This week, April 6-12, 2014, is National Crime Victims Rights Week. Frequently I speak about my opposition to incarceration, but something I do not commonly speak on is that there are two parts to how I came to my positions on justice. The first was the imprisonment of my brother, but the second was the murder of my cousin Deirdre Johnson. She was only just out of high school when she was killed by her fiancé.

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Photo of the front and back covers of Beccaria, with the photo of Deidre Johnson and a painting of Marilyn Dobrolenski by Mary DeWitt.

When a person is a co-victim of a crime, they are deeply affected for the entirety of their lives by that tragedy. When a person is falsely accused of a crime it is similar, the entirety of their lives transformed by something completely out of their control. There are billions of people in prison in the US, many of which are considered victim-less crimes like drug sales, but the rest are crimes representing not just a single victim, but a series of victims, a community of victims.

 

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Photo of artwork by Devon Williams, contributed to Beccaria by Jan Williams on behalf of her beloved grandson. You can read more about Jan at this LA Times article. 

 

Below is a poem by David Keaton, the first man exonerated from death row in the US. This poem came to me written on a piece of yellow legal tab paper and appeared in the chapbook I created, Beccaria, which was a compilation of art and writings by people from death row, murder victims’ family members, and others opposed to the death penalty. Keaton is able to summon an almost otherworldly conversation concerning the motivations for a person to truly live. For me this also translated as a question of why people fail to act on any part of their lives or on behalf of the lives of others. “We do not find a thing because we / have found reasons for it, but we find / reasons for it because we want it” Is the answer.

 

This week I ask all to consider that an unjust world means there is unnecessary pain in the world, and so to begin healing we must do what we can to eradicate the systems at the source of that pain. Want peace and justice, have a reason to act on it.

 

 

 

Reaching out into space, from space

To touch your radiant face I was seized

By an inward terror

‘twas error, on error.

 

Sadness, a malady of the heart,

Strikes even from dark to dark

Strikes even to dark.

 

“We do not want a thing because we

Have found reasons for it, but we find

Reasons for it, because we want it.

 

To you who praise the happy

Medium, to me as the way

Of life and love.”

 

I reply:

 

“Who wants to be lukewarm

Between cold and hot, or tremble

Between life and death,

 

Or be jelly,

Neither fluid nor

Solid?”

 

-Untitled by David Keaton

 

 

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