The GAP Shouldn’t Be Between Our Ears

I am basking in black Saturday but my mind is still stuck on Black Friday. There are videos of violence and stories of stabbings. Snowbird shoppers actually cross an international border for this. Where do the pushing, line ups, shoving and violence come from? It all seems so desperate it has the flavour of need. Those in need often line up but it is usually at a soup kitchen.

When a person pulls a gun over a parking spot they are confounded in their excess. They are immune to the luxury of owning a vehicle. There will never be enough when we can’t see what we already have.

I do not see in the clutching hands anything for survival. You can’t eat a DVD player. It will shield little of the elements. It won’t warm, protect or hug. The images I have seen remind me of people fighting over life preservers. How does making a purchase at any price keep your head above water? The purchase of something at half price still reduces financial security.  We reach for more as we sink. None of it adds a day to our lives. There seems to be no explanation in the products themselves for our behaviour.

So why commute to a 9-5 job, and save a few shekels? Why get up in the middle of the night to stand in one spot for hours and occasionally stare at the back of someone’s head? Why put yourself in a dangerous situation? The behaviour involved produces mainly negative emotions, stress, anger, frustration and fear. Who stands in line for an opportunity to be trampled?

We often have no idea we need something until the flyer hits the front door. The shortcomings of what I have only enter my mind when it is pointed out in pixels or ink.It is like the dish of candy on the hallway table. Were it not there, we would pass the same spot with nary a thought of wanting candy. Why my trousers are only considered appropriate if I can see the same pair on some other fool confounds me. If we must give our pants away every time someone with hair and a six pack struts down a runway, we are shorn of common sense and drunk on calculated excess.

The GAP shouldn’t be between our ears.

If Panda’s Could Talk

I don’t often indulge in silly news stories but a headline about a young Polar bear that underwent dental surgery in Winnipeg caught my eye. We should be responsible for what we keep in captivity but possibly the dental problem is a result of children throwing cookies instead of seal.

It all sounded fairly serious; root canal, extractions, anesthetic and X-rays. The Americans must think that health care is free even for Polar Bears in Canada. I’m sure the Assiniboine Park Zoo is covering the expense but I couldn’t help wondering about the children who can’t afford to go to the zoo. There must be one or two who also find it difficult to chew.

I Googled how much it would cost to perform a root canal on a Polar bear but was unsuccessful. The point is probably mute as dental care is included in the admission price.

I like Polar bears. They have been twisted into tobogganing cartoons in my head as well. My coca cola cranium finds them quite affable. Maybe that is why I feel I must come to their defence. It is not fun to have walls or wire instead of horizons. It is not fun to pace the same steps or find boredom in each of your senses. It is a measure of punishment to deny someone that which would make it thrive. There is no freedom if the choice is yours how far in a direction I can travel. Punishment is a term we use to illustrate the moral grounds we base our denial of freedom on.

It is nice to see animals but when they are in cages or concrete is their footing, it slips from a pleasant pastime to active participation in their punishment. To find amusement in witnessing this is not sinister but it might be a little stupid. If we can turn them into Teddy Bears in our minds we should be able to consider their majesty is intertwined with their wildness; their freedom. An Orca whale’s fin does not flop because it is thriving. You can give me a comfy couch or feed me bamboo from China but if I can’t leave the room, they are tasteless and hard.

Sorry to spoil the fun but I know a little what it is like minus the peanuts. If we want to be compassionate to Polar bears or any other animal it would be more effective to contribute to their true habitat and refrain from polluting it. Outside of that perspective, I’m sure there’s some twisted toothed youngster in Winnipeg who could use some dental assistance. If the Polar bear is majestic enough to grace our two dollar coin I don’t think they would be insulted if a few made it into caring for a child.

Am I the only one who can see the word asinine in Assiniboine Park Zoo?

Bah Humbug

I apologize for broaching the subject of Christmas in November but my senses are being assaulted by the economic thrust of meaning. I thank retailers everywhere for making me mindful of such an important occasion approaching. I personally must also issue thanks for I did not know I needed new flooring for the family and friends I will invite into my home. It is also most beneficial that you show me what to eat and especially what items are popular as gifts. I would be aghast to think I bought something my brother refuses to wear because it does not conform to the material reality the economic machine creates.

I am reminded by advertisers nothing of the substance of why we celebrate only that we do. I am not shown the babe but my nose is rubbed in the Frankincense and Myrrh. Much of the season revolves around the exchange of gifts. If we are somehow imitating the wise men it might help to wisen up. Is it an accident we buy for people who buy for us? It is in some ways a perversion as the wise men in fact did not exchange gifts.

Is standing in line, driving about and forking over $39.95 an act of love or a pain in the neck? Firstly, the purchase is often for something made by people making pennies an hour for companies worth far more. $39.95 is less a measurement of love and more a measure of purchasing power. If I spend less does that mean my regard for a person is less?

There are easier ways to measure and distribute love. It’s called a hug. It would be odd if we shared a meal in celebration and a hug in demonstration but I’m not convinced it would spoil Christmas. It could be an awkward or uncomfortable event mainly for shareholders and CEO’s. Would we be fools to exchange hugs instead of gifts?

In hindsight the babe did give them a gift back. Ever the alchemist He turned gold into love. I fear we have twisted the miracle and are turning love into gold.

Prison beatings caught on video at Ontario and Quebec jails

Does this headline surprise me? No. I have personal experience with the underlying attitudes that create such events. I was never beaten by a jail guard but I can recognize in some of my experiences an attitude not far removed.

My hands were chewed up from punching the yard wall several times. I was in medical isolation and in the yard alone. I was taken to the nursing station and my wounds administered. A day or two later I asked a guard when he came into the area if I could have something to wash my hands with. He grabbed the cleaning solution used for toilets and sprayed my outstretched hands. I’m pretty sure I thanked him. I can be a pain in the ass when I’m psychotic but I’m usually polite.

I have encountered dozens of guards over the years and there are none I wouldn’t shake hands with. Many were fine people and the others only caught up in perceptions that gained footing in the attitudes we all posses. We can be shocked that prisoners have been beaten by guards but in our indignation it is only fair to consider our own hearts. We each need to ask ourselves if a person becomes something less than the rest of us once the handcuffs are on?

What we find in our own minds may be the answer to the riddle of abuse.

Some inmates are nasty; I have lived with psychopaths. We can’t do much about who ends up in jail but it is obvious we need to do something about who works there.

Justice Is Blind But We Needn’t Be

When I read a news story I can expect something out of the ordinary in quotes but it is rarer in the measured words of a journalist. Last night I read the online CBC coverage of the Guy Turcotte case. He was found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) in the stabbing deaths of his two children. There was public outcry at this finding and even more when he was released into the community a few years later. It is now again before the courts on appeal. I do not know the case, the man or much else to comment so I will return to our journalist.

The last couple of lines I read the author referred to the conservative government’s reaction to this and other high profile cases as they introduced legislation to make it more difficult for “criminals with mental illness” to be released. I hung on the words criminals with mental illness. Therein lay the misconception. I can forgive the author for being ill informed but I am alarmed that the CBC allows individuals with a rudimentary understanding of mental health law to report on it.

There are criminals with mental illness but most do not make it to the forensic system. A person who is depressed or bi polar is usually processed and administered to the same as any. Someone who is found NCR has been assessed and found that their mental disorder rendered them incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.

NCR individuals are not found guilty because they did not possess mens rhea, a guilty mind. They are referred to as the accused. It can only be stigma to refer to such an individual as a criminal with mental illness. To be referred to as a criminal one has to be found guilty. The journalists few errant words convey a larger sentiment. Many would use the same words. Some of the public outcry is a result of the perception that these people are criminals. One comment I read at the news of appeal was “finally, justice for these children”. That may be the case but at this point in fairness we must also entertain the idea that justice was already served.

We are indignant when someone “gets off” with this NCR “defence”. NCR is in fact a protection for us all. It is a safeguard. We all sleep better knowing if by some terrible fate we find ourselves mixed up with the law unaware of reality, we will be treated rather than punished. An eye for an eye is great unless your blindness is the reason for offence. When we can only find satisfaction in a person being behind bars, we are prisoners ourselves. We are shackled to retribution and a sense of justice rather than justice itself.

“Jails top ombudsman’s concerns”

This headline is from an article I tore out of The Toronto Star on Tuesday, June 25, 2002. I would have used scissors but they were not part of our “kit” at the correctional facility I was incarcerated in.

The article by Richard Brennan begins with “A mentally ill, deaf woman was confined to a segregation cell in an Ontario jail for two months without regular access to a shower or fresh air the province’s ombudsman reported yesterday.”

Within two years I was in the process of being found Not Criminally Responsible on account of a mental disorder and faced the same. I guess I could be angry looking back on it and the fact that the ombudsman was powerless in her role. I could be angry society saw little need to address the issue. Instead I am saddened that eleven years later we are dealing with the same issue.

Is the problem systemic or societal? The system is seriously flawed if in 11 years we are unable to change. When a mentally ill woman in a jail is subjected to segregation rather than mental health services and society does not scream for answers it smells of stigma. These situations have persisted because our attitudes persist. We still do not perceive mental health as the pivot of overall health.

What is the benefit of making mental illness a joke or using it as a putdown or slang?  We stumble on our own stigma and twist uncomfortably in its shadow when we or a loved one is affected. We are careless with our attitudes and we become prisoners behind the stigma they create.

The ombudsman said the Tories’ hard-line, no frills approach to prisoner care has only exacerbated the problem. The then Public Safety and Security Minister Bob Runciman said jails are not meant to be fun places. These are not county club settings. We’re not the federal government…you do the crime, you do the time. Many of the complaints are frivolous.”

I guess at that time it was acceptable to wash your hands of individuals once they become involved with the justice system. I guess at that time if there were frivolous complaints all could be ignored. I guess back then mental health care was a frill.

Ombudsman Clare Lewis was a voice ignored but I will quote her anyway.

“I’m not asking that people be mollycoddled. But, by golly, if we are going to incarcerate people – and we do in large numbers – then we have an obligation to see that they are treated rationally, with dignity and with some degree of respect.”

 We continue to leave politicians with enough indifference that they do not act. Indifference is stigma in action.