Doing the Right Thing Ain’t Easy

Doing the Right Thing Ain’t Easy

These days people can be quick to tell you what’s wrong with our society, and we all have canned solutions to almost every problem — just add water and simmer for 15 minutes… problem solved. I do it myself all the time. Give me a half-an-hour, and I can tell you how to solve healthcare, poverty, mass incarceration, you name it, and I have no doubt you have some good ideas yourself. But being passionate in the abstract is easy. What counts is how we deal with them when we actually are blessed with the opportunity to do something real.

See, doing something about the seemingly insignificant injustices we encounter in our immediate environment is risky, and therefore … more difficult. Affecting change universally brings negative blowback, whether from skeptical friends, ignorant or frightened colleagues, or the generally unforgiving social environment. However, the question for all of us echos throughout time: Do the changes we seek in our country matter more than any potential repercussions we may experience as a result of a decision to challenge the injustices we see? And if the answer is no, then stop telling people what’s wrong with the world. The opinions of those unwilling to change the world when given the platform and opportunity are like the sound of flatulence — humorous at best, but generally disgusting, unless of course, they’re your own.

Let me give you an example. This prior week, I was at work when another inmate, a young, black man and co-worker, asked me for advice. He then described a situation that made him uncomfortable (and me somewhat angry): One of his supervisors, who is not incarcerated, made an inappropriate and racist comment to him, framed as a joke, but in front of several other guys of all races. He explained that the comment not only perturbed him because of its inaccuracy and stereotyped underpinnings, but also made his job more difficult because he still was required to work with all those who heard it.

I gave him what I thought was sound advice. I encouraged him to speak with a staff member I know to be generally receptive and sensitive to issues like this. However, the person whom I thought would be willing to stand up against racism … simply wasn’t. The staff member described feeling uneasy about disrespecting the other staff member (the one who made the racist comment) by getting involved. In fact, in this meeting the young man was actually accused of a prior lack of professionalism, implicitly suggesting he somehow deserved the racist comment. Basically, the young black man was told to go to someone else if he wanted help, which saddened me, but I’m not naive about the prison environment.

Yet, I can’t help but find it disheartening. Picture a dog kennel, rows of dogs in cages and several dog handlers performing the duties of their jobs, feeding, cleaning, and otherwise caring for the animals. If one dog handler were verbally abusing one of the dogs, the other handlers would not hesitate to speak up. But incarcerated human beings apparently are often not as worthy of advocacy as dogs. Unfortunately, the very concept of rehabilitation will remain a farce until the men and women in prison are viewed and treated as human beings with inherent dignity and worthy of respect, regardless of their past mistakes, and dealt with as people who will one day return to the community.

I could allow myself to feel depressed and wallow in the injustice of it all, but I’m very mindful of the fact that I put myself here. I’m not the victim; I’ve hurt a lot of people. But even still, I can learn from those unwilling to use their power and platform to make positive change when called upon by the powers of fate.

The same night I experienced that unfortunate situation at work, I saw a gay kid being picked on by someone I know. I thought of what I witnessed at work as an example of what not to do, so I stepped in to stand up for the kid. Sure I took a little heat, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time that kid is picked on. And I certainly can’t be there for him everytime he has a problem. But I was able to help him that time. I did the right thing because I could, even though doing the right thing ain’t easy. But changing the world will never be easy, even if we all pitch in, which clearly … we don’t.

Dandy Lying

Dandy Lying

My brother lives in an old farm house in Ohio with this great front yard of plush green grass that in the heart of the season is carpeted with the most beautiful and brightest yellow dandelions you’ve ever seen. I remember when my son was about 5 and he commented, “Wow!” as his eyes lit up so brightly they could only be matched by the beautiful carpet of nature that lay before him, inviting the run he couldn’t wait to get started on.

It’s been said that if you come out of the penal system a better person than when you went in, it’s in spite of the system, not because of the system. One thing that I’ve been able to have a perspective of gratitude for through this whole experience is the awareness I gained through the deprivation of basically everything beautiful. This awareness has not come without effort though, and I have found practices like meditation and limiting myself of the few distractions that are afforded prisoners such as television sports, television movies, television series, etc., etc., etc.

But one thing that snuck in through the periphery of my self-imposed safety line, was a commercial about a weed killing product that targets only certain vegetation in a given area. The computer generated depiction shows this fellow barbecuing  on his plush, green back yard and he gets annoyed at one, yes one lone dandelion that supposedly could potentially ruin his entire experience. Cut to the spreader throwing the killer chemical all over the yard and this one lone beautiful creation, no matter where you think the creation originated, catches the bulk of this toxin, withering it to oblivion so the man can get on with his barbeque in perfection.

This is particularly sad and disturbing because this method of fooling the human psyche works. It’s not that we shouldn’t strive to be better people, but being misled to believe that we can ever achieve perfection even close to the beauty and intricacy of something as delicate as a dandelion while we are poisoning the air with chemically treated charcoal, our bodies with preservative based ingredients, and drug filled meat that has altered the course of development of the human body, and, the very ground that all life is dependent on to every extent for survival.

My hope for mankind is not diminished over my life or even through the horrific experience of the Amerikan system of injustice, but may have actually increased the need to see through the ruse knowing that perfection is not something we will ever be able to create as we double our efforts at destroying the perfection that’s been blooming right before our eyes long before the merchant quest for power, comfort, and separateness.