The Road To Hell…And Redemption

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.

Travis1

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.***

13 comments on “The Road To Hell…And Redemption

  1. ephraiyim says:

    Rebecca,
    Oh my goodness! You reached ONE. That is so amazing. Loving people who, sometimes, try so hard to make themselves unlovable is an incredible task.. I can’t imagine the emotional drain this must have had but still, to have reached one…

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    • Thank you, Ephraiyim. It was an experience not to be forgotten, for sure. There is beauty in unexpected places and teachers who sometimes come in forms we don’t immediately recognize…

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  2. Just get back out in the battle field and shine your beautiful winning light! XO Sheri

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  3. Honestly? The fact that you managed to even reach one person is laudable and truly surprising, in this day and age. The fact that you also managed to work with some of the worst people in existence (in that they are so filled with hate, willful ignorance and unreasoning violence) and actually get some real good done with them (an investigation is a real start) is also laudable and truly amazing. I honestly can’t imagine what you went through and what you heard and saw in the process and, quite frankly, I don’t want to. You have my respect and gratitude for doing so as long as you did and accomplishing so much.

    Perhaps it’s time to move your battlefield inward and take time to repair the damage done to your own psyche and to rebuild your self-esteem, which seems to be low after going through what you did. You are a better person for for taking on the prison system and helping people, because I’m pretty certain that what you did managed to help people you will never know about. It’s time to realize that and to allow yourself to recover fully and to move on in good health, both physical and emotional.

    Best wishes and many positive vibes to you.

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    • Sulien – Thank you…sincerely, I DO mean thank you.

      I’m in a good place now; I took 2 years of near total solitude to rest, heal and contemplate everything in order to extract the lesson I knew had to be hiding in there somewhere. I couldn’t accept that all of that…bullshit…was for nothing but was too dazed to immediately make sense of it all.

      There are no words to describe the beauty I see in that man in the photo. His first letter to me was so harsh, mistrusting and hate-filled that I nearly peed my pants but we needed his help because of his view/hearing range…so I just kept hammering away; finally when he’d pushed every last one of my buttons over the limit and I told him off with language so foul that it’d not be even heard on a ship full o’ sailors did the miracle happen. He responded with roaring laughter and an offer to provide all the assistance we needed and he came through BIG TIME. He showed me kindness that you’d not imagine and I have so many beautiful songs, drawings, snippets of books…he just poured out love to my husband and I both once that shell was pierced. You just never know what form life-teachers will take 

      My shame comes from knowing that I caused pain to people here in my family and my life. Something in me hardened along the way and I regret that hardness bled out into my words and actions. Everyone thought I had lost my mind (maybe I had?) and imagine my dad, president of his synagogue…and his daughter a known associate of Nazis? I had the honor of knowing several survivors of the Holocaust during my years at temple and I always felt I was betraying them as well. In order to get support for these guys from the outside I had to swim really deep in the muck and join some of the online forums like StormFront…there. Are. Just. No. Words. No way to describe the stuff that I saw and heard. To make it worse, I was adored even though I never really pretended to be one of them. I was some hero-warrior-princess and was their *Sister* and I’d sit here at my desk and look at the photo of me & my father at my Bat Mitzvah…and look at my screen and the prison artwork *gifts* I was receiving covered in their numbers and symbols and all of it… it was bizarre beyond anything I’d ever known.

      Only time can mend some things but in the meantime, I cannot justify not trying to take what I learned and using it now for good and with more thoughtfulness and focus. I am a walking encyclopedia of prison-based information from names of private prison executives to the lawmakers they pay off to statistics, help manuals, soy lawsuits…the REAL shame would be for me to stay in solitude and let that knowledge rot when it has so much potential for good.

      Sorry for the ramble and thank you, thank you again for your kindness and kind words. ♥

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  4. Ray's Mom says:

    Waiting for the new site. You took on a giant and won one for the record – that is meaningful.

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  5. desertrose says:

    Remember Rebecca,hatred and racism is learned and these men may have committed heinous crimes, they may be filled with hate . but in many cases it is all they know. I commend you for your courage and your resolve. Knowing that you were able to reach one is proof that loving intention and hard work pays off and that all is not lost. Thank you for what you do , thank you for your effort and thank you for the love that you share.

    Blessings of Love and Light to you and yours.

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    • Thanks, desertrose, the kindness is appreciated.

      Some of the guys I got to know were just KIDS! They’d been in and out of the system from a young age usually; they were in for not-very-serious charges initially but the prison regulations are getting to where every minor offense adds on more time. They go in scared witless, often get beaten senseless and look for protection any damn place they can find. A few men were true-blue Nazi’s – most were just desperate and trying to cover the fear. You can see it in their eyes the same way that cold evilness shows in the eyes of truly racist haters and violent repeat criminals. And the youngsters clung to me like a mama always asking advice, confiding their dreams, etc. Very few people in prison now are beyond redemption and a huge portion don’t belong there at all. Agh…this world…so much wrong but so much beauty and love..!
      Peace & Blessings to you as well and thank you again for the kindness and encouragement.

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  6. moorbey says:

    I lost my way 4 a time an spent time in prison And because i came in with an understanding of prison politrikz and a panther cub and a gangster i walked the yard and dealt with all races of prisonerz and was able to move amongst everybody and in doing so i was called into the wardenz office and told i my 5 yr bit that if he had his way that i would never walk out of there 4 i was a threat to prison security because i was bringing solidarity,unity and even organizing and that was not good. But i survived with a little help, no alot of help from some liferz.who put me back on the right path to redemption and fighting 4 political prisonerz and politicized prisonerz and all prisonerz serving time. My Blog speakz 4 them. Panther Love

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    • Good to know I am not nuts for thinking that if there isn’t unity, it is harder to accomplish anything. Also for the confirmation the the wardens work to keep the separation going. Very glad you DID walk out and the warden didn’t get his wish of keeping you in – too many men end up falling into the trap they set up. Especially the youngsters…the kids, they’re the ones that just break my heart because they are more lost than anyone. Thanks for all that you do; the world needs more like you around to speak up for right.

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