The Aftermath

OK y’all. These are rough times.  Everyone’s mad. Trump’s got us all freewheeling on the end of his unyielding yo-yo string.  Executive orders are flying and the worst of our fears are coming true.  But we can’t live like this.  We just can’t.  It’s not sustainable.  We are all going to have early heart attacks or drinking problems or politics-induced panic disorder or some newly-minted diagnosis that will spring up as a result of these twisted-ass times.

Today I had to take a deep breathe and remember that we are dealing with a crazy person. A literal crazy person who happens to have been elected president or our United States.  We cannot be surprised by any action he takes from this point forward.  He has a mental illness and he will continue to take action on any unwieldy, unreasonable, emotionally-charged whim that crosses his mind and is within—albeit questionably—his democratic power.  So there’s that.  No more surprises.  This is just who he is.  And maybe who a lot of America is since we voted for him en masse.

Here are some thoughts and paths forward I’ve been thinking on:

  • As a person of many privileges, my life will probably not be that directly impacted or damaged no matter who is in office.
  • Having said that, many people’s lives will and already have been torn at the seams and it’s my place to protect and defend those lives.
  • I am done with protesting—for now, at least. And in thinking about where to pick up the torch and go to battle I’ve landed on doing more of what I’m already doing with what’s before me.
    • Writing: I want to do more of this in a way that’s useful for folks on both sides of the aisle. I want to do this to articulate how strongly I think and feel about our shared humanity and pointing to ways in which we do not protect that and how we can do better.
    • Dialogue: I want to create spaces for dialogue. Because I believe that is the only thing that will truly get us out of this polarized mess we’re in. These spaces will be in casual conversations with friends, on social media, through art and through finding people on both sides who are willing to at least engage—not agree, just engage.
    • Work: As a person in a place of leadership at my workplace, I have a responsibility to create an environment and culture that challenges the status quo and flips oppression on it’s head. I want to find new avenues to recruit employees that have been typically left out of the mainstream—those with criminal convictions or disabilities or a lack of formal education. I want to pave the way for people of color to take on leadership positions and advocate for higher salaries of all non-profit workers. I want to make sure we are not only providing services to people, but are offering them ways to connect with and use their own power—through voting or community organizing or knowing their rights.
    • Criminal Justice: While Trump is shutting out refugees, we have millions of men and women in our country’s prisons who feel and are treated like foreigners in their own homeland. In fact, many who have come home refer to themselves as “returning citizens”. We are incarcerating men and women because we have been taught to fear their skin color and have recruited a police force who embrace that fear in the line of duty. Because we have underfunded their neighborhoods and their schools and left them with no other options. And when these men and women have completed their sentences we continue to punish them with supervised parole and withholding their voting rights and finding every excuse not to hire them based on their past convictions. And God knows what this presidency has in store for them. So I will continue to fight their fight until we have a justice system that is, in fact, just.

 

 

Today we remember Leonard Strickland and Bradley Ceasar

A few days ago The New York Times published this special report about an inmate’s 2010 death at the Clinton Correctional Facility.  Leonard Strickland, an inmate who suffered from Schizophrenia, had been serving four and a half years for possession of a weapon.  Strickland got into an argument with the prison guards and ended up dead, suffering multiple cuts, bruises and internal bleeding by the time the ambulance arrived.  We’ve heard this story before.

We’ve heard this story before and we haven’t heard this story before.  Or maybe it’s that we haven’t heard it enough.  Another inmate (Bradley Ceasar) died a couple years before Strickland at this same facility under similar circumstances.  According to the article, several prisoners have filed officer brutality cases at Clinton and I’m sure with the right amount of research, one wouldn’t be hard pressed to find similar occurrences at jails and prisons around the country–deaths waived off as medical emergencies or necessary for keeping the peace.  Witnesses never allowed to testify or even sought after.

In the last part of this piece we see a glimpse of how our system of incarceration reverberates to families and communities.  Strickland’s 70 year old mother would take a six hour bus trip once a month to visit her son because, in New York State (and many other states), prisoners are kept as far from their neighborhoods and loved ones as possible.  Mrs. Strickland did not have the financial resources to provide a funeral for her son and he was buried at the Clinton Correctional Cemetery a mile from the prison–an ending no mother envisions for her child.

I wonder if Mrs. Strickland grieved the dreams she had for her son Leonard or if she grieved a system that allowed for things to end this way.  Or if she had long ago stopped dreaming.