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.

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.

The Golden Set List

I still can’t believe that I got my FIRST set list on Saturday night.

For STRYPER!

I almost gave it away at the show– I thought about it. But then I thought, “That’s crazy!”

I don’t get out to a lot of shows, but I have plenty of hardcore music fan friends who do. I know a woman who goes out to shows constantly because that’s her passion. The set list is her goal and she often gets it. She has a collection.

And I know that the SET LIST is a prize. It COULD be an adventure. It could be something to fight for!

Now I remember how in high school, the punk kids always had patches with safety pins of the bands they’d seen on their hoodies and back-packs. Usually black hoodies. I was such a goody-two shoes in high school, I didn’t even go to parties. Heck, I wasn’t even INVITED to parties. I was as straight-edge as it gets. Maybe people didn’t think to ask me because they didn’t think I’d want to go. I wish they had! But I made up for that in college.

High school was a very innocent time for me. I’m glad I had that. As I age, I realize some people never did. I had a lot of friends but I never dated anyone seriously. I was very close with my family and my youth group. I had “uncool” friends just like me and we had a blast.

I brought my leather jacket along to the show but kept it in my trunk at first. Usually it’s pretty hot in there! But unfortunately this show wasn’t a bunch of people packed together. It was people sitting at tables, and then the back section was more standing room only. I wished the crowd would get to their feet! I should have set the example. I DID scream a lot, and I’d like to think that’s why they gave me the set list. I have to say, it wasn’t as much fun in that aspect as a regular show.

Nothing beats being smashed up against a stage front-row, guarding your space like a parking spot during Chicago winter. Having to elbow other fans who wants to steal it. Getting there early to claim it. Or even better, fighting your way through the crowd and cutting in front of people and refusing to move. Being small has it’s advantages at shows! Ha ha! I’m not blocking anyone’s view, so it doesn’t usually bother anyone.

The set list is gold, with black duct tape– as per the band’s colors. The back door was open during the show, and the breeze was making me cold. So I dashed out to get my leather jacket. Better.

After the show, I had to tape that set list on my jacket! People thought it was rad.

And then I remembered those high school punk kids, and I understood. They were proud.

They were saying, “This is who I am. These are the bands I love. These are the shows I’ve seen.”

They wanted people to talk to them about it. They wanted to meet other fans, argue about the music.

On my way out, I bought a black hoodie. I paid the $55 bucks because I just really wanted it and decided to splurge for my birthday. Normally I would never pay that much for a hoodie, I’d get one at Old Navy.

But this show was special. And I don’t have any good hoodies anymore! It’s perfect for fall.

I want everyone to know I’ve seen Stryper. I want everyone to know I’m a Christian.

That hoodie isn’t just about advertising the band– it’s about claiming my identity, as well.

I hope I meet some other fans, and get in some great conversations because of it.

I may keep the list on the jacket for awhile to see what conversations it starts– but I’m also afraid some rude person will just rip it off or steal it just to be nasty.

What do I do with it? Put it on my wall? Frame it?

I want to keep it, preserve it. I wonder, how many can I get?

I don’t expect I’ll ever be GIVEN one again. Or maybe so!

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to get a list? Tell me your stories!

What do you do with them?

Michael Sweet Threw a Bible, and I Caught It: My First Christian Rock Show!

I’ve been avoiding music shows lately– I’m tired of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll being championed.

The gold set list on my black leather jacket-- God and rock 'n roll!

The gold set list on my black leather jacket– God and rock ‘n roll!

Tired of hearing rants about how wasted they got on the way to the show, challenging the audience to do shots. I know it’s all part of the image and that partying is what the industry is built upon. But I don’t drink or do drugs and although I go for the music and have a great time, I get tired of being one of the only sober people in the room. Tired of being hit on.

Luckily, my friend Tammie had invited me to see STRYPER last night! And I felt totally at home.

Everyone from the bands to the road crew setting up seemed to be sober. Maybe a few weren’t– but it definitely changed the atmosphere for the better. They played Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill in Bolingbrook, IL.

People DRANK Coke, rather than bragging about doing it. I saw crosses, not cleavage, everywhere. Mostly, I saw a lot of respect. For the band, for the audience, for the venue.

The show was exactly what I needed after work, especially since a co-worker told me, “You look like a nun.”

She didn’t mean it as a compliment, although nuns ARE awesome. I ran home and dressed up for the first time in months, it seems. I wore a white shirt that I love with golden crosses all over it, and my favorite dangly heart earrings. I put on eye-liner and mascara and actually used hairspray! I searched frantically for the Stryper album I still have on CD, but couldn’t find it. My phone was nowhere to be found so I Facebooked my friend that I was leaving, Googled directions and wrote them down, and got to Tailgator’s within about 25 minutes.

My friend Tammie was waiting for me at the door, bless her. She’s always been a steadfast friend. Even better, she had bought our tickets in advance and we had a table RIGHT by the stage! In the left corner, where Michael Sweet would step out later on a few times.

The two opening bands were wonderful– Ignescent, and Signature. The first was definitely a Christian band, and I don’t think the second was, but I really enjoyed both! As always, I missed a lot that I couldn’t hear– but the musicianship and performances were great. I loved the fact that Ignescent front woman Jennifer Benson was a petite woman about my size. Seeing her up there rocking out– for the Lord!– was so inspiring. I loved that she still locked like a rocker, but modest as well. She had on a black dress, black shredded jeans, and a cute black skirt and black shoes. On the way to the bathroom, I met her! She talked to me for a few minutes and had the best smile. She was really sweet.

When I returned, Signature lead singer Sami Carava walked by me and gave me a sweaty kiss on the cheek, and I grinned.

And as set-up began for STRYPER, I saw the set list being duct-taped down, right in front of us! Black tape.

Bass player Tim Gaines was directly in front of us.

I asked Tammie to use her phone to look-up the verse on the banner behind the drum kit, Isiah 53:5. She had a Bible app! We scrolled down and found it, and I loved it.

Once the set began, I was transported.

Earlier, Tammie had posted a Facebook photo of a BIBLE Stryper had thrown into the crowd Friday night at an acoustic show at the same venue. This was the electric show. As soon as I saw that, I decided my goal would be to GET ONE myself! She also had a yellow guitar pick, given away for their 30th Anniversary tour– they began in 1984.

I saw the tiny hornet-yellow picks set up on each mic with an apparatus that had them lined up for the band members to toss to the crowd.

During, “Call and Respond,” Michael Sweet was throwing Bibles.

I JUMPED out of my chair and waved my hand without shame. “ME!! ME!!”

He looked at me, smiled and tossed one to me. I caught it!! It’s pocket-sized, perfect.

And suddenly, GOD is rock n’ roll. I am so excited to see a legendary band like Stryper endorsing the Bible. Plus, it’s the most genius gimmick ever. It’s the NIV, New Testament. It’s black, with a black band sticker.

They embodied the virtue of charity, throwing out several Bibles and guitar picks.

Sweet was riveting. I loved the Abalone squares on his guitar, and the fact that he wore nice black leather shoes, like a gentleman. Black jeans with yellow crosses down the leg and on his back pocket.

And it was so clearly about the MUSIC, the Lord, and the fans. He talked to us. But unlike every other front man I’ve ever seen, he wasn’t leering or gyrating. He was there to praise, not seduce. To commune with the fans, not challenge them to get wasted. He asked for a show of hands of fans who had been to past shows– smiled in recognition at some of them.

I realized why MUSIC is the booming business it is. It’s healing, on a soul level. And how much pressure Christian bands must face to conform– the gigs they lose and the money the pass up, to adhere to their faith. The pressure they all face to sexualize themselves to sell more albums.

I’m going to look for more Christian bands. Not so say I’m abandoning secular music– but I love the atmosphere of a Christian show and I’ll take the challenge to find more!

During a set break, Tammie showed me the Rosary she had made with rose petals from her mother’s funeral, 15 years ago. I was so happy she let me hold it, it was the most intricate Rosary I’ve ever seen. I’m Catholic and she’s Non-Denominational Christian, but we focus on what we have in common. Earlier this week, we’d talked about attempting to learn to pray the Rosary together. I love that she wants to share that with me, even though she’s not Catholic. What an extraordinary display of friendship.

Whenever I have doubts about this blog, Tammie is there reassure me I should keep going. She’s been a subscriber since she learned about it.

I felt Christ’s presence in that room. Maybe that’s a bold thing to say, but I’m alright with that.

I’ve been looking frantically for His presence– I only thought I could find it in Mass. I’ve been anxious because when my work schedule changes, I won’t likely be able to go to Mass as often, or maybe at all. But now I know you really don’t need to go to a church to find Him.

God, Christ, whoever you identify with– He’s all around us. If you only have the courage to look.

Seek the GOOD– and you will find it.

And I was reassured that I’m not alone in my faith walk. I never wondered what denomination anyone was– it didn’t matter. I felt united under God’s rock concert. We’re all struggling. We’re all trudging forward, best we can.

A man at the table to my immediate left held up two fingers in a cross sign. I saw people closing their eyes, being still- seemingly in prayer.

I loved when he said the band was going to “stop trying to be modern,” (If I heard that right!) and just go back to their roots. This was their last American tour stop before heading out to Brazil. What are the odds that I got to see them!? God’s brought me there for a reason.

I’m an old-fashioned gal, who doesn’t often feel at home in this newfangled world. Hear, hear! I was bummed that earlier I couldn’t find the CD of theirs I had bought in 2005, which still have! I wanted to show it to them, maybe try and get it signed. But look what I got instead!

God’s abundance. Thanks for reading this far– I know I’m a verbose lady!

They closed with an encore performance– “To HELL with the Devil!” That’s the only song I previously knew, and it was absolutely perfect. I was AWED that Sweet’s voice really IS as operatic as it sounded every time I played it in my car.

I bought my first and only Stryper CD in 2005, when I was living in Freeport and working as a news reporter. I interviewed a woman who was selling a bunch of random things in her home– and I snatched up that album.

Now I write on my own terms– with this blog.

The best moment of the night was after they closed with their encore performance, “To Hell with the Devil,” of course!! FINALLY, the audience all got to their feet. I had thought they were a little TOO respectful, all sitting down the whole time.

But it was also just like any other rock show– there were still drunk women lunging at the stage.

Last night was I reminded I’m right where I need to be for me, right now.

Especially when as the road crew packed up, a man HANDED ME the set list with a smile! I screamed and taped it on the back of my leather jacket. I didn’t worry about anyone stealing it, and no one did.

Tammie was so happy for me, too.

Robert Sweet fist-bumped me, and Ox Fox shook my hand as they exited the stage. They were so gracious.

We stopped at the merch table on the way out, and I decided to buy myself a birthday present: I’ll be 34 next month. I don’t have anything planned as of yet. I’ve gotten down on myself in the past for not having the markers of “adulthood” yet– not being settled down with a family and mortage.

I’m still renting and I’m single.

But God gave me this FREEDOM for a reason. And I’m grateful. I’ll enjoy it as long as I’ve got it!

I spied a hoodie with– what else?– To hell With the Devil– on the back, in yellow script lettering. I asked if there any smalls?

ONE left.

Most of my money these days goes toward basic expenses: food, bills, gas. Books. I rarely buy clothes.

But I decided I deserved this. And I gave myself permission to splurge and get it. Now I’ve got a perfect new hoodie for fall, and I can’t wait for Stryper fans to stop me and talk to me about it!

I’m sure that’ll inspire some conversations about religion and God, with all sorts of people.

I can’t wait.