Thursday, April 17, 2014


Modern life is anything but peaceful.  We are on edge and on the go constantly.  Our waking hours, and perhaps even in our sleep, are dominated by concerns about how to pay for, or be a part of, (which we may not like nor have passion for or find fulfilling) or searching for work at a time when the economy is in limbo and a job, any job, is a keeper.  We are bombarded with cultural messages to spend and consume.  (which means acquiring the money to do so)  Do we have the latest phone, TV, car, dress, purse, Jimmy Choo shoes, skinny jeans or the latest styled jacket?  We are on edge over a love life, or the lack of one.  Adolescents are tweeting about fears of what they will be when they grow up and adults self-medicate because of how their lives have unfolded.  Add to all of this the sheer, real, ear-splitting, nerve-jangling noise which is a constant of modern life and the last thing that one can say is we know a lot of peace.  (is it any wonder anti-depressants are a multi-billion dollar industry and a new study says depression among adolescents is up over 60%)

     As we approach the celebration of Easter, we do so fragile and splintered yet the whole point of Easter is we have a chance to restore peace to our lives.  What the apostles, and others, discovered that Sunday morning is an insight...a epiphany about life and how to have a peaceful one where you do not have to be afraid.  See, this is the key to the good news.  Jesus' message was not about heaven, or afterlife, or kingdoms to come.  From His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, to His appearance in the upper room, Jesus consistently told those around Him to be at peace and not to be afraid.  Why was he so sure?  Why was He seemingly fearless and peaceful?  What did He know that we didn't?

     Jesus knew how close He was to God...the more He trusted in God...the more He let go of things, the more peace flowed over Him.  He describes this closeness as like that between a mother or father and a child...intimate...Abba.

     Now comes the good part...Jesus proclaimed this same relationship with God is ours for the taking.  We too could be so close to God that peace will flow like a river.  We too can take all the noise, pressure, stress, which is day-to-day life and let it roll off of us like water off a duck's back.  We can trust in God so implicitly that not even death can stop us nor do we have to fear it.  Resurrection, which we celebrate on Easter, is ours too.  This is the good news.

     It sounds so easy.  Who wouldn't want to be at peace and not to be afraid anymore?  Yet, when we look around we don't see allot of peace...don't feel peaceful...we worry and fear...the world certainly isn't peaceful, so what happened?  Sin is what happened.  We have freely chosen to attach to this our basic desires for pleasure and satisfying our desires...for ego and pride...and the result is not intimacy but rather separation.  (since God created all "things", God by definition cannot be a "thing", God must be "no-thing"...nothing.  When we hold on to things...prioritize out things...we lose intimacy with God) There is no clearer reason why I am in prison and why I chose to hurt my family and myself than an obsession with things and a failure to trust in God.  (interestingly, this is the same message of Buddhism  which teaches the more you let go of things, the better you can handle the suffering which life throws at you)

     Jesus' message is constant.  Love your neighbor.  Love your enemies.  Turn the other cheek.  Forgive an infinite number of times.  Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters you do for God.  Implied in all of this is a focus on others, developing a closeness with God which promises you two will be at peace and don't have to be afraid any longer.

     Have you ever had a genuine moment of peace?  A moment of living without fear?  If not why not?  If so, how badly did you want to experience it again and it out...try to replicate it if you could?  In the upper room, on His first appearance after Easter, Jesus breathes on them (recalling God breathing on Adam and Eve in Genesis) and says, "...peace, my peace I give to you."  This is the central message of the gospel.  We can do what Jesus did.  We can be intimate with God.  We can experience peace because we trust in God.  Sin sews doubt and fear, but Easter is the celebration of a man who was at peace and wasn't afraid...even when faced with his own death...sin lost.

     This is my last Easter in captivity.  I will come out of this place, and this experience, less afraid and more at peace than at any time in my life.  All I needed to achieve this was to have my ego crushed, pride stripped, every "thing" taken away and the time to contemplate the state of my relationship with God.  I was forced to let go and to trust, which was so, so hard, in God.  I am still a work in progress, and I still love certain things, most especially my wife and children, and can be filled with fear, but the Easter message, ..."Alleluia, Alleluia, He is risen," fills me with joy and I wish all of you that same joy.

     Happy Easter, and please remember the world is alive with the grandeur of God.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Hello fellow fans of the Lion of the Left!  Some of you have asked for the Lions's mailing address. Here's the information that you asked for:

Mr. Bernard Ward
3600 Guard Rd.
Lompoc, CA  93436

You can only send envelopes that weigh 16 ounces or less.  Don't send any stationery, stamps, travel magazines, books, or porno.  The Bible is the only book that is permitted.  The Lion would love personal hand-written letters from you and greeting cards are O.K.  Have fun!



On a recent phone call, my son informed me he had read around 10 pieces from this blog.  "Dad, I got bored and thought I could be watching HBO instead, so that's what I did."  I took no offense.  That he was reading them at all was a triumph for me.  One of the reasons I decided to write this at all was to show my children I wasn't crushed nor was I going to just fade away into the night under a cover of shame and embarrassment.  The other reason not to take umbrage was these comments were coming from a member of a generation which has raised the art of navel gazing to a sacrament, so naturally commentaries on politics, foreign policy, circumspection or theology will create a dissonance forcing them to look up and actually perceive what is going on around them.

     This is now the era of the selfie.  You buy a cell phone now, not to make or receive a call, but rather based on the quality of the camera...whether there is on the front and the back...the ease with which it allows you to take pictures of you.  It gets even more convoluted.  Studies show people don't actually want to talk to each other directly over the phone.  They prefer to text or email or leave a voice message or post a message on Facebook than engage in actual live conversation.  The phone is ordered for its screen size, touch screen, design, with its actual function as a phone a long, last, concern now resembling an electronic vestigial organ.

     I find myself chortling at the irony of coming from the generation which grew up in the 60's and was accused of narcissism on an Olympian level.  "It" was all about tuning in, turning on and dropping out...make love not war...yippies and hippies vs. straights...we had to have our own music and clothes (sort of dumpster chic) and our politics...we took drugs to turn inward and see ourselves clearly, allegedly.  Today, "it" is all about taking pictures of myself and chronicling everything and anything I do.

     I'm now officially the old, curmudgeonly, grumpy old man shaking his liver-spotted fist at the non-sense of his children's generation.  It is a natural progression and flashing in front of me is Dick Van Dyke in Bye, Bye, Birdie singing about kids and why can't they be perfect like we were in every way.  However, this obsessive need to share and over share with religious-like fervor still cannot be left without some comment.

     Why would I care about where you ate breakfast, lunch or dinner today?  Tens of thousands of pictures are uploaded to the "cloud"  (oh come on you have to love the "cloud" now refers to some gigantic storage unit in the sky when for us it was a way to get a contact high in the back of someone's car or their bedroom) of what people ate at their latest meal.  (the next logical progression is the uploading of what it looks like at the other end, an evolution not to look forward to with relish)  The phone you don't call anyone on anymore tracks your every movement so your friends, and "friendly" big brother, can know what stores you frequent, restaurants you like, concerts you attend, political rallies you support.  The phone which no longer has any connection to Alexander Graham Bell, is a game-playing, picture taking, electronic spying mirror which can be used to catalog every moment of your day.  While the premise of all of this is it builds community...keeps us connected to each other...makes us feel social...the same folks who don't want to talk to each other...sit across from each other in a restaurant staring at their phones...refuse to make eye contact when they are pedestrianatiing (and now have to be warned by public service announcements not to cause auto accidents because of their inattention)...completely avoid any intimacy with anyone else.  (they use dating sites because they can't "meet" anyone any other way)

     The ultimate beneficiary of all this is corporate America.  (you remember them don't you?  They keep telling you they wont do any evil and only want to connect the world and are not at all interested in making money off of you)  Samsung got huge returns by encouraging Ellen DeGeneres to take a "selfie" at the Oscars.  (do you think she was paid?)  Boston Red Sox slugger, David Ortiz used a Samsung phone to take a "selfie" with President Obama.  All the mega data being created each day by all the texting and tweeting and pictures and sharing is vacuumed up by advertisers so they can pitch you, prod you, push you, play you into buying their product.  (not to mention what the NSA is doing with all of this information)  Facebook spent $19 billion to buy "What's App" to commoditize every "intimate" activity we have with anyone else.  Hell, we don't even ask for directions anymore (something 60's men were supposedly very bad at) and now use Google maps to get from point A to point B leaving a trail of electronic bread crumbs for anyone to follow and observe.  (ANYONE !!)

     It is not surprising this kind of long form blog could be boring.  Try and reduce discussions about health care or the Russian incursion into Crimea or the raging debate about same sex marriage to 140 characters.  Is it possible young people are not more liberal on social issues, like gay marriage or the legalization of marijuana, than their parents, but rather just take a pass on anything not reducible to a tweet or a selfie?

     Yes, I sound like my parents and their horror over Elvis' hips or the Beatles hair.  However, watching an entire generation turn themselves into a product for corporate profit...observing the emergence of a device even George Orwell couldn't imagine...commenting on narcissism on steroids was too good to pass up.  An additional benefit is it gave me a reason to write about my son, who I love, and the pride I have knowing that he is purposely reading some of this blog even if he gets bored.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


 I've been adding to this blog for almost six years.  (not so much in the last few weeks...just sort of down...sorry)  A friend reminded me I wrote a piece on my 60th birthday.  You have the ability to go back and re read it.  I cannot.  So, I have no idea if this will repeat themes from birthdays past.  However, as this is my last birthday while being held against my will, I thought it an apt moment for reflection.

     The first birthday in prison is soul sucking and psychically torturous.  Why was I born?  Look at what I have done with my life.  Would it have been better not to have been born at all?  How do I survive all the future birthdays in prison?  Please don't wish me a happy birthday.  I'm glad my parents are dead and can't see what I have done to their name.  How will my wife and children cope?  Will they ever forgive me?

     This birthday occurs with the realization I should be home by Christmas and there will be no more birthdays in captivity.  It also occurs to someone quite different than the man who cried and zombie-walked his way through that day in 2009.  At least I've answered one query as I have survived up until now and I wouldn't have taken bets on that back in the day.

     That first birthday, in Beaumont, Texas, took place far away from home...hell, far away from civilization and intelligent life.  If my brief sojourn in the South is any window on that world, this nation is doomed to remain fractured forever.  I had met a former head of allegedly one of the most violent drug gangs in Texas.  He was a Puerto Rican from the Bronx trying to convert to Buddhism from cultural Catholicism.  He taught me about prison and prison culture and how to get my head out of my ass and see trouble brewing before it starts.  He knew he couldn't protect me, his people would never have gone for that, but told me to get to his bunk if violence broke out because no one could fault him for protecting his house and the people in it.  On that first birthday he presented me with a gift...a pair of non-prison issue, thick, wool gloves.  They were gorgeous and warm and valuable.  Who would have thought such an act of kindness could happen in Beaumont, Texas.  The gift was a counterpoint to the isolation...soul losing...recriminations...self-loathing I was going through at that time and were a miracle of sorts.

     There will not be any gifts on this birthday.  There will be visit from some friends...a former Maryknoll missionary who was a total stranger until he visited me three or four times ex Franciscan and a dear friend from the City who has been a source of comfort and support through this entire journey.  If there are any tears, they will be tears of joy and the soul nearly sucked out in Santa Rita, Oakland, Dublin, Oklahoma City, after a 14 hour bus ride with no food, Beaumont, and Lompoc, seems to be making a comeback.

     Birthdays are moments, snapshots, of where we are and where we have been and contain the hopes of what we might be in the future.  I have been consigned to the scariest place on earth...alone with my own thoughts.  If one is at all honest, and willing to take a plunge into the ether which is ourselves, prison offers a chance to assess and unpack the behaviors and beliefs which led to the current circumstances.

     On this birthday I can admit to so many shortcomings and bad choices which were mixed with an oversized ego...pride on steroids and an absolute belief life had wronged me, cheated me, played favorites and I would do anything, break any rule, reject any limits in order to get what was rightfully mine.  I had a good heart, but a dark spirit which encouraged me to take risks, put my family in jeopardy and disappoint my friends all in the name of achieving fame and fortune.

     A Franciscan friar who was a guest with me here for a while, Rev. Louis Vitali O.F.M., convinced me the way to do this time was to imagine it as a monastery.  It's all men.  We live in "cells".  There is an inordinate amount of time for prayer and reflection and celibacy is easy to maintain.  He nailed it.  I have said publicly I didn't have an active prayer life out of fear one day God would answer back and make demands on me I couldn't, or wouldn't, carry out.  Now, I pray begging to hear Her voice.  I said Mass here for the first time in 30 years and it moved me deeply.  It showed me how badly I wasted my chance to be a good priest and, ironically, how much better I would be today.  After everything is taken from you, including your reputation, it is possible to see what is real value and on this birthday, if you said I could have anything I wanted, it would be to be home celebrating with my family basking in their presence.

     There is still much more work to be done on me.  I have to face the justifiable anger of family and work to regain trust.  I hope God is not done with me yet and search for a new epiphany.  I would like to work with the poor and do some prison ministry.  I don't know if anyone will allow me back in the media, but boy would I have something to say and from a very different perspective.

     Finally, if I can be so bold as to offer some observations on this day...we all make mistakes and we have to seek forgiveness, including forgiving ourselves, and not allow the mistake to define us.  Please reject all the culture around you which glues you to your phone, computer, TV screen and a plethora of other distractions.  I am convinced they are like fool's gold and have neither intrinsic value nor recipe for happiness or fulfillment.  Instead, seek out people and places and times you love and moments of care and banish the easy path of cynicism.  You, and I, were given a gift...this life...and it is a chance to be someone who cherishes what is real and loves with all your heart.  Please learn from my mistakes.  At least then maybe this tragedy can have a positive outcome.

     I am thankful I was born.  I am grateful to have four children and a wife who love me unconditionally.  I am blessed to get a chance to reboot and see what Bernie 2.0 will look like.  I am lucky to have all of you to call friends.  It is a happy birthday.