Saturday, September 21, 2013

It's Time to Stop Giving Time

Oil & Cold Wax with Collage
11 x 14 inches
Blame it on Netflix. We got hooked on, Orange Is The New Black, a new series about a young woman's year in prison. After we watched the last episode of the first season, I couldn't wait for season two, so I bought the book, which is a memoir written by Piper Kerman about her 13 months spent in Danbury minimum security prison.
I just finished her memoir this week and what impressed me, along with her story, was the appalling state of our penal system. It's a complete failure. It's an embarrassment. It's a travesty against human rights. Imagine, in 1980, 500,000 people where in prison. Twenty eight years later, 2008, there were 2.3 million people in prison , 7 million on parole, or probation or locked up.(2008 U.S. Bureau of Justice) Many of them for non-violent crimes. 
Today, we jail a higher percentage of our citizens than any other country, including China and Iran. And the price tag, about $80 billion a year.
How did this happen? Mandatory sentencing.  It began 40 years ago, in New York, because of a rapidly growing heroin problem. Republican Gov. Nelson Rockfeller created mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years to life for anyone caught with just 4 ounces of narcotics. Quickly other states followed suit, all wanting to appear tough on drugs. 
The war against drugs. Here's the problem, it's not working. The casualty count is enormous. Families torn apart, children left motherless, fatherless, disappearing into the void of child welfare, foster homes, group homes, ready to repeat the journey of their parents. The people in jail are mostly the users and the system isn't set up to rehabilitate, it's set up to de-humanize and punish. Over crowded, under educated, malnourished. That's our penal system.
Kerman has taken her experience and along with writing an interesting memoir, has chosen this journey as an educational platform to teach us what is really going on behind those bars and how hard it is for the majority of inmates to have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and return to the outside ready to be embraced by society and make a meaningful contribution. No wonder the rate of recidivism is so high.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The ghost in our home

Erika, 17
I was born in post-war Germany in 1951. We immigrated to the States when I was nine with my post-air force step father. My mother and her brothers and sisters grew up in Hitler's Germany. She never mentioned the war. 
If I asked she would say, "Evelyn, I do not want to talk about it!" 
At the age of 11, I became very curious about the war and began reading books on the subject. That's when I learned about Hitler's grand plan to make the Aryan race the superior, one and only race on the earth and his diabolic program to exterminate all other races, especially the Jewish people. 
I was stunned, horrified and stricken. Even though I was not born during that time, I felt the shame of being a German. How could a people do that to other people?
I believe we all carry darkness inside us. If we choose to nurture that darkness, it becomes a monster that rules and we become less than animals. Hitler nurtured his demons and surrounded himself with other monsters, and so the nightmare of the Holocaust was born, fed and committed. 
What my mother witnessed, I do not know. I do know it was impossible to live in Germany during that time and not know something evil was happening. But as a child and a teenager, what could you do? And as you grow older and your understanding matures, how do you carry that burden with you?  
My mother got pregnant in 1950. She was not married. I thank her daily for not aborting me. Today, being a single mother is an acceptable choice. In 1951, it was not. So much easier for her to eliminate the life inside her, than to bring that life to the light.
It took courage to give birth to me. Maybe it was because of what she had lived through, the waste, the sorrow, the deaths, that made her decide to choose life.
 Me, 4
Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows. Rainer Maria Rilke