Sometimes keeping your positive mental attitude floating is a big pain in the ass.
First of all, PMAs are hard as fuck to construct. After all, most of us are born with an ominous sense of injustice from the moment we’re yanked out of our mother’s comfort and thrown into a bright room reeking of Hibiclens soap and latex. Then there’s the uncomfortable fact that things only get worse with each day and each lesson that passes. From those initial feelings of being cold and alone to the daily injustices of preschool to repressive intricacies of high school to the fact that nation states do all sorts of horrible things to people, the knowledge, if taken in totality, would drive even the most positive of us into murderous ruin.
In order to keep these homicidal impulses in check, all too many of us come to understand that unless we start savoring the small and fleeting beauties in life, we may end up with a shotgun barrel in our mouth or dirty syringe dangling out of our arm or yet worse. So we start focusing on the joys of good vegan breakfasts, good friends, and the virtues of the subculture we’ve inherited, things like Adverts songs, stage diving and reading a good rage filled fanzine. With every passing day we come to subconsciously (or consciously, depending on the level of your posi-neurosis) reinforce our PMA ships in order they may weather the storms looming just ahead. But aside from these lurking maelstroms, for every hour we spend building and reinforcing these vessels, it seems there are five more obstacles lurking beneath the surface ready to punch holes in them and send our punk asses to the bottom of the briny deep.
This morning was a good example of that. I woke up feeling good as hell about the world. We’d had a good party the night before with punks and crips and Indians all hanging out together drinking wine and laughing. The kitchen was clean, the tea steeped up perfectly and I didn’t even feel a shred of the bottles of $3 shiraz I’d partaken in. “Sweet,” I thought to myself. “Today is a good day.”
I pulled on my weird new pants, polished up my Get a Grip three eyes with the stitching across the toe and walked through the gorgeous morning fog to the train. Everyone on the MAX was smiling and saying good morning to one another; an extreme rarity in these introverted Northwestern Cities. As I walked up 4th Ave with that old Bad Brains posi-core mantra wafting through my gourd: “I got that PMA, yeah I got that attitude...” people smiled and waved. It was like the whole city had unwittingly taken tabs of Ecstasy and were going through their days fleebing off their noggins.
Then, like a bicyclist slamming into a parked car, everything went ass over elbows. The guy in front of me in line tried to bring a pocketknife through the metal detector, which was anything but appreciated by the veritable mob of Multnomah County Sheriffs who work the entrance to the ironically named Justice Center. Then my steelcaps beeped. Then my bag got searched. Then the judge was an hour late for the Nine AM docket, leaving me to develop all sorts of ass ailments on the hard wooden pews that almost every courtroom in America features. But I stayed strong and chanted other Bad Brains songs over and over in my head, PMAs being too valuable to waste.
Then shit really hit. The baliff called the court into session. We all rose while the old judge walked in and sat down. Then we sat and the felony arraignments began. And with every orange jumpsuited prisoner who passed by the judge in the courtroom or in the little plexiglass box, my positive mental attitude died that much more. After all, there is little more depressing in the world than the American criminal justice system.
The first round of folks were ones who had been charged and released, mostly on identity theft issues. Thanks to a gloriously over-crowded jail, unless you commit a violent felony or have a hold-over or warrant from another jurisdiction, your ass will be walking, at least until you get sentenced. The dozen or so folks, men and women alike, would stand and listen while their indictment was read to them and then agree with the judge on a court date. They’d then turn and walk silently out of the courtroom and back to their lives.
Then came the violent felonies. One by one the judge called to the jail to send down another inmate and one by one they filed into a narrow Plexiglas tube with two holes in it; one for your hands to be cuffed and one for your drastically underpaid public defender to pass you the indictment specifying your charges. The charges were as varied as the men inside. Murder I. Sexual Assault in the First Degree. Assault I. Menacing. Possession with Intent to Distribute. Menacing. Robbery I. Tweaked out white dudes with the vacant stares of meth ruined minds. Huge black thugs flashing gang signs at the crowd. A 78 year old Eritrean Immigrant who spoke no English but was facing three life sentences for shooting a gun at someone. A dozen or so Latino Mareros with gang tattoos on their necks and immigration holds relegating them to the jail for an indefinite amount of time. As each man walked through it was difficult to separate my compassion for them as humans from the horror of their crimes. Though I tried to keep thinking of lyrics from the “Rock for Light” LP, I couldn’t help wonder what a more conscious caring society could do about men who violently rape women or rob poor old people or drunkenly drive their cars into bicyclists or beat gay men to death with their fists.
Issues of crime and justice are tough, even for the greatest minds of any given era. Plato and Aristotle were at a loss. Rousseau and Locke didn’t have much more clarity. Hell, even ol’ Emma and Michael had trouble figuring out how to deal with fucked up people in the glorious to-be-announced stateless society of the future. If you read old anarchist, socialist or union publications from the turn of the last century, there’s always announcements of huge, week long conferences entitled: The Criminal; What is to be done to him? Or Anti-social Actions in the Socialist State. We’ve been trying to figure out crime and criminals for as long as we’ve been living with other humans, and from what I see every week in Courtroom 3 of the Justice Center, we are no fucking closer to a solution than we were when Zeus was invoked before sessions of the Athenean Senate.
I think prisons are fucked and ACAB is true, at least to a certain degree. But where does that leave us when it comes to things like State v. Tucker where a guy raped his three step-daughters, stabbed the mother 60-odd times, lit his elderly mother-in-law on fire and then proceeded to beat a 41 year old homeless guy to death? Or State v. Romanov where the guy has confessed to murdering at least 9 gay men in ten years? Or even the four gross men I watched at the Justice Center being arraigned on their fourth, fifth or even ninth violent rape charge? Can we afford these people? Where does compassion for a certain individual with bad habits end and compassion for the well being of his next victim begin?
Justice isn’t as simple as the bumper stickers and activist sloganeers would like us to believe. As easy as it is to play the activist blame game where global capitalism can be blamed for every single problem in the world, it only goes so far as a methodology for dealing with violent crime. Having a “Free All Prisoners” sticker on your coffee cup does all too little in figuring out how violent rapists and serial murders and drunk drivers and methheads with a penchant for sexually abusing their kids fit into an ideal society. How do we as compassionate people go about healing the wounded among us while preventing them from wounding other people? Even more difficult, what do we do with people who are seemingly incapable of not hurting other people?
I don’t know, don’t have any idea and see little hope of a revelatory solution popping up any time soon. But these are essential questions to ponder if we are serious about renovating or razing the status quo, which of course, plays a huge role in keeping our PMAs afloat in these turbulent times and those to come.
—mike / firstname.lastname@example.org