Tag Archives: murder

Fish Heads in an Open Bag

     Each time I drove the five-hour trip to the Dwight Correctional Center, Rebecca Bivens was on my mind.  Becca, as she was called, was found guilty-but-mentally ill for the murder of her five-year-old step-daughter.  The fact that she had been diagnosed as having a bipolar disorder grabbed my curiosity.  As an investigative journalist, I try to get into the subject’s head and experience what she must have felt. 

     As an experiment, I imagined that I was Becca, diagnosed as bipolar and off my medication.  I would then write what might have gone through Becca’s mind on a normal day.  After writing three examples, a shared them with Becca, asking her if this is similar to what goes on inside her brain.  While not a scientific experiment, I found it interesting that her initial reaction was, “Yes, that’s me.  That’s what goes through my mind.”  This was later published in Cherry Blossoms and Barren Plains:  A woman’s journey from Mental Illness to a Prison Cell” by Larry L. Franklin

***

     My name is Rebecca Bivens.  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 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.  Their 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 made 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 turns 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 hairpiece.  She loved wearing that hairpiece.

     I haven’t gone completely manic since I’ve been here.  I take my meds every 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.

     The only reason that I agreed to tell my story is so other people can better understand what happened; and my poor kids who have been without a mother for so many years.  I want them to know that I’m not a terrible person as some might say.  I want them to know about my world of ”Cherry Blossoms and Barren Plains,” and how I sometimes see fish heads in an open bag. 

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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Cowboys & Indians, to Gangsters, to War Games, to Stand your Ground.

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

Oh my, where have the years gone?  I’m 71 years old and have seen lots of stuff:  good, bad, and some that I can’t talk about.  But with the help of a good therapist, and a load of self exploration, I believe that I have grown both spiritually and intellectually.  Too bad I can’t  say that about our society.  I’m reminded of Richard Semon, a 19th century scientist and one of the characters in my latest book, “Mnemosyne:  A Love Affair with Memory,” who believed that while 19th century science had advanced by leaps and bounds, society’s spiritual growth remained dormant.  Centuries later, I’m thinking the same. As a child, I played cowboys and Indians.  I was the cowboy who shot the Indian.  Boy, did I fuck that one up.  Eventually I learned that the Indians were the good guys.  Then came the detectives against the gangsters.  Except for Bonnie and Clyde, I always shot the gangster.  As time passed, I moved into war games where I was an American soldier who shot anyone who didn’t look like me.  In all of these adventures it was understood that they were games, consisting of toy guns and make-believe deaths, and a good versus evil theme throughout.  It wasn’t real.  It was “child’s play.”  But for Jordan Davis and Travyon Martin, it was not “child’s play.”  It was murder. When did we decide that it was okay to carry a handgun and ignore the need to step back from a perceived danger?  Illinois, the place I call home, has become the final state to approve “concealed carry,” and many other states have approved the “stand your ground” law.  “Concealed carry” is when your handgun is hidden from plain site.  The “stand your ground” law states that you can use deadly force and that you do not have a duty to retreat if  you reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to yourself.  Now I’m not against hand guns.  I completed two eight-week classes at a local community college on the defensive use of handguns.  Both were excellent classes which stressed safety, shooting technique, and defensive plans to protect my family against home intruders.  In fact, I enjoy shooting my handgun and do so to maintain my skills.  I’m all for the 2nd amendment but things have gone crazy.  I don’t feel like I should always carry a gun and grow an extra set of balls.  Hey, that’s not me.  I’m a writer and one set of balls is fine with me. When did “child’s play” become real life?  When did we decide that it was okay for George Zimmerman to stalk Trayvon Martin, get into a confrontation, kill him, and then say that he was just defending himself.  Oh, I forgot.  Trayvon was a black teenager who wore a hoodie in the dark of night.  OMG, he wore a hoodie.  And I almost forgot that Trayvon had been to the store, bought a bad of skittles, and was walking home.  Now it makes sense — black teenager, hoodie, bag of skittles.  We all know that Trayvon’s death could have been avoided.  Zimmerman was found not guilty. What about Jordon Davis, the latest tragedy which caused me to write this blog?  Jordon was another black teenager who was shot to death by a white man.  Jordon and three other black teenagers were in a black SUV socializing as most teenagers do.  Their car was sitting at a gas station while they chilled out listening to loud, bass thumping rap music.  We’ve all heard it, and yes, it can be annoying.  Michael Dunn parked his car next to Jordon’s while Dunn’s finance walked into the station to make a purchase.  Now the story is beginning to make sense — black teenagers, black SUV, loud bass thumping rap music.  Now that would scare the hell out of any white dude.  Dunn rolls down his window and politely asks the occupants of the SUV to turn down the music.  Well, that’s what Dunn said.  The black teenagers turned down the music, but after some discussion they increased the volume of that loud, bass thumping rap music.  Now we had a pissed-off white man and a car full of loud black teenagers.  Dunn said that he was disrespected and that Jordon was beginning to step out of the SUV, and appeared to have what looked like a shotgun.  Dunn retrieved his handgun from the glove compartment, and quickly fired several rounds into the SUV.  And as the SUV sped away, Dunn fired the remainder of his 10 round clip into the SUV.  Jordon Davis died from gunshot wounds.  Dunn said that he feared for his life and no son-of-a-bitch was going to kill him.  No gun was ever found in the black teenager’s car.  Let’s see, how does this work — concealed carry, stand your ground, an extra set of balls, and no one is going to fuck with me.  The jury was unable to decide whether Dunn’s killing of Jordon was self defense or murder.  We ended with a hung jury. Where does all of this leave me?  I like most people, in fact, I love several of them.  I have more than one handgun to protect my family, and would shoot someone if it was absolutely necessary.  But I consider myself a tolerant person and don’t feel threatened when I see a black teenager wear a hoodie, or a car load of black teenagers play loud, bass thumping rap music.  I sometimes wear hoodies and sometimes have my car radio turned up, and yes, my wife says that I play the music too loud.  I believe that it’s okay to sometimes step back and walk the other way.  Killing someone is a heavy load to carry.  But hey, that’s just me.  I’m a writer and I only have one set of balls.