unlocked: goodbye, chowchilla.

Written November 27th, 2014 from the California Institute for Women, from room 136– the cell without a mirror or light, or doorknob, where I spent my Thanksgiving.  I had a window, though, and the room to myself– and it was a lovely place to write.


The fog rolled in, misting the grass with smoky sanctity.  We walked a single-file line through it, one after another– eighteen anonymous prisoners carrying a small paper bag each.  We followed the sergeant, veering as he veered, stopping when he stopped.  His voice was low and smooth, like the voice of the fog itself, if you believed in such possibilities.  A stray cat pranced over the grass as if to prove the mystery of fog was a mere facade.  Her meow echoed through the early morning and I knew she was taunting the sky’s cool breaths of smoke — reminding it that nothing really comes in on little cat feet.  Excepting, of course, little cats.

It was ten til’ five, and I was taking my first steps away from CCWF, known to us as Chowchilla State Prison.  None of us in line were going home, but many — myself included- were going closer to home and someplace purportedly better.  By most accounts, there are few places worse than CCWF in this country.  People try to prove this with statistics, but like most numbers, they overemphasize fear and minimize the impact of intimacy.

Yes, I was housed among those who have murdered– but the personI turned back to wave at had a voice to match her heart and the sweetness of it will live with me always.  Yes, I was put in a cage– but it was in the coop where I laughed so hard at a knock-knock joke that my toes cramped.  Yes, I experienced shackles and cleaned pools of blood.  Yes, some staff ignored my basic human needs until I couldn’t remember if I was human, or if I had needs worth mentioning.  Yes. I had bad days.

But also, yes.  I saw love.  I found friendship.  I witnessed great kindness and wiped away the happiest of tears.  I met staff who could always hear hope, as clearly as I could hear the possibility of talking fog.  True believers.  They gave me a constant foothold to my world, and my fellow prisoners gave me constant reminders to hold onto the things so often lost on journeys like this.  It is prison, yes,  but I was loved there, and the light of compassion shining on me was all the more meaningful given how much easier it is to spread darkness in a place so shadowed by loneliness and tragedy.

All these thoughts and feelings mixed inside me, stirring themselves into the cold around me and the coldest memories inside me, and I froze.

Overwhelmed by fog, I simply ran out of steam.

A lieutenant passed at that moment, telling our group, “Raise your hand if you plan on coming back.”  In respect– or fear– of his badge, we stopped movement.  In response to his question, no one raised a hand.  He laughed at us, predicting, “I’ll see 75% of you again.” as he strolled on, flattening the earth beneath him.  His words rooted me into that prison, seeping deeper than even the mist.  When he was out of ear shot, the officer in back of our line said simply, “Chin up, girls. Just prove him wrong.”  I hadn’t even realized I lowered mine.

We still had a few hundred steps to go and I decided to take them, one at a time, fueled by gratitude.

Step. Thank you, God, for staying with me.  Step.  Thank you, Life, for the knowledge that I am loved.  Thank you, family, for the soul-tatted reminder to not let anyone grind me down.  Thank you, Dave, for a relationship so full of joy that it survived half a year apart and still makes me smile with moony-eyed glee.

Thank you, Very Specific Housing Officer, for allowing me to wear my integrity as loudly as I wear my orange smocks.  Thank you, Very Specific Mental Health Professional, for your companionship in my fate.  Step.  Thank you, fellow incarcerated hearts, for believing I am beautiful.  Step.  Thank you, WordPress, for gifting me with an international community of friends.  Thank you, friends, for supporting my rawr through seemingly all imaginable circumstances.  Step.



I took each one, headed towards change, leaving behind what will always be an epic part of my life.  Each foot forward was fiercely humbling.  Do you realize I’ve never had to take a single step without hearts full of goodness by my side?  How is it possible to be as lucky as all that?  To me, it’s proof positive.

Everything is possible.
Everything’s gonna be okay.

I made it through.

I’ve arrived at the next verse of life, and how it will evolve is still as mysterious to me as the Chowchilla fog, but I am like the little cat– suddenly, outrageously fearless in the face of it.

“Talk to me, Fog!” I want to shout, “I know you can speak.”  I know it, because I know possibility, and it is unstoppable.  I know love, and it is infinite. I know gratitude, and it is devastatingly powerful.  I can push through the earliest mornings and the most certified doubts because of you– and the millions of ways you push me forward, and the millions of steps you’ve taken with me.

I walk in gratitude and love, and even the fog moves out of my way, because it knows I am determined to make my way back to you.

And I will.

In the meantime, happy thanksgiving.
To you, and yours, and ours.

NanoPoblano, NaBloPoMo

What did you for Thanksgiving last year? What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?

52 thoughts on “unlocked: goodbye, chowchilla.

  1. Your words as always are amazing as you find the positive in the overwhelming negativity that you found yourself surrounded by. Last year Thanksgiving was at our youngest son’s house. This year we are finally going to have both sons and their girlfriends with us at our new home in North Carolina —first time I have hosted Thanksgiving at our home in probably 20 years. No joke. To say I am giddy about it would be an understatement.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Your posts are filled with positivism and a great inspiration. This is my second Thanksgiving in a row without my children around, but we invite some friends and their kids and grandkids over for dinner so we have lots of chaos and good food and festivity!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just WOW. You are living proof that life is what you make of what you are given, that there is always positive in every situation if you have the eyes and the determination to find it, that when life throws you lemons you can either suck them or use them to make lemonade. The overriding notion in this post for me is that you can find good in everyone.
    What was I doing on Thanksgiving? I was remembering when I saw a Canadian picking up his huge turkey that he had ordered from the village butcher. The butcher was very confused because it was way too early for Christmas. France doesn’t do Thanksgiving… 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ahaha, I can just imagine the poor butcher. Canadian thanksgiving is in a different month than American thanksgiving, but the concept is the same. Like Charles, I like to suck on lemons (I even put salt on them), but of course– I also like to make deliciously sweet lemonade. 🙂 All this food talk has me distracted, but the point, MM, is that I love you. Thank you for always reading, and for stepping with me. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank YOU. I hope these stories remind people how valuable it is when they reach out to the girls with words of hope and love and kindness. It takes quite a bit of fuel to stomp out the fog. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I honestly don’t recall Thanksgiving last year. This year for the first time in a long time I will be working on Thanksgiving. We don’t make a huge deal about holidays in our house because we celebrate love every day of the year. Also we will be recovering from all things wedding. 🙂 I am so sorry you had to spend Thanksgiving in such a place, and I am so glad you are home now.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. (jumps up and down in her chair as she types) Is the book written yet? Is my autographed copy on the way?! I didn’t breathe as I read this, feeling the cool mist of fog, trying not to laugh at the little cat, lowering my head at the CO’s math and raising it again with the other CO’s encouragement. My dear sister, write. And don’t stop. ❤ Oh, and when it's published, be sure to send a copy to each of the women you met whilst there, if possible.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. No Thanksgiving here. I probably sulked, alone, lonely, whilst greedily devouring the few status updates on Facebook, and my friends’ instagram feeds. This year will likely be the same.

    Chin up. Chin up.

    What’s the point of going through life if you don’t leave an impression? Call the fog, call out the cats, and leave dino footprints of light and magic on everyone’s hearts.

    Guess you carry freedom within you, too.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I suppose in one way, the future is set on paths we don’t know yet; and our own influence is always smaller (and much larger) than we think. The now, like the sun and the eagle and the rabbit, is what we miss in worrying. Yet somehow wonder and anxiety tend to make philosophers of us, and reflection ideally turns our past to good use so…perhaps it’s alright not to live entirely in the present, after all.

        Gorgeous post. Thank you for sharing it with me, and I’m glad you have that song of freedom within you. I suppose in that way, ‘home’ *is* inside my heart, because that’s where I carry the people. Empty arms are another matter though, and on that point I suspect no-0ne would contest the challenge.


      1. Absolutely! I also like to prove them wrong when they are ignoring the power of positivity! All things are possible, we just have to believe. Or as my younger son always says, “Any pizza can be a personal pizza if only you try hard enough and believe in yourself.” Sage words from a teen boy. 😉
        I like that you are authentic. You own who and what you are and even when that’s not something society would find positive you prove them wrong. It’s the attitude that makes a person awesome and you are awesome!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh Ra, you are a true light in the darkness. And have an exquisite way of story telling that draws us into your truth. We too have learnt the unstoppable power of gratitude. It’s such a simple thing – thank you – such a simple thing that irrevocably changes the world we inhabit. Thank you.
    Alison xox

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you voice from behind that noticed your reaction and spoke positively about you and your existence.

    Thank you Rara for letting us in, baring your soul to us, and walking with us even when you were forbidden to be free.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Charles– how are you feeling? Still a little tired? I can’t think of anything better to be thankful for than peace in one’s own company and a good book. 🙂 Thank you for reading!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Gratitude. You know what they say about great minds thinking alike? I just wrote a post regarding my gratitude to travel angels, who offer me miracles on a daily basis. But OK, maybe in this case there’s one great mind, and another only able to be grateful.


  10. Dear One, even though you and I have never met, I felt my heart swell with pride at your indomitable spirit and attitude as surely as if you were a child of mine. God bless you and cover you with the shadow of His mighty right arm always ❤



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