yes we can

Nov. 4th, 2008 11:32 pm
theladyrose: (Default)
I rarely say this, but I am proud to be an American citizen today. This was my first big election, and I can only hope to see how my country becomes a better homeland for all of its citizens in the years to come.

But the battle's not over, not by a long shot. I'm glad that most Californians and I voted the same way on the propositions, except for the redistricting one (dude, WTF, way to grant permission to disenfranchise a ton of voters!) and more significantly, Proposition 8. We can't sit back and just hope for change.

A month ago I was interviewing an Obama precinct captain and some local community organizers for a story on Asian Americans and campaigning for the candidates. For them, Obama's appeal wasn't just about creating a culture of change in Washington, but reigniting a sense of civic activism in ordinary citizens that's been gone for years. I predict at the top levels of government there'll be a lot of partisan gridlock considering how many ideas are floating around about how we should address the economic crisis, healthcare reform, environmental conservation efforts, the wars abroad and so many other issues. Reaching consensus when the stakes are higher than ever is going to be a painfully drawn-out process.

We can't just wait around for our Congresspeople to legislate solutions to us. Our politicians are only as responsible to us as we are to them; effective reform is not top-down alone. That communities will come together to bring back democracy to the front porch again and attack the issues at the local level, too. Our school districts need us to mentor struggling kids at risk of falling through the cracks. We need volunteers and donors to make sure that our hospitals outreach to the sick in need of aid, for arts organizations to create productions that enrich the soul (cheesy but true), for consumer watchdog groups to monitor the safety of our products, to name a few.

We can't just sit back and expect our president to fix everything to everyone's satisfaction. We as citizens must own our responsibility to look out and care for each other. How successful Obama's presidency will be depends on our input as regular citizens and community members.

I am reminded of Eleanor of Aquitaine's monologue in the Lion in Winter - the future is in our hands as much as it was in 1183.

How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history's forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can't we love one another just a little - that's how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world.
theladyrose: (Default)
Yesterday in my gerontology class I wrote a letter to a 73-year-old woman in prison for life for 1st degree murder of her husband.

"I'd kill him again," she wrote when directly asked whether or not she thought her sentence was justified. "He bought a gun. I knew he was going to kill me. It was a matter of him or me."

Most female inmates in their 60's and older are in prison because they murdered abusive husbands or conspired to murder their abusive husbands. The ones who were willing to talk to the social worker who presented to our class about women aging in prison say that they don't regret what they did. They remark upon how much more violent incoming inmates are because many of the "new girls" are female gangbangers or got caught trying to help out or protect a bad boyfriend.

"The conditions here are inhumane. You have youth and education," she wrote to our class, "You must help us." The typical cell houses 8 women sleeping in 4 bunkbeds. The wardens rarely honor requests for older women having priority to sleep in the lower bunks, which puts them at greater risk for falls. They work for $1.50/day in the state of California; the lucky ones train to go into cosmetology, but most of the others are involved in eyeglasses manufacturing (Lenscrafters has a contract with certain prisons) and other blue-collar industrial sectors. They have no choice but to drop to the ground in the scorching heat during certain drills without even the reprieve of shade.

Healthcare access is extremely limited; they can only schedule an appointment for one medical condition at a time, which is a problem when you have comorbid health problems and when the copay is $5. Many choose to forgo medication in order to buy food. Nutrition is appalling - "the food is all beige and from cans," and fruits and vegetables are hardly a priority. Forget about having the canteen take into account special dietary needs if you're diabetic or if your dentures are ill-fitting, which they almost certainly are and took ages to obtain. Substance abuse issues are generally given the blind eye. And god knows that STDs and STIs, especially AIDS, are reaching epidemic proportions for all inmates. Older women significantly underestimate their risk for getting HIV.

Maybe it is relatively clean and the guards don't beat you in the women's facilities. But when you have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning and don't go to bed until 11 and your sentence is 20+ years, it's undeniable that it's a damn hard life. The question is about what we expect to get out of sending criminals to prison: is our focus on rehabilitation or on emotional retribution? Obtaining parole is harder than most think; from what I've heard from some forensic psychologists, parole board members can make $100,000 a year. Think about the financial implications for them if an inmate continues to be up for parole and has to keep coming back.

After reading her account, I had no idea what I should write back. Then I remembered what my counseling supervisor last spring told me that's stayed with me since: when in doubt, you can always fall back on empathy. I have to admit, I was a little shocked by her response about whether or not she'd kill her husband again; I can't imagine what it's like to be in a position where I didn't think I had any other way of protecting myself. It's awful to think that in her time that she felt she had no other choices to deal with her domestic abuse. There's still so much that needs to be done about domestic violence nowadays, but at least shelters exist now as a haven for battered women and their children. I asked her about what she thought should be done to make prisons more humane and better serve the needs of older inmates like herself.

I wonder if I'll get a response back. I don't even know her name, just the first initial of her first name due to privacy issues. It's virtually impossible to schedule prison visits these days because of Schwarzenegger's budget cut. Visitors require extra guards and extra processing, so many advocates aren't able to check up on conditions now.
theladyrose: (Default)
If you look at my record, I'm incredibly boring.

Believe it or not, I've drunk half a shot of vodka in my entire time at USC. My record was five glasses of wine on a full stomach this past summer over the course of an evening, and if you look at any photos from that night in Florence you'll see that I don't experience the "Asian glow" or act plastered. I've never been drunk and never intend to. I don't consume coffee except for those two iced granita caff├ęs at that place right by the Pantheon in Rome this past summer. I don't smoke or sniff or shoot up or pop pills; I take no prescription medications. Believe it or not, I actually prefer to avoid anesthesia when possible during dental procedures; besides which, my dentist is a Bruin and I don't trust him with injecting me with painkillers. I'm kidding about that latter part, although we needle each other endlessly about the crosstown rivalry during my dental cleanings. I've been avoiding meat for nearly four years now, although unfortunately I don't have the willpower to cut out seafood or dairy.

Because of these habits, people tend to mistakenly assume that I'm really conservative and super religious. Nothing could be further than the truth, though I'm not one of those new age "I refuse to consume anything that ruins the sanctity of the temple that is my body" people. I like refined sugar and french fries too much to ever give those up completely!

I've been a secular humanist for many years now, though I respect and admire the religious beliefs of those I know; I don't have the courage, at least at this stage in my life, to make that leap of faith. At the same time, I don't judge people who take drugs as immoral. I do believe that medical marijuana should be legalized and find "just say no" education to be ridiculous, even if it happened to work for me. My general philosophy is that as long as you're not endangering your own health or those around you, then I respect your choices. I get frustrated, though, when people force others to bear the burden of what's their responsibility.

Blasting music so loudly that the people next door can't get to sleep at 1 AM on a Thursday - believe it or not, that's a problem because *some* of us actually have to get to work/class early in the morning. Projectile puking on someone's floor - that's a problem. Stealing your roommate's pills and pretending that you didn't - that's a problem. Landing yourself in the hospital where you need your stomach pumped and worrying the shit out of your family and friends - that's a problem. Slapping your girlfriend because you get violent when drunk or forgetting to pick your kid up from school because you're that sloshed at 3 in the afternoon - that's a problem. If you get to the point when you inconvenience those around you, you need to change your habits.

I don't doubt that consuming certain substances in certain amounts can have beneficial effects. There are some compounds in a glass of red wine that seem to do good things for your health, although there are probably more beneficial things you could be doing for your health that don't involve drinking a glass a day - exercise, anyone? Drugs play a role in certain religious ceremonies in bringing about a transcendental state of consciousness; I can respect that people would take them in those circumstances. There's no way, though, that you could ever get me to try them; there are plenty of other ways of expanding my world view, thanks. The "it's OK for others but not for me" mentality smacks of self-righteousness and elitism, but I have legitimate reasons.

My problem is that I have a sense of what the worst case scenario looks like and frankly never want to put anyone else in a situation where they're forced to take care of me. I hate waiting around in hospitals not knowing what the outcome will be and can only hope that no one I know will find herself in the same agony waiting for me. It's more than that, though. When you evaluate therapy tapes involving alcoholics, heroin and crack addicts, you get a sobering taste of the ripple effect of damage from addiction can effect on multiple lives, even entire communities, in several generations. No behavior exists in a vacuum - you may own responsibility for an action, but you can't always control the effects of what you do on others. The potential for uncontrolled destruction is far too high - I don't trust myself to stop at the critical point (it took me three years to beat a pathological addiction to Spider Solitaire in high school), so it's best to never reach the point where I have risky cravings in the first place. I don't miss out on drinking or trying pot or smoking because I've never been interested; it's as deceptively simple as that.

The truth is, my aversion to alcohol has more to do with an unrepressable association with abuse. I don't know if I'll ever be able to overcome my ambivalence towards the alcoholic in my life - and no, that alcoholic is not one of my parents. I derive my strength to resist from my inability to completely forgive that person because that would legitimize the pain that was inflicted in someone I love. So be it.


theladyrose: (Default)

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