Orange is the New Black’s Summer Release

“Orange is the New Black” just announced its release of the second season on June 6th so OITNB fans will get to kick off another summer in their living rooms with Crazy Eyes, Taystee and Red.

The very final scene of the first season left me shell-shocked and wondering about the future of Piper Chapman, the rich Smith graduate blonde snooze. She was found guilty for money laundering and drug trafficking with her oh-so-exotic and cool ex-lover who snitched on her in exchange for a lesser sentence. That’s all good, but really, it’s the curiosity about the rest of the cast that is killing me.

Oh, Alex, where are you? What’ll be become of CO Matt and Daya? Is Pennsatucky still alive? What will be the latest hairstyle Sophia masters? Who’s Nicky’s next lover? Oh my, it’ll be like having a tea party with Ho Hos and moonshine made from toilet water! Exactly how I imagined starting my summer. So much fun!

When I first watched the show last October, some commenters on my Facebook thought that Piper was the most boring character of all. I agreed, her background and crime are advantageous and trivial respectively in comparison to the others, but as I read more about the show, I understood why Piper Kerman and Jenji Kohan wrote it that way.

It’s a television show for pure entertainment. Therefore, it’s racist and sexist because in reality, prisons are full of racism and sexism. If it only shows the white lesbians or religious nutcases, blacks with ever-changing hairstyles (and genders,) Latinas who don’t know how to keep their legs closed, and oh-so-ever disgusting perverted correctional officers with a bad case of blue balls, people will switch to different channel or take their deep-rooted prejudices somewhere else.

Remember Netflix is in this for money. So what will they do to bring in millions more viewers and bucks? Throw in a self-centered chic blonde and somehow, the masses will suddenly decide to watch.

Jenji Kohan, the show creator, said in her interview:

“Piper was my trojan horse… You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories… The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful.”

Piper Kerman, the real Chapman, said in her interview:

“Most of the women in the Camp were poor, poorly educated, and came from neighborhoods where the mainstream economy was barely present and the narcotics trade provided the most opportunities for employment. Their typical offenses were for things like low-level dealing, allowing their apartments to be used for drug activity, serving as couriers, and passing messages, all for low wages. Small involvement in the drug trade could land you in prison for many years, especially if you had a lousy court-appointed lawyer. Even if you had a great Legal Aid lawyer, he or she was guaranteed to have a staggering caseload and limited resources for your defense. It was hard for me to believe that the nature of our crimes was what accounted for my fifteen-month sentence versus some of my neighbors much lengthier ones. I had my fantastic private attorney and a country-club suit to go with my blond bob.”

Kerman knew her advantage and I applaud her for noticing and using her access to her privileged world where she was served her amazing defense lawyer and 15-months sentence on a silver platter. She, in this position, was best able to have her voice heard and receive all necessary support to increase the awareness of the corruption in the criminal justice system among the correctional institutions across the country. People will more likely listen to a college graduate blonde than a high school dropout who lives in the projects.

However, it’s not the reason why I watch the show. Yes, it’s not fair that it has to be the white one to have a story, but it is just a marketing tactic. I didn’t care about the controversies and so on, but I have to admit OITNB does bring to light some of the whole truth about the life in (and out of) a prison.

When I was watching the entire season in October, I ended up visiting Renny twice that month. The first time I visited him, he introduced me to an inmate, “Jose”, a short, balding and meek-looking man who went to Texas School for the Deaf way back then in 80’s but never graduated.

“Hi, nice to meet you.” He said, sighing and grinning shyly. “I love him, Renny, my man.” Renny beamed with pride, his muscular arm wrapping around his tiny shoulders. As Jose left, he turned to me.

“He killed his own brother. He was drunk and shot him and doesn’t remember one bit of it.” It’s been nearly fifteen years, he said. “He broke down crying on his desk in my classroom sometimes, and I had to comfort him. He looks up to me because I’m his teacher.” It hit me that they have built-in culture inside prison and how ignorant I am about it because it seems so distant, somewhere so far and untouchable… much like a television show.

After hours of driving back and forth from Huntsville and several episodes later, one character in the show emerged oddly familiar to me. It was Larry Bloom, Piper’s hapless fiancé.

Last October when I got hooked to OITNB. Talking about awkward family picture.

Pulling a Larry here. The picture was taken last October when I got hooked to OITNB. Talking about awkward family picture.

I could somehow relate to him and his situation; he loved Piper and supported her regardless of her criminal past like I did with Renny. Being engaged or married to someone criminal is completely different from being born to someone criminal. Being a child to a criminal is a force of nature, there’s nothing the child can do. However, I, as an adult, could do something and choosing to be with a person with a criminal’s type of moral values made me feel like I was agreeing to what was really against my values, my beliefs. I felt guilty for remaining with someone with baggage of that magnitude because I loved him. I think it’s hard to accept what happened in the beginning because like Larry, I made the choice to commit to him regardless of the risks and in the end I couldn’t help but ask myself- did I do anything to cause it? I could have just walked away a long time ago and saved myself the pain.

My favorite episode with Larry was the one where he gives the interview with NPR that made his insultingly exaggerated and humiliating article in New York Times seem nothing but a series of banal and naive observations in comparison. He said hurtful things in the interview. However, despite being the clueless little guy he is, I felt for him because I understood the pressure and anticipation of admitting to the world that I was engaged or married to somebody behind bars as well as the misunderstandings and assumptions that come with it.

With my thoughts put aside, I am still looking forward to the drama swirling around the OITNB and hope they’d answer one burning question: Will dirty Joe Caputo and the superbitch Natalie Figueroa get it going? Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but I’m going to switch on Netflix this summer because like another Facebook commenter said, “Jenji Kohan is a genius.”

Day of Remembrance

I remembered the entry in my journal I wrote on my 29th birthday a few days after I moved back to DC and lived on the Gallaudet campus. The journal is the flip-top spiral notebook with a drawing of a young girl on it I just bought in Peru a week earlier. Feeling sentimental, I decided to track down the book and when I found it, I finally opened the pages for the first time after three years. It is the only entry in the book. I read and reread it, and I remembered that day very clearly like I was in a brightly lit studio, watching myself in the middle of a television show and no one could see me. I was marveled at how powerful the sensibilities of a memory that lasted only split-second long could do to a person.

The birthday wishes I wrote on the pages were not my true wishes, they were written out of fear and heartache. The words on pages began to fade away and didn’t matter anymore, the feelings of the desperation during that moment overwhelmed me, I just wanted to have everything to be normal again.

I was there in the bright Social Security Adm. office, with the framed print of newly elected Obama hanging above the ticket machine, reminding the poor and the disabled while they wait in a line for their number, It’s time for change. I stood by 29 years old me who spent my birthday waiting for my number to be called, because I was recovering from a bug I picked up in the flight from Peru just three days earlier, and I was seven months pregnant. I wrote in the book on that day because I only hoped for the best, or even better, for the normal life.

Today, I almost lost my nerve writing this blog post. Why? I already admitted in the past that I was a victim of the abusive relationship and spouse’s struggle with substance abuse, and it was not the most comfortable thing to do. Honestly, I’d rather swim in a stagnant pond than to share my fears and flaws with the world, but I wanted to share my vulnerability with you and others, to admit that I’m human and I struggle.

I had to get myself out of the victim mentality and tell myself I will use this experience to grow as a person. To show you the real me, I have to accept myself first. It took me more than year to finally accept myself as a single mother. I felt it was so wrong, that I should be already having a family by now, but was it wrong for me to feel that way? Perhaps you look at me as just somebody who’s trying to get your attention and fulfill the need of your validation and that I should just get over it and move on from my past.

I told myself the same often enough that the thought itself prevented me from doing what I truly wanted to do all along- to get it off my chest and give others the opportunity to read my stories, get inspired and liberate themselves from their ball and chain. My experiences are becoming just stories and no longer a part of me. When I tell my stories, I stop identifying myself with them. I separate myself from them. The stories stay on the paper. They stay in the past, where they belong. Telling them help me burn the pain that I suppressed for years and now they are ashes I rose from.

I knew by starting this blog, I have to build the courage to be OK with who I am and trust the process. Things did and didn’t turn out as I’d hoped, and I learned to come to terms with the state of things in my life and go with the flow. If they are not doing me any good, I’d have to move on. I have an intention why I ventured out in the first place and there’s a reason why it turned out good or bad. Doing something about it is better than feeling bitter about it, but doing nothing about it is worst of all. I still want to see my project comes to its fruition and I don’t know when, but as long as it finds its way to share with the world one day, I will be able to close that chapter for once and for all. Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Freedom is about what you do with it.”

P.S. Thank you to all my friends and family for your birthday wishes!

Deaf Inmates and Videophone Petition- Please sign before Friday!

*Please show your support and sign the petition here before Friday the 13th! Thank you very much!*

This was brought to my attention just recently. I intended to post about it last summer, but I decided to hold it until some day and that day is finally here.

On July 10th of 2013 in Washington, D.C., the Federal Communication Commission hosted an all day workshop on reforming prison phone calls. It was headed by acting chairwoman of the FCC, Mignon Clyburn.

At the opening of the workshop, she commented, “The inmates went to prison because they broke laws and they deserved to be punished, so why should we care? We care because of two set of numbers: 700,000 and 2.7 millions.”

We’ll get back to those numbers in a moment, but here is some background information.

Why should we reform prison phone calls and how did all of this get started?

Ten years ago in Washington D.C., a grandmother named Martha Wright got tired of spending hundreds of dollars on monthly phone calls with her grandson in prison. She filed a petition to the FCC about reducing long distance calling rate. After 2003, the calling rates between inmates and their families skyrocketed and tens of thousands of people complained to the FCC. Their response: nothing. In fact, this workshop was their first actual response to the matter in a decade.

To get an idea how expensive a phone call to an inmate can be: 42 states that have limited or no reform on inmate phone calls can charge as high as $4 for just connecting the call on top to their established rate of $.89 per minute. A family of an inmate in a Pennsylvania prison will have to shell out 11 dollars for a 15-minute call.

The folks at the correctional institutions said they are just abiding the security protocols while making outgoing calls outside of the prison.

However, the inmates in the eight states with the reform bill such as New York can have 15-minute call for less than a dollar. How fair is that?

Those eight states with the reform bill still abide proper security protocol while keeping the rate low, proving that it is attainable to maintain secure phone lines without charging the families extra. The independent phone companies working with those states with limited or no reform bill already knew that and yet they still turn a blind eye to make a profit off them.

Of course the legislation doesn’t just sit around doing nothing, but their pathetic efforts to work with the independent phone companies to improve the system ended up worse than a Lifetime Original movie.

Delegate Patrick Hope, a Democrat representative of Virginia, talked about his failed endeavor to introduce a legislation to reform prison phone rates in Virginia, the state that rakes in about $3.5 million in revenue each year from prison phone calls. The reason is self-explanatory.

The next part of the dialogue turns for worse.

Charlie Sullivan of CURE suggested that the FCC should look into Skype technology for prison calls. Talila Lewis of HEARD agreed and emphasized that FCC needs to pay attention to ever-advancing technology that is making communication cheaper or practically free.

Delegate Hope responded that Virginia is already charging for Skype usage in prisons.

The last time I used Skype was last week. It was for a video conference with my seven classmates and it was FREE. With the way the legislation and money-grubbing phone companies are running the business, we are on the express lane back to the Stone Age.

The dialogues in the workshop briefly included a discussion about the issue that hit closer to our home: the deaf inmates.

Lewis said, “A deaf prisoner faces isolation apart from solitary confinement that hearing inmates experience. Deaf prisoners pay higher rates for phone calls.  TTY communication requires at least 4 times as normal vocal communication. A deaf prisoner’s fiance paid $14 for a local phone call. That same call is free for hearing inmates. Affordable and accessible calls for deaf prisoners is a must because: 1. It’s the right thing to do and 2. because the federal laws mandate it.” She’s right, TTY is the outdated technology invented during the Stone Age and no Deaf person I know still use it.

She stressed that providing deaf inmates with videophones is very easy and cost effective. The video relay services provide videophone devices for free. Prisons only need an internet connection. It’s so simple I could cry. Alas, many prisons won’t install videophones in their institutions for the same reason they charge outrageously high rates for their “security protocols” purpose.

So why do we still care? Back to Mignon Clyburn’s numbers: 700,000 and 2.7 millions.

700,000 inmates are released into the general population every year.

Numerous studies demonstrate that having significant contact with people on the other side of the prison walls can promote rehabilitation, reduce recidivism, and strengthen the family and community ties. Most prisons are hundreds of miles away from where inmates’  families live, including myself, so phone calls (beside writing letters) tend to be the only way of keeping in touch.

2.7 millions children in the United States have at least one parent currently incarcerated. 1 in every 28 children (3.6%) has a parent incarcerated, up from 1 in 125 just 25 years ago. Two-thirds of these children’s parents were incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

Those children are affected. The teachers and school counselors say they do notice the difference in the children’s academic performances and social behaviors and attitudes when compared with those children who do not have a parent in a correctional institute.

Ask any family members or guardians of those affected children and they will agree: Yes, it does affect their relationship with the children and how they take care of them, from an emotional standpoint to a financial one.

Accessible communication is essential because it can be helpful with coping with the anxieties and insecurities of having a parent in prison. The daughters and sons want to talk with their parents, but families suffer economics hardship because they have to pay the high price of calling their imprisoned family members.

The Impact (facts from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Find Youth Info)

• Children of incarcerated parents mourn the loss of their parent.

• Witnessing the arrest of a parent intensifies the child’s loss, sense of helplessness and creates additional trauma.

• Many children of incarcerated parents exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

• Social stigma causes families to avoid discussing the absence of a parent. Being kept in the dark can influence children emotionally and psychologically and impact the restoration of parent‐child relations when the parent in prison is released.

• Literature suggests that parental incarceration can have profound consequences for children including:

*feelings of shame, grief, guilt, abandonment, and anger;

* social stigma;

* disconnection from parent;

* poor school performance;

*impaired ability to cope with future stress and trauma; potential addiction; negative perceptions of police and other authority figures.

• Children with parents in prison need support and there are very few programs and social services specifically designed to serve their complicated and layered needs.

• Approximately half of children with incarcerated parents are under ten years old.

I understand the importance and support for reforming inmate phone calls. It is not only because I desire to keep in contact with Renny- his actions were inexcusable and not entirely forgivable- but I want Liam to have the option of having a connection with his father. I have moved forward. I have written to Renny less often than before and the last time I visited him, it is clear we are in two completely different worlds. However, one day Liam will ask about his father. When that day comes, how am I supposed to answer? He will eventually face the very small Deaf community who will know and ask about his father. It becomes much more complicated.

Liam has a great family support system and positive upbringing. He is thriving so well that perhaps he doesn’t have to have a connection with a father that he doesn’t even know, but I don’t want to be the one to make that decision. He may be too young right now, but after seeing the numerous studies stating that having constant and stable contact with incarcerated parents will help their children cope better in life made me really think. I want to empower Liam so he can stand up for himself. How will he react to the facts about his father? I don’t know. It’s my responsibility to raise him the best I can. Like every other parent, I’m constantly thinking ahead about the stuff that could likely harm him and what can I do to protect him, yet at the same time, allow him to become his own person.

I support reforming inmate phone calls for families in general and especially for those who are improvised or enduring financial hardships. It’s up to each family to decide if it will benefit them to maintain regular contact with their imprisoned family member through phone calls. However, every one of us has the right to keep in touch with our families no matter what or how. If it happens to you, you would want that too.

Please show your support and sign the petition here before Friday the 13th! Thank you very much!

*You can go to these links for more information about the FCC’s actions on the matter and more statistics about the children of incarcerated parents:

HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf)

Federal Communications Commission Prioritizes Prison Telephone Reform

Campaign for Prison Phone Justice: Live Blog of the FCC Prison Phones Workshop

Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility

International CURE: Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants

Happy Thanksgiving

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I’m most grateful for the times I got to just goof off with Liam, the lil funnyboy.

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For being my readers, even through I was pretty quiet on my blog this year, that doesn’t mean I was too busy for it, it’s just that 2013 was one of the most mind-boggling years for me, but of course in great ways! Worry not, my passion with my blog is still strong and I already have several posts lined up and soon to be published before 2013 expires.

October: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Every so often since my last post in May, when somebody tells a story or I read an article or watch a TV program relating to domestic or family violence, I still get goosebumps. Just thinking about it makes me feel sick to my stomach. It’s not easy for me to sit here and type about it, but last week I learned that this month is the Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). We are already well informed that this month is the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month with all those pink ribbons everywhere, but you may have noticed the purple ribbons in some places too. They represent DVAM and they are not getting the attention they deserve. DVAM started out as only one day, the “Day of Unity”, in October 1981 and we’ve came a long way ever since.

Naturally, my inner researcher wanted to dig up more information about DVAM. I skimmed through hundreds of statistics conducted by big-time foundations (Avon and Allstate) and the government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although many government websites are down due to the shutdown (think about it, many shelters across the country are forced to close down their services, leaving too many people in need of help), I’ve looked through enough sources to notice the recurring numbers throughout the facts and figures.

The first one is simply tragic:

ONE in FOUR women and ONE in SEVEN men have been victim of domestic violence and experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her/his lifetime.

But this is more tragic:

Nearly THREE out of FOUR (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

But what’s even more tragic is that despite of the fact, only 15% of Americans believe it’s a problem among their friends.

Millions of calls are made to the National Domestic Violence Hotline while TWO in THREE Americans never discussed about it with their friends and THREE in FOUR parents never discussed about it with their minor children.

For Deaf victims, you can go to Deaf Services at the National Domestic Violence Hotline and call their VP number, or go to Resources and Outreach to find a service in your area.

It’s not a hopeless situation, 64% of Americans say they are more likely to help someone out if we talk more about it. It is uncomfortable and sensitive subject, especially for those victims who experienced it and felt they are at fault because it happened to them. The bottom line is it’s way more common than you think. DV isn’t just stories that you hear and sweep under the rug; it deserves as much recognition as those who have or survived breast cancer. When it happened to me, I never talked to anybody at that time, but I hope this will get you talking.

 

http://www.avonfoundation.org/assets/nomore-avonfoundation-studyfinal.pdf

http://www.clicktoempower.org/domestic-violence-facts.aspx#_ftnref15

http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/2010_report.html

http://www.ncdsv.org/images/BJS_IPVinTheUS_revised_12-19-2007.pdf

http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/domviol/facts.htm

http://www.safeplace.org/document.doc?id=588

http://dvrc-or.org/domestic/violence/resources/C61/#vic

http://www.witnessjustice.org/news/stats.cfm

My (and every other domestic violence survivor’s) Rude Awakening

My new (and absolutely dear) friend, Jon Savage, made this video for DeafHope, an amazing organization founded by a group of Deaf women in the Bay Area in northern California with the mission to end domestic and sexual violence through empowerment, education and services.

When I watched the video, I realized how little I really knew about domestic violence. I had to watch it again and think about what I went through during those years with Renny and it’s frighteningly true that I experienced nearly ALL of what Deanne Bray mentioned about the power and control abuse, and yet I stayed with him that long. I thought I understood domestic violence, but I was in denial for a long time. I’m stopping that and at least what I can do right now is to share with you all this valuable video. Thank you Jon and Deanne!

Renny’s Letters

More than year has gone by since Renny was last arrested on November 21st, 2011, leading to his prison time. He’s already served the first year of his sentence and has more than a decade to go, unless his parole board decides to let him out earlier. Rex will be well into his teenage years by the time Renny serves his sentence full-time and gets out.

This sole fact is already enough for me to let Renny go and move on. However, we still write letters to each other and his letters almost always make me emotional. No matter how detached I’ve been from him, living far away in the world, his letter always bring me back to right in front of him, behind the bars inside his cell. His letters enclose me in the four cold stone walls of his life. They angered me and made me cry. But his desperate words and search for spiritual wisdom (specifically, the whys of his destructive actions) also filled me with the mixture of forgiveness and compassion. He has a very long road ahead of him.

And so do I, raising Rex along the way.

That’s why I’ve a hard time keeping up with this blog, because it reminds me how I feel alone with so many responsibilities and sacrifices. Every time I write Renny a letter, I’m emotionally worn out by the time I sign my name.

I don’t want to feel that way every time I click ‘Publish’. I don’t want to turn my blog into a place for me to whine and bitch around because life didn’t turn out the way I expected.

Don’t get me wrong, our letters are not entirely of sad stories and angry resentments. We talk about what we read and saw on TV. We talk about the future. We talk a lot about spirituality. I told him he can write for this blog if he is ready and wants to. He said he will.

I also have to prioritize. I’m so happy to tell you that I’m the Production Assistant for ASL Films’ next production which will be filmed in Minnesota this coming spring. I really look forward to experiencing this exciting opportunity.

And not only that, our latest film, SLOT, is already out! Check out www.aslfilms.com for the showings in your area. I’m in it and it is something that I am proud to be part of!

Alas, that means you might hear less from me for the next few months, but this blog is still very much alive, and I will keep you updated every once in while with any kind of news or anything relating to the project or what I am doing. Thank you, my friends, for reading and staying in touch with me! I’m glad you are part of my life! And to others, thank you for your continuing support, I can feel it and I really appreciate it!

Until then,

Bellamie