Women, Tech, Leadership

Change/Transformation, Leadership, Power/Privilege, Systems, Uncategorized, Writing

Today was the first day of the Advancing the Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W) conference in Portland.  I was selected to facilitate conversation about Servant Leadership, and these are the notes from that session.  It was an excellent conversation, and I am deeply appreciative to everyone who participated.  I didn’t get pictures of the whiteboards, but here’s what I remember from the conversation, my presentation, and some additional resources on the topics we discussed.

  • Coaching up
  • Culture trumps everything” (Change the culture, change the world); when people feel authentically heard, the culture automatically shifts
  • Building listening skills; importance of giving indications that you’re engaged including body posture, eye contact, reflective listening (rephrasing or summarizing what you’ve heard), head nods, encouraging verbal responses
  • Slowing down processes and thinking slower  allows integration of a variety of emotional intelligences
  • Using data and metrics to demonstrative the effectiveness of inclusivity; redefining success
  • Self care:  Your role is not as a therapist.  It is NOT your job to walk your colleagues or employees through their personal problems.  The best thing you can do is refer them to appropriate resources.  Expending large amounts of your time on one person does a disservice to your other employees, your company, and yourself.
  • Receiving feedback:  Helpful to detach and receive information from a neutral place; process and respond later
  • Rules of dialogue include suspending judgments and assumptions

recommendedreads

These are the books I had with me, there’s a longer list of books here.  If you’re interested in continuing the conversation, I run a Servant Leadership meetup and you’re welcome to join us.  Thanks again for your interest and participation.

Another Brick in the Wall

Hard Stuff, Power/Privilege, Rants, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized

Despite all the tensions between the police and so many citizens of Portland,  The Portland Police Foundation decided it would be cool to host an invite-only, $1000 per head play date with whomever they deem desirable. It is impossible to comprehend how an organization that supports a police bureau and union that publicly wail about how badly we (the citizenry) misunderstand and misinterpret its motives could think this type of event is appropriate, or even useful.

Am I on board with PPB offering a look into their training and operations?  Sure!  It would be great for them to host regular tours and visits for people who want to understand how officers are trained, how policy is determined, what resources are available, and build relationships with the Bureau.  It would provide more transparency, humanize both police officers and civilians, and maybe start to ease some of the tensions we’ve seen building over the last decade.

But an invite-only, $1000 per person ticket to exclusive police access?

The price alone is prohibitive for most people, and who knows how they’re going to select their “special” playdate invitees.  Regardless, the event seems designed to give a select group of people privileged access, thereby removing even the facade of police neutrality in dealing with citizens.  The fact that it’s hosted by the Foundation (and not the Bureau) is almost irrelevant, special access is special access.  Wanting to re-open the community academy is an admirable goal, but they honestly couldn’t come up with a different fundraising idea?

In many organizations, the recent DOJ investigation (which found significant problems with a variety of bureau practices and policies) would have spurred initiatives designed to start rebuilding trust with the communities who have been most affected by police violence and brutality.  Even when individual officers do good work, their efforts are undermined or overshadowed by a system of racist practices, excessive use of force, and seeming disregard for the welfare of black and brown communities.

An event that caters to the wealthy and offers privileged access not only deepens the divide and corrodes what little trust may remain, it feels like a giant “fuck you” to the rest of us.  Oh, and before I forget, who’s paying for this exclusive fundraising romp through publicly-funded police time and equipment?  Yes!  Us – the taxpayers!  I wonder how many other private foundations get the same benefit – a fully functioning public entity available for its personal fundraising use?  That the Foundation would do something that seems so contrary to the best interests of PPB (and its public image) and the people who live in this city makes the dig even deeper.

police public comment-wqs

The Basest Discourse

Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Leadership, Obstacles/Challenges, Power/Privilege, Reflection, Uncategorized

Even taking remarks made by the Democratic candidates with a giant teaspoon of salt, I am saddened and disheartened.  Although it’s almost impossible to know what was actually said, or to trust the media at all, it’s glaringly obvious that Trump’s candidacy has already done incredible harm to our country.  Among Trump’s multitude of attributes is his ability to bring out the absolute worst in anyone and anything.

It’s like a +500 Miasma of the Monstrous – a soul-crushing, anti-decency superpower.

He brings out the basest, crassest, and most fear-riddled primal instincts in those who agree with him, but that’s not the worst.  He also brings out the most disgusting, reprehensible aspects of those of us who disagree with him.  I’ve watched the endless parade of blaming, shaming, nose-picking, name-calling, schoolyard insults rolling across all of my social media feeds, and not all of it is directed at Trump.

It’s as if his presence, in and of itself, has poisoned the entire well, rendering all of us incapable of decency or civility.

In no way am I saying that he is qualified to lead this country, in any way that would make us or the world better.  In no way is he qualified, capable, or even interested in such a task.  He is interested in controlling as many people as possible, making them jump, watching them race around after their own tails, and we’re all obliging him.  It would be easy to blame it all on the media and every media outlet in this country bears a significant share of the blame for giving him the attention he so desperately craves.

But “the media” doesn’t make the memes and videos and “the media” doesn’t come up with all the coarse jokes and bathroom humor we’re throwing around.  We’ve allowed ourselves to be pulled into a giant shit pile, and we are wallowing with abandon.  Democrats are railing at each other in the same awful way they’re railing at Trump, to the point of threatening to sit out an election if their Chosen One isn’t selected as the nominee.

Where we choose to focus our attention matters.  What we choose to accept as important, as significant, matters.  How we choose to interact with those who disagree with us matters.  How we conduct ourselves, especially as we select our leaders, matters.  That the rest of the world is watching us, speechless at our reckless, thoughtless, and immature behavior matters.  That we are causing increasing harm to our identity as a nation while this man chuckles himself to sleep every night, matters.

We are human.  One of our greatest gifts is our freedom of will, our freedom to choose to be better, to treat each other with dignity and respect, even when we are afraid or angry. Using tactics of hatred and aggression to tear down Trump and his supporters will only result in a nation full of hatred and violence, regardless of who is elected.  I know it is hard to consider courtesy, or kindness, when emotions run high, but I see a grim future if we don’t at least try.

kindness

White Discomfort

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, Power/Privilege, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized

This is a post for white people everywhere, myself included. Any time you find yourself uncomfortable or unhappy in a conversation about race, don’t say anything until you consider this : For hundreds of years, black people died or were tortured for saying anything beyond “yes” or “no” and possibly even for that.

There is no way to ever justify or right that wrong. None.

The legacy of those hundreds of years has brought us to the point that black people today not only need and want to discuss their thoughts and feelings about this terrifying past, they have the platforms to do so, in ways they never have before.

Because so many black and brown voices have been brutally punished or silenced, we are given a great honor when these same voices continue to speak, continue to demand justice. They give us the chance to be better than we are, to make the right choices, and be our best selves.

Given that history, when I consider that black and brown people call themselves my friend and are kind to me, it seems the least I can do is deal with a bit of discomfort. I may feel defensive or ashamed or guilty, but those feelings are normal, if unwanted. It is MY job to hold them, not my friends’ job to make me feel better.

I don’t like making shaming comparisons, but my feelings of discomfort and guilt are minor next to the massive system of racial oppression that has existed in the US for centuries. Those feelings are almost nothing compared to the pain, degradation, and deaths of millions of dark-skinned folk. Next time we’re feeling antsy, remember that black people have felt like this for hundreds of years, but have kept silent for fear of their lives.

How many times have my black and brown friends and fellow humans felt uncomfortable or afraid because of the color of their skin? How often have I? How many times have they wanted to speak about their discomfort but were afraid of significant retaliation? How often have I?

For most of us white folk, if we are being truly honest, the answers are rarely and even more rarely. Our skin color has given us the right to openly discuss our discomfort and not fear retaliation based on our race.

This message isnt directed at people who are passively enjoying their privilege as beneficiaries of a racist system. Those people don’t care and probably won’t feel uncomfortable anyway. But for those of us who are trying, part of our work is to find the courage to own our discomfort, and not look to our black and brown friends for comfort.

It really is the very least we can do.

image

Change the Talk, Change the Walk

Change/Transformation, Leadership, Peace/Conflict, Power/Privilege, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized

My friend Britt said many of the things I’ve been thinking about the Bernie/Hillary “split,” and many are identical to the Hillary/Barak split of 2008, although the stakes didn’t feel as high then. I’m going to vote for whoever is the Democratic candidate. Having total Republican control of this country is unthinkable for me given the current state of the Republican party. It’s not clear to me that the rank and file Dems of this country understand how critical it is that Bernie and Hillary NOT annihilate each other during the primaries, women especially.

The Republicans are positioned to have control over not only our federal branches, but our state and local governments also. They’ve spent years and billions getting governors and state legislators elected, city and county officials, and large numbers of conservatives judges at the state and federal levels. THIS IS WHERE WE LOSE.  If we continue spraying vitriol at each other, we lose the power we need in order to stabilize the leakage of civil and personal rights at the state and local level.

We don’t lose because we have a Republican president, we lose because we’ve lost the states, and that means we’re losing to people who have been hornswaggled and bamboozled into thinking big money interests are their interests. It’s been happening for a long time (and here), and the tide shows no hint of turning back – our country is becoming more and more divided between those who can accept the forces of change and those who simply can’t tolerate the thought. You can figure out who is on which side – the people in power want to stay in power and that’s human nature.

But if we spend our energy fighting each other – which is what we’re setting ourselves up for – then we have nothing left to win the bigger battle. I hate using a war metaphor, but that’s the system we’ve got to work with – whether or not we agree.  We have set up a system that not only pits the parties against each other, it pits the candidates from the same party into almost as brutal a battle!  That’s insanity, and its symptomatic of the black/white, either/or thinking that is now polarizing our citizens.

I don’t write all this because I hate Republicans, tradition, or conservative values. I believe we have much more in common than we allow ourselves to realize. I believe the Republican party – the people who could help us keep a close eye on government reach, help us make and enforce moderate fiscal policies, discuss the importance of reasonable immigration policy that is sensitive to the needs of our nation and suffering people coming here and bring insight to all those other crucial issues – has been hijacked and destroyed by the greed and corruption of a few with limitless coffers.

Bernie and Hillary are going to duke it out – there’s nothing we can do to stop that fight. But the supporters of each candidate DO have a choice – we can choose to limit our involvement in name-calling, bullying, hateful rhetoric, and general nastiness that we’re throwing at each other.  We have the choice to stop all of that behavior.  Not redirect it toward other candidates, but STOP IT COMPLETELY.  When we choose to maintain more civility and kindness, we have more energy to take the work where it needs to happen – at the state, local, and individual level.

It’s fine to disagree, but the level of hateful, vile speech happening within the Democratic party is reprehensible.  If we’re going to walk our talk, then our talk needs to change.

kindess

When things get worse

Corrections, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Power/Privilege, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized

This is a long post.  It is a recap of a situation that arose with a student and its unexpected resolution.  It is long because some of the nuances are unusual and specific to corrections. In order to convey the importance of the more seemingly mundane details, I have offered more explanation than I normally would.

——————————————————————————————————-

One of the worst things about working in a prison is that I see the direct, immediate impact of systemic limitations on real, living people all the time.  I had a student (I’ll call her Martha) who, like most of them, had a terrible history of abuse and trauma. But Martha’s was worse, I think, because it involved child abuse from a family member, multiple court appearances and testifying, all concluding only a short time before her incarceration.  She had another family member pass from a drug overdose around the time she started my class, no mother or father, and two other siblings still using.

When Martha started my class, she had no history of counseling for any of these issues, no treatment or programming, no cognitive or emotional management training, nothing.  She was somehow getting through her days, although I couldn’t say how.  Martha had incredibly high levels of anxiety around academics and testing, as most of my students do, and it took her a while to settle.  About the time she started to relax, I realized she would be eligible for treatment and grew concerned.

Treatment is hard inside the razor wire.  It’s hard outside, but it’s a different type of hard in here.  There is no safety, no privacy, the “peer leadership” model means that the sick are tasked with trying to lead the sick, and there is no option to escape or leave that doesn’t come with significant consequences. There is little therapeutic support, which is highly problematic for people who have such desperate need for therapy.

Add to those fundamental problems that most of these women have suffered trauma and abuse, and that predators and prey are expected to physically co-exist and support each other, and we have a recipe for a toxic, potentially dangerous environment.  The cherry on the sundae is that the women are all expected to behave as if this is a safe, supportive community where they’re all working to help each other, even though the opposite is more often true.  The women compete, sabotage, act out their extensive range of dysfunctional coping mechanisms, and prey on each other mercilessly. That some women are able to learn from the experience and deal with some of their thinking and behavior is miraculous.

Knowing this and knowing a bit of Martha’s history, I contacted two colleagues and expressed my concern.  It was during that conversation that I learned that our therapists are tasked (almost exclusively) with crisis management (using DBT), and almost, but not quite, forbidden from engaging in clinical therapeutic practice.  It may be different in the Medium, but that’s what happens in the Minimum.  The end result of the conversation was that there was little we could do except know that putting Martha in treatment could backfire and that it would be risky for her.  She still wanted to try, so we accepted her decision.

I need to clarify that I believe that this lack of clinical therapeutic practice is a simple function of resources, i.e. money.  Even on the Medium side, they have limited spots in the more intensive mental health treatment programs, and those spots are saved for those with the worst of the worst mental health issues – regardless of whether the treatment could help them be okay outside prison or not.  Taxpayers simply don’t want to fork over more money to deal with people who are incarcerated.  Or maybe the money is there and legislators don’t want to give it to DOC for the same reasons.

Corrections is a giant sinkhole for cash, in part because the population has giant, overwhelming, seemingly endless needs.  DOC is tasked with using not enough money to deal with a bottomless well of need, and clinical therapy is one of the areas that never has enough of anything.  It’s possible there are regulatory or legislative mandates preventing more intensive therapeutic practice, but I don’t know.  In any case, the upshot was that Martha would receive no additional counseling if her past trauma started coming up in treatment – she’d have to figure out how to get through it with peer support and what little staff support we could provide.

Her treatment experience had a rough start.  Her start date wasn’t clarified so we had to juggle for a few weeks so she could continue in my class and, as we found out later, she was shifted from one counselor’s caseload to another.  She and I spoke several times because I could see that she was having a hard time, but she was sort of managing, and there was nothing else I could do.  It’s a delicate issue to even appear to question treatment staff, especially based on the word of an inmate.

Even if I’m trying to clarify something I was told, it can be easily misinterpreted as a critique of staff, allowing an inmate to triangulate staff against each other, or believing an inmate over staff.  Whether real or imagined, those are all serious breaches of etiquette and, if true, can be a problem for any staff person found “guilty.”  So I do the same thing that the counselors do – help students manage crisis and look for ways to navigate a fraught, toxic, confusing, and often frightening environment.

I’m also not a mental health professional and, even though I know them fairly well, I only know them through one aspect of their daily lives.  One of the hardest things about my job is realizing that what they show me – no matter how positive – is only one face and maybe not their primary face.  I try to believe that the people running the treatment programs do have a plan and know what’s best, but it’s rarely easy. I spend so much time with my students, and I have to actively work to stop myself from believing that I know what’s best because I’m the expert on them.

In Martha’s case, it all came to a head over the course of a few days.

On a Monday, Martha decided she wanted to sign out of treatment.  That has a variety of consequences, all of them punitive, regardless of whether the decision is best for her or whether her reasons are valid.  Unless she’s so bad she can rate an administrative removal (i.e. she needs to be put in the mental heath unit in Medium), she’ll lose good time, lose any privileges, won’t be able to get a decent job for months, and have to go back to living in General Population and try to deal with her stress there.  It’s a shitty, shitty system and doesn’t support (at all) people who have valid reasons for not being able to stay healthy in that treatment environment.

Martha couldn’t be in that environment and maintain her stability.  When I was asked to speak with her that Monday night, she was still able to hold herself together, and we came up with a plan to help her get through until Friday.  She agreed she could wait until then to sign out, and that it would be good for her to have more time to make sure she was making the best decision.  She did admit to suicidal thoughts, and that she had a history of physical aggression, but felt confident she didn’t want to act on them.

Tuesday brought a series of update emails, and me asking why she wasn’t being considered for an administrative removal.  The answer I got wasn’t very satisfying as it amounted to “she’s not bad enough yet” but, again, nothing I can do.  There is almost no room for true proactivity in here.  Even the most proactive responses can only happen *after* things have gotten bad.  I’m suspicious that one of the reasons treatment allows so few administrative removals and such harsh punishment for signing out has to do with keeping the beds filled, but I have no proof of that and suspicion means nothing in an atmosphere of mistrust and clouded motives.

Martha degenerated rapidly over Tuesday and Wednesday and we were looking at a possible worst-case scenario:  She’d be booted out of the program and sent to segregation, a move almost guaranteed to cause her to try to hurt herself.  Even though she’d been trying to get out of the program and avoid this very thing, having to stay in that environment was making her much, much worse.  After 15 months of working with her and seeing her thrive and stabilize, this was like a fist in the gut.

I felt helpless.  Although I was being included in the decision-making, I felt much more like part of the problem than the solution.  I knew going to treatment was going to be risky, I’d voiced my concerns early, but no one followed up, and now Martha was being dragged under by her internal demons – unleashed by programming that was supposed to help her.  I felt culpable, somehow, as if I’d failed to protect her, or sound the alarm early enough.  Now, in addition to trying to beat back her personal nightmares, she was also in danger of being subject to undeserved punishment for actions brought about by our inability to offer the support she needed.

Wednesday afternoon was jammed with the usual stuff, on top of a series of meetings to discuss what needed to happen with Martha.  By great good fortune, there were several of us advocating for her – that she’d been stable and cooperative, eager to participate and wanting help, until recently.  Although none of us knew exactly what had set off the recent chain of events, it was obvious that her current state was much much worse and she was acting out of fear and desperation.

After much staff discussion, checking with other inmates (some of whom were accusing Martha of aggressive behavior and statements), and consideration of her history, we settled on an administrative removal.  She may also have gotten a conduct order (based on her reported aggression and, in my mind, unnecessarily punitive) but I’m not sure.  That our normally reactive security staff would come to this decision and take time to understand what was happening was a goddamn miracle.  Even if they did hand out a punishment slip, I didn’t care.

Administrative removal meant she was going to go to Medium for at least a few days, to get help de-escalating and calming down, maybe a bit more support in the process.  Given the alternative, there wasn’t a better solution in sight and I’m quite grateful this was the result.  Once I heard this solution was on the table, I left. Martha was waiting in the common area and I sat down to talk with her a bit before going back to the classroom.

Her fear and panic were palpable.  She was barely able to keep from crying as we sat there, and she had obviously lost whatever composure I’d seen earlier in the week.  She knew she was in a bad place, she felt trapped, and even though she didn’t want to lash out, she couldn’t envision anything else.  I couldn’t relieve any of her fears at that moment, but simply sat with my hand on her back, trying to help her feel better for a few minutes.  Even the best-case solution had its consequences, because that’s how the prison system works.

There is almost no room for complexity or nuance.  What people need can be considered, but the solution almost always has to come from a predefined set of offerings – regardless of how well they fit the person as an individual.  We can almost never create something tailored to an individual person, but have to try and fit them into the same solution as everyone else.  DOC does this because it can’t be seen to be favoring one person over another, accommodating some needs and not others, to do something for X without doing the same for Y.

It’s why this system is a failure, and hurts everyone involved.  We’re forced into using tools that don’t fit the job – over and over and over.  We make our best efforts and the fact that some are helped is a credit to our determination and commitment. That more people are damaged and made worse by their time in prison is an ongoing statement about our desperate need for an alternative.

On Guns

Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Peace/Conflict, Power/Privilege, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized

I have refrained from writing about guns because it’s hard for me to think about the topic without intense emotion.  Intense emotion can be helpful in writing, but it can also be alienating, resulting in people shutting down and disengaging.  But I need to say these things because I cannot continue sit by and say nothing.

Yesterday, I posted a facetious meme about gun control.  The meme was more about the fallacy of the “ban it” argument than gun control, but someone close to me took to the FB to respond with the “ban cars because drunk people drive them” argument.  I have thought long and hard about that argument, but I couldn’t think of any way to respond productively because it’s an argument based on so much denial and willful blindness that it’s hard to find a common path to discussion.

Let me be clear:  I despise guns.  I hate them, I’m afraid of them, and I wish they had never been invented.  That said, the reality is that they exist, people own them, and there’s nothing I can do about that.  In the interest of a free society, and free will, I understand that there are freedoms we protect even when we don’t agree.  So I won’t make the argument that we need a blanket gun ban, or that individuals shouldn’t be allowed to have them.  It’s not reasonable to expect and impossible to enforce.

But something has to change and using the analogy “ban cars because drunk people drive them and kill people” to argue against the problem of gun violence is ignorant and dismissive of a serious, deadly problem in our country.  Consider the following:

  • A man did not take 26 nooses into an elementary school and hang 20 children and six adults.
  • A man did not drive a car into a theatre and run over people sitting inside.
  • Another man did not drive a car into another theatre and run over more people sitting inside.
  • A man did not take a knife into a church and stab nine people to death.
  • A man did not build a pyre on a military base and tie people to the stake.
  • Another man did not take poison and put it in the water at another military base.
  • A man did not take a baseball bat and beat people to death in a Sikh temple

One of the reasons we have made no progress in coming to a reasonable solution on this issue is because federal funding for research into the causes and impacts of gun violence has been blocked by Congress for the last 20 years.  Even though funding was restored two years ago, the CDC is still tentative and Congress refuses to budget funding.  If we had more information on the causes and impacts of gun violence, maybe we could start to work on solutions, but that isn’t happening.

For me, the comparison between cars and guns isn’t legitimate because cars, and all the other possible weapons listed above, serve a variety of purposes.  That they are temporarily repurposed as weapons isn’t an argument in favor of getting rid of them.  That people get drunk and drive is an argument for people exercising better judgment, more treatment options for people with serious problems, and so on.  It’s not an argument about cars because people who get in a car usually don’t think about it as a weapon, or intentionally set out to harm or kill others.

But all the men who murdered people in the horrific acts mentioned above DID pick up a weapon.  They picked it up, they did it with intention, and they knew exactly what they were doing.  There was no possibility they made a mistake because guns serve no other purpose.  They are designed for killing or harming – it is their sole function and reason for existence on this earth.  When someone picks up a gun with intention to use it, there is no mistake – their intention is to harm or kill.

Their reasoning or motivation for that action may justify their choice and that’s something we must always consider.  But the gun itself may hasten that choice, simply by its nature.  Without having more information on why people decide to pick up a gun, we are presented with the false choice that’s dividing our country.  Responsible individuals are angry and afraid that their rights are being taken away, and other responsible individuals are afraid to go see a movie, go to temple, or simply walk into a church and pray.

The first step in moving toward resolution is acknowledging there is a problem. Guns are a problem in our society, and we need to find a way to work together for our collective health and safety.

Trump, the ultimate male fantasy figure

Blergh, Hard Stuff, Obstacles/Challenges, Power/Privilege, Social Justice, Uncategorized

As many of us have (more than I would have guessed, according to polls) I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump, and this startling wave of publicity he’s riding.  He’s always been one of “those” people – in the news for various things, none of them very positive, most seeming pretty slimy.  His wealth certainly represents one aspect of success, and I’m sure many people see him as a powerful man, but those things don’t explain, for me, why he’s suddenly the front-runner in the GOP’s pack of nominee hopefuls.

So why?  How can a man who is almost a caricature of himself suddenly capture the minds and attention of millions of people?  I think one answer is that he is the ultimate white man’s fantasy persona.  He does and says whatever he wants to – regardless of its impact on other people – and reaps no significant consequences.  He appears to need no significant relationships, have no important emotional attachments that are impacted by his behavior and words, and we know he has all the means he would ever need to support himself.

In short, he’s the ultimate loner and mythic hero figure, at least in the minds of some; a “man’s man” who doesn’t have to be “politically correct” or cater to the needs and whims of all these namby-pamby weepy types who populate the world.  He’s free and able to say exactly what he thinks, do whatever he wants, have whatever women he wants, and buy anything his heart desires.  But where a hero is usually deeply connected to a quest, often a quest to make life better for people who are suffering somehow, Trump only wants to make life (even) better for others like him – über wealthy, privileged, entitled men whose power means they (seem to) answer to no one.

I believe that the men who support him are men who, like him, are terrified of the changes they know are coming.  They see the power structure that has benefited them starting to shift, and they’re having trouble coping (as anyone would). When they hear Trump saying all the vile, hateful, angry things they’re thinking – they’re relieved.  Someone else feels the same way, and someone is actually saying all the things they think but won’t say. I use the word “won’t” deliberately because I think not saying those things is a case of will, not a case of ability.

On some level, I believe many of the men who are so enamored of him right now know that the statements he makes are wrong.  That they are mean, vindictive, hateful, and largely inaccurate.  It’s the difference between being pissed and having a crazed rant inside your head, then getting your shit together and dealing with the problem in a mature fashion, or just standing around calling the other person names, or threatening to punch them in the face.  It’s much easier to just rant and rave and ignore any significant work that needs to be done.

Thinking with nuance, from a variety of perspectives, and acknowledging multiple opinions and needs takes a lot of work and effort.  Screaming angrily about what you don’t understand or care about, the unfairness of it all, and that you don’t want things to change is much, much easier, and Trump is the master of that rhetoric.  He’s the poster boy of the entitled, privileged white male who simply doesn’t acknowledge that all those other water-filled meat sacks are actually human beings.

He seems to just not care.  And that’s why he won’t last.  Because most of those white guys who fantasize about doing what he does know, on some level, that it’s wrong.  Many of them have women they care about, they have friends or colleagues of different ethnic backgrounds, religious affiliations, sexual orientations, and so on.  Most of those men care about hurting someone’s feelings, even if they aren’t aware of that care.  That’s why they don’t actually *say* those things, but live out their fantasy through Trump and men like him.

Even though people are often greedy, petty, and oblivious, I just can’t bring myself to believe that Trump represents anything other than a fleeting moment of vicarious excitement.  I have to believe that the majority of people do care about the feelings of others, even if that care is deeply buried.  I have to believe that mean and spiteful men like Trump don’t truly represent the men (or women) of this country.

GOODFELLAS, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino, Joe Pesci, 1990

GOODFELLAS, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino, Joe Pesci, 1990

No accountability, no consequences.

For my black friends

Change/Transformation, Hard Stuff, Obstacles/Challenges, Peace/Conflict, Power/Privilege, Reflection, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized, Writing

The names of the victims:  Clementa Pinckney, 41, the senior pastor at the church; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, an assistant pastor; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Myra Thompson, 59; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49.

There is no good way to write something like this. Everything feels wrong and awkward and pandering, none of it feels quite on point. I grew up in North Carolina, with a few years each in South Carolina and Virginia. Make no mistake, NC and SC are both southern states, with many of the attendant  attitudes, ignorance, and hatreds.

I keep going over what I want to say and it doesn’t get any better. Apologies mean nothing if the same brutal acts keep happening. I can’t keep my black friends and loved ones safe, they can’t keep themselves safe, and a significant portion of our population deliberately pretends not to see the reality of racism, hatred, and domestic terrorism that’s happening.

When President Obama simply mentioning that the suspect had a gun and that, again, access to guns has rendered a terrible result, has a whole chunk of people are angry and screaming about their violated rights. When another group of people simply refuse to acknowledge this hate crime as racially motivated and instead insist that it was an attack on Christians, and proof of the pesecution of Christians, and I am left with my mouth gaping open, jaw swinging in the wind. When these things happen, I am ashamed and embarrassed that I share any human biology with these groups of people.

We just watched the trial of the remaining man involved on the Boston Marathon bombing. We immediately agreed that he was a terrorist, and that his was an act of hatred toward people simply because they were US citizens. He targeted them based on something they couldn’t control, some portion of who they are.

Why are we so fundamentally broken that we won’t even acknowledge this fact in this case? That white man was radicalized and groomed, then sent on a suicide mission to terrorize and kill the people in that church. That he is still alive is almost irrelevant, it’s a physical state only. That depth of depravity can’t leave much alive inside his mind and heart, there is probably only a black, bleak wasteland of hatred and isolation.

There is no way I can apologize for this, no way I can comfort, or reassure, no way I can see to promise it won’t happen again, or that you and your family will be safe. I can continue my work of being an ally, of addressing white people’s issues, and transforming our minds and hearts, but that is cold comfort in moments like this. I have long been in awe of the black community’s capacity for moving forward, and aware that there is so much that, as a white woman, I don’t know and will never know. Maybe one day that will change, and the world will be safe enough for us to share more deeply.

Policy or pet peeve, who knows?

Corrections, Obstacles/Challenges, Power/Privilege, Rants, Systems, Uncategorized, Writing

Taking pictures in the facility is always a gamble. We’re supposed to avoid including doors, windows, building lines, and big pictures of the facility from the inside.  It’s a useless exercise, because a simple Google image search on “Coffee Creek Correctional Facility” brings up dozens of images of the inside and outside, including the satellite view. But I’m always careful to frame my pictures to include only the students, or equipment, or whatever.

Staff alone are allowed to freely use cameras (still photos only), the only inmates allowed to use the camera (even under staff supervision) work for LifeSkills. They take photos at events, yard photos, and so on.  But my department has a couple of cameras and I take class pictures at the beginning of class and again close to graduation.  Recently, I realized I hadn’t taken the first set of class pictures and we’re about a year into class!  Long overdue, we scheduled pictures, everyone got dolled up, and we had a lot of fun with getting people to pose and smile.  I have to admit, I gave anyone who struck a “prison pose” a hard time, but that only made us all laugh harder.

After we take pictures, but before we can let the women see or purchase them, the captain of the facility has to approve them.  She takes the camera and reviews each picture and decides if it’s “ok” or not.  She reviews the background, the poses, how close the women are to each other and whether or not they’re touching, their clothing, and anything else that might be suspicious.  If this sounds ridiculous to you, I don’t know what to say.  I suppose having the top level of management review individual photos taken by staff (who are supposed to know what is appropriate and what isn’t) could be considered an effective use of time, but that’s not my decision to make.

I took the camera to the captain and she started looking through the photos.  Almost immediately, she began scolding me because some of the women had their t-shirts untucked.  That’s right, she was scolding me because of how they were wearing their clothing.  She then pointed at one person and asked her name.  I told her and she said, accusingly “her shirt is too tight.  Why is she wearing a shirt that tight?  She must have modified it. Why is she wearing it?”

I was completely dumbfounded.  Did she expect me to have an answer?  Did she somehow think I was responsible for my students’ clothing?  What the hell was happening right now?  I said “Well, do you want to call her unit officer and tell him?”  She said “No, she needs to come see me.”  She wanted to scold this woman in person.  The captain of the facility thinks it’s a good use of her time to individually scold an inmate for wearing a shirt she thinks is too tight.  Still incredulous, I ask “do you want me to send her over?” and, of course, the answer was yes.

After all the complaining and scolding, she graciously allows me to keep all the photos and I leave.  I’m pissed.  Seriously pissed.  My students are supposed to know the rules and policies and adhere to them, whether I micro-police them or not.  I discreetly send the offending shirt-wearer over to the captain and dismiss everyone else for lunch.  When they come back, I give them a fairly stern “I don’t like being scolded for you wearing your clothing the wrong way, what the hell were you thinking?” lecture.  Not too stern, not too angry, didn’t call anyone by name, but unhappy enough.

When I finish, J raises her hand and says “In all our other pictures, we’re allowed to untuck our shirts and it’s not a problem. We didn’t know.”  And bam – I now feel like a complete a$$hat and someone who speaks before thinking or investigating.  I feel like that for a couple of minutes as I re-orient and try to make the best out of a bowl of shit soup.  I attempt to spin it as “Okay.  Going forward, make sure that you follow the ‘professional’ dress code in any pictures you take that aren’t in a casual environment” but it felt stupid and weak.  I knew they understood that I’d been given this information by the captain, but now I was caught between what the captain was saying in this instance, and what they’re allowed to do on a regular, ongoing basis.

Was the captain correct, and the untucked shirts against a largely unenforced policy?  Or are untucked shirts a pet peeve and she was acting as if her personal wish were policy when it isn’t?  What is true?  And who, if not the highest ranking security officer in the facility, could clarify this for me?

The answer is no one, and this extremely minor incident highlights one of the thorniest problems in this institution:  The inconsistent and arbitrary nature of rule and policy enforcement.  The rules and policies themselves highlight the even bigger issue of balance between maintaining safety and using power/dominance to micro-manage and control every single aspect of people’s already limited lives.  I mean, is someone having their socks turned down really a threat to the safety and security of the institution?

The fact that I even tell myself “well, maybe somewhere, something bad could come from that” makes me feel like the insanity of normalizing this environment is only a short distance away.  Having to constantly evaluate every piece of information to determine its accuracy and relevance, and not being able to trust the people who should be the authorities is nerve wracking, especially since it’s rarely clear when safety really IS the issue, not just power and control.

Tragedy as an Excuse

Power/Privilege, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized

I haven’t kept up with the story about the two murdered NY police officers, so I looked up the story on Wikipedia. I shouldn’t have. My fears have been realized – the shooting has derailed the conversation about police violence, the need for reform, and racism completely. The conversation is now about how the Brown/Garner protests caused this tragedy, and how if it weren’t for all the anti-police rhetoric, this never would have happened.

All of that, of course, is so much BS. It’s much easier to focus on the choices of a single person and claim that those horrid choices are the result of all this upheaval and turmoil. It’s true that he probably seized on the protests and all the anger and outrage as a way to express his own anger, outrage, and violent tendencies. But he already had a long-established pattern of violence – he wasn’t suddenly radicalized by civil rights protests. He had a serious set of baggage before the protests even began.

Right now, what I feel is a sense of mourning, the loss of an opportunity-in-the-making for us to discuss some incredibly difficult and complex and hurtful issues. This event, while tragic, now provides a way for one group to shift the conversation in another useless direction. The police and their unquestioning supporters are more defensive than ever, less open to discussion, more prone to attack, to vitriolic rhetoric, and to framing themselves as suffering victims and martyrs.

I had hoped that the events of Garner/Brown would at least result in keeping the conversation going – however ugly and uncomfortable it might be. Now, it isn’t only business as usual, it’s a case of the victims being required, again, to comfort and reassure their oppressors.

Oblivia in Portlandia

It's Personal, Power/Privilege, Rants, Systems, Uncategorized

I moved to Portland in 2004 and couldn’t believe I was living in the same country. Everything here was different – strange and unfamiliar.  The architecture was different, the trees, plants, culture, streets, food, clothing, everything.  The one familiar sight was cigarettes.  When I saw my first smoker, I was shocked.  My only explanation for my shock is that I had completely unfounded expectations that Portland was a healthy, green-y kind of place, a place I would never expect to see cigarettes.

I was tempted to walk up to the smoker, grab the cigarette, and say “you don’t live in a tobacco-producing state, why are you smoking?” but I didn’t.  It took about a month before that urge went away, but it did and now I only notice smokers in order to walk up wind.  But I digress, so let me get to the heart of the matter:  Portland and its educated, concerned, oft-oblivious denizens.

There are times when living here is wonderful, but there are also times when I wish I were the size of a planet so I could give Portland the proper level of side-eye.  I’m talking about a city with a culture of self-awareness and social justice that goes about an inch deep – enough so that people feel a proper sense of outrage, donate money or clothes, maybe write a letter to the editor, march in a protest or sign a petition, Share or Like a Facebook post, and feel like they’ve done their part to throw a wrench in the machine, stand up to The Man, and support social justice.

By comparison, people here probably are more aware and more involved, so why do I say they’re oblivious?  A couple of years ago, a friend invited me to the symphony at the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall downtown.  The symphony is, almost by definition, a middle/upper class experience.  It’s usually spendy, the music is more appealing to a certain level of cultural literati, and there are expectations around clothing and appearance. [Yes, I know this isn’t *always* true, but it’s true enough]

So.  We’re sitting in hard, tiny seats, kind of squashed up on the people near us, getting ready to enjoy some type of musical performance.  This was just after Occupy Wall Street began, maybe early 2012.  A woman came onstage to go over the program and introduce the conductor and then, I’ll never forget this moment, then she said “Occupy the Schnitz!” and the audience roared with approval.

What. The. Everloving. Fuck?

Did no one but me see the phenomenal irony in a theater full of symphony-goers, many in (at least) the top 5-10% of Portland’s wage-earners, yelling in support of a movement challenging individual accumulation of so much wealth and the means used for such accumulation?

My mouth fell open and my eyes almost rolled out of my head.  Here was the epitome of the Portland paradox. [Portland paradox:  people who are simultaneously self-aware and interested in “issues,” but have minimal interest, desire, or motivation to critically examine their behavior or its impact on the very “issues” they support.]

I’m sure the people in the theater meant well, but did any of them go home and immediately divest themselves of stocks in those financial institutions responsible for the economic devastation?  Did they quit buying from businesses with sketchy practices, or doing business with all those unconvicted Wall Street criminals?  Did they go to shareholder meetings and demand accountability from CEOs and top decision-makers?  If they were CEOs, did they immediately take an inventory of their business practices and make sure they’re doing right by their employees and their communities?

Who knows?  I doubt anyone but me even remembers that evening.

Escort Service

Power/Privilege, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized, Writing

Trey looked at the number again, discreetly wedged between grainy shots of glistening, oiled bodies.  “Door-to-Door Escort Service, all days, all hours, anywhere within the Metro area.  Mention this ad and get a 10% discount on your first request. Call 555-478-5698.”  He was embarrassed it had come to this, but things weren’t coming together for him anywhere else, and his situation was getting desperate.

Furtively, he stepped into the hallway and dialled the number.  A pleasant, slightly husky female voice answered.

“Thank you for choosing Door-to-Door Escorts, how may I help you today?”

Trey cleared his throat nervously “I’ve never used your service before.  ummm….what are my options?”

“We provide integrated escort support for a variety of daily living situations – back and forth to work, picking or dropping off from school, grocery or household shopping, retail shopping excursions, or general metro area exploration. What type of activity are you planning?”

“Well” Trey cleared his throat again “It’s Christmas and I need to shop for some gifts for my kids.  Their mom and I are divorced, so she can’t go with me, and….well, you know how it is”

“Yes sir, indeed we do.  So, a retail shopping trip, heavy foot traffic, and a need for close proximity at all times, does that sound about right?”

Trey was feeling slightly less awkward, but still unsettled “That sounds right, but how does it work?  Will people be able to tell?”

“Oh no sir!  Our escorts are highly trained and quite experienced in appearing relaxed and natural, just as if they were truly your partner or friend.  We have been in business for over ten years and have a 95% success rate.  We’re quite proud of our escorts, they do incredible work.”

Trey considered that 5% gap, but quickly decided it was worth the risk “Okay.  How does it work, and how do you know who to send?”

“We select your escort based on the questionnaire I will send you, in addition to reviewing a recent photo of you that clearly shows your complexion, dressing style, and gives a sense of your economic status.  I will send you a selection of 2-3 escorts, in addition to photos and websites, and you will make your selection.  If you have the time or inclination, we can arrange a 15 minute phone conversation to confirm compatibility.  If not, we will send your escort, with a car and driver, to take you to and from  your engagement.  This is all included the pricing. We find it yields better results for you to be seen arriving and leaving with your escort.”

Trey wasn’t wild about the extra expense but, again, it was worth it.  “That all sounds fine, but I need someone to go with me this evening.  Can we get through the process quickly?”

“Of course sir.  If you’ll give me your email address, we’ll get started right away.  Do you have a preference for your escort’s appearance?  Will you be needing a male or female escort this evening?”

Trey thought for  a moment.  A man would be more relaxing, but they probably would get sidetracked in the sports or electronics store.  A woman would help keep him on track.  “A female, preferable blonde or red-headed, fair, with light eyes.”

“An excellent choice, sir.  Our light-haired, light-eyed escorts are quite popular!  You should see my email within the next five minutes, please call me back if you don’t, or if you have questions.  My name is Jeanine.”

Trey glanced at his phone, the email was there.  “I’ve got it, thanks Jeanine.  I’ll have my information back to you within the hour.  Thank you again, I don’t know what I’d do if your service wasn’t available!”

“Oh no, sir, the pleasure is all ours.  We take great satisfaction in keeping black men safe by providing white escort services.  Thank you for calling, we’ll be back in touch shortly.”

Trey hung up the phone, and turned to the questionnaire.

Yesterday’s boot

It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Power/Privilege, Systems, Uncategorized

Yesterday, at work, one of our programs received devastating news – DOC has decided to withdraw its funding.  They have until December 31st to close up shop.  Our department is keeping this news confidential so the program coordinators can break the news to the women, and so DOC can release the news on its own timeline.  I’m staggered, as I think we all were.  I knew there had been some funding withdrawn for part of the program, but never thought they’d pull the whole thing.

The program’s focus was on rebuilding connections between women and their families, especially their young children.  70% of women in our prison have children, maybe more.  I have witnessed the profound change that takes place when they start to see themselves as good parents, rebuilding their relationships with their children and their caregivers.  I hear, so often, that much of their regret centers around having been such terrible parents, and in putting their children through so much grief.

Even though this program has been incredibly successful (almost non-existent recidivism rates for participants), it’s extremely expensive.  DOC is looking for low-cost, low-recidivism, and high-cost, low-recidivism programming is a plum ripe for the plucking.  Management made it clear it was a budget issue, so that money will be re-allocated elsewhere, maybe to the women, maybe not.

I feel useless in the face of what feels like a cold, calculated decision.  How do you quantify the benefit to the community, both short and long term, of having stronger, more healthy families?  How do you calculate the cost of keep children out of foster care, off assistance, and out of the justice system?  How do you calculate the cost of breaking the cycle of incarceration, especially in poor and minority families?

Writing this post made me realize that I had to speak up, somehow, so I emailed my state representative.  I don’t have any hope that he’ll do anything, but I can’t not speak up and try to make something happen.  I also broke the request for confidentiality, which I’m tempted to interpret as a request (or demand) that we NOT say anything publicly until the decision is officially announced (i.e. a done deal).

The fact that the process and decision were all done without any input from staff (I asked if I could write a statement of support or write a letter and was told no) makes me think DOC doesn’t want anyone from the outside looking at the decision.  They don’t want anyone making waves, or asking how they arrived at their conclusion.

I may just be suspicious and paranoid, but these are my friends and treasured colleagues and I can’t not try.