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Am I ready to go to prison?
Musings on incarceration, Part 4
NOTE: I’m writing every day in memory of Lisa, who died on October 13. Not all of these posts will be sent out by email, and some I may write from jail/prison, as I go to trial on November 29. So if you want to follow this journey, visit the blog every day. I’ll try to post by 10 am each day, but occasionally, I’m sure a post will be late.
I’ve written in the last 2 weeks about my journey to becoming a felony defendant. My last post on the subject focused on the importance of social ties, something that is established not just by my personal experience but by decades of social science.
But I’ve been avoiding for a long time the personal element of incarceration. And now that I’m one week and one day from facing off against my first felony trial, I think it’s about time for me to reflect a bit on that subject. After all, I face a potential sentence of up to 38 months. And there is a long history of animal rights activists facing severe punishment for seemingly insignificant and nonviolent “crimes.”
Let’s start with the tough things.
Prison will disrupt my personal goals. There are a lot of things I’d like to do with my life right now. I have some ideas on community organizing and movement building that I haven’t had the chance to deploy. I’m just getting rolling with the Green Pill Podcast in a way that it would be a shame to disrupt. And, in the last few years, I’ve learned a bit about work/life balance, and the importance of doing some things outside of my life’s primary mission (going to see a movie, having a vacation) to sustain myself over the long term.
But perhaps the hardest thing is that it will set back my goal of someday having a family. When I was a teenager, most of my friends were much younger than me. The kids my age or older were too cool for me, so I would go to a bible study group with my parents. The only kids who went to the bible study were young children, who didn’t have a social life of my own, yet. They were my friends. And they, like my dog, didn’t judge me for being fat, unfashionable, and totally not cool.
I think I’ve always had a special connection to kids that I hate to throw away. At my mom’s small business, a Kumon learning center, I was the favored teacher of tons of the kids. They liked the fact that I would goof off with them, but also the fact that I didn’t treat them like a kid. That’s the sort of kid I’d like to raise, someday. One who is taught the truth of the world, in all its darkness, but also taught that there are things we can do to bring into the world so much light.
And then there is the animal-human connection. We live in a world where animals are seen as just things. I’ve always wanted to try to bring a human into the world disabused of this lie. To see our non-human residents as friends, neighbors, and kin. I want them to see my little boy Oliver as their brother, just as important as any human life. And I want them to love and protect him (as I know Oliver will love and protect them) as a member of the family, but one who has been denied his most basic moral and political rights.
Prison will also disrupt my professional life. There is a good chance I’ll lose my legal license, after a felony conviction. And when I come out, I’ll have to find a new form of work. It’ll also affect my ability to use my professional training to advocate for animals. I have advised dozens, perhaps hundreds, of activists, over the past 10 years. With no law license, I can offer any earned wisdom, but no legal advice.
That would be a sacrifice. My legal skills are at their peak, at this moment. And I am excited to litigate the trials to come, not just for myself but for my friends, such as Matt Johnson, whose Iowa trial is just 2 months away.
But maybe the hardest thing is that prison will disrupt my relationships. I love my dad. And he is 74, diabetic, and not in the best health. On the day my trial is starting, he will be in a hospital, getting a test done for a potentially serious medical procedure. Oliver, thank heavens, is just 5 years old. Even if I have a multi year prison sentence, I will likely be able to see him again, and make up for the years we lost. But my little boy Joan, the brave cat who ventured in dark places from the day he came into my life, is nearly 16. The odds that I will see him again, if I get a significant prison sentence, are probably quite low. (In this regard, perhaps it is a blessing that Lisa passed while I was out of prison. At least I don’t have to suffer the idea that Lisa felt abandoned in her last months of life.)
These are the things I will lose. And they are indeed serious losses. But there are things to gain, too. I’ll write about those tomorrow.