Long weekend niceness

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Long weekends are lovely, aren’t they? Even though the school term has only just resumed, the pace has been pretty hectic in our house so by the time last Friday rolled around I was exceedingly happy to have an extra day without the school/work/uni routine. These are some of the nice things from the weekend.

  • seeing Lady in the Van with my movie buddy and then a delicious lunch at Arthur Radley. That Maggie Smith is pretty good on the acting front, don’t you think?
  • pizza, wine and Veep with the family on Friday night
  • a walk by the Yarra from Kew to Abbotsford via the Collingwood Children’s Farm
  • seeing Steph and Martin getting married under the beautiful oak tree, surrounded by flowers, bubbly and their nearest and dearest on a glorious autumn day. I don’t know Steph and Martin but I hope they have a beautifully happy life together! They seemed to be having a beautifully happy wedding!
  • collage! AGES since I’ve done one of these so it was nice to spend some time flipping through old magazines gathering inspiration for a ‘yellow’ themed collage
  • knitting squares from my ever growing pile of scrappy bits of wool to donate to a charity blanket project
  • finding this cowl pattern so I can make something snugly for myself for the winter

How was your weekend? Was it a long one? Or was it just an ordinary one but filled with happy things? I hope it was nice and that the niceness has created warm and fuzzy memories.

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Press ‘pause’

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Hello lovelies! I have neglected you the last few weeks and that makes me feel a tad sad. I have let myself get a little filled up in the mind department – too many thoughts and worrying about how everyone else in the house is managing their demands and I have become quite distracted. The pages in my book aren’t being flicked quite as quickly, not as many sketches are appearing in my sketchbook and I’ve been struggling to find a new creative project. I need to take a bit of a step back and let the mental chatter settle. Do you ever have the same feeling?

I headed to yoga today and did a slower paced, less strenuous class than my normal one. I quite like doing that. It’s nice to have the time to focus on the simple, basic poses rather than tackling the super challenging ones. Lots of breathing and, at least for that hour and a bit, the mind did have a bit of a breather.

On the way home I stopped off for a coffee and sat in the park. I had my book with me but I didn’t open the pages. It was nice just to sit for a little while, to look at the city buildings, watch the walkers, the children in the playground, the gambolling dogs. A chance to press ‘pause’. And then the phone flashed. From my girl. ‘Can you drop Persuasion at school?’ Time to hit ‘play’.

How are you faring at the moment? Do you have everything sitting nicely in balance or are the scales a bit lopsided?

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Have you read…? Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

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Last year, I sat in my car in the supermarket car park listening to a radio interview with Bryan Stevenson, who was in Australia to speak at the Perth Writers Festival. His story of his work as a civil rights lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) was distressing, infuriating and inspiring. His excellent book, Just Mercy, fleshes out the stories he touched on the interview but also serves to illuminate a raft of issues in the American criminal justice and social welfare systems.

As a young law student in 1983, Stevenson undertook an internship with the Southern Prisoners Defence Committee (SPDC) in Atlanta. As executions began to take place again in the Deep South after years of delay, the SPDC worked to provide proper legal representation to condemned prisoners who had been convicted without proper or no legal representation. A visit to a prisoner on death row brought home to Stevenson the grave injustices of the legal system towards indigent and coloured prisoners. As he explains

Presumptions of guilt, poverty, racial bias, and a host of other social, structural, and political dynamics have created a system that is defined by error, a system in which thousands of innocent people now suffer in prison.

In the late 1980s, he established the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to assist prisoners facing execution and, over time, this has expanded to tackling issues of mass incarceration, juvenile imprisonment, programs to assist those re-entering society after imprisonment, and the provision of policy advice on issues related to race, poverty and crime.

He explores a number of cases he has been involved in, with that of Walter McMillian being the thread that runs through the book. Walter, an African American, was wrongly convicted of the murder of a white woman and sentenced to death. For me, this case exposed enormous issues with the criminal justice system: racial bias, the ability of judges to overturn sentences imposed by a jury, the dangers of having elected judges/sheriffs/district attorneys, the corrupting effect of deals with witnesses, and the sheer incompetence and bias of some of those working in the legal profession. The appalling result in this case was even worse than the apparent injustice in Making a Murderer. Spoiler alert – after six years on death row, and thanks to the tireless work of Stevenson and his team, Walter was exonerated. Whilst this was great cause for celebration, the sobering thought, as Stevenson points out, is that Walter’s case only came to his attention because he was on death row. If the judge had not overturned the jury’s sentence of 30 years and imposed the death penalty, Walter would have spent his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Stevenson exposes the treatment of juveniles in the justice system. How is it that children as young as 13 can be sentenced to life imprisonment? How can children be imprisoned in adult prisons with all the risks that that entails? For Ian Manuel, a 13 year old when convicted, this meant spending 18 years in solitary confinement as this was the only way to keep him safe from other prisoners. The work of the EJI has seen the courts, over time, prohibit life in prison sentences for children.

Harsh sentencing laws for drug and minor offences has seen an explosion in the prison population with the consequence that the United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. This has created massive overcrowding in prisons but also has led to social disadvantage becoming entrenched. Parents are removed from their children, those convicted of drug offences are not entitled to welfare or public housing, felons are disenfranchised. How are people able to rise above social disadvantage when society is not assisting them in any way?

As an outsider to the US, I have read about police shootings of black men, the college riots and the Black Lives Matter Movement. I understood that racism remains an issue in the country. Reading this book showed just how entrenched this racism  – hatred – is in some parts of the country and the devastating consequences this has for many African Americans. It made me think about how the proliferation of guns in the US has enabled so many people to become murderers where, without such access, they may have committed less serious crimes, or no crime at all. It made me appreciate the social welfare, health and justice systems we have in Australia (although there have been some devastating failures in our parole system) but it also made me think about how these systems are treating, or not treating, our indigenous people. It is a book that made me want to learn.

I am in awe of the work carried out by Bryan Stevenson and his team of lawyers. In the absence of societal support, it is essential to have people prepared to fight for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised; to provide them with a voice and to give them the opportunity to live life to their fullest potential. A highly recommended read for those interested in social justice and social policy.

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If you are interested in issues of race and/or the failings of the US justice system, you may like to have a listen to the first part of My Damn Mind and Anatomy of Doubt. Indigenous incarceration and disadvantage is explored in this excellent article by Sarah Gill