Mid-Month Marvel: The Innocence Network

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

Given our current atmosphere, I can think of no better organization to highlight this month than The Innocence Network. This is a network of 55 U.S organizations and 12 international organizations that are working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions. They do this by providing pro bono legal and investigative services to people seeking to prove their innocence.

Since the advent of DNA testing, there has been a shocking number of convictions that have had to be overturned. Part of police reform needs to be in the area of interrogations that obtain false confessions. It has also been shown that witnesses can be very unreliable or biased.

Hand in hand with wrongful convictions is the horrifying amount of police brutality. According to this network’s home page, between 2013 and 2019, police violence in the US lead to the deaths of 7,666 people, most of whom were black. This network also directed me to a very sobering website called MappingPoliceViolence.org, which states that 1,098 people were killed by police in 2019, and that there were only 27 days that entire year where police did not kill someone.

Also, in 99 percent of the police killings from 2013 to 2019, police were not convicted of a crime. In 96 percent of them, they weren’t even charged with one. Yes, I imagine there are instances where they shouldn’t be charged, but come on. These are some very scary statistics.

The Innocence network has a page dedicated to ways you can get involved. Whether it be educating yourself and others, advocating for legislative reform, or fundraising for one of the local Innocence organizations, there are a variety of ways that you can make an impact.

At a time when many of us are feeling frustrated and ineffectual, fighting for justice for those who are still alive, and making a difference via the Innocence Network sounds like a fine idea to me. I hope you agree.

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Do the Right Thing, Costa Rica

I’ve never been to Costa Rica. I hope to go there someday. In my mind, I’ve always thought of that country as a neutral, benevolent, safe place. Sort of a “foreign travel light” kind of location. A place to go if you want to experience a different climate and culture without really venturing too far out of your comfort zone.

But now I’m wondering if that image isn’t terribly skewed. Based on what I’m reading in a Reuters article entitled, “Indigenous leader killed in Costa Rica, second in a year”, there are tensions. There is violence. And there seems to be a great deal of injustice.

According to this brief article, Costa Rica passed a law back in 1977 that states that its 24 legally recognized indigenous groups are entitled to reclaim lands taken from their ancestors, but the law has never been implemented. This is an outrage. And now that the indigenous groups are fighting back, two men, so far, have been killed.

Just as the primary cause of divorce tends to be finances, the primary cause of regional discord tends to be land. And land, when all is said and done, boils down to finances. It’s how and where people live, how they eat, and how their families survive. It’s an emotionally charged situation.

But in this case, it seems pretty clear cut. Costa Rica passed this law. Costa Rica needs to enforce it. The land should be restored to its proper owners. And murder should be treated as murder. You have no right to kill someone just because you don’t like it when they’re demanding their rights.

Costa Rica, you can’t expect to see any of my tourism dollars until you do the right thing by these people. I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. The eyes of your people, and the eyes of the world, are watching you.

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Loyalty

When I wrote this post I was in a very dark place. I debated even publishing it at all. But sometimes I get the impression that I voice things that others cannot or will not, and hearing it brings them comfort. So here it is. But please rest assured that I’m feeling much better about things now.

I’m a fiercely loyal person. Disparage someone I care about and I will verbally eviscerate you. Treat others unfairly and you will unleash the kraken.

I don’t know why I bother.

I can count the number of times someone else has flown to my defense on one hand. Granted, it’s a rare occasion when I need such assistance. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. But sometimes it would be nice to be thrown an emotional life ring, you know?

As a matter of fact, what I usually get thrown is under the bus. Heck, I practically live under that bus. It’s a source of profound disappointment to me. And road rash.

You’d think I’d have learned by now. There are very few people in this world who are going to stick their necks out for you. Most pull their selfish little heads into their feeble little shells to avoid what they assume will be total annihilation. It’s sad, really.

I don’t want to become one of those people. But if no one else is going to protect me, I need to protect myself. Circle the wagons. Keep my mouth shut. Let the chips fall where they may, and hope that they rain down on someone else’s head for a change.

And my steadfast resolve to be more self-protective will last, oh, a day or two. Because I can’t let go of the belief that if I ever want to see justice in this world, I have to play fair, in the hopes that one day someone might reciprocate, and I’ll finally feel vindicated.

Next time you see me, do me a favor and, as they say in the South, slap me upside the head.

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Let’s Just Say He’s Innocent

I had a nightmare last night that I was held down and sexually assaulted, and when I tried to speak out, I was mocked, threatened, lied about, and publicly humiliated. And a huge group of white men smiled approvingly while it happened.

“Can’t you just investigate?” I asked. “I’ll let the facts speak for themselves, if only you’ll take the time to look. I have nothing to hide. Do you?”

So they pretended to look, but they were in a hurry. They had other priorities. My pain, my trauma didn’t matter. They didn’t care.

I felt like I was brutalized all over again.

If only I had been taken seriously, if only a full investigation had been done. Even if my attacker was deemed innocent, I would have felt heard. But that’s not what happened. These men didn’t care about me in the face of their agenda.

Let’s just say Kavanaugh is pure as the driven snow. (We’ll never know, now.) Why not take the time for a full investigation, then? What harm would it do? In fact, it would do a great deal of good.

Because, today, I’m every woman who has ever been assaulted. I just want to be listened to, with respect. I want the world to acknowledge that what happened to me matters. Couldn’t Kavanaugh’s inevitable confirmation have waited a bit longer for a thorough investigation so that sexual assault victims the world over could feel acknowledged? What harm would that have done?

Before any justice is appointed, we all should be justly taken into consideration. That’s it. That’s all.

And that’s what didn’t happen. Instead, every aye vote felt like a stab to the vagina. Rest assured that we will all bleed our way to the voting booth.

Shame on all of you who were so busy praying that you’d get a judge that would vote your way that you were willing to step on millions of women to do so. Shame. You have shined a light on the darkness of your soul, and none of us will ever be the same.

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#WhyIDidntReport

These are very triggering times, boys and girls. And they should be. They should be. Because Trump’s piss-poor attitude about Christine Blasey Ford is just a reflection of our general cultural ignorance regarding the subject of sexual assault and abuse.

One of the most outrageous things to come out of Trump’s pie-hole (and let’s admit that that bar is already set pretty freakin’ low) is, “Why didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago?”

Um… because the FBI doesn’t deal with the abuse of traumatized teenagers? Because 36 years ago, nobody gave a shit about girls being sexually assaulted? Because to this day, it’s an uphill battle to get justice in these situations?

Gee, I dunno. Why on earth didn’t she report Kavanaugh 36 years ago?

Let me jump on the bandwagon with the thousands of others out there who are attempting to patiently explain #WhyIDidntReport.

Forty-Three years ago, when I was 11 years old, my stepfather began sexually abusing me. This went on for two years, until, at age 13, I broke a board across his knee and told him that if he ever touched me again, I’d kill him. And he knew I meant it. I knew I meant it. I’ve never been so certain of anything in my entire life. He never touched me again.

That was the closest I ever came to justice. Other than that, he got off scot-free. And he didn’t do me the courtesy of dying until I was 27, so I could have reported. But I didn’t. Here are some of the millions of reasons why:

  • I was a good girl, taught to respect my elders. He was the adult in the situation, so even though what he was doing felt awful, to my young mind, it must be right. Right?

  • I was 21 years old before it occurred to me that what he did wasn’t my fault. No one ever told me that. (It’s not your fault, either, by the way.)

  • I was afraid that if I spoke up, I’d be taken away from my mother and thrown into foster care, where the abuse would continue, this time by strangers.

  • I didn’t want to bother anyone. It’s not polite to rock the boat.

  • I was afraid that if my stepfather went to jail, we would become even poorer than we already were, and we were living in a tent at the time.

  • I didn’t want my mother to get into trouble.

  • Because I was just a kid, ill equipped to take on the whole world.

  • I didn’t want the world to know my humiliation.

  • I didn’t understand how the law worked.

  • I saw on TV how women who went to court about these things where treated like whores and emotionally abused by the defense lawyers.

  • I was shy.

  • I had such low self-esteem I didn’t think I deserved justice.

  • I didn’t want to think about it.

  • I wanted it all to go away.

  • When I told my mother, she said I was “making too much of it.”

  • When I told his adult son, he didn’t do anything.

  • When I told a counselor at school, he didn’t do anything.

  • I was all alone in this.

  • Most of my female friends had been abused at some point, too. They didn’t report, either.

  • Because as time wore on, I knew I was less and less credible.

  • Because it would be my word against his, and he was a white male.

  • Because attitudes like Trumps are the rule, not the exception, and because of that, we get Supreme Court Judges like Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.

I could go on and on. But if you are the kind of ignorant asshole who doesn’t feel that all of the above is enough, then there’s no convincing you. So I’m done.

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Given the subject matter, I felt that only a self-portrait would do. But this was an extremely emotional photo to take.

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Score One for Nature!

I’m not a violent person. I don’t even believe in the death penalty. But when I stumbled across this article about three rhino poachers getting killed by a pride of lions, I have to say that I was kind of pleased by the justice that Mother Nature meted out.

Even if it were true (and it’s most definitely not) that rhino horns held medicinal properties, that doesn’t give you the right to kill them. And if you are stupid enough to break into a game PRESERVE full of wild animals to commit this crime, you certainly can’t blame the lions for viewing you as a delicious midnight snack. You were about to do what you do, so they did what they do. Fair’s fair.

You were committing a crime. You were in a place where you had no right to be. Nature stepped up, leaving nothing but your shoes and your gloves and one skull behind, along with the nefarious weapons you planned to use to commit your atrocity.

Sometimes justice balances the scale in unexpected ways. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If I didn’t believe so firmly in karma, I’d probably implode under the sheer weight of my righteous indignation. Fortunately, a little of that weight was lifted this time around.

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Okay, You Win.

I’ve always been one to fight the good fight. I believe in standing up for what’s good and just. I’ll stick my neck out when others won’t. Someone has to tell the emperor he has no clothes, right? Integrity is one of the qualities I’m most proud of.

But somewhere along the line a piece was left out of this puzzle for me. Yes, I’ve heard the expression, “You can’t win them all,” but oddly enough, I never seemed to realize that that means that I can’t win them all, either.

This disconnect in my brain has caused me no end of frustration. When my mother used to tell me that life wasn’t fair, even as a small child I’d be outraged by this news. What’s the point if life isn’t fair, or can’t be made fair?

Somewhere along the line I didn’t learn the adult lesson that sometimes you just have to suck it up and deal with the bitter, awful realities of life. Sometimes justice just isn’t going to prevail. Sometimes the bad guys win.

I don’t like this lesson. I don’t want to learn it. But if I don’t, I’ll lose my mind. Sometimes you just have to surrender and say, “Okay, you win.” That’s the only way you’ll live to fight another day.

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Root Causes

Scene: Shoppers witness a security guard wrestling a man to the ground for attempting to steal some lunch meat. They are glad that this criminal got caught. Serves him right. Justice prevails.

One lone voice offers to buy the lunch meat for the man, and is the subject of ridicule.

Meanwhile, no one has asked the guy why he was stealing the lunch meat in the first place. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he was just laid off, and he has a hungry 6 year old at home. There’s generally a good reason behind desperation. It’s a rare adult who steals just for the pure hell of it.

It’s much easier to make snap judgments and rely on swift justice, isn’t it? It takes a lot more sophistication to look at actions, and try to root out the cause of those actions. Prevention takes more effort than revenge, but it’s a great deal more effective.

Good parents know that if their child is acting out, it’s worthwhile to find out what’s going on with him, rather than beating the bad behavior out of him. And if morale is low in the workplace, it may be that you need to increase communication to determine the source of the problem, rather than saying, “If you don’t like it, quit.”

So much easier to build a wall, or lock her up, or decrease the surplus population…

It’s time that we as a society become more sophisticated. We need to look further down the road. We need to see the forest, not just the trees. These short term solutions and swift reckonings may feel satisfying, but we are truly shackling ourselves. We’re all in this together.

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A Message to the World

Hello. I’m an American. Never in my life did I imagine that I would say this, but I am ashamed of the state of my country. I am embarrassed at the face we are currently showing to the world. This is not who we are.

Never again will I look at another country and assume that all its people agree with its government. Because I don’t. Never again will I think of the resident of another country as possessing a stereotypical characteristic based on that person’s place of birth. Because clearly, I no longer fit in here.

In recent months I’ve been seeing a great deal of ugliness. I’ve seen Americans spewing hate. I’ve seen selfishness and greed and intolerance. I’ve seen ignorance deified and intelligence vilified. I’ve seen science discounted and fantasy encouraged. I’ve seen violence. I’ve seen misogyny. I’ve seen fraud. I see more and more lies every day.

I am so sorry that things have gotten this way. I didn’t vote for Trump. I wouldn’t have approved any of his cabinet members or his choices for the Supreme Court. There is not a single thing that this man has done that I agree with. Not one.

I’m particularly mortified that his immigration policies are making so many people live in fear. This is not acceptable to me. I am a second generation American, and the vast majority of the people who live here are descended from immigrants. We have absolutely no right to do what we are currently doing.

We also have no right to treat the Native Americans the way that we do. If anyone should have moral currency with regard to how we treat the land here, it should be them. They should not be beaten down for wanting water that is safe to drink. Shame on us.

We, of all people, should not have the right to negatively impact women’s health at home or abroad. We should also appreciate the good work that other members of the United Nations do every single day. We should be good stewards of our environment, because what we do affects the entire planet.

I just want you to know that many Americans still believe in human rights, freedom, justice, the environment, freedom of speech, science, peace, and respect for all people who do good in this world. I want you to know that those of us who feel this way will not remain silent. We will speak out for the values that we all strive to maintain. Our voices might get drowned out by those in power, but please don’t stop listening for us. We are here.

Because what you’re seeing now is not who we are.

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Spiritual Purging

Apologies in advance if you’re reading this over breakfast, but have you ever felt so sick to your stomach that you just knew that the only way you were going to feel better was if you threw up and got it over with? Sometimes that toxic, acrid, roiling source of your misery just has to come out in order for you to move on. If your body needs to purge itself, there’s really no point in trying to resist.

Just so we’re clear, this is not a blog entry in support of bulimia. A physical need to vomit is entirely different from a psychological one. Having said that, though, there will be times in your life when you need to do a spiritual purge.

I crashed headlong into that need recently. I was subjected to such a profound level of injustice that I left the situation feeling as though I had been dragged behind a chuck wagon through a cactus patch. Naked. I felt so emotionally beaten down, bitter, cynical and hopeless that I was practically paralyzed into inactivity. While my inner child threw a tantrum, I just sat motionless, defeated and deflated, and shed more than one frustrated, furious tear.

What this boils down to is another form of grieving. I was grieving the loss (yet again) of any sense of justice and equity and decency in this world. I was grappling with the concept that some people operate without even a hint of a moral compass, and that ethics are only for those people who are sufficiently evolved to see their value.

I can practically hear my mother’s voice telling me that life isn’t fair. As true as that may be, it’s cold comfort in times like these. No, what I had to do was figure out a way to accept the fact that this monumental, steaming pile of bullsh** was to forever be part of my reality moving forward. If I didn’t accept that, I’d go mad. Worse yet, I’d be incapable of writing because I’d be eaten up by the sheer inequity of it all.

Fortunately, I have friends. Friends who will allow me to spiritually purge these toxic elements from my very soul. So what follows is a conversation, more of a verbal vomiting that, when all is said and done, made me feel much better.

Friend: “Have you ever considered how unhappy some part this man actually is?”

Me: “He’s a pathetic, sociopathic, tiny fraction of a man. He isn’t unhappy. Sociopaths have no feelings. He is entirely directed by the lizard part of his brain. He will lie, cheat, steal, and do it with a smile on his face. He has no moral compass or any sense of equity or compassion.”

Friend: “Okay….”

Me: “He is a waste of human flesh, a blight on humanity, and an embarrassment to the universe. I would have more respect for a blood-bloated tick that I had just pulled off my dog’s anus. How’s that for constructive anger?”

Friend: “That is actually good because I am a safe witness. Nice use of creative language…Got any more choice words that are vivid? Release it baby! It is blocking your other writing… And that ain’t cool.”

Me: “He’s the pus from the pimple of a diseased corpse. I wouldn’t give him a bucket of my spit if he were on fire. To say that he’s a cancer on society is an insult to cancer.”

Friend: “Keep it coming…”

Me: “His spirit smells worse than Roquefort cheese.”

Friend: “Get poetic baby…”

Me: “He climbed into the gene pool when the lifeguard was out to lunch. Somewhere there’s a village that has been deprived of its idiot. He is the slime at the bottom of the toxic waste dump that is his soul.

Friend: “Oh my…anything more?”

Me: “He has a face that frightens children. Okay, I’m laughing now. Damn you! And I have an idea for a blog.”

Hooo. That felt great. Thank God for friends. They are such a treasure.

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