Human Interest, Post Its

What If I Raise a Serial Killer? A Mother’s Fear of Raising a White Son.

To say I was shocked when the ultrasound technician said I was having a boy would be an understatement; I was scared shitless. In an instant, gone were the dreams of my Lorelai/Rory adventures and instead replaced were images of serial killers and scenes from We Need to Talk about Kevin. It wasn’t the dirt and reptiles that scared me. I have a younger brother who proudly peed his name on the side of our house while getting kicks out of throwing lizards down my shirt. Boys will be boys — as they should be…to a certain extent. Before finding out the gender of my unborn child, I would joke that if I ever had a boy, I’d leave him out in the woods for the White Walkers to eat. Jokes on me, because after 9 ½ months of pregnancy and a C-section, I’ve sacrificed too much to ditch this amazing work in progress who I’m utterly in love and obsessed with.

No, what terrified both my husband and I, who sat, motionless, as the technician blurted out “I see pee pee, no girl for you!” was the fact we were now responsible for bringing up a white male in a time where it’s “okay” for the President of the United States to demean women and for college boys to rape unconscious women. Every time I’ve ever come across a dickhead of a so-called “man,” I think “If I was your mother, I’d slap you right across the face and put you in your place.” And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t believe in spanking my child.

I cannot fathom living with the fear black and Latino mothers deal with every day as they send their sons out into the world, praying they will not be victimized by a power structure pre-disposed to benefiting my son.  My fear is that, despite my attempts to raise him with a sense of empathy and compassion for others, he will become another victimizer.

Sure, girls have their own drawbacks. I can’t tell you how many mothers I’ve spoken to who’ve said their sons were easier than their daughters. Yes, girls and puberty is a rough mix. But I went through it and can relate. If she ever became too much, I’d just grab a bottle of wine and tell my husband “she’s your daughter, you speak to her,” (why are we meaner to our moms than our dads?)! Plus, if my daughter ever became a teen mom and ended up working the pole, I always planned on just blaming it on my husband. I mean, she had unprotected sex at an early age and shakes her ass for crusty-old men because daddy didn’t show her love, right? But with a son, the blame gets put on me. I remember watching a Lifetime movie based a true story. This serial killer had tortured and murdered numerous women and there was one common theme: they all looked like his mom. His mom, (even once his balls had dropped and he was declared an adult), had degraded him his entire life. So, what does he do? He goes out, rapes and murder women because of his mom! What if I’m that nagging mom that forces her son to become a serial rapist and killer? If my son were to ever mistreat or abuse a woman, I would blame myself. I mean, take Don Draper from Mad Men for example. He wasn’t a rapist or killer; just a playboy who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. And you know why? Because he had mommy issues. Even though Roger Sterling had his share of problems, he didn’t scream “mommy issues” like Don Draper did.

I love my son more than anything. He’s my life, a part of me that will always and forever remain a piece of me. I believe I was blessed with a son because our country (hell, our world) needs more good men. Men who stand up for what’s right and respect others with the same amount of decency (if not more) than they wish to be served. I’m grateful in that my husband, partner, and baby-daddy is the epitome of what a man is. I’ve never doubted his support and respect for me. We were meant to have a son so my husband can show him what a man is and I can show him how you treat a woman. Women are not objects but rather human beings just like him, deserving the same amount of respect (AND PAY) as he.  My son has watched me work a full-time job from the time he was latched onto my boob until yesterday when he threw a piece of cheese at my head while I was struggling to meet an editing deadline. Mommy will always be your mommy but she is also a professional career woman who is doing it all. Working, taking care of my family and fighting with the endless struggle we call “balance.” Mothers play a different role in this world than fathers and it’s my responsibility to show my son that whereas my husband and I may act out different roles, we’re equally important and crucial to this society.

Of course I want him to thrive and be successful in his future career of choice. If he’s fortunate, it’ll be his passion and not just a job. But more importantly, I want him to be compassionate; empathetic to those he can’t relate to yet still choose to stand up and fight for. Just as we need strong women to be examples for today’s youth, we need strong men to show what a real man is. I want to raise a man, not a scared little boy who resorts to hatred and ignorance.

My job as my son’s mother is to love and protect him; feed and educate his body and soul; and teach him what’s right from wrong, yet give him the space and opportunity to make his own decisions. I can only practice what I preach and pray he’ll be a man who helps, not hinders, our world.

Over two years later as I’m battling the terrible-twos, I’m still scared of raising a son but grateful for the opportunity. I was meant to be his mom and he was meant to be my son – forever and always.

Human Interest

Fighting for Another Day: The Kristyn Fletcher Story

K.Fletcher

By Amanda Stewart

She awoke that Saturday morning with a nagging stomach ache on the side. Having put on the Mother’s Day Fashion Show at school the day before and with three students home with the flu, Kristyn Fletcher assumed it was either a bad cold or the aftermath of a busy week. Refusing to give into what she believed to be a bug, Kristyn continued her Saturday plans by planting in the garden with her husband, Scott. “It wasn’t until I went to Walmart that it really started bothering me,” she recalls, “I thought, maybe I should pick up tums instead of flowers.” Upon returning home, she decided to make a trip to urgent care, letting Scott know that she would meet up with him at their son’s soccer game afterwards. But, Kristyn never made it to the soccer game.

After urgent care suspected she may have appendicitis, Kristyn was sent to the hospital for x-rays, where they found “activity in [her] colon that looked suspicious.” It was the day before Mother’s Day and instead of celebrating with her husband and four kids at home, she was strapped to a hospital bed, undergoing test after test, waiting for doctors to locate the source of the issues. “We see tumors,” the doctor relayed to her and Scott. “That night when we were sitting there, I knew he was talking about me, but it felt as if he was talking about somebody else.” What started off as a quick trip to urgent care, ended up being a 13-day stay at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. It began with removing two tumors from Kristyn’s colon, including two feet of her colon. Maybe it’s colon cancer they thought. But, when they went to remove her appendix, they found another tumor hidden away. It seemed like it was never ending. While removing one tumor, there was always a new one awaiting to be discovered. By the time Kristyn was leaving her 13-day stay, 8 of her lymph nodes had been removed and doctors had a clear idea of what they were dealing with: Stage IV Metastatic Signet Ring Cell Carcinoma. In simpler terms, Kristyn had a rare form of appendix cancer. A cancer that was possibly treatable for a time, but ultimately incurable.

Growing up with a mom as a Preschool Director, Kristyn and her siblings inherited a passion for teaching. “I just always loved being around kids,” she remembers, “I was always eager to go with my mom and help her at the preschool whenever there was an opportunity.” What began as a summer job when she was twelve at her mom’s preschool, slowly progressed into a career. After going to school and working full-time, Kristyn earned her teaching credential and was offered a position as a Kindergarten teacher at Cordillera Elementary School in Mission Viejo in the fall of 1994. “I love the kids, I love the age,” she exclaims when talking about her kindergarten students. “They come in wide-eyed, not knowing what to expect and then ten months later, they’re completely different – confident and ready to take on the world!” With four kids of her own ranging from 13 to 26, teaching has never been just a job for Kristyn, but rather a commitment she takes seriously to both her students and their parents. “I treat every child in my class as if they’re my own. What kind of teacher would I want for my kids? I want my kids to be silly and have fun, but most of all, learn.” After teaching all these years, it’s rare Kristyn doesn’t know a parent or kid at Cordillera Elementary. “I don’t know if it’s unique but we have great families at our school. For some of them, I’ve had three or four of their kids in my class. You really get a chance to build relationships and genuine friendships with these parents.” Unbeknownst to Kristyn, after teaching in the same classroom for twenty years, May 9th, 2014 would be her last official day at Cordillera Elementary.

“I was devastated enough when I thought I’d have to miss two weeks because of my appendix” she recalls. Starting chemo in June, there wasn’t a likely chance Kristyn would be heading back into the classroom till end of December of 2014, which was delayed again when they found a tumor had grown on her left side. “If my blood count was fine, I was able to go into the classroom and help my substitute teacher. It was quite therapeutic for me. I got to spend time with the kids, catch up with my friends at the school, and even visit with the parents. A little sense of normalcy in this chaotic world I was suddenly thrown into.”

It was a call she received on January 15th, 2015 that would flip Kristyn’s already chaotic world into a nightmare. “I need to get you in here next week, we made a mistake. We thought your differential pay was over on March 3rd, but it’s actually ending on February 6th,” a representative from the school district said to Kristyn over the phone. That next Wednesday, Kristyn made a visit to the school district. “She wasn’t even seated, just rifling through papers on her desk while telling me ‘I just need to make sure that you know March 3, 2015 will mark your termination with the school district. You’re out of sick time and deferential pay,’” Kristyn recalls. As the representative told her she could either go on unpaid leave or disability retirement, both options void of health insurance, Kristyn sat in disbelief, unable to move. “I had to go to San Diego the next morning for surgery and all I could keep hearing was ‘no benefits, no benefits, no benefits.’” Unaware this situation could even occur, especially when she had purchased disability insurance with the understanding that it would cover her in this type of situation, Kristyn inquired about asking her colleagues to donate days from their vacation and sick time. With Kristyn having donated her sick and vacation time on multiple occasions, she knew it was a plausible option. With the district’s approval, Kristyn reached out to her teachers in the school district and within two days, she had accumulated 60 days, allowing her to keep her benefits and buy her time while she worked out what she was going to do next.

Kristyn reached out to the Union to discuss her options. “I thought if I retired, I could keep my benefits, which is all I really wanted. However, I was told there were no provisions in the contract for disabled retirees and to retire, I had to at least be 50. It just felt like they were saying, ‘thanks for your 20 years of service, but we’re taking away your health insurance. Sorry, that’s the way it is.’” Whereas Kristyn had the option of going on Cobra, the $2,000 monthly bill was no option for her family’s budget. “My doctors were outraged. They said they’d never had a patient where their employer terminated their benefits, especially during medical treatments.”

Letters of love and support surrounding Kristyn's home
Letters of love and support surrounding Kristyn’s home

With outcries coming from family, friends, co-workers, parents, and even the media, Kristyn’s brother Ryan, a Principal for Violet Elementary in Garden Grove, approached the School District, urging them to revisit the wording in the teacher’s contract about “disability retirement,” and implement revisions regarding medical coverage for individuals who are truly unable to work. Since a current contract had not been signed, it was believed to be the perfect opportunity to take a closer look and make some changes. After much deliberation, the district refused to revise the contract but instead allowed teachers the opportunity of donating 124 more sick days to Kristyn. “This is a good starting point, but it shouldn’t be up to the teachers to sacrifice their sick and vacation time,” Kristyn states. “I’m forever grateful for my fellow teachers, more than they will ever know, but it’s not their responsibility. I hate that this falls back on them, especially since they’ve already done so much for me. The union and the school district need to take a look at the situation and ask themselves, ‘what if this was my wife, mom, or daughter?’”

Kristyn with her husband Scott, daughter Alyssa (22), and sons Brandon and Bryson. Not pictured: eldest son Anthony (26)
Kristyn with her husband Scott, daughter Alyssa (22), and sons Brandon (16) and Bryson (13). Not pictured: eldest son Anthony (26)

A journey she never wanted to be on, Kristyn is taking one day at a time, focusing on her family and striving to make a change so that no other teacher has to experience what she’s been going through. “I don’t want any special treatment. I just would like the retirement benefits I’ve been paying into for the past twenty years.” With an army comprised of family, friends, co-workers, parents, and former students, Kristyn is urging the school board to reexamine teacher’s contracts with focus on disability retirement. “No one should have to figure out how they’re going to take care of themselves while they’re sick.” Regardless of Kristyn’s diagnoses, she’s determined not to let anyone put a time stamp on her life. Instead, she’s focused on her husband and kids, working to create as many memories with them as possible. “It’s hard when you have kids. Will I ever see my youngest two graduate from high school? Probably not. Probably won’t see my four children get married either.” Despite being in-between surgeries and in the midst of chemo, Kristyn’s witty humor and charming personality have yet to disappear. With a new teacher’s contract waiting to be approved, Kristyn’s termination date currently stands as May 12th, 2015 unless the contract is signed and the 124 days are donated by the teachers. “This has been a hard year for me and my family. Whereas I always believe things happen for a reason, I’m still figuring this one out. For some reason, I was the chosen one.”

Visit Kristyn Fletcher’s YouCaring Page to learn how you can help support Kristyn and her family

Update 5.5.2015 – Whereas the school board signed the new teacher’s contract, they neglected to revisit the wording “disability retirement” in the contract, as pleaded to them back in March. With 41 more school days (out of the allowed 124 days) donated to Kristyn by her fellow teachers, she’s hoping she’ll receive enough days to take her into late fall when her next surgery is scheduled. “I’m not sure that’s going to happen,” Kristyn states, “and like I’ve said a hundred times, it’s not the teachers’ responsibility to take care of me.  It is however, crucial I have my insurance benefits at that time.” The fight is not over yet.

Update 8.29.2015 – It is with great sadness to share that Kristyn lost her battle with cancer on August 29, 2015 leaving behind her husband, four kids, and a community full of friends and family who loved her more than a words can accurately capture. Kristyn you may not be here with us on earth anymore but you will never be forgotten. May your selflessness, humor, and determination to keep moving forward live on through those you’ve inspired.

Human Interest

Ingram’s March

Participants link arms in the Poor People's Campaign in Marks, Mississippi, May 1968. Photo courtesy of www.folkways.si.edu
Participants link arms in the Poor People’s Campaign in Marks, Mississippi, May 1968. Photo courtesy of http://www.folkways.si.edu

A few years ago (2009-2012), I was freelancing for the publication By U Magazine, based out of Mississippi.  It was an incredible experience as I had the opportunity to speak with and get to know a wide selection of honorable individuals who I otherwise would have never come across.  One interview that will forever stay with me is with Helen Ingram.  Days after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed, 16 year-old Helen Ingram participated in “The Poor People’s March” and helped pave the way for Civil Rights.  Here is her story…

It was 1968 and Helen Ingram was 16 years old.  Dr. King had been assassinated weeks prior to the event.  Several prominent leaders in the Civil Rights Movement had visited Marks, Mississippi and encouraged the Delta residents to move forward with the march, which was part of “The Poor People’s Campaign.”  This march would demonstrate to the government the need for jobs, healthcare and homes that so many Delta residents lacked.  “Kids didn’t eat lunch because they’re parents couldn’t afford it.  So teachers were giving their lunches to the kids, leaving them without food.”  Ingram grew up attending the Civil Rights meetings.  She knew without a doubt that wherever the campaign took place, she would be there fighting for her rights.

That day Ingram went to school with the plan of participating in the walk-out.  It was in class she and her classmates heard about the arrest of several Civil Rights leaders.  Plans altered: now, they would be marching to the jail instead of heading to the local church.  In a crowd of 400 students, Ingram walks amongst her classmates.  They approach the jail, Civil Rights leaders “ hollering out the windows for the kids to sit on the grass and cover their heads.”  Guards surround the jail, eager to attack.  “You better leave,” a family friend warns Ingram.  She ignores him.  Told from a young age she had a big mouth, Ingram was done with the segregation and lack of respect.  No more eating behind the kitchen at a restaurant.  No more friends dropping out of school to work in the cotton fields.  And for goodness sakes, no more outhouses!  “My children will never go through this,” she says to herself, resisting intimidation.  Forward, come the guards.  Left, right, left, right and bam!  They start beating the kids.  Ingram’s “kicked in the back, then hit upside the head with the butt of a gun.”  Blankness.  Waking up in the hospital, she overhears a nurse complaining “they don’t have enough doctors.”  She later finds out that a pregnant friend of hers was kicked in the stomach, terminating the pregnancy and a teacher stomped to death.  Two of the many attacks made that day.  The guards think they won but they’re wrong.  Ingram checks out of the hospital and returns to the campaign.

Forty-three years later, Ingram now lives in a neighborhood that back in 1968 she wasn’t allowed to even enter.  Segregation has dispersed; however, there is still racism, still disrespect and worse ignorance.  She wonders if kids today realize how hard generations before them had to fight just so they could be where they are now.  She doesn’t expect them to understand the full impact the Civil Rights movement had but appreciate it?  Yes.  Let them hear her story, be grateful it wasn’t them and be eager to want more for their future kids as their parents wanted for them.

Featured in By U Magazine as Amanda Williford

Human Interest

Raising Health in Mississippi

Hushpuppies, Fried Chicken and Pork Chops have been Arkansas staples; however, over the past several years they’ve been revised and replaced by healthier options.  Once, deemed as an overweight state, Arkansas has taken proactive measures to fight the obesity rate by establishing the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI), the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention (ARCOP) and Southern Ain’t Fried Sundays (SAFS).

Before the state of Arkansas established health programs and initiatives, Dr. Scott Hall, M.D. of Cypert Ridge Family Practice, located in Helena, Arkansas had been advocating healthy living to his patients for years.  Born and raised in Arkansas, Dr. Hall’s life has always consisted of wholesome eating habits and an emphasis on physical activities.  “I grew up on a farm, where the family sat down and ate all three meals together,” remembers Dr. Hall.  His mornings begin at 4:30 with a run followed by weight conditioning after work.  Don’t think that he expects his patients to work out as much as him though.  Dr. Hall recommends starting with one thing at a time.  “People often make the mistake of going from one extreme to the next,” he says.  For example, start by revising your diet, and then gradually incorporate exercise into your daily routine.  For many people, their days are already packed with school, work and family so to find time to workout can often seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be.  “This is your time,” Dr. Hall informs when referring to exercise.  Whether it’s walking during your lunch break or riding your bike with the kids, exercise can be fun and therapeutic.

Diet and exercise isn’t just about being physically attractive, it’s about your health.  When Dr. Hall comes across a patient suffering from high blood pressure or diabetes, he advises they follow a nutrition and exercise plan as a means to lower their blood pressure and maintain their diabetes.  However, nutrition and exercise advice aren’t just limited to patients who require it; Dr. Hall supplies it for everyone.  “Preventative medicine is the focus,” he states.  The younger a patient starts eating well and getting consistent physical activity, the more likely they’re able to avoid health scares.

1 Corinthians 6:19 tells us that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (NIV).  If our bodies are temples then we should feed and treat it lovingly instead of poisoning and damaging it.  Thanks to the state of Arkansas and Dr. Hall, citizens have the tools and education to becoming healthy and live a longer, happier life.

Featured in By U Magazine’s Fall 2010 Issue as Amanda Williford

Human Interest

Armed Warrior with a Breast of Faith

“Cancer don’t have no age, no name, no color,” exclaims Jackie Griffin, who was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in the summer of 2009.  It all began with a mailer from the doctor’s office, reminding Jackie of her annual mammogram, which she missed the previous year.  Fortunately for Jackie, she responded by getting a mammogram, where doctors found a lump in her left breast.  They proceeded with further testing until it was confirmed that she had breast cancer.  “I never did cry, never did show emotion,” she recalls.  The doctors carefully went over with Jackie the specifications of the cancer, how far it had grown in her system and options for treating the disease.

Upon hearing the news Jackie went directly home and told the news to her friends and family.  “I called everyone myself,” she says, “I knew how to explain it better” then having friends and family spread the news themselves.  Whereas her faith sustained, she strongly believed she might lose her life to cancer.  “My cousin died in 1999, my sister-in-law in 2000.  I thought, ‘they had [breast cancer] and died, I probably will too.’”

On October 21, 2009 Jackie underwent a mastectomy of the left breast, which was immediately replaced with an implant.  She still praises her husband for his unconditional love and support.  “He did everything for me that I couldn’t do myself.”  Her children and grandchildren didn’t shy from lending a hand either.  “It’s all about support,” she reminds herself, “my family got me through.”

Following her mastectomy and a quick recovery, Jackie started taking chemo pills and had enough strength to head back to work, the side effects of chemo kicked in.  She experienced severe hair loss, nausea and hot flashes.  No matter how physically weak she became, Jackie never gave up.  God kept telling her, “I brought it to you; I’ll bring it through it.”  Not one to accept pity but rather fight like a warrior, Jackie’s faith outlived the hair loss and nausea proving that it wasn’t her time to die.  “I came back for a reason,” which is to share her story.

Today, Jackie can proudly say she is cancer free.  She still goes in every three months for a check-up and she frequently reminds women to get breast examinations.  To her surprise, Jackie has found that a lot of women she knows have never gotten a breast examination before.  “You got to motivate yourself,” she states, “time makes all the difference.”

What better way to celebrate National Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October than to get a mammogram?  For the past several years, non-profit organizations and government programs have established funds to allow all women the opportunity for a mammogram.  “CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) provides access to breast and cervical cancer screening services to underserved women all 50 states, the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories, and 12 tribes.”  For more information, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp.

Featured in By U Magazine’s Fall 2010 Issue as Amanda Williford

 

Human Interest

Loving Those That Others Won’t

“If you build it, he will come,” stated character Shoeless Joe Jackson in the movie “Field Of Dreams”.   Sallie Swanigan of Columbus, Mississippi received the same message; however, it didn’t come from a baseball player but rather, God.

Raised attending church with Christian morals and values, Swanigan knew the Lord but didn’t always live her life for him.  It wasn’t until she was well into adulthood and a mother of two adult children, that she moved to Georgia and discovered her true ministry.  “God put me to go back on the streets,” Swanigan relays, explaining how she became a street preacher.  “I was a new creature…it’s about being saved.”  While ministering on the streets, Swanigan kept hearing God tell her to “build this house” and re-connect with relationships that had gone sour.  This house wouldn’t just be any house.  It would be a Christian-based halfway house for women coming out of prison.  Here they would learn the fundamentals of Christianity while studying the basic tools of cooking and cleaning and education as a means of creating and maintaining a productive life.  Swanigan tried to ignore this new calling but in 2008 she could resist no more.  Moving herself back to Columbus, Mississippi, she mended broken relationships and started a new chapter of her life.

Opening a halfway house might have been easier for Swanigan if she owned a big house but she didn’t nor did she have the funds to buy and operate a facility of this type.  So, with little money, Swanigan reached out to her community for help by going on the radio and local television news programs, appearing in the paper, anything to help spread the word about her intended project, “All The Way with Jesus”.

Praying for the best but expecting the worst, she was flabbergasted when attorney David Owens donated an un-occupied house of his to be used as the halfway house.  If that didn’t seem a direct gift from God, the following would ensure it.  Swanigan was graciously given the opportunity to set up “All The Way with Jesus” as a 501 (c)(3) Nonprofit Organization without any cost.  Furthermore, the community continued to provide continuous support.  Instead of objecting to ex-cons living next door to them, neighbors and organizations came in and “did all the cleaning and stripping of the floors” in the three-bedroom, two-bath house.  The only thing Swanigan could do was call out “God this is really you.”

Yes, Swanigan has jumped enormous obstacles yet plenty still remain.  Money is needed to pay for food, cleaning supplies and basics and the house still has repairs that must be done before it can board tenants.  With the continuation of help from the community, “All The Way with Jesus” will eventually be set up and running.  When?  That question is unknown.  What is evident is Swanigan’s desire and persistence for “All The Way with Jesus”.  The woman has raised two children, preached to prostitutes on the streets and drunks in the bar and is ready to finish building this house before moving on to the next nine houses she plans to set up within her lifetime.  Sally Swanigan is not your average retired woman and we thank her for that.

Featured in By U Magazine’s Summer 2010 issue as Amanda Williford