Justice for all?

This morning I finished reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.  By the time I read the last page, I had cried (more than once), laughed, cursed, and celebrated.

Bryan helped to found EJI in Montgomery, Alabama–Equal Justice Initiative.  In his book, he details the stories of those wrongly accused and/or unjustly incarcerated by a corrupt group of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges.  While most of his book focuses on the South, Alabama in particular, he also tells of similar injustices throughout our country.  We are plagued by a system that unfairly targets the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.  Here is the website: http://bryanstevenson.com/the-book/ 

As I read account after account, I thought of Charles Dickens and the story of Oliver Twist.  Oliver’s only crime was that he was a poor orphan.  For this he was punished. Of course, not every person convicted of a crime has been wrongly accused.  Not every person who claims to be innocent are truly innocent.  But when I read about a prisoner named Joe who was convicted of a crime HE DID NOT COMMIT at age 13 and sentenced to serve out his time in an adult prison, my heart broke.  Joe’s story must be anomaly, I told myself.  Surely the law works equally for everyone.  I had not realized how naive I was until I read this book.

Don’t judge me too harshly.  It is much easier to believe what we are told than to constantly question it.  But question it we must.  After 18 years for this crime he did not commit, Joe had developed severe health problems.  His life was literally destroyed.  And yet, when Bryan met him, he managed to smile and mustered his hope for a good ending to his nightmarish life.

Bryan also tells of a man in Monroeville, Alabama who was wrongly convicted of the murder of a young woman based entirely on LIES by shady witnesses.  The judge, the prosecutor, and the sheriff in this case were not only negligent but, as far as I can tell, pure evil.  The conspired together for years to convict Walter simply because it was convenient. Motivated by racism and hatred, they put a decent man on death row for over 6 years.  If it had not been for Bryan’s intervention, he would have been electrocuted.  Alabama, as Bryan points out, had at that time one of the highest rates of carrying out the death penalty in the United States.

Monroeville is quite the famous place, known for being the birthplace of Harper Lee and the setting for To Kill A Mockingbird.  The tragic irony of this situation was not lost on Bryan and his colleagues, but unfortunately was completely lost on those involved in Walter’s case.  It made me literally ill to read of this this man’s ordeal.  Walter died from complications due to dementia in 2013, but at least he died a free man.

Bryan Stevenson’s book was a revelation to me.  As I read these stories about the suffering and incredible bravery of those who had been so horribly mistreated I could hardly stand it.  WE MUST CHANGE things in this country.  WE CANNOT allow the status quo to continue.  I write this blog fully aware of the fact that I may seem like a complete fool to some and a latecomer to the party to others.  So be it.  This book has lit a fire under me. This is not the last time I will address this topic.  My students in first year composition will be reading this book in Winter quarter.

I am actively looking for ways to contribute to the alleviation of this outrageous problem. Write to me if you are interested in helping.  As Bryan says, we have work to do.

 

End of Summer

Fall quarter at the University of Washington is right around the corner, and every faculty member I know is getting ready for the onslaught.  Not to say I’m not brimming with anticipation, mind you.  I just know IT’S COMING: the wall of emails, the endless meetings, the grading, not to mention all of the events on campus that are not to be missed!  By mid-December, 11 weeks will have flown by in a flash; we will catch our collective breath, celebrate our various holidays, and return on January 1st all bright and shiny, ready to gallop through a dark corridor called Winter quarter.  Screeching to a brief halt for a week of Spring Break (hahahahahaha) we will gather ourselves together for the sprint called Spring quarter.  And just like that, we will have all–faculty, staff, and students–successfully (of course) completed another year of learning, teaching, and making the world a better place.

After thirty-five years of college teaching, my mind, body, and spirit are so acclimated to this cycle that it is automatic: August 1st, I begin to prepare myself: if I am teaching a class in autumn I have taught before, I dust it off and make small repairs and incremental improvements.  If it’s a new class, actually, I’ve been planning since June–just not the all-out planning that begins in August.  By this time, two weeks before the quarter, I liken myself to a runner, crouched at the starting line, waiting for the whistle to blow.  “Come on, already,” sums up my attitude.  I. Am. Ready.

On day 1, all is wonderful.  Everyone pays attention.  Everyone (well, most everyone) smiles and asks all of the right questions.  Leaning forward in their chairs, they hang on my every word.  Okay, okay.  I’m pushing it now! Perhaps I am recalling my favorite dream.  Most faculty members might agree that there is a definite honeymoon period before reality sets in.  I would maintain, however, that for me, and probably most of us who have lasted this long, the thrill of teaching and learning never goes away.  It is an honor to be entrusted with the education of such amazing individuals.  I learn something new every day.

And so, the title of this piece, “End of Summer” is not meant to be an ending at all, but a beginning, full of the uncertainty that characterizes our visions of the future, but also overflowing with possibilities.

I. Can’t. Wait.

Lesson Learned?

I was working on my home computer Monday when my screen turned bright red and froze: this horrible event was accompanied by a flashing message that said my computer had been compromised and that I needed to call the number on the screen; a Microsoft help team would then help save my computer. I called.  A man named “Alex” assured that all would be well, that I just needed to follow a few steps with him.  First I needed to give him control of my computer.  That sounded weird, but then, what do I know, so I did.  MISTAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!  I know that everyone who is reading this is thinking to themselves “What a dummy!”  Me, too.

I thought I was so smart, so savvy in the ways of computers,  internet scams, etc.  But this operation was smooth as silk!  I had been taken before I even knew what had happened.  He showed me passwords and account numbers and had me in tears.  I was absolutely panicked.  He wanted me to buy extra protection for my computer, which he laid out for me in a very systematic manner–for 15 years of protection I need only pay $900.00.  for 10 years, I would pay the low, low price of $800.00, and so on.  As I listened, my red flags finally began to pop up.  “Call your expert!”  which happens to be, lucky for me, my husband.

I told “Alex” that my husband needed to be in on this conversation before I made any decisions about extra internet protection, so he called him!  I couldn’t believe that, actually.  I told Mike to get home as quickly as possible.  When he got here, he quickly deduced the situation, made me aware of my egregious error (no yelling involved, by the way–thank you, Mike), and confronted the thieves.  They ended up hanging up on us!

I HOPE I HAVE LEARNED MY LESSON from this.

But here’s the thing: these guys just get more and more sophisticated.  They are good, really good.

I am writing this not to expose my stupidity–which I am doing, I realize–but as a warning to others.  Know thy enemy.  Know their tricks.  Study up on strategies.  I am going to.  They aren’t going to trap me again!

Stay safe out there in Cyber-space, my friends.  The Upside-Down?  Yes, I think so!  (see Stranger Things to get this reference!)

Podcast

Today is a first for me–I will be “appearing” on a podcast hosted by a local guy in Tacoma, Jeff Richardson.  It is called “Everything is Awesome Podcast”–if you’re interested, check it out.  I don’t know what to expect, so I will post again later today to describe the experience.  It will be fun to talk about my music, maybe sing a few tunes, talk about my forthcoming book, and who knows what else.  Maybe I will make some new friends!  I know podcasts have been around for awhile, but I am just coming around to the concept.  It’s a great way to hear new stories, as well as–such as in the cast of NPR–a great way to gain insight on current events, sort of peeking behind the curtain.  I guess it’s a kind of radio broadcast, yes?

Here is a link to the site if you want to look around and take a listen.  All of the broadcasts are archived, so listen in and discover something new!

P. S.  Just got home from the podcast and it was awesome!  Turns out I taught Jeff at Gig Harbor High School in 1991! How cool is that?  Here we are 25 years later and I’m on his podcast!  The world is certainly an interesting place.  I also met KC, Jeff’s co-host, who set me at ease right away.  We had a great time.  See the selfie below:

podcast crew

 

Academic writing is fun!

I love to do research.  I love to write.

I also dread it.

I know many others will relate to this contradiction.  I get great personal satisfaction from working on a project and seeing it to completion.  Of course.  But it is also a pain in my side, an itch I can’t scratch, and a flat out compulsion.  Yikes.

When I found out about Academia.edu I was excited to begin posting my academic papers, none of which had been published before.  This morning, I went to that site for the first time in a while and noted that many people had downloaded my papers and not only that–many of them had left comments for me as to why they had found my papers useful.  It is not surprising that many of them are students, but I was pleased to see that many of them were from other countries.  That is just the coolest thing.  Here we are, thousands of miles apart, sharing information like we were in the same room, or at least on the same campus.  It is times like these that I love technology!

Here is the link to my Academia.edu page if you are so inclined.  I need to get back to work, or, is that FUN?

Last Day of July, 2016

For me, the last day of July marks the beginning of a new academic year.  I begin to think in earnest about the courses I will be teaching in the fall and throughout the year.  I’ve had about 6 weeks “off” (for teachers, there is no such thing as a “free” summer), so it’s time to start gearing up for the new year. It is a time of planning curriculum and of reflecting on what is to come.  It is a time for me to review learning goals for my courses and reconsider the kinds of activities that I will use to engage students in their own learning process.  During the next six weeks, my excitement will build, as it does every year, for that first day of class in a brand new year.  I dream of the possibilities that await myself and my students as we explore new territory together.  The leaves are still green  and hanging on the trees, and my mind is full of fall. Of course, there’s still lots of summer left–my husband and I will make a few more short journeys before the end of August–one to Astoria and one to Ashland for the Shakespeare festival. But it is hard for me to live in the moment completely–the academic calendar has been ingrained in me after teaching for over 30 years!  Its familiar rhythm pulls me in once more and with every day that passes, my anticipation grows.  Bring. It. On!