On Talking Down to People with Asperger’s Syndrome

My attempts to blaze a trail for neurodiversity rights in America largely consists of me awkwardly introducing myself to key people, online and in person, who might prove to be valuable allies. I tell them my backstory and then present my neurodiversity-positive perspective to them. If they see the light, they see it; if they don’t they are just awful to me. 

At the college I graduated from (finally, with no accommodations whatsoever), a new class is being taught by two women, a psychologist educator and a clinician, on autistic psychology. I contacted them to have a sit-down to see if they were on the same page as me and therefore willing to be resources and allies. 

It didn’t go quite like I’d hoped.

I introduced myself as an autistic rights advocate. The Educator was friendly and welcoming, if a bit maternalistic, and perhaps this is because she has an autistic son. However, she invited her teaching partner for the class, the Clinician, to sit in on our conversation. I’m not as good at speaking with more than one person to keep track of, but what I have to say is important so I agreed. After going along in my spiel for a while, the Clinician interrupted me as I was finishing up the grittiest part of my tale, and in a voice dripping with condescension, preceded to ask me, like I was a dumb neophyte, what I thought I was really going to do to advocate for autistic people.

In fact, her tone was so acid, I had difficultly understanding for a moment what she was getting at. What she was “getting at” was confirming the power imbalance between us by trying to insult my efforts and enthusiasm. I admit, I had criticisms of how her profession has harmed people like me and how clinicians frequently don’t listen to women who come to them with a suspected autism diagnosis. I spoke of how clinicians are prone to over-pathologizing people with neurological differences rather than working with us to figure out how to navigate our cognitive profile and cultural variance. 

If you are a professional who balks at this, I think you are the one who has developmental difficulties. An important aspect of growing as a professional is being willing to heartily consider the perspectives of the very people you purport to study and help. Clinicians, researchers, nonprofits, and parent organizations have been belittling, nay fighting, the ideas and concerns of autistic adults for quite some time – intellectual disability or not. 

In addition, I’ve spent the last couple of decades living as a person people took to be a normally developed adult woman. Now that I disclose my diagnosis to certain folks, I am amazed at how differently I am addressed and spoken to. Some people take on a parental tone and some speak to me as if I have an intellectual disability. Some are sarcastic or pandering, not understanding that I can easily pick up on this, but not react to it immediately. In truth, I’ve been independently navigating the adult world with no accommodations or mercy for over 25 years and I think out my actions and projects to an insanely meticulous degree. 

[Note: Please speak to all developmentally disabled adults, whether their intellectual abilities are compromised or not, as if they are adults you respect and value. Always. Even when we say things that might seem uncouth or too blunt. Doing otherwise is ableist. If we screw up and insult you, a simple “Hey, I didn’t like this thing you said because it implied this and made me feel thus” is perfectly adequate. We value this kind of feedback because being able to get along with others is important to our survival, assimilation, and self-advocacy.]

However, when it comes to speaking the truth about the urgent issues that autistic people face in America, especially in the deep South, I’m not going to sugar-coat our perspective and its validity. Sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, but people like me are accustomed to being uncomfortable all the time. Welcome to our world. 

Sadly, these condescenders are the same folks who ought to be the ones advocating for our perspective. Ableism runs deep, however, especially in the medical profession. When the patient is cognitively or socially different, the patient is always wrong, mistaken, or misperceiving the situation. There are many phrases and euphemisms to express to someone that you don’t value or believe them, and maybe even think they’re crazy and misguided. 

What gives me confidence in my perspective is the chorus of voices I have encountered since taking up this cause for myself and others like me. Women in the autistic community write beautifully about their experiences, both internal and external. We have a style that transmits clarity, grace, and a heaping helping of blunt-force truth. We are consummate communicators, given the right method, and this is one of the major differences between autistic males and females. [Interestingly, the two women didn’t even directly cover gender differences in an entire semester.] 

We know how to spell shit out for normals is what I’m saying. 

Problem is, no one is deigning to listen. No one is seeking us out for our opinions. No one is giving us any funding, marketing, or nonprofit money to further our cause. We all know now that women and minorities have a hard time getting people to believe what they experience. Imagine how having a stigmatized brain condition and being female complicates this. Add on not being white and/or being queer and you can understand why our suicide rate is shockingly high. 

After explaining to the Clinician the various direct actions and programs we need in our community to mitigate our suffering and how I’ve been avidly building a network and platform for three years, I hope her misgivings were assuaged. But, boy, it left a bad taste in my mouth. I hope they heed my words and give my ideas a bit more study . . . 

One mean-ass old white woman down; a bazillion to go.

The Problem with White Women

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After last week’s election there have been many calls for white women to check themselves and stop voting to uphold the patriarchal monsters strangling democracy. This not long after Republican women, except for Lisa Murkowski who lost her job as a result, voted to confirm Kavanaugh. I assure you roughly half the white women in America are in a rage at the other half, who are gleefully voting away the rights of all women.

I touched on the subject of duplicitous, self-oppressing white women shortly after the 2016 election. Since we haven’t solved sexism in the interim, I was expecting them to shit the bed again, and they did. Before I get into it, I want to make it very clear where I stand on the subject of white women:

I am a white woman who is more afraid of what white women might do to me in the long run than what any man might. Men have transgressed against my body, intelligence, and voice in myriad ways, but women – primarily the conforming white ones – have transgressed against my very identity, safety, and trust in profound ways I am still only discovering. Men are brutal, but simple to understand; women are brilliantly cruel on a social, conversational, psychological, and emotional level.

It is devastating.

The punishment for being a woman who does not conform to gender expectations, the prevailing socio-political norms, or even fashion, is still the equivalent of death, even if we’ve done away with the Malleus Mallificarum and burning at the stake. Women who betray the patriarchy, especially if they are white, are facing isolation, public character assassination, and pulling of protective support. Powerful white men, unfortunately, find women of color easier to see as ineffective and dismissible. But when a white woman uses her voice to challenge authority, she is seen as being a bigger threat. She might get the other white women on board, after all.

New York Times columnist  Alexis Grenell writes, “Betray the patriarchy, and your whiteness won’t save you.” In other words, our much-cited proximal power is instantly stripped from us and we are left without community or protection, resources or reputation. We are no longer white ladies. We are “sluts” “feminists” “witches” “accusers” “problems” and “race traitors.”

Ask Kathy Griffin – she poked the eye of the Establishment through a single image and was treated by the scariest sectors of government as a potential treasonous criminal. Most tellingly, supposed male allies threw her under the bus – her fellow comedians and Anderson Cooper to boot. Ask Amanda Knox. She was the roommate of a raped and murdered girl in Italy and lost so much, almost her own life, in the modern-day witch burning that her literal trials turned out to be. Because she didn’t behave “normally” shortly after finding out about the fate of her roommate.

As a white woman my behavior is strictly proscribed regardless of the lip service we give to the false idea that a woman can be however she wants to be in our “enlightened” times. As an opinionated, weird-ass chick I can promise you this is utter bullshit. If you are off by one iota in how you communicate, behave, dress, move, think and address authority, you are tossed into the darkness.

Ask any trans woman, trans man, or autistic person how bad the consequences can be.

Most frustrating of all is the scolding white women – all white women, not just the enablers – are getting right now. Save your breath angry white progressives who have taken up the racial struggle. Just because you mostly see oppression through the lens of race does not mean that other forms of oppression, those which are less visible and publicly acknowledged, do not exist. I want to point out that although every three days a trans person is murdered somewhere in the world, in just 2015 nearly 4 women per day were murdered by a man they knew well. In America. Mostly by guns. During an argument. Perhaps about politics, sexual or otherwise. And six hundred women are sexually assaulted every day in the land of the free.

It’s so dangerous to be a woman in America that we still don’t give our level of misogynist violence the crisis coverage it deserves. Even in progressive discourse. The problem is so vast we have trouble seeing it all at once and instead separate it into different issues: domestic violence, work harassment, sexual assault (campus, military, domestic), serial murder, most terrorism, and reproductive restrictions are all predicated on hatred for women.

As a “community” women are also at a particular disadvantage for cohesion. Black people, having been made to live together, have one another – a sense of shared struggle and suffering. Women are distributed throughout the population differently. We are likely paired off, or desire to be, with an individual member of the group which oppresses us. White women are psychologically atomized, socialized from birth to be oppressed and oppressing, and threatened with violence or exile, in one way or another, every day. Especially within our communities and relationships.

It’s an extreme thing to ask a person who, without the approval of white men, has no leg to stand on and risks extreme social isolation and violence, to break rank. It has been difficult for the brave women I know who have already done so. We need to see how power is distributed overall in our culture – because race, gender, and class work together in complicated ways to influence our elections.

It’s no good to berate enabling conservative white women in think pieces that they will never read. It’s no good to berate the white women who are already putting themselves on the line in this fight more than you know. Besides, there is little productive discourse between these two types of women.

No. Instead, if we want certain white women to stop propping up toxic masculinity, everyone should do whatever possible to make the consequences less dire. We need to have better safety nets for helping women who lack to the resources to “go solo” for a while if need be should they become estranged from the Establishment, conservative families, or the men in their lives. Perhaps some gun control protections. Perhaps better wages for women. Paid maternal and domestic violence leave. Police oversight. Better housing and childcare. More enlightened education. More opportunities.

The missing rights that most American women are kept unaware they don’t have.

I can’t possibly be as vocal or as blunt as I want – it is a constant struggle to determine just how much hot water I might get myself into depending on what I say to whom and how. Being incorrectly female, incorrectly white, and disabled, I have to walk the fine line between liberation and exile in my every thought, word, and deed.

Just as every woman, even the white ones, must do in this America.

 

 

On Being an Unaccompanied Woman

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I’ve always been my favorite companion. I want to be by myself the majority of the time. After I’ve been around people I have to go home and pace around until I calm down and sometimes this can take hours. I enjoy most interactions with the people I choose to meet with, but like I said in my last post, people’s treatment of me varies a bit. So it’s always a gamble.

I know that being a woman who goes about her life solo is it’s own kind of oppression.

I go on vacation alone, to restaurants alone, to movies alone, to museums alone, to concerts alone, to bars alone, to community events alone. ALWAYS. This is highly unusual behavior even in our “post-feminist” landscape. I see all the “independent woman” memes and cringe though. We give a lot of lip service to being strong women who don’t care what other people think about us, but the truth is that most women, and men, still see an unaccompanied woman as bizarre, tragic, lame, and sad. 1000% of movies with “strong female leads” have her hooking up with a partner and having at least one quirky best friend.

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And a confident woman never lacks company.

Since I have been alone so much in public spaces, I know how differently I am addressed both when I am “with” someone and when I’m not. And then there’s how people treat a woman who is known to be habitually alone. We still burn witches, after a fashion. There are  archetypal and patriarchal explanations for this, but I won’t get into all that.

Being popular and having people desire your company while you desire theirs is the default social goal of neurotypical people. As if everybody is the gregarious kind.

It’s strange to see people out in pairs and groups, looking at me with either petty pleasure or condescending pity when they see me out by myself. Paradoxically, I look at them and I feel so sad that they have to be accompanied in public to enjoy themselves. I feel people can be a distraction if I’m looking at art, watching a movie, or listening to a band. Even eating a meal with others can ruin the experience. Why would I want to pay for fancy food or an overpriced movie ticket if I have to try to hold up a damn conversation that distracts me from savoring the reason I’m there?

People feel like a prison after a while.

Think I’m kidding about the bad treatment? Nah. There’s the little stuff like every hostess saying “just one?” when I come in. Then there’s the big stuff like being followed by strange men when I depart somewhere. And the medium stuff is how I always get shit service when I sit at a bar by myself. Or how people see me conducting my life solo and assume I have low worth, social or otherwise, so they don’t hear me when I speak and shut down any sort of communication.

The core of female identity is based on our interpersonal relationships, not our individual merits. Every little girl, socially impaired or not, picks up on this very early as if our lives depend on it. Because our lives do depend on it. Women have to rely on more protective layers of society in order to survive because, well, all the rampant gendered violence. And poverty, etc. Just as a white person will never quite understand the anxiety of getting pulled over like a black person, a man will never know the anxiety of being a woman out by herself. Or living by herself.

Isolation can be a death sentence for a woman.

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And we can’t fuck around with time machines.

A single woman with no children is practically a non-entity. Unless she’s young and hot or has a high-powered career, why is she even here? What’s she good for? Get the torches and pitchforks!!!! Think I’m kidding again? I applied for TennCare once and they called me back and the only question I was asked was, “Are you pregnant or do you have a child?” I said no and that was the end of the conversation. They don’t help jobless single women without children. No one does.

A rule of thumb in social theory is that if you are a woman – ANY kind of woman from any group or background – and you don’t conform to a degree that isolates you, you are generally in danger of poor childhood and adult outcomes. Women are expected to be accompanied in spaces where social activity occurs. When you are not, the freaks looking to separate the “weak” from the herd perk right up and even kind people do not know how to address you respectfully.

A week ago when I started writing this I had far more hope for changing how society and power structures view independent, intelligent women, but damn if this isn’t a painfully disappointing juncture in history. Whether you have the protection of a social circle or not, take care of yourselves out there, and keep your chins up!

 

 

On silencing the neurodiverse in “woke” organizations

hypocriteIn my last post I addressed the problem of white-savioring and gatekeeping in social justice movements and non-profits.  Now I want to discuss otherizing behavior toward those with neurological differences in the same spaces.

For the past year I’ve been attending and helping out on several local committees and in non-profits which have an open-door policy, meaning anyone willing to help is allowed to attend. (Some of these orgs are for women only, though.) If that’s not the case then they don’t know how or where to express exclusivity – other than by shutting down “interlopers” through hostile interrogations, passive-aggressive bitchery, scare tactics, and conversational stonewalling. All intended to get me to stop participating or say less.

It’s not going to work. I have no qualms about embarrassing myself. I’m not participating to be popular or make friends. I’ll never stop expressing my perspective because my story has immense value.

Invariably, I have been transparent about who I am, what my diagnosis is, what my experience is, what my intentions are, and exactly how I can help. I’ve always observed the behavior and responses of neurotypical people, not just for shits and gigs, but for my continued survival. Their responses to meeting me are incredibly varied and fascinating – and often depressing.

Throughout my life, people’s responses have fallen into three extreme categories:

  1. Deep admiration – Since I have raised my public presence by speaking at symposiums, attending council meetings, and re-partaking of the fun social events happening in my hometown, some people have really taken to me and are not shy about expressing their admiration for my resilience, intelligence, and personal insight. Because they decided to hear me out before passing judgement. These people tend to be the best types of people, the most compassionate, the most inclusive, and the most intelligent, well-read, and genuinely woke.
  2. Open hostility – People who are honest and enthusiastic can be terrifying to those who are full of shit. Fear of the unknown and frustration with different social presentations make immature, territorial, and socially-obsessed people uncomfortable and prone to all the myriad forms of bullying and exclusion. I dismiss these types of people out of hand. They aren’t ready to help anyone yet. You can’t harbor contempt for one group of marginalized people and effectively help another marginalized group. (BTW, I include passive aggressive behavior in “open hostility,” because, although more subtle, it’s still pretty visible to others and obvious to me.)
  3. Confusing ambivalence –  I can’t decide who is worse; people who privately befriend me, but publicly deny supporting me, or people who’re kind to me when others are around, but quietly bully me. They both do harm and need to make up their goddamn minds.

The entire time I was growing up I received extremely polarized messages about who I was. Since I spent most of my time without positive friendships to counteract these messages and put them into social context for me, I never developed a clear sense of identity or voice until rather recently.

My current “social presentation” is that of a nervous, enthusiastic, honest, and non-conforming young, white woman. No one immediately supposes I’m a person with autism or a survivor of the criminal justice system and police brutality. I seem like a weird white chick who’s probably not experienced any deep prejudice and is trying to horn in or “insert” myself. I get it. I’m very forward, but I don’t like to waste my time or the time of those in need by being peripheral, coy, and “appropriately” female and white. Either you understand what I have to offer or you don’t want to.

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But actually I’m not all that nervous (it’s just how I talk as an autistic), I’m not that young (I’m over forty), not that female (I reject the gender binary), and not that white (I was never accepted among white people; not even in my own family). The rest is accurate. You see, people fundamentally misunderstand who I am based on superficial observations.  Adult autistic women and minorities are by far the most marginalized people you will ever meet – we are barely known to exist. We have insanely high rates of poverty, suicide, sexual assault, hate crime victimization, early death, addiction, homelessness, police brutality, and unemployment.

No fucking joke, either. Here’s some info from the links above:

  • Autistic girls and minorities are likely to be misdiagnosed with multiple incorrect disorders rather than autism because the diagnostic rubric is for white boys.
  • Half of all adults who have experienced at least one year of poverty are disabled,  and two-thirds of those with longer periods of poverty have a disability.
  • Compared with the general population, adults with Asperger’s syndrome were nearly 10 times more likely to report suicidal thoughts. 66% of newly-diagnosed adults obsessed about suicide. 31% planned or attempted it.
  • “Rates of autism among the homeless population are 3000% to 6000% higher than in the general population – a percentage so overwhelming I don’t have words adequate to express my outrage.” 65% of the homeless in Devon, England were diagnosed with autism. In America, autistic homeless are misdiagnosed with mental illnesses.
  • The disabled are 1.5 times more likely to be a victim of violence than those without a disability, while those with developmental disabilities are at nearly 4 times the risk of experiencing violence. And much of that violence is extraordinarily cruel and sadistic.
  • A new study from the American Journal of Public Health found that the average life span of an autistic person is 36 years. Up to 50 years for “high functioning” Asperger’s. Suicide and neglect are the main factors.
  • “Yet a whopping 85% of college grads affected by autism are unemployed, compared to the national unemployment rate of 4.5%.”
  • Over 83% of women with developmental disabilities are sexually assaulted, over half of those more than 10 times. One third of men are.
  • One-third to one-half of police shooting victims are disabled – not mentally ill – disabled. Mostly in ways that are not visible – deaf, blind, or mentally affected.

Most woke people are unaware of what me and my brothers and sisters on the spectrum face. Bias is especially discouraging in spaces where the people feel they are aggressively open-minded and inclusive. They are usually not when it comes to neurodiversity. I either get a chance to “explain myself” and educate them about the cutting edge of civil rights or they dismiss me out of hand and shut me down or undermine me from then on.

Perhaps I expect too much from normals.

A lot of young social justice folks are also in it for less-than-noble reasons: for social perks, dating, self-exoneration from white supremacy, exploitative recognition, and absolution by the oppressed. Grow up.

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It’s like being back in 8th grade.

[Important note to the “woke” whites: Black people don’t owe us absolution or comfort for our inherent white supremacy and remorse over it. They don’t have to reward us with social acceptance for virtue signaling in the right way. They don’t have to put you at ease about the kind of white person you are. Stop trying to get them to hang out with you. Let them decide if you are the type of white person they want to know better.]

Above all fellow do-gooders, examine your motives and actions very deeply when you are advocating for a group of people of which you are not a member. “Getting woke” is a deeply uncomfortable, tedious process that should last your entire life, not a few realizations in your twenties that give you a pass on shouldering the onus of white supremacy while indulging all your other ignored biases.

Your contempt silences the geniuses in your midst.

 

 

 

 

On Gatekeeping and White Savior-ing

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“Suffer the little minorities to come unto me for approval and rescue.”

My passions (and vendettas) have led me to lend my talents and testimony to many local organizations fighting injustice. All social justice groups are flawed in some ways – we are only humans trying to help other imperfect humans. However, some orgs and non-profits with the goal of helping targeted minorities are inexplicably headed up, even in 2018, by white, cis, straight, able-bodied, neurotypical men.

Most of them start out with noble intentions. They have a transformative college class, an indirect experience, or read Chomsky and/or Zinn, and then the rage kicks in. Rage that doesn’t necessarily belong to them and they can’t ever fully understand. Unfortunately, when white men with no ax to grind get het up about injustice they assume the way to help is for them to be in charge of activist groups and efforts. And don’t think for a second that non-intersectional white women are immune to this impulse either.

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At a time in my life before I was diagnosed with an invisible disability, I really wanted to help lift up the downtrodden because I felt my privilege put me in a unique position to do so. I went to school to become an “inner city” high school teacher, but in the teacher education program at college I found myself uncomfortable with how we were taught about economic and racial inequality. The tone was condescending and we were given assignments wherein we went out into predominantly black neighborhoods to study them like they were specimens or a different species altogether. From all the shade I saw the few black teaching students throw at our old white male professor, I could tell they disapproved as well.

It’s fine to utilize privilege if you are a luckier member of the same demographic, but cross-demographic advocacy, while vital, can be problematic.  At some point I realized all high school kids are evil monsters and the black community doesn’t want or need my help. I dropped out of the teaching program with one semester to go and finished up my useless English degree.

Now I’m involved in criminal justice reform, not because I feel guilty about what people of color deal with, but because I’m an especially lucky member of another demographic  also targeted by police and the system. I’m appalled at what black & brown people experience, but I can never truly know enough about their perspective to loudly insert myself into their campaigns for change – and the idea that a white person(s) would take charge of their activist space is disgusting, but it happens. A lot.

But because I’m an autistic woman, I’ve directly experienced police brutality and entrapment in various broken institutions. However, I’ve still had to convince the far less oppressed people in charge of activist efforts that I’m worthy of speaking and taking up space when it comes to these issues. Some of these “interviews” have been darkly hostile. For instance, not many white guys invested in helping black people are aware of disability issues and a few have been bigoted towards me – an intersectional feminist covered in police brutality scars.

Truly, there are no completely safe spaces yet. Say a social justice bro corners you in an inappropriate manner and shows you the kind of guy he really is when the other do-gooders aren’t watching: lots of women and minorities won’t say anything about it to other members for fear of thwarting the cause or being accused of doing so. Especially if that ableist white man is threatened, territorial, and totally in charge of the space.

Every time I join a new organization I go through this heartbreaking process of “winning over” the white male (or normal female) leader. It’s not like these are paid positions and most orgs purport to be accepting of all people willing to help – so why am I having to fight so hard? Why do I feel oppressed in places where everyone in the room has read Chomsky and Zinn? (BTW, Chomsky is also on the spectrum bros.) Speaking the social justice gospel isn’t the same as embodying it. Open-mindedness doesn’t stop at one or two new realizations – it means continual self-examination for missed blind spots.

So to the well-meaning minimally-oppressed out there: Thank you for your time, talents, and work, but the minute you begin setting requirements for participation and excluding those with a greater stake in the cause, you are falling back into the ideological mire you brag about having escaped.

Perhaps you’ll heed a message from a fellow white guy, so . . .

ht9L9Ps

 

 

Why I write about upsetting subjects

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The past month or so I’ve been over-exerting myself because I have some wonderful opportunities coming up. I applied for a writing fellowship and, this past week, prepared my presentation for the 2nd Annual Southeast Adult Autism Symposium. If you are in the southeastern portion of the U.S. around the 21st of this month I highly recommend registering.

The fellowship is about my negative experiences with various powerful institutions as a neurodiverse woman. The presentation is about my experiences with sexual assault and social manipulation (and how to avoid it). So it’s been pretty intense having to deeply examine and write about these adverse incidents again. All the statistics are grim and it’s very clear that the two groups of people that are the most disadvantaged in America (besides, of course, people of color and women) are the cognitively disabled and the imprisoned. I’ve met people who are all four of the above minorities, and they are royally fucked. They never even get a chance.

Well, I screwed up my life so much that there was no way I was ever going to build a typical career from the ground up. I have massive employment gaps, a criminal record for a very stigmatized crime, I take medications that show up as illicit drugs on pre-employment drug tests. Since I’m not an automaton or snitch, I don’t ever do well on those mysterious pre-employment personality surveys, I fail the math test every time, and, being an isolating person, I don’t have any personal or work references.

For many spectrum people, trying to fill out a simple job application is enough to trigger a meltdown. I don’t remember names, dates, phone numbers, or the order they came in. In addition I was heavily, incorrectly medicated for most of my adulthood. A lot of it is indistinct except for the bad stuff. I don’t have any idea what to write down. I panic.

Once I got a diagnosis, I realized I was still on my own and had to create my own opportunities. No help was coming. So I read books about leadership, compromise, communication, building movements, and lots of other relevant subjects. I basically voc-rehabed myself. I was privileged enough to have the time and space to do this by not having to work and being left alone to heal for several years. And it took that long.

The reason I speak and write about tough issues is that most people who’ve been as marginalized as me are never spit back out of the Leviathan. They don’t have the words or the resources that I do. Absolutely no one else who has been that low is visibly advocating for them – the forgotten spectrum men and women who are swallowed by failed institutions ranging from inadequate and misguided, to malicious and punitive.

I’m also playing the hand I was dealt.

My family is not happy that I don’t “just move on.” They don’t like people who “dwell on things” and “stir shit up.” What they don’t know is that “voice feeds on the lack of opportunity for exit.”  I can’t take a traditional, and probably safer, route to accomplishing anything and thus exiting my circumstances. My past and my disability have trapped me. I have no clear exit. But I do have a voice. Voice is draining and has consequences, but it’s better than dying anonymous without ever having risked something for someone else.

 

 

Why our local government still jails poor people even though they lose money doing it

 

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I attended the meeting of a local organization of different faith communities who are deeply concerned about the fact that poor people sit in jail due to lack of money for even the lowest bail bond, which amounts to poor and mentally ill people sitting in jail before being convicted of a crime. There were a lot of good questions and comments by a lot of good people, despite this being such a complicated issue.

Facts and figures were discussed, including the price of keeping one person in jail in our county for one day – $87. This was mentioned in passing, but this dollar amount must have made an impression on one older, very professional looking white man in the corner. He piped up and asked probably the best question of the evening: [paraphrasing here, he had all the math worked out] So if it costs so much to keep people in jail, why are we still doing so even though it’s not economically smart and the taxpayer loses money?

A tepid silence fell over the room then, and since I abhor a vacuum, I softly muttered three words, “It’s an industry . . .”  Several of the people doing most of the talking nodded and expressed grim agreement with me, but didn’t expound. The truth is that we didn’t have time to get into the particulars of bed quotas, the prison-industrial complex, political corruption on every level, and the apathy of those people not affected by criminal justice problems. I would personally recommend he delve into some Chomsky.

A disability activist I know went to a different meeting recently which aimed to start a dialogue about affordable, appropriate housing for the disabled, who are often homeless in my town. The mayor was there to answer questions and listen, but at the end he explained how his hands were tied as far as any housing solutions for us. The money and political will simply isn’t there.

I completely believe him about the lack of political will and concern for people like us, but there is plenty of money in our coffers. However, those funds are being diverted towards projects which directly target this population in a destructive way. I read the local paper and it is constantly crowing about new expenditures by the city, such as paving over and eliminating the one place downtown where the homeless and mentally ill can find shade from the southern heat and simply exist.

Or the new plan to spend tens of millions to expand the local CoreCivic (formerly CCA) prison facility capacity to “reduce overcrowding.” (Another way CoreCivic reduces overcrowding is by allowing people to die on their watch.) A tax hike was approved for this “public service” but no alternative or restorative solutions even make it up the ladder of power for consideration.

All the groups trying to change this stubbornly entrenched system of maltreatment and injustice towards the vulnerable have several big obstacles at the moment:

  • Republican control of pretty much everything right now – hence the lack of “political will” which just seems like garden-variety compassion to me
  • how to organize and who to involve – it’s been decades since the last round of sweeping civil rights reforms in America and we are rusty at this
  • lack of charismatic leadership in key communities – we (minorities and the disabled) are so beaten down and robbed of our power and credibility that it is difficult for community cohesion to happen
  • where to even begin – criminal justice problems are complicated and it’s difficult to find a chink in the armor of such a well-established system of institutions backed up by those with money, power, and many lawyers

But it doesn’t matter. These are times that define who we are and if we can’t find it within ourselves to correct atrocious treatment by our own leaders, locally and nationally, we don’t deserve our sense of American entitlement. We are no better than the multitude of countries we look down on for dystopian maltreatment of their citizens and those seeking asylum.

If you are concerned about these problems, roll up your sleeves, do some internet research, and call meetings in your communities. Don’t forget to cooperate with other helpful organizations in your area and share information. Show your local politicians that your city isn’t just about new businesses, nostalgia, and building projects for tourism and gentrification. Define your community by how “the least of these among you” are accommodated and saved from horrible circumstances.