I don’t think I really asked myself that question until I was sentenced to four years in prison in 1987 and made a number of choices that caused me to stay behind bars another 25 years. For some of you who are inching back and wondering what crime I did to get that type of sentence maybe you should ask yourself if you are one of those people who does look for the worst in people or situations. I wasn’t sentenced by the courts for breaking a law. I was sentenced by the National Health Service Corps to be a prison doctor to fulfill my 4 year payback for a medical school scholarship . Why the government decided to send a tall blonde female who was as naïve as they come into a male prison I’ll never know, but I’m sure all of us in this room at sometime have questioned the decisions made by our government.
I had never known anyone who ever went to prison, unless you count my German mother Eva Maria Charlotte Kronke who ended up a prisoner under the Russians during WWII as an adolescent. She was and still is a person who sees the worst in every situation and the flaws in every person. As many of you know Germans tend to be punctual. My mother is no exception but she takes it to the extreme. If you are one minute late she has already envisioned you in an accident or splattered on the highway dead somewhere. She also is a master at seeing flaws which served her well when she was examining silicon chips under a microscope for IBM, but wasn’t the best for my sister and me when we were children. When I saw my mother last year in Florida who now lives with my sister, her first statement to me was. ‘Ach du liebe, how did you get so old? You know if you just eat more you can plump up those wrinkles in your face.’ My younger sister hears those types of comments everyday and it is taking a toll. I told her that she had made a mistake having my mothers cataracts taken care of and I strongly recommended that she take my mother right back to that ophthalmologist and demand he put our mother’s cataracts back in.
When you grow up with a mother who truly sees the worst in every situation and person what do you tell them first? Do you tell them you are going to prison for 4 years, or do you tell them that you are first going to marry a black man two months before you go to prison? I chose to first tell her that I was marrying Clifton and her comment was, “Gott im himmel, you’re not moving to Mississippi are you?” I told her no, but I must say I didn’t know then that back in the 1980’s some people would have considered Nevada the Mississippi of the West.
There were a number of reasons I married Clifton besides the fact that he was intelligent, confident, handsome, kind and looked at crises as an opportunity. In fact he was the one that told me prison would bring me opportunities that would be good for me and he was right, at least for the majority of the time. He also compliments me even if I look like something the deflated mouse the cat dragged in which is a must for long term marriages. Plus, he loves to laugh at himself exemplified by his response to an old man who rolled down his car window and motioned Clifton over to ask him a question while Clifton was fixing the sprinkler system. The old guy said, “Hey boy, how much do you get paid for doin’ the yard work?” Clifton shuffled a few steps back and said, “Mistah… I just gets to sleep with the lady in the big house,” and nodded toward me.
The next day I walked thru those prison gates for the first time and heard them clang behind me. You might have thought that I was worried about the inmates, but that was oddly not the case. To me they were underserved patients that needed their medical problems addressed and I was an asset to them, not a threat. I chose to believe what they told me so I would not miss a serious medical problem. I always tried to look for the best in them, though some cases I admit were harder then others. I did it because it was a challenge I enjoyed and I certainly didn’t want to turn into my mother and point out all their flaws to them. I left that to custody who were oriented to look for the worst in every situation and person so they would be prepared if something went wrong.
If you were placed in prison or just thought your job felt like prison how do you think your life will be affected if you are always looking for the worst in situations and people? I encourage all of you to see every crisis as a challenge vs. a threat and decide what you can learn from it. It makes life more enjoyable and fulfilling even if you spend 30 years behind bars.