Hope and Hard Places

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday I struggled, all day in fact I struggled. My emotions raged and I didn’t want to do what I had committed to, truthfully I wanted to pick up the phone and call my friend and say, ‘Hell no, I am not making that drive and standing up to tell that story’.

That is what I wanted to do.

Yesterday, I woke in the morning with Victim Impact on my calendar. Not just any victim impact but the hardest victim impact, Sexual Offender Victim Impact. Yes, they are juveniles, they aren’t hardened and terrible molesters and in many cases, they are young men who are being criminalized for having consensual sex with their girlfriends, but not always. In this case, this was the parole group, their parents were there with them. I had forgotten, it wasn’t just the kids it was the adults too. Yesterday I woke up and all I could think, I wasn’t in the space head or heart to do what I had promised.

Yesterday, was hard and I didn’t know why. The truth is, I believe what I do is good. I believe down to my bones and my soul, if we can we should. If we have the strength to stand up and tell our stories, we should. If we can reach these young people, tell them who we are, show them our faces and the impact of their actions but also that one mistake doesn’t have to define their entire futures, we should. If we can reach them, if we can show tradenewswirenetthem the face of compassion, perhaps we can also change the trajectory of their lives, maybe we can change the inevitable outcome so many of them face, from classroom to prison cell. I have always said, as if it is a mantra, give me just one and it is worth it, one out of every session that I reach and who hears then it is worth it, every one after one is a gift.

I have spent ten years standing up, telling my stories, staring into the faces of young people and adults alike. Sometimes, like yesterday it is hard as hell and I don’t want to do it. Some days like yesterday, my heart falters, I stumble and feel bruised and battered. Yesterday, yesterday though it was worse than normal, I don’t know why or maybe I do. It was bad because I am more battered by everything and am feeling a bit less hopeful than normal, a bit less strong, a bit less like I can conquer the world. I hate that, I hate not being strong, not being fully in control of my emotions and my world. In fact it pisses me the hell right off.

Yesterday, I reached out to a friend who I love and respect for his ability to cut through the bullshit, in spare and simple words, after a short back and forth about what I was feeling this was his response:

Maybe what you are doing with this victim impact with sexual offenders is a good thing, but just maybe you are not now, at this place in time and your life, ready to do that. Maybe at a later time you will be strong enough to do this victim impact with sexual offenders and not experience the turmoil you now feel. Maybe you need a break, after all you are human, and feel things.”

I hate he is right, it would be easier if he weren’t right , easier if I could ignore his analysis and find some different answer. The truth is, I was in turmoil. My heart was fighting me all day because I simply didn’t have the emotional strength to do what I had promised. I did it, not because I wanted to save that one young person, because I wanted to storm the gates but because I had made a commitment and there was no one else. I wouldn’t let people down who depended on me, I did it out of obligation and long-standing relationships.

I did something else though, I took myself out of next quarter for all Victim Impact for Sexual Offenders. I can’t do it. I know there are so few of us in the state, taking myself out leaves them short but my friend is right, I am human and I need a break it is hard and I don’t have to prove I am strong I have to heal from what has broken me. I have to get my own house in order before I can return to saving others, no matter how much I believe, heart and soul, part of why I do Victim Impact is a mission of hope and compassion. If I am going to bring that into the room, I have to feel it and show it to myself.

Last night I stood up, I told the story of a brutal rape of an eleven year old child, I stared into the faces of teenagers and their parents and told them what happened afterwards. How that rape changed my life and the lives of my family. I watched as mothers winced when I used the words;

  • Bitch
  • Slut
  • Whore and Ho

I watched as young men wanted to fight when I asked them what the difference was between calling their mother a bitch or calling a girl on the street a bitch. I thanked a mother who in tears blessed me for my ‘testimony’, while acknowledging I did not speak from a Christian position she told me I had touched her spirit and she would remember, her son approached me afterward shook my hand and thanked me also. I spoke to a young man who told me he wanted to be an engineer but was afraid he wouldn’t make it into college now, because of this because he had sex with his girlfriend; all I could tell him was to work with the judge and his parole officer to find a way.

Yesterday was hard. Before I walked in the door I called my friend, I need a voice beside the one in my head. Maybe what I needed was to hear my own voice out loud, saying why I do this;

‘Because despite everything I believe in hope, I believe in love, shit I still believe in knights on white horses who slay monsters. I am not naïve I know the monsters exist, I have met too many of them; but I still believe in www.forum.nethope and love and I think they might be part of the same thing.’

Yesterday was hard. I need a break. I need to take care of myself. I need a little bit of tenderness and care. So I won’t do these, at least not the Sexual Offenders, for the next quarter maybe not any of them. I think my friend is right and I will listen because there is no sense in doing what is that hard, no sense in brutalizing myself.

Remembering Chris Keith, aka “The Adventures of a Thrifty Mama”

Another woman, a mother and her son touched by violence who ultimately lost their lives, leaving three other children behind. This is the face of domestic abuse. Please read and if you can help, please do so.

Poor as Folk

I “met” Chris through my Facebook page for my personal blog crazy dumbsaint of the mind and I in turn become a fan of her blog Adventures of a Thrifty Mama in the City ‘Stead, and then later we got to know each other outside of blogging. For those  who don’t know how online friendships work, they might be confused when I call Chris my friend. Online friendships are funny things and sometimes it happens that the people you trust online with your experiences  and thoughts are these people you’ve never even had so much as a cup of coffee with.

Chris & I had a lot in common. We were both struggling to feed our families real food on a food stamp budget and defied being stereotyped as “welfare mom living off the system”. We both were striving  to create a sustainable  and secure food sovereignty for ourselves…

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Calm Waters

Does the world ever cause you to shake your head in dismay? It does me. There are times it seems we fail to remember our humanity in favor, some lower form, some mockery of all forms we have aspired to through the ages of our span here as humans. We are granted only a short time on earth, in the grand scheme of things just a few short decades to make our mark. Yet for so many of us it seems, our time is spent kicking those who most need a hand up or kicking sand over the footprints that might lead to the path out of the darkness rather than reaching out with a light to show the way.

Despite my recent rant, I have been paying attention to something other than my own desires. I have also been thinking about my recent visits to prisons and juvenile centers. For some reason these have been particularly difficult for me this season, especially the juvenile center and the young men I met there. I have been doing the Victim Impact groups for years now, nine to be exact. Some years are harder than others; I change year to year. My emotional response to what happened to me changes and thus the story changes. The facts don’t change, just how I feel about it. This year of course the real change was all my offenders have been released after twenty years, telling this part of the story was new for me.

Three of the groups were new for me also. Smaller groups, more personal somehow more in my face and perhaps me more in theirs. I don’t think I realized the small ball of anger I had in my heart at the release of my offenders. That anger was why I didn’t want to speak this season, I didn’t want to take my anger into that audience, that anger defeated my reason for speaking and defeated me.

41510_prison-gatesThere is always one, in every group there is always one and the first group of this season was no different. One who thinks I should be sorry for demanding they remain in prison despite their age. One who thinks I somehow ‘victimized’ my offenders despite their offenses against me and their lack of remorse. One who thinks I am somehow the one who should be sorry. Yes, there is always one. This time though I wasn’t my usual pragmatic and willing to discuss his point of view self. No, this time I pulled up a chair and faced him down, I explained what they did was unforgiveable and my loss was unrecoverable. I explained his use of the race card didn’t carry weight since their reason was racial hatred, they didn’t get a pass for historical offenses to which I had no part of. I explained their youth didn’t get them a pass since at their age I was an emancipated adult earning my own way, living on the streets and finding a way to survive.

No, they didn’t get a pass. No matter my instinct as a mother, I wept for them and for their lost youth. No matter my instinct as a human being, I wept for their lost opportunity. No, they didn’t get a pass because they felt no remorse for their terrible acts.

Interestingly, his fellows shut him down. Nearly shouted him down after I was done, I have to wonder if their discussions continued after I left.

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The juvenile group was different though. I still ache for these young men. I look in their faces and know they are not lost yet, know at least some of them can be saved. Some of them are so young, no older than twelve or thirteen. So eager to talk once they realize I am not going to lecture them but instead going to engage them in discussion and open forum. That I will allow for questions and will answer them as honestly as possible. They think I am funny, they realize I don’t hate them and am not scared of them despite what has happened to me. I tell them, I was once just like them a juvenile delinquent someone the courts held no hope for. When I tell them this, at first they don’t believe me then a light shines in their eyes and they begin to open up.

There was one this time, at first he made clear he didn’t want to be there. He sat with arms crossed in front of him and glared. He was a leader, it was clear. He thought he was all that and so did all the young men around him. If these young men were going to learn anything he was going to have to be won over, he was my target. He was so smart, so full of life and so lost. I won him within ten minutes just by talking to him.

I made him laugh. He asked me if I was afraid of him, if I was afraid of black men, or young black men. I asked him why I would be. He explained to me, because young black men had shot me. Well of course, that makes sense I said. I asked him should I be afraid of all teenagers. He asked why I would be afraid of all teenagers. I explained teenagers shot me, that made as much sense. He stared at me for a few seconds and started laughing, told me that was stupid and I said so was his premise. He asked what a premise was, I explained it to him. From then on the entire group talked, asked questions.

His friend made me want to cry. When we talked about how to change directions, who they had to apologize to and how to start on a new path one of the key components to success was family. Support structures, their need to be strong support for their younger siblings and begin to show their families positive changes to build trust. His friend quietly asked, “What if you don’t have a family?”

Some of these young men don’t have families to return to. It is why they are there, in ‘jail’. They have nowhere to go, no place to call home. This is it. Home is a place with bars on the windows, shackles on their ankles and a future that is bleak, at best.

I left that day feeling glad I hadn’t begged off despite not wanting to be there. I was reminded why I do Victim Impact, touching one life it is worth it. It has taken me a few weeks to write about this season, it was a hard one. I can’t say I don’t know why, I do. Each season is different, this one was hard but taught me lessons I needed to learn. Lessons about anger and letting go, lessons about humility.

Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained you shall live. Marcus Aurelius

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