a whisper compared to Steinem’s glorious roar– but I recognize an omelet party when I see one.

This is what a felon looks like.
We’ve been lying for so long, who would know?

I missed you all. #rawrlove #rawrCheers

A post shared by My name is Ra. (@rawra.avis) on

_______________________________

I will be working on a resources page for my incarcerated sisters, or as I call them– my Inside Voice.  I’d like your help, but I understand if you’re not comfortable.  If you are ready, let me know.  We can do better for our women, and I think I now know where to start.

On an unrelated note, how do you take your omelet?

107 Comments

    1. You already have. The difference a single letter of hope and gratitude makes is palpable. Thank you for your current and future assistance. 😀 xo!

      Like

      1. You’re welcome. I hope you can create an advocacy army to do some good for, not just your girls, but all those voices that need to be heard, need to be helped.
        As I’ve said since the beginning… there is something wrong with a system where it made since for you to go to jail rather than continue fighting for your innocence. And, if it happened to you, how many others? And, what else is going wrong that we can fix?
        There is good to be done here, and I’m excited to help.

        Liked by 7 people

              1. Felons can’t be president yet. Yet. What a ridiculous rule when 1 in 32 Americans go to jail, and most for reasons that have zero bearing on their loyalty and passion for their country. I say we change that rule. We’ve had far too many jester presidents already.

                Liked by 6 people

                1. We need to start smaller than that. Here in Cali, we can’t even vote while incarcerated. In some states, ever again. What a zoo.

                  (Though to be clear, going to jail does not necessarily make you a felon. Many go to jail for misdemeanors.)

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                  1. Taking away voting rights makes no sense. Why would you take an interest in turning your life around if you can’t him make your voice heard by casting a ballot – especially when the outcomes of elections impact you regardless of where you are…

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    1. 🙂 Thank YOU for being. I know enough from my InsideVoices that I am lucky to have people be here for me despite the time caged away. I realize that some are here BECAUSE of it, but… well, I am hoping most are here because it doesn’t matter. And I hope that I can find a way to show that to the girls working towards living the same reality one day. 😀

      Liked by 5 people

    1. Haha, same. Omelettes are miracles in that way. Thank you, chica, I already counted you as on board, but it’s awesome to hear it confirmed. We always say, “You just never know”… but sometimes, in precious measure, you do.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. RaRa,

    We’re all basically felons, bankers & angels…unless we are obsessive box-checkers. There is a rigid little box waiting for everyone if anyone wants it bad enough. Eventually, I found a box that warped into a circle…then evaporated. 🙂

    RR

    Liked by 4 people

    1. RR – Yes. I really believe that, too… obviously. I’m a box-turned-into-a-monkey sort of person. But even I forgot, on the inside. Despite everything.

      I want my girls Inside to remember, or– in many cases — learn. They’re ready, I think. 🙂 I mean, if we can fight fires inside, why not be prepared for a bright new world out here too?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I love frittata!
      As far as resources page– ways to help specific prison programs, places were we can add our voice to get additional resources needed for the programs that make a difference, and things we can do to remind the girls Inside that there is an Outside here– and outside that is waiting for them to become part of it once again.

      As an example, Vanessa-Jane, I asked the girls I was closest with to write me a list of at least 15 things — ANYTHING, no matter how big– that I could do for them from the outs. It was stuff like, “Find a scholarship program that doesn’t deny on the basis of felony so I can continue my education”, as well as “Remember me on Christmas.” These are things we can do that make a big difference. (They also all made at least 3 of their items about me– stuff I could do for me to make sure I took care of myself and lived a good life.) Little differences are big differences in a place like that, and I think a hope for something better is a quiet whisper in there– and we can make it a rawr.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. *hugs* I’m at my sister’s today and she handed me your book. I guess that’s where it went after the funeral. I’m so excited to sit down and read it. It’ll be my first book since coming home. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 🙂 welcome back! I make my omelette with green chillies cut to small pieces. Once it’s cooked I put cheese on top and fold it. In the heat of the pan and omelette the cheese melts and when you slice it, it oozes out in a deliciously mouthwatering way, like only cheese can 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a brother in prison. He’s been there for over a decade now. I don’t know when I will see him again. I’m sure that when I do he will be greatly changed. The justice system is very strange and unfair.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes. It’s hard for that place not to change you. I guess my goal is to make sure the girls know what I knew — that the change doesn’t have to be bad, and that the world is waiting to see what new and good things they do with their fresh starts. 🙂

      Thanks for reading, HK.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Please, please, write the book. Take your words and painful, gorgeous observations (about you, your sisters, life in and out) and put it on pages that everyone can read. Because I think people can start revolutions with something as small and massive, as fragile and sturdy, as a book. And you have one in you.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I got goosebumps reading this. I read it out loud to Don. I’d like to help if possible, but don’t know how. Postcards? It’s such a small gesture but maybe they’re good to brighten a day. Let me know if there are other things I could do.
    I like my omelettes just the way you whip them up Rara!
    Alison xox

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It is the imagery of your writing that I first noticed about you. I am happy that you are free and moving forward. I am sure that the path you have been on will lead you to greatness in the future. I do not care about labels like tall, short, old, young or felon. It is the quality of the character that counts and that is shown every day in every action that we take and every word we speak. I have seen your actions and heard your words and know that you are a rare person with unique talent. Do great things my friend, write, lead, create because as we learned over the past year, the world is not as bright without you as an active part of it. You shine my friend.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. You know I am in to help, however way I can.

    (this was going to be a much longer comment, but I can’t figure out the right words to articulate what I want to say…so I will stick with what Mr. Art says above “people forget that the people who are incarcerated are still people”)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rara, you MUST tell your story. Your words are wonderful and you will put faces on the women in prison, just like you did in this post. You have my backing, just let your fellow bloggers know what to do to help.
    Write your story!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As always your words and your voice are so strong. The dino in you comes out and it makes me simply want to do more. When you get this plan formulated I would love to be a part of it if I can. Everyone has worth. Everyone. Life happens and who knows what tomorrow brings. No one. But one thing I do know is that it is my goal to make a small difference in this world however I can. Count me in. You continue to inspire and motivate and I love your heart for your sisters. But then, what else would I expect from you? As for omelettes? Anything veggie related is good to go in it for me. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have always thought incarceration should be reserved for those whose “crimes” were likely to be repeated or caused real harm (danger) to others, not merely expense or inconvenience. So much “crime” isn’t really crime. It’s just disagreements writ large. I don’t know all the details of your story nor do I need to know. I know that you aren’t now and never were any kind of danger to anyone, so there was no reason to lock you up. Period.

    For me, there’s a simple, clear line in the sand between dangerous people who need to be taken out of the world and people who make mistakes, get involved in situations they didn’t understand, find themselves lost and can’t find a way back out. Most people need a hand up, not a lock down.

    It could have been me. Or Garry. Or any of us for a million reasons. Garry and I have both been arrested for nothing. Because we were with the wrong person, in the wrong place, were the wrong color, were mistaken for someone else. We never served time, but under other circumstances, we could have. You drew that short straw.

    And finally, you are free. I am deeply glad you are back, terribly sad at how life has treated you. Wishing so very much there was more I could do but express my sympathy.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I think one of the most powerful literary works (plays) I ever read was Les Miserables. Javerts dilemma of choosing between just/mercy and justice is so profound. I’m just a tiny ceramic robot but with whatever you think I’m fit to help with, I will. For now just love.. and remember labels are both poopy and phantasmagorical. 🙂 roar! always ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Do you allow dragons? If so count me in! As for my omelet, I love ham and cheese or bacon and cheese, or have you even tried sliced hot dog in it? with cheese of course! That’s a poor man’s omelet. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m all in! It’s saddening to know that felons are judged by society in a blanket way, and not on a case by case basis -because there are some who aren’t supposed to be there but are, and some who are supposed to be there but are deserving of a second chance. They’re people and they have voices that need to be heard.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. A book about your experiences would be wonderful, Rara. And it might just help to make life better for your former roommates.

    There is a (small) movement on the left regarding prisons. In the last two (?) decades, prisons have been privatized and incarceration is big business now, and the donations back towards politicians — who naturally become supportive of mandatory sentencing, harsh sentencing , etc. are among the biggest in politics. Nasty stuff. It’s got to stop.

    But there are few voices like yours who can tell the truth. Go for it!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I, too, will help.

    I am shaking a little as I begin typing this, but here goes.

    You might want to skip this, and/or anyone with assault or violence triggers, but … it feels important to write.

    My father was a Corrections Officer, after he was no longer permitted to police.

    My mother and sisters met a few of the inmates who’d served time in his presence or met him elsewhere while he was in uniform. We had the same last name, so were we related? Yes.

    He’d sexually assaulted these women who asked our relationship.

    No question of the truth. He raped my mom many times, sometimes in exchange for the support he was obligated to give, and sometimes just because. He loved power.

    I wonder how many other people experienced his cruelty, in the form of sexual assault or otherwise.

    I do not wonder for a second if they deserved it or if it was justified. No. No. There is no such thing.

    When I testified against a child molester (as a child myself) and he walked free, any sense the justice system might ever have generally worked justice was shattered.

    He had money and an expensive attorney. We had pennies and a public attorney.

    The last year or so, I have become keenly aware how many power hungry men like my dad choose these professions. It chills me. It chills me when I read the news and know how much atrocity–large and blatant, or smaller and aching–never reaches the news. Or the outside.

    I am so sad that you were in, but I also feel a sense of hope now that you are out and I read these words. Maybe change is possible.

    However I can, I would like to help effect it.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Happy to help as soon as you are ready and tell us what to want us to do. Still working on those cards for the original list – I who used to hand write everything have become a person who drags her feet over writing by hand…

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  17. You are overwhelmingly popular — deservedly — but I keep getting lost in the crowd. So, rather than try to engage in conversation, I’ll just say this: If you would like my help, let me know. I left a comment earlier. If you get a chance to read it, great. It pretty much sums up where I stand (have always stood). Let me know if I can help, and how. I hope you are feeling a little bit more normal, whatever “normal” means.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Justice system? It’s largely a crap shoot and money plays a huge role. It’s about what can be proven in Court, and what can be proven, or dis-proven, depends on your resources. Can you afford a Lawyer? For how long? How about a private Investigator? Is it really prudent to fight a $200.00 fine with a $5,000.00 Lawyer? If you win your case, have you really won, considering the enormous drain on your bank account, loss of employment, and loss of reputation? These are things most folks don’t think about, or are even aware of. Even when found “not guilty”, a Court case can ruin you completely.

    Glad you’re back, you color our world. I hope I can contribute something of value to your project.

    Over easy!

    Like

  19. Those statistics are disconcerting, but I am glad you are back, and had tacos. Tacos are cool. 🙂

    As to omlets? Well, I am one oft rhe rare and different…I do not like eggs unless they are in pancakes or fried rice…crepe? I would go for a sweet crepe with light powdered sugar. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Oh Yay! You are out! I will be watching (in a good way) what you do next. It takes bravery not to be shushed when people want you to feel shame instead. I love my omelets cooked in coconut oil with lots of fresh vegetables, fresh garlic for seasoning and no cheese. (I like cheese, it just doesn’t like me.)

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  21. It’s a great idea and I’d like to help…although I am in Australia. But this doesn’t matter in the blogosphere, does it? I can do editing, I can write content and headlines and other journalisty-type things, and I can do research. If anything there might be of help, let me know.

    Like

  22. As a white, middle class woman, from the outside, I am usually judged to be safe to be around and trustworthy, but if people knew my story (two mental breakdowns, continued reliance on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds), their casual acceptance of me would be replaced by wariness and even snubbing. I share this with you because despite all that, I still am judged less harshly than African Americans, women and especially men, and those who have served time. I take things for granted that i shouldn’t, and so I ask, what can I do to help? I am not notified of comments made to this blog, so please contact me at cardamonefive@gmail.com.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

    Like

  23. You know, I think Doctor Who said it best: “You know that in nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important before.” Everyone is important and everyone has a story to share that should be heard. I really like what you are doing and fully support you. Just let me know what I can do to help!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Thank you, for everything about this post. Thank you for your voice, for your witnessing, for your survival. Thank you for all the things I am sure you have yet to do.
    best,
    alice

    Like

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