Shame Doesn’t Define Us

Experiencing shame is an emotional trek. There are instances where shame becomes personal or observant. Either way, we tend to judge shame on various emotional levels. The question is, “why?” What triggers shame into something so emotionally driven that is sometimes consumed how we perceive self versus others view us? The fact remains that shame begins with emotion but manifests into something more significant because assumptions are somehow believable facts when actually they still stay as emotion.

I chose to share a mug shot of myself taken years ago. It is not one of my proudest moments nor represents how I look. But it does share a brief moment of how I felt. The expression is angered, disappointment, emotion, and of course, shame. But the sentiment extends to areas I cannot control. Those areas are how others interpret the mugshot. The question I must keep asking myself is, “does that mugshot define me?” and “does it matter anymore?” The quick answer is, “no.” My mugshot is something that stirs shame and embarrassment at first. However, I began to look at it and wonder why it triggered shame. That is the moment I decided to take that mugshot and make it no longer shameful.

The first step in dealing with shame is to confront it face to face. That implies that I must take steps to de-escalate the emotion replacing it with a bit of laughter, mild anecdote, and restraint. Our lives are made up of decades of decisive moments yet sometimes a shameful moment of a few hours erases all the celebrated importances that do define us. My first step was to buy a really nice frame and print out my mugshot to hang somewhere prominent in my home. While this sounds ridiculous to some, it was a change to desensitize an emotional moment and perhaps introduce a talking point should someone ask, “is that a mugshot of you?” It is at that moment I am able to practice how to overcome fear, shame, and embarrassment by providing a short story of a chapter in my life that demonstrates perseverance over a brief moment to keep moving forward. It is someone similar to how the author Stephen Covey mentions the “inside-out” approach in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The suggestion is to develop a reasonable, workable, and controlled mitigation plan so that you are in control of information that may be continually available to the public. Without these tools, at our side, there will always be shame thus placing an emotional gravemarker in the way we live and move forward.

Yes, there will always be discourse, criticism, vulnerability, and of course argument about public records, mugshots, and sensitive information in our daily lives. The sex offender registry presents a valid argument in how public shaming has become a targeting mechanism for the welfare of safety and perception by others. But it is that emotional and mental grave-marking that allows many to further disconnect from society because of shame and minimized voices with nearly one million registrants silently and quietly attempting to move forward leaving the first voice to allies. I would suggest to anyone on the sex registry to discover how to find your story, strength, and willpower not to hide with shame, but to confront it along with materials accompanying it.

Shame and public shaming is an emotion. Mugshots are a fact of public record that cannot be controlled but may be mitigated. A definite part of mugshots is that it provides an expression the emphasizes pain, hurt, and emotion. When others attempt to amplify that the accused wasn’t remorseful, expressed guilt or shame. I would argue to look at any registrant mugshot; you won’t find anyone smiling.

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No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

Say goodbye to Land of the Free

Growing up I can recall moments where I would often see a sign posted on a business establishment window with the words, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.” Those words set a standard of particular behaviors expected by society. Fast forward and those signs have been removed, bypassed with the introduction of flip-flops, or completely ignored. There appears to be a standard that implied rules or laws are meant to be broken or perhaps apply to individuals we selectively want to create constructive prejudisms.

Decades ago establishments and Jim Crow laws applied to where an African-American could legally use a restroom, water fountain, eat, shop, and perhaps live. Eventually, those ridiculous laws were overturned, but someone migrated under the table towards the homosexual community as a silent gesture. However, if people look closely, there are continual hints that such laws used in a discriminatory fashion that continually apply restrictions but in discrete methods. Such methods begin when areas wish to gentrify neighborhoods, business districts, or rezoning regulation. Grandfather clauses became a thing of the past to be replaced with loitering, eminent domain, low-cost housing initiatives, immigration reforms, and group home regulations. These issues present an odor of Jim Crow legislation but masked and prepackaged to tailor a politically correct argument with a single vision and directive to make it nearly impossible for people to have an actual say regarding their wishes or wants.

Society claims to be free embracing the rule of law only if it applies to their standard which varies from person to person. In fact, legislation and regulation have been either pedestaled as too extreme or either too weak. There is no middle ground or an act of understanding anymore – at least from my daily observations. Instead of “no shirt, no shoes, no service” we have constructed conditions where people are no longer free to choose where they live. Such choices could be if a person has deemed a registered sex offender or an individual ordered by the courts for domestic violence has restrictions placed upon them. Again, these are hidden versions of Jim Crow styled laws not allowing free people to move freely. But when registrants, parolees, or rehabilitated drug users attempt to find work, housing, and to integrate into society once again, the Bill of Rights, Constitution, the rule of law, human rights, societal behaviors of redemption have been somehow tossed out the window. My argument is that law has become a new form of selective prejudices to create and manufacture how we can hope to keep others to their standard rather than an equitable and equal standard.

A fact is that society continually seeks not justice but an issue it wants to either rid of or kept hidden, invisible, and unnoticed by others for the sake of properly value and supposed safety. Americans do like to pick on the underdog quite often. However, a free nation that enjoys and employs a vast sex registry among a large jail and prison network it won’t even with the best prison reforms be able to hide the fact that supporters of such methods are no different than Jim Crow supporters. In fact, they are enabling the visions of Jim Crow standards no differently by citing freedoms to live, shop, work anywhere as long as it’s not in my neighborhood or community. Say goodbye to Land of the Free based on that assessment.

We Are Pontius Pilate

Since the first of the year, I have been going to the gym 3 to 4 times a week to rediscover how to get my body back in shape and to fit in reasonably sized clothing choices once again. I attend a wellness center filled with many people, usually mature or older, seeking to either get in shape or highlight therapy towards injuries and such. After a vigorous swim, I decided to enter the hot tub. For some reason, the hot tub at this wellness center has jokingly become the informal roundtable pool

Todays topic began with the R.Kelly grand jury indictment. I carefully listed to all the various unscholarly noise and gut assumptions. After nearly five or so minutes of listening I felt as if the conversation had become judge, jury, and executioner well before evidence or trial can present its arugment. 

What ended the conversation quickly is when an older lady looked over and asked me directly, “do you think he is guilty?”  I replied with, “I have no formal opinion on the matter because I don’t know R. Kelly nor do I live in the Chicago metro area.”  The hot tub quickly became quiet. The facial expressions snapped over to glare at me to suggest I am the onion in the soup. She then said in a careful tone, “but there are perverts like him out there harming kids.”   I said, “yes, but R. Kelly’s issues don’t affect me directly. However, what I am most concerned about our citizens that may be called to be potential jurors claiming to not know anything about R. Kelly but do and want to spread bias while affirming an oath to a judge and God then they will be fair an impartial. Now, that does affect all of us.”  Quickly the hot tub emptied. I knew that I hit a raw nerve. But instead of listening there is cult or gang-like atmosphere that people insist that we agree with fears and affirm everyone is out to get us or do harm despite the fact that it is thousands of miles away or next door.

Rather than engaging in an argument I quickly became the advocate of reason. Did I obtain any winners or sway people? Perhaps not. But what I did convey is pushback towards normative behaviors that we must agree or nod to keep the peace when in fact we are just reinforcing a bad behavior. 

I managed to get out of the hot tub and go to the locker room to change ending a workout. In the locker room I saw a few men from the pool area. As I was changing, one leaned over and said, “you know that woman is a preachers wife?”  I looked back with a smile and said, “I could tell with all those virtuous Christian values pouring out.”  Everyone in the locker room laughed with agreement. The men began suggesting I was the only person that ever stood up to disagree with her. I tried to explain that as a Christian my beliefs are to seek justice, then mercy, and forgiveness. I said, “People have a choice to either be more like Jesus or become like Pontius Pilate.”  That alone cemented that we are often quick to adjudicate before weighing evidence.  It is not my intentions to sound overly biblical or born-again. Instead it is important that people claiming to be Christians practice what they preach. 

On that note, there are many people not only entering correctional facilities today but a large number are let out and attempting to reintegrate into society. In my eyes those exiting the legal system in America have paid their price and should be treated as paying that debt to society. If our culture has no planning towards atonement and reentry into society then we have no reason to provide love, worth, or ambition in excelling as life continues by those affected or connected to incarceration or registry requirement.  It is fine to dislike the crime, but our energy shouldn’t be consumed with hating the person. Disappointment should be brief lapses over time. Instead, we live in a world today where we want to lock people up and throw away the key. Eventually that place too will become overcrowded and bursting with no room to reform and teach others because a person influenced others to think like them. It’s not gangs we should be worried about. It is the ganglike mentality that fails to separate between the street gang and the hypocrites that appear ganglike we should worry about. 

Ten Million Registrants?

Recently the Attorney General for the State of Michigan, Dana Nessel presented an argument to the federal court that the sex offender registry is so burdensome and fail to distinguish between dangerous offenders and those who are not a threat to the community. However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled, that Michigan’s registry is punishment and cannot be applied retroactively.

Before we pop the Champaign corks and begin to celebrate that those affected by the registry and its advocates observe various rulings only to have them become ignored or administratively adjusted. It is somewhat similar to when we hear that a person is “free to go”. But there seems to be paperwork or other administrative details before the individual is actually free. We do live in a nation where statue mandates “fast and speedy trail” but there is no clear rule or policy to mandate the efficiency and workflow of civil procedures.

While I am exited about the Michigan case and its merit lets not forget that a federal court made a previous ruling that hasnt propelled the required traction for immedete enforcement. If the Attorney General wants to gain trust to those affected by the sex registry then the next step of good faith is to stop enforcing a requirement that Michigan registrants to pay an annual sex offender fee. While this sounds like an extreme format towards legislative battles between executive and legislative branches of government, the validation lies with how sincere Dana Nessel intends to pursue how to fix the registry or abolish it, should that be a future project? Perhaps Dana should reach out to current registrants and families affected by the registry for a comprehensive evalution of options?

Let’s face facts that a sex registry is an entertainment tool in the eyes of the general public than an educational tool. To date, there are at least a million registrants. But the bigger picture is undisclosed of those connected to the sex registry. There are parents, grandparents, siblings spouses, and children connected to the daily lives of registered sex offenders. This implies that the sex registry could potentially affect not just one million registrants, but over five to ten million citizens. If registrants are not allowed to be a part of a child’s developmental and parental programs, then that facilitates others such as grandparents, siblings, or friends to remedy that a child has equal access to programs. But if one parent is excluded because of public policy or law then the registry itself is an accomplice portion that devides families, communities, and facilitates potential homelessness issues for Americans. Perhaps this is why Attorney Generals are quickly discovering the sex registry has outgrown its usefulness and should be dissolved.

I am confident that the sex registry will eventually come to an end. The only people clinging on to the notion of registry requirements are those that seek enterprising methods to create a fear-based business model usually siding with law enforcement programs instead of social community programming. These models are facilitated without any facts, any data, any proof, or any rational support that lists work. Instead, there is a culture laced hobgoblin atmosphere that communities are laced with sexual predators creating unnecessary anxieties. Groups of law enforcement unions additionally lay claim to the high effective rate of registry requirements are directly power grabbing. If the registry is so successful as a deterrent, then why has the registry more than tripled in the decade? The answer is somewhat simplified that children are the newest growing members to the registry. With lifetime commitments naturally, the registry will continue to manifest and absorb more people discarding that the registry is, in fact, has deterrent features.

Again, it is essential to remain optimistic that leaders like Dana Nessel do bring value to the sex offender registry argument. However, as the states leading law enforcement agent, she has much more to prove by actions instead of appearing in a courtroom. Registrants and families are watching to witness the outcomes.

I Will Bear True Faith and Allegiance To The Same

Recently I had a delightful evening conversation (and I do mean that in the sincerest way) with my neighbor’s whose political ideologies significantly different to mine. We didn’t exchange heated debates or blame assessments with one another. We talked casually about how the government shutdown was affecting ordinary people, children, and the flow of our economy. We collectively agreed that the government shutdown seemed to be used as political weapons once U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was immediately sworn into office. I was stunned to hear from various Trump loving supporters that they had no confidence in his ability to lead or be reasoned with. To hear this coming straight from all an all staunch conservative room was almost surreal-like.

In the conversation, I heard my neighbor say something that stuck with me. She said the oath of office for the Presidency says, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Her interpretation of “true faith and allegiance to the same” means citizens are utterly loyal to the Constitution and believe in its laws to protect them – not to ever hurt them for legislative purposes or personal agendas. Although her political leanings are far-right, she voiced her concerns that the President has lost touch with preserving the constitution but creating a personalized agenda to tear it apart. She ended with a greater concern that the president may intend to create a divisive moment in history that leads to the start of a civil war between liberals and conservatives. She went on to say that the President doesn’t listen to his advisors, press, or people unless they make him look good in a photo session or on television. But the Trump rhetoric and personal insults are pitting American against American. The mood almost felt like how most Democrats felt during the presidential election cycle. However, it had caught up with the most conservative and evangelical Christian voters.

Another highly conservative male that lives down the block chimed in and quickly presented a biblical scripture to use against Trump’s constant anger filled rhetoric. He said, James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” He went on to explain that the President isn’t listening to those hurting and using his Twitter to vent his anger which seems something the devil would do.

The room filled with frustrations about how to remedy a situation but not to the point of anger, only great disappointment. Yes, there were some emotional moments that seemed to be misinformative news opinion, but the overall tone was bonded by the unity that we were all voters with differing viewpoints but at least willing to compromise and become respectful of one another. The lesson learned from that moment was we could accept defeat or deadlock but were willing to put a critical issue aside for the sake of others. Esentially we all agreed now is not the time to introduce an expensive border wall. It was that ah-ha moment that made me wish the President was sitting in that room to hear from the people that voted for him exclaiming they won’t support or vote for him in future. To that group of ultra-conservatives, the president went against Christian ideals by putting children, families, and our nation at risk over a politically divisive issue. A woman in the group mentions 1 Timothy 3:5 “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” as to infer that Trump is hurting families no matter what the cost.

As the conversation entered into nearly its second hour of discussion, we quickly began to realize that our disappointment, disgust, and perhaps energy was expended to waste time but give insights that we should be people with an ability to respect one another. We did say that our strength is best spent by turning off the television, Facebook and involving or volunteering ourselves in issues that are dear to our hearts. Perhaps turning off the “Trump reality show” where ratings and statistic, not God or humanity, seem to be the vanity he craves and relishes upon and we incidentally are becming adicted to.

Upon reflection, I was glad to be in a room with adults that respected differing viewpoints and exchanges. It is a continual lesson with regards to “do unto others”readings. Additionally, it allows people to either be heard or listened to in an exchange of values over politics. Sometimes we are quick to create our personal safe space in avoidance of sensitive or trigger subjects where we may feel outnumbered or marginalized. It is not to assume or duplicate our personal Via Dolorosa but to discover astonishing and sometimes unexpected outcomes on the opposite spectrum of us that finds a moment of unity and accidental allegiance.

Church on the Decline

Growing up as a child I attended church and Sunday school.  I grew up in a family that didn’t regularly go to church but I went occasionally with my grandma or would go with friends. Because I had a diverse group of friends from various denomination backgrounds, I was exposed to many religious services. However, when it came to Sunday school the message was simple and clear to “treat one another the way you wanted to be treated.”  I am sure there were higher level adult conversations in other Sunday classrooms with elders and mature audiences with churches, but I keep reflecting back to when did the message of “treat one another” lose its path or meaning? 

At these various churches there were activities such as church softball teams, piano lessons, choir, arts, baking, youth fellowship, Boy and Girl Scouts, summer trips, and the list goes on. Despite being mostly a visitor at the time I was welcomed, treated as a member, and provded opportunities to grow with that particular community. The elders of the church and Sunday school teachers were just that – teachers. Nearly everyone I encountered at a young age was a school teacher somewhere in the community. It was perhaps the first time that I could see the “real” them versus the school teacher role. 

Without attempting to sound stereotypical, there were male choir directors that presented effeminate mannerisms, but we still listened to what they said and were coached to sing on key – or close as possible. Nobody in any of the congregations made reference to being mindful or become concerned because of their traits. Again, the emphasis was placed to treat others the way we wanted to be treated. 

Somewhere along high school when Reagan became president the tone of the church significantly changed. It was as if a national purge was taking place. There was no longer room for anyone politically, socially, or different. The softball teams, arts, choir, summer trips, Boy and Girl scouts, baking, arts, and so on were abruptly ending. 

There was a new surge by the far-right and conservative to bring order and controls back to the church – all while blaming homosexuality as the demise of Christianity. However, from my perspective and viewpoint I was witnessing a witch hunt of labeling anyone slightly effemenient or butch to be associates or associated with the gay/lesbian community. The irony is that the far-right actually was the demise of religious attendance in America for failing to treat others as they would themselves. 

Whenever the country appears to be on the brink of turmoil or divided there are religious leaders or far right voices that exclaim blames to homosexuality or liberal thinking. It became so problematic that churches began directly asking members and visitors if they were practicing gay or lesbians. Today that practice is no longer widely used. However, congregations have begun implementing background checks on members for various reasons. To me, any church or religion with a background check shouldn’t be considered a church. Again, churches are losing its own faith to follow how to treat, respect, and welcome others as you would like to be treated. 

Perhaps all individuals should be reminded the valuable lesson of “treat others the way you want to be treated?”

Political Shutdown Games

I am not normally political. This post will be an exception because I am an American and I am concerned.

Please allow me to frame the issues involved with “the wall” in its actual terms. Despite what the media is saying, this is not about Democrat vs. Republican. In short, the executive branch of our government is threatening to declare a national emergency since the legislative branch will not authorize the seizure of private American property for a federal works project nor will fund it. The executive branch has already shut down the federal government. It is currently threatening to extend this government shut down for however long it takes for the legislative branch to cave.

Let us break this down. 

First of all, the framework of our government is based on checks and balances. Power is divided into three branches: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. The Legislative branch controls the purse strings of government and creates laws. The Executive branch carries out those laws. The Judicial branch tells us whether the laws are constitutional or not. Each branch was designed to be able to balance the other branches.

Why? As shown by our original rebellion, Americans didn’t want a King or a Dictator when we were setting up our government. We were not particularly thrilled with a House of Lords telling us what we could or could not do either.

In this case, the executive branch wants to:
(1) take governmental cash; 
(2) create its own law; 
(3) take away private property from American citizens; 
(4) create its own federal works project. 

At least three of these functions fall within the power/ responsibility of the legislative branch. So, what is the problem? This is one of the most naked power grabs by the executive branch over the others in recent history. Once that power is exercised, it is going to be difficult or impossible to regain any balance again. The executive branch was never meant to have that much power (see our country’s previous concerns about Kings and Dictators). Is this constitutional? Very doubtful. Should all Americans be concerned? That is a question for you to answer yourself. 

Second, a “National Emergency” is generally declared under these general conditions: 
(1) Natural disasters including hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes to name a few; 
(2) Public health emergencies such as significant outbreaks of infectious diseases;
(3) Military attacks; 
(4) Civil insurrection;
(5) Any unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, or economy.

Now the first 4 aren’t applicable. The last category was meant to be short-term only. It was designed to be reviewed by the legislative branch every year after it’s enacted (because again; the check and balance is fundamental to how we operate).

So, what is the problem here? If national emergencies can be declared by the executive branch for non-emergency purposes which vest power in one branch of the government why would that branch ever let go of that power again?

Third, the seizure of private property (known as “eminent domain”, a body of law which says the government cannot just take your home without due process). You are joking, right? No. The US/Mexican border is 1,933 miles long. It runs through 4 states (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas). Only 33% of that land is actually owned or managed by the Federal Government. A sizable percentage of that land is owned by the Indian nations. It is land preserved for those tribes by treaty and land given under treaty is not land owned by the United States. These tribes already have a lot of reasons to be angry at the Federal Government. This would be pouring additional gas on an open flame.

The other 64% of that land is privately owned. 

How much land would have to be taken? The amount of land that the Federal Government would have to take would likely run 1,237 miles long to 12,371 miles deep (assuming a 1 to 10-mile DMZ from the border into the United States). Even if we could only take 100 to 500 ft of land in densely populated areas, that is a lot of private property that is going to be seized by the Federal government. 

The land necessary for this project would also run through some highly populated areas in the US such as San Diego, Calexico, Nogales, El Paso, and Laredo. There will be a lot of Americans who are going to have their homes and businesses taken by the federal government. Which will also mean a lot of lawsuits.

In terms of the federal works project, these types of works include hospitals, bridges, highways, walls and dams. These projects may be funded by local, state, or federal appropriations. If they are federal, they are funded by the legislative branch of our government (the same branch that our executive branch is currently trying to take power from). Is the seizure of power constitutional? Not likely given the separation of powers discussed above.

Finally, these considerations do not take into account the sheer cost, human and monetary, that will be involved. The Department of Homeland Security estimates the current cost at $21 billion for construction alone (not counting costs of maintenance or costs associated with increased military/federal patrolling). 

Ask yourself a simple question. When was the last time that you saw a governmental project brought in under time and under budget? Does anyone remember the “big dig” in Boston, Mass? The actual costs are likely to be much higher. This estimated cost also does not include compensating folks for taking their land or the associated impact upon their businesses. 

The Federal budget deficit grew to $779 billion dollars in 2018 according to the Treasury Department. How are we, as a country, going to fund this project? How are we, as a country, going to deal with the additional debt? Unlike private businesses, our country cannot declare bankruptcy. 

This is not about Democrat vs. Republican. It is not about who has the best zingers measured in 10 second sound bites. It is about our country. The core of this issue deals with the profound and immense changes the outcome will have on the structure of our nation. This is the way that we, as a country, should be framing these issues. Please think about it.