Unconscionable – (FREE Chapter 5 Excerpt)

When Gracie heard the steel doors from down the hall swing open, she already knew the news wouldn’t be good and her greatest fear had just become a real nightmare. She was pretty sure it was going to be Johnny Lee’s body even before they arrived at the morgue. When she saw Jeannie and Robert walking back down the hall with Doc Brown, the tears resumed, her heart sank, and she felt as if she’d been kicked extra hard in the pit of her stomach.

Jeannie broke away from her brother’s grasp and ran straight into her mother’s arms while crying and screaming at the top of her lungs. “It’s him Mama, it’s Johnny Lee! Somebody killed my brother in cold blood like he was some kind of animal! How can someone be so cruel and have so much evil in their heart to do something like this?”

Trembling and gasping for air, unable to even utter a sound, Gracie collapsed in her daughter’s arms. Jeannie helped her mama to a chair and began fanning her with a clipboard while unbuttoning and loosening her coat. The woman behind the glass rushed out with a glass of water to give Gracie. Billy pounded his huge fists against the wall and wailed loudly. Robert struggled to help him to a chair. As Jeannie pulled Gracie closer to her, Robert did the same for Billy.

Doc Brown looked down at Gracie and Billy, then said, “A positive identification was made and I’m so very, very, sorry for your loss. Your son Robert here signed the form that permits us to release his body to the funeral home. Angrily cutting him off, Gracie jumped up and said, “The body! Is that all he is to you? To us he was a human being and is still and will forever be a beloved and important member of our family! He’s a son, brother, uncle, cousin, and friend-–someone who is a vital part to each and every one of us! He was kind, friendly, helpful to a fault, and maybe a bit naive, but he is real! He may have been taken from us way too soon and in the most horrible way possible, but he will forever be a part of our entire family and is more than just a body!”

Extending his trembling hands, with his palms facing upward and trying not to appear so afraid, he said, “I’m truly sorry for sounding so insensitive, Mrs. Brown. Please forgive me. Even though I work long hours here, that’s still not an excuse for misspeaking like I just did. Is there anything I can do for you? Do you have any questions for me?”

Calming herself with a few deep breaths, Gracie stood up, steadied herself against the wall, and looked Doc Brown in his eyes. “I do have a couple of questions for you, though. What was the cause of my son’s death and can I go view his body now?”

Robert stood directly in front of his mother, put his arms around her, and said, “Mama please stay out here: you don’t want to see Johnny Lee like this––trust us, please.”

Gently caressing Robert’s face, she looked at him and said, “I appreciate the concern both of you have for me, but I am going back there to see my child and your brother. I need to do this for myself.”

Turning back toward Doc, Gracie added, “I’m waiting for you to answer my questions, sir.”

Putting his hands into his lab coat and nervously swinging his thin arms back and forth, Doc stared toward the floor and said, “Ma’am I believe the initial cause of your son’s death to be blunt force trauma to the back of his head and face, but there’s also more than thirty deep stab wounds to his torso. I even found a piece of the blade lodged between his ribs, and numerous abrasions and burns to his body. There’s also red clay, briars, and gravel deeply embedded into his nearly decapitated head. Huge bits of flesh were also completely ripped from his body. There are burns mainly on his hands, arms, and fingertips. Lastly, based on the deep grass stains on his jeans and the severe trauma to most of his lower body and the deep ligature bruising around both ankles, I believe he was dragged as well. The blunt force killed him–-and from what I can tell, all the other injuries occurred post–mortem or near about. Judging from the slivers of wood I found in his sweater,I believe the attack happened at another location and ended in that field. Also, when he was first brought here, there wasn’t much lividity either.”

Looking puzzled, Gracie squinted and asked, “Lividity–– what do you mean by that?”

“It means that despite the violent nature of his death, there was only some slight bloating to his body when he was brought in which means the murder probably happened shortly before his body was dumped in that field. Please forgive me Ma’am, I don’t mean to sound so crass, but he still had color, and rigor was just beginning to set in his body.”

“Rigor––what does that that mean?”

“Oh, I mean his body hadn’t gone stiff yet. His tissue and limbs were still pliable to the touch and easier to manipulate.” Gracie nodded and stared to the floor before saying, “I want to go back there and see him now, please.”

Billy, Jeannie, and Robert asked in unison, “Are you sure?”

Facing Doc she said, “I’m positive. I told you I need to see with my own eyes what they did to my beautiful son! I won’t look at him again after this and other than the embalmers and funeral home people, I don’t want anyone else to see him either. Go ahead and call the house and let them know it’s Johnny Lee so they can spread the word to the family and neighborhood.”

Holding her husband’s hand, she looked at Doc and solemnly whispered, “Dr. Brown, please lead the way.”

The receptionist gave Jeannie the phone with an outside line so she could call home to deliver the devastating news. Carefully looking around and slowly taking in every detail of the cramped and dreary autopsy room, including the strange odor, Gracie gasped and quickly turned away into Billy’s arms when Doc grabbed the metal cabinet and pulled out her beloved son’s body. She was so saddened and shocked that her son had been violently murdered and wound up in a room like this one. Staring at the blood–stained sheet caused her tears to flow even harder.

Doc looked at them both and asked, “Are you’re sure you’re ready to take a look now?” They held each other tighter, looked at him, and nodded. When he removed the sheet, Gracie shuddered and her legs buckled underneath her. Billy caught her and pulled her into his arms.

Crying loudly, she screamed, “Look at what they did to my beautiful boy! I can barely recognize him and I’m the one who brought him into this world and raised him into a man! How can somebody be so cruel and evil enough to do something like this to another human being?”

Leaning over her son’s body and grabbing his hands as tears fell onto them, she screamed, “Johnny Lee, whoever did this to you will pay for it someday! I may or may not be here to see it, but I promise you they will pay for this!” She released his hands and watched Doc Brown cover the body and close it back into the cabinet.

Exiting the autopsy room, Gracie looked at her husband and said, “I need to get the hell out of here right now and get some fresh air! I’m ready to go home!”

Rejoining Jeannie and Robert in the lobby, they quietly walked out of the building in each other’s arms. Once they returned to their car, they drove all the way home crying their eyes out.

Uncertain Times

With summer winding down, and with schools getting set to resume their schedules, parents are forced to make the tough decision of whether in-school or virtual learning is right for their child. With COVID-19 Coronavirus cases continuing to spike daily, the safety and well-being of the students, faculty, and employees must be given some serious consideration.

While the difficulty of employing social distancing and keeping students masked up and sanitized is still unknown, I imagine attempting to keep them focused and engaged with learning will be a trying challenge within itself. Schools will also still have to serve meals and conduct physical education classes which, without wearing their masks during these times, may indeed heighten the risks of contracting the virus or being infected. Granted, most young people tend to be asymptomatic, and are able to bounce back pretty quickly, but that leads to a bigger problem of them possibly bringing it home. Unless adjustments and protocols are put in place, some middle and high schools will probably even attempt to move forward with their team activities to include both practices and games.

At the risk of increasing the number of people potentially infecting others, shouldn’t we err on the side of caution and continue to only have virtual learning? I believe that to be the most prudent and safe course of action for all of us during this uncertain time. Everyone please continue to remain safe!

Unconscionable – (FREE Chapter 4 Excerpt)

Both Jeannie and Robert experienced the same weird, spine-chilling, eerie, blood curdling feeling after stepping into a room where the bodies were stored and autopsies were performed. The entire room mirrored an old, black and white horror movie and reeked of a strong mixture of bleach, formaldehyde, and ammonia. It literally looked and felt like they were surrounded by death itself. They saw long, metal tables with saws and scary looking instruments strewn all over them. There were huge sinks with hoses attached to them, and a wall holding about six or seven stainless steel cabinets with four to a row. A covered body with its feet exposed and one of its big toes tagged laid on one of the tables. Underneath the tables not too far from the sinks was a huge, sunken drain with trails of blood all around it on the floor near the hoses.

Trying to mask the obvious fear and anxiety they were surely feeling, they tightly joined hands and followed Doc Brown to where the cabinets stood. Reaching for the one in the center, he turned to them and said, “Now I have to warn you two, this body was in very bad condition when it was brought in. I’m sorry to say that never in my forty-one years as a coroner, have I ever seen and autopsied a body that has been practically destroyed to the degree that this one has. His head is barely attached to his body and his face is practically unrecognizable, but if he’s your family, I’m sure you’ll be able to make a positive I.D. Okay, I’m going to pull his body out now. Are you sure you two are now ready for it?” Pulling Jeannie into a tight hug, Robert said, “As ready as we’re ever going to be for doing something like this here.”

Doc Brown solemnly nodded and reached for the handle. With a loud click, he pulled the body all the way out. Large spots of wet and dried blood stained and soaked through the sheet covering the body––especially around the head and chest area. Grabbing the sheet, he looked at Robert and pulled it away from the body down to the waist. Robert glanced for a couple of seconds before quickly turning away, but Jeannie just stood there, frozen in a trancelike stare for more than an entire minute, before letting out a loud and bloodcurdling scream.

“It’s him! Please cover him back up!” Stunned, Doc Brown quickly did what he was asked. Robert turned to Jeannie and asked, “Are you sure Sis? We really didn’t get a long look. I only glanced for a couple of seconds and I don’t think you looked for a full minute.”

“I’m positive it’s him! I saw that big birthmark on the left side of his neck, and that huge mole on the back of his right hand! Plus, he never removed that gold promise band on his left pinkie finger that Francine gave him! I don’t ever want to see my brother like this again, and we need to come up with a way to keep Mama and Billy from coming back here and viewing him like this! There’s no telling what something like this will do to the both of them! We can’t let them come back here!”

Clenching his fists in anger, Robert screamed loudly and pounded the wall repeatedly. Then he grabbed and threw a clipboard to the floor before kicking over one of the prep tables.

“Whoever’s responsible, those motherfuckers won’t get away with this! I swear to God they won’t! An eye for an eye and blood for blood. I’m more than willing to go to jail after I get my hands on everybody that had a hand in killing our brother!”

Now crying softly, Jeannie looked at her brother and said, “Please don’t do that, Robert, we all need you right now! Now we have to go back out there and try to be strong for Mama, Billy and the rest of the family when we get home. They’ll pay dearly someday for taking our brother away from us like this, but we’ll let God take care of them. They’ll definitely get theirs in the end, but right now we got to take care of our family. Now promise me you’re not going to go out there and do something crazy.”

“I guess you’re right, Sis. I promise I won’t try to retaliate or do anything to get some revenge for this.” Robert picked up the table and placed the instruments back on top. Then he picked up all of the forms that fell to the floor and neatly placed them back on the clipboard before rehanging it on the wall. Afterwards, he turned to Doc Brown and said, “I’m sorry for losing my cool like that.” Pretending not to be afraid of what he had just witnessed, as well as Robert’s size and temperament, Doc Brown replied with a trembling voice, “Aw, don’t worry about it, son. I’d probably have done much worse to this room it was me. I just need one of you to sign this form that gives us permission to release the body to the funeral home.”

Robert scribbled his signature, hugged his sister tightly, and grabbed her hand. “Come on, Sis, let’s get on out here and break this terrible news to Mama and Billy. I’d rather do anything in the world right now than have to go back into that lobby.”

“I would, too, but they need to know and I’d rather they hear it from us.”

After closing Johnny Lee’s body back into the cabinet, Doc Brown said, “Let me go back out there with you to tell your folks––it’s the least I can do. I’m sure they’ll have some questions for me. Again, I’m so very, very sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Tenets Of Faith

Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing. It can also be interpreted as loyalty and fidelity in a strong belief. In terms of spirituality, it is a belief in one’s religious doctrine (i.e. Christian faith, Jewish faith, Muslim faith, Buddhism, etc.). In terms of my Christian faith, it means supreme belief and trust in God. And as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” Personally, I believe there are tenets one must live by to possess complete faith.

They are:

Belief: Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.” Simply put, if you don’t sincerely believe in your dream, you’ll never reach it. True belief is knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt your dream is real, it’s yours, and no one or nothing will stop you from reaching it. But belief, in and of itself, can’t make the dream real–you must also work for it.

Work: James 2:20 “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

You have to work diligently and tirelessly for your dream. How bad do you really want it? You must do the work–there aren’t any shortcuts. And honestly, you shouldn’t want to take any shortcuts in the first place. That’s not how this works. For example: Wanting to become a writer on belief alone won’t make you one. You have to learn, research, take courses, etc., but even then, you must expect your dream to come true.

Expectations: Hebrews 10:36 “For ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye may receive the promise.” An attitude of expectation is paramount. You have to place the vision of your dream in your mind’s eye and hold it there. Even while working towards it, act as if you’ve already achieved your dream.

Believing, working, and expecting equals a dream realized instead of a hope or wish on its own that’s sure to die.

Empowered And Empowering

How many times have you ignored your instincts and believed your dream was too good to be true or too far out of reach? Even after choosing to follow your gut and pursue your dream, how many times have you permitted others to dissuade you or derail your hopes? We’re all capable of achieving anything we set out to do, but because we’ve been so conditioned to not want to rock society’s boat or go against the status quo, we accept our current lot in life and ignore of our heart’s desire.

Sometimes decades come and go without us mustering enough courage to act on the burning urge that’s being suppressed deep within. Of course there’ll always be moments when we second guess ourselves and lose sight of our vision–we are all only human. Far too often, we instead listen to the outside noise and opinions of those who want nothing more than for us to fail.

The sad truth is even when we find ourselves courageous enough to pursue our heart’s fondest desires, doubt can easily creep into our psyche and quell the dream. Whether it comes from outside forces or is self-inflicted, it can stop us cold in our tracks. And if we’re not careful, it can diminish and even remove what little faith we have left in ourselves to begin with.

Even sadder is the people you’re closest to and regularly associate with would rather not see you empower or try to better yourself. Misery loves company, and because they’ve chosen to ignore their power and shun their dreams, nothing would make them happier if you did the same. Secretly, they cheer your losses and boo your gains. They’d rather you accept and embrace mediocrity just like they have. Because their fear keeps them in a continual loop of the cycle of eating, sleeping, and working, they want you to shun your dreams, embrace your fear, and do as they do.

To combat this doubt, we must work diligently to strengthen the faith we have in ourselves. Just like a muscle, the more we exercise our faith and work it out, the stronger it’ll become. The power within ourselves is an innate force solely for our use; the source where infinite possibilities exist. Let’s take chances and bet on ourselves! Don’t be afraid to take risks–we either win or learn from them. True faith can turn risks into absolute certainties If we’re empowered. We can also use our power to inform and empower others. When we empower ourselves and seek to empower others, the world automatically becomes better. Live the life of your dreams by refusing to let life live you!

Devaluing Value

It appears in this day and age, that instant self-gratification is the only thing that matters. So much so, that most of us will do anything to get whatever we want and wherever we want to go out of life. Even and especially if it comes at the expense of devaluing others. We do this constantly by judging, lying, undermining, competing, and downgrading others.

The sad irony in this is some of us actually believe that our successes and values are only possible by putting others down, which by the way couldn’t be further from the truth. In truth, everyone can succeed while wishing only the highest and best for everyone else. What happened to kindness, courtesy, support, mutual respect, and genuinely caring for someone or some cause greater than yourself?

In order to remedy these behaviors and attitudes, we must begin with looking in the mirror and examining who we truly are. Truly assess and take a long look at who you truly are instead of how you project yourself to the world–not the perfect lives we’ve created and portray on social media, where we pretend our lives are perfect without any problems or issues. Have we devolved to the point where we feel happier burying our pain, disappointments, sadness, and anxieties deep inside instead of facing and working through them? Affixing the false mask of a smile and pretending to be happy when you leave your house each day does far more harm than good.

Becoming who we truly are takes a lot of practice and work, but it’s possible. We’re all valuable, we all have a purpose, and we all matter. There’s no shame to sometimes doubt or judge ourselves. At times, we’re even judgmental towards others. Together, let’s slow this fast-paced, microwaveable social media culture by slowing down enough to be kind to others while staying true to yourself. When we know the value of ourselves, we’ll uplift the value of others.

Where’s The Time?

Do you ever reminisce about a particular moment or event from your past? Do you ever wish you could go back in time and change an unpleasant memory or make a wonderful one more memorable? If we’re honest with ourselves, I believe we’ve all done so at some point or time in our lives. Personally, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve thought, “If I knew back then what I know now,” I’m sure I’d be a millionaire many times over.

The truth is we can never go back and change anything in our past. Neither can we turn back the hands of time. Everything that’s happened in our past is meant to stay there – unchanged. That moment’s experience and purpose has been served. Whether it’s something that happened twenty years ago or a week ago, it’s gone forever. Fortunately though, we can learn much from our past experiences. Some of our greatest life lessons were discovered and experienced through failing.

Time is meant to be lived right now in the present. Yesterday’s past is no more and tomorrow’s future is still yet to be determined. Every new morning gifts us with a blank canvas to design and create our lives however we choose. Focus on being your best self possible while remaining in the present. Should an unpleasant situation from your past again find you in the present, carefully examine it and make a choice different from the one you made in your past.

There aren’t really any real losses in life. Whether we win or lose, we gain life experience. Don’t allow any storm clouds of past negativity to hinder your bright present. Time waits on no one, and change is the only constant so always be willing to change with it. Focus your energy and thoughts on being the best version of yourself and creating the best life possible right now while you still have time!

Weathering These Dog Days

The Dog Days of Summer symbolize the beginning of the end of Summer. These are usually the hottest, muggiest, driest, and steamiest days of the year. In addition to long days of blistering and stifling heat, it is also a period of drought and occasionally intense thunderstorms.

Initially coined by the ancient Romans, they defined the period of Dog Days being between July 3, to August 11. It is believed this is the period when Sirius, the Dog Star rises at the same time of the sun, and positions itself in the heavens to generate higher temperatures. Naturally, barring a necessity, the searing heat during the peak hours of the day inclines us to stay indoors, but there are safeguards we can utilize to survive the hottest of days. It goes without saying that adequate and continuous hydration must be a key staple to survive these days. Drink fluids all day, water preferably, but if not, at least try to limit your caffeine and alcohol intake. Try eating lighter and healthier by incorporating more fruit, salad and vegetables into your diet. This is gravely important for those who labor outside or kids who are outside for the majority of the day. If this is the case, try to wear lightweight, layered clothing including some type of headgear. If you and your kids are going to the beach or the pool, please be sure to wear an adequate amount of sunscreen.

We must also be mindful to keep a close eye on our seniors. The older they get, the harder it becomes to regulate their body temperature, especially when perspiring. Seniors with pacemakers or heart-related maladies should be monitored continuously. Heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the U.S. causing hundreds of fatalities a year. So please take the necessary precautions by keeping a close eye on our friends and family. In so doing, together we can get through the Dog Days of Summer.

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Among its designation as one of the hottest months in the height of Summer, July is also set aside as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The hashtag theme of the 2019 campaign is #DepthOfMyIdentity. Sadly, in addition to the negative stigma surrounding all mental illnesses among minorities, minorities are less likely to even receive a diagnosis or treatment for their illness. Unfortunately, most minorities have less access to mental health care, and more often than not, those pursuing treatment usually receive a poorer quality of care.

Despite some slight advances in equity, disparities in mental health care between whites and minorities persist. According to The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States (in addition to having less access to quality mental health care) are less likely to use community health services. Instead, they’re more likely to use emergency rooms, and as a consequence receive lower quality care.

Based on statistics stemming from late 2017, 41.5% of white youth, ages 12-17 received quality care for a major episode, but only 31.5% of Black youth and 32.7% of Hispanic youth received treatment for their condition. The numbers are significantly lower for Alaskan and Native American groups at 16.3% respectively. As a whole, Asian American adults were less likely to use mental health services than any other racial group.

Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, suicides are on the rise for all minorities. Research has shown that the United States’ suicide rate increased by more than 30% for more than half of the states between 1999-2016. In some states, the increase of suicides was as high as 58%. In 2016, it was estimated to be around 13.4 out of every 100,000 people, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the nation. The American Association for Suicidology (AAS) estimates there were more than 1.1 million suicide attempts in 2016 alone–translating to an attempt every 28 seconds. The numbers are even more mind boggling when factoring in minorities and homeless veterans.

Mental health should be a serious issue for everyone, but especially for minorities. We can no longer afford to look the other way, bury our heads in the sand, and pretend it doesn’t exist. It deserves our utmost attention, advocacy, focus, and action because none of us can afford the steep price of ignorance and inaction regarding mental health treatment for minorities.

The Art Of Communicating Effectively

With the month of June comes the hotter temperatures and the season of Summer. Its solstice takes place on June 21, which officially represents the first day of the Summer as well as the longest day of the year. School comes to an end for most students, and most families will take a vacation at some point.

Of all the numerous special days and weeks observed during June, I value Effective Communications Month the most. Its importance to all of us can’t be understated or undervalued, because communicating takes place in the world every second of every day. Personally, I believe, in order to be an effective communicator, we must first be effective listeners. The art of listening is a skill we must work at and hone daily. Listeninng and truly hearing and understanding what’s being clearly conveyed to you is the main cog on the communication wheel. Becoming effective and skilled listeners make us better communicators.

Communicating effectively also means being honest when giving feedback and being open to objectively receiving it. It means constructively taking the feedback from others and implementing in our daily lives to make us even better communicators. Spirited, but respective discussions will help us identify the key points that are critical to both parties clearly understanding each other.

When giving a talk or speaking to a large group of people, it’s important to first get to know the audience you’re speaking to. Clarity and respect far outweigh visual aids. Remember to stay focused and be present in the moment. Be optimistic! Being an effective communicator is an ongoing process, but patience and preparedness will earn you the respect from whomever you’re speaking to–group or individual. Lastly, no matter the audience, control your anger and keep your emotions intact. In so doing, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a more effective communicator.