Commentary #109: Thoughts on “13th”

Image Credit: The Maine Campus

As part of my continuing education on Black Lives Matter and becoming a better ally, I wanted to sit down and watch this documentary on Netflix.

Immediately after finishing it, I wanted to watch it again. I was overwhelmed, horrified, and angry.


Ava DuVernay is a master. The interviews that were conducted spanned from activists, to authors, to former Presidents!


Saturday, July 25th

I need to write more after I watch it again tomorrow. More to come. Thanks for reading!


Update – Monday, July 27th

I sat down and watched this again yesterday. I had my phone out and took proper notes this time. Keep in mind – This was originally released in 2016.

The United States makes up five percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

The documentary is very much a timeline from the Civil War through 2016. One of the key points was D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) film. The burning cross symbol was created by Griffith, not the KKK, because Griffith thought it was a good cinematic image.

The Nixon era (1968-1974) was the beginning of the “War on Drugs.” Nixon took drug addiction and drug dependency and made it a crime issue, rather than a health issue. I also learned a lot about the Southern Strategy – Taking Democrats on multiple southern states and leading them to the Republication Party.

The Reagan era (1981-1988) was the modern war on drugs. Nancy Reagan embarked upon the “Just Say No” campaign. Crack cocaine came on the scene – It was in small doses, and cheaper than powdered cocaine. Mandatory sentencing penalties were enacted that were harsher for crack cocaine. Black communities were virtually decimated – Men started disappearing from the homes and neighborhoods overnight and not coming back for years because of getting arrested and convicted for possessing crack cocaine. At this point, economic inequality, hyper-segregation, and drug abuse were all criminalized. It turned into a war on communities of color. Black people have been (are still are) over-represented in the news media as criminals. The “super-predator” label was thrown around constantly. Black parents ended up, inadvertently, supporting policies that were criminalizing their own children. The Central Park Jogger case in New York City was absolutely awful.

The George H.W. Bush era (1988-1993) was affected during the campaign for President. The Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis was holding a commanding lead, until Willie Horton was let out of prison on a weekend pass, and went on a horrific crime spree that included kidnapping, assault, rape, and murder. The Bush campaign used Horton’s story as part of a campaign ad on crime.

The Clinton era (1993-2001) sent a strong message of “Democrats are not soft on crime.” More police were put on the street, federal funding for law enforcement was upwards of $100 million dollars. Polly Klaas was murdered. The massive 1994 crime bill ($30 billion dollars) included the “three strikes law” – Three felonies and you’re put in prison for the rest of your life, mandatory minimums for sentencing, truth in sentencing where prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, parole was virtually abolished. This led to a massive expansion of the American criminal justice system, including prisons and law enforcement. Even the smallest police forces were militarized with military-grade weapons and equipment. Years later, Clinton admitted that “I made the problem worse.”

The documentary then goes into the case of Trayvon Martin, who was gunned down by George Zimmerman in Florida on May 26, 2012, and the issue of “stand your ground” laws since then.


One of the most fascinating segments was about the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC). It’s a private club that brings together politicians and private corporations. Walmart eventually left ALEC, but the American Bail Coalition and Koch Industries remain. One key stakeholder for years was the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). They make contracts with states to build private prisons, and then the states are required to keep those prisons filled. CCA has made $1.7 billion in profit – They’re getting rich off punishment. In addition, CCA holds contracts to detain immigrants. In essence, CCA has merged the immigration system and the prison system. After a major story from NPR in 2010, CCA left ALEC.

However, the Prison Industrial Complex continues to make money. Companies such as Corizon Healthcare, Aramark, and the National Correctional Industrial Association are involved with supplying healthcare, food, and “jobs” to prisons and prisoners. I say “jobs” in quotes because what I really mean is prison labor.

Another problem is the issue of bail and bond. Kalief Browder was arrested for a crime he did not commit. His bail was set at $10,000. He couldn’t afford the bail, so he sat in jail. They offered him a plea deal, but he said no. He wanted to go to trial. After three years, all the charges were dropped. However, by that point, he’d been in Rikers Island and in solitary confinement multiple times. The system is designed to break you in 30 days. Browder died by suicide at 22 years old after he was released.

In the United States, there has been 100 years of Jim Crow, terror, and lynching. If you’re a convicted felon, you can’t vote and you can’t get a job. How do you re-enter American society? You can’t. Some progress has been made in “removing the box” to take the felony conviction question off job applications, but there’s a long way to go.

The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for white men in 1 in 17. For black men, it’s 1 in 3.

Black men make up 6.5 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, they make up 40.2 percent of the U.S. prison population.

There was footage of riots in Watts (1965), Detroit (1967), Newark (1967), Los Angeles (1992), Ferguson, Missouri (2014). The common thread? Police brutality.

The overarching message from the interviewees is that people of color want to have human dignity. And to live in the United States, the supposed greatest country on this planet, and there’s a significant number of people who don’t have human dignity? That’s not okay in my book. We need to do more work, America.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #30: Thoughts on The Murder of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, White Privilege, and Being An Ally

George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020.

Black Lives Matter.

If there’s one thing that I understand completely, it’s that I have white privilege.

I’m committed to being a better ally.


Over the last week and a half, I’ve asked a lot of questions. Shout-out to my wonderful husband for being my main sounding board!

Here are a few snapshots of my recent thoughts.

At the end of this post, I’ve included a long list of resources, ways you can help, ways you can educate yourself and others, and other sources that I’ve found helpful.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, June 1st

I’m having trouble concentrating. I’m so angry about so many things. I’m personally not brave enough to join any of the Black Lives Matter protests, but I am committed to listening. I’ve been carefully observing my friends’ interactions on Facebook, which is my primary social media platform. I don’t have Instagram, and my Twitter is long out of date. I haven’t deleted or blocked anyone, but I have unfollowed a few since Friday. And I think that number may go up.

I deleted the CNN app from my phone, and removed the website bookmark from Google Chrome. I immediately felt better after that.

I have several friends that have participated in protests already, and I pray for all of them. I’ve tried really hard to limit my overall news and social media consumption since George Floyd was murdered one week ago, but it’s so hard to do so.


Tuesday, June 2nd

Today, I felt compelled to go through all my yearbooks – Elementary, middle, and high school. Part of it was nostalgia, but part of it was to study my classmates.

I’m from an upper-middle class, all-white family. Where I live in Virginia is largely “well off,” but each city has its own issues. I was raised in an affluent part of Chesapeake. I was educated in good schools, with excellent teachers and decent administrators. In eighth grade, I applied and was accepted to the second class of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Oscar F. Smith High School. I was thrilled, but I recognize now how nervous and apprehensive my parents were.

Why? Oscar Smith is one of the high schools that has some of the poorest students in Chesapeake. And many of them are black.

I attended OSHS from 2003 through 2007. Were there problems? Sure. There were regular fights. The biggest news story, aside from our championship football team, was a fellow senior getting arrested just two weeks before graduation in the spring of 2007. I drove home from school, and saw a reporter in front of the school sign at the top of the 5:00 news. He’d had a loaded gun in his locker, and there were reports of buried marijuana on the football field.

But, in a way, I was shielded from a lot of the problems and issues. I was part of the “smart kids.” My IB class was fairly diverse – We had, what I think, anyway, a good mix of white, black, Filipino, Mexican, and Asian students. But, we were only 41 students of more than 2,000 students at the school. The only times I truly interacted with students other than IB kids were in P.E., driver’s ed, and orchestra.

The staggering observation I made is that I’m still friends with mainly white people from my early school years. The black, Filipino, Mexican, and Asian people I’m friends with are all wonderful people. My issue? I met them either in college or after that.

I think this is bothering me so much because I’m pretty sure, unconsciously, I valued my friendships with white classmates and acquaintances higher than others. And I hate that!

But, at least I’m recognizing that now, right?

Before we went to bed, Al and I watched the first 20 minutes of the ABC News special titled America In Pain: What Comes Next. I nearly cried three times in those 20 minutes. And I felt so much shame.


Wednesday, June 3rd

I made the following comment to a post on Facebook: “I’ve been coming to terms with a lot of things in my life since George Floyd was murdered. I’ve asked a lot of questions, and I’m learning every day. I’m committed to being a better ally. I know now that I haven’t been the best ally, even though I was blindly confident that I was a good one … I’m currently listening, but I’m going to use my voice on my blog soon about this. Thank you!”

I took the opportunity to participate in a landmark “Safe Space Discussion” through my work today, from 11:00 to 12:30. I was so moved that afterward, I wrote an email to the Chief Diversity Officer, expressing my appreciation for the work that was done on the presentation, as well as fully admitting that I’m not a good ally. She replied about 30 minutes later, saying how appreciative she was, and offered her assistance in helping me to be better.

I remarked to Al how my mom, years ago, had told me the story of the riot at her high school, Miami Killian High School, when she was a student. I want to sit down with her, when it’s safe again, and record that story. I want to learn more. So far, I haven’t found any evidence of it through various Google searches. I wonder if it was covered in the news at all.

A bit of good news came in the afternoon: The murder charge against Derek Chauvin was upgraded to second-degree. The other three officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. I was happy to see people celebrating at the memorial for George Floyd, but I’m still apprehensive about a lot of things. Only time will tell.


Thursday, June 4th

I felt less angry this morning when I woke up, but still nervous, apprehensive, anxious. Over the last several days, it dawned on me: This is a watershed moment in American history. And I hope true change is made.

A friend shared an article from The Washington Post on Facebook this morning: Perspective | White parents teach their children to be colorblind. Here’s why that’s bad for everyone.

It was published in October 2018, but this article absolutely hit home.

“White parents often refrain from speaking with their children about race, racism, and racial inequality.”

“This silence reflects society’s view that white people ‘don’t have race’ — that race refers exclusively to people of color.”

“Without fail, parents responded with an expression of shocked dismay, and then emphatically stated, ‘No. What is there to say?'”

“Among the white parents I interviewed, the majority of whom were middle class, parents expressed a desire to raise non-racist white children. Most felt the best way to achieve that goal was to avoid speaking with their children about race, racism and racial inequality – past or present.”

“They also remained silent about the topic of police violence toward African Americans. When I asked parents why, many said they didn’t want to ‘upset’ their children. Others noted that the subject didn’t ‘relate’ to their (white) family’s life.”

“Most white parents who speak with their children about race adopt a colorblind rhetoric, telling their children that people may ‘look different’ but that ‘everyone is the same.'”

“As sociologist Margaret Hagerman argues in her new book, ‘White Kids,’ white parents’ decision about the best neighborhood to raise a family or enroll their children in school shapes the social context in which white children develop an understanding about members of their own racial group and members of outside racial groups.”

“As research demonstrates, identity development is relational. That means people develop an awareness of themselves as a member of a particular group when they spend time around people whom they perceive as being different from them.”

“White people aren’t ‘outside’ of race – they’re at the top of the racial hierarchy.”

——-

All those quotes to say – This is EXACTLY how I was raised. And it makes me sad.

I’m angry that it’s taken me to the age 31 to have my eyes opened. But, at the same time, I remember being afraid, hesitant, ashamed to ask “hard” questions of my parents. It wasn’t until I was in college that there were several late-night instances of discussing life and the world with my dad, long after my mom went to bed. But we didn’t talk about race.

There were glimmers of differences in my childhood and adolescence, but not many. I felt a lot of pity.

Example #1: One of my classmates, D., and his family were recipients of Angel Tree gifts from our church because his dad was in prison. D. is black, and his mom managed to hold the family together in one of the lower-income neighborhoods down the street from our middle school. I certainly didn’t know the whole story, and, at the time, I didn’t think I needed to know. One thing that was clear, crystal clear, was D. was an angry kid. He was always getting into trouble at school. And, now, as an adult, I think part of the reason was because his dad was in prison. I wish I’d reached out to him, offered to help him with his work. But, I knew, even at age 12, it would be frowned upon by my parents.

Example #2: My parents were not shy about their feelings with us buying a house in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is one of the cities in our region that has lower incomes, higher crime rates, and so-so schools. The main reason we chose Portsmouth is because we couldn’t afford the house we wanted/needed where we grew up in Chesapeake, or in northern Suffolk – We needed a house that split the distance between our jobs and commutes. We like our neighborhood, and it’s one of the safer, more affluent neighborhoods. I personally don’t want to think about moving anywhere else until after we have our first child. We have a lot of time to make that big of a decision – We’re not ready to have kids. And when we do, we have at least five more years to consider the schools. However, my parents have made snide comments to me about moving, the schools, and coming back to where Al and I grew up in Chesapeake. It’s frustrating. The other thing I noticed in the last two weeks – We have more white people in our neighborhood than I originally realized. We do have black, Latino, and Asian people. But, our street in particular is all white.

———

The other thing I’ve realized is my perception of the police has changed. I have a few friends who are law enforcement officers (LEOs), but not many. I know, as a white woman, I don’t have to have to worry getting shot when I get pulled over. And that’s just one of multiple instances of white privilege.

However, there has been too much police brutality. It has to stop. The “brotherhood” mentality needs to give way to full accountability. If you stop protecting the people to protect yourself, then you’re automatically biased. If you stop protecting the people to protect your brother or sister in blue, then you’re automatically biased. If you turn off or hide your body camera, you are biased and doing something shady.

There are so many things that need to change. I’ve posted a link to Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent letter to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer below. I agree with all of Sanders’ points, and I’m sure there’s a few more.

One of the biggest issues that currently exist is qualified immunity. I’ve posted links about that below.

So much needs to change.


What I’m Doing

I’m speaking out. I will no longer be silent. I have been afraid to use my voice. No more.

I am committed to supporting more black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) businesses, restaurants, authors, journalists, and elected officials.

I was already a registered voter, but I am fully researching every candidate that will be on my November ballot. I will be voting!

I’m examining the authors I read, and the subject matter of books. I want to read far more books, essays, short stories, and poetry by BIPOC authors. Just Mercy is next on my TBR. I’ve already ordered White Fragility, and The Nickel Boys. I’ve been researching books by Elizabeth Acevedo, Celeste Ng, Julia Alvarez, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison.

I’ve prayed multiple times a day for many people and many things: Black Lives Matter, POC, our country, our LEOs, our military, and our world.


Resources

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide – Southern Poverty Law Center

The BIPOC Project

Black Lives Matter

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Stand with Standing Rock

Sanders Calls for Sweeping Reforms in Senate Democrats’ Policy Response to Police Violence (Press Release)

Legal immunity for police misconduct, under attack from left and right, may get Supreme Court review – USA Today

Qualified immunity – Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School

Best Books Written by BIPOC Authors – Goodreads

7 Books to Read Right Now to Help Support BIPOC in Your Community and Beyond

A Resource Guide for Anti-Racism + Being An Educated Ally for BIPOC

DiverseBookFinder – Multicultural picture books

Police brutality must stop – American Medical Association (AMA)

Solutions – Campaign Zero

Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual (ACLU)

How to Register to Vote – United States


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Hot Topic #27: Purdue Pharma

Purdue Pharma

OxyContin bottles, the biggest drug made and marketed by Purdue Pharma. Image Credit: CNN

Purdue Pharma announced it was filing for bankruptcy on Sunday, September 15, 2019.

They have been in the news for so long.

What does this mean?

Hopefully this post will show you the history of this company, their impact on the opioid crisis, and what may happen next.


Purdue Pharma History

It was founded in 1892 by medical doctors John Purdue Gray and George Frederick Bingham.

In 1952, two other doctors, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, bought the company. Older brother Arthur Sackler had a one-third stake in the company, which was sold to his brothers after his death. At that time, the company sold staples such as earwax remover and laxatives.

Purdue Pharma L.P. was incorporated in 1991, focused on pain management medication.

Manufacturing is located at three sites: Wilson, North Carolina; Totowa, New Jersey; and Coventry, Rhode Island.

Sister companies, also controlled by descendants of the Sackler brothers are Napp Pharmaceuticals in the U.K. and Mundipharma. These companies sell opioids globally.

In addition to OxyContin, Purdue makes pain medicines such as hydromorphone, oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine, and hydrocodone. Contin, a controlled drug-release system was developed in 1972. Its extended-release formulation of morphine, MS Contin, began in 1984.

OxyContin is Purdue’s extended-release formulation of oxycodone. It was released in 1996.

Arthur Sackler pioneered an aggressive marketing strategy decades earlier. Purdue pressed and convinced doctors to prescribe OxyContin, with incentives such as free trips to pain management seminars and paid speaking engagements. The drug was marketed as “smooth and sustained pain control all day and all night” when taken on a 12-hour schedule. In addition, it was touted to have “lower abuse potential than immediate-release oxycodone because of its time-release properties, even though there was no scientific evidence backing that conclusion.”

In 2000, just four years after OxyContin was released, widespread reports of abuse of the drug came to light.

At the same time, OxyContin was a “blockbuster drug” for Purdue. Between 1995 and 2001, OxyContin netted $2.8 billion for Purdue.


The Opioid Crisis

The numbers are staggering. According to an AP article published in January 2019, the opioid crisis killed 72,000 Americans in 2017.

An article from Quartz, published in mid-August 2019, was the summary of a meeting between an ER doctor and a former Purdue Pharma sales representative, and others.

“The company has not only faced public pushback for its role in the opioid crisis, but in 2007 Purdue was found guilty of downplaying the risks and overstating the effectiveness of opioids. The company also used legal marketing practices to boost sales, despite knowing the risks of addiction and dependence. These tactics are now at the center of a host of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors; those suits are currently making their way through the courts in Ohio.”

Some of the statements that Carol, the former sales rep, and Dr. Chris Johnson, made, were staggering.

“I remember hearing rumors early on that the bonuses for the Purdue sales reps were just incredible. Some of them were making $50 or $60,000 a quarter in incentive bonuses.”—Carol Panara, former Purdue sales rep

“Here’s the problem with a capitalist society: They have an incentive in you consuming more health care. You being healthy on your own isn’t good for business.”—Dr. Chris Johnson

Johnson: “With the passage the Affordable Care Act, something came into existence called the Open Payments Act. You can look up and see what doctors have taken gifts from pharmaceutical companies. And it turns out if you want to see where the most opioids deaths are, follow pharmaceutical gifts to doctors. Open Payments shows that half the doctors in this country take gifts from pharmaceutical companies. They’ve all taken the oath. Doctors are terrible at assessing how their influenced.  In my view, rather than relying on raising a hand and taking an oath, disrupt the incentives. Disrupt that reciprocity mechanism to get independent, and I would hope, more scientific thinking.”

In my area of southeastern Virginia, a recent discussion with the Opioid Working Group found that an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people have withdrawn from the Hampton Roads workforce due to opioids.

In short, Purdue knew years ago its drug was dangerous and addictive, but they aggressively marketed it anyway.


What’s Next?

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The intent for this filing was to stop the onslaught of lawsuits that the company has been facing. These lawsuit range from state to local governments, among others.

However, some state attorneys general have made it clear they will be pursuing additional damages from both the company and the Sackler family.

It has been reported that the company assets are not sufficient for the states. As early as last week, the New York attorney general’s office announced it had uncovered $1 billion dollars in wire transfers by the Sackler family.


To me, they’re running scared. This bankruptcy filing is their last resort, desperate to settle out of court.

In March 2019, Purdue and the Sackler family agreed to settle a case with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million dollars.

Twelve years ago, in 2007, a landmark settlement of $634.5 million dollars was reached, based on federal allegations the company had misbranded OxyContin. The company, along with three executives, plead guilty to criminal charges.

Image result for purdue pharma quotes

Image Credit: AZ Quotes

I look forward to future media coverage. It’s high time that a company like this is finally held accountable for its actions.


Resources


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #71: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” *Re-Read*

Nickel and Dimed

Image Credit: Goodreads

When I initially read this book, it was assigned reading for one of my very first college classes. I can’t remember which one, but this book left a profound impact on me. Slowly, I started reading more from Barbara Ehrenreich. However, this is the book that started it all.

I started college in the fall of 2007, about a year before the financial crisis that began in 2008. I believe I was assigned to read this book at a poignant time. I also believe I’m re-reading this book at another poignant time, at the beginning of 2019.

Going into re-reading this, I realized my copy of the book was updated with a new afterword, published in 2008. However, the overall concept – Studying low-wage jobs and attempting to understand their socioeconomic impacts – is nothing new. That’s part of the reason I was drawn to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Ehrenreich embarked on an experiment in 1998 – Trying to see if she, as a single, middle-aged woman, could survive as a waitress, a cleaner (hotel maid and house cleaner), a nursing home aide, and a seller / retail associate for a month, in three different cities. Each chapter explores a different type of job and a different city. She quickly realized the challenges with each one, and each city presented its own obstacles with housing, food, and assistance. Along the way, she met a variety of people working these jobs. A few were fortunate, but many were barely making ends meet. Several were working 2-3 jobs full-time, and still struggling with their incomes and their partner’s / spouse’s income(s) as well.

I won’t spoil anything, but she learns many lessons along the way. She discovers multiple issues with affordable housing, child care costs, fast food, health care, education, and the way these companies treat their employees.

I got a bit lost with the footnotes, statistics, and percentages, and glossed over a few of them toward the end. However, reading the updated afterword was important, and appreciated. This country has a lot to learn, still, in 2019. We need to treat employees, especially those earning the absolute minimum, better.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to re-read this book. It’s a bit “dated” now, since Ehrenreich’s experiment started and concluded 21 years ago. However, it’s still relevant in many aspects today. And, like her, I’m grateful for everything I’ve had and worked for. This is a valuable book that will stay on my bookshelf forever.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #68: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”

evicted

Image Credit: Amazon

I think I first heard about this book from friends on Facebook, who all said what a powerful book it was.

Then, author Matthew Desmond was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air in April 2018. My local area, Hampton Roads in Virginia, was specifically mentioned in the interview regarding high numbers of evictions in three separate cities. It stung, and propelled me to want to learn more. As soon as possible.


I bought the book in August, and finally started it in late December. But once I started, I could not put it down. By the time we came home from the farm on December 26th, I’d flown through Part One. I was itching to go to bed that night, eager to dive in to Part Two. It only took me a few more nights of intense reading to finish it. I came away from it with a greater understanding, and appreciation, for being able to own my own home with my husband. It’s one of those books that makes me realize how good I have it, especially as a white woman with no children.

I’m drawn to books like this because of the human interest. I was reminded of the term “ethnography,” which is the systematic study of people and cultures. Author Matthew Desmond settled in Milwaukee, in the trailer park and other low-income neighborhoods, to not only interview people for the book, but to learn about their lives, and specifically what they go through day by day. The housing crisis and recession of the late-2000s began while he was conducting interviews, and it’s referenced in the book as well.

However, the housing crisis and recession are not all to blame here. It’s just one factor. There are many other factors involved with eviction and those who struggle with it. Landlords have profited by buying cheap, often dilapidated houses or buildings, charging rent, and then sometimes refusing to fix inherent problems in these properties. The tenants complain, nothing gets fixed, and rent can go unpaid or withheld. There are certain processes for evictions, but they vary greatly. There are voluntary and involuntary procedures. It’s definitely not black-and-white.

When someone is evicted, that goes on their record. It’s exponentially harder for parents with children to find an affordable place to live, and eviction(s) exacerbate that problem. Multiple evictions are even more problematic. It’s a vicious cycle, where parents want to protect their kids from negative influences and crime, but can’t break out of those areas because of their eviction record. Welfare benefits can also be affected. If you’re lucky to have a job, getting evicted can cause immense stress, affecting job performance and more. Choices have to be made, painfully – Pay rent, or the utilities, or the car repair, or a need for your kids. Kids are uprooted, shuffled, changing schools, and also stressed. It’s a horrible experience all around.

Desmond’s dedication to these interviews, living in their space, researching the processes and procedures, and soaking up everything he could about eviction shines through this book. It’s depressing, in more ways than one, but incredibly informative, educational, and eye-opening.

This is one of those books, in my opinion, should be studied and taught in schools, especially upper levels of high schools and colleges/universities. It’s an important issue that needs more focus, discussion, and change.

My eyes were opened widely to the multiple problems regarding eviction. I thought I knew a few things, but this book turned my thinking completely on its head. The book focused specifically on Milwaukee during a set number of years, but there are eviction problems and issues throughout the entire U.S.

That was one of the focuses of Desmond’s interview with Terry Gross – Thanks to receiving a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 2015, Desmond has started The Eviction Lab, where a dedicated team of researchers and students from Princeton University are creating the first-ever eviction database in the U.S. At the time of the interview, in April 2018, the Lab had already collected 83 million records from 48 states and the District of Columbia.

The book was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. That says something, too.

“Stabilizing a home has all sorts of positive benefits for a family,” Desmond said in the interview.

Desmond has written two other books, and co-authored one on race. I look forward to reading and seeing more from him.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Writing Prompt #6: Skinning Humanity

“We are all brothers under the skin – and I, for one, would be willing to skin humanity to prove it.”

-Ayn Rand


I’ve mulled over this topic for a while now. There are so many facets to this one.

Here’s a few questions to ponder:

  • How do you see yourself?
  • How do you see others?
  • How are you acting and showing yourself to others?

I put up a picture of a being that is half-angel, half-demon. I believe that there are angels and demons within all of us, and then those angels and demons also themselves known, through our words and actions.

Also, Ayn Rand is a bad-ass. I read several of her books in high school and college (Anthem, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged). I plan to re-read them, as I know my perceptions have shifted in becoming an adult. Check her out. I could fill a blog post and then some about her, her life, and her works.


This post was partially inspired by a conversation between my friend Justin and I.

In the fall of 2010, we originally met as classmates in Halliday’s Basic Broadcasting class. I’ll admit, at first, Justin intimidated me. He towered over me, plus he was taller than everyone else, with the exception of the two basketball players in the class.

He normally dressed in all black, didn’t say much to anyone, and appeared “emo” to me.

But I didn’t know him then.

On the flip side, Justin thought I was a super energetic sorority girl who took notes constantly. I mean, I literally wrote down almost everything that either Halliday said, or what was on his PowerPoints. Yeah, I was that kid.


Justin said, “Do not judge the holy man to be 100 percent pure, and do not judge the kid all in black of being incapable of giving and feeling love.”

In short, this goes back to the old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

Because of this conversation, I started looking at the people around me a bit differently.

I personally try, with all my might, to not judge anyone. I want to make an honest effort to get to know people first, before deciding if I like them or not.

For the most part, I get along with almost everyone. I kill with kindness, so to speak. However, there are some people, and some character traits, that just bug the hell out of me and drive me crazy. So, my resolve is to avoid these people and character traits as much as I can. If there are instances where I can’t avoid them, I just smile, nod, and get through it. And if it becomes unbearable or massively uncomfortable, I cut them out of my life. It’s happened before, and it will probably happen some more in the future. It’s really freeing, actually.

With Justin, I may have been intimidated at first, but that didn’t last long. We ended up in group projects for both of Halliday’s Broadcasting classes, and we progressed from classmates to being friends. Now, four years later, we’re close friends and enjoy meeting up as often as possible with our significant others.


Justin also shared this system he had come up with a while ago, called “The Caste of 4 Wings.”

“What you wear and how you act around strangers and friends are key factors in how your wings will be seen”

There are four types of wings that people can possess:

  1. White Angel Wings: People who are seen by society and others to be good, caring, and warm people. In truth they are that. They help out others, volunteer, do good work for others.
  2. Black Demon Wings: People who are seen as no good and untrustworthy, evil and vile. They live up to that, as they abuse people, murder, rob, treat others like shit.
  3. Black Angel Wings: Wings wore by people who are seen as good people and someone you can trust but in reality they are the opposite. Can manipulate people, use the trust of others and exploit it for their own personal gain. How they are seen by others is not who they really are.
  4. White Demon Wings: Wings wore by people deemed by society as a menace, like outsiders or loners who people think don’t do anything really. In reality they just want to love people, can perhaps be hurt and want others to say “It’s okay.” and despite what others see them as, their true friends know the goodness, love, and kindness in their hearts.

I was absolutely fascinated as Justin was explaining this to me.


Then it shifted to what wings we thought we had. For me, I thought it over for a while.

In the past, I’ve been characterized as having White Angel Wings – Being the teacher’s pet, being a “goody two-shoes,” volunteering my time and talents, always willing to sign up, step up, and help anyone.

And over the years, that hasn’t really changed, I don’t think. I’ve always tried to be warm, caring, and a good person overall. However, I’m certainly not perfect, nor do I want to be. So I may have White Angel Wings, but I try to be as humble and down-to-earth as possible.

Justin considers himself to have White Demon Wings. Once I read the explanation, it made perfect sense. This is how I saw him when we first met at Longwood. I personally never saw him as a “menace,” but I originally thought he was a loner and kept to himself. I knew he loved video games. I wasn’t sure about him and his personality, at first.

In reality, he’s a wonderful guy, with such a big heart. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him better over the last few years, and he’s a great friend. I’m so happy that he’s found love with his girlfriend Heaven. He enjoys his solitude and he’s definitely a gamer, but those are not bad things. He likes to plan get-togethers with our group of six friends (Al, me, Justin, Heaven, Drew, and Katie). We’re stoked about going to Kings Dominion in a week and a half with Al, Heaven, Katie, and our friends Brian and Mike.


As I thought about “The Caste of 4 Wings,” I realized there are people that I have encountered in my 26 years on this Earth who have all four types of wings. I certainly prefer to interact with the ones that have White Angel Wings and White Demon Wings. However, I’ve acknowledged that a select few that I’ve known have had Black Angel Wings and Black Demon Wings. Fortunately, most of them have faded from my life, at this point. There are a few that are manipulators that I have to deal with and have dealt with, but as long as I’m able to take them in small doses, I’m good.

These wings can be applied to everyone. I’ve thought about those who have made headlines recently, from the President, to Dylann Roof, to the Pope, to the people who report the news.

  • President Obama: Due to the nature of his position, as a politician in the U.S. and now the Commander-in-Chief, I would classify him as having Black Angel Wings, from my perspective. However, there are others that probably perceive him as having Black Demon Wings. In fact, there are probably people in this country that have thought of him as having all four kinds of wings, at certain points in his career.
  • Dylann Roof: As the suspected shooter of nine black people in a South Carolina church, this guy has Black Demon Wings, all the way. I can’t see it another way.
  • Pope Francis: Like the President, I’m sure people have thought of the Pope as having different kinds of wings. For me, I’m happy that he has been proactive on so many issues. Because of that, and the appearance of a warm, caring nature for everyone, I would give him White Angel Wings.
  • News Anchors/Reporters: As a mass media major in college, I definitely got an education on what news reporters and anchors do and how the broadcasting realm works. Their images are projected for all to see, but we don’t really see them off-camera. We don’t know who they really are when the camera turns off. Again, people have probably given them all four types of wings at some point. It’s hard to pinpoint, but for me, I can see them having Black Angel Wings or White Demon Wings, and in rare instances, White Angel Wings.

Keep in mind, these are just examples. And these are strictly my thoughts and opinions.

What do you think?


I’m glad Justin and I had this conversation. It really has changed my perspective on people, both in my life and those that I have never met.

I really like “The Caste of 4 Wings,” and I’m happy Justin shared it with me. Now I find myself thinking of people in terms of what wings I think they have, and then setting out to see if my perceptions are really true, or not. It’s fascinating to think about. This is something that will stick with me forever.

I encourage you to try it for yourself. Think about the wings you think you have, and then the wings of people around you. You might surprise yourself. I know it surprised me.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂