One-hundred fifty — count ’em, 150! — years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, racial equality remains beyond the grasp of a society that should know better.
Tag: civil rights
For the remainder of my time on the intake unit, I either listened to accounts of or spoke about the utter failure of the courts to handle divorce in a way that is less devastating to fathers and truly beneficial to children and their futures. Worse, no one seems inclined to change anything, not even the fathers chewed up and spat out by the process.
I guess that’s how it goes with the human condition. Throughout history, minority groups targeted for persecution by hostile majorities have endured inconceivable abuse. Egyptians enslaved Hebrews, Romans massacred Christians, the English crushed just about anyone who wasn’t English and so on. While I don’t suggest that divorced fathers are crucified, fed to lions or broiled in iron maidens, I think ample evidence exists that we don’t get much love.
The thing we divorced dads have to draw strength from is that in each case I’ve referenced, change did come. It always does. But what is any of us going to do to help it along? Who among us has the courage to speak up? Which of us loves his children enough to take decisive action?
By the afternoon of Monday, July 25, 2016, the intake unit was to be purged to make room for a new group of sinners. The current crop were ordered to gather our belongings and wait by the gate. A head count was conducted, then we were marched through the main gallery bound for our respective regular housing units, our homes away from home.
That gallery was literally a hot mess. Men bustled about on the tiers. They at first seemed oblivious to us, but in a matter of seconds, we became the center of their attention. Some men even left their cells to get a gander at us. They must have been bored nearly to death to be so fascinated by a group of inmates on their way to their assigned cells. Some made catcalls, a gesture so hackneyed and pointless that none of us bothered to look up.
At the far end of the gallery was another set of gates leading to the annexed section of the jail. Guys had been talking this place up since we were in the bullpen. As we passed through the portal from the ancient side of the jail to the new, there was a marked difference in air quality and temperature. It reminded me of what it’s like to step into a brand new subway car from a muggy, dimly lit platform. I might not have been going home just then, but neither would I be exiled to the Black Hole of Calcutta. How’s that expression go about clouds in silver linings?
Truthfully, I didn’t care where they sent me. My mind was beyond the grasp of its surroundings. I had my notes and contacts. All I had to do was wait.
On the regular unit, the crew I met at intake had been assigned to various cells. The capacity of these cells was eight, so each of us had seven new personalities to learn. There wasn’t a lot of time for mingling. When you see a familiar face on the tier, you nod, exchange a word or two then move on. This wasn’t high school, after all.
Wow. As I’m writing this post, a glance at the title field reveals the Roman numeral “XIV”! I intended to write a kind of op-ed piece, not a TV series, but be that as it may…
So I was sitting in the dayroom listening to guys relate their stories. On my grandfather’s ashes, I was appalled. No less than 1/3 of the men on the intake unit were there for penny ante stuff related to alleged violations of Protection From Abuse (“PFA”) orders or child support arrears totaling less than $1,000.
Jail? For that? Really? Are they locking guys up for jaywalking, too?
Before I go on, I need to establish some things:
- I relocated to the Lehigh Valley because it is a wonderful place to live and raise children;
- People here are generally friendly, thoughtful, respectful and law-abiding;
- At the time I relocated, I did not foresee any marital issues that would result in the morass in which I find myself enmeshed; and
- My days of gambling with my life and liberty were over for more than a decade before I even considered leaving New York, which is to say that I do not flout nor do I intentionally run afoul of the law. I’m a father and, generally, a busy one — I try to set an example for my kids and I have no time to be running back and forth to court for nonsense.
Yet, here we are, or rather, there I was:
- In jail;
- Not convicted of any crime;
- Taking up space;
- Watching painfully bad TV;
- Waiting for the results of a TB test;
- Wearing a jumpsuit better suited for a scarecrow than a human being;
- Eating foods of dubious origin;
- NOT earning money for child support;
- Missing my kids, friends and family;
- Ordered to pay a fine, then incarcerated before I could even visit a bank or make a phone call;
- At the mercy of people who would violate my constitutional rights because I had the nerve to point out that they were violating my constitutional rights;
- Listening to other guys whose constitutional rights were violated, some of whom were held prisoner for failing to pay child support arrears when their incarceration had cost them their jobs, others because they were simply accused of violating PFAs, even if there was no evidence that they had done so and consequences be darned;
- Stuck in Northampton County’s modern take on the debtor’s prison; and
- In jail!
So I took notes, gathered contact information, jotted down ideas and cultivated strategies. The men on the unit might have been content to rot in jail while the creeps who put us there spent the weekend laughing it up somewhere, but I’ve worked too hard to have any kind of life to allow some good ol’ boys to rip it from my hands simply because they can. No sirree.
- The show performed the previous day in Room 8 went off without a hitch, as if the players had recited their lines ad nauseum over hundreds of performances;
- Too many men on the unit were telling the same story for it to be a coincidence;
- No one can be expected to pay off a debt from a jail cell; and
- Karma is, er…not a friend of the unscrupulous.
What has happened to the media? How many new-school journalists actually apply to their craft what they’ve learned in journalism school? Why is it that truly socially relevant stories go ignored while platoons of writers and photographers rush to cover what some celebrity-of-the-moment is wearing to walk her purse-pooch through Central Park? I don’t know. What I do know is that, even in this age of virtually all nonsense all the time, a single person with uncommon resolve and the right approach can bring about monumental change. Sometimes, it boils down to that.
The welfare of my children is worth every abrasive post, reasonable reference, revelation, taunt or stunt or any other price I might have to pay to bring attention to our plight. The American divorce/support/custody complex is a largely outmoded, corroded, grotesque, asinine system that frequently denies involved fathers and their kids the right to be whole after the courts have arbitrarily torn them asunder. It is time responsible fathers of our era stopped paying the price for the deadbeat dads of the 20th century. Who of the media dare to address this topic proactively and extensively rather than allow it to remain the backstory to myriad examples of antisocial behavior?
I know that common sense today is as fashionable as top hats and tails, but the decades of evidence that broken families tend to produce broken people glow in the dark like plastic skeletons on Halloween! The American media need to wake up, pull their heads out of Kim Kardashian’s backside and do their jobs! Start observing, culling data and telling the truth about what divorce courts, judges and lawyers are doing to good fathers as a matter of rote rather than acting in the best interests of kids!
In many states, divorce, custody and support matters are churned through a feudalistic machine where gender, money, convention and the whims of lawyers and judges routinely outweigh truth and the actual circumstances of any given case. That people in position to make changes, including the media, legislators, lawyers, judges and even beaten down fathers, some of whom happen to be members of the aforementioned groups, do nothing to fix this dysfunctional system is positively shameful and contributes to the degradation of the American family.
Given what many young men have seen happen to their own families or those of friends, it’s a wonder any would want to walk off the same cliff that previous generations of men have. Family values are clearly in decline and the punishment meted out to fathers for simply having been part of failed relationships is often excessive and inequitable.
Am I just a disgruntled soul ranting about some perceived injustice, the kind of guy to be avoided when choosing a place to sit at a favored pub? No, because first, I don’t go to pubs and second, I’m addressing concerns that far outweigh my personal struggle. I’m challenging American journalists to investigate the decline of the American family and the alienation of the American father as aided by laws and the parties charged with upholding those laws. This is not only relevant news but a long-perpetuated social injustice demanding the kind of activism that spawned movements to protect women’s rights, civil rights, immigration rights or any rights systemically denied a targeted group in this country.
For the purposes of sports broadcasts and fantasy leagues, a legion of statisticians are making a very good living generating data that contribute as much to our society as, well, Kim Kardashian’s backside. What would happen if the same kind of focus were applied to something that actually mattered, like the emotional impact of court-imposed separations and lop-sided custody orders on kids and loving fathers? What story would 10 years of data tell about the effects of inflexible, arbitrary support demands on fathers forced to either abandon their pre-divorce standard of living or face incarceration? God knows the internet and social media are teeming with the testimonies of dads whose rights are not only denied, but practically extinguished. The only question is: Who in the media will finally stop pretending that this isn’t a national crisis?