When a hero comes along…

Nelson has no doubt proved to have touched the lives of millions.  Evident across social media the past few weeks were his inspirational quotes that have moved many of us.

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Who is this ambassador for peace?

In summary, Nelson was South Africa’s first black president (is black PC?), was instrumental in significantly reducing apartheid (entrenched racism) and was jailed for 27 years for doing so.

Nelson was not alone in his quest for us to treat each other with the respect and kindness we deserve. Martin Luther King’s dream was for ‘people to be judged by the content of their character not the colour of their skin’. As the Dalai Lama quotes we are all the same, we are one, we are humanity.

Nelson or ‘Madiba’ (the father) as he was known to many…showed the world that you can stand up for what you believe is right.  Despite the harsh penalties for attempting to overthrow the policies of the South African Government decades ago Nelson fought for the rights of his fellow Africans.  According to the Nelson Mandela foundation he ‘supports conflict resolution, poverty reduction and increased public health’.

The rejection of a class based society

If anyone has seen ‘The Help‘ you probably have experienced at least on film the abhorrent treatment of African Americans in the US as slaves in the 1970s.  I was shocked after seeing this film and couldn’t believe there were people out there who could treat fellow humans this way.

KKK? Are these people kidding themselves? They dress like children who have been stuck in a room with their bedsheet and a pair of scissors. While membership over the past few decades has significantly declined (~6m to 6K) its unfathomable people could put that much energy into opposing those of a different skin colour.

The ‘Enlightenment’ or ‘Age of Reason’ in the 17th and 18th C created a significant rejection of class based society.  The emphasis became on reason rather than tradition. Power inequalities started to fade however money still continues to play a central role in status today.

I recall a trip to Hobart where the anglo-saxon cab driver started whinging about an influx of Sudanese immigrants settling there, and that Hobart had the highest per capita anglo saxon population than any other place in the world (at 98%).  I’m half Croatian and most of my friends have one or both parents born outside Australia and even grandparents.

Why is it many Australians shun migrants from less developed nations, war torn countries or countries with varying religious beliefs yet we have no issue wanting to obtain visas to migrate to the UK or the US etc? (or live there illegally…illegal immigrants?)

We are living in a global world where globalisation has reduced the barriers to live in other nations.  We must remember this next time we assume someone is going to ‘take our jobs’ or ‘overrun our country’ that almost every one of us has lived overseas or know someone close to us who does.

I always get confused when people refer to those of oriental descent as ‘asians’.  As if they are a collective group of people that all act in exactly the same way.  I am caucASIAN and I’m a menace behind the wheel too!

How can we be heroes?

In an earlier post I talked about ‘standing up or sitting back’ – since then I’ve been shunned and ripped off by three homeless people after trying to buy them a cupcake, a coffee and a big issue.  Good intentions aren’t always received as envisaged, but I’m sure they appreciated the gesture and I brightened their day.

I registered to volunteer with the Rural Fire Service to help the catering unit, which I then had to defer as working full time and studying part time it wasn’t going to be humanly possible. I will volunteer when Uni finishes and found a way to act rather than to simply have empathy toward victims.

One of the easiest things any of us can do in this life is sit by and absorb information… Its up to us what we choose to do with that information, hence the theory that actions speak louder than words.  As Ghandi says ‘be the change you want to see in the world’.

I highly recommend the new Mandela film – it is truly inspiring to see how a visionary like Mandela can defy social norms and eliminate anti-social behaviour, like racism, through courage, determination and sacrifice.

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A prisoner for life?

I had the privilege of attending one of the most explosive debates on recidivism and the reintegration of convicted criminals back into society at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas last weekend. When I first read that a double convicted murderer, Erwin James, was coming to Australia to speak I wondered what it would be like to hear his experience of 20 years behind bars for taking the lives of two men.

When he walked on stage and began speaking, I could see remorse ingrained in his face which was permanently furrowed, he never smiled and spoke softly and slowly. I didn’t know how I was going to feel about his views and whether I would agree…whether he deserved the treatment he got in prison and again on release…by the end of the discussion I had some respect (for a murderer?) for his struggle and for his views on recidivism.

Erwin James’ life became troubled at age 10 when his mother was killed in a car accident. His father, unable to cope, became an alcoholic and was abusive toward Erwin, at one stage pushing his head into the fire for smiling.  Erwin was convicted of burglary at age 10 after stealing from a sweet shop…he then left home to sleep on the streets, unable to handle his father’s rage.  He was moved into a boys home where he fast learned the tricks of the trade leading him on a downward spiral and a life on the streets filled with crime.  He by no means was justifying his crimes but painted the picture of a troubled childhood which played a role in his perception of right and wrong.

He didn’t talk much about his crimes, understandably, but wanted to focus on ‘life on the inside’ and whether society wanted criminals to be able to effectively reintegrate into society upon release.

Erwin suggested that if prisoners are in there forever we don’t need to pay as much attention to recidivism but the fact is many prisoners are released and the chances of reoffending are high, at least 60% in the UK,  50% in Australia.

He described prison as a place where you ‘live inside your head’, initially he was in a cell for 23hrs a day.  It was here he would try and work out why he did what he did. The prison psychologist helped him understand that all people are born loveable and aren’t inherently bad people…and so he began to untangle his dysfunctions.  He recalls seeing a photo of himself as a young boy with a cowboy hat on and wondered where it all went wrong.

It was a long and difficult 20 years with many prisoners taking their own life (1247 he recalls in great detail) ‘a place of fear where people were struggling’.  He was moved to a longer term maximum security prison and was able to then use workshops, the chapel, a gym and saw more possibilities.  He joined an English class which was important to be able to exercise his mind again.

Prison was a land of hierarchy and unwritten rules with someone being stabbed every other week.  He experienced a major riot and a siege but he hung on to hope and books.  The prison psychologist told him that he owes it to his victims to ‘do the best you can in here’.

He became known as ‘the guy who could write a good letter’ and started writing letters for other inmates to lawyers, family, complaints for people.  He started to feel good that he was able to contribute to a community and knew that if he ever got out he would want to make a positive contribution to society.  He saw writing as an enabler, allowing him to find a way to live again and walk the middle line between his past and future. He was chronically inhibited in prison and needed to feel secure again.

He was asked to write for the Guardian Newspaper a column on ‘life inside’.  This was an opportunity for Erwin to apply himself and have a second chance at life and is where he has been employed since.

Prison as a deterrent

Naturally, the question was raised that conditions in prison should be tough so its a deterrent to those choosing to commit crimes.  Erwin explained that he absolutely agrees that prison shouldn’t be a playground but that ultimately these people are going to be released and if we don’t want them continuing to harm members of society upon release they need to live in a way that is not going to impact their actions upon release.  ‘Prison crushes you, undermines, erodes and corrodes you and dismantles your humanity’.  You may get released but the debt you owe the victims and their families even after 20 years inside will never be repaid, and having that on your conscience is a true life sentence.

Early intervention

The question was raised around Erwin’s troubled childhood and it was agreed that early intervention from social services and the right education and support is key to ensuring criminality doesn’t result.

Victims and their families

Erwin at no point felt that his crimes should be excused, he raised some interesting views on what next after serving your time… A criminal record will always stay with him and even minimised his chances of getting a visa to come to Australia to speak.  However he just tries to ‘do the best he can’ with what time he has left on the outside.  Inside he hoped that he would live to see just one more sunny day…

Can people change? Can we forgive?

In Norway there is a prison called Bastoy that sees only 16% of its inmates reoffending upon release.  However, it is argued that Norway with its relatively small population, egalitarian nature and high quality of life within the community play a role.  Its here prisoners are given responsibility, for example through farming on site.
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/sep/04/bastoy-norwegian-prison-works

Hearing first hand from a convicted criminal was enlightening.  It changed my perspective on our prison system.  Ultimately there are some criminals that will continue to reoffend and cause major harm in the community and shouldn’t be released and Erwin acknowledges this.  Conversely, there are many people imprisoned that commit fraud and other smaller crimes that probably don’t deserve to live in such circumstances and can be rehabilitated and deterred in different ways. However, there are others that will be released and upon spending sometimes decades in a hardened prison won’t be able to function in society as we know it.

People are people ultimately and its up to society as to whether they want to keep prisoners in there for life, or even capital punishment like in the US, but the fact remains many prisoners are currently released so its up to us to decide how they are treated in prison to reduce recidivism.

http://books.google.com.au/books/about/A_life_inside.html?id=SZIbAQAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y

http://news.com.au/national/thomas-kelly-killer-kieran-loveridge-gets-four-years-jail/story-fncynjr2-1226755733724n

http://news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/my-conversations-with-a-coldblooded-killer/story-fnixwvgh-1226758834186

http://news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/derrick-deacon-explains-what-freedom-feels-like-after-25-years/story-fnixwvgh-1226766427689

http://news.com.au/lifestyle/relationships/simon-gittanys-new-life-in-jail-and-what-his-girlfriend-will-see-of-him/story-fnet09p2-1226770560480

Hacktivists and Eco Warriors

Reading today’s news on the terrible tale of a young victim highlights that the justice system isn’t always foolproof against social condemnation. Daisy Coleman’s family were forced to flee their home town after they spoke out against the attack and were largely condemned by locals.  It could be argued the failure to protect victims and their families was a failure of the justice system but the justice system can only reprimand certain behaviours.

When the justice system fails us who do we turn to?

In this case… global hacktivist group Anonymous will step in and use their power as expert internet hackers.  They hope to bring justice for the girl and her family by investigating the alleged attacker.

I have read about their work previously after reading about a young Canadian girl who took her own life after being bullied following an attack. Anonymous claimed to use their skills to name and shame those involved and release incriminating footage. “What the Anonymous community is trying to do is make sure that she did not die in vain.”

Daisy Coleman speaks about how a whole town turned on her

What are your views on breaking traditional laws to seek justice and to promote human rights for all people? What about the rights of animals?

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I recently had the privilege of an exclusive tour on board the Sam Simon Sea Shepherd vessel.  I was inspired to hear how these eco warriors volunteer their time and risk their lives to protect the world’s marine life.   The crew were busy preparing for a mission to the Antarctic where they hoped to protect whales against International whalers.  They go to sea for a few months at a time to actively get in the path of the whaling ships, which are often better resourced and larger.

The Sea Shepherd foundation were able to save at least 900 whales last year from one mission alone and are committed to ensuring this endangered species are protected for future generations and to sustain the current ecosystem.

http://www.seashepherd.org.au

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-24/russia-gazprom-piracy-charges-greenpeace-activists-hooliganism/5042078

http://news.com.au/world/breaking-news/russian-piracy-charges-remain-greenpeace/story-e6frfkui-1226751684090

http://news.com.au/technology/online/anonymous-indonesia-hacks-dry-cleaning-plumbing-websites-in-response-to-australia-spy-claims/story-fnjwnj25-1226752860278

Geoffrey Robertson QC – Global Human Rights Lawyer

I had the privilege of hearing Geoffrey Robertson deliver an address on ‘Australian Values for Australia Today’ and highly recommend watching this.  Geoffrey Robertson “Australian Values for Australia Today” – August 2013

Geoffrey spoke of history being vital in understanding what has shaped current values, this includes the evils.

Geoffrey is a distinguished human rights lawyer, author and broadcaster.  He has defended Julian Assange, prosecuted General Pinochet and sat on the UN War Crimes Council amongst many other high profile cases.  He uses his great intellect and success to fight for the rights of humanity – an inspiration to us all.

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