Archive for ‘Columns’

December 10, 2013

The Irrepressible Line in Your Poetry (by Jeffrey Hillard)

** The following is also a free bonus article for those that purchased my ebook, STORY’S TRIUMPH: Mining Your Creative Writing for Its Deepest Riches on

Several years ago, I taught this session to female inmates at Franklin Pre-Release Center, a prison that formerly housed female inmates.


Breaks Away

The kind of attention that poets give to a poem’s individual lines is often a source of great frustration. We write the poem. We “get it all out.” We hurry to write. We think the poem contains most all of what it intends to say. Maybe we’ve spent hours on it. Perhaps even days. And we stare at the poem repeatedly and think, “These lines don’t seem right. They’re lacking in something. They don’t feel true to the poem. How can this poem get more from its individual lines?”

There is not an easy answer to this question.

The options for line lengths and breaks are many. The way a poem “appears” on the page becomes a subjective decision, especially if you’re writing in free verse, with no dependency on a particular form.

With the free verse line – which is what we’ll focus on here – there are seemingly unlimited ways to arrange a line. Still, in getting the most out of your lines, you must ask: what does this poem want? What does this poem need?

Since Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, and so many others proved that a poem’s strength can be derived from close attention to the poetic line, let’s examine several ways that a poem can achieve more interesting energy and fluidity.

Free Verse

When writing free verse, for example, it’s easy to get lost in the over-arching feel of the poem, in its grand, free development. But, as some poets have complained, their subject matter may not be that interesting because there lines have “the blahs.”

John Hollander writes in “Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse” that “since a line may be determined in almost any way, and since lines may be grouped on the page in any fashion, it is the mode of variation itself which is significant.” I strongly agree. Let’s look at this variation in poems by three poets who give major attention to energizing a poem’s lines.

I like to use the phrase, “manipulating the line.” Two basic options for “manipulating” rise to the forefront: one is allowing poetic lines to achieve immediacy. By immediacy, I mean that a poetic line reflects a sort of spontaneity. It may put the reader’s attention greatly on the line’s end word(s). A second option is to emphasize more rhythm; this is especially true with longer lines.

The lines that achieve immediacy, where momentum can gather quickly from the middle to end of the line, are usually short lines. Take this excerpt from the poem, “Money,” from the book Split Horizon by Thomas Lux. Look at the energy his lines generate. Look at Lux’s attention toward the end word in these lines:

“A paper product. We say it’s green

but it’s not, it’s slate green, drained green.

New, it smells bad

but we like to sniff it

and when we have a relative pile

we not only want to inhale it but also look at it,

hear it buzz

as we work with our thumbs

its corners like a deck of cards.”

There is no mistaking the energy in these lines. The breaks seem arbitrary, and maybe they are, but notice how the senses of sight and smell are emphasized. The references to money as “smells bad,” “it,” “pile,” and “it” create an urgent image – and not a positive one – in the reader’s mind. The “paper product” itself presented here almost has an eerie human feel to it. These nine lines contain only one full sentence (“A paper product” being a fragment). But it’s not a sentence that drones on. It is crisp and controlled, and it has the freshness of spontaneity.

The same can be said of this excerpt from the poem, “The Winged Eye,” by Beckian Fritz Goldberg. She goes for a similar immediacy, although her line lengths are not as jagged. Consider these lines:

“We sit in the garden where lips

purse in the snapdragons. A chicken

lands on his arm leaving its claw

print in his skin like creases in the cardboard

seal of a cereal box

pressed beneath a thumb.”

In this poem, the speaker imagines being cast into hell. In the poem the devil actually reads a book to the speaker. The speaker is entranced by the devil’s calmness. In these lines, notice how the poem emphasizes the chicken, claw, cardboard, box, and thumb. The mystery of the devil’s physical presence is expressed in the way one simple sentence is broken: “A chicken/lands….” To break the subject and verb here energizes those lines and keeps momentum happening. The break of “cardboard/seal” is a poetic strategy called “enjambment,” which means jamming one line, basically, into the next line. This mostly occurs when end-words presented as subjects and verbs or adjectives and nouns are broken.

Rhythm of the Night – and Day

Other than for immediacy and abruptness, shape your lines for rhythm. You may want to mix line lengths, for example, to vary a certain rhythm in a poem. The poet Belle Waring concentrates on blending long lines with short lines in most of her poems in her book, “Dark Blonde.”  Here is an excerpt from her poem, “Shots”:

“…but in the ambulance, he codes, and then, in the ER

with the furious swirl of personnel, crash cart rumbling up, curtains

snatched to shield him from the drive-bys and the drunks,

the boy expired.

Measles encephalitis.

He never got his shots.”

Waring shows how the longer line more often depends on lucid sound. In this case, the alliteration of “crash cart” and “curtains,” and “drive-bys” and “drunks.” There’s a focus on long-vowel sounds in those first three lines that add to the mystery of what’s happening to the boy. But the staccato rhythm of the last three lines signals the boy’s fate. It is explicit. It’s not pretty. The poem’s lines are etched in a lyrical music.

It’s true that most anything can happen in a poem when it’s written in free verse. But if you find that your poem is lacking in energy, momentum, or even interest, you might try “manipulating” your lines for maximum effect. A poem is so beholden to language, and because of that, the poet owes it to his or her poem to pay attention to the individual lines, to sculpt them in a way that benefits the poem.


Editor’s Note: This article stems from a workshop session at Franklin Pre-Release Center in Ohio in which some of this material was covered. 

July 20, 2013

MY TIME – Column by Melissa Vanover


Before my incarceration, I was not very educated. I dropped out of school in the eighth grade to give birth to my daughter. After that, my life eventually spiraled out of control and into a life of organized crime: fast cars and even faster men.

All I had wanted was a better life for my children than I had at that time. I seemed to make all the wrong choices. I put myself and my children in dangerous situations. I simply wasn’t thinking! I was too caught up in the “good life,” the life of the world. That world ended up being not so good afterall. It was a lifestyle that led me to prison to serve a sentence of 25-years to life.

Since my incarceration, I have grown up a lot in these past 15 years. I finally earned my G.E.D. and completed several group programs to help better understand myself; these programs included topics and experiences covering “Who am I,” depression, self-discipline, victim’s awareness, eating disorders, “Cage of Rage,” and “Thinking for a Change.”

I have also increased my occupational skills. Although not licensed, I have become quite the “handywoman.” I have done plumbing and general maintenance, such as building things and repairing just about anything, painting, and laying tile. I can drive a forklift and I can weld.

For the past year and a half, I’ve had on-the-job training as an electrician, which is something I absolutely love. My crew saved the state of Ohio thousands of dollars by taking on the project of wiring and putting up security cameras in all the housing units. It has been great experiences to have under my belt.

I can also operate a ‘scissor lift’ and I have had the exhausting opportunity of using a jack hammer when tearing up and replacing a concrete step. Doing all this hard work has humbled me.

I attended church at home years ago. But I was never serious about it. Again, as I’ve written before, I had my spiritual breakthrough in 2001. Now, I’m serious about my salvation, and I know I’m not perfect and I do fall short sometimes. I fight it, but God knows I’m worth it. And I’m so thankful that He will never give up on me. I just need to learn to be more like Him and less like “myself,” and that I should never give up on Him.

September 29, 2012

Winfield House: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

At Winfield House this month and October, we are collecting new or gently used outer wear for men. Those items include: coats, vests, sweatshirts, gloves, hats, and boots.

To all of the knitters and crocheter’s out there, we need handmade scarves and hats. If you are inclined, blankets, too. All items are collected and given in love to the men who live under the bridges in Cincinnati.


Because they need you!

Have you ever driven a car and accidently lost control? It can be likened to the downward spiral of homelessness or poverty. Sometimes we are driving through life without a care, all of the sudden something comes at us, or perhaps we were not paying attention, and we need to move the wheel quickly to avoid an accident. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Life is that way, hard to predict. If, when driving, we are startled, we jerk the wheel, and over-correct ourselves, as our adrenaline is heightened; we either miss the object or we are hit from the oncoming car.

If we swerve and still hit the object, we are now off the road and perhaps in an undesirable position. The car is tilted to one side, half on rock and half in the dirt.  Last night’s rain has made the dirt mud, so our tires are quickly sinking. We are somewhat immobilized by the shock of the accident, wondering if we have killed a person or animal we hit. Afraid of the tilt of the car, we try to examine our options. There don’t seem to be very many. We try to call for help, but find we have no phone service.

Seeing that the tilt of the car could be dangerous, rather than abandon the vehicle, we try to restart and maneuver the car into a better position.  In doing so, we have now sunk the tires deeper into the mud. The spinning noise is bringing us to hopelessness, and we realize the vehicle is truly stuck.  To leave the vehicle may not be safe as we are in now unfamiliar territory. Worried about the other vehicle, we pray, try 911 again, and are wracked with fear.

It might occur to us to now look for our own wounds, as we feel a sharp pain in our side, and see the oozing of blood on our forehead. The dizziness of the whole event has now brought us to a paralyzed state. We need assistance!

So, it can be with life circumstances. We sometimes need assistance. Whether we are brought to a low place by another, our own decisions, or a pervasive lifestyle, we have spun out the tires in exhaustion and cannot find hope for our circumstance. There seems to be no one to help us dig out from the accident.

At Winfield House, we are dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Poverty is defined as a state of mind or financial situation where there is lack to sustain life and/or a healthy emotional condition.

Anyone can be affected at any time of their lives by poverty. Either one is born into it, or somehow brought low by circumstance.

For 20 years, Winfield House has helped individuals and families strive to become independent, self-reliant, and successful in both public and personal life.

Here is a three-pronged approach to helping:

Dignity- helping with basic needs, food, clothing, and life-sustaining supplies.
Discipline-helping with life skills to help avoid future problems, and to create a new life.
Direction-spiritual help to bring richness to our souls.

Regarding the poor, I hear this all the time, “Why don’t they just get a job?”
In responding, I have to have as much mercy on the giver as the receiver. Understanding poverty and homelessness is not as easy as it seems. The dynamics are as diverse as the people. In the Bible, we are mandated to take care of the widows, orphans and the poor, so I am especially honored to be part of the restoration team.

Please open your hearts to our friends under the bridge. You, too, may swerve off the road one day and need assistance. You never know.

by Karyn Alexander

Voice of the Nations column for RED!
Executive Director,

Winfield House brings the good news of Jesus in a practical way, bringing hope to God’s people.
Voice of the Nations, Rev.5:19 “With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe, language, and nation.”

July 30, 2012


Something awesome happened to me very recently.

It began with this remark: “Karyn, I could feel your heart beating so fast!”

What a comment!  How many of us are close enough to someone who could have that said?

How many of us can feel another person’s heartbeat?

If given the chance, who would you choose to  “feel” your heartbeat?

I was at dance class.  I agreed to do a spotlight with my teacher. A spotlight is when the entire studio stops dancing, everyone sits down, and only you, the dancer, are on stage.

Gulp!  For a chicken like me, this is a big deal.

My teacher led me to the floor. All eyes were on us. My heart began to beat quickly. My mind was racing. I was thinking about the potential for dance calamity.

Jeff offered his left hand. I took it. We entered our “frame.”  Arms wide, chest meeting chest, my hips joined to his thigh.

Tango! Off we went, around the floor.

“Huh!”  It’s a loud grunt Jeff makes to punctuate the staccato of the move. Heads tilted back, angled body movements, we made it.  No calamity.  Applause from the crowd; we bowed and gracefully moved from the floor.

Jeff hugged me and said, “Karyn, I could feel your heart beating so fast.”

I got home and thought it so remarkable that we were close enough in movement to feel one another’s heartbeat.
I thought about the Bible scripture in Psalm 37: 4 in which God tells us, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your “heart.” It seemed awesome that, if God offers this great gift, He must know what is beating in our hearts.  I thought it beautiful, just like the dance, that our God would hold me close enough to feel and understand my heart beat.

Take a dance lesson with the Lord. Do a spotlight and allow Him to feel your heartbeat.


Karyn Alexander
Executive Director, Winfield House
Winfield House brings the good news of Jesus in a practical way, giving hope to God’s people.
Voice of the Nations:  Rev.5:9 “With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe, people, language and nation.”

July 3, 2012

Point Man – by Karyn B. Alexander

I have a friend who was in the military for many years. His position was “point man.” The point man is the tip of the triangle with the company of soldiers spread out behind in a triangular shape. The point man needs to be agile, small, quick, and obedient unto death.

The point man is not the commander, but the leader of troops for a directive operation. He is the first to scope out the enemy, and the first to be picked off if he fails to stay hidden or obey.

My friend was a successful point man. He could obey, lead and stay alive. He remained calm and quick in the face of the unknown.

Staying alive meant hearing the commanding officer, doing exactly as told-no matter what, and then leading the way through either a very tough terrain or challenging situation. The point man is a little like a spy and a warrior all at one time. This position takes immense trust; that is, trust in the commander (C.O.) and trust in the troops. A very precarious situation emerges if either is not in cooperation with one another. The point man can be caught between a bad plan or an unwilling company of soldiers. This could mean certain death for all. On the other hand, what a powerful fighting machine if executed properly; all flowing with the same mission, using their training and skills at the same time.

My friend is now a pastor. He is much like the warrior of old. He is out in front, listening and moving in obedience as he hears the commander speak.

The agility to avoid the enemy is important, as it is in tough fighting territory where the enemy can be disguised or hidden.

I would imagine leading a congregation would be almost more difficult than a company of soldiers, due to many Christians’ self -perception. Most do not see themselves as warriors or part of a larger vision.

They can miss their purpose by not understanding the commander’s mission.

Think about it: if we all listened to the commander and chief, and we were humble enough to follow the point man, what a beautiful army we would make, all flowing with the same vision using our gifts and talents to achieve the ultimate goal—Eternal life for so many.

Onward Christian Soldiers!

Karyn B. Alexander

Executive Director, Winfield

Winfield House brings the good news of Jesus in practical ways to God’s people.

Voice of the Nations, Rev. 5: 11,”With your blood you purchased men from God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

August 7, 2011

The Other Life: on Frank Hyle’s Novel – by Angela Derrick

If I could replace food with books, I would be so happy! I’d start the day with a serving of Alice Hoffman (Practical Magic), have a midmorning snack of Grisham (Skipping Christmas, in keeping with the whole Christmas-in-July theme), luncheon with Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) , and dine with a King (Stephen, the novelist and short-story writer of Full Dark, No Stars).  

Just imagine the calories I would save! Wouldn’t it be a grand thing? I could say such things as: recently, for dinner, I attended a book discussion/signing. I was so full when I left. It was such a great feeling; I was satisfied but not stuffed (like after Thanksgiving dinner when you have to unbutton the top button).

Seriously, I just attended a book signing and discussion at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Ohio, of the recently published novel Caesura by author and practicing attorney Frank Hyle.

It is always a treat to hear authors speak in person about their writing and the process. It is even more so when I happen to know the author, as is the case with Mr. Hyle as I have had the pleasure of being one of his students. 

A “caesura” (pronounced ‘say-zur-a’) is a brief, silent pause occurring in music, poetry and sometimes life, in which time is not counted (Hyle, 2010). 

The novel evolved out of recollections of Mr. Hyle’s mother, who during the last stage of her life, experienced dementia. The story is written with compassion and hope and illuminates the unexpected but frequent shift that often occurs between parent and child as roles are reversed. I believe that many readers will be able to relate to it, as I had the pleasure of doing, having experienced the death of my Aunt Jenny to Alzheimer’s disease.

If we are called to minister to those who raised us, I can think of nothing better than to look to stories such as Frank Hyle’s Caesura for affirmation and reassurance. Even if you are not experiencing this particular situation, I recommend Caesura. It is about family coming together in support of one another and we all need that.

Frank Hyle has been practicing law for more than thirty years. He is currently working on his third novel.

July 16, 2011

Cowboys and Indians – by Karyn B. Alexander

I wanted to share some family memories with you this week, old and new.

Daniel Boone, one of the most widely known pioneers, is also someone with whom I share genetics. He is my 7th cousin.

Frank Spackman, a cowboy who was a skilled rider, fought with Teddy Roosevelt; one of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, he was also my relative and great-grandfather. Chief Red Feather, a Miami Indian, whose blood runs
through my veins – a kindred spirit and my great-grandfather, stilllives in me today.  All three men were culturally distinct in their own right; and all are men who make up my family tree.

Cowboys and Indians, once partners in trade and sometimes foes, are now all mixed into the same bloodline to make up my personal biology and the landscape of our early American heritage. I grew up in a family where bullet making and gun cleaning seemed as normal as eating and a bath. My father, who claimed to be an Indian fighter, was married to my mother, who came from Midwestern Miami Indians. We grew up believing that he was an American hero and she
tolerated his wily ways because he was a handsome gun slinger who was our protector and provider.

Some of my fondest memories are stories told over the task of cleaning guns. I watched my father dismantle a collection of guns each week, as he told stories of hunting down the enemy, of course bad and uncivilized Indians. He ran a smooth cloth inside each barrel while rubbing the guns clean with oil.  The guns, once cleaned, were put away
and locked until the next week, where he continued the ritual of methodical care and storytelling. We went from his large wooden desk, where he kept the pistols to the high work bench where ammunition was made for the shiny tools of the trade. 

I was part of the bullet making process. I was allowed to hold an iron pot with a thick handle as it melted the lead. When melted, I poured the lead into molds to form bullets. The lead was cooled and then pressed with powder into a shell.
A bullet dropped out of the mold, then placed into a carrier, ready for the next Indian encounter.  The process seemed dangerous because something hot enough to melt lead was surely not a toy. I was a trusted part of the Cowboy line in our family as I learned this trade and it became part of my nature. I can’t remember if my brother and sister
were part of the tradition, but I do remember them being more interested in shooting the bullets.

I did not like target practice or hunting, but I liked the exciting stories, many of which took place on
the Ohio River where my father grew up. Our family dog was a part of this world as well. He was a hunting dog, so along with my father he was in on the action and became part of the family lore. My mother was soft spoken and slight. She represented food and discipline and first aid. While thrashing through the woods during our days at
play, we were left with many a wound that this little “Indian” mom took care of. We ate what she cooked, and feared her hand of discipline, as she was little but mighty. During the evenings, we sang along with my father as he strummed his guitar. We sang songs about the cowboys and the streets of Laredo. These songs were the lullabies I heard as I drifted off to sleep each night. 

Life was good and calm; cowboying seemed like the way of the world, my world anyway. In my twenties, I moved near the Ohio River where I kindled the love for the Indian side of my family. I visited every Indian mound, read every true story and history book I could put my hands on. I even danced with like-minded strangers on an ancient Indian burial mound. I trudged through fields where I found many arrowheads, feeling secure that I had now connected to those who made the weapons. I made it a goal to find a Tommy Hawke and other tangible artifacts that helped me to understand a lost people – my people.  I visited reservations where I talked to strangers, walked through their homemade museums, felt connected, but saw a culture that “once was” and was no more.

As I raised my children, my father’s influence did not miss a beat with my oldest. My son sat in the bathtub with his cowboy hat on, while my dad, wearing the same, strummed his guitar, singing the songs I had sung as a child. Wild Turkey was the soothing balm that grazed ailing gums as babes. More stories and added generational tales were told.
My children were raised to play in the woods, too. Armed with backpacks full of food and homemade weapons, they stayed in the creekbed for most of their childhood days. Rock hunting, animal tracking, mud slides, and fort building were their favorite tasks. They made forts out of leaves and branches and swung on vines just as their grandfather, my father, had done in his youth. They found their own treasures and now have their own stories to tell.

It seems that everything changes in life, when nothing really does.

I own a farm on the Ohio River, not far from where my father and ancestors lived. I took a long walk just the other day, with my son-in–law, a descendent of Russian rebels. He led the trek through the woods, as he was the initiator of the exploration that day. A fisherman, he wanted to find a pond that lies on our property. He asked if he could clear land and settle a cabin for himself and my daughter. A pioneer! Just like Daniel Boone, a new generation felt the call.

As we walked, he turned over almost every stone saying, “This could be something,” meaning, he, too, was overtaken by the rawness of the land and wanted to look for artifacts or bits of history that might be a clue to who lived here last. We did not lose sight of what we were touching and seeing along my property line. The very rock walls that Irish immigrants had laid only generations before were still standing, just like the stories my father had told many years before. All alive, all part of our world today.
My daughter, who hiked with us, carried the tiniest member of our tribe, a little boy whose name is August.  August comes from Frank Spackman, an English American cowboy, Chief Red Feather, an American Miami Indian, Daniel Boone an American pioneer, Lottie Pierson, a German American baker, and Edmond Britton, an American preacher. All of
these people a part of the mix of my genetic batter, now combined with my son-in-law who comes from Russian rebels, makes an elaborate smorgasbord of heritage. Out of our giant melting pot or mixing bowl of genes comes another generation of life: little August.

August sounds like a cowboy name to me. A modern gun slinger, explorer or even farmer, he will live a similar yet different life than his forefathers. Growing up in Kentucky along the river, August will see and feel the natural beauty of being an American mix of Cowboys, Indians and more.

All of my forefathers knew the value of living and loving. They knew the cost of freedom and being an American. They fought hard for it, sometimes side by side, and sometimes one against another. All recognized that future generations would inhabit the same land they had shared, lived and fought for. Only four generations from my parents
lived my grandfather who rode-rough to free people.   I now wonder what challenges and gifts lay ahead four generations later. It will seem trite to say, “Life goes so fast,” but it does. It was within my generational reach to know the life of Cowboys and Indians and their struggles. It is now within August’s reach to see the same history and to write a new page of it. The cycle keeps going, the story never ends.

Giddy-up, Cowboy!
Karyn Alexander
Executive Director, Winfield House (

Winfield House brings the good news of Jesus in a practical way, giving
hope to God’s people.
Voice of the Nations: Rev. 5:9 “With your blood you purchased men for
God from every tribe, people, language and nation.”
Send questions or comments to:

June 13, 2011

False Voices – by Karyn B. Alexander

I write briefly about this dire issue in my column, “Voices of the Nation”: answering the call of a false voice.

 Today I sat outside to get a little sun and to relax. I live in a rural area of Kentucky, where the hills are rugged, the trees are vast, and humanity is scarce.

There are no modern conveniences. Even water is not available. As my neck of the woods tries to modernize even a small amount, nothing really changes.

This afternoon, something did change. I heard an alarm siren: the kind they have in the city to warn for storms or attacks. It had my attention. It wasn’t distant, but sounded as though it were at the bottom of my hill.

Curious, I stood still to hear the new invasion of modern technology.

 As soon as the siren began its call, something began to answer.

The wail began with one howl; it was an animal. I recognized the sound of a coyote. It was the middle of the day, rare to hear a coyote at that time.

The sound soon turned into moaning, kind of a low rolling howl. The crescendo of the voices began screaching, and it was deafening. The natural howl of a pack of coyote became a large orchesta of what sounded like hundreds. The noise echoed through the valley and flowed to my backyard.

It was a matched tone and quality, rivaling the volume and intensity of the siren. It was as though the animals were calling back to what they thought was their “mothership.” The intended communication was in full tilt.

I was surprised that this natural animal was answering a call unlike its own. It responded to a “like” voice, but found no brotherhood in it.

I was also surprised that a crafty animal could be falsely lured by a voice of another’s making; a false voice.

This same scenario unfolded in my life once before. It wasn’t the call of the wild, but the call of a spirit.

I was alone; I was a child, and I heard and felt a voice call. It did not speak audibly, but through the spirit.

I followed the voice into my kitchen one night and found a bright light staring back at me. I heard and responded; I was perhaps four or five-years old at the time.

After its intentional call, I spoke back to the light with my spirit, but spoke in fear. Like the coyote, I found no brotherhood in this voice.

It drew me in though. Closer and closer, it pulled me to itself. I learned to obey the voice, as it became my master for many years.

As frightful as the light and spirit voice were, I cooperated with its call. I interacted with the spriit voice, as it had become familiar.

The fear it produced was my unwanted companion for many years. Its instructions were not only for me, but included my sister. She, too, heard the voice. Unlike the coyote, we connected and obeyed the voice for most of our childhood years.

The voice was not authentic, it lured us, like the siren to the coyote; it was a false voice, an imitation of the real true voice.

A spirit has power, and it has dominion and can fool, just like the storm alarm that my four-legged friends heard. It will reach out to anyone who will listen.

A true and safe spirit will not bring fear, but peace and love.

When listening or even calling to the great unknown, use the authentic, safe connection. Use the name of Jesus. He is the only true voice.

He is life, and is one with us in brotherhood. Amen.


To read more about this story, “Familiar Spirits” is a book written to help guide those who are lured by the false voice of the enemy. It is a compelling story of deception and danger. The truth comes in an amazing way, as children are used in the battle of good and evil.

Karyn Alexander

Executive Director, Winfield House

May 27, 2011

The Language of Gardens – by Karyn B. Alexander

“Be a fruitful garden” is the claim I want to make this week in my column, Voices of the Nation.

What you plant will surely grow. In fact, I might be a very fruitful garden.

The old saying, “What you sow you will reap,” is a definite truth.

The spring rains are finally here and I am considering what to grow on my farm and in my garden. I ordered scores of trees to screen the strong winds from my house. I want to plant fruit and nut trees along the drive as well.

I started a small vineyard last year, and will continue to add to it. I love the idea of being self-sufficient, not depending on society to provide for my family. I am gainfully embracing the thought of becoming a real farmer-gardener this year.

Last year’s attempt to farm was pretty funny. My land is mostly forest, with a portion of fields of hay not prepared for crops. I had a farmer friend plow a small area for a vineyard last year. I bought and mixed just the right fertilizer to ready the land for my vines. I asked the county environmental worker to come and take a soil sample to make sure I added all the right fertilizers in just the right order.

We spent the better part of a day, hauling rocks from the site and watching the farmer till the land. He had to go over it several times to break up the packed and unused dirt. It was very exciting and I took a lot of pictures of him on his tractor, of my dogs jumping into the freshly plowed dirt, and of myself wearing my straw hat.

As the tractor left, I was on my own to plant and care for the vineyard. I don’t know if I had been that excited in a long time. I put each plant in with care, watering and patting them into place.

After finishing, I took a shower, made a country dinner, and felt as though I ruled the world. I even shared a glass of champagne with my daughter that night. It was a true celebration.

Over the next few mornings, I was surprised that even though I watered and tended my vineyard, birds, animals and even insects had arrived to ruin my utopia.

What was I to do? Each morning, I woke up to plants missing, some uprooted, and even lifeless wilted sticks that had not rooted.

Earlier, I said it was “funny,” but not really; it was just an unexpected failure. I had tried so hard. The summer brought such a drought that I finally pulled all my vines and put the survivors in pots. They are now in my hallway awaiting another go-of-it for this spring.

As I thought about my failed attempt at farming, I likened the process of plowing, planting, tending and failure, to some of our patterns of communication.

Being an observer of relationships, I find that reaping and sowing is surely not just for gardens.

I know we all try our best to provide fertile ground for words we convey, but sometimes the birds of anger or resentment fill our sentences. We sometimes plant ideas or suggestions with others, either tending or not tending to our tone, cadence, and volume. We often allow weeds to come and choke the healthy meaning out of our words, and we do not nurture or even notice the environment that we provide for the most precious plants we own: our loved ones.

This spring I am going to try harder with my garden. My vegetables and fruits will be guarded from pests and insects, while my words and actions will be nurturing and fertile.

I will work hard to provide a healthy environment for much fruit to grow, both real and relational.

What is that nursery rhyme?

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?”  I say, “With tender loving care.” This year I will bear much fruit.

Be a fruitful garden!


Karyn Alexander

Executive Director, Winfield House

Winfield House brings the good news of Jesus in a practical way, bringing hope to God’s people.

Voice of the Nations, Rev.5:19, “With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe, language, and nation.”

May 26, 2011

Here I Come, World – by Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell

Editor’s Note: This is one of the last columns that RED! writer, Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell (#30-AT), wrote from an incarceration facility in Lewiston, California.  He was released on May 16, 2011. We are happy to publish it. His column from that facility – “Meeting of the Minds” – is forthcoming in RED!


This has been a pleasure! Here I come, world. All my time on this jolt has been spent on  making amends with myself first, then I have been seeking God’s help, protection, mercy, grace, and love.

I had to be selfish on this one, because I have a certain feeling about my being incarcerated this time. All  praises to God! God is blessing me with the understanding of who I am and the minute elements of life I face. Amen.

God! There is no god but Him, the living, the self-subsisting, supporter of all. No slumber can seize Him, or sleep. His presence occupies all things in the heavens and on earth. “Who is thee that can intercede in his presence except as He permiteth? He knoweth what, before or after or behind them. Nor shall they encompass aught of His knowledge except as he willeth. His throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them, for He is the most high, the supreme (in glory).”

This particular column – “What a ‘Changed Me’ can provide for my family and society” – is a very intricate column for me, as I close out my ‘Mistakes 143’ entries. God-willing I will be back to provide for my family and society, and it’s a ‘very changed me’. I can’t write about how I feel, because this meticulous and precise point in my life has to be operated with my bodily functions and activities – Show and Prove!

But, I have others around me that have a few words or two that they would like to share with the world.

I wanted to leave these beautiful brothas that I have been blessed to be around at this present stage to do something about our retribution and debt to society. Give back by the smallest and most precious act that man has to offer, kind words from one’s hurt. (Even though a few articles ago I wrote about our vices, does one bad or good act truly define the true person God has bestowed in us?)

I’ve been studying the word “trust” and we must not only speak the truth as far as we know it, but we must always try to hit the right point. We must not speak unpersonably, and when we do speak, we must not beat around the bush, but go straight to that point which is right both in deed and in word. Then God will make our conduct right and cure any defects that there may be in our knowledge and character. Mistakes 143. With our endeavor directed straight to the goal, we shall be forgiven our errors, shortcomings, faults, and sins of the past. (I am growing, world.)

I pray that this will allow us to understand that God is with us (He has our backs) in difficult times. Even our times of difficulties are accompanied by a promise that “change” can come and be accompanied by God’s presence. God has shown me both sides of the life behind bars, the beauties of the street, and the effect of helping society in my coming out of prison at the time of my last sentence; but, I “dropped the ball” and now I’m praying to be back in the game – coach (God).

This issue will show that prison has compassion and is not all bad; we have just made poor decisions. Hope, yes. Hope is always at the end of the tunnels.

Firefighters say, “Look up and live!”

I’m seeking retribution from God and society because I truly believe I can and will make a big difference in the world.

But, I’ll say this – and others may oppose my opinion: Please don’t challenge my opinion. For certain, I appreciate CDC and Cal-Fire for this experience, fee, skill-buidling, and education. These are some of the things that can’t be taken from us, after we acquire them.

Case in point: on 4-15-11 my Fire Crew was called to an incident on (California) Highway 299: the rescue of a young man who lost control of his car and crashed his car following his father. I was one of six on my Fire Crew to be on the lift crew (rescue and relief). And earlier in the month, my Fire Crew went to an out-of-control fire in which one of the fire crews – 3 members – from Trinity Fire Camp was located. This was another incident.

Currently, all fire crews are in training for the fire season, in which all prison firefighters in the region showcase their training skills in front of big-wigs. This firefighting is serious business. My crew (Crew 4) has one up on a lot of the crews, as the past month or so we have been working with our fire-packs on, and we are blessed to be working for the Fire Captain (Mike Wurth); he has done an excellent job training us. He involves himself with the crew and works just as hard as we do, which allows us to have a different form of respect for him. He is not like other fire captains, or as my peers call them, “slave-drivers.”

I appreciate the hard work, as I can use my philosophy of how one can serve time, and work it to death. (I see the Big Picture; I respect all the captains here because this is their life, and I have learned a lot from all of them. I thank them for the lessons learned.)

Captain Wurth has had our crew hike, cut fire-lines, and work on the grade with our 30-pound packs every day for five or six hours a day. Excellent training for me. We are “Grade 1” firefighters, the ones that are called to cut a line around a fire for $1.00-per-hour. It’s not about the money for me; it’s about the retribution.  Look up and live!

Oh! I am in training for life, and my next stage of life is, “Do You Want to Learn How to Fly?”

It’s a PROCESS. 

(Our) Crew 444 (Catching, Nutcase, Billy Birdsong, Dutch, Rudy (“Lunch Box”), Hank, H-O #30AT, Smileone, my bunkie Adam, O.G., Chase (“youngster”), Revis, The Youngster (Sal), and my man (Trev, Roy Young, Jr.) from the Bigga the Bigga De Ol 94 in the eastside of Oakland. I call Trev “the madman, mastermind.”

These brothas have helped me build tons of interpersonal skills and CHARACTER. I want to tell them that C-Bug (the boss of all bosses) would be proud of me, as I have an Oscar on the one – role-playing.

I thank God for allowing me to understand that brothas here may want to write something, but can’t; the want to, but can’t deal with a black man (peer pressure and ignorant to life and its existence. Gangism, racism, and fear to stand up for the truth which they just can’t see right now. But, I respect all of them, their practices, their mentality, and their understanding. Amen.)

Life is great, and I want to shoot this one for my Dream Team: Nutcase (Erin Catching), N-O, Tips, and Keon (I look up to Keon) for helping me. I work each of them out, but I am reaping the rewards; by the grace of God I will be performing the Leap of Faith – Four Decades (leaping over cars to dunk a basketball).  Do You Want to Learn to Fly book will be out upon some negotiation with apparell companies for my theory. Only if Mike Skolnick and my family at Fader could be a part of this one….

Here I come, world. 


RED! writer, Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell is now living in Oakland, California.

Mr. Mitchell gathered and helped edit a series of writings by inmates at the facility in Lewiston, California, which RED! is currently publishing. The series is titled, “What a ‘Changed Me’ Can Provide for My Family and Society.”