what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin

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What’s A Solution For Drugs?

The drug war is in the media a lot due to the miraculous amount of violence perpetrated against ordinary citizens by both the military, government, and drug cartels. Heroin has been in the news because of the number of overdoses. Marijuana has been in the news for the amount of money it is generating legally in Colorado. Drugs are everywhere in our cities, in our homes, and in our conversations. They’re on our minds, prescription or legal. Mind altering substances have been around since the dawn of man, since man knew consciousness. How societies and cultures deal with this human phenomenon has varied with time, but in our age there is a complete ban on all mind-altering substances as determined by the United States of America acting as a policing agent for the world regarding narcotics. While the United States allows recreational substances such as alcohol and tobacco to be used, it has determined a schedule for which outlawed drugs are classified according to potential medicinal use. As marijuana is a schedule one substance as is heroin, it seems to be an arbitrary drug classification system. Schedule one drugs are drugs which have no legitimate medicinal use. It can be argued that both heroin and marijuana can be used medicinally.

Tracy Helton, one of the subject’s of HBO’s Black Tar Heroin, agreed to answer some questions about heroin and the drug war for me. This was our correspondence:

What do you see as the biggest obstacle for wider naxolene distribution in the US?

The biggest issue for naloxone at the moment is that the movement to get it in the hand of users is parceled up among the states. The easiest solution to the problem would be for the FDA to switch the status of the drug from prescription to over counter. The process of creating new laws to get naloxone out where it is needed is a long one. Even in state’s where naloxone is available by law, there may be no place within a four hour drive where you can find it. Changing the status of the drug would make it easy to purchase on the internet, in brick and mortar stores, or through you medical insurance carrier. Naloxone isn’t just for heroin users. Anyone who uses opioids can be at risk of an overdose. Naloxone should be in every first aid kit.

Do you believe narcotic drugs should continue to be illegal or do you think lifting prohibition would be a better policy? If lifting prohibition would be better, what system should be adopted as a policy (ex. making drug users register and carry cards or having established red light districts)?

I don’t really have a position on the legalization of drugs. I believe we need to dismantle the Drug War to focus on treatment over incarceration. There are so few places where drugs have been decriminalized as test cases, I don’t have enough evidence to form an educated opinion. I believe Marijuana should be made legal. That as far as I can go.

In your opinion, has the United States’ effort to criminalize addiction and make drugs globally illegal made the drug world safer or more dangerous? Why?

The War on Drugs has certainly made the world a more dangerous place. The impact it has had in Mexico is a perfect example of that. Drugs have been used and abused by humans for thousands of years. They are not going away. We need to acknowledge this and formulate ways to make the experience safer for those that chose to indulge. In addition, we need to create common sense health and criminal justice policies that treat the use and misuse of drugs as a health issue, not a moral failing.

Tracy survived the hell of heroin addiction to come to the other side of not only her own recovery but the recovery of others as well. Many say that there are certain things that one cannot know the truth of in full without having experienced it. Most people can watch a movie and use their imagination to guess what the life of a heroin addict would be like. But the detailed day-to-day motions of it are often missed in the inexperienced imagination. Public policy is a little like this. A bunch of people sit in a room and attempt to essentially solve a problem, sometimes a problem that everyone acknowledges has no permanent end like drug prohibition. They imagine, they use evidence, guesswork, and time to evaluate the nuances of the problem. But at the end of the day, most of the people who institute public policy do not live the full consequences of it.

Drug policy is an extremely complicated issue because it is both a health and public safety issue. It is a health issue because addiction is a mental illness, and because there is risk of overdose when consuming a drug. This then brings the public safety issue to rise, which is that since the drugs in this country are illegal, they are unregulated. Consumers cannot be guaranteed that the product they intend to buy is actually the product itself, or that it has not been tampered with in a harmful manner. In fact, with some drugs such as heroin which is commonly cut with something consumers expect their substance to have been tampered with in unknown amounts. It is also a public safety issue because drugs should not be able to be obtained by minors, and because people can be unpredictable under the influence of certain drugs. There are a lot of important factors to consider when weighing the implications of use of drugs by a citizenry.

Heroin policy is absolutely behind the times. Naxolene should be widely available to users. Marijuana policy is absolutely behind the times. People should not go to prison or jail for the sale or use of marijuana. The public policy regarding drugs is an outdated and dangerous system of  prohibition stances that do not take into consideration realistic models of human behavior.

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“Homeless Kids of Orange County” Documentary

California is one of the top ten economies in the world, and logically, one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. For families struggling to make ends meet, problems such as homelessness can be a burden placed upon a family whose breadwinners do not sufficiently make enough to keep a roof over everyone’s head. In places like Orange County, California, as one mother calculated, that would mean making at least $20/hr or $3,000 a month in order to cover just basic life expenses. This is beyond the reach for many in the non-skilled work sector without taking two or more jobs. Survival is very hard work for the living poor.

“Homeless Kids of Orange County” focuses on the families living in a motel across the street from Disneyland, in an ironic juxtaposition of tragic proportions. The children featured in the film have never been to Disneyland because of their families financial situations, but still climb the stairs of parking garages to watch the fireworks at night. They do not have a steady place to live, but remark with great insight that being homeless in America is better than other places because “the homeless get food in America”. Their small lives are filled with such intense instability and they are completely aware of it. One kid remarks that it “sucks” to be homeless, there is no privacy and few options for entertainment, with many scenes consisting of children creating toys out of resources like plants and things evicted families have left behind. The children witness violence, drug use, and a great police presence. It is not a suitable environment for them, and they are aware of this fact.

The film’s subjects attend Project Hope School, which is a public school also supported by a foundation that caters exclusively to homeless children so that they will not have to constantly go through the process of redistricting every time they move. Project Hope provides food and school supplies to the children and supportive resources that are specifically designed for the needs of homeless children. Since the school does not have a lot of students everyone is taught in a single classroom. Even though this is a supportive environment, one can see the impact of homelessness and their school environment on the children. There are complaints of not being able to focus because one’s younger siblings are in the same classroom bickering, there is observation of Miranda rights during a discussion on early American history when one boy utters “I have the right to remain silent”, a third grader is featured saying that he wants “a big mansions and all the guns”. The children are clearly effected negatively by their surroundings, some of them are doing their best and some of them act out negatively.

One very poignant moment in the film is when the Brewster family is evicted. The Brewster family consisted of five people and four dogs, and the mother worked in a parking lot at Disneyland making about $12/hr. homeless kids

Zack was a badly behaved little boy who was insufficiently and inappropriately entertained at the motel. Instead of receiving positive attention and stimulating experiences, Zack fell victim to what many children who live in poverty fall victim to: becoming his own worst enemy. Zack’s behavior was rambunctious and his working mother with three other children could not adequately give him the positive attention he needed in order to be properly functional. When the Brewsters were kicked out was one of the scarier points made in the documentary because it gave a storyline to how families are evicted from the property. A parent has control over their child to a degree, and in a desperate situation, may loose more control because of the choatic nature of desperate situations. When a child can be solely responsible for destroying the safety and welfare of a family’s living environment, the stability of that living situation was barely tenable at best. The instability of living in a motel is constantly remarked about in the film, especially since families are paying by the week to live in their rooms.

The filmmaker, Alexandra Pelosi, asks the kids “Why would god let kids be homeless?”. The first girl gives a dark response, she doesn’t know and doesn’t like it that god lets her be poor. The second girl gives a more poignant answer, “God provides what you need, he only gives you the things you really need not the things you wish for”. The different type of familial support that is constructed during a crisis period such as homelessness can be seen in the attitudes of different children. The children whose families decide to stick together, create rules, and move forward do better with their attitudes than the children whose families become depressed or stuck in the chaotic ghetto environment of the motel. Many of the children seem to exhibit at least some basic signs of depression, such as not having any hope for the future, “Nothing, nothing at all” the same little girl answers who gave the dark response to “why would god let kids be homeless”. It is very disheartening to witness because life is already such a burden to these young children and they already face so many obstacles that are completely out of their control.

The trials and tribulations of children may seem irrelevant to adults but the overall story line of this documentary is indicitave of how the American economy and government treats its poor. Corporate America seems dedicated to ensuring that a livable wage is just slightly beyond grasp for many working Americans. Taking two jobs seems to be the solution for many, which is absurd because a person should be able to make a living from one forty-hour work week job. Corporate America sees workers as expendable and figures, not the humans who have to go back to a crowded motel to live after a hard day’s work with no vacations and no breaks to relax. The American government provides a small amount of aid to needy families, such as food stamps, but there is still more need than services to go around. While the children remark that it is due to the American government that they have free lunches and breakfasts, legislators in Congress have yet to raise the federal minimum wage to a livable wage for working Americans.

The documentary “Homeless Kids of Orange County” pulls at the heartstrings while delivering a very concise message about the discrepancy of wealth in the United States.

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“Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” Documentary

Homelessness is a societal problem with many different implications for the homeless persons. To a degree in the United States, homelessness is now becoming illegal as is helping the homeless. For certain, a society can be judged how it treats its homeless, and in the United States, the legal establishment has not been kind to the homeless.

The documentary “Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” focuses on several homeless persons who live in Skid Row in Los Angeles. Skid Row is a fifty block conglomerate of primarily single adult housing units and is a low economic area with arguably the nation’s largest homeless population. It was established by a court case, Jones v. City of Los Angeles after it was found unconstitutional under the eight amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment that police could not destroy homeless camps in Skid Row because of the city’s housing shortage and thus the actions of the homeless could not be criminalized. Skid Row is a place of institutional proportions because it is also home to a large number of mentally ill persons. When the mental asylums were closed in the 1980’s by President Reagan, the policy toward the mentally ill became one of pharmaceuticals and little else support. The reason why so many people are homeless also have mentally health issues is because of the lack of community support, and in Los Angeles, many of them end up at Skid Row. Similarly, the Cook County Jail, LA’s jail, is also the largest mental health facility in the United States. The prevalence of jail and homelessness for the mentally ill makes logical sense since many cannot create the stability in order to lead productively healthy lives. Skid Row is an institution in and of itself for the mentally ill.

One of the characters the audience meets is Lee Anne, an eccentric old cat lady who cares for the cats and birds on Skid Row. She has a full shopping cart and a fiance who follows her around, a fellow by the name of K.K. Both share a mutually beneficially relationship by taking care and looking out for one another. K.K. remarks that to a degree, they have both chosen to be on the street. For him, he wanted to be “wild” and engaged in the drug lifestyle. For Lee Anne, she prefers to live outside despite having an apartment, K.K. reveals. Lee Anne has a mental illness where she collects trash, however, she seems to be one of the souls of Skid Row who is genuinely trying  to make it a better, more improved place to live by taking care of the animals. We meet Emanuel Compito, a man who voluntarily literally cleans up the streets of Skid Row with a broom and occasionally takes time to wash the streets with buckets of water. When the city continued to refuse to clean the streets, Compito took it upon himself to improve conditions for himself and his fellow Skid Rowers.

There is a great tension within the city of Los Angeles between the business owners, government leaders, and the advocates of  the homeless. People who are homeless exist because we live in a capitalistic society where peoples’ value and worth is measured  in financial terms. In capitalist societies, there are more people than jobs to create demand for jobs at the same time there is more available housing than there is people in the housing. Homelessness, theoretically, does not need to be a problem, it is the system it exists within that creates the problem. William J. Bratton was brought in to assist the city with “cleaning up” Skid Row. Bratton infamously helped “clean-up” New York City in the 1990’s. Bratton is a proponent of the “broken-windows” theory of policing that dictates that small quality of life policing is more conducive in the fight against crime and the chaos crime can bring. This means stopping people for simple violations and essentially taking a zero tolerance policy on law breaking. It means that the police become a large, unstoppable force with which there is no reckoning, and it wrecks devastation on the citizens it is enforced against. There is a disturbing scene when the police harass Lee Anne; she puts the contents of her cart and the belongings of other homeless folk in the street because the police informed her that they would be cleaning the street that day. In a chaotic exclamation of calamity, Lee Anne tries to salvage the belongings while managing to keep track of everything. She later finds out that she was being harassed by the police, that there was no street cleaning scheduled for that day and that because of the debacle some homeless people lost all their sleeping blankets. It is a scene that crystallizes the struggle of the homeless plight.

Bratton enforced quality of life arrests because it disproportionately puts pressure on the homeless person to live their lives in a way that does not favor their current lifestyle, the policy is intended to force these people out of homelessness as if many of them weren’t trying to begin with. For example, people violating the ordinance stating that no one can sleep on a city side walk can be fined up to $1,000, a sum of money a homeless person surely does not have.

Legally, the battle in the courts over homelessness is an issue of conduct versus status. That is, a homeless person may be protected under the law like in the Jones case against cruel and unusual punishment if they were left with no other alternative for their conduct and thus their status as a homeless person allows them more protection. However, the conduct of a homeless person for example lying on the street could be construed as illegal because of city ordinances or other public safety rules, therefore allowing the conduct to be criminalized. It is a chicken versus egg issue, one whose coin can be flipped depending on the judge or set of judges at trial. It is one in a barrage of examples of how the lives of the homeless are often left up to chance.

The film ends to remind us that:

skid row

From beginning to end “Lost Angeles: Skid Row Is My Home” is a documentary that showcases the brilliance and resiliency of the human race. However, it reminds us that the comfort of our homes is one of our own making, that any one of us really can become homeless. We meet Danny Harris, a man at the beginning of the film, who won a silver medal in the Olympics for sprinting and became homeless on Skid Row. Life is filled with an endless amount of land-mines that must be navigated in order to continue. “Lost Angeles: Skid Row is My Home” is a documentary guaranteed to make one think of what makes life worth living and what the essence of humanity is.

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A Hate Crime in a Case of Mistaken Identity

Hate crime legislation did not always exist because the concept that a group of persons of minority status deserved special legal protection was not a popular sentiment until the 1990’s. Racialized tension has always been a historical American problem of epic proportions that has been dealt with many failures and some successes.

Documentaries are permanent time pieces that capture the essence of a person, place, or event. The Public Broadcasting Station produces many fantastic documentaries about a wide array of subjects. To find a documentary that is a few years old and genuinely well done is an exciting feat for a documentary junkie. Who Killed Vincent Chin is one of those documentaries rarely found, a diamond in the rust.

The premise of the documentary is the murder of Vincent Chin by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, his stepson. Chin was a Chinese-American man who lived in Detroit during the 1980s and was engaged to be married. During the 1980’s the American car industry, located in Detroit, suffered a number of set backs as they industry honchos mismanaged changing demands of the consumer while car producers in Japan appealed to the desires of car drivers in American markets. This caused the car industry in America to plummet, leading to a decrease in jobs in American car manufacturing plants, and as a result, it became that there were many angry unemployed working class people living in Detroit. Unemployment is a problem because it causes a decrease in self-esteem, motivation, productivity, and overall quality of life.

There has always been a problem of racism within the American frame of mind. Making wild generalizations about an ethnic or racial group is a disdainful American tradition, and white solipsistic perspective often erases ethnicities within a racial group. For example, Vincent Chin was Chinese-American but died because he was suspected of being Japanese. For Ronald Ebens, the man who bashed Chin’s head in with a baseball bat, this was explanation enough for the attack:


Racine Colwell was a dancer at Fancy Pants, a Detroit strip-club that was frequented during the evening by the working class men of the auto plant industry. Chin and Ebens had had a verbal spat at the club that then carried into the parking lot. Instead of continuing the verbal spat, the disagreement turned into a hate crime because of Eben’s prejudice against Chin for being of Asian descent.”You little motherfuckers” is the phrase that is contentious as to whether or not this attack was a hate crime at the time of trial. Appallingly, Ebens was not convicted of murder despite the attack being witnessed by two off duty police officers, but plead guilty to second degree manslaughter while serving no jail time, instead being fined several thousand dollars. Many in the Asian community felt that this was a clear instance of white privilege at work keeping a white man free of the confines of jail or prison while an entire ethnic and racial group was failed by justice.

In the 1980’s, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was recently enacted legislation that dictated protection for discrimination based on racial prejudice. Social change is not the same mechanism as legal change but both are affected by one another and both are gradual processes that require compromise and understanding of nuances. Legal change is an instant moment that can be measured by victory and success or failure. Social change is a story based around millions of lives interconnected by a narrative thread. Understanding of the Civil Rights Act is not the same landmark event as the accomplishment of passing it.

Ebens was given wide latitude by the police and the legal system because of the historical standing of white male privilege. Hate crimes were common events in areas like the South and bodily violence against non-white bodies was common, and as current events across the country exhibit, is still common today. In the documentary, Ebens himself expresses surprise that he did not go to prison for murder. There is clearly something off in this case, something working toward the expression of Eben’s liberty at the expense of justice for Chin’s murder. The police did not interview the dancers from the club who saw the verbal altercation. The District Attorney downgraded a senseless murder to manslaughter, a charge that in layman’s terms mean’s “this person didn’t mean to kill anyone it just happened”. Killing someone with a baseball bat, bashing a person’s skull in like you were hitting a home run is not an accident. It is intentional, there is malice, and there is hatred. It is a personal way to kill someone, to express rage.

There is a point in the film when public rage was expressed by literally bashing Japanese cars with sledgehammers. There is a curious correlation between violence done to people and violence done to things. For example, during the Nazi era, there were public book burning that were held in order to express fascistic rage at liberal or communist ideas. The idea that there is a correlation between burning books and burning people by this group of radical fascists is logical. In Detroit, it went from people smashing Japanese cars to smashing Japanese bodies. Racialized hatred is a clear act of defiance of peace. Violence is an expression of hatred.

Federally, Ebens was convicted of federally violating Chin’s civil rights and given a twenty-five year sentence that was later overturned on a technicality. Hate crime legislation did not yet exist, so the idea that minority groups have a special status of protection within the law was not a legal concept. The film contains many allegories that Ebens was not in any way a racist  man because he either worked with racial minorities at the auto plant, or because his daughter had tutored an Asian boy in school. These are instances of white nonsense, a way to whitewash making racialized hatred normal by virtue of interacting with racial minorities. This is illogical and attempts to appeal to emotional manipulation. Nitz’s girlfriend even contends that he was even happy to be on unemployment because he could “collect all this money” while doing things like taking trips and apparently, beating up Asian men.

Meaningful social transformations must be supported by legal action and accomplishment. Hate crimes are a necessary legal protection in order to ensure that groups who are minorities have the correct protection from unnecessary aggression.

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White-washed “Stonewall”: Hollywood’s Version of the Truth

Hollywood is infamous for distorting historical truths in the name of better entertainment. Hollywood is also infamous for limiting staring roles for minority actors and as a result stunting the careers of many promising black actors. This time in the telling of the infamous queer riot in New York City, Hollywood has set aside key people of color for the queer movement and replaced them with cis male white actors. Key moments of history are being portrayed in favor of a more heteronormal sexualized version of the queer movement. See, Stonewall was sexy, and thats why you should come see our movie, says Hollywood.


He is a sexy man-boy, someone anyone who is attracted to men would find enticing. He throws the first brick, which is symbolic of the entire rebellion, which happened in response to police harassment and raids. When members of the LGBTQ community violently reacted to the barrage of physical harassment and provocation, it wasn’t sexy or pretty. It was a group of people fighting dearly for their lives. In all fairness, Hollywood does have to operate on a sexiness factor, and sexing up the story a little is fair game for mass production. However, taking the power away from the marginalized people who were responsible for the entire ordeal is disrespectful.

Marsha P. Johnson is widely credited with throwing the first brick. This is her:

marsha p johnson

She is poor, she is marginalized, she is black, and she is trans. Her life was one of vulnerability and genuine originality. She worked to lift an entire community out of the broken mess that was created by the hatred of the greater world, and was beautiful in her own character and being. She and friend Slyvia Riveria created the group “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR)” which was an advocacy street organization for transgender and gender queer people. She even had associations to Andy Warhol, who asked her what the “P” stood for in her name to which she replied “Pay it no mind”. To sass Andy in his day was a bold move, one that gained her notoriety among the New York queer and arts scene. She was also an AIDS activist in ACT UP, a now international organization that started in the streets of New York by gay and queer people seeking better care and research on the AIDS virus.

Her sexuality and sexual orientation are one of an obscure nature, not a lot of people share that sexuality or sexual attraction, so her story isn’t going to be considered by Hollywood producers to be a money maker. She could be a quirky side character, a mention in the film, a noted footnote, but not the focus of the film. The director of the film responded to criticism about ignoring Marsha in this message:


Very slick, very Hollywood, very “hey folks, remember its fictionalized, so its okay if we distort the reality a little bit”. Its classic solipsism, something that is taken for the perspective that is the more entertaining, relatable, normalized version of events. This means making the focus of a queer story, something that is already a marginalized perspective, into a cis-male white protagonist because in utility, he is the character the most number of people are going to be able to relate to. The truth is the casualty.

Many within the queer community are calling for a boycott of the film. I view it as the next Rent: a sterilized version of a very serious story where people where beaten, had their rights denied, and died. While I can appreciate that the story was told, the way in which it is conducted is very important to the dignity of the people who lived it. Ignoring Marsha P. Johnson is like ignoring George Washington, or saying that he was not that important in the American Revolution. Marsha is credited with throwing the first brick that sparked the riots. This is significant and not something that should be ignored.

If this had been an independent film, odds are that the story-line would have been more congruent with the truth. However, independent films are not as widely distributed so then not as many people would see the story of Stonewall. But, it is the fictionalized version of Stonewall, one where black trans people are ignored, the very people who held such an integral role within the movement. Hollywood needs to be questioned on this because it is ignorant to not have the main character have any connection to Marsha P. Johnson. If she is too strange to be a main character, than a supporting role would be a fair compromise. Besides, making the main character into a person of importance within the movement makes sense, and therefore it would be historically accurate to have him work with Marsha.

It is unfortunate when Hollywood gets shortsighted in the name of conformity and aesthetics.

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Bitch Better Have My Marijuana Money

Currently obsessed with Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money”, the title of this article comes from the title of the song based on a tragic life event of epic financial proportions, “Bitch Better Have My Money” stems from Riri’s real life dealings with a shady financial dealer. The video is insane and looks like it cost a pretty penny to have made:

Like a lot of people in the world, I worry about money for a number of personal reasons. Like a lot of millennials, when I’m relaxing at home in my bed letting my mind wander, sometimes it stumbles on the “oh my fucking god I’m going to get old” moments. These can be happy imaginings, like how beautiful and sweet my grandchildren will be someday, or terrifying and distressing like what the hell is going to happen when social security collapses? How am I going to live when I am old and decrepit? Why am I not doing something to make money that I love doing? Then, I read about something how Colorado made fifty three million dollars in legal marijuana as of February 2015.

New York also likes to pretend it has legal weed. It does not, it has non-smokable marijuana derived products that require a license to legally obtain. That is in no way shape or form marijuana reform progress nor is it something that should be considered legal weed. This is a legitimate problem, this is not an problem of immature people or people who refuse responsibility or quality of life. Obtaining marijuana is a normal problem for many millions of American adults. As Colorado demonstrates, huge cash flows are being diverted to black market economies which could be used more positively and in ways that directly benefit society.

I included the Rihanna video because the aesthetic is so pleasingly angry that an issue could be made over having to living your life with integrity and dignity. This person, this financial person, screwed her over despite that she contends she “calls the shots”. In our lives, whether or not we feel we do, we call the shots. It is my decision to spend my time and money on an illegal substance and quite possibly could suffer legal consequences because of the use of that prohibited substance. It is parallel to Kantian notions that law is essentially arbitrary and is not inherently moral because of it’s simple nature as law; law is law, it is not morality. It is not immoral to smoke marijuana, and due to such, to a degree, it is not necessarily immoral that I spend some of my money within the black market economy which does not officially benefit society due to the lack of a tax system. This is something that reasonable and responsible people should seek to quell the discrepancy of such a normalized part of life for so many millions of American marijuana users.

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The Significance of HBO’s “Oz”

Prison fascinates me, as an American I have somewhat of an obligation to be at the least minimally interested. Paradoxically, the worlds largest democracy imprisons the most number of human beings on the planet in jails, prisons, and detention centers for persons who illegally crossed into America. A nation of privilege, Americans are prudent to ensure the correct persons enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As a public policy, I disagree with mandatory disenfranchisement of the prison population. If a person commits a political crime, then it is logical to restrict their participation in the political sphere. Granted, when a person commits a violent crime they are trespassing against society, but as Kantian logic dictates, the law is not the utmost determinant of justice. The law can and is manipulated to target certain populations and limit their power within society. Using the loss of the right to vote as an example, despite the fact that prisoners cannot participate in the voting process, their populations are still weighed when determining political districting. That is, even though they cannot vote, they are still counted when figuring out how many representatives a county gets, how much funding an area receives, and the number of electoral votes a state has, which is particularly significant for states that hold federal prisons because federal prisoners can easily be moved from state to state. If prisoners themselves are disenfranchised, then they should not be counted within the political process. This is a manipulation of the law that distorts the political process.

Previous attempts to watch “Oz” were not successful. I found the entire concept too distressing, and couldn’t get past the first ten minutes. However, now after knowing people who have been to jail or prison or both combined with my personal interest to understand the American prison system, I felt compelled to watch the series in its entirety. This was psychologically somewhat exhausting, and completely shocking. First, as a film and television connoisseur, I was fascinated with how the producers and director of the series decided to tell the tale of the Oswald State Correctional Facility, level four (maximum security). Using Brechtian style techniques, “Oz” is one of the only series I have seen successfully pull off a narrator for the entirety of the series. “Sex and the City” attempted this and failed miserably, and generally television and film stay away from direct character narration because it is difficult to integrate into the work. The narrator in “Oz” is a wheelchair bound murderer and drug dealer named Augustus Hill who was thrown off a roof during the bust that sent him to prison thus causing a spinal injury that disabled him. By using something called “Verfremdungseffekt” (“distancing technique” in German) the audience is removed from the immediate storyline of “Oz” and let into one of the prisoner’s minds with Augustus’ narration. It is partly used to show the absurdity Oz’s world, and partly used to allow the audience to process the dramatic and raw portrayal of life in a maximum security prison. Harrold Perrineau (“Matrix Revolutions”, “Sons of Anarchy”, Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliette”) does a fantastic job of bringing the audience into the mind of a prisoner. Augustus guides us through the alliances that have been made, through the seedy underside of the prison black market system, and gives us a peek into how a world of violence effects people.

“Oz” is also one of the most Buddhist shows I have ever seen. Raised as Buddhist, I see the world as the equivalent of a harsh paradise. My father, also a Buddhist, calls the world a beautiful assault. One of the main question raised in “Oz” is the profound conundrum of finding a reason to live despite the harshest, most ruthless, devastating, degrading, and oppressive conditions a society has to offer. One of the questions of Buddhism is finding peace within the world despite the hardships. Can a person find a way to have peace in prison, the show asks us. Is there a way to reconcile the devastation with the desire to see another day? “Oz” gives the answer that despite devastating conditions, humans are hardwired to survive and continue the struggle, whatever it may be. The show also gives credence to the idea that there are individuals who thrive on suffering, those who enjoy violence for violence’s own sake, and people who are truly twisted and bizarre. To be a human is to witness the outrageous.

Certainly, “Oz” has its downfalls. Some of the storylines are bizarre and ill planned giving the effect that one is watching a soap opera. This is only at its worst though, generally the show avoids that feeling. However, given the high shock of the graphic nature of “Oz”, the show avoids sentimentalism for sensationalism’s sake while having the pitfall of overindulgence.

“Oz” will haunt you and leave you feeling psychologically tried. Witnessing a severe portrayal of depraved humanity is not an easy undertaking. I often wondered who exactly watched the show at the time of its airing from 1997-2001 but I suppose one could wonder why I watched this show in 2015.

A society can be viewed by how it treats its prison population. The purpose of prison should be to segregate those who dysfunctionally participate in society and provide them with either an opportunity to improve themselves as citizens of a country, or to ensure that they cannot participate in society because they are too dangerous. “Oz” asks us to suspend our disbelief that we could like any of these individuals who have trespassed against society and possibly see them for their humanity beyond the scope of the worst of their actions.