Thursday, September 13, 2007

don't read if you don't feel like hearing a vent about injustice

Today I am furious. Today I am sad.

The reservations that arise in my heart about having a child are intimately connected to the injustices I witness day after day after day.

Below is the story of a man that wrote to AFSC, the organization where I work, with a request to get him a tent and sleeping bag so he could go live in the desert once he maxed out of prison. I should point out that this stint he has served five years and spent almost every single one of those days in solitary confinement. That amounts to 23 to 24 hour lock down 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The 23 hours gets referred to cause five times a week people in solitary get let out into a dog run for one hour. If a prisoner exhibits “bad” behavior, he/she gets the one-hour out privilege revoked.

Anyhow, this fellow was serving prison time on a non-violent crime for a B & E. He’s been in and out of prison since 1974 all for B & E type crimes (all because he has mental health issues and has been homeless his whole adult life).

Through our good American practice of punishing to the max, we have intentionally contributed to the exacerbation of this man’s disconnection, isolation, and mental anguish. We, and yes it is us and if you don’t feel responsible then you are even more responsible, passively stand by and watch the planet gasp for air around us, the animals of the planet disappear, and the human animals of the planet stumble about in the throngs of unnecessary suffering. That is suffering we create folks, not that suffering inherent to being alive. I mean for fuck sake there is no reason, no matter what, to keep people locked up in 10 by 12 cages with no freedom of movement for years on end. And I do not want to go into how the justice system is predicated on a racist, classist foundation that renders behaviors that deviate from the norm as criminal, but I will say this more than ¾ of the people incarcerated in MI are in there for no good reason (not that there is ever a good reason to lock people up)—and yes I pulled the ¾ figure out of my ass.

So, we keep this man locked up for most of his adult life and then dump him on the street. Except this time we, people at AFSC, have been able to minimally intervene. This minimal intervention amounts to the following:
Correspond with him and ask what he wants out of life
Ask the DOC to transfer him downstate so that we can pick him up from the prison gates upon release
Ask the Psychological services at the DOC to evaluate him so he can get back on the mental health medications he wants to be on (or at least he did want to be on)
Ask the DOC to help him fill out his SSI paperwork so that he can get some assistance from the state upon release
Ask the DOC and him to help us get a copy of his birth certificate so he can re-establish his identity upon release
Ask the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative in Washtenaw County to try to get him hooked up with services upon his release

What happens with all of this intervention?
Not a goddamn, fucking thing. Oh, except my director spoke with this man’s counselor at the prison today. The counselor was kind enough to pull the man out of his segregation cell and report that the man is doing okay. He needs a haircut; does not smell too bad; and won’t come close to the counselor even thought the counselor told him he could. Counselor stated, “I can tell he’s been in segregation a long time.”

And the other thing—my director will go pick him up at the prison gates on Monday and bring him to where?? Good question. He has no place to go.

So, here it starts. He hits the streets; he might use some illegal substances if that shit makes him feel better; he might just keep to himself. But when no money is coming in, he might end up taking something from the self-righteous citizenry. And then one of us might call the police on him cause some dirty, long-haired black man is snooping through our trash looking for bottles. Or maybe he walks into your unlocked home and steals some of your home appliances made in china and then you call the police. And then he gets picked back up and sent to the jail where they discover his long rap sheet. And then he gets tried on some B & E. And then he goes back to the state prison. And then he gets no psychological help. And then he ends up back in solitary confinement.

And five years from now, maybe I’ll have a little kid on my lap and another letter will arrive at our office asking for a sleeping bag and tent so that this same man can go live in the desert by himself.

Or maybe—if I can muster a bit of hope out of the cavernous mess of gloom I seem to have fallen into—we will have found a bit more compassion for one another and he can go live with some people who will show him what it means to be loved and cared for and safe no matter what.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

i appreciate the rant. It's nice to know that not everyone in the world has fallen into an apathetic stupor. i'm sorry to hear about this man--i really hope that things work out for him, but you're right--the outlook isn't so good.