Monday, January 17, 2011

Just Basic History

In 1975 I started to work with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).  My first job was a correctional offficer making $9,000 per year.  Between then and my retirement in 2004, I held numerous positions of increasing responsibility, eventually become Associate Warden at the Federal Correctional Institution in Jesup, Georgia, a 2000 bed, medium security, male facility.  My final position was as Regional Correctional Programs Administrator in Atlanta.

The stories of my career are many.  Maybe I will highlight some in the future, but suffice it to say, it was an great career filled with lots of excitement, joy and sorrow.  I always felt I should have excelled more, but really, I was quite successful.  Much more so that I ever thought I would be when I started out.  I just continued to reset my own bar for success.  When I retired I had book marks made for all of my employees and coworkers.  The top said "Work hard, play hard, and be kind to one another."  The bottom said "Do what makes your heart sing."  That pretty much summed up my philosophy on work.  If you are good to one another and work really hard at a job you really like, it won't be like work!

During those 29 years I relocated 12 times.  The BOP's philosophy was that you had to move to promote.  I lived in Atlanta and Washington, D. C. several times, but the different locations were:  Atlanta, GA-Lexington, KY-Washington, DC-St. Simons Island, GA-Fort Worth, TX-Marianna, FL-and Jesup, GA. 

I could have worked two more years but Dad had cancer, Mom was in a wheel chair and they needed help.  I didn't move there but I went frequently and stayed for long periods of time.  Furthermore, I was going through a phase of depression that just made me feel like going to work was punishment.

I dabbled in some contract work with the Department of Justice and Homeland Security until 2008.

Not Quite Ancient History

1963 to 1967 proved to be an exciting adventure in my young life.  We had lived up and down the Tennessee River in southern USA my whole life.  Now we were in a foreign tropical land.  I spent the four years of high school living in Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone.  There are floods of memories about those four years.  Everything was exciting and new.  Our family explored our surroundings and loved it.  I loved high school, and finally, I felt like I belonged again.  I put those two years in Johnson City out of my mind and it was like having my friends from grade school in Benton!  I was involved in every production of the Cristobal High School Thespian Society.  I was on the yearbook staff.  I was a lifeguard and swimming instructor after school.  I had good friends.  It was ALMOST perfect.

Unfortunately, my parents and I were not always on the same track.  They were going through major spiritual changes in their own lives.  Chinky had been a totally compliant child......I was living up to my early entry into the world....a bit chaotic, marching to my own drummer, and wanting to experience everything out there.  Thank heavens drugs were virtually an unknown at that time in history! 

The biggest problem was church.  We grew up in a Baptist church.  I was there for everything, Sunday School, Sunbeams, Girls Auxilliary, Wednesday night, Training name it, the Acuff family was involved and I was a happy participant.  During my sophomore year in high school our parents became disenchanted with the church and we were unchurched for a few months.  I sought out the Union Church.  It was a non denomonational church where most "Zonians" attended.  It was big for Canal Zone standards....maybe 300 members.  They even had a youth pastor and most of my friends went there.  I loved it. 

Eventually Mom and Dad discovered the Nazarene Church......actually it was more of a mission.  Most of the congregation of about 30 were Panamanians, not Americans.  There was one girl there my age.  She was from West Indies.  No youth program to say the least!  Mom and Dad decided I was not getting the spiritual training I needed at the Union Church so I was required to attend the Nazarene Church.  I disliked it a lot.  I dreamed up every possible illness to get out of going to church.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't!  I missed the youth program at the Union Church.

Eventually I moved from dislike to total hate and disdain.  I was not allowed to go to school dances, wear make up, and many other "normal" teen things.  I learned to lie.  I attended parties where alcohol was snuck in the back door, snuck around to teen club activities, and put my make up on when I got to school.  Naturally I eventually got caught at all of my devious activities, but it did not deter me, I just found new ways to be what I thought was "normal."

I decided that I would never go to church again once I left home.  Afterall, none of it made sense.  There was a silly Bible verse about God is love and that was obviously a lie.  Nobody who loved me would have put me through all this pain and misery when all I wanted was to live a normal teen life.

Actually, my idea of a normal teen life was not so off base.  I did go to parties where there was drinking, but I was still very aware of moral values which must have been instilled deep inside of me earlier in life.  I was probably one of a handful of virgins who ever graduated from that high school!

Our family moved to Jasper, Texas in July after I graduated from high school.  I entered a deep dark depression, gained enormous amounts of weight and had no idea where my future should lead. 

I had planned to attend the University of Tennessee and study design.  I wanted to make fiber arts, pottery, and more in a plan to be an interior decorator.  Since we had moved back to the U. S. our family no longer held residency in Tennessee.  We had not lived in Texas long enough to have residency.  We could not afford out of state tuition so my future was up in the air.  At that time there was little in the way of school loans and what was out there we didn't know about.  Eventually, for reasons I do not even remember, I went to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to a secretarial school.  I only stayed there six months.  It was going to be a serious financial strain to go back to school.  Besides, I didn't really like it. 

I moved to Atlanta, lived with My Aunt Rea and Uncle Snook and worked as a secretary.  I didn't really like that either, but I didn't know much else to do.  I miandered around between Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale, working as a secretary until 1969. 

Mom and Dad had moved back to my beloved Benton, Kentucky.  In November 1969, I packed everything I owned into my orange Kharman Ghia car and drove from Fort Lauderdale to Benton.  By the fall of 1970 I was enrolled full time at Murray State University, working part time at the Murray Hospital Business Office.  By December 1973 I had a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice. 

I don't know exactly how I ended up majoring in Criminal Justice, but it served me well over the remainder of my life.  I don't know why I did not major in interior design since that was my life's dream; but the artistic side of me continues to be there and provide me with lots of joy and entertainment.

Ancient History

Jama Acuff entered this world July 13, 1949.  Mom's story is that Dad was at work so she took a taxi to Blount Memorial Hospital.  The taxi driver asked if she was in a hurry and she replied in the affirmative.  He broke speed limits and was followed into the emergency room by a police officer wanting to give him a ticket.  I was born seven minutes later.........My life has kind of continued like that!  Sometimes it is like I am on a bicycle running downhill with no brakes, others I am overwhelmed by the joy of life, others, I am just bored stiff.  Regardless, the pace was set at approximately 7:00 a.m. on July 13, 1949.

I already had a big sister.....her name was Charlene but for reasons I have never figured out, we called her Chinky.  In later years I realized that was a derogatory name for oriental people!!  I now call her Nonnie...the same as her grandchildren.  It is just easier than her having some many names and she is just not a Charlene to me!

Our father took a job with TVA when I was almost four.  We had to move OFTEN because of his training program.  We always lived by the Tennessee river since he was a hydro plant operator so there are many good stories of picnics at the lake and such.

In 1955 we had just moved to Nashville, Tennessee.  When we had been there merely days, on February 24, our brother Scott decided it was time to meet the world. It was late in the day and there was no place for me (five years old) and Chinky (eight years old) to stay, so off to the hospital went the entire family of four, soon to be five.  It was a Catholic hospital and since we were good Baptists, we knew nothing of nuns and their traditional "habits."  Mom and Dad told us not to be afraid of the nuns, they were nice and would be good to us.  Dad had to split his time between Mom in labor and delivery and his two blonde angels in the waiting room (in those days children were not even allowed to visit paitents much less be present for deliveries!).

We were not the least concerned about these ladies in long black dresses and things covering their heads.  They even brought us snacks!  On the other hand, we were terrified watching for those big GUNS to come around the corner!  Well, the guns never came and a few days later we returned to the hospital to collect our Mom and new brother Scott.  There was no such thing as car seats then.  He laid on a pilow on the front seat between Mom and Dad.  Chinky and I hung over the seat checking out his little toes and fingers.  What a joy it was to have a brother!  My only problem was that Mom spent a lot of time taking care of him.....I was no longer the baby!!  Scott was all boy.  He was wirey and bigger than life!

TVA continued to move our family up and down the Tennessee River.  I started first grade in Guntersville, Alabama.  Before that year was over we moved to Spring City, Tennessee.  I finished first grade there and started second.  I loved Spring City!  We lived in a house with two stories and Chinky and I had our bedroom upstairs.  We lived there less than a year but I loved that house and still fantasize about it.  Second grade was a little hard.  We moved to Bristol, Tenessee and then before long were off to Clarkesville, Tennessee.  That summer, we moved to Benton, Kentucky which was to hold my most significant childhood memories.  We stayed there four years.   I finished grades three through six. 

The really special thing in Benton happened on December 3, 1959.  I came home from school and the house smelled great from spaghetti cooking.  Mom, nine months pregnant, was on her knees in the bathroom giving Scott a bath.  He turned out to be the Marley Dog of brothers.  He was always up to some mischief.  On that day, he had been playing in the woods behind our house where the underbrush had been burned off.  He looked like he had just come down a sutt filled chimney!  Mom scrubbed him head to foot after she finished making a big pot of spaghetti sauce for us to eat on while she went to the Murray Hospital to give us our second brother, Mark.

Jane Fisher came and stayed at the house with me, Chinky and Scott while Dad drove the 20 miles to the closest hospital with Mom.  He called late that night to say we had a new brother.  Mark proved to be total joy to all of us.  He was soft and cuddly with a gentleness that continued from birth to the present.

In 1961 we left our beloved Benton and moved to Johnson City, Tennessee.  I never felt like I belonged there and longed for my friends and the joys of Benton, Kentucky. All that changed in 1963.  Our family drove to New Orleans, Lousiana, got on the S.S. Cristobal and sailed to the Panama Canal Zone where Dad went to work for the Panama Canal Company as a hydro plant operator at the Gatun Dam!