Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Today's Struggle March 15th 2014

I wrote this almost exactly a year before my dad died. It is amazing to think about how oblivious I was to what alcohol had done to his body:

I am in awe how for a split second I hated my life today.After getting off the phone with my dad who has been in a hospital in Santa Ana for a few days being monitored due to alcohol withdrawals, I had multiple flashbacks of every horrible memory I had from childhood of him being drunk. How my mother and I were left in TJ one night - how I was forbidden to see him for months when I was 9 because he passed out when he would watch me - to the rage he went into when my mother served him the divorce papers. 

Then I think about how I joined him. How we would drink and drink, bottle after bottle. How I would polish off the bottles he had around the house - how I would ask him to bring a bottle home for us at the end of the day if there was nothing left -how during high school I eventually couldn’t think of a weekday that I did NOT drink. How bottles of Jim Beam, Tequila, Smirnoff, Bacardi, became the default answer to “What are we going to do tonight?” I remember picking him up from the police station when I was 19 because he had gotten a DUI. I remember him passing out on the floor regularly while I drank more. I thought about the horrible ways I treated people who loved me and trusted me. I thought about how many times I almost died from reckless decisions because I think sometimes maybe I did want to die. I would feel the same way as I used to as a child when I was trapped with my dad when he was drunk and I wanted to be the person who had the upper hand. It was a feeling that the one who was supposed to protect you is not in control either. I thought back on breaking things and destroying property. I remembered my ex-girlfriend crying hysterically when we had to carry my dad out of a restaurant bathroom because he had passed out. I could not understand why she was so upset. She cried “He is supposed to be the PARENT!”That is what a parent does, right? I remember the pride I had in drinking as much or more than him and MAINTAINING. I proved that you could drink bottles of alcohol and NOT pass out. I wanted to BEAT him at his own game. I thought back to my DUI classes and how I was shown that drinking wasn’t my problem, it was my solution. Life was my problem. I thought back to when the doctor told me in his office my liver wasn’t functioning correctly and asked if I needed “help.” I remember thinking about the warmth of that first double shot of vodka and how I felt like anything could happen, even as anything DID happen. 

I remember waking up in jail the first week of a sentence in tears. I remember staring up into the covered fluorescent lights as I waited to be counted by the deputies,wondering how I got there. I remember the day when I said I was never going to drink again, and I MEANT it. Then I thought about having a few years of sobriety behind me by 2009 and still getting calls from the hospital that my dad’s liver was failing, that he wasn’t eating, that he was destroying himself.I remember finding him in his apartment in shambles on a binge. I remember cleaning his house for him and picking him up. I remember smelling the alcohol coming out of his pores and how I was disgusted but at the same time it was almost calling me to get blasted. 

And now today, after I struggled, beating my head against the wall for a decade and a half, I was still there, that little kid picking his dad up off the ground trying to not blame myself and not hate my life. I felt robbed today being 35, 7 years of sobriety, and still struggling with this. Despite all the amazing and wonderful things I have been able to do; I feel like that my life is a story of a hamster wheel of addiction that never stops. I have very important people around me whom I love, who I feel like I am neglecting because booze is still robbing me. I feel robbed and for a split second, I hated that this was my life. Isn’t there any way to move past this? It is like I am Prometheus; I defied the alcohol gods and gave myself a gift of sobriety and my punishment is to have my internal organs eaten every day as a reminder of what I did. My objective mind tells me the truth though, this “curse” is a call to arms. It is what it is. All there is to do is stay sober. That is all I can do. It is who I am now. It is the only thing that can bring me solace.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Being Made Whole R.I.P. Jose Rosales

Disclaimer: My views are heavily influenced by the past 4 years of my education, life events, and Vipassana meditation. If you do not like the place I am in my head regarding how I dealt with the death of my father, do not read this. I wrote graphically and cried so that I can get all this out. This is my therapy. I finished this journal entry within a week after his passing.  

I had somewhat been preparing myself for Monday 23rd 2015. I do not think anyone could ever really be prepared though. Every time I would think of my father’s passing I would start crying and immediately think of something else because I knew he was still alive and there was no point in reacting to what has not happened.

I was meditating when I had missed a call from an unknown lengthy number on Monday. I listened to the message and it was one of my cousins in Mexico saying my dad was doing very badly. He was not sick necessarily other than his major health issues that he had under control with medication, so I did not even understand what she could mean. I tried to call the number back but it would not connect and I remembered that I had taken off the international calling feature on my phone. How sick could he be? He was just in Mexico temporarily to mourn his older sister’s death from a few weeks before. In a few more minutes I would receive a facebook message from my aunt that said “tu papa fallecio hoy.” I was not familiar with that word “fallecio.” I translated it in a phone app to “killed” or “died.”  Those words did not even make sense at first. He was just feeling badly how was he gone already? I almost did not even believe that was a message from an aunt, it was some random cruel joke. I stood in my room stunned rereading the message. What the hell was going on? How was that it? How was it final? Why could there not be something still to be done?  I confirmed his passing when I spoke to an uncle who was in tears but some of his words were unfamiliar to me and this was extremely frustrating considering all the questions I had. It turns out that my father was complaining of chest pains that morning briefly in bed, and then he collapsed. He was dead before the ambulance got there from a massive heart attack at age 65.

I called my stepmother, my sister, my biological mother, my grandmother and my girlfriend. Everyone stopped what they were doing and came together at my house to make sense of what was happening and figure out what needed to be done. I told my little brother later and this was difficult. Both my siblings knew what had happened by the tone of my voice and the look on my face before I actually explained to them, almost as if they were expecting it.   

My sister, stepmother (who was still legally married to my father in Mexico) and I made arrangements to get to Mexico as soon as possible because in Mexico there is no hesitation when there is a death; they cremate or bury their dead within a day. We got plane tickets to fly out of Tijuana the following morning. My little brother was unable to go because he did not have a passport or an ID to get a passport. We asked the family to hold the body until we got there the next day.  

That night was extremely painful. I tried to observe the pain as it was happening so I could understand how to process it. It still hurts as I write this and I periodically have to stop and weep. What happens is this: Your dads face in different phases of his life flashes in your head and suddenly it feels like someone punches you in the stomach and knocks the wind out of you. Then your saliva thickens and you feel poisoned as if strychnine is in your blood stream. You keel over and your legs feel weak. You feel like your airway is blocked and you gasp to breathe. All you want to do is hug him and kiss his face. But you cannot and you never will again. Knowing this creates even shallower breathing, the muscles in your face constrict and you have no choice but to seize up. You think about the last thing you said to him and your last contact and how ignorant you were. I thankfully had gotten in touch with him on his birthday on March 18th after calling him a few times and he had finally answered. I told him how much I loved him and that I was so proud of how he had turned his life around. I told him that he was an amazing man and that I loved him very much. He sounded grateful and thankful; he told me he loved me and that he would talk to me soon. That was the last time I spoke to him.

There was not a doubt in my mind that he knew I loved him I am certain. I had picked up the bottles from his room when his cataracts made him blind and he had resorted to staying drunk in a room alone. I had years of sobriety under my belt by that point and I knew that ritual of pining and holing yourself up in a self-loathing addicted stupor well. I helped him out of it. I cleaned his bathroom and reasoned with him that there was so much to live for when I knew he wanted to die at that point. I did not let him see my bawling as I scrubbed his bathroom floor knowing he had given up on life. It was like seeing your dad in prison but he alone is the only one who can free himself. He visited me in jail; he must have been familiar with that pain too. I had taken him to doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment, and then I took him to get his laser eye surgery giving him hope in a future because he could finally see again. Years later I had yelled at him in the ER when he had drank so much that he fell late one night in front of his house and was rushed away in an ambulance. That was when he made the decision to stop drinking and went into withdrawals. He went to the hospital again. I picked him up from detox on his birthday last year with my little brother and he told us about how my sister who had visited him there got kicked out because she took her daughters to see him despite the rules of no children on his floor. In the months after that I went to AA meetings with him. He knew he could call me and he knew that I was the one to contact in an emergency. He knew I was there for him because I wanted to see him succeed just as he had wanted to see me succeed growing up. I was his backbone when he needed because he was mine. Knowing all this was one of the only things that helped me have any peace of mind at the time.     

I had not been to Mexico to visit my huge family in 14 years. My father was one of thirteen but a third of them have passed. Regardless, there were cousins I had not even met yet. We were picked up from the Aguascalientes airport by a cousin who I met when she was maybe 10. She was now 24, smiling radiantly and full of life. We immediately were taken to the funeral home and my cousin’s boyfriend told us to go up to the second floor and that my dad was on the left. I went up the stairs and was greeted by face after face of uncles and aunts whom I had not seen in a lifetime (which to me was ever since I got sober.) I wanted to be happy to see them but the tears in their eyes and the reality of why I was there was so strong. They had lost 2 siblings in one month. I couldn’t imagine. I saw my father’s name written on a plaque outside of the room and my sister, mom and I went in the room to find an open casket.

It was the most terrifying, draining and painful thing I have ever done, walking into a room to see the corpse of my father. I saw him and a flood of that strychnine poison shot into my blood stream and I ached. It was real. My aunt and uncle whom he had been staying with comforted my sister and I as we bawled telling us how happy he was the entire time he had been there. I continually got up to see him in the casket then I would go back and sit and cry. When I looked at him while he was alive the warm blood in his body made his vessels red that made up the color of his face. Now deceased the vessels were a different color, he looked blue. I kept waiting for his eyes to open. I knew they would not but it really felt like at any moment he would open them. I kept feeling like there was some movement out of the corners of my eyes but of course there was not. It was my mind playing tricks on me. It was about this time that my reality changed.

I got angry at myself and I felt like a selfish asshole. We were all assholes. Here I was crying, selfishly wishing he was here with us, wishing I had him here alive. Here for what?! When he was alive he was taking medication constantly. He was stressing about bills at home in Laguna. He was struggling to make ends meet. He would call me frantic about what to do about debt collectors. I would tell him to not stress because nothing could happen to him. He did not have lots of money for anyone to take. He was constantly worrying at home in Laguna. He was much better after he stopped drinking because that clarity helped him react more appropriately but he still was monitoring his blood pressure constantly from all stress. If I truly love my dad, why would I still want him dealing with all that? He was now done with all of it. He had just had a surprise birthday party surrounded by all his family and longtime friends. He was so happy to be home in Mexico. My family showed me pictures of how happy he was surrounded by everyone that loved him so much. I could see the muscles in his face were of course no longer constricting and he looked peaceful. Finally. Not being one to subscribe to the belief system transplanted to this part of the world only 500 years ago, I do not think he is in a better place other than not having brain activity. His brain activity has ceased. The word “stress” isn’t even being processed in his brain. The life is done. Everything that made up what I know as my dad, the memories, the people, the life events and his way of dealing with them are gone to him and the details were never known to me because I did not have his consciousness. The way his brain processes things is no longer happening. I became kind of disgusted and irritated with the body in the box. It was a poor representation of the man my dad was. The body in the box was just a form of lifeless chemicals now. His ideas, his sense of humor, his knowledge of craftsmanship, his knowledge of history, and his work ethic could never be represented by the lifeless form in front of me. It was pathetic in comparison to what my father is. I do not mean he “is” insinuating his existence in a heaven or other afterlife but that he “is” in my mind and all of us whose lives he touched. When it comes to an afterlife I would rather not have him in a contrived place like a judeo Christian heaven anyways. Just using the word He when talking about my father acknowledges his personality and his mental state. I feel like he as the person I know as my dad would get bored in heaven quickly. Heaven is a place for people that are guilty about something. It is for people who believe they are unworthy and are born defective from a curse that was purposefully meant for them and they need to accept one narrative to be “saved.” I know him; he never lived truly thinking he was cursed. He got down on himself sometimes and he was weak sometimes but it was not because he truly felt guilt from a religious stand point. He never believed he was born defective; he was just bored at times.  He was not guilty either. He was unapologetically Jose Rosales.  

Because the death was so sudden, nothing was arranged and we had to handle the business process while mourning. In between sobs we had to pick out what urn came with the “package,” we needed to pay for the extra day they held him and we had to figure out how were going to get the funds together to pay for the service. We were bargaining in between our devastation. This was irritating and angered me. I understand that people provide a service that must be paid for but the entire idea just did not sit well. Where there is a market, there is profit to be made and we as a species capitalize on it so that we can pay for places to eat and sleep, we capitalize on it no matter what it is at anyone’s expense because we must in turn pay other people so that we can survive. I thought about the obscene perversion this capitalist ideal had evolved to on US soil in Bloomberg’s “9/11 Memorial Land,” where the executives are getting paid more than the president and people are charged $25 dollars to pay their respects to the thousands that died in the Twin Towers. Something is wrong with this and I feel it.       

We were asked how long we wanted to stay with him until they hauled him off to be cremated. At that point I was somewhat bitter and I did not care when they took away the false image of my dad but later I realized this was the last time I would see the body of the man I knew as my father so we all agreed and asked for the maximum amount of time. In the last few hours with him I would stare at his face and try to deprogram what I knew was occurring in my head. I knew that every time I looked at the corpse my amygdala was responsible for my emotional response to the sight of his face. The amygdala is what controls emotional memory in the brain. I knew there was a process happening that I was reacting to and I could affect this process. I was trying to disassociate with the emotional response I was getting with my eyes. It may sound mechanical but I feel like if you have awareness, you should use it and that is how I could try to alleviate some of the poisoned sensation. Knowing this neural process worked for a little bit.

They took his casket out and put it in the hearse and we followed behind in the now oldest uncle’s car. We came to the crematorium and we waited while they pulled the casket out. My sister and I wanted to hug him one last time and she refused to leave him until the last possible allowed time. They opened the casket, I saw my dad and again I was injected with poison. This was it, the last goodbye. I was first. I put my arms around him, put my face next to his, and kissed the side of his face one last time. I whispered “I love you dad.” I knew he couldn’t hear me; he was not in this mannequin. I said “I love you” for myself.

My sister and mother said their goodbyes and so did my uncle. They wheeled my father to the back out of view and when they were ready they let my sister and I go back. My sister went first and I followed. I went to where my sister was standing and looked into the room. I saw the top of his head in what looked like a huge oven and the amygdala started functioning again. I wanted to pull him out. It was like seeing someone torture your father. “My dad is trapped and is about to be set on fire” I kept thinking but my rational brain kept arguing that that was not my father. My sister cried hysterically and I was beside myself with emotion. I was nauseous, saddened, and paralyzed. The man closed the door to the large incinerator and I could still see the top of his head through a small window. The man fired up the furnace and then turned it on. I saw the inside of the incinerator light up with fire and I could still see the top of what my eyes were telling me was his head. My sister screamed and the man slowly closed the door so we could not see the body anymore. I turned and was done. After looking away I was able to tell myself again that what was being incinerated was not my father and I told my sister it was time to go. We stumbled out of the room and up to the street. I felt like I died too. Was witnessing that process necessary? I do not know but do I know the feeling of abandonment. I know how I would not wish that on anyone, so my sister who was adamant about not abandoning my father was understandable.  I *knew* however that my dad was not feeling anything. He was not feeling alone, he was not thinking. If anything, I did not want to abandon my sister while she struggled with his physical body disappearing. It was terrible. It was surreal. It felt like the absolute worst nightmare that was actually my life and it has forever changed me. Everything seems like a Disneyland’s child ride now.   

The next day consisted of formalities of getting the ashes on the plane and back home. We picked up my father’s remnants in the morning with his name engraved on the heavy box. My sister and I had picked the urn with the Virgin Mary on it. We both agreed and liked having a woman on his urn more than a male savior. Dad would have liked it more too. Who wants a dude on their urn? Seeing the reflection of my face in my dad’s name brought on more tears and we thanked the funeral home director as he had given us an outstanding “deal.” We now had possession of the remnants of the physical incarnation of the man that had given me consciousness. I felt better to have something of his physical body near but adjusting is still a process.

As we drove around Aguascalientes the entire day I changed as a person. Being obsessed with the bullshit “war on drugs,” dedicating my education to changing policy, treating addiction, and helping to do something, anything to help Mexico’s people, I knew I had to engulf myself in a culture that I had lost. I have learned about revolutions throughout Russia, China, Iran, Haiti and I have traveled across the US documenting the Native American struggle. I was programmed by the US narrative that this land, specifically California, was a “wild frontier” that was civilized by an expanding empire. I know that this is complete bullshit. Through all my studies I have failed to dive into my own culture other than bonding with jail birds when I was behind barbed wire. I knew that I needed to understand the culture and be in touch with the people in Mexico, “my” people. (I hesitate to create that divide because in all reality I feel like all people are my people but my bloodline and how I was raised is a reflection of this specific location.) I was never sure how I was going to go about doing this legwork in reconnecting with that side of my life and here I was, in the middle of my father’s hometown, breathing the air, working on my Spanish and taking in the heritage.

After we squared away the paperwork to get his ashes back to the states we wanted to spend some time in town so we made a plan. Aguascalientes is a gorgeous city. It is not gorgeous in terms of what we may think of here from watching television, with manufactured lawns filled with nonindigenous plants that require lots of money to maintain or expensive stainless steel refrigerators, or people with perfect fingernails, heated leather seats in cars, etc. That is precisely why Aguascalientes is so beautiful. They are not spending money on creating a false narrative where there is no substance. They do not need to. They have rich cultural history. They embrace their Aztec indigenous history and acknowledge the Spanish conquest. They acknowledge both sides of the imperialists and the natives. In government buildings they quote that if knowledge of history is lost, there can be no justice. The broken down “unkempt” parts of town are left unkempt and that realness is something we here hardly see here in the US. It is a taste or reality. It is honest in what time does. That is true beauty in my eyes. They do not need to propagate a consistent image to sell as the only truth; they have preserved honesty in history.   

Guided by one of my beautiful cousins we went to the oldest cathedral in the city built in 1764. My grandfather had maintained it doing all the carpentry work in the entire cathedral. It was the most amazing thing I have seen. It was just as breath taking as any cathedral I have seen in Europe and it is right in my backyard. Not only that, my family has a direct tie to this profound art and history. I thought back to California and the oldest building there is in my hometown of San Juan Capistrano, the mission built in 1776. Everything else has a shallow history starting well after conquest. Of course Orange County, my home, is an oasis and many of the places I frequent are resort towns where people come from miles around to take vacations, but the constant image is blatantly trying to hide something. Why do I know so little about California history being educated in California? Why were there so many Mexicans in jail when I was there? Why are they fighting each other on the streets in every major city? Why is Orange County known for being so superficial? How is Orange County second in the nation for prescription drug deaths? I think about these questions not to be condescending or to complain but I think about this to put the proverbial cards on the table so that we can devise solutions and add what is missing. There is no progress in standing around saying “I am the best.” Being surrounded by the richness of preserved centuries I knew that I needed to solidify this connection in Mexico through a dual citizenship.  

Exiting the cathedral walking around one of the largest city parks I had flashbacks of being there with my dad when I was a kid. In the middle of the park was a gazebo and in it there were 5 b-boys breaking. I was amazed and comforted that not more than a few blocks from the cathedral, hip hop was being represented. I wonder if they knew about Zulu Nation. I found a new job. Later the next day at the airport when we were leaving I would see a man wearing a Suffocation hat. Considering Suffocation being my favorite death metal band for a long time I was reminded of the universality of music and the cross cultural messages I needed to address in my own music. This trek through the city before the first ceremony of the 9 days of mourning for my father had a profound healing effect on me and I felt like I was finally in a position to understand, appreciate and accept the gift that was being given to me.    

We engaged with the people, ate amazing food and enjoyed our family reuniting. My dad would have loved my sister and me walking around his hometown with our cousin but he would never have forced us to come down and spend time, until now. I felt ashamed that it took his death for me to reconnect with so many brilliant people who are my family. What was I doing with my life? I had such an amazing resource of culture, knowledge, history and comradery that I had been completely failing to seize. I had been missing something essential to my being that could only have been discovered by experiencing it.

For me to accomplish what I need to affect change in Cali, in jails, in Mexico and to be involved in the community, I would have to get in touch with my roots. This death was the conduit. My father passing was excruciatingly painful but in hearing alternative situations of parental death from friends, he and I had it good. The thought of the event of his death was something that constantly was bothering me while he was alive here in the States. Sometimes I could not even be intimate with my girlfriend because I felt guilt about him being alone in Laguna. Of course he was not, especially towards the end, but I feared him dying drunk in an alley, or being on hospice and what prolonged agony that could bring. I feared him slowly rotting away in a hospital bed as so many people I know have had to deal with in their situations. I did not want to see him in agony. The way it unfolded was that he had one of the best birthdays he had had in years surrounded by all his family and childhood friends, then he had 3 minutes of body shut down, then he was gone. If there was a heaven, he lived it here on earth for weeks and now he lives in us.    

It is bitter sweet to regain all my family, culture, heritage, inspiration, and new connections but trade the physical consciousness that was my father. More than ever I see how holding onto his physical being is making me miserable. The attachment reminds me of my favorite movie Jacob’s Ladder where the main character is tormented by demons trying to rip him away from his life. It is not until he makes peace with letting go and the impermanence of all things that those demons become angelic and he transcends to a higher consciousness. I could not have asked for a better way for him to go and he went before deteriorating to the point of being unrecognizable. I am so grateful for this. Am I “blessed” in this? Absolutely not. That is an insult to the other 80% of the world who perish without even clean drinking water. I despise the idea that I was picked to endure less pain than a mother who lost her innocent baby to cholera in Haiti. I could never ever think of myself as that important and anything that could make that decision to continually “bless me” living in the paradise that is Southern California rather than someone born in dire circumstances, needs to put their fucking hands together to give clean water to states in Africa and stop the senseless killing of innocent civilians in Ciudad Juarez. I’ll be fine. No I am never “mad at god” because to me that is the intellectual equivalent of being bitter at Bigfoot. I am angry at the selfish inconsistency of that “exceptional chosen people” type of thinking in my species. We need to take responsibility and stop putting ourselves on a pedestal as something other than complete products of this earth. We have made it as a species because *we* help each other. Despite my feelings about the Western world’s brand of religiosity I appreciate all good wishes and talk of prayers in my circumstance. The fact that people are thinking of my family’s hardship at this time at all is humbling. It just shows me how many lives my dad touched and how much love people can have for those in emotional agony.  

This painful mission brought my step mother, sister, brother and I together as a team propping one another up when we each crumbled. We worked through our grievance and continue to support each other. Through writing most of this I have been in constant contact with my cousins in Mexico via text message, the cousins that I lost consistent contact with for over a decade. I am determined to get dual citizenship being that my father was born in Mexico and I am determined to build a home there. I have a direct line to and have seen the vast culture that is in my backyard. I have rediscovered this treasure. People have consistently told me they are sorry for my loss but I feel like I have actually gained so much. My online and physical family have come together and humbled me in such an amazing way by contributing to my dad’s funeral fund. The loving words I have received from everyone have contributed to a steady flow of tears but they are tears of gratitude and thanks. Still I know difficulty is on the horizon as I scramble to arrange a service for him here.

I recently had been saying this year that the stakes were being raised, and now I see this seems to be the trend. You think when you are young that once you conquer the fear of playing on TV in front of millions of people that there is nothing that can test you more. You accomplish this and conquer that fear but then your addictive tendencies make you lose trust in everyone, you land in jail facing race riots and are ready to commit acts of terrible violence just to stay alive. You survive, find a mission, conquer your addiction and think that there is nothing that can throw you off. Then your father dies in another country and you have to endure indescribable sorrow while you go get him, cremate him, bring him back on a plane, plan and fund his service, console loved ones, work to pay bills, and stay in school. What is next, intercepting a meteor from hitting earth while you are being raped by reptilians listening to Pitbull? Luckily I have Vipassana meditation which has been my saving grace in this. It is not like prayer because I am not petitioning a higher being. I am observing myself and that is it. I am living in the moment because that is all there is and in doing this I am able to stop clinging, at least for periods of time.  

Yes I miss my dad terribly but I am also happy for him in a way. He went out before he had to grow decrepit. I think I would prefer that for myself as well.

If I was going to say a prayer and throw out some words into the ether, I would acknowledge to the man that made me and raised me:

“Thank you dad for always showing support and for always making me feel loved. You may have not known how to show it all the time but those are just technicalities. I learned how to understand your language. Thank you for taking care of so many people and for giving so many people opportunities. You were an inspiration because you took pride in everything you did and from that you were respected. Thank you for making me strong through hard physical labor. This was a catalyst for fearlessness, determination, endurance and it reminds me I am alive. Thank you for showing me addiction and passing on the genes to conquer it. Without that dose of reality I would not be who I am today and I would never have been aware of how conditioned I truly am. Thank you for talking to everyone, it showed me how to acknowledge and treat fellow humans with compassion. Thank you for showing me how to use my talents to help other people. This has become my life and I will always continue to live this lesson from you. Even in your death dad, you introduced me to so much richness. You gave me this wealth that I had forgot I had and this legacy is more valuable than any amount of money could have ever been. Your last impact on my life has made me whole, a complete person. Nothing can ever take that away, ever. I will use every faculty you have given to me or presented me with. You thought you were proud before? I am going to fuck some shit up. I love you and thank you. See you in a few. ”  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Recovery Without a Deity

Hi my name is Gabe and I love drugs,

I always hated alcohol as a kid up until the beginning of my adolescence because it made my dad change so much. He was a hardworking, honest, exuberant man who I thought of as a pillar of strength. When he drank he got sarcastic, cruel and sometimes violent and I would rather hide from him. Most of the time he would just pass out on the floor face down. Someone would try and wake him up and he would look up dazed with his eyes bulging out of his head from his high blood pressure. I hated that look on his face and I hated his incoherence. I hated how it was his way or no way, even when it came to driving when he was inebriated. Me being too small and my mother being too weak and afraid, we would risk our lives getting in a car with him many times. I remember being in Mexico with only him and one of my friends and we got pulled over by the Federales and he was drunk. I was hoping they would take him in. Anything was better than the fear of a drunken accident, especially on the dirt roads we would drive on close to ocean cliffs. He would always have 40-50 dollars on him expressly for that purpose. He would pay them off and we would be on our way.

I never thought much of drinking myself until I was about to start high school. It was a fun recreational thing I just tried with some close family members. I tried that along with smoking some weed out of a tin foil homemade pipe. The first time I really sparked my love affair with booze was when I was 14 and my dad had a party. There was a “handle” of Jim Beam whisky in the kitchen and I filled a cup to the brim and snuck it into my room with a can of soda. I drank the entire cup and chased it with soda. It must have been at least 6 shots. I picked up my bass guitar, flipped on my amp and proceeded to unleash on the strings. I didn’t care whether what I was playing was accurate or technically proficient; I was in a whirlwind of passion and adrenaline. Nothing else existed but my bass. I was in love with life. My stomach was warm. My skin tingled and I had frequent bursts of energy and a spontaneity I did not know I had. A friend came over and we both continued to sneak shots from the bottle the rest of the evening. It was one of my fondest memories.

Throughout the next year, getting a small $4 or $5 flask of Beam would be the ritual while my friends and I would trek around the lazy beach town of Laguna. In a short time the flask became insufficient to maintain the same “magic” that was captured that one night in my room. First it was that 50mL flask and eventually we needed, I needed, a 750 mL bottle. Throughout the rest of high school I went from drinking on the weekends to trying to remember a day during the week when I did not have one drink. Alcohol was readily available and I could negotiate with my dad about getting “us” a bottle. He would tell me to take it easy but he could not tell me anything. It became a game and I would show him and everyone else that I could drink a bottle of hard alcohol and still function, not pass out, not slur my words and not get sloppy. I could out drink him finally. He would never scare me again. In fact, I would drink till 2 or 3 in the morning on some nights and he would scream at me to be quiet with my friends. I would egg him on to hit me and tell him that he taught me how to be an alcoholic, almost a reenactment of the 80’s drug abuse commercial.

I experimented with every drug I could get my hands on but booze was most accepted. Booze was sold at restaurants. Booze I could buy anywhere because I looked older. I could buy it on the way home from school and get a nice buzz while I did some homework. There were no dealings with dealers, no phone calls, no question of quality. I could easily get a nice Hornitos bottle of tequila or a shitty Popov vodka handle depending on my bank account. In fact I remember many times where I had less than $20 in my bank account so I could use my debit card to use the last bit on a gallon of Popov in the morning. I would make eggs, take shots, get hammered and fall asleep and this was when I was 17.

This monster grew and grew as I aged and found moderate success in the music industry. Alcohol on tour with the metal band was fun but when it came to playing on SNL, having older friends who had connections to harder drugs in NYC and partying with the SNL cast, I finally found the best drug to compliment the “magic.” Cocaine was fantastic with a nice pack of Dunhill cigarettes. I could drink all night and every time I would get too sloppy a nice little rail would get me back up on the balance beam and I could have 2 more cocktails. This would go on until the cocaine was gone; at that point the racing of my heart would have to be calmed down by sleeping pills, straight shots and lots of weed. I could have easily given myself a heart attack.

Never did I feel like I was a disgrace to anyone. I did not care what anyone thought. I still went to the gym frequently after a day or two of recovery and I still had played better gigs than some people have ever played in their entire lives who were twice my age. I felt like I had no reason to slow down other than the rising blood pressure, weight gain, and raw skin around my nose.

Sobriety never really seemed like an option because there was always some way to work around it. I never thought I needed to stop. I could not live without drinking, it was who I was. My friends did not know anyone who could drink more than me and I was proud of that, even when I would disappear, or wake up alongside freeways, or break into cars with some thieves I just met, or ended up in some apartment smoking meth with strangers, you name it. I drank 40’s, did speed, smoked weed, ate an 8th of mushrooms and ate a bunch of ecstasy one night and sitting in the back of a pickup truck in fear of dying still did not stop me from slowing down. I could stop for a few months but after that I would be right back where I was. There was no such thing as moderation because I never *enjoyed* the taste of alcohol, I enjoyed the effects. I would not drink something alcoholic because it tasted good. I drank because I wanted a buzz, otherwise water was just fine. That thing I considered a “buzz” metamorphosed into drunkenness. What “buzz” meant to other people was worthless for my needs. I needed to be crazy, entertaining, spontaneous, super human, scary, sexy, and when I wasn’t drinking I was a watered down version of that.

My path led me to be the middle man to get cocaine for a short time. People wonder how someone can fall into something like that by mistake. Well it goes like this: you have some, you share some with a random stranger who happens to have a lot of money and then they ask you to be their connection. You tell them “no” but they insist. It seems innocent enough by just making a phone call to help out a dude. Then the dude orders a lot, more than you are used to seeing and he gives you a bunch. You then get to do drugs for free. Then you notice how much money you are making someone else and you let them know how much money you have made them. Then they ask you what you want, product or money. You say money and then you are off to the races, you now have a vested interest in moving product. This was short lived for obvious reasons. It is dangerous and frightening as hell, besides friends started disappearing for whatever reason.

About 3 years after that chapter I really started to get dark on my life and my relationship was codependent and hazardous. I hate what I had become and I hate how vulnerable I was when I was drinking. I became oblivious to the untrustworthy people I had surrounded myself with. I had allowed things that no one should have allowed. I looked like a blob of what I was when I was in my early 20’s. I cannot stand the drama I created. I cannot stand the issues that came up that I never addressed in sobriety. I hated having that weight that was 40 lbs of excess fat resting on my chest. I hated having to apologize to people for destroying their property and I hated that I started loving a double shot of vodka first thing in the morning to avoid the hangover. There was always a new day to erase but it needed to stop.

Eventually my tumultuous relationship of drunken chaos came to a head and I made violent angry decisions that rewarded me with a felony if I did not take an immediate plea. I took the plea and my lawyer got my sentence reduced from years to months. Being thrown in jail because of drunken chaos changed everything. To some people jail is not enough to clean up their act but I finally realized that I needed to redefine myself. I lost everything, including the simple option to *walk down the street*. I lost faith in humanity because I felt like I could not trust my friends, my family or my significant other. If you have none of those things you have nothing to lose. I was not sure how I was going to stay sober but I knew I had to no matter what. I had to disassociate with everyone I had drank with previously. I had to avoid social engagements. I had to cut people unworthy of trust out of my life. I had to find a new purpose. I looked forward to getting drunk and getting lots of blow every weekend. I had to look forward to something else. I went to counseling to understand my train of thought and I found out I had mislabeled my feelings. When I was mad I was usually depressed in reality. I rarely attended AA but I spoke with people who had sober time about how I should approach the new life. I found the new purpose in jail because that is where I found the higher power: The human race.

I still somewhat believed in a traditional sense of a deity in jail because that was what I was born with. I saw countless pictures of a Caucasian man with a white robe and beard. His father was the creator of all who had made everything and his greatest creation was us, but we must prove our worth to make it to the place where we can be with him after we die. This made sense when I was a kid but never that much sense. I would get angry as a kid in Christian school when I really analyzed the “Jesus Loves Me” song. “Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.” None of it made sense. Why am I weak? Why do I need this random man in my life that I have never met? If I never heard of him and died, would I be punished? If so, why? That does not sound loving. And why would someone kill their son for me? Am I supposed to feel guilty? Why, I was just born. And if he rose days later, what was the purpose of any of it, the death was not final. But if I know about this story and laugh then the hell is final? In what world is this a good idea? It could only be reconciled if I just shut up and “believed.” What kind of manipulation is this? It wasn’t until I forced myself to sit in the darkest most frightening part of my closet that I realized my fears were in my head as a kid. I remember choosing to alter my perception when I was scared in my dark room. Instead of fearing the blackness of my closet, I purposefully climbed into it. I remember I chose to pretend that I was the monster in the dark. I began telling myself that nothing was worse than me. Of course there was but this understanding was the foundation for my emancipation. I could be the darkness and the light. I had it all inside me. After that day I was not afraid of the dark anymore and jail was the beginning of the end of my belief in the man made god I was taught.

Some people claim that I was never an addict because I was able to get clean and stay clean without a program but I beg to differ. As I became more educated from going back to school out of jail, I learned about the human species, evolution, brain chemistry, psychology, and history. My ability to stay sober is based on my occupation with everything life and literally choosing a different path. No, it is not easy; it took a loss of everything that I defined as myself. I refuse to look to a deity in my sobriety simply because of my awareness of the plight of others around the world. I could never and can never believe that an all-powerful, omnipotent being granted *me* the “gift” of sobriety when there are millions of starving children. I would gladly give up my sobriety if it meant starving children would be fed, which would be the only “just” thing to do for anything with that power. My issue with having the mental “need” to ingest intoxicants is an extremely miniscule and pathetic dilemma in comparison to the thousands who recently died of ebola in Africa. Could I ever accept that kind of attitude of self-importance that of all the people in the world who need help, I was given the choice to simply *not* drink alcohol? Could I ever say that my sobriety was more important than preventing rape in India? Really? Absolutely not.

Instead I stay sober because I have found that “feeling good” is what I am addicted to and helping other people also makes me feel good. In my mind and through my understanding of impermanence through meditation, I have already died. With this feeling of peace I can summon a second chance mentality that allows me to use every day to its fullest. It is like being Scrooge and waking up to what you have been taking for granted and having the option to go out and experience all of it. Get a law degree, why not? Get in the best shape you have ever been in, why not? Write a dozen new songs in whatever genre, why not? Pick up Jeet Kune Do, why not? Hug the people who have been there for you when you were at your worst, must do. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and situations. The more responsibility you take for your sobriety, the more doors open. As addicts we are so full of ourselves and what we have suffered. Yes, I think I had the luxuy of being an alcoholic drug addict but it is over now. I do not have that luxury anymore because there is new meaning that I defined. Of course there are still many many problems, emotions, relationships, hardships, successes etc that are part of life but if I face it with a sober brain, I can handle anything and yes, sober communities no matter what they are are essential. I do not attend meetings though other than going to support my dad but I can tell you that I am always glad when I do. I always learn something new and that consistent growth and learning is like a charge to keep grinding. If I can offer any help, I will but sometimes I feel like I am not the most sympathetic person in the world, especially living in South OC where we have an ocean view at the gym. I do understand the pain is relative though and I have students who have gone through more devastating horrible things than most people I have ever known. I try to make myself available to them. Sobriety works when you talk about things and coming up on 8 years I will continue to keep talking. It’s how I stay sober and sane. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Abraham's Golden Rule and the African Man

Considering the story of humanity being one of conquest, submission, and at times a manufactured scarcity to create a struggle for resources, one must also acknowledge the tremendous ingenuity of our species since branching off from other primate ancestors. We can see what kind of intellectual games our species has evolved to get what we want, to function on the planet and to cope with the human condition. Because of our consciousness and highly evolved use of symbolism, we take stories to heart and sometimes we model our lives after the characters in these stories depending on how they resonate with us and how we view ourselves. We tend to put ourselves in the seat of the hero. This is a natural tendency in our species to project ourselves to a higher social stratification.
The story of Christianity interwoven in the lifestyles of the African American is an example of not only the assimilation and programming from slave masters but also one of syncretism, coping mechanisms and the evolution of meaning in the human psyche. To understand this metamorphosis we need to take an unbiased and objective approach to the beliefs of religions as well as taking an unbiased look at ALL people, with more or less melanin.  We need to look at these elements the same way as we would look at any organism in a habitat on earth. Living organisms that cannot function in the current environment or cannot adapt to changes will be naturally selected out of the ecosystem therefore adaptation is crucial in survival.  We will first briefly look at Christianity in Africa[1] then its evolution throughout Europe and its use among peoples as a means of conquest through to its evolution in the black community in the Americas. That is a good starting point to observe the long term toxicity of certain ideologies and transition from what Christianity was and what it has become in the mind of the African man. We will see that the story of religious faith, conquest, assimilation and syncretism are really a story of gold and economic competition.
            There is a romanticized concept that evil white European Christians came, kidnapped peaceful Africans, forced them into bondage and whipped them until they assimilated. In some instances this may be part of the truth but realistically it is much more complex than that and accounts like this work to demonize another demographic of people. Christianity expanded into Africa in the 1st century CE. [2] It was already an established religion in parts of North Africa as far down as Ethiopia well before any Europeans set foot on the continent but as we see in all ever evolving societies, the Africans incorporated their own nature-worship traditions into the other faiths to make their religions “stronger.” This blending for strength was a characteristic of many native ancient religions as we also saw this with some Native American tribes.  With many African people’s and smaller bands of tribes following traditional African religions, the dominating early empires of African King’s sometimes consumed these smaller groups and either enslaved them, made them convert to the current state religion, or simply left them alone as we see with the African King Tunka-Manin who respected the states sovereignty and traditions. [3]
Islam made its appearance and dominated Africa by the 7th century CE dating back to the prophet Muhammad sending some of his cohorts to Africa for refuge. [4] This created a strong African Muslim Arabic economy complete with a Muslim slave trade for hundreds of years. Many African rulers brought many useful tools for governance and education from the Middle East to Africa when returning from their pilgrimage to Mecca but they also solidified means of exploitation as Abrahamic faiths in general speak of how to keep slaves. The Arabic Muslim slave trade was not racial; they captured and sold slaves across Africa and Europe indiscriminately. The African continent and its states were known far and wide for its seemingly endless gold supply so when certain Muslim rulers like Mansa Musa realized that tolerating the other dominant natural religions in surrounding African states kept their gold coming to him, he was sure to exhibit much diplomacy.  Other tribes were simply enslaved and sold to the Arabic Muslims via the Trans-Saharan Trade routes.
By the 1200’s Christian Europe, growing as a player in the flourishing world economy, gathered knowledge of Africa’s trade routes and close ties to the Middle East through traveling Muslim-to-Christian converts like Leo Africanus. At the same time there was a growing conflict between Christians and Muslims over control of the Iberian Peninsula. [5] Attempting to reap the rewards of the gold in Africa, other goods from India and Africa’s interior, the Portuguese entered Africa on the opposite side of the continent and began its own relationship. In examining one of the earliest contacts of Europe with Africa the journal “Sons of Adam” states an account of Portuguese explorer Infante Henrique: “In his diplomatic en-treaty, Infante Henrique minimized the commercial incentive and fashioned the ‘toils of that conquest’ into a ‘just war’ under the banner of a Christian Crusade.” All these conquests into Africa required papal approval and as “Son’s of Adam” states: “the pope’s authority prevailed, since all humans were of Christ though not with the church. ‘As a result,’ the medievalist James Muldoon notes, ‘the pope’s pastoral responsibilities consisted of jurisdiction over two distinct flocks, one consisting of Christians and one comprising everyone else.’’’ Initially, Pope Innocent IV in the early 1200’s forbade conquest of dominion over “infidel” lands because they did not violate natural law but once revisited, the imperial Christian adherents preferred the evolving state-church relationship and justification of divine nobility over peasant and infidel in their growing nation. The discriminatory practices that were beginning to take shape in Europe with the Christian majority vs the Jewish and Muslim minority began influencing their policies with the wider world. The African states practicing animism were categorized as simply “pagans.” Developing their own economy and their need for slave labor as they expanded across the Atlantic, the Christian Europeans bought slaves who were predominantly from West Africa as these Western smaller states were consumed by larger Muslim African empires. The majority of these newly enslaved Western Africans were not Muslim or Christian but many variations of religions which made it hard for them to live in peace and made it easy for the larger African Empires to control them.[6]  By the 1500’s the trans-Atlantic slave trade was born and it was based on the oppression of smaller tribes by the larger Muslim African Empire, and the religious zealotry, greed and expansion obsession of the Christian Europeans trying to play catch up. This left the early West African slave to be nothing more than a pawn of two competing growing economies, one Muslim trade route that was long established, and another one blossoming from Christian European domination moving to the west.  
From the “seasoning process” of the slave in the Caribbean to the labor in the America’s, the European’s taught their faith to the African’s which consisted of not only a firm belief that the Europeans were superior with a superior religion but also acted to keep slaves subservient. By the 1600’s a biblical ideology that involved the story of Ham, Abraham’s son, had already been used to enslave people of all colors depending on who was the oppressor at the time. This story where Ham’s son Canaan is condemned to a life of servitude was employed as divine order to degrade and discriminate against groups of people. This biblical story was exploited by Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the previous centuries dating back to Ethiopian slaves in old Arabia which eventually conflated “blackness” with servitude. [7] In the America’s the ideology was well solidified and became a simple truth to many of the slave masters.
Slavery evolved gradually in the new colonies acknowledging that the early slaves were merely indentured servants who were represented by people of all colors. As the economy expanded and the necessity for cheap or free labor grew, so did the Christian justification for slavery, ironically. One of the greatest scholars the United States has ever produced W.E.B. DuBois writes of the black man’s assimilation: “Nothing suited his condition better than the doctrines of passive submission embodied in the newly learned Christianity. Slave masters early realized this, and cheerfully aided religious propaganda within certain bounds. The long system of repression and degradation of the Negro tended to emphasize the elements in his character which made him a valuable chattel: courtesy became humility, moral strength degenerated into submission, and the exquisite native appreciation of the beautiful became and infinite capacity for dumb suffering.” Their new economic position gave Africans no hope in this life but as Christianity promises, the rewards will be in the next life when the savior returns. DuBois states, “The Negro losing the joy of this world, eagerly seized upon the offered conceptions of the next…this became a comforting dream.”[8]  The slave masters made sure to educate the African man just on what they felt was safe and applicable to keep them subservient. The slave had no option to learn to read and relied solely on what was told to them. However this brainwashing propaganda merged with their own African religious ritual as many accompanied their native songs with concepts of the new “faith.” This was a replay of many of their African ancestors as we can see a religious syncretism even to this day throughout the African continent. Many traditional and native ceremonies were mixed with icons from the dominating culture’s belief systems and integrated in traditional songs and dance of the enslaved people.
Throughout the south as the economy of America grew through the African man’s nonstop free labor, the Christian faith was not only a new part of the black man’s existence, it was the center of the black community as church meetings were where all issues were discussed, problems were solved and secretive plans were made. The importance of the church and community came about from the black man’s need for hope but also from the benefits that the American oppressors afforded them if and ONLY if they converted to Christianity. As the European countries fought each other overseas and “ownership” of the US colonies exchanged hands, different stipulations were placed on the slaves from whichever country was controlling at the time. By the 1700’s the American states had moved from policies of white, Native American and African indentured servitude, to white servitude, genocide of natives and no possible freedom for blacks unless through manumission. In some parts of the country blacks were afforded more freedoms and this lead to a cultural foundation. Some more sympathetic masters taught their slaves to read and as the African now African American man evolved his ideologies with his plight, other stories from the bible began serving as a catalyst for progressive ideas of real freedom in THIS life as opposed to the afterlife. The story of the Jews exodus from Egypt to freedom enticed black men and women as a calling from their new almighty god to take action against their bondage. The biblical references emboldened the African American community and for the first time they saw themselves as the “chosen people of god” like the Jews. This fueled men like Nat Turner to go on a rampage killing all white people. He undoubtedly had some other mental deficiencies as he regularly heard voices and saw visions, but his obsessive compulsion with the bible made him an indifferent killer believing he was doing god’s work. These new black evangelical leaders empowered their listeners and created a new dynamic in the north and south.
Different conflicting interpretations of the bible started surfacing through the Quaker movement who were the first people to organize societies for the abolition of slavery. The book that had discussed slavery with detailed instructions on how to own other humans was now being used to justify freedom for all men from scripture citing all men’s equality under a god. The contradictions played out in the United States in different pockets of the country with alternative agendas.[9] 
After the revolutionary war the white man declared an epic freedom from tyranny, at the same time these same words were being used by the black slave population who were looking to free themselves as well. The early black Christian church was used as a means of mobilization for a repressed people. This demographic of people with more melanin focused on the freedom, emancipation, and good graces of the Christian god in the bible whereas another demographic with less melanin used the same Christian god to prove that slavery was just a part of the “plan.”  Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America proudly stated: "[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts."[10]  In-between these incompatible interpretations of ancient people’s ideas of society were opposing influential black leaders like Jupiter Hammon who believed it was every black person’s Christian duty to patiently await the end of slavery and appease his slave masters and Olaudah Equiano who loudly opposed the Christian slave masters as hypocrites and vigorously opposed the institution.
From the early African roots of ritualistic magic, song, and dance representative of many traditional society religions, the only thing really missing in the syncretism with Christianity is the element of sacrifice, though many Africans continue sacrificial practice in Africa alongside Christianity. Today’s black church has the characteristic 3 elements DuBois named as the Preacher, the Music, and the Frenzy. The origins of these things long predate any concepts of Christianity as they are generally central to any traditional ceremony or gathering of people. The Preacher is an orator and a leader. He is one who touches the soul of the congregants. The Music is used to move and create a rhythmic environment for a sort of hypnosis to reach outside oneself and finally the Frenzy is when a congregant is thought to be actually touched by the god.[11] Without this element a person has not yet “reached” the ultimate level. The frenzy looks very similar to spiritual possession in older Vodun practices and the evolution to this modern form is easy to link.
As I analyze all this information and meld it with my other knowledge on anthropology, history, philosophy and theology, I see the church to this day is still a therapeutic organization that brings people together in a community and predicates on the strength of the whole banding together, however this is not a positive thing when considering the community of KKK members joining together in hatred. It seems like African American church devotees do not care so much that their “faith” was forced on their “people” at a point when all other elements of what they knew themselves to be as a culture was destroyed. It may be too painful to think about. The idea may also be that the end may have justified the means because now they are “saved” or “found.” When looking at the religion as an organism though, I do not see it anywhere close to that. If religions serve a function and fight to exist, having what we would call a “fitness” like in an organism, their fitness is based on “reproductive ability” which translates to adherents child birth rates, infant mortality rates, the destruction of other opposing ideas, conversion-deconversion rates,  and life expectancy of adherents.[12] This faith has “survived” because of, not through, the decimation of many cultures. We can have faith in anything, so how could one choose which claim to believe? If a person is not strict in basing their beliefs on concrete testable evidence, then why of all the intangible speculative things to put ones faith in would someone accept something as truth from people who had no interest in their well-being and furthermore used this belief to demean, pacify and degrade their existence? We have seen studies of black school girls picking white dolls to play with because they looked “nicer” in America. Most all images of the savior of all mankind in the Christian religion is shown as a Caucasian. These images have created the infrastructure for institutional colorism. I prefer to call it colorism because there is only the human race and this race has people with more and less melanin depending on folic acid and vitamin D intake. The concepts of “the dark” and going to “the light” are a constant theme in Christianity and it wreaks havoc on the human psyche. With these Western watered down clumsy concepts of the “good and pure” being white and the “evil and imperfect” being black, we will continually keep recycling the same discrimination. Doesn’t it make more sense that people use anything around them to aid in their struggle to survive, even if it was taught by OTHER people who wanted complete control? The belief is just a passing fad, however the ACTIONS of the people who fight to survive is much more commendable and our species has shown that it will take a toxic theme and twist it to change their predicament for the better. That to me is the beauty of life and will long endure any controlled mental manipulation.
"AFRICAN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS | Tewahedo | Palo | Serer | Tijaniyyah | Vodon." AFRICAN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS | Tewahedo | Palo | Serer | Tijaniyyah | Vodon. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
"The Story of Africa." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
Franklin, John Hope, and Alfred A. Moss. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994. Print.
"Islam in Africa." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
Bennett, Herman L. ""Sons of Adam": Text, Context, and the Early Modern African Subject." Representations 92.1 (2005): 16-41. Print.
 "Culture and Religion in West-Africa." - Atlas West-Africa. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
Lee, Felicia R. "From Noah's Curse to Slavery's Rationale." The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Oct. 2003. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
B., Du Bois W. E. The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1961. Print.
"Slavery and the Making of America." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
"By Their Strange Fruit." Religious Roots of Racism -. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
Diamond, Jared M. The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? New York: Viking, 2012. Print.

[1] "AFRICAN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS | Tewahedo | Palo | Serer | Tijaniyyah | Vodon." AFRICAN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS | Tewahedo | Palo | Serer | Tijaniyyah | Vodon. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
[2] "The Story of Africa." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
[3] Franklin, John Hope, and Alfred A. Moss. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994. Print.
[4] "Islam in Africa." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
[5] Bennett, Herman L. ""Sons of Adam": Text, Context, and the Early Modern African Subject." Representations 92.1 (2005): 16-41. Print.
[6] "Culture and Religion in West-Africa." - Atlas West-Africa. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
[7] Lee, Felicia R. "From Noah's Curse to Slavery's Rationale." The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Oct. 2003. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
[8] B., Du Bois W. E. The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1961. Print.
[9] "Slavery and the Making of America." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2014.
[10] "By Their Strange Fruit." Religious Roots of Racism -. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
[11] B., Du Bois W. E. The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1961. Print.
[12] Diamond, Jared M. The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? New York: Viking, 2012. Print.

Private Prison Speech from 2011

I just gave a speech on Private Prisons in the US last week in a class. I researched the hell out of it. Get your mind blown. I wouldve expanded on the link between recidivism and education too but it was timed so I had to consolidate.

Pedro and Emily, a happy married couple exited their house with their son Logan when they were approached by ICE Immigration and Custom Enforcement officers. They handcuffed Pedro in front of his wife and son and took him away. He was held for 19 months on charges of neglecting an order of deportation that had been sent to the wrong address. He was considered an immigrant by the law overnight when his mother made a mistake in a permanent residency interview. Undocumented immigrant or not, the prison made $71,520 dollars for the 19 months he was detained and it greatly effected Logan, his son and his wife. "I was scared, but in the back of my mind I just felt like everything would eventually be OK because I was a citizen and he was married to me," said Emily Guzman, 33, a mental health therapist who was born and raised in the U.S. as stated in Kelsey Sheehy’s article in the Mclatchy Tribune News Service Nov 2011.

This is the reality for all minorities in dealing with the growing prison industrial complex in the US where the “business” gets paid per prisoner, per day. Vince Beiser states in “Jailing for Dollars” in New Leader 1997, Vol. 80: “An industry whose raw materials are incarcerated human beings has every reason to support policies that get more and more Americans thrown in jail for longer and longer sentences, regardless of their objective merits.” We can see this truth in cases like Pedro’s among many others, with policies implemented by politicians who are getting a payoff. This conflict of interest is what has consumed our judicial system and has even put innocent people to death.

I am going to inform you about the detrimental self-serving machine the judicial system has become to make private interests rich. I will explain how private prisons affect minorities, what the causes are and what needs to be done to truly have justice in the US.

 To understand the problem of this so called “need” for private prisons due to overcrowding, we need to look at who is targeted by legislation to get more people in prison for longer periods of time and what conditions have actually led to death for some male inmates from inadequate medical attention, raping of women, and child abuse.

Prison affects everyone. Marc Mauer, assistant director of The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice think tank states in “Prison Building Boom” in Nov 2011 found in CQ Researcher: “In some places, kids see more people go to prison than they do leave for work every morning. What kind of message is that sending?”

The sad reality of our obsession with incarceration is evident when comparing our stats to the rest of the world. According to the Bureau of Justice, in 2009, a little less than 2.3 million Americans were incarcerated. Albert Hunt breaks down the facts for us in his article “Incarceration: We’re Number One”, in Tulsa World, published this year, “There are 2.3 million people behind bars, almost one in every 100 Americans. The federal prison population has more than doubled over the past 15 years, and one in nine black children has a parent in jail.

With just a little more than 4 percent of the world's population, the U.S. accounts for a quarter of the planet's prisoners, and has more inmates than the leading 35 European countries combined. Almost all the other nations with high per capita prison rates are in the developing world.” The mindboggling statistic that hits home the hardest is that more than 60 percent of America's prisoners are black or Hispanic, though these groups comprise less than 30 percent of the population. If you haven’t noticed, there seems to be something very wrong here. Because of the US having the largest number of people in prison there is a high demand and a “necessity” to build prisons bigger and faster and the proponents of the industry of course claim it can be achieved cheaply through private prisons.

The problem lies with prisons that are supposed to house violent criminals, becoming a business where just like in any other business, shareholders need a return on their investments which translates to more people in prison. The detriment is multiplied when the investors are also the policymakers. GEO Group and Corrections Corp of America are the nation’s two largest companies that build, design, and operate prisons. Peter Cervantes Gautschi explains in ‘Wallstreet and our Campaign to Decriminalize Immigrants’ published by Masterfile premier in Nov 2010, “For the first time, many of those picked up were charged with crimes that carry long prison sentences. Soon after the Bush Administration implemented this change in law enforcement affecting immigrants, Wall Street advisors publicly recommended buying stock in private prison companies like CCA and GEO. One would like to think that bringing this information to Congress's attention would be enough to compel them to abandon policies that criminalize immigrants. This probable hesitation for Congress to act is not merely because of the substantial campaign contributions that Senators and members of Congress receive from the private prison industry. Most members of Congress have personal investments in one or more of CCA's or GEO's major shareholders.”

As I have illustrated, there is a huge conflict of interest in our “justice” system when a certain demographic of people are specifically singled out to make another demographic of people money. Needless to say, this is not how “justice” works, justice is not a business.

So what are the causes of people in prison? Besides greed, racism plays a big part all over the country and it is not just against Hispanic immigrants which we see in the stats regarding African American men. In the Chicago Tribune article entitled “How to scrub the stain of the Burge era” Aug 18, 2011 we hear another example of the US justice system’s vendetta against minorities. “Last year, former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge was convicted of lying under oath about the systematic torture of African-American men that took place for decades at the Area 2 police headquarters.” This police lt was finally convicted of decades of torture of over 100 black inmates to make them confess to crimes they didn’t commit last year. This is not an isolated incident.

Another prime example of the racism in our system deals with the sentencing of violent criminals, especially in murder cases. In Veronica Gonzalez’s article “Racial Disparity Remains Wide in Death Sentences” in the Star News in Aug 2010 she writes: “Radelet and Glenn Pierce, a research scientist in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston, analyzed data from North Carolina from 1980 to the end of 2007 and found that the odds of getting a death sentence are 2.96 times higher for those who kill whites than for those who kill blacks.” Michelle Alexander points out in her article “Cruel and Unusual” in Sojourners magazine in 2011 “Black and whites use drugs at about the same rate, yet African Americans are 10 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses. These are the unbalanced effects of the ‘war on drugs.’”

Because the private prison system is such a complex issue, we can look at these examples of racism as also an effect. The underlying cause of racism goes back to many variables: insecurity, anger, fear and a lack of education. The system shows flaws from the streets, through the policing actions, through the court system itself to get minorities behind bars to profit the investors. It is hard to deny the motives behind the actions of the state as being anything but racist, unethical and money hungry.

Now I will expound on what needs to be done to combat this injustice at the national level.

In examining hard facts and statistics of prison demographics, and acknowledging the causes in the form of various forms of racism in the system from conviction to punishment, one thing is paramount in the solutions for these flaws: Education. In the Concord Monitor article “Early education prevents crime :Federal initiative will pay dividends” in 2009, Katherine Rogers states, “One of the most effective ways of reducing crime is providing at-risk kids access to quality early education. Research shows that giving children a chance to experience high-quality early learning can reduce later incarceration by a quarter or more - eventually saving our state $25 million every year through reduced prison costs.” A better quality education early on would, hands down, cut crime in all ethnicities and cut down on racism across the board.

Another simple way policy makers are able to criminalize minorities is by stricter drug laws that seem to pertain only to minorities. As stated above, only a certain demographic of people are being prosecuted for illicit drug use and it makes up a large percentage of the prison population. In “A Second Chance for Nonviolent Drug Offenders” printed by Harvard Law Review in 2011 we read “In 1992, 92.6 % of those convicted for crime involving crack cocaine were black, yet the US sentencing commission estimated that 65% of all crack cocaine users are white.” The US govt needs to push for more treatment programs across the board to help all ethnicities, if not legalize some drugs all together.

The question is, what can YOU do? Once again it goes back to education because you need to educate yourselves on who you are voting for, if you are voting. Remember, your votes count for the local and state elected officials even if you are cynical about our presidential indirect democracy. Voting for your local and state officials does count and they’re the ones who are going to make decisions in your state. We need to be proactive and not be afraid to stand up and call out the racism and injustice when we see it. It will affect you someday and that is almost a promise.

I’ve spent months incarcerated. I dealt with gang wars running with a Hispanic gang in jail and I can tell you, we are taught to look at each other differently and it is perpetuated in jail more than anywhere, while we minorities were the only ones in there. At time there was no rep for the wood car because there were so few. I’m not claiming I didn’t deserve to be there but I saw the business first hand as they kept beds filled at all times when they didn’t have to. It was filled with addicts who needed help, and there were no elements of correction in the correctional facility.


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