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We're all criminals here

Today in the car I was mulling over this little paradox:

I am on the board of directors for a nonprofit that provides services and resources to ex-offenders. Yeah, guys (well, mostly guys) who have served their time and been put out on the sidewalk without so much as bus fare. Go thou without a cent in your pocket and sin no more. Basically, we start working with eligible (meaning nonviolent) offenders while they're still incarcerated. They come to us--we make it known that we're willing to work with anyone who wants to learn. We help them with any number of things--how to find a place to live, how to put together a resume, who to apply to for work. If you want to see how it works, try to catch the documentary Hard Road Home about a similar operation in NYC.

Anyway . . . I was thinking about these guys, who want to figure out a life that doesn't involve dealing or breaking and entering. They're not proud of their past. They want to change, but it's really, really hard, especially when they're surrounded by all their old friends who still do the same old things. And then I thought of someone else, someone who is about as far away from that desperate life as you can get. I remembered when this woman (who liked to paint herself as a former "punk rocker" and used to post in a forum I frequent) was proudly recounting an occasion when she and her roommates, disgruntled with their landlord for some reason, destroyed their rental place. She described how they gouged the wood floors and super-glued all the locks in the doors and otherwise trashed the place. I can't remember the particulars now (some of you old Pancakes may, and if you do, feel free to elaborate or correct, and yes, I'm talking about who you think I'm talking about). I remember being utterly repulsed by her--not because of what she did those years ago as a younger woman, but because she was still proud of it. She thought it made her a badass. This privileged young woman somehow felt entitled to do what she did, and was STILL pleased with herself about it years later when she was older and should have known better.

Today people ask me why I want to help law-breakers instead of law-abiding citizens in need. Well, first, I think most of these folks should never have been incarcerated in the first place, because I think we should legalize most, if not all, drugs. But put that aside. This woman who is still so clueless and unrepentant never got in trouble for what she did. On the other hand, you have these guys who got in trouble for what they did under much more desperate circumstances. They don't glorify it. They'd rather figure out another way, but they have never had anyone around who wanted to share the most basic knowledge about the mundane transactions that make up daily life in the society they've never been a part of. A lot of them won't make it, because it's incredibly hard. But they don't have any illusions about who they are and why they do what they do.

I find them admirable. I think they're brave. I can't think of people I would rather help. And somewhere an upper-middle-class white woman is still patting herself on the back for doing something destructive and spiteful that could have landed her in jail. Because she was soooooo punk.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
writebrain
Apr. 16th, 2008 11:08 am (UTC)
Wow. Good analysis.

I'd forgotten about that story until you mentioned it. But I remember it being pretty stupid too. Don't remember any other details about it.
ucakid
Apr. 16th, 2008 05:45 pm (UTC)
I don't know what you mean since I'm not a flapjack but I wish I worked with you. I have all this energy and experience to give helping people get a leg up and I feel I have little outlet...interviewing, how to say things, etc.

I think that woman is a dolt.
eme_kah
Apr. 16th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
Change is so incredibly difficult, especially when you're talking about changing your own behavior. And self-loathing makes it that much harder.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 16th, 2008 09:02 pm (UTC)
Interested in your work
We've been working with re-entry programs here in VA -- trying to work with soon-to-be ex-cons to get them basic documents, lodging, restore relations with families and children and look at some of the institutional issues that further disadvantage people trying to turn their lives around. It seems to me that you are really helping those in the greatest need. I'm proud of you.

Bubs
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )