It’s Never Too Late to Mend: The Old Joliet Prison Break-In! What a Night!

I’m home and glowing with affection for Joliet, my hometown of the last 30 years. People here really are decent, friendly and hard-working folks.

I knew this would be the event of the summer and so I had to score myself a ticket soon after hearing about it. And my, did it deliver! It was bigger than the Taste of Joliet, with a 21 and only crowd and fantastic music all night. There were 3,000 tickets available and I’d say they probably sold out from the looks of it!

I arrived about 6:15 and already the designated parking lots were full except for the last one. I didn’t have plans to meet anyone specific, so just meandered around and looked for anyone I might know and checked in on fb. A few people commented and I found one of them! At first I felt kind of lame because everyone had brought lawn chairs and that had never occurred to me. But it ended up being a good thing because it forced me to do a lot of walking. I saw down to eat my pizza and once more to rest a bit. But mostly I just people watched and surveyed all that was going on.

So many people were dressed to theme, some in full-on convict black and white stripe costumes, complete with hats! Others were in suits, fedoras and sunglasses a la The Blues Brothers- another J-town legacy incorporated into the evening. As most know, the first scene features Elwood picking up Joliet Jake from this very prison, in an old police car he got for a deal.

A lot of people had on black t-shirts with Blue Brothers faces and quotes or they were wearing something black and white striped, or just the black fedoras and glasses. They were being sold as a $5 combo at a merch tent, along with event t-shirts, sewing kits, etc. I’m glad I got the hat and glasses! Later they came in handy.

There were food trucks and tons of props serving as photo ops: an old J-town cop car and a white board painted with black stripes and height markers for patrons to take “mug shots.” In the right corner, there was another cop car– this one a prop for the headlining and closing act, The Blooze Brothers. A kind woman I talked to took a shot of me leaning against it and in exchange I got one of her and her boyfriend over by it.

I saw my friend Hallie in line for a tour and she invited me to cut in with her friends and tag along, so I did! The tiny, broken down cells were very sobering. But probably my favorite part of the evening was visiting the tent for the Old Joliet Prison Burnt District Artists. I’ve been seeing posts from them on facebook as they helped clean up and also found raw materials they could incorporate into their artwork. A lot of cool things are happening in Joliet right now, a lot of new business and breweries are opening up. There’s some intense Joliet pride and I’m proud to see it manifested artistically. That’s where I found the young and hip people. I really liked a piece by Ruben Calderon of Art of Breath Galleria (facebook) — it featured a male prisoner in what seems to be prayer, with a guardian angel visible behind him. The cell bars are in the background, along with a phrase, “It’s Never Too Late To Mend,” written on the cell wall to his right. If I had the cash I would have made an offer.

I met some really nice people just ambling around. One woman offered me a chair at her table to eat, and another told me how much she and her boyfriend love live music and had the best anecdote ever. Her boyfriend had actually BEEN a prisoner here at The Joliet Prison more than 20 years ago, and came back tonight a free man to this event. She said he had told her he’d grown as a person and learned a lot while doing his time. He was glad to come back and reflect on it because it was no longer a painful memory to him.

Then when The Blooze Brothers took the stage, I ran up and spied a friend front and center! We just kinda jammed out together, he was more quiet; bopping his head but clearly really in the moment. I was more wild, dancing around and joking with the woman on my right. We were both being totally silly.

I got one of three free CD’s they passed out because I put on my fedora and black sunglasses and was dancing like crazy– it pays off to be festive! Can’t wait to re-live tonight and play the whole CD when I’m driving around next.

I thought it was beautiful that the band did a tribute to Aretha Franklin’s recent passing. The lead female singer was Shelia Pepple, as far as I can tell from the liner notes from their CD. She sang “Respect,” “Natural Woman,” and a few others I didn’t know with some impressive pipes!

And as for Elwood (Chuck Little) and Joliet Jake (Jeff Sismelich)– they KILLED IT!! They really had the dancing cold, and Elwood wailed on his harmonica. They did “Soul Man,” “Rawhide,” and “Jailhouse Rock!” I left before the end of the set, but didn’t see “Sweet Home Chicago,” it was probably the last song.

I danced my tail off, re-connected with old friends, took some fun pictures and left feeling very glad to be a Jolietian.

In this historic prison, I was freed.

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Sharing My Short Story: A Reader’s Reaction

Tonight I read aloud a short story I wrote some years ago. It was two pages.

I loved watching the face of my audience: so intent. Afterward, she asked if she could read it over herself. There were several points she wanted to talk about– things that jumped out at her as symbolic of me. Connections she made about my personality that were illustrated in my characters. Questions she wanted to ask.

I was happy to indulge her, to be interviewed.

Watching someone else hold my work in their hands and study it was amazing.

Suddenly my short story felt elevated to literature.

I stopped writing creatively years ago. I barely blog these days. I didn’t consider myself intelligent, creative or brave enough. I also didn’t want to take on the vulnerability of being published, analyzed.

I had other reasons as well. The last time I wrote something creative and personal, in a “free” writing work shop, it was stolen and published without my permission. The betrayal caused me to shut down and stop writing.

But this experience made me feel validated. More confident. Safe.

This reader found my story inspiring. She was impressed with my creativity.

It made me feel smart, important. Powerful.

I want to share that story with others. Maybe even try and publish it.

And maybe let my pen run free once again.

Order My Steps

Mass today was, again, wonderful!

I woke up late but still made it on time. Thankfully I had my ensemble laid out before I went to bed.

I’ve only been in this choir less than a month, but already I’m feeling such a part of it!!

And I discovered a bonus— when it’s a little windy, choir robes keep you warm.

I feel so much more engaged with Mass. I never realized before how many songs we actually sing. It’s a hustle to keep up with them all, and I love it! I still need my book and sheet lyrics for most, but the other members assured me it took all of them awhile to get it, too.

Everyone is so welcoming and laid-back. So many smiles and laughter. But what’s most amazing is that they’re not cliquey. They greet me with the same warmth as they do other parishioners they’ve known for years.

I’m beginning to open up a little more each week. People are beginning to call me by name and I’m slowly learning theirs, too. That’s one reason I love that we have a small parish. It’s mostly the same people each week. That stability really does make a difference.

Our big song today was “Order My Steps,” by Glenn Burleigh.

And today I noticed people so into the music that they stood up, hands up in the air.

After the song ended, most of the parish gave applause!!

I’m including a video of a different choir– I don’t have any footage of us. But I love this song.

Singing to our Lord is my new favorite way to praise Him!

Gloria Festiva: I Joined a Choir!

This morning was my first official performance as a choir member of my parish.

I am stoked! Other than a fest high school spring musicals, this is my only choral experience.

And it just makes Mass so much better. For one, I now have the best seats to hear everything I would normally be straining to follow. Father Ray is to my right, and our parish is in front of me. It’s like getting sky box seats to your favorite team!

We’re a small choir, which I also like.

I’m enclosing this Mariah Carey song, “Make It Happen,” because right now in my life, GOOD things are happening! I love this video shot in a church. I love her old-school songs.

Apparently all these years I’ve been wrong: I’m not an alto. (But I can sing Cher!!??)

David, our choir director, said he heard me as a soprano. To step down into the front row. I obeyed.

The first song I learned (and the only one I really know!) is “Gloria Festiva.” Even more perfect, I studied Latin in college. Of course, I’ve since lost it. But it just feels so AUTHENTIC. Every line is beautiful.

I’m learning gospel! I’m learning to harmonize. I’m participating in a new way during Mass.

BEST of all??

We get to wear the most elegant choir robes. White, with a red and white stole with a big red heart underneath the collar. It was Easter when I first thought I really like to join.

I daydreamed a bit, imagining myself wearing one of those robes, rocking out.

This robe makes me feel powerful, special, a little closer to God.

This robe signifies that I belong– first to our parish, and now our choir!!!

At my first rehearsal, they were so welcoming. And I loved that afterward we stood in a small circle and prayed– anyone was able to volunteer an intentions. They prayed for me– thanking God for “our newest member.”

I couldn’t stop smiling.

David gave me a black folder with the music, a phone list, and a rehearsal schedule.

Today was wonderful. Mass started off with us proceeding in singing, “This is the Day,” clapping and with a bit of a bounce in our steps.

We were on our feet during most of Mass. I did my best to follow along with the music, just singing what I could.

My Aunt Pat went with me to see my first performance!! She picked me up and we drove together.

I feel so loved.

It’s not a heavy commitment– rehearsal once a week.

I feel like this is exactly where God wants me. I get to meet great new people and learn Gospel songs.

All day, I’ve been in the best mood!!! Singing for God does that you.

The Blog You Didn’t Write

Forgive yourself.

In the moment you were inspired– but you waited.

You doubted.

You asked permission.

Your LIFE is permission! The material is yours.

Lead characters don’t defer to extras.

Remember, you’re the heroine. You’re the hero.

Anyone should be flattered to be part of your story. To be noticed.

Believe!

Your ideas, your perceptions, your feelings– MATTER.

Stop repressing those little urges to record your life, because others are in it.

You’re not vain. You’re creative. You’re lucky.

Stop suppressing your ideas, and let them unfold.

As long as you like it, it stands alone.

Amanda Palmer’s Eyebrows

I’m quite late to the party.

But I found her book, “The Art of Asking,” and am submerging myself.

This book is setting me free.

I’ve always had an eyebrow obsession. In high school and college, I joked it was my fetish.

My friends would tease me when I blathered about crushes: “But how are his eyebrows?”

Palmer has the kind of eyebrows I would normally hate.

On men, the thicker the better. As a woman, I envy women with a villainous arch. Like Maleficent. I used to strive for that shape myself, I was so vainglorious about it!!

Unfortunately, my own brows are curly and bushy like a hedge, and grow as fast. I’ve mostly surrendered to accepting them in their wild state because the maintenance is just too expensive and I also get burned easily. Threading is terrifying and only wax yields the results I like. I do trim them and get them shaped when I feel like it– but it’s not a big thing for me.

Amanda’s eyebrows are deliberately unpretty. Even offensive or ugly, to most people. Desperate.

They have become their own entity, separate from her personality. They have a tumblr!

They are not tattoos, as they first appear. No. She makes them with liquid liner. Talk about a commitment.

Those black points and swirls command. Immediately they communicate that she is not ordinary.

She has no intention of blending in.

Her eyebrows are stark black.

They are vulnerable, they are aggressive. Yet, whimsical.

I would not enjoy this look on myself, but I’m glad Amanda Palmer is doing it.

I’m glad she is unapologetic about declaring herself by their design.

Her confidence, the brash artistry of them– we need more of that in the world.

Not the Poems

As I’m clearing out my possessions, my bookshelf is becoming vacant.

I donated three boxes of books to the library last week. It felt good.

I had a fourth box I didn’t bring. And I realized, it can’t go.

Not the poems. I donated several student publications I had collected since college. They were greedily picked over, and the look of delight on the workers’ faces was edifying, I admit. I liked knowing my books will find a new life with these eager readers. I gave them free chapbooks from traveling poets I’ve met. I gave them old student literary journals, a few I was published in myself.

But I’m unpacking that fourth box.

Not Sharon Olds.

Not Diane Wakoski.

Not Robbie Q. Telfer.

Not Meggie C. Royer.

Not Nick Flynn.

Not Sylvia Plath.

Not Robin Metz.

Not Ryan McLellan.

Not Jewel.

Not Neruda.

Not Susan Slaviero.

Not emily rose.

They stay with me. I will re-populate my shelves. But they are the townspeople, I will not evict them.