Sunday, September 29, 2013

One Woman's Football Healing

Thanks to Global Climate Change, Kansas has recently been enjoying weather fit for human beings. Saturday was an absolutely splendid fall day! It rained lightly in the morning and then the skies cleared into magnificent cerulean and cobalt blues draped with pristine white ribbons of clouds. There has been no better day in the history of the world for a football game!

The problem is that I have not been able to watch a football game of any kind since my only son played his last football game in the freezing rain on a cold, windy night under the dismal lights of the Mission Valley football field - in 2004. The problem has nothing to do with football per se, but that last game was his senior year. He was the baby bird athlete who flew the nest, leaving his mother to suffer in misery with empty nest football syndrome. The best professional football game is not as exciting as a high school game when you know all the boys playing. My son graduated the following spring and was no longer home to watch professional football with me, either. The trauma was so severe and sad that I had to give up all sports - all football and basketball games. For years afterward, I teared up whenever I saw the lights over a high school field. I thought perhaps I would never watch another football game - that my son's last game would be the final football game of my life. I was at peace with that.

My diabolical daughter lured me into attending the Washburn football game yesterday. I only went to spend the time with her but it turned out better than I could imagine. At the first snap of the ball, all the memories of watching Baby Bird (he will kill me if he ever reads this!) out there on the field came rushing back. But I did not even tear up! I realized I was healed of pining away for the years that got away from me, working all the time when my son was growing up. I could watch football and not feel guilty and sad. I did not pine for my son - well, I did just a teensy bit, wishing he would have come with us because I think he would have enjoyed himself.

I sent a text to him, saying he should have come with us because it was a great day for football and it was a good game. His reply: "No way...I'm a man that drinks whiskey and builds shit out of wrought iron." I am not sure what either of those activities have to do with his refusal to come to the game, but maybe he still suffers a touch of football withdrawal himself.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Crime of Punishment

Throughout my adult life, I have had the misfortune to know several people who were sentenced to prison.  Their crimes were nothing on par with the magnitude of the financial ripoffs we have all endured at the hands of the banking industry and our cellular service providers.  Most of the crimes committed by the people I know were drug related.  America is the absolute worst place on earth to be a drug addict or an alcoholic.  The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world.  Yes, our good Christian nation throws its fellow citizens behind bars at the drop of the hat.  Our justice system fills the prisons with mostly people of color, of low economic status, the mentally ill, the uneducated, the abandoned and powerless - all efficiently shipped off to prisons managed mostly by white people.

We should all know to not steal, threaten someone with a weapon, sell drugs to minors, rape or kill someone.  Some people should be sent to prison simply because we do not have any other way to protect ourselves from rapists and murderers.  But in my humble opinion we throw too many people into prison and leave them there for far too long.  The longer a man spends in prison, the more unfit he becomes to live in society. 

A young man who is very dear to me is currently incarcerated by the State of Kansas.  A series of tragic circumstances entirely out of his control combined with his personality and character defects to place him in prison.  He was orphaned, grieving, and homeless.  He was wild and angry but a danger only to himself.  His prison sentence seemed to reflect that there remains a bit of mercy and willingness to recognize the unfortunate circumstances in a young man's life.

It is interesting to observe the behavior of my family and friends whenever I bring up this young man's name.  No one wants to hear anything.  End of story.  The prevailing attitude is if he is in prison it is because he is criminal and stupid or he would not be there.  Even though every one has committed some mistake or lapse that, given the right set of circumstances, could possibly earn us a stay as a guest of one of our state or federal wardens.  Ever had one too many drinks but drove home anyway?  Texted while driving?  Damaged property, even accidentally? Smoked a joint?  Shared your powerful pain killing prescription drugs with your neighbor or your spouse?   Minor offenses that, given the right tragic twist by fate, or your own bad luck, could become criminal offenses that would put you in prison.  It is very easy for American citizens to be sentenced to prison, easier than anywhere else in the world.

It has been to my immense sorrow to learn exactly how few rights an American citizen has once that citizen becomes a prisoner.  A person can be put into segregation for weeks and months on end for small rules infractions.  There is a semblance of appeal in this segregation process within the prison, but it is the inmate's argument against the full weight and autonomy of the Warden and the Department of Corrections.  An inmate can only appeal a subset of infractions to another warden in a different prison.  Who would most often win that appeal process, I wonder?  And as far as I know, the inmate rots in segregation while the "appeal" makes its way through the paper trails and business hours of the prison administration.

When you personally know and care about someone enduring this barbaric form of punishment, isolated in a brick cell hardly larger than a coffin for 23 hours at a time, it weighs on your heart.  Your own powerlessness to intervene or intercede on their behalf is an immense burden.  

I recently learned, to my horror, that none of us have a right to visit our loved ones in prison.  A warden can, at his discretion, rescind the visitation of any prisoner for up to a year, whether or not that prisoner is found guilty of any rules infraction.  As long as a "review" is made, a warden can deny visitation indefinitely.  It is an extremely punitive and arbitrary form of punishment, and something even the American Civil Liberties Union cannot address.  The highest court in America has already ruled no one has a constitutional right to visit their loved ones in prison.  What legal arguments prevailed before the Supreme Court Justices of America to cause them to deny such a profoundly human need?

It has been quite an education for me, learning the realities of our penal system.  It is terrifyingly easy to be sentenced to prison.  Once there, it is terrifyingly easy to be abused in ways we are not even aware of from the relative safety of our lives on the outside.  In fact, you can be emotionally abused by this system without ever being convicted of a crime at all. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Superior Beings

Her majesty Ginger and the Walai Lama
I have been absolutely demoted to the lowest caste in Horse culture this summer. I am one eye blink away from untouchable status right now. My existence is not even acknowledged unless I have a treat or a brush in my hand. This is because their pasture is six feet deep in big blue stem and I have only been to the barn a few minutes daily to make sure they have water and no one is bleeding. If there is not something in this relationship for them, then they do not even pretend interest in me.

Wally's former people said Wally would be the boss, and they were right - as long as he allows Miss Snot Face to eat and drink first, and hog all the treats, and be groomed first. If he decides it is time to head for the pasture, she follows along even if it means walking away from the curry comb. She can walk away from Wally though, and he just watches her go. He sees where she is going then carries on with whatever he deems more important than following after her fat, grumpy behind.

I am seldom irritated with Wally. He does everything I ask of him. He tolerates (ignores) me calling him: Wallery, Wall', Walter, William Wallace, Walai Lama, Big Teensy, Gooby and a lot of other names so infantile and sweet and asinine that even I, the woman of no self esteem, refuse to admit on the world wide web that I speak them aloud. Wall' is just a big ol' goofy sweetheart and I love him! All I want to do is hug his big neck and rub his soft nose and lean against his big round belly. He does not truly appreciate any of it. He is smart enough to know that all treats come from human hands. If he ever wants a pear he simply must endure the hugging. In his mind it is a fair trade.

Miss Thing, on the other hand, most often hears "Ginger!" and "Goddamn it!" and all possible variants. Oh, she eventually does what I ask, but it must always look as if it is her idea. It is the typical vying between two alpha females. (I'm pathetic but I am a human being - I have one or two advantages over a horse.) Sometimes Ginger forgets her royal self when I am brushing her, and she gathers up the back of my shirt in her rubbery horse lips and returns the favor of mutual grooming. If she is in a very expansive and royal mood, I might get the top of my head nibbled. All the horses did this to me when I was child, and it still makes me laugh. I think mussing a human's hair is an equine term of endearment. I cannot help myself. I love Miss Thing, too.

Years ago Ginger was sent away to Bonner Springs for 60 days of training. (I still held the dream that I was going to ride Ginger.) The young woman who did the training had no trouble with my horse. She said Ginger was smart and brave. The old woman who tended all the horses stabled there did not like Ginger. It was an equal and mutual dislike. Whenever the old woman had the lead rope, Ginger would back up, toss her head, and misbehave. She even reared up once when I was there. Ginger stopped short of bolting away or being an outright bad horse, but she and the old woman hated each other's guts. Well, I did not care for that old grouchy woman myself. My relationship with Ginger is simple: in return for small personal favors, Ginger will sometimes be nice to me. In my mind it is a fair trade.