Infidel

July 11th, 2019

The Islamic Resource Center (IRC) in Greenfield, Wisconsin, is an unassuming sort of place. It shares a building with a medical office. The IRC has a couple conference rooms, a library, and a large meeting area. The facility has beautiful artwork, and it also has the largest collection of Islamic literature in the state. During the day the place is often empty, or nearly so. Perhaps the IRC has more traffic in the evening. I don’t know.

I have been to the IRC a number of the times over the years. Sometimes, I have gone there for an Arabic class. Once, I was there to talk about a book that I wrote. I know the place well. I am comfortable there.

I went there yesterday to read stories to small children. The IRC offers a story hour for them. I volunteered to read to the little kids. At first, I thought that no one would show up. The session was supposed to start at 1:00, but nobody had arrived by 1:15.

There was a knock on the back door. Two young girls and their mother stood there, waiting for somebody to open it. That I did. The mother was dressed in black. She had on a long, flowing robe with a hijab. Her daughters were dressed in pink. One of the girls was in third grade. I don’t know the age of the other one. They had often come to the IRC to read books. The mom told me that she was going to wait in the minivan in the parking lot while I read with the girls. The mother had a two-year-old son on the car, and he was taking a much-needed nap. The mother put her two daughters into my care, and then she went back to her son in her van.

I had picked out three books to read with the kids. One was “Ruler of the Courtyard”.  It was about a little girl and her chickens. Another was “The Butter Man”, a story about Berbers in Morocco. The third book was called “A Single Pebble”, and it was a story about the Silk Road and 9th Century China.

The three of us spent a long time reading “A Single Pebble”.

Aja and Sophia both read very well. I seldom read to them. Mostly, they read to me. We ran into problems with “A Single Pebble”. This was not due to any lack of reading comprehension on their part. It was more of a lack of cultural comprehension.

The story of “A Single Pebble” traces the path of a small, smooth piece of jade from China to medieval Italy. The pebble trades hands repeatedly while on the Silk Road. It is exchanged at Kashgar, Samarkand, Baghdad, and Antioch. Every person who carries the stone knows that is going to a child in the West from a girl who lives where the sun rises.

I tried to explain some things as we read the story. At one point early in the book, the father of the Chinese girl gives the jade stone to a Buddhist monk. I asked the two girls,

“Do you know what a ‘monk’ is?”

They shook their heads.

I told them, “A monk is a person whose job is to pray.”

That confused them.

Aja asked me, “Who do they pray to?”

I answered, “They pray to God.”

Aja then abruptly asked me, “Are they believers or non-believers?”

I had to think for a minute. It was a loaded question.

I said, “Some monks are believers, but some are not. When I travel with my wife, we usually stay overnight with the monks, and we pray with them.”

Aja looked at me intently, and then she asked anxiously,

“What do they say when they find out that you are Muslim?”

We were both silent for a little while.

I told Aja, “I am not Muslim. I am a Christian. Is that okay?”

Her eyes got wide for a moment. Then she said,

“Sure, that’s okay.”

We read some more.

In another chapter, people were described as “pilgrims”. I asked the girls if they knew what pilgrims were. They didn’t know.

I told them, “A pilgrim is a person who travels far to visit a holy place.”

They didn’t quite get it.

“Okay, Muslims go to Mecca. That is a holy place for them. The Muslims who go to Mecca are pilgrims.”

Aja nodded. Then she asked me, “What is your holy place?”

That was a deep and penetrating question. I had to think really hard about that. Finally I said,

“I was to Jerusalem once.”

She asked me, “Why is that holy?”

I told her, “Jerusalem is holy to Christians because of Jesus. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the place where we think Jesus was buried. The city is also holy to Muslims. I was at the Dome of the Rock.”

Aja nodded and said, “and the Masjid Al Aqsa is there too.”

“Yes, it is.”

Then I told her and her sister, “Jerusalem is holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims.”

The girls smiled, and Aja said,

“That’s nice.”

I replied, “It is nice…unless we all fight.”

Aja asked me, “Are you from فلسطين (Palestine)?”

“No, I was born here.”

She said to me, “I was born here too, but my parents are from other places.”

Everybody’s parents are from another place. That is universal.

We read the rest of the story. The piece of jade found its way to a little boy in Venice. Also, a small piece of broken colored glass found its way from a church in Italy to a little girl in China. It all came full circle.

When we finished reading, I took the girls out to their car. Their mom was waiting for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shouting into the Whirlwind

July 9th, 2019

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:

“Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”

Job 38: 1-3

The prison at Taycheedah has no air conditioning. I suppose that there are a couple offices scattered through the complex that have air, but the facilities that are occupied by the offenders have none. Why is that?

I initially asked myself that question, and then I realized that this was Taycheedah, a facility run by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. In a prison, much like in the Army, the question “why” is meaningless. “Why” isn’t relevant to anything. Things just are.

The prophet Job would understand that.

Does this mean that all the prisoners in Taycheedah languish in the heat and humidity of summer? Well, yeah, sorta. Many inmates have fans, but they basically just push the hot air around and make a terrible racket. Perhaps the noise itself is comforting in a way. I don’t know.

There are also fans in the visitor center at Taycheedah. These are major league, serious business, industrial sized fans. There are at least four of them in the room, all of them together creating the sound level of a Category 4 hurricane. The noise makes it nearly impossible for a visitor to have a normal conversation with a prisoner. Karin and I found that out when we went to Taycheedah yesterday to see the girl that we love.

We stayed with the young woman for almost three hours. During that time, the coherence of our discussions was intermittent. Speaking for myself, I failed to understand the young woman repeatedly, even though she often had to shout to make herself understood. Keep in mind that Karin and I were only sitting across a coffee table from this young lady. Perhaps there was some continuity in our extended conversation, but I missed a lot of it. I heard and remember only snippets of the talk, and those are what I will attempt to describe.

When visiting our girl, the first order of business is food. After we hugged briefly, I asked her,

“Ice cream?”

She smiled and replied, “Yes.”

Since we visited after a holiday weekend, the vending machines in the visitors center were almost naked. There were no more Dove bars, and the number of Klondike bars was very limited. I bought the girl an ice cream sandwich with my bag of quarters (note: a visitor can only enter the visiting room with a bag of change and a locker key). I walked back to her and handed her the ice cream. I asked her,

“You want a soda?”

“Yeah.”

“What kind?”

“I don’t know. Some kind of Mountain Dew. What do they have?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Do you want me to check out the vending machine and give you the selection?”

“Yes, please.” And she gave me a happy smile as she unwrapped her ice cream bar.

I came back to her and said, “Okay. They have Mountain Dew “Ice”, some kind of orange Mountain Dew, and a blue Mountain Dew.”

“Get me the blue.”

I did.

Karin talked to the girl, as she tried out her soft drink.

I asked her, “So, how is it?”

The young woman thought for a moment and said, “Do you know what those red, white, and blue ice cream bars taste like?”

“Well, kinda…”

She smiled and said, “This tastes like the ‘blue’ part of the Popsicle. It’s kind of berry-flavored.”

Translation: It tastes sweet and artificial. Nice.

As the visit progressed, we discussed many things, some of which can I remember.

At one point, the girl described the process necessary for her to come visit with us. She said,

“There’s a strip down search when you leave the dorm and one when you leave here.”

Karin didn’t quite understand, so the young woman explained it in detail.

“You take off all of your clothes, bend over, and spread your cheeks. Get it?”

Karin gave her a nervous smile, and said, “I wouldn’t want to do that.”

The young woman rolled her eyes, then she gave Karin a hard stare, and said, “If you don’t like it, don’t go to prison.”

Sage advice.

Later the girl asked me, “Can you get me some #2 pencils and an eraser? I am not allowed to have art supplies yet, but I can draw with the pencils.”

She went on, “I have pens through the commissary, but they are junk. They only write for a little while. Maybe just one letter.”

I asked her, “Didn’t I send you some pens through that vendor?”

She nodded and said, “Yeah, they work, but they make my handwriting look sloppy. Too much ink at once. The pens from the commissary have ink in them, but they just stop writing.”

I replied, “I’ll order the pencils and the eraser.”

(Note: I went to the vendor’s website and ordered the young woman ten pencils. I ordered so many because I could not order an eraser. Why? See the paragraph I wrote earlier in this essay about “why”).

We talked about the young woman’s radio. She had requested that I buy her a radio (with headphones). I dutifully did so. She received a radio encased in clear plastic. You can figure out why it came like that. Somebody could have smuggled something in an ordinary radio. Raving paranoia.

I asked her, “What do you listen to?”

The girl replied, “Mostly country music. Those are the strongest signals through these concrete walls. I can get an oldies station, like oldies from the 80’s. If I put the radio against the wall near my feet, I can just barely get a rock station.”

She went on, “When I was in the Kenosha jail, I heard a black woman listening to country music. I asked her about it. She said, ‘I was in Taycheedah. That was all they had there!’ So, this lady knew all sorts of country songs.”

When it got to be around 5:30, I wanted to go home. I was tired. Karin and I hugged the girl, and we went to the guard desk. Karin was laughing when I got there.

Karin said, “The guard says we can’t go!”

The guard, a black woman with the coldest eyes on earth, said to us,

“I’m wasn’t kidding. Nobody leaves during the head count.”

I asked her, “So, what do we do?”

She nodded. “Go back to that table and sit down.”

Okay, I’m not a prisoner, but I’m still going to play this game?

I guess so.

We sat with the girl for another half an hour, while they counted everybody and anybody. Eventually, the count was clear.

Karin noted that the prison rules stated we could only hug an inmate once at the end of the visit, but because we had not been not allowed to leave when we wanted, then maybe we might be able to hug this young woman again.

The young woman shook her head solemnly.

“No, not a good idea. I am playing by the rules. I want out of here. I am staying under the radar.”

I wish the girl had had this plan a few years ago. Oh well.

We left. An adventure as always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Act of Futility

July 5th, 2019

ICE (Immigration  and Customs Enforcement) and USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) share the same home on Knapp Street in downtown Milwaukee. They are both part of the Department of Homeland Security. Most of the time their office is a busy place. Day in and day out, people go there to apply for a green card, or to take a citizenship test. ICE agents leave from there every day to reek havoc on local communities and tear families apart. Good things happen there, and some pretty ugly things too. The building is a microcosm of the entire U.S. immigration system. It is place where some people find the answers to their dreams, and it is also a place where nightmares begin.

The New Sanctuary Movement sponsors a protest in front of the ICE building every Thursday morning at 9:00. This particular Thursday happened to fall on the 4th of July. The protest usually consists of a number of people holding signs and walking silently back and forth in front of the ICE building. My first experience with this “Jericho Walk” was on the 4th. I don’t know this for certain, but I suspect that the name “Jericho Walk” comes from the Old Testament, when Joshua and his followers walked around the walls of the ancient city of Jericho until the walls came tumbling down. The walls of the ICE building in Milwaukee have not yet tumbled down.

About twenty people gathered together on Thursday to march in front of the ICE office. Of course, since it was a federal holiday, the building was silent and empty. There was nobody inside the structure to observe our quiet protest. On the other hand, there were no people inside who were actively planning to destroy the lives of immigrants. Good thing and/or a bad thing? Who can say?

Most of the people in the group were old. I don’t why that was, but it was. There several persons from the Quaker community. A few Catholics. There was one elderly Jewish lady with a sign partially written in Hebrew. It was an eclectic group of people, whose only bond was their interest in the well-being of immigrants, legal or otherwise.

One young couple showed up just after the walk started. They had their eight-month-old boy in a stroller. Predictably, people gathered around the stroller to look at the little kid. I asked the dad what the child’s name was. He answered, “Merrick.”

We walked for about one half hour, and then we all gathered to pray in front of the building. Since it was early on a holiday, there had been very little traffic on Knapp Street, and consequently almost nobody saw us walk or pray. In a way, it all seemed pointless.

Was it?

I don’t know. I believe in karma. Every act, no matter how small, has an effect. Did we have an effect? Yes. Do we know what that effect is? No. Does it matter if we know? No.

Maybe just joining together for a little while changed the people who walked. Maybe each of us felt encouraged to keep working to help immigrants. Maybe we will do something new. Maybe we will keep trying.

We will make a difference, even if it is only to Merrick.

 

 

 

 

 

The 4th of July

July 4th, 2019

“Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that’s been beat too much
‘Til you spend half your life just covering up
Born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
Born in the U.S.A
Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man
Born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
I was born in the U.S.A
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man said “son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “son, don’t you understand”
I had a brother at Khe Sanh fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go.”

 

 

from “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen (1984)

 

Nothing has changed.

 

Thirty-five years ago, Springsteen was singing about a Vietnam vet struggling to deal with his past and his present. Nowhere in the song are there words about any kind of a future. The song was a big hit back then, because it rocked so hard, but I really wonder how many people actually paid attention to the lyrics.

 

Somebody could easily remake the song by tweaking a few of the words. Instead of talking about fighting the “yellow man” or the “Viet Cong”, just say “terrorists” or “the Hajjis”. My son, Hans, could tell all sorts of stories about how they “put a rifle in my hand” and “sent me off to a foreign land”. Hans went to Iraq. He got shot. He killed people. He has never really came back from there. Nobody comes back. Ever.

 

I went to the psych ward at the VA hospital on Tuesday night. I go there almost every Tuesday, and I hang out with the vets who are patients. Most of the folks in the ward were not in combat, but they are still veterans. Somehow, the military shattered their minds, and now the VA is trying to put the pieces back together. I feel close to them. They are my brothers and sisters.

 

Today there are American flags waving all along my street, but not at my house. I will never hang a flag here. As long as we keep sending our kids to kill and die in other countries for no good reason, I will not fly a flag.

 

Not even on the 4th of July.

 

 

 

Deportation

June 29th, 2019

This article from me was printed/posted in the Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) today.

Maybe it’s worthwhile.

“President Trump has recently pledged to deport “millions of illegal aliens.” He plans on beginning this process within the next few days. Trump loves to use hyperbole, and he loves to make exaggerated promises to motivate his political base. He has often backpedaled on statements when reality has raised its ugly head. However, the president has consistently followed through on threats made to undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. His animosity toward these people is palpable. His actions concerning immigration have usually matched his words.

So, perhaps we should take Trump at his word. Maybe he really does plan on deporting millions of immigrants. The effects of his actions would be catastrophic, and not just in a humanitarian sense. Deporting that many workers and consumers would be devastating to American industry and agriculture. It would cause immense chaos. It could very easily throw this country into a recession. Has he actually thought any of this through?

Let’s say that Trump is just talking nonsense, and he does not plan on deporting that many people. The damage is done. He has already terrified millions of people. Perhaps that has been his intention all along.”

 

أب من سوريا

June 27th, 2019

Turki is a father from Syria. I don’t know his exact age. I would guess that he is in his mid-forties. He and his wife, A’isha, have eleven children. Turki was a farmer when he lived in Syria. The civil war there forced him and his family to move, first to Turkey, and then to the United States. They arrived in Milwaukee, of all places, two and a half years ago. Turki and his family have had a long and eventful journey. They are now living in a strange land, among people whom they do not understand, and who do not often understand them.

It was in 1976, almost forty-three years ago, that I was a plebe at West Point, beginning my studies to become a U.S. Army officer. West Point required every cadet to learn a foreign language for at least two years. I had to choose a language. At that time, USMA offered seven languages: French, German, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic. The school taught Arabic for the first time that year. I signed up for it, and I studied Arabic and Arab culture for four years. I don’t know why I did that. I never used the language while I was in the military. It seemed like a waste of time.

Until now.

I don’t remember much Arabic. I cannot hold a conversation in the language. However, my studies from decades ago have brought me to Turki and his family. My path to find them has been as twisted as their path to meet me.

I have known them all for about two years. I have been visiting them in their home, sometimes tutoring the kids, sometimes just hanging out. I am not sure that I met them with any specific goal in mind, except to help in some way. I just showed up at their house one day, and then things took their course. I didn’t see Turki very often. He was always busy at work. I have spent almost all of my time with the children, helping them with homework, or just reading stories to them. A’isha always brought me a pot of hot, sweet tea when I came to visit. It was kind of a ritual. It still is.

A couple weeks ago, while I was at their home, Turki asked me to help him to find a new job. He has been working for the last two years as a janitor at a local Muslim school. It’s not a bad job, but it isn’t going to be good enough for him in the long term. He needs more money, and his boss isn’t willing to give it to him. That, of itself, is not an unusual situation.

However, Turki has other challenges that are not so common. He is an immigrant, and that often makes things harder. He is here legally, which is helpful, but he is still a foreigner in the United States. Turki struggles with the English language. He struggles with American society. If he could have his way, I think that Turki would stay among Arabs, and remain in a sort of a cultural cocoon. That’s normal and understandable. It is also a dead end.

Many years ago, I lived in West Germany, courtesy of the U.S. Army. When I arrived there, I knew nothing of the German language. I remember, quite clearly, how hard it was for me to function among the locals. I remember how difficult it was for me to do simple things, like buy groceries, or ride the train. I remember distinctly feeling isolated and alone. It wasn’t until I started dating my wife, Karin, that I started to feel comfortable living in Germany. Even then, it took a long time to understand other people. Karin’s family and friends spoke no English, so I was forced to learn German. It was confusing and frustrating at times. I remember that. I remember it very well.

I understand, at least somewhat, Turki’s current struggle. It’s hard for him to reach out. It’s hard for him to look for work. I get that. I want to help him find a new job, but I can’t do everything for him. I couldn’t do that, even if I wanted to do so.

I asked Turki,

“What kind of work can you do?”

He replied, “It is no problem. I can do any work. I do anything for my family.”

I asked him, “Can you drive a forklift?”

He looked at me quizzically, “Forklift?”

“Yeah, you know, a machine to pick up things?” I made the sounds of a forklift and pretended to have move a pallet with the blades.

He shook his head. “No, I don’t drive forklift. You teach?”

I sighed. “No, so what can you do?”

Turki smiled and said, “I can do all work. Anything.”

I looked at him and thought, “No you can’t.”

The fact is that Turki’s skill set is limited, really limited. I know that he is smart, and I know that he works his ass off, but that may not help him much. He needs to be able to sell himself, and he has no idea how to do that.

Turki and I worked on an application for Milaeger’s Nursery and Landscaping. Turki was a farmer and he knows how to grow plants. It seemed like a good fit. Turki gave me the necessary information for the application, and I filled it out. When we got done, he asked me,

“So, I just mail it in?”

I knew he was going to ask that.

I replied, “Well, we can mail it in, but we won’t. You and I are going to Milaeger’s and turn it in ourselves.”

He looked at me, and then he said, “Oh.”

A couple days later, I drove Turki to the nursery, and we went into the office. I told Turki to talk to the people there, and give them his application. He tried to do that, but he got stalled. I explained things to the employees there, and asked a few questions. Turki listened and watched.

I am convinced that Turki had never filled out a job application before in his entire life. I am sure that he never went out to look for a job before. This was all new to him, and I am sure that it was a little scary. Well, you have to start somewhere. Maybe he won’t get hired by Milaeger’s. That’s okay. That wasn’t really the point of the exercise. I needed to nudge Turki out of his comfort zone to briefly explore the frightening world of work.

We are going to try other places. My son, Stefan, suggested that Turki try to get into the Laborers Union, and then get an unskilled construction job. We will work on that. Shovels are the same here as they are in Syria. Maybe we can apply at other landscapers. I don’t know. It’s going to be a long process. I know that, and I think that Turki knows it now too.

This father from Syria and I will learn together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Want Something with Caramel and Chocolate

June 25th, 2019

“When I’m no longer rapping, I want to open up an ice cream parlor and call myself Scoop Dogg.” –  Snoop Dogg

 

“Bread pudding makes me weak. I have been known to be moved to tears by cookies and ice cream, and ribs are a spiritual experience for me.” –  Bill Rancic

 

The girl finally sat down across from us. She was wearing her standard, bluish-green, prison garb. Her hair was wet and unbrushed (she doesn’t currently own a hair brush, but we’re working on that). Karin and sat on the other side of a low coffee table that was clearly marked with the number 11.

The girl had previously told us over the phone that she wanted us to get her some snacks from the vending machines in the visitor center. Only visitors can use the vending machines, which makes it slightly awkward for both the prisoners and their guests.  After we had all hugged, I asked the young woman,

“What kind of ice cream do you want?”

She thought for a moment and smiled. Then she said, “I want something with caramel and chocolate, if they have it.”

I walked over to the ice cream machine, carrying a plastic baggie full of small change. Every visitor in that room was carrying a bag of quarters. A person was allowed to have up to $20 worth of change on them. That would seem to be like a lot of money, but it isn’t. It was pretty easy to run through that much cash.

Karin and I had spent almost half an hour getting through security prior to arriving at the visitor center. There were several people waiting there before we showed up, and the process was more than a little tedious. The guard was friendly enough, but he had to go through a long series of instructions with each visitor:

“Fill out and sign this form.”

“Let me see you ID.”

“Put everything in your locker.”

“Remove your shoes and belt.”

“Pull out your front pockets. Do you have anything in your back pockets? Are you sure?” 

My unspoken response: “Yeah, I’m fucking sure.”

Then he said, “Go through the metal detector.”

I am always surprised that I don’t set off metal detectors. I had my right foot and ankle crushed at work ten years ago. Since the surgery to rebuild the leg, I have been carrying around six titanium screws and an titanium plate. Nothing ever happens.

By the time Karin and I finished running the gauntlet, I had absolutely nothing on me but the key to the locker, and a bag of change. Karin didn’t even have that.

But I was talking about ice cream.

The vending machine had a limited selection of ice cream treats. I finally settled on a Klondike Choco Taco. It cost $2.50. I don’t know if that is expensive or not. It’s kind of irrelevant. There was only one ice cream machine available to me in Taycheeedah, and I could use it or leave it. I used it.

I brought the Choco Taco to the girl. She devoured it in a state of ecstasy. Simple pleasures become important when everything else is stripped away. The girl told us between bites,

“We only get ice cream twice a month, and it’s in one of those little paper cups. Wow, this is good.”

I had also bought her a Mountain Dew. Another simple pleasure.

She took a slug off of the soda. Then she asked me,

“Do you know how to hot wire a car?”

“Uh, no.”

She went on, “I think the only way to get out is to crash a vehicle through the fence. The fences have that wire on top, and I think they are electrified.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. There are these yellow signs on the fences. I think they say that the fences are electrified.”

This made me remember something from thirty-five years ago. When I was stationed with the Army in West Germany during the Cold War, there were free tours of the East German border for all GI’s. I went on one of them. A border guard from the Bundesgrenzschutz (West German Border Police) explained in detail about the barriers that the East Germans had set up to keep their citizens inside the country. The East Germans had electrified fences with razor wire on top, just like the prison at Taycheedah. Some things don’t change.

I asked the girl if she wanted another ice cream. She nodded. Then she asked me,

“Do they have Dove Bars?”

“Yeah. What do you want? Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?”

“Milk chocolate.”

I went back to the vending machine.

Once again, she savored every bite of the ice cream.

Another prisoner was walking around with a camera. Apparently, she was assigned by the guards to take pictures of inmates and their guests, if those people wanted photos to remember these special moments. Our young woman told us that it cost the visitors money to get a picture taken. This came as no surprise at all. All the photos were taken in front of a back drop that looked just like a brick wall. How appropriate.

We talked a little about what will happen to her after her time in prison. She said that she will be on probation for a while. I asked her about how it would be if things did not go well while she was on probation.

She laughed and said, “Don’t report your car as stolen until I am across the border.”

She was making a joke. As Stalin once said, “Dark humor is like food. Some people don’t get it.”

The girl was still hungry. We had been talking for almost two hours. I bought her a gyro. It was very hot when it came out of the microwave, so she had to let it sit for a while.

It was pouring rain outside. The girl told us that she had to walk outside to get from the visitors center to her cell block. We decided to talk some more and wait for the weather to clear.

She asked us to put some more money the prepaid phone account so that she could call her boyfriend. I told her that I would take care of it. It seems to help her a lot when she can call her beau. He is one of her lifelines. Karin and I are her other connection to the outside. It is hard to overstate how important it is for a prisoner to have contact with people in the real world. I really believe that those contacts keep an person sane.

It was almost six o’clock when Karin and I left the young woman. We had to drive an hour and a half back home. We told her that we would come back next week at the same time. We plan to come back to see her every week. We all need that.