Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

I want to begin by writing how incredibly grateful I am. I woke up this morning, and I instantly started making a mental list of all the people, places, and things that I am truly thankful for.

The first one was waking up in my nice comfy bed next to Raymond and our eighty-five-pound black lab named Drake. Drake thinks that he has to sleep in between us because Raymond is his master and I'm just the lady that feeds him.

I never wanted the dog, but after Matt was killed Raymond needed him. It has taken some time for me to adjust to having Drake. Now, eight-plus years later, I can't imagine our lives without him.

Raymond opened the blinds after he brought in our morning Zeal and our coffee. I'm grateful to have a husband who brings his wife coffee to bed every morning and has done so for the past twenty-six years. As I sipped my coffee, I can see out our window that this Thanksgiving day is beautiful. I can see the sun shining through the many trees which surround our house. I am in awe of the array of fall colors I'm witnessing from the comfort of my warm bed.

My thoughts are filled with gratitude and love for my girls. Oh, my God, I can't even begin to describe the love and admiration that I have for them. The never-ending jokes and love that they have shared with us have been my saving grace. Our baby girl, TeaRae with her serious but very affectionate self.  Our eldest daughter, Briana with her loving yet blase' attitude. They literally light up my life just thinking about them.

Today we will spend Thanksgiving with TeaRae, her boyfriend Colin, and his family. Again, the gratitude I have for Colin and his family is overflowing. Colin continues to be a huge supporter of The Matt Garcia Foundation, but the most significant gift is that he loves our daughter.

William and Briana will spend today with Will's parents. Briana and Will are soon going to be parents themselves. Little baby boy, Ansel is due to be here in just four short weeks. I am ecstatic about being a grandma.

This is the first year in a long many that my husband will be here with us celebrating Thanksgiving. The gratitude that I give to God for doing for Raymond what he wasn't able to do for himself is eternal. <3

The list goes on and on. The wonderful gift of gratitude is that once you begin to make your list, either mentally or by writing it down, it just continues to grow and grow. I love that!

Ever since Matthew was killed, I have been posting my thoughts and feelings to my blog. I have started most of these blog posts with how the loss of Matt has devasted us, Of course, this is and always will be the truth for our family.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to begin my post with the beauty and love that I see all around me. I want to express the gratitude that I have for each and every person in my life.

 I want our girls to know just how much I love and adore them. I want Raymond to truly feel the appreciation that I have for him and all that he does. I often lack with giving him his props. Raymond is a remarkable man who has literally given someone the shirt off his back and his shoes too. Thank you, honey, for being the type of human being, loving and kind, that I strive to be. I'm thankful for you.
Happy Thanksgiving!




Saturday, November 18, 2017

Our experiences shape our lives

Today is a new day. I "get" to wake up and choose my attitude. I'm genuinely grateful for each and every opportunity that I am given to do this. The fact of the matter is, I can choose to shift my attitude at any moment. How amazing is that?

I read our meditation this morning which talks about how our experiences shape us into the people we are today. As I was reading this, I began to reminisce about my own life experiences.

 The personal experiences when I was young helped develop me into a person who lived in fear most of the time although I tried to mask that fear by using mind and mood altering substances, which would eventually fail me. 

When I finally surrendered in 1990, those same experiences that once haunted me were now giving me the courage and strength I needed to change my life for the better.

I had no idea what the future held for me, but I was sure that with God and my new found friends, I was now on the road to recovery.

Living life on life's terms has not been easy. In 1999 when my cousin Kathy was murdered I thought to myself, "God, where are you? How could you allow this to happen to Kathy?" God, never verbally answered. Instead, HE placed me on an incredible path to healing. 

It took me a long while to stop being full of anger. We had many court dates that we were not made aware of.  The nightmare of Kathy's murder and her murderer not being held responsible was dragged out for eight long years in our justice system. This did not help my thoughts of injustice and anger. 

My beautiful friends hung in there with me. Helping me, praying for me, guiding me to healing. We started working on forgiveness. I say, "Working on" because it is a practice for me every day. I don't just "HAVE FORGIVENESS,” and then I'm done. NO, I have had to work on it, Practice it, Live it, every day.

In January of 2007, Kathy's murderer was finally sentenced to 15 years to life. There would be no hurrahs. Kathy's dad, Uncle Red had since passed away from cancer. Her mom, my beloved Aunt Judi, was sick as well. 

The positive that did come from it was the fact that "I" for a while now, was practicing forgiveness on a daily basis.  I felt better. I was less angry at the time Kathy's killer was sentenced.

 I now understood the meaning of "the end results" of drug/alcohol addiction; Jails, institutions, and death. Kathy was dead, and her killer was going to prison for a long, long time. There would be NO winners here! 

A year later I received the phone call that would bring me to my knees and shatter my world forever. My only son, Matthew had been shot in the head, and he would not recover.

The one thing that I will never forget from that night at John Muir hospital was me saying out loud "oh my God, this is why we have been working on and practicing forgiveness!' For just that one profound moment, it was crystal clear. 

I didn't stay in that moment of clarity for long. I continue to go through all the stages of grief, shock, and horror still today. The guilt of how I wasn't able to really "be there" for our daughter's as they struggled with the devastation of losing their only big brother to murder.

 But, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my higher power (GOD) gave/gives me everything that I will need to walk through this horrendous tragedy while helping others as well. God and Matt have guided Briana and TeaRae too.

Thanksgiving is next week. The holidays bring with them, emptiness as we celebrate and Matt isn't here celebrating with us. I will forever miss my boy. I'm thankful that I can also feel excitement and hope for what is yet to come. 

Our eldest daughter and her husband will have their first child next month. My heart is full of love for this little baby boy whom I feel that I already know and love. I'm grateful for an open heart.

 I'm thankful for giving myself permission to "FEEL" everything! I can be sad and happy at the same time. I can be confused and clear at the same time. I can love fully. The experiences of my life have shaped me into who I am today. 


Thank you, God, for giving me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Thank you, for clearing my mind and healing my heart. Thank you for continuing to guide my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Amen










Wednesday, November 1, 2017

God, clear our minds and heal our hearts

On October 24th my husband was informed that his position had been eliminated. He was laid off after nearly 19 years of serving our community. I know he is in shock. Me not so much. I could feel in my gut that things were not right there for some time now.

I'm incredibly grateful for the teachers that I have had along this life journey thus far. I'm thankful for God and the people that HE placed in my life.
I am by no means a perfect person, none of us are. Although I was taught long ago if I'm talking all this love, faith, hope, and forgiveness, then I darn well better be doing my best to walk it too. That is all that I am going to say about that!

Raymond has a heart of gold and meets people where they are. He is the biggest optimist that I've ever known. He reminds me that everyone has a story. We all need help at times; even those people who have claimed to be friends for years. But for some reason were unable or unwilling to communicate what was about to happen.

We know that people will fail us. I fail people, and you have or will fail people also. My hope and prayers are that in that failure we all learn to communicate better.

  My husband will be just fine. Raymond is and always has been a go-getter. He is such a go-getter that he was ASKED to raise money for his former place of employment, just weeks before he was blindsided. Raymond did just that and raised a significant amount of money. Because raising money and helping those less fortunate is what Raymond does.

I don't want to bash a  place that has helped so many people. We love the help and changed lives that we have watched over these many years. Hell, they even named a building after our son, Matt Garcia. I just hope and pray that the new leaders take a good long hard look at the way they treat people.

 I don't have the answers to the many questions in this life? I don't know why tragedy strikes? I don't understand why so many have to suffer? I don't know why some people are in the wrong place at the wrong time while others are in the right place at the right time? Nor do I understand why innocent young children die?

 The only thing I do know is that we have to find ways and means to make life a little better every day. Some days are much harder than others. We have to keep moving forward in the most positive way we can. While at the same time trying our best not to hurt others in the process.

Sometimes, the most positive thing I can do is to rest my mind and body for a day or two. I pray for a clear mind before I speak or write. I ask God to give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak.

 I don't have the answers for what YOU need to do in YOUR life nor do YOU have the answers for ME in mine.

We just have to trust God. Walk our talk and be the best we can be one day at a time. Oh and do our best not to be assholes.




Friday, October 27, 2017

Life

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars, 
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!” 
~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I resonate the most with this quote. I have cried out to God on many occasions in my lifetime. Many times when I was young, struggling to get out of harmful situations. The numerous times I wanted to stop putting poison in my body but couldn't. I knew God was there. I just thought that I had done so many terrible things that He really didn't want anything to do with me.

All that changed on April 6th, 1990. At twenty-three years old I had come to the end of my rope, and I knew it. There would be no turning back. My mind was confused, and my body was dying. I weighed less than one hundred pounds. I was incapable of taking care of myself let alone the two beautiful babies that God entrusted me with.

I felt darkness and despair consuming me as I walked through the cemetery with my two little children. I had no more manipulation left in me to use. I could no longer blame my life situation on anyone else. It was crystal clear that I WAS MY PROBLEM! My innocent babies were suffering because of ME!

The one thing that I knew for sure was that I desperately wanted a better life for my children. I knew that I wasn't able to give them that with the lifestyle that I was living. I had to do better and be better.

I had a moment of clarity as that small still voice inside myself whispered that its time to get MY SHIT TOGETHER! I had a profound and deep knowing that THIS WAS MY LAST CHANCE! It was ME who was going to have to change EVERYTHING.

I'm so very grateful for the women in my life who helped to pick me up and show me the way. I was blessed with a fantastic mentor and beautiful friend, Laura. She has contributed hugely to guide me physically, mentally and spiritually for over 27 years. She has walked every step of this recovery life with me.

Laura took me under her wing like a mama bird caring for her hurt baby bird. I didn't even know how much I needed that. She reminded me that I had been harmed and what I needed was love. She would love me until I could learn to love myself.

She helped me understand the importance of reaching out to ask and receive the services that were available to a single mother; parenting classes, therapy for myself and my babies to break the cycles that I had become accustomed to.

Laura was there when I married the love of my life, Raymond. She was in the delivery room with Raymond when our little bundle of joy, TeaRae came into this world. Laura was there in intensive care at John Muir when my son, Matthew was shot. She was there as we buried him and has been by my side always.

Life is so short and I never fully realized it. I get it so profoundly now! I want to breathe in every second of life today. I thank God for never leaving me even when I let go. Thank you for blessing me with incredible people all along this journey. I look forward to remaining open to receive even more blessings with each new day.

God, clear my mind and heal my heart. Give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Guide my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Amen




Saturday, October 14, 2017

We are all just one phone call from our knees

I'm shocked and saddened, as we all are, by the destruction and devastation created by the recent fires. Thousands of people displaced because their homes have burned down.The death count continues to rise. Many people are still searching for their loved ones, who are missing, as the fires continue to rage in many areas of our state.

We haven't even been able to wrap our minds and resources around the horrific hurricanes and floods which have killed many and demolished thousands of homes and businesses in several states and countries. Next, the deadly shooting in Las Vegas where many more innocent people lost their lives. Our hearts ache.

We are all just one phone call from our knees. I heard that lyric in a song recently, and it resonated with me to my core. That one phone call, for me, was on the evening of September 1st, 2008 at approximately 8:30 PM. Within seconds our lives were changed forever.

My son, Matt had been shot in the back of his head. He would not recover. Matt was kept breathing on a machine for as long as needed to donate seven of his organs to people who would surely die without them. Matthew gave life to many others as we watched his life fade.

I can’t explain to you, in words, how the murder of my child has affected my life.  I can tell you that I became a different person; our family became different people from that day forward.

Because I would much rather be positive than negative, I will begin there. My heart has opened in a way I never expected. I am filled with compassion and empathy as I had never had before, even though I “thought” I did. Every moment of life means another opportunity to reach out my hand, give a smile, and help someone.

At this moment, many people need help. Many have received the one phone call. Many are suffering the loss of a loved one. Many are without a home due to hurricanes, floods, and fires. We have a purpose today to collectively come together and help those who are in need.

 Today, I’m not allowing the pain, sadness, grief, and devastation to keep me isolated from the world. I'm aware of this extraordinary gift of compassion and empathy. For these, I am eternally grateful.

Having a grateful and open heart does not mean that I deny my grief, sadness, anger, and pain. I feel my feelings today. I talk and write about them often.  What does happen for me is when I allow all of my feelings to come and move through me, I’m also letting the love, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude to move through me too.  

I used to think that the grief would swallow me alive. It felt like it was going to literally kill me. I had to ask for help. I had to realize that I would not survive this horrific life experience unscathed. 

My world would forever look different now. It was also up to me as to how “different” I wanted it to look. I can make my new world hostile, scary, angry, and sad all the time. Or, I can choose to see all those things along with also seeing how beautiful and loving people are when negative things happen.

Every day is new and different. I don’t want to carry all the anger, sadness, grief, and pain into each new day. Trust me; all of those feelings have not left me. They are still here, lurking behind quiet spaces in my mind. They are waiting for the perfect moment, the moments when I’m tired/frustrated, to latch and hold on for dear life.

For me, it’s about balance; something I have never been great at doing. It’s about not denying but allowing my feelings. I have to practice allowing “ALL” of them to come and move through me with ease and non-resistance. 

It’s in my nature to want to push away, shove, eat, and smoke or whatever, the feelings that I don’t want to feel.  I had to realize that if I don’t practice and learn how to allow them here with me, I will have a more difficult time allowing those “Good” feelings to come. That’s the Balance!

I am by no means an expert at grief nor feeling my feelings. I had an urge to write about my experience thus far. I have had nine years to practice using these tools that were shared with me by various professionals, and other grieving people that I have met along this long winding road. Thank you all <3


Dear God, Clear my mind and heal my heart. Guide my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Amen

Thursday, September 21, 2017

As I Lay Here

As I lay here in my warm comfy bed with my window slightly
opened I can hear and feel the air coming through. In this moment I feel safe and content.
I begin to scroll through the feed on my phone and quickly shift my thoughts to the hundreds of thousands suffering loss and devastation. My heart breaks for my dear friends who have lost their children. The pain is unlike anything that I have ever encountered.
It’s easy to become callous and bitter by the world. I have to remain diligent in MY pursuit for peace. It’s not easy. It’s a daily practice. I know for ME, that if I don’t look for the beauty and the good in this life; I will live a life of fear and anger. I refuse to allow MYSELF to live in that state.
After Matt was taken from us, my world was turned completely upside down. I had no sense of anything anymore. I was totally lost and off balance. My heart had been shattered and there would be no putting it back together in the same way it had been before he was killed.
It took a couple of years for me to even begin to come out of the fog that I had slipped into. I look back now and am amazed by all the ways that I distracted myself, to ensure I didn’t FEEL anything about what had actually happened. As I look back now, I’m positive that all the distractions saved me.
I’m forever grateful for the countless family and friends who have been by our side before, during, and still. Thank you for just being with us. I want to just BE for my family and friends, as well.
There are no words to speak that will lessen the pain and grief. It’s a never-ending new “normal” which will never be “NORMAL”. I’m grateful for my life. I’m grateful for my amazing and beautiful family and friends. I’m grateful for recognizing the good people and love that is all around me even in my deepest despair. Thank you.
God, clear my mind and heal my heart. Guide my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Amen
I found this on my Facebook memory page from years ago:
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key and life itself is grace. ~ FREDERICK BUECHNER


Friday, September 1, 2017

September First

I can't even believe today marks nine years since I heard you laugh, watched you pace the floor while you talked on your phone. My heart hurts just as much today as it did then. Can I just erase September first from the calendar? It wouldn't make much difference though, you would still be missing from us.

 Every year, on this day, I think I'm going to be ok. Then my mind is flooded with memories of those last few hours that you were among us, the living.

I remember how I spotted your car at grandma's so I stopped in to see you. You were on the phone, so I said that I would talk with you later. You held up your finger and said, "Hold on, mom, just a minute." I waited for about ten more minutes. You were still talking on your phone about some city council business. I said, "Matt, I've got to go. I will speak to you later. I love you."

Oh my God, How I wish I would have just STAYED until you got off the phone. I can never redo those precious few minutes. These are the incessant thoughts and memories that take over my mind. I am always playing tug of war in my head with the negative thoughts as I try to replace them with the positive memories of the fact that I did stop in to see you. Not ever knowing that it would be the last time I would see you alive.

The trauma of this day haunts our family. I know that we have made it a point to pull out any and all positive, love, and healing that we can muster. I thank God for that.

Our daughters have struggled more than I will probably ever really know. I wish that I could have protected them from the harsh reality of violence, pain, and trauma. We can't. This is what happened. This is going on everywhere and all the time. The violence is out of control.


How can we and anyone else affected by this violence continue to move forward each and every day in such a way that will help us and also be of service to others? With the love and support of family and friends, we have been able to do just that. This has to be the focus for our family.

Yes, we are devastated, angry and sad that Matthew is no longer here with us living his life. Matt was striving and working hard to make a difference in our community. He also witnessed the violence and the trauma it causes families and loved ones forever. He made it a point to step up to the plate and face the scourge of violence in our community. The irony is not lost on him!

So, here we are another year without our Matt. What are we doing to heal? What are we doing to help others?
We have been willing to slow down and really see and hear people. We have opened our hearts and our minds to love and to meet people where they are. Most of the time we are able to find hope and love in our sadness and despair. I'm forever grateful for all the love, support, hope, and comfort we receive on a daily basis. Thank you, all <3
God, clear my mind and heal my heart. Guide my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Thank you, Amen








Monday, July 10, 2017

Just do it!

 This past weekend I felt like I should be writing. My “plan” is to write every single day. Unfortunately, I haven’t done that. I have allowed other things to distract me from writing. You know, like laundry, dishes, painting rocks the normal things in life.

 Today, I have to work. So I thought…this is a perfect time to start writing. NOT! But, you see, this is how my brain operates. I’m not sure why it works this way, but it does. So, here I go:

I began reading my blog last Saturday night, starting with my first entry that I initiated in 2010. I want to take the entries and expand on them to create chapters for my book. The only problem I noticed is that I became increasingly agitated, angry, and emotional before I even read through the first four entries of my blog.

I re-read what I had written about the encounter I had with Nicole Stewart. She was the driver of the get-away car, who was never criminally charged in the murder of our Matt. After I had parked my car, that December evening in 2010. I walked up to Nicole Stewart who was out in front of the Target store near my home. Her then two-year-old son was in the basket of the Target cart, and Nicole with her back to her child was smoking a cigarette as she talked on her phone. Never looking back to check on what her toddler was doing. At one point during our five to seven-minute encounter, I had to tell her to get her kid before he fell out of the basket. She never even noticed that he was trying to get out by hanging over the cart head first.

 I remember saying to her that here I am trying to help her protect her son from harm and she let my son die in the street. How did you do that, Nicole? Her response to my question was that she was scared. She was afraid of what would happen to her kids and her not yet born son. She was nine months pregnant with this little boy when they killed my boy. This little boy’s father is the murderer of my son. 

 As I read on, I felt the hostility building up in my chest as my eyes filled with tears. I remember asking Nicole why she never reached out to our family. Why had she not answered me when I reached out to her a week earlier? Her answer was that she didn’t feel that she was at fault in any of this. I felt my mind exploding all over again!  I found it difficult to finish reading about this experience even though I had already lived it.

 I’m wondering, how am I going to be able to do this if I can’t even re-read this shit without having a melt-down? I’m just going to have to buckle up, put my big girl panties on, and write.

God, clear my mind and heal my heart. Guide my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Amen

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Circle

   
The thirteen of us sat on chairs forming a circle. The circle consisted of two women facilitators, two women victims of crime, and nine men serving life sentences. Our circle was assembled on the stage of a Protestant church on the grounds of a notorious United States penitentiary.
Each of us in the circle is from different cultures, races, and religions. During our circle time, one of the men had to leave for prayer. It is Ramadan in the Muslim faith. He returned to the circle when he finished his prayer.
The facilitator started our circle with a grounding exercise. As we sat in our chairs, we closed our eyes and placed both of our feet firmly on the floor. We took deep, healing breaths and when we slowly exhaled, we visualized releasing the tension our bodies were holding. It was a perfect way to begin the dialogue.
One by one, each person stated their name, and if in prison, how long they have been there and finally, with one word, what our intention was for this dialogue. My intention was, is, and will remain, "HOPEFUL".
The beautiful woman to my right shared with all of us the violence that had been perpetrated upon her. She endured three home invasion robberies, and her dear friend was murdered. She also talked about being an Iraqi woman. The violence gripping her motherland is devastating. She shared how she lives, day by day, with the shadow that is placed over her here in America, just because she is an Iraqi woman.
One man in particular related to this woman’s experience. His homeland is Vietnam. His family was persecuted, so he fled to America. Today, he is doing a life sentence for his own crimes against humanity.
It was now my turn to tell the horrific details of what took place on the night of September 1, 2008. It was my turn to share with these men just how difficult our lives have been since our Matt was murdered. I showed the men a picture of Matt and passed around the pamphlet from our foundation. The Matt Garcia Foundation was started soon after Matt’s murder. The pamphlet has a picture of Matt on it.
I was having a hard time getting all of the words out. My emotions and deep grief were taking over my mind. I struggled to pull myself together enough to share with them that Matt was not from an affluent family. He was not a straight A student. He was a regular kid who had a huge heart for people, especially people who needed a little extra help. This is what made Matt unique. He wanted to help make a difference in our community. He wanted kids to have places to go and things to do that would help them stay off the streets.
 I shared about how Matt was very familiar with life choices. His own biological father was always in and out of jail and prison. Matt and his little sister had been to prison several times with their grandma, to visit their dad. I had even taken them there when they were babies to visit their uncle.
The men were very kind and compassionate following my share about my boy and the devastation his death has brought upon our family and loved ones. In reality, most in our community have been affected, in one way or another, by the unfathomable violence perpetrated against Matt.  
The man to my left was next to share with us his experience with life and what had led him to where he is right now. Mike is a middle-aged African-American man with piercing blue eyes. I was struck by his surprisingly serene demeanor. He was in a gang as a young man. He killed a rival gang member and was caught. The rival gang was unable to get to him because he was in jail awaiting trial. They decided to retaliate by murdering Mike’s mother and brother.
My heart dropped and my eyes filled with tears as Mike spoke, and I wondered to myself, "How does one ever reconcile the gravity of these horrific events?"  Mike took responsibility for his family members’ murders. The decisions he had made in his life up to that moment rendered him responsible for the tragic and senseless deaths of his own mother and brother.
Bryan spoke next. He has served thirteen years of his life sentence for murder. Bryan is a young Asian man in his early 30's. He had cried when I shared my story about Matt. Our eyes locked as he began to weep again. Bryan shared about his realization of what he has done to his victim, as well as his victim’s mother, family, and loved ones.
Bryan and several of his friends decided to basically beat up the ex-boyfriend of a girl that Bryan liked. The girl had told Bryan that her ex-boyfriend had done and said some mean things to her. From there, they hatched out a plan to have the ex-boyfriend meet her at a park that night. When the ex-boyfriend pulled up and got out of his car, the other guys (who had been hiding) came out and began to beat him up. At this point, one of the gangs of guys pulled out a gun and shot the ex-boyfriend. He died.
Bryan has had a lot of time to think about his crime. He told us that he realized at the time of his crime that he cared more about what the girl thought of him than of what he thought of himself. He realized that he was jealous of her ex-boyfriend. He hated the fact that the girl had chosen the other guy (the now dead ex-boyfriend) over him. Bryan now has a lifetime behind bars.
Jacob was up next. He is a young African-American Muslim man, probably around the same age as Bryan (very early 30’s). He also has served thirteen years of his life sentence for murder. Jacob shared the details of his crime. He had gone to a friend’s apartment. His friend was a young woman with a young child. Jacob had already been involved in a life of crime and violence, so when his friend suggested that they rob a guy she knew who has money, Jacob agreed. The young woman called the man over to her apartment. Once he arrived, Jacob came out from behind the door and hit the man in the head with a bat, knocking him out. Jacob and the woman then proceeded to tie the man up with telephone cords. They went through all of his pockets and stole his money and car keys. Jacob went outside to find the man’s car and ransacked it, taking anything of value. He then backed the man’s vehicle up to the apartment door, carried the unconscious man and placed him in the backseat of his own vehicle. Jacob buckled the young woman’s child into the front passenger seat of the car. The woman sat in the back with the unconscious man. As Jacob started to drive, the man came to and began to desperately struggle to escape from the phone cords. The young woman fought him while yelling at him to stop. Jacob pulled over and helped subdue the man while the young woman pulled on a cord she had placed around his neck. She pulled harder and harder until the man finally stopped breathing. Once they knew he was dead Jacob found a secluded area where no one would see him dump the man’s body out of his own vehicle, as if he were a pile of trash.
The disregard for human life was astounding and horrifying. I could feel my body tensing up as I listened to this real-life account, which sounded more like a nightmare or a horror film. My heart felt as though it had a cord around it which was being pulled tighter.
Jacob went on to tell how he and that young woman were convicted and given life sentences for murdering that innocent man. He talked about the lifelong pain and suffering he has caused the man’s family and loved ones. He also shared, with deep regret, how that little boy would live his life being raised by family members and the system. The boy’s father was nowhere to be found and his mother will be in prison for life. Jacob understands that he alone is responsible for the ripple effect of negative life consequences he has caused that little boy who is now a teenager. Will this young boy choose the same path of violence that has been shown to him?
Jacob also talked about his nephew whose own father is serving many years in prison. He is being raised without a positive male role model in his life, much like Jacob. Will his nephew turn to gangs to feel acceptance, just as he did? Jacob now mentors him in collect phone calls and shares with him that he can break the cycle of violence and incarceration. He has choices because he is free to make positive life decisions as opposed to the negative ones that many of his family members have made.
Listening to these men and their horrific real-life stories made my mind and body shudder. At the same time, I could also feel and hear their deep regret for all of the harm they have caused so many, FOREVER. The fact that these men were sharing with anyone (especially victims of crime), the atrocities they had perpetrated, moved me in a way I am unable to articulate at this time (and maybe never). The experience of sitting in the circle and being vulnerable was life changing for me.
Each of the men in the circle expressed their respect and admiration for the men who shared their stories of crime and violence. They admired their courage to really look at themselves and become willing to change their thinking and actions. This was also very moving to witness.
Lastly, I want to share about Dan. He is a huge Caucasian man; his appearance is intimidating. Dan is serving a twenty-five to life sentence with five consecutive life sentences. Needless to say, Dan will never get out of prison.
Dan shared with us his life of crime. When he was just eleven years old, he attempted to kill his stepfather as he slept on the couch. His stepfather did not die from his wound, and he was able to chase Dan and drag him back to the house where he beat him until he was nearly dead.  His stepfather was a sadist who tortured Dan and his siblings for years. Child Protective Services had come out to check on the kids often. Dan said they would have the children pull up their shirts to check for bruising and open the refrigerator to make sure there was food. They never removed the children from the stepfather and Dan’s young mother, who had had him when she was fifteen years old and married the stepfather when she was twenty. Following the attempted murder, Dan was sent to live with his young aunt. He thought he was in paradise in his aunt’s one-bedroom apartment living with five other people. He told us that by the time he was twelve years old, he was a full-blown drug addict. Robbing places to feed his addiction was the normal life for Dan. At fifteen years of age, Dan’s mom paid for his first apartment where he would live on his own. His aunt and her family had grown fearful of Dan and his violent behavior.
Dan would be in and out of jail over the next several years. In his 20’s, he and a couple of his friends went to another friend's home to visit and apologize to them for missing their friend's son’s birthday party the weekend before. The party had been quite an event. They had secured permits that allowed his friend to block off the cul-de-sac where they lived, and to bring in jump houses and a food truck. His friend had invited all the neighbors to join. One of the neighbors, a middle-aged man, was not happy about the party and did not attend. In fact, he actually called the police several times regarding the noise. Dan’s friend shared this with Dan and his other two friends. Dan decided that this neighbor needed to pay for his actions. Dan and his friends went to the man’s house, tied him up, ransacked his home and loaded up their vehicle with the man’s belongings. Dan noticed a steel walk-in safe and demanded that the man opens it. The man tried to stall, saying he couldn’t remember the combination because it had been years since he opened it. Dan proceeded to cut off the man’s fingers with pruning shears, one finger at a time until after the third finger, the man finally opened the safe. It was filled with firearms.
Dan and his friends took them all. They left the man in his home, tied up and bleeding. They sold most of the firearms they had stolen. Eventually, the man was able to identify Dan and his friends and they were arrested but not before they committed more acts of violence against innocent people.
They made reservations to board a bus chartered to go to a casino. Dan and his co-defendants knew that it cost more to use the ATM at the casino, so people going there mostly carried their cash on them. They boarded the bus and went directly to the back. They waited until the bus was at a location that was the furthest away in each direction from rest stops and gas stations and mostly deserted for miles.
That is when Dan got up and moved to the front of the bus. His pulled out his revolver and put it to the driver's head, ordering the driver to pull over. He let the busload of people know that they were being robbed and that if any of them tried anything, he would begin with killing the driver and move on the bus killing everyone. His friends began tying people up and taking their purses and wallets. They had a getaway driver and car pull up and take Dan and his friends away, but not before telling the bus driver to wait fifteen minutes before he drove away. He said he would be watching and if the driver left before the fifteen minutes he would be sure to kill him. The driver obeyed. 
I was unable to even begin to imagine how terrified the bus driver and the others on the bus must have felt. I was surprised that Dan didn’t kill anyone that day. I was equally shocked that he allowed the man, (his friend’s neighbor) to live. Dan and his co-defendants will never live outside of prison walls. They will never again be allowed to torment innocent people. For this fact, I am grateful, but I wanted to know what made it so easy for Dan to inflict these horrific acts upon innocent people.
 Dan didn’t feel that the friend’s neighbor was an innocent man. He decided, in his own tormented mind, that the man had inflicted suffering on his friend and his son during what was supposed to be a joyous birthday celebration. It is only now that Dan is able to realize the heinousness of what he and his co-defendants did to that man. He told us that during the trial, the man cried and talked about how he doesn’t know how he will ever be able to sleep again.
At that time, Dan was unable to even comprehend neither what the man was saying nor the extreme violation that the man felt.  Dan said to himself, “You put a gun under your pillow and you go to sleep; what’s the big fucking deal? Get over it.” 
Dan has been in this victim-offender dialogue group for two and a half years; only recently has he begun to feel remorse. I cried when he shared about his childhood. He said he felt embarrassed that I cried and that he didn’t feel that he deserved my empathy.
Actually, most of the men there said that they didn’t believe they deserved us even being there, talking and sharing with them.
For me, hearing them say this was heartbreaking. I can’t explain the compassion I have in my heart for these men. Knowing that each of them perpetrated horrible crimes and unspeakable violence on fellow human beings should be enough for me to write them off forever, but I can’t!
I can’t stop thinking about how I see each of them now...these men whose hearts have been broken opened. Seeing their anguish and feeling the shame pouring out of each of them, made me feel HOPEFUL that humanity is still alive, HOPEFUL that our society isn’t just SHIT.

Neither they nor I can change what has already happened. The only thing we are able to change is ourselves and how we live now. We each only have this moment. We have to live with the consequences of the decisions we make in our lives. Some of the consequences will be a lifelong sentence in a prison cell.
 Some may receive a second chance to live a different life and to make better decisions than the previous ones made. Some will die and never have the opportunity to live differently. 
The only thing I know for sure is that I will forever be changed for the better, by the experiences of THE CIRCLE.  

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

BOTTLEROCK NAPA 2017

I spent last weekend in Napa at BottleRock with my best friend, Laura. My daughter, Briana gave us the tickets to the music festival because she couldn’t attend. We had a fabulous weekend!

We loved all the bands we saw and listened to. The food there was scrumptious. I would have to say my favorite part of the weekend, besides hanging out with Laura, was the people we met.

When we arrived Friday evening, we went to the Jam Cellar Stage to hear Macklemore. He was AMAZING! We were jumping and dancing around along with everyone else. The vibe was contagious.

We had some time before Maroon 5 would come on stage. We decided to grab some food and sit down to eat. The festival eating area was filled with picnic tables and umbrellas and of course, numerous food vendors to choose from.

We ordered our grub and found a spot to eat. You have to share your table with strangers; it’s a great way to make new friends, and we did!

A young man and two young women asked if they could sit with us. It was easy to notice they were a little tipsy. The young man’s name was Cody. He was cute and liked to talk.

 Cody wanted to know if we had ever watched the movie, Back to the Future. When we replied, yes, we had watched the movie. He wanted to know what our favorite part of the movie was. I just laughed. He, his new wife, and their friend were so adorable and fun.

He started to tell us about his job as an attorney. He is also an investigator. He showed us a picture with him and Kirk Douglas so I showed him a picture of me with Oprah. He wasn’t impressed. LOL! He knew Oprah since he was small.

He noticed the picture of Matt on the t-shirt I was wearing in the picture with Oprah. I told him he was my son. He was murdered in 2008. Cody remembered the case. He began to weep. My heart broke open even more. I think it was because Cody was so kind and loving with his words to me.

We sat with Cody, his wife, and their friend for about 45 minutes, talking, laughing and even crying. He promised me that if I sent him a message and reminded him that we met at BottleRock on Friday evening he would remember us, even though he was a little drunk, he would remember. LOL! I am going to send him an email today.

On Saturday, Laura and I hung out in the Sutter Wellness Center for a couple of hours. The place had several booths inside offering makeovers, B12 injections, oxygen, face painting, massages. You name it; they had it.

The best part about this wellness center was the air conditioning and the comfy couches. We found our spot! Our legs were so tired from walking and standing for hours that this place was exactly what we needed. 

It seemed that EVERYONE had our same idea. The place was packed.
 It took a while but we were able to grab two spots on different couches. Laura was seated next to two younger men.

I was on the next couch with this older guy that asked if my iced coffee had alcohol in it. Uh…NO, it doesn’t! Thank you very much. That encounter was hella awkward because he was touching my back while he asked me about my drink. Eww! I moved to the very edge of the couch right before his girlfriend/wife came over to get him. Thank you, GOD.

Anyway, back to Laura and her new friends. She started talking with the young man next to her. Before I knew it they were laughing and he was showing her pictures of his nephew who was just born the day before. It was so beautiful to watch the conversation between these two strangers. Then we all left to the stage for Tom Petty.

I took a picture of them and posted it on Facebook. Later that night at home, Laura’s nephew Daniel had written a comment under the picture I had posted. He informed his Aunt Laura that she was sitting with his two friends. Wow, what a small world.

Day # 3 We arrived at BottleRock around noon on Sunday. I really wanted to see and hear Judah and the Lion. They would be playing at 2:00 PM. We decided to grab food and eat before the show. 

Again, we found a picnic bench occupied by a couple of people our age. We sat and talked with them.
They were a longtime married couple, there with their grown daughter to see the Foo Fighters later that night. He was retired military. We talked about the different military bases.  I shared that I was born at Travis Air Force Base. His wife was born on the base in Alameda. We laughed about the weed that was being smoked around us the entire weekend. It was another beautiful conversation had by strangers who quickly became friends.






My life is full of love. I thank God every day for giving me the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the words to speak. Thank you God, for guiding my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Amen

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Connections



I decided to write about the what transpired last Friday night while going through pictures.

Our youngest daughter is turning 24 in a couple of weeks.  I decided to create a picture collage of her growing up as a gift to her.
As I began to look through the photo boxes, the memories started flooding my mind, many great memories, along with some not so great ones.

A picture of the kids in Yosemite took me back to the year 1999. It had been an extremely difficult year for us. Our Cousin Kathy was brutally murdered in April of that year. I was not handling her death well at all. I was sad and angry. I was distant from those closest to me; my family.

We decided for our 8 year anniversary that June, we would take the kids with us to Yosemite for a couple of days. We agreed that each one of our kids could invite a cousin. I thought they could entertain each other. We had 6 kids with us for our 8th  wedding anniversary! What the hell were we thinking?

 I think I had been so freaked out by Kathy’s murder that I wanted my kids close to me.  The kids seemed to have a good time, for the most part. I, on the other hand, was aloof and depressed. I spent a lot of our time in Yosemite, alone. I didn’t want to continue yelling at the kids so I thought it best to allow Raymond to take them fishing and hiking while I stayed inside the rented house and read.

About a month later, after our Yosemite trip, we were all at home watching tv. A news alert came on the screen. They were reporting that a woman who had been missing in Yosemite was found dead. Her decapitated body had been found in a nearby stream. It was Joie Armstrong. The news showed a picture of who Joie Armstrong was.  

Matt Suddenly started screaming saying; she was his science camp counselor from last year at Marin Headlands. Matt was devastated.This was another horrific murder that had touched our family that year. 

Not only had the murderer killed and decapitated Joie Armstrong. This crazed lunatic, Cary Stayner, was also responsible for 3 other horrific killings earlier that year in Yosemite; A mother Carol Sund her daughter Juli, and a teenaged family friend, Silvina Pelosso. 

The only thing my mind could do was keep asking itself, what the hell is happening. I will never forget how shocked and sad Matt was.

 We learned later that Cary Stayner was sentenced to death. Still, today he sits on death row at San Quentin.

The prosecutor in the Cary Stayner case, George Williamson, would be another connection to us.  We would come to know George Williamson in the year 2010. He would be the prosecutor in the trials for two men responsible for our Matt’s murder.

Matt was shot in the head while visiting a friend in a quiet neighborhood in Cordelia. It has been called a case of mistaken identity.


 My mind is still blown by all these connections.  Do these connections seem strange to others? Am I over thinking all of this? God, clear my mind and heal my heart. Guide my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Amen


Sunday, May 14, 2017

I just want to know...WHY-GOD?



 My mom has been gone for over 5 years now.  I had already planned to go and place new flowers at her resting place. I promised my sister that I would send her pictures of the flowers because she had to work today and couldn’t make it.

 I know going there to the cemetery means that I will also visit my son at his resting place.  I hate the fact that for the last 8 years, 8 months, and 12 days I haven’t seen my son alive. I haven’t heard him laugh. I haven’t yelled at him for the hair gel he has left on my good towels in the bathroom and also on the door handles in nearly every room of the house.  I hate the fact that I go to a cemetery on Mother’s Day to place flowers in vases on a wall where my son is encased.

GOD, I HATE THIS! Why? Why? Why? Why is this OUR reality? Why GOD? I have so many questions for You - GOD!

Today, when I arrived at Matt’s place in the wall, another woman was sitting on the bench crying. This woman was obviously overcome with grief. I wanted to reach out to her but decided to let her be.

I placed my bag of flowers down, along with my pillow in front of Matt’s spot. You see, he is on the bottom of the wall so I have to sit on the pillow to arrange his flowers and replace pictures.

 I said hello to the crying woman. She said hello and then she asked me if I was Matt’s mom. I said, “Yes, I am.” I then asked her if I could give her a hug. She said, “Yes”. We hugged long. We cried a deep Mother’s Day cry. She was also there visiting her son in the wall.

Phillip was her only child. He was killed in an accident in 2005. He had a three year old son that was left behind. She told me she felt that her grandson was a gift from God. I understood why she felt that way. At least she still had a part of her son here. But, I still want to know WHY-GOD? 

We don’t get to know why. It is what it is. Until me and God have a two way conversation I have decided to believe that something good will come out of all of this devastation and heartbreak. I mean, I know a lot of good has come since Matt was killed. I just think that much more good would have come with him still here!  Again I want to know WHY-GOD?

Meeting the woman crying at the wall today was good. We got to talk about our boys. We shared our lives with each other. The vulnerability that comes when you have suffered such a great loss is a blessing. We don’t have anything to hide because our hearts have been broken open. I do see this as good! BUT, I still want to know WHY- GOD?

 I’m incredibly grateful to have two amazing, beautiful, strong and smart grown daughters. This life has been extremely difficult for them both. The loss of a sibling isn’t talked about much. The loss of a sibling to murder is hardly mentioned at all. They have found ways to move forward. I am very proud of these amazing women that I am honored to call my daughters.

Being able to hear their voices every day is my saving grace. I love them both so much. I thank God for them every day. I love my girls. I just miss their brother and will always want to know…WHY-GOD?

I have learned a lot in this lifetime and I have so much more to learn. I’m grateful for the love and friendships that I have. I want to be able to cherish and be grateful for each moment. I am for the most part. But, I still want to know…WHY- GOD? 

So, I will continue to pray every day for God to Clear my mind and heal my heart. Guide my thoughts, feelings and perceptions. Give me the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the words to speak. Amen