2020 has taught many people a bunch of things they may or may not have known. For one thing, it’s taught us that power, and the rush to keep it, kills over 27,000 people as the result of ignoring experts in your ranks, warning you that a deadly pandemic is coming. It’s taught us that while there are bread lines a mile long, corporations will make trillions of dollars and pretend to understand what people have to go through. 2020 is also the year We’ve learned the value of human beings, not material items, or capital. It may seem like that’s not the case, as capitalism becomes even more of a destructive force, but it’s true. We’ve learned it, me included.
When I was growing up, I always heard the expression “I value men that are tough and resilient against obstacles.” I didn’t even know where to begin with comprehending that because I knew I didn’t fit that mold. I cried when dogs died in movies. I hugged everybody and told them I loved them. I sobbed with joy when others would finally get their well-deserved happy ending. In society’s eyes, I was, and still am, the weak one.
I’ve since learned that there are many different kinds of strength and power in the world. Humans have all kinds of strengths and power, visible and invisible. It’s not about just lifting weights; humans have the ability to listen and learn.
Everybody can learn something. Anything. It may just take some people longer to learn something because of a disability or similar. Still, the fault isn’t on the individual, it’s on society because society has failed the individual.
My own journey is constantly in flux, as I’m sure a lot of people are also just trying to figure it all out. I thought I had all the answers, and then, just like magic, I learn something new.
I learned that true strength and grit is the ability to understand and do better. If people can understand why they did something wrong and what they can do in the future to eclipse the pain they’ve caused, I don’t see any reason to keep the death penalty alive.
Recently, I took a chance on people society is more than eager to toss away. Prisoners. I figured that we were in the same boat, actively shunned by society at large. I started writing to prisoners because I assumed that they would be far more understanding and empathetic than any corporation or entity.
I was right. It started out with a few one-page letters back and forth, with me telling them about my blindness, cerebral palsy, and stutter. They’d tell me about their favorite TV shows and hobbies and what makes them laugh throughout the day. Soon, introductory letters gradually grew to multiple pages of detailed experiences and thoughts and feelings about our two different worlds. Without fail, we all found common ground, somewhere, without apps begging us to try this new promotion.
I’m getting more than just a companion through my letters to incarcerated people. I’m learning just how ruthless the prison industrial complex is. How the system loves to, once again, punish people, especially with dark or brown skin, a foreign accent, or a nontraditional body.
Day by day, I’m getting a glimpse of what it’s like inside. It’s a carefully crafted machine of punishment rather than rehabilitation.
There are people in prison that have fully come to terms with what they’ve done. I read it in their letters. They are not shy about any of it. They also want to become better people. They want to keep up their education.
So far, I’ve connected with extremely open-minded people. My disabilities never get in the way of us talking about books, politics, love, and more. Our letters are candid discussions, tears, and even laughter. Many I converse with are on death row or have life without parole.
With the recent waves of federal killings, it’s made me really take a good hard look at people and their strengths and weaknesses. Even though these people have done wrong, I believe they are some of the strongest people I know and shouldn’t be killed because a white man of the state wants to uphold a semblance of law and order.
Taking someone’s life never changes anything. Empathy and thoughts change things. Taking someone’s life away doesn’t teach people how to be good citizens. It just teaches people to be afraid of the collective good so much that they only think about the individual and nothing more.
Instead of invoking the death penalty, we can have life in prison without parole for extremely heinous crimes. the death penalty imposes a net cost on the taxpayers compared to life without parole.
We spend $100 billion on police, a power-hungry task force that kill Black and Brown people daily. That money could easily go to rehabilitation programs to vastly improve our mental health system and educational system.
Killing Alfred Bourgeois, Brandon Bernard, and others isn’t making our society better. It’s telling people that we’re happy to kill mentally disabled people and young offenders just to keep power and a sense of superiority the status quo.
We all have flaws. Some are visible. Others are hidden, buried deep because our society can’t handle our needs. Even though our flaws are paramount, our strength and resilience will keep us living and loving one another for a lifetime, regardless of the crimes We’ve committed.
Nobody should have to end their life prematurely because of a bad decision. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my letter writing journey, it’s that incarcerated people do something taboo. They have the grit and bravery to open up their minds and hearts to someone on the outside. They allow me to love them and they show me that love comes in all shapes, forms, and orientations. They demonstrate that love truly is a kind of magic that keeps people striving for better, even if they’ve made mistakes.
Something that life changing should never be executed.