Crucibles, Not Comfort

Magic is imagination’s song. Crafted by skillful hands, inspired by able minds, it leaps the gulf between what CAN’T BE and what IS. Cynics dismiss it. Fate undoes it. But with passion, hard work, and will, the future manifests from nothing. It’s not easy, but then, miracles never are… That tale is ours. We craft it every day we are alive. For every day is magical, even the bad ones. ESPECIALLY the bad ones, for they teach us to be strong.

Why faerie tales? Because such tales inspire us. They remind us to see gold within straw, to recognize the prince within the beast. They may invent, but they do not lie. to speak them is to tell the truth, even in the midst of fantasy.

– Satyros Phil Brucato, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium (2003)

Deliria Small___________________

To put those words in context: At the time I wrote them, I was broke, essentially homeless, freshly divorced from both my then-wife and White Wolf Game Studio, staring down the barrel of over $50,000 in debt, and preparing to leave the city I’d called home for ten years and start off in a virtually unknown new city where the only people I knew were two ex-girlfriends, one of whom had raped me several months before.

I survived that time. I’ve made a lot of magick since, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna stop now.

For over 20 years, I have crafted defiantly optimistic fantasy. And while the “optimistic” part is gonna be really goddamned hard right now, the “defiant” part has dug in its heels.

As I keep reminding myself today, our faerie tales originated in famines, wars, and persecutions. Our myths were forged around firesides where imagination fed flames against the dark. Those comic-book heroes we revere were created by Jews and “others” on the cusp of the Holocaust or in the burning times of America’s civil-rights war. Motown and Stax rose out of Jim Crow’s segregation, while punk rock and hip-hop blasted out of urban wastelands where its founders’ world was being literally torn down around their heads.

Art thrives in crucibles, not in comfort.

Fuck you, America. I’ve survived Nixon, Reagan, the Cold War, both Bushes, and five years of shitty jobs in one of the worst neighborhoods Richmond had to offer. But I came up in punk rock, in neighborhood brawls and family abuse and a ton of other shit as well.

As my sweetheart Coyote Ward once said, Satyrs don’t break easy. And I am not alone.

So let’s do this, motherfuckers.

It’s on.

Posted in Gaming, My Work, Politics & Society, Uncategorized, writing | Leave a comment

Trumpmerica

Day One in Trumpmerica: Three of my friends have already been attacked this morning. One of them is a veteran who works for the VA… but hey, she’s Black, so yee-fuckin-haw. I’ll bet the boys who assaulted her never carried a gun in the field for the USA, but now that open season has begun, nothing matters but the color of one’s skin.

At least one marriage I know of (not ours) has ended in the last day, and a long-term relationship (again, not ours) died last night. My feed is full of suicide notes, and I’m sure at least one of those people won’t live to see next week. An old lover’s workplace is on lockdown; she’s a veteran too, by the way. A longtime member of our Seattle tribe has chosen to join the enemy, and another is returning to Standing Rock next month, where I fear for his chances at survival.

Congratulations, America, and damn you to hell.

upsidedownflag

If you voted for Trump, this is on you. Every drop of blood shed, every body on the ground or in the trees, every scream, every tear, every burning building and broken home, each suicide and hate-crime, every Black or Brown or Asian, Indigenous or queer or female or disabled person or progressive or otherwise “other” human being who suffers and dies from lack of care or naked violence – this is all on you.

I’d shame you, but you have no shame.

There’s plenty of blame to go around: the DNC, the GOP, Big Box Media, even my fellow progressives who would rather score points than come together… but really, Trump voters, ultimately it’s on you.

I’ll skip any appeals to your humanity, because humans often suck. We CAN be better than we so often are, but y’all had that chance this week and instead you chose hatred, fear, bigotry, boastful ego and willful ignorance.

You elected President Grabherbythepussy. Congratulations.

If there are any of you left among my Facebook friends, get out. Family, friend or so-called “fan,” we’re done. What you chose is anathema to everything I have ever been, have ever worked and fought for, have ever created in any venue in any medium. You voted against me and mine, you chose to hurt people simply for existing, and if you knew anything about me, you’d know I don’t forgive that shit. Go burn in the hell you just made.

To my fellow progressives: Congratulations. This is on us too. We got smug and stupid and so wrapped up in our own impenetrable self-righteousness that we refused to see that Yes, it CAN Happen Here. We scored points, but they won the game. The white folks who can pass the new standards of Trumpmerica won’t bear the worst of the coming age, but if you think this will be like the Bush and Reagan years, events have already proved you wrong.

Because so many Trump supporters consider themselves “christians,” I will commend you to Matthew 25: 31-46 and remind you that when Jesus said, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” he was referring to you.

I guess I should feel compassionate about your pain. Right now, I’m sickened and I hope your damnation hurts. Your actions have hurt me and mine, and I don’t forget that kind of shit.

It’s morning in Trumpmerica.

We turned a corner last night, and I’d be lying if I said I saw anything but fire.

trump-kkk

Posted in Politics & Society, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Guns, Media, and Money

The United States was built upon five things that are biting us hard in the ass right now:

Guns, Media and Money

1. A literally religious mythology of divine favor.
2. A culture founded entirely upon buying and selling goods.
3. A revolution conducted by eloquent idealists who also owned slaves.
4. The slavery and genocide of everyone who dared to get in the way of the first three elements.
5. A conflux of mass media, technology and literacy unknown in the world until that point.

That mass-media – from broadsides to newspapers to TV to the internet – has sold Americans the impression that we are the biggest, best, and brightest thing ever to appear beneath the sun. There’s just enough truth in our mythology to seem credible, and so people who really should know better still believe the nonsense we’ve been – and continue to be – taught about American exceptionalism.

Thanks to the death-by-plague of the majority of people who would have opposed us, America has grown up in a land of phenomenal space and resources, with few neighboring nations to hinder the nation’s expansion. The nations that did oppose U.S. expansion were hindered by ocean passages, superior technology, infighting, and often a combination of the three. The sheer SIZE of the U.S. territories also make us damned near impossible to conquer – hell, we learned as much when we went to war with ourselves. And so, the U.S. grew up in virtual isolation, having the upper hand in negotiations with rival powers that we could either outlast (the European nations), outgun (the Native American nations), or outspend (both).

The U.S. was also one of the first cultures to support mass literacy, regardless of class… as long as you were white and male, anyway. And our expansion coincided with the birth and spread of mass-publication technology in the 1800s – a technology that helped to spread our myths and teach our kids that those lies were true. Propaganda, then, became our religion… and our business, too. From Jefferson to Hearst to Disney to Fox (ironically, a foreign-owned corporation), no one – not even Nazi Germany, who copped our best tricks – has been better at selling the propaganda of national identity than us.

All of the Americas were “settled” (read: conquered) by Europe as a business venture, first and foremost. Anything went, as long as it made money for Spain, England, France, Portugal, or Holland. Slavery? Sure. Genocide? Fine by me! All American nations – not merely the U.S. – were forged with commerce as the highest priority. And because we all had enough distance between us and our European “masters,” we were all able to eventually either rebel and declare ourselves independent, or else play the Good Kids (Canada) and get the best of both worlds.

In all of this, guns, media and money have played decisive roles. And no one has ever embraced guns, media and money the way the United States has done.

We claim to be “a Christian nation,” but guns, media and money have always been the United States’ true god. To us, our “freedom” involves unfettered worship and indulgence of them all.

And the saddest part about that? We truly could be greater than we ever thought was possible… but there are still far too many people who are emotionally and financially invested in our anger, ignorance, division, and fear.

Posted in Politics & Society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Art, Ignorance, and Educational Anathema

Man, this video pisses me off.

Under the aegis of Prager U – a right-wing think-tank disguised as “the best ideas of the best minds” – a smug jackass named Robert Florczak throws a self-important, historically vacant hissie fit about “How… the beautiful [art] come to be reviled and bad taste come to be celebrated.” Assuming the mantle of an “art expert,” Mr. Florczak “explains the history and the mystery behind this change and how it can be stopped and even reversed.”

His presentation is an infuriating heap of smug, steaming bullshit.

Art - EARTH GODDESS, THE

“Earth Goddess,” by Robert Florczak. Y’know, Mr. Florczak, you might make a better case if your own work wasn’t trite plagiarized mashups of other people’s art.


Mr. Florczak‘s video fails Art History 101 on several very important levels: And before I get into them, I’ll point out something that should be obvious but clearly isn’t: ART, ARTISTS, and ARTISTIC EXCELLENCE ARE NOT CONFINED TO, OR DEFINED BY THE SO-CALLED “WESTERN WORLD.” By using this as his cornerstone and introduction, Mr. Florczak reveals his cultural blind spot, exposes his right-wing bias, and undercuts his own thesis because a big part of “what happened” is that “art” stopped being defined by what a bunch of European dudes did.

Now then… where to start…? Oh, I know…

“What happened” to art? World Wars I and II happened. Industrialization happened. The Enlightenment ideals falling apart in a mess of blood and horror happened. Mass media happened. Recording technology happened. A LOT of shit happened. And as any art historian whose understanding of art goes further than making cheap-shot videos on the internet would understand, art reflects the human condition. The human condition had a collection of radical meltdowns in the 20th century, and part of the ENTIRE IDEA of 20th century avant-garde art is to reflect those meltdowns and the things they say about the human condition.

That’s what modern artists spent roughly 100 years writing about, talking about, and expressing in their art: the idea that the human condition itself was being shaken to its core, and that shakeup was revealing things that previous generations and their art had kept hidden from public view.

Anyone who claims to be a fucking historian of art knows that. Again, this is Art History 101. And he not only failed it, he conveyed his ignorance to other people as supposed wisdom. And as someone who has studied art history, who has taught art history, and whose living has been based in the arts for almost 40 years, that shit just pisses me off.

As for that happy horseshit about artists being all fine and noble in all the things they expressed:

1. Like hell they did. Ever hear of Goya? Kyd? Greek satyr plays?  Pompeii pottery? Commedia dell’arte? The Decadents? The “floating world”? Marquis de Sade? That stuff was every bit as bawdy, obnoxious, ugly, and often obscene as anything dreamed up by Karen Finley or Bob Flannigan, and sometimes worse. Check out Goya’s “disasters of war” series sometime, and see what a “real” artist did when confronted with the inescapable savagery of the human animal on a rampage. Even Leonardo and Shakespeare did porn and gore – that’s just not the stuff folks tend to remember when they revere the name of Art.

 

Art - Goya

Goya’s “Why” – one of the less-disturbing images from his “Disasters of War” series.

2. Avant-garde art’s primary intention involved tearing that idea down and replacing it with something more honest. The “standards of beauty” that Mr. Florczak crows about had not only become prisons of political favoritism and academic disdain, THEY WERE FAKE. Modern art was an intentionally outrageous rebellion against a grinning falsity that obscured the human truths that modern artists strove to expose.

Deconstruction was the goddamned POINT.

Those false standards also – as I ranted about a few minutes earlier – reflected an academic tradition based in a specific strain of European male achievements. Women were almost invariably shut out, and the artistic traditions of China, Persia, Japan, Egypt, India, the multitudes of Native American, Asian, and African cultures, even the “low art” of Europe itself – traditions that predated the “European classical mode” by centuries or even millennia – were either ignored or relegated to “primitivism.”

Even in the 20th century, when those artistic traditions began appearing in European and North American art galleries, they tended to be viewed as “primitive” because their standards of aesthetics and craft differed from the European classical mode.

 

Art - Benin mask
Part of the “ugliness” that Mr. Florczak laments involves the influx of other traditions and other standards from other cultures. And much as folks like Mr. Florczak might whinge about it, that influx revitalized western art traditions too.

To hold a single standard to “art” that’s gauged by a deliberately exclusionary boys’ club is not only racist, sexist and classist, it’s willfully ignorant as well.

And the “Pollock” joke: Jeeze, where to start? Rather than correcting the ignorance of his students regarding Jackson Pollock’s work, Mr. Florczak employs a manipulative “gotcha” that misses the entire point and context of what Pollock was about:

Jackson Pollock – like Warhol, Goya, Picasso, and other artists before him – was a classically trained commercial artist who felt constrained by the formalism required in his work. His “Jack the Dripper” stage began out of sheer frustration and Jungian exploration into his own psyche; once he realized that he was expressing something that his formalism had repressed, he started deliberately tearing that formalism apart in a series of ecstatic and often drunken rages across the canvas. Tearing formalism apart is what Pollock was trying to accomplish, and his art was – and remains – respected not for being random spatters that look like a painter’s apron but for being the deliberate deconstruction of formal standards and techniques in the service of an established artist’s raw emotion.

And yeah – that knowledge is actually kind of important if you want to discuss modern art and not come across like an idiot. but rather than TEACH HIS STUDENTS – y’know, as in, doing his fucking job – he passed along snide ignorance in place of actual knowledge.

That’s like a math teacher making fun of algebra because he disagrees with the way it works.

Art- Jackson

And that’s why shit like this makes me angry. Not because I’m a huge fan of avant-garde art (I rather like some of it, and really hate a lot of it), but because it spreads and enforces ignorance. People like Mr. Florczak are supposed to know better than this, and rather than educating people about what modern art actually MEANS, they keep people in the dark so that they can score points.

From an educational standpoint, and an artistic one, that is anathema.

 

Art- Finley

Karen Finley performing “Groceries.” And yes, this actually DOES have artistic significance.

Yeah, a lot of stupid bullshit has been peddled in the name of “modern art.” And yes, the commercialization of American avant-garde art was ironically underwritten by the CIA, who was using sponsorship of the American avant-garde scene as a form of cultural propaganda. (Another bit of art history that Mr. Florczak really should have talked about, and instead ignored.) A whole lot of rank bullshit has been peddled as “art” to people who really should know better.

 


But the thing is – and this is why I am angry about this video – people should know better. People deserve to know better. And smug garbage like this substitutes elitist ignorance for informed knowledge, which keeps people from learning what art is really all about, and realizing that even the craziest kinds of art actually MEAN SOMETHING when you know what the artist was trying to say.

 

Posted in Art, Politics & Society | Leave a comment

The Path With a Future

I have myself felt suicidal – felt trapped and hopeless and without a shred of a future.

Despair

At that time, I was stuck in a decaying marriage, working two shitty dead-end jobs, trapped by poverty with my then-wife in a building we called Domestic Abuse Central because getting drunk and beating the shit out of their wives, husbands, kids, partners and each other is all our neighbors ever seemed to do. I had been forced to abandon my dream of being an actor, had been kicked out of a band I’d help form, and was constantly overdrawing my bank account. My friends were moving away, my body was falling apart from stress and violence, my student loans were piling up and I lacked the funds to pay them, and my paycheck was spent soon after I deposited it… sometimes – thanks to overdraft fees – before I even got it. I felt so hopeless and frustrated and full of rage that I was in brawls several times a month, and one night I almost decked my wife and became everything I despised. After my then-boss “convinced” a doctor to make all evidence of a workplace injury – one that pains me to this day – “disappear” so my employer could dodge a lawsuit and refuse to pay me for the time that doctor told me to take off from work, I found myself seriously stepping into traffic hoping someone would hit me and end my misery.

That was 25 years ago.

And if I HAD given in, if I had been hit by a car, if I had gotten what I thought I wanted back then, you would never have heard of me, and none of the hundreds of books, stories, essays, articles, blogs and games I have published since those days – and more importantly, all the lives that have been influenced, changed, and I’m told even saved by that work – would never have existed as they do.

I understand despair. I have felt it many times in my life. Sometimes I still do. I tell ya, man, after I left White Wolf in 1999 and wound up unable to write for over a year, wearing a fucking polyester apron at a fucking $6.25-an-hour job at MediaPlay, and wondering if I had just HAD my moment and it was gonna be all downhill from there, I felt like that again.

THAT was 16 years ago.

My friend, your choice is yours to make. No one else can make it for you.

But if you make a choice that can never be undone, you’ll never know what MIGHT have been if you had chosen differently.

And neither will the rest of the world – a world you might have changed if you had chosen differently.

Ultimately, you’re the only one who can decide.

Me, I vote for you choosing to live.

I’m sure as hell glad I did.

*hugs*

Sadness

PS: Thank you for speaking up and reaching out. I’m glad you spoke up about your pain in public now, rather than let the rest of the world know about it when it was too late to help you.

Like I said, I hope you choose the path with a future.

________________________________

(This post was a comment I had left for a friend who had announced that he is contemplating suicide. I thought maybe it might help other people too, so if you want, please feel free to share and/ or link this post.)

Posted in Bio & Interviews, Politics & Society, Sex & Gender, Spirituality & Reflection | 1 Comment

Seeing the Flames

On Fire

(I made this comment as part of a longer thread about sexism; my friend Sherry Baker turned it into a meme. Thank you, Sherry!)

Posted in Politics & Society, Sex & Gender, Spirituality & Reflection | 1 Comment

New Patreon Update: Powerchords Previews

My Patreon page has a new update of sponsor-exclusive content – in this case, a few preview pages from my work-in-progress POWERCHORDS: MUSIC, MAGICK & URBAN FANTASY. Despite an all-too-lengthy gestation process, Powerchords is in the layout-proofing stage now, and should be going to press very soon, once Sherry Baker and I bash out all of the inevitable bugs.

Powerchords cover

Powerchords cover, by Sandra Damaiana Buskirk, starring Inky Grrl

For folks who have not seen it yet, my Patreon page has featured exclusive previews, short stories, novel excerpts, never-before-seen episodes of my late, lamented webcomic Arpeggio, and even an MP3 from the soundtrack album of the forthcoming rock opera Rite of Jupiter, for which I played bass guitar on several tracks.

Last month, sponsors also got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the also-in-progress Dreamdance Oracle Deck, which I am working on with artist Stephanie Pui-Mon Law. That glimpse included an excerpt, sketches, and a brief overview of the project.

As my blog readers may or may not know, I’m a full-time professional creative who’s forever juggling a half-dozen projects or more. My Patreon page helps me cover bills and rent in between paydays for my various projects – paydays which, as any professional artistic contractor can attest, come at milestones instead of set dates, at intervals which can sometimes reach six months or more in between payments.

I often allude to, and feature excerpts from, my various projects here on this blog. If you want to know more, however, and see more stuff than I typically share, receive exclusive content, and want to help support the hypercreative malcontent behind my various blog posts, come on by and check out what I’m up to over there.
Thanks, enjoy, and watch this space…

Cheers,

-Satyr

Dreamdance Stage

“The Stage,” by Stephanie Pui-Mon Law & Satyros Phil Brucato, from The Dreamdance Oracle (c) 2016

 

Posted in Art, Gaming, Music, My Work, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Silence or Violence: Logan, Suicide, and the Culture of Masculine Silence

Our friend Logan killed himself today. I wish we had known how badly he was hurting. We just spent most of this past weekend with him, and had no idea things were nearly this bad. If we had known, maybe we could have helped. But maybe not. These things don’t come from nowhere.

Logan Masterson

Logan Masterson, author, friend, R.I.P.

It’s kind of a no-shit thing to say in hindsight that Logan had struggled with depression. Thing is, many people do, and never take their pain as far as this. It’s also kind of a no-shit statement to say that I wish I had known he was hurting so badly. And the problem is, he did what so many people – men especially – do: He played the Strong Silent Type until it killed him.

And when he finally did reach out, hours before the end, he got smacked in the face for doing so. Repeatedly. In public, on his Facebook. By his so-called “friends.”

Maybe this is just because I am so goddamned hurt and angry and sad right now, but that’s the part we really need to talk about.

Bullshit, read the first comment on his final cry for help. That is so defeatist. You don’t always have a choice in what happens, but you get to decide how you react.

Work through it, said the next one. Things always gets better!

I’m sorry it feels that way, said another. I feels that way for a lot of us. I get that this was supposed to be commiseration, not criticism, but it doesn’t take much to read it otherwise. And if you’re so depressed that suicide looks like a viable option, then you’re reading things that way to begin with.

Other comments suggested that he go for a walk in Nature – you’ll get a better perspective. More crudely, one told him been there got over that. This was the second-to-last comment he saw before he decided that enough was enough. The very last (I imagine – I don’t know his exact time of death or the final post that Logan brought himself to read) was more sympathetic, but ultimately futile in nature.

No wonder he figured he was better off dead.

When I got the news a few hours ago, I was cleaning house for a friend of mine who’s a retired therapist. When I told him how I wished I had known what was going on in Logan’s head this past weekend, and that I wished I could have helped, my friend got angry. “Statistically,” he said, “far more women talk about suicide, and attempt suicide, then men. But four times as many men than women actually DO kill themselves.” I checked his statement as I’ve written this down, and he was right.

AFSP Infographic

It is absolutely not an accident that so many military vets commit suicide. The bigger wonder is that even more of them do not.

I’ve written before about how the toxic culture of masculinity demands that men “man up” and “don’t be a pussy/ whiner/ little bitch” when we are hurting. I’ve also noted how “invisible” illnesses and conditions like depression are stigmatized, blamed upon the person who suffers from them, and considered one more failing on the part of a person who’s already considered “weak.” And I’ve written about how perceived “weakness” is the cardinal sin in the masculine creed, a sin so awful that it turns a man into prey – into someone not worthy of being considered a man at all. As a man who has struggled with my own anger, identity, and masculinity issues, I know that it is way past time for a new mode of thinking about our selves, our genders, and the massive case of cultural PTSD we collectively suffer from as human beings. This culture, these ideas, our PTSD – they are literally killing us, and killing the world around us.

Today, it killed my friend. And I didn’t even know that was a problem because he didn’t feel he could fucking speak about it until it was too late… at which point, he got slapped for doing so. Because really, how dare he, right? What bullshit. He should have just gotten over it.

In conversations over just these last few days, before I had any idea how relevant the subject would be right now, I’ve been pointing out that culturally, men are not only not taught healthy ways of dealing with our emotions, we are actively taught UNHEALTHY ways of dealing with them. We are expected to be stoic and brave and “strong” even when we are hurting at soul-deep levels. We’re told to be “commanding,” “dominant,” “assertive,” not “wishy-washy,” “wussy” or “limp,” no matter how we feel inside. Women, too, are told to “keep it in and be strong for us,” but men are socially emasculated for being otherwise,  with no acceptable outlet for our emotions save violence, sex, intoxication, or sports… which kinda combine all three. And yeah – the sexual connotations (and implied misogyny) of all of those impressions are absolutely part of the equation, too.

Shhhh

“Be quiet – big boys don’t cry.”

It’s not my place to write here about why Logan took his life, but I know that it had to do with him being made to feel as though he’d failed as a man. Failed so badly that he had no choice but to stop being anyone at all.

Now, it’s easy to say, I guess, that we should just smash the patriarchy. That men expect ourselves to be superhuman, and that men need to change what’s in our heads before we can be healthy. And those statements are not incorrect.

But here’s the kicker: All those comments about “getting over it,” and Logan being full of “bullshit” for expressing his pain?

They came from women.

It was men (and one woman) who expressed support for Logan when he finally called for help.

It was women who told him he was being weak.

On our way home after I picked my partner Sandi up after work, a few hours after we had learned about Logan’s death, we were talking about how men are not socially allowed to express pain and weakness. Women are, indisputably, treated poorly for “being too emotional” (translation: weak), but women are still allowed to feel something other than anger, joy or victory without having their identity shredded for expressing emotions. When I pointed out that men have very few safe spaces to be raw about anything but rage, Sandi said something along the lines of “But men can be vulnerable with women.”

No, I told her, not always. We really can’t. Because here’s the thing: We may or may not be safe expressing our feelings to women… and if we’re not, then we usually find out the hard way after it’s too late.

As I told her, I had one now-ex-lover tell me how I was being “needy and bleedy” the last time we got together, and so she didn’t find me attractive anymore. (A friend of mine had died a few days earlier, but I was supposed to be cheerful and strong and sexy, I guess.) Another told me how “your energy was totally inappropriate”after I’d hugged her a little too long… two weeks after I had been raped and did not yet understand quite what had happened to me; when I told her I had been hurting that night and needed contact, she snapped “That’s not my problem. You should have had a handle on it.” One now-former wife got angry at me for getting on Prozac during a hard bout with depression… because I had not done it sooner, and so had been ” a burden” on her. From one side, I absolutely see how those women felt uneasy with my expressions of vulnerability… and yet, like most men, I’d never been taught HOW to be fucking vulnerable in anything resembling a healthy fashion, and so it’s not exactly rocket science to figure out why I kinda fucked it up.

It’s a nice little social illusion that women provide safe space for men to be vulnerable. The reality is, that’s often not the case. A man – and this is true of gay men as well as “straight” men (yet more pervasive toxic social messaging there!) – has no idea where, or if, he has safe space to be vulnerable about emotions. We are taught to suppress our feelings until we die inside or explode. And so, all too often, silence or violence (to one’s self or to others) is the only expression that feels safely “masculine” and “strong.”

Do I even need to point out how utterly fucked that is? And how much harm it inflicts upon everyone involved?

We need better than this. All of us need it.

We need to speak, and to hear, and to act, more carefully with one another, regardless of gender.

We need to be more compassionate, and more aware that we don’t know what’s going on in one another’s heads and hearts.

We seriously need to STOP MAKING A FUCKING SPORT out of shredding one another in public for fun.

We must stop holding each other to, and stop teaching our children to expect, impossible standards with unhealthy results.

And when someone cries out – regardless of their gender and our thoughts of how they “should” be acting in that time of crisis – we goddamned well should fucking LISTEN. And not make it about ourselves.

It’s too late for our friend Logan. Rest well, my friend, and I hope whatever’s waiting for you over the next hill is better than what you endured on this one.

Now, maybe next time, we could all pay a bit more attention, have a bit more compassion, and stop expecting men to be strong and silent if they want to remain among the company of men.
Weeping

 

 

Posted in Politics & Society, Sex & Gender, Uncategorized | 64 Comments

Coyote Needs a Dog (GoFundMe Campaign)

Coyote Ashley Ward is one of us.

12381163_10206978674078732_1642873427_o

Coyote Ashley Ward, photo by Sandra Buskirk

 

By “us,” I mean, she’s a badass everyday hero – a mom, a lover, a survivor of the sorts of everyday battles you don’t see in the movies. Despite an array of physical and neurological challenges that she’s had since before she was born, Coyote brings love and insight and power and joy to her small corner of our world.

Over ten years ago, back when we first met, she helped me get through one of the worst weekends of my life. Since then, she’s become one of my favorite people on earth.

 

 

 

Right now, she and her family need help. They are conducting a GoFundMe campaign to raise money so that Coyote – who is battling bone cancer – can get a trained service dog to help her and her family get through the days.

Please help me help them.

Thank you.
______________________________

Hi! My name is Coyote. Some of you know me by my legal name: Ashley Ward.

I’m going to train a service dog for myself, with the oversight of a local service dog trainer. Friends and family have been asking me to do fundraising so they can help out, so that’s what this is for🙂 The money raised here will go to the trainer, and into an emergency fund in case of emergency vet visits, and to help pay for mobility equipment (such as one of the Bold Lead Designs mobility harnesses).

 

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Cat’s Story: Straight, Inc. and Why I Despise Nancy Reagan

The day before yesterday, I posted the essay “Good Riddance, You Brutalizing Hag,” about my experiences with Nancy Reagan’s pet project, Straight Inc., and the damage that it did. In that article, I said that the things that happened to my girlfriend in the program were not my story to tell. She decided, for reasons of healing, to tell that story. Here it is, posted verbatim with her approval. The rest of this post is in Cathi’s own words. It is long, but important.
_______________________________________

One November day during my Senior year of High School at Osbourn Park in Manassas, VA I disappeared. It was during choir – a class I had to AUDITION for and one which I enjoyed. We were getting ready for the Christmas concert. I also during this time was trying out for the lead in Sganerelle with my Drama class. I was really enjoying going to school – despite the problems I was having sleeping at night which caused me to be sleepy in my Senior English class. I had my schedule just the way I wanted it with the classes I wanted to take – including being a teacher’s aide for my Freshman English teacher Mr. Shirley. I was taking Sociology – which was one of my true interests, drama, choir, Algebra II, Earth Science … and looking forward to graduating in the Spring. I had NO idea what was in my future when I got the hall pass to go to the office where my mother was waiting to take me out of school.

Cathi 1986

(Senior year photo of the author)

She had my 19 year old brother (and best friend) in the van, which was rather confusing. I could not understand what was going on and I was told that we were going to check him into a drug rehab. Little did I know that my mom’s plans included putting ME in as well. See, she had attended some sort of seminar in the weeks previous that PROMISED her that they would change her kids. If we were making choices that she didn’t like, if we were using alcohol or drugs, if we were defiant, if we were … well, basically anything other than EXACTLY what she wanted us to be then this organization would “fix” us for her. I don’t know if my brother ACTUALLY had an addiction to anything other than LARPs and King’s Hawaiian Bread, but I do know that he had smoked some dope, drank, and maybe snorted coke. I do know that all I had EVER done was smoke some dope and drink – and our PARENTS ***BOUGHT*** the wine. Butch was old enough to be “grandfathered in” to buy beer in Virginia since he hit 18 a few months before they changed the law. But I don’t think that he had ever done anything else. Had he possibly tripped on acid? I don’t honestly know. What I DID know is that I had no problems. I occasionally took a BENEDRYL (which *I* referred to as Bennies) to help me sleep. But in terms of illegal drugs, I had just passed around a joint or a bowl with the rest of our JOINT friends. So I never thought that my mother might be hoodwinked into thinking that I belonged in a drug treatment center. I figured that a REAL drug treatment center would know the difference. I didn’t know how WRONG I was. My main “sin” in my mother’s eyes was that I wanted to go to VCU for college – which is where my 21 year old boyfriend, Phil was studying Drama – instead of the all-girl Junior college in Missouri that SHE wanted me to attend (since it would take me far away from my boyfriend).
Hag and Di

(UPI photo from the visit of Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana to the Springfield location of Straight, Inc.)

We walked into this nondescript building on Backlick Road in Springfield that actually was a converted warehouse. It had a nice lobby from what I could remember and there was this HUGE color photograph of Nancy Reagan and Princess Diana of Wales framed on the wall. My brother was herded into one small room with two teenaged boys and I was taken into another with two teenaged girls. I have no idea where Mom went. There was three blue plastic chairs in the room and a cheap desk. It all started fairly friendly enough with small talk and then they got into the real purpose: the interrogation. They asked me what drugs I had ever done. I told them pot and wine. I was told that I was not being truthful – that they KNEW I had done so much more than that or why else was I there? I *thought* I was there to discuss my BROTHER and I told them that. That’s when I was told that he would be admitted but that my parents were putting ME in as well. I was so confused, and they started the interrogation again. I was asked for DETAILED information about my sexual history – which included one guy … my then-boyfriend. I was asked if I had ever had an abortion and was told that I was lying when I said no, I was on birth control pills. I was asked if I had ever had anal sex (the answer was no). I was asked again about what drugs I had ever taken. I was asked about prescription drugs and OTC drugs. But no matter what I said, I was told I was lying. They even told me that my BROTHER had told them that I was using coke (not a fucking chance … I did my 11th grade research paper on the negative effects of cocaine on the body and how you could go into cardiac arrest on the first, tenth or thousand and tenth time you ingested it). I was told that he had said that I was having sex with the teenaged guys my mother “adopted” and who moved in with us – all friends of my brother and I. I’ll bet it would come as a real shock to Billy (Oron Wolf) and Steve and John that I was supposedly hopping from one bed to another once the lights went out. I knew that Butch would never say shit like that, but the two teens in the room with me talked rapidly and before I could get out a denial they had another accusation ready. One question really took the cake, though. They asked me how many times I had had sex with Butch. Wow. By this time I was fuming and I told them to get out of my way, I was LEAVING. Fat chance. I was forcibly held in my chair and told we could do this the easy way or the hard way, but that I WAS being admitted and that my mother had already left the building and gone home.

Blue Chair

(Blue industrial chair, of the type used in the Straight Inc. offices. Kids might spend as long as 16 or 18 hours in such chairs per day.)

At that point I felt more than mere abandonment. I felt more than mere betrayal. I can’t even put into words the utter despair I felt. They then brought in an older teen who instructed me to strip. I was given a cavity search. With no gloves, and lots of comment on how I was SO SKINNY I must be doing either coke or heroin or BOTH. Now, ANY person who knew me when I was 16/17 would tell you that I was just thin. I was 1” short to go into modeling but had the classic model’s build naturally … I was all of a size 3 if not a size 0 and 5 foot 7 inches tall. I ate at least four meals a day (six on the weekends) and just had a fast metabolism. But that thin body with my small bones was proof positive that I was a junkie – despite no needle marks in my body (I must have been shooting up in between my toes). Once the strip/cavity search was done I was allowed to get dressed and some chick put her middle finger through my belt loop in the back of my jeans and then twisted it and put her fingers down the back of my jeans, holding onto the waist band. My months of torment and torture had begun.

I was walked out to the back of this HUGE room with girls on the left-hand side and boys on the right, all sitting in blue plastic chairs facing the front where this guy was sitting on a tall black and chrome bar stool. My brother had been brought out with me so there the two us stood – with strangers sticking their hands down our pants. Eventually, after maybe 5 minutes standing at the back of the room, the person sitting on the tall bar stool in the front of the room introduced us and we saw an EXPLOSION of kids waving their hands in the air so violently that it scared me. The chairs were moving all over the place as these weirdos just sat there and FLAILED. I had no idea what the fuck was going on, but I even more decided I wanted no part of this. I had been told that if I was “innocent” of being a drug addict they would know and I’d be back home within 2 weeks – and I believed them. So I determined there and then that I would just tell the truth and they would have no reason for keeping me there. I knew I would be going home. I was wrong. I was sat on the front row and just watched in bemusement at the insanity that was going on around me. Mostly it was a bunch of kids flailing around and getting up to either relate how fucked up they were or to yell at another kid telling them to “get real”. Then the guy at the front (I think it was Brady) called for a song and walked off while someone else walked up to the front of the group of kids. This went on for hours. If I had to go to the bathroom, I couldn’t just get up and go, I had to put my hand out straight in front of me and then someone would come and ask what I needed. I was told to hold it until dinner.
Straight Inc Build

(Straight Inc. “drop-in center,” Cincinnati , OH, 1980s)

 

At the end of the day, I was beltlooped again and walked out to a vehicle that would be taking me to my first “host home”. It actually was not too far away from the warehouse. This happened at about 8:00 pm. Once we got to the house, I was informed that I could ONLY speak to my “oldcomers” or the house parents, I could not read anything – not even a cereal box or a pizza box, I had to perform a “Moral Inventory” every night, I was to take a shower with some girl standing on the other side of the shower curtain, I was given some ratty old underwear and pajamas and we were locked into a room at night until it was time to get up to go back to the building. I can remember the first night somewhat – they ordered pizza with anchovies on it and I was told that I could eat the pizza or I could go to bed hungry (dinner at the building was not terribly filling). I was given some other girl’s clothes the next day and brought back to the building at 6:00 in the morning so that the oldcomers could get to school and the parents could get to work. I was deposited into a VERY tiny room with a bunch of other girls and we all had our PBJ sandwiches and maybe a piece of fruit for lunch. I remember the room had one of those half-doors and we could see the guys coming in past our room to go to their own tiny room until it was time to form a newcomer chain to go into “group” in the huge warehouse room.

They apparently had told my parents that they would keep up with my medications – I was on a tri-cyclic antidepressant (Tofranil) at the time – so towards the end of the first night I was called up to a medication cart and given the medication. That didn’t last very long. They “decided” that I didn’t actually have major depression, I was “just” a druggie so the antidepressants had to go. They stopped them abruptly. I’m lucky I didn’t have a heart attack, since that is one of the dangers if you either take an overdose (as I found out much later) or if you stop the medication suddenly. You have to taper off the medication in order for it to be safe … and that was not something Straight, Inc. had time to do. It was one indication that the program had no medical or psychiatric oversight. When I asked why I was no longer getting medication, I was told I didn’t really “need” it and that it was a part of my “druggie past” as a “drug of choice”. What the Everloving FUCK?

Days “in the building” were the same with only minor variations. I have blocked out a great deal of what happened during the day to day scream-fest that being “in group” was. It always consisted of sitting in blue plastic chairs for most of the day, flailing your arms about violently. The goal was to either flail enough to get called upon to share something or bring up something on someone else. The ultimate goal while “motivating” was to flail so hard that your fingers hit together with a snapping sound. That’s how you KNEW you were really “motivating”. There would be different shifts of “staff members” leading the “raps” – and most of these staff members were no older than I was (17) and some were younger but all had one thing in common … they were former clients of Straight. They had received NO training, they had very little oversight in how they conducted the raps. Sometimes the kids called out other kids directly, but usually if you were going to get called out it was a sneak attack that started with “Where’s Cathi Jones?” from the staff member at the front. Or you would be standing up sharing something voluntarily when the staff member would spring the trap on you. So, whenever Staff would ask where you were specifically, it was a heart-pounding event. “Confronting” people involved a person standing there while person after person after person would flail about, get called on and then start screaming at the person being confronted.

straight-still-scream
(Production still from the Straight Inc. documentary Fix My Kid.)
In between raps we would sing … “The Rose”, “I’ve Got a Little Piece of Tin”, “American Pie” (with Whiskey and Rye changed to Water and Ice), “You Are My Sunshine”… a lot of songs and any reference to alcohol or drugs was removed from songs that referred to them. Some songs had been altered to fit Straight in their lyrics and some may have been thought up specifically for Straight. But the goal of the songs was twofold: keep the inmates occupied between raps so that nobody will HAVE a thought to get up and try to make a run for it and to fill up the time in between raps. While anyone was talking during rap, you had to either face them in your seat or face forward (if they were behind you) in an un-natural stiffness so that your back NEVER touched the back of the blue plastic chair you sat in. If you slouched even the tiniest bit, you got a fist shoved down your spine from the top of the chair back to the seat – knuckles poised to rasp down your spine.
We would take a break for lunch which was always a paper bag lunch that you had packed that morning. At that time you could ask to go to the bathroom – which was a fairly normal public restroom in that they had 2 stalls and sinks. The doors had been removed from the stalls, however, and the mirrors had also been removed. In order to use the bathroom on “First Phase Nothing” (and I’ll explain that “Nothing” along with other statuses in a bit) then you went to the bathroom with someone standing there watching you … always. Getting to the bathroom involved standing up, walking to the outer aisle of the row you were on, turning around and having someone stick their finger through your belt loop then walking behind you until you reached the stall where they would let go and watch or go back to get another person to take to the bathroom. Once you were done, the process would repeat in the reverse so that you could exit the stall, wash your hands and go back to your seat.
Now, I know that some people would ask “Why didn’t you just get up and make a run for it?” During regular meetings, there would be a group of people standing (all freaking day) arm’s length apart behind all of the chairs. It was called “The Wall” and was there to tackle anyone who tried to make a run for it. Keep in mind, this was a converted warehouse so they had linoleum over concrete as the floor. And tackling a runner was a full-contact event. Kids wound up with broken bones both from being tackled by a bunch of other kids or as a result of being the person tackling the person trying to escape. These kids on the wall were either kids who had advanced to “Second Phase” to be oldcomers and earned the right to go HOME at night (to be locked in their own bedrooms) and have newcomers to watch over or were First Phasers who had earned the dubious status of “Talk and Responsibilities”. Third Phasers were allowed to go to school or to work so they weren’t in the building unless they were too sick to go to school or work (and I’ve heard that the jobs were with businesses who contracted with Straight to get people to work for MUCH less than minimum wage).
Now, “Talk and Responsibilities” (or T & R) and the preceding status of “Talk” and the hideous “Nothing” were related to Friday and Monday nights and the “Open Meeting” (Friday) and “Closed Meeting” that parents came to. Friday nights and “Open Meeting”, the chairs the teens sat in were turned around and more chairs were brought in facing them. The other chairs were for family members. We would sit in our seats as the parents came in and took their seats and the microphones were brought in. If you earned “Nothing” (because you were resisting the brainwashing) then your parents would take the microphone as it was passed from person to person and stand up to tell you what a disappointment you were to them. When your parents stood up, YOU had to stand up as well. So you’re standing there and each parent relates how horrible you are. You are REQUIRED to speak into your own microphone after each parent belittled you and say the magic words of “I love you, Mom” or “I love you, Dad” before passing the microphone to the oldcomer who gave it to you and then sit back down once your parents were done speaking. If you earned “Talk” or “T & R”, your parents didn’t stand you up because you were going to be allowed to sit with them in a small group of your family, yourself and an oldcomer to relate an instance in your past when you used drugs or alcohol and how messed up that was and how you want to change. These interludes lasted about 5 to 10 minutes before you had to go back to “group” and sit back down while your parents went somewhere else in the building for Parents Rap. After the Open Meetings, each “side” (girls or boys) would scootch their chairs over into a wedge in one of the corners of the room and there would be an INTENSE “rap” whose purpose was to “confront” people who were “not getting real” and whose brainwashing was not “taking”. I had quite a few instances where I was confronted after Open Meeting … The usual form of this confrontation was someone literally getting within a few inches of you and SCREAMING at the top of their lungs into your face. You were not allowed to say anything back. You had to stand there and take person after person after person screaming at you. Open Meetings usually went on to at least midnight.
Fix My Kid
(Production still from the Straight Inc. documentary Fix My Kid.)

If the confrontations in the raps didn’t cause you to tell them what they wanted to hear then you would be up for consequences. Consequences could range quite a bit. The most severe consequences were 2 hours of sleep per night, 5 minute showers, 7 strokes with a hairbrush per day, no lotion or conditioner. Which ones you received and how many were up to the Staff and how much you were resisting the program. At one point, I was on ALL of them – at the same time. The 2 hours of sleep was done in “Shifts” and depending on how many oldcomers were in the house, you could be allowed as little as 15 minutes per attempt to sleep before you were sat up and watched to make sure you weren’t sleeping. I was informed that they program was required to allow the kids 2 hours of sleep per night as a minimum, but it DID NOT have to be 2 consecutive hours. So your amount of sleep was arbitrary. I never got more than 30 consecutive minutes during my consequences time to attempt to rest. Five minute showers were timed with a kitchen timer. Your shower would start once the water was running and you stepped in the shower. Once the five minutes was up, your water was shut off and you had to get out. If you still had soap or shampoo on your body, tough luck. You would get to live in the itchy soap scum until the following night when you could attempt another shower. Let’s just say that I can STILL perform a 5 minute shower if I need to. The trick is to get all wet, put shampoo in your hair and lather briefly then quickly wash your “stinky areas” before rinsing EVERYTHING off at once.

The other consequences should be pretty self-explanatory. Someone would literally count each stroke of the hairbrush or comb and remove it from your hand when the seven strokes were done. I have baby fine hair and psoriasis. After a month of “7 strokes” my hair had mats that had to be cut out (more on Straight haircuts later). I had weeping sores on my head from the psoriasis which oozed a sticky fluid which made the situation much worse. My skin was so dry it would crack and bleed. Needless to say, it was a painful experience and one designed specifically to break a person down physically, emotionally and mentally. In order to “get off consequences” you had to comply with the “sharing” part in group and tell them essentially what they wanted to hear. If you had to make shit up, you made shit up just to stop the pain. I don’t remember all the shit I made up just to satisfy the staff member who put me on consequences (since the staff member who inflicted the punishment was the only one who could remove it). I do remember that he was sick for a few days so he didn’t show up to the building and I was stuck. I also remember his name – it was Brady.

I don’t remember much about the dinners in the building. I can only remember two – tuna salad sandwiches and some vegetable soup with a side of an entire bagel with a hunk of cream cheese. That last one was actually filling and didn’t taste like ass. I can’t speak to the tuna salad – I *hate* cooked fish in every variety so I would eat whatever came on the side, try to mangle the sandwich so it looked like I had eaten something and drink my little cup of water. Let’s just say that dinners were not terribly memorable to me – except in the general sense of not being enough on a day to day basis.

 

So, the daily routine was: Get up, get dressed in whatever clothing you can find (more on clothing later), eat breakfast, make your bag lunch, go to the building, get put in Newcomer Hell, go into group, sit through raps where there was a LOT of verbal, psychological and emotional abuse (if it wasn’t directed at you it was directed at someone else), flail your arms over your head until your chair moves, move your chair back into a straight line, stand up and talk or get screamed at, eat lunch, have someone sticking their hands in the back of your pants, hold your bodily functions until lunch or dinner, sit with unnaturally erect posture at all times, and slowly lose your ever loving mind. Day in, day out. If you were really unlucky, you got to witness someone who was “acting out” get restrained. Picture, if you will, someone being grabbed by 6 people and CARRIED to an open area of linoleum over concrete flooring. Then, imagine that they are THROWN to the floor and you see people scrambling, wrestling, screaming. When the dust settles, you see someone with at least one person per limb, one at the head and one on their chest (if they’re LUCKY). Then they STAY on the floor for at least a couple of hours. Many kids wound up with broken limbs, broken ribs, cracked skulls, concussions from this treatment. And if you’re me … you can’t help but wonder when YOU are going to be thrown around like a rag doll. Is this what happens if the consequences they have you on don’t cause you to start lying your ass off? Is THAT the next step? Oh, and if someone gets a broken anything … good luck getting PERMISSION to have your injuries get looked at by a doctor. See, even getting an aspirin involves asking your oldcomer who asks the host parents who either make the oldcomer wait until morning or call a staff member (if the HOST PARENT deems it is a SERIOUS ENOUGH emergency) who would then have to call a SENIOR staff member and then MAYBE the “medical director” (who I suspect had no actual medical training). If your oldcomer is told to wait until morning, they must put in a REQUEST to a 5th phaser who would then put in a request to a staff member then to senior staff etc. Let’s just say that very few people received actual medical treatment. In fact, there was an epidemic of chicken pox that ran through the boys’ side while I was there and they simply put the poxed boys into a small room all day. I have no idea what they did in there, but I assumed they were at least allowed to lie down – which made me wish I could also come down with chicken pox. I never was restrained. My brother WAS. I cried … and was blasted FOR CRYING OVER HIS INJURIES, for crying over watching them savage my brother, for my helplessness and wanting to go over to him and check him out and hold him close. They broke his arm – I believe it was the left one, so at least he could write his MI every night.

 

Straight Restraint
(Undercover photo of “restraint” at a Straight Inc. facility.)
Now, you might imagine that once you got out of the building, life would at least quiet down. Nope. After you had showered and gotten into your PJ’s, and were locked into the bedroom (not kidding – it was LOCKED and had an alarm on it to boot so you better hope your host home doesn’t catch on fire in the night because you are NOT getting out alive) then the emotional abuse continued. I don’t know how many times the oldcomers had the other newcomers sing me the “Tastycake song” because “Everyone knows that a Tastycake is all sweet on the outside and nasty on the inside”. There were all kinds of verbal jabs that were taken at me, all in an effort to break my will and get me to STOP being honest and instead tell them some lie that they’d want to hear. Like expanding the drug list or saying that I had performed sexual favors to get drugs or expanding my sexual history. Oh, and let me tell you about sex according to Straight. It is a DRUG. You only ever use sex as a drug. Oral sex is NASTY. Anything other than missionary for procreative purposes is nasty and if you ENJOY IT? You’re a whore and dirty and beneath contempt. But they want all kinds of details about your sex life. They want to know with whom, what positions, how long it took, did you ever do drugs and have sex, did you ever have sex so you could do drugs … I tend to think looking back that staff got off on hearing teens recounting in group their sexual experiences, that and got off on feeling powerful that they were forcing kids to tell over 200 other kids every last detail. It was one big mind-rape all around, but especially when it came to the sexual details.
Now, nobody ever stayed in one host home long. I can count at least 6 I stayed at in just under 5 months in the program. You would get no advanced notice that you were being moved. You were just told at the end of the day that you would be going home with THIS person instead of THAT person. I was in Maryland, I was actually in Dale City (where my parents lived at the time), I was in Springfield in a variety of homes … and your clothes didn’t go with you the first night. They would show up on your SECOND night in a new host home – if you were lucky. A garbage bag with clothing in it would appear in the back of the room right before everyone lined up to leave and you were given the plastic bag that had your name on it. Now, that’s NOT saying you actually got your clothes. Frequently, if there was something NICE or something one of the oldcomers or a sibling coveted then it just mysteriously disappeared when clothing was moved from one home to another. I frequently wound up with clothing that was WAY too big and would have to try to figure out which jeans and shirts and bras and panties I could wear out of the jumble that was in a plastic bag. After about a week, many of my jeans at least found their way back to me since I was so skinny … nobody else could fit into it – except a younger sibling.
Each new host home had their OWN rules and routines. I was in one Korean host home during Christmas where I actually impressed the family because I could use chopsticks. But they also gave me all of a single wirebound notebook for the holiday where other newcomers received sweaters and other much nicer things to somewhat make up for the fact that they would not be seeing their own families at the holiday. Now, our parents were allowed to bring ONE unwrapped package into the building for us – which was then searched and wrapped on premises. My mother DID manage to get quite a bit of clothing into one box … I wound up losing most of it somehow during host home changes over the next 3 months. I think that they moved kids so often so that the host families and newcomers couldn’t start to become fond of each other. That would defeat the purpose of breaking the kids in every way possible.
Straight Motive

 

(Saved from digits.newsvine.com)

And they DID break me. I “got with the program”. I confronted people. I lied my tits off. I accepted the brainwashing. I even admitted to some really strange crap. Like … one of the rules of the program is that you can’t talk about someone behind their back. If you were snitching on someone you have to do it in this weird “Such and such WAS SAID”, “reading WAS DONE”, “music WAS LISTENED TO” instead of actually naming WHO did it or even that a PERSON had done it instead of a chicken or a spider. Now, this got taken to weird extremes in Springfield in November ‘86 through March ‘87. If you had a THOUGHT about the building being too cold or the dinner being gross, you were “talking behind food’s back” or “talking behind the building’s back”. And yes, I self-reported that I “talked behind the back” of BOTH at one point or another. I was all set to go home the Friday after my 18th birthday. They had held Butch back by a week because the staff REALLY wanted the special occasion of a set of siblings “going home” TOGETHER. It would have made the staff so very fucking happy for both of us to stand up and scream “Mom, Dad, WE’RE COMING HOME”. Now, if this sounds vaguely like a TV movie from the 1980’s that you somewhat remember … it is. “Not My Kid” was entirely based on the Straight, Inc. program. The child locks on the doors of vehicles to prevent runners, the oldcomers bailing out to chase after someone “copping out” (the term for running away from the program), the entire Open Meeting structure … everything was cleaned up but the kernels are there. But their dreams were destined to be dashed.

See, on my 18th birthday as I was leaving the building there was someone waiting for me in the parking lot (I didn’t know until later that there were TWO people waiting). Phil had shown up to talk to me. All I knew was that I saw him and was hustled back into the building as he came close to me. I didn’t know that our friend Randi was with him or that they were threatened with a baseball bat, a knife and other weapons. I didn’t know why he was there. But it was just enough to cause me to crack their brainwashing a little bit. I spent the next day in one-on-one raps to try to regain control over me. To gauge how seeing him had affected me. To see if the brainwashing was “sticking”. It wasn’t. I asked that Friday (two days after they showed up) to withdraw myself. They panicked. They brought my parents in to the building for emergency meetings. They had them talk to me. They sat Butch and I in an intake room so HE could try to talk me into staying. They used every bit of emotional blackmail they had … and it failed. I was told I would be using drugs within 24 hours of leaving. That I would be prostituting myself to GET said drugs. That my parents would never talk to me again. That my brother would never talk to me again. That I would forever lose my family, that I would be dead to them. I didn’t care … I was getting out of there. So, they walked me to the edge of the property and told me to leave or they would call the police and have me arrested for trespass. So … I started walking. As I was walking, my parents drove past me in the family van and just kept driving. I know they saw me, I knew AT THE TIME that they saw me. They didn’t stop or even look at me as they drove past. So I knew I was on my own. I had no money, no clothing, nothing other than literally the clothes on my back. I was physically out of shape. I made it MAYBE a quarter mile to a church and hoped that I would be able to borrow some change for a payphone or ask to use their phone to call Phil’s mom. But the doors were locked so I just sat on a wall and cried. As I was crying and trying to figure out what the FUCK to do, a lady drove up, parked and walked up to me. It was the church secretary. She asked me if I was “from the building up the street” and I said yes. She let me into the building and took me back to the office as she told me that she had seen MANY kids come from that building. She handed me the phone receiver and told me to call whoever I needed to call to get help. Then she gave me a glass of water and waited with me until Phil’s mom drove up to get me. I was free. Technically HOMELESS with no clothing, no hygiene items – NOTHING … but I was free.
Straight Survivors patch
Nancy Reagan, Ronald Reagan, and George and Barbara Bush continued to support Straight, Inc. until it was shut down. They gave Mel Sembler, one of the founders of Straight, Inc. a diplomatic posting to Italy during the first Bush administration. The Semblers (Mel and Betty) continue to be HUGE Republican donors. They have never faced any charges relating to the torture, abuse and bodily injury suffered by over 50,000 children. They changed the name of Straight, Inc. to the Straight Foundation and then finally Drug Free America Foundation. Yes, DFAF **is** Straight, Inc. every penny that went to Mel and Betty from Straight went into DFAF and also into real estate development that is STILL funding the Republican Party. Mel and Betty will NEVER pay for the crimes they are GUILTY of. NEVER. And my parents were taken in by the FACT that they were told that Nancy Reagan supported Straight, Inc – that she had visited MULTIPLE Straight locations and she APPROVED OF THE PROGRAM. Nancy Reagan has gone to Hades – where she can ROT for all I care. She was a BITCH and I can NEVER forgive her, or the Bush family, for what all of us survivors went through. I have PTSD. I can not handle conflict. I either scream or I cower … I *am* healing – but slowly. I no longer scream at my 9 year old child and haven’t for over 2 years now. I finally feel strong enough to sit down and type up as much as I can remember and also give the general flavor of what life was like in the program. Since that Bitch Reagan died, a LOT of shit has come up for me. I feel RAGE. I feel shaky. I want to pulverize Mrs. Reagan and scatter her itsy bitsy pieces to the winds. And I can NOT WAIT to hear that Mel and Betty Sembler are both dead AND that George and Barbara Bush have bit the dust.None of them are/were “good people” in my book. None of them is deserving of resting in peace.

 

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