George Korolog: “Our Adoption”

Winning Writers subscriber George Korolog kindly shares with us a poem from his new collection, Collapsing Outside the Box, which was recently released by Aldrich Press. It was inspired by George’s oldest son, now a college student, who joined their family through open adoption. This poem rings true for me as a depiction of the joy and mystery of meeting your child for the first time, and the complex emotions that arise in a family formed by loss as well as gain.

Our Adoption

It never occurred to me that a strange new
smell would electrify your supple nose hairs,
singe your newborn heart, brand your reptilian
brain with images of smoldering panic that would
mark the watershed of life in your first few seconds.
It never occurred to me that sliding into new being,
slipping from the swathing sac, slapping air in severance
from everything in which your senses had settled were
the questions, Who am I? Why are you here? It never
occurred to me that after nine months of reckoning
her hovering heartbeat to fractions of a second, that
you were already seeding tomorrow with querulous
roots, tendrils that would twist inward upon themselves,
mistakenly embedding the future with layers of suspicion
and doubt even as we yelled, over and over, “I love you.
I love you.” It never occurred to me that you were
beginning to spin the web of one great tear, muddle and
mesh, the blame and longing that awaited us, love dangling,
the snare quivering with the promise of welcoming.

Conway Imagines Freedom After Prop 36 Sentencing Reform

My prison pen pal “Conway’s” most recent letter to me was written just before Election Day, as he waited to see whether California voters would pass Proposition 36. This ballot measure, which was successful at the polls, would finally exempt nonviolent offenders from the state’s harsh “three-strikes” sentencing. Prisoners like Conway, who were sentenced under the old law, can apply for early release. Let’s hope that the dream he expressed in this letter will soon become a reality:

My vision:

The gooners come to the door; hand me a clear plastic trash bag. Tell me to put whatever I intend to take with me. I choose, just my letters, my writings and Dag… [his copy of Dag Hammarskjold’s “Markings”]

The last gate cracks. I step out onto the pavement, and start putting one foot in front of the other, as the last images of barbed wire and gun towers slowly fade away on the horizon at my back.

I no longer require someone to tell me where to be. What to see.

I have the power to be free
to be me  to be absolutely.

Another vision: I walk out to the parking lot. Find a ’59 Panhead idling with a Circle-A on the gas tank.

The person standing next to the scooter says, “This is your last shot, take this bike and get out of Hell as fast as you can.”

I don’t hesitate. I jump on, pull the clutch, drop it in gear and turn the throttle full, pop the clutch as the back tire kicks rocks on the tower like a dog pissing on a fire hydrant.

10 Thousand sounds scream from the fishtail pipes as I hit the highway passing cars and trucks like they’re parked.

A song begins to form in my mind as I blast down a road that starts to push buttons in my mind.

It becomes familiar.

The motor sputters, I reach down and twist the petcock to reserve. The motor smooths out and I hear Lita Ford, singing “Let’s get back to the cave”.

I pull off the freeway and refuel. Grab a Mars bar and a Mountain Dew.

I pull back onto the highway. Pantera begins to play “Cemetery Gates” in my head. Slowly my speed begins to crawl back up to the velocity that brings tears to my eyes.

The rim of the Valley comes into view. I see a blanket of jewels glittering below me as the lights of Los Angeles invite me back home.

This time, things will shine.

“In a dream I walked with God through the deep places of creation; past walls that receded and gates that opened, through hall after hall of silence, darkness and refreshment — the dwelling place of souls acquainted with light and warmth — until, around me, was an infinity into which we all flowed together and lived anew, like the rings made by raindrops falling upon wide expanses of calm dark waters.” — Dag Hammarskjold

LGBT Clergy Photo Exhibit Needs Your Support

“WE HAVE FAITH: LGBT Clergy Speak Out” is a photo and text exhibit featuring interviews and pictures of LGBT clergy from many faiths and cultural backgrounds. It’s being created by Peggy Gillespie and Gigi Kaeser, co-founders of the Family Diversity Project in Amherst, MA. Peggy is also an adoptive mom and a Buddhist teacher at the meditation center that my husband and I attend. FDP has produced well-respected documentary exhibits and books about adoptive families, interracial families, people with disabilities, and sexual minorities.

 This important project needs your Kickstarter funding to reach their goal by December 15, 2012. If funded, the WE HAVE FAITH exhibit will travel to libraries, houses of worship, schools, and community centers around the country, to counteract cultural messages that homosexuality and religious faith cannot be reconciled. Please watch their video and donate today.

A Prisoner’s Poem for Tolerance

I’ve blogged before about my prison pen pal “Jon”, who is serving a life sentence in California for a burglary-related homicide. A self-taught illustrator and writer, Jon is a Christian with a simple faith that encompasses more tolerant views than one might hear from many American pulpits. In our letters, I’ve told him about my GLBT activism and its expression in my creative writing, and he’s shared stories of gay and lesbian friends who have been special to him. He sent me the poem below in one of his letters this autumn.

For someone in his situation, Jon sounds notably at peace with his punishment, not bitter but regretful of his bad decisions and determined to cultivate more positive spiritual qualities while serving his time. I mention this because when I have tried to submit his poetry to magazines, I have heard from some editors that they refuse to provide a forum for a convicted killer, regardless of the contents of the submission.

Without negating the seriousness of his crime, this seems to me like a mistake. We all benefit from unexpected revelations of the complexity of another human being. Prison reform gets so little traction in America because we enjoy the illusion that criminals are categorically different from you and me. For a so-called Christian nation, we’ve got a slippery grasp on the concept of original sin. I prefer Sister Helen Prejean’s maxim that a person is always more than his worst act.

Expressions of Love
by “Jon”


They’ll say you can’t be that way.
It’s wrong. God won’t like it.
Morality won’t accept it.
So many hide their love,
their kisses, only in the dark,
only behind closed doors.
Don’t tell the neighbors
your family, or even your friends.
Close the curtains
make sure, no one can see in.
They will not understand.
They won’t love you anymore.
Now you’re a freak,
an undesirable, mutant, monster creep.


Hiding at the train tracks,
in the middle of the night.
Under a full moon, bed of stars
so bright it would be romantic
if you didn’t have to worry
about someone else attacking you.
Just for being who you are.
For showing another love,
that beats, that burns
deep within your chest.


Going both directions in your mind.
There must be something wrong with you.
Normal people don’t act that way.
Normal people don’t love?
Are they forced to hide it?
Crouching under a bridge.
Cringing in darkness,
for fears of violence, of hate.
Just like a troll in a horror story.


Can normal people hold hands,
without people laughing as they walk by.
Can they hug at an airport, bus stop, station.
Express their joy finally
being with their loved one again.
Being complete, without worry, without pain.
Without people turning their heads.
Can they kiss in a moment of bliss,
without people shouting out in disgust?


Can normal people be loved,
without soceiety frowning, cursing, hurting,
telling them they’re sick, need help, they’re morbid.
Can normal people realize
that everyone isn’t their way?
That finding love is hard enough
without them crushing, binding, and insulting.
Spitting, slapping, and being repulsive.
Expressing love is hard enough
without everyone else despising you,
without hating and hurting yourself,
for love.

Prop 36 Rolls Back Harsh Three-Strikes Sentencing in CA

This Election Day brought good news to families burdened by California’s harsh and imbalanced sentencing laws. By a margin of 68.6% to 31.4%, state voters passed Proposition 36 to limit three-strikes sentencing to cases where the third offense is violent or serious. Previously, a third felony conviction could trigger a life sentence even for minor and nonviolent offenses, such as writing a bad check or (in the case of my friend “Conway“) receiving a stolen motorcycle. (By contrast, the maximum sentence for rape in California is 8 years.)

Besides altering the sentencing guidelines going forward, Prop 36 created a mechanism for the nearly 3,000 inmates serving life sentences under the old three-strikes law to petition for a reduced sentence. My hope is that this will spell early release for Conway, who currently has 5 years left to serve.

Read more about the vote at the Huffington Post. Say thanks to Families Against California Three Strikes, the activist group that led the ballot effort, with a donation.