Poetry from Steve Bloom


Remembering Geraldine Lucas

by Terri Harper


State Correctional Institute at Muncy PA, June 2015: I went from a citizen and human being to prison in 1991. So . . . I asked myself: “At what stage of my existence am I no longer a liability? How can I be of value, at least as much value as the inmate next to me?”


Today I think of those questions again, because I have had the absolute blessing to have spent the last two years engrossed in caring for Gealdine Theresa Lucas: my little “Ornery Bird” as I so lovingly called her.


Right now she is in the care of strangers, soon to be in the care of Almighty God. No words can describe the void I feel from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. I’m restless, heartbroken, angry—and full of  questions that begin with the word “why.”


Above every emotion I do not like to feel, anger sits by itself. It causes restlessness, loss of appetite, fear, sleeplessness, isolation, and scrutiny by the Powers. That’s definitely not how I prefer to do my time. But I am angrier than ever today, because a totally blind, 83-year-old helpless lifer, who I love with my heart and soul, has had to suffer senselessly, for months, because of the sheer indifference of this institution which we both came to inhabit.


A psychiatrist who didn’t talk to her regularly (I’d know, as I took her to all of her appointments) deemed her competent to say that she was afraid of a CAT scan despite clear signs of dementia. So no diagnosis of her cancer led to no treatment. She was simply allowed to die: to eat no solid food for two months, perhaps longer, except for morsels I was able to coax her into taking from time to time. There were no intravenous feedings, just BOOST drinks or ginger ale or Pepsi when she felt like sips here and there. So I watched her turn to skin and bones, had the medical staff shrug their shoulders and give me off-hand comments attributing everything to her old age and chronic pancreatitis.


Had Geri been of value to anyone—expected to work in order to help take care of this jail or of someone else—she’d have been strapped down, diagnosed, coaxed, court-ordered or some facsimile thereof. Instead they just pulled the plug. Now she’s at Gateway Nursing Home, taking her last breaths, being ravaged by tumors throughout her body, laid out on life-ending pain meds and, perhaps (perhaps not?), being soothed by total strangers—instead of by the two human beings (Terri Harper and Tameka Flowers) who’ve loved on, cared for, and truly done all we could to help Geri, our baby, and would still for however many more days God gives her on this earth.


I’m not sad, because the life cycle is one I have no problem with. I cannot, however, and will not be another lifer sitting by quietly and not asking someone, anyone, to seriously question why the elderly, disadvantaged, handicapped lifers are being warehoused, at high cost to every tasxpayer, as if it’s OK, without every taxpayer going to the polls and standing against the neglect being perpetrated by the jailers, legislators, and citizens who are unaware of the truth about prison conditions, prison policies, prison medical care, and the rate at which useful human beings are allowed to become worn, battered, sickly, discarded burdens on our human community.


When are people going to begin to believe in the truth of the words behind these walls? We are living, struggling beings, striving to overcome what harm we might have brought to others and to society, as much as you will allow us to, all the while trying to better our hearts, our minds, and our souls. We need two-way communication and true opportunities for forgiveness, growth, and new beginnings. It starts with me. And it starts with you, who have taken the time to read these words. Thanks.

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