Oriana Lee wasn't planning on becoming a New Mexican, but that great teacher Life instructs us quickly and early that some occurrences are larger than mere plans. One day perhaps we'll laugh about the factual coincidence that the state bird here is the Greater Roadrunner, but that day is not yet here–not by a long shot. Oriana is awaiting trial, or ideally the dismissal of the trial, in connection with events in Taos County that pretty much everyone in the whole world knows about by now. If for some reason the story has passed you by, here is a short version of the hair-raising video seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers the world over:
The lawyers, judges and affected parties will sort it all out in time, but from the peanut gallery it seems highly unlikely that NM State law enforcement would risk looking even more brutish and foolish than it currently does by pursuing a trial or attempting to further incarcerate the single mother of five (one girl and four boys) beyond the fourteen days they already held her in the county lockup. A petition is circulating to help them reach that very conclusion for those who would like to add their names.
If Oriana goes on the Barbara Walters Show or is interviewed by Diane Sawyer or one of the other big-profile major media outlets that are courting her for her presentation of the sensational story, she can reveal publicly some of the distasteful experiences and humiliating privations she witnessed and endured while jailed in Taos County. But Oriana being Oriana would also tell of the guards who treated her fairly, who did their jobs properly and who sometimes demonstrated caring and kindness. She would emphasize that not everyone who can does abuse power, cruelty though often evident is not the only possible modus operandi even in a harsh and punishing environment. And I hope modesty will not prevent her from telling how she exerted a calming influence on her fellow inmates, how she spoke with them about empowerment and solidarity, how on the day she was released they circled her and promised her they would hold on to the peace they'd all come to share in her presence.
The family is settled in a rental house in a quiet residential neighborhood, the house is furnished with most of the basics they need cobbled together from thrift store bargains and some donations, which are very appreciated. When they arrived here they had three big suitcases filled with their clothes and shoes, boxes of school supplies and some few treasured personal items. Books (some fascinating titles) sit on tables and counter tops in every room. (While so-called "paraphernalia" was reported, which could be a range of things, including sacred altar items for spiritual practices, no contraband was found.) She keeps a close eye on Craigslist for acceptable furnishings to feather their spare nest. She's not pleased that her children currently sleep on air mattresses or that their comforts are few, but they're grateful to be together and, frankly, just happy to be alive.
She's applied for a full-time job whose prospects looks promising but until she hears back she's offering workshops and teaching ad-hoc classes in various areas of interest and expertise such as Vision-Boarding, Child Rearing With the Divine Feminine in Mind, and Mexican and African Birthing Traditions. She's also a performer of original rap and spoken word compositions which are available for sampling on her website
eye rip raps; on same microphones poetry.
eye balance formality with artistic integrity.
eye close deals, book shows, then pen prose.
eye cook meals before heading to post bills.
eye read to the youth; record to the beat.
eye flow, consult, lecture, teach & speak.
eye blog & tweet; send messages to senders.
eye fool to the internet; slave to lender.
eye write for the love.
eye fight for the write.
eye am a writer.
Oriana struggled for a long time with her decision to leave her home in Memphis to set out for LA to pursue her dreams in the entertainment business. And this detour hasn't been an easy one—among the many expressions of support extended her way both on the internet and in person, she received vociferous hate mail after the late October incident. She was called a “dumb bitch” who “deserved to die.” One writer said that he "wished she'd been shot for teaching her kids to go against cops." Disturbing messages that she's had to shrug off in order to keep bringing the light.
In Memphis she'd been active with various volunteer and advocacy groups so naturally when she found herself a newcomer not by design in a town where she knew only one friend, she reached out. She's had her disappointments from organizations she hoped would be allies—some groups had conditions attached to their assistance, conditions that challenged her loyalties which she could not go along with. Most of the kindnesses she's received have been from individuals, people who recognize the difficult spot she's in, bound to remain in New Mexico while the legal machinations unwind beyond her control. Fortunately she's very keen on her lawyers and is confident she's receiving excellent representation.
The children are finding their way socially. It's a little more challenging for her teenagers than for Kush, her 12-year old son who has a special interest in all things culinary, and her two younger boys who like to play Legos and chess as well as making everybody laugh every chance they get. But Hezekiah, 14, was accepted into a dance crew which was exactly what he needed, Oriana told me, and they're all going to check out the skate park. Her daughter, Kana, who graduated high school at 15, is thinking about culinary school or maybe make-up classes, or possibly pursuing modeling.
I haven't been in wondrous New Mexico that long myself, but long enough to know there are many loving people here who would welcome the opportunity to embrace this family and even help out financially to tide them over until things break better for them. Any and all angels should please feel free to donate to help the family relieve some of its burdens through Paypal using the address: firstname.lastname@example.org
When I told Oriana how moved I was by seeing her children heroically come to her aid when she was being manhandled, especially Hezekiah who so easily could have borne the brunt of the officer's out-of-control rage, she smiled as if to say That's who he is. If it had been you, or someone else in trouble, anyone, he would have helped. That's the kind of person he is.