I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. Actually, it’s a little surprising that it hadn’t happened before now. But this morning, it struck without warning, with the force of a Kansas twister. I had a good old-fashioned meltdown. The blubbering, hiccupping, can’t-catch-your-breath variety. Part pity-party, part frustrated exhaustion, part overwhelmed and overwhelming doubt.

It started late last night after my speaking gig at The Cedars retirement community in McPherson, Kansas, when I opened an email from a friend that contained a list of truly thoughtful and thought-provoking questions about what this cross-country experience has been like, what the challenges have been and how I feel now about my decision to do it. And she asked whether I ever got sick of it all and didn’t feel like driving on to the next destination; if I ever wanted to ditch the rest of the speaking gigs and meetings, and just go home. Her questions nagged at me for much of the night. And by morning, I had myself worked into a deep funk.

I miss Bruce and my kids and my parents. I miss my house with my comfy bed and my clean bathroom and my roomy kitchen. I miss my friends and my church and the familiar places and faces and voices and routines of “home.” I’m tired of driving, tired of being alone, tired of sleeping on a narrow little cushion in a narrow little van in ridiculous places like Walmart parking lots. I’m tired of using public restrooms and public showers. I’m sick of worrying about the cost of gas and meals, and about what I’ll do if the van breaks down or I get sick or some other calamity strikes. I’m sick of worrying about finding a safe place to park and sleep every night. I’m tired of fretting about the paltry book sales and the small audiences. I’m weary of being upbeat and sociable and “on” for each speaking engagement. And this $%^&! wind! WHY can’t this $%^&! wind come from behind once in a while, serving as a boosting tail-wind, instead of constantly hitting me broadside??!!

As if this toddler-rant wasn’t enough, a bunch of other, much less productive questions were also rattling around in my head.

Was it really worth it to drive for 3 days and 1000 miles to speak to 15 retirement community residents and sell four books? Don’t get me wrong – they were a great audience and were sincerely interested in my message. We had some rich dialogue about prison programs some of them have been involved in and how they could support local programs. It was wonderful to spend the evening with all of them. But why didn’t anyone from the other groups they invited to the event show up? For that matter, why do so few people show up at ALL of these events? Why don’t more of the people who DO show up at each place buy a copy of the book?

And why have so many of the people I’ve contacted across the country to try to set up speaking engagements not even bothered to return my calls or emails? I realize people have their own concerns, and busy schedules and things they need to focus on, and I’m keenly aware that this is not a popular topic and that my message is one many people would rather not hear and many others flat out disagree with. I try really hard to strike a balance between Marie-Hamilton-style persistence while not being obnoxious or pushy when I contact people to try to set up speaking gigs. But it would be nice if everyone I contact would at least RESPOND, even if it’s with a “no thanks.”

But then again, is any of this really going to be worth the time and effort and expense? Will anything ever truly change in our messed up so-called “justice” system? The problems are so huge and complex – how could any of this piddly little stuff I’m doing possibly make a difference?

As I said, total meltdown. It wasn’t pretty. But it was time once again to get on the road – this time to Kansas City. So, I set off down the highway.

I was only a few miles out of McPherson when I saw billboards urging motorists to: “Come visit charming Lindsborg, Kansas – Little Sweden, USA.”

What the heck, I thought. Maybe it’ll be so charming and delightful that it will snap me out of this funk.

I exited I-135 and followed the signs pointing to downtown Lindsborg (though I was highly annoyed when I saw that it was going to be another 4 miles down the road, and I almost turned around and got back on the Interstate).

It WAS charming. Brick-lined streets, cute shops offering all kinds of Scandinavian foods, crafts, gifts and other items, dozens of handpainted “Dala horses” on the sidewalks in front of many of the shops.

I wandered into a shop called “Swedish Pastries & Emporium” and looked around. Adorable. I was about to leave when the lady behind the counter asked where I was from.

“Pennsylvania,” I told her.

“Wow – you’re a long way from home. What brings you to Lindsborg?”

I told her I was just passing through, and briefly mentioned the cross-country trip. (I really didn’t feel like going into it). But after a few more questions from her, I mentioned the book and Marie Hamilton and prisons.

“I used to be against the death penalty,” the lady said abruptly.

Uh-oh, I thought. Here we go. Geez, I didn’t even mention the death penalty…

She hesitated. “But then my mother was murdered.”


She started talking about books she’s read about the death penalty and wrongful convictions and the criminal justice system and how uncertain she feels now about what to think. She told me the state notifies her every time the man who murdered her mother has any type of hearing or appeal and she is supposed to go and state her case against him.

“I went the first couple of times, but I was in there with his family and knew that they’d be speaking in his favor and it was like just reopening the wound of my mother’s murder over and over. So now I just send them a copy of what I said before and leave it alone.”

Then she asked what exactly Marie Hamilton had done in the prisons, and I briefly told her about the Runathon as one example.

She said, “They had a program where HE is that let the inmates train rescue dogs. The state notified me that HE had applied to get into that program. But then the person who ran the program helped an inmate to escape and the whole thing was shut down.”

I asked how she would have felt about him being involved in the program, if it hadn’t been shut down.

She was quiet for a little while. Then, “I guess if it would have helped him somehow, that would have been good. I don’t know . . . he says he’s found religion and has turned his life around, but . . .” She shrugged.

I gently asked about her own journey in the aftermath of her mother’s murder. It was obvious that she’s still working through a confusing swirl of pain and fear and inner turmoil. She told me about what he did, the evidence that had convicted him, his defense (he had been high on drugs when he murdered her mother), his sentence (two concurrent, instead of consecutive, sentences – he had murdered another person in addition to her mother), and all the unanswered questions she has about all of it. “And I worry about whether he’d come after me if he gets out of prison someday,” she said.

“That’s one of the most common fears victims have,” I replied. She looked at me quizzically, like, How would you know?

I hesitated. It’s a delicate matter to discuss restorative justice with a victim who is hurting so deeply. But I took a deep breath and very briefly told her about victim offender dialogue and restorative justice.

She listened, nodding. “I think I’d like to read your book. What’s the title?”

“I’ll be back in a minute,” I told her. I got a copy from the van and brought it to her.

“How much is it?” she asked.

“No charge.”

“I want to pay you,” she protested, but I shook my head . She turned it over and read the back cover, then looked up at me. “You’re Melanie?”


She held out her hand. “I’m June. I am so grateful that you came in here today. Thank you . . . for everything.”

And there it was. God’s gentle reply to all of my fussing and fuming, to all of my doubts. One person. One conversation. One day at a time.

And I got back into the van and drove on.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Have you ever been at a really low point, then something happened that helped you to know that things were going to be okay?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison restorative justice criminal justice book tour death penalty

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