Blame: The antithesis of Human Inquiry and Justice

Two people come into a room to discuss differing viewpoints. Each carries with them their own biases and life narrative that frames the perspective that they hold. Each also carries within reactive emotional stances that are cultivated in living an emotional life devoid of an appropriate outlet. The exchange is a confrontation and conflict by its very construct.

Culture asserts rules of conformity to reinforce social cohesion. People know their place and operate within a strict doctrine of social etiquette. These rules are only visible through the rituals that they enforce within social institutions which reinforce compliance…

In a school the loud speaker booms overhead, “Please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance”.

In a courtroom the bailiff stand to announce the entrance of the judge, “All rise… The Superior Court of Skagit County is now in session”.

Within these small examples comes an assignment of status and defines a role that one is expected to fill. Blame is the construct of a society demanding conformity from citizens.

Individuals use blame to deflect or abdicate personal and institutional responsibility. Those in positions of authority are in the best position to use the tactic. These individuals find themselves buffered by rituals that reinforce their superiority. The more that blame is used, the less real interaction actually takes place. The dynamics in these scenarios favor one side and minimize, if not nullify the input of others.  It is the epitome of a top-down hierarchy.

People who accept this dynamic find themselves in positions to enforce the same rhetorical hegemony. Their egos support the maintenance of status quo over the basic rights and civil liberties of others and their compliance is rewarded with materialistic advantages.

Lopsided Power plays

Case #1: The Case against a Single Mother facing CPS Proceedings

During work with a young woman who had lost custody of her children, allegations of a “Bipolar Disorder” came to light within Child Protective Service documentation that I reviewed. Since multiple physical diagnoses had been given, the client had been being maintained on a slew of medications prescribed by the physician who had made the original “Bipolar” diagnosis. With the tremendous amount of drugs, some prescribed for a condition that did not exist, the client’s behavior was erratic. The erratic and irrational behavior created the incentive for the removal of the children but an investigation into the authenticity of the claims was never conducted.

I was able to track down the origination of the diagnosis and discovered that it had been made by a local physician known by CPS to have some significant problems managing and treating clients. Despite the fact that it had been some time since the children were removed and it took some time to get her an evaluation by an independent professional, he concluded that the diagnosis was in error. CPS continued to overlook the fact that her behaviors stabilized when the medications were properly being administered and overseen by respected professionals within the community. The children remained out of her custody and mandated expectations multiplied to provide “proof of her ability to parent”.

In CPS proceedings the clock starts ticking as soon as the children are removed from their families’ of origin. All issues complicating reunification for safety reasons are to be resolved within one calendar year regardless of: the lack of credible information that precipitated the removal of the children in the first place; lack of timely evaluations, lack of timely treatment referrals being made by CPS; the inherent conflict of interest in which CPS appoints “independent” community professionals to write up supporting statements to back assertions made by CPS; lack of consistent expectations; repeated turnover of CPS staff,  poor communication between biological families and staff; and duplicitous alignment with foster families over that of biological families.

The stage had already been set for disaster. The department was not interested in why the young woman had acted irrationally nor was interested in looking into the implications that the slew of unneeded prescriptions had on her behavior. By withholding her children, delaying precious time, without interest into the credibility of the charges, the stage was set to seal this young woman’s fate. When institutional power encourages and rewards a blind eye by those it compensates monetarily, justice is not just blind, but deaf and dumb as well!

 Case #2: Treatment Facility Bias and Punitive Interventions: Power from the Court

The coordinator of a local drug court was facilitating a group with me in a treatment center that held the drug court contract for the local county where I lived. She confronted the group though accusing them of being complicit with a participating member who had come up with a “dirty” urinalysis, testing positive for a substance. She demanded the group member who was positive admit to using. Clearly uncomfortable, the 12 women in attendance took turns looking at each other and shifted uneasily in their seats.

The counselor looked over at me as the co-facilitator expecting me to agree with her tactics. I immediately felt uncomfortable. She looked away to continue her harassment of the ladies in attendance. By the time that she was finished, she was yelling at them, calling them names and demanding that those in attendance expose the woman who had tested positive.

I felt compelled to speak against this tactic. I knew the person who had the dirty urinalysis and knew from my sessions with her that she professed to be clean. I felt the harassment and berating being used were abusive to all in attendance and I did not agree with the tactics being employed to elicit information. I may have had deep seated feelings about what was transpiring but as a single mother of three needing a job to support my family, I kept quiet.

In front of the group, the coordinator identified the client and reprimanded her about the dirty urinalysis while threatening her with jail time. The client was visibly shaken. During break she was abandoned by the other clients to deal with her misery on her own. Clients knew if they were to console her, they would face sanction as well, regardless of their personal feeling of her innocence or guilt in the matter.

Still denying the use, she came to me in tears. I knew that I was in no “position” as a subordinate to question the tactics and at the same time ask for a more open minded approach to the client. Instead I told her to make an appointment with her physician and discuss with him the possible reasons for the dirty urinalysis. By getting authorities in a better position than I, more independent of the agency and with more status and power to back her stance, she would be in a better position to confront the allegations.

In court that week she came with a letter from a MD. She had a dirty urinalysis because she was borderline diabetic. If I had not helped her to “position” in the situation, she would have been jailed, her sense of self-esteem obliterated, and a very real physical condition would not have been addressed.

 Get the Facts Straight:

Blame is a coward’s way of avoiding a meaningful conversation.

Blame is asserted to reinforce status and power without a fair consideration of issues.

Blame is hidden in diagnoses which reinforce stigma and propaganda about groups of people.

Blame is hidden in the assertion of biological conditions for human behavior deviance creating and preserving the pathological focus and the medicalization of rehabilitation efforts.

Blame is hidden in warnings given about people with different ideas as being potential aberrant personalities.

Where bias coincides in judgment, there can be no justice or human advancement!

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The Social Construct of the Madman: A Eulogy of Christopher Dorner

We as a society want to simplify everything even though there is NOTHING simplistic about the nature of our violent social reality as of late. The problem is that violence, in any form, exists as A SYMPTOM of a society and culture out of control.  We are told how to think, feel, and act. We have a code of conduct for our work places as much as we do within our homes.  Many unspoken expectations  in  agencies and corporate entities within which we work lie in direct opposition to the policies and procedures within the agency written code of conduct. In fact, agency written policy and procedures are as helpful for navigating our places of work as the ethical considerations in the licenses and certifications that we hold. We are rewarded less by being able to comply with the written standards than we are for adhering to the unspoken political natures of our roles.

There is less and less time to understand the internal feelings that are generated by walking through this maze of conflicting expectations. We are expected to morph seamlessly from one social setting to another without confusing the expectations and stresses. We are told to “leave work at work” and “home at home”. We dissociate our identities into neat packages and perform in each without understanding the impact of the stress. For those of us who choose to live outside the  institutional and corporate code of behavior, who defy the often unspoken code of silence when faced with witnessing real human atrocities, intervention is swift and painful. We are harassed, ostracized, victimized and lose our professional status, our jobs and our futures.

Human experience is our greatest teacher but it means nothing if we are not allowed, or we actively CHOOSE not to take the time to reflect on its lessons and to adjust our actions to reflect personal integrity and ethical human living. We no longer think. We follow those with more power and the institutions that they represent. We walk around in a daze bombarded by life events and, as time goes on, become less and less able to deal with their meanings. We aren’t mentally present in our life anymore. We live based on perceptions and interpretations that originate outside of us. We give up an intact sense of self to gain acceptance in social interaction.

The anger generated within is borne out of a feeling of helplessness in a world in which the words, thoughts and actions of human beings are becoming less and less consequential in preserving personal autonomy and accountability in life. Without autonomy and a sense of self, we lose our power and become victims of the social institutions and postindustrial corporate complex on which we all depend. Without actively teaching the importance of boundaries between personal ethics and institutional monopoly of human drive and motivation, we lose all human ingenuity, responsibility and generativity, creating the passive and apathetic public we now know.

Corporations, social institutions and professionals all tell us what to do and how to do it. When there is a conflict between what we are told to do and what we know to be best, we abdicate the most important aspect of human experience, free will. Through this MINDLESSNESS we are losing the ability to know HOW to understand the importance of the experiences we have. Instead, we look to “professionals”. We consult self-help books that rehash the empty and disconnected feelings we struggle with and offer cookie cutter, simplistic interventions for what are cultural and systemic problems.

With the Citizen’s United ruling “corporations are people and money is voice”, real human input in cultural progress has been minimized and business ethics have gone by the wayside. With the wealth of this country being held by fewer and fewer people, more and more people have less and less power within their own lives. This external focus keeps us struggling to just meet our basic needs and willing to give up our morality to meet the financial obligations that we have amassed in our lives. Those of the ruling and judging elite reward us monetarily ONLY if we play by their rules regardless of who gets hurt in the process!

Christopher Dorner’s  life stands as a stark reflection of our violent annihilation of the human spirit and the costs created by the rage that lies beneath.

The Reason we will not Learn from Sandy Hook

Face it, it is hard to look at yourself with a critical eye. After all, we live in a world where we face criticism more often then compliments. We are evaluated for deficits before we are thanked for our contributions. We navigate our lives in compliance of social expectations and pack away the critical voices all around us. To stand up for ourselves is unthinkable and punishable through a wide range of options that range from job and income loss to incarceration. And then we witness Sandy Hook…

We ask ourselves how something like Sandy Hook can happen despite the fact the  answer is closer than we would like to think. We focus on the “craziness” of the gunman without considering the string of gunmen that have preceded him. We distance ourselves from “those people” and talk about guns and mental illness. We link obscure variables of the incident to the key reason that the carnage took place. Those in power attempt to have control over the issue by focusing on those who own guns. In response, those who own guns defend their right to bear arms and target people mental health diagnoses suggesting developing a “registry” for the mentally ill. We are becoming closer and closer to the reality of the meaning that the wearing the Star of David has for Jews. And yet, we are no closer to the answer now then we were before the incident.

The answer lies within the fabric of our culture. The desire for financial security has opened us to become victims of apathy. We are educated without having to think. We gain prestige and upward mobility by spouting the ideas of those who employ us. We lack an understanding of ourselves and are placated through the acquisition of things. We question no one because we lack the self knowledge and moral fiber to know that we should. We ally ourselves with those who grant us what financial means we can acquire so that we can continue to band-aid our vacant soul. We regurgitate the words that those in power use because that assures us continued financial well-being. We know that our ability to succeed will depend on how well we parrot those sentiments.

We choose to uphold “social stability” through victimizing others who do not work for financial security. We have developed ways of ostracizing these people as undesirables; the disabled, the mentally ill, the criminal, minorities, illegal aliens, women. We know the undesirables by these names and others. We find ways to make their ascension in our culture more difficult. Why? Because we agree with the unspoken belief that they want a “free ride”, “hand-outs” and are “lazy”. We harbor hatred for helping those we deem unfit to receive it. When we do help, even in social service organizations, we expect change to happen in a particular time frame to our own specifications. As removed as we are from power, we feel the right to provide human services, mentor and parent in an authoritarian manner in which we remain in control, the expert of someone else’s reality and by its very definition doomed to fail.

Our children, our clients and students are affected by this lack of concern in their welfare whether it is ever voiced or not. With each and every generation that follows the mounting confusion and pain is evident. It is evident in the increasing obesity problems, the domestic violence within our homes, the continuing addiction statistics, rape, suicide and yes, Sandy Hook.

Nanaymie Kasmira Godfrey MS, MAC, LMHC

Making of a Criminal

A client of mine, Terry, called me to begin counseling services after being charged in New
Orleans La., for: Conspiracy to sell marijuana. A search of his hotel room had revealed nothing significantly out of the ordinary except a food saver machine used to seal plastic baggies, a small bottle with 2 valium, and 3 different identifications. The valium was prescribed, and the sealing machine had been left by an acquaintance whom turned out to be a local habitual offender who implicated Terry in wrongdoing. The state alleges that Terry was using aliases to traffic drugs,the sealing machine was used in the bagging of the merchandise to be sold on the street and the valium was further indication of wrongdoing and involvement with the use and trafficking of substances.

The attorney hired to represent Terry was finding it difficult to find a rational explanation for the accumulation of identifications. He felt that the crux of the case hinged on the ability to  decipher another reason for this behavior, one so often affiliated with criminal activity.

During our initial discussions in early fall Terry expressed a desire to better understand the
events of his life. Early on it became clear that he had conflicting perceptions of himself and of the family he grew up in. From my perspective I felt it was important that he explore his experiences and how they influenced his understanding of the world around him. It was this issue that led him into the legal situation that he now found himself. Methodically my client began to recall the events of his own life and what emerged was his own story, the foundation for the explanation of the accumulation of aliases that his attorney could not find.

Terry grew up in a chaotic environment, the product of an absentee but successful father and a mentally ill and alcoholic mother. The middle of three children, he always spoke in admiration of his father describing in detail his reported brilliance and giftedness. In Terry’s recounting of those times he also paid tribute to his older brother who was often held up as the role model and person within the family to emulate. Despite the fact that his older brother was an overachiever, he also was severely abusive to my client.

In Terry’s own words, based on the recollections of growing up with his brother he shared these events with me:
1) “My older brother by three years was the Golden Boy and chosen one of the family;
always getting straight A’s, elected head of the class, good at sports. He did it all”.

2) “One of my earliest memories is of being in a sandbox that my father made out of an
old truck tire. I was playing with a toad that had gotten in. My brother came and took
the toad then smashed it with a brick”.

3) “My older brother had a bb gun and shot me in the cheek with it. He told me not to
tell my parents and I didn’t. I had the bb in my cheek until I was 15”.

4) “He (the older brother) was given a shot gun at the age of 17. I had a bb gun and we
would go out shooting birds and rabbits. When one wasn’t dead, so as not to waste
a shot, he would kick it to death. One day I shot a bird instead of kicking it. My
brother punished me by placing the shot gun on the side of my head and shooting it
off repeatedly alternating from one ear to the other. It very well may have started my
hearing loss.”

5) “My parents would go on vacation in August. At 15 my brother had gotten his
driver’s license so my parents dropped my sister off at my uncles who had three
daughters around her age and left my brother in charge of me. My brother had been
sneaking into the liquor cabinet for a long time. We were watching TV and he started
pushing me to drink until I started puking. He dragged me into the bathroom to the
toilet and the next thing I knew he was screwing me in the ass. The next day he told
me that any way he had hurt me before would be nothing compared to what he would
do if I told anyone. I didn’t”.

6) “He learned to punch me in the gut and knock the wind out of me and put me in a
headlock until I passed out”.

7) “My father was a popular public speaker and my parents were out at parties and
functions a lot. The sexual abuse would happen when they were gone and my brother
would get into the alcohol”

Terry found himself struggling with understanding his brother’s two sides; the overachieving and perfect brother and the one that he knew most, the one who beat and abused him. Beaten down by the effort it took to live on a day to day basis, he suffered from poor health, learning disabilities and emotional issues. He shared the list of problems with me:

1) “From an early age I had constant bouts with strep throat, and had mononucleosis”.

2) “At thirteen I had a severe kidney infection and was in the hospital for three weeks
hallucinating with a high fever”.

3) “I got painful warts that needed to be irradiated off. Sores developed along my gum
lines. The doctors had no idea what to do with them”.

4) “I had bad feet and had to walk with orthopedic shoes”.

5) “My teeth were a mess and for years I had to wear braces”.

6) “At nine I was fitted with glasses and my eyesight has progressively worsened. Now I
am extremely nearsighted (20/650), with developing cataracts. I have floaters (in my
eyes) and am at risk for detached retina and macular degeneration”.

7) In high school I started developing tinnitus which evolved into my current deafness”.

8) “In school I just couldn’t get it. Things just didn’t make sense to me. Math was
almost impossible”.

9) “I couldn’t tell time until I was fourteen and I was too embarrassed to tell anyone
about it”.

It became clear that his sister was also able to perform well and emulate the kind of persona that his father held in high esteem. His sister was also an over achiever, dutiful, accomplished but manipulative.

His father was not at home. His mother was drunk and mentally ill. His brother was aggressive and abusive. His sister was manipulative and mean. Terry was in need of someone to help him understand the conflicting messages he was receiving by the people around him. In his own words he felt hopeless. He felt exposed with no “place to hide to be safe”

1) “If I went to my parents (about my brother’s abuse) they would side with him”.

2) “Growing up I never knew what person to expect with my parents, brother and sister;
someone loving and caring, or, a crazy person that made no sense at all and was best
to stay away from”.

3) “I learned that the best way to survive was to be invisible and stay out of sight, never
argue and most importantly, go along to get along”.

It was in this environment that Terry never knew what to expect and was punished for seeking understanding and support. Unable to reconcile the conflicting messages from his family he learned to become “invisible” to find relief from his unsolvable situation. Chronological examples are available from his life story:

1) In high school he joined no clubs, played no sports, and had no close friends.

2) In college (which his father “assisted” him getting into due to his bad grades), Terry
found that a good way to stay invisible was to be where no one knew about your past.
“When I got to college it was like a great weight was lifted off of me. No one
knew who I was”.

After struggling for years to maintain the “perfect” family image, the family itself began to break down.

1) His mother’s alcoholism was severe and she refused treatment despite a family
intervention. The family took matters into their own hands by going to court
obtaining an involuntary commitment. “Police came to the house and my father, brother and sister were all very
embarrassed and humiliated. I wasn’t, I was just hurt”.

2) “My sister’s attitude was that my mother was an imposition”.

3) “During those years my brother’s mental illness had been progressing and he became
more anti-social and difficult to get along with”

One part of Terry was relieved to think that at long last the world would see what he had always known; that the perfect family was not. At the same time he felt like a failure for not saving them… similar conflicting feelings that had no resolution. He retreated to his new found haven of invisibility.

1) “After my mother’s failed rehab I could not handle being around her and had very
little contact with my parents and brother and sister”.

2) “At thirty-nine nothing had really changed and I moved out to San Diego, CA. I
didn’t update my family about the move because I wanted less and less to do with
them. When I got to CA it was very much like when I had gotten to college. A weight
was lifted. No one to know that I wasn’t good enough, no pressure, no expectations,
no real friends.

It was there in San Diego that Terry found the power of assuming aliases to hide and find relief.

“At the time San Diego was being overrun with illegal immigrants. On almost any street
corner you could buy a driver’s license for twenty dollars. I got one and it felt good, like
a new set of clothes. I rented a mailbox at Mailboxes Etc and in a couple of weeks was
getting all kinds of junk mail. I would go in and pick up my mail and pass the time of day
with the people who worked there and “knew” me. I was a real person! All of this was
very safe (or at least Terry thought). The best was picking up the mail. That was official.
When I would feel down, it would become a routine for me to go out and get a new
driver’s license. I didn’t have to do anything with it. It just felt good”.

The problem was that he longed to be an accepted part of a family, to “fit in”… even though it ran contrary to the wish to escape.

“One year I went to the New Orleans, La. for Mardi Gras. I was alone, always alone. I
got there and the whole city was ready to party. I was immediately adopted by a group
of people who I met. Pretty soon it turned out I must be a distant cousin. In New Orleans
it’s enough for you to be there and you’re welcomed. It became a refuge for me… a place
where I could go and be a stranger and yet someone’s relative”.

My client could disappear in the New Orleans while at the same time meet people who he
considered family. They were connections made to order and could be experienced with a plane ticket. New Orleans was a place to visit and make peace with himself.

Summarizing the Case:
Growing up Terry could never live up to the family’s expectations of perfection. The conflict
between his treatment by family members and the family ideal of perfection left him confused and afraid. He began to suffer health related conditions. His schooling and his personal relationships suffered. He learned to protect himself by being “invisible”, that is, choosing:1) To distance him from family and friends 2) Keep new relations “at arm’s length”, and finally 3) By assuming new identities to protect himself. My client’s efforts to distance himself from others left him longing for the connection he never had. In New Orleans he found a place where he was accepted as he was. There he sought refuge and peace.

My analysis:
My client has found a way to live within the world that, while unusual, poses no threat. Since early this fall he has been engaged in therapy trying to make sense out of his own life. We continue to work together.

The importance of this case:                                                                                                  As is often the case, the appearance of a behavior does not constitute criminal activity! As in Terry’s case, personal stories hold a wealth of information court and legal representatives do not have the time or perspective to access. Within those stories lie the counterarguments so needed in the development of an effective defense. Litigants need to routinely be able call into question the allegations made of them within courtroom settings. Without the ability to critically consider life events that hold answers to the court’s concerns, client’s lose motivation, can become hostile and oftentimes makes defending them difficult if not downright dangerous. The example here illustrates an important technique when considering assumptions made of litigant behaviors, especially when the court relies on allegations made by repeat offenders or are linked to assumptions without significant evidentiary back-up.

Nanaymie Kasmira Godfrey MS, MAC, LMHC