Prisoners are people too, or why I started writing to American inmates

Disclaimer: I’m aware all of my evidence is anecdotal and doesn’t necessarily prove me right – feel free to offer counter-sources as I’m always open to changing my mind or at least having a discussion.

When you think about prison you probably get an image of a group of burly men or rough women sneering and generally disrespecting authority and everyone around them. Maybe that’s true to some extent but people often seem to forget that those in prison are still people. They want, they dream and they get lonely. Really fucking lonely. Mail time is the best part of many inmates’ days – their name gets called out and it’s official, they have a connection with the Outside. It’s still real and the walls around them are just that – walls. It’s not the only thing in existence for the few minutes it takes to read their letter.

Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that people are sent to prison for a reason. They’ve done something illegal and it’s a punishment partially designed to keep people safe on the streets. I’m not for a minute trying to plead for you to see inmates as a group of people who’ve been wronged.

I do think inmates have as much right as other people to build human relationships though. That’s why I started writing to an inmate in Texas last June. I found his profile on an inmate pen pal website and he seemed pretty interesting so I wrote to him. He responded a lot faster than I expected and we’re still writing now – I’d even consider C a friend at this stage. The same goes for P, the other guy I started writing to. He’s in Nevada. I read up on writing to inmates before I did it and the most common piece of advice I found was to make sure your pen pals aren’t in the same facility as it can cause fights if they’re the possessive type.

Writing to C and P has been eye opening. It gave me a real insight into prison life; every single aspect of your existence is controlled. Want food? Wait until meal times and hope it’s edible (prison food sounds like it really challenges the definition of ‘food’). Need to shower? Not until you’ve waited 3 days. People say being locked up isn’t enough for many crimes but honestly it sounds like hell on earth to me. You’re trapped in a box all day, every day, other than trips to the exercise yard and depending on the prison maybe meal times. In some facilities you’ll be thoroughly searched (including cavity search) for contraband every time you shower or go to/from the exercise yard. Even toilet paper has to be purchased through the commissary (assuming you have anyone to send you money). I’ve heard a lot of people saying it’s ridiculous that inmates get a tv but in the time I’ve written to C and P I’ve quickly learned that it’s really important that they have something to do with their minds. If not from a sympathetic standpoint, from a pure common sense point of view. If you lock somebody in a room 24/7 with literally no entertainment s/he is going to be absolutely incapable of reintegrating into society if/when s/he is released. Imagine being unaware of anything beyond the year you were locked up in when you were released? P was amazed when I told him about Blu Ray and he just recently discovered MP3s exist. He’s fairly up to date on politics and such because of the tv but he’s otherwise really behind the times.

At best you’d be confused and struggle to find your place in the world. At worst you’d panic and do anything to get back inside. It sucks but at least it’s familiar. You know how things work, how to behave and you get meals and a roof over your head. I’ve been of the belief that prisons need to take a more rehabilitation focused route for a while but writing to C and P has really confirmed it.

I’m not saying prison should be pleasant – what would be the point otherwise? But I do think making a person feel consistently worthless for 20 years is bound to lead to them being unable to function when they’re released, creating the revolving door culture we have in many societies.

I’m interested to see other peoples’ perspectives on this. Is the level of punishment vs rehab in prisons right or does it need to tip more one way or the other?

The main thing that prompted me to write this was the reaction I get when people find out I write to inmates. A lot of people seem to think I somehow think these guys should have been given a free pass for what they did, when really I’m writing because I feel they’ve already been judged by the system and there’s no need for me to judge them any further. Is that really so weird?

Dreams Are So Weird

Well, damn. Just woke up (6am here). If you knew me you’d be really surprised; I am not a morning person! I don’t know what really happened but I had a weird dream then BOOM. Eyes open. Kind of like when the predator in a horror film is in the room with the main character and even though it’s being deadly silent, they just know. Not that I’m trying to claim there was a monster in my room. The closest thing to a monster in this house is our super needy, noisy cat, Peppi. I slowly and quietly (without even waking my SO up!) extricated myself from the bed and crept downstairs – I haven’t even made coffee yet because I don’t want to start opening and closing doors and rattling around in the kitchen since Mr. C is a light sleeper – feeling pretty proud of my super suave stealth powers.

And then?

MRRRRROOOOOOOWWWWWW!

Well shit. He’s off. I’ve just had to very quietly hush the little demon, which didn’t work (of course), and when that didn’t work I had to quickly pick him up and put him in the kitchen with some food in the hopes it distracts him. Mr. C doesn’t sleep well and I’ll be damned if Peppi is ruining this very rare morning I get to myself…

The dream I mentioned was weird as. I’m not really surprised it woke me up. Basically, I was in a weird labyrinth style underground area with metal walkways everywhere (picture the boiler room in Nightmare on Elm Street). Some of my friends from university were in there too – let’s just call them S and J (both men). These guys were two of my absolute closest friends at uni but in S’s case we’ve drifted apart and in J’s case… well let’s not even go there. It was messy.

So S and I are walking along chatting when J pops up. Now, J is usually really bouncy and funny. He has to have been the class clown at school. In this dream he’s not really himself – he has a blazing joint in one hand (what??) and a massive manic grin spread across his face. Next minute he’s making all sorts of threats and punches me square in the eye, still with that joint in his hand. Just to top that off he also pushed the lit end smack bang in the middle of my forehead laughing like a hyena the whole time. The rest of the dream seemed to consist of S trying to get me out of that horrible labyrinth/maze.

Weird. Haven’t even seen or spoken to J for at least a year, more like two. No idea what brought him into my subconscious (in case you’re wondering, no he wouldn’t hurt somebody like this) but he can get the hell out as far as I’m concerned. Not a fan of nightmares at the best of times, let alone ones about a former best friend burning my forehead and punching me. Maybe it’s because I just cut loose an old “friendship” which has been doing more harm than good – it probably just brought that one back too.

Either way, note to brain: stahp! I might be a lazy toad in the mornings but that is definitely not my idea of a good alarm clock. Sure, it was effective, but damn that was not worth it.

Have a good day, all, and I’ll probably write on here again soon.

What Makes a Good Employee? (or the rant of an extremely salty ex-employee)

Long time no post. Something’s really come to my attention recently though and I thought it might make for an interesting post (or at least, a post which raises interesting questions). What exactly is it an employer wants in their workers?

I am currently in a really annoying position: I took a temporary job last November which was supposed to finish in February. Instead of finishing me the company offered me a fixed term contract until the end of June which would then be reviewed. This includes a full salary (instead of being paid per hour), a pension and basically everything a permanent member of staff gets apart from sick pay. This was good enough for me – I’ve spent far too long working in unstable temp contracts never knowing whether I’ll still have a job next week, so this was almost as good as a permanent position compared to that. I was thrilled to take the fixed contract and it was strongly hinted that this might well become a permanent position.

Not wanting to put all of my eggs in one basket I more or less dismissed the idea of a permanent contract in my own head for the time being because let’s face it, those things don’t exist unless you’re extremely lucky, willing to work in retail (been there, done that, hated it with a fiery passion) or know the right people. Being related to somebody within the company is usually an excellent way to nab yourself a nice permanent contract or at least extend your fixed term (as one of my colleagues in this position seems to have found out). I figured the best way forward was to work hard, hit my targets and go the extra mile, partly to help customers, partly to impress upon the company that I’d be a good pick if they did decide to recruit another permanent member of staff.

Cut to the middle of June (I’d already asked early June and got no answer): I asked if my manager knew what was going on with my contract and she had absolutely no idea. Okay. So my contract finishes in less than 2 weeks and nobody knows if I’m staying. I started searching for other jobs in case they turned around on the last week and said I was going. Nope, they extended it to the end of July (giving me about a week and a half’s notice, of course). Cool, it’s not the extension I wanted or hoped for, but alright I’ll take that. Baby steps.

Carried on working, usual drill – work hard, hope they notice, etc. Cut forward to today and I’m sitting here trying to find a new job because when I asked again at the beginning of July I was made an offer which I honestly just can’t bring myself to dignify with any answer but “Hell no”. I was told that my contract was still pegged to end on 31 July (this Friday) but that I’d know by the 28th. The 28th? What possible excuse is there for the decision taking until 3 days before the end date? The offer was that I could cut my losses, finish on the 31st and find something else or I could stick around and maybe get another week or 2 out of it. Maybe. I guess some will call me stupid for my decision but I’ve had enough of being toyed with so I’m leaving on Friday either way. I’d rather find an employer who’s at least honest about taking the piss instead of this shambles which doesn’t even seem to know which way is up.

I know this is a rant and it happens to a lot of people. But that’s kind of the point of the post for me. This happens to hundreds – probably thousands – of people all of the time. They get plonked into a thankless temporary contract then disposed of whenever they’re getting too expensive or they’re not needed any more. I’m not even sure that permanent employment still exists: I graduated 2 years ago and the best job I’ve had is this one, which yet again turned out to be a temporary position managed by a blue chip company which has absolutely no interest in its employees and what bills, commitments or dependents they may have.

One friend of mine asked again today because up until now he still had no idea what would be happening with his contract and the answer was that he’s not trained on enough processes (believe me he’s asked to be trained plenty of times and is more than competent) but that every other temp in the place has at least another week yet. Including one employee who makes mistakes on a very regular basis (I know because I usually have to correct them for her) and one who is being trained on the phones and has the worst verbal communication skills I’ve ever seen. The other temp (M) who started at the same time as me also seems to be lumped in with the ones who have a week to go (maybe more) was recently offered a permanent contract by the company which was then taken off him when our manager said she still needed him until the end of July (the perm contract involved moving departments). For context me and M have been working for the company for 9 months, one of the people being kept until the end of August started 3 months ago and the other has been there for just over 1 month). But yeah, let’s keep the under-trained people, one of which has no interest in learning the job, and get rid of the people who’ve worked their arses off for 9 months. That makes sense.

I guess what I’m trying to work out here is what these employers are actually looking for. It can’t be accuracy and efficiency because they haven’t chosen the most accurate or efficient workers (I know quite a few temps who do a much better job than the 2 being kept on an extended contract), they don’t seem to want customer service because the best in that are going too. The only correlation I can find is that the 2 they’re keeping are on cheaper contracts. Does anyone else get the impression from their experiences that companies want literally nothing other than people who are willing to work for less?

Not just in this job but in others I’ve seen countless employees chosen in these agency/companies’ little purges despite being the best at their jobs. I’d like to know even if just to try and adopt the qualities they want until I can get a real career going – despite what these companies may think, some of us do actually have bills to pay and commitments to hold up.

Gamer Girls?

This is a phenomenon which has been bugging me for quite a while now: “Gamer Girls”.

I just don’t get it… what exactly is the huge deal?

Let me explain my definition of “Gamer Girl” (GG — heh, geddit?) so I can clarify what exactly it is I’m writing about:

Gamer Girl: a girl who makes an enormous point of mentioning that she plays video games, is ‘obsessed’ with them and is a ‘gamer’. Usually has pictures of herself with a plushie Yoshi/Teemo hat/Pikachu/other over-used game character.

 

Now don’t get me wrong; if somebody wants to do all of the above, that’s absolutely fine. Go for it. The problem I do have with this is that so many people seem to lump every girl into the same category. It seems to be a really common thing to be talking to a guy and then suddenly have his whole attitude towards you change because you game, so you must be a GG.

Yes, I am a girl. Yes, I play games. No, I’m not some rare species akin to a unicorn. Yes, I play games other than Tetris. Yes, you can still talk to me like a normal person.

I get that it’s nice to be talking to someone (especially if you’re attracted to them) and to suddenly find out that they share a hobby with you but gaming just seems to be a whole new level. It’s like you’ve just unlocked this whole new awkward world. You’re either an attention seeker who doesn’t really game but just wants to attract a certain kind of guy, or you’re this rare species which must be captured right away. Now, I’m going to clarify before I go any further that I’m fully aware that this isn’t something that every guy does. There are plenty of guys who game and are unfazed when a girl enters their chat room – it’s just another player. There are also plenty of guys who get a bit excited when they discover that their hot female friend is a gamer and that’s also understandable – hell, I was excited when I discovered that my boyfriend is a gamer. It means you won’t be moaned at for gaming too much/spending too much on games/being anti-social. Great! 

The thing I just can’t get my head around is why female gamers/’nerds’ get such different treatment from their male (and sometimes female) counterparts. When I’m playing LoL, I often know when I’m on a team with another girl. Not because of her cute username with Xx on either side, not because she puts a ~ after everything (and no, I’m not saying it’s only girls who do that stuff)… but because she immediately goes “I’m a girl!! :3” or “I’M NOT A DUDE” when someone says “hf gl dudes”. Why? I honestly just don’t get it. Why does it matter? By acting like that, you’re just making it harder for girls as a whole to integrate into the gaming community and become accepted as a norm. I like to be able to go into a game and not feel like when I make a bad play it’s because I’m female and we’re shit at gaming (supposedly). Even other women can be just as bad with this… I follow a fair few female gamers and cosplay artists on various social media sites and there’s an incredible amount of negativity in the comment boxes, with other girls saying things like “Oh look at this attention-whore, she’s not even a gamer” or “Just bc she has her boobs out doesn’t mean she should get followers”. Not helping. The prejudice against female gamers really is a problem – everything I post is anecdotal so it’s really not solid evidence but one very strong example of the aforementioned prejudice is a once-LoL (now WoW) streamer; Pooksie (often identified simply as Voyboy’s girlfriend).

I’ve followed Pooksie for a while on Twitch – she’s a skilled player, has interesting commentary and is just generally a fun streamer to watch. Of course, she has her share of admiring followers who continuously comment on her appearance and how hot she is – that’s just something that happens when you stream (to guys too). However, it hit a whole new level with Pooksie. Every time I opened up her stream (fairly regularly) the chat was absolutely flooded with “nice tits”, “u got carried by voy”, “hey guys look at this redtube vid of pooksie” (this video was pretty much made out to define everything about her… I have an idea of its contents but never clicked on it), “wtf u done to your hair it was better red”, “tits”, “omg no tits not watching”… I’m sure you get the picture. Whenever she wore a top which wasn’t low cut, she got abuse. When she dyed her hair brown she got abuse because they wanted their ‘Katarina’ back. When she actually played LoL she got this constant abuse about how hard she was allegedly carried by her boyfriend. She just couldn’t win whatever she did. In the end she quit with the LoL stream and she’s now playing WoW instead because she was sick of the constant negativity*. What kind of community gets off on driving someone out of a game because they happen to have boobs? Seriously? Admittedly the League community is among the worst but this is just next level idiocy.

It would just be nice, for once, if people would start to ignore the genders of the people playing games/streaming. Yeah sure, be attracted to them but for crying out loud try to concentrate a bit more on the game and less on demoralizing and categorizing the person playing. I don’t tend to go for feminist rants but it’s kind of true that you don’t go on Keyori’s stream and see “omg get your dick out” or “hey wtf are you wearing that for you should be topless” on StVicious’. I just think that people could do with showing a little more respect toward their fellow gamers, regardless of whether they’re male, female, transgender, etc. We’re already stereotyped as “neckbeards” and greasy basement dwellers – must we stereotype each other as well?

 

* “Due to so many people complaining about me not playing LoL lately, I decided it’s time for me to explain the reason why it’s unlikely I’ll go back to it anytime soon.

The LoL community is considered to be very toxic. While I don’t believe the majority of the League players are toxic, the majority of people who come watch my stream and talk in chat are. When I stream League, many chatters are rude, disrespectful and frustrating to deal with. People call me bad when I never claimed to be good. People insult me, which frankly doesn’t affect me, but worst of all, they insult my viewers and fan base. To add to that, I really don’t like the latest patches. This makes League not enjoyable to play or stream.

The WoW community, on the contrary, have been nothing but awesome so far. I’m able to have constant conversations with the chat, which has made the stream a lot more engaging. It has been so good that I was even able to get a Teamspeak for my subscribers! I hadn’t had this much fun streaming in a long time. Of course every once in a while a troll or another wanders into chat, but that’s gonna happen no matter what game I play.

I hope you all understand my decision on playing WoW over LoL. I simply enjoy it more and have more fun doing it. If you’re not longer gonna follow my stream, that’s understandable, and I appreciate all the support from when I was streaming LoL. However, I would love to see you all on my stream again!”  — Pooksie’s statement when she quit streaming LoL.

Stop This Needless Bloodshed

It’s everywhere at the moment… all over the internet, spray painted on walls (and even pavements), written on bank notes… “Free Palestine”.

This is an absolutely explosive topic and this particular outburst between Israel and Palestine has provoked an incredible reaction from international onlookers. Although this conflict has been going on for a century, people are suddenly saying “Enough’s enough”. It seems that a major factor in this sudden increase in attention is the involvement of Hamas – seen by many as a terrorist organization and reviled for its less than peaceful methods of getting what it wants – and the slaughter of nearly 2,000 Palestinian civilians by Israel.

As with every story, there are 2 sides to this conflict: a conflict this drawn out is bound to have atrocities committed on both sides. Israel’s fury at the kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah was entirely understandable and it’s no surprise that their reaction to the fact that they were kidnapped by Palestinians was to order the perpetrators to be captured but it seems that these events have led to a constant downward spiral of violence, hatred and persecution.

On one side we have Israel firing shells at the Gaza Strip and killing innocents indiscriminately, regardless of whether they’re men, women, children, disabled, whatever. If the people of Gaza aren’t blown to smithereens by shells they’ll probably starve to death because they’re cut off and have dwindling supplies. There have been ceasefire agreements but up until now none of them have been honoured – perhaps this most recent one will actually be seen through to the end, who knows?

Then there are the rockets being fired by Hamas – as though responding to violence with more violence is a good idea. The more these organizations keep fighting and launching explosives at one another (or in some cases “advanced weaponry” which can literally mince a person where s/he stands), the worse it’s going to get for the innocents living (or should that be ‘existing’?) on the Gaza Strip. The world is gradually starting to make a real stand against this madness, and if there’s nothing else we can take from this horrific situation (I’d like to say we can learn a lesson from it, but we never do), it’s the knowledge that humanity isn’t entirely done for. People still care. No matter how desensitized we become to soulless acts of violence through seeing them on the news every night there will always be somebody who sees those disheveled, injured people and feels something stronger than mere pity or sorrow – the people who are protesting, posting on social media, marching, wearing “Freedom for Gaza” or “Free Palestine” t-shirts… those people feel unity with their fellow human beings. They feel hope that if we shout loudly enough the people in power will listen and at least try to find a non-violent, diplomatic way around this situation. As long as people have enough faith in each other to believe that such a solution could be reached there is still some semblance of hope for humanity.

At least, that’s what I want to think. Every time I turn on the TV, open a newspaper, look online, there’s a tear-soaked, desolate face staring back at me. Whether it’s Gaza, Ukraine, Lebanon or something more local such as the homeless back here in the UK, there’s misery and suffering everywhere. I can’t begin to express how disgusting I find it that any human being can inflict such intense suffering on another – we’re supposed to be this great civilized species which is superior to other animals. How can we seriously claim that when we’re killing each other over land, religion, money, or anything so insignificant? Life is an unspeakably valuable thing and it shames me to watch people being herded like cattle from one ‘safe point’ to another in the fruitless hope that maybe today they won’t be bombarded with death.

This post will probably come off as fairly pointless to many and I suppose in a way it is. It doesn’t contain any revelations or opinions which people haven’t seen a million times before. It doesn’t teach you anything unless you’ve been living under a rock and didn’t know about the Israel-Palestine conflict. It isn’t even particularly eloquent. It’s essentially an unedited thought process – I’m trying to make this blog about first impressions – this is what was in my mind at the time of writing. Some of it may offend, some of it may make you roll your eyes – some of it may even be wrong. I’m not perfect and I never intend to try to be; I just can’t get my head around the fact that human beings in Gaza are being driven to their deaths right now and I can’t do a damn thing about it.

I can only hope that one day – hopefully soon – Israel and Palestine will somehow come to a compromise and learn to tolerate one another at the very least, even if they can’t get along. In such an increasingly chaotic world, the only thing I have real faith in any more is the capacity for humans to reach out and offer support and solidarity to those who need it. After all, what do we have if not each other?

The Ripple Effect

This is how all teachers should be. ❤

My [redacted] Journey

January 20, 2014

Dear Readers,

With a few adjustments, I am re-blogging a post that I originally published in May of last year.  I thank you for your indulgence.

Each year that I have been a teacher, I have made it a point to create a lesson with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I Have a Dream” speech at its core.  Most, if not all of my readers are even now clicking their mouse to move on to read a more interesting, more relevant, more up-to-date post.  I mean, hasn’t Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech been done to death?  Perhaps, but in His infinite wisdom, God has always allowed each of my years’ lessons on Martin Luther King’s legacy to hold something different and memorable for me and my students.

One year, it was the spark that lit a fire in my students to publically protest an injustice they saw happening on campus.  Another…

View original post 1,339 more words

Review: “American Cream” hair conditioner: Lush.

American Cream is a vanilla-scented hair conditioner which claims to leave your hair soft and smelling lovely for hours afterwards – a bold claim, since I’ve yet to come across a shampoo or conditioner which actually leaves any kind of scent in my hair for more than 10 minutes or so.

Scent 9/10

I initially held doubts about this – many vanilla scented cosmetics tend to be either overly sweet or just downright artificial. I got a pleasant surprise with American Cream. In the bottle it doesn’t smell overpowering but it has a definite vanilla smell, with earthier undertones. I can actually smell it in my hair as I’m sitting here typing without even having to move my hair closer to my nose or anything – it smells beautiful. It doesn’t have any of the sugary sweetness of chemical vanilla conditioners – it’s just right. It’s a fairly strong scent but it’s a very adult sort of aroma, as opposed to the sort of ice cream scent you may expect from a vanilla conditioner. I’d recommend using it at the start of the day so you can get the full advantage of its staying power – who needs perfume?

Effect 8.5/10

My hair isn’t currently at its best – it’s very faded and quite dry because I damaged it through excessive bleaching/dying (it’s been every colour you can think of and it’s only just starting to recover from the abuse I subjected it to). After using this conditioner it’s extremely shiny (it’s not often it actually shines; it normally just goes sort of soft and fuzzy) and the faded dye doesn’t look half as bad because of the glossy finish American Cream has created. I wouldn’t say it has made my hair particularly soft compared to other conditioners I’ve used, but I would have to test it when my hair’s in a decent condition to judge this properly. It’s not quite the best conditioner I’ve ever used but it’s up there in the top 5 – I think by using it over time my hair will improve drastically, especially if I combine this with a hair treatment.

Value 7.5/10

As many of you will know, Lush is anything but cheap. Luckily, they’re usually happy to give you a sample if you want to try a product before you buy it (although the sample pots are too small to really get enough hair product to gauge how well it will work in my opinion). I bought a 100ml bottle of American Cream, which came to £4.50 – pretty pricey. However, I would happily buy the bigger bottle (which would work out at better value anyway) because this stuff works so well. For the quality you’re getting I would say that if you want to treat yourself and splash out a little, this is well worth the extra money.

I think it’s safe to say that I’d buy American Cream again, and I would highly recommend it to anybody with damaged, dry hair. It has a lovely, earthy vanilla aroma and certainly does what it says on the bottle.

Overall Score 8.5/10

 

UPDATE: the scent stayed for more than 12 hours – Lush, you did good. I’m impressed.