Dream Catching at 11,000

Originally written 08/25/14

In two days—August 27th, 2014—I will turn the big three-oh in the “Big House”—California’s largest state correctional facility for women.  I arrived just a week ago and am sitting pretty in receiving, what we colloquially call “A-Yard.”

A-Yard is a resting and distribution center, like a train station—filled with women waiting to go somewhere else, smiling uncertainly at each other because the future holds such extreme possibilities in regards to the relationships here.  We all know it’s possible that you will never see the woman next to you again.  It’s equally possible that you will share—in close proximity and neon orange Technicolor—one of the most memorable experiences of your life with her.  Like a train station, it is constantly bustling here.  It is saturated with hellos, goodbyes, and the commotion of people trying to live life in a limited amount of time and space.  We have tickets, but we call them ducats.  We have porters and bright flashing lights that tell the more observant amongst us if everything is running on schedule.  Though, of course, it’s not.  Like trains, prisons are charmingly—woefully—stuck in the past.  The slow-churning relics answer to no one and make no apologies for their pace.  There’s no reason they should.  After all, it is their very nature.

Today, I understand true natures in a way that my 10-year-old self or 20-year-old self never could.  This is the sort of insight that grownups brag about when they shake a finger at you and say you’ll understand when you’re old.  It’s a frustrating thing to be told—all the way to the day you understand it.  Suddenly, you realize the seed of frustration and curiosity and desire for black-n-white answers grew into a tree of ambiguity and uncertainty.  And one day, you are brave enough (or crazy enough, or simply old enough) to pick a fruit from that tree and chew it to the core.  At the core is acceptance, and life—as seen through it—is a steady cycle full of humor and irony.  There is a little surprise, but much peace can be found in that knowledge.  It is the sort of complex emotion that explains the silly behaviors of old folk.  Like how they laugh and shrug when you want to teach your cat to fetch, but can’t pry her feline body from the sun-kissed grass where she lounges.  You claim this as a betrayal of friendship, but old age knows this is a simple clash of true natures.  Youth worries when nighttime falls, but old age knows the sun will rise again, it’s a matter of true nature.  All this explains why grownups say you can’t understand yet—because you can’t.  None of this makes any sense if you don’t already know it and besides, you are entitled to the innocent ignorance of youth.  It is yours to be savored, and I’ve heard it told that youth has the most delicious true nature anyone could ever taste.

Though I have some time to go before I know that last part for sure.  I’m only just almost 30…  10,950-ish days old… and falling quickly into my 11,000’s.

I’m not upset about celebrating in the company of people who have known me less than 10 days.  No one is a stranger for long in this world and, as usual, I am blesses by the presence of brilliantly kind women.  To some, they are arsonists, drug dealers, escape artists, and car thieves—but to me, they are my newest sisters.  Their strength is plentiful and refuels my light when I run low.  I would trust my transition into my third decade to these women, but (luckily for them) I have already celebrated.  My husband made me art.  My mama sent me a card with an appropriately—hassled—looking cat on it.  The girls at county jail—with their unerringly natural sense of mindful love—made me a cake.  It was made of beans and Top Ramen because I don’t eat sugar, and they understand the importance of holding onto that restraint in my life.  It was made of almost all they had, and it was magical.  They sang for me and drew me a card and the beauty of our band-aide sisterhood humbled me to tears.  Everyone gave a little—but the sum of the parts became greater than the whole.  The celebration became a metaphor for my entire life.  It was my celebration—it is my life—but every bit of it can be sourced back to the love and gifts of others.  In that moment of pure gratitude and recognition, I became 30.  A soup-bean cake was my rite of passage.

Now, I’m just waiting at this A-Yard depot.  I traded my jailhouse blues for prison oranges.  My roommates seem to come and go as fast as the days, but we make the most of our time—keeping busy and finding value in shared insight.  In this 8-woman cell, I was taught the secret of dream catchers, crafted from scraps of strings and used lids.  They are wondrous.  I build one and wonder if, perhaps, at my truest core, I am a dreamer.


Originally written 08/05/14

On days like this, I miss the moon.  She’s been my personal guide for as long as I can remember.

In my youth, my small hands would pretend to hold her.  I’d sit by the windows—palms bowled together—and whisper my secrets into her light.  As a teenager, I’d hunch in the backseat of cars, silently sharing all my thoughts with the bright orb as she followed me down long highways and gravel roads.  She has always had a way of magnifying my gratitudes and shining perspective on my strife.  “It is what it is,” she would smile to me, until her light becomes mine, and my fears become triumphs.

They took away my moon, and today, I miss her more than ever.

I am disappointed because change didn’t come when I called for it.  I planned, and waited, but change didn’t show up.  Now I feel stuck—tarred by the moment, feathered by the idiocy of the idea that I had any control of fortuna’s wheel.  I feel more trapped by circumstance than when they put me in a cell, and more paused than when they took away time itself.  I can see the next part of my journey, but the road from here to there is gated, and until that gate opens, I can do nothing but wait.  Plans are meaningless to change, as is disappointment.  Change moves as, and when it wants and does not care.

"Rara and the Moon" - byTJ Lubrano  (http://www.tjlubrano.com)

“Rara and the Moon” – byTJ Lubrano (http://www.tjlubrano.com)

My moon would care, though.  If I could see her, and whisper the secret of my heart to her, she would soothe it.  She would light my journey with her warm glow, and it would remind me of the sanctity of this present moment.  She would remind me that planning for change is a skill, waiting patiently for it is a virtue, but embracing the moment is a joy.  My moon would urge me to see joy.  She would show me that joy was scattered at my feet while I clutched at disappointment—like a little girl crying over a chunk of coal while sitting in a pool of diamonds.  In time, that coal will sparkle as brightly, but there is no sense in lamenting over what it is today.  It simply is what it is.

In my mind, I know all this—but the seed of rational thought only seem to survive the tangles of hurt and fear in my head when they are allowed to bask in moonlight.  I feel the comfort struggling to make itself known as I lay on my bunk, staring at the cold cement walls.

Then, one of the girls in my room disrupts my thoughts.  She is as trapped as I am, and so we are sisters of fate.  She asks someone if they want to learn to say something in Spanish, and when the other girl agrees, I smile because I know what’s coming.

“Spell socks,” she says.

Anticipating a practical joke, the would-be Spanish speaker hesitantly says, “S.O.C.K.S?”  And we all laugh.  It sounds like, Eso si que es.  In Spanish, she has said, “It is what it is.”

And there, in the warmth of laughter, the sparkle of wit and the light of sisterhood—I see my moon.  Even in here, where I am locked away from the most celestial of sights, she has found a way to lend me her insights.  Tomorrow, I might find myself sobbing over coal, but tonight—tonight I will laugh at the wonder of its mere existence, and give gratitude to the diamonds who laugh and sparkle in the bunks around me.  Tonight, I will sleep peacefully because, though I have no control of fate, I am not alone.

I am surrounded by sisters, and my moon is still following me—healing my hurt—shining her light through them, into me.

Dedicated to: Silvia Velez and Alissa Sandoval.

Dear Best Beloveds

Originally written 07/15/14

How are you?  Fabulous, I hope!  I hear that many of you are enjoying summer— taking a break from the nitty-gritty normalities of life.  I’m glad.  I hope the rest of the year is restorative and full of cheer.  J

There’s been plenty of updates on my front.  The biggest is that I signed my plea deal.  I took a three-year prison sentence, which (after factoring in overcrowding policy and time served) will amount to 15 months of actual time.  If I successfully am admitted into a work release program, I will serve 9 months.  I will be hoping for that, obviously.  :)  Or even better, an early parole exception.  I will most likely leave from here on July 28th or august 4th.  Since I have already signed, all I have left to do is reaffirm my plea bargain in front of the court and judge.  That’ll happen July 25th.  Wish me luck, or better yet… wish me strength.

Signing was emotional, for a wide variety of reasons.  I am grateful for the honest, grounded presence of my lawyer.  I could sense her faith in me.  After, I went back to my housing and was grateful for my recent move, for the first time since moving.

That was another update!  I was moved from my two-gal cell (called ‘IRC’) to a dorm with 39 other women.  It’s called ‘The Main’ or ‘The Tank.’  IT has been a major adjustment!  Even now, I am holding my notepad at an angle in my left hand, leaning it against a pole.  It’s not easy having limited to no desk access.  We’ve also had to change our ‘programming’, which is jail-speak for the routines and systems we live by.

I don’t have much positive to say about my new living situation, except perhaps that I am proud of myself for continuing to find ways to improve it  Just right now, I learned how to make a pencil extender and writing with a full-sized pencil fills me with joy!  Seriously.  It’s the little things.  :)  Our particular tank is filled with a few girls I know as well, so that’s nice too.  I’ve been here so long though that it’s rare to be somewhere (even court) where I don’t know someone.  Every time I run into someone in an odd place, I shake my head and say, ‘I’ve been here too long.’  In fact, I’ve been here SO long that 2 of the 40 girls in my tank are ones I said goodbye to already.  Many say the door to jail is a revolving one, but I certainly hope that isn’t the case for me.

Some of the downsides of the tank are:

  • Super raunchy girls who share my space. If I had a nickel for every girl who pulled a stripper move on the poles of my bunk bed, or wash their panties in my sink, I could make bail.
  • Group punishment.
  • “Tossings”—which is jail-speak for when the deputies come in and throw our stuff everywhere. We’ve been tossed 5 times in the two weeks we’ve been here.
  • Loop deputies. The deputies who I’ve had no contact with since my first two days here are around.  It’s stressful.  The IRC deputies were very human.  The deputies here can be.  Others are out of line, but for now I can do nothing but make careful note of the details.
  • It’s almost impossible to get into the groove of one other woman, let alone 39.

Originally, all of my friends from IRC moved to the same tank with me.  It was an unusual thing to do so we should’ve been less shocked when they decided to move us around again, rather than another tossing or extra-duty situation.  Still, I was in shock.  I was prepared to say goodbye, but not in the middle of the night, in the dark, with my stuff strewn all over my bed, at the last second, over the sound of yelling on the intercom.

But, as far as punishments go, it was mild.  We’re really not supposed to make friends in here, though it’s necessary if you want to keep your wits about you… And I’ve always been obsessed with keeping my wits. :)

People keep asking how I am feeling about prison and the truth is—I feel fine.  It’s not the stressful feeling of waiting for a probably-negative medical report, or the frenzied excitement of a first day.  It’s the flickering readiness of a Monday morning meeting that you are absolutely prepared for, even though it’s true that you at your most prepared is only 20% prepared.  In other words, I feel fine.  Ready or not, prison, here I come.

Because I won’t be here for too much longer, I feel a sort of zen that calms my need to stay busy and involved.  For the last 73 days, I’ve been skating between two worlds, but now, I am where I am.  So if you have been carrying the burden of worry for me—let it go.  I will be okay.  Thank you for carrying my troubles as far as this.  I can’t tell you how much I look forward to the day when I can carry yours—or when the troubles I dump on you are minor thinks like writer’s block.  :)

I wrote a goodbye letter, but I here I might be able to stay better in touch in prison.  There’s too much unknown to check out mentally so I won’t disappear quite yet.  Still, just in case…

Thank you again, for everything.  I hope the remainder of 2014 brings your most fabulous dreams to life, and that 2015 is twice as spectacular as the best you’re able to imagine.

As to 2016, well…

Hopefully, we’ll be celebrating that year together.

You are loved.  Always.



The Care and Feeding of Rarasaur

Originally written 08/07/14

Not to brag, but I think I’d make a pretty fabulous pet.

It’s something I’ve had cause to think about a lot lately.  I’ve considered my merits and flaws, and compared myself to how I imagine others would fare—and, all in all, I think I’d be ‘Best in Show” quality.

You’re probably wondering what criteria I’ve used to judge my pet-possibilities, so let’s delve deeper:

  1. I’m easy to clean and beautify.  I’m a domestic short-hair, or would be if I were a cat.  I bite my own nails and keep myself tidy without anyone’s help.  Admittedly, I am better groomed when someone helps.
  2. I am a simple eater and do not require any specialty servings.  My disinclination to eat sugar makes it even easier to prepare pet-appropriate meals.  Just fill up a bowl with cheese!
  3. I keep busy with the tiniest of entertainment.  I don’t whimper for outdoor time, and a piece of paper occupies me as much as the fanciest toys.
  4. I become easily accustomed to anyone and I love most everyone.  If I don’t like someone, I’m not aggressive, but simply retreat to my corner and hide.

Most people, I think, would topside one category or another and be considered a pet with ‘real character’, but I’d be more like a harmless (but somewhat strange) fish.  I’d just swim along minding my own business, smiling at you as I wander by.

Any pet-keeper would adore me, and tell strangers of how marvelous I am…

Except for that




What about you?  Would you make a great pet, or a terrifying one?

8 ouroboros

Last Forever

Note: No Rara didn’t get out.  This week she was finally transferred to state prison.  Over the last while she has been sending me, her husband, things to post, but due to my own living situation (getting threatened, kicked out, near homelessness, no internet, no electricity, etc.)  I haven’t had time to type them and post them, per her request.  From now on, any post sent to via mail to me by Rara will be typed and posted under her user ID.

Intended to be have been posted July 31st.


I’ve always been fascinated by the last of things.  The Last Samurai, The Last of the Mohicans, the last item left at a garage sale, or even all the things I wouldn’t do even if I was the last human on earth.

“The Last” is a tangible ending—not the sort that brushes by unnoticed, but the type that toots its own horn.  It does not whisper, bangs—and it screams to the world, “Hear me now, see me now!  I am the end, and I am the beginning.”  It is not the snake’s mouth, or the tip of the tail.  It is “The Last”.  It is the space that holds the mouth and tail together, transforming a snake into an ouroboros, and a story into an eternity.  It is magical.

8 ouroboros

Still, despite all it’s pomp, the circumstance of “The Last” makes us turn away from it.  We are taught to fear unknown endings, undervalue expected ones, and look away from them all in fear of bringing tomorrow’s necessary ending into our today.  So we turn away, and the lasts become invisible.

Looking away doesn’t stop the end though, so I stare.  But maybe that whole thought is only justification for my fascination with endings.  A glittered cloak to replace one of invisibility?  A sequined cloak to hide my own fascination with morbidity?

Either way, today is the last day of July and I am savoring it.  It is the last day of July 2014 that I will ever see.  It will be a whole year before I see a shade or glimmer of July again.  It is a last, and today, I am mesmerized by its swan song.

I feel this day stretching into August and (though all July’s have done this dance it seems to be taking its time.  It is yawning into the start of a new month, warming to the idea of a tomorrow where it does not exist as anything except a memory, and—even then—just a faded one.  Still, it toots its own horn, bangs its own drums, and sings its own swan song.  It will be forgotten in due time, but time washes and fades everything, so it does not take the slight personally.  In fact, this day has nothing to say about tomorrow at all.  It is simply celebrating how it was born of the grandeur of yesterday and rose everything it could be.  In July, people loved and told truths, saplings turned to trees, birds found some of the shiniest things, and balloons escaped into the heavens.  And there were lies born, and knees scraped, and tragedies, and death.  But most importantly—the world lived to the end of today’s tale, and has started to sparkle its way to the mouth of eternity.  A full circle begins again, and for this brief breath—we are forever.

Until tomorrow, when we begin the spiral of madness, creation, and destruction again.

Tomorrow is a first—the first day of August—and I will be celebrating.

I’ve always had a fascination with first…


How was your July?

How is your August shaping up?

Bit of a Personal Emergency

Calling all researches and legal knowers.

So I mentioned I live in a kind of crack-den-ish sort of place.  It’s become a sudden probability that I may get kicked out.

Recently, the many roommates here have come together and realized the woman who manages this place is a problem.  We believe that she’s skimming rent and now attempting to collect more money for excess power and water use.  None of us have contracts or a lease (we all pay cash, no check accepted), and we’ve never spoken to the person who owns this house.  Stories indicate that she likes to kick people out when they start figuring things out or making waves.

Our biggest fear is that next month her son gets out of jail and will begin living here.  Where he was arrested and used drugs and had parties.

Our current plan of action (subject to better suggestions) is to track down the owner of this house and contact him directly.  We need to find out what the rent really should be, as well as the truth about the power and water bill.

If you know anything about the legalities of this (California) or you can help research, please email me: grayson (period) queen  gmail.  I can provide an address and a few names to look up, including the woman who is managing this place (though she we believe she is illegal).  She’s on the verge of trying to get more money from us, so there is a little rush.

Thank you for your help.

Send ‘em if you got ‘em

We’ll here is a very long update:

A few days ago, Rara was transferred to a different section of the jail.  Frankly, from all accounts, it’s worse.  Rara isn’t doing very well.  For the first time, she called me crying.  She is now in what they call the tank, with 30 other females.  Luckily she knows most of them, so has some seniority with any newbies.  She’s still well liked, but there seems to be one woman who thrives on causing trouble.  It sounds like she’s attempting to create factions and fights, pretty much like you see on TV.

The biggest problem is the guards.  They’re more angry and cruel.  They intimidate and swear at all of the inmates.  As she told me how they treat everyone, I began to see a new perspective on the disposition of prisoners and their psychological health.  Possibly, the entire reason why people become repeat offenders.  Before, when they were in the other section, everyone was cordial and obeyed the rules.  Now, there are fights between inmates and guards.  They have the option to go to educational classes or church, but none of the woman want to go now, because they’re strip searched every time they come back.  They’re forced to eat their meals within five minutes and if any of the inmates get in trouble they all do.  They often lose privileges, like day room (where the phones are located) and mail.  Which is why you should write and send your letters ASAP, or they may not get to her.  On Monday Rara signed the papers to agree to the deal to do 3 years in prison.  At the end of the month the judge will sign off on it.  And from then, at any point she could be transferred to prison.  All research indicated that she will be unable to contact or receive contact for up to 7 weeks.  Afterwards there is a long, arduous process to clear people to visit or send letters.  But even then, if she gets into a work program (that will help cut down her time) she may not be able to receive any contact.

On the bright side, from the sound of it, the prison is much nicer than her current situation.  All of your donation have been very helpful.  Anything currently available, or received from now on, will go to purchasing her things when she gets to prison.  You’d be surprised what they can get.

As for me, some of you already know, but I’ve been keeping it a secret.  About a week ago I was on the verge of being homeless.  I needed to move and find a place within my budget.  On the very last day I managed to find something.  I won’t say it’s a hovel… in fact I feel bad about complaining.  One of my roommates is 20-year-old kid, who seems happy to be here, having come from worse.  Actually, it seems like all 6 of the people here are less fortunate than myself.  It puts it in perspective when you think you’ve hit the bottom.

If you follow me on my blog, you’ll notice I’m writing.  It’s a sort of therapy, or a lay over until I can start thinking deep and big.  I’m also about 14 pages into a new novel.  I write on my 15 minute breaks, when I’m waiting in the laundromat or mooching off free WiFi.  Rara always said I write best when I’m angry.

Good News, Bad News, Some News

Here is another letter:








A bit of good news now:

I was just hired today, on the spot to work at an art gallery.  I start tomorrow.  The people there were very excited to have me, which is nice.  Plus they were very sensitive to providing me time to pursue my own artistic endeavours.

Now some bad news:

The district attorney final came back with a plea offer for Rara.  3 years in state prison.  They say typical people only serve 50% of their term.  18 months.  Minus the 2 she’s already done.  16 months.  There’s a long shot prison program she could cut it down to 12 months.

Or fight it and spend 5-6 years doing so.  And then having to sue for damages if she won.  And it could be a big if.


Oh, and does anyone want to claim responsibility for sending me these?