I am going to scale back on posts on this blog for a few days while I work on building something new….well, it isn’t new to me…it’s more like rebuilding a home for myself after I foolishly tore the last ‘home’ to smithereens.
A bit of back-history; hang in with me here, please. This is so incredibly hard to write…
At one point I was an extremely dedicated volunteer for prison reform and prisoners. To this day I am unable to retrace the steps that led me into the work – I have not ever been in prison nor do I have a family member inside. I saw a problem I thought I could help with and so I jumped in full force, no holds barred.
Due to my inexperience and the fact that I stepped into the work without a full understanding of what I was getting into, it did not take very long for me to lose my way within the movement. I got caught and tangled in the middle of a bunch of racial/political factions that I hadn’t even really known existed prior to getting into the advocacy work. I was a carpenter…what did I know about ANYTHING?? I believed everyone behind bars deserved equal help and that race, religion, political beliefs or gang affiliation had no place in the decision of whom to help – or not help.
To this day I believe that to be the truth…at least it should be. All dividing lines should be erased so that people can find strength in working together. It’s a nice theory but not one that I am sure I will see come to fruition in my lifetime.
Unfortunately, the road to hell really can be paved with good intentions and my good intentions led me straight into an ugly world that I still can’t fully comprehend. For a little Jewish-raised girl (me), the world of skinheads and hatred was not exactly one that I ever planned on walking into…but walk…fall?…into that world, I did.
I did not then, nor do I now, support a single idea of the neo-Nazis.
What I DID support was the idea that they deserved the same help that was offered to every other prisoner. Other advocates strongly disagreed with that notion and a swift, brutal and ugly falling out occurred. I puffed up my Ego, lost all clear vision…and dove headfirst straight into working only with the skinheads…just because a handful of people used the wrong choice of words (you can’t/you better not dare to do that) when trying to advise me of the dangers of such a move. Oh really? Tell me that I cannot do something? To hell with that; just watch me!
Could I have been more immature? *Snort* I doubt it.
I am not sure I will ever be able to wash away the ugliness of what I experienced; the stain of that intense level of hatred I came face to face with doesn’t scrub away easily. Helping people whose ideas, beliefs…and even tattoos…turned my stomach was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Slinking around like a dirty-little-Jew just waiting to be *exposed* in their world was…terrifying. But damn, I’d backed myself into a corner with the other advocates and prisoners and so I stubbornly tried to continue in spite of my constant fear and nausea.***See side note below for more on why I did not just walk away when I should have***
I even got it in my head that if I could learn to look past the anger, ugliness and hatred they (neo-Nazi prisoners) wear like armor and see love that I could maybe teach others to do the same. Could you look at a face covered in Swastikas and a neck covered in the word, “HATE” and find love? If I could do it, could I then show others that it could be done? Could seeing beyond their hate & reaching out to them teach them to love somehow?
I still don’t know the answer to that one; I reached ONE single prisoner.
In other words, I failed. Badly.
All of my little do-gooder intentions led me straight into a dark place which I am still fighting to get up and out of . I not only supported men that most of America (and the world) despise but by doing so I probably helped strengthen them – something I am horrified to realize now in retrospect. I helped people who would set my father on fire without thought or care. And I am ashamed of the pain that caused him and others in my life…that shame will tie me to the darkness until I can mentally work it all out, which I obviously haven’t totally managed to do just yet.
My foray into that bleak world was a very short one, thank goodness. I took in everything; I learned and understood things I might never have understood otherwise…but at the end of it all, I just…quit. Everything. I destroyed everything that I’d worked for years to build…just obliterated everything and then I retreated into…nothingness.
I was ashamed to have even danced on the edges of that fire of hatred and division. Ashamed of where my Ego & Pride had led me. I was fearful someone would find out my secret and scream from the rooftops that, “Rebecca is a racist” in spite of the fact that it is not true. Imagine a Jewish raised, Irish, Cherokee, Melungeon woman who married a Peruvian and had his children…a skinhead? It doesn’t jive, does it? Rebecca was trying to avoid racism initially by refusing to see the Nazi prisoners as different from any other prisoners…and dumb ass that I am, I ended up inadvertently supporting everything that I despise.
So why the confession of my sins, why here…why now?
Because I still have a lot to offer. Because I can still help. Because I desperately want to redeem myself and to build something good from the destruction I caused. Because the world is in such a mess that I can’t justify allowing a mistake – even a horrible mistake like the one I made - to keep me sitting on the sidelines for the rest of my life. Reforming our prisons is still an issue that raises a level of passion in me like nothing else possibly can.
My journey was a misguided one, no doubt. But the lessons I learned make it hard to regret it in some ways. I see things now in a way that allows me to have a unique understanding of just how much hatred still stands in the way of the Unity it will require to ultimately fight & defeat the prison industrial complex. Prisons are a microcosm of society; if we are paralyzed by division out here in the free world, that division is a hundred times worse in prisons. Officials and guards actively work to use prisoners against one another and use groups inside to carry out their misdeeds. It works, too. Dividing in order to conquer is nothing new and our prison system has it down to a perfected science and it sucks…it just straight up SUCKS that it works well enough to prevent any real progress from being made towards reforming anything.
I realize we are still millions of miles away from the day when all of us will set aside our hatred and learn to love one another.
But maybe…just maybe…a few people will catch on and the idea of Unity will spread and eventually reach those who need it most…men like the ones I got tangled up with. I guess I won’t know unless I get myself back on my feet and enter the battle again, will I?
And with that being said, I am going back to work on the new website and if I did not just lose all of my readers with this post, I invite you to check it out when I am done.***There was a lot going on at this point – we’d spent months working to expose abuses inside a solitary confinement unit in one prison…we’d raised enough hell to force an investigation and the skinheads had been instrumental in documenting the abuses and getting word out of the prison and into the light of day. They provided sworn affidavits and kept records on behalf of the prisoners who were too mentally far gone to help themselves. To stop at that exact time would have meant tossing all of that work down the drain before seeing it through to completion and in spite of my misgivings about the people I was working with, I decided to push on and see it to the end.***