Arizona · Gina's Team · Publishing · Sara Dobie Bauer · Writing

“Hope in Orange” featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul

chicken-soupAs many of you know, a big part of my life in Arizona was prison ministry, but I wasn’t peddling religion; I brought books behind bars. For three years, I was honored to be a Gina’s Team book club volunteer at Perryville Prison. I wrote about the experience sparingly, but thanks to writer friend Beth Cato, I eventually sent something about Perryville to Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Miraculously, it was accepted, which was amazing to me, since my short fiction usually revolves around sex, violence, or romantic, gay cannibals.

Tomorrow, Chicken Soup releases its most recent collection, Volunteering & Giving Back, in which my essay, “Hope in Orange,” is among many featured pieces. I suggest you buy the edition, not only for my work, but for the inspirational stories of so many others doing good out there in the dark, scary world.

For your reading pleasure, you’ll find an excerpt below. Read it and head to Amazon and order your copy of Volunteering & Giving Back. Then, do one better: find some way to get involved in your community. Find a way to make a difference. It’s worth it, and if you’re doing it right, you’ll soon realize the people you help are actually helping you. This essay is wholeheartedly dedicated to the women in orange of Perryville Prison.

“Hope in Orange”

by Sara Dobie Bauer

(Featured in its entirety in Chicken Soup for the Soul.)

Perryville Prison is located on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona. Surrounded by desolation—dried desert and mountains of dirt—the prison could be hell, except people don’t leave hell whereas they do leave Perryville. And often return.

I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe Perryville Prison is haunted by the women themselves. The ghosts of the past surround their heads like teased hair, and I see reflections of loved ones in the edges of their eyes.

Dear friend Sue Ellen Allen harassed me (in a good way) for a year before I finally agreed to volunteer at Perryville. Sue Ellen, an ex-con herself, started a book club during her lengthy tenure at Perryville, and what better place for a writer like me than a book club?

Why the initial hesitation? Was it because my father was once a parole officer? No, although he wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of his daughter working with ex-cons. Was it because I don’t like to volunteer? No. The main reason I didn’t want to volunteer at Perryville Prison was because I was scared.

I had visions of Con Air. I just knew I would end up running from some Steve Buscemi freak show. Or maybe end up murdered. Or kidnapped. Something. Because to an outsider, that’s what prison is—a dark, scary place filled with hardened criminals who know how to turn a toothbrush into a lethal weapon. Was I wrong? Of course.

(Read more by ordering your copy today: Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back.)

Arizona · Entertainment in AZ · Gina's Team · Mental Health · Publishing · Sara Dobie Bauer · Writing

Goodyear, AZ, author featured in new book (Hint: it’s me)

Photo by Ray Thomas.
Photo by Ray Thomas.
(Article by Jeannette Cruz, featured in the West Valley View.)

Most people don’t spend time discussing literature with inmates, but Sara Dobie Bauer isn’t most people. The Goodyear author established a book club three years ago at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville in Goodyear.

Dobie Bauer, who is a board member for the nonprofit Gina’s Team, which works to improve the lives of inmates and ex-convicts in the Valley, said she was inspired to write an essay about her experience at the prison after realizing the importance of hope.

Her essay “Hope in Orange” will be featured in the upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back.

“I wrote an essay about what it’s like going to a prison, spending time at a prison and realizing that no matter how much I think I have to offer, the women behind bars have so much more to offer me,” Dobie Bauer said. “Together, we lift each other up. Together, we bring each other hope. Together, we laugh, together we cry — all through the catalyst of books.”

With shows such as Orange is the New Black, many people think all inmates are “scary and tough,” Dobie Bauer said.

“Once you sit down, you realize most of them are the same age as you and they just made one mistake, or maybe life dealt them a bad hand and they had a really bad upbringing, and the only way they could get out was through crime,” she said.

She considers herself an ideal candidate to go into the prison, because she suffers from mental illness, Dobie Bauer said.

“I have depression. I have an anxiety disorder. I have post-traumatic stress. So, some days, even though I am not behind bars, I still feel trapped by fear and by sadness,” she said. “Emotions can be my prison, whereas these women have emotional prisons and literal prisons. But, despite the prisons we inflict on ourselves and that we suffer through, there is hope.”

She believes books have an amazing power to heal, and when selecting books for her book club, she looks for those that have had an emotional impact on her life, Dobie Bauer said.

“These women are really into it. They are so smart and so good at taking out the important things in these books, talking about it and really relate to everything,” she said.

Earlier this year, the book club read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and explored a plot surrounded by murder, a poisonous marriage and dark elements.

“I didn’t think it was that great when I read it, but I was curious about what the women would think, and it was the most fiery conversation we’ve ever had because the opinions were so divided on who was more of a psychopath — the husband or the wife,” Dobie Bauer said. “I didn’t even have to speak the entire time.”

(Read the rest at West Valley View. Pre-order your copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering and Giving Back HERE.)

Arizona · Entertainment in AZ · Gina's Team · Mental Health

The Art of Love

Saturday, I MC’ed an event for Gina’s Team called “The Art of Love” at Cup O’ Karma in Mesa. It was a fundraiser where we featured musicians, spoken word poets, roses, hand-painted coffee mugs, and inmate art. Even I sang a couple sets.

Needless to say, I was terrified. Let’s face it: generalized anxiety disorder feels like heartburn in your brain. I’d already give myself permission to consume a vodka martini post-event, but first, I had to make it through the event.

Once things got rolling, I found a rhythm, assisted greatly by the likes of emotive piano player Nate Rosswog, sexy chanteuse Tiffany Brown, and Gina’s Team co-founder Sue Ellen Allen. Ex-inmate Sandi Starr and one of the phenomenal Gina’s Team interns, Samantha, brought us practically to tears with their witnesses on how the organization saved them both.

me-and-russWe kept on rolling with kingpin poet Tristan Marshell, gravel-voiced god Jon Rodis, and Rasheda Poe, who translates pain perfectly into poem. It was a relief for me when I got to sing two sets—one with jazz prodigy Jesse Sumter; the other with my gifted, spirited guitarist, Russell Braman—because I could just shut up and sing, wrap myself in lyrics like warm ocean waves.

The ever-glamorous wordsmith Emily Cimino reminded us that love ain’t always pretty. Then came the cast from Four Chambers Press, Jared Duran and Jia Oak Baker, who made us laugh and consider what love is all about (even if it involves Costco). We closed the afternoon with Teneia: a melodious married duo that had us dancing in our seats.

But let me be honest: all my artists, my volunteers, were not the highlight of the day. A small busload of teen girls from Mingus Mountain Academy came for the show, as well, and a certain girl (let’s call her Mary) who I’ve connected with in the past sought me out because she needed to talk.

We headed to the alley behind Cup O’ Karma, and Mary admitted she’s been barely able to cope with her depression. She’s been having nightmares. She wants to isolate herself from everyone. She’s scared she’ll never feel okay again.

A strange epiphany: Mary and I have been experiencing the exact same emotions, she in Prescott, me in Phoenix, for months. Divided by miles; connected by despair—connected by “The Art of Love” event this past Saturday.

I told Mary I didn’t have the answers, because if I did, I would have remembered how to eat by now, how to get out of bed in the morning, how to smile at good news. I told her that the only way I make it through the day is one step at a time: one hour of one day of one week … I told her, “Just make it through this hour and the hour after that and the hour after that.” She seemed relieved. We hugged a half dozen times before she had to leave.

I wondered later, while surrounded by Gina’s Team supporters, if I’d done enough. I always wonder if I’m doing enough. Then, I remembered, we do what we can for who we can when we can.

That’s what Saturday was about. That’s what Gina’s Team is about. That’s why all my musicians and artists agreed to do an event for free for a good cause—no, a great cause. Like Sue Ellen says, “Been there, done that; now, how can I help?” I’ve been in love; I’ve been broken by love; I’ve cut myself until I bled.

If not for our own experiences—the good, the bad, the ugly—we couldn’t help other people. And because we survived those experiences, we can give back, hence Saturday’s “Art of Love.” What can you do today? (If you’re moved to do so, donate to Gina’s Team.)

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Arizona · Gina's Team · Mental Health

Little girl, you are my light

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Yesterday, I participated in the Gina’s Team monthly road trip to Mingus Mountain Academy in Prescott, a safe haven for troubled girls. The girls know me by now. I’m the depressed poet who sings. I didn’t do much speaking yesterday, but apparently, it was enough, as I admitted to over a hundred girls that I almost didn’t make the trip because my depression had me slugging through the mud of early morning life.

Before I left, a small, spindly girl with pink hair came up and handed me a note. She said, “I want you to have this.” In her note, she told me of her own struggles with depression, anxiety, cutting, and worse. On the back was a poem.

Into the Darkness

I reach out into the darkness, grabbing, opening and closing my hand. I can feel it brush against my fingertips. It’s cold, so cold. I reach forward impossibly closer and clamp my right hand around it. My back rests against the cold and damp floor. I stare up with my tear-stained face. My eyes hurt, they ache, and they leave me with a migraine.

I slowly pull my arm closer to my body. I rest my hand against my opposite arm. The cold metal makes me shiver. My heart pounds and my breath stops short in my throat as I drag my hand across my left wrist. I paint my arm in dark red. Eventually, my hand falls into a routine of back and forth movement.

My eyes start feeling heavy, my head starts to spin, my stomach clenches, my chest aches, and my arm tingles. I start to take shorter breaths, gasping almost. I close my eyes and suddenly feel a sort of relief.

The pain in my chest stops. I don’t feel like I’m spinning in circles anymore. The urge to throw up is gone, and now my whole body is slowly starting to become numb. I can feel myself letting of of everything, once again reaching out into the darkness.

This is a young girl who understands cutting, how physical pain is so much better than emotional. She told me yesterday that I was such a help to her, but I need to tell her when I go back to Mingus in February: “Little girl, you help me.”

Those of us who suffer from depression often feel closed off, alone in the world, like no one could possibly understand. This little girl understands. She is not alone; I am not alone. There is hope and love and, if we’re lucky, joy.

When Gina’s Team travels to Prescott, we might think we’re helping those girls, and we are, by letting them know that things can get better: that life doesn’t end at eighteen. But I hope they understand they also help me. The little girls are the heroes, and I am the damsel in distress. Together, we commiserate, cry, and share poems; together, we heal and bring light to the darkness.

I’ll always remember the little girl with the pink hair. I hope she remembers me, too.

Photo credit: Samantha Nina / Flickr

Bite Somebody · Gina's Team · Mental Health · Publishing · Sara Dobie Bauer · Writing

Wow, some stuff happened this year!

I don’t believe in the whole new year, fresh slate shenanigans. I don’t do resolutions. January is another month. It marks nothing but another month. Despite this, I guess a new year number is a nice way to mark accomplishments. In homage, I spent this morning thinking back over 2014, professionally, and well, shit, a lot of stuff happened.

1. Short stories
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“Don’t Ball the Boss” in Stoneslide Corrective
Most read story of 2014 on the Stoneslide site
Nominated for a Pushcart Prize
“Just one more look, I tell myself. One more glance, and I’m back to my room down the hall, door locked, and hidden under the bed. But, for shit’s sake, he’s standing there, his shirt destroyed, his hair a mutinous rat’s nest, and his hot mouth swollen like he’s been punched. I’m proud that I did all this, but I can’t move.”

“The Youngest Brother” in Solarcide
“His chest rose and fell much too fast, and she watched his alcohol-soaked gaze jump back and forth over pavement. ‘I never wanted this. God, I never did.’ His voice cracked, but he kept the gun pointed at her chest. ‘What did they hire you to do? Kill me?'”

“You Need My Shit” in The Molotov Cocktail
“My husband suggested I keep my revolver in a little box during our garage sale just in case. It never occurred to me to be worried about people robbing my African statue that looks like it’s taking a shit.”

“Map of Memories:” to be published in 2015 by Under the Gum Tree
“No Smoking:” to be published in 2015 by Akashic Books: Thursdaze

2. Novel
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Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary was completed in 41 days and is currently being shopped to literary agents nationwide.

“I’m a vampire, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. You know in movies how vampires are all super good-looking and confident and mysterious? I saw Interview with the Vampire. I’ve seen all the vampire movies made, like, ever. I thought maybe if I studied Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, I would wake up one night looking like Catherine Zeta Jones. Instead, I wake up with bed head and dry drool on the outside of my mouth and wonder what went wrong?

“Deciding to become a vampire was like deciding on a last minute tattoo. Walk into a tattoo parlor, half-tipsy, and say, ‘I want that one.’

“I thought becoming a vampire would fix everything and make me better. That’s what Danny said. Instead, it’s been three months, I haven’t bitten anyone, and I spend all my time drinking lukewarm blood from hospital donation bags when I’m not working the night shift at Happy Gas down the street from my crappy Florida apartment. And I have a crush on the smell of my neighbor.”

Read more at Wattpad.

3. Mental Health
I was very open about my own mental health this year (or lack thereof), through work and on my own personal blog. My favorites?
Let’s Talk About Cutting
I’m a depressive cutter, don’t let my sense of humor fool you

4. Photo shoots
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I did two this year, which is plenty, since hey, photo shoots can be a lot of work! One was in homage to Fight Club anti-hero Marla Singer (photographs by Chris Loomis) and the other was for my friend, Sara Santiago’s, “Myth of Modesty” series (photographs by Devon Adams).

5. Books read: 66.

6. Interviews
I had the chance to talk to several icons this year, including Amanda Palmer, Cary Elwes, Caitlin Moran, Gregory Maguire, Evangeline Lilly, and The Minimalists. I learned something special from each of them, and I feel blessed to have a job at SheKnows.com that allows me such access.

7. Book clubs
Thanks to Gina’s Team, the Perryville Prison women’s book club is still going strong, once a month. As of December, we’ve started two more at Skelley House women’s shelters in downtown Phoenix and at Mingus Mountain Academy (for troubled teens) in Prescott.

8. Benedict Cumberbatch
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How could I not include this beautiful man on the 2014 list? He’s made me plenty of money through work, and he’s built me an unexpected internet fanbase. Cumberbitches, unite!
How Benedict Cumberbatch helped my career
SK Confessional: I’m obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch, and here’s why (This article earned me #1 on Google search, thank you.)
22 Things you don’t understand about the Benedict Cumberbatch obsession
11 Times Benedict Cumberbatch stood up for gay rights

Phew, I’m tired just looking at all this. I could get into the personal life changes, but well, that would be another thousand words. For now, join me in a slow clap of admiration over the passing of a successful 2014 and toast to more great things to come!

Arizona · Gina's Team · Mental Health

Gina’s Team gives me reason to hope (and live)

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I’ve thought about giving up. No longer creating. No longer caring. It’s on these, the darkest days, that I end up at Perryville Prison or on a road trip to Prescott or, say, to a sober-living halfway house in downtown Phoenix. It’s on these darkest days that Gina’s Team has saved my life.

Gina’s Team was named for Gina Panetta, a young mother who died while serving time in an Arizona prison. In her memory, we actively promote education and self-sufficiency for incarcerated women and men in Arizona at no cost to the prisons.

My title at work is “Book Nerd,” and this title has perpetuated through my time with Gina’s Team. At first, it was a monthly book club at Perryville Prison. I am now expanding to start a book club for former inmates and recovering addicts in downtown Phoenix and also at Mingus Mountain Academy—a safe haven for troubled teenage girls.

One of my dark days occurred last Wednesday, when I woke at 6 AM and knew I had to head to Prescott to judge a poetry slam at Mingus. My anxiety was off the charts, and I had trouble remembering how to dress myself. Then, we—Gina’s Team—arrived at Mingus, and the slam began.

One girl’s name was called (coincidentally, Sarah), and she covered her face. She ran up to us and said she couldn’t do it, couldn’t read in front of a hundred of her peers. She looked to me for some nod that would allow her to sit down and give up. Instead, I pulled her aside and said, “I’m terrified to be here today. I’d much rather be under my bed, but I got up on that stage earlier. You can, too. Now, go read.”

skype-stay-together-ad-two-girls-huggingShe did. An excerpt from Sarah’s piece, written for the founders of Mingus, Bill and Pauline: “I didn’t care about my life, and I wanted to die. I fought every day and held in my pain. I was stuck on alcohol and self harm habits. I hit rock bottom, then one day, a staff sat me down to tell me the story of Bill and Pauline. I didn’t want to accept that someone once cared about girls lonely and scared.”

Sarah won third place. I have her judging numbers on the wall in my office as a reminder of that day, and I like to think Sarah looks at her third place certificate and thinks of Gina’s Team. I hope we did something for her that day.

Gina’s Team has had a huge effect on my life. I’ve met beautiful, broken women who I have helped to heal—at least a wound or two. Now, we’re expanding, reaching out to more women, more volunteers. So now, I need something from you.

Behind the scenes is a team of web masters, volunteer accountants, organizers … you name it, someone is doing it. The bad news: one of our computers just died. We are in desperate need of a new Mac, so we’ve started a GoFundMe campaign. In order to continue serving women at Perryville and young girls like Sarah at Mingus, we need efficient access to technology. Please consider giving just five bucks, ten bucks, something.

When I have my darkest days, Gina’s Team pulls me from my shell and shoves me into situations that should be scary. Instead, my experiences with Gina’s Team have left me enlivened and hopeful for the future. I will not give up, no matter my personal darkness, because there are women who need me. Gina’s Team won’t give up either. Please help us in our continued mission to change lives for the better.

Head to GoFundMe now and donate, and please spread the need to your friends, family, and social media circle. Thank you!