When a friend gave me a copy of The Sun, I read it and thought, I have been needing something like this.
Though I once made good money working in the offshore oil industry, I recently got a letter from the Social Security Administration telling me that I am 135 percent below the poverty level. I have no idea what that means. They suggested I apply for food stamps. I was reluctant to do that, but I did go to Catholic Charities and ask for some food. Tears came unexpectedly from the corners of my eyes when I made my request. They let me have seven cans of food (but only one can of meat or fish), some powdered milk, one pound of rice or beans, and as much bread as I wanted.
There are millions of struggling people like me who have worked hard and paid taxes their whole lives. George W. Bush doesn’t understand what it is like. He has never worked hard or paid his fair share of taxes. He has only looted the treasury and spent hundreds of billions of dollars to kill more than a hundred thousand Iraqis and more than two thousand American and British soldiers. He has stolen my veteran’s benefits and given the money to his rich cronies. He is trying to steal my Social Security too.
Perhaps frustration and bitterness will finally get the voting public off their asses, and we’ll get rid of the real “evil-doers.” No one in Washington will do it for us. All of them — politicians, lobbyists, journalists, talking heads — are wealthy, if not millionaires. They have no way of knowing what it is like to have to ask for seven cans of food.
In “Thieves in High Places” [interview by Arnie Cooper, November 2005] Jim Hightower talks about companies that sacrifice safety in favor of profit. He says, “[Workers] can also be a part of the effort to reform these companies.”
I am employed by a company that practices “high stacking” — placing merchandise on high shelves where it could fall on customers — and is also perpetually, frustratingly understaffed. Complaints go to the store managers, who fear losing their bonuses — or even their jobs — if they speak up, and thus are as helpless as some poor schmuck who cuts carpet in the flooring department.
Though I find Hightower’s grass-roots philosophy brilliant, attempting to reform the way my employer does business doesn’t fit into my budget. The money I take home every month is barely enough to provide food, heat, transportation, and rent on a pocket-sized apartment. If I lose this income, how will I survive?
We all want a better job, a better government, and a better life, but few of us can fight the bloodless machine when we’re living on saltines and ramen noodles.
Arnie Cooper’s interview with Jim Hightower was awful. One could replace all of Cooper’s questions with “Don’t you think George Bush is a big jerk?” and get essentially the same answers. While this might be amusing for people who dislike Bush, it is hardly enlightening. Lines such as “Populism . . . focuses not on providing government aid to people who fall through the cracks, but on filling in the cracks” are good for a cheer, but could never be mistaken for a policy recommendation. (“That’s it! We’ll fill in the cracks!”)
The interview has the feel of two friends talking late into the night about how stupid and evil the people in power are, neither daring to ask a challenging question or make a controversial point.
Shaping public policy is about making trade-offs between competing meritorious ideas. I look to The Sun for intelligent voices that can contribute to the debate and help create better solutions. You have to do better than this.
After reading Poe Ballantine’s essay “My Pink Tombstone” [November 2005], I have to say there is no writer better able to make me laugh and cry in the same piece. His work reminds me of that intangible feeling you can’t quite place, a memory of something that happened long ago. Maybe it’s the memory of how things felt when your heart was still on your sleeve.
I’ve always had a smug tendency to dismiss infertility as trivial in comparison to other medical problems. Thea Sullivan’s essay “Trying” [October 2005] brought the profound suffering of infertile couples into sharp focus and aroused my compassion.
As a father of three I can’t know the pain of Sullivan’s situation, but I am familiar with the metaphysical questions she raised in her essay. I, too, have found out the hard way that spiritual fads (as well as ancient traditions) offer only partial or dangerously naive answers to our suffering. Following the lead of various popular books, I spent many years trying to unravel the meaning of seemingly symbolic events and encounters in my daily life. I trusted ethereal “soul guides,” who spoke the language of synchronicity, to lead me to healing, great relationships, and self-actualization. I found my expectations dashed time and again.
Like Sullivan, I’ve since assumed a more contemplative stance and made peace with mystery. Cryptic “messages” continue to arrive with almost ridiculous frequency, whether I look for them or not, but I accept that their meaning is beyond my comprehension — probably due to my unconscious tendency to interpret them in the context of my own short-sighted needs and desires. Either the intelligence behind such messages is dedicated to driving me mad, or it is simply saying hello and letting me know it hasn’t given up on me — hopefully the latter.
I was moved by Thea Sullivan’s beautiful, lucid prose and the pain she and her husband experienced during their struggle with infertility. I was saddened, however, that they chose to pursue fertility treatment rather than adoption. In addition to the health risks that Sullivan mentions, there are ethical and ecological reasons to oppose such treatments. Thousands of nonhuman animals — particularly female monkeys — are used in fertility, menstruation, and reproduction studies each year. These studies are inherently cruel to the animals involved and result in their suffering and death.
With 6.5 billion humans on the planet and species becoming extinct at an unprecedented rate, there is no environmental benefit from artificially induced human fertility. Adoption, on the other hand, benefits everyone. There are plenty of kids in this world who need a home.
Thea Sullivan responds:
Jennifer Campbell seems to suggest that infertile couples bear more responsibility than others for the ecological and ethical crises that we, as a society, face. Animal studies are conducted to develop treatments for a wide range of medical conditions, and despite their cruelty, we all benefit from them at some point. And shouldn’t everyone — fertile or not — bear equal responsibility for overpopulating the planet? (It goes without saying that children born of fertility treatments constitute a tiny portion of the world’s population.)
Though it’s inarguable that many children need homes, the implication that everyone facing infertility should adopt is naive and runs counter to conventional wisdom about adoption. Some couples who can’t conceive are quickly drawn to adoption, while others discover within themselves a surprisingly deep longing to become biological parents. Adoption professionals encourage such couples to pursue any fertility treatments they deem necessary before beginning an adoption search, since unacknowledged ambivalence can impair a new parent’s attachment to an adopted child and cause that child further wounding.
When you’ve traveled the often harrowing path of infertility, you learn how painful it is to be judged for what are ultimately deeply personal choices. That’s why, within infertility circles, there is a compassionate acceptance for the different ways families are created, and for the decision to remain without children. In her effort to correct society’s injustices, Campbell seems to be forgetting to practice this sort of compassion.
I was delighted to see Melody Ermachild Chavis’s essay “Seeking Evil, Finding Only Good” [September 2005], about her work with defendants in murder trials. This past year I worked for an attorney who hired her firm to investigate one of his cases. Like Chavis I had to pore over school records, family correspondence, investigative reports, interviews, photographs — every bit of available evidence.
Learning the life stories of our clients was at times emotionally overwhelming. My heart grew heavy as I saw how their cries for help had gone unnoticed over the years. The defendants’ relatives were limping through life, barely able to help themselves, let alone each other. Though our society demonizes these defendants, I felt compassion for them and wished to contribute to their healing. I am grateful to Chavis for dedicating her life to this work.
I just finished reading my first Sun magazine. I laughed and cried and was deeply moved by it. I feel lucky to have been handed a copy of The Sun here in prison, and I can honestly say that, in the thirteen years since I’ve been locked up due to the War on Drugs, I have never read a better magazine. The Sun depicts truth and honesty — a rare thing. I felt as though my own thoughts were being printed under another’s name. That has never happened to me before.
I plan to incorporate some of the ideas that I read in that issue of The Sun into my daily life here at Danbury Federal Correction Institution for Women. I believe with all my heart that my life will be better for it. With thirteen years down and thirteen to go, I need all the help I can get.