Saturday, December 10, 2016

Restringing Guitars and Young Men

            Fridays are my day at the local youth correctional facility.  In the morning, I work in their garden, helping young gardeners tend to their chickens, vegetable plots and herb gardens. 

            We plant, weed, water, and harvest, and then preserve and dry the results.  Most every week, we cook, enjoying the bounty of our work, and treating the young men to fresh, nutritious produce and the concept of healthy nutrition and living.

            The real gardening comes in our conversations, the camaraderie of young and older gardeners, working and learning together, truly being in community.   

            They are learning where food really comes from, and how to be invested in that process, being self sufficient and healthy.  The metaphor of the garden is not lost on them, as they work to become strong, healthy, productive farmers of their lives. 

            I also work with some of the young men individually, being the “surrogate parent” and being the visitor they need and wouldn’t have otherwise.  I’m the “family” who shows up with some baked goods or candy, and just visits for an hour.  Sometimes, we play games, but mainly, I just listen, offering the compassionate ear of the uncle or dad who is missing in their lives.

            I’m tender and kind to them, being the encouraging voice, the cheerleader, the supportive dad they wouldn’t otherwise have. 

            Today, one of my young men and I restrung one of the guitars there.  It is a “state” guitar, which means it’s the guitar that gets played by those who don’t have their own instrument.  The guitar is played a lot, and replacing the strings has become a regular task for me. 

The guitar gets loved to death, played hard by lonely, frustrated fingers pouring out the emotions of the neglected and abandoned, the incarcerated, the young men who have no other way of expressing themselves.  I’m like that guitar, a place where the emotions of these young men can have their voice, a willing ear, an appreciative audience for what they need to say. 

            My guy has had a rough year.  He’s one of the lucky ones, not serving a mandatory sentence, a guy who can walk out the door if he’s done all his treatment, completed high school and shown he can be a responsible young man.   

            He literally has the keys to the front gate, but the old voices keep telling him he’s worthless, and should be abandoned and left out for the trash man. 

            Like so many of the young men here, being responsible and healthy is a new experience, and the fear of going back into the world, and being around the family and friends who were a big part of the bad times that brought him here, is one huge scary nightmare of parole. 

            The thought of being successful in life is a new idea.  For most of their life, they’ve been told they are worthless, failures.  My job is to be a spark of encouragement, the mirror of their successes and self worth, to be the dad who believes in them and is proud of who they are becoming. 

            My job and the job of the guitar are a lot alike.

            My buddy has derailed himself a number of times here, despite all his good work. The old ways, the old voices still show up, beating him down with the whips of shame  and guilt, the indifference to the beauty of their young souls. 

            Today, though, he moved ahead.  He took the initiative and restrung the guitar, without much help from me.  With confidence, he completed the task, grinning as the new strings sang out their song in his confident fingers.  His eyes twinkled with pride as he showed others the work he had done. 

            We did more than restring an old, well-used guitar.  We restrung a young man and gave voice to the new, self-confident man now playing his songs, happy with what he’s done and who he’s becoming. 

--Neal Lemery, 12/9/2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

I Am An Instrument For Change


“Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world. ”

The change that is to come will not be in words.  It will be from each of us, in thoughts, in our actions, our creations.

When I take a step, when I reach out to another with love, then I hold the levers of power, of incredible, irresistible change that will be unleashed upon the world.  In that loving, in that creation energy, the shift occurs. What has been must now be different, because I have acted. 

What makes a difference in another person’s life comes from inside of each of us, sparked by those abundant, continual interactions we have with each other; one on one, quiet, yet profound. 

Our very existence in this world, in every breath we take, every thought we have, every action we take, has changed the world.  As we move forward, acting in love, being in compassion, we are agents of change. 

I decide, in every act, whether I am an agent of hate and ignorance or an agent of love and knowledge.

I do not have room in my heart for hate.  Hate is darkness, gloom, and defeat. I envision myself filled instead with love and light, my mission is to light the world and fill it with love and endless possibilities.

I am a child of the universe, born into the light.

--Neal Lemery 12/6/2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Judge Neal Lemery Publishes New Book


Neal Lemery, retired Tillamook County Justice of the Peace, has published a new book. Homegrown Tomatoes: Essays and Musings From My Garden explores mentoring youth through gardening and other teaching opportunities.

“Growing young people is much like tending a garden,” Lemery says. “We can all make a difference in the lives of young people, helping them grow strong and self-confident.”

Judge Lemery will read from his book and offer his book for sale at the Five Rivers Coffee Roasters author panel and book fair in Tillamook November 19 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Homegrown Tomatoes is available on as an e-book and paperback.

 Lemery is the author of Mentoring Boys to Men: Climbing Their Own Mountains and is a volunteer mentor at the Tillamook campus of the Oregon Youth Authority. His book emphasizes community and enriching the lives of young men, by being present in their lives, and offering them support and emotional strength.

He offers us hope in troubled times, and helps answer the question: "What can I do to make a better world?"

“This new collection of short, powerful essays and poetry took me by surprise, nevertheless. I found myself moved to tears, uplifted, inspired, and even sometimes exalted as I read. I devoured HomegrownTomatoes in one sitting. These musings will inspire readers to look with new eyes at their own backyards and to dream of new ways to take action as peacemakers in our own communities.” says Rhonda Case, MA, Professor, College of the Redwoods.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Defining Family

            "What IS family, then?" The young man asked. 

            He's getting out in less than a year, and we were talking about his plans for when he is "out" and life no longer has the physical limits of being "locked up". 

            Going home is not the most attractive of his choices.  There, old ways, old relationships, and old expectations for how he is to live and move ahead in life are all in play.  He's no longer a young teen, struggling with addictions and bad choices, and the labels that comes with the mistake he made at a tender age, the mistake that cost him his freedom. He's earned a fresh start, and be able to move ahead without the baggage of prejudgment and assumptions.  He's not who he was, and he's rightfully proud of that accomplishment. 

            Yes, being "inside" has given him many opportunities, and he had taken advantage of them, growing into a smart, sensitive, and thoughtful young man.  A young man I'd be proud to call a son and live with me, become part of my family.

            He's looking ahead, and looking for options,  possibilities for a new life, moving ahead with his life and seeking his dreams.  At the core of that is being part of family.

            So what IS family?  Yes, the first, quick answer is the biological answer: the family I was born into.  Yet, family can be and probably should be so much more. 

            Being a part of a family is a choice, a conscious, deliberate choice. We can do that in many ways.

            When we marry, we intentionally create a new family, blended or mixed from both spouses' biological families, or the families each partner is currently a part.  We mix it up, sometimes adding kids and also adding in-laws, and close friends from both sides of the marriage.  New rules and new expectations emerge, along with new dynamics. 

            New territory and new challenges await us as we navigate these fresh and often turbulent waters. 

            What is it that this young man needs, what I need, in a family?

            We made a list: love, respect, a place in which to belong, be accepted, nurtured, cherished.  A place to grow as well as a place that you come home to after a day out in the world, being challenged and jostled.  A place that takes you for who you are.  A place where there's a chair and a table setting just for you at dinner. 

            "We each need to make our own family," I said.  "And the definition needs to fit what we need, creating a place where we grow to our full potential." 

            My young friend has figured it out.  He knows what a family is, the family he needs and wants, a place where he will flourish.  Like all of us, he just needs permission to seek that out, and be good to himself, to find his very own family, creating his own happiness. 

            And, yes, its OK to want that, and its OK to make sure that having that good family is part of our lives, helping every one of us at achieve our dreams and live a productive, love filled life. 

-- Neal Lemery 9/30/2016