#55strong: As Strike Continues, Teachers Reflect on Their Roles as Educators

Part 3Final Day 5 of Teacher Walkout

Note: I am a substitute teacher who works part-time in Monongalia and Preston counties. I’m also writing a book about the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. This book will look at our culture and the state of failing education—and examine what contributes to such tragedies, while exploring how we can stop them.

Update: As of noon today, teachers meeting with officials in Charleston are so angry that it’s possible the strike may continue tomorrow, Thursday, March 1, even though I wrote this based on media reports saying it will end today. If you are a parent, I’ve included a link showing state school closings. If you need food for your children, please reach out to the local agencies mentioned below. As I learn more, I will update my blog accordingly.

Update: At approximately 10:44 p.m. the last holdout fell, and all of West Virginia turned red. The statewide strike continues. As of 10:39 p.m., only Jefferson County schools remain open tomorrow. As of 9:50 p.m., only schools in Hampshire, Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson counties remain open. As of 9:28 p.m. schools in only 7 counties remain open. As of 9:05 p.m., public schools only remain open in 17 counties tomorrow. As of 9 p.m., public schools in 18 out of 55 counties are now closed tomorrow. As of 8:37 p.m., public schools in 33 out of 55 counties will be closed tomorrow. I look for that number to grow, as the night continues.

* * *

Having a shortage of more than 700 teachers throughout the state means it isn’t uncommon for a substitute to receive six calls a day to teach. My own phone begins ringing at 5 a.m. But in a simple case of supply and demand, where the demand greatly outweighs the supply, there aren’t enough substitutes to meet the need, either. This leaves classrooms without teachers.

What happens to the unsupervised students? They’re sent to other classrooms, increasing the teacher to student ratio. That may not seem like a problem—until you realize that some of those overfilled classrooms contain students with behavior problems.

Behavioral disorders are on the rise, leading to high rates of troubling behavior in public schools. As details emerged about the school shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the world learned of a very troubled young man, who before that was an extremely troubled child. After being struck by a violent student while working in one of my substitute assignments, I began reflecting on the various factors that must have coalesced, long before Nikolas Cruz became a school shooter.

Sadly, I’m not alone. Many teachers and aides who work with this population leave school sporting scratches, bruises, broken glasses, or worse. This is one reason teachers are in short supply—and why more might leave the profession.

Li Cheng is one such teacher. Before coming to the Mountain State, she taught in her native Taiwan. Cheng has 15 years experience. “It’s very challenging . . . I have more kids and their behaviors are so difficult to deal with,” Cheng, a Chinese teacher at Mountainview Elementary, said. “I love the kids here, and the people . . . (but) the kids here deserve a better education.”

As a long-time crime reporter, I know that verbal threats meet the legal definition of assault. Battery is when a student physically strikes a teacher. Every day teachers are victims of assault and battery in West Virginia schools. As they are in all 50 states, leaving the nation with an acute shortage of teachers—and substitutes.

If an average citizen filed criminal charges after such an assault, the accused could wind up behind bars. Rarely does that happen to students, though. They’re simply sent to the office—where administrators often send them right back to class. Time and again, one Mon County teacher told me Tuesday. Why? In part, because there’s a lot of red tape involved in dealing with this population. Red tape that few administrators have time for these days.

Take one principal who texted me. This man, who requested anonymity, has already accumulated 182 uncompensated work hours this year. Last year he accumulated 243. This doesn’t include the two hours per work he spends working from home—a limit he set “to save my marriage.”

So teachers aren’t the only ones whose salaries are sharply reduced, by continuing to work long past a normal 40-hour workweek. Principals likewise suffer.

Given this, and the fact that—hour for hour—teachers here earn less than the state minimum wage, that they are regularly attacked by students, and don’t always have support from administrators, why do they do it?

In a word, love.

In spite of all the above and more, teachers dearly love their students, whom they view as their own children. I know this because I’m a fourth-generation teacher. Before the onset of Parkinson’s, my mother was a regular classroom teacher, as were her mother and grandmother. Mom was in her late 40s when she began her teaching career at West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, driving all over the state to help preschoolers who had special needs. I recently met the mother of one of my mother’s former students in a local school where I was subbing. “We loved Miss Eileen,” this parent told me.

And “Miss Eileen” loved her students right back. As do most teachers. I already knew this, but when I asked fellow teachers to send me personal stories testifying to that love, one teacher’s words stood out. In telling what her workday is like, she speaks for all teachers. That teacher, who requested anonymity, sent me the following raw and unedited text message:

“I arrive at work up to an hour early each day. I spend most of my planning period answering emails, following up on notes from colleagues, or preparing for the afternoon classes so I do planning and grading at home, usually an hour each week day, and I set aside 5-10 hours on the weekend to finish it up and review the prior week’s progress or what needs reviewed. Some grading sessions are longer than others because of the projects I like to assign. I have graded papers during my daughter’s lacrosse game. I have held parent conversations via text message while sitting in a thin hospital gown with an IV in my wrist and a monitor on my unborn child. In fact I’ve had parent conversations everywhere from standing at a gas pump to the checkout aisle of the grocery store, from waiting in line to watch my kids in a parade to literally having to shush someone because they wanted to talk about their kid while we were in church. My husband often laughs when we go to local football games because I never see the game… I am always talking either to parents or students and making sure to be there for them all.

But the thing is…I do not mind any of that. I only begin to mind when told how teachers are lazy and don’t deserve reasonable health care or an adequate income. During the summer I regularly review my lessons and standards, researching additional things of interest, shop for kids and classroom, stockpile some things I keep on hand, such as snack packs of crackers, feminine hygiene items, and deodorant. WV does not require parents to provide supplies, so each summer I keep an eagle eye on every possible back to school sale. I purchase no less than 100 spiral 1-subject notebooks. I also purchase pencils, highlighters, my own copy paper, sanitizer, clorox wipes, kleenex, index cards, etc. A local church often supplies some things when we have a severe deficit, for which we are grateful. I have also purchased posters, resources, videos, and games related to what we are learning. I also pay for a quizlet teacher account, along with planbook, and a few other things. My classroom has over $1000 of my money on bookshelves, invested in scholastic books and yard sales so I can provide reading opportunities for my kids. I like using scholastic, because accrued bonus points can be spent on special items or supplies. Until recently I worked a part time job in addition to make sure what I spend didn’t impact my family negatively.

Also as for time spent- I have begged on donorschoose for books and supplies. Many teachers I know go to World Vision (at least an hour’s drive, after working all day) up to 4 times a year to take advantage of their free supplies for teachers and we share freely with teachers, students, counselors, and programs that need them. I can’t calculate what I spend in money or time, but my kids are worth it. However, my colleagues and I are worth more than our lawmakers think, too.”


That educator is far from alone.

Teacher Stacy Borror works “at least 55 hours a week at my teaching job if not more . . . I rarely leave before 5 most days, even Fridays.” She does lesson plans at home during weekends, and researches “better ways of presenting lessons to my students.” In addition, Borror spends an annual $300-400 out of her own pocket on students.

“Our students are like our own children. We care deeply and want the very best for them,” Borror said. “This is killing me to be out of school for the reasons that we are. I’m not sleeping well and I have a high level of anxiety right now. By no means is this fun, exciting, or something we look forward to . . .”

Kristy Shinkovich is just as dedicated. So dedicated, in fact, her young son, Casey, joined her on the picket line in Sabraton. Among the ways she has gone above and beyond is to replace a student’s broken book bag; pass along all of her own and her children’s outgrown clothing for less fortunate children; bring in items to use for Halloween costumes; and buy popcorn, hot cocoa and other supplies for “sharpen the saw” parties—designed to reward good behavior in the classroom, and based on Franklin Covey principles.

“The things I do are not unusual at my school,” Shinkovich said. “We all are there for the right reasons—all 760 of them.”

The following account of real-life educators who are heroes to their students comes from Mon County teachers who wish to remain anonymous.

“One of our students at Mon County Technical Education Center didn’t have running water for a few days during . . . the frigid cold days,” one teacher said. “Our carpentry teacher and building maintenance teacher went to his house and tried to fix it. They couldn’t get the hot water fixed. But they could get the cold water so (the family) could use the bathroom and brush their teeth.” Those two teachers were so concerned, she said, by “the conditions the student lived in, we had a food drive and clothing drive for him and his siblings.”

Another teacher has taken “papers to grade, lesson plans to write” to doctors’ appointments, soccer games, and even her own child’s basketball games.

“As a school we collect money from the staff so we can buy Christmas gifts for students. The ones we know won’t have any thing to open,” said one teacher. “We always have bread and peanut butter at school, for those students that may not get lunch.”

Our teachers “helped a student a few years ago go to prom. I contacted a local business and they donated the tux. Then we asked for donations from (fellow) teachers to help him buy a corsage, get a haircut, and pay for . . . dinner and gas.”

Such love for students is what prompted WV teachers to make sure their young charges were well fed during the work stoppage. “West Virginia is known for generations of hardship and poverty, and many children simply don’t have enough food,” Julia Hamilton, director of Monongalia Extended Day Learning, said.

After their father was laid off from the coal mines, my four children qualified for free hot lunches. Those meals were crucial since my own kitchen cupboards were then almost bare. This national program has grown in recent years, especially here in West Virginia. In 2011, according to the West Virginia KIDS COUNT program, 53-percent of West Virginia schoolchildren received free or reduced meals. (In Mon County, that number is 37-percent; in neighboring Preston, it’s 49-percent.)

But we also have an abundance of people who can and do help the less fortunate among us—especially when children are involved. Appalachians do not let children go hungry.

“It’s been phenomenal to see the support we’ve received from the community because,” Hamilton said. “It takes a village and this particular community has proved that we can provide for, not only our students and families, but our staff members who are struggling at this time.”

Parents, this state website tells you if your child’s school is closed.

When it became obvious teachers would walk out, the first thing they did was begin collecting foodstuffs to prevent hunger. Here in Monongalia County, that effort began one week ago. “Donations of food came from parents, from teachers, from other students. As the food was collected, teachers were responsible for bagging and distributing that food the Wednesday before we left,” teacher and Mon County Education Association (MCEA) rep Heather DeLucea-Nestor said. Westwood School collected 55 bags of food; South Middle rounded up another 69 bags. “After we knew we had a surplus of food and kids had what they needed, the rest of the food was taken to (local churches to hand out),” she added.

Hamilton took the lead in getting all that food to where it needed to be, dropping it off at places like Scott’s Run Settlement House, Pantry Plus, and Kingdom EMC Church. While other Mon County teachers drove to the statewide rally in Charleston held before the walkout began, Hamilton was a one-woman food maven.

Several schools contacted her last week, saying they had a surplus of food that “most of (the) elementary and middle schools could distribute. We’re very fortunate here in Mon County, that we have . . . four extra boxes of fruit (so) where are we going to take this?” Hamilton said. “But UHS (University High School) had about 900 meals they were unable to get out before school dismissed (last) Wednesday,” the same day Hamilton posted the distribution locations on her agency’s Facebook page, so parents would know where to find free food.

Parents, you can apply for free or reduced meals for your children here.

On Thursday morning, on day one of the walkout, Hamilton, UHS administrators, and maintenance staff transported those meals to her office. “We had boxes and boxes of (perishable) fruits, so I contacted (local agencies, churches, and food pantries) so they could give out to students in their care, or students who came in specifically so they would have a lunch meal.”

One of the distribution points is Atomic Grill, located at the Kingwood Pike and Greenbag Road intersection. The restaurant, under new ownership, is a favorite spot for many locals who favor farm-to-table cuisine and gluten-free fare. Owner Teddy Edwards was happy to help. “I’ve always been a supporter of the teachers . . . especially in Morgantown, and I wanted to show my support and this is my way of doing it.” Edwards said. “We teamed up with them to have a centralized location at Atomic Grill for parents to come by and for (teachers) to distribute the food.” That distribution site will continue until the work stoppage ends tonight. As of 9 p.m., Mon County schools remain open tomorrow. That is subject to change, however.

Edwards also wanted to help because he’s father to two sons who have their own opinions about the strike. In addition to wanting West Virginia teachers to have healthcare that’s “on par with the rest of the country . . . (my boys) do feel like teachers are underpaid and they should be paid a wage that reflects their civic duty and … their dedication and obligation to the schools and kids.”

Edwards pointed out that many teachers are a family’s primary breadwinners, unlike how society views the profession. “It’s almost looked at as an alternative income in some places . . . That’s what’s sad about it,” he said.

Unlike teachers here, Edwards said, “with their tips, (my staff) earn much more. They average closer to $16-18 an hour with us.”

The four-day work stoppage has finally resulted in what looks like a decent pay raise for teachers. But the last week has also reaffirmed some vital lessons about Almost Heaven itself.

“West Virginia is a state that’s pretty well known for its struggles and Appalachia is a place that’s routinely suffering, most notably economically,” Hamilton said, “but it’s encouraging to see our state leading the charge in … addressing labor concerns and economic inequality.”

Too, she said it’s “heartwarming to see not only that, but the response from the communities we served. Because the Appalachia I grew up with is one that had endless neighbors that are willing to pitch in and help when times get tough, even if they themselves are struggling.”

Hamilton speaks for many of the business owners, parents, and even students who have shown support for the state’s educators. The last week “has been no exception. We’ve had endless lines of parents and community members who are dropping off breakfast and coffee and ponchos to our teachers who are standing on the picket lines or calling our office to see how they can support kids during their time away from school. So no matter what kind of struggle it is that we’re facing—and it seems to always be something—we do have a tendency to face it together.”

* * * * *

Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

#55strong: “Rumor Has It . . . Legislators Said We Could Rot”

Part 2—Day 3 of the Teachers’ Walkout

Note: I am a substitute teacher who works part-time in Monongalia and Preston counties. I’m also writing a book about the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. This book will look at our culture and the state of failing education—and examine what contributes to such tragedies, while exploring how we can stop them.

* * *

Preston County native Ashley Jenkins was substitute teaching by day and waitressing by night when she was struck by an epiphany.

It happened while waiting for her dream job, which was not in education. “That’s when it occurred to me that I would be really sad to give up teaching,” Jenkins said. “I really like my job.”

Jenkins’ first foray into the classroom was day by day, as a temporary sub. Then a position as a long-term Spanish substitute opened up. It was only a half-day of work, and required her to drive between Kingwood and Rowlesburg schools, a distance of 12 miles each way. But then, Aurora Middle School reopened. With that came the need for a Spanish teacher. Jenkins finally had a full-time job, but she was commuting from Kingwood to Rowlesburg to Aurora—and back again. That’s 50 miles a day.

There are two ways to reach Aurora from Rowlesburg. Neither of which is for the fainthearted. You can take formidable Route 50 or take Route 7, and crawl up Caddell Mountain to Terra Alta. But that route often leaves drivers stuck in long lines of traffic following logging trucks going 35 miles per hour. Coming back down the steep hillside, it’s not uncommon for a trucker to burn up his brakes, leading to a fatality like the one I covered in the late 1980s. (Which resulted in a runaway truck ramp being carved into the side of the mountain.)

Taking Route 50 involves driving up and down Laurel Mountain, on one of the windiest roads in the country. Just ask the truck drivers who make a living traversing it. And watch out for those infamous Preston County winters. Route 50 is famous for its hairpin turns, nicknamed “kiss your butt” curves because truckers can see the rear axels on their trailers at one end, even after the tractor they’re driving has come through the other end. These perilous stretches of road are known to result in many such jackknifed vehicles.

Route 7 isn’t any better: the snowstorms that strike Terra Alta, which in Latin means “high ground,” blow bitter and hard, sweeping snow so high the white stuff completely closes Evans Curve. This doesn’t even take into account the Aurora Pike where, although offering panoramic views of scenic farmland, is far narrower and not as well maintained as the two state highways.

It’s a trek many a teacher must make to reach their classrooms.

“On paper they give you 30 minutes between schools,” Jenkins said. “But it took longer . . . I was physically exhausted every day, so when this (full-time Spanish) position opened at Preston High School, I felt like I had to take it.”

That’s just one of the ways Jenkins, like many Preston County teachers I interviewed, goes above and beyond for her job. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Jenkins drove 50 miles a day for more than two years because of the children she teaches. As a whole, teachers don’t seem to care much about the nuts and bolts of their jobs, such as how much money they earn. If they did, they’d be in another profession entirely. They care about their young charges, and the hungry minds entrusted to them, the ones they strive to instill a love of learning into.

In addition to those miles, Jenkins made other, after-school trips to attend her Aurora students’ cross-country track meets and school dances, “which was brutal.”

By the time teachers throughout West Virginia walked out last week, severe cuts in Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) benefits—to all state employees, not just teachers—had already reduced take-home pay. In terms of income, West Virginia teachers rank 48th in the nation, and further cuts proposed by this year’s session of the legislature would have slashed their paychecks even more.

The situation is more dire than the 1990 strike I covered, in which 47 out of 55 counties took part.

Considering that the majority of teachers go above and beyond, they felt like they simply couldn’t remain silent. They had to stand up and fight.

You don’t have to look very far to find such dedicated teachers. I know one retired teacher who devoted an entire bedroom to her students, storing classroom supplies there. Supplies she bought and paid for with her own money.

Teachers do this all the time—especially in West Virginia, where education dollars continue to shrink. I’ve even known teachers who have brought toilet paper from home, since notebook paper isn’t the only kind schools can’t afford to purchase.

“I would buy posters and papers and notebooks for my kids,” Brian Bailey, a former special education teacher, said. “Decorations for the classroom, ink for the printers. I spaced it out so not too much (came) out of a paycheck. When Walmost ran back-to-school sales . . . single-subject notebooks went down to 10-cents each,” Bailey said.

Barb Stafford, another retired teacher, did likewise. “I did a lot of that in the summertime, before school started. You could get them in bulk and squirrel them away and hand them out during the school year.”

If the average West Virginia teacher makes $45,622, as state officials say, then that amount is reduced at least a few hundred dollars by these purchases. If not more. But most teachers here simply do not make nearly that much. “I’m not making $45,622, I’ll tell you that right now,” Jenkins said. I don’t know anyone in my hallway, with the possible exception of the guy with 30-odd years of experience, who might be.”

Tom Bane, a regional staff rep with WVEA, said “that number seems high to me personally, but there’s no way to dispute it.” Even if the figure is correct, Bane said it’s going to begin dropping dramatically. “So many teachers are within five years of retirement that, as they retire, it’s going to lower (the average),”

This is because hundreds of West Virginia teachers retire every year. So the lower average will come about because teachers with less seniority will make up the majority. Since first year teachers with a bachelor’s degree earn $32,675, it’s possible we could see the average salary dip closer to $40,000. Or less.

There’s more to the salary issue than meets the eye. For example, teachers can’t just stop working after a 40-hour week. Their classroom time may equal 40 hours, but they also have papers to grade, and prom duty and sporting events to attend. Add to that workload the task of answering students’ email.

“With things becoming more digital, our commitments outside the classroom are changing,” Jenkins said. “We use LiveGrades (an online student grading system) now and my students expect me to answer messages. I tell them if you send it after school, I’m not likely to get it.”

Teachers are rarely paid for additional hours spent outside the classroom. But they say that time isn’t optional—their students’ grades depend on it. This fact is borne out by Jenkins’ experience. As a new teacher, she couldn’t understand why her students weren’t performing well. In that class, which she acquired after another substitute left, 50-percent of the students were failing.

Jenkins thought she doing something wrong. Not knowing what else to do, she sought advice from more experienced teachers. “Jim Davis was a teacher on my floor and he helped me so much. Anytime I had a student who was just refusing to do work or acting out, instead of locking horns with that student right away, I’d go down the hall and talk to Jim and say, ‘Hey, what’s the deal with this kid? What can I do?’” Jenkins said. “A kid who would dig in his heels and do nothing for me, Jim could sit down with and five minutes later, the kid will do whatever you want because (Jim) knows the family, he’s had that kid’s older siblings, he knows the kids’ parents, he’s driven that kid to little league when nobody else would take them. That’s the advantage of a senior teacher.”

Senior teachers like Davis pass along this knowledge to new teachers, which helps successive generations of children succeed.

“I was under the impression that I was not preparing (the lesson plans) well enough. So I (put) in a ton of time after school coming up with better ways to teach, and more comprehensive assignments,” Jenkins said.

Until Davis told her “that’s probably not the problem.” Instead, he suggested she show personal interest in her students.

“Have you gone to any of the youth league games yet?” Jenkins said Davis asked her, the first time she approached him. His simple advice led her to begin attending those games. The result was nothing short of amazing.

“By the end (of the year), most (students) were passing,” she said.

Because of his seniority, Davis knew that poverty could interfere with a child’s ability to learn—something Jenkins had yet to discern. “They might not necessarily see the value of an education, yet they do eventually,” Jenkins said Davis taught her. “It’s your personal connection with the students that makes them want to try, to work, for you.”

Educators who put this knowledge into practice find it pays off. Showing personal interest in a student, his interests, and his family is crucial. That’s why so many teachers don’t mind not getting paid for putting in extra hours at a late-night sporting event. “The good news about a large staff at Preston High is,” Jenkins said, “I know some teachers go to volleyball, so I can do track . . . We represent all sports.”

Still, Jenkins admits the hectic schedule can take its toll. “If I’m overworked and have to grade papers until 8 p.m., you ask (yourself) if you can do it—or do I need to go home and sleep so I can teach again tomorrow?”

Today’s teachers understand that their workload isn’t decreasing. “We have very full classrooms, and 45 minutes (to a class). It’s really hard to have the time between managing (what we do). We’re really starved for resources,” Jenkins said.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t try to continue to do the best we can because they’re (the kids) our number one priority,” Bailey said. “But it is hard with limited resources and more (certification) requirements to meet those needs. And when we’re short staffed, that hurts as well.”

Still, Bailey’s attitude is shared by most teachers I know. By the teachers who taught me, and other teachers who taught my children. “I work with kids to help them succeed and achieve. Does it make it harder? Do I come home exhausted where I can’t take care of things (like family responsibilities)?” Bailey said it does, “but I prioritize so the kids come first.”

These same teachers know that, hour for hour, compared to what state lawmakers make, they themselves earn a pittance. West Virginia legislators earn $20,000—for 60 days of work in the statehouse. It’s the equivalent of a part-time job. And on top of a salary, those lawmakers receive $131 per diem for each of those 60 days, which adds another $7,860 to their pay.

Before becoming dean of students at East Preston Middle School in Terra Alta, Davis spent 26 years in the classroom. “I usually worked 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., sometimes longer (plus another) six to eight hours in the weekend,” he said. In addition, he worked “two weeks in the summer and two to three days (each) over Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.”

The total? Davis estimates he worked an average “55-60 hours a week.”

Besides her time inside the classroom, Jenkins spends two hours at home each Sunday creating lesson plans. She estimates she works eight or 10 hours a week outside the classroom. Three days a week she doesn’t leave PHS until 6:30 p.m. Those are the days she grades papers.

“During cross country season, I try to attend as many as I can,” Jenkins said, “(but during those weeks) or prom week, it could be 15-20 additional hours.”

Here’s the kicker: Jenkins made more money as a food server. “My take home was higher as a waitress (and) in general, I was treated with more respect,” she said. “People appreciate that waiters are working hard for their money. It’s very rare that you ask a customer to pay and they roll their eyes and say ‘no.’ You might take a significant amount of disrespect from the students.”

This attitude can be seen everywhere. “You just have to watch a teen movie to know that public perception of teachers is not in your favor,” Jenkins said, citing the popular teen movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “Between the legislature and popular culture, teachers seem to get a bum rap.”

Thus the problem of low morale affecting West Virginia’s teachers.

Plus, teachers here don’t even make the state minimum wage of $8.75 an hour. Not even if you take the average salary of $45,622 and divide by 55—the average number of hours several teachers calculated they work each week. This means teachers here earn roughly $8.29 an hour—to carry out a job that involves training tomorrow’s leaders. They do this in an increasingly dangerous environment, as the recent school shooting in Florida makes evident. Inside schools, where teachers turn into human shields, in a desperate attempt to protect children from bullets.

These problems, this disparity, have educators fuming. And in large part, it’s due to politicians who continue to show they do not value education, or the teachers behind it.

“We did everything we could,” Jenkins said. “They had between 10-15,000 of us on a Saturday, in the rain, standing out in front of the Capitol saying ‘do something,’ and . . . I’m no longer getting responses back from my legislators, from anyone. We’ve all emailed, called.”

Bailey said teachers feel even less appreciated, when they hear what legislators say about them behind closed doors. “Rumor has it (there were) three or four legislators who said we could rot. They were probably the same ones who last year said teachers could get a second job, (or) turn off (the) Internet.”

* * * * *

Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

A Wheelchair for John

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One month later, John has a new set of wheels. The motorized wheelchair, a gift from a local woman who knows exactly how essential such a chair is, has given John back his freedom.

I met John four weeks ago on a snowy Sunday, at the intersection of Route 119 and the Exit 1 off-ramp for Interstate 68. Mine was the second car to stop at the traffic light, which had turned red. That position placed me right beside a man in a wheelchair, asking for donations. When I saw he had a disability—one which could cow even the strongest of individuals—my heart went out to him.

John, you see, has no legs, and only one arm. But he has a smile that will melt your heart, and not one ounce of self-pity.

I couldn’t drive away without giving him something. Without any cash, I offered him the only thing in my car worth having: a leftover cinnamon roll from a nearby Cinnabon. We introduced ourselves and John gratefully accepted my meager gift. But as I reached out the window to hand him the boxed dessert, John dropped it. I watched as he tried using his club hand to pick it up, insisting he could do it.

He couldn’t. Torn between heartbreak and not wanting him to feel helpless, I finally opened my car door. Before I could get out, though, the driver in front of me ran toward us. He picked up the box, and then handed John some cash.

During that brief minute or two, I asked John if he received help from our local social services. That’s how I learned he needed a new wheelchair. His electric chair broke, and he was using a manual one that he could barely maneuver on his own.

When the light turned green I drove away, in my warm, dry car. Wearing nice clothes, my belly full. All I could think of was how cold and snowy it was, how light John’s clothing was, and how much he struggled to accomplish such a simple task. A task that, for most of us, would be as mindless as taking our next breath.

I wanted to reach out to other people, to tell them about John’s plight. Before I even changed out of my dress clothes, I posted John’s story on Facebook. “So, since this is supposed to be the season for giving, if you can, please do. After all, it’s Sunday. And it’s really cold outside,” I posted.

Within minutes, several people commented. They wanted to know if he was homeless. Another woman from Clarksburg, about 45 minutes away, was ready to drive here with a wheelchair for John. The only problem was, it was a manual chair, too. By the time we figured that out, I had driven back to the intersection, where I learned that John wasn’t homeless. In fact, he just obtained housing. I took his phone number and promised to help him find a working electric wheelchair.

That happened today, when Tammy Belldina from Rainbow Tire, over in Preston County, finally met John, when she gave him his “new” electric chair. This chair, however, isn’t just another mode of transportation. It’s John’s legs.

Tammy and I, fellow Prestonians, have been working together for weeks now, trying to make this happen. Tammy has a heart as big as Texas. Which is why she insisted on buying a new $200 battery for the chair—so John wouldn’t have to. (Most of us wouldn’t know how expensive such equipment is; Tammy told me these chairs can cost $5,000 or more.)

Along the way, we’ve both gotten to John better. I learned that he knows how to, and can even drive, a vehicle. In the past, he’s held down various jobs. One year ago, though, his other arm was amputated due to blood clots—the same thing that happened to both his legs. I can’t go into details, but John has what seems like a good medical malpractice case, and I hope we can find a good attorney for him.

Meanwhile, Tammy suggested we begin a fundraiser of sorts. That fundraiser begins right now. John supports his family of three (including his daughter) on less money per month than I live on myself. We’re asking you to send him checks or even gift cards that will help him purchase some essentials for his family.

Tammy has a special request. “Let’s make sure that little girl gets some Christmas presents, and John has some warm clothes to wear,” she said.

I’m personally asking you to help John because, for the last month, he’s helped me. He’s given me a reason to focus on someone other than myself and my own problems. Problems that include the death of a spouse and a lost daughter. After a year away from my typewriter, I’m 5,000 words into the trilogy that began with Sister of Silence.

Jesus Christ was right: there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving. Helping John has helped me. Plus, as Steve Maraboli says, “a kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” Who knew, that in giving a stranger some leftover food, I would be the one who was healed?

If you can spare a few dollars to help, I will be indebted to you. Please send any donations to: “Daleen Berry, in care of Friends of John,” Citizens Bank, 265 High Street, Morgantown, WV 26508. I will personally see that John gets every penny, and acknowledges your gift.

After all, ‘tis the season.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market Hopes to Spread the Word: “We Accept EBT and WIC!”

I love farmer’s markets. They remind me of the rich, dark earth I played in as a child. There, every spring, I would help my mother dig long, somewhat straight rows in the garden, drop in tiny seeds, cover them with soil, and then watch them shoot up through the ground, turning from a tiny tendril to a fully formed, sun-ripened tomato, ear of corn, green bean or other delicious vegetable.

Ashey Reece, local SNAP coordinator, talks about using EBT cards at the farmer’s market.

We didn’t have much money for food, so growing our own was vital. In today’s housing economy, fewer people have enough land for a garden, making farmer’s markets around the country a necessity. Especially for low-income folks, who, sadly, may not frequent them—because they don’t know the produce is actually quite affordable. It’s also far better for you than anything in a supermarket, since produce can travel thousand of miles to reach you, making it almost outdated by the time it arrives.

Not only that, but the Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market—like others of its kind—accepts the same form of payment my mother and I both as single parents: WIC benefits and food stamps (currently known as EBT cards). Provided by SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, these benefits are available here in West Virginia and around the county.

What you may not know, however, is that before long, every EBT dollar you spend at the Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market has the potential to become two. In other words, shopping at your local farmer’s market could double your dollars. All we need to do is spread the word, since few people who pay for their groceries with an EBT card (or who use WIC) know that the farmer’s market gladly accepts these forms of payment.

Ashley Reece, the local SNAP coordinator, wants folks to receive $2 of fresh produce in return for $1 EBT dollar. All that’s needed is to get more EBT consumers to shop at the Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon (located in Westover) markets. Then, in turn, a grant can help turn Ashley’s goal of providing quality food to local families into a reality.

Farmer’s markets like the one in Morgantown are crucial to people from all walks of life. I know this personally because in 2009 my daughter and I began a weekly excursion to the Oakland-Grand Lake Farmer’s Market, easily the best one of its kind in the Bay Area of California, and chock full of farm fresh goodies from around the region. This market, not far from Lake Merritt, also featured fresh flowers, pretty plants, food vendors, and—my personal favorite—live music. Those early Saturday morning forays were better than any festival I’ve ever attended.

They were also far healthier, featuring natural, organic, and pesticide-free food. Which is why I was thrilled when the Morgantown Area Farmer’s Market decided to expand a few years ago. Now you can shop in the shade, where, on Saturday morning from 8:30-noon, a parking lot beside the Spruce Street United Methodist Church transforms into a fragrant food stand, even featuring produce that was plucked from the garden only a few hours earlier.

I guarantee you will not find food this delicious at your local grocery store. You won’t find the farmers who grew it there, either, ready to answer your questions and personally serve you from the bounty of their hard work.

What you will find is a crowd of milling people, parents with baby slings wrapped around their chests, dogs on short leashes, all sauntering up and down the market picking out organic food such as fresh eggs, garlic scapes, bok choy and leafy greens of every variety, raw honey, cherry tomatoes and cherries, along with a wide variety of homemade baked goods and farm-raised fresh meat—including lamb. Don’t forget to exchange your EBT, paper or plastic dollars for tokens, which can be found at the top of the market closest to the church. You can even say hello to Ashley when you do so.

And remember, farmer’s markets are not just for yuppies, Millenials or the middle class. Widows, single parents, college students, the unemployed, and families down on their luck, so to speak, can all afford to buy the best food available—at area farmers’ markets—thanks to the EBT card.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

People Cite Trump as Reports of Hate Crimes Against Muslims and Gays Increase After Election

First came the stealthy knock, carried out under cover of darkness.

Then the sound of footsteps, running away from the house.

And then, the horrible message: “TRUMP is our president now. Get out of our neighborhood now FAGGOTS!!”

I hate that word. I refuse to utter it and hate to even type it. Or share it on social media, which I felt forced to do today.

Corey Hurley found the note, printed in black ink on a piece of plain notebook paper. It was lying at his feet when he opened the door after being awakened at 3 a.m. Thursday morning.
img_0204
“I was terrified,” Hurley said during a telephone interview. “I knew things were going to start getting a little crazy . . . but I didn’t know it was going to (happen here).”

When I first read the note, posted on a stranger’s Facebook page, I was carried back to 1992. To the day when I took time off work to visit the principal at Kingwood Elementary School, an hour away from Clarksburg – and begged administrators to stop the harassment and name calling. The same name as appeared on the paper found at Hurley’s feet, paper that any child in America might use to complete a homework assignment. The same word directed at my son, Zach, then age eight.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the last 24 hours have seen a significant increase in reports of hate speech and hate crimes around the country. Most have been directed at Muslims, but some in the gay community are being targeted, too.

Like happened to Hurley – and his partner, Kyle Chester.

And my son, who in didn’t know even what sex was at age eight. Much less sexual orientation. All he knew was that the boys in his class didn’t like him. And my visits to his school, and even later, a letter from my children’s therapist, did little to change that.

“This one that you sent me (that Hurley and Chester received) looks like one of the more aggressive that I’ve seen on the anti-gay front,” Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, said.

That unit monitors hate crime traffic. Beirich said the Harrison County case is one of “many, many instances we’re hearing about across the country, where people are seemingly victims of what appear to be hate crimes and reference Trump.”
kyle-and-corey
This is the first time since 2008, when another President took office. “We haven’t seen an outbreak of what looks like hate incidents since Obama was elected,” Beirich said, “when something similar happened.”

But then, the SPLC saw a “rash of hate incidents (against) black people,” because some people were angry about having a black President.

It’s a different dynamic now, though. “In this case,” Beirich said, “people who look like they support Trump or have sympathies with Trump are attacking minorities.”

Numerous reports have been fielded, she said, of “Muslims having their headscarves pulled off and a ton of incidents in schools . . . there seems to be a rash of these incidents across the nation.”

By the time Zach was in high school, the situation was no better. “I always got threatened in high school. I didn’t tell you because you would have just made it worse.”

One day during a break from theatre practice, Zach was walking outside near the football field. The players were tossing a ball around when “one of them threw the ball at my head, and very narrowly missed me.” Zach threw the football “all the way across the football field so they had to go into the woods to get it.”

Some of the players approached Zach as he walked back into the school. One boy wanted to fight. “So I just stood up to them and let him get into my face and I wouldn’t back down.” The football player turned and walked away.

Hurley, a lifelong Harrison County, West Virginia, resident, has never experienced this kind of violence. “It’s always been more accepting,” he said. “I’ve never had any problems with my sexuality from people before, so I was kind of shocked to see that it happened here in Clarksburg.”

Frightened and shocked, Hurley woke up Chester, who took action. The Lexington, Kentucky, native made sure their home was secure – and then told Hurley they had to call the police.

They did. Chester spoke to Deputy Chief James Chamberlain, with the Clarksburg City Police Department. And patrol cars drove by “a couple of times” afterward, but that’s all. When Chester called later this morning, an administrative worker told him the police couldn’t do anything else. Not until, Chester said, they had “concrete evidence as to where it came from or who did it.”

It’s difficult to understand how police could gather concrete evidence when, 12 hours later, no officer had shown up to even begin the investigation. I tried to reach Chamberlain, but he did not return my call. However, not long after, Hurley and Chester did get a phone call. They were told to go to the Clarksburg police station and file an official report. A “very nice” officer collected the hateful note left at their door.

So now, the investigation into a potential hate crime has begun.

Beirich said it’s hard not to link this kind of hatred with the President-elect. “Trump is referenced in some way. If you’re going to use the word ‘Trump,’ you obviously think this is somehow connected to your support of the President-elect . . . Given Trump’s xenophobic, racist, and so on comments during the campaign,” she said, “it’s not surprising that some people would feel emboldened to do these things.”

While the SPLC doesn’t yet have a tally for how much hate speech, or how many hate crimes have occurred since Trump became President-elect, Beirich said it’s “several dozen.”

They don’t yet know how serious it is, but sadly, incidents like these are happening in America’s schools. At all grade levels. “We’re particularly concerned about stuff happening in schools, involving children,” Beirich said. Muslim students, especially, are being targeted. Being told to “get out of the country.”

The SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program has specific information available for teachers, to help them deal with the backlash.

“It’s tragic to see this happening,” Beirich said, while urging all victims to report such hatred to police, as well as the SPLC. And urging police to officially investigate.

“Any of those kids could have kicked my (butt),” Zach said. “I stood up to them – no, I didn’t back down from them. There’s a big difference.”

I asked him to clarify.

Zach did. “Standing up to someone is when you realize that something bad is happening and you actually confront them about it. Not backing down is just standing your ground if someone confronts you.”

I asked him if it worked.

“It definitely helped,” Zach said. “If I had acted in a different manner, maybe more submissive, they would have tried to do more. But if you let them know you’re not going to back down, they have a little more respect for you.”

Respect. That’s what this boils down to. It’s all Hurley and Chester really want, too. So they’re getting their friends involved, to help spread this message:

“We’re human beings, too, just like everybody else,” Chester said, “and we deserve the same rights and respect that anybody else does, in any neighborhood across the country.”

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

Destination South: My Long and Winding Literary Trek

I’m on a long and windy literary tour, which, thanks to Hurricane Hermine, has already featured one unexpected detour. While not taking Route 66, which is what I once planned to do, years ago, I am stopping to smell the roses where I can, meeting and writing about people who inspire me along the way. Yes, this is another trip altogether. An entirely different journey.

It felt as hot and muggy in Morgantown, W.Va., (when I hit the road August 31) as it does now in southern Florida, where I arrived Saturday night. Having just returned from a 7 a.m. walk on the beach, I can tell you the air hangs heavy around me, as warm and wet as tepid bath water.

My first stop when leaving my beloved Almost Heaven was Coonskin Drive in Charleston, where my cousin and I made an exchange: her books, which she loaned me, for my pearl earrings, which I forgot at her place in July. My window was open as she reached inside to hand me a tiny package. “Since I wrapped them in tin foil, we don’t want anyone to think we’re doing a drug deal,” she said as we both laughed. (In southern West Virginia, drugs are no laughing matter. Just ask state officials, who sued big pharma for piping the deadly opioids into the state.)

My first week on the road included a five-year overdue stop in Raleigh, N.C., to see friends I met in 2005, who have since become family. There, I heard the most fascinating stories about 1940s North Carolina, when segregation was still a way of life, as a young black woman from the North tried to acclimate to the South, after moving there to live with her husband’s sharecropper family.

My next stopover was in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to visit a friend whose husband is very ill. I landed just ahead of Hermine, which had, by then, been downgraded to a tropical storm. We watched as the rain and wind blew in, and pools of water rose high enough for neighbor children to frolic in. While there, I was again reminded how no one can advocate for your health and welfare better than a family member. And in today’s medical minefield, they must — or risk the consequences of wrong diagnoses and other serious mistakes.

Seeing a fisherman try to reel in a stingray, only to cut the line after a lengthy battle with the giant creature so it could escape, was the highlight of my time there. Next to seeing my dear friends and chatting over ice cream cones while walking along the beach.

After a small mishap involving melted coconut oil that leaked all over my toiletries (Does anyone remember my 2009 honey-in-my-suitcase incident?), and two broken nails – one on my foot, another on my hand – I left Myrtle Beach later than planned, arriving in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday afternoon. There, I stopped to see the DuBose Heyward House, which is on the National Historic Register. Heyward wrote Porgy, the novel that later inspired George Gershwin to create Porgy and Bess, the opera. (I have yet to see it, but it is definitely on my bucket list.)

I took another detour to drive through Botany Bay, a wildlife preserve which features live oak trees lined up along the lane leading to it, stationed like bowing butlers facing. I hadn’t eaten since morning, so I drove east a few more miles, stopping at the edge of the ocean at Edisto Beach. There, I had a meal at a little place where the décor was bright and cheery, and reminded me of my sister, Lisa, who would have turned 50 that day, but for the drugs that ravaged her world.

Because I didn’t make Savannah, Ga., until 7 p.m., I missed seeing Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home. Instead, I stepped through a triple-hung window and onto the balcony, fully enjoying my “room with a view,” as day turned to dusk. Thursday morning, I took a tour of the splendid old city, and did so in a pair of slacks, a loosely woven blouse over my tank top. By 10 a.m., I had shed the blouse. By noon, I shed my pants, after buying – and donning – a sundress. Still, the temperatures were sweltering, and I was reminded of the scene from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, where Vivi Abbott Walker and her friends try to cool off in a convertible one sweltering summer night.

Looking at the gardens from my room with a view in Savannah, Georgia.

I had so much fun walking around the shops and watching the people, and winding my way down (and then back up again, nimble as a billy goat with my new knees) some very steep stairs to River Street, that I barely made the last O’Connor house tour of the day. And that would have been a shame, for there I learned that Mary Flannery and I have in common a book that surely helped formed her into the writer she became, and possibly did me, as well. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which the tour guide said Flannery performed as live readings for her friends in her bathroom as a little girl. (I also love peacocks, although I’ve never raised them, as she did.) I could not leave without purchasing a copy of the book whose title made such an impact on me as a short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. It is sad that she died so young of lupus, but what an incredible wealth of written works she left behind.

Next time, please join me as I make my way to other points south, as this literary trek continues.

Flannery O’Connor childhood home

The bathroom where Mary Flannery entertained her friends as a little girl; “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” is in the background.

The mantle in Mary Flannery’s bedroom features family photos.

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Ms. Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

USPS Gives New Meaning to “Gone Postal”

I am currently without address. Unlike people who are without country, however, it isn’t that I don’t have one. I do. It’s just that the United States Postal Service and I can’t agree on where that is.

The problem began in February, while I was in Florida on book tour. I quickly found it wasn’t cheap or efficient to have someone pick up my mail and forward it to me. So I drove to the local Pompano Beach Post Office and filled out a form for mail to be temporarily forwarded there. By late March, I still hadn’t received a single piece of mail. Even the medical records my doctor tried to send me directly were returned. The envelope carried a stamp reminiscent of an Elvis Presley song: “Not at this address. Return to sender.”

Apparently, according to the USPS, I wasn’t in Florida. (I have no idea where they thought I was, given my umpteen trips to the post office to try and find out why I wasn’t getting any mail.) I knew then another trip to the post office was in order. Once there, a manager suggested I fill out yet another forwarding form. So I did.

By the time April wound down and I returned home, I still had not received one piece of mail. After arriving back in the Mountain State, I drove to my local Morgantown Post Office. That’s where I learned that none of my mail had been forwarded. It was all waiting for me right there. As it turns out, if your personal address doubles for that of a business, which mine does, the USPS won’t forward any mail.

It would have been really nice if someone in Pompano had told me that in March. That day I put in a quick call to the manager who had been helping me, and asked her to make sure that any and all forwarding orders had been stopped. After about fifteen minutes on hold, she returned to the phone and told me she herself had rescinded the forwarding order. Life was good. Or so I thought.

Apparently not. Because when I went to pay my box rent recently, I discovered that the box was closed—because in its infinite wisdom, the USPS decided I was living in Florida. So, effective July 29, two days before my one-year rental expired—someone decided to forward both my personal and business mail to Pompano.

I tried to file an online complaint with the USPS, but, as has happened again and again these past six months, they rejected it. Repeatedly. I don’t know if there’s a conflict between their site and my Mac, or my Safari browser or the ISP, but whatever glitch occurred ultimately led me to pick up the phone and dial 800-275-8777. I reached a USPS customer service rep, who told me to give them two days to fix the problem. And hopefully return my mail here. Wherever “here” is.

If that doesn’t happen, I guess my mail will just have to sit on the beach sipping mojitos, and wait for me to come and collect it.

* * * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Ms. Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

How to Survive a Routine Hospital Procedure or Overnight Stay

Several years ago, I read an article about the importance of patient advocacy. “Never leave someone you love alone in a hospital,” the writer said. The reason? The high rate of medical mistakes, some of which are fatal.

After years of being at the bedside of hospitalized loved ones ‘round the clock, for days at a time, I know how true this is. Sometimes hospital staff—from orderlies to nurses to department heads—are rushed and overworked. Other times, they’re simply too arrogant to admit their mistakes. But recently, something happened that caused me great alarm, and which I wasn’t prepared for. It involves a friend of mine, and I believe she came very close to dying.

I drove Polly (not her real name) to Mon General Hospital here in Morgantown, West Virginia, for a routine colonoscopy, which involves anesthesia but not intubation (a breathing tube inserted into the airway). I was in the room when they wheeled her off to surgery; I was still there when she returned twenty minutes later. On similar occasions, while waiting for a family member or friend following surgery, they were sound asleep, with no movement whatsoever. But that day, I saw something very strange: Polly’s legs were flailing and she was trying to sit up while grasping her throat and coughing.

While trying to help calm Polly down, I asked the nurse anesthetist how she did. “Fine,” he said, “but she’s a little wild waking up. Combative.”

“Does that happen very often?” I said.

“Sometimes,” he replied.

“What causes it?” I asked him.

“Usually anxiety,” he said, “she was probably anxious about the procedure.”

Then he chastised Polly for being so “combative,” and stepped in front of me, up to the head of the bed, where he told her to lay back down and scoot up in the bed so she wouldn’t fall off. (Yes, that’s how vigorously she was thrashing around on the bed.) Polly did as she was told, but still seemed upset. Clearly, something was wrong.

A few seconds later, when she had recovered enough to speak, Polly kept saying her throat burned. Asking for Tums. “I don’t know why your throat burns,” he told her, “you didn’t have a tube down your throat.”

Which is true. During the procedure, Polly didn’t need to be intubated. She was breathing on her own—which is how she aspirated stomach fluid into her lungs. And why she was “wild and combative” and why her throat burned. (And later, she would say, her nose and ears.)

Polly, an asthmatic, was also wheezing and coughing by then. A lot. Loudly. He asked if she had her inhaler with her, and when she said yes, he told her to use it. She did, but it didn’t help much.

Still, about thirty minutes later, Polly was discharged.

In addition to the asthma, Polly has acid reflux. She’s had it since childhood, and several family members have it. Neither of us recall the medical staff talking about her reflux problem when they prepped her for the procedure, as we were too focused on another problem. That is, the type of anesthesia they planned to use. Polly requested a different one, because last year when she went for a colonoscopy, she stopped breathing, so the anesthetist stopped the procedure entirely.

After being sent home last year, Polly, a college-educated woman who is exceptionally bright, later discussed this with her other doctors, and researched the drug. What she found convinced her the anesthesia was to blame. She tried to tell both the anesthetist and her medical doctor that she wanted a different anesthesia, but no one would listen. In the end, we both feel like the anesthetist bullied her and her physician into letting them use the same gas they used last year.

So guess what? Something went wrong again. But what? Neither of us know for sure. I was alert and conscious, unlike Polly, and I took the expert’s word for it: there was nothing wrong, and Polly could go home. In short order, she was discharged. I went to get the car, and she later told me that she was so weak from not being able to breathe well that she could barely get dressed.

Within an hour or so of arriving home from the hospital, after Polly was tucked into bed, I heard a distinct rattling in her chest, and realized she was short of breath. The airway sounds carried me back to the days of nursing a sick child, when my middle daughter came down with pneumonia every year. I told Polly to call her doctor, who told her to return to the hospital for a chest X-ray. We went to the emergency department, where we spent the next five hours. Polly received three breathing treatments from a nebulizer, steroids, and an antibiotic. The ED doc said, yes, the chest X-ray did show something in her right lung. Terms like “aspiration pneumonitis” and “pneumonia” fell from the lips of the medical staffers who saw Polly that evening.

Two days later, even using the nebulizer four times a day, she was no better, so I took Polly to see her family doctor. That doctor prescribed a different antibiotic, saying the first one wouldn’t treat this particular type of pneumonia. (Apparently, stomach fluid is gram-negative, but the ED doc had prescribed a gram-positive drug.)

By Friday, when Polly was still no better, I did some research and found that combative patients like Polly are in distress. They aren’t acting up because they have a difficult personality—something is very wrong. Being “wild and combative” after a medical procedure indicates the patient has had, as a different nurse anesthetist told me later, an “incident,”—which the medical staff should see as a potentially life-threatening problem.

Polly now says she was in distress. “I was fighting for my life!” I believe her. And wonder if the staff was more intent on the patients who were lined up, assembly-line style, for their colonoscopies, than they were on Polly? I still don’t know.

But last Monday morning, one week later, Polly still hadn’t gotten out of her nightgown, except when she went back to the doctor. She still had no energy, had developed a low-grade fever, and was in a great deal of pain—because her mouth, ears and throat burned so bad she could barely eat, much less speak. So we made yet another trip to the doctor, where she received yet another diagnosis: chemical burns, from the reflux that occurred during the colonoscopy.

I hope Polly recovers completely, and soon. Meanwhile, please learn from us and do not allow you or your loved one to be bullied into something of a medical nature which your gut tells you may kill you.

Equally vital, never ever let the hospital staff send you home when you’ve flailed around on the bed like a fish out of water, following surgery. Insist they keep you for observation, if nothing else. Patients have a bill of rights, and medical folks are supposed to honor them. When they don’t, though, you can’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and demand they find out what’s wrong—and then treat it.

Finally, always, no matter how routine the procedure, stay with your loved one in the hospital. Doing so could just save their life.

* * * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Ms. Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

These Knees Are Made for Walkin’

One year ago this month, an anesthesiologist sedated me. Then a surgeon used a power saw to cut through the bones in both legs. When I woke up a few hours later I had two brand-spanking-new knees. They have served me well, too. Five weeks after surgery, I was dancing around my office on them. Recently, they carried me all over Manhattan in New York City, where I walked nine miles in one day. And five the next.

Embracing the day, and life, at The High Line, in Manhattan.

Between those two bookends, I’ve done CrossFit (pushing and bench pressing who knows how many pounds), gone swimming, and taken aqua aerobics and dance classes. I’ve flown to Colorado, driven to Florida, and carried box after box up and down staircases. Last week while shaving my legs, I raised my right one in the shower, placing my foot on a waist-high metal bar. (Now that’s a feat I haven’t done for years!) I also sat on my duff for more hours than I care to recall, where I wrote two books and edited another. That’s 153,000 words, give or take. (And it doesn’t include the 72,000 words I edited for the third book.) Even as I write this, I find these facts amazing given that I had major surgery just two months before I sent the first book to my publisher.
My morning began in NYC began when my son showed me this historic building, Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral, believed to have caught fire from a lighted candle.

I am in awe of people who climb mountains, free fall from airplanes, and engage in extreme skiing stunts that would probably kill the likes of me. But for every one of those activities, I have accomplished something equally challenging. And I’ll bet you have, too. It’s easy to forget what we’re capable of—until we look back and see what we did. Activities that, in hindsight, only seem possible with superhuman strength. Divine intervention, if you will.
Chocolate By The Bald Man . . . he appears to be the Willy Wonka of New York.

Like arriving by bus in NYC at 7 a.m. one day, pounding 14 miles of pavement, and returning back to Morgantown, W.Va., at 9 a.m. two days later. I made that same trip 10 years ago and thought it would kill me—and my turnaround time then was nothing like this recent trip. While exhausted this time, I realized I wasn’t in pain like the last time. Then, every part of my body ached, especially my back. The only thing I can attribute the lack of pain to this time is my bionic knees. (Compliments of Dr. David Tuel, surgeon extraordinaire.) And that makes sense, when you think about it. If you have one broken body part (or, in this case, two), it’s going to affect the rest of you.
My favorite sight in all New York City was my son and walking partner for the day. He’s just started a hiking company in the San Francisco Bay Area, so if you’re looking for a great tour, he’s your guy!

That’s why it’s important to take care of the body you have right now, with good nutrition, proper rest and exercise, occasional mental health days, and moderation in all things. It’s also crucial to get any repairs taken care of in a timely manner. Before it’s too late and you’ve ruined something you dearly need—like a leg. Or a liver.
Both coming and going . . . as I entered the Big Apple I glimpsed this majestic sign. Two nights later as I left the city, I found myself right in front of The New Yorker building. Where I drooled at the thought of my literary brethren who write for this prestigious magazine.

Because once that happens, you won’t be walking nine miles anywhere.

* * * *

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Effective June 2, 2016, Ms. Berry’s blog will begin appearing each Thursday, rather than Monday, as it has been. Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

“You’re Going to Sell a Million Copies”

That’s some powerful positive thinking going on, and it’s what one reader told me in a message a couple of days ago. Oddly enough, I woke up this morning feeling the same way, that belief having taken root in my brain. I sat up in bed and realized that today is the day Shatter the Silence comes out. Yay! So today is going to be amazing. I’ve never sold a million books before, and I can’t wait to see how that feels!

Maybe it’s the power of the story that has bouyed me with that belief. When writing Sister of Silence, the first book in what is now a series, I thought of it as a book for women. But then men began writing to me, thanking me for writing it. For helping them to “be a better man,” as one man put it.

Shatter the Silence is a love story, so that places it in the romance genre, but since this book is a true love story, it’s also memoir. And guess what? Men are loving it! That’s almost unheard of, when it comes to romance. (So I’m told. Not sure if I believe it.) But this book is about a police officer who worked as a deputy sheriff, when I was a news reporter at my first job. I know we live in a time of great mistrust when it comes to law enforcement, and I understand that, but I think this true story will help restore your faith in the men and women who walk the thin blue line.

Maybe I believe this book will sell a million copies because of something Sarah Rosier Nora posted on my Facebook page this morning. “Readers, get ready to laugh, cry, and fall in love all over again. You’ll root for the real couple in SHATTER THE SILENCE!” Sarah works in a library and reads a lot of books, so she knows a good book when she sees one.

I also believe selling a million copies can happen, though, because in less than one hour—at 10 a.m. (EDT)—almost one-half million people will be talking about this book. That’s when my Thunderclap campaign for my newest baby goes live—thanks to you. All of you, on Facebook and Twitter, who shared and asked your friends to support it. All I had to do was ask for your help, and you gave it. Not only did we meet our minimum goal, we exceeded it! Thank you so very much. YOU are spectacular! And I am so grateful. I truly do love my readers, because you give me something to strive for—that next story. Which I write for you. With much love!

I also love everyone who helped me get this book out the door. And cannot thank you all enough. I hope I remembered you all in the acknowledgements section. If I didn’t, please let me know and I’ll do that in the next book. You’ll be joining a long, long list of folks, too, because I’m thanking everyone by name who took part in the Thunderclap campaign.

It’s a beautiful day here in Morgantown, West Virginia. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the weatherman promises it’s going to be semi-warm (What can I say? This is WV, where it could snow tomorrow.) If you want to read a good love story, I’ve been told this is it. Get your copy today!

ORDER HERE :
Amazon
B&N
SmashWords
iBooks
Goodreads
Kobo
Amazon International
Goodreads

══ SYNOPSIS ══

Shatter the Silence is the romantic and long-awaited sequel by New York Times Best-Selling Author Daleen Berry. The sequel to Sister of Silence, Ms. Berry’s 2011 breakout memoir about surviving abuse, Shatter the Silence is set in 1990s Appalachia.

This romantic memoir weaves accounts of the true crimes Ms. Berry covered while working as a news reporter with details of her divorce, her ex-husband’s ongoing harassment following their divorce, and finally, her love affair with the police detective who became first, a colleague, then a friend, and ultimately, the man who helped save her life.

══ CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR ══

FB author page
GoodReads
Amazon
Twitter
Pinterest
Website