Aspirations of Justice

I have worked in a law office for almost two years now.  I have no preconceived notions of glory that will happen when I am a lawyer.  I know that clients will be needy and rarely ever grateful.  I know that clients will sometimes be their own worst enemy.  I know that even when they aren’t, there are plenty of other enemies out there wanting to pounce.  I know that you will go from being busy to having fifteen things that need to get done in the next fifteen minutes.

I know that you will never feel like you are caught up on your work, and you will always feel like you are forgetting to do something important.  I know that this work is exhausting, it is emotional draining, it is mental taxing, and some days it will break you.  But I also know that this work is important, because at its foundations is justice and fairness for all.  It is work that is worth aspiring to.

We as Americans tend to have an idealized idea of how our justice system works.  We like to think that we have the great leveler of justice right at our finger tips.  A place where the truth will also prevail and good will always win.  This is the courtroom of America that we put on a pedestal.  But I see a different courtroom.  I see a place where the innocent go to prison and the guilty go free.  I see a place where the victims are often victimized a second time by the justice system.

I see a broken justice system.

You may wonder why if I have lost so much faith in our justice system, why oh why am I so eager to jump in with the throws of attorneys and join it.  I will tell you why.  Because it breaks my heart to watch it happen, and I am sick of sitting on the sidelines.  I am sick of being the girl that complains about our justice system instead of being part of the solution.

I know that I can’t fix an entire broken system, but maybe if I can just fix it for one person, maybe that will be enough.  I know that truth and justice are unattainable aspirations, but that does not mean that we should aspire for them any less.  

My boss once told me that visibility brings change.   Meaning that if the common person in America knew what really went on behind closed doors, there is no way they would not demand change.

We fool ourselves into believing that we don’t have a voice, or that our voice doesn’t matter.  We don’t believe that we have any power to change anything at all.  Change will not come by us playing small.  Stop playing small.  Stop playing scared.  Stop pretending you voice doesn’t matter.  Stop sitting there telling yourself that this is just how life is, and stand up and demand change.  Get angry.  Get vocal.  Not in a way that we are fighting with against each other, but in a way that we are fighting with each other.  Demand visibility.  Demand change.  Because until we demand change, change will not come.   

Philly

Photo Credit: Lori Rensink

 

 

The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About by: Gretchen Kelly

 

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There’s this thing that happens whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues. Things like dress codes, rape culture and sexism. I get the comments: Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Is this really that big of a deal? Aren’t you being overly sensitive? Are you sure you’re being rational about this?

Every. Single. Time.

And every single time I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?

I think I’ve figured out why.

They don’t know.

They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

Hell, even though women live it, we are not always aware of it. But we have all done it.

We have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.

It doesn’t feel good. It feels icky. Dirty. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired or labeled a bitch. So we usually take the path of least precariousness.

It’s not something we talk about every day. We don’t tell our boyfriends and husbands and friends every time it happens. Because it is so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.

So maybe they don’t know.

Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s age actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile, with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore.

So routine that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing.

Not showing our suppressed anger and fear and frustration. A quick cursory smile or a clipped laugh will allow us to continue with our day. We de-escalate. We minimize it. Both internally and externally, we minimize it. We have to. To not shrug it off would put is in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.

We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation. Learning by way of observation and quick risk assessment what our reactions should and shouldn’t be.

“It’s the reality of being a woman in our world. It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.”

We go through a quick mental checklist. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Does he seem reasonable and is just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something impact my school/job/reputation? In a matter of seconds we determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear/see/feel it.

It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.

It is the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It is the customer who holds our tip out of reach until we lean over to hug him. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a “friends with benefits” moment even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.

We see it happen to our friends. We see it happen in so many scenarios and instances that it becomes the norm. And we really don’t think anything of it. Until that one time that came close to being a dangerous situation. Until we hear that the “friend” who cornered us was accused of rape a day later. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Years Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those times stick out. They’re the ones we may tell your friends, our boyfriends, our husbands about.

But all the other times? All the times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times we just go about our business and don’t think twice about.

It’s the reality of being a woman in our world.

It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.

It’s feeling sick to your stomach that we had to “play along” to get along.

It’s feeling shame and regret the we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.

It’s taking our phone out, finger poised over the “Call” button when we’re walking alone at night.

It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon when walking to our car.

It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend just so a guy would take “No” for an answer.

It’s being at a crowded bar/concert/insert any crowded event, and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass.

It’s knowing that even if we spot him, we might not say anything.

It’s walking through the parking lot of a big box store and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear as he berates us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? You got a problem? Pffft… bitch.

It’s not telling our friends or our parents or our husbands because it’s just a matter of fact, a part of our lives.

It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted or raped.

It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted or raped.

It’s realizing that the dangers we perceive every time we have to choose to confront these situations aren’t in our imagination. Because we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted or raped.

“Maybe I’m starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.”

It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this. They have heard of things that happened, they have probably at times seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors much of what we say or do and how we do it.

Maybe we need to explain it better. Maybe we need to stop ignoring it ourselves, minimizing it in our own minds.

The guys that shrug off or tune out when a woman talks about sexism in our culture? They’re not bad guys. They just haven’t lived our reality. And we don’t really talk about the everyday stuff that we witness and experience. So how could they know?

So, maybe the good men in our lives have no idea that we deal with this stuff on a regular basis.

Maybe it is so much our norm that it didn’t occur to us that we would have to tell them.

It occurred to me that they don’t know the scope of it and they don’t always understand that this is our reality. So, yeah, when I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the every day sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching… when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing… they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Maybe I’m realizing that men can’t be expected to understand how pervasive everyday sexism is if we don’t start telling them and pointing to it when it happens. Maybe I’m starting to realize that men have no idea that even walking into a store women have to be on guard. We have to be aware, subconsciously, of our surroundings and any perceived threats.

Maybe I’m starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.

We de-escalate.

We are acutely aware of our vulnerability. Aware that if he wanted to, that guy in the Home Depot parking lot could overpower us and do whatever he wants.

Guys, this is what it means to be a woman.

We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We develop into women while our minds are still innocent. We get stares and comments before we can even drive. From adult men. We feel uncomfortable but don’t know what to do, so we go about our lives. We learn at an early age, that to confront every situation that makes us squirm is to possibly put ourselves in danger. We are aware that we are the smaller, physically weaker sex. That boys and men are capable of overpowering us if they choose to. So we minimize and we de-escalate.

So, the next time a woman talks about being cat-called and how it makes her uncomfortable, don’t dismiss her. Listen.

The next time your wife complains about being called “Sweetheart” at work, don’t shrug in apathy. Listen.

The next time you read about or hear a woman call out sexist language, don’t belittle her for doing so. Listen.

The next time your girlfriend tells you that the way a guy talked to her made her feel uncomfortable, don’t shrug it off. Listen.

Listen because your reality is not the same as hers.

Listen because her concerns are valid and not exaggerated or inflated.

Listen because the reality is that she or someone she knows personally has at some point been abused, assaulted, or raped. And she knows that it’s always a danger of happening to her.

Listen because even a simple comment from a strange man can send ripples of fear through her.

Listen because she may be trying to make her experience not be the experience of her daughters.

Listen because nothing bad can ever come from listening.

Just. Listen.

 

Original post found at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gretchen-kelly/the-thing-all-women-do-you-dont-know-about_b_8630416.html

I Never Meant to Become a Feminist

Because I never meant to become a feminist but I did anyway.

Because we have tried to silence women who stand up for themselves by turning feminism into a dirty word.

Because if I had a dollar for every time I was interrupted or overlooked then maybe I would earn equal wages.

Because I want to be able to walk to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon without being verbally harassed.

Because I don’t need your whistled stamp of approval to know that I am beautiful.

Because we live in a culture where the girl is “asking for it” but she doesn’t dare ask to be left alone.

Because it is my body, not yours, and that means I get to decide how it is treated.

Because it is better to put on lipstick and not let boys be mean to you.

Because it takes away the shame of never being enough and replaces it with pride in who you are.

Because my mother was sexually abused and no one did anything about it.

Because my sister in law was sexually abused and no one did anything about it.

Because my best friend was sexually abused and no one did anything about it.

Because one out of every four women are sexually abused and no one does anything about it.

Because I had to learn martial arts just to feel safe in my own skin.

Because enough is enough.

Because it breaks my heart but it is easier to just be angry.

Because I never meant to become a feminist, but I didn’t like the alternative.

feminisim

Photo Credit: French by Design

Love Wins

If I am being honest I still haven’t decide how I feel about the issue.  I know that is wishy-washy to blog about an issue I don’t have a fully established opinion on.  Then again it this may be a nice breath of fresh air instead of everyone trying to prove why they are right.

But really this day is about more than legalizing gay marriage.  It is about love.  It is about the idea that some people are more deserving of love than others.  And I am not talking about the right to get married.  I am talking about the right to be treated like a human being.  Not a freak show.  Not someone who needs to be fixed.  Not someone who has done anything deserving of all the hateful comments they receive.

You may have your opinions on this issue.  That is okay.  It is good to have opinions.  It is good to know where you stand and to stand up for what you believe in.  But in the world of social media where we can hide behind our Facebook statuses, we seem to have crossed a line.  The line that says it is more important to be right than to communicate and see both sides.

We have set our goal on being right, no matter who gets hurt in the crossfire. 

This issue is a hard one for me.  I think that is why I have had such a hard time deciding where I stand.  I grew up in a very conservative community.  I still have those conservative roots in me.  That part of me grew up believing that homosexuality is a sin.  Just like drinking, dancing, and gambling.

Then I watched this video

And so help me if I didn’t get all emotional.  Because it is impossible for me to watch two people in love and not want them to be able to spend their life together.  Just like it is impossible for me to get to know someone who is a homosexual and think that they are horrible sinful people.

Which is why I decided to not decide an opinion.  It is not up to me to decide if it is right or wrong.  Just like it is not up to me to judge anyone.

Here is the secret: it doesn’t matter what I decide about the issue, because that isn’t going to change how I treat the people. 

Its an issue about people.  It is an issue about love.

So despite how you feel about gay rights, let this simply be a day in history when love wins.  For one day, let this be a day when the hate stops, a day when people can accept others for their differences.  Let this be a day when we can just put aside our differences and see each other as who we really are: human beings desperately in need of each other’s love.

The Question about Truth

I ran into one of my old professors at Barnes and Noble the other day.  He works there part time because that is how much he loves books.  So every now and then I run into him, and he is always happy to see me.  He always asks me if I am still writing, and he always tells me to write more.   He teaches LAR, which is a general writing and literature class that all freshman at USF have to take.  So I am honored that after five years of teaching many different freshman, I am still one of his more memorable students.  He was the first professor to tell me that my writing was good, and he has been encouraging me ever since.  When I started writing satire pieces for the school newspaper, he always read them and always told me the same thing, “keep writing.”

However, the other day he told me it was more than just my writing that vaulted me to his student hall of fame.  It was my response to the question he asks every class on the first day.  He asked if I remembered, I said vaguely.   He told me that every year he writes the word truth on the board, and asks his students to come up and write in one word what the word truth means to them.  He told me every year he has waited for someone to have a better answer than me, but no one has yet.  The scene was starting to come back to me.  I could see a shy freshman me, nervous to go up to the board because I hadn’t yet learned how to share my thoughts.  But I couldn’t remember what I wrote.  I felt a little guilty that over five years and hundreds of students, this professor thought I had the best answer and I couldn’t even remember what it was.  As if to rub salt in my wound, he asked me if I remembered what word I wrote.  Ashamed, I said I didn’t.  “Void,” he said, “You wrote that truth is void.”

I have always been a little bit of a rebellious thinker, the type that likes to think outside of the box.  So while this didn’t quite surprise me, I was curious as to what freshman me thought when she wrote that truth is void.  I know I didn’t mean truth is void in the sense that the world is a hopeless place where you can’t trust anything or anyone.  I wasn’t quite that angsty as a teenager.  And although I wasn’t a science major, I do know that there are some truths in science that are more or less absolute.

Truth is a big word, one that is scary for me to talk about without people thinking that I have completely dropped off the deep end.  But I am going to try, so here it goes.

Since I relate my thinking to the social sciences, I think I meant that social truths are more static than we like to believe.  Meaning that truth can so easily be skewed depending on the perception we have at the time.  There is no absolute truth when it comes to our perception of the world.

Let me give you an example of this from my own life to better make sense of this.  I was a criminal justice major, and like so many people in America, I believed that criminals deserved to be locked up.  Then I spent over a year working in a penitentiary, and my perception changed.  Because suddenly I didn’t see inmates as dangerous people who made the world a worse place.  I knew a lot of inmates that were better people than some of the people that strut around in a suit and tie.  Suddenly I saw inmates as the people that society had forgotten about.  The people who grew up in foster care or on the streets.  The people that we as society don’t know how to deal with so instead we just hide them behind prison bars.

My perception changed, and so did the truth attached to it.  Now it breaks my heart if someone tells me that they think a criminal deserves to be locked up.  I just want to shake them and say, “You don’t even know what you are talking about.  You have no idea of the horrors that are locked in the closets of their childhood.  Who are you to judge?  You who have grown up with a place to call home and a family that loves you and supports you.  Who are you to say what they deserve, because it certainly wasn’t the childhood that they got.  So yes they grew up as deviants, but who is to say that you would have not turned out the same if you were in their shoes?”   But I don’t, I just bite my tongue and try to offer grace because I know they do not have the same perceptions as me.

My point is that sometimes we can think one thing to be true until we experience something that shows us a different side that we never considered.  So I don’t want you to think that I am saying we should never believe anything.  Not at all.  Instead I want you to look at the world with open eyes and discover what it is that you believe and why.  Because I think so often we accept things as “truth” because we are told to, but we never stop to think why we believe something to be true.

Maybe it is just the way I am wired to see the world as gray instead of just blank and white.  Maybe for others truth is more set in stone.  But for me I have to analyze everything from every point of view before I am willing to set an opinion on something.

Truth is a big word, one that holds a lot of punch because truth holds such promise.  It is the promise of something to believe in, something to put our faith and hope in, something that we can trust to always be true.  Until one morning we wake up and realize just how empty truth can really be when we just accept it without hesitation.

So five years later, do I still believe that truth is void?  Yes, yes I do.  This is just some thoughts about truth, but if truth is indeed based on our perceptions, then I would love to hear yours.  How do you view truth?  In keeping with my professors original question, what one word do you associate with truth?  Please leave your comments below I would love to hear them.

A Call for a Little Bit of Perspective and a Whole Lot of Grace

First let me start out by saying that my purpose for this blog is not to start an argument.  The truth is that I haven’t spent hours pouring over the details to be able to promise that I have ever fact straight.  I have however read enough.  I could get all of my facts down to a science and start throwing them at you, but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t actually sway you in any direction other than the one you are currently at.  Instead you would just throw more facts back at me.  We would get angrier and angrier at each other, all the while not making any sort of progress.  I am asking that agree to skip that part so can begin to have an open conversation about these issues.

This is not me trying to defend either side by saying one side was justified is their actions.  A young man was killed.  I think we can all agree that is a tragedy.  Just as I am not trying to justify either side, I am also not trying to deem the tragedy of Freddie Gray’s death.

I am trying to bring some perspective, and hopefully act as a mediator.  Because I do understand both sides of the story.  I do want to stand up for the rights of the little guy, the rights of those who have been silenced under the foot of powerful.  Please believe me when I saw that I know that police brutality and racial profiling are real issues that also need to be addressed.  But I am also a criminal justice major who understands the the type dangerous situations that police officers have to face.  I also know all too well how easily the media can make our perspective of right and wrong all of a sudden seem very fuzzy.

In addition to being a criminal justice major, I also worked in a prison.  Admittedly it wasn’t a very dangerous prison, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t people in there who wouldn’t stop to hurt me if they had the chance.  You never know what is going to happen and who is really dangerous.  It is unfortunate but true that many of the best criminals are masterminds at deception.  The horrifying truth is that most of the time you only have a split second to decide if this person is truly innocent or just good at acting like it.  In the hindsight it is easy to see one action as an overreaction.  When we have time to process all of the facts, it becomes obvious which party was in the wrong.  Time is a luxury that many of our police officers do not have.  They have to react in the time given with the facts they are given.  And sometimes that will mean they make mistakes.  I wish with all of my heart that those mistakes didn’t cost Freddie his life, but the reality is that a mistake in the opposite direction could just as easily cost a young police officer their life.  It is unfortunate reality, but it is the reality that we live in.

I have read about a lot of angry people who want the police department to step up and punish those in their force who did wrong.  And I can agree with that, to a certain extent.  There are a lot of things that should have been done better in that situation, things that might have potentially saved his life.  Someone needs to take responsibility for those mistakes.  However I also understand the horrible position it puts the police department in.  As soon as you start throwing officers under the bus for defending themselves, you have officers who hesitate to defend themselves when they should, and soon you have officers who end up dead because of that hesitation.

We could argue until we are blue in the face about who deserves what punishment, but that isn’t going to bring  Freddie back to life.

Being human is hard, it is so very hard.  Being a human in a minority group is even harder, just as it is harder to be a human who goes to work every day with the risk that they could die.  So instead of judgment and pointed fingers, I am asking for a a little bit of perspective and a whole lot of grace.  Despite how many facts we think we know about the situation, we can never completely understand that circumstances that caused each party to react the way that they did.

But I mean what do I really know?  Not a whole lot if I am being honest.  I realize that admitting this does not do much for my argument.  Which is just my point, because I am not trying to win an argument.  I am trying to create an open discussion in which we can understand each other so we can decide what needs to be done to help this not happen again in the future.  You can hate me for it if you want.  If hate makes you feel better.  My guess is that it won’t.  But if you feel that you need to, I am not going to stop you. Before you chose how to react, think about these words from my pal Ghandi,  “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Innocent Until Proven Guilty – Or so We Would Like to Believe

Not very often do I put down a book right when it starts to get good. However when it came to The Innocent Man by John Grisham I was so appealed at the injustices that I simply could right read any more.  I put this book on my summer reading list at the suggestion of one of my criminal justice professors. The book is about two murders that happen in the small town of Ada.  If you haven’t guessed by the title of the book, the murderers that are apprehended and placed on death row are innocent.  I have never supported capital punishment for many reasons.  The most prevalent of those reasons being its horrifying inaccuracy.  In the last 40 years there have been 142 death penalty exonerations (meaning the guilty was found innocent and released).  It is impossible to determine how many innocent people were put to death on top of the 142 that were exonerated.  However in many cases, exoneration evidence of innocence were found by chance.  So it is safe to say that for every lucky discovery of innocence, there is another innocent person put to death, and for every innocent person put to death there is another guilty person going unpunished.  So I knew going into this book that it was probably going to upset me, I just didn’t realize how much.

I had gotten to the part of book where they began the investigation of the second murder (after not having much of a lead on the first murder). The police brought in for questioning two guys Karl and Tommy who were suspects based on the hearsay of small town gossip.  The three cops began to interrogate Tommy first.  His interrogation lasted an entire day with no breaks.  During his day long interrogation Tommy was verbal, mentally, and emotionally harassed and physically threatened.  Of course the cameras were not turned on during this process.  The cameras were finally turned on when Tommy agreed to come up with a confession on the promise that he would be released if he did.  Tommy figured it was his only way for the cops to let him go and that any good detective and judge would be able to see through his obvious lies.  Tommy was not released, and a few days later Karl went through the same brutal interrogation process. There were many discrepancies between Karl and Tommy’s confessions as well as many obvious lies, but the police and entire town had already assumed them guilty.  Tommy and Karl spent the next year in jail while the police searched for any hard evidence that would support the confessions.  After a year of finding no evidence, it was decided to proceed with the trial and prosecute based solely on their faux and forced confessions.  Confessions that should have never been admissible in a court of law.  Hopt v. Utah ruled that any confession obtained based on the accused hopes and fears deprives the accused of his ability to voluntarily confess, and therefore is not admissible.  Bram v. United States ruled that all confessions must be free and voluntary and not extracted by any sort of threats, violence, or promises, however slight.  Any confession obtained this way is not admissible in a court of law.  Blackburn v. Alabama ruled that a prolonged interrogation is considered a type of psychologically coercion.  Miranda v. Arizona ruled that a suspect has a constitutional right not to be compelled to talk, and any statement made during an interrogation cannot be used in court unless that police and prosecutor can prove that the suspect clearly understood their rights.  So even if Tommy and Karl’s confessions had been true, they still would have been a constitutional nightmare.  However despite the discrepancies between the two confessions and the lack of evidence to back up the confessions, the trial date was set.  The defense attorneys requested that the trial be held at a non-partial venue and were denied.  A biased jury was selected of people who knew and were sympathetic to the murder victim and who had already made up their mind about Tommy and Karl’s guilt.  Tommy and Karl were sentenced to the death sentenced.  After that I was too horrified to keep reading.

After spending a year and a half working the in penitentiary and witnessing the injustices there, I couldn’t bear to see any more corruption in the criminal justice system.  Not exactly encouraging for someone who just decided to go to law school in a year.  I wish that I could dismiss this as a one time injustice, but the statistics on capital punishment disagree (and they don’t even include non-capital punishment inmates that could also be innocent).  How does this happen in a nation that promotes fairness and justice and innocence until proven guilty?  In the case of Tommy and Karl, it happens when we become so desperate for answers and someone to blame that we ignore the obvious facts in front of us.  It can happen when we are too quick to assume someone is guilty, or too quick too assume someone is innocent and blame the wrong person.  It can happen when we believe what the media and everyone else tells us to believe,  instead of looking at the facts objectively for ourselves.  Too often we are quick to claim an opinion on something that we really know nothing about, and then we become blind by our opinions.  So do not be so quick to assume you know all the facts and jump on the band wagon.  Think for yourself instead of believing everything you are told, and realize that there might be more to a case or to a person than meets the eye.  After all if it were you on trial and the only one believing your innocence, wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you?

Being the Change

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.” -Leo Tolstoy

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

If two illustrious social reformers such as Tolstoy and Gandhi both consider the foundation of social reform to be first reforming ourselves and you combine that with a section from possibly my favorite Bible passage:

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.” – Isaiah 58:6-7

The only logical conclusion we can draw from this is that we as humans are not meant to sit and do nothing while the world around us suffers. Too often people complain about the way the world is without ever having the intent on doing anything about it.  I am not saying that it is bad to talk about problems in the world, but there comes a point when we need to stop talking and starting acting.  Unfortunately it seems that many people do not make it past that point.

I had talked and thought about the issue of sex trafficking for a while before deciding to start Scribbles of Hope.  Random sidenote: I am still working up the courage to share as to why the issue of sex trafficking is so important to me.  Currently only one person knows (shout out to my girl Alicia for being one of the best listeners I know) and it is not something that I am ready to share with whoever happens to read my blog.  Please do not be offended that I have not told you as it is very personal and I am the type of person who easily shares those type of things.  However, I might be willing to tell it to you over a cup of coffee, especially if it looks like this:

That turned out to be a long side note, sorry about that.  Anyways as I was saying, I had cared about the issue of sex trafficking for a long time before I decided to do anything about it.  And I have learned that it is a lot easier to talk about change when are doing something more than just talking about change.  I have also learned that if you care about something as much as I care about the issue of sex trafficking, it will make you miserable to not be doing anything about it.  As I said, we were not made to watch the world suffer.

Taking it a step further, we can’t change the world if we ourselves do not walk the proverbial walk.  We can’t complain about the injustices in our society if we ourselves are part of the problem.  We can’t ignore the problems right under our noses, and we can’t be part of the problem by being self centered and hateful towards others.  I am not trying to lecture you, because these are things that I am guilty of as well.  But I want you to realize we can’t continue to complain about the world if we continue to ignore the suffering of our neighbor and look down at those less fortunate than us.  There is something to be said for wanting to make the world a better place.  Some people may think that believing you change the world is naive.  I disagree.  Yes it is naive to think one can change the whole world.  We need to first find our corner of the world we want to change.  For me it is women that have been tricked, used, abused, treated worse than livestock, and endured horrors worse than I can even imagine.  But for you it might be something completely different, and that is ok.  It is good actually, because if we all change our little corner then soon we will run out of corners.  So I urge you stand up for what we believe in, fight for something worth fighting for, and really fight for it.  I promise you it will be worth your time; who knows you might just change the world.

Scribbles of Hope

In highschool English class we watched the movie Amazing Grace, and ever since then I have had this dream that I will grow up to be someone like William Wilberforce.  Someone who fights against all odds to battle the injustices of our world.  The older I get the more crazy and unrealistic this dream has become, but it is still there I just silence it with reasonability and responsibility.  But now I have this idea that I love but think is stupid, crazy, and will never work. But isn’t that how changes starts?  When someone dares to hope that their stupid idea but just be crazy enough to work.  No one can ever be practical when attempting something crazy life changing venture.  I mean Esther didn’t just go up to the King and ask him to only save one or two of her close Jewish friends. So I am sitting here thinking about my idea and how ridiculous it is that I could believe this could work.  But I bet Esther probably thought that too.  Worse case scenario at least I won’t get killed.

So here it goes.  Many of you may not know this, but I am a very passionate person.  If passion could be a spiritual gift then it would be one of mine.  And one of my passions, which is the injustices and horrors of sex trafficking, has been growing like a fire in my soul. I guess as a bruised and broken woman my heart goes out to women who are even more bruised and broken than I.  And then recently I stumbled upon this book Undaunted by Christine Caine .  I haven’t finished it yet, but she addresses the issue of sex trafficking and our belief that we are too insignificant for God to use us.  Boy did that one hit home (Isn’t it crazy how God sneaks the right things into our laps?).  Over the last year I have been telling myself that once I start my career as a tough criminal justice something or other then I will join the fight against sex trafficking.  But what about now?  Am I just suppose to ignore the cry of my heart that aches for the women who have been silenced and reduced to a commodity? Well I can’t wait anymore.  Only I wasn’t really sure what I could do.  I can write . . . kind of, and I can paint . . . kind of.  But I am not very good, and I am just me what could I really do?  Only I am not just me now am I. That is the point of trusting God to use us.  We give Him our scribbles of words and paintings and hope that He can use them to impact someone.  so are you ready to hear my crazy idea?  Are you sure??  Good.

So I can write, that is a start.  This is start to me writing about this issue I am so passionate about, and hoping that some of that passion wears off onto you.  Secondly I can paint, and I plan to paint about sex trafficking.  And here is where I need your guys help.  My hope is that you guys will actually want my paintings.  I have this crazy idea that you will “buy” paintings and I will donate all the money to The A21 Campaign which is an organization that fights against sex trafficking (more info on this in later blogs).  I figured this way everyone wins.  I get to paint and share about something I am passionate about.  You get a painting that can remind you to pray for all of the victims around the world, and yes even here in Sioux Falls.  And some women will get the hope that someone somewhere cared enough to help her.

So that is my crazy idea.  I still have a lot of kinks to work out, mainly being I still don’t know if I like my first painting.  But I wanted to throw my idea out there.  As I mentioned my first painting isn’t done, but I have one I have already done that I feel fits quite well. So while I keep praying and figuring out the kinks I want to leave you with a few lyrics from the song Boston:You don’t know me and you don’t even care. You don’t know me and you don’t wear my chains. No one knows my name.

These lyrics gave me chills after I thought about how real their meaning is for so many women.  My hope is that I can change that for at least one woman. Want to help me?

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The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Beautiful

It is weird to say that I am sad to leave prison, but as I left on my last day I found myself tearing up a bit.  Most of that is probably because I am just a sap who will tear up at anything.  It is weird how something can be so awful and so wonderful at the same time.  How something can change us for the better, but maybe also change us for the worst too.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I accepted the internship over a year and a half ago.  I thought, oh it is just prison what is the worst that could happen.  Then next thing I know I am surrounded by inmates who are all staring and whistling at me, guards are flying on their way to break up a fight yelling at me to get out of their way, and naked inmates are being walked out in handcuffs.  And I am just a little college sophomore in a little Baptist college from a small conservative town wondering what on earth I had just committed to.  Lori you stupid idiot, did you expect working in a prison to be easy?  It is not like you can just play with puppies all day (oh wait. . .)  I almost quit multiple times, but I am not a quitter.  I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t handle it.  So instead I just cried, because I am a crier.  During my first couple of weeks there one of the trainers took my under his wing and gave me some real honest advice about what I was about to go through.  However the most important thing he told me was, “This place is going to change you. It might change you for the better, it might change you for the worst, but it will change you so you might as well accept that now.”  And he was so right.  This place has changed me so much, and it has taught me so much.

You would think that working in a prison would have made me less naïve. It did, but not in the way you might expect.  It has taught me that the “good” guys are not always so good, and that the “bad” guys are not always bad.  People at their very core are all pretty much the same.  We are all a little  crazy, we are all a little evil, we are all a little good, and we all laugh to keep from crying.  At their very core people just want to know that they are appreciated, valued, and listened to.  Like I said I am a sap, don’t say I didn’t warn you. When I first imagined myself getting changed, I imagined myself ending this internship hardened against all inmates as I saw many of the employees act towards the inmates.  However to my surprise, I came out on the other side of the spectrum.  The more I worked there, the more I saw the inmates as people.  Inmates are often stigmatized by society, holding the view that they deserve the punishment they received and more.  It is easy to stigmatize inmates when they are just a collective group, but that view changes once you have not met the inmates and know their stories.  Knowing the life situations that the inmates come from makes it harder to believe they are getting what they deserved.  I wish that you could have had the chance to meet a few of them, and hear their stories.  They are by far the craziest stories you will hear, and the most unique people you will meet.

That is not to say that it was easy.  There were many times I became extremely frustrated and discouraged while working with inmates. There were some days when I just wanted to give up on humanity, and I found myself changing in a bitter person.  I did not like that part of me changing, and I had to work really hard to hang out to it.  Sometimes we have to fight like hell to combat the things that don’t sit well with our soul.  Not being naïve and not believing that the world is a place is one of those things worth fighting for.  Because if I hadn’t fought for it, well that would have been like not being me, and I was just not okay with that.

Looking back, I asked myself, “If I could go back would I stop myself from ever setting foot inside those walls?”  When I think about how much I have grown from working there, it is hard to imagine what my life was like before setting foot inside the walls.  I vaguely remember my first day and the person I was back before I started on my first day, but I know that back then I had no idea what was in store for me.  I did not know anything about the criminal justice system or what it would be like to work in it.  Here I was a naïve criminal justice major with no experience in the criminal justice field, and for some reason I thought it would be easy. As I said before, nothing about this internship was easy.  It was a constant battle, and some days I did not know if I would make it.  I still have a lot to learn, but as I finished up my last couple of days working there, I know that I enjoyed my time there and I will miss it.

The world is full of adventures to had, lessons to be learned, and memories to be made.  We tend to coast through life waiting for something amazing to happen to us, but we don’t realize that amazing things are happening all around us.  We simply need to open our eyes and take it all in; the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful.