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Look a Little Longer in 2023
preventing tragedies by seeing ourselves in the faces that look back at us
When I launched this newsletter in 2021, I wanted to breathe life into what I saw as a dwindling awareness or general complacency towards the state-manufactured crime of wrongful convictions. I simultaneously launched a podcast believing that people would be outraged to know that so many years of life had been lost to nothing more than the personal ambitions of corrupt, state officials and law enforcement. But, the response for the most part was silence.
And for those who don't know, it is heartbreaking to fight for a cause that is the equivalent of a tumor in our lives, but for reasons we don't quite understand, others just don't seem to care. And what seems and feels like human indifference leads to doubts, and doubts lead to the revamping of purpose and reflection. Then suddenly, as though the answer were always before us, we recognize that we're not alone.
We've all seen the countless commercials like those for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The mothers with heartfelt emotion and tears, pleading with the world for financial help in curing their children of cancer. Nothing infuriates me more than watching those commercials, because it's a disgrace for us to live in the richest and most powerful nation in the world and mothers have to beg for the air they breathe because certain political and economic ideologies have decided that universal healthcare would make us communists or socialists.
That, my friends, is the definition of idiocy. And if it’s idiocy that we're dealing with, then what chance do other causes have?
After dozens of essays and podcast episodes, where I discussed the circumstances of my own case and wrongful conviction, I began to question whether the apathy I was witnessing was unique to my cause, or whether I was actually seeing the collective decline of humanity in realtime. Until it finally occurred to me that we only care about what seems relevant to our lives in a way that we identify with. In other words, someone who has never been arrested or wrongfully accused of anything probably won't readily see a need for reforming our justice system. Just like the politician who has never had to beg for a child's health and healing doesn't identify with a single mother who has.
What we lack isn’t empathy, it's a willingness to look at a tragedy long enough until we see our own loved ones looking back at us.
There is no doubt that prison provides perspective on humanity.
Take, for instance, that I have seen incarcerated men give a month’s wage to someone who has nothing or no one, and in the same week assault someone else because they have “messed-up charges” (rape, child abuse, or because they ratted on someone).
The convict mentality is something I have observed for nearly two decades and I still don't fully understand it, nor does anyone else. Suddenly people find themselves convicted of a crime and they're miraculously converted into avenging angels against anyone who has hurt a woman or child. They somehow fail to see that their own criminal lifestyles actually contribute to the victimhoods they avenge. Like tobacco companies lamenting lung cancer and paying vigilantes to assault gas station attendants and cashiers for selling cigarettes to the public. Or arms manufactures doing the same to anyone who commits violence with a gun. Of course, none of this happens because both have built business models on manufacturing human misery for profit and mass-incarceration is no different.
My point is, people don't ignore causes or cries for help because they are apathetic to the needs of others, it's more a question, as previously mentioned, of not identifying with the cause or need in question. It's about failing to see ourselves in others, and likewise failing to recognize our common humanity and actual interdependence on those same others.
Obviously, if we can't know that someone who is within our purview to help today will potentially go on to become a brilliant researcher who discovers the cure for whatever ailment our future spouses, children or grandchildren would otherwise suffer and die from tomorrow, we won't act out of self-preservation as we should. The challenge, of course, is that we don't know where the next brilliant idea or solution to whatever problem will come from next, and, are we willing to miss it?
Likewise, if we've never found ourselves in need of help like the person before us, or because of arrogance think we're somehow impervious to tragedy, or refuse to acknowledge our interdependence so as to look at what's before us long enough to see ourselves, then we simultaneously fail ourselves and posterity.
Which brings us to the task at hand, doesn't it?
How to make someone look at a tragedy long enough to see themselves in the tragedy. Because once that happens, it's no longer a question of philanthropy or generosity, it suddenly becomes a question of self-preservation. And that's where every, single, obvious cause should lead us — to that very realization of universal interdependence.
We almost never get to that point because we don't allow ourselves to look long enough. Maybe because we're afraid of what might happen if we do. Or, maybe it's just a question of self-preservation in fearing what would happen to us if we open ourselves to the tragedies of others.
Either way, when we consider that the preventable tragedies that aren't prevented in what is undoubtedly the most capable nation for doing so, that in itself is a tragedy.
Veterans of the Armed Forces shouldn't need the Wounded Warriors Project to give them dignified lives. Just like parents fighting for a miracle and cure for their child shouldn't need to hope and pray for a benefactor. The list of causes that deserve our attention is as long as it is urgent. We have trained ourselves to look away, and in doing so we are failing to see the existential threats related to climate, justice, institutional corruption, the rise in hate-ideologies and the very legitimate threats to democracy that deserve more than a wayward glance as we pass them by day after day.
This isn't a post trying to make any of us give a damn or a dollar to any particular cause. This is about looking at the year before us as the fresh opportunity that it is for self-improvement. Sure, let's eat better and exercise more, but let's also take it upon ourselves to not look away or judge (without knowing the facts) when the next tragedy presents itself, because that's where we live up to our humanity and save ourselves in the process.
Many times we don't have money to spare, but we have a voice, a vote, countless platforms and mediums to express ourselves, and even a suggestion or a relevant skill with a few moments of our time could save a life. Righteous causes shouldn't just be line items on budgets or sound bites on commercials, they should help us to find the best versions of ourselves within ourselves; and when that happens cause us to elect leaders who are following their better selves, too.
This newsletter isn't solely about the wrongful conviction that has hijacked my life for nearly two decades. It's more like a poignant perspective on who we are, both as individuals and a nation, as it relates to the injustices we tolerate and openly permit. Please, don't hesitate to share this link with others because you never know when something as simple as a click will save a life that saves a hundred, a thousand, a million, or maybe a life that you love. And that's something we don't want to look away from and miss.
May we all find our blessings this year!