Love Conquers All
How Love Delivered Her from Cancer & Him from Prison
Do you believe in miracles? Do you want to believe that Love (with a capital “L”) does indeed conquer all? Love Conquers All is a story about a woman finding a long-lost friend after twenty-eight years. Lenny has been incarcerated for more than twenty years for eight “grab-and-dash” robberies committed in six day period while he was under the influence of alcohol and crack cocaine. For 6 of those robberies, he is now facing two life sentences plus one hundred years, Lenny has been sentenced to die in prison even though there has not been one victim impact statement made against him and no one was physically hurt during any of the robberies. He did not have a gun during any of the incidents, and no one was murdered. He stole a total of less than $600 and this was his first felony. Lenny earned a college degree and served in our Navy before he allowed his addiction to take control. The judge, without any explanation to Lenny, his family, or the court, gave him more time than repeat violent offenders, rapists, child molesters, and murderers. During his entire 20 years of incarceration he has not received a single infraction for anything even though he has no motivation for that. His only chance at early release is through a conditional pardon made by the Governor of Virginia, which we have been told will take a Miracle.
In their journey through his incarceration, her divorce, discovering cancer, and having major surgeries to prevent paralysis from the neck down, they fall inexplicably in Love – with a capital “L”. But they must overcome huge obstacles, for both have received death sentences.
Written in letter format, this story is raw, honest, and true-to-life in describing their spiritual transformations. It is a self-help manual, an examination of the brain and a testament to the power of our thoughts to create our reality. It is an honest exploration of many of the systems that make up our world: the criminal justice system, the healthcare system, religious systems, the education system, government systems, and the judicial system. It examines nature and man’s relationship to it. It shows the family unit in all of its dysfunction and includes an examination of humanity’s uglier side in terms of how it deals with racism, addiction, disparity, injustice, mental illness, obesity, apathy, complacency, and shame and sin. But more importantly, it is a story of redemption, gratitude, hope, and grace. This story offers a discovery of how miracles occur. It pays homage to the truth that Love does, indeed, conquer all.
Learn more about Lenny’s situation at www.justice4lenny.org. Learn what he has been doing with his time while incarcerated,
watch, “The Making of a Miracle,”
become “Friends” with him on Facebook, and
and sign his petition.
Excerpt from book:
Introduction — Strange Brew
“Living within the spiral dance of life I feel the Grace of Spirit moving through me. It is a beautiful space in which to live. I strive to be worthy of that Gift.” — Vandy Singleton
Sometimes you meet people in life and unbeknownst to you they will play such a significant role in your life, that there is no way you could possibly realize it when you meet them. As Lenny says, “There are people you meet and then there are people you are supposed to meet.” Years later, when you finally do realize it, all of a sudden you begin to see the rich tapestry of life — that there truly is some grand design that you have been playing into all along never understanding that truth. I see that truth now because of one very special person, Lenny Singleton.
I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Lenny grew up in New York and moved to Tulsa when he was in middle school. Tulsa is a mid-west town neither overly exciting or overly dull. It is an average city and I say that because many restaurant chains test-market in Tulsa because it is so very average. There is the Arkansas River on the West side. It has slowly been developed over the years making it an integral part of the city. There are a couple of wealthy areas in Tulsa — Maple Ridge, Utica Square, and Brookside which are more centrally located, and then the suburbs which are in the South melding with other small towns such as Bixby, Broken Arrow and Jenks. There used to be countryside between these small towns with cows and views but now it is just like one continuous streetlight and mini-plex after another. The East side is where huge industry complexes our housed and where many of the middle income individuals live. The North side of Tulsa houses most of the African-American population. I have lived all over Tulsa – Mid-town, Maple Ridge, East Side, South Side and the North side. My stomping grounds included the railroad tracks downtown and wandering amongst the art-deco high-rise buildings that color downtown created when Tulsa was known as the oil capitol of the world. I have hitchhiked from the East side to the North side just trying to get to school. When my car broke down, I would walk to Booker T. Washington High School. I would like to say those walks were uneventful but that isn’t exactly true. Part of the stretch to the school involved walking past a neighborhood of shot-gun houses. A shot-gun house is a house that runs straight through. If you shot a gun the bullet would go through the front door, go through every room, and exit out the back door. These are not rich homes. I was often approached as a prostitute on this stretch. I always tried to walk through it as quickly as possible.
Years before my time, or Lenny’s time, Tulsa was site to one of the largest race riots in the country — The Tulsa Race Riots. I mention this because the fabric of our lives began way before we were born on May 30, 1921 with a black man named Dick Rowland and a white elevator operator named Sarah Page. An incident occurred between the two which was grossly exaggerated and with Rowland’s arrest, a mob ensued. On June 1, 1921 a group of white vigilantes started a fire in the predominantly black “wealthy” neighborhood of the Greenwood District. Tulsa’s Governor at the time declared martial law and the National Guard stepped in to help handle the situation. They were able to stop the violence but the damage was already so extensive. Approximately thirty-five city blocks in the Greenwood District were destroyed, over 800 people were injured, and just recently, a report was released by the Tulsa Race Riot Commission stating that it is now believe that almost 300 people died in those riots. It was, in my opinion, a horrendous event.
Booker T. Washington, one of the structures on the North side, was spared being burnt to the ground during the Tulsa Race Riot and has been a comprehensive magnet school since 1973. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision deemed racial segregation unconstitutional, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation in the United States.
Magnet schools were written into law in the 1960’s, and were created as a means of remedying racial segregation in the public school systems throughout the United States. In 1973, Booker T. Washington High School became the first school in Tulsa to participate in this de-segregation program. Because of the Tulsa Race Riots, tensions remained high, integration slow, and division became apparent. Tulsa was divided. African-Americans were mainly located in the North and Caucasians predominately lived in the South. Historically, Booker T. Washington, located in North, had an African-American student population.
When I attended in 1983 I had to apply for admission and be accepted. Because Booker T. Washington High School received special funding as a magnet school from the government, it was able to attract the best teachers, offer classes that a student couldn’t get anywhere else, and therefore it attracted top students from all over the city. The school accepted 45% “White” students, 45% “Black” students, and the remaining 10% of the students were considered “Other.” Today, because of Supreme Court rulings in 2003 and 2004, which determined that the quota-system was racially discriminating, Booker T. Washington High School uses a geographical-based system in accepting students. When I applied for and was accepted to attend BTW issues of race never even crossed my mind. So enter the scene one white girl, aged sixteen, and one black boy, aged seventeen sitting in math class together. Lenny and I sat across from each other.
It was a sunny day. I sat towards the front of the class on the right-hand side closest to the entrance door. I learned to sit towards the front when I was young because I couldn’t see. My mom finally figured out that I needed glasses when I was eight or nine and by then I had developed the habit of sitting up front. It has served me well, I think. I sat near the door because that is where the windows closest to the main sidewalk were located and I could look out. We had the old wooden type desks and the wooden floors. The classroom was in a type of modular structure and not in the main building. I liked the way it smelt. It had that wood smell to the room and always reminded me of something old, an antique. You could see the dust motes floating through the air in the shafts of sunlight.
Our teacher, Mrs. Carnegie, was a no-nonsense type of instructor. We always got right down to business in math. It was a full class. She worked out the problems on a true black board with chalk not on any fancy white board with eraser markers. I always liked the way the chalk sounded when it struck the board, not when it scraped, but that firm click on the board always had the effect of snapping me to attention. I was a good student.
Lenny sat right next to me. I don’t know if he chose that seat or if it was just the luck of the draw. He was always trying to talk to me before and after class and sometimes during class. He always made me laugh. Everyone loved Lenny and even though he would act out in class (he would be serious too), the teacher loved him as well. It was just fun to be in the same room with him.
One day he sat behind me instead of beside me. We were just starting a lesson and the class began laughing. The teacher had asked me a question but I couldn’t really see what they were laughing about because I sat at the front of the room but I sensed commotion behind me and turned to find Lenny, who had borrowed someone’s glasses, sitting there mimicking me. Although I was horribly embarrassed turning bright red (which is why I think Lenny did such things — to see me blush) I laughed too.
On another occasion he announced to the entire class, “Vandy Hill, I just love you!” “Lenny, that is not appropriate in class. We are here to learn. You keep those types of comments for outside of the class room,” Mrs. Carnegie admonished sitting down at her desk. The class did not laugh that day. However, I still blushed furiously. That day, Lenny didn’t know it, but in pronouncing his love to everyone, he captured my heart. It was such a pure expression and so unexpected. It had such an impact on me that it has had an effect on both of our lives twenty-eight years later.
I did not know about the Tulsa Race Riot until I was in college, or what a magnet school was really all about, nor did Lenny. I don’t know that it would have really made a difference to me. I applied to Booker T. Washington because of their academic excellence. It wasn’t easy being at a half black-half white school. Maybe other people found it to be easy, but I did not. High school is confusing and difficult enough without throwing the race card in there. It would be naive to think that there were not any racial tensions — there were. I can remember girls getting into fights with fists and with knives. Lenny does not remember the racial tensions.
Because of what I was dealing with in my personal life, I did not let petty high school issues bother me. I was trying to survive. The difficulty I felt, if I am truthful, had to do with the boys. I was a pretty girl, I think, and boys paid me a lot of attention — black boys and white boys. My parents liked to think of themselves as open-minded and liberal and willing to mix with the races, but really, were they? I cannot remember any black people ever coming over to the house. I think they wanted to be comfortable but what that really looked like when their daughter wanted to date black boys became a very scary prospect for them. I didn’t know any different. I wasn’t raised to see color and did not see what the big deal was. A boy is a boy is a boy — correct?
But it is not like the black girls liked that too well either. They had as much if not more issue than my parents. When I looked at Lenny I saw a boy that loved me and that was funny and bright and fun and handsome. He was in good shape because he played football and was quite popular. That is what I saw. We became good friends, talking on the phone, and visiting each other’s homes. He would carry my books and walk me to my next class. He had a girlfriend. I did not realize he had a girlfriend until one day at his house she stabbed all four of the tires on my car. I was mortified to have to call my parents to come get me. When I came outside, she was slashing her ice pick at Lenny and at me. Lenny shielded me from her all the way to the car. My parents were terrified, every horror story coming to life before their eyes. Lenny and I were truly innocent in that, just simply a boy and a girl that genuinely liked each other.
My parents put me away in an institution as a child gone out-of-control. Of course there is more to the story as you will learn. And by the time I got out, Lenny had graduated and gotten a full-ride athletic scholarship to Langston University. Our time had passed, at least for the moment.
It is not like I haven’t wondered about Lenny over the years. I truly liked Lenny. I searched for him off and on over the years especially with the advent of Facebook and Classmates.com. I searched for him thinking surely his name would eventually come up, wondering what amazing things he’d gone on to do. You just knew that about Lenny, that someday he would go on to do something amazing. He just had that kind of big personality. For twenty-eight years I searched, twenty-eight years before Lenny would show up in my life again.
But this is not just a story of a boy and a girl; a man and a woman. I wish it were as simple as that. This is a story about addiction, incarceration, freedom, shame, redemption, finding peace amongst the chaos, and reaching the conclusion that life is a precious gift. As Lenny has stated it is difficult to view life in this way when there is so much disparity, injustice, and inequality.
In my attempts to right this wrong, this injustice, I have been writing Lenny and working with Lenny to share his story. It has become our story, as written in our correspondence to each other. How beautiful is the fabric of life to bring us together once again? You never know who someone that you meet in life might mean to you. It has taught me to cherish everyone and take nothing for granted! This is real life, not fiction. They say that fact is stranger than fiction. You be the judge. What I have learned from this journey is that Miracles can happen, Love conquers all, and life is an amazing, precious Gift. My life has been a crazy ride that I truly love, even the hard parts. This is a story of truths (full of hard parts). It is Lenny’s truth and my truth. Perhaps even your truth? As Shakespeare once wrote, “To thy own self be true.”
Please feel free to respond or ask questions at [email protected].