Guilty.

My area of study has revolved around the legal and criminal justice systems. I find them to be horribly complex and terribly interesting. Oftentimes, things within the systems are not as simple as people perceive them to be, really comprised of numerous layers that often distort people’s understanding.

For those of you that have been asleep or under a rock, Jerry Sandusky was just found guilty of 45 out of 48 remaining charges, after the judge dismissed 3 from the original count.

The reactions have been varied, but they are anything but silent.

The majority of folks seem to rejoicing – feeling that the system has finally been restored, after the Casey Anthony debacle, justice has finally been served. Other folks, myself included, seem to be almost resigned. There’s a feeling of thankfulness or some positive feeling about the fact that some sort of healing process can begin, but what about all the damage that’s already been caused?

Society rejoices about a monster being put behind bars, but why are we focusing attention on the root of the cause? What about the victims and their families? What about the lives that have been ruined?

I didn’t follow the Sandusky trial. I didn’t follow the Casey Anthony trial.

I don’t watch the things as they unfold. I evaluate them once the process has ended, too many moving pieces to study at once. Each deserves its own careful consideration. It may be that I’m not at a point of my academic study where I can do that or it may never matter, this just may be personal preference.

These trials solidify my belief that I have no business as a lawyer. I can’t fathom trying to defend someone like Sandusky, much less in the smarmy way that his attorney seemed to have gone about it.

Our legal system is supposed to operate as an adversarial system. Public perception seems to dictate that the prosecution and defense counsels are charged with the same responsibility – proving that their side is correct. Each side is expected to advance their position to the best of their ability, but their responsibilities are different. Prosecutors work to “seek the truth and attain justice outcomes.” Their responsibility is to put the best case, ideally an impenetrable one, forward to withstand an assault from the defense counsel, who are expected to advocate on behalf of their client, regardless of if the party is guilty or not. The defense doesn’t need to put together a case, so much as it needs to poke holes in the prosecution. The system is generally perceived as a failure when the prosecution doesn’t tie up all the loose ends or leaves room for doubt. That’s why our legal standard is beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is another notorious case seemingly absent of guilt. What’s interesting are the circumstances that almost seem to have created a series of safeguards to ensure a guilty verdict. Namely, the fact that more accusers were surfacing. While  timing and personal choice are clearly at play here, all eyes appear to be on Matt Sandusky, adopted son of Jerry and Dottie. Matt went from advocating for his father to coming forward as another victim of abuse. You can’t try someone again for the same crime if you don’t like the outcome, but you can try another case with new players.

This whole thing becomes more complicated when you consider the Court of Public Opinion. A system of its own that has crucified Penn State’s involvement, or lack thereof. People are quick to lump the university as a whole, others choose to focus on the individuals that appear to have protected Sandusky. Again, we give attention to those who have done something wrong, rather than the people left behind. It’s easy to think that a verdict means everything is left in the past, but that’s not the case for a prominent university that will spend its time under a microscope as it polishes its tarnished image. The university as a whole doesn’t deserve to be punished for the actions of the few.

Sometimes the Court of Public Opinion can be more damning then the traditional court, especially if the verdicts aren’t in sync. With a case like this, the criminal justice system certainly overrules all.

Sandusky faces a minimum sentence of 60 years for the convicted charges and a maximum sentence of 442 years. Regardless of what he receives, he is essentially guaranteed a life sentence in prison. It is once he’s permanently in custody that our official criminal justice system gives way to an internal system.

It’s been a long-running joke that my area of study delves into prison. I’ll read whatever books I can, I’ll watch whatever documentaries I can and I’ll visit whatever prisons I can. This complexity within the system – the society itself, the hierarchy, the system of rules – has slowly developed into the focus of what I look at.

Correctional facilities may vary, whether they’re long or short-term institutions or their level of classification, but something’s remain constant. There may be an official hierarchy from the warden to the prisoners, but there’s a hierarchy that exists within the prisoners themselves. Much like other arenas of life, seniority becomes key. It’s no secret that there’s a great deal of crime that takes place within a correctional facility – these facilities are typically credited with breeding better criminals. Even if you walk in an innocent person, you will walk out a criminal at the end of your sentence. Adaptation becomes the only way to survive.

It’s not a formal sentence, but Sandusky received a death sentence tonight.

Sure, he’ll likely be put in protective custody as a well-known figure. Please say that like that has saved people with life sentences before. Crimes against children and the elderly are particularly disgraceful in prison. Within the prisoner court, there are no sentencing guidelines for these crimes. There is one sentence.

This is only the beginning of another conversation in, what has been, an apparently never-ending process. Snarky comments have begun, indicating that prison isn’t a punishment for Sandusky, he’ll end up enjoying his time there. Others have started the discussion on awareness of sexual abuse. Some lead the charge in making the conversation about equality within crimes, debating what the outcome may have been if Sandusky’s victims are females. Others wait, knowing that this isn’t over. There are civil cases to be heard. There is a rebuilding process to complete. There is healing to take place.

Tonight the focus shouldn’t be on Sandusky. It shouldn’t be about his wife, who is facing her own public scrutiny. It shouldn’t be about Joe Paterno, on the five-month anniversary of his death. It shouldn’t be about the Pennsylvania Attorney General. It shouldn’t be about Amendola. It shouldn’t be about the ousted Penn State administrators. It shouldn’t be about Penn State.

It should be about the victims.

Let this be about the people who are able and willing to come forward. Let this be about the people who may be out there that haven’t been identified. Let this serve as a larger message.

Let their voices be heard.

22/90

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Have a Little Faith in [Humanity]

It seems to be a running joke between myself and…most everyone talks to me that I use the phrase “I hate everyone” as a default comment throughout my days. I shouldn’t do it. Hate is a strong word that shouldn’t be tossed around, regardless of the fact that I’m not serious when I say it. I also don’t hate everyone. (I hate one person and it took me twenty years to conjure that emotion. A story that’s neither here nor there, really.)

I’m part of the problem.

No one likes to admit that, but there it is. When I write about suicide, I tend to talk about the language associated with it. My flippant comments are part of the problem, just on a different section of the spectrum.

However, certain things happen and make me wonder…do I really like everyone on a daily basis?

I have my doubts about humanity as a whole. You can’t turn around without hearing about the terrible economy, unemployment rates, joblessness and the myriad of problems that seem to be connected, usually in the form of varying crimes. Nothing in the media, or our observable human behavior, seems to indicate that we adhere to the “Love Thy Neighbor” theory, instead we’re allowing Hobbes to have a mild victory party in his grave.

This video went viral earlier this week.  A group of middle school students bullied their elderly bus monitor – attacking her socioeconomic status and weight, accusing her of being a child rapist and advising her to go kill herself. (You all know me, we’ll revisit that another day.) This video seems to represent a myriad of things reflecting the state of humanity.

1. The Ugly

A cursory view of the video seems to indicate that this doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. This doesn’t appear to be the first bullying instance that this children may have been involved in. An elderly woman trying to provide for herself was attacked for no apparent reason. Bullying itself is a psychological trauma. I’m sure the fact that these children advised her to “go kill herself” when her son had completed suicide ten years ago only added to this. (Dear Greek Life, and the rest of the world, this is the hidden harm referred to when Student Affairs professionals try to educate you about hazing. You don’t know everything about a person from the surface. Tread lightly.) Outraged people have now submitted death threats against the students and their families.

2. The Bad

The overarching questions seem to be “How?” and “Why?” Where did the students learn or obtain these insults and patterns of behavior? How does an individual come to the conclusion that posting a video of this nature (forgetting engaging in said behavior) is a good idea? There doesn’t seem to be a lot in the way of apologies or using this as an educational opportunity by the parents, families and school. (Yet. Admittedly, haven’t kept on top of this one.)

3. The Good

As of 3:00PM today, over $300,000 had been raised to send this woman on a vacation, or possibly retire. She indicated that she would likely donate the money.

It’s easy to focus on the Bad and the Ugly. There are numerous, and significant, problems there. But why can’t we focus on the good? Some college students donated the last remaining dollars in their bank accounts to this woman, knowing the harmful effect bullying can have. Why can’t we all have the same mentality of caring for one another, realizing the small actions can build into a larger concept.

Maybe it’s already happening. Maybe it’s just not widely acknowledged (a problem of its own – why do we focus on the negative?)

We can raise money for a bullied elderly woman. We can donate money to orphans in foreign countries. We can donate monthly to care for abused animals. We can see the rise of Kony 2012. Right now, families are having ice cream for dinner to celebrate a family’s dying wish for their child.

Why do we focus on the negative?

Why do we feel like we’re too small to make a difference?

I leave you all with this, what has now become my go-to “Makes You Feel Warm and Fuzzy and Like There’s Hope in the World” post.

And if we could keep it between us that I am capable of warm and fuzzy feelings, that would be great. Thanks.

UpdateThe bus monitor has now received free flights for herself and 9 others to Disney and a free Disney vacation.

21/90

“When You Know Better, You Do Better.”

In this blog (and in real life), I tend to have a pretty decent sense of humor. Dry and sarcastic (albeit sometimes witty and sardonic, at times), I try to keep myself and others laughing. I let it be known that I’m a serious person in general, which is why my style is more sarcastic and drawling, not “Hey, let me tell you a knock, knock joke.” If you want one-liners, I got you, boo. I just don’t do them on command.

Sometimes I picture my humor as a gas tank. On a good day, it starts out full. I gradually start to use it, occasionally filling it up as I go along in my days. But sometimes, when the perfect storm of things is brewing, the humor tank dwindles. Slowly and slowly until I’m running on Empty.

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe my gas light has come on.

What appears to be an indescribable funk, punctuated with some feelings of anxiety, seems to be manifesting itself into exhaustion. This contributes heavily to my inability to make jokes or generally make light of things so as to indicate that despite the look on my face at times, I don’t actually hate everyone and everything around me.

I’m sure you’re sitting there going, “Great. Eat a cookie, take a nap, do something you like – but what does this have to do with me?”

EVERYTHING, dear reader.

Perhaps I exaggerate.

But it does have an effect on what I choose to write about for the day. I generally take my writing here day by day. The content produced has been usually generated by something happening in the preceding hours of the day. I don’t typically have a stock reserve of topics to draw on. (Admittedly, I tried that last year and it felt like I was cheating on the 90 in 90 Challenge.)

I may not have a reserve of topics, but like in life, I have things that weigh on me constantly. Whether it’s my program of study, the general trials and tribulations of my lack of future plans or things that have happened in my life – ultimately, all things that have shaped me or are in the process of doing so – these things become the topics my mind wanders to when the humor tank is on empty, or pretty close to it.

I should take the hint from my serious posts – they tend to be the ones with the higher views, but as the expense of a lot of valuable energy.

My go-to serious topic has been suicide – whether it’s talking about language or the associated stigma, it was added to the list of things that have shaped me into who I am. I have so much more to say, a lot of it left over from the last 90 in 90 attempt, but it all became too much. Too much to try and figure out my life and then add on apparent suicide educator? Let a sista live and eat some chocolate. (Gas light is on, tank’s not empty yet, apparently.)

This concept of stigma has become more of a defining factor than I realized. It goes with the suicide link; a lot of my area of study has focused on the varying forms of stigma associated with the criminal justice system; but it also goes with my newest admission.

I go to therapy.

It wasn’t necessarily a voluntary decision, unless you define voluntary as my academic advisor stating that I need to, in which case – 100% voluntary. I was given little in the way of an option after my dad passed away; a parent dying when you’re young is all the reason you need, apparently. It took me about  six months, with some badgering and threats of meddling, before I made the call.

Why?

The stigma.

Not a whole lot of people like to admit they’re in therapy. I sure as hell don’t. People just assume there’s something wrong with you. I assumed that there was something wrong with me for being told I needed to go.

I’m going on the record as saying that’s not true.

I needed someone to process through losing my dad and my best friend. I needed to feel like someone understood me, especially since I was the first of my friends and the first of most of my close family members to have lost their dad. I knew things were never going to be normal again. I knew I needed to create a new normal, but I needed help. Help that I usually would’ve gotten from my dad. I don’t know if you all knew this, but I’m not a fan of asking for help. (And in other news, the sky is blue.)

I’ve thought for the past year, something has been wrong with me and my therapist was just waiting for a good moment to tell me. (I assure you, my logic is always flawless. If you disagree, the door is to the left…where the haters go.) Surely, my funks and little pits of anxiety mean something. I’m beginning to accept this could be my last year in the Lehigh Valley, which essentially means I would like to be done with therapy in a year. It took me a couple months to like this guy and maybe the full year to trust him, so really – there’s no time to restart this process. I have living to do. Chocolate to eat. People to annoy.

So last week, I decided to ask the simple question: “Is there something wrong with me?”

I received a very thoughtful, “Not at all.”

There was a logical explanation that followed. Explanations that I had nothing diagnostically wrong with me, using the DSM-IV as the guiding light. I’m in a period of grief. (I really like to take my time with things, make sure I’m doing them correctly, apparently.) But there’s no clinical diagnosis in my future.

So I did what any logical person would do.

Argued.

Because when you want someone to confirm that nothing is wrong with you and you get the answer you want, the appropriate response is to fight.

My stubbornness is one of my more endearing qualities.

At the end of the day, I’m grateful for an academic advisor that cared enough to make the suggestion (or mandate), who followed-up on it…constantly. An advisor who was willing to bend some of his personally imposed rules if that’s what it took to get me to go.

The people I’ve met at Lehigh have taken care of me.

Therapy’s given me the space I need to process through things, something I value, with the person most qualified to do it. It’s given me an outsider to talk to, someone who I know can’t reasonably placate me. It’s also made me more self-aware.

Self-aware about the fact that Father’s Day is coming up and I may not necessarily want to deal with that. Self-aware about the fact that I should consciously decide to maybe go to therapy weekly in June, instead of having a certain academic advisor suggest mandate points of the year when I go weekly. Self-aware about the fact that I’m okay. Self-aware about the fact that humor might be my coping mechanism, but so necessary.

Most importantly, self-aware about how I feel about all of this.

I have a tendency to take on too much. I really like to be busy. This has all been coming to a head with me figuring out my future; I currently fail to understand that not everything you like to do or care about has to be involved with your future career. Something about career vs. interests and additional passions or some wisdom that I haven’t absorbed yet.

I’m self-aware enough to know that I’m not turning around and running back for a psychology degree, enough to know that counseling or some other direct role with mental health is not what I want to do. I’m self-aware enough to know that it is something I’m passionate about.

I’m attracted to the thought of a PhD because I enjoy the concepts of teaching and mentoring. I may have a hard time reconciling what my future PhD program may look like, but I know that I can still take those concepts and apply them to all of the things that I was resistant to do a year ago.

Stigma is the problem. Education is the solution.

There’s over 70 days left in this blog semester.

Class is in session.

13/90