law, money, social media, true crime, YouTube

Catching up on the news, and Fundie Fridays takes on Dave Ramsey…

Hoo boy… there’s so much I could be writing about this morning. Bill got home last night and had a joyous reunion with the dogs. That was seriously adorable, and I got it all on video.

Arran had been waiting patiently in the foyer for Bill every night of his trip. He’d go downstairs at about 5:00, and hang out for a couple of hours, then forlornly come back upstairs and join me. They were finally reunited last night! Noyzi was just as delighted to see Bill as Arran and I were. Notice I have “Foreplay/Long Time” by Boston playing.

I put up all our Christmas stuff a couple of days ago, because I just wanted to get it over with. Thursday is vacuum day, and the Christmas trees always make a mess. I knew I wouldn’t want to have to deal with the trees on Thanksgiving, nor would I want to vacuum twice in a week, because, I hate vacuuming with a passion. Also, as much as I love Bill, he has a tendency to get in the way when I’m decorating. So I decorated on Thursday, and now our house looks all festive and pretty. I know it’s early, but fuck it… it’s my house. I like the lights, and the trees make my living room more full.

Kyle Rittenhouse gets off…

As I predicted, Kyle Rittenhouse got acquitted of all charges he faced regarding his poor decision to bring an AR-15 to a protest. He won’t be going to state prison for killing two men and wounding one. However, I have a strong feeling that his legal woes aren’t over. I’ll bet he gets sued for wrongful death. I heard a rumor that the Department of Justice might decide to try him for crossing state lines with a weapon… although I think I would be surprised if they did that. And, even if his legal problems end, I suspect he and his family will be harassed.

Kyle Rittenhouse is now someone that people either love or hate. There are right wingers who champion him. But there are other people who would like to see his head on a platter. And then there are many other people who are just plain apathetic, and will be glad to see this particular bit of news go stale. I think Kyle will be in the news for awhile, though, because I’ll bet he gets death threats. Even though he scored a victory, of sorts, I would not want to be him for anything.

I think about all of the adolescent boys I’ve known over the years… they get this surge of machismo, which I’m sure is biological. They want the hot cars, sexy women and, if they’re into guns, they want the biggest and baddest. They have romanticized ideas about how things will play out, and they lack the maturity to understand that life isn’t a movie set. I think the adults in Kyle’s life really failed him. He could have used someone older and wiser– older than his 18 year old buddy, that is– explaining to him why he didn’t need to be in Kenosha with a gun, trying to be an EMT or the police or whatever.

I know my view isn’t popular, especially among liberals, but personally I think the verdict was mostly appropriate. Kyle Rittenhouse certainly had no business being where he was, and he should not have been carrying a weapon. But the evidence showed that the people he killed were not necessarily good actors themselves. I think it could have very easily gone the other way, and Kyle could have been the one who was killed that day. I do think he should have been convicted of at least one of the charges, and gotten a little bit of prison time, but the prosecution was probably too zealous in the seriousness of the charges they levied against him. They wanted to nail him and make him a poster child, and the facts simply didn’t bear up well enough for them to succeed.

Moving on…

Some regular readers might know that I like to watch Fundie Fridays, which is a YouTube channel in which the hosts, Jen and James, make videos about fundie Christians and related topics. Jen often does her makeup while she discusses these things. I like Jen a lot. I think she’s funny, and I am amazed by how good she is at doing her makeup. I’ve always done my makeup the same way, ever since I was a teenager. And that’s when I can be bothered to wear it!

Every once in awhile, though, her boyfriend James tackles a topic. Or, maybe he just joins his girlfriend on one of her videos. I like him, too. They’re both very engaging on camera. I hate being on camera myself, so I admire that they’re so good at what they do, and they’ve managed to marry a compelling subject like whackadoodle fundie Christians with putting on makeup. It’s a great idea, since both subjects seem to be very interesting to other YouTube viewers.

Last night (or maybe just yesterday, since I’m probably several hours ahead of them), Jen was “busy” tending to her island in a video game. James made a video about Dave Ramsey. I thought it was excellent.

I love the fact that Jen and James are willing to wade through all the cringeworthy crap put out by Dave Ramsey and his ilk and put it together in such an entertaining way.

Seriously, I really think this video is well done. I liked the way James broke down how people used to bank. For instance, he mentions that back in the 70s and 80s, a lot of people had “hometown banks” that were independently run, and loan decisions were made by people in the community. I remember doing that myself.

For several years, I banked at locally owned Peninsula Trust Bank, which was a very small chain in my area of Virginia. It was a great bank– very personal and friendly, and I appreciated the local touch! But alas, like so many other small town banks, it eventually got obliterated by one of the humongous chains that have made local banking a thing of the past. Hell, now I bank with PenFed and USAA, and have no personal relationship with my bank at all, other than to lament about how they’re much too quick to lock down my credit cards when I make a (rare) purchase.

In any case, Dave Ramsey’s issues with financial disaster, before he became a wildly successful Christian financial guru, were partly brought on by the fact that small banks used to be popular. According to the Fundie Fridays video, Ramsey’s small town bank got taken over by a much larger, less personal bank. Ramsey, who was very young to be in the real estate business, owed a whole lot of money. The small bankers were willing to trust him, based on his parents’ successful business and their good name. The larger bankers weren’t, and they called in the loan. He couldn’t repay it within 30 days, because the loan was in the millions. That caused Ramsey to go through financial ruin.

Then, like a Christian phoenix, rising from the ashes, Ramsey became “born again”. He started following Biblical principles to get himself out of financial trouble. He claims they worked for him, and now he’s very wealthy and known all around the world. Lots of people love him. Others, like me, think he’s a verbally abusive, hyper-controlling, narcissistic creep. I ranted about him myself some months ago.

You see, Ramsey doesn’t just preach about financial habits to his followers. He also seems to think he has the right to dictate how they live their personal lives. As James from Fundie Fridays points out, Ramsey might even have a point when he says that a person who will cheat on their spouse will probably also cheat in financial matters. However, I doubt that Jesus would be okay with Ramsey’s habit of abusing and disparaging people who don’t dance to his tune. I think Ramsey’s behavior is often distinctly unChristlike. He says Christians should be “cheerfully generous” in giving their money… but I would submit that Jesus would also want people to be generous in how (or whether) they judge, and ultimately treat, other people.

So anyway…. I think you should watch the above video if what I’ve written sounds intriguing to you. I think James did a great job covering Dave Ramsey, and I hope he does more videos. I love watching Jen’s videos, too, but it was a nice change seeing and hearing from her boyfriend, and they make a great team.

And finally…

There’s still more I could write about this morning. Like, for instance, how it’s impossible to leave a comment on a Facebook news article and not either get hit on by some roving creep with one Facebook friend, or have some stranger put words in your fingers and try to lure you into an argument. I did get hit on by a creepy Facebook dude, who was apparently looking for people to scam. I politely told him to fuck off, and happily, he did.

Things were going swimmingly, until some other guy came along and posted about people with “blood on their hands”. He mentioned me in his comment, and compared Europe to Texas and Florida. Having been to both of those states, I disagreed with his assessment. Europe is nothing like Texas or Florida, even in terms of COVID.

He came back and jumped on me, starting his comment with “Are you telling me that…” and more emotional posturing. I was immediately annoyed, because the comment was several hours old; Bill had just come home; and I just had no desire to get into a Facebook argument with a stranger looking for a fight. I left a longer comment explaining myself, prefacing it by writing “I never said that.” And then I ended it with, “There’s no need to get snippy with me. I was simply commenting on a news article. The COVID-19 situation is not my fault.” He tried twice more to get to me to respond, but I ignored him, because Bill’s home and we were tired… and who’s got the time or inclination to argue with some stranger on Facebook?

I do think it’s a shame, though, that we can’t have calm, rational, sane discussions on social media without it turning into something nasty and uncivilized. I get that people are frustrated, pent up, and angry about a whole lot of things, from COVID-19, to Kyle Rittenhouse, to Dave Ramsey’s bully tactics. But that’s no reason to be rude to a perfect stranger’s painfully neutral comment on a news article. I know that will never change in my lifetime, though, so I probably shouldn’t engage regardless.

So ends today’s blog post. I hope you have a great Saturday, wherever you are… and the news of the world isn’t too distressing.

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law, true crime

My thoughts on Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial…

This morning, Bill and I were talking about Kyle Rittenhouse, who’s been all over the news this week. Rittenhouse sobbed during his testimony about the night of August 25, 2020, when he killed two men and wounded another. Rittenhouse, who was 17 years old at the time, had traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin from his home in Antioch, Illinois. The teenager had gone to Kenosha to help “protect” property and act as a medic as protesters flooded the street, angered that police had shot and wounded a Black man named Jacob Blake.

From what I’ve read, the protest had become violent and chaotic. Protesters burned down several buildings and were destroying police cars. And yet, there was Kyle, driven by his mother over state lines, and carrying an AR-15 rifle, purchased for him by a friend who was over 18. At 17, Kyle Rittenhouse was too young to buy the weapon himself.

According to his testimony, Kyle Rittenhouse was being chased by the protesters he ended up shooting with the AR-15. He says he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and later injured Gaige Grosskreutz. Although Rittenhouse has maintained that his actions were done in self-defense, prosecutors have argued that Rittenhouse “created the peril through his own reckless actions that caused others to fear for their own lives and led directly to the violence.” However, according to the article I linked, “mountains of video and photo evidence appear to show Rosenbaum acting aggressively and chasing Rittenhouse, Huber striking him with a skateboard and Grosskreutz pointing a pistol at him.”

So this wasn’t a case of a person cold-bloodedly walking up to someone and shooting them. This wasn’t a situation in which the victims were completely blameless. No matter what I might think about Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions or the wisdom of his decision to attend the protest with a weapon, the fact is, there’s evidence that he was being attacked by the men he shot. And that really weakens the prosecution’s case, in my view.

When I first heard about this case, I wondered what in the hell made Kyle Rittenhouse think his “services” were needed at a protest in another state? Why did he feel like he needed a weapon, when he was supposedly there to “help” protect property and tend to the injured? What was his mother thinking when she brought her 17 year old son to Kenosha and turned him loose on the streets?

According to an article published by the University of Rochester Medical Center, “the rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.” Kyle, at age 18, still has several years to go before he’s “fully baked”. The article continues:

…recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.

In teens’ brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate. That’s why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.

I have read that Kyle Rittenhouse has been associating with white supremacists. Even if that’s true, I remember that he’s still a teenager, and is likely highly impressionable and impulsive. That doesn’t make his actions right, nor does it mean that I think he should get off “free and clear”. But I do think it mitigates his case somewhat. There must be a reason why Kyle Rittenhouse has ended up in this situation. There is a backstory that leads up to his decision to try to offer “help”, where clearly it wasn’t in his best interests to do so. Again, he’s still a teenager… and he obviously doesn’t yet have the more solid judgment or reasoning skills that most responsible adults have.

According to the NPR article I linked earlier in this post, a number of legal experts are saying that they think Kyle Rittenhouse will be acquitted of most of the charges. Prosecutors are now trying to get Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder to allow jurors to consider lesser charges. This is because the prosecution’s evidence has been as useful for the defense as it has been for the prosecution.

In fact, Gaige Grosskreutz, who, as the lone survivor, was supposed to be the prosecution’s “star witness”, has made several inconsistent statements. He’s also admitted that he was, himself, carrying a pistol on an expired permit on the evening Rittenhouse shot and wounded him.

Defense attorney, Corey Chirafisi, cross-examined Grosskreutz, and asked “It wasn’t until you pointed your gun at him — advanced on him with your gun, now your hands down, pointed at him — that he fired, right?”

And Mr. Grosskreutz responded, “Correct.” as one of the prosecutors put his head in his hands.

Yeah… I wouldn’t say that’s a good look for the prosecution. It doesn’t excuse the fact that Kyle Rittenhouse had no business being involved in the protest, but Grosskreutz doesn’t exactly inspire sympathy when he admits that he had a gun, too, and wasn’t carrying it legally.

Yikes.

Rittenhouse took the stand in his own defense, and sobbed so hard that Judge Schroeder called a recess. He testified that he reached for the rifle as “Rosenbaum chased him and reached for his rifle, as Huber struck him with the skateboard and as Grosskreutz advanced on him with the pistol.” Rittenhouse said that he feared for his life. Frankly, based on that description, and especially considering his age, I can’t blame him for being terrified that the three men might kill him.

When Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger cross-examined Rittenhouse, he asked, “You understand that when you point your AR-15 at someone, it may make them feel like you are going to kill them, correct?”

And Rittenhouse responded, “Mr. Rosenbaum was chasing me. I pointed my gun at him, and that did not deter him. He could have ran away instead of trying to take my gun from me, but he kept chasing me. It didn’t stop him,”

My guess, not having been there, but having personally experienced being hopped up on adrenaline, that none of the people involved in this altercation were thinking straight. They were probably all in a state of “fight or flight”, brought on by extreme fear, aggression, and an overload of testosterone and adrenaline.

Given that, I don’t see Kyle Rittenhouse as a cold-blooded murderer who is undeserving of mercy, even if I am personally disgusted by his politics, and I realize that he’s now killed two men. I also don’t believe that most people who commit serious crimes when they are minors should have their lives ruined. While I’m certain Kyle knew that killing is wrong and against the law, he didn’t, and still doesn’t, have the mind of an adult. He proved that his judgment wasn’t very sound when he decided to attend the protest alone, stayed out after curfew during a protest, lied about being an EMT, and carried a weapon that he wasn’t legally permitted to have.

But the case hasn’t gone very well for the prosecution, which is why they’re asking the judge to allow jurors to consider lesser charges. I think the lesser charges are probably reasonable, but based on what I’ve read about the judge, I have a feeling he might not allow it. He seems somewhat sympathetic to Rittenhouse. Edited to add, Bill says the judge is allowing the lesser charges to be considered. Of course, the final verdict is up to the jury.

Hmm… this doesn’t look so good for the prosecution.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this case. A verdict is expected next week. Based on what I’ve read, both about the case itself, and the judge involved, I have a feeling Mr. Rittenhouse will not be spending long years in prison, as a lot of people seem to hope he will. While I agree that he was wrong to kill two men and wound another, and he had absolutely NO BUSINESS being at the protest in the first place, I don’t think he should rot in prison. I also hope he wises up about the right wing white supremacist types who have championed his cause. If he continues to hang around with them, there’s a good chance he will end up in trouble again. And the next time, the case against him might be much more compelling.

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communication, law, Police, travel

Damned if you do… damned if you don’t…

I still have a ton of travel blogging to do, and I’ll be getting to that in a little while. First, I want to write about a situation I read about this morning.

Last month, white mom, Mary MacCarthy, was traveling with her ten year old biracial daughter, Moira. They were on their way to a funeral in Denver, Colorado. Ms. MacCarthy’s brother died suddenly in October, so MacCarthy had to take a last minute flight from her home in California. MacCarthy is a single mom, and her brother was like a father to Moira. The girl was crying when she was boarding the flight, and the two were initially not able to sit together. MacCarthy asked other passengers if someone would be willing to move so that she and her daughter could be next to each other.

Another passenger was kind enough to oblige, and the pair arrived safely in Denver, where they were met on the jet bridge by a couple of Denver police officers. MacCarthy was shocked to be confronted by the cops. She worried that they were there to deliver more bad news. But, it turned out that they wanted to talk to her because someone had called them, suspicious about their behavior. Moira had been crying because her uncle died. Then, afterwards, she was confronted by the police, and terrified because of all of the news coverage about people of color being abused or even killed by the police.

After talking to MacCarthy and her daughter, Denver police cleared them of any wrongdoing, and they were free to go. MacCarthy recorded the incident on her phone. The initial police report indicated that a Southwest flight attendant had reported the duo for “suspicious behavior”.

Two weeks later, MacCarthy got a phone call from the Denver Police Human Trafficking unit. The caller said the unit was following up on MacCarthy’s case. It was only then that MacCarthy realized she had been suspected of human trafficking.

MacCarthy sent an email to Southwest Airlines about this incident and, she says, so far they have not apologized. Instead, she claims she has only received two brief automated responses. MacCarthy has retained an attorney and is accusing Southwest Airlines of “racial profiling”. She now wants “a written apology from the airline, immediate reimbursement of the full price of their tickets, and “additional compensation to account for the trauma imposed on an innocent family, and especially on a grieving ten year-old Black girl.”

Southwest Airlines has said it’s “disheartened” by MacCarthy’s story of the events and has “plans to reach out to her.” In a statement to CNN, Southwest Airlines spokesperson Dan Landson said:

“We are conducting a review of the situation internally, and we will be reaching out to the Customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies for her experience traveling with us. Our Employees undergo robust training on Human Trafficking. Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for the millions of Customers who travel with us each year,”

I can’t blame Mary MacCarthy and her daughter for being very upset and traumatized by what happened to them last month. On the other hand, I also have some empathy for the flight attendant who called the police. It sounds like the flight attendant was following protocol based on training. And while it’s certainly possible that the call was based on the flight attendant’s racial biases, I can’t conclude for certain that it was, based on the information I’ve read about this case so far.

Just yesterday, I read another story about a sixteen year old girl who was abducted by a 61 year old man. The girl had seen a hand gesture on Tik Tok called the Signal for Help. She used it while riding in the car with her kidnapper, hoping someone in another car would notice her signal of distress. Fortunately, someone did notice, and called 911. The motorist who made the emergency call also stayed behind the car and updated the police to the kidnapper’s location. That’s how the Laurel County sheriff’s department in Kentucky managed to arrest James Herbert Brick and bring the teenager he’d abducted to safety.

Brick has been charged with two felonies: unlawful imprisonment and possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor. He was locked up in the Laurel County Correctional Center in London, Ky., on a $10,000 bond.

In both of these scenarios, people saw something and said something, which is the advice often given to those who are concerned about something that is amiss. I’ve heard that advice given in situations involving potential crimes, as well as in situations that involve potential medical issues. Yes, it’s possible that a person is making much ado about nothing, but, as they say, “better safe than sorry”, especially when children are involved.

My heart goes out to Mary MacCarthy and Moira. They were already upset and anxious on that flight to Denver, given the terrible and sudden loss of MacCarthy’s brother, who was only 46 years old. Ms. MacCarthy also says that Moira is only ten, but she looks much older than ten. And it’s almost always scary to be confronted by the police, particularly in this era during which Black people have been injured or killed by American cops.

But… unfortunately, there are people out there who traffic children. Not all traffickers are scary looking men. Sometimes women are involved with trafficking children, and they get away with it, because they don’t fit the stereotypical profile of a trafficker. And flight attendants are trained to look for the signs of people who might be harming children. The flight attendant who called the police reported that Ms. MacCarthy and Moira were among the last to board the flight and the last to buy tickets. And they didn’t speak during the flight. Of course, the flight attendant had no way of knowing the circumstances of why the duo were behaving as they were, and she had many other passengers to look after on the flight. It might not have been possible for her to find out more about the situation before she made her judgment call.

It seems to me that Ms. MacCarthy is legitimately upset because she’s offended. I don’t blame her for being offended. But I would also hate to see people being discouraged from calling for help when they see something that doesn’t look right. I understand that calling the police on matters involving people of color can lead to tragic consequences. It shouldn’t be that way, though. People should feel free to call for help if they think help is needed. And I think in this case, the flight attendant was obviously concerned and felt that the situation merited calling the police. It turned out that she was wrong, but what if she hadn’t been wrong?

Over the past couple of days, I’ve noticed several people hitting a post I wrote earlier this year about how the “Karen” stigma can actually be deadly. That post was about a column I read in The Atlantic magazine, about a woman who was concerned that her pharmacy wasn’t requiring people to wear face masks at the drive in pickup station. But she didn’t want to be a “Karen”, so she didn’t say anything about it.

That post was written in late January of this year, before a lot of people had been vaccinated against COVID-19. The incident the article it was based on occurred even earlier than that. The point I made in that post is that being overly concerned about being labeled a “Karen” or a “BBQ Becky” or “Permit Patty” could actually cause harm to people. If there is a situation that is potentially dangerous, a person should feel okay about asking for help from people who have the ability to investigate. In a perfect world, making such a call would be perfectly safe, and would not result in someone being hurt, killed, or even humiliated.

Ms. MacCarthy assumes that she and her daughter were questioned because they don’t look alike. And it’s possible that racism played a part in the reason the flight attendant noticed them and called the cops. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the flight attendant was legitimately concerned and believed the duo were throwing up major red flags. The end result was that Mary MacCarthy and her daughter were cleared and allowed to go on their way. Yes, it was traumatic, embarrassing, and scary, but in the end, no one was hurt or killed, and no one actually was being trafficked. Those are good things, even if Southwest Airlines hasn’t apologized for the mistake.

For the record, yes, I do think the airline owes Ms. MacCarthy and her daughter a sincere apology. I’m sure that Southwest Airlines will eventually settle with Ms. MacCarthy. Hopefully, the settlement will be appropriate and make the situation less horrifying for MacCarthy and her daughter. According to NBC news:

“At this point they can speak with my attorneys,” MacCarthy said.

She says it’s about more than an apology.

“I travel with my daughter’s birth certificate because I’m ready to answer any questions if necessary,” she said. “The fact that we’re mother and daughter, the fact that I’m a single parent traveling with my daughter. It’s the right of TSA to ask those questions, I’m open to that. But the way this was handled was so unprofessional.

“I will do whatever it takes to speak out against the type of ignorant behavior and policies that lead to families being treated this way.”

I think people involved with serving and protecting the public have a tough and often thankless job. But I also think that these kinds of situations, where an offended person pursues legal remedies against those who act out of caution– especially when it involves children— could have a chilling effect that might lead to more children being harmed or killed. If someone sees something that raises a red flag, but they decide not to act because of the danger of being sued or even just being called a “Karen”, there could be even more tragedies. I’m sure the young lady who gave the Signal for Help while being driven through multiple states with her 61 year old captor is happy that someone acted and called the police.

But… in Mary MacCarthy’s defense, I also think that once the Denver Police cleared her and her daughter, that should have been the end of it. The human trafficking department should not have called her to “follow up”. I think if that hadn’t have happened, this story would have a different trajectory. And I do believe her when she says that Moira is traumatized by what happened.

I hope someday, the police situation in the United States will be overhauled, so that officers can actually be thought of as good people to call for help, rather than just threatening and potentially deadly. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime. And… on another note, flying has gotten to be pretty terrible these days. Stories like these make me want to avoid flying even more than ever.

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healthcare, law

When a miscarriage during pregnancy leads to a miscarriage of justice…

Last night, as the evening was winding down, I noticed an op-ed in The New York Times about a young woman from Oklahoma named Brittney Poolaw. I have gifted the op-ed in the above link, so if you don’t have a subscription to the paper, you should be able to read it for free.

So who is Brittney Poolaw, and why should anyone care about her? According to Michelle Goldberg, author of the op-ed, Brittney Poolaw is a woman who is sitting in prison because she miscarried during her seventeenth week of pregnancy. At the time of her miscarriage, Poolaw was just 19 years old. She was at home when the miscarriage happened, and had presented herself for medical attention at Comanche County Memorial Hospital.

A police detective interviewed Ms. Poolaw after she admitted to hospital staff that she had used methamphetamines and marijuana during her pregnancy. The medical examiner who examined Brittney Poolaw’s fetus cited her drug use as contributing factors in the miscarriage. Also cited were a congenital abnormality and placental abruption.

Poolaw was arrested on a charge of first degree manslaughter. She didn’t have the money for the $20,000 bond, so she spent a year and a half in jail, awaiting her trial. The trial finally occurred this month, and jurors spent less than three hours deciding Brittney Poolaw’s fate. She was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison, even though an expert witness explained that Poolaw’s drug use might not have been the direct cause of the miscarriage.

I recently mentioned that I’ve been watching a lot of videos by Jessica Kent, a YouTube personality who has a lot of experience with being in jail and prison. Jessica has done time in several states, mainly because she is a recovering drug addict. She also had the unfortunate experience of giving birth while incarcerated. I have been studying prison reform independently for years, but Jessica Kent’s videos have really opened my eyes to just how unjust and inhumane the U.S. prison system is, particularly for people with drug addictions.

Jessica Kent was pregnant in prison. She’s also a recovering drug addict.
One of Jessica Kent’s videos about her experiences with pregnancy…

I know a lot of people would say that the answer is simple; just don’t do drugs. And I think that advice is easy to follow if you are fortunate enough to come from a supportive family, live in an area where there are many opportunities for work and socializing, have access and the ability to pay for healthcare, and have the will and the drive not to succumb to temptation or peer pressure.

In Poolaw’s case, simply being able to get to a doctor and, perhaps, having an abortion available to her might have prevented her from being imprisoned. According to Goldberg’s opinion piece, Poolaw told the detective that “when she found out she was pregnant she didn’t know if she wanted the baby or not. She said she wasn’t familiar with how or where to get an abortion.” Seems to me that it would have been kinder and better if Brittney could have either had an abortion, or had access to a physician and, perhaps, a social worker or other advocate while she was pregnant.

When I was studying social work, I did part of my internship with what was then called Healthy Families South Carolina. It was a program that was affiliated with Prevent Child Abuse America, and it was designed to help people like Brittney Poolaw maintain healthy pregnancies and get very young children off to a healthier start. Those who were enrolled in the program got home visit services from workers who would help them access healthcare and teach them about making safe and healthy decisions for their babies. These families got coaching from trained parent educators and, in fact, that made a noticeable difference in the outcomes for a lot of the clients. That was something I noted in the massive paper I wrote and presented for my MPH/MSW degrees. Wow… it just occurred to me that the babies I saw when I was finishing my degree are now adults! Time really flies!

Why didn’t someone direct Brittney Poolaw to a program like that? My guess is because she couldn’t access the healthcare system and never got a referral. What would have happened if she could have gotten to a doctor early in her pregnancy? Maybe she would have chosen to have an abortion, or maybe she would have had her baby. And maybe she would have been able to access support from people who are trained to work with young people with big problems. I know nothing about Brittney Poolaw or her past, but experience tells me that a lot of people who end up in her situation have had some pretty terrible traumas in their lives and experienced abuse.

I know a lot of people think that Brittney Poolaw deserves to be in prison for taking drugs while she was pregnant. But having worked with young people who are poor, disenfranchised, and lacking meaningful mentorship, I can understand why she turned to drugs. It happens to so many people. And I think instead of prison, Brittney Poolaw should have gotten compassionate medical attention and real help from someone who might have shown her that she has worth. Having watched so many of Jessica Kent’s videos, I realize that Brittney Poolaw is probably facing even more abuse and degradation on a daily basis now. I don’t think that’s going to help her turn away from drugs when she is finally released from prison.

But, aside from the fact that I think Poolaw’s community really failed her, I also think that other women have much to fear from this ruling. It really is a slippery slope when pregnant women wind up in legal trouble for things they do while pregnant that lead to a loss of the pregnancy. In Poolaw’s case, the actions that contributed to her miscarriage were illegal, but what if she’d had one too many glasses or wine, or something? What if she’d been in a car without a seatbelt or was wearing it incorrectly? What if she tripped and fell down some stairs?

I think it’s very scary that any woman who gets pregnant might find herself being scrutinized by law enforcement after a miscarriage. Not only is it an invasion of privacy, but it also may cause women like Poolaw to avoid seeking medical care. That might be especially true if she’s doing something like drinking alcohol or using drugs. I know a lot of physicians would prefer not to have to deal with drug using pregnant women, but they are precisely the women who need the most attention from someone who has medical expertise. Moreover, it really is chilling to think that the developing fetuses in already born people are superseding the already born people’s civil rights.

The pro-life/anti-abortion movement has been working tirelessly to change laws so that developing embryos and fetuses are seen as “babies” and “children”. But if you take a close look at what happens during pregnancy, it actually takes a pretty long while before the developing embryos and fetuses turn into anything viable outside of the womb. Until then, they really are part of the mother, and it really does seem wrong to me that we should put pregnant women in a different class–with different rules and civil rights– than people who aren’t pregnant. It’s beyond creepy that some judges, particularly in the South, are using situations like Brittney Poolaw’s to chip away at Roe v. Wade and promote the whole “sanctity of life” movement. It seems to me that life is only sacred to these types of folks when it involves the unborn. Once a person has been born, they’re on their own… and God help them stay out of prison.

Should Brittney Poolaw have had an abortion? I suppose she should have, especially since she clearly wasn’t ready to be a mother and had no resources to help her maintain a healthy pregnancy. I’m not sure how open she would have been to receiving help from a social worker or someone else who works with at risk parents and children. But I do think she should have had the option presented to her. It sounds to me like she didn’t have anyone to go to for help when she got pregnant. Instead, she turned to drugs.

I admittedly haven’t looked at Oklahoma’s social welfare programs and I don’t what is available for young people like Brittney Poolaw, but my guess is that even if they are widely available, Poolaw didn’t know how to access them. That’s not really something that is taught in school, at least in my experience. In my first year of my MSW program, I did my internship at a multi-disciplinary rural physician’s practice associated with the University of South Carolina. My clients were referred to me by a family doctor in a rural community. But it sounds like Brittney didn’t have a doctor, and it looks like she was no longer in school… so where would she have gotten a referral to someone like I was when I was in graduate school?

Perhaps the police could have referred her, instead of arresting her and putting her in prison… Or… the medical staff, who should have advocated for her and helped her with her medical problems could have assisted her in finding someone to help her with her problems. Sadly, it sounds like instead of getting the help she obviously needs, Brittney Poolaw will be wasting four years in a prison cell… along with so many other Americans. I hope someday the United States gets over its obsession with incarcerating people. We’ve got to do better than this.

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healthcare, law, politics, rants, YouTube

Women behind bars are having a bloody awful time handling their periods…

Last week, I wrote a post about how adorable YouTuber, Mama Doctor Jones, who is an OB-GYN and mom to four, did a video about a woman who had a baby while she was incarcerated. I was really moved by Mama Doctor Jones’ reaction video to Jessica Kent’s story. Next thing I knew, I was on Jessica Kent’s YouTube channel, which is full of interesting videos about her time in prison. Jessica Kent is tiny, well-spoken, and apparently sober, having spent much of her youth in trouble with the law.

I haven’t yet familiarized myself with all of Jessica’s story, but I have watched a bunch of her videos. As I listen to how this fiery young woman wound up on the wrong side of the law, I can’t help but wonder what might have happened to her if she’d never gotten arrested. She’s very bright and articulate, and I think she’s determined to go far. Jessica has obviously embraced the power of the Internet, and has a presence all over social media. She’s pursuing a college degree, but I wonder if she’s already making a lot of money creating videos for YouTube.

Last night, I watched a video by Jessica Kent that made me very angry. It was about how she and her fellow female inmates in Arkansas were forced to make tampons out of the maxi pads doled out to them. Jessica explains that female prisoners in Arkansas are not given tampons and, in fact, can only get really poor quality maxi pads– and just two per day at that. Jessica says the pads are state issued, and she’s never seen the type of pads the state issues for sale outside of the prison walls. Because the pads are so poorly made, they have to be turned into tampons, which last longer than the pads do. So Jessica made a video to demonstrate how to make the tampons.

This is absolutely infuriating!

More than once, Jessica implores her viewers not to try to make these “tampons” at home, since the pad she’s using is not really the type she would have used in prison. Apparently, the pads we can get at the store are too “cottony” and “powdery”. In any case, I can’t imagine why someone would want to make a tampon like this if they weren’t incarcerated and forced to do so.

Jessica says that not all states have this draconian limit on feminine hygiene supplies in their prisons. For instance, when she was incarcerated in her home state of New York, Jessica had no problem getting all she needed for that little feminine monthly chore. New York, of course, is a blue state, and human rights are apparently more valued up north.

For some reason, the powers that be running the prisons in Arkansas think that two maxi pads per day are all a female prison inmate needs when she’s menstruating. I think about my own menstrual habits and realize how disgusting and unhygienic that is. As a woman, and a person with a public health educational background, it amazes me that prison officials in Arkansas are allowed to get away with this practice. At the very least, it seems like it would be a serious health risk to everyone who is incarcerated. Many diseases, some of which cannot be cured, are spread via blood exposure. Plus, it’s just so nasty!

I read in another article that, in some prisons, women who can’t get proper feminine hygiene supplies will pass up visits with family or their attorneys when they have their periods. They have to wait until they can get their laundry done, before they’re not sitting in their own blood. Kimberly Haven, the author of that article, writes that before and after each visit, inmates are strip searched, and have to squat and cough. The whole process is so demoralizing and horrifying that a lot of female inmates would prefer to skip it, even though attorneys and family members are powerful advocates for the inmates.

In another article, I read about how, in Connecticut, two female cellmates would have to share five state issued maxi pads among themselves. Every woman is different, of course, so there’s no way to tell how long a period is going to be and how often feminine hygiene products need to be changed. But the inmates in Connecticut also had to learn how to stretch their products out, sometimes by reusing them. The inmates in Connecticut could purchase supplies from the commissary, but for those who don’t have money, that $2.63 cost might mean one less phone call home or not being able to pay for a visit to the prison doctor. Also, realize that prison jobs often pay very little– like 20 or 30 cents an hour. It takes a long time to make enough money to buy the proper supplies if there’s no one on the outside helping.

I have stated before in this blog that I’m not a big fan of incarceration, but I especially dislike inhumane treatment toward people who are incarcerated. Yes, it’s true that the best thing for anyone to do is to avoid going to prison in the first place, but people who are locked up are not going to improve their behavior if they’re treated cruelly. Forcing women to handle their body functions in this way is demeaning and cruel, and it doesn’t deter crime. Prison is supposed to be unpleasant– it shouldn’t be dangerous and unhealthy.

According to my reading:

In 2017, then-Sen. Kamala Harris and her colleagues Sens. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Richard Durbin introduced a bill to provide free menstrual products to incarcerated people in federal women’s prisons. The Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a guidance memo, separate from Harris’ bill, mandating that menstrual products be available to all incarcerated people in federal correctional facilities at no cost shortly after. In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, a more general justice reform effort that included access to menstrual products. 

So… if you’re a woman who goes to a federal lockup, or a prison in a blue state, you’re more likely to be able to take care of these basic body function needs. But there’s no legislation in most states that require state prisons to accommodate menstrual periods. Frankly, I think that’s a sin, and I would love to see some high profile lawsuits happen that force states to do a better job in this area. In a wealthy country like the United States, this unsanitary practice should be outlawed. We’re supposed to be “better” than this… although I think many Americans are fooling themselves thinking that the United States is a civilized country. When we have female prisoners who are sitting in their own menstrual blood every month for want of adequate feminine hygiene supplies, we’ve lost the right to refer to ourselves as “civilized”.

It’s also unfair that prisons don’t automatically take care of this issue, since this is not a problem that male prisoners have to face. In fact, men don’t even need toilet paper as much as women do, but according to Jessica’s videos, women in Arkansas prisons only get two rolls a week. That’s really not much, especially when it’s that time of the month. But a lot of men involved with making laws don’t want to hear about this problem. It’s too “gross” for them. The first paragraph of an article in the Public Health Post opens with:

When Arizona’s all-male House of Representatives heard House Bill 2222 on feminine hygiene products, Representative Jay Lawrence said “I’m almost sorry I heard the bill…I didn’t expect to hear about pads and tampons and the problems of periods.” Introduced by Rep. Athena Salman, Arizona House Bill 2222 allocates funds to provide women in state prisons with unlimited and free access to feminine hygiene products. Access to sanitary menstrual products is considered a basic human right in European prisons. Not so in the US.

Wow, Jay… you’ve shown us just who you are with your lack of compassion or comprehension of how necessary it is for you, and your male colleagues, to hear a bill about providing necessary supplies for women who menstruate. I wonder if Jay Lawrence can even fathom how humiliating and shaming it is for a woman to have to deal with this problem when she can’t get the supplies she needs. Does he have any women in his life that he loves? What an asshole.

Aside from how gross, messy, and unsanitary this problem is, the practice of turning pads into tampons could potentially be unsafe or even deadly. Consider that the inmates probably don’t have the cleanest surfaces for improvising these products and they may not be able to keep themselves optimally clean. Then they’re sticking the tampons into their body orifices, where the improvised tampon might abrade the skin or otherwise introduce pathogens into the body. An inmate could potentially get very sick or even wind up with toxic shock syndrome doing this. Toxic shock syndrome can lead to sepsis, which can cause a person to lose limbs or even their lives.

A tampon did this to Lauren Wasser.

Model Lauren Wasser, who was not incarcerated when she left a tampon in too long and got toxic shock syndrome, lost BOTH of her legs to the sickness. She very nearly died.

I know a lot of people don’t care about the plight of prisoners. Personally, I still see them as human beings who are entitled to decent, respectful, and humane care when they are incarcerated. And part of being humane is making it possible for people in custody to be able to take care of private, personal body functions like menstrual periods. I know I would support legislation requiring that clean and hygienic feminine hygiene products be made available to women in prisons. I hope others can see how important this is.

And… once again… I am so glad menopause is around the corner.

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