ON THE FAILURE OF THE NEW YORK STATE PRISON SYSTEM TO ADDRESS THE NEEDS OF ITS CONSTITUENCY IN OFFERING ACCESS TO THE TOOLS THAT HELP AN INDIVIDUAL TO RECOVER HIS SENSE OF SELF AND DIGNITY AND COPE WITH THE REALITIES OF HIS LIFE.
Lhomme, pour adoucir en certaines circomstances la ferocite de son amour propre ou le desir de se consever avant la naissance de cet amour tempere lardeur quil a pour son bien etre par une repugnance innee a voir souffrir son semblable.
The New York State prison system, in particular, the institutions under discussion of Greenhaven and Rikers Island, failing to meet the needs of its constituency, instead contributes to the breakdown of an individual. Terrence Williams who was interviewed, spoke of the helplessness inmates feel as a result of abuse "they become fearful stop reacting, when maybe they should." While individuals who enter the system may have severe physical and psychological issues to contend with, it is clear that no matter what the situation one walks in with, the situation is exacerbated while in prison. This applies to drug rehabilitation, violent criminal tendencies, and physical / medical complications.
Prison could be used for good. In the case of Sabrina Jefferson, prison was the thing that seemed to assist her arrest of drug use.
Sabrina Jefferson is now 30 years old. From the age of fourteen on, she was a drug user, beginning with marijuana. She considers that her motivations for seeking the drugs stem from a desire to connect with a mother who was loving but unavailable, due to long work hours and neglectful to Sabrina due to her loyalty to an abusive stepfather. Sabrina's drug use also was affected by her alcoholic stepfather who caused such a deep physical wound by a blow to the head when she was thirteen that Sabrina began to have seizures. Sabrina is HIV positive, a result of the many years of drug abuse. Her longest abstinent period was aproximately two years.
Currently, under an "alternatives to incarceration program" Sabrina Jefferson, now released from Rikers Island, resides at Project Greenhope, a residential treatment program for formerly incarcerated women.
Sabrina experienced guilt at not having been present for her children. When asked what she found most helpful in her current program she mentioned the opportunity to share her feelings in a therapeutic group setting. She said that sometimes, she would get very emotional and not know how to channel it. Sabrina also shared about the trauma of her pregnancy. She was shackled at the hands and feet at Elmhurst hospital and was left alone to have the baby. A nurse returned a few minutes after the baby had been born, even though Sabrina had been screaming for help the whole time. Sabrina since took Elmhurst to court but did not win the case because it was her words against theirs. With the pressure of television and print media, however, the practice of shackling women to the bed while giving birth has been reformed. Sabrina also mentioned the Narcotics Anonymous program and said that it "boosts her spiri
Sabrina Jefferson said that what she needed most was to be able to get in touch with her inner feelings and have the opportunity to heal in a group setting, particularly a twelve step program and rehabilitative support group in her ATI (alternatives to incarceration) program. Prison did not offer her that, although it made her stop taking drugs for that small period. What most needs to be addressed, in her case, is the drug addiction, which seemed to have been the single most powerful force in directing the course of her life. What the prison system seemed to have done, with the exception of the ATI program, was to contribute to the already dangerously low self-esteem she already experienced by placing her in physical situations, in essence, saying, you are not worthy of care. Sabrina could not even pick up her child when giving birth, because her shackles were helf firmly behind her, the baby lay in a pool of blood on the bed for a three minutes before someone walked in. Sabrina was also given no painkillers to assist in her pregnany. She was pregnant when locked up. She now has hopes of completing her education and getting some training in accountancy.
Terrence Stevens is one of the worst case of system failure I have ever encountered. He was sentenced at age 24 to 15 years of incarceration under the New York State Rockefeller drug laws. He served eight and a half years of this term before being given clemency by Governor Pataki, after, mounting pressure from the press brought publicity to his case. Terrence has muscular dystrophy. This is a condition that he was born with and was exacerbated while in prison. He wnet to the Green Have Correctional Facility in Stormville, NY.
The circumstances under which Terrence was incarcerated was while traveling with a friend who carried drugs in his suitcase. The police claimed that the suitcase was belonged to Terrence although Terrence says that is untrue. Terrence said that the judge had no choice, because of the mandatory minimum laws, but to incarcerate him for the excessive period.
When Terrence arrived in jail, he found a prison completely incapable, and possibly unwilling to accommodate his handicap. Terrence is completely paralized from the legs down. While in prison, as a result of bumping into a pothole in the prison courtyard, he was thrown from his wheelchair and suffered two herniated discs, loss of hearing in one ear and head trauma. Because bathroom doorways were not wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, wheelchair-confined individuals were forced to "urinate and defecate on themselves" when prison staff was not available. Terrence said "I often felt like a human toilet rolling around on four wheels". Terrence was not allowed to see a muscular dystrophy specialist for the first seven years of incarceration, as a result, his "spine slumps to the left, closing down on my lung, causing increased breathing complications limbs were extremely stiff and painful strenght and mobility deteriorated nursing staff members refused to follow doctors' orders to stretch my limbs the pain from the stiffness was unbearable." Terrence never received the medical caring his condition warrants, including assistance in bathing, feeding, getting in and out of bed. He also would have needed to be turned every two hours to ease respiratory complications and prevent skin break down.
When asked what was most helpful to him, Terrence mentioned a "self - educating type of process" as well as assistance of volunteers from the "outside". He mentioned that prison programs were not sufficient because it was a "rehabilitation dependent on the system the system turns rehabilitation into punishment people who attempted to go to NA were harrassed " Terrence said: "how can you be rehabilitated if you're made to feel powerless?"
Terrence, who claims his innocence was treated with something akin to barbarity and evil. Physical and psychological pain were his lot. Nina Rosenblum, a filmaker was quoted at an NYU film forum on the correctional system as saying "What's happening is something so disgusting and degrading and inhumane". Terrence, who may very well have been innocent was put into a system and suffered conditions that almost no American citizens could not come close to identifying as part of their experience. When attempting to address the wrongs of the prison system to alleviate his pain by filing a lawsuit, suffered from retaliation, for example, "being put into solitary confinement for forty days, for disobeying an order to strip search" - this while he is completely paralyzed.He was not offered the opportunity for rehabilitative programs because of the vindictiveness of individuals in the system. In a discussion group on April 30th, Judge Marks, a retired New York State Supreme Court judge spoke of the the Rockefeller drug laws "the most unjust law enacted in my time". It was under this law that Terrence, who had no prior conviction, was sentenced. He said of the judge "he had no choice, it was the law, he probably wouldn't have given it to me." The Rockefeller drug laws need to be addressed in the prison system, as does the needs for appropriate medical personnel and handicapped access if this state is to pursue conviction of individuals who are physically handicapped. Terrence says his life is good now, he is in the process of attempting to re-adapt to society.
Nina Rosenblum, a filmaker, spoke of the practice of drugging thirteen year olds in American prisons "The kid, maybe 13, is drugged for 2 years, 3 years, indefinitely, shots and shots of these kids being shot away, make sentences indefinite (this is) wicked and diabolical". Adults seem to be locked up at a younger and younger age and not afforded the opportunity for a productive life. One released inmate said "they are wasting us they are wasting productive members of society".
At Project Return in Harlem, a transition program for men on parole spoke to several gentlemen. These were Master, Supreme, Indio and George. All were now in their late thirties, no younger than thirty seven, and all had entered the prison system on long term charges before the age of 20, no younger than 17, and no older than 19. All four have been in and out of the system for the entire period between that first incarceration and today. Three are black, one is latino. They were locked up originally on violent robbery charges and then a cycle of parole violations and so on kept bringing them back to the system. The prisons the men had been to included Greenhaven, Attica, Sing Sing, Fishkill. The list went on and on. Master said he had been to something life fifteen jails. An entire lifestyle in prison
Master said the system changed him by "making me smarter", he elaborated to say that it had made him more cunning, a better criminal. Master said "yes, to be honest with you, I feel that the system has stripped me".
Poverty may have been a factor in these men's motivations for the robberies, Supreme spoke about being hungry as a child "it's like you go to school, but you can't focus, you can't concentrate, 'cause you're hungry."
When Indio was asked what would have helped him, when he was at that young age, to be different, he spoke of the disappointment of being rejected for parole for no apparent reason, he said "I did everything they wanted programs, classes, treatment, good behavior so when they said no for no good reason, it's like I got angry at the system 'cause I was scared then, I would have done anything they wanted." Indio also talked about the practice of putting in long time offenders along with men who may have one to three years. He said "why would you want to do that? You've got someone with 140 years, he's got nothing to lose, why would you put him with a kid with 1-3 years something's going to happen to that kid".
These men were not offered the opportunity for a healthy, sane, productive life. Indio is has had the training to be an electrician and Supreme has his own paralegal business. Indio is concerned that despite his skills, he may not find work as an electrician, because of his prison history. Master has had training in masonry while in prison, he mentioned that he was going to volunteer at the Metropolitan hospital in an attempt to find secure work. It is not clear, if these men are not able to find employers willing to hire convicted felons, how they are going to be able to support themselves, and therefore, survive in our "economic survival oriented" society. Errol Isenberg, a professional computer programmer, attending New York University, says of the situation "a lot of people seemed to be dropping the ball as to assisting these individuals to function in a normal society, which would, of course, include the likelihood of them returning to prison."
The notion of "inherent bad"
Al, a police officer patrolling Harlem said "they should lock them away for life like in China never let them out there is no rehabilitation system." Many of the previously incarcerated individuals seemed to have similar beliefs in self-worth which can be extremely dangerous. Supreme said "I was a bad ass kid, for no reason, I carried a knife to school for show and tell". He proceeded to explain to me that he was fully responsible for his actions at age nine when he carried a bag of heroin to someone. No one gave it to him and it was not necessary to go into names. Sabrina Jefferson, in the course of our interview also talked about feeling things that were wrong as opposed to right and feeling shame for not being a good mother and for being HIV positive. The Twelve Step recovery philosophy, in the AA's Big Book, the second promise of the program is "we will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it." While prisoners often need to develop a sense of personal responsibility, they are not assisted in doing so in a process where they are denied help, randomly abused, physically mistreated and constantly labeled "bad" for reacting to circumstances that most of American society never come across, such as violence, poverty, drug epidemics, and racism.
Much work needs to be done in the prison system, for one, it is counterproductive to incarcerate men or women who, under the age of 21, are not considered responsible enough to handle liquor, according to our national laws but have to take responsibility for crimes whose punishment period may last for the majority of their lives. Special consideration should be given to people who have their whole lives ahead of them and they must not be denied parole on the first offense unless there are extremely, particularly severe circumstances that can be documented and challenged in court, as this may be a unique opportunity for them to embrace reform. There should be a maximum period of incarceration for anyone convicted at that age so that these men and women have something to look forward to before the prison mentality because so deeply rooted in their identity that they do not know how to survive elsewhere. This should include the Rockefeller drug laws which cannot justify incarcerating a young person for fifteen years while a murderer might get five. Mandatory minimum sentencing is also unjust in that it does not take into account extenuating circumstances, such as a young man suffering from muscular dystrophy. This was enough to warrant executive clemency, it should have been enough to have given the option to a judge to reconsider a sentencing period, instead of tying his hands as was done in Terrence's case. If the prison system cannot offer humane conditions for inmates who require medical care for extenuating circumstances, that it must be illegal to incarcerate these individuals under the constitutional precept of "protection from cruel and unusual punishment." Last, when an inmate files a lawsuit, they must be given free access to a judge, so that if any retaliation or harassment is attempted, it will affect the outcome of the case. This access should not be censored or recorded unless the inmate wishes it to be.
Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered From Alcoholism, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc., New York City, 1976
Attica Diary by William R. Coons, Stein and Day Publishers, New York, 1972
Breaking the Walls of Silence: AIDS and Women in a New York State Maximum Security Prison by the Women of the ACE program of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, The Overlook Press, Woodstock & NY, 1998
Convicts, Codes, and Contraband: The Prison Life for Men and Women by Vergil L. Williams and Mary Fish, Ballinger Publishing Company, Cambridge Mass., 1974
Correctional Reform in New York: The Rockefeller Years and Beyond by Barbara Lavin McEleney, University Press of America, 1985
Courage to Change: One Day at a Time in Al Anon II, Al Anon Family Group Headquarters, VA 1992
Curing The Criminal: A Treatise on the Philosophy and Practices of Modern Correctional Methods, MacMillan Company, New York, 1926
Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas, Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York, 1997
Inside Prison American Style by Robert J. Minton, Jr., Random House, NY, 1971
Life Without Parole: Living in Prison Today, by Victor Hassine, Roxbury Publishing Co., Los Angeles, CA
Marking Time by Jean Harris, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1991
Mothers in Prison by Phyllis Jo Baunach, Transaction Books , 1985
Proceedings of the National Prison Congress held at Atlanta, GA, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Chicago, 1887
Rousseau, Oeuvres Completes , oeuvres philosophiques et politiques: des premiers ecrits au Contrat social 1735-1762, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1971 "Discours sur lorigine et les fondemens de linegalite parmi les hommes" par Jean Jaques Rousseau a Amsterdam chez Marc Michel Rey. MDCCLV, 1755
Should Prisoners Work?: A Study of the Prison Labor Problem in the United States by Louis N. Robinson, Ph.d., The John C. Winston Company, Philadelphia, 1931
The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, Little, Brown & Company, Canada, 1979
They Always Call Us Ladies by Jean Harris: Stories from prison, by Jean Harris, Scribners, New York, 1988
New York Times: "Drug Laws Hurt Children Too: by Felicia R. Lee, Sunday, March 18, 2001
Prisons and Profits
I'm lonely. I've been dying for a few minutes now, because my friend shot me. I look up at the sky and feel sad. But I feel peace, too. I know I'll be fine. I'm going home to God. I'm sorry for the pain I caused. I'm sorry for the sorrow. I miss Celine. I miss my child. I look up at the sky and see reality. I see the sunlight. It shines down on me. It keeps me warm and I want to cry. But I know I won't. I feel so much peace. I feel the blood trickling down my chest. I can smell it. I feel pain. But I just let go of it, try not to think of it. I'll be home soon. I'll be able to watch my children and I'll be able to watch Celine, and I won't cry, and I'll join my brother, and my mother, and my uncle Smitty, the one that tied me up when I was high. I see the sunlight. It pours down on me. I hate the South. I hate the hatred. I hate to be a black man. I let myself cry. I feel my sorrow. I forgive. He doesn't know what he's doing. I brought it on myself. I'm sorry.
I'm transported to a nice, soft bed. I see Celine and my daughters, but they are at a distance, not too close, so they can't hurt me. I look up to the sky and I can see the window. I feel peace. The pain has gone away. I am clean. The sheets are white. You can see the darkness of my skin. I see a picture of children playing. There is a soft church bell outside the window. There is a breeze. It's summer. Everything is pretty, quiet. My dog is here, near me. He looks at me. I feel alone. Outside, the policemen are walking and I know God is looking at them. I hurt but I know I'm not going to hurt for a lot longer. It's almost over. And then I'll feel eternal peace. I don't have to worry about any of this. I'll be fine. I don't even want that bottle, the painkillers. I feel fine. Everything is clean, warm, pretty. Celine comes by my bed. She lays down near me, softly, as I die.
I'm flying high on a mountain top, not that I necessarily like the mountains. But I like the peaks, and I like the breeze, and being close to God. I'm wearing a long, soft, silver outfit. Soft color. My hair is down, blowing in the wind. I float a little bit above ground. I see the lake and I hear the fountains of the world. I look aside and see that green grass, and the fresh flowers. There are some small, innocent children out playing. They sound like the sound of God. I hear their laughter, carried by the wind. Further out, more peaks. And even further away, people. Angry, arguing, rageful, crowded, mean, vindictive, small minded. Unhappy. Turning around in circles, chasing each other's tails. They are held down by bars that keep them very tight, but they do not know it. It is very dark where they are. All the clothing is dark, even though the sun and the blue sky shines above them, they cannot see it. Even though the trickling of the mountains is near them, they cannot hear it. They are lonely, squeezed so tight.
Philosophy is part of the art of the soul. Philosophy is part of the patience of Higher Power. Ideology. The patience to be a part of God, accept him as he is, where he is. Gentle, peaceful, king, in love.
Accept the grace that is within you. Accept the heart, and the soul, and the destiny and the Higher Power. Do not reject life. Speak to life. Begin to know yourself in your pleasantry and talk to God. Don't abandon him. Don't leave him. He will guide you, he will show you a way. He will tell you where to go. It is a long, arduous journey. It has no end. It has only peace. You come to know yourself at every corner, you come to present yourself. You come to accept yourself. You never stop. You keep right on going. You see the guidance. You know you are home. You know you have found it. You know it is all right. It is acceptable. You know gentle. You know God. You accept him. So now, you don't have to hurt anymore. Not anymore. You can come to know, and be, and see, and feel, and accept. What freedom! What joy! Everything else is irrelevant, everything is gone. You thank God for what you have found. You are grateful now, though you were not always so. Now you see you found a way. You had a spiritual awakening. The one they talk about in all the books. The steps. You have come home. You have found your way. You love yourself. You now know there was nothing wrong with you. You are acceptable to the universe. You are exactly how you were meant to be, at all times. You are ready, and willing, to let go of pain, to accept God, to find yourself. There is no more searching. The searching has been found. You are insane. So you go on. You keep searching because how could you stop? How would you find a way then? You just keep going and pretend you don't know. Because you're not really insane. Actually, your eyes are open. Everybody else's is closed. It is your job to open their eyes, whether they like it or not. But do it gently, one day, it will make a great change. It will change many things, many hearts. And you know it in your heart, now, today, thankfully, gratefully.
Home is a state of being I never achieve, even though I try. Home is when my heart beats at peace and there is no more to hope for. It is my heart beating against Leos heart. It is me choosing love instead of hate. It is being within myself and not turning away and knowing that the universe is abundant; it will be there for me. It is knowing there is a God and he calls to me, all the time, and if I listen to that small, still voice, I wont have pain anymore. Its knowing there is a core within me that is so serene, and so strong, and that my parents could never find. It is knowing absolute peace. It is the arms of my lover, when I chose to forgive him, and love him, even though he is not perfect. It is the love within my heart, the peace that I feel once in a while, when I let myself, when I stop fighting, when I know were all connected and he loves me. Its knowing hes bigger than the matter that science can see, that I can touch him and feel him and know his presence, even when I asked him to leave. It is looking at the world and finding so much light, and knowing Gos is there, and knowing that Im doing something right, though I dont know what it is. It is when I cried and I look in the mirror and my eyes are cat like, sphinx like, beautiful, because I have allowed my spirit to come through. It is looking in the mirror and knowing it is beautiful. Knowing I am acceptance, with my flaws, but I have those same eyes, those same lips, descendent of a long line. It is being told that I have been blessed and people will be jealous of me. It is knowing I have a power, unfightable, but not knowing how I got it, but knowing it is there and feeling almost ashamed of it because some will be angry. They will want to know why the ugly girl has power. And if she is beautiful, it is worse. It is always seeing compassion and recognition in my own eyes, and sometimes hatred. It is sometimes seeing the veil in front of it, my own and others. It is seeing the veil lifting, when I look at something and it is fluid for a moment, but then it becomes clear, and I know a new level of consciousness. It is the candle when I lock myself up in the closet and look at the light and knowing that no matter how much they scream downstairs, that they wont affect the candle, and I am stable like the candle. It is the picture of Leo that reminds me of the hotel in Harlem where I found love in a bed and was able to witness dawn in magic. It is walking through the streets, looking for a diner, knowing that I will be fed soon, knowing he would not abandon me, knowing he likes it when I stick by him, that the problems only came when I stopped. Its knowing life, and death, and peace, and love. Its lying on the bed while my loved one sweats and he tells me to make him an infusion of ginger and it had never been home till he laid himself there. It is the South, where I throw myself out, where I was thrown out, where I understood despair and I heard evil voices in the wilderness, when a team of seven black cats came around me, ready to pounce, probably descendants of black slaves. And I went on the bed and I rested and his name was Smitty and I felt compassion and I felt him say "I dont know who you are, but you dont have to stay here" and it helped me to leave. And calling, and talking to someone and her saying "youre still waiting for him to change" and getting up and getting on the highway and somebody saying "God bless you" and walking, and somebody stopping, with a safe face, and act of God because I had not asked him to, and him dropping me off at the Fayetteville bus station because I look like his Mexican daughter of sixteen he hasnt seen in years and me walking up to the car windows and asking if I could get a ride and the cold white faces and their blue peering eyes nodding no. It is seeing the devil dance in their eyes when they saw me with him. It is knowing he is watching when I kiss his cadaver. It is knowing I have been OK, for a time, that he saved me. That he kept me from dying as I would have. It is him telling me he saw the desire of death in me, and him having it too. Only he succeeded. I was saved. It is him taking my One Day at a Time book and ripping it and burning it, because he feels threatened. It is him saying he knew I was going to leave. It is him looking at me while I run over to the white side of town, because I wont be kept out and telling him its OK, he can walk there too, they cant stop him, and being wrong. It is him dying because he spoke up and they hated a strong black man, it made them wince, even though he had white blood and he had killed people and he had defended their country and he had their blood, their cruelty, and their arrogance. I told him and he puffed himself up. But they destroyed him. They wanted him bent over and skinny, like all the other black men. And it breaks my heart. And I tried to break him because he tried to break me and I hated him as much as I loved him and thats when I left because I couldnt let what we had turn into hate. It was too beautiful. It is accepting. That there will be a time. I will see him again. It is not time now. Now my home has to be here, amidst the world, in my seven studio. It is the pastel colors and freshly painted white supernatural reflection around the window sills and the shadows in the evening and the Spanish guys saying "Can I date you?". Home is here. Though I do not wish to be here. But I am home. And safe. Within my self. These four walls. I have created as a haven, where you will not be let in unless you are nice to me, where you do not have a guaranteed right to be. As long as I keep paying my rent, my home is safe, and that is a gift. I did not always have it. Once, I had to watch out for you and for your troubles. Today, I get to watch for my own. I am very thankful. I hope never to leave, if ever. A long time of peace. Like in Israel. Like what theyre trying to accomplish even though everyone hates the Jews, just because theyre Jews, like they destroyed my grandparents and my fathers family. But I wont be like that. If you want to kill me, kill me for me. And I may fight back. I may not be so forgiving. I may take a knife to your heart. I hope you understand. Its part of the process / self realization. I cant allow myself to be a victim. I dont deserve it. I deserve better. No matter what my family told me. Home is loving unconditionally. My head close to his heart. As we make love. And I am grateful. Because he lets me try. He doesnt get mad. He cries. I hear his soul. Sometimes he cries. I see his tears. It hits my heart and I become like a lioness. I want to hurt the world that kills him. But I am unsuccessful. But he knows I love him, maybe that is enough. He knows I would destroy them. And one day, I will make them pay for what they did to him. In Godwin. When they tried to shut up his soul and drive him to despair. My angel. How dare they? Someone will pay. I do not forget. I wish I could. I will be back. I will be a menace. You will regret. You will pay. I will bankrupt you, at the very least, make your store blow up, at the very most. There will be a price to pay. Dont ever think a black mans life is cheap. Not when he is loved by a white woman. She will kill a thousand of you for him. Even though hes already dead. There will be revenge. I do not have that slave mentality so deeply ingrained in me. Not so deeply. Much less profoundly. Watch out. America. You will pay. Amen. God willing, I will destroy you ad your white eyes with blue shadows of hate, your crooked haircuts, your protestant insanities. I wont allow you to destroy a human life so easily, so unnecessarily. I am full of hatred. I will not forgive. I will wear your mask and your clothes, and destroy you. It will take time. But it can be done. It will be done. Because I will do it.
Does this story not end? No, it does not. So sad. Just a legacy.
Forgive me God, for all I have saved & done. Forgive me for hating the Christians and the blacks and the whites. Forgive me for not seeing a shadow of myself in the eyes of my mother, the one who had no expression, who though I was here to support her existence. Thats what babies are for. Supporting other peoples existence, right? How else could these weaklings get such a strong ego, if not through their babies, in the dead eyes of their mother who can only look away when you ask them about love. Why do the eyes turn away so fast? Why does the head turn the other way? Why does the conversation change topic? Doesnt she care? No. Of course not. Foolish. Sleep.
And yet she tried to feed me when I was a baby. She tried to force me. But that was because she was scared. God, help me forgive my mother. Help me know she gave me the love she could, even if she turned the other way. What do I know of her self-hatred? Why do I judge her? My father, he loves her. He chose her over me. He would have killed me for her, to please her. She was glad. Thats why she stood behind me while he hit me, or choked me, hands around my neck. Choking the snake. Hes born the year of the pig, you know? I am dangerous for him. A snake loose in the house. Personas.
Quite a quaint little establishment in a not so fastidious part of town. Long, bygone shadows of prostitutes wailing in the night. Flashing demons roaming amongst the cracks in the roach infested wall. Slanted, escalating foundation held up by wired stringlets. Supernatural flashing lights descending from the shadow of the moon, cascading over the borders of the elevated glass windows. A mixture of certainty and fear. A musical trumpet of apathy and contemptuous decayed bodily functions rising through the bathroom vent. The alleyway a dark entrance into the soul, past miserable remnants of what should have been youth and vitality but was instead rancor and dishonesty. Zombie like faces of death in 13 year old young girl bodies while a young child, almost an infant entertains himself on the gravel, under the watchful eyes of an uninterested older woman. Glances and cries and no dignity and no sympathy. Black scarecrows waiting to hand down the passage of death hand to hand. Dark corners of the soul! Dark corners of misery where I try to create a home amongst the wreckage of an old whore house under while the super drinks herself to sleep and the neighbor downstairs brings the building down with his unfeigned taste for death and disaster, that death which is beginning to eat through his body, leaving him emaciated while he makes love, a ridiculous figure. And while the girl across the hall, a perky blond with blue eyes allows any and all to come and fuck her humble abode contrasting new life with Ohio style drunkenness. Misery is everywhere, and sometimes overwhelming. As I try to allow myself to sleep, I try to not listen to all the sounds, the sounds of death that call to me and repel me.
Listen, you think you can treat me like this? Why dont you give me some privacy? Why dont we get rid of this overwhelming ugly stuff? Why dont you throw the ugly gifts away? I wont be patient much longer. If you do not take care of me, I will be infested with roaches. The mere thought of anyone seeing me will overwhelm you with fear. I can have so much that you could not move. I can make the clutter grow. You do not think you want to make time with candles and de-cluttering? Very well. I will make your bed so hygienic you will never again have a lover there. I will make your neighbors watch your every move, through their window, so they can begin to discuss it and entertain thoughts of raping you. Would you like that?
Church of Gethsemane
A day or so before I went to visit the church of Gethsemane for a service, I spoke to Edgar White who had served as a chaplain at Sing Sing. He explained to me the spiritual significance of the story of Gethsemane. He told me that before Jesus began to undergo some of the severe trials of his spiritual journey, he stood at a sort of doorway. And there, he was filled with doubt and said to God, "must I go?", because he was human and he felt fear and he knew there would be trials ahead, and God said he must.
I couldnt help wondering, sitting at the service, whether all this was spiritually connected. Why was I getting involved? Looking into the stories of societys basest evils. I believe that the majority "white" segment of society, by which I do not necessarily mean color of skin, although it often is a determining factor, but rather all those in society who live relatively comfortable lives, who do not meet with the extremes of poverty and violence and marginality that make them begin to question the system. I was one of those once. And I did all the things that the system told me, and I gathered benefits that I did not even know were benefits. There was a certain complacency in my attitudes towards life. Those who were not middle or upper class were supposed to be less physically attractive, and shallow and simplistic. I had a sort of revelation when I realized, once, that it was not them, that it was us. That there was a whole undercurrent, a whole universe that I had no access to in maintaining my own status quo. I realized that they picked up on things, the security guard at school, for example, in a few seconds, by talking to me two minutes, or looking at my face and giving me insights that were profound and that might have taken me months of reflection to arrive at. There was a certain fascination that the "white" society had with the "black" society. For example, although blacks were supposed to be weak, still, white men were afraid of them. White police officers, with weapons, tense up at the sight of a black person. And in school, white kids, for the most part, did not feel comfortable picking a fight with a black kid. There was also the incredible energy. Sexuality was a part of it, but not all of it, the music, the dancing, the "soul". These little hints that superficial explanations of inferiority were not enough.
So I began a new journey, and put myself in some sort of danger, in search of my soul. And today, after, for a time, being societys outcast, I am re-stepping into this majority "white" society, because I realized that I need to, for my survival, but I have new insights. That is why, when someone tells me about the prison system, and that it is crooked from the bottom up, I dont disbelieve them. Because I remember talking to a black man and him telling me police were crooked, and not believing him, and then one day, being picked up by a police car, and when we passed through a dark alleyway, watching a black man get beat up, even though he had his hands up and was completely surrendered. And I had heard two minutes earlier, the police officers radio saying that they were looking for a robbery suspect. And I think they also said something about "its not him." While the guy was getting beat up, they kind of looked at each other, and sighed, and said "rookie", and drove along.
The key to the dark side of the system is that there are two groups who will know it in detail. Those who run it, because they need the information, and they will keep it secretive because they will benefit from the perpetuation of the system, and those who are the victims, who have access to all the information but whom no one will believe. Its like the male slaves in the white households who helped their female masters undress because it was considered that they were non-human, that their seeing a white woman naked was irrelevant, because they were objects. Trying to break the cycle of objectifying humans