Monday, May 21, 2012

Small Battles Lost (Monday LINKS)

Last Friday, when discussing Del. McDonough's racist statements, I noted that my post was not about Baltimore City crime, but that I wanted to have that discussion at some later point.  Monday seems a good enough place to start.

In 2007, I had my deepest and most stark appreciation for Baltimore City crime stated to me in plain terms, never to be forgotten.  In late 2006, I had started a "Street Law" program at Our Daily Bread in Baltimore City tailored for recently released ex-offenders.  For those unfamiliar with Street Law, it is a law course taught to populations vulnerable to crime and recidivism with the idea that if you know and understand the law, you are more likely to comply.  This theory further suggests that there are parallel universes between those who live in a (mostly) law-abiding way and those that live in a world absent of laws other than those imposed by the most powerful among them.  I had taught Street Law in law school and thought it may be useful at Our Daily Bread, especially in light of the fact that they already had a re-entry program.  (This was long before I realized that service was not about imposing the change I wanted to see on my environment, but rather listening and responding to the changes needed in the community.  But, that is for yet another post.)

Despite some early doubts from the directors of the re-entry program, my course ended up being quite successful.  I would have an 80% attendance rate, which was particularly good in light of the fact that the seminar was optional (they had some required courses as a part of the program) and it was held on Saturday mornings.  Admittedly, I would sporadically bring pizza, which kept them guessing for which days lunch would be incorporated into the program.

I have more stories than I can recount here from the four months that program was in existence.  Anyone who thinks they know about the problems facing Baltimore City would do well to spend ten minutes in one of my classes.  I heard horrific stories of abuse and deeply moving stories of empathy in a desert of cynicism.  There were some "students" who liked me, but dismissed the material as inapplicable.  There were others who very clearly resented me, but wrote down every word I said.

As part of my education, I asked to visit the City Prison with the executive director as she went in to speak to prospective students.  The re-entry program is designed to let current prisoners know that they have an option other than "returning to the streets" or "going back into the game" as it is often referred to.  The assumption is that out of 30 men, 20 will go back to a life of crime.  Ten may try the program.  Five will succeed.

During the session I attended, there was one charasmatic young man who clearly had the respect and attention of his fellow prisoners.  We all liked him too.  He was funny, said please and thank you, and addressed the executive director as "ma'am".  After the program, he said the following words that I will never forget:

"I appreciate what all of you are trying to do.  I do.  But I have two kids.  I can do what you say and make $13 an hour.  I can go back to doing what I did before and make $100 an hour.  Yeah, I might get locked back up, and probably will, but for the time I'm out, there will be food on my table and clothes on my kids back."

I would say that I am paraphrasing, but those words stuck with me in a way that makes me think I still remember them word for word.  The executive director asked him if he thought his "babies deserved to grow up knowing their father?"  He said "They deserve to eat."  After that, he effectively shut down.  No longer smiling.  No longer joking.  He was embittered by the truth of his own argument.

I certainly understand and appreciate that most of you will have no sympathy for this man.  Had he grown up in Clarksville, Columbia, or Elkridge, he probably would be our co-worker, maybe in sales, probably very conscientious about his job and future prospects.  "He chose to break the law."  "Personal responsibility."  All supremely valid points.  If we were having a practical values debate, I don't see how I could ever win arguing the side of my charismatic prisoner.  But if you want to solve the problem of Baltimore City crime, who wins a debate between the two of us is irrelevant.

It would seem to me that you need to win the argument with my friend in orange. 


I enjoyed this piece in the Washington Post on Sunday discussing solutions to the problem of divisive politics.  Many of the talking points that we carry around in our head are summarily dismissed and replaced with less instinctive suggestions.  Give it a look.

Annapolis lawmakers are not excited about the prospect of coming back to town in July for a Special Session focused on gambling.  For the rest of us, one must admire the tremendous power of Senate President Mike Miller.  For whatever anger the Governor feigned after the regular session failed to pass a palatable Budget, he gave one of the perpetrators exactly what he wanted in a second special session to address gambling.  What kind of J. Edgar file cabinets does Mr. Miller have over there?

With the rejection of an additional gas tax, Maryland's red line (the spoke most likely to affect the commutes of Howard County residents working in Baltimore) is imperiled.  Despite all their bloviating about the environment, mass transportation seems to only be a priority under perfect circumstances.  For reasons better explained by the more seasoned political vets, there is rarely a champion of mass tran that gets their name in the paper saying "Tomorrow is too late for this project."

The County Council is pushing back the approval of Executive Ulman's Budget pending an evaluation of how the newly passed State Budget will affect the balance sheets.  More importantly for the Council, that means one more long day in Budget work session.  And you think WE were upset about the need for a Special Session...

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB chose beer over wine on Saturday, heading to the 2nd Annual Clyde's Beer fest rather than facing the mobs at Wine in the Woods.  I met him over there and must say that the beer fest had a very different, much more relaxed, feel to it. 

That's all for today.  Have a great (rainy) Monday doing what you love!