Troy Davis


Last Wednesday night Troy Davis was put to death by the state of Georgia. Thousands of people all over the world tried to stop it to no avail. One of my facebook friends wrote, “I wonder what’s going to happen….all I know is, if Pope Benedict, Jimmy Carter and Bob Barr all agree on something, somebody should listen.” I am very much opposed to the death penalty but in this case it’s possible an innocent person was killed.

All this brought back memories for me. In the 90’s, I began visiting a man named Terry Mincey who was on death row in Jackson, Georgia. When GA switched its execution method to lethal injection, Terry was the first man killed. As a result the event garnered quite a bit of attention. There is always a vigil outside the prison but this time there were newspaper cameras everywhere. At one point, I got angry and screamed, “Stop taking my picture!” Immediately a group of people stood in front of me to block the cameras but it was too late. A picture ran of me in the Atlanta papers. I must say, it captured my sadness perfectly.

I preached a sermon about my experience with Terry at the Open Door Community in Atlanta afterwards. I don’t know if I can attach it to this blog but if you’re interested in reading a copy, contact me directly puffer61@gmail.com) and I’ll send it to you.

Due to my TBI, visiting Terry was difficult for me. The Open Door Community visits the prison every month and I first went with them. They drive a van the 1 1/2 hour south to the prison from Altlanta. Many of the folks on the trip are family members. Sometimes the trip was noisy (overstimulation) with children laughing and I found the trip difficult. Since at that time I wasn’t driving on the highway, making the trip alone was not possible so every month I made the trip.

Pencil and paper are not allowed in the visiting room. I have learned that if I want to remember something, I must write it down. As I’ve said before, there are three parts to memory. First, one must get it in the brain. Second, it must be stored and third, it has to be retrieved. My way to store it is to write it down and then I can retrieve it by reading it later. I always took notes about my visit when I was riding home but I’m able to remember something for only a short time before I must write it down.

Leaving the prison was quite an experience. I waited for the guard to let me out of the room. I then waited for my companions before our long walk out of the prison. Trying to attend to things and concentrating really wore me out (cognitive overload, resting brain). I put in my ear plugs and slept all the way home. There was often noise in the van which made resting difficult for me. Fortunately later, I found folks who drove up separately so I didn’t have to continue taking the trip with the Open Door Community. Either way, the trip wiped me out.

My experience with Terry made me interested in visiting as clergy. I tried doing this once but realized it was going to be very hard for me to do with all my challenges. Terry knew about my memory challenges and he often wrote me letters about our visits. This helped immensely. I think when I first began visiting, Murphy Davis, who is responsible for setting people up with someone to visit, choose Terry for me because she knew he would understand my challenges and be willing to work with them.

In retrospect, I’m very glad I took the opportunity to visit Terry even though it pushed on all my deficits. In the early years of being a survivor, I didn’t know how to pace myself. Sometimes I did more than I really was able and I then had to sleep for days. Now I know where my limits are and I try to plan for them. However, sometimes things don’t go as planned. Troy’s execution was one of those times. It was postponed for hours and instead of going to bed early like I always do, I stayed up and watched Democracy Now which was broadcasting from the prison. I hoped the Supreme Court would stop the execution but this didn’t happen. So I stayed up and watched till the bitter end.

West Asheville Street Clean-up


A couple of months ago there were some home invasions where neighbors were held at gunpoint in my neighborhood here in West Asheville, NC. A group called “West Asheville Watch” was hastily formed and we now have a facebook page (1300 members) and as of yesterday, a web site. The police can only do so much and studies have shown that when people look out for each other and have neat and clean neighborhoods, there is less crime.

So on Saturday, I participated with about 18 other neighbors in a project to clean about 1/2 mile on Louisiana Avenue. We collected about 103 bags of dirt, trash and debris in a morning long event and I returned in the afternoon to take the picture posted above. Of course in this picture you don’t see all of us wearing our bright vests as we raked, shoveled and gathered weeds and trash from the curb and sidewalk. You also don’t get to see the traffic whizzing by. We even had a police escort because Louisiana is often congested.

Events like these are always difficult for me. I concentrated on trying to gather the debris as numerous cars drove by. I had several conversations with folks (good ones, too!) but all the commotion overstimulated me. I really needed to get away for a few minutes, put my ear plugs in and “rest my brain.” Since there wasn’t a good place to do this, I decided to leave after only a little more than an hour.

I hate having to “shirk my duties” like this but I have learned that if I push myself to finish whatever I’m doing, I have to spend a long time resting. On Saturday I took a nap when I returned home and I was good to go on Sunday. Years ago, I often pushed myself until I ended up having to rest for days. I now know my limits. Oh, I’m certainly not happy about them but I function much better when I listen to my body. I think we all do – brain injury or not.

A quote by Hubert Humphrey helps me here. “It’s not what they take away from you that counts. It’s what you do with what you have left.” There is a lot I can no longer do but I do what I can. I think this is all God asks of any of us.

If you have a brain injury, how do you pace yourself? Do you get angry when you can no longer do what you did before? See above right for commenting instructions or contact me directly at puffer61@gmail.com Due to a computer glitch, I cannot respond here but I read every comment.

I’ve been a little disappointed that brain injury survivors have not commented here. Being a survivor is lonely and often folks don’t understand our challenges. I hoped this blog would be a place where survivors could share their experiences together but it hasn’t turned out that way. I know commenting on blogspot is difficult and so I may switch to wordpress, where commenting is easier. I would be interested in your thoughts about this. Please write me at puffer61@gmail.com

Retreat

Michael and I attended Circle of Mercy’s family retreat this weekend at the Hinton Center, a Methodist retreat center about two hours away from Asheville. Retreats are always difficult for me since I do much better when I know my surroundings. I decided to attend this one because I was particularly interested in the program. One family in the program spent a year in Cuba helping set up a prison ministry while the other spent two years in Columbia as MCC volunteers. In addition to hearing about both trips, I got to know my fellow Mercites much better.

Since I no longer have to take a nap at noon, I don’t have to worry about making sure I have a place to lay down then. This has freed up my daily schedule but it still hasn’t taken away my over stimulation, “resting my brain” or my attention challenges. I always sit in the front at both churches I attend so I’m not distracted by the various sounds around me. Children wiggling and whispering are particularly difficult for me. Children have a lot of energy and this is a positive thing. It pains me that I often cannot enjoy this energy since it pushes against my deficits. I can only imagine how difficult having a brain injury would be when one is trying to raise children at the same time!

We had our meals and our programs in a large “live” room. Often we broke into small groups which was very difficult for me. I had to filter out all the other groups as they talked which I could not do. These type of events always overstimulate me and I then I experience cognitive overload. On Saturday morning our breakfast and two sessions really pushed on all my deficits and my brain was very tired. I spent part of the afternoon sleeping and just getting away from the stimulation.

My spatial orientation issues came into play as well. The main building was in the middle while families with children slept in one building and those of us without children slept in the building on the other side. I couldn’t get straight which side my building was on. Every time I left the main building to go back to my room, I turned the wrong way. I must say, it really was sort of funny. I still worry about what people think of me (I’m working on this!) and I imagined people seeing me turn around several times and thinking I was some sort of space cadet!

I did get to know several Mercites much better. It was a great retreat and I’m glad I went. Ken Sehested, one of the co-pastors quoted someone (I can’t remember the person’s name) who said, “The opposite of poverty is not plenty, but sharing.” While we in the United States have much to learn from people who live in poverty, I took this quote very personally. “The opposite of being alone and misunderstood as a brain injury survivor, is to reach out to others and share my struggles.”

That is what I did this weekend. Of course there is a danger of complaining about them endlessly but I’m careful to avoid this. There also is a danger in expecting everyone to change for me and I try hard not to do this as well. As Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Every day, I’m learning how to manage my TBI and live life abundantly.