This is a letter I wrote to my friend, Ethridge, who is currently serving time in Huntsville:

Dear Ethridge,

Today is the 4th of July!
Our flag is waving out on the front porch, the sky is a bright shade of summer blue, and I had some fresh watermelon
this morning! I’m hoping you all have some watermelon to share today, too.

Something wonderful happened in my neighborhood. We had the annual Barton Hills parade down Barton Hills Drive.
All the neighbors, and their families and friends, lined the street while the floats, antique trucks and cars, the Boy Scouts and the children on decorated
bikes rode along, smiling and cheering. I rode with my family on the lead float—a boat! A boat float! Yes, a boat pulled along behind a big truck, and I was
singing patriotic songs on a microphone, encouraging folks old and young to sing along to “This Land is Your Land” to “You’re A Grand Old Flag!” and
“Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Of course, I gave commentary about the state of the economy and talked about how important it is to vote, but mostly,
I was shouting out, “Hellooooo, there, Carr family! Kathy’s about to have #27, and she’ s only 22!” or “Glad to see you, Laura and Paul!”
or “How’s your health, Roger? You’re looking great!” Lily, iolana, Emmaline, Eleanor and little Ava Stuart were throwing candy and toys and
plastic colored necklaces from the Float. It was such a lovely time! Thanks to Bob and Janis for building such a great ride!

But it made me miss you.

It made me miss you because this is the sweet side of America, the community side where people share homebaked cookies and
help their kids for potato sack races, water balloon matches, sing along on the National Anthem, enjoy their grandparents and,
hopefully, talk about history. What makes this country great. How this country came to be. The women and men who tirelessly
believed that they could build a world that had never existed before. People like John Adams and Harriet Tubman and
Buckminister Fuller and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Gloria Steinem and John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie
and Keith Haring on and on and on. This is a day I wish we could have shared together.

On the other hand, I know it isn’t normally a day where people talk about all the ills in America, here and abroad. It isn’t a day where people
sit down and tell their kids about imperialism, Abu Gharib, failed policies and political shenanigans. It isn’t a day where parents
talk about the death penalty and why it is wrong, or about how a lack of education or abusive homelife can send people into
a spiral of troubles. No one mentions Dick Cheney and Halliburton. No one wants to be reminded that gasoline is $4.29 a gallon,
or the economy is in a tailspin, or that there is a war going on. Or that Halliburton (back to them for a moment) screwed up on
the showers at the military bases over seas, and service men (and women?) have been electrocuted in the shower…the very place where
they should be able to, finally, cleanse the dirt and grit and blood and fears from their hard working bodies…only to have this freakish
nightmare awaiting—electrocution….caused by faulty wiring and water…put together by Halliburton, who refuses to fix the problem
and save the very they espouse to care the most about….American lives.

But there are those of us who speak out, those of us who are never going to quit, even when faced with oppression or terror—
terror from abroad or home grown terror.

So, I thought of you, Ethridge, and how you are not free. How those in prison (and jail) are treated as less than human. I agree with
people paying time for a crime, when a crime is proven to have been committed, but I don’t agree, ever, with treating people like animals
and with out dignity while they are incarcerated. How is more abuse going to rectify any wrong? How does it do anything but create a
hostile environment for inmates and guards alike? How does that change a person to learn that their actions caused grief
and help them learn to be a part of society that is productive when there is no rehabilitation?

Man, I know. I’m preaching to the choir. It doesn’t change a thing. It is a fear and revenge based penal system, and
as long as we continue to build on those two elements, we can not expect for ourselves to create peace, understanding,
growth, tolerance, wisdom. We cannot create change until we utlize options to create that change.

So, I wanted to take a moment and write you a letter to say I am thinking of you today. I’m hoping, maybe, you are getting
to go out in the yard and play some sort of sport. I am assuming baseball is out cuz no one would want inmates to have a bat.
I am assuming no potato sack races because I guess a sack could be used inappropriately. Will there be hot dogs
and apple pie? Is that allowed?

I hope so. I hope there is SOMETHING that says here is the side of America we want you to remember: the side where dreams
come true, that anything is possible. The side where mothers still bake in the kitchen, where children’s laughter can be heard
in a park. Where people know and trust and believe in their neighbors. I hope you get to taste that side today, Ethridge.

All my love,


  • Why would it surprise me that you write letters as beautiful and powerful as your lyrics? (Duh….!)

    Hi, Sara. We haven’t talked before, but you are constantly in my family’s mind, of course, because Magda loves you and talks about you so often.

    So, I just wanted to let you know it’s her birthday on July 15. She’s at a stage now where she can still pick up the phone (usually), but can’t reliably move any other body parts. Even her neck fails her, sometimes, and lets her head droop. But it’s just like your student sang in that song, “Magda’s smile.” Honest to God, her smile is getting brighter and brighter, almost like a light bulb.

    She would LOVE LOVE LOVE a birthday call from you anytime in the days around her birthday if you can manage it. Her phone is 301-294-7208.

    peace, to a favorite earth angel —


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