I have been watching videos of a remarkable church in Washington DC the All Souls Unitarian. It is an intentionally multi ethnic multi cultural church that rocks. All Souls is a historic church that has been in forefront of struggles for civil rights. It has a staff that is a mosaic and the services, as far as I can see, are often lively. It is a welcoming place to be and I would hope that other churches would take a lesson. I have posted many of their you tube videos on my facebook page. This is the first time I have ever posted something like this about attending church!
Tonight I attended a screening of the 53206 movie at the First Unitarian Society. The movie showed the impact of the mass incarceration of African Americans focusing on a few families in this impoverished zip code. The zip code has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country. I remember years ago being at a sign of hope in the community, a business incubator that was intended to help small business formation by African Americans. The businesses are long gone and what remains is the empty building.
The 53206 movie was shown at a Unitarian church in downtown Milwaukee to a packed crowd many of whom I did not know. There was an organizer from the 53206 project and talk about the lives being wasted and the depiction of a family hoping and waiting for their father figue and husband to return. He was denied parole, which is the most common result of parole hearings in Wisconsin. The governor plans to cut the parole department staffing even more.
The situation is complicated by the fact Wisconsin passed a truth in sentencing law in the late 1990s mandating that prisoners serve the full term of their prison sentences. But there are thousands like the man in the movie who are eligible for parole like the man in the movie but find the door slammed shut time and again. There is a lot of discretion still in the system and there are alternatives to long prison sentences but the fact we are not using them means that people are making money keeping things just the way they are. Who will have the courage to speak up? We signed cards tonight asking for changes but this is a long term project.
A friend is feeling sad these days because of the loss of her long time companions. People who know you from 30 or more years ago are really special. The people who were there through different hair colors, relationships, songs, concerts, having children and having grandchildren and stuff in between. The ones who you could tell anything. People who know what to bring and what not to say.
We meet these people at a certain stage, maybe when we have just arrived in the city and are wondering what will happen. Or maybe we meet them when they move into our neighborhood at a potluck and ask, who made that dish. And before weknow it we are sitting down and talking together.
A lot of this is theory for me because I have difficulty maintaining close friendships. I remember an old girl friend asking me about who were my close friends and not being able to figure that out. But for people who do remain close over a long time, letting go is so painful. But at some point our bodies give way. It can be sudden, in an accident or it could be the gradual wearing away due to diseases. And then there is sadness.
You will always have those many years of memories but you won’t always have those friends. This is the circle of life. Farewell, old friends. Know that you are loved and will be in one another’s dreams.
by Simon and Garfunkel, who ironically, were not friends
Old friends, old friends,
Sat on their parkbench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
of the high shoes of the old friends
Old friends, winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends
Can you imagine us years from today,
Sharing a parkbench quietly
How terribly strange to be seventy
Old friends, memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears
I just realized that I was still thinking about the story of the young man who committed suicide in a New York State prison. So many things in the system failed leading up to that tragedy. How did Lonnie Hamilton III, end up in the Marcy Correctional Facility and what stories had been written before I found the article in the New Yorker. If you google Lonnie Hamilton death, these are the stories you will find
We have traveled the road from the usual tragic story of a young man’s death to the possibility that the corrections officers played a role in worsening his mental health issues. The failure of the officials to disclose his worsening condition to his family is inexcusable. If my son was breaking down I would sure as hell want to know. And there was contact between Lonnie and father for some time while he was in prison, so I would think it would have been easy to find him and arrange a visit. Separating a person from their family and then not providing the proper mental health treatment is surely a way to kill our young incarcerated people.
America,we have a problem here. We have the problem of removing people from our community to be sent away in white rural communities fr extended periods of time. We have the problem of inadequate treatment in these facilities. We have the problem of the discretion parole and probation officers use to re-incarcerate people who don’t re-offend. And we have a problem of preventable deaths. This is the issue. Although the original focus of this blog s mental health I find that I am missing the big picture if I don’t look at how mental health intersects with criminal justice. You can expect more stories such as these.
I have been reading facebook posts promoting suicide prevention and talking about the need to look after one another. The need to offer support, empathy and resources. But there are so many places where vulnerable are most at risk.
Youths are at risk, people in mental hospitals are at even more risk and the most at risk of violence are in prison. I just read a story in the New Yorker about the story of a young man in the New York state prison system whose father was preparing to send of him a care package only to discover he had been buried 6 weeks earlier. The article by Jennifer Gonnerman, told how Lonnie Hamilton II learned that his son had died on March 18, 2016 when he went to the prison website. His son, Lonnie Hamilton III, had hung himself after becoming increasingly depressed in the Marcy Correctional Facility.
This is a story about an involved father who worked long hours to provide for his children only to lose one of them to crime and seeing his son torn away from the community. It is a story about failure to notify the next of kin about what was happening. There were signs especially self mutilation that should have set off a thousand alarm bells. I don’t think that the prison tried everything possible to assist Lonnie.
These kinds of tragedies happen all too often. I don’t think the prison was set up to meet the needs of a deeply troubled African American young man so he became a casualty. This is a cry for help, action and a replacement for the deconstruction. I would hate for this to happen to one of my nephews and hope people will use these stories
Well I just could not resist going back to see what the Unitarians were doing and I must say they have become a little more diverse. I took a picture. Not, not really, but you know this group picture might fit in. I had posted something last year about meeting Mary Devitt and John Hagendorn at Colectivo Coffeehouse. They are relatively new members of the First Unitarian Society and active in Black Lives Matter. They are community activists and raising children who present challenges. When I met Mary she was recovering from an injury that did not seem to slow her down. However, John had an accident on his bike resulting in a brain injury and other difficulties. He is a researcher who has worked on issues related to gave violence and prevention. One of his books is on sale at the church.
People of a certain age will recognize the title of this blog from the Simon and Garfunkel song A Hazy Shade of Winter. I heard the song booming at me as I came down from listening to a forum speaker from Lutheran Social Services tell about her work with refugees and asylum seekers. Indeed, it was a hazy shade of winter with barely a patch of snow on the ground. But the music was quite a bit different from the old days of hearing the choir most weeks several years ago.
It is sad that some things had not changed. It seems that our government policies are creating more and more refugees. The new administration has responded to the crisis by issuing an executive order imposing a ban on travel from seven mostly Muslim countries. Fortunately, our heroes from the ACLU sprang into action and a 3 judge panel of the federal court has blocked the implementation of this unconstitutional mess.
I have all kinds of different emotions about what is happening as time passes. A woman I knew, Molly Cisco, died recently from a brain aneurysm. She was an activist for the rights of people with mental illness, a small business owner and an avid dog lover. She was only 59. People are sharing their thoughts of her on Facebook. I am quietly looking to find a way to become more involved with real life activism and tear myself away from social media. I am meeting new friends and trying to keep up with the old ones. I was very excited to see a picture from my old high school which is putting the finishing touches on a weight room. It is encouraging to learn that one of the oldest high schools in the country is making a comeback.
The sky may be a hazy shade of winter but sometimes you can rock to the beat.
I have been home with a lot of intestinal nasties the past two days. I slept most of yesterday while my sweetheart used the car. When she asked if I needed her to pick up something from the store I asked for some homemade chicken soup and ginger ale.
She let me know she was on the way home and I slipped out to get her a Valentines Day gift. Conviently there are a bakery and a chocolate shop around the corner. I checked the bakery but they had closed so off to the chocalate shop I went with most of the black men in the neighborhood. I found my trusty debit card and got a nice pair of hearts. I slowly walked home and got back on the futon where I had been all day.
I gave her my gift and was somewhat surprised to learn that the Valentines day card I had seen over the weekend was for her grandson. I went to bed feeling a little sad. However this morning she showed me the card she had made for me saying I was loved. It was like what they say chicken soup for the heart.
I have struggled over the years with Valentines day including having a woman break up with me. Some small things lime this mean more as I grow older. I am listening to jazz, my intestines are returning to nrmal and thinking about being loved.