Category Archives: Cherry Blossoms & Barren Plains: A woman’s journey from mental illness to a prison cell

From hairy legs to nose hairs.

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

I’m sitting in my office listening to Eric Clapton belt out some cool sounds.  Steady rain outside.  Springtime trying to make its way into summer; that’s what is happening in southern Illinois.  I’m drinking some wine, looking at my legs while I sport a pair of summer shorts, and evaluating my body’s transition into old age.  I’m 72 years old and find myself wondering what happen to all of the hair on my legs.  Damn depressing, I might add.  I remember my early years when I first saw tiny strains of hair on my legs and some peach fuzz on my face.  That was pretty cool.  I was becoming a man and would soon enjoy the company of wild girls, a beer belly that would rival the older guys in the Louisville Pool Hall.  Party time, that’s where I was headed.  Well, I did have some exciting years, but not quite what I had expected.

Now back to my leg hair.  No, it didn’t disappear.  The hair has moved to different parts of my body.  I now have an abundance of belly hair, a nose filled with bushy hair that needs daily trimming, and strains of long hairs growing out of my ears and dangling downward from my earlobes.  And my eyebrows.  If I didn’t trim them I would have “handle-bar eyebrows.”  I assume that if I checked out the DNA of my leg hairs, they would match the hair growing out of my nose.  Yes, I’m certain that it’s the same hair.

Now I’m not one to question God, but come on.  What’s the point of my hair moving from one part of my body to another?  I’m okay with my gray hair as long as it doesn’t turn blue.  And the wrinkles come in handy.  Being a writer, I believe that every wrinkle tells a story.  Apparently I have lots of stories to tell.

Despite the moving hair, things are looking up.  I had two back surgeries over the past year; lots of pain and depression.  Now I have minor pain at times but nothing that I can’t handle.  I’ve begun working out at a local fitness center, and with a little imagination, I can see the beginnings of a six pack.  Never had one of those before.  Since some of the hair on my legs has moved to my stomach, I would have a hairy six pack.  Pretty cool.  Maybe….

The wine bottle is empty and I need to take my dog for a walk.

Heart of Darkness: physical & sexual abuse



News release:

     An NFL player hurls his fist into the side of his finance’s face. Down to the floor, that’s where she fell – out cold, like a dead fish on a frozen shore.
Man wanted sex, wife refused. Man head butts wife, broke her nose, punched her in the face, and threw a shoe at his eighteen-month-old child.
Two Madison twelve-year-old girls repeatedly stabbed a twelve-year-old girl, and left her for dead. The victim has since recovered physically.
Man physically and sexually abused a young woman held hostage for nearly ten years.
Teenage male forced a five-year-old boy to perform oral sex. After ejaculation, the teenager urinates in the little boy’s mouth. Two people stood by and watched.
Each day thousands of people are sexually and physically abused; women, men, children, sexual orientation, it makes no difference.
Recently we have been inundated with stories of physical and sexual abuse in the National Football League. The video of a football player hitting his finance and knocking her out is dramatic, especially when played continuously over the national airwaves. People are alarmed, shocked, hoping for justice, but as several moons pass, the outrage will pass as well. Abuse is not a new phenomenon. You see, this is not about the NFL, this is about our nation, and how we deal with the epidemic – physical and sexual abuse.
In the heart of darkness, that’s where victims reside, possibly for the rest of their lives. It’s not that they don’t recover, they often do, but the memories can surface at the hint of days gone by. In quiet moments, I sometimes recall memories of abuse that make me angry, followed by a tear or two.
Behavior is controlled by an individual’s concept of reality, and when viewed collectively, define who we are as a nation. Reality is built on our genetic makeup and life’s experiences — nature and nurture. Developmental biology tells us that we are a combination of the two. Nature tattoos us with a genetic makeup – DNA – while nurture is a product of what we see, hear, smell, and touch, and the countless life experiences that mold our core. From the beginning, we are organisms with a genetic blueprint that continually interacts with our environment causing change to occur as we move from conception, to childhood, to adulthood, and finally to death.
You can’t know what you don’t know, that’s what my therapist said one day. She continually challenges me to be more insightful rather than riding the waves on my imaginary surfboard. I now understand that when we reach adulthood, we are programmed to function within our perceived reality. What we perceive as right and wrong, is not necessarily right and wrong.
Science tells us the same. The brain has over one-hundred-billion nerve cells called neurons. When information is transferred from one neuron to another, the gap between neurons are filled by chemical substances called neurotransmitters, which fire across the space, sending signals to other neurons. At times, brain activity might resemble a well-lit midway at a county fair with hundreds of rides and booths operating simultaneously. Trauma alters the neurons in our brain, affecting our behavior, our reality.
A child’s reality is like putty and can be reshaped by exposure to good role models and positive experiences. But repeated abuse turns their reality into hardened putty found in a winter storm; more difficult to mold, but still possible. Daily contact with compassionate teachers who provide attention, supervised interaction between children, role models of appropriate behavior, consistent rules and discipline offer hope for the damage child. How many of us can recall a teacher or two who changed their life? There is a national movement to reach younger children through pre-kindergarten, head start, and the like. Although the teacher’s plate is full, I would like to see citizenship, character building classes, and logic to taught as children move through elementary and secondary education.
For adult victims who self-medicate through drugs and alcohol, there is hope. Community and county mental health organizations, private therapists and psychiatrists offer therapy and medication that, in time, can alter the wiring in our damaged minds. My favorite organization, The Women’s Center, located in Carbondale, Illinois, and established in 1972, continues to offer food, shelter, and counseling for children, women, and men whose lives have been shattered by violence. Through my years as a member of the Board of Directors, I have witnessed the work that goes on at ground zero. Since their beginning, the Center, has saved thousands of abuse victims.
In the Heart of Darkness, the place where victims reside, light is as rare as the eye of a tornado. But doors are there waiting to be opened. A better tomorrow is there for the taking.
Please checkout The Women’s Center. If you are so moved, we welcome financial support and those who choose to donate their time.


A phone call from a prison cell that houses the mentally ill.

IMG_0088Just talked with a friend who happens to be in prison for allegedly killing her five-year-old stepdaughter.  No, we weren’t talking over a cup of coffee at the local coffeehouse where we met and greeted each other with a hug, followed by a “how are you doing?”  It was another telephone call from a prison constructed with concrete and metal pipes.  God, it’s a cold, hard place where she has lived for the past fifteen years with some forty-five years to go.  I’m certain that a lot of you are thinking that it’s appropriate that she lives in such a place, and is left to suffer every second of the day after day, after day, after day….  After all, she killed God’s greatest creation, a precious child.  I have to admit that there was a time when I, for a minute or two, felt the same way.  It was the time when I saw the photos of the little girl taken by the pathologist.  Her face was smashed, bruised, and then I saw her swollen brain.  I nearly vomited.  I swallowed hard, pushing the vile matter further down into my stomach.  But I still remember the image.

Now I see things quite differently.  Becca is a friend of mine who suffers from a severe mental illness and just happened to do a very bad, unimaginable thing.  Now that Becca is on her medications and away from the violent men in her life, she is a different person: a good person, a loving person, who suffers everyday of her life.

Becca’s life was a combination of factors that we see quite often today.  It was a formula destined for tragedy.  Lets see if we can put the pieces together — a heavy dose of a severe mental illness, no medication, three abusive husbands who beat the shit out of her, and a mental health system that fell short.  Each time Becca went into a mental hospital, she received treatment for about seven days where she was put on medication and a few therapy sessions.  Oh, I almost forgot, she was in the hospital for thirty days one time.  But each time she came out of the hospital she went back to her family and friends, back to the things that had destroyed her.  We’ve heard the same song before, and the lyrics cry out for help.  It’s not in the top forty, but it’s still there for all to hear, if they would only listen.

I’m sorry if I had to rant over my lost cause.  But Becca is my friend and I had to write something.  God help the mentally ill.
Becca was the character in my second book, “Cherry Blossoms & Baren Plains:  A woman’s journey from mental illness to a prison cell.”

Fish heads in an open bag — listening to the mentally ill.

Mcherryblossom_cover_smThese  are excerpts taken from my second book, “Cherry Blossoms & Barren Plains:  A woman’s journey from mental illness to a prison cell.”  I have drawn from the chapter called Fish heads in an open bag. Becca, the subject of my book was serving sixty years for allegedly killing her five-year-old stepdaughter.
I have listened to Becca for hours upon hours.  In every season of each passing year, I have sat across from her in the visit room looking at her drawn and tired face, listening to her struggle to find ways of expressing her mental and emotional realities.  What she says is not always cohesive, or narratively coherent, but over time, I have learned to piece together the fragments of her mental processes, and the images that she sees, in ways that blend with my imagination.  If Becca hears “voices” or “racing thoughts,” it might now be said that I do, as well.  I believe that I understand her and can, in one sense, show what Becca might say if she could find the words.

My name is Becca.  It was the 1980’s.  I was barely a teenager and the summer days were long and dry.  Bacon was frying in a black metal skillet, and the morning was clear.  My mother was talking and pouring her first cup of coffee.  Her voice was faint and the words made no sense and the sounds became one, like the annoying hum of a fluorescent light.  She probably told me that Dad and my brother were going fishing for the day, or that my room was a mess, or that I was just a bad kid.

I might have been thinking about the fish heads I saw at Friday night’s fish fry.  The severed heads were stuffed into open bags.  The bodies were gutted, washed, and rolled in seasoned flour, and cooked in black skillets like my mother used.  The heads were alive.  The eyes and mouths continued to open and close, and called out for help.  Their misery was real and hard, just like mine.  My mother’s shouting brought me back to her reality.  My mind jumped around a lot in those days.  Maybe that’s when my mind began to slip away.

The voices have no name.  They’re not these booming commandments from up above or down below.  They’re more like thoughts, racing thoughts that pound the inside of my head like a jackhammer.  Sometimes I write the words on a piece of paper, and then another, and another. Later, when I’m kind of normal, people tell me that the words make no sense.  They stare at me like I’m different, and then they turn and walk away.  It’s so lonely in my world of cherry blossoms and barren plains.  I wish that I could take you on a tour of my brain.  All of the twists and turn through the cerebral matter must be a bit like running through a maze.  Wherever I turn, I’m always lost.

It’s been nearly ten years and some ten-thousand pills later, since I killed Dani.  I can barely say it since I still don’t remember doing it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about it.  But each time I try, I end up seeing fish heads in an open bag.  Now I try not to think about that part.  I just think about what a wonderful girl Dani was.  I tell Larry, my writer friend to write more about Dani.  I want everyone to know her like I did.  I want them to know how she liked to read books, listen to music, and play make-up.  I bought her a long blond hair piece.  She loved wearing that hair piece.  

I haven’t gone completely manic since I’ve been here.  I take my meds eery day.  I can’t take a chance on losing control of myself.  But the meds are not easy.  I never feel right.  My hands shake, I get nervous, and I always have some kind of depression.  Sometimes I wonder if that’s God’s way of letting me know that I’m a bad person.  But that’s not what my psychologist says.  I get to see him one time a month.  And that’s not what Larry or the Pastor say.

How do you know when you begin to lose your mind?  I don’t think that you can pick a certain day, an exact time, or even an unusual event.  Maybe it’s a bit like cancer.  One day a doctor tells you that the MRI shows a cancerous growth the size of a grapefruit, and if untreated, you will die.  The tumor had been growing for some time, somewhere in your body, unseen by the naked eye.

My mental illness was the same and went undetected until the doctors told me in 1993 that I was bipolar, and if untreated, I would lose my mind.  Looking back, I believe it began the day when I saw fish heads in an open bag.  But as bad as I felt, I’ve always had my doubters.  Some think that I faked it and used mental illness as an excuse for my violent behavior.  Others believe that I’m an agent for the devil.  But until you’ve visited the dark side and felt my torment, I’m here to say that mental illness is for real.

My fourth book, “Supermax Prison:  Controlling the most dangerous criminals,” will be released in a couple of weeks.  Please check it out.

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A soul-sucking depression

IMG_0088It was a cold, fall day.  Red weathered Maple leaves were on the ground.  Becca and I were sitting in the visit room at the Dwight Correctional Center where she was serving a sixty-year sentence for allegedly killing her five-year-old step-daughter.  Becca still does not remember committing the crime, but believes that she did because the authorities told her that she did.  I often wonder if Becca’s abusive husband might have killed the little girl.  The two of us, Becca and I, had numerous visits spread over a three year period.  I continually tried to crawl into her mind and grab hold of her feelings; experience her emotions, and then put them into words.  As a writer, that’s my job.

Throughout my book, “Cherry Blossoms & Barren Plains:  A woman’s journey from mental illness to a prison cell,” I used metaphors to describe Becca’s mental state.  “It was as if someone or something, possibly alien, took over her mind.  I can see how an imaginary octopus-like creature might have controlled her thoughts.  Living in the lowest part of her brain and hidden by darkness, this creature, the one I imagined, reached outward with it eight tentacles, each lined with two rows of suction cups, and latched onto her mind.   No one escaped its grip.  When threatened, it released an inky-black liquid that allowed it to slip away.  Even if one of its tentacles was severed, one quickly regrew, making it impossible to kill.  This octopus-like creature, the one that I imagined, the one that invaded Becca’s mind, is called bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness.”

I’ve felt the soul-sucking depression before.  Not to the extent of someone suffering from bipolar disorder, but enough to put me into a fetal-like position, while I waited for the darkness to pass.  It was the same feelings I experienced in therapy when I relived my memories of childhood sexual abuse.  The idea was to desensitize the feelings of depression so I could better manage them.  “Manage” is the key word.  They never completely go away.  Now, I sense when depression is on the horizon.  Although it moves in like a fog at morning’s first light, it’s quite different. A black fog, yes that’s what it is.  One that seeps upward through the earth’s crust, and most likely originates from hell. The devil must regurgitate this foul smelling substance and send it my way.  Sometimes I run away or walk around it.  Other times I am able to muster up an invisible shield that protects me from its onslaught.  But I must admit that there are moments when the black fog reaches me as I struggle to escape.  If unchecked, it can engulf me into total darkness with no way to escape.  Sometimes I play dead until it passes.  For some, it can be so bad that they choose to die.

One time, while in a sleep-like meditation, I thought about the people who weren’t able to escape depression.  I was focused on a person that I had known from years past.  She was found hanging from the ceiling.  How could she have chosen such a painful way to end her life, I thought.  Then, right before my eyes, I imagined this person like I had never seen her before.  I believe that she showed me an image of her inner self on that tragic day.  No words were needed.  The dark bags under her eyes pulled her sight downward.  Skin the color of tree rot covered his face.  And if she had tried to smile, her face would have broken into a billion pieces.  The hair on her head had been pulled in different directions at the same time.  This woman yearned to scream, but she was unable to utter a single sound.  And then came the blackbirds singing in the dark black night.  There was no escape.  She chose to die.  

To the mentally ill who have no voice. Please listen.

cherryblossom_cover_smAfter visiting family in Wisconsin, a place where cold people have warm hearts, it is good to return to our home in Southern Illinois.  I have been thinking about what my next blog would be.  The answer became clear while I was surfing over the internet and discovered a blog that grabbed my attention.  Because of time restraints, I do not follow a large number of blogs.  But this one caused me to quickly click the “follow” button.  The blog, “Weathering the Storm: Overcoming Bipolar Disorder,” is truly remarkable, and is written by Kait Leigh, a young lady who has bipolar disorder.  Kait’s life is one of overcoming the struggles brought on by mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder.  Even if you or a family member do not suffer from bipolar disorder, you should check out her blog,  Where her story is filled with the blackness of night, she has become a truly compassionate and caring person. Please check it out.
I became very interested in bipolar disorder when I wrote my second book, “Cherry Blossoms & Barren Plains:  A woman’s journey from mental illness to a prison cell.”  Rebecca Bivens was found “guilty but mentally ill” for killing her five-year-old step-daugther.  Becca had been diagnosed as being bipolar but was not taking her medications.  Add to that the fact that she was being physical and sexually abused by various men.  Combine the two and you have a formula for a trip into madness.  Now that Becca is in prison and taking her medications, I find it difficult to believe that this woman committed such a violent crime.  Becca, the woman that I know, is a loving and caring person.
Through my research on mental illness, I have discovered that if someone suffers from a severe mental illness, he/she is not necessarily violent.  If untreated, they can be.  But with proper counseling and medication that can become valuable members of our society.  With all of the shootings that make headlines, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the mentally ill are violent.  We usually find out that each one suffered from a severe mental illness but was not receiving treatment.  Yes, the mental health treatment in the USA is lacking.  The gov’t does not care to spend the money on people who have no voice.  You will learn more about mental illness if you click onto Kait Leigh’s website & blog at
When I wrote my book about Becca, I used different metaphors to describe what a person suffering from bipolar disorder might experience.  Here is one of my metaphors.
“It was as if someone or something, possibly alien, took over her mind.  I can see how an imaginary octopus-like creature might have controlled her thoughts.  Living in the lowest part of her brain and hidden by darkness, this creature, the one I imagined, reached outward with its eight tentacles, each lined with two rows of suction cups, and latched onto her hard.  No one escapes its grip.  When threatened it released an inky-black liquid that allowed it to slip away.  Even if one of it’s tentacles was severed, one quickly regrew, making it impossible to kill.
This octopus-like creature, the one that I imagined, the one that invaded Becca’s mind, is called bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness.  More than 2.5 million American adults, or roughly one percent of the population, struggle with bipolar disorder…..”