Monday, August 24, 2015

Inequalities in Prison Terms in the U.S.

I was excited to read about the 25th anniversary of Friday Night Lights in the 8/3/15 issue of Sports Illustrated.  The book, movie and TV series are all held up as some of the best of all time.  But, almost as a side note, the article highlighted the inequalities of he criminal justice system.  Either the author didn't notice it or didn't want to turn his nostalgic article into a political article. Sports Illustrated missed a key opportunity to address an issue that society is struggling with right now. 

Person A- Abused by relatives.  Spent time in foster care.  High school football star.  School helped him cheat in high school so he could stay eligible to play football.  The help stopped once he was injured and couldn't play.  Flunked out of college. Charged with aggravated assault after hitting someone with a beer bottle during a fight.  No prior felony record.  Misdemeanors for driving without a license and failure to pay child support.  Given 10 years probation.  Stopped making regular visits to his parole officer.  Sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Person B- Family law firm.  High school football star.  Attended Harvard.  Joined family law firm.  Admitted starting a fight with his girlfriend and her ex-husband that escalated into a brawl.  B and two friends entered the ex-husband's house uninvited and continued fighting with the 8 people inside.  Charged with burglary with intent to commit assault- a serious felony.  Placed on 5 years probation and had his law license suspended for 5 years.

There is big difference here.  Why was one given 10 years probation and the other 5 years?  Was person A told that if he violated his parole he would then have an equal amount of jail time?  Did person A ever receive therapy to deal with his childhood hardships?  Person A didn't have the family support or resources that person B had.  Person B not only had a family of lawyers supporting him but the personal knowledge of the law to know what would happen if he didn't follow the rules.   

I am not advocating violating parole but there are too many people spending years in prison for non-violent offenses.  And more often than not, they aren't given therapy or skills in prison to cope with the real world once they get out so a lot of them end up coming back. 

It is hard to believe that race and economic status didn't play a role in the unequal treatment of the two men.  Person A is black and poor.  When he was injured and could no longer play for the football team, he was subjected to racism from the football staff and community.  The football team provided him with the support that he never had from his family.  Once that was gone, he was on his own again.

Person B is Hispanic and comes from a family that is prominent in the community.  I'd like to believe that person B would have been sentenced to prison if he violated his parole but it seems unlikely.  And if he was sentenced it probably wouldn't have been for 10 years. 

No matter what your background, there should be a set list of rules for offenses so that judges don't sentence poor, black people to longer sentences.  A good lawyer or a bad judge shouldn't decide someone's fate.  At some point the criminal justice system needs to stop solving everything with a trip to prison.  Rehabilitation will have to be a key part of  treatment.  The reason we have more people in prison than any other developed country is because people are in jail for non-violent offenses.  We put all of our money into building new prisons and very little on programs to prevent people from going into prison in the first place. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Learning to Let it Go

My brother and I were rarely spanked when we were kids.  We were frequently beaten.  My mother didn't know how to cope with having 2 young children with minimal support so she took it out on us.  Sometimes it would be an overreaction to something that one of us had done wrong.  Usually, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sometimes being in the room, minding your own business was enough to warrant a beating. 

It took me a long time to forgive my mother for this abuse.  For years I would inappropriately hit my friends and boyfriends and overreact violently to situations that other people would just brush off.  I still struggle with controlling my temper and letting things go.  I know that I get this from my mother.

The most difficult thing to deal with is my mother's complete change of opinion on corporal punishment.  At least a couple times a year there is a video of a parent beating their child in a grocery store parking lot or a famous person putting their child in the hospital after a routine spanking.  My mother is the first one to express her outrage at these parents.  She is careful to say that yes, that sort of thing was okay when she was a kid but it's not okay now.  But she never admits that it is the sort of thing that she did as a parent.  That she was wrong.  It is always them.  It is never her.

I don't expect her to have this epiphany.  I know she won't ever apologize or admit that she was wrong.  But it still bothers me.  I don't know if I will ever be able to let things go but at least I'm only screaming at her inside my head.   

Monday, June 29, 2015

Young Bigots

I am always shocked when young people are ignorant.  When I see anyone under the age of 40 smoking I want to shake them.  Don't you know the risks?  Don't you know how awful you smell?  How your habit affects innocent people around you.  It's the same with all the "isms". 

I remember this stupid game that we would play where we would say who we would marry if you had to marry someone in the room.  In high school it was all very innocent.  Everyone named each other and giggled.  Maybe revealing secret crushes.  But it all changed in college. 

In my circle of friends I am almost always the only black face.  It's never an issue until someone makes it an issue.  I would live my life like everyone else and then WHAM, out of nowhere, racism.  During my first Habitat for Humanity spring break we were playing the who would you marry game.  A couple of guys said me which was nice.  But both of them immediately said "But not really.  My family or the people where I grew up wouldn't approve of that" or something similar.  It was a stupid game.  It wasn't a commitment.  But they had to make sure to declare that there was no possibility of marrying me, their friend, solely because I was black.  I will never forget that.

Or my former co-worker who whispered to me that his brother hated that he listened to rap music and called it n*gger music.  I don't even no where that comes from.  I don't know why he felt like he should tell me that or why he wasn't disgusted by his brother's use of the word.  But I know that I trusted him less after that.  If he was willing to tell me that to my face what sort of racism took place in that house, in his life outside of work.

As I watch all the posts on social media from people regarding police brutality and racial profiling, gay marriage and the president, I am shocked on a daily basis by how many young ignorant people there are in my life.  Some of these people hide behind the bible or some ridiculous claims from a right wing organization that say the president is taking away guns, the kids are going to be taught how to be gay in school and other completely insane things.  The worst of it is they believe what they are saying.  They believe that they are right.  That they are justified in this hatred or justification for hatred.  It is depressing. 

With every news report or documentary that I watch it is clear that we have a long way to go as a country.  The sad part is that these people have children that they are teaching to be ignorant.  That this hate will continue on for generations to come.  Maybe these people aren't directly responsible for all the tragedies that happen in this country but the people who are don't think that different from them.  Instead of just saying how much they hate a group of people they are going out and attacking those people.  Trying to eliminate them.  All it takes is one unstable person in a group of angry people to create a tragedy. 

For now all I can do is hide those people from my feed.  There is no reason to subject myself to their hate.  I can only hope that things do not get too much worse before they start to get better.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Love Hate Relationship with Road Races

When I first started running in road races, I was quite the loner.  I was often the only black person there and I was in the back of the pack.  Every once in a while I would make friends during the race.  People who ran around my pace and struck up a conversation during the race or in the recovery tent.  But generally I kept to myself.  I drove to races by myself.  I ran by myself.  After the race I ate my snacks alone, stretched alone and then drove home.

As my confidence increased and I noticed a lot more runners who looked like me and/or ran my pace or slower I loosened up.  I hung out longer after races.  I initiated conversations with people.   I even ran with other people every once in a while.  Occasionally,  I would choose the wrong person to talk to.   Some pseudo-elite runner would bristle at the nerve of someone like me to make a comment about the race or a suggestion about something he was complaining about.  But more often than not my experiences were positive.

For me running is meditation.   It is my time to clear my head, to fantasize, to work through my problems.   I have been told by people that they waved to me or yelled my name during a race but I ignored them.  I am so much in my head during a race that I often don't notice other people, landmarks and course markers.  Luckily I have only gotten lost twice!

Lately running has been less therapeutic and more stressful.  The local 5ks have become a place for families to gather.  For people to sight see and take pictures.  For large herds of inexperienced and rude people to block the paths of runners and turn a leisurely run into an obstacle race.

I find myself running off road to avoid people that are running 5-people across or swerving to avoid people who come to a dead stop in the middle of the road.  I waste energy passing these people or being angry at them.  I find myself tense and relieved when the race is over.

One solution is to line up closer to the front.  But then I risk making myself an obstacle for the faster runners.  I don't want to ruin anyone else's race.  A better solution is to take the local 5ks out of my rotation.  To only participate in longer or more difficult races that will not attract those people. 

This will take  me back to my loner days.  There will be more elite runners.  There will be less people that look like me.  I will be in the back if not last.  But I will have peace again.   I will be able to run my race with my shoulders relaxed and my head cleared.  It will be worth it.  I just hope my self esteem is strong enough to take it in stride.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Holding Strong at 3 weeks!

So I have managed to maintain my 3 lb weight loss for 2 straight weeks at home.  I'm still riding the high of spending a week with a bunch of fit and positive people.  I feel like I've been a better fitness instructor since I came home.  Like my passion has been reignited.  So how can I make this part-time fitness and wellness thing a full-time gig?  Or, more realistically, how can I carry the positive energy that I get out of fitness into the other aspects of my life?  

My goal for this week is to lose 2 lbs.  I'm psyched that I maintained weight loss but I'm no where near my goal weight.  I know what I need to do to maintain my weight.  What I need to figure out is what I need to do to lose weight at home.  Maybe it won't work but for now I'm going to try to maintain this 3 week trend that I've kicked off (1 strict week followed by 2 maintenance weeks).  

Let's not call this a diet, but a new way of life.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My Own Biggest Loser Week

I just got back from a week long fitness convention in Florida.  This is the third one that I have attended but definitely the most positive experience that I have ever had.  There is nothing more motivating than a few thousand fitness professionals and the best instructors in the world at a beautiful destination resort.  

I lost 3 pounds during the past week.  To those of you who are dedicated to your diet and exercise and lose 3-5 lbs every week this might not seem like a lot.  But to someone like me whose weight plateaued a long time ago, this is amazing.  

I know that working out several hours a day and eating lots of small meals between my workouts was key.  This along with the variety of workouts that I was doing and the fact that I was getting a good night of sleep every night.  These are all things that seem like they could be modified to fit into my real life. Because I had a large dinner out with dessert and a glass of wine every night.  I didn't feel deprived.  My digestive issues were better.  My energy still had dips in the afternoon but it was definitely more stable.  

I am terrified that those 3 pounds will be right back next Sunday when I weigh myself.  But there is a little voice in my head that tells me that this could be my jump start.  This could be my biggest loser week.  I spent a week at the ranch and learned what works for me.  Now I just have to figure out how to make things work now that I'm back home with all the responsibility and stress that come with work and family.  

I think its also important to point out that my attitude was much better than it normally is.  I was surrounded by people of all races, ages and sizes.  Sure, there were plenty of size 2 "fitness models" walking around but there were just as many curvy (or dare I say fat) fit folks walking around.  And no one said anything bad to them.  Everyone accepted that they were instructors and had just as much right to be there as everyone else.  

I found myself walking around in my swimsuit top and shorts or in my swimsuit and a t-shirt.   I would never do that at home.  The moment I am out of the pool, I am wrapped from head to toe in a beach towel and hustling my way into the locker room.  Maybe I need to stop doing that.  Maybe if I pretend to be confident and comfortable in my own skin, I'll start to feel like it. Maybe this is the beginning of me loving me just a little more than I care about what other people think about me.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Big Dream in the Sky

Fleet Feet has been advertising for new employees for a while now.  And every time I see the post I think about it.  Why not me?  I started running track in middle school.  I've been doing road races since high school.  I am a runner.  But then reality sets in and I know that would never happen. 

That I would never be able to stand beside these sub-7 minute milers with their 5% body fat and feel like their equal.  I know that elite runners would not trust me to be an expert.  That the same people that assume I'm a walker when I come in the store to get fitted for shoes would not take my advice or want my help.  The assholes who say with shock "You're running the half?" when I go to pick up my race number and there is a shorter race on the same day.  Like it is just unfathomable that someone that looks like me could be a runner.  That the hundreds of people that look like me at races are an allusion.

I could coordinate group runs.  I could teach fitness classes.  I could make people like me feel good.  I would try not to make assumptions and treat people with respect.  I would be the healthiest me ever because I would be surrounded by healthy people.  A little color and a little curvyness are exactly what Fleet Feet needs.  

But the reality is that no matter how many life affirming groups that I am a part of online I will never be fully accepted by some runners.  I will always be judged.  And I will always feel self conscious because of that.  I could never be confident enough to fit some elite high school athlete for shoes and discuss his mechanics and give him tips on how to be better.  And that makes me sad.  

Maybe if I lived in a more diverse area but to be the only non-white person and the only thick runner would be too much for me.  I could put on the bravado and fake it but inside I would be constantly on edge and I know that's not a life I want to live. But I can fantasize about a world where it could happen.