This Heart Work

Let me first start by saying I am making a commitment to myself to be more consistent with blogging. As I have said before, I write as an outlet to the range of emotions I experience on a daily basis. I write because it is cheaper than therapy and always available to me.

As I prepare to leave New York today, touching down in the Bay late tonight and back to work tomorrow, I am grateful for this life I have intentionally created for myself. I travel as a form of Self Care. I do Healing work as a form of Self Care and because Black and Brown communities are constantly under siege. Black and Brown bodies are constantly surveilled, harassed, arrested, over incarcerated and murdered by police without consequence.

When I left work last week, I worked endlessly to make sure a man, who was in custody, would be able to be a part of his 17 year old son’s Rosary and Funeral. The 17 year old died in a bike accident. “Be a part of” means be “present” via Zoom. It is heartbreaking to deliver the news (I didn’t in this instance), check in with someone after hearing life changing, devastating tragic news and continue to follow up with them. For those in custody for years, I remember the anniversaries of these losses. I check in periodically especially during holidays and other special days.

I share this not for any accolades or support. I share this because working with those behind the walls is Heart Work that will break your heart. There is really no way to describe what it is like to work in a jail. Some people come to the jail to do their work. I work in the jail. My office is in the jail. I am always traveling and involved with many other things for that reason. More than 40 hours every week I am in a jail. When you are called to do this work, when you see the humanity in others, working in a jail lands a lot differently.

For me there is a constant checking of self. I literally work for the very system that disproportionately arrest, convicts and sentences Black and Brown people. I am constantly around people who fail to see the humanity in those who are incarcerated. Inmate, prisoner, convict…but do you know his/her name? Do you know he is more than his/her charges and/or conviction? Do you know that “hurt people hurt people” is not simply a cliche? Are you aware that, conversely healed people can help others heal?

Untreated trauma and unprocessed pain manifest in many ways. One thing I know to be true is America can not arrest nor incarcerate its way to safety. If that was true, with 2.2 million people living in cages, we would be the safest country ever. No, until we understand that jails and prisons are not the answer, we will never be that great nation people swear America is.

The other day I was building with someone who, at the age of 5, witnessed a murder. The murder occurred right in front of his house as he played outside. When he was 8, as he looked out his bedroom window, as kids do, he witnessed the police kill a young man. There was no conversation about what he had seen, much less any type of treatment. That man today is serving life without the possibility of parole. He was 19 when he was sentenced. All that anger, fear and pain is going to manifest in some shape, form or fashion. His story, his trauma is no aberration.

In Black and Brown communities we have liquor stores but no grocery stores. We have a police stations and substations but no Trauma Recovery Centers. In most cities we have a Victims of Violent Crime Program that is part of the Office of the District Attorney. Who, in the hell, thought that was a good idea for Black and Brown communities? There is a Black Mom in SF who has one son in jail charged with murder. Her middle son was murdered in San Francisco. The same entity who is prosecuting one son is, what, going to help her get “closure” and “justice” for her other son? The same District Attorneys office? Is it me or is that just another way this system is all wrong.

This Healing work, this Heart work is not for the faint at heart. It is not for anyone who isn’t willing to rage against the machine. Every time I think about leaving my job, I am reminded if I am not there, who will advocate for them? Who will be relentless in pushing lines for changes? Who will stand on their principle of never putting paper and press releases over people? Who else will refuse to refer to those in custody as inmates regardless of who they are talking to or in a meeting with? Literally if not me, then who?

If you have a loved one incarcerated, regardless to whether or not they did or didn’t commit the crime, reach out to them, write a letter or check out flixshop where you can send a postcard for less than a dollar. If you don’t have a loved one incarcerated, count your blessings and consider reaching out to someone who is incarerated. You never know how close someone is to giving up. I spoke to a young man who told me he hasn’t had a visit in over 10 years. he is a Juvenile Lifer (see my post on that). He was 15 years old when he committed his crime. He was sentenced to 25 to life. He is 37.

No one should live in a cage. No one should be judged by and known for the worst decision they ever made. No one should be considered beyond redeemable. No one should be in prison longer than they have been free.

This Heart Work Is Heart Breaking.

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