21 May, 2011

Alive

When I posted about my mother, I got many comments and e-mails about what a class act she is.  I certainly am biased, but I couldn't agree more.

One of the things that I respect so much about my mother is that during the eight years my father was away from us as children, she thought it was of paramount importance that she "kept him alive" in our minds.  We only saw our father a couple times a year, and we only spoke to him on the phone every Sunday night. My mother thought that wasn't enough time for us to really know him.  She was adamant that his family was not going to forget about him just because he was in prison.

I remember that my mother always sent him copies of our report cards and had us write notes about our favorite subjects and what we were learning that grading period.  He was always so proud that his girls were straight A students.

At Christmastime, when my mother got our pictures taken with Santa, she had us write something to Daddy on the pictures.  In wobbly, five year-old penmanship, I wrote on one of them, "Daddy we love you from your two little girls".

Mama always wanted us to know what Daddy was like as a person.  She told us stories about him over and over again.  Every time she told us the same story, it felt like it was the first time I ever heard it.  My favorite story was that Daddy bought most of his impoverished senior class their class rings.  I loved his benevolence.  Even the FBI has commented on my father's generosity.

Whenever a movie came on television that my father liked, my mother got us all excited for one of Daddy's movies.   I can't tell you how many times I watched "King Kong."  Daddy loved it, so I sat through it with a smile on my face.  My father loved the brute strength of the giant gorilla, so I loved it too.

Daddy's favorite song was Jim Croce's "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown."  My father loved it that Leroy was so tough, but it the end, he wasn't as tough as he thought he was.  Every time that song came on the radio, my mother announced that it was "Daddy's song", and I hung on every word of it.  It is still my favorite song, and whenever I hear it, I can't wipe the smile off my face.

My mother is stricken with Alzheimer's Disease now, and barely remembers my father.  My family and I tell her stories about him all the time to try to keep him alive in her memory.  Daddy is so important in our lives that all of us refuse to let him die in each other's mind.


15 May, 2011

Teasing

My mother always made sure we had the best of everything so that no one would look down on us because our father was in prison.  She grew up in an impoverished household, and she said she didn't want us to experience the same humiliation she did at the hands of other children.

All of our clothes were from Saks, and every year Amie and I had new real fur coats to wear to school.  We looked beautiful, but we just wanted to be normal.  Finally, after months of begging, my mother let us wear jeans to school like our friends did. 

As much as my mother tried, she couldn't protect us from everyone.  Our backyard neighbors had a son, Scotty, who was relentless about teasing us.  It seemed like every time I went in the back yard, he had something cruel to say, but I never said anything back to him.  One day I couldn't take it anymore.  Amie and I were in the backyard and Scotty yelled over the fence separating our yards,  "Your father's in prison!" 

My retort was absolutely classic:  "Yeah, well YOUR father had a vasectomy!"  I had no idea what that meant, but it was the first thing that popped into my little head to defend myself and my daddy.  My mother and grandmother laughed hysterically when I ran into the house and told them what happened.  Sure, my response to Scotty was nonsensical, but he didn't say another word to me for years after that.

Scotty's silence was broken many years later in the parking lot of the mall.  He asked as I walked by him,  "Is your dad still counting his stolen money?"

My retort was a little wittier than the last time we interacted.  I looked him straight in the eye and said,  "He sure is, and today he counted more money than your worthless father will see in his entire life!"

That was, officially, the last time Scotty ever harassed me.

The situation with Scotty was the only time I recall that my feelings were  hurt by a child's remarks about my father.  All of the other children knew our family's situation, but none of them seemed to care.  I was a popular young child at school and my father was never mentioned by my friends.

The adults, however, were quite a different story.  My second grade homeroom teacher had plenty to say about my father.  One day she was standing about five feet from me, and I heard her her say to the music teacher,  "That girl with the long hair is Amil Dinsio's daughter.  When I looked at my class list for this year and saw that I had the bank burglar's daughter, I nearly died!"  She had to realize I could hear her.

I swear, I could feel a dagger go through my heart as the hot tears welled up in my eyes.

That was the day I discovered that those who should know better are often the cruelest of all.

09 May, 2011

Mama

I, quite proudly, come from a line of extremely strong women. 

Amie read my last post and wrote to me,  "Wasn't Mom amazing?" 

Mama was only thirty-four years old when her brother was arrested in June of 1972 for conspiracy in the commission of the greatest bank burglary in American history.  She immediately flew to California to help him with bondsmen and lawyers.  My father, his brother, and two of their nephews, all part of my father's crew, were arrested while she was out there.  My father and Uncle James were extradited to California, so she had to care for them as well.  To say that she had an incredible amount of responsibility on her young shoulders doesn't even begin to do justice to my mother's situation.

Mama said that the FBI harassed her constantly because they wanted her to testify against my father.  At the time, the law was that a person could not be compelled to testify against a spouse.  Mama said the feds tried "every trick in the book", and even told her that my father had numerous girlfriends.  As much as that must have hurt and infuriated her, my mother remained loyal to my father.

According to my mother, every time she walked out of her rented apartment in Los Angeles, she was slapped with a subpoena to testify in front of the federal grand jury.  Every time she testified, she invoked spousal immunity and her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.  In other words, she told the feds nothing.

But that didn't stop the subpoenas.  The last time she was called as a witness before the grand jury, she took on the feds full force. 

She again invoked spousal immunity and "the Fifth".  The grand jury then ordered her to give them her fingerprints.  She asked them why, and they refused to tell her.  Her response was, "Then I'm not giving them to you.  My first husband was in the military, so the government has my fingerprints.  If you want them,  you get them yourselves."

The judge told her she would be held in contempt of court and go to jail if she didn't give her fingerprints.  She told him to do what he had to do.  He recessed for the day and told her to think about it overnight.

When my mother arrived at court the following morning, she was wearing a skirt suit.  One of the feds in the hallway approached her and said, "I see by the way you're dressed that you've decided to give us your fingerprints." 

She replied, "No, I'm just not familiar with proper jail attire."

The judged took the bench and called my mother to the front of the courtroom.  He asked her if she would give her fingerprints as the grand jury ordered her.  Mama told the judge,  "Your Honor, I respectfully refuse."

The federal marshals jumped up and handcuffed her.

Mama's attorney jumped up and asked that she be allowed to remain out on bond until the matter could be appealed.  The judge granted her attorney's request.

My mother beat the feds, won her appeal, and literally changed the law of the land.  For about a year, the law stated that the grand jury could not order a person to give his or her fingerprints without giving the reason the fingerprints were needed.

And it was all because a thirty-four year-old, one hundred-pound woman felt so harassed that she did what most people would be terrified to do:  She took on the entire federal government.

Indeed, Mom was amazing.

06 May, 2011

Terror

Friday, May 6, 2011 

My mother grabbed the gun under her pillow, pushed me on the floor, and threw herself over my five year-old body.  When the gunshots outside stopped, she did a sort of soldier's crawl to the top of the steps, never letting go of me.  With absolute horror in her voice, she yelled down to her mother,  "Mama! Mama!  Are you and Amie alright?"  Grandma yelled back that they were fine.  Grandma had her body over Amie's tiny body.

Amie was scared and crying, and both my mother and grandmother were visibly upset.  I was emotionless.

We never did find out why there were gunshots outside our house that night, but I knew that every second of every day, my mother lived in incomprehensible terror.

She had learned that there was a plot to kidnap her children.  As I've said before, my mother believed that we had to learn to deal with our lives, and she kept very little, if anything, from us.  We knew that a man named Spider wanted to kidnap us because the feds said we had 30 million dollars hidden away.

We lived one block from the school, but we couldn't walk to school with our friends, and we couldn't play outside.  I remember my mother trying to explain it to me because I was crying about being locked in what seemed like a prison to me.  I childishly told her, "I don't care if Spider kidnaps me!  I want to play outside!" 

Mama tried to make me understand that she didn't have the money to get me back if anyone ever took me.  I told her I didn't care if I came back; I just wanted to play with my friends.  With genuine compassion, she told me that she knew I didn't understand then why it had to be that way, but someday I would understand.

Prior to the night of the gunshots, I slept with my mother in her bed, and Amie slept with my grandmother.  After that night, my mother had us all sleep in the living room together.  Grandma slept on the couch, Mama slept on the love seat, and Amie and I slept in sleeping bags in the living room.  And it was all because of Spider.

It was on that living room floor that one of the most terrifying events of my entire life happened to me.  I must have been dreaming, but it was so real to me.  I heard the front door of our house open, and Spider (whom I had never even seen) was standing there.  I literally leapt out of my sleeping bag on the floor and jumped on my mother on the love seat.  I was sobbing hysterically and I kept screaming, "Spider!"  over and over again.  Mama held me and tried to tell me I was dreaming, but I still sobbed hysterically and screamed that awful name.  When I calmed down, I noticed that Grandma had Amie, and my mother had her gun.

In my memory, it seems like it wasn't long after that night of terror that my mother got a phone call that the news was reporting that Spider had been murdered outside his home.  I remember my mother telling my grandmother the news, and I remember my grandmother's response:  "Oh, thank you, God."

It was one of the happiest days of my life.

04 May, 2011

Happiness, Part II

We sat on Daddy's lap for about the first hour of visiting at Leavenworth and told him everything we had been doing in our little lives.

I remember telling him that someone spray-painted F-U-C-K on the wall  of the school.  His voice got stern and he looked me right in the eyes and told me to never, ever say that word.  He said that it was a very bad word and that ladies never said that word.  He told me that I was too pretty and too smart to ever have that word come out of my mouth.

We played card games with our father, and to this day, he still laughs about them.  Our favorite game to play was "Old Maid".  He obligatorily let us win a few times in a row and then he started winning.  We didn't like that at all, so we took a break.  During our break, Amie and I put a tiny smear of chocolate on the old maid card so that we would know not to pick it. 

Of course, he noticed it, but he let us think we got him.  After every game, he asked, "Now how did I end up with that Old Maid again?"  Amie and I giggled and giggled thinking we pulled one over on the country's best bank burglar.

I would go to the bathroom and get paper towels and Daddy wrote math problems on them.  When I completed them correctly, I could see the pride in his eyes.  He always thought I was the smartest little girl he had ever seen.  He still does.

I've been to many prisons since Leavenworth, and I've become a decent prison food critic.  Leavenworth had the best lunches ever because they would order from KFC (back when it was still Kentucky Fried Chicken).  A guard (or c.o., as the inmates call them) walked around to each table like a waiter and took our chicken order and collected our money. 

There also were vending machines for snacks and pop in the visiting room.  Amie and I played all over the visiting room with the other children who thought this was a normal vacation.  On one occasion, Amie and I decided to try to get one of our dolls into the vending machine, so we pushed her up the tiny opening where the pop cans came out on old vending machines.  Of course, she got stuck.  We pulled and pulled, but only managed to get her body out.  Her head was still in the pop machine. 

The guard couldn't get the doll's head out, so he called my father.  In a couple seconds, the man who blasted through bank vaults pulled a doll's head out of a pop machine.  My daddy could do anything!

When the fifth, and last, day of visiting rolled around, it was a sad one, especially as the clock got closer to 3:00.  We hung onto our father for dear life. 

Finally, it was time to leave him again.  We told him we loved him through our tears.  He told us he loved us, and he always told us to be good little girls for our mother.  Daddy tried to comfort us by telling us that everything would be alright soon.

We nodded our heads, but we knew better.
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01 May, 2011

Happiness


I get misty-eyed as I look at the picture of the federal prison at Leavenworth, but the would-be tears aren't ones of sadness; rather, they are ones of happiness.

I know this sounds strange to adults who never experienced this as a child, but Leavenworth was a place of happiness for me.  Even as I write this, I have a smile on my face thinking of the happiness this building held for me.

When we visited my father, we stayed at one of the two hotels in town, the Ramada Inn or the Cody Hotel.  Amie and I preferred the Ramada, so my mother always tried to book our rooms there.  They had breakfast at the hotel and we even got to jump on the beds for a few minutes!

A bus would come to take almost all of the hotel's guests to the prison (because the prison was the only reason anyone was there), but we never rode in the bus.  My mother always called for a taxi , and when the taxi came, she always said the same thing, "We are going to the federal penitentiary."  She never used the word "prison"; she thought it sounded pedestrian.

We were always dressed to the nines.  We visited for five days, and my mother wore a suit each day, and each day Amie and I wore $100 outfits.  She said my father liked to show us off to his friends and she didn't want to embarrass him by not looking the best that we possibly could.  All of that really does matter in the prison world.

When the taxi pulled into the circular driveway of the prison and passed all the guards holding guns, I always thought the same thing:  The building was the most beautiful and majestic one I had ever seen, even in books and magazines.

As soon as we walked into the building, we went to a tiny window where my mother showed her driver's license and our birth certificates.  Then we went into a small room where we sat and waited with all the other visitors for what seemed like hours.  Finally, we heard it over the loudspeaker in the corner of the room:  "Visit for Dinsio." 

We jumped up and went to barred, sliding prison doors, just like the ones you see on television.  We could hear them unlock (by the way, that's what "the sound" is in between scenes on "Law and Order"; anyone who has ever heard that sound would recognize it anywhere), and then we walked through a metal detector and through another set of prison doors into the visiting room.

The visiting room was a long room with rows of orange and green padded seats (it WAS the 1970's) against each of the long walls, with a small table placed in front of every fourth or fifth seat.  On the other side of that table was a green or orange chair that was for the inmate.

The inmates came out of a door at the end of the visiting room.  My tiny heart would beat faster every time the door opened.  Then my tiny heart would sink.  Finally, the door would open, and it was my daddy!  My sister and I always screamed, "Daddy!" and  took off running down the floor of the long room into his waiting arms. 

Everything in the whole world was suddenly good.