Archive for category injustice

Dear Melania

once upon a time photoDear Melania,

Do you mind if I call you M?
I don’t want to waste too many keystrokes. Never fear. I’m not going to be mean, or unfair. I’m just going to tell a story.

Someday, some far-off wonderful day, you will be remembered like a princess in a fairy tale. (Yes, I think you will be famous, even in the future, though I imagine your name may be lost, M.)

You will be be the hapless one who drank a potion that blinded her to truth and made her say crazy things, like “every assault should be taken care of in a court of law,” with a dismissive flick of your wrist, as if a woman who alleges assault is like a mosquito buzzing too close.

Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted in our country.* Try telling all of them they will find justice. Try telling that to the woman Brock Turner sexually assaulted, who had eye witnesses, physical evidence, a jury conviction and a prosecutor seeking a nine-year sentence, a woman who penned perhaps the most moving victim statement ever written and bravely read it out in court, then heard the rapist’s father dismiss what happened as “twenty minutes of action” and watched as the judge said a long prison sentence would ruin Mr. Turner’s promising young life. As you undoubtedly know, M, Mr. Turner served three months, and his victim got a life sentence in which she will I hope heal and grow even stronger than before, but will always have to endure those who still say things like, “well, she did get drunk, after all.” And she has to endure people like you who would pretend there is justice for women who are assaulted, in brutal, demeaning ways, even by someone far less powerful than the prince you married.

Try telling it to the women who, even right now, are held as sex slaves at truck stops in middle America. Or to the women, like me, who were as teenagers raped by much-older men who seemed kind and interested in us as humans, men who took what they wanted and then threatened unspeakable things if we spoke up. Tell that to the sisters and mothers and friends of women who have been preyed upon by men.  To the 400,000 women whose rape-kit evidence languishes for years, untouched by police.**

And try telling it to the the many men—the kind of men I love—who are strong enough not to need to oppress women to feel powerful. And the men who have said things they regret, and woken up to how damaging that is to them and to us women. (C’mon guys. Join me here in saying this is not okay.)

None of us are buying it anymore, though societal change is painfully slow.

Your saying “every assault should be taken care of in a court of law,”reminds me of another “M” from history. The one who said, “No bread? Well, then let them eat cake.” Remember how that turned out?

It’s “boy talk” you say. Your then 59-year-old, rich businessman husband was “egged on,” you insist, as if he was and still is a powerless, poor little boy. It’s bad enough when men dismiss reality, but it’s so hard to watch those women who tear out their own hearts to follow them into the jungle of misogyny. I almost begin to lose hope. I worry women won’t keep speaking up, out of the fear that has kept us silent so long.

I think of words attributed to Margaret Atwood:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.
Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

These words ring true.

Still, it’s hard to know, in the middle of a tale, what might happen next. All I know is that for centuries, millennia— the unlistened-to voices of women have gathered in the ether. The voices of those who have been raped, abused, groped, bought, sold, used and discarded, grabbed and then shamed and shunned and silenced—their voices float around still, like tumbleweeds of truth. The  winds of our time  and the hot air of your man and those who hold him up as a paragon are blowing those unheard voices together.

Yes. The true tale: it’s being told. The truth is now, I think, I hope—unstoppable. That’s why everyone is so unsettled right now. That truth is heading toward the flaming egos of men invested in guarding their powers, and toward the women who cling to them, out of fear or denial or both. Men in boardrooms and bedrooms. If you look you can see those egos, burning like gas flares on a dark oil field, as the truth swirls closer. Something’s going to blow up.

I do not imagine you will read my letter, but I had to write, anyway. I wonder.
Maybe underneath all the denial, you knew that your words would be a call to action for women to speak. Maybe underneath it all, you are just scared, too, and dream of a better world, where the assaulted do indeed see justice.

I like to imagine that is who you are, at heart.

* iBachman, R. & Saltzman, E. (1995). Violence against women: Estimates from the redesigned survey. Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/FEMVIED.PDF

**http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/23/how-the-u-s-ended-up-with-400-000-untested-rape-kits.html

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For Terence

scared sad face

For Terence

It’s like some evil game
nightmare edition
of Simon says

Why do so many people
who look like me
comb over the footage,
looking for a misstep?

The questions begin,
inevitable
hateful
cloaked in willful blindness
the cloak victim-blaming
always wears:
“Yeah but–was he
fully complying?
Why didn’t he
comply exactly?”

The wrong questions,
again
and again,
world without end

Just ask Charles Kinsey
if hands up & unarmed
& lying on your back
on the road
begging for reason
will keep a black man from being
shot if someone decides
he looks like a threat
because he is breathing

Like someone decided
12-year-old
Tamir was a threat,
sitting alone, dreaming
little-boy dreams
that will never come true.

I dream of a world where
people who look like me
will ask vastly different questions,
harder ones,
braver ones,
again and again
until this world ends

And a new world opens
one where police will be expected
to protect and serve
a father of four
car broken down
who has his hands in the air

Where de-escalation
is the absolute expectation

A world where
Terence Crutcher
would still be here
heart beating,
breathing,
alive.

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After the goldrush

photo

Early November on the roof.

I’ve been drunk-binging on nature lately, pulled from my grind-screen work and what I ‘should’ be doing to spend hours just gazing at the wonders of the fall. I end up working way too late to compensate, but you can only see the foliage in the daylight.

Such transformation is amazing. It gives me hope. As in, “I am living in a miracle world, pure, uncut amazing! Anything might happen!”

Well. It’s not all Indian summer breezes, after all. Nope. It’s a world awash in constant pain. Turn on the news or read the stream or listen to the couple behind you in line for a burrito sniping at each other–pain, pain, pain; see the face of the worn-looking woman waiting for the bus, see how a knotted thread of anxiety is pulling her features toward the center of her face, into a pinch of ache. She’s in pain, emotional, physical, spiritual–it doesn’t matter what kind of pain, does it? She’s a human, and she’s hurting.

This week I read a story in the New York Times about an Italian marathon-runner, and not an experienced or well-trained one, who came to New York to run. He was with a loosely-organized group of Italians. He spoke no English. Somewhere along the route of the marathon, he dropped his small amount of cash, along with his hotel key-card and his subway map.

He went missing for around 48 hours, wandering New York in his running clothes, disheveled, hungry, alone. Unable to communicate. After running a whole marathon, so he must’ve been flat-out depleted.  He made his way, somehow, to the airport, knowing his group would be flying out the next day. Security kicked him out, because they thought he was homeless.

A policeman noticed him on the subway the next day, and realized he was the missing foreigner.

According to Office Yam, “He kept turning and looking to the map. He seemed like he was under duress, like he happened to be lost or not knowing where he was going.” Thanks to the officer’s alertness, the hapless marathoner was saved. Happiness! Truly, it was a joyful ending to what must have been a terrifying experience for him.

Still, no mention in the news article of all the actual homeless people who are disheveled, hungry, alone and unable to communicate, who also do not know where they are going, and who are moved along and cursed at and rarely rescued. They have no group to join, it seems. Imagine the marathoner, wandering weak and scared for two whole days. Now imagine wandering—indefinitely. In the cold, in the rain. In the days that come after this golden time ends.

Sometimes I just want to not want to help, to care, to crave, to feel at all. Because I don’t know how to fix it. I can barely  manage myself.

But then: the trees.

The trees are divine spirits. They won’t let me fade into numb oblivion. They remind me that no matter what else is going on, no matter what hurts or what is messed up—that beauty is there, not caring if I eat it up or ignore it, but there all the same. Doesn’t that mean something? I take a picture. I feel pleased, and then sort of shallow at the rush of pleasure all this beauty brings. My inner scold chides me.  A picture of an amazing blazing autumn afternoon won’t heal the world.

A little voice says it might heal some tiny corner of it.

It might remind someone— someone who gets lost fighting things she cannot change—to remember to appreciate the gift of being in this world, on this day. To breathe this autumn air, and feel gratitude.

And maybe that is a tiny little start?

Maybe.

It’s not nearly enough, but you have to begin where you are, and work up from there.

 


 

“Hope without power is no match for fear with power.” –Caroline Myss

Maybe if we empower our hopes, there will be a little less fear in the world?

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The beautiful rowdy prisoners

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.
—Hafiz

Eastern State Penitentiary photo

A cell at Eastern State Penitentiary

The beautiful, rowdy prisoners.

It is their ghosts I think of as I walk past cell after cell. (I know. It’s easy, in such a ruin, to imagine ghosts.)

Silent screams echo through the ruins of Eastern State Penitentiary in the trendy Fairmount neighborhood of urban Philadelphia. This prison, now an historical museum site, has not housed inmates since its closing in 1971.

Maybe it was the humidity, pressing down on me the hot summer afternoon I visited. But I felt what I felt. I felt heavy layers of despair. I heard voices, and not just the recorded ones in the audio headset. I also heard the voices of prisoners past and prisoners present, calling me to attention.

This place was, back in the early 19th century, thought of as a ground-breaking, humanitarian response to reforming criminals. The Quaker-inspired system was based on the belief that solitude and work would allow convicts to focus on their wrong-doing, and become truly “penitent.” Prisoners, many in for crimes like horse theft, saw no one, spoke with no one, touched no one, and smiled at no one, day after day. When necessity forced prisoners to leave their cells, they were hooded so that they had no visual interaction with other humans.

Eastern State is where solitary confinement was pioneered, and perfected, the audio recording hissed in my ears, as I peered in cell after lonely cell. The Pennsylvania System, as it was dubbed, was hailed as a model.

It didn’t work. It did not reform.

But “solitary” remains a punishment used at many modern prisons in the US and is even used on prisoners under the age of 18. US state and federal prisons are currently holding as many as 100,000 inmates in solitary confinement or isolated housing, according to ACLU reports.

Human Rights Watch notes that as of 2006, the rate of reported mental health disorders in the state prison population is five times greater than in the general adult population.

What 17-year-old deserves solitary confinement? What mentally ill person deserves it? Which criminals deserve this, exactly? And who is empowered to decide and implement this torture that takes place far from the eyes of mainstream society?

As Charles Dickens said, after visiting Eastern State in 1842:

“….I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye… and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment in which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.”

I wonder at how I have slumbered. In the courtyard of Eastern State sits a sobering, three dimensional bar graph, charting the rate of incarceration in US prisons versus the rest of the world. The US has achieved world domination here. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Processing all this, I walk the corridors of Eastern State. A fog of cognitive dissonance begins to cloud my mind. The light here is soft, and beautiful as the light through any rose-windowed cathedral. The arched corridors are beautifully proportioned. In its heyday, Eastern State was hailed as a model of justice and technological advancement. On the surface, it appeared to be such a good idea. An unquestionable system, implemented by a government that knew what it was doing.

This is a reminder, one of the little voices whispers to me.

A reminder to wonder, to question. A reminder to look beyond, to see what is really happening.

I’m not entirely sure what all this means. But I know it’s not good. I keep reading. The United States prison population has increased by 500% in just thirty years. I learn that that minorities and impoverished people—the most voiceless, the least powerful— are far more likely to end up doing time. Hard time.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, prisoners are being put to work filling government contracts. Think “slave labor.” Federal Prison Industries, also known as Unicor, uses prisoners for labor, and pays as little as 23 cents an hour. And, according to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, thirty-seven states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations who bring their operations inside prison walls.

Suddenly, as I write this, I hear other voices too, jeering ones, asking me if I’m forgetting the victims, in all this wondering? No, I’m not forgetting.

But there can be many kinds of victims, after all. And many kinds of crimes, not all of them carried out by individuals.

The ghosts in my head remind me to keep wondering, to keep questioning why we as a nation keep building so very many cages.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Links to more information on this topic:

http://www.easternstate.org/

http://ellabakercenter.org/

http://www.amazon.com/Race-Incarcerate-A-Graphic-Retelling/dp/1595585419#reader_1595585419

http://www.wsj.com/articles/large-number-of-inmates-in-solitary-poses-problem-for-justice-system-study-says-1441209772

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/us/23prison.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/business/private-businesses-fight-federal-prisons-for-contracts.html

https://www.hrw.org/news/2006/09/05/us-number-mentally-ill-prisons-quadrupled

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feeling trapped

A wall, Eastern State Penitentiary.

A wall, Eastern State Penitentiary.

I’m doing a forty-day series of writing prompts to jump-start a novel that I’d let go of working on.

I write each prompt in the voice of the character of my story. A lot of it won’t be in the story, but it is a lot of fun and I’m getting to know my character much better.

Here’s today’s: Imagine a time you felt trapped or were trapped, literally. What happened? (Prompt inspired by a visit to Eastern State Penitentiary​, in Philadelphia, a prison where solitary confinement was pioneered as a punishment.)

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Kindness and Anne Frank

arrowshadowWoke thinking about kindness, about giving, about change.

How hurt people hurt people, themselves or others. Are some people hurt because few people have ever been kind to them? Maybe I’m being unbelievably naive, thinking like a fourteen-year-old girl doomed to be murdered by power-crazed regime, by people who killed humans en masse, like it was a job, and for many, it WAS their job.

But really—if more people saw the world like Anne did, if more people took time for kindness, instead of retreating to mockery, bullying and worse—maybe a revolution would begin?

“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway… And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!”
― Anne Frank

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To a certain Facebook friend (In memory of Tamir Rice)

“I don’t understand,” you commented, “how is it racist?
If those kids were raised right—they wouldn’t be shot.”

Raised right, commenting friend?
I choke on my anger
but I’ll try not to judge you
I used to believe in TV news and fairy tales, too, but now
I want you to imagine reality.

Imagine it, commenting friend,
you, who probably hunt ducks or deer with
your stocky white son, tramp the countryside
waving shotguns and rifles, never imagining:
your son executed for playing with a pellet gun

Imagine it, commenting friend,
imagine your son, gunned down, then framed for his own murder
imagine your daughter, trying to save her little brother
imagine some asshole, hundreds, thousands of assholes, saying
you raised him wrong

Promise me, commenting friend
you’ll imagine your son, wide-eyed with fear, as he bleeds
turns the snow beneath him pink, then red, while his sister
who ran to save him is tackled and bound
as the officers stand, hands on hips, not even pretending to help

Imagine later, commenting friend
when you, rightfully outraged, sick with grief
wait for justice
surely this time, this time—an indictment? It’s all on video!
He was just twelve, playing alone—surely this time, this time?
Tell me now, commenting friend
Do you still think it’s not a race thing?
I’d rather reach your heart and change your mind
than leave you untouched while children are shot and left to die.
I bleed out, listening to you who was “raised right.”

changingthings

NOTE:
3/2/15: This is a second draft of a poem originally published 12/6/14. It is quite different from draft one, and I think it says what I want to say more accurately.

Tamir Rice was playing with a pellet gun on a Cleveland, Ohio playground when someone called the police. The caller told 911 that the gun was “probably fake.” Surveillance video released by the police shows the officers’ car pulling up right next to the boy, and shows an officer shooting Tamir in the stomach within seconds of pulling up. Tamir was 12.

Officer Loehmann, the shooter, was not indicted.

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Chokehold

Icantbreathe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chokehold

“I can’t breathe!”
Eric Garner’s last words,
gasped as Officer Pantaleo’s hands
squeezed his windpipe shut.

“I can’t breathe,” Garner pleaded
as he died, begging—
every cell in his body
screaming for oxygen.

“No reasonable cause,”
said the D.A.,
when the grand jury choked on logic
refusing to indict even though

the medical examiner ruled
Garner’s death a homicide.
“I can’t breathe!”
protesters chanted.

“This fight ain’t over, it just begun,”
said Esaw Garner. In her voice
I hear every cell in her body
screaming, begging, pleading for justice.

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Denial

I saw a picture of
Michael Brown’s mother
as she heard the verdict.
I felt her mother’s pain
radiate into my heart,
into my safe flat-screened life
a roaring scream—
and with the pain,
my own weak shame:
in my white-bubble youth
I was taught justice would be served—
to everyone, it says so right here.

No. Justice fled, unarmed
was shot dead
in an alley
on a street
in the dark
in the night—
Justice was too threatening,
I think that was it?
Justice was gunned down
in a hail of close-range verdicts
excusing the inexcusable:
racism denied is still racism.

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