Thursday, July 24, 2014

Incarceration: Humanity or Inhumanity?

The following article that a friend posted made me realize I was missing an opportunity to discuss an issue that is very personal to me.

Preying on the Poor: For-Profit Probation

I particularly liked the title because when you say "Prey" out loud, you might think "Pray" and I believe that is a part of the issue as well as a solution. I often wonder what access inmates have to their own religious texts for all beliefs like they do when they are free.


Listen with your heart, especially when following links to articles and videos I reference. I don't agree with everything in them and I bet it will be the same for you.

We have given a certain amount of responsibility for our safety and welfare to the government and the responsibility for carrying it out or failing to do so should remain with them. That includes the complete responsibility for doing it and budgeting the money for every program needed to break the cycle of returning to jail instead of breaking the person.

I respect law enforcement and they have treated with me respect in my own encounters. I hold them in my heart and am grateful for their protection and the hard job they do.

I do believe it is a very dangerous job to police inmates and law enforcement officials have a right to protect themselves and use their best judgment to decide what force is necessary in every situation. That is a HUGE responsibility and a hard one to maintain when you are also trying to stay alive. Most people don't understand this and some of the examples that follow show how biased news agencies and individuals can be.

For example, jump to 3:12 in the video "Torture in American prisons". It is an attempt by the creator of the video to sensationalize a short clip to make the police look bad. The clip shows inmates fighting and police attempting to break it up. If you jump to 18:00, the interviewer implies using lots of man-power was uncalled for.

I disagree with the interviewer. I think it's one of the most courageous ways to diffuse this situation. The inmates were already fighting. Instead of the police standing back and using their weapons, they risk their own lives and physical injury by simply wrestling the inmates to the ground. More guards help to restrain arms, legs, and heads. They were very courageous and no weapons appeared to be used.

Another example, at 16:55 in the same video "Torture in American prisons", listen to part of the discussion on using pepper spray. You get the feeling that even pepper spray is wrong.

The narrators imply no force should be used and that's just ridiculous. The police have to have tools to protect themselves and resolve problems AND the good judgment to know when, what and how much is enough. Again, a lot to do on top of simply staying safe and alive!!!

Image from the purple oasis.

So let us hope it is a minority that feels it is important to punish them even further than taking away their freedom or subduing them. Those that punish can be very cruel in their activities, , from humiliation to physical abuse, overcrowding, dirty quarters or simply lack of a good night's sleep (for fear of attack or death), as well as unhealthy maggot-filled food or other forms of starvation to name a few. When we determine who has failed in their jobs, they should be removed with no chance of working in that system again, however high or low their position and power.

Supreme Court of the United States.

Take a moment to close your eyes, quiet your mind, and seek your higher self of LOVE. We all struggle with dark desires to judge and often a worse desire to make others suffer from a false notion that we are not simply more wise than the incarcerated but MOST WISE.

Forgiveness is a good start but we must then raise others up by reaching down and offering a bit of charity in the form of a helping hand to those less fortunate.

Every person deserves a certain amount of respect.

We should not profit off of, make destitute, or make our citizens feel crime is the only answer. If a person has no money, they should be helped through the WHOLE process including their attempt to start over.

Our goal should be to realize we are in this together, one tribe. When we help another, we all benefit. So don't suck them dry of what little they have with probation-related issues such as court fees, drug test fees, and inflexible times to meet those demands. Holding a job and paying bills is hard enough. Take that money away and make them miss work and you are guilty of pointing them back towards that life of crime, no matter how much, deep down in their soul, that divine spark in EVERYONE desires something better.

Find ways to foster their spirit and encourage positive change. As an example, the Angola prison in Louisiana mentioned in "">Preying on the Poor" seems to doing a lot of humane things and seeing positive results.

Here are organizations that can help you do more: "Stop Prison Abuse", "Southern Center For Human Rights", "Equal Justice Initiative", and "Southern Poverty Law Center".

I watch a show on Netflix called Orange is the New Black. It tries to inject humor into a very non-humorous situation. It reminds me how easily any of us could wind up in jail. I also identify with Crazy Eyes who you might be surprised to see when not incarcerated. My point being, I imagine that is what being behind bars would do to any of us, even myself, in the best of conditions. And I know it is much worse in certain situations.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Palm Oil - You're not going to like it...

I recently went looking for Palm Oil in an effort to try my hand at making soap from scratch (instead of spending $4 to $5 for specialty bars). Short of going to hobby stores (a hot topic on its own!), I hadn't found a reasonable source yet. In the meantime, I got the Birmingham Zoo's "Animal Tracks" which contained an article and links about Palm Oil.

I'd read about it before at the Orangutan exhibit but since it had popped up again, I figured it was time to look a little closer.

There are two island countries, Borneo and Sumatra (below China and above Australia). My geography isn't good so I thought I'd give more well known land masses for others like myself.

I have to admit, I hadn't realized that Orangutan's habitats existed ONLY on these two island nations! They are also considered to be some of the smartest of the ape family.

So the issue is that corporations are more interested in destroying their homes to make way for highly-profitable Palm Tree plantations and Americans are the largest consumer of this product.

The picture above is from one of the adults (the mother, I believe) in the Orangutan exhibit at the Birmingham Zoo. Look closely at the picture. I'm not sure the solution to destroying their habitat is to put them in a cave with mostly artificial trees. Granted, our zoo did finally provide a skylight but for arboreal (living mostly in trees) animals, a cave without a single living tree seems more cruel than death. Just look at the picture, an adult ape clinging to a blanket, sleeping and ignoring it's child, and turned away from the glass and it's obvious it's not just unhappy, it's depressed.

If we weren't using so much Palm Oil, they might still be in the wild. Until we can provide a better artificial habitat, we should try to buy products from companies that are members of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). Here's a list and you can get an app to determine if a product contains palm oil.

For me, finding other alternatives are a lot easier. At least until we've lost the battle, put all the apes in caves, and done away with that annoying "natural habitat" all together. Yeah, I'm a cynic. A realistic one. Capitalism and corporations rule even "so-called" democracies nowadays. Does the natural world really have a chance anymore?

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Living End

When I first came out, I got a chance to spend two weeks up in Canada with my boyfriend.

We went out to see the premiere of a new movie, "The Living End".

We saw it in a regular theater with over a hundred mostly GLBT people. There were many couples and it was my first public display of holding hands and acting like a regular couple. I was giddy. I felt as if everyone were my friend and since no one knew me, I had no fear of some ackward encounter.

The movie itself was interesting in that I was just coming out. I had only been out a little over a year in 1992, age 29. I didn't have many friends in the community and had few encounters with HIV+ people, having lost only one to AIDS that I knew at the time.

Everyone else had many stories and many losses. You could feel it and see it and I felt like an outsider or someone that hadn't paid their dues yet but I was grateful I hadn't gone through it. I could tell there was so much pain and anger and loss and suffering and frustration.

I think that's why even this low-grade movie had an impact. I felt some of the outrageious things they did were things we all thought of doing but didn't want to dare. Seeing them on the screen was a sort of release.

I've lost dear friends since then but I am thankful so many more remain healthy. I've been surprised by the predators that are out to infect others. Saddened by the boys infected early and dying. Angry at the families that hide it like something to be shamed of. And proud of the ones that lead the fight openly as HIV+ educators and fund raisers and those that simply make it part of their life, nothing more or less.

We need to remember this battle still continues and remain hopeful. It was nice to revisit this show on Netflix and remember a very special time in my coming out process. I'm very thankful to still be here and healthy. I hope we all remain so.