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Review and Notes from The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

Review of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

During the Summer of 2020, I wanted to read a book with each of my daughters.  Two of the three participated and I am grateful. When the girls came to me with their selections, I could not have been more surprised and proud.  The 16 year old picked “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and the younger of the three picked “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.  Given how events have unfolded during 2020 and the Black LIves Matter movement, my girls thought these were the most appropriate books to choose.  Maybe they would have felt the dull pang of white guilt as they read their “Judy Blume” books by grandma’s country club swimming pool. I know I did, though I did not read much as a child.  All the while, the world is happening and they know nothing of that world and those living in ghettos just a few miles from their own home.  I know this was my experience growing up in the privileged western suburbs of Chicago and it never sat right with me.  I was the kind of kid that was bothered by inequality from a young age.  I was also pleased with the girl’s choice of reading material because I know nothing about race and the black experience in our country and I knew that if I wanted to engage and advocate, I needed to educate myself.  I never realized the huge discrepancy in how the war on drugs was being waged in different parts of our nation’s urban ghettos.  When I read books, I am tough on them.  There is a lot of highlighting and just about all the pages are tattered and frayed, even after just one study by yours truly.  When I finished the book, it occurred to me that I wanted to share these highlights and underlines and notes with my Tic Tok audience.  I was confident a lot of folks out there would not only be grateful but also need this education if we are to really address the root cause of the heinous system we call criminal justice… what it is in reality is a system of racial and social control, 100%.  There is so much to digest in this well researched effort by MIchelle Alexander.  While this book was written 10 years ago, everything presented is relevant today, it never wasn’t relevant . When I started sharing some thoughts and statistics on Tik Tok, it occurred to me that some people would also enjoy a written, higher resolution version of these clips.  There is a lot Alexander asks us to consider, what follows is not even the tip of the iceberg… doesn’t even scratch the surface.  My hope is that people will read these notes and watch my clips and want to engage on a higher level than what was possible before.  I call this progress.  There is so much more in this book than what I have included here.  It can be scary to address tough topics like this and most won’t even try.  But if you have courage, you can be a light for those stuck in the perpetual darkness of race and mass incarceration.  

The seeds for the war on drugs was started a long time ago.  One can go back to 1935 and the reefer madness movement.  This is nothing new.  Back then as it is now, it was black “jazz musicians” “Mexican workers” that would smoke the “evil weed” and rape “our white women.”  Saying there is 100 years of anti drug racist propaganda affecting how we see this issue is not an overly aggressive statement to make.  If this took 100 years (the war on drugs) to get us to this point, it is going to be a while longer before we are able to address the systemic racism that exists as a result of this messaging. 

Part 1

  • The War on Drugs is the New Jim Crow, plain and simple.  Once released from jail after a low level drug crime arrest, black and brown men are relegated to permanent 2nd class citizen status.  These people are no longer allowed to vote (the vast majority of the time), cannot receive federal or state aid or get housing.  Discrimination and exclusion are perfectly legal if one is labeled a felon.
  • Generations of black men have been prevented from voting.  Whether it was as a result of poll taxes, literally tests, or the felon label, these are new tactics with the same goal and result.  
  • Reconstruction started to see the wedge driven between poor white and newly freed slaves.  This political resentment was created in order that elite white would deflect anger from themselves to the newly liberated black man.  This strategy proved a highly effective tactic that is still employed by our current President, truly shameful that this occurs in what is to be the world’s greatest democracy.  
  • The War on Drugs was not started because the black mothers and grandmothers came out and claimed “We need your help, drugs are ravaging our communities.  The War on Drugs was started in 1982 (Nixon really got the ball rolling in 1972) and for example, crack cocaine didn’t even come onto the streets in a major way until 1984!

Part 2

  • After the Civil War, there was huge amounts of fear throughout the South.  “This state of affairs produced a temporary anarchy and a state of mind bordering on hysteria; particularly among the planter elite.  Newly freed slaves were literally roaming highways and roads throughout the South.  These newly freed slaves became the target of vagrancy laws that were disproportionately applied to blacks.  This leads to the practice of hiring prison labor… a.k.a. “convict leasing.”  What a horrible term.
  • The reaction to reconstruction was swift and severe.  Whenever newly freed slaves made gains, white outrage and panic followed.
  • Charges of “mischief” and “insulting gestures” were the low level cannabis convictions of the day.  Making sure the pipeline stays full with young balck and brown men, before they get any ideas about their own upward mobility.  
  • These laws were also designed so poor whites could still retained their sense of superiority over the newly freed slaves.  This made it less likely they would direct their anger and frustration at the planter elite and instead stay focused on feeling superior to the newly freed slave.

Part 3 

  • There was a big economic collapse in ghetto neighborhoods in the early 1980’s.  The combination of globalization and deindustrialization took industrial employment of black men from 70% to 28%.  This had a huge negative impact on communities of color in much the same way that the closure of auto plants throughout the midwest.  Over time, this became just another example of the wedge driven between poor white and blacks.  Add a dash of crack cocaine and you have the perfect launch pad for a racial caste system built off mass incarceration.
  • Bill Clinton was arguably worse for African Americans than either Reagan or Bush.  Bill Clinton decided he was not going to be considered soft on crime under any circumstance.  Reagan (maybe Nixon, too) started this dumpster fire and Clinton fanned the flames.  The message could not have been more contrived.  Bill Clinton was called the “first black president.”  This messaging is exactly how the system maintains legitimacy as there are politicians from both sides of the aisle that are supportive of being tough on crime.  It was Clinton that started the 3 strikes and you’re out and even went so far as to make one strike and you are out when it comes to housing aid. 
  • Consent searches are one of the key elements necessary for keeping the mass incarceration pipeline full.  This is where the 4th amendment was blown out of the water.  The supreme court has made it clear to all lower courts that from now on, the Fourth Amendment should place no meaningful constraints on the police in the war on drugs.

Part 4

  • The militarization of local law enforcement was also a key component of the war on drugs.  Federal grants for cash and equipment were significant.  Not only do people not want the “cash and prizes” to stop once they start rolling in, officers and prosecutors knew their jobs depended on keeping numbers high so that the “money and stuff” never stopped.  It seems like that all this country is about… money and stuff.
  • Military SWAT style raids that used to be only in extreme situations are now commonplace.  One lady died after a flash grenade was mistakenly thrown into her apartment and she suffered a cardiac arrest… passing away a couple hours later.  
  • Prosecutors are an important part of the mass incarceration industrial complex.  They have huge amounts of power.  Prosecutors rack up charges they may have probable cause for but could not prove in court.  These charges carry longer and harsher sentences, which gives the prosecutor leverage to pressure defendants to plead guilty to lesser charges and avoid ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.  These people become a part of the mass incarceration system and not the criminal justice system.  

Part 5

  • Why is it that crime rates are at historic lows though the levels of incarceration continue to climb.
  • Most people under state control are not even in prison.  2.3 individuals are under state control and in prison, the remaining 5 million people are still considered under state control when you take into consideration, parole, probation, community service, electronic monitoring, house arrest and other forms of control.  When released from prison, black and brown men live their daily existence with the felon label, relegated to permanent 2nd class citizen status.  Watch where the money goes, there are many ways to make money controlling people not in prison, assuming they have the felon label, the sky is the limit in terms of the number of ways that discrimination ensues.  
  • It is important to remember, this is all done in a “colorblind” fashion.  Racism can always be denied because there was no noose, or the police officer involved never said the “n word.”  The exclusion of overt racism supports the idea that then no racism exists.  It is the genius of the new system of control that it can always be defended on non-racial grounds, given the rarity of a noose or racial slur in connection with any particular crime or case.
  • One of the most effective tactics in the mass incarceration movement, is the “closing of the courthouse doors.”  The criminal justice system has been manipulated in a way as to guarantee black and brown people never get their day in court.  Court does not exist for these people.

Part 6

  • The war on drugs could have been waged in the suburbs, corporate offices, and college campuses.  IT was not as this would have been political suicide.  My own fraternity at the University of Alabama should have been a target, it was not.  The money would have stopped if whites were the predominant targets in the war on drugs.
  • The war on poverty was replaced with the war on drugs.  They even keep black Americans malnourished… ghetto neighborhoods are known as food deserts with little to no access to quality, healthy food.  Residents of these ghettos call the work of law enforcement “the occupation…” I can see why.
  • In 2010 50,300 (138 PER DAY) low level Marijuana arrests were made in New York City… mostly young men of color.  These arrests serve a couple of sad and sick purposes.  First, they are “training opportunities” for rookie officers, many times earning large amounts of overtime while engaged in such “training.” The second purpose is to fill the mass incarceration pipeline by collecting fingerprints, photos, and other data on young people not yet entered into the “justice” system.  
  • Huge amounts of shame is felt by the family members of incarcerated individuals.  This causes depression and anxiety that ripples through communities of color.  Everyone wants to be seen as part of the upwardly mobile middle class.  

Part 7

  • Black men such as Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby and even President Obama, make statements reinforcing black stereotypes all for political gain and selfish self interest.  The most egregious example of this is Thurgood Marshall Jr., as he serves on the board of directors of the largest private prison company in the world.
  • None of these elite blacks talk about the fact that thousands of black and brown men have disappeared into prisons and jails, locked away for crimes that largely go unnoticed in white communities.  
  • One of the saddest parts of all this is that this entire system now seems normal and natural… a regrettable necissity.
  • The new and the old Jim Crow a similar in a few ways.  They both support political disenfranchisement, exclusion from juries, closing the courthouse doors, in addition to being the definer of what race means in America today. 

Part 8

  • Drunk driving also occurred during the 80’s.  Most of these violations are made by white males and this problem was much worse than drug use.  The remedy to this was to keep these violators functional and in society, while drug offenses were typically charged with felonies and sent to jail.  Drunk driving at the end of the 80’s produced 22k deaths and alcohol overall could claim 100,000 lives a year.  Drug deaths during the same periods were 21k… less than drunk drivers and a fraction of the total number of lives claimed by alcohol.  
  • The bottom line is punishment becomes more severe when drug use is associated with people of color but softens when drug use is associated with whites.  
  • The economic devastation continues and white collar looting of neighborhoods of color is rampant.  Taxpayer funds meant for crumbling schools and social services in ghetto neighborhoods often are diverted into the pockets of wealthy investors as a result of political cronyism and corruption.  People in suits and ties loot too!

Part 9

  • The debate in the black community is the same as in the rest of society.  Some say it is racial bias and others believe it is a “cultural” phenomena.
  • Is the problem inside or out?  Most first will look inside themselves and at the community.  On the surface this seems acceptable given that when researchers control for joblessness, differences in violent crime between young black and white men disappear.Now it is the systemic descrimination and racism that must be checked.
  • Elite blacks have not always been good advocates for their black countrymen.  Many did not want to rock the boat and wanted to stay on the “inside rail.”  Others thought that racial equality could/would be attained by assimilation into white culture/society.
  • Nooses, racial slurs, and overt bigotry are almost universally condemned.  We now believe and support that if these aspects of our past are absent from our present, no racism exists, and it could never be considered systemic under these assumptions.

Part 10 

  • Affirmative action is addressed in great detail and I freely admit I need to go back and read this section.  I will be reflecting and studying this book for years to come.
  • Mass incarceration depends for its legitimacy on the widespread belief that all those who appear trapped at the bottom, actually choose their fate.
  • What about black police chiefs?
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What follows are my notes from watching “13th” on Netflix.  The response to my “review” of the New Jim Crow was amazing.  The support and love I received in the comments for these videos blew me away.  I am not sure how my racial education would have progressed if I had not done these clips, but it would have taken a much different path had I not done the Tic Tok review videos.  I would like to think that I would have continued with my education… who knows?  That being said, I could not be more excited about how this has affected me.  Rather than write a bunch of stuff that simply would be obvious and redundant, (my flowers appear to be mainly black) I will go straight to the notes.  While I have posted my Tic Tok review clips, the format is much too restrictive for me to share all I have learned.  I have put longer versions of these clips on my YouTube channel.  I am eager to know what I am missing and or getting wrong… a lot I am sure of this.  I also am considering a podcast and would like very much to know who you think I should have on the show as guests.  Let’s get to it as I know there is much ground to cover.  While I know it is never the oppressed that should educate their oppressors, I would like to ask for your help.  PLEASE introduce this content to a white friend that you think not only needs this education, but also would be receptive to this information.  We need to build a strong base of support among people that look like and grew up like me… a 1% white kid that has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to race in our country. 

  • We, white people, are the products of the history that our ancestors chose. If we are black Americans we are products of a history that are ancestors did not choose. We need to understand this much better.
  • The language of the 13th amendment is intentional and put in place to be used as a tool.
  • After the Civil War African-Americans were arrested in large numbers. This was the first prison boom in the beginning of convict leasing. It’s also the beginning of the mythology of black criminality.
  • Birth of a nation was the first blockbuster film in the US. It confirmed the white narrative of black men being rapists and criminals. It was also a very good predictor of how race operates in America today. The burning of the cross was actually what DW Griffith thought was a good cinematic image… Life imitates art. This movie also glorified the KKK making them look like heroes and was 100% responsible for its renaissance.
  • In 1924 at the Democratic national convention 350 delegates were Klansmen.
  • The African-American migration north after the Civil War was nothing other than a refugee crisis caused by inflicting terrorism on the population.
  • Terrorism turned into segregation which supported a permanent econd class status for African-Americans.
  • Leaders of the civil rights movement saw this as nothing less than a human rights movement. These leaders were portrayed as criminals as well as the entire movement. My dad even said Martin Luther King Bridge is non-violence with violence followed him everywhere. Being arrested they became noble, this helped define the movement.
  • At the root of this movement is simply the desire to be seen as full complicated human beings. I am a man is the perfect example. African Americans are not a menace though they have been portrayed this way from the beginning.
  • The civil rights act in the voting rights act did indeed admit to the population that we got it wrong and these laws were sold as the fix.
  • Politicians began to run with the criminality narrative as it was easy to show yourself as tough on crime.
  • The film states that it was the 1970s when mass incarceration started and the first thought to pop into my head was it ever not in existence?
  • Pop culture and politics would have us believe that it was Ronald Reagan that started the war on drugs, it was President Nixon that got the ball rolling hard.
  • Drugs were dealt with as a crime issue rather than a health issue. This is all part of the Southern strategy to get quotes. Pitting poor whites against blacks ensured that the voting bloc would switch from Democratic to Republican.  
  • Hundreds of thousands of black men were ripped from their families and  poverty was criminalized. Politicians took advantage of the economic collapse in the early 1980s in order to leverage these efforts.
  • Crack cocaine was given a 10 times greater sentence than powder cocaine which is more prevalent in white communities.
  • A political strategy morphed into a literal war that felt nearly genocidal to many.
  • Race is at the center of political life in America more than any other issue.
  • Media outlets began using the term super predators to instill fear in the population this was very effective. Black people also bought into this as well and supported policies that were devastating and criminalized their own children.
  • The objective reality is that nobody who is white understands the challenge of being black in America.
  • . Willie Horton won the election for George Herbert Walker Bush in 1988. The black male rapist in our imagination was brought to real life; it has been there ever since the Civil War. White on black rate is much worse the black on white rate as is portrayed in birth of a nation and other pop culture messaging
  • birth of a nation and its messaging in 1915 still had political utility a century later.
  • Bill Clinton and Barack Obama or just as bad as Reagan Bush and Trump when it comes to supporting this prison industrial complex. President Clinton knew he had to do something with governing Reagan’s America and had to look tough on crime… Three strikes and you’re out.
  • How did Bill Clinton get labeled the first black president?
  • It was during this. The judge has lost all their discretion in sentencing and that discretion given to prosecutors.
  • The 1994 $30 billion crime bill started the money flowing to local law-enforcement. This militarized forces all over the country. Bill Clinton built the infrastructure in place today.
  • The federal government stripped out an entire generation was civil rights leaders in the 60s 70s and 80s. The FBI was all over criminals in the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King was branded the most dangerous man in America by J Edgar Hoover. He was also selling the narrative that black panthers were the greatest threat to American democracy… Really? How in the world with this small band of Brothers take over the strongest military in the history of the world? Fred Hampton is a prime example of how a unifying leader in the eyes of our federal government must be taken out.
  • This is all nothing less than a terrorist campaign waged by the government on its own citizens.
  • The American Legal Exchange council, otherwise known as ALEC, is responsible for writing the laws that support mass incarceration. This organization has been around for 40 years although almost nobody has heard of it.
  • It was 1980 when the CEO of ALEC talked about how it was in their best interest for everyone to not vote and that indeed their leverage went up when the voting populace went down.
  • Corrections Corporation of America began making contracts with states in 1983. These contracts stated prisons had to be kept full. States then ensure this would be the case by passing laws incarcerating people for low level non-violent crimes. These private prison corporations need a constant flow of bodies to produce profits to pass on to the shareholders.
  • These organizations are now preparing for the next phase… SB 1070 states that law-enforcement can stop anybody that looks like an immigrant… Simply another source to keep the flow of bodies coming.
  • Privatization of probation and parole is the next model they are building. privatization in commercialization of probation and parole means citizens own homes can become their prison. 
  • It’s important to remember that it’s not just correction corporations of America but also it’s vendors. Telephone companies healthcare providers and food service providers are just a few of the greatest contributors to the systemic nature of this horror.
  • In this country we take exception to buying clothes made in sweatshops overseas but think nothing about what happens right here at home. Federal inmates make the guidance system for Patriot missiles… Punishment now equals profit. 
  • Tens of thousands of people are in jail because they can’t afford bail.
  • The justice system is not judge histories and trials as most people think. Did Justin system would break down all those charged with crimes went to trial. Prosecutors will say to a defendant we can get you three years or go to trial and you’ll get 30 years. 90% of those that are locked up have plea-bargain.
  • The Phelan label follows you forever and puts people into second class citizen status for the rest of their lives.
  • 30% of black man in Alabama have permanently lost their right to vote. Once when is branded it fell in the old Jim Crowe is resuscitated. Jim Crowe was simply redesigned.
  • White politicians should not be the ones reforming our criminal justice system. They are not ready… Are we ready as a nation? 
  • Donald Trump doesn’t even waste time with the new Jim Crowe he simply still lives in the old Jim Crowe… “The good old days” is now a racist dog whistle.
  • African-American men make up 6.5% of the population but are 40.2% of the prison population.
  • We now have more prisoners than we ever had slaves. Ultimately we have more slaves now just owned by the state and not individuals.
  • Throughout our history African-Americans have been controlled in one way or another.
  • The good news is reformers can now force the conversation… Smart phones
  • People ask how we could have lived through Jim Crowe? I would point out how can you live through what is happening today? All of us need to be re-humanized.
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Learning To Run Big Engines

I am very excited, eager, and willing to share a story.  Wifey and I are very much in love and have an amazing energy that is palpable to us both.  As we met and were falling in love, we realized we were each raised in dysfunctional family systems. I am not blaming or finger pointing, all families are dysfunctional. We want to build a family that brakes the cycles of this dysfunction.  These patterns of behavior have been formed over decades, we were excited and terrified at our attempt to end them.  If we could arm our children with just one more healthy tool than we were given, we decided it was worth the pain and effort. When you throw the old family playbook out the window and start living with a new instruction manual, life and relationships can be confusing and painful.  Especially given the heavy baggage we each brought with us on this journey, all carry on in an oversized roller bag that doesn’t fit in the overhead compartment.  Often the pain of that baggage feels just as real as it did 20, 30, and 40 years ago.  Knowing how to sort these implicit memories is paramount.  We quickly realized we needed to learn to handle this pain ourselves rather than expect another person to fix it for us. Given the characteristics of people who have grown up in alcoholic households, how do you acknowledge the other person’s pain without wanting to fix it?  It is an ever-evolving skill that needs to be practiced and adjusted and honed.  It takes vigilance.

    Wifey and I have learned we both have what we have come to call “big engines.” Our big engines are different – mine is loud and demands attention and breaks down without warning.  Wifey’s hums along, taking the curves unchecked but safely, risk is still an allure for both of us, we will push the limits of our engines.  Sometimes the check engine light comes on in wifey’s Ferrari.  Whether she takes the car to the mechanic or not is up to her.  The longer you let the check engine light go, the greater chance you will have a very expensive repair to pay for…. I think you get the point.  

Now, when seen from a distance and with proper perspective, my family has a great opportunity to heal open wounds. 

The cycle in my family usually goes like this: wifey reaches a breaking point with physical or emotional health and claims there’s no way this can ever get better and announces, I’m leaving.”  She flees. This never surprises me. I’ve known she prefers the flight response since early on in our relationship. Wifey has an extreme reaction to any kind of overload of fear ad runs.  This is how and who she is and I love her for it.  It’s the right kind of crazy.  It is her sloppines in the execution of getting better that lets me know, as her partner, that she is indeed trying to “get better” and change the playbook for our family going forward.  She knows no other way.  We both know that will require us to take on a fair amount of emotional pain and mistake making.  We have no idea what we are doing but know the desire, willingness and intent are all there in order that we can change the course of our family narrative.  This is truly her and I love her unconditionally.  

In 2018 Kimley decided her car needed to go to the shop… the check engine light had been on for a while.  Because she is a Ferrari and the parts are expensive and sometimes take a long time to find, she moved out for the summer. I am very good in a crisis.  Like I said, my party bus engine breaks down a lot – I am used to unannounced crises.  The process of healing in my family is such that my wife recognizes there is a crisis happening in our marriage/family and then relies on me to lead through the exposed pain so we can experience the light that lies on the other side of all emotional pain and spiritual growth.  At the end of May in 2018 my wife and I decided we were going to do a Summer separation hard reset on our marriage and really work on ourselves as individuals.  It’s amazing the way the two of us fit together like two puzzle pieces. She brings it up and I say OK let’s make a plan to get better.  Getting better requires a different kind of knowledge then exposing the dysfunction and this is why we make such a great team.  It takes a lot of guts to speak up and bring a big problem to the surface.  It is scary and seems informidable… to those that can see it.  But those that can’t see these dynamics are precisely the ones that can come up with a plan and process for individuals to heal, grow and thrive. So over the course of the Summer of 2018, wifey got her own cute little apartment for three months and I stayed in our family home.  I will come out and say it, this was the scariest and most difficult three months of my life.  We had good guidance.  We had already been in couples counseling for a couple years and things were going well but just under the surface of the deceiving calm was an undertow that could have sucked us under and ruined our marriage.  Codependency is a sneaky beast that will borough into a relationship and suffocate both participants and who they are as individuals.  We were beginning to look to each other for internal validation and the fulfilment of a sick need for adoration.  Our counselor helped us unpack what was going on and how to heal and thrive in our marriage going forward.  We had a plan and rules to go by.  We scheduled dates and had a check in call every night at 8:00 that we tried to keep limited to an hour.  I will say we did an excellent job of sticking to these rules.  As a result of our own strong individual efforts and our mutual willingness to work together, we came out of this experiment a much stronger couple.

On our first date Summer 2018. I love this woman more than words can describe!

The ultimate lesson we learned is that we both have big engines and we are the only ones that know how to run and drive our own big engines. Wifey should never be driving around in my party bus and I should always be hands off when it comes to taking wifey’s Ferrari out for a drive. I look at it like this, we are all 15 year olds on the inside. Some of us are better at hiding it than others. So what happens if you give the keys to a Ferrari to a 15 year old boy? I can tell you he is going to run it into the ditch. The damage done by running a Ferrari into a ditch are expensive repairs to have to make. The other good question is what happens when you give the keys to a party bus to a 15 year old girl? Again, things will end up in the ditch and the repairs will be expensive. So we now know to run our own big engines. Remembering this can be difficult when codependency is a tendency in one’s life. If that is the case, admit it and work to not have it overwhelm your life and relationships. It is scary and one needs to be brave in order to confront such dragons. With an open heart, open mind, arms at your side and true unconditional love, any battle of the spirit can be won. Day In Day Out we must fight the good fight and protect ourselves and the ones we love from the insidious forces working to tear us apart on every level.

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Look For The Similarities

A big part of my recovery over the last 16 years has been the 6:00 A.M. meeting at the Mustard Seed in Chicago. There really should be a documentary made about this place. The Mustard Seed in Chicago is quite possibly one of the most significant sites not only in Chicagos’ history but in the history of recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous all around the world. In the hour from 6-7 A.M., M-F, on North Ave. just a bit West of Sedgwick St., in a nondescript brick building, miracles take place everyday, plain and simple. It is a certain type of drunk that comes to a 12 step meeting at what I refer to as the “ass crack of dawn.” The Mustard Seed has been around for almost 60 years and has always occupied a geography that could be considered both “safe” and in a “bad” neighborhood for those in need of the “tonic” dispensed inside the four cinder block walls of this sacred space. In 12 step language we have a saying, “Look for the similarities, not the differences.” This is one of the lesser used phrases in our lexicon, it makes people very uneasy to admit there is a mirror with someone that looks almost nothing like we do on the outside. It is in the 6-7 o’clock hour where the seeming differences between us melt away. It is hugely comforting to listen to investment bankers, worth tens of millions of dollars, share their stories and see men and women worth no more than 10 cents, nod knowingly. The kind of darkness that envelopes an alcoholic is singular in its descrimination, it needs only the tyrant alcohol on which to feed. These people share as if they had been “partners in crime” all those years ago and had shared the same experience. Misery loves company.

When a child is traumatized, it matters not one iota if that child is black, white, rich, poor, man, woman, Jew, or Christian, the result is the same. My therapist has taught me “those of us that had traumatic childhoods, have a little extra work to do when we are adults.” This is comforting to me and reminds me that it is ALL my experiences that make me who I am today. My life is the sum of every choice I have made from the day I was born to this moment. If I try to remove any part of my experience, good or bad, (according to my little pea sized brain) I am discounting who and what God intended me to be while on this earth. Not every traumatized kid becomes an alcoholic, but every alcoholic was traumatized as a kid. All of the traumatic events in my past have made me the resilient man I am today. This is only the case because I have addressed how these events manifested in my life in an unhealthy way. Now I have turned them into assets of my character. I am the person people can call when they are in crisis and need someone to help handle the big things. This is one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I was not always the guy that could be counted on. When shit hits the fan, my family now knows where to turn for triage and getting back on the right track. My daughter Layla put it well after hearing me listen to her Nanny describe on the telephone a difficult situation she was going through. After I hung up, Layla said to me, “Daddy, it’s really good that Nanny knows she can call you when she has a big problem.” If you have a big problem or crisis, get a drunk to help you, chances are they have gotten themselves out of the same shitty situation, probably worse. We all are more alike than we care to admit.

Being an alcoholic means that, for years, we are the main tyrant in our own lives. We are constantly getting ourselves into trouble and therefore have to get out of trouble. We have perfected the art of getting out of jam! Repeating this cycle over and over for years and years, will produce an adult capable of weathering just about any storm. Being an active alcoholic can produce only so many different outcomes in one’s life. These outcomes include for the most

part… divorce, estrangement, jail time, ill health, broken finances, and strained relationships all over the place. The sad thing is, alcoholics are pretty much limited to these outcomes for their lives, at least that is my experience. Really people… the similarities are there and not the differences.

So when my friend Jamie tells me the story about how she ended up passed out behind a dumpster in an alley while her family ate dinner (she told them she was taking a nap!) at a restaurant around the corner, I nod knowingly, because I too found myself leaning up against a dumpster (while passed out) in an alley when I should have been going to the bathroom in the movie theater I took a date too. She never did find me after the movie and I never called her again. It makes no difference that Jamie is an African American lesbian that is significantly older than I. We all feel the same on the inside when we do shitty things to ourselves and others, unless of course there is a pathology to one’s behavior. That is a topic for another essay… there it is again, the similarities not the differences.