Screams of Silence

Recently my dear friend Dannika wrote a very touching blog about gay equality and her experience at a Macklemore concert.   It got me thinking because I didn’t really know what my opinion was on the issue, and to be honest I still really don’t know.  But as I sat with Dannika and watched her stats grow exponentially as thousands of people read here blog, there was one thing I did know.  Thousands of people care about this issue.  Not only do they care, but they feel quite strongly that each of their opinions are right.  Sides have been chosen, and communities have been divided.  But what about those of us that don’t want to pick a side?  What about those of us who just want to look at a person as a human being loved and created by God without a label of their sexual preference?  Maybe it is my inner pacifist coming out, but I don’t want to get lost in this war and have to tell someone I can’t love them because of the side they chose to be on.  I feel like I am a kid stuck in a divorce, just wishing that my parents could see what their fighting is doing to the family.

As the fighting continues, I am over here wondering when we are going to address other issues that are going on in our community.  I don’t mean this to deem the issue of gay marriage because it is an important issue, but at some point we are going to have to face the reality that it isn’t the only issue our culture is facing.  So can we for ten minutes stop arguing about who is right and talk about the way the sex trafficking is spreading like wildfire in Sioux Falls?  Can we talk about the hordes of girls who are being abused, malnourished, and forced into prostitution.    And why on earth is the Church not doing anything about that? Can we as a community stop picking sides, and join together to do something about that?

In my Methods of Research class, I am putting together a research proposal on child maltreatment and its effect on the brain.  There are two different things that I found the most interesting that can happen when a child is abused.  Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, so please just take this as my simple understanding of these topics.  That being said, the first thing that could happen is the child suffers from dissociation.  Dissociation means that the part of our brain that deals with trauma becomes overwhelmed and unable to cope with the abuse.  Since the brain in unable to process this trauma normally, it transfer it to the part of the brain that deals with survival instincts and is more primitive and part of our unconscious thought.  Basically the child is unable to physically distance themselves from the abuse, so they mentally distance themselves from abuse as best as the can.  The problem is that this can cause of host of problems for them for the rest of their life, as they have these repressed memories locked deep in their unconscious.  The second thing that can happen is that the child will develop distorted schemas.  A schema is like a bank of experiences that build off of each other to tell us how the world operates.  A distorted schema is most likely to occur in the structures of safety, trust, esteem, control, and intimacy.  So the child learns that the world is a dangerous place where they will never be safe and where they cannot trust anyone.

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Photo curtsy of SheScreamsInSilence7 and Deviant Art

So let’s think about this a little bit more.  We have a young girl age 12-16 who is a victim of sex trafficking.  She is mostly physically, emotionally, and sexually abused.  She doesn’t have a bed (she may even sleep in a cage), she is lucky to get a decent meal, she is being forced to be a prostitute, and she has no way to escape her situation.  But even if she does, her life will never be the same due to the incredible and irreversible psychological damage that has already happened.  Is that what our culture has come to that we would RUIN the life of a girl so young and innocent for sex and money?  Not only that, but we are too distracted by our arguing to even know that her life is being ruined while we fight.  So please I am here begging you, would you please stop fighting over who is right and just learn to love each other so that we can start loving this poor girl?  Can we please look past our differences and listen to the cries of these young girls that are ringing on deaf ears?  These girls have been kept silent for too long, and I for one think it is about time we did something about it.

Reclaiming the Word Pretty

Working in a male penitentiary,  I get gawked at and whistled at a lot.  It has gotten to the point that I hate the sound of whistling.  If I hear it and I instantly get angry.  Those simple two notes tell a girl that you do not care about anything about her besides that you like looking at her.  How is that ok?  I once yelled at a room full of inmates for whistling at me, and a couple of them actually looked scared of me.  Or so I thought, until I left and one stubborn inmate started barking at me.  But since then, not one inmate from that unit has whistled at me.  But my point is that it is hard being a woman in today’s society.  Who we are is not measured by how intelligent we as women are, how capable we are, how loving and loved we are, or our ability to be anything more than a pretty thing to be looked at.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   “This is about women who will prowl 30 stores and 6 malls to find the right cocktail dress, but have no clue where to find fulfillment or how to wear joy. This is about my own someday daughter, when you approach me already stung stained with insecurity, begging mom will I be pretty? I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer ‘No, the word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be.  No child of mine will be contained in those five letters.  You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing, but you will never be merely pretty.'” -Katie Makkai
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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             We have become a culture that is obsessed with appearance.  Our entire society broadcasts this lie to us that to have worth, you have to be pretty.  Buy this product and have silky skin that will never wrinkle, use this conditioner to have long frizz free hair, make sure you whiten your teeth after drinking all the coffee, wear the right clothes but don’t you ever repeat outfits.  We have such high expectations for what women have to look like that is no wonder we wrap and warp our identity on who well we meet this standard.  But the thing that no one tells you is that being “pretty” is not something you can buy.  No one talks about how how until you learn to value yourself beyond without all of the glitz, you will never feel truly pretty with the glitz.  But can we really blame ourselves for believing this? What I mean, is that the message has been broadcast to us all throughout the awkward insecure years of our youth.  I am not saying it isn’t important for young girls to know that they are beautiful, but we have to be careful that we aren’t sending them the message that being beautiful is the only thing that is important.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 I’m in the middle reading Donald Miller’s book Searching for God Knows What, and out of no where he starts talking about Adam and Eve.  Miller talked about how Adam had between 10 and 100 million different animal species to name before he met Eve.  We just kind of assume that Adam spent a day or two making the animals and the boom there was Eve.  But in reality it would have taken him a hundred years to name everything.  Adam was lonely for a hundred before Eve came along.  “I think it was smart of God because today, now that there are women all around and a guy can go on the Internet and see them naked anytime he wants, the whole species has been devalued.  If I were a girl in America, I would be a feminist for sure. I read recently where one out of every four women, by the time they reach thirty, are sexually harassed, molested, or raped.  And then I thought about how very beautiful it was the God made Adam work for so long, because there was no way, after a hundred years of being along, looking for somebody whom you could connect with in your soul, that you would take advantage of a woman once you met one.  She would be the most precious creation in all the world.  Adam was seeing a person who was like him, only more beautiful, and smarter in the ways of love and encouragement, and more deliberate in the ways of relationships” – Donald Miller.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Needless to say, I respected Donald Miller a lot more after reading that.  I have been very blessed to have a father, many brothers, and even more guy friends who care for me and love me for who I am.  But I wish that every girl could have someone like Donald Miller come along and tell why they are precious and how they need to never let anyone take that away from them.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Please don’t think this is a blog about how awful I think men are.  Women are just as responsible, because let’s be honest we want guys to like us.  And somewhere along the line we got it in our head that the only way a guy will like us is if we are pretty.   Isn’t about time that we as women decide to take back our right to be valued above our appearance?  Isn’t about time that we start teaching our daughters not how to put on makeup, but how to believe in their dreams and their abilities?  Isn’t it time that we taught our sons that girls are a precious gift God has given them, and that girls need to be valued for who they are?  Maybe we as women need to stop spending so much time in front of a mirror obsessing on whether or not we are pretty enough.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that or your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:2-4

Catching the Disease

The amount of germs and diseases at the pen is rampant enough to cause germaphobes everywhere to have nightmares.  I use hand sanitizer like it is my job.  But the worst diseases at the pen cannot be prevented with any hand sanitizer, nor can it be cured with any medications.  Alarming right?  I think so, and what is just as alarming is how quickly the inmates catch this disease, and even more so how long this disease stays with them.  Institutionalization is like a slow poison that seeps into their blood, changing the way inmate’s think.

There are inmates that do not want to get out, because they have nothing to get out for.  They don’t have a job, they don’t have a home, some don’t have an education, most don’t have a family that would care for them, and their friends are normally the reason they ended up in prison in the first place.  So why would they want to leave?  The pen has become their home.  Here they have people who care for them, a warm place to sleep, food, medical care, and the friends that they have made.  If you have seen Shawshank Redemption, think of the old man Brooks after he got released. Many inmates find themselves in Brook’s shoes.

Today I had the chance to listen to an inmate talk about his view of prison.  He has been in prison since he was 18, and he often takes it upon himself to take the younger inmates under his wing and mentor them.  He started telling me about some of the things he had learned about the pen after mentoring younger inmates.  Here is what he had to say, “People think when they come in, that institutionalization happens a long period like 20 years.  The truth is that it happens much faster than that, it can happen in a year.  Before you know it, you become use to the idea of prison, you start thinking that it isn’t so bad.  Then once you get out, you start thinking that what does it matter if you get caught again.  You have survived prison once, you can survive it again.  It is like a diseases you catch that keeps you coming back inside the walls to do more time.  Sometimes the disease runs in the family.  Young men will see their fathers, older brothers, and uncles spend time behind the walls and think they have to do the same.  The family thinking then becomes that you are not a man until you have served your time.”

To me, this seems like a very big problem without a cure.  To be honest I do not really know what can be done about this.  Once again I am not expert on this, I am just going off of my experience so far, but I think the problem with rehabilitating criminals, is the notion that every inmates will respond to the rehabilitation the same.  One inmate is as different from another inmate in the same way that one person is different from another person.  There is a very diverse array of personalities and ambitions among inmates.  Some of them are dead set against change, some of them have plain given up all hope for change, and some of them so desperately want a fresh start but never get the chance for one.  So if the inmate’s are so diverse, then why do we give them a one size fits all rehabilitation plan.  Is it in the name of “fairness” so that each inmate gets an equal chance?  But is it fair that the inmates who will try to change do not always get the opportunity to do so?    The national recidivism rate is 43%.  This means that almost half of the inmates released from prison will end up back in prison.  Like I said, this diseases is running rampant in our prisons.

I do not want you to get the impression that nothing is being done about this.  There are people far more experienced than I who are trying to find a solution to our nation’s recidivism rate.  However, this people have never been in prison, and they have never had to be rehabilitated.  I think that if we truly want to help inmates get to where they need to be to, then we first have to understand where they are and where they have come from.   We cannot help someone if we first do not understand them.  But where does that leave us?  How do we come to understand what they have been through?  I by no means have the answer for this, but if institutionalization happens not long after an inmate steps behind the walls, then maybe it is time we find a cure.

 

Jean Valjean in 21st Century America

I recently just watched Les Miserables, and I was so moved by  John Valjean, a criminal whose crime was stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving niece.  Stealing is wrong, but so is children starving.  We can punish a thief, but we have no one but ourselves to blame for the staring child. After being released, John Valjean is ready for a clean start, but no one will hire him because of his criminal history.  So what does a starving and cold John Valjean do?  In a moment of desperation, he robs a priest.  It was only when he felt that he had no other options that he chooses to turn back to crime. It was not until someone showed him mercy and helped him that he began to turn his life around.  Jump ahead six years, and we see John Valjean as a completely changed man, a successful factory owner who helps those that no one else would care for. Yet the town’s police inspector Javert refuses to see John Valjean as anything but the criminal that he use to be.

I wish that I could have passed this off thinking well that was back in France almost 200 years ago, that would not happen here in America. However, a year of working around inmates has shown me that John Valjean is just as real today as he was in the mind of author Victor Hugo in 1862.  Before I go on, I want to say that I am not trying to justify their crimes.  What some of these inmates have done horrible things, things that make me wish I could shut my eyes and forget.  But Jesus loved everyone, even criminals.  In fact it was the lowly and the criminals that Jesus tried to love the most.  Jesus also told us to love as he has loved.  So that leads me to believe that the criminals are the type of people that we should be working the hardest to love.

I am no expert on psychology, sociology, or criminology.  But it does not take an expert to talk at an inmate and see how horribly wrong their life went.  Drugs, abuse, and a life on the street with no one to care for them at age 7 is commonplace among many of the inmates I work with.  It doesn’t take a psychologist to look in their eyes and know that no one ever loved them.  And if we take one moment to look past their crime, we will see a child that learned at too young of an age how cruel this world can be.  Who are we to judge what we do not understand?  If we were in their shoes, who is to say that we would not have ended up where they did?

Please do not think of me as naïve.  I have been lied to, whistled at, sworn at, and yes even barked at by many inmates.  If I can be barked at by someone and still believe in their humanity, then I think that you can too.  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 am not writing this to just vent about the generalization of criminals and inmates.  Rather, I hope you read this and think before you assume the worst about criminals.  I hope that instead of judging them you will stop to show them that someone does care.  Never take for granted the power of an act of kindness.  If Jesus can feed 5000 with two fish and five loaves, then I think he can change someone’s life with an act of compassion.

“Take responsibility for nurturing the precious lives of the abandoned, abused, and wounded children who, by no fault of their own, become lost in the system, fill up the juvenile centers, and eventually overflow into the most hardened prisons.  These are the people most likely to end up on death row.” – Jarvis Masters