Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once and all the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.
My words are: piano, swap, square dance, pardon, self-improvement
They were submitted by: https://cognitivescript.blogspot.com/
Unless you're new to Climaxed or my life in general it won't come as a shock that I've spent 10+ years writing inmates. I started in 2007 diving headfirst into it with a death row inmate who claimed innocence and had spent more than half his lifetime behind bars. It wasn't an easy start; it hasn't been an easy friendship, and it started me on a path volunteering my time that I never really thought I would be on...
Since the first letter was sealed and mailed, I've written a couple dozen people and have managed to help them, legally or emotionally, in whatever way I can manage. Unfortunately what I can manage isn't always enough to save lives from a capital punishment system I passionately disagree with.
It wasn't always that way for me, that passionate disagreement. When I first wrote, I had been a supporter of harsh prison terms and capital punishment. Still reeling from someone I loved dearly being murdered at just 20 years old a few years before this, it was a shock to my system to be introduced in letters to a rather normal guy hellbent on self-improvement, insisting on his innocence, and who had a tragic backstory that would rival those in Lifetime movie specials. I expected a villian, a Black Hat sort of fellow, who would confirm my belief in monsters.
I had a lot of self-improvement and growing up to do myself.
I had to learn and have learned through writing that the world isn't black or white, good or evil. You can be good and still do an evil thing under specific circumstances. You can be good and be at the wrong place at the wrong time and get sentenced for life without parole for a murder committed while you slept, completely unaware. You can be convicted and sentenced for a murder that never even happened wholly undeserving of that sentence but not be by any means what the average person would define as "good." I've met all those people in my time writing. I've pushed for media attention on a case that ultimately got overturned through the efforts of a high-powered probono law firm, and a man waiting to die for a crime that was never committed got to go home to his family. I've helped get a sentence commutation on a felony murder case that started out as life without and ended (so far) with 25 years. And I've written and befriended 3 people who were varying mixes of good and evil who were killed already by the state with my long-time off and on pen pal facing an execution date again in October. There have been wins and losses over the last decade, but I don't know that they really balance each out. The wins never give back the time lost, and the losses...well...the losses are not easy for me. There is such a mixture of emotion facing each one knowing even if the person gets a stay, he'll never get a pardon. 99% of the time this legal square dance will end in state-sanctioned murder, and while I'd never swap my life for theirs or (in most cases) support anything but a lengthy prison term, I still grieve. I still miss them. I still carry a little part of them with me. And I rage about the sociopolitical landscape we live in that demonizes mental illness and addiction and values the dollar over vulnerable populations.
If monsters do exist, we create them.
The morality of this, my writing letters, can also be difficult. I absolutely understand in clear terms what was done or not done and the preciousness of lives lost. I don't *just* sympathize with those I write like some Mistress of Mayhem collecting Murderer edition baseball cards. It takes time and talking and learning about the person to be able to sort through and reconcile what they did with who they have become behind bars. Sometimes I help that process along. Sometimes I am the needed stability that fosters change. Sometimes they help me understand myself more than I help them. And sometimes, sadly, I have to admit it's a lost cause and move on.
Learning to play the piano might have been an easier pasttime than providing support to inmates. As I face this upcoming october execution with a mix of trepidation, grief, and relief tinged with guilt over that relief I'm left evaluating who I am and what I do once again. I'm still grieving from an execution in July and jaded over how badly a man with severe mental illness was failed and all the lives it cost including his own. And here I am again, unsure of what the next few weeks will bring.
Is it worth it?
Mostly that answer is yes. I feel like I am helping people that society has otherwise forgotten. I know the support I give is invaluable and leads to change. I've seen angry, racist misogynists turn it around. I've seen the levels of violence in a subculture that requires violent reactions almost completely stop. I've seen hope grow in a once barren field of fucks to give. It's work and love and understanding and empathy. And it's not all one sided. But there are times when the weight of it is absolutely too much to carry without wondering if I'm absolutely batshit crazy for pushing on. There are times when I think maybe I can't handle the dance anymore, so I stop the music, change the playlist, and find a new way to move.
Baking In A Tornado http://www.bakinginatornado.com/2017/09/expectorant-expectant-use-your-words.html
Cognitive Script https://cognitivescript.blogspot.com/
The Blogging 911 http://theblogging911.com/blog
On the Border https://dlt-lifeontheranch.blogspot.com/2017/09/sticking-to-it.html
The Bergham Chronicles http://berghamchronicles.blogspot.com
Southern Belle Charm http://www.southernbellecharm.com
Bookworm in the Kitchen http://www.bookwormkitchen.com/
Part-time Working Hockey Mom http://thethreegerbers.blogspot.ch/