A BID FOR COMPASSION!
I read and listen to motivating and spiritual material daily and prefer a positive energy around me most of the time, but can we just for a minute admit that this planet sucks? Compassion is not in great supply. I hear a certain motivational speakers doing their rah-rah-rah routine – make your day a good day and all – and I sometimes think to myself, “Yeah, tell that to a mother who has just buried her child.” There is a time and a place for every emotion and there is a time and place for the perpetually cheerful to recognize where they are.
One of my closest friends, Audrius, was picked up by INS six months ago and our family has chosen to stand by him. He is sitting in prison and I am his main contact to the outside world. The support of my family and our community is the only hope he has for justice. If he did not have us . . . I just can’t think what this experience, which is torturous for us just to witness, would be like for him. He is already living a hell my brain refuses to imagine. He committed no crimes in the eight and a half years he lived among us, but has now lost everything and has the full might of the United States Government leveled against him in an attempt to rip him from his family and us permanently.
Audrius came here illegally for personal reasons. I know why he came. Honestly, if I had been in his shoes I would have done the same thing. I do not know many people who would not have done exactly as he did. Anyone with a sense of honor would. If INS, ICE, DHS or whatever they are calling themselves this week, has their way he will be deported when all this is said and done. Because of the Eastern European country he is from, he could possibly loose his life if and when he returns. He broke a civil code, that is true, but who was harmed? Many are being harmed now by what is being done to him.
This man is young; I have a daughter who is older than he is. He has children, which has much to do with why he is here. What would you do – what would you risk – for your children? He is the sort of man who is motivated by duty and as long as I have known him he has gone above and beyond that call of duty in everything he does, whether it’s trudging through a raging storm for three hours to find a stranger’s lost puppy or taking care of the chores at our house, unasked, when my husband and I had to make multiple trips back and forth from Massachusetts for a medical emergency. He’s always been there whenever anyone needed help, always with a smile on his face and determination to overcome whatever hurt existed in any of our lives.
Audrius is an incredibly compassionate man. When I would become upset at some slight from a friend he would talk me out of it. When something broke, he’d fix it. When someone else needed aid, he’d rally the rest of us to help. Whenever someone was hurting, he would make it his business to lift their pain. I have never seen him turn his back on injustice, never seen him brush something off because it did not affect him directly. To this man, if someone is hurting it matters. Now he is facing the might of our government intending to take him away from those of us who cherish him. I am a citizen of this country. My ancestors fought and died to make this country free. Now the will of our country’s immigration system blots my faith in that freedom. For the first time I am struck by how very insignificant our family is in the eyes of our country – struck by how little we really matter. I had thought our laws existed to protect us – in this case, from what?
This man, this friend, has become part of our family. We are all involved in trying to help him, but we are only American citizens, an American family. We mean nothing when countries flex their muscles, even if one of those countries is our own. Because Audrius comes from another world, a place where compassion is not always seen as a virtue; because he served his country in war and has seen men at their worst he has a different perspective on what is important. He has shown those of us who have lived more sheltered lives, safe from oppression, how precious life is, how every moment with our family and friends should be cherished, how life must be lived to its fullest. He has taught us the true meaning of compassion, not as pretty words for charity drives, but as a way to live – compassion not granted to others through rose colored glasses when conditions fit our criteria, but granted freely with full knowledge of the failings of those we grant it to . . . with full knowledge of our own failings as well. I have had to confront a lot of the realities of this planet over the last six months. I have never been known as an out of control optimist, but neither have I been forced to look at life on this earth in its entirety and confront the cruelty, the pain, hunger and thirst, the disease and death that surrounds us all every waking moment.
The hopelessness that so many people know every day has now touched my life more closely through what is now happening to this man and I find it crushing. All the motivating talks, all the positive thinking seems callous in the face of such massive injury to one’s sense of justice, of common decency. Yet, what do I do to keep functioning through my friend’s time of peril? I am told daily that this is hopeless. I face daily the impossibility of helping Audrius overcome the forces that are being brought against him. He is actually handling it with more grace and courage than I am. He has known what this world is and made his peace with it. I have not known. I am just now finding out. I had thought this could not happen – not in this country. I had thought the heartless mentality I am witnessing now had ended when Nixon left office. It will take time for me to come to terms with this new reality. So I listen to my motivational tapes. I read spiritual text, I kneel in prayer and give thanks for each precious day I am granted with those I love. I give thanks for the gift of communication I have been given . . . and I vow that I will show compassion to those who are suffering around me and not flaunt the fortunes I have been blessed with in front of them. I will show them the respect and the compassion they deserve. I will recognize their humanity. I will respect their right to hurt and grieve and I will do what I can to understand. No one can have a wonderful day every single day if they are involved, honestly involved, in what is around them. Audrius, has taught me to stop blaming others when this life overwhelms them and threatens to swallow them up. To have compassion for all of mankind, not just those who live the lives we are willing to experience. They are part of our world, a part of us. It is time to embrace them in their entirety.
What is it like having a family member or close friend in prison? Death . . . nothing else comes as close to loosing a person to death as prison does. The first reaction is, of course, shock. You have done nothing wrong and yet suddenly your world is not under your control – you have lost someone important to you and you have no recourse, no relief for the pain. You feel foolish, the person is not dead, but while they struggle with their new surroundings, adjusting to survive in conditions that do not promote survival you must go on with the life you have had right along – minus one. Then the guilt sets in. You walk out to the car and become acutely aware that that person can not do the same. You go shopping – again – the one in prison can not. You cook your family a good meal and sit down to the table with them to eat it and are instantly reminded that the one who is missing is not getting a good meal, can not sit with those who love him and, if held in a privatized prison, is not getting enough to eat at all. Survivors guilt, I think they call it.
Over time the guilt passes. You gradually get used to the fact that that person is not with you and will not be with you and you go on, but with a sense of unreality. Your feelings of justice, of the innate rightness of the world – the belief that in the end good will prevail – that faith that has stayed around since childhood despite all attempts to shatter it now lies in shreds about you. Perhaps it is different if the person incarcerated is perceived to be held for a valid reason. There are people in prison who have actually hurt someone – people who belong there. I do not know if that does make a difference. My only experience with having someone in prison is my son doing time in Massachusetts for forgetting to take his unloaded gun out of his car while visiting cousins in that state - not even a crime where we live in New Hampshire - and now my close friend being detained by INS, a gentle family man whose only crime is wanting to be a father to his children. He is now held as a federal prisoner – in with drug dealers, gang members and murderers.
While my son did his time we were allowed “contact” visits. We sat with him in a large room with many other prisoners and their families. A brief hug was allowed at the beginning and end of each visit – a small life-line of humanity in a sea of lost dreams and ruined lives. With my friend we are not allowed even that, no quick hug – us to him or him to us. Just that simple thing – a hug – would bring him back to our lives a little, but those who took him from us will not hear of it. We must see him behind glass as we would a dangerous man. I find myself wondering what it must be like for his two young girls to have to see their daddy that way. He is not a citizen of this country, so to our system his humanity is not considered relevant . . . but his daughters are citizens. I am a citizen. My ancestors fought in the Revolution – signed the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. All of his friends, of which he has many, are citizens, most of them tracing their roots back to the revolution. What about us? These thoughts drift in and out of each day. Eventually you stop asking why, stop looking into the faces of captors for some understanding that you are there, that you are affected by this too, that you matter. There is no justice and you are a cipher. How appropriate that the census is being taken as this goes on – we are being counted and categorized – and that is all. You adjust. You learn. A government “of the people, by the people and for the people” becomes a lie. You exist to serve your government in whatever way your government sees fit to allow you to live. “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Replace “country” with “government” and you come closer to the ugly truth.
Then reality crashes in. The bills come. To communicate with the one in jail takes money – a lot of money – but he has been one of you for so long – he has done so much for so many – you can not abandon him now. At first you are not allowed. You know his humanity, his well being depends on contact with the non-criminal world that does still exist outside those thick cold walls. You want to reassure him, to be reassured by him that he is okay, but it is not allowed till money has been paid to private prison phone companies. A dollar a minute, or there about. You can not call him, he can only call you – the charges paid by you . . . in advance. To be in touch will cost – a mortgage, a child’s college fund – perhaps a second job might cover it. The intent appears to be to cut all contact with the civilized world – to train him, degrade him into a lowered existence – to accept his role as a bound man, controlled and owned by the state till they decide what his fate shall be and with that decision, what his children’s and family’s and all our fates shall be. Contact with the outside, non-criminal world is discouraged by sheer expense, what other outcome can there be with such a system but more crime, you wonder. Can’t they see that? They must see that. This system is so deliberately constructed it is clear they intend that. Your faith in humanity sinks further.
Finally, after 10 days they will allow a visit – but only one or two a week – on designated days at designated times. I live in the community from which my friend was taken so I must drive four hours down, four hours back – so that I can see him and give him the news of friends for half an hour. His wife can only see him once a week – she must bring their children to this dismal warehouse for humans – 1,400+ people stacked and packed, held in limbo to be dusted off twice a week for half an hour and reminded of what it is they have lost – if they are so lucky as to have someone who can, who will, visit. I take the day that his wife can not be tjere. The drive is long and grueling, but it is unthinkable that he should be left without that human contact for the tiny window of time that it is allowed.
When you visit an inmate you are stripped of your jewelry, your dignity goes too and you sit across from him at last – grimy palm-printed glass between you, a phone to talk through. By now he has probably lost weight. My son is very tall, my friend even taller. My son lost weight despite buying extra food to eat from the prison commissary – food paid for by his fiancee – overpriced food, but what was the alternative – let him starve? My friend eats all they give him, but it is no where near enough. His six foot five frame was thin to start, soon it resembled a skeleton. He looked like he’d landed on the wrong side of a concentration camp, so I put money I can not afford in his prison commissary account so he can buy food to eat. I can not bear to see this powerful man looking so starved and frail and so I pay. Money, money, and more money . . . what does that leave for lawyers? This system leaves you feeling like you are in the clutches of the Mafia – of their finest shake-down artists . . . heartless, relentless, brutally efficient. You go for visits and look at the other families – mostly poor women with children – and you wonder . . . how do they manage? I am not poor and I am floundering under the weight of these expenses. What must it be like for these people? How many will be tipped over from poverty to total failure by this system? How many criminals is it creating? I understand now why our prisons are a growth industry. They are making criminals – very deliberately making a criminal class to feed upon us, to then be arrested and fed upon – so that the system can suck the life out of their offspring’s future – breed more criminals – ultimately suck the life out of us.
When someone you love is in prison you live with the constant sense that someone is missing. There is so much you want to share that can not be shared. When my father died that is what struck me most – the things that I would have shared with him – things he would have enjoyed that can not now be shared. My missing friend and I would have a cup of tea together – or two or three – every week, a few times a week. We’d discuss the day’s news, share stories, experiences and ideas. That is ended. I want to pick up the phone and say, “Guess what I just read,” but I am not allowed. I can not reach out to him, share with him, enjoy his company. I can only wait. Death, yes, that it what it is most like having a family member or friend in prison. Death.
In The Art of Fiction, Ayn Rand states, “No one can be consistently evil. Since evil is destruction, anyone who attempted consistently in his life to follow a bad premise would eliminate himself; he would be dead, or at best insane. A man can hold bad premises only so long as his good ones make them possible, support them – and are destroyed in the process of supporting them. Bad premises, if not eliminated, will grow and destroy the good ones.”
Lately I have been walking down some very dark roads, ones of my choosing, but not of my preference. I do this for myself, my family, my country – for humanity and at times I despair that there will ever be peace, that human rights will ever be recognized as a primary mandate rather than an unrealistic dream, or that man will ever choose to treat those with whom he disagrees with compassion and dignity. When I loose all hope and feel I can’t go on I go back to the words of Any Rand and reacquaint myself with the basic truth she so clearly presents.
Evil can not win. Anything that is based on destruction and non-survival carries within it the seeds of its ultimate end. Evil will loose. The only question is: How many of us will it take down in the process? I find that rather encouraging, don’t you? Even if I am unable to right the wrong that I have chosen to take responsibility for, a possible though unlikely outcome, even if I am unsuccessful and other good people are unsuccessful, the cause will not be lost because it can not be lost as long as man survives. Every just and compassionate action is a successful action over time. The only way one can fail is to fail to act at all.
But if man does not survive, now that is a different matter. The danger of a nuclear war looms ever darker on the horizon – a war in which we all would be destined to perish along with everything that we hold dear. Our greatest chance of avoiding such an inglorious end to the history of man is to re-establish a respect for liberty, to re-ignite the fires of justice, integrity and honor, to restore within our hearts the courage to embrace compassion without compromise and to turn a deaf ear to those who would tempt us to do otherwise.
This is not some pacifist manifesto, a feel-good wish for utopia where there is no discord, no difficulties or disagreements with one’s fellow man. Disagreements are fine – they will and do occur when free men act in their own best interest, but those disagreements lead to monstrous acts only when justice is overturned for the sake of expediency or some petty hatred, when man forgets his humanity. When this is allowed, all mankind looses.
I am in the middle of trying to free a friend from the grip of INS. What I find most challenging is finding it within my heart to understand that the people who are doing everything they can to keep my friend in prison and deny him any chance to defend himself, the people who are doing the same to many, many other immigrants, creating covert concentration camps within our prison system . . . I just find it hard to remember that these people actually believe that they are doing the right thing. At least, that is what I hope and pray they believe, because to do what they are doing to my friend and others and not believe that would mean that I am dealing with deliberate evil. So I convince myself that they believe they are justified in their actions. How they justify those actions I do not know. I could not do what they do, could never commit a single soul to indefinite detention while real criminals serve their time and then walk free. That turns the whole idea of justice on its head.
I find it ironic. My friend is held in a huge prison – a great warehouse of humanity that is located in Plymouth, Massachusetts. My grandmother, Nellie Dunham, was a direct descendant of Deacon John Dunham of Plymouth Colony. The exit before the one I take to go to the prison has a sign for Plymouth Rock. Plymouth . . . Plymouth Rock . . . our country’s heritage . . . the birthplace of freedom . . . and one huge, state of the art prison wherein are housed a multitude of immigrants who are not criminals, held indefinitely on a civil detention. Me thinks the good deacon might be turning over in his grave on that one. Rumor has it he was a compassionate man. We could use more of those these days. When men of evil intentions rule the day, a country can not and will not thrive, but ultimately, evil can not win. I keep reminding myself and praying that Ayn Rand was right. I think she was.
By Edgar de Santos
The census shows six thousand prims
Two nuclear wars, hospital states
It’s tricky work and slips occur
Prims pop up no matter what
A noxious zest to break the peace
The will to take a chance and mock
One has to tolerate the prims
Genetic records didn’t start
Some have said we might as well
Painting pictures, writing books
Others though, still wish to make
And males are getting bolder too
Among themselves, one hates to think
She’s been debriefed as best we can
We have 5% of the world’s population living here in the United States of America – so how is it that we have 25% of the world’s prison population? Are American’s a particularly degraded people more prone to crime than the rest of the world? 25% of the world’s incarcerated reside in our country in our jails - at a cost of $45,000 a year per prisoner, by the way. One would assume that they are there because they are dangerous, so according to that statistic, we are a more criminally inclined society than most. It gets worse. We have a higher percentage of our black population in prison here than South Africa had at the height of apartheid. I’ve got more to say about this, much more. I’ve been getting an up-close-and-personal reality check on all this lately, but for now, let’s briefly look at just one aspect.
In Europe and Eastern Europe, illegal aliens who have been picked up and are awaiting trial or deportation are kept in detention camps. They have their clothes, they live like human beings, but they’re kept track of via these detention camps. Here we put them in prison – federal prison. They put that father of four from Denmark right in there with serial killers, counterfeiters, rapists, drug dealers – you know, people of the same caliber. Where’s the harm? So their kids have to walk down bare cement block walled halls and stare at them through thick glass, maybe talk a little to them on a phone while they look at them, maybe touch them by putting their hands up against the glass. Who cares? Who does it hurt? It serves them right. They shouldn’t have come here trying to join their families in the first place. We’ve got too many immigrants. It’s time America was kept for Americans – people like us whose ancestors were all born here – no immigrants in any of our backgrounds – we’re Americans – yeah! Okay, everybody who isn’t Native American – get out!
Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe our immigration department has the right idea. A look at history is usually quite revealing, so let's take a look back at those Native Americans . . . they were the first to let a bunch of undocumented immigrants enter this country. How'd that turn out for them?
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