To Kill or Not To Kill

 

If you’ve ever read Dead Man Walking, by Sister Helen Prejean, or even listened to the news a bit too much recently, you may be aware of some of the most horrendous and despicable things human beings are capable of. From shooting up a classroom full of kindergartners to terror and race-based hate crimes, sometimes it seems like we’re living in the most violent time in history, and we even start to feel like we’d just be standing by, letting all of this happen, if we don’t just give these monsters what they deserve. The thing is, that’s not what any of this is about.

Just because they lost their humanity, does not mean that we have to.

Just a few hours ago, Catholic Mobilizing tweeted this Bible verse and a letter to John Kasich to call for an end to the death penalty in Ohio: 

It called Catholics, and religious of all faiths, to join their petition and to add their drive.google.com/openintention to their regular special prayers. But we don’t have to call for an end to the death penalty simply as a religious thing, because of course not everyone believes in God. And honestly, they don’t have to. There are countless reasons to oppose capital punishment for purely practical reasons.

My home state of Maryland, for instance, abolished the death penalty with a law signed by our former Governor Martin O’Malley in 2013 

On May 2nd, 2013, Governor O’Malley signed that bill, outlawing capital punishment in the state, and on November 6th, 2015, he told CNN, “I am opposed to the death penalty … in our state it took us three times, but eventually we repealed the death penalty for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s not a deterrent to violent crime,
  2. It can’t be administered fairly,
  3. And we know the things that actually work to deter violent crime because we reduced violent crime to 30 year lows.

“But there’s another part of this, and it is this: that the vast majority of the public executions of the world happen in the countries of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the People’s Republic of China, and North Korea. And I don’t believe that our children’s country, the United States of America, should be in the company of those other nations. We are better than this. It serves no deterrent value; we should do the things that work and stop the things that don’t work.”

That being said, there is another reason that we should try to abolish the death penalty in every state, and that is money. According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, by Jennifer McNenamin, the average capital punishment case costed the taxpayers, which will one day be you, 3 million dollars to try. That’s 1.9 million dollars more than a non-capital punishment case, “even after factoring in the long-term costs of incarcerating convicted killers not sentenced to death.” So at this point, when you start to think about how your own state treats the death penalty, you can think about how absurd it is that you would be expected to pay that much money for someone you’ve probably never even met before to be put to death. And even then, so many of the cases, which have already cost such ridiculously steep sums of money, are overturned ‒ a majority in Maryland until it was abolished ‒ are simply overturned before they can be carried out, resulting in a life sentence anyways. I’m sure a lot of you live in Virginia, which as you probably know still has the death penalty, and knowing this I’m sure you won’t want to pay all this money when you graduate.

But even still, something that people often forget that when people are put to death, the state doesn’t just magically kill them off with some fairy dust or black magic. Of course something like that sounds absolutely ridiculous to say out loud, but it’s worth repeating. And again, I’m not saying the people who have made it to death row are always perfect angels that don’t deserve what they’re getting by any means, but the thing is, even when they are guilty, someone has to inject the 3-drug cocktail, or pull the trigger, or in three states, slip the black hood over the convict’s head and fix the noose around his/her neck before releasing the trap door. So now you probably understand that there’s a reason they tend to arm all but one of the gunmen with blanks. Want to hear a debate on the death penalty and what solutions we can raise to get rid of it? Check out this podcast below.  

Death Penalty Podcast Debate

 

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WEED the People of the United States: Drug Penalties are Destroying Students

As kids we are told to “Live while you’re young!” and “Enjoy life to the fullest!”. We try new things, meet new people, and want to have the most fun that we can before we are thrown into the unknown world of adulthood. Although many of us make a plan to graduate high school, get through college in 4 years and get a well-paying job, many students today are finding that this plan comes crashing down when their methods of relieving anxiety and stress don’t quite agree with the law.

So? Is it fair that a first time offender will have to kiss his 18 year old dream of attending an Ivy League school goodbye for getting caught with a little green?

marley-herb

Here’s a look into how the penalties given for marijuana possession can tear down a student’s life before it even begins…

Student Loans

The prices of college tuition are already through the roof, but after you are registered as a drug offender, the help of student loans and financial aid practically vanish. Any federal or state drug conviction for the possession, or conspiriacy for the sale of illegal drugs,  disqualifies a student from receiving federal student aid grants and loans.

 Right from (the all-too- familiar) FAFSA’s webpage states:

“In general, if you are convicted of a drug-related felony or misdemeanor that took place while you were receiving Federal student aid, you will become ineligible to receive further aid for a specified period of time upon conviction.”

This chart from FAFSA even more clearly lays out the consequences:

Offense

Possession of Illegal Drugs

Sale of Illegal Drugs

First

1 year of ineligibility from date of conviction

2 years of ineligibility from date of conviction

Second

2 years of ineligibility from date of conviction

Indefinite period of ineligibility*

Third or more

Indefinite period of ineligibility*

Indefinite period of ineligibility*

*Under the law, an indefinite period of ineligibility continues unless your conviction is overturned or otherwise rendered invalid or you meet one of the two early reinstatement requirements specified above.

Through the life of someone affected by the restrictions:

Job/College Acceptance

Even though these charges sometimes can be expunged or dismissed from a record after following all of the required steps, it can still forever tarnish a student’s employment eligibility. Trying to land a  job with a possession charge on your record is, well, not likely. Especially in occupational fields like teaching that strictly prohibit drug and alcohol related offenses.

Over 60% of employers responded in one study that they “probably would not” or “definitely would not” hire an ex-offender. Over 40% of Los Angeles employers surveyed would reject an applicant with a criminal record, without considering the nature of the offense or any other individual factors.

School admissions offices also give the cold shoulder when given the choice between applicants who possess a drug charge vs. those who don’t. “It’s very easy to turn someone like that down, because there are so many other applications where that box is not checked.” Says admissions expert, Marilee Jones.

With discouraging odds like these, students once on the road to success are now shying away from job and school applications that often won’t even look twice at your resume if you have checked the box next to “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”.

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President Barack Obama

 

Psychological Affects

From the standpoint of the individuals who decide the punishments of Marijuana related incidents, it is difficult to see just how much they can affect the lives of the people receiving them. Even after the requirements have been completed and the charge “dismissed”, the mark the charge can leave on a student’s newly beginning life can be catastrophic, especially mentally.

With so much pressure revolving around our futures, it is hard to think that such a commonly used substance could turn all of your hard work upside down if you get caught. Even just the sheer number of disciplinary meetings and payments students are bombarded with as part of their sentence can result in social and academic decline when added on top of various other preexisting school activities and assignments . Sometimes, the snowballing effects can rattle a person irreversibly. In extreme cases, probationers felt as if they have no other choice in extreme cases.

For example: Discipline policies in places as locally as Fairfax County, VA are under fire after the suicides of 2 students who fell under the pressures of the disciplinary system.

Legalizing Marijuana will end the inequalities found within the disciplinary system for drug offenders. Disproportionate and overly harsh drug punishments will no longer tarnish the academic and job applications for students, prevent students from receiving student loans or financial aid, or encroach on a student’s mental wellbeing.

Ahh, a life where marijuana and the rest of the world would finally live in harmony. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…

Click Here to listen to my podcast!:

 

 

How Special Education Affects Families

Disabled students are not able to continue their public education past the age of twenty-one. They are deprived from interaction necessary to improve their quality of life. The Individuals with Disabilities Act assures a “free and appropriate public education” for all children with disabilities ages two through twenty-one. It is unjust that wheelchair bound students do not have access to the same facilities and care once they reach the age limit. Their families worry about how their lives will change once they reach this stage in their lives and what will happen next. In the video “21 With Autism: A New Set of Challenges” many families express their concerns for their loved once and what their fears are for the future.

As you can see these families have serious concerns about their loved ones lives once they turn twenty-one. They are constantly worried about things that their children or siblings will have to deal with and it is a heavy weight on their shoulders. Will they have someone to care for them if their parents pass away? Will they be able to get the treatment or care they need? And will they be treated equally by society and the community? No family should have to go through this just because their child can no longer attend school. Having a disabled child is already a lot of pressure on a family and to have to prepare for what will happen when they turn twenty-one is even more challenging.  gettyimages-143175224 disabled_girl_and_her_family

According the article “Parenting a Child with Special Needs“, in public schools each disabled child that is eligible has their own personal “education planned by a team, including the parents of the child”. These student are receiving the care and education that they deserve in public schools and their parents are part of the process so that it is comforting to them to know that their child is in good hands. Many specialized and public schools will offer daily physical, occupational, and speech therapy for students to help improve their conditions and quality of life. Having all of these benefits suddenly stop after about eighteen years is not only unjust to the student but also to the family. Having to watch your child suffer everyday without any other interaction really takes a toll on parents and family members.

I know this is true because I have been through this with my cousin Jessica. She was wheelchair bound since the age of six and was not able to communicate with others very well. She attended a specialized school for disabled individuals called Lakeview school until she was twenty-one years old. She was provided with therapy, medical overview, social activities, and enabling technology daily for eighteen years. Once she reached the age limit she spent the last two years of her life only  moving from a bed to a wheelchair and the only interaction she had was from family members who would feed, change and clean her. It was difficult for my family, especially my aunt to watch Jessica’s condition get increasingly worse in their home. I believe that if Jessica was able to attend school longer, the last few years of her life would have been healthier and not as shattering for our family.

tweet

To help and support disabled students we need to extend this type of education for them.They are students just like everyone else and citizens just like everyone else who deserve care and education. We need to help families who are worried about their children’s future and and keep educating disabled individuals.

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The Shadows of Foster Care

foster stats

Where would we be without our parents? They have loved and nurtured us since birth.  They taught us right from wrong and have guided us down the paths we are on today.  Who would you call if you got in trouble or if you missed home? Imagine not having that stability that parents provide.  That is the life of a foster child.

So, how do children come into foster care? There are several ways a child can be taken away from their families due to maltreatment or neglect.  According to the AFCARS report in 2014 there were about 415,000 children in foster care in 2014.

And only about 1/3 of foster care kids go back to their biological parents.  Imagine how difficult that is knowing that your biological mom and dad can’t take care of you and perhaps not even your extended family could take in the child so they are placed with random people for a short amount of time.

Now imagine coming out of a household of neglect and being put in a foster home that is more like a children farm. This house would have lots of kids running around the house and the foster parent pays little attention to the children.  These are people who make a job out of being a foster parent, they are only in it to get a check.  Their business is “Kids for Cash”.

Not every state has a foster child bill of rights that can protect the child from harm.  Virginia is one of them.  In fact Virginia does not have as many laws as some other states to protect the children. In a study done on children in foster care in Washington State and Oregon one third of the children reported being abused at one point while being in the foster care system.

So why should you care?

This is a national issue.  It has happened in states all across America, such as Oregon and New York.

 

Take a look at this video to see what bystanders did when they saw a foster child being treated poorly.

What would you do? That answer would vary from person to person but there are several options to choose. Click the link in the tweet!

Someone you know may have been a foster child and or someone you know may know someone going through this process. This is children we are talking about.  They are the future.  As a society it is our obligation that our future generations to help them in any way we can.

Check out my podcast!

 

Doped Up: A look at the American Mental Health Care System

With the passing of Medicaid, deinstitutionalization began in the late 1960’s. That began the snowball effect that created today’s American mental health care system. Though deinstitutionalization  ideally would have improved care, this set a precedent for later policy makers to greater decrease government involvement in mental health care. During his administration, Ronald Regan established block grants for states thus ending federal government involvement in the system. Recently, after the Great Recession, states had to cut public mental health spending by $4.35 billion.

But, the real issue here is not why it happened but why it matters. People living in poverty are statistically more likely to suffer from mental illness. A study conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine found that “children raised in poverty were more likely to be at risk for clinical depression.” NPR reported a correlation between poverty and mental illness. It stated, “cases of mental illness last longer, are more severe and had worse outcomes,” when seen in people also suffering from poverty. But, even though the poor are more likely to need psychiatric help, the mental health system does not cater to them. Instead, the system better serves the interests of those who have money.

bh

Since significant budget cuts have been made from state mental health spending, people who fall below the poverty line have a difficult time finding a doctor who will see them.  The system has become a cash market. This means there has been high demand for psychiatrists so they can charge higher rates, thus making a profit. By opening private practices, especially in affluent areas, mental health providers are able to charge exorbitant prices. A podcast produced by NPR states that “therapy has become a hobby for the wealthy.” It is a new fad for the well off to seek psychiatric help that disadvantages those who actually need it. The podcast states, “There can be plenty of mental health professionals in the area but still a shortage to care for those in need; they can’t find someone to take their insurance.” Already disadvantaged, this cash market has made it even more difficult for poor patients to find care.

Pharmaceutical companies have also benefited greatly from the current mental health “market.” It has become common for doctors to just write a prescription rather than take the time to better an individual. Pharmaceutical companies, like Pfizer, make a great deal of money by using the mental health “market” to their advantage. They fund research for their drugs and send representatives to hospitals to give doctors free samples. Also, ads for new medications are everywhere. But, poor patients are disadvantaged again because these medications are expensive. Some are lucky enough to have insurance to help with the payments but the copays add up. A book written about the mental health care system describes “they can get the meds and then have to stop taking them from either side effects or cost.” This is just another way the system disadvantages them.

America’s current mental health care system disadvantages poverty-stricken citizens. The system has turned into a cash market causing a shortage of doctors to be available to the poor. Expensive medications are used as a form of treatment instead of thoroughly understanding the cause of patient’s symptoms. Often times poor patients are not able to afford these medications and are left without help. But, what can be done to better the system in the future? If states were to allocate more funds for mental health care, the cash market would decrease. Also, if more primary care providers are able to screen for basic mental illness symptoms, the need to seek specialists would be eliminated. Raising awareness through programs like “Time to Change” create a bigger movement for change. By implementing changes in the American mental health system, those who would benefit greatest are those who need care the most.

Socioeconomic Differences Lead to Inequality in Treatment of Mental Illnesses

Depression is the most commonly known mental health problem and approximately 9% of Americans live with depression. Take that number with caution because there have been reported cases where those with depression or those around them dismiss the case. I feel that something has to be done because depression should be taken as seriously as any other illness or health problem. Sure depression isn’t as apparent as a torn ACL or a broken bone, as shown by cases like Robin Williams in 2014 but there are things that can be done to aid the problem. Below, a YouTuber by the name of Sky Williams touches on both Robin Williams and helping those in need:

As shown by Robin Williams’ unfortunate case, not only can depression effect those that are the happiest and funniest outside, but it effects even some of the richest or poorest in the world and U.S. Given this information, I think it is intimidating to think that about the kind of treatment that is needed but can’t be provided for those of lower income households. Robin Williams was a multi-millionaire and depression sadly won in the end; what would happen if someone didn’t have those millions and still needed the treatment?

depression-picture   depression-pic-2

Depression can effect people of either gender or any age and the effects can be as detrimental for any demographic. There was a study completed by epidemiologists with results showing that socioeconomic status (SES) is directly involved with depression: The lower a person’s SES goes, the higher their chance for depression goes. I personally am worried for those who cannot provide for themselves when it comes to health and changes can be made. I grew up in an area where help was always there if someone needed it and this isn’t the case for everyone that is effected by depression.

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In poorer areas, there are generally more problems financially and safety-wise that can negatively effect a human’s mind. With these added pressures, depression is clearly correlated with SES and on top of it, there is less money available which means some aspect of life has to suffer. In most cases, trips to the therapist aren’t common when they should be because this is seen as a luxury compared to other necessities. Mental health is the aspect that suffers in this case and it is concerning that it is overlooked constantly.

I think the scariest part of depression is how unpredictable it is. For one person it could lead to a quiet few weeks or months or it could end in something more dangerous and drastic. In addition, the resources in less affluent areas of the U.S. could greatly magnify the actions taken by someone effected by depression.

We need to join together to educate the public about aiding those in need. Depression is serious and more people are diagnosed with it than with cancer. Together we can lower the depression rate and this will result in less ramifications than before. Depression isn’t easily detectable but looking out for it will definitely help us all. In addition to all of this, the picture above explains it well, those with depression shouldn’t automatically be seen as crazy, psychotic or outcasts because they just need help. We as a society can easily provide that help and defeat this problem. Listen to my podcast below on depression and treatment:

Being Poor is a Crime

handcuffs750xx600-338-0-31 It’s obvious that socioeconomic inequality is a problem that persists in America and yet we haven’t found a solution. I think that we are looking in the wrong places. We tend to believe in higher wages and temporary assistance to get the poor on their feet. I would say that we have been too narrow-minded thinking all we got to do is give the poor more money. We have to realize that we are also taking from the poor. And, would you believe me if I said it is because of our justice system?

It’s pretty clear why we have a criminal justice system. Without it, there wouldn’t be anything to minimize crime or penalize those who break the law. However, the criminal justice system is flawed where money comes into the factor. Public Interest Lawyer Bryan Stevenson states that:

“We have a system of justice in this country,

that treats you much better if you are rich and guilty

then if you are poor and innocent.”

Regardless if a crime was committed, the probability of a poor individual being punished for a crime is much higher than one who is rich. Although it may seem ridiculous, wealth can buy freedom in many cases. Journalist Matt Taibbi explains and provides examples of how much easier it is for the poor to be disproportionately prosecuted in his book Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-5-10-19-amNot only does money allow the rich to hire the best lawyers and attorneys to argue their case but it also allows them to pay off initial fines. These fines are what cause a majority of poor individuals to face incarceration as many cannot afford to pay them off, rather than failing to pay by choice. But, maintaining the costs of the criminal justice system through fines and tax dollars are not enough. The criminal justice system also imposes an additional number of fees which continues to add up for the poor, who clearly cannot afford to pay and is the reason why they were incarcerated in the first place. Steve Colbert calls this cycle of punishments “The Debt Penalty.”

steve-colbertThe Word – Debt or Prison

We cannot allow the criminal justice system to continue punishing the poor. Simply imposing monetary punishments at judges’ own “reasonable” discretion leaves the poor vulnerable to a cycle of debt, impossible to escape. Before fixing a problem, you first have to find the problem; therefore, we have to recognize the flaws in the criminal justice system and the need for change to advance towards a solution to socioeconomic inequality within America.