Monday, April 29, 2013
Soul Killing and Redemption
When you see your mom yelled at and beaten up by the man she loves, when you're four years old, what do you do?
When you realize that your dad was never, ever around for you, and isn't in your life, what do you do? Now, at 22, you hear he wants to see you, but in your heart, you figure he hasn't been around for your whole life, so why start now? The care and the love just hasn't been there, not when you've needed it. Why make the effort?
When you are standing in the yard when you're five, and you see a guy with a knife, chased by a cop, and you watch them fight, and you see the knife, and then the gun, and then the blood, what do you do?
When your sister dies when you are four, and no one can tell you why, what do you do?
When your mom's boyfriend yells at you and beats you up, and throws you out of the house when you're' seven, and then you start setting fires around town, what do you do?
When the people at school think you are a bad boy and don't fit in and therefore stupid, you must need to be in a special needs program. Just because you already know all the answers in class and are bored to death, and you don't like to sit still and you yell when you get angry, because that is how your family does it, and you don't think anyone cares about you, because of everything you are inside, what do you do?
When you are fourteen, and the best thing to do is to hitchhike a thousand miles and come back in a few weeks, and people decide you need to go to detention and sit in a cell for a month, what do you do? Is "runaway" such a bad thing to be, after all that?
When the only man in the family is a drunk and has been in prison, and there's no other guy around who even talks to you, what do you do?
When childhood and adolescence is a long list of institutions and court appearances and a long road of counselors and programs and treatments, and that is just what life is, now, what do you do?
When you're nineteen, and you beat up a prison guard, and you find yourself in a ten foot cell in the penitentiary for six months, what do you do?
When the rage and the anger burn deep inside of you, and then someone calls you a dumb Indian, AGAIN, what do you do?
When all the "bad" labels someone can try to pin on you have all been slapped on you, your whole life, and you've had about all you can take, what do you do? And, then, you also know that you've been treated like all your family and your people have been treated for the last two hundred and fifty years, and not much has gotten any better, what do you do?
And, when you read a book by Sherman Alexie and the story of the boy on the Rez is also your story, and the rage and anger and love and beauty of that boy is also your story and your life, and that you are not alone in all of this, what do you do?
When you can take a few scraps of leather, and make it into a beautiful work of art, or when you write and then sing a beautiful song, deep from within your own precious, sweet soul, and you know you really are a wondrous child of God, what do you do, inside these walls?
When all this churns and simmers inside of you, and so many voices keep telling you that you're stupid, and poor, and a criminal and won't ever amount to anything, that no one comes right out and says that they love you, and the world keeps locking you up, in so many ways, and all you want to do is run through the woods, and feel the sun on your face, and be one with God, what do you do?
When you are close to getting paroled and you get accepted into a halfway house that you actually think is a good place, and then the date you get out keeps getting moved around, and now you don't know for sure if you get out this week, or next month, or maybe in a few months, or ???, and no one seems to care enough to answer your questions about that, what do you do?
And, we wonder why some guys don't do very well once they get out of prison, why they can't seem to adjust very well to life "on the outside", and follow all the rules, and don't use drugs and alcohol and don't get into fights. And, then, when they become husbands and fathers, we wonder why there might be some "issues" at home about life and relationships and parenting and being good citizens.
But, we should be "tough on crime" and "put away the bad guys", and then we will have a peaceful and safe society, just because we put a higher percentage of our population in prison than any other country in the world. Is that what defines this country?
As Dr. Phil might ask, "How's that working for you?"
And we spend all this money, and time, and people's care and concern for young people in prison, and give lip service to "rehabilitation" and "crime prevention", when maybe we should look back a bit in time, to when kids first come into this world. And we know they are looking to have a mom and a dad, and live in a quiet and safe and "normal" home, and love to go to school, have good friends, and do wonderful, loving things in their lives.
And, when none of this happens, and instead life is filled with rage and the distractions of a crazy and lonely society, self medication and self deprecation, and not having a place in this world to grow and put down your roots and feel cherished, and then, if you don't fit in, we lock you up and institutionalize you, and reinforce criminal thinking, we wonder why you don't do better?
We know what works. We know, now, how the brain grows and learns about relationships and how love, the right kind of love, waters and nourishes young souls, and how the wrong kind of relationship is a poison, not just for the community, but for every precious soul in this life.
We know that all this good work takes time, it takes love, and it takes compassion.
And, not that our schools and prisons aren't staffed with kind and committed people, who toil in these fields day after day, dealing with the toughest and most challenging situations and personalities. And, not everyone can be "saved". Yet, they don't give up.
We can't give up. We can take the time, and we can make the commitment, maybe just with one person. Have that conversation, make that connection, get a bit involved in their life. Listen, and then listen again. Listen with your heart, with your humanity, and not with the expectations, and biases, and the vantage point of someone who hasn't lived how they have lived.
Transform a life. You may think that young person you listen to will learn from you, and, by listening and caring about them, their lives will change. And, perhaps that is true. What will really change, though, is your life. You will see things differently, and you will understand who you are, and what you are all about, and how to change the world.
Put an end to the soul killing. It kills all of us, slowly and surely.
--Neal Lemery April 29, 2013
Friday, April 19, 2013
Today is yet another day of this chaotic week. The national news is overrun with bombings, shootings, explosions, and controversial political decisions over guns.
In Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, there are more bombings, more attacks, more deaths. American troops are now in Jordan, staging for humanitarian aid in Syria, but also a rocket’s path away from that civil war.
We are so interconnected, so aware now of such violence, such chaos and uncertainty. Our technology and our mass media culture now brings such events into our living rooms, into our pants pockets, as we seem to be compelled to check on the state of the world in a spare moment.
I turn off the TV. I can’t stand the instant news, the hours of rehashing, and dramatizing, and speculation. My blood pressure goes up, and there’s a knot in my stomach. My sense of powerlessness and frustration gets tossed into the energies of the commentators, the marketers of “crisis” and “terror” and catastrophe.
A friend of mine tells me that he gets anxious about a lot of things in life, that he’s a worry wort, and has to consciously avoid “catatrophizing” much of life’s concerns. When I watch the “instant news” channel, it seems like a flash mob of “catastrophizers”.
That is not how I want to live my life, and to get through my day, and be a healthy human being. I have decided not to be part of that “flash mob”, and I click off the offending noise and chaos that has filled my living room.
I soak up the peace, when the TV goes silent. I look around for a bit of beauty, maybe pick up my guitar and strum a song. But, the craziness of the events in Boston and all the rest of the news still tightens up my shoulders, still nags at me.
Yet, how do I respond? How do I react? It is not like I can change the outcome of bombs in Boston, or the national epidemic of gun-related homicides in this country, or even the violence in my own community.
Or can I? Certainly I have a big voice in how I go about my life, and I would like to think I have a big impact on people in my family, my neighborhood, even the emotional atmosphere of the line at the grocery store, or the post office, or the place I had lunch with a friend yesterday.
I’m just one guy. But, I do interact with others during the day. I have conversations, I conduct a little business, I say hi to folks I know around town. I put stuff up on Facebook and my blog. I chat with the guy who fills up my gas tank, and tell him thanks, and ask how he’s doing. And, then, I really listen to what he has to say. We connect, and we have a real conversation. And, that doesn’t take a whole lot of effort. It’s part of my job as a member of my community.
In all of that, I can set an example, and I can give out a sense of compassion and peaceful living, and I can listen. My little efforts may not change the world overnight, and the Nobel Peace Prize committee may not be reading all of my blog posts and finding out my phone number.
But, I can create a little peace in this world, and that little bit of peace can spread out, and be the ripple in the pond of how we all interact.
Yesterday, I joked and laughed with an old friend, and we gave each other some ideas on how we each can grow and change, and become more skilled in the arts of peacemaking, listening, and compassion. I’m going to try out some new things, and I found a class that would help me be a better member of the community, of being of better service to others.
I’m planting my garden, I’m playing my guitar, I’m sending a poem to several young men to give them some inspiration, and let them know, again, that I care about them, and that they have amazing possibilities in their lives.
Last night, one of the young men I’m mentoring in prison called. He’s getting out soon, and will, for the first time in his life, be out in the world, looking for a job, and being a healthy member of society. He’s worried about all the changes, and all the responsibility. And, he’s worried about how he’s going to manage all of that, and to deal with a lot of his anger that has been simmering in his soul most of his life.
He isn’t one to come right out and talk about his worries, and his anxiety, but it is there, right below the surface.
So, we talked, and he told me more about himself, and what he is doing to prepare for being in the world, and the things he’s looking forward to. It wasn’t a deep, soul changing conversation, but it was a conversation. I listened. I cared. I told him I worry about him and that I’d be with him on that day the prison door slams behind him and he can make his own way in the world.
I could hear in his voice that not too many people listen to him, or even care that he is getting out of prison soon. But, I cared, and I listened. And, when we ended our call, I could tell he’d unwound, he felt better about himself and he felt he mattered to someone. We have a deeper friendship now. We have a better connection.
One phone call may not heal the pain that Boston is going through, or stop someone from planning to detonate a bomb in the middle of a sporting event, and kill and maim innocent people.
But, maybe, just maybe, that phone call, that listening, that caring will move a young man away a bit from the anger and rage that simmers in a young man, and give him hope to seek a life of compassion, and usefulness, and even joy.
Knowing that someone cares, that someone listens to him might be what he needs to be able to vent his rage and his anger through his art or his music, or in going for a long run along the river, instead of making a pressure cooker bomb and setting it off in the middle of his community.
And, maybe, that is a bit of peacemaking that I can bring to the world today.
--Neal Lemery April 19, 2012
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Discovering My “Inner Farmer”
I’m turning into a farmer.
Lately, at the store, I find myself in the garden section of the only variety store in town, or looking for obscure items, like a brush to scrub out the dirt under my fingernails, or peat pots, or labels for seedlings. I spent a number of cold wet February days engrossed in seed catalogs.
I even bought myself a straw gardener’s hat, and am looking for some lightweight overalls to wear out in the garden this summer. I already have the pitchfork and the banjo, and the rocker on the porch, er, deck, ready for my American Gothic moment or my Deliverance cameo.
My new favorite store in my small town is the farmers’ co-op store. I’ve been going there for years, as it’s the cheapest place for gas in town, and my favorite drive-through latte place is next door. But, now, I’ve discovered they have great prices on tools, and odd bits of garden and farming stuff I’ve been needing. They have all the cool farmer stuff, including eight kinds of fence posts and woven fence wire, and baby chicks for sale.
The toy John Deere tractors look like fun, but I haven’t had the courage to play with them yet. But, I think my time is coming. I’ll just tell the clerk it’s for the grandchildren.
Today, one clerk helped me find the weird little clamps to attach wire to metal fence posts, for my brand new baby vineyard. They have five kinds to sell, and the clerk directed me to the cheap ones, for fences not challenged by cows or horses. Baby grape vines should be a bit more docile.
The co-op is one of two places in town you can get metal fence posts. I’ve been finding them handy for staking up trees and shrubs (so they can withstand the typhoons we occasionally have around here) and also now for the garden, now that I am chief gardener. (That reminds me, I need to update my resume and my Link-In status.)
And, they give me a ten percent senior discount. So, who can resist.
Today, as I was waiting to check out with my exciting purchases of screwdrivers and fence wire holders, I had a bit of time to kill as the guy ahead of me was ordering baby chicks. The store had some baby chicks in a cage along the back wall, and he was wondering what kind of chickens he needed for his chicken yard. Apparently what he needed must be special ordered from Baby Chick Warehouse.
I’d been wanting a decent pocket knife for a couple of years, one that was simply handy for mundane tasks, such as cutting the twine I use to stake up my trees and plants, and to open bags of fertilizer and seeds. The supermarket store had the spendy $50 kind, but I just wanted something handy to rip open a bag of fertilizer or whack off a hunk of twine.
As I’m standing in line waiting for the chicken farmer to make his decision, I spy a nice display of very handy, single bladed pocket knives, for $4. When it became my turn to make my exciting purchases, I quickly added a knife to the loot. The clerk asked me if I just wanted to throw out the box and put the knife in my pocket. She knows farmers well and knows we don’t need any packaging materials. In a minute, I was out the door with my trusty new pocket knife in my pocket.
I think it will work. It is a Navy Seal brand. But, somehow, I don’t think the commando teams use the $4 version. It will work just fine with my garden twine and that sack of lime I need to get out to the vegetable garden next week.
My last stop was the local plant nursery that is a loosely guarded secret around here. They don’t advertise, except for a little sandwich board sign by their mailbox, six miles out of town on a country road leading nowhere. It’s a couple of miles from me, who lives near Nowhere, so they are like neighbors to me. But, everyone around here knows that is where you get the good starts of veggies, and flowers, and herbs. The place sells to the bigger nurseries, but, the best prices and the best quality is found at the other end of their driveway.
So, on my way home, I stop at the place. I’m the only customer, but then, it’s Friday afternoon, and I guess people are doing other stuff today. Stuff like work, or mowing their lawn just a few hours before the next series of spring rains move through the area for the weekend.
Me, I’m retired now, and I really do have a hard time remembering what day of the week it is. When every day seems like Saturday, the forty hour work week loses its importance. Maybe that’s one reason I read the morning paper.
We just had an entire week of rain and the calendar says it is spring, so the grass production is in high gear. And, today, some of the dairy farmers are spreading their “liquid gold”, which they always do just before it rains. We use our noses around here a lot to predict the weather.
The owner greets me by name, and asks if I have anything in particular I need.
“No, just browsing,” I say, not very convincingly.
No one leaves this place empty handed. It’s one of the reasons I have a good sized sheet of plastic in the back of the car, for the box or two or three of plants I’ll find at a nursery I just might stop by and “browse”.
Four tomato plants call my name and demand to be taken home. Now, mind you, we had a good frost this morning, and the next few days is supposed to be rainy, windy and cold. And, maybe some more frosts next week. Definitely not tomato planting weather.
Still, plant lust is part of my psychology, and we do have a greenhouse. The owner asks me that, as he rings up the sale. We exchange nods of understanding, of our addiction, and the basic primal need to buy tomato plants in April an hour before a cold front moves on shore.
Back home, I find myself in the greenhouse, gathering big pots for my tomatoes. I shovel rich soil into the pots and am soon tying up the new guys next to the bamboo stakes I’ve found in the garden shed. I get to test out my new pocket knife, cutting off a hunk of twine, and helping the tender tomato stalks stand up in their new home. The Navy Seals and Rambo would be impressed with how I skillfully whacked off the lengths of twine and brought order to the tomatoes with my maybe official Navy Seal $4 knife.
We used to buy garden soil by the plastic bag. But, a couple of years ago, my wife got smart and simply ordered a truckload of the stuff from the local garden soil and barkdust wholesaler. (Yeah, we have a big pile of barkdust, too. My back muscles wanted me to mention that.) That’s where I get my dirt now, and, amazingly, that big pile is doing down a bit, a bucket here and there for the roses I transplanted, my grapes, and my new seed plantings I’ve made. The greenhouse is now half full of my fledgling, soon to be, vegetable garden and I have a basket of other seeds sitting on the dining room table, waiting for that warm week of May that is seed planting right in the garden week. It is coming in May this year, right?
I’ve even gone so far over the edge of garden madness to fashion a little nylon holster on my belt, so I can tote around my trowel and my hand pruners. I’m ready for the noontime showdown at the OK Corral, if the Earp brothers need some landscaping done. I’m thinking of adding a little hook for the container of slug bait, but that might have to wait until slug season moves into high gear.
This morning, I could be found in the back of the garden, happily putting together the planks of my newest raised bed, using serious metal screws in the planks, thinking the new raised bed would be a good place for all the squash and zucchini seedlings emerging in the greenhouse. And, maybe, that heirloom Ukrainian melon seed and purple tomato seed from the heirloom seed company in Missouri I’m trying out this year. “Thrives in cool climates”, the catalog boasted for a lot of what I bought. I’ll put them to the test.
Yesterday, I was pounding in metal fence posts, and digging holes. Soon, my new grape vines were sticking their toes into the ground, all staked and tied, and labeled with special copper labels I’d found on Amazon. The little vineyard of six vines had been on my project list for years, and the spot was the most sheltered and warmest, most grape friendly spot on our place.
My mind’s eye could see the grape-laden vines handing heavily down along the trellises on a warm summer evening, with me out there clipping off clusters of sweet table grapes. Oh, probably not this year, but the project now is well under way.
I’m still looking for that pair of comfortable, denim coveralls. I’ve got the straw hat, the pitch fork, and the banjo. But, maybe I need a jug of moonshine. That might be the next project around here.
4/10/2013 Neal Lemery
Saturday, April 6, 2013
This week, I attended a workshop on what science is figuring out about the adolescent male brain. It was a good place to get some affirmation about what I have experienced in working with young men, and also to think about my male brain...
I took a lot of notes. They are kind of a jumble, but then, that is the brain at work:
Inter generational wounds
We carry what our fathers couldn't resolve in their lives
Violence to others
Violence to self
- Treatment takes away a coping mechanism and leaves one more vulnerable
What feelings do I have?
What did I learn?
What did I learn about me?
(We all need to process)
- What you don't know about what is inside you is toxic
There is no such thing as an unmotivated thing
We use an idea, or a tactic to survive, as a screen
Speech is not initially connected to emotion. For men, talking about feelings releases cortisol, the highest stress hormone. For females, a bonding chemical is released. Female: speech and emotion centers are connected at puberty. Men, never.
Men have to find a label, a second language, to talk about emotion and feeling.
For men, writing thus helps to safely express feelings. A bit detached, safely.
Women: speech centers are wired to sexual arousal. Men: no. So, women connect their speech centers in their brain to both emotion and sexual arousal. They are well connected, but men are not. Thus, it is hard for men to talk about their emotions and sex.
Don't have these disconnectors
So, men are really good at disconnecting!
40% of men have genetic emotional disconnect chemical
This contributes to short term relationships.
- Our culture has no rite of passage into manhood. Yet, our young men want and need the following elements:
You live here
The 4 walls-glued together by shame
- Feelings and needs
Don't have them yourself, so there is no me
Cut off self and others
Everyone, all the time
No room for you
Shame if you don't
- Sex and relationship
I am not important
Inside: a process, a highway
Loneliness to isolation to pain to rage
Rage is not necessarily violence to self or others
It is a fire, pressure needing to be released
Common response to rage
- Self medication
We need to de-shame the release of rage
Young men are looking for a place in society, and to be themselves. Aren’t we all? What does our culture provide for them to get to that place? When young men act out, when they are violent, and self medicate, what are they really telling us? And, how do we respond?
Elements of male life and “treatment”
- Elders mentors
- Sacred text - the rules for being a good man
Treatment needs male focused curriculum
Staff training and selection
(Youth gangs provide these basic needs)
Male Treatment Processes
- Kinesthetic (movement) learning
- Para pathetic counseling (motion, spacial) counseling (not traditional venue)
- Action love (non verbal)
- Competition and challenge
- Writing to reflect and process
- De shame, respect, pride
- Aggression nurturance
- Confrontation (stand my ground, earning respect)
Our educational system has been designed to provide factory workers for the Industrial Age (assembly line work, structured, orderly, hierarchical labor). Yet, the system pays little attention to all learning styles, to the developmental stages of the male brain, and how we learn and communicate.
We don’t honor young men, and we don’t apply what we know about ourselves and our brains in fashioning a society that is embracing and welcoming.
I came away with some answers, and with some more questions, and a lot more to think about.
The journey continues...
Neal Lemery, April 6, 2013