HUMANITY is BINARY

So the Vanessa mentioned in *THIS* article is a friend of mine from way back in high school, and when she found out this guy had put her personal facebook information on his forum in a post titled “Operation Insemination”, I took some screenshots and discussed her going to the police (which she did when her parents got threatening phone calls). Specifically her, for no reason I can think of. I don’t think it’s a “notch on her belt as an activist” (which was said intending support, but it also dismisses her situation, and kind of perpetuates the system), but a serious threat to Toronto, and everything I care about (and you, too, I hope).

See, she ISN’T a famous activist, nor even a lead organizer for the events, but based on apparently random selection he put her information out there and advocated that his minions try to seduce and inseminate her and other feminists… AND PEOPLE LISTENED!!! The idea that it’s so easy to get even random wackos to commit crimes against strangers and their families baffles me. This isn’t activism from him, or an opposing view of women’s rights, but thuggery.

This is unlawful behaviour that threatens Toronto at its core: we exist because of rights, including the right to safety and dignity. Rape and violence from men or women is unacceptable. Male or female, white or black, rich or poor, there can be and must be no difference in right to life and liberty. Power as expressed by this person, or the IS in Iraq (against family friends, now, men and women), is anti-human, anti-rights.

Worst, this is a widespread issue: Yale had that march of male students yelling “No means Yes, Yes means Anal”. This morning we see even more reports out of Iraq of women sold AS SLAVES in the IS. Literally an area the size of Indiana that loudly advertises sex slavery!!!

As a white male I’m aware of the privilege I enjoy, as well as the (lesser known) discrimination against my “demographic” by those who’ve faced oppression from my “kind”. I’ve tried to use my privilege to advocate for people who don’t have it, due to race or gender; and I’ll continue to do that. I don’t like having to: I hate that people don’t see themselves and myself as equal citizens, as having the same human worth. What I hate most of all is that the good things that I love (for example, I’m big on rational thought and logic, on reason) are seen as “white male perspective”, or that trying to help is reduced to “white rescue”. Honestly, I’m interested in getting to the point where we’re judged based on merit, not skin colour or gender.

I don’t feel safe around rapist types. I’m too nice, too smart, and worst of all I prefer reading books to burning them. I’m a person of faith who wants to love, and thinks even those of other beliefs (religions, cultures, even (gasp!) political factions) are amazing people who deserve life, liberty, and happiness. These guys (and gals, sadly) go after people like me first, so I can’t call them on their bull.

I state, here and now, that I’m in support of reason, of the rights of women AND of men. I believe we are a binary, FEMALE AND MALE, and that the suffering of one not only affects the other, but IT IS THE SUFFERING OF THE OTHER, TOO! I don’t think life reduces to endless conflict (sorry Hegel) between men and women. I believe power means nothing without responsibility, without service to others.

As a male, my safety is the safety, my freedom is the freedom, and my life is the life, of the women in my home, my family, my community, and my world. And I believe theirs is mine. I don’t *have* to be a radical feminist *or* a rapist. I am, rather, radically for females and males as humans, as a connected whole.

I’m asking you to act on this binary: support women in need, EMPOWER them and believe in them, because doing that is to support a real society.

Can Walter have Justice?

I have a request to make, passing on a message from a friend of mine. The gist of it is that his nephew died as a result of PTSD and depression, before he could appeal a court decision to clear his name. His family, though naturally shattered, is trying to get the appeal through regardless, to clear this young man’s record. The Change.org petition is linked here, and I’m hopeful your compassionate nature will take the time to follow a link and tick a box for a truly good cause. I’m told the appeal is going to be on August 23rd, 2015, so let’s try to get this filled up!
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For those of you in the gaming community, Daniel Bishop is one of our modern day luminaries. As an author he is prolific, having written many, many adventures for dungeon crawl classics RPG, including tournament adventures, modules, blog advice posts, and a long-running correspondence with myself and others. He is stubbornly fair with his rulings, and that’s why I value him as a judge: he takes the facts at hand, weighs them realistically, and responds with the simple answer, neither pandering nor malicious, but truthfully as he sees it. Above all, I think, he understands games as a teaching tool: while choices for characters can end in failure for the imagined character, the players at his table learn and grow for future games. He mentored me through my first book, before even knowing me. I’m not alone: a legion of authors and gamers have Daniel to thank for various acts of guidance. As soon as I heard of his petition for his nephew, I took it upon myself to spread the word as best I could. This is a good cause. I cannot pretend to be a hero but fail to act when I have the choice.

Another mentor of mine, a justice of the peace in the UK, found that the raw humanity he saw in court made him appreciate the troubled youths in his community, and we ran a youth club for them (real hard cases, and he did true good in their lives). In my own time in social work I, too, learned that (dangerous people aside) many cases were better solved with compassion. I made mistakes, I’m sure, but I learned a great deal from them.

I hope the judge in Walt’s case sees this appeal, not as an insult to their judgement, but as an opportunity to do good. Law is something I believe in, something that exists entirely to help the people. In this case, the current design of the system failed Walt, the tools at hand were inadequate: tragically, we learned all too late that his diagnoses of depression and PTSD were not fake.

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Yet I feel that it doesn’t have to fail his memory, nor fail his family. They need the good judgement of a true mediator. I hope, if that judge or anyone in a position to help is reading this, they could grant his family what they need, and clear his name.

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Suicide is, in my opinion, not an act of choice as much as it seems to be so. I know this from personal experience: I have had extreme anxiety, to the point where I quite my former career path and reformed my life, and my family’s life, to survive it. While I’m still alive, I also didn’t have the pressures this young man went through. He was accused of a crime his family can prove via phone records he wasn’t involved in, by witnesses who are obviously unreliable; a kid, he was locked up in solitary confinement in jail “for his own protection”, despite it being classified as a punishment IN JAIL and a form of inhumane torture. All this while diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and PTSD, by medical professionals.

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When the judge ignored Walter’s evidence and condemned him, rejecting his medical diagnoses of PTSD and depression as “purchased”, I’m certain Walt felt alone. That’s what depression does, beyond reason: the frontal lobe shuts down, the ability to use logic decreases, and the victim of depression CANNOT think outside their situation. I’ve had mere disappointments make it so I can’t get out of bed. I cannot imagine the despair of seeing my life warped to endless inhumane imprisonment, locked in with actual criminals and brusk prison officials.

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The fact is we have an opportunity to make a difference right now. I’ve signed the petition, and I’m certain you will, too. Read the documents of the case to decide for yourself, see the gallery, and maybe pass this on to the custodians of the law of our society so that they can have the chance to do the right thing.

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https://wcca.wicourts.gov/pager.do;jsessionid=68F6C9323DCCB…11777587_683683501766846_177487393_o

I’m going to repost his uncle’s story below, and also pictures of Will so you can see him, not just imagine. Before I do that, however, I wanted to make it clear that this issue means a great deal to me. I’m sorry I couldn’t post sooner, my inadequate understanding of how to make a poster with photos just not being up to the deadline for Walter’s appeal. Without delay, then, here are the links to the Change.org petition, a gallery of photos of him from family and friends, a video on prison issues in the United States by John Oliver, a link to the documents of Walter’s case, and his uncle’s words on the matter.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and, I hope, help us set things right.

WALTER’S CHANGE.ORG CAMPAIGN: PLEASE FOLLOW THIS LINK AND SIGN

The following was written by Daniel J Bishop:

On 30 April 2015, my nephew, Walter Wessel IV, took his own life as a direct result of his experiences with the Wisconsin judicial system. He was accused, while a minor, with criminal damage to property over $2500. One of his accusers has now subsequently committed suicide.

Like many teenagers, Wally had a rebellious side. He initially refused to speak to the detective assigned to the case, citing his Constitutional right to do so. This seems to have upset the detective enough that she made it her mission to see him convicted. In the preliminary hearing, the judge indicated that there was not enough evidence to go to trial.

Consider the highlights:

(1) The prosecution withheld the recordings of the interviews with the only witnesses for the state from the defense.

(2) The investigating officers took DNA evidence, which did not match the accused.

(3) There was, in fact, no physical evidence presented.

(4) The witnesses for the state had their juvenile charges either completely dismissed or adjudicated as a result of their testimony. Again, one of these has now committed suicide himself, following the death of my nephew.

(5) These witnesses not only had a motive to fabricate an accusation, but they were consistently inconsistent in their testimony about that accusation.

(6) My nephew had an alibi for the time the crime had been committed, which could be verified by phone records, and that person testified in court.
In the initial trial, the court-appointed defender was clearly incompetent, and sabotaged the testimony of my nephew’s witness. Upon appeal, the District Attorney stated that they had worked hard at finding the guilty person, going so far as to use DNA analysis, although she neglected to mention that the results of the DNA analysis did not support conviction.

The appellate judge ruled that, although my nephew had not received a fair trial, his Constitutional rights had not been violated because (1) he had heard the evidence against him at the pretrial hearing and because (2) the judge did not believe my nephew’s testimony.

My nephew committed suicide during the appeal process. Although his family has tried hard to restore some sense of justice, they don’t even have a reason behind the second appeal’s failure. They now have until 17 August 2015 to request a further appeal from the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, and have no hope of being given a fair hearing if the matter can simply be swept under the carpet.

According to my nephew’s attorney “The Supreme Court is very hostile both to one another and to defendants. Even if they did take the case, I don’t think they would grant him relief. In the last few decisions they’ve released in criminal cases (including one of my cases), the supreme court has gone out of its way to deny relief to defendants and in doing so (in my opinion) created very bad law.”
My nephew, Wally, was not perfect. He did have run-ins with the law as a juvenile, but he was also turning his life around. He was gainfully employed, well-liked at work, and in line for promotion. He smoked pot recreationally, and he drank about the same amount as his peer group.

Wally was sent to the Huber Facility, where he was provided hard drugs by other inmates. To the best of our knowledge, this was his first experience with hard drugs. On the day after his release, his probation was revoked for drinking and drugs, and was sent to prison to wait his revocation hearing. He had been diagnosed with depression while in custody for awaiting his revocation.

He elected to go to a boot camp for 6 months, although depression disqualified him from going, and after a couple of months he had to leave because they were afraid that he would kill himself. His probation officer knew at the time that he had been diagnosed with depression by two different doctors, one paid by the state. His probation officers broke the rules by sending him there, and should have offered him a drug program instead. Neither his parents nor my nephew were made aware of this until it was too late. His lawyer suggested a doctor assess his mental state. He was found to be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, most likely related to his conviction of the crime and what followed. He was once again released to probation.

After 3 months, Wally smoked again to ease his depression, an act that cost him 18 months in prison. His mother, my sister, said: “But before the judge sent him to prison he commented on how convenient it was that we were able to buy a diagnosis of PTSD and then he went on for what seemed to be at least 10 minutes telling my son what a piece of shit he was. Then he sent him to prison, not because he was a danger to society but because he needed to be punished. I guess that wanting to end one’s life is not punishment enough.”

Because Wally was small, he spent a lot of time in solitary confinement for his own protection – a small room with no windows. This is normally a severe punishment, and there is growing consensus among psychologists and human rights advocates that it is a form of torture. This was after he had been diagnosed with PTSD.

Four months after my nephew got released from prison his grandfather died. He was depressed and again smoked pot. Since this had been the second time (he admitted to both times prior to any tests) he was locked up for 3 days. His grandfather died, he smoked a joint, he had to go to jail for three days.

I don’t have the words to tell you what Wally’s suicide has done to his family. No, he was not perfect. But he was also not guilty of this particular offense, and no reasonable court interested in a just outcome would have found him so. Therefore, I am asking you to help. When the Supreme Court of Wisconsin is considering whether to hear this case, and when they rule on it if they do, they need to know that the outcome matters. They need to know that people are watching and waiting to see what they do.

Below is a link to his court records. These are a bit misleading, because the two Dane County traffic offenses were related to another person by the same name. The final case in Waukesha relates to sending a topless picture of an ex-girlfriend to a then-current girlfriend. The prosecutors sought a 40 year sentence.

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We would like to give this case as much coverage as possible. What I am asking you to do is simply to share to Facebook or elsewhere. Even if it does not help his case with the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it will be of enormous comfort and support to my sister and her family.

I beg you to help me.

Daniel J. Bishop”

JOHN OLIVER on MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING

The Review: American Courtesans (2013)

(this is a blog for my non-professional posts, not related to my writing or productions, but that I think I’d like to share.  First up: a documentary I am happy I watched on Netflix: American Coutesans (2013))

AMERICAN COURTESANS is a documentary collecting interviews with a number of women who work or have worked in the sex trade industry, where they discuss their lives and careers from their childhoods to their current lives as escorts, producers, and activists.  I felt it was a great film, and it did a good job of showing the true face of the industry, good and bad.

The main interviewer is Kristen DiAngelo, who is also interviewed by one of the stars, sharing her own story while supporting others as they tell theirs.  I think this works well because it is honest about the context of the film maker, saying openly that this is her story, just like the other stories, take it as it is.

In the film, the stories of the women are sorted by stages rather than chronologically: childhoods compared, initiations into the industry compared, and so on.  While the ages of the courtesans means the stories happened at different times, the technique works to show how similar and yet different each one is.  Some had abusive parents, others had supportive parents; some had truly horrific introductions to the industry, some had positive experiences.  By the end you see how different they were, as well as how similar the challenges they faced have been.

I thought it worked well.

My own bias: before going into publishing, I had the privilege to work in homeless shelters and supportive housing, and during that time worked with a number of men and women involved in the sex trade.  While there, I helped one young woman who disclosed she had been raped by several men, and she was in shock.  One of the disturbing parts of this was that she could not go to police for help, as she was a sex trade worker, as well as a number of other marginalized demographics (history of incarceration, addiction to drugs, etc.).  Her job as a sex trade worker meant getting justice for being assaulted would be difficult if not impossible, needing a level of education and money and mental clarity she doesn’t have while in crisis.

The issues that are being targeted by the laws – pimps and drug dealing – are not the sex trade, they’re pimping and dealing drugs. Because she’s a sex trade worker, though, she can’t do things through normal legal processes, meaning she has to operate illegally.  The excuse is that it’s for her benefit, saving her from the pimps; but it means she can’t get free from pimps because she’s not able to operate legitimately on her own.

I was privileged to work with a few wonderful ladies and gentlemen, many of whom only needed help with mental health and addictions issues, and just someone to believe in them.  Not change them, not demand change from them before offering help, but just be there, where they are at right now, not judging.  Okay, so they go out at night, fine: here’s some safety kit, and remember to take your meds so you don’t get confused, and call in so we know you’re safe. Done. They started to make positive choices for themselves, with simple things like cleaning their housing, taking medication, seeing doctors, doing laundry, smiling, eating.  So they are sex trade workers, what do I care?  They’re also really funny, very intelligent, have valid contributions, and are part of the community. If they’re trapped, cutting them off from the community doesn’t empower them to be strong individuals; it makes them more vulnerable, traps them in crisis, and makes the community weaker for it.

The women in American Courtesans are not street-level sex trade workers, some never were, and all of them are at least private, independent escorts.  Many of the stories mirror those of the people I worked with, and what a miracle they’re alive now: struggles with abandonment from their families, addictions, crises of every kind.  Yet they are on camera, alive, laughing, sharing emotional stories.  They seem like good, brave people who have seen some of the worst life can throw at a person and lived, and know the value of life.

Kristen DiAngelo’s story in particular struck a nerve for me, along with the others, and prompted me to write this: when in crisis, going to the police for help, covered in blood, she was told there was nothing they could do as her attacker was a wealthy businessman who was pressing charges against her; had they acted in her defense, as they did for later victims, he would not have attacked several other women.  The only difference was they were not sex trade workers.  And she’s right, as in Canada we had the Picton case, of a farmer who killed dozens of sex trade workers and destroyed the bodies with his pigs.  Natives have hundreds of women missing, and society doesn’t look for them; we have news stories, we have “outrage”, but no action.

People accuse.  It’s not just judging, which requires though.  No, it’s accusing, searching for any way to poke at someone: a gap in their armor, a hair out of place.  It’s not based on evidence, it’s looking for weakness.  It’s the inflicting of pain to promote someone’s own agenda.  Abusers do this in relationships, using a human being like an inanimate object, as a form of self-gratification.  Sometimes this is physical attacking, starting with little shoves until, whoops, when did it get to punching?  I think it’s a whole a spectrum of behaviour.  All people do it, but some do it with substances, from candy to cocaine, and other do it with people or pets.  What it comes from is a sense that we are out of control, and react by grabbing at the first thing we can. It’s a fake sense of control, it hides the reality that we have weakness, and we can pretend we’re fine.  It’s an illusion of health ignoring the “disease of fear”, and that makes us even weaker.

The women in American Courtesans just happen to be sex trade workers. That’s something people aren’t supposed to do, and it’s permissible to accuse them, so all hell can come down on them with no consequences. Failing to mind our own business, which is to treat people like human beings, the accusations fly.  We ignore the real hurt, the real need: people are preying upon members of the community, and laws as well as attitudes are letting them get away with it.  Bad behaviour gets rewarded.

The careers of the courtesans each developed so they took control of their lives. Those whose sexuality had been attacked took control of their sexuality back through their work.  In fact, they went on to see it as a therapeutic act for their clients, with one describing working with a man who couldn’t have normal sexual interactions because of physical issues, but was trapped in a body that still had the same physical and emotional needs.

Please watch the film.  It is thought-provoking and great work, the subjects are very interesting people, and it’s a narrative that needs to be heard.