Monday, October 11, 2010


Sometimes I look at my family and realize it's not a really rosy situation. At all. Sometimes, if I say all the things wrong in my immediate family at once, I realize it sounds pretty awful. Most times I don't say anything about it, except in blogger land.

The reasons are many. Firstly, I don't want anyone's pity. Also, it's hard to talk about it without getting emotional. Another reason is that I realize most people don't know what to say or how to react when I tell them what is going on. The almost last reason is that I pride myself on being strong, independent, happy no matter what and able to handle it alone. The final reason is that I'm a little embarrassed.

Once people know about the details of my family life--well, then, I feel like it's almost impossible for them not to make judgements, assessments, and opinions of the situation. It's also hard for them not to share opinions. These don't have to be bad things, but they usually aren't good things, either.

That disclaimer being disclaimed--I went to see my brother in prison for the first time last Saturday. It was hard. I've avoided it for a long time, mostly because I've been living in another country.

He's been in prison since April. He has the same name as my father, stole my father's identity, cleared my parents out of their meager savings account so he could buy drugs. He ended up high, hungry, alone, and I believe shoeless--arrested while living in a park just down the street from my older sister's million dollar home.

Sounds like a Lifetime made for TV movie. Which I hate.

In prison, rightly so, my brother is clean and sober. That means he is himself. That means he is quiet, scared, lonely, sweet natured, and full of remorse. When he is high--he is loud, fearless, ugly, scary, and hurts every one in his path.

The problem is that my brother shares the depression problem of my mother. It's severe. Instead of trying medication, he turned to drugs around the age of 16. He's never really stopped. He is now about to turn 28. It's been a long road for all involved. He has two illegitimate children. He has no career. He's unhappy. He doesn't have a lot of hope. He cries a lot now.

I walked into the prison with my mom feeling pretty sorry for myself and my family. Why us? Why do you always have to deal with these things?

Inside I was able to talk to my brother for about 15 minutes via a computer monitor and a telephone receiver. The visits can only last 30 minutes. While my mom was talking to my brother for her 15 minutes, I looked more closely at this old man who had entered the same time we did. He was about 80, bent over, and had three small children with him. The children were 6, 3, and 2 months. The six year old was trying to calm the 2 month old. She was swinging him around and, in all honesty, not doing much to help the baby's discomfort. I went over and asked if I could hold him. The old man looked gratefully at me as I saw him talking to a young woman on the monitor. I held the little baby and noticed that his head was misshapen, his eyes at different levels on his face, and that he was most likely suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome. I made eye contact and smiled and cooed at him. He immediately perked up, smiled, grabbed at my hair, and was happy.

I looked around. There were people just like me in that prison visiting room. There were sweet parents talking to sons, there were mothers with babies talking to fathers. We could have been at church instead of prison by the looks at everyone.

I talked to the two little girls and found out that this man was their great grandpa. Their mom was in prison, and so was their aunt. The baby was their nephew. Their great grandpa took care of them all by himself and each week they came in to see their mothers.

That broke my heart.

I watched this great grandpa labor to stand up. He tried to take the baby so he could kneel down and put him in his carseat. I did it for him and then asked if I could carry the carseat to his car for him. He gladly accepted. He thanked me. He got in his car and drove away. I went to my car and just sat there for twenty minutes before I could drive away.


Lori said...

I read this and all I want to do is sob. My heart breaks for these kind of stories not only because it is just so damn sad but because it hits so close to home.

Here I am raising my grandchildren who are 4 & 5 and my husband is 46 and I, 48 and we complain about being too old for this chore of parenting all over again. And then I read & hear stories like this and others of people being in their 70's and 80's doing exactly what we are doing.

I so understand what you are saying about not telling people about your family because of all these reasons. I so get it. I don't tell people everything either...not even on my blog because not only fear of judgement but it is embarrassing.

I am sorry that you are unable to share your whole story because I think it's stories like yours that need to be heard. I hope you know that I am always here to listen and I can garentee you that there will be no judgement or me thinking anything. How could I? :)

I am thankful that you got a chance to visit your brother. I am thankful that you were able to touch this elderly man and these children in this way. There is a reason you were there at that exact time as them. I will pray for him and these children.

Bless your sweet beautiful heart. XX

Holly said...

This broke my heart, Stella.

I don't know what else to say except that I admire your strength and your generous heart, and feel very lucky to know you.

Krisanne said...

What a tender experience. Thank you for sharing. (Can I blame you for crying all over my keyboard?)

melanie said...

I'm so sad that you are going through this. I just started studying the history of crime and incarceration. It is one thing to know that 2 million adults are incarcerated in this country (1 in 99 adults!) but it is another thing entirely to read about how the justice system effects families. I am heartbroken for your family, and am sending lots of healing vibes your way.

Jenny said...

Powerful, emotional post. Thanks for being open. This was a good wake-up call to put life into perspective.

Rowena said...

I don't know, if my story will make you feel better or not, but when my brother was 19, he also went to jail. He was on drugs and had a psychotic break. He grabbed the teenage neighbor and ... well that's it. Her grandmother smacked him in the head and he sat on the couch to wait for the cops. But they put him in jail for a few years, put him on the sex offenders registry, etc. I visited him in jail and yes it was rough.

But now it's 15 or so years later. He recently got his 10 year token at AA. He's married to a wonderful woman he met in AA. He has a career in cabinetry that he likes. He and his wife have a house and she is pregnant with their first baby. A girl.

Without jail, I don't know if he would have stopped taking drugs. I don't know if he would have confronted his demons. He needed to hit rock bottom. But it was not the end.

Michelle said...

I love and admire your honesty, friend. Thank you for sharing these stories, I think we all benefit from them.

Stella said...

Thank you guys. You are very kind and sweet to me when I rant and rave. Life is life. I don't know who gave it the adjectives of messy or clean--it just is.

Aerin said...

Beautiful post. So many people have families that are not typical. Not sure what else to say but I hear you.