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J C Howard

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Freedom Is Never Free!
By J C Howard   

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There are all kinds of bondage...some within the human spirit are self imposed and others...not. But in all cases...freedom is never free.


“Hello. My name is Renne and this is my four legged companion Rudy. He’s a great dog and as a Therapy dog, he loves to share his story.”
I start my “therapy gigs” pretty much the same to whatever group I am speaking to. Today is the first Tuesday of the month, so it’s a young group of girls in Juvenile Detention. 
Over the years that Rudy and I’ve come out to the Detention Center, we’ve seen many young girls come and go. Many of the girls are broken in spirit; all …broken in heart. Already their young faces are tired and worn like old tires discarded on the side of the road. I never ask them about their crime or their time, it’s an unspoken rule I would never break. But detention is teen lock up, where each girl’s life story is a collage of drama colored with pictures of robberies, battery and the like; absolutely no kid stuff inside these walls!
Reality is that Rudy and I are only here once a month and then for only an hour. The girls are here for weeks, with regrets lasting a lifetime. There’s loathing in their eyes, the energy of their youth already exhausted, like a drowning victim struggling for air, as they fight to survive the basement. The Center’s central living area is in a basement; a simple concrete structure, dank and depressing. Without windows to let in light, it’s a soulless body and the floor drain in the center of the room backs up, resulting in an eerie dampness. More like a prescription for depression then rehabilitation and some girls are here for months while they wait for their next court hearing.  I hope that Rudy’s story saves just one of them, but I guess we’ll really never know for sure.
Rudy’s a big strapping animal, clearly a Rottweiler. His coat is slick and shiny, as light bounces off of it like moonlight on still water. Rudy’s all about energy, a tightly coiled spring ready for action at any moment. His look is tough, with penetrating eyes, more like a “drug dog” then a therapy dog, but that’s a façade, as he’s all about positive interaction and lots of tummy rubs. 
I would lean my hand down to Rudy quietly lying at my side, and just as if on cue… he rolls over, extending is front legs, signaling for a tummy rub. At that moment, several of the girl’s arms abruptly spring into action, as they bounce out of their seat, exclaiming “Ooooh, ooooh, can I pet him? Can I pet him, please, please?” Like the “wave” in a football stadium, giggles erupted from one side of the room, moving down the line until all the girls were giggling and laughing. For an instant, the brutality of their lives evaporates. 
Suddenly, a thunderous voice booms, “Quiet ladies and don’t speak until spoken to.” The guard in the room had spoken; silence prevailed immediately.
I was used to the girl’s mild interruptions and the guard’s admonishments. “No.” I would state, “Not just now, but we will, and I would continue Rudy’s story.  “He had been abandoned, left out near a dumpster behind a car wash. He was only a few weeks old and clearly with a broken hip. Here’s a scrappy little fellow that has been neglected, abused, and even battered, but in spite of it all, he continues to look for love and the kind touch of a human hand.” I paused and took in a deep breath, “That’s really our message here today.”
I’d then run through an obedience routine with Rudy and talk about the importance of discipline, making the point that freedom is never free. I loved every minute sharing his message; but then unexpectedly Rudy become ill and suddenly he was gone.
Thinking of my Rudy just now gives me the break I needed from my hectic hospital work. Just as I say that to myself, the phone rings and pulls me back to “the now,” a day far away from Rudy and my yesterdays.
At work, the phone rings again; then a third time. God, I need to breathe a
minute, can’t someone else answer it, I swear under my breath. The phone continues to ring, not aware of my plea, it’s now at four rings. “ER Registration. This is Renne,” spews out with a hint of exhaustion. “Ok, I got it, thanks.” I try to remain professional, but too much is going on at once. I practically slam the phone down, spin around in my chair and grab a clipboard. “I got the ambulance in Room 3,” I holler out to any coworker in earshot as I rush out of my office into the hallway. “Excuse me please, excuse me.”   Begrudgingly, I move around throngs of people clogging the hallway like hair at the drain. 
As I get to Room 3, it’s a sea of blue and grey with Firemen, ICE, ambulance drivers, and Medical students all crowding around. I become a mouse as I make myself as small as possible and move thru the crowd with my clipboard, trying to see if the patient can sign the hospital release form. Elbowing for a place, I make it up to the bedside, abruptly but softly I ask, “Can you sign?”
Actually looking up at the patient for the first time, I accidently gasp, “Oh Gawd. Her face is badly swollen, already disfigured, her eyes the size and color of plums. Her arms are slashed or lashed, I don’t know but warm blood still oozes. The doctors begins in rapid fire to calmly give instructions; as nurses work on the IV, the EKG machine arrives; it’s now organized chaos, with an eerie stillness. I wonder if death will come looking for this young girl…it’s obvious that death is knocking and loudly at that.
Quietly I retreat from the room and move towards the ambulance staff standing by the gurney in the hall. “Who is this, please?” They ignore me, as they gossip like old women to the police officers present. Exasperated, I ask again, “Excuse me; is there a name for the patient in Room 3?”     
“It’s a Jane Doe. We don’t know nothing about her, but that she’s white, probably in her 20’s and we think she’s been stoned.” 
“Thanks.” I sarcastically respond, thinking how I can see that for myself you moron. I abruptly turn around and leave.
Back in my registration room, I holler out again to my coworkers, “I got Room 3, she’s a Jane Doe.”  With the paperwork complete, I head back out.  Still crowded around her are several of the Staff Doctors, nurses, medical students, and now there are five or six burley police officers. I quietly move into the room, don on gloves, and begin to button the armband on. Her arm is limp and lifeless. “Hi, I’m Renne,” I say in a calm, hopefully comforting voice. She moves her head slightly towards me. “You’re safe now,” I say quietly to her. “We’re going to help you.” But, in reality I don’t know if we can help her or if she is safe. I look at her one more time, she is absolutely in the worse condition I have seen anyone in our ER. My eyes ache with the pain they see.
I turn to leave, “Ruiz’s mom?” asks a tiny voice, barely audible, but I’m already out the door.
About an hour later my supervisor hollers out, “Hey, Renne, you’re Jane Doe’s got a name, its Karla Murillo,” Jan walks into my little office and softly says, “List her as confidential. The police are guessing this is gang related.”
“O.K., I got it.” Hey, do we know is that with a C or a K? Is there an address or anything else?”
“Give her a C, and nope, they just called with the name.” Came the response, “And don’t forget to reband her with her actual name.”
“Done.” I grab the new name label and go back over to the ER. “Hi, honey.” She appears to be semi-conscious. “It’s me, Renne; I’ve got a new name band for you. Is your name Carla Murillo?” I ask, knowing I won’t get an answer. One of her swollen eye flutters open ever so narrowly.
“Ruiz’s mom?” she struggles then chokes as she asks.
“No honey, I’m not Ruiz’s mom. I’m Renne. She slips back into unconsciousness.
Back to the normal operation of registering pandemonium comes in the form of multiple abscesses, coughs and headaches. Business as usual; the dance continues.
The rest of the night is a tornado of activity with patients blowing off our ER doors. The clock hands are running a marathon and before I know it, it’s after midnight, only seven more hours until the end to my twelver. What a night.
“Renne, there’s a nurse on the phone for you.”
I grab the phone, “This is Renne. Ok. Fine. Yeah thanks.”   I hang up and walk into my supervisor’s office, “Hey, that Jane Doe has a sister. She’s here with the police. I’m going to the family room to get the information now.”    
The family rooms are small private rooms near the ER where family members are brought when there is a pending patient death or near death.  The second room’s door is closed. I gently knock, then slowly open the door. The room is dark with just a simple table light on in the corner, where a young girl sits talking to a police woman obviously burdened by a bullet proof vest under her uniform. As the door opens, light from the hall streams on her face, she squints; her eyes are red and swollen from crying.   
She looks up, “I’ve killed my sister. Is she goin’ to die?  Please tell me she ain’t goin’ to die.” Her hair is long and dark, her face puffy and distorted.
“I’m a registration clerk, honey. My name’s Renne. I just need some information so I can get it all correct on her chart. Is that O.K.?”
The officer sits back. I sit down on the small couch next to her with my clipboard. She says again, “I’ve killed my sister. I can’t believe I’ve killed my sister. Is she goin’ to die, please tell me?”
“I only know we’ll do our best for her honey and that this is an excellent ER,” is my pitiful but well rehearsed response.
I wrap up my questions. Back in registration, I holler to Jan, “You were right; it was Carla with a C.”
Just then, she walks into my small registration room as I am updating the information. “Did you know this was a Gang Stoning? Did she tell you that?”
“Huh, what does that mean?” Totally perplexed, I briefly look up from my keyboard.
Jan goes on, “Well, what I heard is that if someone wants out of a gang, they blind fold em’, tie ya’ up, and then everyone in the gang beats the hell out of you.”  She pauses intentionally, then says, “If you survive, you’re out!”
“Oh my God, you mean she had to go through this to get out of a gang?”
“She wasn’t in a gang. Here’s the clincher,” my supervisor smirks, “Her sister wanted out of a gang.”
“You mean they beat up the wrong sister?”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” Jan said impatiently. “Was the sister you spoke with pregnant?”
”Uh-h, yeah, about to pop, now that you say it.”
“Well, I guess I would say it,” she says matter-of-factly. “Her older sister, your Jane Doe, took the beating for her; otherwise there would be a dead baby in there too.” 
“Oh, my God,” I shrieked.
“Funny you say God, because they call it a “stoning” and get this, it’s because… the member wanting to leave the gang is…are you ready for this…disgracing the “family”, so they stone them. Old Bible stuff ya know?”
“Twisted Old Bible stuff” I snap. “I’m done. I’ll get her new name label on her arm band.”
Room 3 is quiet now. Carla lies very still. Her sister now sits by her bedside, gently whimpering. “Hi, it’s me Renne from registration. I’m so glad you’re here with your sister.  I think they are transferring her to the ICU.”
I walk around to her arm with her new name band, “Just me, Renne again.” 
The patient gently stirs. “Ruiz’s mom?”
Her sister looks up at me, “are you Rudy’s mom?”
“No, sorry. I don’t know a Ruiz.”
Carla dozes off again.
“No, she said Rudy. My sister knows this lady that has a dog named Rudy. They use to come to the Detention Center where she was at. Ever since then, all she talks about is how Rudy got her straight. I think, she thinks you’re that lady.”    
“My God, I am that lady,” I blurt out in shock. “I used to volunteer at the Detention Center. You mean I know your sister from the Center?”
“You’re Rudy’s mom?” My God, Rudy is all Carla has talked about forever now. When she got out of Detention, she got straight. She always said Rudy got her straight. You mean it?  You’re Rudy’s mom?”  
“I don’t know, but I did have a dog named Rudy and we used to visit the girls in Detention.” I was in disbelief and began feeling dizzy for a moment.
“My God, Carla loved Rudy. Did you know I am naming my baby Rudolfo?  I’m doing that for Carla. She saved my baby’s life you know, I could’ve never made it through the beating, but Carla did.” She began talking faster. “And Rudy is the reason why. It’s like a sign from God that everything will be O.K.” She sighed with relief. “Carla always talked about how Rudy gave her the faith to get straight and make good. Did you know that she works in a kid’s shelter now and shares Rudy’s story all the time? All acuz’ Rudy.”   
“That’s incredible, I stammer, still not believing it. I uh, gotta’ get back to work.  I slowly turn away, then turn back, “You’re sure she means my Rudy?”
“Yes, I think my sister’s sure, and now I am too.”
 I didn’t know what else to say. It seemed so surreal. In a daze, I left.
Some weeks later, eating a late Sunday brunch with my husband, he begins to slowly read out loud from the newspaper. “Carla Murillo, known to those who loved her as Curly, passed away April 3rd, from surgical complications. She worked in a children’s shelter where she was dearly loved and considered a family member.  Carla left behind her sister, Diane Murillo, and her newborn nephew Rudy Murillo. Services pending.”
I paused for a minute and thought about my Rudy and how he loved sharing his story. Taking a deep breath, I think to myself how Carla and Rudy will now be sharing their story together, remembering that freedom is never free.  








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