ELLA Foundation Blog

Newest Blog: #makeamericafreenow

Dear Fellow Inhabitants of these United States of America:

I just returned home from a 5-day journey to Washington, DC to participate in @StarvinForJustice's Annual Fast & Vigil as a speaker, and also to take my 4-year old son on a vacation where he was able to learn a little history, have a lot of fun, and learn early how to speak out and advocate for what one believes in...no matter what that belief or cause may be.

Walking miles and miles through DC with a child who asks very pointed, very intelligent, and very incessant questions, all the while trying to not pass out from heat exhaustion AND compose a speech in my head for my turn at the mic in front of the Supreme Court, I still found plenty of head space devoted to thinking about where this country has been, where I hope this country will go, and where I fear it is degrading too.

Another thing I kept trying to figure out in my headspace is how many of us are truly free this holiday meant to celebrate the birth of both America and freedom.

Turns out, America is not the land of the free. America has become the land of the illusion of being free.

Here's how I break it down.

There are currently 300+million people living on American soil. That is 300+ million people who should be celebrating freedom and the American dream just by virtue of being here in this supposedly successful democratic Republic, the land of the free.

But let's take out the more than 2.3 million people who are currently subject to the American phenomenon we so benignly call mass incarceration; one of whom is my firstborn son serving 40 years for Capital Murder in Texas.

That takes us down to 297 million or so who may have caust to celebrate freedom and the American dream.

Bul millions of them are most likely missing a locked up loved one desperately, who is most likely missing freedom desperately while trying to survive a cruel and racist system of punishment instead of being offered rehabilitation and made ready for a productive and meaningful life outside the cages they now live in.

Or we could go whole pie instead and take out the 7.3 million Americans, or 1 in 31 adults who are behind bars, on parole, or on probation. You do the math. 

And what about the families of these 7.3 million+ individuals? All are the sons & daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, loves of someone. While it is true there are many who have no one, there are more who have many someones both young and old. What does involvement in the criminal justice do to these millions of vastly complex families and their members?

How does one even count the numbers of those affected by the criminal injustice system of America? I've tried finding the hard numbers, estimates, stats of any kind, and it was impossible for me to do.

I may not be able to find the numbers, but I can certainly tell you what the effects on these families are, because I've been living very difficultly with many of them for almost 40+ years and work with clients who have struggled thousands of years between them under the effects caused by loving someone who is not free.

Depression. PTSD. Complicated grief. Addiction. Bi-polor. These are my personal demons but for others fill in the blank of the mental illness diagnosis, because those of us with a loved one who is not free live with all and every sort, kind, variety, and intensity of mental illness you can name and not even imagine unless you yourself live with it too.

Suffice it to say, the mind, body, and soul are all debilitated when one must live with mental illness day by day, month by month, year after year.

Or how about financial instability or ruin? Huge legal fees. Loss of housing and employment. Bankruptcy.

Suicide.

Hospitalization. Stress related illness.

Loss of children. Death of children. Execution of children. Abuse of children.

Loss of family support. Loss of family.

Loss of the goodwill of others who think they are free or may be free for now. Looks of anger, shame, and disgust on a pretty damn regular basis. If you or someone you love committed a crime it must be because you did something wrong, right?

Loss of meaning. Loss of innocence. Loss of all you once held dear and hoped for.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. The nightmare of a life after violence is rather unfathomable and baffling unless you have experienced it firsthand, but it is the reality of so many millions of us.

And that does not include the 2.7 million people who have been the victim of a violent crime as of 2015. Or their vastly complex families and their members. Again I could not find numbers about how many ancillary victims of violence there are right now in America.

Like those not free, all are the sons & daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, loves of someone. While it is true there are many who have no one, there are more who do. What does loving a traumatized or dead human being do to these millions of people?

The criminal injustice system would have you believe these two groups have nothing in common. They are wrong. Victims and perpetrators have everything in common.

Speaking as the mother of both an murderer and a murder victim, the daughter of a murdered father, I can tell you with absolute authority there is no difference in what victims and perpetrators and their loved one must deal with emotionally.

Again, fill in the blank of the mental illness diagnosis because those of us with a loved one who has been traumatized or murdered live with all and every sort, kind, variety, and intensity of mental illness you can name and not even imagine unless you yourself live with it too.

All debilitate the mind, body, and soul when one must live with them day by day, month by month, year after year.

All the rest we share in common too. It makes no difference what side of the crime scene tape we fall when we are dealing with the fallout.

Financial instability or ruin. Huge legal fees. Loss of housing and employment. Bankruptcy.

Suicide.

Hospitalization. Stress related illness.

Loss of children. Death of children. Abuse of children.

Loss of family support. Loss of family.

Loss of the goodwill of others who think they are forever exempt from the stigma and experience of violence. Looks of anger, shame, and disgust on a pretty damn regular basis, because even though you may be a victim, it had to somehow been your fault that something so horrible happened, right?

Loss of meaning. Loss of innocence. Loss of all you once held dear and hoped for.

We are not free.

We are locked up, under surveillance, under supervision, under suspicion, and locked in a system that incarcerates, executes, and drives more of its own citizens literally crazy than any other industrialized country in the entire world (except for maybe China).

How many of us are not free today? Too many to count. Too many to be humane. Too many to be just. Just too many period.

My guess is there are at least 100+ million people in these United States of America who are not truly free today. And these are just the ones who are somehow criminally justice involved as a perpetrator, a victim, or loved ones of either or both. I have not even touched on those living in poverty, with no physical or mental health care, with no jobs and no future, no education, the homeless.......America is on the slippery slope today.

So what are we going to do about this lack of freedom on this "freedom" day?Dissatisfaction and anger seem to be at all all time high. Hatred is seeping out of America's pores. It has Americans alarmingly stressed out.

I don't want to live in this America. I gave up the angry way of life awhile ago because it only leads to destruction...of the self, of everything you hold dear, of everything that could possibly mean anything one day if only we choose to create rather than destroy. Life has destruction hardwired in. It is our opportunity to create. We do not need to add to the destruction. Only learn from it in order to minimize it; we need to create.

What we need to do on this day of almost freedom is make a choice to set down arms and take up brains, take up love, take up pens, take up non-violent protests, take up anything other than hatred, violence, and closed mindedness.

We need to start acting as if we really do want to be the land of the free and the home of the brave and not the land where every citizen has or will experience of loss of liberty, loss of life, and the loss of the ability to pursue happiness.

Go see the fireworks. Enjoy the fact that while America is not really the land of the free, we at least still have the potential to be if we get off our asses and do something. Anything. We are a nation of people who have done nothing but overcome adversity and struggled to be free.

We are obviously still struggling, but where there is a will, there is a way.

It is time to #makeamericafreenow.

Please light a candle for those of us #notfree and post a pic of it on your social media pages using the hashtags #ELLAFoundation #makeamericafreenow #notfree. Add your positive message of how you think #freedom can be realized in America today.

Please do copy and paste as you see fit.

 

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Topics: Insider, Charity Lee, Motherhood, Paris Lee Bennett, capital punishment, TDCJ, The ELLA Foundation, unconditional love, murdered child, grief, death anniversary, healing from grief, Helping Incarcerated Women, Women and Children in Poverty