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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

30 Days of Love: prisons and opportunity gone missing

jailAmerica loves prisons. “Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000.” So says the Centre for Global Research, at least. I believe them.

Today’s 30 Days of Love prompt is that we consider how to better welcome formerly incarcerated Americans into society. Maybe we should look, first, at why we jail so many in the first place.

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Too few Americans are aware that private prisons only make money if they’re full. Ergo, there’s pressure to put folks in jail. And too few Americans know that African Americans are jailed at a 6/1 ratio compared to whites. Or that “[f]rom 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people…. and[t]oday, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.” We don’t look very ‘civilised,’ do we?children in prison

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In Oklahoma, we especially love to put our women in prison: “there were 127 female prisoners in 2012 for every 100,000 female residents, the highest incarceration rate in the country and up from 122 in 2011.”

And all of this costs us right at $70 BILLION annually. To ruin people’s lives over, quite often, non-violent crimes. Because in many states (see the discussion at 30 Days of Love) men and women with arrest records alone — much less cell time — are automatically eliminated from even interviews for job. And with the lessening of safety nets for their dependents, entire families are condemned, even after sentences are served, to poverty.

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I don’t know how to fix this. But I do know that I vote carefully, bringing my engaged Buddhist social conscience into the ballot box on every vote I cast. I don’t vote for men and women — or parties — who make imprisonment a big part of their campaigns. In  Oklahoma, the same bag of marijuana that you can buy legally in Colorado can get you a lengthy prison term. Again, condemning you and your dependents to a life difficult to sustain in health. And I don’t believe in prisons for profit — forcing arrests to make money??

That’s not right. And it certainly isn’t loving.

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30 Days of Love: Inclusion

inclusion4Inclusion is a big deal to me (I know — so many things are!). Perhaps because I grew up on the outside, often looking in. Maybe because my family is pretty polyvalent. And maybe because it IS important. Every voice needs to be acknowledged, listened to, and paid respect.

For whatever the reason, when I saw today’s prompt for 30 Days of Love, I could relate: how do we know when we’re included? What makes us FEEL included?

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Despite my appearance now — nice middle-aged white woman of privilege :) — I grew up odd kid out. White kid in Việt Nam, or Thailand; new kid over & over; white chick in the Middle East (where only the prostitutes looked like me :) ). I didn’t fit in, and it was obvious. I’ve never forgotten. I actually left university — at least in part — because there wasn’t any literature by my friends: no black or brown or many women writers being taught. I love literature — and did then, as well — but where was Eldridge Cleaver (whom I had to find on my own), or Richard Wright? Where was Maude Meehan or May Sarton?inclusion 2

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Then when I applied for my doctorate, there wasn’t a single woman teaching in my area of concentration. So I didn’t go at that time. It wasn’t until there was another woman that I applied. Why would I want to go somewhere no one looked like me? How could they possibly know my life? Get my work?

Next, in my graduate work, I was a ‘returning student.’ Re: older than the rest of the bunch. And when I found my ultimate university job, I wasn’t a ‘real’ academic: I directed a federal grant. Not tenure-track, but administrative and teaching. Never mainstream — always an outlier.

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30 Days of Love: a military tradition of service, and what we owe

DudleyKorea

Daddy in Korea

This is my father, who served in three wars: WWII, the Korean War — from when this was taken — and the Việt Nam Conflict. He served in multiple theatres (China, Korea, Việt Nam, the Battle of the Bulge, Germany, France, et al), sustaining several major injuries. When I was a little girl, I used to trace the deep scars on his calf, where a bullet entered and exited. He eventually retired as a light colonel (Lieutenant Colonel). Just this winter he was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.

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My 2nd sister also served, Việt Nam era, Army. A lifer, as we say, retiring as  Staff Sergeant. My 3rd sister served in the Air Guard. My nephew was Army. My father-in-law Merchant Marine (which had the highest fatality rate in WWII). My husband was a Việt Nam DMZ Marine. Uncles and cousins served at Annapolis, at the Pentagon, overseas, and locally.

Dori in full rig

Dori in full rig

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In other words? The military is a BIG part of my family culture and tradition. But I’m a pacifist by calling. That may seem incongruous, unless you consider what happens to those who serve: they often die. And then there are the fates far worse than a clean death: death on a battlefield, POW status, PTSD, major disability… All too often, our vets sacrifice far more than their lives.

The thing about the armed forces is that you always knew they would take care of you. You had  GI bill, and GI benefits, and VA medical if you needed them. You had a VA loan for a house, and other benefits PROMISED you by the government, in return for which you often gave up your very sanity. Certainly in my family, we understand the devastating impact of PTSD.  Not to  mention fragmented families, dislocating moves, and the other challenges to military life.

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Daddy's memorabilia2PTSD wasn’t identified until Việt Nam’s vets began to manifest it in far more visible numbers than WWII’s taciturn veterans. Even though my beloved Aunt Bonnie would tell us how CD, her son, was never the same after his service on Iwo Jima, and in the Pacific theatre. And my father would tell me that all wars were the same: men died, and those who came home never forgot it. It’s been that way, Jonathan Shay reminds us, since Achilles & Odysseus.

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This is all by way of saying that today’s 30 Days of Love directive involves connecting to those who serve(d). Not only honouring them with words, but with our welcome into our wisdom traditions, with care for the injuries they have sustained on our behalf. And with respectful recognition that they have been warriors — something not all traditions are comfortable with. That’s okay, because if you support our veterans, then you are verrry careful where you send them. Because many will DIE. And their families will suffer whether or not they return. That makes me a die-hard pacifist.

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30 Days of Love: radical love…?

radical love 2Today’s 30 Days of Love prompt is to embrace radical love: the idea of trying to love the people with whom you disagree. This is, as I’ve noted elsewhere, hard for me. It’s hard for me (darn near impossible… sigh) to ‘love’ haters.

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So, I’m glad that love is considered radical. Because it sure feels that way. Radical, and HARD.

But worth trying. I can think of far too many folks I disagree with, unfortunately. So my work is definitely cut out for me. I’m already trying (again, HARD) to practice the ‘double-consciousness’ discussed in the 30 Days of Love blog. When I hear people saying horrible things about immigrants, I remember that ALL of my family emigrated. Fleeing persecution, famine, lack of opportunities. At least sometimes, I can remember their courage, instead of yelling at the dolt who’s lumped all people trying to better their lives into a ‘bad brown people’ category.30 days of love

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When I want to whack someone for the latest (bad) flavour of education reform, I try instead to recall the wonderful students I’ve taught over the years, and my efforts to help them see teaching as one of the most necessary forms of witness.

This doesn’t work all the time. But it’s my version of radical love, and at least I’m still trying! What about you? How do you manage (or do you?) to get along with people holding very different values?

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