Thursday, October 20, 2011

Day Thirty-Five: Tough on Crime

Arwen breathes silently in her bed, quilts tucked around her neck. I nuzzle my nine year old daughter. "I'm off," I say.

Her voice kisses at my back. "Dress warm."

I'm wearing blue woolen mittens Victoria brought back from Estonia last summer. My  Never Stop. Milk. toque is a bit small but cozy over my straight hair. Warm coffee splashes and soaks into my mitts as I try to take a picture of the pink morning. I walk. I spill coffee for another photo. I hang the mug in the bare branches.

It's 7:37 and I phone home to see if the girls are awake. Arwen answers. "I can tell you're walking," she says.

"Really? What do you hear?"

"I can hear your breathing. It's like, 'I'm so exhausted.'"

"I'm too warm," I say. "I just took off my mitts."

My legs feel strong, runners pushing each step on the pavement. I turn at the cement yard, and see an old tree I've admired off and on, but with the light hitting it just so, I need to stop.

I walk into the town; now the school is in sight across the hay field, ditch, highway, trees, track and grounds, and I wonder what tomorrow will look like in Regina at our professional development day. I wonder if people are still camping out in Victoria Park, like people are across Canada, joining the Occupy Wall Street movement. Good weather to wake up in a tent, I think.

I remember the guy I picked up hitch hiking last night from Standing Buffalo. Flipped a U-y on the highway when I recognized him, but he was actually his brother, and yes, I had met both of them before at Outreach. He was going into the city to see a lawyer about joining what sounded like a class action suit. He said, "You know about the residential abuse," when it seemed I didn't know what he was talking about. He had an appointment tomorrow, now, today.

He talks about local government corruption. He talks about Harper's plan to build more jails for Aboriginals and yet there's no money for sovereignty. "Getting tough on crime," he says in a mocking tone. "Makes me angry when I think about it too much."

"Lots to be angry about," I say.

"But I don't expect too much," he says, "like you giving me a ride. That's good enough. I'll take it."

I tell him how humble I feel when I talk with people who have suffered a lot -- racism, oppression, poverty -- and yet they can laugh and forgive. He tells me that encouragement is what gets him through. A hug from his brother helps him keep going. "I almost gave up back there, waiting for a ride, but I thought I'd just wait a little longer. Things turn around."

"Do you think you'll vote in the provincial election," I ask.

"No. I'll let them take care of themselves."

My heart pounds hard as I step into the hay field. The words getting-tough-on-crime bang on my chest like  fists on a wall. How about getting tough on treaty breakers. Tough on poverty cycles. Tough on revenue sharing. Tough on education inequity. I step over the swathed hay. How ironic, how criminal, to be spending and sending money to build jails to house longer sentences when government has NEVER lived up to it's own treaty law. My friend on the highway had talked about programming as a way to break cycles. Jails are not programs. Jails are fear.

I step down into the ditch. Look both ways, and sprint up and cross Highway Ten. I think of the Occupy Wall Street movement which is protesting corruption, specifically the corruption of those with the power. I have been guilty many times of pointing my self-righteous finger at the United States as if it is the poster-country of materialism and racism, but one of my university professors set me straight a few years back. "At least they're talking about racism," she had said. "In Canada we don't know racism even exists."

I'm walking between the trees that line the school ground. What if tomorrow I go to Victoria Park. What if I take signs. Get Tough on Crime. Breaking Law is a Crime. Treaties are Law. Treaty Breaking is a Crime. Tough on Treaty Breakers. I step onto the gravelled race track.

My girls are eating breakfast by now; soon they'll be walking down the lane to catch the bus to school. It's October 20th, and my mom is celebrating her seventy-third birthday. Like my parents and grandparents before me, I want a safe Canada, too. But my safety will be in relationships, not in rule enforcement. My hope will be in providing opportunities to those most at-risk, not kicking those who are already down. And I do believe in getting tough, but I will be tough on leaders who don't even follow their own laws. Where are our leaders? I want to follow you who have a vision, like my friend on the highway. Things turn around.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that confession and point-of-view on US & racism. As an american, it always got under my skin when canadians raged on our racist past and present.

    Now that I live in Canada, I see that racism seems worse here. As if people don't know it exists.