Will Meyerhofer: Save the World

Will MeyerhoferIf law students are annoying, then pre-law students are twice as annoying. There’s something about observing these lemmings scrabble their way into the maws of ruthless law schools, despite dire warnings and appeals to common sense, that just…gets under my skin.

Even after so much effort has been expended for their benefit – i.e., which part of “Way Worse Than Being a Dentist” didn’t you understand? – these piteous creatures patiently queue up for their punishment, hungry to “learn to think like a lawyer.” If your resolve weakens, and pity prevails over contempt, you might mistakenly engage one in conversation. For your trouble, you’ll receive an earful of a clueless pipsqueak’s master plan to save the world. Because – you hadn’t heard? – that’s why he’s going to law school: The betterment of humanity.

Because that’s what the world so desperately needs:  Another lawyer.

Somehow or other, these automata get it into their programming that, if they actually did want to save the world, becoming a lawyer would be a sensible way to do it. They are unaware of how imbecilic their words sound to anyone not entirely befuddled by the miasma of law school propaganda.

Law schools inundate proto-lawyers with ‘lawyers save the world’ nonsense, cramming their crania with musty tales of Brown v Board of Ed. That’s because the schools are well aware of the likely effect of such indoctrination: Greasing the rails to the killing floor. If a kid can tell himself he’s going to “change the world” – as opposed to, say, “make a lot of money and feel like a big deal” – then he’ll line up that extra bit more smugly for the $160k/year that makes his eyes roll up into his head and a little string of drool form at the corner of his mouth.

It’s simple: If you can tell yourself you’re doing it for the good of humankind, you won’t feel so guilty selling out in the most soulless, stereotypical way imaginable.

 

You know the vast majority of law students will end up deeply in debt and unemployed. We all know that. But before that happens, the sorry little shlemiels honest-to-god tell themselves they’re going to save the world.

The problem is lawyers very seldom do change the world, at least for the better. The bulk of significant positive change that the world experiences at any given moment – surprise! – doesn’t derive from the actions of lawyers. It derives from the actions of non-lawyers, or, at very least, lawyers acting in non-lawyer-y ways.

Evidence? Let’s start with a quote from one of the nation’s top civil rights attorneys, Michelle Alexander, from her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

In recent years…a bit of mythology has sprung up regarding the centrality of litigation to racial justice struggles. The success of the brilliant legal crusade that led to Brown has created a widespread perception that civil rights lawyers are the most important players in racial justice advocacy…Not surprisingly…many civil rights organizations became top-heavy with lawyers. This development enhanced their ability to wage legal battles but impeded their ability to acknowledge or respond to the emergence of a new caste system. Lawyers have a tendency to identify and concentrate on problems they know how to solve – i.e., problems that can be solved through litigation. The mass incarceration of people of color is not that kind of problem.

Got that? Here’s a top-flight lawyer, at the center of a struggle to address the disaster of a nation that locks up a vast percentage of its poorest, most vulnerable citizens based largely on their race (whites don’t go to jail for minor drug possession offenses, blacks do.) What’s she saying? There are too many lawyers.

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Will Meyerhofer: Save the World

Carlton Weddington: The Caged Pol Sings, Part Three

“Ex-inmates life chances shrink because few institutions or programs are prepared to give them the tools and job training to get work and become productive citizens. Many become burdens to their families, and some end up homeless.  A good number of ex-inmates develop mental problems, which often go untreated.”

– Come on People, by Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint.

carlton weddingtonNationally, 1600 men and women are released from prison each day. Many will return to communities throughout the country with no more education, programming or sense of purpose than when they arrived to prison. The burden to help and service these individuals falls on the public. Locally, the state of Ohio boasts to be one of the nation’s largest prison systems and releases more than 28,000 ex-offenders each year. However, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) has failed Ohio and Ohioans with its lax and meager standards in operation and programming for re-entry.

Ex-offenders are at the highest risk of committing a new crime or violating probation or parole immediately (within the first three months) following release from incarceration. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that within the first six months of release, almost 30% were rearrested and the rate increases to 44% within the first year. If Ohio wants to be a leader among states, it must do a better job of taking care of a potential segment of its most valuable commodity – its human capital. The fragmentation of services, lack of coordination, and leadership must be addressed. A clear focus, not dispersing of energies is needed in order to solve this problem.

The support and help of the public and private interests should be sought for inmates who are in need and desire quality programming that will enable them to be successful upon release, because well equipped and determined ex-offenders are less likely to return to a life of crime and help build the economy. The creation of a successful re-entry program enhances public safety, reduces costs and improves lives. Families and advocacy groups need to be diligent in making the best use of the limited programming and resources the prisons offer, but ODRC needs to get its act together and start educating the individuals they house as if they mattered. The cumulative effects of poor prisons for communities in which these ex-inmates return to is one very good reason why recidivism perpetuates.

I refuse to believe that the practices of ODRC are the best Ohio can offer inmates and their families in 2014. I’m urging taxpayers, political leaders, inmates and their families alike to speak their minds about the affairs of rehabilitation and corrections in Ohio. Inmates who feel that society has no positive role for them are likely to conclude they have nothing to lose by abandoning the difficult path of study, self-discipline, and rehabilitation for the instant gratification of prison life that lead, to the continuation of the street life that brought them to prison.

David Host: Why Baseball’s Pete Rose Question Matters Beyond Sports

David HostI was ten years old when I first became an avid Cincinnati Reds fan. Growing up just over one hour’s drive from Cincinnati, I could not help but notice when the legendary “Big Red Machine” won their second consecutive World Series the year before – but the 1977 season marked the first time that I personally followed almost every game. Staying awake in bed listening to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall call games from the West Coast remains one of my fondest childhood memories – as do the many trips my dad and I made up I-75 to watch the Reds in person.

Like many kids my age, I mimicked the batting stances of all-time greats like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan. I also tried to teach myself the knee-in-the-dirt pitching motion of Tom Seaver, who joined the Reds at mid-season that year (I tore the cover off several of the baseballs I hurled at the “strike zone” I envisioned on the brick side of our garage). As the years rolled by, it became clear that my athletic skills did not match the profile of a budding big-league ballplayer. Yet, the Reds and their up-and-down fortunes throughout the 1980s remained a central feature of every summer.

I had just started my freshman year in college when Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record on September 11, 1985. “Charlie Hustle” had never been one of my favorite players when I was younger. As I matured, I grew to appreciate Rose – his head-first slides; his blue-collar grit; and, most of all, the message he conveyed – that excellence is not always captive to natural ability. Rose looked and played like any of us might if we had the chance to play pro ball, which is why this native son of Cincinnati captured hearts in that city like no one else ever has, or likely will again.

After Rose retired as a player, he managed the Reds to a succession of second-place finishes during the late 1980s. He was an average manager at best, in retrospect; though his prodigious knowledge of the game suggested that Rose possessed tremendous potential in that capacity. Led by stars like like Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, and future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, the Reds were once again a team on the rise – and Rose seemed like the natural link between this brightening future and the dominant teams of the 1970s.

The Reds won the World Series in 1990, the season after Rose received a “lifetime ban” for betting on games involving his own team. There is no evidence that Rose ever bet against the Reds (his ultra-competitive nature strongly suggests that he never entertained the thought). Yet, Rose clearly presided over a series of underachieving teams. Sadly, we will never know what he could have accomplished as a manager without the distraction of his gambling habit.

The scandal which sundered Rose’s connection with the game he personified seemed to erupt out of nowhere. From all accounts, Rose thought that Major League Baseball officials had already convicted and sentenced him, so he opted for a very public fight. This battle consumed the Reds’ 1989 season – and for the first time I could remember, I lost interest as the team limped toward a fifth-place finish. As saddened as I was by Rose’s abrupt fall from grace, I cannot deny that I was relieved to see him go.

Like most Reds fans, I wanted to believe Rose’s denials. Yet, it was hard to ignore Major League Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s grim conclusion: “One of the game’s greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game.” Giamatti’s sterling reputation further made it difficult to question the justice and fairness of the outcome.

Major League Baseball never officially concluded that Rose had bet on his own team in exchange for Rose’s acquiescence to the “lifetime ban.” For every other individual in the modern era to whom it has applied, baseball’s “lifetime ban” has, in reality, meant a suspension for a few years. Yet, Giamatti’s death from a heart attack eight days after announcing baseball’s settlement with Rose seems to have fueled a lasting personal vendetta at the game’s highest echelons.

First, the National Baseball Hall of Fame officially decided to exclude banned players from its annual baseball writer’s ballot in 1991, just before Rose became eligible to appear on that ballot. Next came Major League Baseball’s inexplicable and inexcusable refusal to act on Rose’s application for reinstatement, which persists to this day.

To me, the exclusion of baseball’s all-time hits leader transformed the “Hall of Fame” into a farce. Then, when the 1994 players’ strike canceled the World Series and eviscerated a promising Reds season, my attachment to baseball began to fray; particularly when neither the owners nor the players association even bothered to apologize – to the fans who pay their bills, or to the concessionaires, ushers, and other hard-working individuals who truly suffered the effects of the strike.

Baseball gradually recovered after 1994; in large part due to the record-breaking exploits of a bevy of new “superstars,” including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. We subsequently learned that these performances may have been the product of steroid use. Meanwhile, no one has ever accused Pete Rose of cheating, and his all-time hits record remains unassailable and, perhaps, unreachable. Yet, McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds remain eligible for the Hall of Fame, while Rose remains the game’s lone outcast.

On its face, this scenario seems outrageous and absurd; particularly when Pete Rose the player remains the exemplar of everything that once mattered about baseball. Yet, I remain initially persuaded by the argument that Rose flagrantly violated a “prime directive,” of sorts – a rule that is prominently displayed in every team’s clubhouse, for which the penalty has always been clear and certain. By contrast, while Major League Baseball appears to have banned steroid use for more than two decades, its enforcement of this policy has not always been consistent.

Gambling is a clinically recognized addiction, just like alcoholism and drug abuse. The late Steve Howe notoriously received suspension after suspension for cocaine use during his 17-year pitching career. Does anyone seriously believe that Howe would have stopped had drug abuse held the same “prime directive” status as the rule against betting on one’s own team? Still, amidst all the judgments pronounced against Pete Rose in the media and elsewhere, I have never heard anyone suggest that an illness might have deprived Rose of complete control over his actions.

Admittedly, Rose has often been his own worst enemy. I cannot help but believe that had he quietly come clean with Bart Giamatti when the gambling allegations first arose early in 1989, Rose might still have enjoyed a long association with baseball after a few years away from the game. Instead, he lied about his actions until 2004, when it became apparent that he might never be reinstated without a full confession. Rose also apparently continues to gamble; though his once-defiant attitude about his circumstances seems to have mellowed somewhat into genuine humility and remorse.

Perhaps Rose’s lack of genuine rehabilitation justifies Major League Baseball’s refusal to consider his reinstatement. After all, no less than Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays spent two years on the “banned list” merely for working for casinos in public relations capacities. But why not make this fact clear? Even at this late date, why not give Rose a very public choice between the game he loves and the habit he seemingly refuses to conquer? Wouldn’t this approach communicate the most productive message to anyone battling addiction: mercy for those who seek help and consequences for those who do not?

Otherwise, it is naïve to suggest that by potentially making Rose the only modern player against whom it has literally enforced a “lifetime ban,” Major League Baseball has protected itself one iota from the influences of gambling. Indeed, the exact opposite may have occurred. Instead of encouraging players, coaches, and managers who suffer from a gambling addiction to obtain the treatment they need, Major League Baseball has sent an unmistakable message of “no quarter;” one which seems destined to drive these individuals further underground. Unbending rules often produce inflexible results – which means that one had better guess correctly regarding the outcome.

During his recent appearance in Cincinnati, outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig addressed baseball’s “Pete Rose question” by reiterating his obligation “to do what I think is in the best interest of this sport” and then reminding his audience that he “was particularly close to Bart Giamatti.” As understandable as these personal sentiments might be, confusing them with an appropriate resolution does no favors for Selig’s legacy or baseball’s future.

Selig’s comments strongly suggest that Rose’s continued punishment has little to do with the rule he broke. Instead, personal animus seems to be driving Selig’s approach to this matter – and that fact says a lot more about our culture than we would like to think it does. Particularly in politics, everything seems to revolve around individual personalities. We cannot have mere disagreements without judging one another’s motives and character – then we wonder why our legislative bodies have become utterly dysfunctional. Instead of debating the practical merits of specific programs and proposals, we back our opponents into a corner and force them to defend their personal honor. Under such conditions, how can they ever give an inch toward compromise?

In short, the debate about Pete Rose’s fate continues to be about Pete Rose, when it ought to focus on what promotes the long-term health of baseball and the general welfare of our society. Whether a “lifetime ban” remains an appropriate penalty given what we know today about gambling and addiction is a much more relevant question than whether Rose has earned “forgiveness.”

My first visit to Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park with my teenage son two years ago lifted my spirits and took me back to a time before player strikes, steroids, and “lifetime bans.” I still follow baseball – but for far too long, baseball’s off-the-field errors have interfered with my genuine enjoyment of the game. By making peace with Pete Rose, Major League Baseball might offer the rest of our society with a desperately needed and realistic model of justice, compassion, and practicality. And it might finally win back fans like me.

Jeff Smith Offers His Hometown Recovering Pol Perspective on Ferguson

Tomorrow, our very own contributing RP Jeff Smith will be appearing on MSNBC’s “The Cycle” to discuss the tragic situation in Ferguson, Missouri, from his unique perspective as a social scientist who represented the St. Louis region in the Missouri legislature.

Jeff has already emerged as the go-to guy for many national news sources on the continuing crisis.

This morning, the New York Times published his op-ed, “In Ferguson, Black Town, White Power” which answers the perplexing question as to why it appears that a majority African-American population is being governed by mostly white authorities. Here’s an excerpt:

POLITICS, wrote the political scientist Harold Lasswell in 1936, is about “who gets what, when, and how.” If you want to understand the racial power disparities we’ve seen in Ferguson, Mo., understand that it’s not only about black and white. It’s about green.

Back in 1876, the city of St. Louis made a fateful decision. Tired of providing services to the outlying areas, the city cordoned itself off, separating from St. Louis County. It’s a decision the city came to regret. Most Rust Belt cities have bled population since the 1960s, but few have been as badly damaged as St. Louis City, which since 1970 has lost almost as much of its population as Detroit.

This exodus has left a ring of mostly middle-class suburbs around an urban core plagued by entrenched poverty. White flight from the city mostly ended in the 1980s; since then, blacks have left the inner city for suburbs such as Ferguson in the area of St. Louis County known as North County.

Ferguson’s demographics have shifted rapidly: in 1990, it was 74 percent white and 25 percent black; in 2000, 52 percent black and 45 percent white; by 2010, 67 percent black and 29 percent white.

The region’s fragmentation isn’t limited to the odd case of a city shedding its county. St. Louis County contains 90 municipalities, most with their own city hall and police force. Many rely on revenue generated from traffic tickets and related fines. According to a study by the St. Louis nonprofit Better Together, Ferguson receives nearly one-quarter of its revenue from court fees; for some surrounding towns it approaches 50 percent.

Click here for the full piece.

Last week, Jeff wrote an influential piece for The New Republic, “You Can’t Understand Ferguson Without First Understanding These Three Things.”  Here’s an excerpt:

You can’t really understand Fergusonthe now-famous St. Louis suburb with a long history of white people sometimes maliciously, sometimes not, imposing their will on black people’s livesunless you understand Kinloch.

Kinloch, the oldest black town in Missouri, is now essentially a ghost town, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, it thrived for nearly a century after its founding in the 1890s. Back then, restrictive housing covenants prohibited the direct sale of property to blacks, so a white real estate firm purchased parcels of land, marked them up over 100 percent, and resold them to blacks.” One advertisement noted, “The good colored people of South Kinloch Park have built themselves a little city of which they have a right to be proud. More than a hundred homes, three churches and a splendid public school have been built in a few years.”

The turn of the century was a heady time for the bustling little town. The Wright Brothers visited Kinloch Airfield in one of their earliest tours, and the airfield hosted an event at which Theodore Roosevelt took the maiden presidential airplane flight, which lasted approximately three minutes. Kinloch Airfield was home to the first control tower, the first aerial photo, and the first airmail shipped by a young pilot named Charles Lindbergh. A streetcar line ran through Ferguson, helping Kinloch residents travel to jobs throughout the region, and perhaps more importantly, exposing many whites to Kinloch as they passed through. Despite the region’s decidedly Southern folkways and segregated housing arrangements, blacks and whites rode the streetcars as equals. Kinloch itself was also notable for its relative enlightenment; despite school segregation, it became the first Missouri community to elect a black man to its school board.

All that began to change in 1938. A second black man sought election to the school board in the district which had a narrow black majoritywhites inhabited the north and blacks the southand whites responded by attempting to split the school district. It failed: 415 blacks in the south voted unanimously against the effort, while 215 whites in the north all supported it. So to get around the small problem of losing democratically, whites in the northern half of Kinloch immediately formed a new municipality called Berkeley, and a rare Missouri effort at integrated governance ended. Kinloch continued to thrive for the next several decades as a small nearly all-black town of churches, shops, community centers, and tidy homes.

In the 1980s, the airportlong since been renamed Lambert International Airportbegan snatching up property to build an additional runway. From 1990 to 2000, Kinloch shed over 80 percent of its population, and as the community fabric frayed, it was increasingly plagued by crime and disorder.

Construction on airport expansion, which cost well over a billion dollars and involved 550 companies, began in 2001. Unfortunately, two other things happened that year: American Airlines bought TWA, and 9/11. Which means that the airport is dramatically underutilized now; a senior airport official told me Lambert could easily handle twice the traffic it currently gets.

Meanwhile, many of the residents displaced by this wasteful construction project have ended up in Fergusonspecifically, in Canfield Green, the apartment complex on whose grounds Michael Brown tragically died.

Click here for the full piece.

Jeff has also been burning up the Twitter feed (@JeffSmithMO) with his brilliant perspective on each day’s events.  Click here to read a “Storify” of his last few days of tweeting.

JeffSmithMO Tweets on Ferguson

Josh Bowen: Work + Rest = Success

joshAs I sit here on my 2 day vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina I have to remind myself of the importance of rest. As most know, I will push myself to limit everyday, sometimes working 7 days a week and working out 6-7 days. Rest has not been my best friend, but thankfully I have great people around me who encourage that I take a break. And that break was must needed. For the last 2 days, I haven’t done much of anything besides walk the beach, work on my tan and disconnect from everything. It is a great feeling, every once in a while. 

Not only did my mind need a breather, my muscles did as well. For the better part of 15 years, I have consistently worked out, 6-7 days a week. However, lately injuries have mounted. My biceps tendon was an issue for 2 weeks, then it was my hip. After resting the past few days, my aches have subsided. My body was telling me to take a break. And for the first time in a while, it got it. 

So here are three components of rest we must remember to take our bodies and our minds to the next level: 

1. Sleep- helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later. While lack of sleep can have dire consequences, adequate sleep provides only positive, healthful benefits. In a typical day, a person’s waking hours are consumed trying to meet the many mental and physical demands encountered at every turn, as well as replenishing vital nutrients as they are being used up during these daily activities. In the hours remaining during sleep, the body takes time out to rebuild and recharge, preparing for the day ahead. PLUS…your body only changes when you sleep, so no sleep equals no change. 7-8 hours is recommended. 

2. Relaxation- in addition to sleep, your body and your mind needs to relax. Working out hard is great but you cannot take your body to limit all the time. Taking a day off to recoup is a great idea. Listen to your body, it will tell you where to go and what to do. Yoga and meditation are great relaxation techniques to put you in a great mood and keep your body changing and results coming. 

3. Recovery- can encompasses the 2 above but I would also like to include the nutritional aspect. Adequate amount of protein, healthy fats and vegetables should be used to help recover your muscles to go again. Remember muscles don’t grow and body fat does not disappear during exercise. It is during the recovery phase that changes happen. 

We we all work hard and sometimes forget to take care of ourselves. Just remember this equation: Work + Rest= Success. 

Will Meyerhofer: Encountering Vishnu

Will MeyerhoferSpectating upon the atom bomb ignition at the Trinity test site in New Mexico, Robert Oppenheimer was reminded of a scene from the Bhagavad-Gita – an encounter between the prince and Vishnu, the latter apparently in a cranky frame of mind. The scene culminates in Vishnu, who is attempting to persuade the prince to do his duty, assuming a multi-armed form and intoning:

I have become death, destroyer of worlds.

There are lawyers out there who remind me of Vishnu in his multi-armed form. No, they don’t sprout extra limbs, or destroy entire worlds. These Biglaw-inspired incarnations of Vishnu merely assume the form of senior female attorneys to become career-death, destroyer of junior associates.

Behold the Biglaw Vishnus! (And trust me, within their personal sphere of destruction they give the real thing a run for his money.)

One of my clients fell victim to a Biglaw Vishnu – and his story is, as they say, far from atypical and so merits recounting.

He went, if not to a first-tier school, then to a first-and-a-half tier school, and by some rare stroke of fortune managed to locate a job, (if not at a first-tier firm, then at a first-and-a-half tier firm.)

It’s fair to say this guy was riding high – and gloating appropriately – when he happened to notice a problem: The firm had no work. His response was the same as everyone else’s around him – he twiddled his thumbs, wondering if he somehow smelled funny, or if, in fact (as it appeared) everyone else was twiddling their thumbs too (all while studiously pretending to be busy busy busy.) That situation endured for a year and a half, until my client was rudely stirred from this idyll by a partner, who delivered to him an awful review of the obviously-staged variety. (My client can’t remember if the problem they identified was that he asked for help too often instead of showing initiative or asked for help too rarely and wasted time by being too independent. He hadn’t billed an hour for months so he could hardly blame them for making something up.) As they say in California, “whatevers.” There was, however, a modicum of “fall-out.” Icarus-like, my client found himself plummeting in the unmistakable direction of every lawyer’s ultimate nightmare (at least officially): Unemployment. We all know the rules of this profession – five minutes of unaccounted-for time on your resume and it’s game over; you’ll never work as a lawyer again (well, maybe a staff attorney or doc reviewer but that hardly counts, does it?)

My client had three months to drum up a miracle. Following the world’s most intense job hunt, something came through at the eleventh hour. But there was a catch: He had to work for Vishnu.

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Will Meyerhofer: Encountering Vishnu

Carlton Weddington: Living with a Serial Killer

carlton weddington

Our newest contributing RP, former Ohio State Representative Carlton Weddington, is currently serving a three-year sentence at the Allen Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio for charges of bribery, election falsification and filing a false financial disclosure statement.  

Read his full bio here.

Read part one of “The Caged Bird Sings

Here’s Part Two:

Columbus seems to be unfortunately well represented in protective custody (PC), but fortunately, very few people recognized or know who I am.

I am a little surprised that so many know very little about politics or government. Cleveland and Cincinnati also are represented, and the neighborhood, side of town, or project you came from will dictate what kind of reception you receive from others.

Association with a gang is prevalent as well: The Aryan Brotherhood (AB) dominates among white inmates and Heartless Felons among black inmates — Gangsters’ Disciples, Bloods, and Crips also are represented. Religious affiliation provides some with a sense of protection if they are Muslim. If merely housing men who have broken the law is all that is desired of Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC), they have met the standard. These men, if they get out, will return home with no more education, programming or sense of purpose than when they arrived, and those that remain within the system are destined for a life’s experience of mental, physical and social ills that ODRC is not equipped to handle.


Never in a million years did I think I would be sitting behinds bars in a state prison interacting with some of Ohio’s notorious high profile murders, rapists, pedophiles, drug dealers, robbers, drug addicts, gang members, and snitches; but in 2012, that became a reality. A who’s who of individuals that you heard about on the news, read about in the papers or that T.V shows did reports about; they all seemed to have ended up in A.O.C.I. in protective custody.

Almost two years later — these same men who if I were told I would have to be confined with for more than 2 minutes, let alone 2 years, I might have taken my own life in fear that whatever heinous act that got them here — I might meet the same fate, but now I have no fear of. In fact, mostly I feel sorry for them because my mental strength and education out-matches whatever means they used to victimize others on the outside.

Read former State Senator Jeff Smith’s powerful story of sex, lies and love behind bars.

Most inmates I encountered abandoned the difficult path of study, self discipline, and rehabilitation for the instant gratification of prison life that leads to the perpetuation of the street life that brought them here. In PC alone, my first year in East 2 Block (where they house us are called blocks), I lived among “The Angel of Death”, “The Handcuff Rapist”, The 1-75 Murderer”, Matt Hoffman who murdered a family and stuffed them in a tree, and since then in West 2, “The Highway Shooter” and T.J. Lane “The School Shooter”.

Weddington and Harvey

Weddington and Harvey

For 6-plus months I celled with one of America’s most notorious serial killers — although now in his early 60′s this soft spoken, openly gay and unassuming man was once know as the “Angel of Death”. Donald Harvey still scares many of PC’s other inmates even though he’s a stroke survivor, and he moves a little slower than usual. His resume proceeds him, even after serving 25 years of a life sentence for murders associated with his work as an employed medical assistant at the local VA and hospitals in Northern Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Carlton Weddington: Living with a Serial Killer

Will Meyerhofer: Caregive. Caretake.

Will MeyerhoferIt seems oddly fitting that the words “caregiving” and “caretaking” mean precisely the same thing.  Perhaps that linguistic oddity reflects the salient characteristic of care itself:  a tension between our desire to receive it and our countervailing feeling of obligation to provide it.  Human relations, generally, can be summarized as an on-going battle between those who provide care and those on the receiving end.

As a human child, you started out your life as the ultimate care-collection machine.  Children are designed to make you want to provide them with care – and you’re designed, as an adult, to feel a profound impulse to provide children with care, especially your own children.  It’s no coincidence that anything you identify as “cute” – i.e., feel an impulse to care for – will have child-like features, such as large eyes in proportion to its face and a large head in proportion to its body.   These are all evolutionary triggers designed to make us feel like providing care.

The human instinct to care for youngsters transfers over to other young animals as well, and explains, at least in part, your relationship with “man’s best friend.”  Everyone loves puppies – baby dogs.  But with canines, the phenomenon extends further than that.  Adult dogs retain many juvenile features – a phenomenon called “neoteny” – because by continuing to appear puppy-like up to and through adulthood, they can convince humans to keep wanting to offer them care.  Dogs literally evolved to look young and cute just so you would care for them – and it’s worked!  Unlike most species, the dog’s trick to evolutionary success wasn’t to display aggression, like a wolf.  As evidenced by the wolf’s current struggle to survive in a human-dominated habitat, ferocity only gets you so far.  For the dog, docility, rather than aggression, was the answer.  By appearing cute – a bit like our own young – they mastered a strategy of symbiosis with another species, humans, with a strong instinct to provide care to their own young.  The result is humans calling their dog “baby” and bragging to their friends that he’s “just like a member of the family.”  In many respects, Fido actually is just like another child.  Dogs are a bit like cuckoos in that respect – enlisting another species to do the work of raising their young – but in this case, by remaining young-looking throughout their adulthood, they lead another species to treat them like its own children for the duration of their lives.

Human children are also master care-harvesters – they have to be, because they remain dependent on adult care for survival for much longer than other species.  Adult humans possess large brains, which could never fit through the human birth canal.  Our children are thus, of necessity, born with a relatively tiny, undeveloped brain, leaving them utterly helpless and dependent on the care of others for many years.  Humans thus possess a strong instinct to summon care as a child, but also a corresponding (and conflicting) instinct to provide care for helpless young humans.  Awww…it’s a cute little baby.  I want to take care of it.

Thus do we perpetuate our species.  But this evolutionary arrangement sets up an internal battle between the child within you who’s hungry for care and the adult who feels obligated to provide it.

 

Some humans work pretty hard to be treated like children – and receive care – for their entire lives.  One trick is to keep acting helpless and wait for someone to come and care for you.  One of my clients was complaining about her parents recently in this regard.  She grew up knowing she would have to care for them – they steadily broadcast helplessness, “parentifying” my client from her earliest years, leaving her in the position, even as a child, to tackle most of the care-providing.  This year, as always, my client took her mother out for her birthday, then fumed silently as Mom ordered the most expensive items on the menu.  Christmas will be the same thing – her mother will insist on exchanging gifts, with the understanding that the daughter will be expected to lay out big bucks – and the mother will buy tokens in return.  In any case, this client’s parents were living on her handouts – they’d overspent for years, digging themselves into a deep financial hole.

In my client’s case, her parents are demanding care – behaving, in fact, like children.  But if it’s unpleasant having an adult demand constant care – why should it be any different with a child?  Why introduce someone into your life who is expected to rely on you for care?  This raises the question of why people have children.  And indeed, some parents seem to misunderstand the roles of parent and child, seeing the child as the provider of endless love and care instead of the receiver of it.  Ask one of these folks why they’re having a child, and they might even say so outright:  I want someone in my life who will love me completely.

The idea seems to be that endless care will produce endless gratitude – to put it bluntly, a payoff.  You do absolutely everything for the child – attend to his bottomless need for love and care…and then he looks at you with those big eyes and says “Mommy, I love you”…and it’s all worth it.  And maybe, sometimes, it is.

A more purely mercenary perspective argues that at some point the tables inevitably turn anyway, and the children – now adults – are supposed to take care of you, the parent.  This switching of roles is played down in Western culture, but in Asia, it’s taken for granted.  Many of my Asian friends simply shrug and write a check to their parents every  month because that’s what’s expected of them.

I’ll never forget a television ad I saw once on a flight to Hong Kong.  Western Christmas advertising is all about the children – the iconic image is delighted little ones hungrily tearing open gifts under a tree, with the worn-out but adoring parents thrilled that the heap of capitalist loot they’ve provided has once again managed to please the appetites of the youngsters.  But this Hong Kongese ad, framed around the Chinese New Year, presented precisely the opposite scenario – a shock to my Western sensibilities.  In the advert, a humble, slightly intimidated-looking young couple arrive at the entrance to a house and ring the doorbell.  The door opens, and grandma and grandpa loom in the threshold.  The young couple bow humbly, mumble ritual pleasantries and present gifts.  Behind the young couple, barely visible, stand two young children, heads bowed in reverence.

The scale can tilt either way – toward the elders or towards the children, but it all still boils down to who gives care – and who receives it.

One big step forward comes with learning to ask for care directly – not acting out your need silently by collapsing and going victim or martyr, or going co-dependent and expressing your need by providing the care you yourself crave to others (seethis post for more on that pattern.)

A second big step – the one that counts the most – is realizing that you contain both a helpless child within you and a parent who is more than capable of providing all the care that child needs.

There is a loss, giving up the fantasy of a perfect other providing all the care you need.  Some people cling to religion to avoid this loss, and construct an imaginary provider of care – a god or saint or the like.

But there is also a gain that comes from letting go of the fantasy.  In separating from your parents, and the dream of perfect care, you transform into an adult, and gain a new strength that comes with self-sufficiency.  You can no longer be abandoned, because you always have yourself, a capable adult, by your side.  You no longer have to experience solitude as abandonment.

This doesn’t mean adulthood equals solitude.  You can gather friends, and your family, around you, and ask them directly for care – and they might even provide it, and you might chose to provide them with care, too, out of love and gratitude for their friendship or just because your own cupboard is full and you wish to celebrate your abundance by sharing care with others.

But you are no longer the infant, abandoned in the cradle, who screams and cries because his life depends upon someone else coming to his rescue.

You can come to your own rescue.
==========

My new book is a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance.

Please also check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way-Worse-Than-Being-Dentist

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy: Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

(In addition to Amazon.com, my books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Wendell Ford

jyb_musingsA very special evening.I attended the annual Wendell Ford dinner tonight.But someone was missing, the honored guest himself, who is home tonight battling lung cancer courageously and magnanimously. Even cancer, as sinsiter and destructive a force as it is, must be ashamed to find itself hosting someone so beloved and beneficient as Wendell Ford. (And, yes, someone also so ornery and determined.)

Wendell may not have been in attendance but no figure has ever– in my experience– been more present in his absence than Sen Ford was at tonight’s event attended by at least 700 friends and political supporters.

Story after story about the iconic Kentucky politician was told by the various speakers, but none were really about politics. The stories all seemed to hew to the personal instead. They were about Wendell Ford the man, who just happened to be a great political leader at the time these memorable and meaningful personal interactions occurred.

The stories could easily have been about great legislative heroics or profiles in political leadership. But each and every one centered instead around little acts of kindness observed and experienced from Wendell Ford when nobody else was watching. Because, it seems, that is what stands out about Wendell Ford’s legacy most profoundly.

I chose this picture of Wendell to post –an action picture of Wendell with sleeves rolled up engaging with others while smiling broadly and contagiously rather than a blow dryed head shot behind his senate desk. The latter would be a picture Wendell just posed for. And Wendell was never a poser himself–or had patience with those who were.

wendell fordHe was, as a friend of the family would say, “The Real McCoy” and “the genuine article.” He is obviously still with us tonight and hopefully for a good while longer. And that is important to note because we may not see another quite like him again. Politics has changed…yet didn’t change Wendell.

Wendell Ford, it is true, is a Kentuckian who has walked with kings. But he is perhaps best described by the elevator man at our nation’s Capitol who proudly boasts that Wendell Ford is “the kindest human being to ever walk these Capitol floors.”

And that is an awfully fine legacy for 700 friends and supporters to celebrate tonight.

 

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