Explore My Blog

Christmas in Prison
(December 23rd, 2016)  

 Valentines From Prison
(February 14, 2015) 

One More Hero Gone
(October 28, 2014)

Sometimes Progress Means Hitting the Rewind Button
(September 2014)

Camerado on CBS
(September 2014)

Jack Kerouac:  My Rucksack Prophet
March 12, 2014

Letter to my Godbaby
(March 4th, 2014)

Father Dave and St. Therese of the #LittleWay
(Feb. 4th, 2014)

 

 

Valentines From Prison

 

In the entire calendar year, there is only one day that I love more than Valentine’s Day. There is something about a day set aside for the purpose of actively celebrating and spreading love that enthralls me. Though I’d much rather give than receive, I have been the recipient of many beautiful Valentine remembrances. My daughter, Juli, has sent me a special tea mug with hearts on it all the years she was away at college and law school. My editor and his family, knowing how much I love this day, send me hand-crafted cards and gifts that keep me smiling all day. This year, however, I received so heart-melting an expression of love from the very most unlikely of places, I simply must share the story with you.

As a mother, I always plunged headlong into a robust celebration of Heart Day. I placed wrapped gifts, usually something blatantly Valentiney for the kids to wear to school, on the foot of their beds after they had fallen asleep on Valentine’s Eve. I decorated, draping yards and yards of pink and red gauze over tables and across windows, and hung hearts all around so that when the children awoke, the house looked like a Valentine stage set. I made heart-shaped sugar cookies and sent the kids off to school with Suzin L chocolates and red roses that they gave to their teachers. Cupid, with his outdated bow and arrow, has nothin’ on me.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a long, chatty letter to my friend, David Parrish, whom you met in the Overture of Camerado, I Give You My Hand. David has lived at Indiana State Prison for the past twenty years.

In this letter, I mentioned the origins of my love affair with Valentine’s Day. I told David that I was hopelessly infatuated with Valentine's Day, and that it all started with my passion for exchanging those little dime-store Valentine cards with my schoolmates way back when I was a little kid in elementary school. I told David that opening those little cards always gave me immense pleasure. I told him that I kept my little lunch bag filled with cards in my room for months, reading them over and over again.

And it’s true. For years, I would pause to consider why a certain card had been given to me by a particular person. Did the verse printed on the front make sense in terms of our relationship? If not, what did that signify? I also puzzled over unsigned cards, trying by the process of elimination to deduce whom it might have been from, and then I’d wonder about the reasons behind the anonymity. I think I loved Valentines because they were a tactile connection to art and verse as well as a psychological exercise in matching written expressions with personalities.

 I was, in short, a Valentine geek.

Well, yesterday I received a puffy envelope from my pen pal, Mr. Parrish. I was mystified. What could be inside? I noticed that it cost more than three dollars to mail, which represents over thirteen hours of labor in his world. I cut the envelope open carefully. Inside was a stack of envelopes, each with my name on the front. For a moment, I was confused. How in the world had David been able to buy and write all of these cards at once?

As I sifted through the pile I realized that the handwriting on the front of each card was not the same. So I started opening, and reading. And opening, and reading. The cards, one more beautiful than the other and all incredibly inspirational, had been sent to me by some of the men who are imprisoned at maximum-security Indiana State Prison. A sampling of the personal messages they wrote:

“I pray that your loving Spirit, honed in your youth, continues to be shared as if every day were Valentine’s Day.”

“Dear Maura, Have a nice Valentine’s Day. P.S. Miss you at church. With love always,”

“We thank you for your contribution in a man’s life who has done so very much for us. Happy Valentine’s Day! May you feel much love on this day that celebrates it.”

“Maura, it’s people like you who make life worth living. Bless you. Happy V-Day.”

“God bless you, my sister. Your adeptness coupled with your infectious personality left an indelible impression on me. I thank you so much for your time spent with us and for encapsulating the essence of a great man. Only a great person could do that. Today I celebrate you with all of the adoration you deserve and may that adoration stay in your heart always. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

“To Maura on this Valentine Day. We all miss you & think of you often. You have been a bright light in a dark place. Thank you. And may you have the best Valentine’s Day ever.”

and, from David himself, who must have worked insanely hard to put this immense project together,

“Here’s to you and your hopeless infatuation! Don’t ever stop being a geek! Love, David.”

David sensed the importance of my nostalgic remembrance of days gone by and then set about re-creating that experience for me.

Yes, I cried. Of course I cried. In fact, I think that any person who can read this story without getting at least a little teary-eyed might possibly need a heart transplant. A Valentine-heart transplant.

Prisoners are people too.

 

“Be in love with your life ~ every minute of it.” –Jack Kerouac

 

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One More Hero Gone

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a beautiful young maiden and dashingly handsome Army captain made it through World War II and got married. Nearly one year later, they welcomed into the world their firstborn. And he was, and remained forevermore, the light of their lives.

Though he was all they ever wanted and more, they decided to make for him a best friend. A bright-eyed little brother with a marvelous sense of fun came hurtling into the world on – most appropriately - Halloween. It was clear from the first that the two little guys were destined to be close, for they shared everything, even their names. And so it was no surprise that Bruce Edward and Paul Edward galloped through childhood as thick as thieves - and goblins, and raconteurs, and pranksters, and awesomely all-around action figures.

Into this core unit the parents bravely introduced a whole clan of little leprechauns, all of whom looked up to, and adored, and even hero-worshipped their big brothers.

I must confess that I was one of those little rug-rats. In fact, I was crazy about all five of my brothers. You might even say that I am a recovering Big Brother Worshipper.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would bury four of those five heroes. And yet, here I am:  inconsolable, heartbroken, and utterly unable to imagine a world without Bruce.

Bruce! Oh, Bruce! We didn’t have you nearly long enough!

 

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Induction into the 14th Elyria Schools & Friends Hall of Fame

18 October 2014

Acceptance Speech

When Sally Ruth telephoned to tell me that I’d been nominated for this Hall of Fame, I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t just shed a tear. I sobbed. Ever since that day, I’ve been thinking about how I can express just how much this means to me, but I can’t -- and I’m a writer, and I’m supposed to be good with words, so this is not good!

I decided that rather than standing up here blubbering, I would instead try to express what it means to me to be an Elyrian . . . what it means to me be a Pioneer.

Just for a minute, let us turn back the hands of time and think about those brave pioneers who settled this country. They were courageous; tenacious. What was it about them that set them apart – what was it that enabled them to be successful in their quest? Three characteristics stand out as key to their success.

First, they were resourceful. They had this fantastic ability to make the best out of whatever was available to them.

--Sort of like me in the first week of kindergarten at Franklin Elementary, when my teacher explained a mind-boggling tradition called “Show and Tell.” I fretted and worried for the next four days and nights about what was special enough to bring in for my first Show and Tell. When that Friday morning arrived, I grabbed a spoon from the kitchen and did a little digging in the front yard flowerbed. Mrs. Carter earned my undying adoration with her reaction when I carried into her classroom a jar of worms. She was excited, and supportive, and placed that jar of worms on the shelf for display right alongside the dolls and toys and loveys the other kids had shared. She was the first in a long succession of spectacular teachers who would shape me into the person I became.

In addition to being resourceful, pioneers were also grateful - grateful for each day they were granted and grateful for every opportunity that came their way.

That’s how I felt, growing up in Elyria. Going to school felt like going to a castle. My teachers and my principals – especially larger-than-life Dick Wainwright – they were my heroes. Every year, on the last day of school, I was the saddest kid in the city.

Back then, my brothers and sisters and I walked everywhere:  to church, to downtown Elyria for music lessons at Driscoll’s and Wagner’s; to Bob Vandemark’s Barber Shop for haircuts; and – my personal haven – to the public library. Every Saturday, I walked to the library and borrowed the limit – then books – then carried them home as if they were precious cargo. At night, far past my bedtime, I read by the light of the streetlamp outside my bedroom window. In the summers, I packed a brown paper bag lunch, climbed a tree, and read for hours while perched on a branch. I don’t know what would have become of me without the library, but I do know that I would not have become the person I am without that endless supply of books.

As I grew, I participated in so many fantastic experiences – you just heard about some of the activities I was involved in. And there were so many more. Fast forward to high school, where I met and dated my future husband. We held hands as we walked through the hallways and sometimes stole a kiss or two in the stairwells of Elyria High School.

I never dreamed that we would get married and be blessed with a family of six. Then again, never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d become a Random House author. And I certainly never dreamed I’d be inducted into this Hall of Fame. I only knew that I loved life, and I loved life in this little town of mine, and I was so grateful for all of it.

So yes, resourcefulness and gratitude are important aspects of the Pioneer Spirit. Add to this one more thing:  a sense of purposefulness -- and suddenly, you’ve put the pow into pioneering. And you can change the world.

My most recent book, which is a book about the criminal justice system, explores this concept of purpose. Camerado, I Give You My Hand shows the consequences of children growing up in ignorance of the simple truth that everyone is born for a reason.

We have crisis of over-incarceration in this country, and it’s costing us billions of dollars a day. Some states spend more on prisons than they do on education, which is a particular form of insanity since we know that education is what can keep people out of prisons. We have to change this! My book offers concrete steps toward ending the madness.

For me personally, writing CAMERADO upended everything I thought I knew about crime and punishment. It also gave me a new purpose in life. I have a huge dream to create a national organization that will channel American idealism and energy back into our own communities – an organization something along the lines of the Peace Corps – except it will benefit our homeless centers and prisons, all of which are in desperate need of help.

And so although I am here tonight, first and foremost, to thank you, because I am so very thrilled to be here, and to be thought of so highly by my own community that I would be honored in this way, I must confess that I have an ulterior motive. There is something else that is on my mind.

Tonight, I am going to ask each and every one of you to think back on your own childhood. Find one thing that was good, and right, and true, something wonderful that is in danger of becoming extinct.

And then tap into your Inner Pioneer and do something to revive it.

Because, you see, here’s the thing:  sometimes, progress is not always about innovation.

Sometimes progress means pushing the rewind button.

The secret to meaningful progress just might be in our own memories, waiting to be excavated


*                    *                    *

 

CAMERADO on CBS

15 September 2014


Check your local television listings and set your DVRs. You won’t want to miss this.

It was “lights, camera, action” as three camerados battled butterflies in their stomachs, all for the sake of explaining what can be done to fix our crippled criminal justice system. 

On 27 August 2014, CBS producer Liz Kineke and crew came to the University of Notre Dame to film interviews of Father Dave Link, Gary Sparkman, and me for an upcoming episode titled “Crime, Punishment, & Redemption” in the Religion & Culture series. The episode is scheduled to premier on Sunday, 5 October 2014 but you’ll have to check your local listings for the date and time when your CBS affiliate station will air the show.

Thanks to the helpful intercession of vice president for university relations Lou Nanni, the regal third floor conference room of beautiful Stayer Hall was made available us. From a magnificent cathedral-shaped window, we could see the iconic Golden Dome gleaming in the sunshine.

After introducing myself Liz and her crew--assistant Natalie Baxter, cameraman Dan Morris, and sound technician Rich Pooler--I drove to Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore, where Gary would leave his car and come with me to the site of the filming. Gary, whose story is told in Chapter 12 of Camerado, I Give You My Hand and whose successful re-entry into society has been a miracle of sorts, had graciously agreed to be interviewed for the show. Gary’s face lit up when he saw me pull into the parking space beside him. We climbed from our cars and gave each other bear hugs. He looked fantastic. I felt a rush of pride.

It had been exactly one year since I had seen Gary. It was the night of the book release party for Camerado. Gary was the first to arrive at the Eck Alumni Center, where the elegant celebration was held, so I was able to spend time with him before the crush of guests arrived. I was so excited to place a copy of Camerado in his hands, but even I was unprepared for his deeply emotional reaction. “Wow,” he said, overcome. “Wow.” He sank into a nearby couch and sat there, too stunned to say anything else, as he turned the pages. He became oblivious, as if he had gone into some deeply private place and the rest of the world had disappeared.

So here we were, happy to be together again. As I drove to Stayer Hall, we talked about how much we admire Liz, who had proven in phone conversations just how well informed she is about prisons, and about poverty, and about the connection between the two. As we rode the elevator to the third floor, we talked about Gary’s daughter and her love of reading—my kind of kid, for sure. And then as we walked down the long corridor toward the conference room where the crew was customizing lighting conditions and setting up equipment, we talked about how nervous we were.

Entering the room and turning to his left, Gary suddenly stopped in his tracks. There, right in front of him, sat Father Dave.

Shaking his head in disbelief, Gary buckled in the middle. Clutching his heart, he exclaimed, “Oh! Oh, my! Oh my God!”

He turned to look at me, and I saw that tears filled his eyes. “Maura,” he said. “Oh, my! Oh, my! Maura, you--you surprised me! You brought Father Dave here to surprise me!”

I realized then that he had not known that Father Dave would be also here for the taping.

Father Dave, who was by now on his feet, extended his hand as he closed the short distance between them. Gary took the outstretched hand and then simply wrapped his arms around the priest and, as if they were long-lost relatives, the two figures melded into one.

Great, I thought, furiously blinking back tears that would obliterate my eye makeup. This is not the time to cry.

I felt terrible as I watched Gary struggle to keep his composure. He was so emotional, so raw it made me feel guilty, as if I were engaged in indoor rubber-necking. And yet, at the same time, I felt a keen awareness that Liz and the others were witnessing a powerful scene that could never have been scripted. It was the kind of thing I had seen over and over again the past four years since I started writing my book. This is the kind of raw, genuine exchange of emotion that happens all the time between Father Dave and his brothers. His camerados.

I turned to look at Liz. She was gazing, mesmerized, at the two friends. Backlit by the brilliant August sunshine, an aura of light surrounded her form. Was I imagining it, or was she blinking away a few tears of her own? She caught my glance. Her mouth curved in a gentle smile, and she nodded.

It was then that I knew this would be a great day.

Lights. Camera. Action. Bring it. Bring it all. We were ready.

 

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Jack Kerouac:  My Rucksack Prophet

March 12, 2014

      If an author can be a soulmate, I claim Jack Kerouac as mine.
     With each passing year, I find more to love about him. I love his poignancy. Life ripples like the grass and new days mass over like lamby clouds. His work ethic. Go tell him that I have been consumed by mysterious sorrowful time yet I have straddled time, that I have been saddest and most imperially time-haunted yet I have worked. His point of view. Thoreau was right; Jesus was right. I don't believe in this society; but I believe in man. His x-ray vision. Maybe that's what life is, a wink of the eye, and winking stars. His terabyte memory. My life is like a sea, my memory the boat. His despair that always found its resting place in hope. What a strange and beautiful life this is . . . as weird and lovely as the very sea. His wisdom. I only expect you to believe in everybody, including me, and to believe in everything, like a child, a bird; like I do. I am humbled by a man who loved even though his heart was pierced by our human foibles, weaknesses, inconstancy. Say anything you want, I like my people joy-hearted.
    With each new release from the vault holding unpublished Kerouacian treasures, I am drawn further and further into his beatific vision. Every time I re-read one of his novels, I grow. Reading his collected letters is always transformative. I'm a new person afterward. I feel more precise. Wiser. More connected to the Divine. A little more worthy of this life I've been given.
     Born on 12 March 1922, Kerouac's attitude about the brotherhood of man was so progressive, he's still ahead of the times. So disgusted was he by racial discrimination, it upset him to the point of illness. In a 1948 letter to Neal Cassady, his best friend and literary muse, Kerouac writes:  Here I am sitting in a shack, writing on a board table, as it rains, and as the radio plays colored music in this land where the colored are pushed back & scorned & "kept in their place." And, Neal, there's a woman called Mahalia Jackson who sings real sad, while, in the background on another station, there's white audience laughter from some contest show in Nashville, Tenn. You see how it makes me feel, don't you? I didn't come down here to mourn the Negro's lot, but I do. I shudder to think of his outrage were he alive today. We haven't come very far, have we, Jack? Not nearly far enough.
    Kerouac's theory of writing stands alone. I'm not referring to his much-vaunted theory of spontaneous prose writing but rather to his insistence on writing until one reaches the bones of authenticity. In this passage in a letter written to Neal in 1950, I felt as if Kerouac were describing me:  I have renounced fiction and fear. There is nothing to do but write the truth. There is no other reason to write. I have to write because of the compulsion in me. No more can I say.
     The body of Kerouac's literature forms one majestic arc, an arc held together by his core identity. He was a spiritual seeker. ...there is no Why. There is Mystery, of course, but no Why. The mystery is this:  that there should ever have entered our heads the notion of Why! A wandering disciple. I'm getting awfully tired of roaming. His purpose in life was to seek the Divine. Don't let those wild escapades fool you. Jack was as deeply religious as a monk.
      I feel as though Kerouac is my literary soulmate for an infinite number of reasons. Certainly in the Top Ten is the fact that both of us have felt the touch of the Divine in what is known as a "Divine Experience." Also in the Top Ten is the fact that both of us are as moved by God's presence whether we are stretched out on the ground beneath the branches of a pine tree, or we are kneeling in prayer beneath the golden spires of a cathedral. Just a couple of days ago, I told my friend Gary that I'm a realistic idealist; this is probably also how Kerouac would have described himself. I wished that the church was not only a sanctuary but a refuge for the poor, the humiliated, and the suffering; and I would gladly join in prayer...I wished all mankind could gather in one immense church of the world, among the arcades of the angels, & when it came time to take of bread, I wished Jesus would reach out his hand to a single loaf and make it two billion loaves for every single soul in the world. What else would we need besides God and the bread for our poor unfortunate bodies? And then someday we could all become pure souls--not animals and not even mortal men, but angels of heaven--and spend all our time, like the old priests, scanning the words of God over and over again till they became our only concern, our only language, our only imagery, our only wish and our only life, eternal life. Kerouac was a dreamer with a plan.
     And so I could not let this day go by without honoring my own personal rucksack prophet who tacked this "pome" onto the ending of a letter to Malcolm Cowley:
For I
      Prophesy
             That the night
             Will be bright
             With the gold
  Of old
       In the inn
     Within.
 
     Jack, I owe you, buddy. You've been so generous. Thank you for all you've given me, and the world. I doubt that birthdays are celebrated in a place where admission itself is the ultimate equalizer. What need could there be for a cake and candles in heaven? Even so, I want to wish you a happy birthday.

 

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Letter to my Godbaby

4 March 2014

Dear Noah:

You are here.

Thank you for coming.

Thank you for leaving Heaven’s perfect embrace and the adoration of the angels. You could have chosen to stay with God. That you opted instead to join a rag-tag bunch of imperfect beings on earth is proof of your optimistic nature.

We anticipated your birth knowing full well that God would use your melting-pot ethnicity to create a beautiful baby. Even so, never in our wildest dreams could we have predicted your exquisite loveliness. Now, looking into the face of Diversity’s Child, we feel the gentle reprimand of a Father who wants us to love in the way that He loves His children no matter what their race or nationality.

Holding you in my arms, I tumbled into your fathomless eyes. You looked at me and moved your raspberry-colored lips as if you were trying to tell me something, and I realized that you were trying to articulate something of the Love from whence you just came. You were talking about God's hopes for you...for us....for the future.

It occurred to me, little Noah, that you are carrying particles of your namesake’s supreme hopefulness in the very atoms of your little body. Perhaps your purpose in life is to reignite the flame of optimism in all of us. Sweet Noah, is it your purpose to re-teach us how to trust? Is it your mission to remind us of the mighty trust that led one obedient servant to do something nonsensical? Are you here to make us re-imagine how that ancient character gathered together God’s non-human creatures and then became the willing caretaker of that precious cargo until the day the dove delivered the branch of a new beginning? 

Did you assume your earthly internship so that you could ring our memory bells? Remind us of God’s original intentions? Nudge our vague recollection that we are to co-exist in peace and love so that all creatures great and small might enjoy their time on earth? Are you trying to remind us that we all have an ark to build, and that one person can change the destiny of the world?

Darling godson, you already have.

 

*                    *                    *

 

Father Dave and St. Therese of the #LittleWay

Febuary 4, 2014

I thought I had Father David Link all figured out. I spent three years of my life immersing myself in his life story and then writing a book about him. But it was not until I read Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese de Lisieux and Three Gifts of Therese of Lisieux, by Patrick Ahern, that I fully comprehended the colossal secret behind his success. This secret is the Little Way of St. Therese.

Let me explain.

St. Therese is a role model of how one’s own “littleness” can be used to great advantage. She saw herself as a tiny white flower blooming for just a moment of time in this awesome universe. Keenly aware of her smallness vis-a-vis the overall scheme of things, her genius was in discovering a redeeming purposefulness in performing even the most anonymous tasks with immense love. Her living legacy is the brilliant insight that all of us can do the same.

Having read Therese’s autobiography and, subsequently, Bishop Ahern’s book about her, I am thunderstruck by the uncanny connections between the little saint and the subject of my book.

Therese chose to use her days on earth as if they constituted a forward march straight into the outstretched arms of Love itself. The cadence by which she stepped was “confidence, nothing but confidence” – confidence, that is, in a God who is merciful, tender, and very much in control. In fact, whatever Therese was asked to do was accomplished with equanimity, humility, and confidence.

Curiously, as if they were bookends, Dave Link represents a counterbalance to Therese’s signature style. Even though Dave has been asked to do some very important things, he fulfilled those callings with equanimity, humility, and confidence. This is because, like Therese, he maintains a sense of proportion.

He knows that we are but a grain of sand. Even so, he realizes that each one of us is an integral part of God’s master plan. Thus every action undertaken by every one of us is essential, potentially redemptive, and important.

Father Dave gives his late-wife, Barbara, to whom he was married for forty-five years, credit for whatever good he has achieved in his careers as an attorney, academic leader, and as a priest and prison chaplain. That Barbara nurtured a lifelong devotion to St. Therese explains some of the uncanny connections that color the late-in-life-career of this accomplished professional who, having everything, could be doing almost anything.

Therese made her final profession of vows on September 8, 1890. September 8 is Barbara’s birthday.

Dave and Barb were married on July 12, 1954. July 12 is the wedding date of Therese’s parents (both of whom have been beatified).

Dave and Barbara Link were deeply involved in their home parish, St. Therese, Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend. They were also profoundly committed to helping the homeless of South Bend (Dave is co-founder of the renowned www.cfh.net).

St. Therese is the patron saint of priests; St. Barbara is the patron saint of prisoners.

Like Therese, Dave traded an easier existence for a purpose-driven life. When he could have taken a vacation, he strapped on a tool belt as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity instead. When he could have been enjoying a roaring fire at home, he plowed through snowstorms and kept watch over homeless men in a subterranean shelter. And now, at a time when he could be golfing or visiting his children and grandchildren, he chooses instead to go behind the razor wire where, as chaplain at six of Indiana’s state prisons, he shows incarcerated men that miracles can happen when they choose to walk the Little Way.

Dave shares Therese’s philosophy that we will not be evaluated on the works we have performed when we are summoned from this earthly life. The question, says Dave, will not be, What have you done? Rather, it will be, Did you act in such a way that other souls were led to Me? Have you brought any camerados along with you to the gates of My heaven?

Father Dave inhabits a place in my heart that is reserved for just a few. His gentle constancy and wellspring of strength remind me of my beloved father. His goofy sense of humor reminds me of what it was like growing up with five incorrigible brothers.

He is admirable but fallible.

He inspires me but, even so, he is, quite simply, one of us.

I walked away from my first meeting with Father David Link knowing that he was someone special. Of course, I did not yet appreciate the many aspects of his extraordinariness. But I came to understand that he is whom he is because, like St. Therese, he works confidently, lives compassionately, and loves completely. And these are things that all of us can do.