Tuesday, February 5, 2019


I want to talk about Starlight….

BrettCulp, of The Rising Heroes Project (and film director, and all-around good human), spoke at our Leadership Development Conference yesterday. In speaking about leadership, he brought to the forefront the need to recognize that what we do today may not be seen for many years. He used starlight as an example of this.

The North Star, as Brett stated, is 400 light years away. What we see today is the light generated by that star 400 years ago. Although I knew that from past science classes, it resonated with me in a different way now – as a leader.

I watch my colleagues in healthcare advocate, and heal, and fight, and love their work, and struggle as they watch their patients decline… and there is such a need for that immediate gratification that we’re doing good work. We ARE doing good work – yet we may not see those results for a long time, if at all. We have to have faith that the work is sending out ripples as if it was dropped into the middle of the ocean away from all humanity.

Real leadership is inviting people on a mission to do something extraordinary together.”
~Brett Culp

We’re on a mission. All of us. We may not always know what that mission is, yet if we stick to our ethics and passions, our path will light up in front of us. Bring people with you on your journey who share your passion. Reach out for mentors and guides and the quiet people in the corner with the spark in their eyes. You know more than you think you do, and there are a lot of eager ears willing to listen and learn. We’re all students, even if we’re not enrolled in classes. Each day you will learn something new, or will be able to teach someone something new. That’s pretty amazing. Your starlight will go on for eons after you’re not here to see the end result.

We need to have faith in ourselves just as much as we have faith that those stars will keep on burning well into the future.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Return to Light

I know most of the planet was watching the rare Wolf Blood Moon lunar eclipse last night, however when there are such stunning natural occurrences such as this was, it sometimes feels as if you’re very much alone… (which isn’t always such a bad thing.)

I received many messages last night from our beautiful Mother Moon and her goddesses, including inspired howling from dogs and coyotes as the night blackened around what appeared to be an orange marble suspended in ink. Surrounding planets and stars glowed brighter, and the street lamps almost became an irritation in their glaringness, interrupting the depth and attention to the sight above. It was understandable that those living in past years feared the eclipse as an omen – the moon became an absolute three-dimensional being that simply “was.”

I did not take photos, but preferred to sit quietly and allow my thoughts and emotions to travel alongside the Earth’s shadow. I was taught patience, as those few seconds before total eclipse seemed to take so many more minutes than thought possible, much like waiting as a child to be allowed into the living room on Christmas morning. Before the shadow passed completely over, Mother Moon shouted one more time, seeming to pulsate with glorious light, as if reminding us that she would return even more lovely than before.

As Artemis reclined with her glass of wine, her moon stayed as a strong presence. It simply “was” without pretention. Billions of people may have been staring at her, yet she rested in her darkness without qualms, patient, waiting to be alight again with the brilliance from her Brother Sun. When the Earth continued on its path and the shadow shifted, a small sliver of beaming intensity shot from the murky sphere, announcing her return and showing us that we are still strong and bright no matter the size of the shadow.

@gbentley271955 - Twitter
Although there were several beautiful photos available online, this photo from Gina Bentley was most profound for me, as it visually demonstrates that return to light. Please see her other photos on her Twitter page @gbentley271955.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Giving back when having previously taken away

Before I start, I'd like to acknowledge the sites noted below each photo, as Angola does not permit photography on the prison site. Thank you for your assistance in educating the public.

It's not every day a person voluntarily steps foot inside a maximum security prison. It isn't every day that a nurse who works "on the outside" has the opportunity to simply chat whilst holding the hand of an elderly, toothless inmate whose only wish is to die outside of thick concrete walls with his younger brother at his side. It definitely isn't every day that the same nurse cries over a group of men who have undoubtedly committed crimes that destroyed the lives of many, many people. It’s a heartbreaking conundrum and one filled with both self-questioning and the desire to know more.



Over five-thousand men currently call Angola home - specifically, Louisiana State Penitentiary. Over one thousand staff work on the 18,000 acre campus, and several hundred more staff reside in small houses scattered throughout the rich landscape - there is a two year waiting list for prison residences. The prison finds itself surrounded on three sides by the grand Mississippi River, further swollen by thunderous rains which sweep through the area almost daily. On the fourth side is a tall levy, maintained by staff and prisoners called "trustees" who have proven themselves trustworthy enough to work amongst staff, other prisoners, and the many visitors who tour Angola each year while earning a bit more pay per hour. There are no actual fences on the outside perimeter - nature is given that task. The Warden's home sits high on top of a hill, overlooking the land.


Several guard towers on the inside of the property stand vacant due to downsizing and budget cuts. To keep offenders within their Camps, a double layer of barbed wire fencing surrounds each camp. Cameras monitor the fences at all times. At night, dogs trained by an elite group of 12 trustees are set loose to roam the perimeters; these dogs aren't just a standard breed, however. German Shepherds are bred with wolves in order to instill a primal fear into offenders who may consider a chance at escape. Trained by men who are “lifers” for first degree murder, the preconceived potential fury of such a partnership is quite palpable.

The prison, called "The Farm," indeed does consist of much farmland, tended by trustees. Wheat, corn, soy, sugarcane, and all kinds of vegetables are grown on Angola. Cows, horses, and a lone camel reside on the green land. The prison sustains itself and sends produce and other goods (such as homemade jellies) out into the community. A dairy was shut down about twelve years ago. The land itself is saturated with recent rains as well as runoff from the nearby Mississippi River.


Many years ago, Warden Burl Cain (resigned in 2016) developed a hospice program for his inmates - determined to make every death a “good” one. As he states in the documentary "Serving Life," "I'll dig your grave, and someone else will dig mine." It is to be said, however, that Warden Cain was often seen by inmates as the leader of a great plantation, providing medical care and hospice services as somewhat of a “cold comfort,” as stated by A, one of the hospice volunteers in an article written many years ago. Although hospice services do assist in a better dying experience, men are still dying within prison walls.

Two nurses per shift work within the hospice ward, and 36 volunteer inmates are trained to assist the nurses in providing intimate, daily care for the seriously ill and dying patients. Volunteers are interviewed and put through an intensive 40-hour training program in which they learn to care for others, and for themselves. Many volunteers have become skilled sewers, making quilts for dying patients so they are covered beautifully while being taken to their final resting place on the grounds.

While in the Hospice Chapel, also built by offenders, I was struck by the beauty of the simplicity of the program. The volunteers are not able to use their volunteer hours for "brownie points" for parole - often, the parole board is completely unaware of the inmates' involvement. This is done intentionally so volunteering is done for reasons other than impressing the board in hopes of an earlier parole. While in the Chapel, we were joined by M, S, and A, who have all been volunteering since the inception of the program - well over 25 years. The nurse manager was also present to answer the more medical-based questions, however the session mostly focused around what the volunteers were describing. They all wore special hospice t-shirts, which identifies them across the prison. The Chapel itself has a labyrinth carved into the floor for the prisoners to use for meditation and reflection, and is where funeral services are held for inmates. The acoustics within the chapel amplified the harmonic voice of M, as he sang a hymn to us, much like the hymns sung at funerals. 

When I asked M later about the energy shift within the prison after the program was started, and if there even was one, he told me that the program is well-respected, and that the volunteers often find themselves given a bit of extra leeway by fellow offenders - that's not to say, however, that they're not held to the same strict behavior standards. Any tiny amount of misbehavior, and the privilege of volunteering is revoked forever. That is a fear many of the volunteers hold close to their heart. Many of these men verbalized their sorrow and regret for past actions - they know that they can never “set things right,” however they do desperately want to make retributions as much as they possibly can.


As 55 of us ventured into the hospital ward where the hospice and palliative patients lay, there was a definite sense of trepidation. Later, on the return to New Orleans, it was noted that many of us felt we were infiltrating the privacy and peace of these men. Several patients were seen pulling the covers over the head, while several others stared at us either with a variety of expressions - anxiety, hope, confusion. It was a surprise to us all to be set free within the large room to visit with bedbound prisoners, and immediately, the room swarmed with voices raised in open conversation. I noticed immediately that the group ensured that every man had someone at their bedside.

The hospice rooms themselves are on the sides of the large room - there are six rooms with doors - these rooms offer windows, televisions, and a large chair or couch for family visits. Families are encouraged to visit their loved ones, much as in the outside world. The large, central room, is a disarray of enormous oxygen tanks, electric and hand-cranked hospital beds, medical equipment, and a feeling of despair which the nurses and volunteers do their best to assuage.


As I was speaking with the nurses, inquiring as to whether or not they had any integrative therapy programs (they do have pet therapy,) I noticed that one of the hospice rooms had opened, and a small man was sitting in a wheelchair in the doorway, quietly watching the increasingly loud conversation in the larger room. There was an energy about him that I recognized immediately - a sense of wanting so much to belong, but a shyness about being turned away. I was drawn to him, and found myself sitting on the floor next to his wheelchair. His toothless smile upon my introduction and a handshake of his cool, extremely calloused hand, brought about a sense of comfort to us both. He has been a patient of hospice for a few months, and a prisoner of Angola for 25 years. I did not ask him what for, as I didn't feel it relevant to any form of conversation that would bring him a bit of joy on that day. I told him I was a nurse, a hospice nurse specifically, as he asked why so many people were visiting.

During our conversation. Mr. E opened up to me about his desire to see his younger brother again, and how he wanted so much to die outside of the thick, cold, concrete walls. He understood it probably wouldn't happen, a compassionate release, but that hope would not diminish. He was happy to not be in pain, although expressed frustration that he needed to be on oxygen 24/7. I shared that I understood the frustration, as I had spent 7 months of my life attached to a tank. He asked me if I knew of anything that would help his COPD symptoms, and I suggested a few things which the wonderful nurses had already been doing. Sadly, our visit didn't last for too much longer, as I noticed our large group streaming out of the medical ward. When I went to say goodbye, I noticed that we had been holding each other's hands for quite some time. I didn't even recognize my action as being anything special - but these men have such infrequent touch that I can only hope it offered some comfort. It is a struggle to not tear up when I think of his smile. "Well, what if he did such and such?" I don't know that he did such and such, all I see is a human being in need of human interaction.

Many of the volunteers committed atrocious crimes years and years ago - many were convicted of second degree murder or first degree assault and robbery. Not once did I feel like I was in danger, objectified, or at risk of being harmed. It wasn't that the security was amazing - which it was - there was a dual respect shown which was really quite incredible to witness. Staff gave the volunteers and trustees respect, and the volunteers and trustees afforded the utmost respect to visitors and staff.


After leaving the hospice, it was appropriate that we visited Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel at Angola by the hospital. I was not surprised to learn that this was also built by inmates, but I was stunned to learn that it had been built, by 50 inmates, in only 38 days. The architect was an inmate, and was dying of cancer while the building was being built and painted. He was hoisted bodily up to the ceiling of the church in order to paint the portraits of Jesus and other apostles, due to his weakness. He died only a month after completion of the church. It's incredibly stunning work, full of color.



This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I encourage all of you to reach out into your communities and see where differences can be made. I'm not suggesting that you visit sick prisoners, however perhaps check into how you can volunteer in hospices within your communities. It does make a difference to patients and families.

And check out "Serving Life," a wonderful documentary on the Angola Hospice Volunteer Program. There is also a documentary called "The Farm" which is about serving time in Angola. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

An Open Letter to My Future Kiddo

An Open Letter to My Future Kiddo

Hi, peanut. 

Right now I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know if you’ve been born yet. I don’t know where you are, if you’re a boy or girl, if you have brown eyes like me, or eyes the color of the sky right when the sun breaks through after a storm. I do know, though, that I feel you in my heart. I already love you, and I have no idea what your name is, or if you get the hiccups a lot, or if you think that blanket forts are the best thing ever. 

I hope you like blanket forts, and if you’ve never built one, I hope you let me teach you. 

I know you’ve probably been through a lot, even if you don’t remember all of it. Things like that will stick with you, and I’m here for you to listen, or hug, or just sit and be quiet over a bowl of ice cream. Do you like ice cream?  

It’s okay if you don’t want me to hug you at first, or even if it takes a long time to trust me. While I’m adopted, I was a newborn and I don’t remember things. It’s okay for you to remember, and it’s okay for you to cry and hurt if you need to. This house will be a safe space for you. Can I tell you a secret? I’m scared, too. I know I’m the “grown up,” but my heart beats a zillion times a minute thinking that you are coming here to live with me, that we will be a family.  

Your grandparents are pretty cool people. You can call them by their first names, or you can call them Grandma and Grandpa, or Nana and Papa, or whatever you like. They’re really excited to meet you. They adopted me when I was a baby, and then four years later, adopted a cute little girl who became my sister. I’m sad that my sister isn’t alive anymore, but I have lots of pictures and stories. She would have loved you, too. She always asked me when she would get to be an aunt. Now she is one, and I know she’s happy wherever she is. My mom and dad live about 30 minutes away from us. Does that seem far? It really isn’t… I just put on  some good music in the car and am home in no time! What kind of music do you like? 

When you come home, because this is your forever home, I will have your room all ready for you. I don’t know exactly what you will like, but it will be fun for you to choose things to decorate your room with. You will have lots of choices, and I look forward to seeing what your personality looks like! Do you like teddy bears? Ladybugs? Butterflies? I have lots of butterflies in this house because my sister liked them, and I like to see them and think about her. I have two cats, too. They’re pretty old, but think they’re kittens. I call them Bandit and Bubba. Bubba takes a little bit to get to know people, but Bandit will come and meet you right away. They’re both very good cats and like to sleep a lot.  

When you come home, I will have lots of time off of work so we can get to know each other. I’m a nurse at a hospital, and I teach other nurses new things. I work with a lot of really cool people.  Do you know what nurses do? They take care of sick people and work with doctors to make them comfortable and feel better. I don’t know if you’ve been in a hospital, but I will bring you to work one day if you want to, so you can see that it’s not such a scary place. There is a lot of love that happens there, too.  

I hope one day soon to get a phone call asking me to meet you. I’ve been working hard on my paperwork and classes so I can have people come over and make sure my home is safe and ready for you. I can’t wait to find out about you, and have your home and room ready for you to come be in a safe space. I want you to know that I’m thankful for your birth family, because they brought you into this world. When you are grown up, I will support you 100% if you want to find them. It’s weird knowing that you have two families, isn’t it?  

I love you, Kiddo. I hope you’re well wherever you are, even if you haven’t been introduced to this Earth just yet. There’s a billion more pages I could write, and maybe I’ll keep adding on to this. You’ll have a novel by the time you arrive!

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Sometimes you feel physically tiny yet spiritually infinite - The Sedona Tale

I don't know if any of you do this, too, but I like to write about things that have changed me just as the magic starts to wear off, just as the memories start to fade... that way I'm able to write about it and rekindle those feelings, those emotions, that sense of expansiveness and holistic healing.

Earlier this month, only two weeks ago, I was in Sedona. I can't believe it was only two weeks ago. It feels like it was years and yet just yesterday. I think I left a part of my soul there, although my heartsong was reinforced and has left me with a sense of peace and wisdom. I put a lot of trust in this trip, as I wished it to be a journey of healing and release.

Okay, I know it sounds romantic, but being in that environment, amongst the Red Rocks which grew to be friends and mentors, I experienced another shift in my Self. I'm not sure who has been to Sedona, but I highly recommend it. Some go for the hiking, some go for the tourist attractions, some go for the shopping... I went there because I have felt drawn to that area for years. This was my first experience, and I wasn't prepared for what I learned.

My first day, I arrived early in Sedona. I wasn't to check into my AirBnB until about 4, however I had made a couple of appointments. My first appointment was with a BodyTalk practitioner named Caleb. I'd heard of BodyTalk, however had never experienced it for myself. Imagine psychotherapy mixed in with Healing Touch or other energy-movement modalities. I went in to my appointment not expecting anything, but hoping for emotional enlightenment. I had some preconceptions about what I was going to talk about, such as stressors over the past several years, however after a couple of hours, I had tears pouring out of my eyes as we pressed into issues that I never had considered. I left feeling cleansed, emotionally, and looked forward to booking another session.

Afterwards, I had scheduled a Spa day at Sedona New Day Spa, including a Turquoise Sage Mountain Arnica treatment. I was able to relax in their hot tub for awhile, and then rested in the sun until the therapist came to usher me in. Her name escapes me at the moment; it begins with an M... and she was highly intuitive as to what my physical body needed. After 90 minutes of pure bliss, I floated back to my car, feeling completely relaxed. As I had time to spare, I played in the Crystal Magic shop down the road and picked up some groceries at the Whole Foods before beginning the short drive to the AirBnB. My goal was to eat lightly and vegan, as I wished to purify my physical body during this journey.

On my drive to the AirBnB... I rounded the corner and was treated to this display for the first time.
I said, "Are you KIDDING me?"
 My AirBnB was a true retreat, very simple, with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and bathroom. The homeowner had a pond in her backyard which was filled with trees and bamboo. It was just beautiful, and I slept very well that night after meeting the homeowner and taking a short walk around the area.

The second morning I explored Sedona, stopping first at the Amitabha Stupa. I circumambulated the Stupa, praying and chanting to myself, asking for peace and guidance for not only myself, but my fellow human beings. Following that, I sat at the feet of this gentle giant on the hill, and felt my remaining emotional stressors burgeoning to the surface. I was glad it was early, as my tears fell freely, and there weren't many people to witness this release.

 Afterwards, I spent a few hours hiking Thunder Mountain Trail... the views and rock formations were breathtaking. Later that day, I went up to Airport Mesa and hiked there, too. I think I had almost 17,000 steps on the ol' Fitbit that day!


 I spent the remainder of my days in Sedona hiking all over the place. Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock... (Oak Creek was SO purifying and beautiful...)

And Bell Rock.......

I spent more time back at the Stupa, and visited the Chapel of the Holy Cross where I spent more time in prayer... I did most of my praying on the trails, however.

I cried a lot of tears. They were tears of joy, such as those I shed each time a beautiful vista was opened up to me around a corner. There were tears of release, of sadness and anger and frustration. I shed those and washed them away in the cool waters of Oak Creek. For those of you who know me, I bottle up my emotions and rarely cry. I am happy that I was able to release those tears in such a pure place.

My last day, I happened upon a place called The Chai Spot. I wandered in to a lovely-smelling storefront with very few people in the room. All I know of Chai is what I occasionally buy from Starbucks, so I admitted as much to the sweet girl behind the counter. Savannah, her name was, educated me with great enthusiasm on chai and its origins. She suggested a drink for me, dairy free, and chatted happily with me while I enjoyed this beverage. She then handed me a magazine with an article on the owners of the Chai Spot, which told their story of falling in love even through cultural boundaries and family tensions.

I felt that I received a lot of messages in this journey. I know now that I don't have to be afraid of the future, that whatever happens is for a reason. I can be upset about something or I can search for the truth within the message. It's up to me to decipher what the internal words mean, not just to jump on the emotional bandwagon of what I "should be" feeling about it.

I look forward, very much, to my next trip to Sedona. I truly adored the region and the people, and of course, my Red Rocks.
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