Family & Corrections Network
The Fifth North American Conference on the Family & Corrections
Sandy Barnhill introduces Patrice Gaines:
Good morning. Let me add my voice to the many voices that will welcome you today. Im excited, so glad youre here. Glad to be a part of it. Jim asked me if I would introduce Patrice Gaines and I got happy and I got excited about the opportunity to do that and so without further ado Id like to move in that direction. Im not going to really give you her credentials. If youll look at page 10 of your program book youll find her bio there, so you can read that. But she is not a woman who stands on formality so I asked her, I said "Patrice, what would you like me to say about you." She only gave me two things and then she said say whatever you like. The first thing she said was that its important for you to know or for everyone at the conference to know that I have a deep care and commitment to those who are in prison. I speak a great deal of time around the country, in both male and female prisons. And then she said I also spend a great deal of time talking and being involved with folks in rehab and people who are dealing with the issue of substance abuse. So beyond that, say whatever youd like. Well when I thought about how I wanted to introduce her,
I thought of a theologian and a philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh, whos a Buddhist monk. Ive been studying him lately. He was exiled during the Vietnam war to Paris and began a community there that focuses on the notion of mind for living. He said we can learn about others by studying ourselves. When I think of Patrice Gaines, I think of someone for whom that is a true statement. That she has spent considerable time studying herself. We have the benefit today to learn from all that shes studied. Her book, "Laughing In the Dark From Colored Girls to Women of Color", A journey from prison to power is available, I believe there may be some copies. I may be wrong I think you may have to bring your own copies. But she is available to sign that. Shes the author of that book, a reporter for the Washington Post and a committed woman.
The best way though for me to share who Patrice is with you is to read just a few brief passages from her book. The context of what Im going to read comes during a time when shes been nominated by the National Association of Black Journalist to receive an award in Detroit at their annual meeting for a commentary that she writes. As Patrice prepares for this, listen to her words. " I have pondered particularly during my time of grief, why we have to go through what we do in life to learn. Why do some of us take a more difficult path than others? I know people who believe that because I was not born poor or handicapped I should not have struggled. Or that somehow my story and therefore my life is a fraud, or not legitimate. But I am convinced that you can stand in one place and struggle. You can live on an island alone and never meet another person and still fight one demon after another. The only struggle that matters, is the one that occurs inside. We are born perfect, I tell young students when I speak at schools. We know this in the crib, but as we grow we forget. Then life becomes our journey back to perfection or at least back to the time of remembering." Now Patrice moves back to actually being in Detroit and receiving the award. "On stage I felt as if God had reached down his hand and raised me up. It was a moment of grace. A voice in my head said, now you see this is why you shot dope; this is why you went to jail; this is why you were lost, so that you could one day you go out and spread the word that there is no greater love than love of self. The war was not the culmination of everything, it was a beginning. As I walked, my legs were wobbling so badly, I was afraid Id faint. One of Coopers friends met me in the aisle on the way to my seat. I collapsed in his arms sobbing as he whispered, Oh Patrice Cooper is smiling now. An hour later my legs were strong. I danced like a maniac for Cooper and Michael and John, for my father, who was so proud of me, though I did not know it until he was dead. I danced for my life in celebration of it and not in spite of it. Dashing, twirling, lashing." Help me welcome A diva, a woman who is divine, Patrice Gaines.
The other day I had a little jolt to remind me of how far I had come but of how far and how much more work I had to do. It was a very simple thing that once in my life, I would not have paid any attention to. I went into a fish market to order some fish for dinner and when I ordered the fish the lady piled all the fish on the plate. I looked at one piece and it was so thin and I had been there before and I had bought the fish and I found out that the thin pieces were really dry. So I said, could you take that piece out for me. She said, "Excuse me." And I said "Could you take that piece out for me, I don't like the thin pieces." It was like she had checked her attitude, and she took it out. Then she counted up the fish and she said, "Well that was just an extra piece anyway. This is all you get." And I paid for the fish and after I paid for the fish, I put a tip in her little tip thing and I walked. As soon as I walked out, I was like - Hmm! Why do I feel so bad? And I thought I felt bad because I tipped her. Now I thought I tipped her because she had changed her attitude towards me and I wanted to say, "Well alright you know when you change your attitude and you get it together for people, you're rewarded."
You know I believe we can lie to ourselves but we can't lie to what I call the spirit. And I said, spirit knew the truth and the truth of the matter was that I put that money in there so she wouldn't think I was a bitch. But the sad truth was, that was the same reason I shot dope, that was the same reason I stole, that was the same reason I went to jail because I always thought I had to prove something to someone that I wasn't enough in who I am, just simply being who I am, that I didn't deserve any better. And so I actually rewarded a woman for taking away a piece of fish. Instead of saying to her, if you're going to take away that piece, then give me another piece. You know, instead of keeping my money and giving it to someone else who really deserves it; instead of recognizing my worth was what it was all about. Instead of recognizing that it didn't matter whether she liked me or not. It only mattered that she treated me with respect. And so I continue the struggle to change.
After "Laughing in the Dark," I wrote a book called "Moments of Grace." This is my only commercial. It's a spiritual book called "Moments of Grace, Meeting the Challenge to Change." And it talks about the steps that I believe that I took to change my life and the steps that I believe everybody has to take regardless of what our struggle is. It doesn't matter whether it is a president who has a problem being faithful to his wife and himself. Or whether we are a person on crack who is trying to get off drugs. We all have to go through the same steps to change. Now I was a person who did not love herself and I mean to a much lesser degree, you know I know I've changed because I'm only dealing with fish. You know, so there was some goodness in that. But I recognized how long it takes to get the traces of the self-hatred out of yourself. When I was younger, I hated myself because I was a girl. I didn't see where women had any power, so I thought I would have none because I was black and I felt that there was no place for me in this society. I thought that my father didn't love me.
Now we all can think of reasons to hate ourselves. Whenever I go into prisons, I immediately feel so at home because I understand that I'm among a lot of people who feel just the way I used to feel, who don't understand that they are magnificent, who don't understand that they are perfect, that they have all they need. They don't have to impress anybody, do anything to earn love, do anything to prove to themselves that they are worthy. So, I go there and I understand exactly where I am and where they are. We all have reasons and we all have different reasons. And so I became a young teenage girl, convinced that my father didn't love me. You know my father was a Marine. I was the oldest of 7 children. My father was the kind of man who never said "I love you" would never say "How was your day?"..."I'm proud of you." He didn't know how to say these things. I didn't understand this. All I knew was that I felt my father didn't love me, which I thought meant I wasn't worthy to be loved by my father. Which I thought meant that I wasn't worthy to be loved by white people. I was raised in a predominantly white environment. Whenever I ran into racism I always thought there was always something wrong with me. I had a way of always thinking, "It was me, me, me." No one else but it was me. So you know, you build that up and you build it up until you become this young person who believes they are just less than everybody else.
When I was a teenage girl and it was time for me to decide what kind of young man I would date, I wanted to date somebody who I thought was powerful. Who, I could gain power from by simply being with this person. And I chose a guy who was the kind of person you would call a thug, a hustler, you know. Someone who robbed, who burglarized, who ran flim flams helpful to other people. And I did this because he had a reputation among my peers, who seemed to look up to him, to me. And I thought that he was powerful. That's simply because he chose me, made me somebody worth while; somebody more worthy than I felt I was when I looked at my father. And I wanted someone also who was different than my father. My father was the kind of man I thought who would bow and do whatever anyone else said and here was a young black man, I thought, who was defiant. I thought he would raise my worth. I began to date him and my life changed. I was in 9th grade. I started hooking school, everything changed. You know sometime you change so much until you don't even who you used to be. So I changed just that much, that I didn't know who I was and the people who use to be my friends didn't recognize me either.
By the time I got out of high school, I was very fortunate to get out of high school. I always said then, they must have had a policy to just pass you so that you could make room for other people. And so I got out of high school, and shortly after I got out of high school, I had a daughter by a guy I call Ben. And after I had my daughter, I began to shoot heroin. Now Ben introduced me to heroin and I think, and I'm sure if a young lady had given me the drug, I would have said "No!," But because Ben was my worth, Ben was my power. I looked at Ben and saw who I was. To me he was everything. So if Ben said try this drug, I tried the drug. Eventually one day we were at a conference, I mean, not a conference, I wish I was at a conference. I was at a concert. In fact this will really date me. I was at a Steppewolf Concert. I was at this concert in Charlotte, NC and I got busted. Now we always had a habit, when we would go out with the drugs, I would carry the drugs. The guys would say you know you carry the drugs because no one would suspect you. You know, you carry the drugs because you don't look like you do drugs. Anyway, if you get caught, you won't do any time. Well there was a time when that was almost true for women. But it really wasn't true. So we got busted and of course I had the drugs. I had the needle. I had the heroin. I had the syringe. I had everything and we got busted and we went to jail.
Now no one in my family had ever been to jail and so immediately I was ashamed. I was more ashamed than I ever had been. My next thought I remember was, "well I deserve this. You know I'm no good anyway and this is just what I deserve. I deserve to be here. My family came. Everyone except my father, and it's funny, in my recollections when I first started writing the book, I remembered that my father came. My mother had to tell me, "no your father did not come." My father didn't come because he had to work, but what helped me to get out of jail was the house that my father bought, you know, with that money that he earned from his job. But I think in retrospect, I wanted him to come so badly that in memory he came. My mother came and my grandfather.
The one thing I remember, you know my mother had tried everything to try to get me to change, all kinds of things. You know the things all parents try. Nothing seemed to work. But now she understood, that my daughter for me represented everything. She represented my chance to be somebody. She represented to me the only person that I knew who loved me unconditionally. So my mother came and said she couldn't bring my daughter with her, she wasn't allowed. I was just in a jail until trial and children were not allowed to come and visit. But my mother said, when you go back to your cell, is there a window you can look out of. I told her yes and I told her what side of the building to go to. She said when you go back to your cell, I'd like for you to look out that window. When I went back and I looked out, she and my grandfather were holding up my daughter. She was 2 years old. They were trying to point to the window. I looked at my daughter and she was looking all around, you know, every which way, of course didn't what they were pointing to. And it hit me that if I didn't change my life, this would be my future, that my daughter would be looking for me and that she wouldn't be able to see me, that I wouldn't be able to touch her, comb her hair. I wouldn't where the clothes came, that she was wearing. I didn't want that. I thought if there was anything I could be, if there was a chance I could be somebody it would be to be a mother, that I could be a mother.
So, looking at my daughter, I decided to I had to change. Now, of course there comes a point in life it's fine I'd say, to get that initial boost by doing it for someone else. But ultimately, change comes because you do it for yourself. I got that kind of artificial, I guess, boost to get me started because it certainly did. At least for the first time in my life make me think that I could change and make me also think that I had some say-so about what my future was. Before I had blamed it on white people, on my father, on teachers. But on that day I realized that I had some power and that I could do something. But I got out of jail and I can tell you I didn't know what to do. I was 21 years old and I had no idea how you change your life. You know it seemed like a pretty daunting task to me. So I did what I knew how to do. I quit Ben. I stopped using heroin. I went back to school at night. I ended up taking business courses and typing. But then I started doing other drugs. Then I started finding other men who would abuse me. The reason, I would understand later is because until you find out why you are attracted to the drug or to the person or to the abuse, you can't change it. You know I thought I was changing because I'd get a different man. I thought I was changing because I wasn't doing heroin, I was just dropping pills. You know using a little alcohol. You can fool yourself. But I really, really wasn't changing.
The one thing that was changing was my economic status because I was able to go to school at night. And when I went to school, I had some successes which made me feel a little better about myself. I was able to get an apartment in a better neighborhood, which made me feel better about myself. I was able to buy some things without depending on the income of a man, which made me feel better about myself. And so there were those things that made me raised my self-esteem a little. But I started dating a man who sold drugs, who hustled. And then one day, we had this habit we would go over to a friends house to have sex, that way I could leave my daughter with my roommate. We'd go over there and we were over at this friends house. The friend was working at night. While we were there, I got undressed and we were in a room, this guy took out a whip and he beat me. He beat me so bad that I was bloody and I could see that I was going unconscious. I remember thinking, "I just want to die. I am sick of this world. I am sick of it , and the hatred and disappointment and I just want to die." The next thing that I felt, it seemed to me that I was up on the ceiling . I was looking down at my body. When I saw my body, it looked like a bloody rag doll to me and that this man was having sex with me. And as soon as I saw that, the next feeling I felt was this excruciating pain. The pain seemed to say to me that this is the pain your mother will feel when they tell her that you were found bloody and beaten. And I thought, "I can't let my mother feel this, because this hurts more than the pain that I felt." So I thought, "I cannot die."
The next thing I remember was waking up at my apartment. I was on the sofa and this man was on the sofa asleep. I got up and something said to me to go to the kitchen to get a knife and I remember it said like stab him in the throat. I have no idea why. I went and I got the knife. I was standing over him and I thought again about my daughter in the bedroom. I thought "If I do this the police they are going to take my daughter and even if my parents get her, I won't get to see her and she'll be hysterical when they take her out of here." I thought for that reason I can't do this. I went to bed with the knife under my pillow.
I got up the next morning as if nothing had happened, which I believe is what hundreds of people do every day who live through things like this. I got up and I got my daughter dressed and I took her to daycare. I went by a girlfriend's house. I always said, I had two sets of friends at this point. I had the friends who were just as confused as me. Then I had the good friends. I don't call the other friends bad because they were the same friend to me as I was to them. They were just confused.
And so I went to the good friend's house and the good friend, I had on long sleeves, so no one could see the welts, but there were welts on my hand. She asked me what had happened, and I told her. Now the good friends know that you're worth more than you realize you're worth. You know, you have to keep the good friends around you, so that when you don't understand who you are, they can remind you. So this friend said, "You know you don't deserve this. We need to go down to the police department. She sent her cousin with me, because I didn't think I needed to go to the police department, because I thought, "Who would care?" You know who would care that some one who was a felon, some one who was a heroin addict, who would care that I had been raped. So I went down though because she cared. And I went down and the police at first didn't care either. They certainly didn't care about the rape. What they cared is when they saw how badly I had been beaten. You know when I undressed and they took pictures, that they cared about. So they began to look for this guy and I immediately began to pray that they wouldn't find him. I prayed that they wouldn't find because I knew that I wasn't strong enough to stand up in court and have them talk about everything they thought I was and to fight for any kind of justice. So they didn't catch him and I went on with my life.
Things changed a little, little, little. One of the things that helped save me was discovering that I loved to write. It helped me because I always think of writing as healing. When I didn't talk to anybody if I just wrote what I felt, it was just like just emptying myself out. I didn't know anything about counselors, therapy, any of that. You know drug rehab programs. All I knew is that if I wrote, it made me feel better. Then I began to have longer periods of being without drugs. So maybe it would be 3 months and then I'd relapse. Or maybe it'd be 4 and I'd relapse. But I'd began to find that things happen during those periods that I didn't use drugs that didn't happen at other times. You know that my mother was proud of me. That I had a better relationship with my daughter. But I could see that things were beginning to change. And then the place I was working for had a job as a secretary, well as a typist, because I had a difficult time finding a job. It was one of the things that still gets me about people who get out of jail and who after they finish their terms and they can't find employment. I got out and I find out that if I told the truth, I didn't get hired. If I lied, sometimes I got the job until they found out the truth.
Finally I did go to a place one day where I did put the truth on the application and a woman, I remember it was an elderly white woman who ended up becoming one of my best friends. That was significant for me at the time because I wasn't particularly fond of white people. So I just figured though the spirit said hey, we're going to let this person help her so that she can understand that help can come from anywhere. You have to be open to it. So this woman said if you take that off your application, I might be able to get you a job. And that, being the fact that I had been found guilty of the possession of drugs. I had pleaded guilty and received 5 years of probation So she gave me my first job.
Once I got that job, I began to move up. Then when the place I was working for, closed, I walked across the street to a newspaper. And I walked inside the newspaper to apply for a job as a secretary. And I always say, there's no such things as accidents. Of course when I walked in there and I saw people writing, I thought well it never even occurred to me that this is something you could do and make a living. You know I thought it was a hobby. Something you did, you show to your friends, maybe. And then maybe one day, after you've become an alcoholic or cut off an ear or did something drastic, you'd be discovered. You know maybe even after you were dead and your work would just be the rave.
But here were people who were writing and I introduced into my head the idea that maybe I could do this, just maybe. And I got a job there working as a secretary and eventually I applied for a program that sent me to California. It was a program called the Summer Program For Minority Journalists. I applied for it because it was free and it was in California. But after I got chosen, I have to tell you for somebody with my background, for people who don't feel they can do anything, are not worthy, when they are chosen for something, it can be the smallest thing. But when someone says I think you have potential, I have faith in you, it changed my life.
So, I knew when I went to California, I couldn't just party, I had to prove to these people that their thoughts, that their faith in me were correct. So I studied and I became a journalist. It was just a summer program. I didn't finish college. I went through this program. I got my first job in Miami and then I went to Washington and worked at the Washington Post, where I've been for 13 years. Now since I've been at the Post several things have happened that have helped my growth. Very few have had anything to do with writing for the Washington Post. One of them was, I turned around at one point in my life and realized that most of my friends there were gay men. I always called them my greatest teachers and God's gift to me. I called them that because God understood that I couldn't get along with straight men because I always slept with them too soon.
You know we never developed friendship. Then once I slept with them, I didn't understand why I'd always go, does he love me or is he trying to get over on me or what is this about. It just became so confusing. We couldn't even enjoy ourselves. So with gay men this was not an issue. I was able to develop some of the best friendships I ever had with men. Yet, 5 years after I met and fell in love with my first gay friend, they were all dead because they died of AIDS. I called them my greatest teachers because as they would die, I got a chance to sit by their beds. When you get to sit with a person who's dying, you get to learn phenomenal things that you don't always learn when you're with the living because so often we're too busy to ask ourselves things like, why am I here? And, what do I need to do? And, did I fulfill my purpose? And, who do I need to forgive? And, what is love? And, what is death? And, what does any of it have to do with anything? And so as they would ask these questions, I would get to be the benefactor of the answers that they would receive. Then they were gone. But I was profoundly changed because it seemed to me that I knew what goodness was and I used them as the measure of a man, you know for friendship. And so then I knew what to look for in a straight person.
The other thing that happened to me was, of course by the time I got to the Washington Post, I had never again put on my application, you know where it says, have you ever been convicted of a felony. Once I took it off, I never put it back on there. So when I went to the Washington Post and I filled out the application, I said No!, I never have. It had been like 15 years. I was beginning to believe it myself. And then after I had been there about 5 years, some of us had been involved in a law suit against the Post. Our lawyer said to us, "These are the questions they'll ask you when you get in court. The first one is, Is everything correct on your application?"
It was a simple question for most people. But I had to say, "No." And I had to tell our lawyer, what the problem was. They said, "You've got to go to management before we go to court so you can get this straight." I was petrified. I felt as though I was suddenly reduced to thinking of myself as a heroin addict, a person who had been to jail, incarcerated. I suddenly forgot all that I had achieved and I was afraid of what people would think. And yet I had a good friend who said to me, "You know regardless of what happens, you are this phenomenal woman. You have overcome all of these things. You have learned. You know, look at where you've come from. How you've changed. You may be unemployed, but you'll be phenomenal." And for once I found that quite comforting. So I went in and I talked to Ben Bradley, who was then the editor of the paper. I asked Ben, I remember, if I put the truth on my application, would he have hired me. He said, "Probably not." He told me they would have to decide whether or not to continue to employ me.
It took them six months. I was hoarding money. My daughter was in college, I was a single parent. I wanted this child to graduate from college more than I wanted anything because I never had. And finally they told me and Ben called me in his office, and he said, "We decided to keep you because you're so damn talented." And I thought, "Well how would we know how talented I am, if you hadn't given me a chance. And how would I have known?" Now I like to think that he learned and I learned. The company learned and I learned who I am even without that job.
And they learned because after me, they hired a guy named Nathan McCall, who had even robbed a MacDonalds and gone to jail for 3 years and came to work at the Washington Post. In fact the joke became to be Black and work at the Washington Post you have to have a record. Well then I'd say, "Well yeah, it's almost like, to be Black in America you have to have a record." So, they then laughed. But I do think that we did learn.
Then something happened to me there that was really small, maybe, but it changed my life. I was dating a guy who I discovered was dating a woman who sat right across from me. Right across the room. He was dating us at the same time. I dated him for about 6 months. When I discovered this, I realized you know, after all I had been through, that this wasn't about a man cheating on me. This was about abuse. And I was reminded of when I was in jail one of the things I found out, when I found out about when I was there, there were 8 of us, 8 women in the cells. I found out that we were all there for some reason related to a man. Of course it was our fault. I mean we had chosen.
There were women there that had fought over a man. Women who had sold drugs for a man, women who were working stealing for a man. But it was all related to love. Well I remember when I was there and the women would help me, we had real long uniforms, dresses. They would pin them up, I don't know, they would save these pins. You know people in jail are very creative. And so, they had these pins, and so we had many dresses, you know. So we would have many dresses, just because we're in here we don't have to look bad.
So, okay, but I remember that they would tell me when I would complain about the food and the coffee that was black and all of that. They'd say, but you know honey you just wait till you get to the big prison. You'll like the big prison. Because in the big prison, you get to wear some of your jewelry. You'll get to wear some of your own clothes. You'll get to go to class. Because we didn't get to go out for recreation or anything. You'll get to go to class. And I remember thinking, I am not going to like the big prison. I don't care what you say. But, see I understood that these were women who had forgotten what freedom is. Because you can forget. You can adjust, adapt to anything. So they thought that a bigger prison was better than a smaller one. But I understood that a bigger prison, a smaller prison, a prison is a prison. I was not going to forget that. So when I found out that this guy was dating this other woman, I understood that abuse is abuse. It didn't matter if it was physical, if someone was giving me a drug, or if someone was beating on me or if they were cheating on me. I was just in a bigger prison and I wanted out. Finally in my life I wanted out.
You know I always used to tell the women in prison that I was in a physical prison for less than a summer but I was in a spiritual prison for about 20 years. I was tired. And let me tell you, when you get sick and tired and weary and you are just fed up, that's when people really change. People ask me what made me change. There were times when I was just tired. I thought that if I don't just change now I'm going to die. You know, just die from just self-hatred, just from pain, from desperation. So I decided to do something I had never done. I decided to go see a therapist. Now, I come from a family that was not big on therapy. In fact they thought that if you went to a therapist, that meant you were crazy. I remember going to this church, where this minister said one Sunday, "You don't need a therapist, you need God." I had to turn around to make sure he wasn't talking to me. But then I thought, "Well now didn't God create the therapist." It was my figuring that God needs all the help that God can get. You know whether its therapists or teachers or, you know, whoever ministers, counselors, and so I went to the therapist. I went for two and a half years. The therapist will ask you very simple questions and you think what in the heck am I doing here.
But one day after about a year the therapist said to me, "Have you ever been anywhere with your father?" And I said , "Of course." and he said, "Alone!" Well I don't know if you all come from large families but alone for me was with 3 people. That was about as alone as we got. I realized well, no. He said, you need to go alone with your father. I walked out of there and I was scared because I thought what would I talk to him about? I've never been alone with the man. But I called up my father because at this point I was so committed to the process of change, that I would do anything. I called my father and I said, "Daddy I want you to go with me to breakfast on Saturday?" My father said, "I don't eat breakfast."
Well there's a time when you know I would have accepted that answer and I would have said well that's just fine. I would have pretended that I wasn't hurt and I would have been in pain. But this time I said, "You don't have to eat you can watch me eat." He said "Okay." I went over to get him Saturday and I was about 10 minutes late. I got there and my mother said, "where have you been?" I said, "why." She said, "your father is pacing the floor." I thought, "My father is pacing the floor." I felt like I was 5 years old, I was about 40, but I felt 5. We got in the car and we talked about sports and the grandkids.
We got to this place where I took him where you could eat all you want for $3.99. I always say the waitresses are all over 70. They're slow but they're real sweet. We talked and we had breakfast. Afterwards I took him by a house I had bought. I had had a house blessing and I had invited him and he said, "If you've seen one house, you've seen them all." So he hadn't come. But on this day, I knew that I was driving. I took him by the house. Then I called my sister who lives nearby, and I said, "Come on over, Daddy is over here." She ran over. We sat there and then I took him home and for the next two weeks my sisters would call and say, where did you take Daddy. I said why, and they said, he said the food was so good. My brother called and said "Where did you take Daddy." I said, "Why?"
"He said the service was great." Well then it hit me. You know how long it can take? It hit me that he wasn't talking about the food or the service, but he was talking about being with me. I had always wanted him to say, "I love you," like they did on "Leave It to Beaver" or "Father Knows Best." But he was never going to say it like it like that. But that he could say it in his way, and that could be enough if I let it be enough. But see before I understood that I had the power to let things be enough, I thought that there could only be certain ways and if there weren't, then there was something wrong with me. But on this day, I was just wide open so I could accept any interpretation of love.
My father died 3 months later. He never said "I love you," but he said it. On the day he said it, my life changed. It took me 40 years to hear it. He had been saying it for that long. And so you know I go to prisons all the time and I tell this and I have had just amazing experiences.
You know I walked into a prison in California outside San Francisco. Some of the women had their backs turned when I started talking and they were fixing their hair. Talk about intimidated. I use to be, but no more. Because by the time I finished they were crying. Because I tell you there is so much pain and so much healing to be done in prison. You know there's so many people who are a long way from recognizing that a thin piece of fish being taken away from them is something to be upset about, when they just don't even understand the power that they really have and the magnificence that they possess. So there comes a point in life when I ask myself about the 1.8 million people and I think we created those people. You know, they are us, it's like a part of our body that we just keep chopping off and throwing away until one day we won't know whether we're in prison or whether we're free.
I am committed in my own way to telling people that one of the things that we have to do is to make this a more change-friendly world. The way we do this I think, is with a whole lot more forgiveness than we have and with a whole lot more diligence and attention paid to every interaction we have with every human being. So that, when I'm at the stop light and a woman says to me, "Excuse me ma'am, do you have a quarter," she's been begging everybody. I looked at her and I recognized that she's on drugs. I say to her with as much compassion and love as I can muster up, "I'll give you a quarter but I think what you really need is a drug rehab program." She said, in a way that I know that I could never even say it the way she said it because she had things in her that I don't have. She said, "I know I do" and I gave her the quarter. I drove and I know that she did not run with that quarter and immediately go to her first drug rehab program. But I thought, what if the person behind me and the person behind that one and the person behind that one, what if every person said this to her and then once if they all said it, how about if there was really a place for her to go to, that was free and that she could go to, and she didn't have to be ashamed. Then when she got out, no one would have to remind her of who she used to be, but would recognize her for who she is and was born as. What if all of that could happen? Then that woman would run to the nearest drug rehab program.
But I am committed to believing and I will never give up, that it's possible. Because I know that if I could sit under red lights and I could shoot heroin into my veins, and then one day I could be a reporter at the Washington Post, I could go on Oprah, I could do all kinds of things, then I believe that all things are possible. I hope that you'll leave here after this conference, renewed and believing and knowing that that's true.
Let me just formally thank Patrice. I said earlier that she was a Diva and Diva comes from the word divine. It is clear from her presentation that she loves and understands the divine in her own heart. Thats powerful.