The First Visit: Learning to Let Go.

Via Lynn Hasselberger
on May 31, 2010
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Dave in the 70s.

My older brother appeared much older than I remembered him.

We hugged. “It’s been a long time,” he whispered.

It had been three years. On my dad’s 70th birthday. As usual, he and I had nothing much to say to each other, that particular day.

What would we talk about during this visit, I wondered.

As my husband, Craig, and I followed my brother into the sitting area, I couldn’t help but notice the increasing spread of his waist line; his bald spot, no longer veiled by strands of dirty blond hair. Beneath a plain white t-shirt, his shoulders were a bit more hunched than I recalled, but that bouncy toe-walk hadn’t changed much since childhood.

I had the same walk. One of very few things we seemed to have in common.

He waved us to the chairs across from him. I took a deep breath.

“Well, this is it!,” he said, his self-deprecation instantly lightening the air around us.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Craig said, eliciting a welcome, albeit cagey, chuckle from somewhere deep inside my brother.

It had taken me a year and a half to process this place my brother now resided; to sit face-to-face with this almost stranger who left for art school some twenty-five years ago and barely looked back. Over the years, our communications had dwindled down to the “Happy Birthday” and “Merry Christmas” phone messages, which he rarely returned.

“How are you doing?” I asked, for lack of anything better to say.

He shrugged. “Alright.”

I tried to get comfortable in the lightly cushioned chair. I doubted I’d ever become comfortable with his new address: Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater.


Dave painted a picture—more vivid than the barricaded accounts repeated by my parents—of his case. Life inside. Coping with the unknown.

“I try to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “But I have about five tunnels and I’m not sure which one I’m supposed to look down.”

Losing Faith: Deuter 2010

While his wife struggled to keep up with the mortgage payments and the wood-burning furnace, and his 15-year old son tried to make sense of it all, my brother struggled with his twenty-year sentence. The fact he would be eligible for parole after serving twelve offered little solace.

“I know I should be in here for something. What I did was wrong.”

Dave had gotten into a fight with a shady character and ended up with the upper hand. In self-defense, with a metal bar, Dave hit the character over the head. Fearful the character would pull a gun on him. “But I shouldn’t be in here for another eleven years. There’s another guy in here who tried to shoot one guy, but missed and killed someone else by accident. He’s only in here for eight.”

The character my brother injured ended up in the emergency room, not the morgue. And, according to reports, he was not even treated immediately, his wounds not warranting urgent attention.

Dave received the maximum fifteen years for attempted murder, but the judge tacked on an additional five because my brother did not have a record. Evidently, his clean record made the crime more heinous, somehow. Other things about the trial, the judge and my brother’s lawyer seemed questionable.

“I have learned to let go,” he said. I didn’t quite believe him.

In the weeks leading up to the visit, I had been struggling with what to do with my life.

Our son would be going into first grade next year giving me nothing but time. Should I give writing a fair chance? Of my many ideas, what should I write first? My mind spun in circles. Should I go back into freelance marketing, which would guarantee an income so we could not only catch up to our accumulated debt, but begin to save for our son’s education? Should I become certified as a personal trainer so I could make my own hours? I kept grasping at ideas, certain about none of them, floundering in self-doubt. Craig told me to relax then, finally, flung one of his sailing analogies my way: “You’re so used to gripping the tiller. Just let go. Trust the boat. It will always point into the wind.”

I looked into my brother’s eyes—once bright blue, now bloodshot and tainted with the grey of despondency—and saw him. Possibly for the first time. I felt his loss of freedom. It gripped me around the neck and practically shook me. It awoke me.

self portrait: by deuter

His new lawyer had just filed for an appeal.

“I may have some hard choices to make.” Dave said.

But his choices did not hold as much promise as my own. He could plead to something for less time. Go back on trial. Choices he would have to make if allowed to move forward with an appeal. If. If. If.

My choices were limitless. I realized how self-absorbed I had been about my own ‘struggle’ with what to do with my life. I deserved a hard kick in the ass.

The three hours flew by. We grew closer. It helped that, since his arrest, we had written to each other, exchanging memories and life experiences, building a foundation for a fresh relationship. Knowing the time had come to say good-bye, I fought back the tears.

“It’ll be okay,” my brother said.

We could not hug until we got to the ‘red carpet’, the designated area before the visitor’s vestibule—a kind of lock-down limbo zone between the visitors’ sitting area and the main lobby.

“Love you,” I said for the very first time ever.

After Craig hugged him, my brother whispered, “Love you guys.”

As Dave shuffled over to a different steel door, waiting for it to slide open so he could return to a place he thought he’d never know, Craig and I joined the other visitors packed inside the vestibule.

A couple times, I looked back and saw Dave looking at us with a half-smile. I could tell he was happy we came, but very sad to see us go. We waved to each other as the vestibule door slid closed. My brother’s image skewed behind the bullet-proof glass.

It was at that moment I let go and cried.

Craig led me through the lobby with its soaring ceilings. As we broke into the fresh air, I felt my heart break for my long lost brother. I gripped Craig’s hand as we descended the concrete stairs and began to think about when I could visit again.

Robed Oligarchy: by deuter

More that I’ve written about my brother:

My Brother’s in Prison

Cartoons… from Prison

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About Lynn Hasselberger

Lynn Hasselberger is co-founder of GDGD Radio; The Green Divas Managing Editor; and Producer of The Green Divas Radio Show. She's also a mom, writer and award-winning cat-herder who lives in Chicagoland. Sunrises, running, yoga, lead-free chocolate and comedy are just a few of her fave things. In her rare moments of spare time, she blogs at and A treehugger and social media addict, you'll most likely find Lynn on twitter (@LynnHasselbrgr @GreenDivaLynn & @myEARTH360), instagram and facebook. She hopes to make the world a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. Like her writing? Subscribe to her posts.


46 Responses to “The First Visit: Learning to Let Go.”

  1. PFS says:

    My heart breaks for all of you. I just found my lost brother in law. In Jail,but doing shorter time.Never contacted his parents or his sister.We think he may be in contact with another brother. No one really knows anything.Without huge sums of money nothing can be discovered or do.Our Criminal Justice System — is criminal.I wish you and your family well.I do not even know how to start…..

  2. LasaraAllen says:

    Your goodbye tears brought them to my eyes as well. I will hold hope for you and your brother.

  3. Thanks, PFS and Lasara. Never realized what a mess our system was until I knew someone caught up in it. Sorry to hear about your bro-in-law PFS.


  4. ModernHippie says:

    Wow, you are amazing for sharing this Lynn. I am moved beyond words. I have two brothers that have seen their share of troubles, I often wish I were closer to them.

  5. It took me a while to share this… that first visit was the hardest. Sadly, I've only seen him one other time. The cool/ weird thing is that a lot of positive things have come out of the situation. Cheers!

  6. Aurora says:

    "Wow" is all I can say at this point……

  7. ModernHippie says:

    You're very brave for sharing something so heartfelt.

  8. Aunt Lynne (Katzfey) says:

    Oh my…………how well I remember David as a young boy. Seeing his picture broke my heart. He did do wrong, but is paying way too high a price, as are his wife and especially his son. My dear friend has gone through hell having her son in prison for the past 8 years. He gets out next summer, but then the future has to be faced. Our judicial and prison system are failed systems and so few people understnad that. Thank you so much for writing that and sharing with everyone.

  9. Nancie says:

    My heart goes out to your brother, and all the family. Your story brought tears.

  10. ketster says:

    wow. that was beautiful and so sad. thank you for sharing….

  11. D Bingham says:

    Lynn that is a very sad story and thank you for sharing. My thoughts are with you and your brother.

  12. Dyann says:

    Lynn, My heart breaks for you, your brother and your entire family. Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable! I wish you all well and hope your brother can be at peace…you too!

  13. Wow is a good word for it. Thanks for reading and commenting, Aurora 🙂

  14. Thanks Aunt Lynne for reading and commenting. xoxo

  15. Thank you, Nancy.

  16. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  17. Thank you so much, Dyann. I wrote this quite a while ago and am glad I finally shared it.

  18. Thanks for the comment, Joe. It is aggravating to know there are tens of thousands of people in prison who have received unfair sentencing. And so many who are completely innocent. One doesn't stand a chance without money to throw around. I think one reason my brother's lawyer quit was because he knew we had to raise money at every turn.

  19. Lizzi Schmitz says:

    OMG Lynn. Even sadder to read now that a couple years have gone by. I'm here for you gf! Mucho luv.

  20. Thanks, Lizzi. Luv.

  21. bob wyffels says:

    Learning to let go, what a learning experience. Best wishes, Lynn.

  22. Lynn Hasselberger says:

    You're right about the CJS being criminal. Luckily my brother has been moved to their nursing home as janitor and "pusher" (of the wheelchair variety).

    Sad that money plays such a significant role in justice, politics and life in general. Having it doesn't necessarily guarantee happiness, but it sure provides more options!

  23. Alicia says:

    Wow, Lynn. It was amazing to read this account and learn more about this personal and heartbreaking experience. I wish the best for you and your family as you continue to cope with your brother's sentence.

  24. Ben Ralston says:

    20 years seems ridiculous. But when you look at the ‘justice’ system it is so deeply flawed… the truth is that there is a fail-safe justice system called the Law of Karma, and if more people understood how it works we could spend more of our time and resources on compassionate rehabilitation and education and personal development. Locking people away with no hope or light isn’t really going to make the world a better place – not in the long run.

    My heart goes out to you and your brother and family Lynn. I was glad to read your comment “a lot of positive things have come out of the situation”.

    With love, Ben

  25. This is profoundly powerful and moving, Lynn.

    Thank you for writing it, and best wishes to your brother.

    Bob W.

  26. Audra says:

    Hi Lynn, such a sad story. It really does make my own worries seem trivial in comparison. Your brother is lucky to have you in his corner.

  27. To say the least! Thanks, Bob, for taking the time to respond. Sorry for the delayed response 🙂

  28. Thank you for reading, Alicia. Appreciate the comment. Cheers to you. ~Lynn

  29. Thank you, Ben. Sorry for the delayed response. Need to figure out how to be notified of comments! xoxo

  30. Thanks, Bob. Appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Sorry for the delayed response! xoxo

  31. Thank you for reading, Audra. Appreciate you taking the time to comment. Our troubles are all relative, as they say 🙂 Sorry for the delayed response. ~Lynn

  32. […] you, reader— seem to latch onto the ones that have required me to open a vein or two: the first visit with my brother; my fear of speaking; the pain of infertility; marital issues; struggles with what I wear; getting […]

  33. […] from Prison My brother is in prison and this post is from his blog, which is managed by my nephew who’s a college freshman this […]

  34. marco says:

    Great piece Lynn…my heart goes out to you.

  35. Thanks so so much, Kate. How generous of you to offer. Trying to figure out what we can do next. Have been trying to contact the investigative reporter in MN who is looking into the medical examiner's questionable work. I'll definitely let you know when we have something. I'm thinking about doing a petition on avaaz or something like that. Cheers to you!

  36. tomgrasso says:

    Is there any backstory to this? Any public information on the case from arrest to conviction?

  37. Hi Lynn. This is profound, poignant, understated and thank you for sharing something so personal. Your ability to touch people is clear. I even felt vulnerable myself reading it. Thank you so much. Keep hoping that justice will be served!

  38. Thanks, David for reading this (and sorry for the much delayed response!) and leaving such an encouraging note. Cheers!

  39. Yes, Tom. There definitely is and it's one that was on my brother's blog which has since been taken down. He got in trouble related to the blog so it wasn't worth it to keep it up there. His full name is David Neal Johnson and I'm sure there's a public record somewhere out there … He was originally kept in Ramsey County jail before conviction. The crime occured in St. Paul MN. Thanks for taking the time to read and well, over a year later, I'm responding so hopefully this gets to you somehow. Cheers!

  40. […] Will learning to train dogs be the one thing that saves my brother? […]

  41. […] after Christmas or something but they don’t recognize they’re keeping an innocent human being locked up until after Christmas. They do it on their own […]