THE MIDDLE TWO- Visiting my Brother in the Lompoc Prison Camp
When we were kids, my brother Johnny and I used to deliver newspapers together in the early hours before dawn. He stacked the red metal wagon with the rolled papers and when we got to High Street, we would climb atop the pile, bend the long handle back and use it like a steering wheel as we zoomed down the hill. In our paper-delivering travels, we’d run into the milkman, Russell, making his home deliveries- the only other human being up and about that early in the neighborhood. We’d hang out the open sides of his milk truck like we were hanging from a San Francisco trolley, slugging quarts of chocolate milk as the wind whipped back our hair, feeling pretty darn free as we “worked.” Russell would laugh and shout with fun, a kid himself. But then the milk and activity would make our bowels talk to us and we were far from home. Johnny and I found dark back yards and medial strips in boulevards to squat like puppy dogs and relieve ourselves, laughing so hard we could hardly squat. We managed to find adventure merely from delivering the morning paper together.
Johnny and I were the middle two kids. The older one above us could do no wrong as well as the younger one below us. We got ignored and hence were able to go our own way. But in seeking our own way, we often made choices our parents did not approve of. We butted heads with Mom and Dad but Johnny’s head was bigger and he was stronger and it often got him into trouble. Johnny became the black sheep, me the medium grey. It made us bond together, however, and he gave me one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. He wanted to find a girl to marry just like his sister, Cindy.
Unfortunately, my brother made some choices along his life that led to some pretty serious consequences and this past weekend, the older sibling, the younger sibling and I traveled to the Lompoc Prison Camp in California to see him. It was a big deal to find the money, carve out the time, and try to find a middle ground amongst siblings whose lives and personalities often seemed more polarized than similar. I was more concerned with getting along with my two siblings than I was visiting a prison camp. It was the kind of life event that could result in terrible bad feelings or the complete opposite.
The night before we went to the prison, we in our three star inn and Johnny on his prison cot, we both wondered what the next morning would hold. We had not seen one another for five years and then, my siblings told me, it was not real pretty. I don’t remember. I have selective memory when it comes to my brother Johnny. Even when I was told what he said or did that was hurtful, I just dismissed it. I saw it as his pain that he was coping with and did not take it personal. My husband said, “How do you know Johnny wants you to come? Maybe he’d rather have the money.”’ I looked at him and said “I do not even care if he does. I AM going.”
My sister said, “What if he is mean? He wasn’t that nice the last time we saw him.” I looked at her and said, “How could he POSSIBLY be the same person?” In solitary confinement for 32 days one time? In a state penitentiary with really bad guys for 1 ½ years before he even got his sentence? In a fantastic rehab program that is forcing him to examine everything in his life and claim responsibility for all his actions? I COULD NOT WAIT to see him. I only thought good things would result from our visit. We had corresponded the later part of these two years that he was in this prison camp and in his letters, he shared the tremendous progress he was making and the very beneficial changes he was in the midst of living. He was so excited to see us, he wrote me, that I bet it felt like Christmas Eve to him as he lay awake in his bed.
And when I saw him walk into that meeting room the next day, I broke into a run and threw my arms around him and hung onto his neck and could not let go. I did not even want to share him with my siblings and release my grasp. He looked so good. Healthy, happy, tan, fit and better than I have seen him- maybe since we rode the wagon down High Street together. It has been that long since he was on the right track in life.
We sat at a picnic table in the sun in a courtyard surrounded by towering eucalyptus trees and fed quarters into vending machines and snacked and talked and laughed and heard eyeball-widening stories about his past prison life and he practiced his therapy communication techniques with us and the six hours flew by. Lucky for us, we had another six hours to look forward to the next day, Sunday.
When I returned to our hotel room and began to write in my journal about this experience, the overwhelming feeling I had was one that I had after my parents died. I would lay in bed and miss them terribly. Wet hot tears would roll down my cheeks and gather in my ears. I used to think, if I could JUST see their faces, even for a brief moment, it would be enough. If they could just come back for an hour, I would be so unbelievably grateful and filled with complete joy. And I would proceed to go to sleep and they would visit me in my dreams. And I remember the feeling I had when I saw them- “Oh my God, I missed you so much!” But then I would wake up and realize it was not true that they had not come back to me and I was so sad.
This experience with my brother felt very very similar. When I heard early on that he was in solitary confinement and still very angry, I was very fearful he would get in a fight and be killed and I would never see him again.
So sitting there at that picnic table in the sun, I found myself continually studying him. I looked at the auburn hairs in his eyebrows and how far back his freckles covered his forehead and I studied the shape of his lips which are identical to my father’s and mine, and his fingernails which looked exactly like my father’s whose I haven’t seen in the flesh for 27 years. And I listened to his laugh and looked at how bright his eyes were and just sat back and basked in his voice and his warmth and his light. I just wanted to make sure all day long, that he was indeed real. For it truly felt like my beloved brother had died and had come back to life. But contrary to my dreams where my parents visited me, Johnny was truly real and right here in front of me. About every half hour, I would become overwhelmed with the need to touch him, just to make sure, and I would rise up out of my seat, and go over to him while he chatted with my siblings and just wrap my arms around his neck and breathe him in. After hugging him for awhile, I felt satisfied that he was real and returned to my seat. Only after another hour of watching and listening and talking, I would need to rise up again and go over to embrace him.
There are very few times in life where you get another chance. My brother Johnny has been given another chance in life. He can make the next half a century completely different than the last one. And I want to be there for the duration. Our grandmother died at the age of 102 and I am reminded of what Winnie the Pooh said, “If you live to be 100, I want to live to be 100 minus one day, so I never have to live without you.” When Johnny gets out of prison, we need to go back to our childhood neighborhood and take a ride down High Street in a wagon, just because we can.
Posted in: Life's Moments and Lessons
Cindy, I loved it, so heartfelt.
wow- tears to my eyes! wonderful Cindy!!!!
thanks- what is really cool is Johnny is going to write his own blog about our visit, which I can’t wait for- we also had a picture of the four of us taken (by an inmate) and will include that with his blog- stay tuned
I can’t say much right now for crying .. This is so beautiful…. We have so many things in common…. We ALL fall, and need Love to stand again! Hope is a wonderful thing….. One day at a time! Looking forward to more Ross stories :). Love and light to John…. Who I know I had a crush on!!!:)
hugs and kisses to you Beth and your support- at the picnic table in the sun in CA. I mentioned you and your care and concern and love and he said, “Oh, that is so great to hear!” It meant a lot to you so thanks for responding to my status update!
We all strive to love with such abandon, free from judgement and pain! Thank you so much for sharing this loving uplifting story. It has changed me for the better! Namaste
Thanks Pam- I appreciate it- stay tuned for Johnny’s blog- will be better!
Thanks for this one Cindy.
my pleasure Leslie, my doll.
Cindy, your penetrating eyes, watching Johnny while sitting across from him,- that experience I know even from our brief conversation about Yosemite geotourism sitting by the well with Sierra at Birders Homestead Ranch. You see much, my friend, and share it so beautifully in your writing. Thank you for putting the work into translating the vision of the moment all in words. Vermeer would be proud, maybe jealous.
ah Ken- you are a doll. Its our job as communicators to watch and listen so we can share it with the world, so we can let everyone know- we are not alone in our thoughts and feelings, but connected !- We all just want to make a connection. xxoo
Oh my God again and again Cindy, you are some writer! Don’t get a chance to say that to every one of your blog missives, but I do appreciate your sharing all this with us. I am off to Florida next Thursday 14th to visit some friends and a mini painting workshop but if you are here and can take time from all your other adventures, come to the Tuesday 12th art alliance meeting at 7 pm in the Institute gallery. Ki rk Lawrence-Howard (prof. actor) will be doing a presentation (with visuals) as Pablo Picasso – he is great! Bring whoever along if you want – the membership show is still up on the walls with matching poems at the book table . B.
thanks dear- but will be in CO/NM hiking with my son in Mesa Verde etc for a spring break celebration- I appreciate the kind words and invitation.! xxoo
This is amazing and touching, Cindy! I’m so glad you and your brother (and your other two siblings) all have each other! I too can hardly wait to read Johnny’s blog post about your visit, and maybe about how he’s found the strength to grow while in a prison camp? You’re all so inspiring!
it WAS amazing and touching to be there, believe me- I am ready to go back next weekend, if possible. As soon as I get some points from mileage, I’m gonna get me a free ticket and return! Hey- we drove thru Acton on the way from Joshua Tree to Lompoc and I was dying to find the trail but it was dark! Rewrote the Front page of my PCT book too- completely redid it and she loved it so good. I’ve got your book on order from Amazon- when is the pub date again? Mine will come back out in the fall.
I only wish you had a picture with this post. But I understand why not. Your brother is a lucky man to have such a caring, loving sister who apparently will never give up on him.
hey Lysa- an inmate photographer took our pic (the 4 of us and it is so pretty!) and is mailing me a hard copy- I was going to try to wait to post until it arrived but could not wait- but Johnny will be writing a blog on his take and will post with it. We were not allowed to have a camera or even under wires!
The love and support of family (and friends) can be a literal life-saver. How lucky your brother is (and your other siblings) to have you Cindy. I count myself as blessed to know you. To reference another post – you are not just a Tiger-mom (in a good way), you are a Tiger-sister and thankfully, a Tiger-friend. Love you
Love and hugs and kisses to you my special friend- to think my life has been blessed by your friendship in the name OF WORK! How silly- it is never work when in your company and I hear we have some cycling trips to look forward to in the future- AND I can now make it to MATPRA in Aug- we are hiking in July- yeah! more memories
WOW….How beautifully touching…Made me cry and my heart grew bigger ❤
thanks my dear- I appreciate the kind words-
I am glad you had the chance to visit him and feel some hope. Unfortunately for me, and our children, we have seen this, “I am a new person. I have changed” story from John soooooooo many times before. Words mean nothing. The fact that he lied to get into this special program (so that he can get out of prison sooner) looks to me like he is the same person, pulling the same stunts, acting like the rules do not apply to him. I hope for him, our children, and others he has hurt, that he truly has changed. His actions when he gets out will be the proof.
I’m hopeful- we can’t quit on each other- at least that is my feeling- the sister- not the wife! Thanks for sharing- you will ALWAYS be my sister!
I am glad you are hopeful. For everyone’s sake including his own, I hope he is changed for the better after this experience.
I, too, have a troubled brother. I love him with all my heart and will always hope for him to turn his life around. I understand, though, why his wife divorced him and hold no ill feelings toward her. I know she loved him very much but sometimes we have to let go of the people we love for our own peace of mind.
I love you with all my heart dearest sister,
right back at you, my dear sister – who has always felt much more than a sister-in-law- let’s be hopeful for Johnny- this wouldn’t be the first time someone made a monumental change in life- ready to see you again!
Just beautiful…that says it all.:)
thank you Cynthia- i appreciate it
Thank you for sharing this with me Cindy! I am so very grateful that you and your siblings went to visit my dad!
hugs and kisses to you dear niece- and thanks!
Cindy, is that the High Street near our house? If it is, I have a big wagon you and your brother can share as you relive your childhood fun. I had a metal red wagon i spent many hours pushing myself around our farm. If you and your family can come to our Father Folk sometime, I’ll show you around (it is the last weekend of July every year).I enjoy all your stories and always fall in love with you when I read them. Roddy.
hi there- I did not call you back because i accidently deleted your message on the answering machine- leave me an e-mail- 570-943-2198- i am in the Navajo nation right now visiting friends and eating mutton stew and fry bread and hearing stories (like only natives can tell) – took Bryce to CO/NM for sprign break. THANK YOU so much for all yoru wonderful support and comments on my blogs- it helps- give me confidence to keep going – esp with my book blog, which always seems to take a back seat to everything in my life- will be home for 3 days and then heading to the island of Mauritius for 11 days- I would LOVE to ride down High st in a wagon with my brother- he will be out early Dec- then a half way home for 6 mons. So maybe 2014!!!! We will be in the Wemineuche wilderness of the San Juans in CO llama packing for your festival but maybe next yr!!
Ah, Cindy, such a wonderful account of your reunion. Made me cry. I am so glad you had this chance to visit. I can’t imagine not seeing my sister or having the opportunity to stay connected. It must have done all of you a world of good.
I remember sharing laughs with John in homeroom. He was always so full of life.
Hope he doesn’t have too much more time to serve. I wish him nothing but the best. After all, we all make mistakes and everyone deserves a second chance.
I miss you.
hello sweetheart- thank you for the good wishes- i will pass on the good wishes to Johnny when I write to him next. He will be out in Dec and then 6 mons half way house. I am anxious to see what he does with his life- he seems SO GOOD- so healthy and clear headed and grounded- i miss you too- let’s have lunch or something in April- am traveling all of March- in the Navajo nation now with Bryce visiting Indian friends- eating mutton stew and fry bread and hearing stories, like only the natives can tell.
This was a great read. Just found out my own brother is headed to Lompoc and was Googling to find out more about it when I came across your article. So much reminded me of my brother and I. He was the best of kids and we shared all our free time together running through the woods, playing ball, riding bikes.. and then he made some bad decisions as an adult. It’s been 3 years without him so far and another 10 to go. There are days I fear the really loving, good-hearted person I once knew might be no more by the time he gets out.. but then I get a letter and he expresses both love for me (and our family) and sorrow for where he’s at… and all I want to do is fly across the country and give him a big hug.. but unfortunately that’s rarely possible because of the $$. Time marches on.. and we’re all just hoping for a happy ending. Hope you get one, as well.
thank you so much for sharing- i appreciate it- my brother is out now- trying to start over- we (his siblings) brace ourselves hoping he has learned and won’t be tempted to make poor choices again- i have not seen him since he’s out- across the country- if you have a chance to go see your brother, you will not be sorry- believe me- combine it with a vacation- keep in touch- thanks for caring too
Happy to hear. All the best to you guys. Keep writing too. You’re great at it!