By Alex M
Not much happens here. Besides the separation from family, the monotony is often the worst aspect of the prison life, especially for thinkers. That's why I am a news junkie, typically reading the NY Times cover to cover. So on Election Day, I was extremely well caught up on the polls, expecting to watch history unfold before my eyes that evening. At least I would get to watch the continual national blooming of acceptance as a priority. I would get to celebrate a flawed but clearly better candidate's victory, a triumph for equality if not for the people's revolution. I would get to watch the flailing defeat of a man representing everything socially ugly. And if I cannot be there with my son, my family, my friends, I could know that they're living in a decent world. At least I could know that the real world is headed towards deeper humanism, even if I am not fully alive to be part of it.
I realized what was happening about 1230 a.m., as Trump stayed ahead in Wisconsin and Michigan and took over Pennsylvania. I went to sleep disgusted but not really considering the ramifications because it still seemed incomprehensibly, unrealistically awful. Kind of like the mindset after a particularly violent, gory episode of Walking Dead.
My mind was processing it, though. I proceeded to wake up hourly to sudden attacks of anxiety, each stemming from a series of realizations about what the broader cataclysmic fallout would be. And I proceeded to have these fits of heart-pounding, sweaty nervousness all that night and a few times a day for at least a week after. This is from a previously incurable optimist with the utmost faith in people, someone able to sleep like the dead even in the cement-echoing, unpredictable confines of penitentiary.
What about the Supreme Court? Will we return to a Wild West approach to guns and law enforcement? Will I ever see an unbleached reef upon release? Will my son and I be able to scuba dive off the Kentucky portion of the Atlantic coastline, just to supposedly save a few dangerous, underpaid coal jobs? What will become of the poor folks without insurance at work? Will my god-daughters be sexually assaulted and have it brushed off as "locker room" talk and behavior? Who will stand up for the immigrant families who bring so much flavor and energy to our culture and economy? Who will negotiate peaceful compromises with other leaders of nations? Who will care for the millions more refugees this is bound to create? And on and on... I was unable to have a conversation about it for weeks. Hell, I couldn't talk to anyone here at all for a week except to minimally fulfill my normally enthusiastic teaching duties. I'm known as an annoyingly irrepressible hoper here, and that is still gone a month later. Never have I had an election effect me personally like this. At least poor Dubya (can you believe that he seems suddenly appealing?!) is off the hook as worst POTUS ever already.
There is no such thing as a billionaire, heir-built, hair-poofed populist. What does it say that guys here can see that so clearly, yet so many millions chose to bury their heads, presumably out of either fear, bigotry, or presumed self-interest? Is there any difference between those three? What does it say that so many would actively choose for President this man who is, no shit, a proud member of WWE's professional wrestling Hall of Fame? Are you kidding me with this? That is eerily like the plot of a horrible Owen Wilson comedy called "Idiocracy." Does this not bother anyone? What does it say that the common reaction in prison was utter disdain and worry for the lack of moral compass of the president-elect? What does it say to guys here about proper behavior and equal treatment under the law when a proud misogynist, 12-time accused sexual assaulter, fraudulent businessman, and tax cheat claims the moral high ground and still gets elected?
For the first time, I am glad to be in here. It may be better than out there. Not really, but if I was not of European descent and straight, it probably would be better in here in VA state prison, where at least the backwards, no second chances legislators and staff are counteracted by the progressive governor.
Seriously, though, for the first time ever, I am not proud to be an American. For the first time ever, I do not believe this nation is moving, at least slowly, in the right direction. Most sadly, for the first time ever, I have lost faith in the decency of the majority of Americans. This vote is clear evidence that our cultural values have become dominated by self-interest and blame and tribalism, none of which are ideals of our "Founding Fathers." Also, none of which promote anything except violence and greed.
The ramifications of this election will be felt for a long, long time. Dmitrius, Raegan, and Lana, my son and nieces, should never have to know the future we just purchased with our acceptance of blatant sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, and elitism. All of us and all of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as well as every other human and species on the earth, is less safe today than they were yesterday.
That is not hyperbole, either, if the campaign promises come true. He promises reduced health care access for the poor. He promises to ramp up support for militarized, aggressive policing. He promises to renege on the baby steps finally made towards mandating consideration of the earth's systems instead of just the bottom line of a few terminally fated and corrupt companies. He promises to exclude people from our society on religious and ethnic grounds, claiming they are inherently more dangerous. Basically, he promises to make every stance possible to ensure the merit-free privilege and dominance of straight, white males at the expense of everyone else.
With that attitude, we never would have left the monarchy behind, integrated automobiles and electricity and public education into baseline expectations of life, abolished slavery or child labor, given voting rights to all (only to walk them back again), or put people on the moon. This is devolution, undoubtedly. We cannot move forward if we try to hold on to a past that disenfranchised more than 65% of our current population, assuming all the women, minorities, and people of alternative lifestyles useless and immoral.
Thus, I am worried most about the future for my son and future generations. What kind of world will people be living in terms of their interpersonal interactions? This election's worst outcome on a humanistic level is what it socially legitimized. We have now made it officially acceptable to degrade women as weak and prone to absurdity, not to mention sexual assault and degrading objectification. Likewise, disgraceful stereotypes about Muslims, immigrants, the disabled, LGBTQ, and African Americans are now part of the norm. Responding to disliked ideas with personal insults and even violence are now approved by the electorate.
On a personal level, as a person behind bars (that term is preferable to the loaded "convict" or "offender" monikers, especially now), I am worried about my/our future, of course. I have always been an advocate for criminal justice system reform long before I found myself directly impacted. It was finally gaining some momentum, too. What now? Things probably won't change too much in here, as a state prison where a decent governor reigns, but it certainly won't get any better, either, which we had all been working for. More than that, what chance will there be for all of us in the future? In a society that was just starting to turn the corner to again thinking of people with convictions as humans, what hope do we have with Trump riding a wave of fact-free hatred and blind judgment? We are going from a chief executive pushing sentencing reform and commuting record numbers of sentences along with a justice department aggressively pressing back against discriminatory, abusive policing to a guy who ignores the clear data that this is one of the safest times ever to be an American in favor of ranting about the exploding crime wave coming from the scary urban (read: not White) areas. From a president who installed national incentives to hire people with records and laws "banning the box" to a dog-whistling demagogue who reduces people to any trait upon which he can degrade them.
This really has impacted my life. I haven't been able to sleep properly since. I have not even been able to go back to chasing my current events fixes, TV or newspaper. I can't do it. It keeps getting worse. The tidbits that filter through to me are too scary and anxiety control here is crucial and difficult.
Hope is already too scarce and hazy behind these walls and razor wires. With Trump as our next president, you could see its vestiges' deflation and sense the despair fill the void. It was a visible phenomenon in this world the day after and remains so since. In a microcosm so many assume devoid of decency and respect, the vast majority still whisper with concern about the death of national dignity and the lost assumption of kindness and respect.
Just one more reason to let all the people vote.
Yet we find reasons to push on. None have quit, though we are dejected. Hopefully this is the final, dying gasp of White-lash, the last stand of intolerance, before the flowering of youth's diversity & acceptance.
Alex M is a brother of Fig Tree Revolution who is incarcerated.