Welcome at the blog of Dini Commandeur. I've written quite a lot of columns for various magazines. I also write short stories every now and then. These columns and stories are available for everybody at this blog. I'll release new columns and stories periodically.


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The leaves are falling

Wednesday 17 September 2014 The weather forecast promised a beautiful day, but now, early in the morning, it was still cool. John stood on one of the rec yards rolling up his first cigarette of the day with his fellow inmates as the sun tried to break through the clouds. “So you are going on a trip?” asked a guy who had bummed a roll up from him.

He nodded. Today he would go to an institution elsewhere in the country, where some sort of comity (psychologist, social worker and other experts) would talk with him. An explorative talk. After that they would deliberate and after a while decide if he would move to that new institution or not. To prepare for life after his detention. This was what his mentor had told him. “And,” the mentor had said. “Be open and honest. Talk!” And that would be a problem as he was not much of a talker. Talks, especially difficult talks would end in a conflict in the past. And one day it had gotten totally out of hand. An arrest, a fierce trial and years of being incarcerated were the consequence of his short fuse. By now he had learned there are other ways to resolve a conflict. He had become calmer but he often did not feel like talking. It was better not to talk, it avoids problems was his opinion. Sure, he’d have talks with his mentor, his social worker and his spiritual advisor. And if it so happened he could chat with every CO or inmate, but usually he was very short-spoken. It was never an interesting conversation. Yet the spiritual advisor had gotten him to agree to visit with a volunteer. After a while he had come to appreciate her visits. It was nice to hear her talk about life outside the walls. She was of a certain age already, and had stayed stuck in the sixties, the hippy days. She wore flowing skirts, colorful blouses, and she had curly hennaed hair with big black eye-lined eyes. She did something vague in art and kept herself busy with all sorts of volunteer work, like pushing wheelchairs in nursing homes and that sort of thing. She visited him faithfully and he would miss her chatter once he would leave this place. When he told her that, she said: “There are volunteer visitors there too. It will take some getting used to, but you will like it there. After all you will have more privileges there.” She could be sure he would like it there, he was not. He actually really did not want to leave this place. He had been here a long time, his cell had become his home.

An hour later he was in the DOC van. He was not the only passenger. A guy from another wing had to go to a forensic psychiatric center that was on the same route. Two birds with one stone, said one of the guards. The guy was chatty, rattling on about all sorts. John was only half listening. He looked outside. It had been so long since he had been outside the gates, he really wanted to take it all in. The trees were losing their leaves, and the sun turned the leaves a golden yellow. “Look how beautiful, those fall colors,” he said when his fellow passenger was quiet for a moment. But the guy said he was not fond of fall. He was always tired and depressed in fall and winter. John heard that before. There were guys who were so affected by fall depression that they did not even want to leave their cells. It recently had come up in a conversation with the volunteer, and she had said that the outside air worked well against those fall blues. She had read somewhere that outside air, light and also vitamin D could help against a depression in fall. He hesitated. Should he pass on this tip from the volunteer to this guy? He did not need it. He went outside every day, and loved fall. The colors, the smell, and the trees that shed their leaves in preparation of new growth and blossoming.

The institution where the guy was to be placed was in a beautiful wooded area, but the guy had not even noticed that. While saying goodbye, he had shaken John’s hand warmly and they had wished each other well. John had quickly given him the ‘anti fall blues’ prescription but he doubted it had come across. The guy had been nervous, but did not want to show that and went in seemingly full of confidence. The ride continued, and now John could look outside without being disturbed and take everything in. Still, he also had to think of that guy. How would it go for him, what would his future be like? He was still so young…

The next day the volunteer asked him how the visit to the new place went, and what all he had  seen during his trip there. He took a deep breath. There was so much to say: about his fellow traveler, about the meeting with the comity. The trip back with the traffic jam. The bathroom break in the gas service station, and the CO who had bought meatball sandwiches and cans of coke there. He had seen horses run in a field, a heron fly by with a fish in its beak….. He had watched the sun set and smelled the smell of fall in the air. He wanted to tell that it was almost certain that he’d say goodbye to this prison to prepare himself for a life outside the walls in the new facility. He wanted to tell everything, his head was full of impressions he wanted to share. But he was no talker, he did not know how to start. “The leaves are falling,” he said.

Dini Commandeur, September 2013
Translated from Dutch into English by Moni Hines


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