Dear You – You Were Made for More

Dear You,

You were made for more than to just be born and die.  You were made for more than working 8-5 and looking forward to Friday.  You were made for more than paying bills and living paycheck to paycheck.  Dear one, this is never the life that I had planned for you.  When you were breathed into existence, there was far more dreamt up for you than this.

You work so hard to do everything that you are told you are suppose to do that you completely miss the things that you are meant to do.  You are so busy following who those around you tell you to be that you silence the voice in you that says they want to be someone different.  Find that voice again.  Find your voice again.

You were made to struggle, to explore, to rebel, and to thrive.  You were made to live – in every definition that one can live.  You were made to laugh, and to go off on adventures.  You were made to take chances, and yes even to fail sometimes.  Stop trying so hard to survive that you miss every reason that you are alive.  There is so much that this life holds for you if you only stopped to notice, if you only believed you could have it.

I want you to do great things,  I want you to believe in great things, and I want you to fight for great things.  I want you to see the world as a beautiful place, and to see yourself as a beautiful person.  Life is too short to let you insecurities silence you.

There will be tough days.  Days that challenge you.  Days that make you want to hide and cry.  But on those days you will learn what you are truly made of.  You will push back because you are resilient.  You will not let the bad days ruin the good days.

There will also be good days.  Days that you laugh so hard you cry.  Days when you will make memories you cherish forever.  Days when you are brave.  Days when you are kind.  Days when you fall madly in love.  Those are the best days – the days that makes us glad to be alive.  On those days never believe that you are not deserving of this much happiness.  You are every bit deserving.

Life won’t be everything you have dreamt it to be, but if you let it, life will be more than you expected it to be.  Stop molding your life to everyone else’s expectations and go chase your life.

Feet.jpgPhoto Credit: Lori Rensink

Adventures Under the Hood of My Car

I don’t know anything about car maintenance.  In fact I don’t know anything at all about cars.  I am trying to not be bitter towards the society I live that does not teach girls how to know their way around a car.  Instead I am simply going to attempt to right this wrong.  My stubbornly independent self is determined to know how to take care of my car.

Which is why today I am going to attempt to peek under the hood of my car to check things like the air filter.  You know normal stuff that I am apparently suppose to check on a regular basis.  Who knew?  Not me.  I have done a minimal amount of research, and my never ending curiosity about how everything works can’t wait to get started.

That being said, if anyone has any helpful advice I will be more than happy to hear it.  Wish me luck, I am going to need it.

car

Memoirs of a Prison Intern Part 3 – Battling the Social Stigmas

*** In case you missed Part 1 or Part 2 check them out by clicking the links. 

He was thrashing and screaming, throwing himself at the bars.  It reminded me of a caged animal.  Watching it made a knot form deep in my gut.  I could barely choke the sight down.  All I could think was what did a human have to go through to end up here?  What had he lost?  What had he given up?  What had to be taken from him in order for his very humanness to slip through his fingers?

I spent a week working in the Segregated Housing Unit (SHU pronounced shoe) and that was more than enough for me.  The SHU is were those who have lost everything go.  It is where we put the inmates we want to forget.

The philosophy behind segregated housing is that you take everything from the inmates and then slowly reward those thing back as they behave.  Only you start taking things and pretty soon you take their dignity, then their humanity, and what are you left with?  A ghost of a human thrashing around in a cage like an animal.  Let me tell you – it isn’t pretty. 

There are some who think that prison is too soft.  There are also some who think that it is too harsh. To be honest I don’t know where I stand on the spectrum, but I do know what I saw.  Prison should help rehabilitate one’s humanness, not rob them of it.

In my last post, I talked about the day that I finally stood up for myself.  Ever since that day, the inmates started to take me more seriously, and dare I say even respect me.  A couple months later I would have a surgery to remove a cyst from my jaw.  I came back in pain, barely able to talk.  But I also came back to find lots of get well notes waiting for me in my box.  No matter what kind of trouble they got themselves into, I never once believed they were bad people.  These notes proved to me that I was right.

The hardest thing for me about working in the prison was actually not the inmates themselves, but rather the way that everyone on the outside talked about them to me (hold on let me climb onto my soap box).  I was told over and over again by so many well meaning people that the inmates I worked with deserved to be there.

The sociologist in me was screaming.  It is easy to judge and stigmatize inmates when they are a collective group.  It is a lot harder when you know them as individuals who come from backgrounds that would turn even the best person into a criminal.

Sometimes we have to fight like hell to combat the things that don’t sit well with our soul.  Sometimes we have to speak up for those that can’t talk.  

I want to shake those people and tell them to open their eyes to their life free of hardship and then ask them again if they want to point their judgmental finger.  Maybe I should, but I don’t.  Mostly because I use to have similar thinking, and I don’t know how to explain everything that I have experienced while working in a prison.

I don’t know how to explain to them that there is a difference between doing bad things and being bad people.  I am allowed to believe this – to be this naive, because I am not naive. I have seen the worst and still believe in the best.

If you have your health, if you have your family, if you have safety and have the luxury of enjoying a semblance of freedom, then you owe it to those that don’t to make sure that they know that there are people in the world that give a damn about them. Not a group or country that pretends to care about them simply to gain something for themselves, but by people who realize that beyond governments, religions, ideologies, and agendas, there is a commonality that cannot be exploited. Not by greed, nor tyranny, nor terror, nor the propaganda of powerful nations. That people simply give a damn about those that, were the world spinning differently the day they were born, might have been them.” – Matthew Good (Originally post on Of Whiskey and Words)

Inmate

Photo Credit: Sean Kernan

**** I was talking to a good friend who I asked to give me feedback on my blog.  He told me, “Its good but I am left feeling like I want to know more about you.”  Huh I guess I didn’t realize people would care about that stuff.  So I decided to write a series of memoirs about my life experiences, because I some how find myself doing things like catching chickens in Africa or running to stop a fight among inmates.  

Thank you for reading,  and please feel free to comment below.  If there are any stories you have that you would like to share, or any stories from my life you would like to read about please let me know.

Memoirs of a Prison Intern Part 2 – the Good, the Bad, and the Crazy

A weird thing happens to me in life.  People either don’t take me seriously at all (I blame the blonde hair), or they hand me the keys to an entire unit of inmates.  I wish that was just a metaphor, but no they literally handed me the keys.  Because why not put a 20 year old white girl in charge of a unit of inmates?  What could possibly go wrong?

One of the COs came to me to tell me that they were short kitchen staff.  It was apparently my job to walk into the commons filled with hungry inmates and tell four of them that they needed to serve in the kitchen line.  Don’t worry we will pay you a whole $0.25 an hour.  I don’t understand who wouldn’t love to do that.  I am of course oozing with sarcasm as kitchen duty is hated by all.

“I have to do that?”

“Well you are the big boss.”

Yes that is me, the big boss.  Watch out, big boss is on the move.  Don’t mess with me.  I mustered as much confidence as I could, and then walked into the commons.  I told the first four guys I saw that they were on kitchen duty and then left before anyone had the chance to argue with me.  I thought I had made it out alive, when the room erupted into whistling.  I was not in the mood for this today.  Well any day really, but especially not today.

One of my gifts is the ability to give someone a look that shuts them up faster than any words could.  I don’t really do it on purpose, nor do I have any idea what it looks like.  But my siblings have told me it exists, so I believe them.  This look came out in full force the moment I turned around.

For the first time since I started working there, I think I saw slight traces of fear in their eyes.  I had my finger up pointing it like a disapproving mother. I put on my big girl pants and yelled, “The whistling stops here!” and then turned around and walked out.  One inmate had the audacity to bark at me, but never again did they whistle.

Luckily for me, there were no more naked inmate fights.  However one day I would arrive at the scene of a fight to find that someone had already loosed their entire can of pepper spray.  Oh that burns, that literally burns everywhere.  My eyes, my lungs, everywhere.  I turned around and ran straight outside.  It didn’t help.  I was coughing up pepper spray for the rest of the day.  So were the rest of my co-workers.  Weirdly enough those were that type of mutual suffering were the things that bonded us together.

Needless to say, there was never a dull moment. Here is an example of a “normal” conversation:

Let’s call him Fred.  Fred was a nice guy in his 50s.  He came to my office first thing in the morning before my brain had enough coffee to wake itself up.

Fred looked like he was going to ask me about something, but then got distracted and said, “You look like you should be barefoot and pregnant somewhere.”

“Excuse me?”  My under-caffeinated brain was trying to process if I heard what I think I heard.

“I just mean that you look like the type of girl who shouldn’t be working in a job like this.  You should have a husband who goes to work for you as you sit at home barefoot and pregnant.”

It takes quite a bit to leave me speechless.  This was one of those moments.  I could tell Fred was not trying to malicious, he was just making an observation.  Fred was also old enough that he probably came from an era when that was normal for a woman to do.  I just stared at him for a while.  Once my brain caught up to what had just happened, I muttered something about female rights and how I wanted to be working.

Fred just said, “Well anyways have a good day miss Lori.”

Did Fred come into my office just to tell me that?  Yes, yes he did.

I survived all of it – the good, the bad, the crazy – all of it.  I am not sure how, but I know that I did.  During my first month there, one of the veterans told me that this place would change me.  I will never forget that conversation.  He was right, but it didn’t change me in the way that either of us expected it to.  It forced me to look at the world with eyes wide open, and I have always been grateful for that.  

Prison

Photo Credit: Francois Delbar

**** I was talking to a good friend who I asked to give me feedback on my blog.  He told me, “Its good but I am left feeling like I want to know more about you.”  Huh I guess I didn’t realize people would care about that stuff.  So I decided to write a series of memoirs about my life experiences, because I some how find myself doing things like catching chickens in Africa or running to stop a fight among inmates.  

Up next is Memoirs of a Prison Intern Part 3.  I was only planning on doing two parts, but part 1 brought up some very good discussion on social stigmas of criminals.  This is something that I am very passionate about, and I simply could not fit it into this blog.  So Part 3 will be more serious, but something I believe is important for everyone to understand.  

Thank you for reading,  and please feel free to comment below.  If there are any stories you have that you would like to share, or any stories from my life you would like to read about please let me know.

Memoirs of a Prison Intern Part 1 – Jump In and Don’t Drown

When I was a sophomore in college, just barely 20 years old, I accepted a internship in a state penitentiary.  I had been a criminal justice major for all of three semesters.  Obviously I was ready for this (that is sarcasm in case you missed it).  Apparently my professor thought I was because he is the one who encouraged me to apply for the internship.

It all happened very quickly.  Within about a weeks time I applied, interviewed, and got the job.  I didn’t have a chance to stop and think about what it would be like to work in a prison.  I didn’t stop to wonder if this was something I could even handle.  I had absolutely no idea what I had just signed myself up for.  

Working in a prison was very hard.  One should expect that, but I didn’t.  I didn’t know what I expected, because like I said I didn’t have a lot of time to build expectations.  Still, I was naive enough to think that it would be easy.

That the job would be easy.

That working with inmates would be easy.

That it would be easy to walk away every day and just be fine.

How very wrong I was.  It was anything and everything but easy.  And yet working there was one of the best decisions I have made so far.

Walking through the prison gate is something that becomes normal very quickly, and yet is a feeling that you can never quite get use to.  The gate slams behind you as you walk into the prison, and the despair is palpable.  It hits you like a wave, and it is suffocating.  It is if the very oxygen you breathe has been replaced with every regretted decision and unheard cry for help.

And how can one naive girl walk into that feeling prepared?  The answer is, you can’t.  There is nothing that could have prepared me for something like that.  Just as there is nothing that could have prepared me for every hard decision I would have to face.

How to help those which you cannot help.

How to show mercy without showing weakness.

How to fake enough confidence that I don’t get eaten alive.

How to stop the whistling, the tears, the fights.

How to pick the black and white answer when everything around you seems to be a swirling mass of gray.

I walked up to the gate, and tried to very confidently hand them my ID badge to let me in.

They just gave me a look, “Who are you?”

I mean seriously, this happened about every day for my first month working there.  I know I don’t look very intimidating, but my badge says Unit Manager Intern.  So I would have to embarrassingly stand there (again) as they called around to confirm that yes, this girl is our intern.  Thanks for the confidence boost everyone.

Today was my first day actually working inside the prison walls. I had maybe been there an hour when a Code Red, Code 3  was called for our unit.  Which meant that somewhere two inmates had started fighting.

I headed towards the scene, only half running because lord knows I was not going to be the first one to arrive there.  Correctional officers were flying by me like lightening bolts, yelling at me to move out of the way.  Each time I tried, I would almost run into a different CO that was sprinting down the hallway.

When I arrived at the scene, I just saw a huge pile of men.  I am sure somewhere under that pile of COs were the two inmates that started fighting.  One by one they started to peel themselves off of the pile.  They handcuffed the two who started the fight, and started to walk them out.

And that is the moment when I realized, oh that man is not wearing any clothes.  He got into a fight naked, and now that very naked man is walking right towards me.  In that moment the only thing I could think was what the hell have I gotten myself into. 

I learned that life is 98% of having absolutely no clue what you are doing, but doing it anyways.  There are somethings  Most things in life are impossible to prepare for.  I learned to not be intimidated by those things, because those were the moments that I found out what I was truly made of.   Most of the time we don’t know what we are capable of surviving until we do.  However, this was only the first of what I would experience.  So until next time.

Wire

**** I was talking to a good friend who I asked to give me feedback on my blog.  He told me, “Its good but I am left feeling like I want to know more about you.”  Huh I guess I didn’t realize people would care about that stuff.  So I decided to write a series of memoirs about my life experiences, because I some how find myself doing things like catching chickens in Africa or running to stop a fight among inmates.  

Coming soon is part 2 of Memoirs of a Prison Intern. 

Thank you for reading,  and please feel free to comment below.  If there are any stories you have that you would like to share, or any stories from my life you would like to read about please let me know.

Memoirs of a Paralegel – How I Survived my First (Almost) Year in a Law Firm

Heels, coffee, pencil skits, more coffee.

I use to think I handled stress well, then I worked in a law office.  Where I am constantly fixing others problems, and constantly being needed.

A blonde paralegal running around in my red heels and pencil skirts from copier to computer to, wait I think I need more coffee, to “Lori can you fix this?”  Yes.  “Lori can you make sure this gets done today?”  Yes. “Lori the printer is broken.” I’m on it.  “Lori do you know how to fix my computer?”  Yes, move over.  “Lori this client is upset can you talk to them?”  Yes, just let me get more coffee.  “Lori here is a 1,000 pages of medical records for you to read through.”  Umm yes okay I am going to need a lot more coffee.

I have been working in a law office for just over 9 months now.  Some times I forget just how under qualified I am for my job as a Paralegal until people ask me, “Oh so do did you go to school for that.”  No I did not.  Apparently though you can.

About a month ago. I was in the elevator with a guy who works in a different law office in the same building.  He was nice enough, and I had seen him around often.  He introduced himself and started talking to me, “You know I interviewed for you job too.”  Well this is awkward.  “So where did you work before this?”

Actually awkward did not even begin to describe what I was feeling. Telling him that I worked in a coffee shop didn’t seem like a good answer.  Telling the guy who had wanted my job that I was in no way qualified for it also didn’t seem like a good response.  Why is this elevator moving so slowly?  Someone please help, get me out.

I finally just responded by telling him that I recently graduated college.  Thankfully that is when the elevator door finally opened on my floor.  I fled.

I showed up on my first day more nervous than I have been in a long time.  I tugged at my suit jacket feeling like a little girl playing dress up, wearing clothes I stole from my mother’s closet that very obviously didn’t fit me.

I sat in my office, my own very office.  The phone rang, I panicked.  Why on earth does it have so many buttons?  What good is graduating at the top of your class if you can’t even figure out a freaking phone? 

My boss would ask me every day, “Miss Rensink how did day 1 go?”  “Miss Rensink how did day 2 go?”   Every day I would answer with a thin smile, “A little bit better than yesterday.”  He would see my deer-in-the-headlight look and just nod and smile, “Every day will get easier.”

And you know what, it did.  Oh it would also get really hard.  There were many moments were I simply didn’t think I could do it as I forced back the frustrated tears.  There were moments when crawling under my desk to hide sounded like a good idea, whether it was from exhaustion, because my brain felt fried, or because I simply did not want to have to talk to any more people.  I haven’t yet, but some days I look down there and just think it looks nice.  Safe.

But I didn’t.  I just goggled all of the legal jargon so I would know what my boss meant when he told me to draft a Summons and Complaint.   Some days I would just tell my very patient boss that I had no idea what he was talking about.  And I learned.  I was learning so much that I never thought I could keep up, but I did.

Then one day the pencil skirts and heels felt like they belonged to me.  I stopped feeling like I was playing dress up.  One day I realized that I actually might know what I was doing.  More than that, I might actually be good at it.

One day I stopped feeling like I was drowning.  Oh I would still have my moments of feeling overwhelmed when I was surrounded by towers of papers, but I stopped believing that I couldn’t do this.

Maybe it is just part of my nature.  I have never backed down from a challenge in my life, and I don’t intend to start anytime soon.  The only way to find out what I am capable of is to run hard and run fast to the edge of the cliff.

I haven’t fallen off yet.  Don’t get me wrong, there have definitely been times when I would find myself dangling off the edge for a minute.  But I would quick pull myself back up.

It makes me think about the things we believe ourselves to capable of.  The mind games we play with ourselves to believe that we are not enough to do a certain thing or to be a certain type of person.  Yes, maybe right now you aren’t enough, but that doesn’t mean that you could never be enough.  If you are unqualified, then jump in the water and become qualified.  You may find yourself in 9 months wondering why you ever doubted your abilities in the first place. 

paralegal

Photo Credit: Lori Rensink

**** I was recently talking to a good friend who I asked to give me feedback on my blog.  He told me, “Its good but I am left feeling like I want to know more about you.”  Huh I guess I didn’t realize people would care about that stuff.  So I decided to write a series of memoirs about my life experiences, because I some how find myself doing things like catching chickens in Africa or running to stop a fight among inmates.  Speaking of which . . . 

Up next is Memoirs of a Prison Intern where I flash back to my days working in a penitentiary. 

Thank you for reading,  and please feel free to comment below.  If there are any stories you have that you would like to share, or any stories from my life you would like to read about please let me know.

The Roads We Walk

“But you have got to remind yourself over and over again that there are no destinations in life.  Only roads.”  – Christin Mihai

Raod fork

I am constantly reminded of how life goes exactly the opposite way of how I planned it.  Life is fickle that way.  Sometimes I feel like Matt Hires sings this song just for me . . .

Darling, nothing ever goes exactly how you planned it
I guess I’ve been here long enough to see
That time can be your dearest friend
Or time can be a bandit
When tomorrow changes into history

And oh my my, honey everybody dies
But you got, you got to see
That you can live your life walking in a straight line
But it’s more than just A to B

Maybe it’ll find you lying peaceful under blankets
Or bleeding at the bottom of the stairs
Oh but it’s not when or how you go
It’s life and what you make it
It’s the traveling, not the road that gets you there

-Matt Hires, A to B; see full lyrics here

I am finding that even when life doesn’t go how I planned it, it goes exactly as it was meant to. Unfortunately that is something I can only understand in hindsight.  At the time I am simply frustrated.  Which makes me wonder if that is why we so often we prefer to live in memories of the past, because that is the only part of our life that can make sense of.

When we are young it can be easy to forget how long life is.  To us it seems short and slippery.  Like we have to hold onto every second for dear life lest it slip right through our fingers and be gone forever.  Time is fickle, and life never works like it should.  We become discouraged, or we believe that maybe we were foolish to try.  But we pray for rain even though we want sunshine, and we must allow ourselves to take steps backwards even though we want to take steps forward.

Continue reading

Sweet Summer Memories

As the weather gets nicer, dreams of summer begin.  I start having dreams of lakes, boats, shorts, and the sun making my skin darker and my hair blonder.  There is some magical quality contained in the hope of those six letters.  SUMMER.  It sounds restful and awaiting adventure at the same time.

B & L

Ah yes, sweet blissful summer how we pin for your freedom and warmth.

There was a time when summer meant packing my bags and heading to my second home.  No it wasn’t a glamorous summer vacation home, it was a small cabin at a summer camp.  I spent the most defining and memorable moments of my life there.  So naturally whenever the hope of summer draws near I find myself thinking back to the summers I spent there.

Those summers were marked by a sense of freedom and carefree whimsy as I ran barefoot through the grass and snuck to the lake late at night.  It was  place where my soul felt at rest; the place where my soul felt at home. I could not imagine spending my summers anywhere else.

It is hard to explain in words how a place can mean so much to me. Camp is a special place but it is just that, a place. It is just land with poorly grown grass, a wasp infested storage facility, wooden cabins that are falling apart, trails overrun by bugs, and a lake so dirty you can’t see your hand when its six inches under water.

What makes the place so special to me is the memories that are so deeply ingrained in that place that they become inseparable.

The poorly grown grass is where I spent many hours playing rec games, getting tackled in the cone game and tackling others. The wasp infested storage facility is where I spent most of my second summer on staff painting a mural with all the campers. The wooden cabins that are falling apart is where I spent many summers counseling, and where I first learned to be comfortable in my own skin. The bug infested trails is where I drove the gator as fast as it would go as the wind whipped my hair around.  The gross lake is where I spent every afternoon being the queen of dunking children, and trying to not get dunked by the hordes of angry children determined to get their revenge.  The gross lake is also where I lost my favorite necklace and almost lost a sinking jet ski.

The horrible things become the beautiful things when we take them into our life and make them our own.

The director of the camp, Jerry, remains to this day one of my favorite people. I hope everyone has the chance to have a person like Jerry in your life.  He is an intelligent, wise, and hard working man, with a quick wit and a childlike whimsy that made him the perfect person to be director a camp. He taught me a lot about what it meant to live a life with love and without fear.  I have a lot of favorite Jerry quotes, but one of his most used one is, “Safety is overrated, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.”  Jerry was also a big believer in the impact that telling stories about our life would have for the people who listened to them.

I have many stories I could share from my summers at camp.  Stories about midnight skunk hunts and sinking jet skis.  Stories about catfish in toilets and giant rats in our staff lounge.  Stories about learning to love and learning to be loved.  As I said, my summers there were some of the most memorable and defining moments of my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  But for right now I want to share with you the story of the time I learned to sail.

One evening towards the beginning of my first year on staff, Jerry offered to teach us how to sailboat. I, in typical Lori fashion, quickly sprung on the opportunity and was undeterred by the fact that I was the only girl staffer who wanted to learn.

Sailboat 2

This was not the day that I learned how to sail.  I wish it were, but then I wouldn’t have a story to tell.

The day I learned how to sail was terrifying.  This is was about our reaction . . .  Crazy singing

Just kidding that is actually from an improv skit we did, but I am sure that is about how we all felt.

Not long after we had the sailboat masked, a storm began to roll through. Jerry being Jerry was not going to let this stop him.  It had a relentless pursuit of life that I always admired.  Needless to say, Jerry ended up teaching us how to sail in 40 plus mph winds.  40 mph winds really doesn’t seem out of the ordinary for South Dakota, but it was the equivalent of driving  75 mph on the interstate the first time your hands were behind the wheel of a car.  Like I said, terrifying.  But also ridiculously fun.

For those of you who have never sailed before, the steering is introverted it.  You have to turn the opposite way that feel natural.  If you turned the wrong way into the wind, you could expect to be dumped into the water, and surface to find an upside down sailboat. This of course was not a frightening notion for someone who was just learning how to sail. Not at all.  Although sometimes the best times in life are the ones when we are absolutely terrified and clueless.

Once I got the hang of things, I dared to go a little faster.  Then I accidentally turned just a tiny bit too far into the wind and was abruptly yanked off of the sailboat by the power of the sails.  One minute I was sailing along, and the next I was flying into the water.  It was a good thing that Jerry was right there beside me (even if he was laughing), otherwise the sailboat would have surely tipped and I would have been a sitting duck.  I could have quit right then.  I could have decided that the sailing life was not for me and asked Jerry take me back to the safety of shore. But I didn’t.  I have never been one for quitting. Jerry pulled me back into the sailboat and I handed me the ropes.  I took the ropes and tried again.  I didn’t let the fear of failing again stop me.  I just grabbed the ropes and learned to sail.

We are often taught the mindset that failures define us.  I don’t agree with that.  What defines us is not the times we tried and failure, but rather what we did when we failed.  Failure shows us what we are made of, it shows our grit.  Do not define yourself by the moments that you splash in the water arms flailing, but rather by the moments when you pull yourself out of the water, grab the ropes, and try again.

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