Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Message To My Brothers That Are Free and On Lock Down in Jail/Prison

Last weekend I visited my nephew in a Federal Prison Camp. I was a first-time visitor to a prison site, although I worked in law enforcement as a 911 Dispatch Supervisor for thirty years. While I admit I was astounded at seeing the comforts and freedoms afforded those sentenced to this camp, in the back of my mind a little voice kept reminding me it was still a prison, albeit a minimum security prison.

There were many other young men, in addition to many males who fell in the category of senior citizen, like my twenty-something year old nephew. The prison was a three-hour drive for me so my sister, my brother-in-law and my grand-nephew spent several hours visiting, chatting and playing cards with my nephew.

My nephew graciously introduced us to some of his 'new' friends there. After each left our table, my nephew said, "That's a good guy." It seems that there were many 'good guys' in there, and in many ways many probable are 'good guys', but that doesn't take away from the fact that all of these 'good guys' are doing time in federal prison for various reasons.

We weren't the only visitors at the camp that day. There were many wives/girlfriends, children/grandchildren visiting also. My newphew has three young children of his own ranging in ages from 9 months - 7 years old, although none of them accompanied us on this visit. Looking around at all of the young children that were visiting their love ones doing time, I thought about my nephew's young children, and all the other young children that these men have fathered and left behind while they are doing time for crimes they've committed, and the ones that proclaim they're doing time but they're innocent.

These young children are fatherless for whatever time these young men are on lock down. I wonder who's going to step in and fulfill these father's shoes during their absence? Although I know my nephew's children have their grandfathers and uncles that will fill in for my nephew, I wonder about the children who don't have anyone to step in for the absent fathers. What will happen to them? Who will be their role model? The Streets? The fast dollar? The corner nickel and dime drug dealer?

To the absent fathers, I ask, "Have you thought about the consequences of your actions? For those that were fortunate enough to be sentenced to this camp with all of its luxuries I wonder, "Is the sentence harsh enough that you wouldn't want to return to such a place?"

As I listened to my nephew describe all the freedoms they have at this prison camp, the little voice kept echoing, it's still prison and the one freedom that's most important in all of this was missing from his description, and that is, he is a prisoner for the next several years and he does not have the freedom to leave, to return to his family and be the father that his young children need. And to me, that was the saddest part of this entire visit. These children are the innocent ones in all of this. They've surely been sentenced to doing time for crimes they didn't commit.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

My December 2008 Newsletter

Vanessa A. Johnson Speaks

Greetings and Happy Holidays to you and your family. Let me begin by saying this is my first newsletter. Woohoo!


Woohoo! I'm writing again. Now, you may be wondering why the celebration. It's a celebration for me because my writing muse has been on an extended vacation. Writer's block, you ask? Nope, I just haven't felt like writing. The characters from my novels in progress have been speaking inside my head, but I've been ignoring them. But, no more! I'm putting my fingers to the keyboard, and I'm plucking away. This newsletter is evidence of that.

What I’m Reading
The Official Study Guide for the Louisiana Notary Examination

My Top 5 Favorite Reads of ‘08
1. Sweet Georgia Brown by Cheryl Robinson
2. Passin’ by Karen Q. Miller
3. An Eye For A Deadly Eye by John A. Wooden
4. In Bed With Her Boss by Brenda Jackson
5. Her Little Black Book by Brenda Jackson

Local Happenings

In the words of Boys II Men, “Let it snow, let it snow...” It snowed here in Ama, Louisiana on Thursday, December 12th. What's the big deal? Well, if you are familiar with this part of the US (the deep south) we don't see snow too often. As a matter of fact, the last time we had snow here was on December 25, 2004. We got about 1-2 inches, while some other areas saw up to eight inches. And it was beautiful while it lasted, all 3 hours of it.


While this may be a happy and joyous time for many, there are many who find themselves sad, depressed, and lonely during this holiday season. For them I offer some words of encouragement, as well as some suggestions on how to handle grief during this holiday season, which are taken from my article, Grief Happens.

Grief, according to Webster's dictionary is defined as deep mental anguish, as that arising from bereavement; 2. A source of deep mental anguish; 3. Annoyance or frustration: Example: Trying to follow their directions was nothing but grief; 4. Trouble or difficulty: Example: the grief of trying to meet a deadline. *

Grief is our response to that loss or change. Everyone reacts to things differently, and it is the same with grief. There are many factors that will determine our reaction to grief; factors such as our personality, age, the relationship we had with our deceased loved one(s), our culture, and our spiritual beliefs and upbringing.

There are five steps to the grief process, Disbelief, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Everyone may not experience all the steps of the grief process, just as everyone doesn’t experience them in the same order.

There is no right way or wrong way to grieve, and misconceptions about a right or wrong way in the grief process can make the bereaved person question their feelings in relation to the deceased or their sanity if their grief doesn’t happen in neat orderly fashions as society dictates or it doesn’t happen in a timely manner, or we don’t accept the loss when others think we should. I can’t count the many times I’ve heard people say, “Oh you should be over your grief by now.”

Understanding what grief can be like; finding ways to safely express those emotions, and coming up with coping strategies can help the bereaved person endure the pain of their loss or the change in their environment.

Grief includes a wide range of emotions that include, but are not limited to: anger, anxiety, change in worldview, confusion, depression, despair, drop in self-esteem, fear of going insane, feeling unable to cope, guilt and remorse, helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness, questioning your value and belief system, relief, shock and disbelief.

Losing a loved one or being faced with a change in your normal environment can be life-shattering events that affect you emotionally, physically and spiritually. So it is important that you try to look after yourself in order to help you move along in the grief process, and not become stagnant in one or more of the steps of the grief process.

Some suggestions that might help you progress through grief are:

•Diet and exercise – grief’s impact on the body can cause symptoms including sleeplessness, anxiety, restlessness that can affect your internal system as well. Taking care of you by paying attention to diet and getting regular exercise can help to alleviate many, if not all of these problems.

•Relaxation - schedule some time every day to wind down, using whichever methods that work for you, i.e., meditation, taking long baths, playing sports, reading, doing hobbies such as cooking/baking, doing puzzles, surfing the internet or listening to music.

•Avoid chemical stimulants - try to avoid turning to drugs such as cigarettes, alcohol or antidepressants to help you manage your grief. They won't ease your pain. They can cause other health problems and in some cases can assist in prolonging your grief.

•Be realistic - try to be kind and gentle to yourself. Accept that you need to grieve in the ways that feel natural to you. Don't judge or criticize yourself for not coping as well as you think you should or how others think you should.

Some coping strategies to help you through grief include:

•Crying - Some people feel that crying isn't appropriate or else they're afraid that once they start crying, the tears won't stop. If you feel the need to cry, do it. Crying is our normal human response to many of life’s heartaches. However, if there are no tears, it does not mean that there is no grief. As I’ve said before, everyone grieves differently. Crying is cleansing and good for the soul.

•Spend time alone - schedule time alone every day to focus on your feelings and express them in whichever way feels natural to you. For example, you may choose to study the word of God and praying, or write a diary or journal. Computers can simplify the journaling process for you, as there are many uses with them. Computers come loaded with writing programs already installed on them, i.e., Word, Word Perfect, and if you have access to the Internet, there’s the world of Blogging.

A Blog, short for weblog, is defined as a personal or noncommercial web site that uses a dated log format (usually with the most recent addition at the top of the page) and may contains links to other web sites along with commentary about those sites.**

There are many free online sites that provide the place and space for you to create an online. Some are:
•Your computer should have some type of Microsoft software already installed on your computer, i.e., Word, Word Perfect, Notes, etc. Using this alternative, no one can view your journal unless you want them to do so.

The following website is also a good resource for finding online diaries and journals: Or you can simply Google the words, online journal or online diaries, for additional options that may be best suited for your needs.

Other forms of coping strategies are:

•Spending time with your family - schedule time to grieve as a family if possible. This time could include talking about the deceased, crying together and sharing your feelings together.

•Pampering yourself - include activities in your daily or weekly schedule that you enjoy, i.e., a massage, a spa treatment, getting manicures and/or pedicures, or hair done.

•Developing a Support system (if you don’t already have one) - actively seek out support from others. This could include friends, co-workers, doctors, community health centers, bereavement support groups or professional counselors. Talking is helpful in just about every situation life presents. Talking can keep those involved from feeling isolated. The right words spoken from the right person at the right time can make all the difference in the world to the bereaved. Don't be ashamed to discuss your feelings that may arise from any situation that may cause you grief.

In addition to interacting with a support system physically, there are online groups that offer support as well. Some online support groups are:

There are hundreds, if not thousands more groups like these. If you have Internet access, you can perform a search using key words such as grief, grief groups, or grief support to find one that’s suitable for you.

•Create a memorial – If may like to write letters to your loved one, plant a memorial tree, put together a special photo album, or commemorate their life in whichever ways feel meaningful to you and your family. Again, the Internet can be a nice source for creating an online web site or displaying and sharing photos with others. If you have Internet connections, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may provide capabilities for doing this. Some free Websites that allow you to create memorial sites for your loved ones are:

•Seek Professional help - see your family physician for help and referral if you feel out of control and regardless of what you do, you can’t progress through one or more of the steps of the grief process.

Remember, healing is the end result of the steps of grief. By healing, I mean coming to terms and accepting the loss. While many, if not all of the emotions associated with grief seem to come and go, it is important to feel them and accept them. There is no quick fix or magic pill that will suddenly make these feelings and emotions disappear overnight, or in days, weeks or even months, especially with loss through death, but grief can be short-lived for some things that cause you grief.

With the passage of time, patience, and compassion from yourself and others, you will eventually be able to find your center again. You will feel restored and you will be able to adapt to your new ‘normal’. Also remember that time does heal all wounds. The End.



Here are some of my favorite cookie recipes that I make and share with family and friends during the holidays. Instead of buying some gifts, these make perfect gifts


1 Large Package vanilla wafers
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup pecans
1 1/2 tsp cocoa
2 Tbsp white Karo syrup
1/4 cup whiskey or rum

Grind pecans and vanilla wafers. Mix all ingredients and roll into balls the size of a small marble and then roll in powdered sugar. Place balls in an airtight container. For added zest, lightly sprinkle a little more rum or whiskey on top of balls before closing. Enjoy!

CRUST: 3/4 stick butter, 3 oz Philadelphia cream cheese, 1 cup flour. Combine ingredients and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour.

Pecan Mix: 1/2 stick butter, 1 egg, 1 cup pecans, 1 cup light brown sugar, 1/2 cup Karo syrup and 1 tsp vanilla. Remove crust from refrigerator and roll into individual small balls. Press into small muffin pans. Add amount of desired pecan mix. Bake at 325 degree for 30 minutes.

3 1/2 cup flour, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp allspice, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 1/2 cup sugar, 2 sticks butter, 3 eggs (beaten), 1 tsp baking soda (dissolved in 2 tsp water) 2 cups pecans (chopped and floured).

Mix together. Mixture will be thick. Drop by teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes. Makes 8 dozens.

As you can see, I love baking, and I love short recipes when I do so. I also love collecting recipes, and now I'm in the process of writing down some of my family's recipes that I may eventually put together in a cookbook. So if there's something you're craving for and need a recipe for it, nine times out of ten, I'll have it in my collection or my head. Hit me up at I'd be happy to share it with you.


Next month I'll share an excerpt of one of my novels that I'm rewriting. In addition, I'll share my experience regarding my trip to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration festivities. That's right, my daughter, Alexis and I will be trekking to our nation's capitol.

This is my first newsletter and I know it won't be the last one. But for now, I'd like to take this time to wish you and yours a very safe and happy holiday season. Most importantly, let us all remember the REASON for the SEASON. In closing, I'd like to share a poem titled, Not Even Hurricane Katrina Could Cancel Christmas in New Orleans, taken from my poetry collection (unpublished) titled, Creole Talking, Ramblings of A Creole Country Girl:

Not Even Hurricane Katrina could Cancel Christmas in New Orleans

Since that faithful day in the year of our Lord 2005, on Monday, August Twenty-ninth,
When a girl named Katrina, so life-like, spewed it’s fury, oh my what a sight,
As it blew in over several of the South’s Gulf States,
Claiming lives, destroying property and changing everyone’s fate.

Many people were left homeless and scattered about,
With only the clothes on their backs, that left little doubt,
About their present situations, their futures, with the holidays looming,
Many residents were left near their breaking points, fuming.

Homes that weren’t destroyed sported blue plastic paper that covered damaged roofs,
Public Officials warned, ‘no fireworks’ to keep those blue roofs from going poof,
That didn’t make it easy for St. Nick to maneuver through the darkened city,
For you see, many areas still have no electricity, a quiet eerie, what a shame and a pity.

The people of this great city didn’t let Katrina dampen their holiday spirit,
They strung lights, and other Christmas decorations determined to overcome it,
As gumbos simmered, stuffing prepared as their butterballs were basting,
“Ain’t got time for this foolishness,” they said, “time’s a wasting.”

St. Nick managed to bring a smile to many faces,
Temporarily replacing the despair in the hearts of all races,
And Christmas went on with very few hitches,
Didn’t cause much fanfare, despite all the obvious glitches.

Hopefully soon the ghost of Hurricane Katrina will be a distant memory,
And Christmas Future will present a completely different and festive story.

THAT'S All FOLKS! See you in '09

Love & Peace,
Vanessa A. Johnson

Thursday, December 11, 2008

VeeJay's Thoughts

VeeJay's Thoughts
Today is December 11, 2008, and it snowed here in Louisiana. Now, if you're familiar with the south, you know it is not often it snows down here. As a matter of fact, the last time we saw snow in southern Louisiana was December 25, 2004.
As I stood in the doorway and watched the beautiful white fluffy powder cascade gently from the sky, I felt a bit of melancholy, a bit of sadness too. While the snow itself was beautiful, it felt dark and dreary, damp at the same time. Maybe it was the dampness that clouded my mood. I also remembered that the Christmas holiday is fast approaching, and I remembered that although this may be a happy time for many, it is also a sad and depressing time for many. Some may blame it on the economy, while others may have other hardships that they're facing, i.e., the loss of a loved one, relationship issues, loneliness, etc.
Whatever it is that has you in the mental state you're in (sadness, depression, loneliness) I'd like to share this piece I wrote a few years ago to accompany my book, When Death Comes a Knockin' (a self-help, inspirational book about loss and grief, ISBN: 1-4116-2470-X) titled Dealing With Loss Through the Holidays.
Dealing With Loss through the Holidays

With the holidays approaching and the memories of my departed love ones never far from my thoughts, I reflect back to that first holiday season immediately following the losses of my mother and son, and remember how I dreaded the holidays as they neared.

My mother died in August and my son in September of 1994, so the first holiday without them was Thanksgiving. Prior to 1994, as a family tradition, we spend every Thanksgiving holiday, matter of fact now that I think about it, every holiday at my mother’s house. Because of that, I had no idea of what we would do now that she was gone.

As the holiday drew nearer I began to experience feelings of panic, of insecurity and fear, feelings that seemed to intensity daily. I began to wonder if I would be able to endure the pain of facing the holidays without my love ones as I was certain the pain I felt from those losses would surely increase because my love one(s) were not here to share the holiday with.

The feelings of fear, pain and insecurity began to interfere with my daily thinking process and before long I was not able to focus on one thing for any length of time. This meant that some things either went undone, they weren’t done correctly, or if they were, it took longer for me to complete them.

When Thanksgiving Day finally arrived, I opened my eyes and realized that all of the fears and insecurities that I’d experienced had already reached their peak. I discovered that I was no more fearful or felt any more pain than I’d felt the days, weeks and months preceding the holiday. I realized that all of these feelings were because of my anticipation of facing the holidays without my love ones.

I realized that everyday, whether it was a holiday or not, the pain was no more or no less than what it had already been since losing my loved one(s) holiday. I also realized I’d been living every day without my love ones since their deaths and since I had already survived those days, weeks and months, I knew I would survive Thanksgiving too.

With that realization, the feelings of fear and insecurity didn’t overcome me as the Christmas holiday neared and so too I survived Christmas as well. I’m certainly not saying that I wasn’t sad or I didn’t miss my love ones. I assure you I did. But the anticipation of the holiday didn’t add to the pain of my losses. The pain’s was already there and to some degree, I believe it will always be there.

After surviving my first holiday season without my love ones, I haven’t experienced the type of fear or anxiety over an approaching holiday, birthday, or other special day that I shared with my love ones. I have accepted the fact that my loved ones aren’t with us physically. But it doesn’t mean they can’t be with us spiritually.

I’ve learned that once I accepted that fact I can now face anything that life throws my way. But I did not get to this process of acceptance overnight. It took months of attending Grief counseling in a group setting where I learned the process of grief, and prayer.

I’ve learned to rely on my faith in God. I realize that with God’s help, I could make it through anything, to include the loss of my parents, a child and other special people that impacted my life.

Through my faith in God and in my quest for understanding His word, I feel that God was not responsible for the death of my love ones as God is the giver of life. In John 10:10, He states, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” so He is the one who could help me to get through the loss of my loved ones.

I credit my faith in God for being where I am today in the grief process. I truly believe I wouldn’t have been able to accept (the final stage in the grief process) the loss of my loved ones .

When I am weak and feel that the pain is too much to bear when I think of my loved ones not being here, I turn to God and ask Him for strength and courage to make it through any moment of weakness or sadness.

It is only with the passage of time that will lessen the pain associated with the loss of a love one. There’s so much truth to the saying, “Time heals all wounds.”

If you have suffered the loss of a loved one and a holiday or other special day is approaching and you feel you cannot cope, I urge you to seek some type of grief counseling. Talking with others who have gone through or are going through what you going through can help you make it through the this most difficult time.

Eventually you will be able to face any day, even the holidays knowing that your loved ones are not very far from you. Once you do, you will be able to accept what has happened. You’ll eventually realize that as long as you live with the love of your loved one(s) in your heart, they will always be with you and will live through you.