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March 16th, 2017

A Day In Prison

It is almost thirty years since Operation Rescue, the largest civil rights movement in the history of our nation, was in full sway. People are alive today who were “rescued” back then when other people sat down and prayed in front of abortion mills. I remember some of the happenings in the following letter but I did not know the letter existed until now and I was going through some old papers. When Dolores and I went to King of Prussia, PA, and on to Paoli, PA, back in July of 1989 we were apparently helped by Pat and Jack. I’m glad I thought to thank them because I’m able to post at this late date what it was like for one day in West Chester County Prison way back in 1989.  In 1989 I was 66.

October 18, 1989

Dear Pat and Jack,

Dolores and I want so much to thank both of you and Mrs. Toland for your kindness in putting us up overnight and shepherding us through the “going to jail” procedure. It is so true that when we follow the Lord he gives us many more brothers and sisters and we are blessed many times over. All told, it was a truly great experience and we would not have missed it. Actually, while we were glad to get out into the pouring rain we would have liked to have stayed longer to get to know better some of the other inmates. Because you did not know exactly what we would encounter in jail, I am going to try to get down some of it for the benefit of potential future inhabitants of that fine facility known as Chester County Prison (but I can only speak for the female side.)

First off, there were about 30 women and 800 men housed, of course, separately. When we entered we were patted down and then filled out intake papers, name, age, sex, pregnant?, on medication?, suicidal?, etc., etc. Then they loaded us down with two sheets, a scraggly but clean blanket, white T shirt, green overshirt and pants, and we went upstairs to our cell — about 7 x 9 feet with a barred door, toilet, sink, bunk beds, desk and seat, all quite firmly bolted in place, plus a window that looked out over a roof but also let in fresh air and we could see trees, fields, birds and sky. We then went down the hall where we stripped and were again searched (open your mouth, lift up your boobs, turn around, bend over and cough, show me the soles of your feet.) That done, our head hair and our pubic hair were sprayed with some smelly stuff and we were given a bar of soap to shower hair and body. (It seemed to me a rather perfunctory delousing — I doubt that procedure would have killed anything.) We were allowed to put on our own underwear, socks, and sneakers, and then the prison apparel. Then to lunch. We were late for lunch but they had saved us two hot dogs, bread, baked beans, chicken noodle soup, juice and milk. We could easily get fat on prison fare! I forgot to mention that we had not brought in combs and toothbrushes and they didn’t issue any so our hair looked pretty unkempt for the 24 hours we were in jail. We were told we could have brought these things in with us.

After a brief period locked in our cell we went to the day room (same as dining room) where the other girls were playing cards and watching TV. (Do I recall that you folks supplied the games? They had chess and checkers and cards and seemed to prefer playing cards to watching TV.) They also had MTV which Dolores thought was not a good idea as she terms it “provocative.” I plan to write a letter very soon to one of the girls I was able to talk with who won’t be getting out until next March. Some have been there two years or more. They were friendly and eventually invited us to join in a game of Rummy. One girl, Karen, came over and introduced herself, saying that she had robbed a bank last week.

Supper was chicken salad, bread, macaroni salad, iced tea, celery and carrot sticks, pickles, and a huge piece of chocolate cake. After supper were asked if we would like to go to the library, which we declined, having brought reading material in with us. Then came an interview with the nurse’s assistant with blood pressure, pulse, temperature, medical history, have you been in jail before? (they said lots of us answered “Atlanta”) and we were told they were going to take our blood to test for venereal disease. I asked if they did HIV and they said no. They never did get around to taking our blood!

Then back to the dayroom until 11 PM. (if you wish) and then lights out. You have no control over the light in your room, an overhead light that goes on at 5:30 A.M. whether you like it or not, out during the day, and then on again until 11 P,M. Some time on the first day, I forget exactly when, we went downstairs to have our pictures taken, with our prison number, and fingerprints (more than you could imagine they could possibly need). And so to sleep.

After breakfast the next day (pancakes and syrup, cereal, coffee, milk – you are allowed 20 minutes to eat a meal and only a spoon to eat it with. Then they brought the cleaning stuff around. I had thought the windows in our cell were mighty clean and now I knew why. Twice a week you wash down your door, dry mop the floor and then wet mop it, brush out and sanitize the toilet, scrub the sink and Windex the windows. Good clean place! No vermin! Next came the opportunity to go out in the yard for two hours (on bad days one goes to the gym) . Big yard, nice grass, basketball and baseball for those so inclined, or just walk or jog around. It started to rain so we came back to the dayroom where we were again patted down. A black girl cried out, “That greyhaired lady has a hacksaw! She asked me if I had found one. I told her I couldn’t but I had tried.

In between all of these things I had time to read a book. I plan to write to my fellow inmates very soon. Somehow, deep down, it was a very good experience and we are richer for it. They let us out promptly at 11 A.M. the second day. The trip home through New York traffic at rush hour was harder to take than jail.

God bless you all and your work. May you grow and multiply. What do you think of Hugo in Charleston, Jerry in Galveston, and the San Francisco earthquake while we were cussing out the New York traffic? What is this world coming to?


Dorothy Vining

P.S. They have a black chaplain whose last name is Christmas.

P.P.S. The C.O.s were decent and professional. None was obnoxious or unkind.

March 14th, 2017


Just a sign to say I’m living, that I’m not among the dead,

Though I’m getting more forgetful, and more mixed up in my head,

For sometimes I can’t remember when I stand at the foot of the stairs

if I must go up for something, or I’ve just come down from there.

And before the “frig” so often my poor mind is filled with doubt –

Have I just put food away or have I cone to take it out?

And there are times when it is dark out, with my nightcap on my head,

i don’t know if I’m retiring, or just getting out of bed.

So if it’s my turn to write you, there’s no need of getting sore,

i may think that I have written, and don’t want to be a bore.

Please remember I do love you, and I wish that you were here,

But now it’s nearly mail time so I’ll just say “Goodbye dear.”


There I stood by the mailbox, with my face so very red!

Instead of mailing you my letter, I opened it up instead!

             Writer unknown found among my papers.

March 14th, 2017


(Note:  As you can tell from the first paragraph, this little piece has been hanging around for years, waiting for me to find it again!)

According to Aristotle, “Man by nature desires to know”  but some of us desire to know the oddest things!  We think we need to know what Kelly Ripa will name her third baby. whether Kelly Osbourne, really can sing, and whether Kelly Clarkson will become an American idol.

We can learn all about the habits of meerkats, the worst storms in the past century, and the biggest man-made edifices in the world.  Perhaps if we absorb enough facts we can someday win on Jeopardy or Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?  So called “reality” shows have a hook to reel us in and keep us tuning to a particular channel until  the final choice is made and the last loser leaves rejected.  Then we want to find out how each of them feels about what they experienced and how their lives are changed.

There is just so much to KNOW!  As soon as we come home from work the TV goes on, not because there is anything in particular we want to see but because there is probably something of interest to watch–to amuse us, to distract us, even once in a while to educate us.  It sometimes seems we will watch almost anything rather than to be thrown back on our own resources.  We’d much rather watch a bad sit-com than read a good book.

TV lures us, seduces us, feeds us millions of unrelated bits of information that we would never have searched out on our own.  Titillating tid-bits… entrancing escape hatches…mind-numbing commercials.  I’m told that information has increased a thousand-fold in the past century.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t begin to process it all.  We’re on information overload.

Many things are competing for our attention, pulling us this way and that.  If we don’t decide which way we want to go, who will?

March 13th, 2017


I recently read an article that said, “Television is fast becoming anti-life….it certainly is anti-relationship.”  That’s  something to think about.  TV is anti-relationship in several ways.  It does not foster communication.  It is easier to reach for the remote than to reach out and touch somebody.  TV doesn’t show us wholesome, satisfying relationships.  They are, after all, so hum-drum.

I am old enough to remember evenings at home before TV.  Whatever did we do with all that time?  We read books and shared them = with real people.  We discussed plans for the next day or next year.  We did puzzles together or played board games and sang around the piano.  We actually did things with our hands – we whittled, knitted, painted, made clothes and toys,  knickknacks and doo-dads.  There were gardens to tend, livestock to care for,  We cooked and canned and quilted TOGETHER, a far cry from ordering a pizza to eat in front of the TV, each person absorbed in watching whatever happened to be on.

Our kids got to know us pretty well.  They knew what we thought and what we valued.  They heard stories about our younger days and we heard about their daily exploits.  In a word, we were “available” in a way that a parent engrossed in a TV program is not.  And kids were present to their parents in a way that kids in their own rooms with their own TVs and smart phones are not.

There was time for reverie, a lovely word for the aimless free-flow of ideas.   Idly watching the flickering flames of the fireplace is much more restful than trying to make sense of rapidly changing images on a TV screen.  Reminiscing, something we cannot do when entranced by the boob-tube, helps to give us perspective.

We know in our hearts that we need time apart to reflect, reconsider, reorder our priorities.  People go to the mountains or the seashore, retreats and hermitages to get in touch with their inner selves  to sort the gold from the glitter and ponder eternal verities.  At this time of the year many religions advocate a time apart from the worldly hub-bub.

What are you doing this year with your Lent?


March 12th, 2017


I recently read an account of John  Philips, Ph.D. , described as a typical hard-driving man, very successful in his field, who at the age of 57 suffered a massive stroke which almost took his life and left him unable to speak.  He describes in detail his struggle to regain control of his bodily functions, then the ability to walk, and ultimately his efforts to regain speech.  What most impressed me was his statement at the end: “I have learned respect for ‘ordinary’  people. I didn’t recognize it at the time and I fought it every inch of the way, but in one blinding instant when I was stricken by stroke, I suddenly joined their ranks.  All of my influence and power, and three-quarters of my earning power,  were instantly drained away. And you know what?  I certainly would not have chosen the route but I kind of like being an ordinary person.  There are more real people here.”

People who are blessed with great beauty, great talent, or great intellect often tend to forget that they are exactly that – blessed.  They are ordinary people who have been gifted, through no merit of their own, with something extraordinary.  (When you think about it, you might actually consider beauty and brains as handicaps rather then blessings in that they may cause temptations to pride and tend one to waste one’s time seeking approval from persons other than God.)  At the other end of the spectrum are ordinary people who have suffered a deficiency,  a woundedness, again through no fault of their own.  Of these we might say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

We are not responsible for our genetic predispositions or the environment that shapes us.  We all have to play the hand we are dealt.  Most people are a funny mix of strengths and weaknesses.  Some have very visible strengths, others very visible weaknesses.  But, as the saying goes, there is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us, that it little behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.

It is well nigh impossible to guess where anyone might rank on God’s scorecard.   Some saints have worked miracles, levitated, received the stigmata and have done great works.  Others have been notable only for their ordinariness.  The life of Therese of Lisieux was so unimpressive that another Sister in her convent wondered out loud what they could write about her when she died.  In 1997 she was elevated to the status of Doctor of the Church. Her “little way” of sanctity was enough.

One hears about”self-made” people.  Surely one can work and practice to hone one’s abilities, but the abilities themselves are gifts.  We are not self-made, we had nothing whatever to do with our existence or our aptitudes.  We say that people are “inspired” to write a sonata. sculpt a David, investigate outer space, and so on.  The very meaning of “inspiration” is something that is “breathed in” as from an outer source.  Life itself is a gift.  Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God.  THAT is what makes every human being worthy of love and respect, not the marvelous things he may be capable of doing.

It is a humbling thing to realize the underneath we are like all the rest,  pilgrims on a difficult journey.  “The Colonel’s lady and Molly O’Grady are sisters under the skin.”   All too soon beauty fades, powers wane, and we prepare to leave the world as naked and helpless as we entered it.  Malcolm Muggeridge wrote about “the unaccountable tenderness” he felt for strangers in the street, fellow travelers on spaceship earth, each with unknown and unsuspected trials and loneliness.

However ordinary or extraordinary our lives may seem, when we do what we are called by God to do we not only fulfill ourselves but fill others==with truth, with beauty, with healing, with love, with food, with comfort, with insight–with whatever gift we have been given to give.  Whether we are ordinary or extraordinary in the eyes of the world, what difference does it really make?  In the final analysis, after we have finished our earthly pilgrimage, there will be only one question of importance.  How much, how well, did you love?