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Commentary | VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

The Possibility of the Positive

November 16, 2002|Vonda White

The following is from a column by California prison inmate Vonda White. She is the cellmate of Jeri Becker, a convicted murderer recently approved for parole by the state parole board and lauded for her rehabilitation; Gov. Gray Davis, however, reversed the parole board. White, also convicted of murder, has served 25 years of a seven-year-to-life sentence. Her column appears in a publication of the Catholic Women's Network of Santa Clara County.

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Many years ago when my roommate Jeri and I first met, we agreed on a premise: that when equally matched, the positive tends to outweigh the negative. After agreeing, we proceeded to test our premise at a "Long Termer'' meeting at which a large group of frustrated and dissatisfied women had targeted the chair of the organization and were determined to put her out of office (as though such an action would solve their problem). Because of Jeri's determined positive action and my equally determined positive support at that meeting, the large negative faction did not prevail.

On a larger scale these days, we find ourselves bending to another seemingly overwhelming negative force, the governor's policy of "The Only Way You Will Parole Is in a Pine Box."

Those of us who are responsible for taking a life are expected to (and do) work unceasingly to rehabilitate ourselves, to learn to recognize and heal our deepest problems, and to show that we have deep anguish over the gravity of our actions and have sought with our whole souls to make what amends are possible.

Of course, it is not for us to decide when and if we are suitable for parole, and when denied, we are left feeling defeated and hopeless for a time. We cannot live indefinitely like this, year after year; in time, a death sentence looks easier to bear. And when finally found suitable for parole and faced with a wall even higher and more implacable than the first, the resulting strain and anxiety are correspondingly greater.

These days, being found suitable for parole is like being stuck in a revolving door that brings us to the exit, then doesn't stop. It catapults us right back inside.

We don't cope very well. We weep uncontrollably at the smallest things, or not at all when we should be upset. We flatten out, sleep a lot, eat a lot and blow up, or eat nothing and wither. We go into negativity, seeing the world with a "nothing good about life" attitude.

We get sick, catch every cold and flu in season, have migraines, exaggerated PMS and menopausal symptoms, develop exotic diseases and some not-so-exotic but more deadly, like cancer and heart disease. And we die steadily at younger ages.

We become compulsive/obsessive, smoking like chimneys, throwing ourselves perpetually into work, physical exercise, art, cleaning frenzies -- and yes, drug use, both legal and illegal. We haunt the clinics, mental and medical, and we go to church as though our lives depended upon our presence there.

We escape into television and books, sex and rock 'n' roll -- all without balance, because alone, we don't have the means to restore it any more than we had the means previously, to rise above the traumas that brought us down to this point in the first place.

Of course, no situation is utterly hopeless, and each of us can return to life and hope, even though in the throes of damaging events we are often too numb to recognize the hand of God working in us and for us. It is then that we need the strength of one another -- the love and compassion that grow with our own dawning sense of the possibility of the positive.

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