Branded # 4: “Trust the process.”









[Our apple-cheeked Friend rests on a Bible; beside him are a couple of others: Tim Wise’s White Like Me,Wendell Berry’s The Hidden Wound, Cornel West’s Race Matters.]

I had jury duty today, the first time I’ve been asked to serve in the thirty-four years I’ve lived in Massachusetts.

In the deliciously long silence of meeting for worship this past Sunday, I had plenty of time to reflect on this lofty, civic duty. I was already pretty clear that, unlike some Quakers, the raising of my right hand and swearing to uphold—whatever—was not going to be an issue. (I already knew that the “Place your hand on the Bible” thing doesn’t happen any more.)

More deeply, however, I realized that, in truth, (or as my mother used to say, “deep down inside”) I’d prefer not to put my life on hold, thank you very much. And realized that I’d been imagining that my Quaker principles would somehow automatically exclude me from selection. But realized that, really, short of magic-markering “I am a Quaker” on my forehead, there wasn’t any real way, no space on the “Juror’s Confidential Questionnaire” form to declare my religious affiliation. (Which is as it should be, right?) Further, I realized—with alarm and embarrassment—that actually, I’d been planning to use my principles to get out of jury duty!

An interesting challenge: How can I be a person of integrity and truth-seeking without using those principles to avoid something inconvenient?

I prayed over this for a long time. And it came to me: Trust the process. Two weeks ago, for example, as I watched the jury selection process for another case [see “Seeking That of God”], one of the questions those jurors were asked to respond to was, basically, Do you trust the testimony of the police over the testimony of someone else?

Hmm, I thought, anticipating today. Now there’s a question I’d have a hard, hard time simply acquiescing to.

So on Sunday, I decided that I would simply trust that were questions such as this raised, I would answer truthfully.

And they were and I did and was promptly dismissed.

Driving home, I had second thoughts. Maybe I should have kept quiet so that someone with lots of experience cheering and supporting defendants could have served.

But that’s not exactly “fair and impartial,” is it?

So I think I did the right thing. Do you?




October 25, 2012: “Don’t Blame Me . . . “

So, here’s the first op-ed piece I submitted to The Boston Globe:

“Don’t Blame Me . . . ”

            Remember those heady, “Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts” days? Remember, post Watergate, post Nixon’s cringe-worthy “I am not a crook,” how proud we were to tell the world we lived in the only state Tricky Dick didn’t win in 1972? That George McGovern, principled, fierce opponent to the Vietnam war and Nixon’s Democratic opponent, died on Sunday at the age of ninety recalls those smug bumper stickers—when hailing from Massachusetts was something to brag about.

These days? Not so much. Sure, MA progressives can crow about our same-sex marriage first-state-in-the-nation record. And we’re tickled pink that Massachusetts’ health care insurance reform law (aka as Romneycare until it wasn’t) inspired Obamacare. But a recent, shameful scandal worthy of Watergate sullies our state’s we’re-not quite-the-rest-of-you reputation and may ultimately prove that, indeed, Massachusetts is exactly like Texas or Louisiana.

This is not about our hapless, 69—93 Red Sox. This is not about The Whitey Bulger Affair (The title of a 2004 MA House Committee on Government Reform report, “Everything Secret Degenerates: The FBI’s Use of Murderers as Informants” perfectly sums up that scandal.) This is about our very own drug lab scandal.

60,000 tainted samples, 34,000 affected cases; such numbers grant First Class scandal status. No one yet knows the full impact of this criminal justice nightmare yet one thing already seems clear: thousands of cases will be thrown out and thousands of inmates will be released. So re-entry, i.e. finding an affordable place to live in a safe neighborhood, a decent job, and, if applicable, staying clean and sober, never easy in the past, just got that much harder for all of Massachusetts’ former inmates.

Early days, as this scandal unfolded, it was tempting to wonder: “Why should I care? I don’t deal drugs. Neither do my friends. What’s this got to do with me?” When a possible link between a drug lab employee and a Norfolk County prosecutor surfaced, however, this scandal became everyone’s story. Prosecutors are a key part of our criminal justice system. Even the whisper that the Bay State’s system has been co-opted affects us all.

A 2009 Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) study explains why:  “Prosecutorial misconduct is an important issue for us as a society, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the criminal defendants involved in the individual cases. Prosecutorial misconduct fundamentally perverts the course of justice and costs taxpayers millions of dollars in protracted litigation.”

Further, The NCIP report stated: “Those empowered to address the problem—California state and federal courts, prosecutors and the California State Bar—repeatedly fail to take meaningful action. Courts fail to report prosecutorial misconduct (despite having a statuary obligation to do so), prosecutors deny that it occurred, and the California State bar almost never disciplines it.”

In their July 2, 2012 report, “Wrongful Conviction and Prosecutorial Misconduct,” John Floyd and Billy Sinclair concluded: “We strongly suspect these alarming NCIP findings, suggesting the lack of disciplinary action in cases of prosecutorial misconduct, will be similar in the remaining 49 states.” Like Texas. Louisiana. Massachusetts.

Every day, of course, from the Berkshire Superior Court to the Falmouth District Court, honorable prosecutors ably perform their jobs. But this possible link between Annie Dookhan, who allegedly tainted those 60,000 samples and George Papachristos, who has recently resigned, is a flashing red light.

Let’s not ignore it. Let’s contact Attorney General Martha Coakley and David E. Meier, appointed by Governor Patrick to investigate this scandal, and let them know that we demand a thorough and rigorous investigation.

October 16, 2012: How do we say “NO!”?

On the other side of way too much busyness—life doesn’t string out our Must Dos over a reasonable amount of time, does it—and feelin’ good. Feeling present. Feeling liberated from those Must Dos (until a bunch of them gang up on me, again.)

So able to sit and to be and to ponder.

Here’s a sampling of what’s now rattling around my less-stressed-out mind:

First, the promised report re sharing NO! with Friends Meeting at Cambridge children. It didn’t quite happen. Or should I say, MY plans didn’t happen.

What did happen was that I had a brief interaction with 3 JH/HS students re the upcoming Textron meeting for worship. And one young man pushed back, declaring that 60 or 70 Quakers sitting in silence outside a factory that produces cluster bombs “a political demonstration.” Hmm. THEN he said, in effect, “And, besides, that’s those people’s job.” Double hmmm.

What would you have said to him?

Second: Vis a vis gearing up to submit op-ed pieces (one of the inconveniently-timed but amazing things I did this past weekend was to attend an all-day symposium at Simmons given by the Op-Ed Project), am pondering a bunch of stuff! For starters, “Do I, a white, privileged woman, have the cred to write about our racist, immoral criminal justice system? How do I, in 750 words, say ‘NO!’ to our status quo Tough on Crime mentality?”

Now do you see why I need some time to wade through such questions?


July 20, 2012: “. . . and it’s One! Two!. . . “

Is is possible that a human heart will not stop beating but can endure, in a single day, the televised sunbathers of [not legible] and the faces of Tyre’s inhabitants going through their burned, destroyed, and disemboweled streets? Yes, our hearts are doing it, and nobody has yet died of anguish. (Jacobo Timmerman, in a 1982 New Yorker piece on the Lebanon/Israeli War)

For thirty years, since hastily copying out that quote, I’ve been inwardly calling such confusing, heart-challenging, observed from afar experiences my “Jacobo Timmerman moments.”  Had one last night at a Red Sox game.

Yesterday morning,  I’d listened to mothers and lawyers and others who regularly receive phone calls from Massachusetts inmates eloquently complain about the excessive costs and lousy-quality phone service they must endure. (This was at a hearing run by a state agency that’s supposed to oversee such things.) Talk about anguish! Person after person, most of them African American, made it painfully clear that phone calls are, literally, a life line. “My son needs to talk to me every day,” one mother explained. And then matter-of-factly explained his medical/mental health history which made a daily phone call to his mother so important. An incredibly expensive phone call, mind you. A phone call VERY likely to be cut off.  Reconnecting, which may happen several times during a conversation, costs an additional $3.00 fee each time. Which this poor, grieving mother has to pay.  “The Department of Correction will tell you it uses this money to pay for programs. I have no problem with programs for my clients,” one lawyer noted. “But to pay for them on the back of the most poor people of our state is unfair.” And, yes, several people referenced the Habitual Offenders bill, aka as the Three Strikes Bill, which was probably being voted upon and passed at that very same time, as a potential source for many MORE frustrated but forced-to-pay phone customers!

And, no, my heart did not stop beating.

But last night, singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” at Fenway Park during the seventh inning stretch, I again wondered how is it any of us can endure these wild and lurching moments when we simultaneously contemplate the pain of “Threes strikes, you’re out”  while joyously singing those words with 37,000 other people? (it was, BTW, a joyous game.)


May 4, 2012: Speaking Truth to Power

Don’t get me wrong: Chen Guangcheng’s plight is deeply moving. That this blind activist has been imprisoned, tortured, his wife beaten, his family harassed for merely speaking out against forced abortions in China is, of course, appalling. My prayers for our gal Hillary and the State Department and the Chinese government to resolve this latest USA/China flap.

But when I watch a smuggled video of Chen directly addressing the Powers That Be re his horrific treatment—and demanding that the officials who beat him and his wife be held accountable—I can’t help but feel uncomfortable. This intense media coverage is so damned smug, isn’t it!

I also can’t help but wonder what would happen if a young Black man sat in front of a camera and  recorded this:

“I wish to speak directly to the President of the United States. My name is EveryAmericanEighteenYearOldBlackMale—I live in Harlem, in Roxbury, Detroit, Chicago, I live in every community of color in this country. And every day, simply because I am a young, Black male, a police officer stops me and frisks me. Every day. This is what the War on Drugs is really about, Mr. President. That cops, needing to fill their quota, troll the streets of my ‘hood. Hoping they’ll get lucky. Sometimes, they’ll plant drugs on me and my peers, then arrest me.

“This is a human rights violation, Mr. President. I have names, dates; I have written down every encounter. I keep track.

“Please do something.”

The only difference between such a video and Chen’s? One of them doesn’t need to be smuggled.


April 27, 2012: Connecting Dots

What a week! Hearing Michelle Alexander speak Wednesday night, Bill McKibben last night. How often do you get to listen to two righteous, profound change agents back-to-back, huh?

But who can bear what these modern-day prophets preach?

* Our supposedly colorblind nation systematically incarcerates men and women of color by the millions; the scope of this 21st century Jim Crow is beyond comprehension—although if you happen to be Black and live in a community eviscerated by this mass round-up of (mostly) men and boys you’re living, breathing what Dr. Alexander preaches.

* Because of carbon emissions, our planet is heating up at an alarming rate, causing unprecedented draughts and floods, hurricanes and alarming weather patterns (shorts in March in New England?)  If we don’t do something NOW we’re doomed.


Here’s what I do: I connect the dots. I see the horrors passionately elucidated by Alexander and McKibben and Chomsky and all those who speak out/have spoken out re “this filthy rotten system” as—are you ready?—symptoms. Symptoms of brokenness.

Somehow this construct lets me feel great compassion rather than despair. And allows me to be humble; always a good thing. Because what can I do? Am I going to heal this planet? Am I going to recreate human nature? Will I eliminate greed, fear of Other, how easy it is for my species to rationalize, deny, distract and distance ourselves from what’s really going on?


What I can do is ask Spirit: What am I called to do to heal this broken planet?

What I can do is spend time with others who ask the same thing. Sometimes, like last night, when BMcK said, “When we have ‘a solar spill,’ we call it a sunny day!’ we roar together.

What I can do is “show up,” witness. (It’s truly terrifying how affective a White woman sitting in a courtroom earnestly taking notes can be.)

What I can do is practice mindfulness.

And to praise and be grateful.


March 19, 2012: Hacked Off!

Okay: I really have a great excuse for not posting 4-eva: This site was hacked!

Had been alerted, thanks to my dear friend, Susan Who’s-Half-Way -Round-the-World, that my site suddenly decided to link to a porn site all on its own. Yuck. ‘Course I should have figured something was off when I did actually try to post (Swear to God) and my dashboard resembled nothing I’d ever seen before. Clever me, I’d figured WordPress had been updated at the beginning of March AND that there was something seriously the matter with me because I couldn’t figure out its new commands.

Okay, so maybe didn’t use the best reasoning skills, here.

But thanks to dear, dear Nathan, who’d set up this site in the first place and who could actually comprehend DreamHost’s page-long list of things to do to clean up this mess, all is well.

Had I posted last week, I might have written about the Habitual Offender, aka the 3 Strikes Bill rally, March 15th, on Beacon Hill. But maybe I’ll just say this: Protesting in front of the Massachusetts State House last Thursday, something I’ve done a time or two, was very, very different this time. Why? Because my Quaker meeting, god bless them, had approved a minute re 3 Strikes the previous Sunday. (The text of that minute follows this.)

To paraphrase that old song: How goodly it is and how pleasant when one’s faith community supports one’s ministry!

Here’s the minute:

Approved Minute, Friends Meeting at Cambridge, March 11, 2012


At its Meeting for Business in Worship on March 11, 2012, Friends Meeting at Cambridge came to unity in its opposition to the Habitual Offender, or Three Strikes Bill currently being considered by the Massachusetts legislature. In doing so, we join our brothers and sisters of faith throughout Massachusetts who have strongly and passionately spoken out against this unjust bill.


As people of faith, we believe we are called to witness to that love and compassion which passeth all understanding. And we believe we are called to ask: Who is my neighbor?


The current bill, now in Conference Committee, perpetuates a broken system and raises more questions than it answers, including:


How long will Massachusetts continue to overcrowd its prisons, already at 143% capacity?

How long will Massachusetts continue to spend its limited financial resources to keep men and women behind bars while failing to invest in preventative measures such as drug treatment programs?

How long will Massachusetts continue to spend $47,000 per inmate per year but only $10,000 per public school child?

How long will Massachusetts continue to incarcerate young men and women of color in disproportionate numbers?


As Quakers, called to witness for peace and justice, we share the Commonwealth’s concerns for public safety. Yet when we have listened to our brothers and sisters living in those Massachusetts neighborhoods most impacted by violence, we have heard their grave concerns and believe, as they do, that this Habitual Offender Bill will not make Massachusetts communities safer.


We urge our elected officials to reject this Habitual Offender Bill which was acted upon hastily and whose true cost to Massachusetts’ taxpayers no one can responsibly predict. Instead, we urge you to carefully, thoughtfully and compassionately design a real Public Safety Bill worthy of this great Commonwealth.


Let Massachusetts’ “light upon the hill” shine forth.


January 8, 2012: “The Struggle”

Yesterday afternoon, at the Dudley Branch Library in Roxbury (a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Boston),  I attended a community meeting re the proposed  3 Strikes, You’re Out legislation here in Massachusetts. More than a hundred men, women and children crammed together in the library’s already-overheated community room to hear different voices speak out on this racist bill.

So that’s the first thing I wish to lift up: Lots of perspectives, lots of different ways to explain “Here’s what I think this legislation is really about!”

Here’s mine: Yes, as many, many speakers said yesterday, this is a racist bill. Anything to do with the criminal justice system in the United States is going to be about race. No argument.

AND: Senate Bill # 2080 and House Bill # 3818 are also about Massachusetts recently having allowed casino gambling into our fair commonwealth. So consciously or unconsciously, our elected officials on Beacon Hill must have thought: “Okay, then. Time to get tough on crime—and, oh, by the way, that’s a post-casino, surefire way to get re-elected.”

Here’s the second thing I want to note: Many, many people yesterday, when given the opportunity to ask questions re the action plans laid out, wanted to instead tell their stories. Their own incarceration stories. Stories of their sons. Stories, as one woman said, of  “The Struggle.”

And that’s exactly how I heard her words: in italics and with quotation marks. But I heard something else. I heard those two words’ gestalt: Slavery, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, The War on Drugs, the criminal justice system, poverty, “The jail trail,”* and that woman at the community meeting, like thousands, millions before her, struggling every day to survive, to overcome, to fly!

SO much practice. So much more to do.

* The path of poverty, inadequate education, and systemic racism which leads to eventual incarceration.


September 22, 2011: Oh!

Came home yesterday after daughter Hope and Kristian’s week-long, delightful wedding cum family vacation, happy, tired and eager to resume my normal life.

After hours of laundry and putting a carload of stuff away—on Friday night, David and I hosted the rehearsal dinner for fifty and basically schlepped our entire kitchen’s tools plus ingredients for lots of Mexican food—I thought I was ready for that resuming-my-normal-life bit. Half-way through returning a phone call, however, I realized how tired I was. And maybe a little cranky? So when the woman on the other end of the line wanted to talk about Troy Davis, I begged her to change the subject. After a week of hanging out with family, a week when I’d purposely NOT discussed politics, a week without newspapers or checking my e-mail, a week of being MOB, doting Grandma, sou chef and scullery maid and avid novel reader,  I didn’t want to hear it. I wasn’t ready.

I wanted to bask in the glow. I wanted to look at wedding pictures. But where the hell were they? How come the wedding photographer, Scott Langley, hadn’t posted them yet? May I confess to a few, cranky, entitled, hissy thoughts?

This morning, after a good night’s sleep, I get it.  Oh! Right. Besides doing weddings, Scott Langley documents death row moments. He’s been in Georgia.

Take your time, Scott.

August 19, 2011: Random?

Today I’d planned to attend Frank Soffen’s parole hearing. In Natick.

One small problem: I never made it. God knows I tried!

Google maps seriously led me astray, instructing me to drive along congested, mall-heavy Route 9 (so there seemed no point to stop at a Big Box/chain outlet to ask directions) before making a right onto Mercer Road. Easy, right? Wish it were so. (Upon coming home, I consulted some other sources which showed I’d been real close. And also showed that Google maps was nuts!)

But here’s the thing: As the 10:00 hearing time came and went and still circling the general area a few more times (Route 9 is a divided highway so “circling” is a challenge!), I felt myself sinking into the mindset Bobby Delello had been trying to explain to me earlier this week. Bobby, co-author of When The Prisoners Ran Walpole: A True Story in the Movement for Prison Abolition, is a returning citizen (my favorite euphemism for a formerly incarcerated person), a major leader of Walpole’s short-lived and amazing reformation story of 1971, and prison reform activist. He’d agreed to meet with me Tuesday to give me some background info for a novel I’m working on.

But what he really wanted me to understand was this: the whole system is rotten to the core. The Powers That Be will never give up control. The Department of Correction et al “play games,” i.e., mess with your mind. (He also had some truly sobering thoughts on surveillance.) So while vainly looking for Mercer Road, the paranoid, confused, frightened (I’d just passed a nasty accident so was feeling vulnerable) Me whispered: “They don’t want you to find it.” (Turns out the “They” was Google maps. NOT the Parole Board.)

So very briefly, in an air-conditioned Volvo, I experienced that paranoia, that powerlessness, that confusion experienced by incarcerated people every day, every moment. Was it a random act that there’s no street sign for Mercer along Route 9? Or a conscious effort to keep people like me from finding the damned place?!

What is Spirit asking of me, I wondered, as I finally got back on the Mass Pike.

Maybe, to write this?

So I have.

July 19, 2011: from Behind the Walls 4

This morning, copying what follows, the (crumbling, hopefully) Murdock Empire very much on my mind, grokked how pervasively sick our mainstream media is.

For those of you just joining us: What follows is another excerpt from a letter by an inmate currently incarcerated in a MA prison to Michael Rezendes of The Boston Globe.

What about the 141 lifers paroled in the last five years who are law-abiding, tax-paying citizens? Or the 340 lifers currently under parole supervision? What about the ones who are drug and alcohol counselors, or run programs that help ex-offenders reintegrate into society? . . . Where is the footage and sound bites from their hearings? Where are the front-page articles about them? You yourself were  quick to bring up accusations against Charles Doucette, knowing full well that he was acquitted of those charges. [Emphasis added]