Winter Solstice

Surviving the Winter Solstice and all the celebrations that go with the shortest/longest day of the year depending on where in the world you live or what may be happening for you. Winter/Summer is worthy of forethought.

Spare a Thought
Christmas in prison can be a bleak time for those men and women who are behind the wall. It is filled with the memory of happier warmer times. When they were not inside. When they were with loved ones. Where they could relax and be with those who made them feel safe. Prison is often cold with temperature of the cells and with people’s actions and behaviours to others. Officers to prisoners. Prisoners to Officers. Prisoners to Prisoners. Officers to Officers.

Alternative
For other people in prison the Winter Break can be about withdrawing and settling in for the stretch ahead. 2020 could be the year of release, parole or marking that there are another 20 – 25 years left to serve. The countdown continues to a time in the near or a distant future where they will be living beyond the wall. With loved ones and away from a place of perpetual pain and desperation.

Time Away
Last year when I originally wrote this a person living in prison asked me how I was going to be spending my Winter Break? I had served just under 3 months as a counsellor working in that prison.

I shared that “I wouldn’t be doing that much. Watching TV, seeing a few people, eating too much and attempting to fit too much in that could leave me exhausted with the effort of cramming.”
“Oh?” he said “So just like us in here then!”
We both laughed.

Celebrationsss
The reality of Kwanzaa,
Hanukkah,
Christmas
Prepping for the new year can take its toll.

Restive
In all honesty I’d like to sleep through some of the hype. Avoidance is not possible. Resetting my sights, I could advise try thinking into February. The New Year holds unknown promise. Resolutions can take weeks to take hold and be made into fully effective ways of being. The Gym routine, Running, Swimming, Dieting, Drinking less, Developing good spending habits/saving habits, making religious commitments, holiday plans, committing to a relationship, plotting new learning or job opportunity choices.

I am sure there are more I may have missed (add suggestions in the comments below), that go into planning and reflecting on the year passed and the new one that is to arrive.

More 2 a Year
January the 1st is just a date signifying the start of the next calendar year. There are other significant dates that one could be mindful of. Anniversary’s, School/College terms, Tax Years, Birthday’s, Religious observance dates, St Valentines, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter for us living in the Northern hemisphere. Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring for those living antipodeanly. Dry and Wet seasons for those near to the equator.

Target Setting
Choose a date that marks a meaningful time for you. Set the date for after the change is to be noted. By 1st of March I will be able to play cards, list all of [insert musician’s] catalogue of records in date order, know the test inside out, have written the final chapter of the book I am working on, met with a personal trainer, coach, to get this out of shape mass moving again.

Capturing a new day
Photo by Marc Clinton Labiano on Unsplash

Once the date is met and passed evaluate if the intention is there to continue and set another date a few months ahead once again. Keep checking reviewing altering and going. Achieving a goal is only half the story. It is the change that comes with the shift that reveals another way of being in the world.

Pause
The Winter Solstice existed as a time to slow down or stop. So perhaps like other hibernating creatures we could too. Stop, review what has been a part of your life. Recall and think what has been learned. Review what could be left in last year (2019). Also what could be carried in to the year to follow.

That’s the gold of the alchemical process we are all engaged with. Living well. At the precipice of our potential…

See you on the other side.

CTA
I invite comments below, I remain as always interested in what you think of this blog and any of the others written this year.

Thank you for your ongoing interest and support of these thoughts -captured.

Resources
7 Days of Celebration
Christmas Re-imagined Code Switch Podcast
Christmas Origins
December Stories The Moth Podcast

Cover Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

Serendipity: Day 1 The Course

The Black Men’s Introduction to Group Therapy Course began on the 13th of November and was a Kings and Queen making experience with my co-counsellor Sheila Samuels. I borrow the term from Ron Brown High School and Dope Black Dad’s Podcast’s chief presenter Marvyn Harrison who addressed me recently as King.

The moment stood out, fresh like beads of sweat dotting a brow furrowed in deep concentration. Mentally I did a double take and thought…
Who is he speaking to?
Me?
Really?
King?
Oh I get it.
Those are large shoes to fill.
I’m ready to put that mantle on.

Now.

Collaborative Communication
5 men attended the group and told their stories of why they saw a need for the group. The men held out their independent requests for the room to see feel and identify with. There is a unity to be had in sharing hopes with a room who know what you are saying because they, I, we, have said similar things too.

The Philosophical meets the Practical

Safety
Groups are always nervous in the beginning. Leaders/Facilitators are too! With a new venue.
New people to get to know.
A new course.
Not knowing met with new, then came upon nuanced and introduced those who attended to what has the potential for being made to exist in the now.
For this group it was a Black safe space. Rare. A space curated, created and secured for men of the African Diaspora to meet and talk and discuss and experience warmth from a forgotten Sun. The aim – to discuss Black Mental Health with other Black Men with 2 highly skilled counsellors.

Knowing
A good therapy group often operates well with 2 counsellors steering the conversation. Having worked with Sheila at the prison a few years ago I knew she would be a great co-facilitator for this group. Knowledgeable, flexible and able to support the group engage with the sensitive topic of Black Mental Health.

Diversity
The group of 5 men with differing ages, professions, from a range of different London Boroughs, from a collection of countries of origin all came with a singular focus: To open the sometimes locked box and speak about mental health, as vulnerable, sensitive, engaged, intelligent, responsible, aware, concerned advocates and as Black men.

Sensate
There was laughter, there was a felt sense of wanting to support and be simply acknowledged as friend, brother, seeker, father, colleague like in the classic Ralph Ellis book Invisible Man being seen and understood is a priceless gift.

I could just about keep my hands from clapping all the time or staying on my seat from sheer giddy exuberance: This Was Actually Happening! Finally!

It did, and there are more to follow, on the 20th 27th November 4th, 11th 18th December.

One attendee asked if there are plans for the group to continue past the 6 weeks… Both me and Sheila looked at each other and answered “Well that all depends…”

Who Knows by Ram Dass
Thank you Anne Willoughby for introducing me to this tale…

*Cover Image from This Book Could Help

Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism Combined

Flow state thinking
An interesting blending experience happened after I listened to two of my favourite podcastsPhilosophy Bites and Pod Save the World. One was the thought that both ideas appeared similar and could be used/accessed to support those who are facing insurmountable challenges. Like the men and women I counsel in prison.

The other thought was about asking myself ‘if there was something here about listening for the solution?’ Listening in a way that supports a peaceful outcome for the many? The thought was what if Tactical Empathy merged with Effective altruism…?

Florian Wehde: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar

What are they?
A definition of both Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism follow.

There are plenty of ways to get what you want in any negotiation
Kicking and screaming used by infants and some adults!
Using threats to coerce an outcome using the idea of danger and/or harm.
Finally we have bribery as a way to produce a desired outcome from others.

Perhaps the most effective strategy is one that’s pretty much counter-intuitive: Focus on what the other person wants instead. Chris Voss Author of Never Split the Difference advises that this closes a loop for the other and the negotiator.

Or with “Tactical Empathy” it is the ability to share someone else’s feelings while executing a specific plan to achieve a particular goal. Information collected from LEO Hearted T-shirts

Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in a way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values. Definition by Wikipedia

Ashkan Forouzani

Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism
Blending TE and EA
The first podcast is a 15-20 minute show discussing our responses to those in need with Larry Temkin on Philosophy bites. The second is an incredible story of a reporter Arwa Damon who was under siege in Mosul for 28 hours, her rescuers bravery and her desire to support Syrian refugees.

I had the chance to listen to both podcasts within a few days of each other and arrived at a similar point. Both podcasts discuss: tribalism, humanity, decision making and a desire to better understand choice that affect us the individual and the choices we make/could make that effect humanity/society/communities/villages we are living amongst.

Choice with Others in Mind
Interestingly the ideas of tactical empathy and effective altruism were discussed by both Larry and Arwa. For Larry there was the experience of appropriately understanding choice and making decisions that ultimately serve the greater good. One could look and feel bad for a period but the delay to look after a larger number of people is the better outcome for many more – so choose the greater gross affect.

The idea of effective altruism or tactical empathy is a challenge to our sensibilities. The challenge is towards the idea of compassion for self and others and also holding our recognition of the plight of fellow humans. There are a number of stories Larry Temkin discusses throughout the podcast that nudge a few uncomfortable ideas towards our awareness. The $5,000 watch and the drowning child was particularly distressing and also informative. I won’t do the story justice by explaining. Listen to the episode as linked below and share your thoughts in the comments below.

Duniah almasri: Daisy Flowers on paper Photo

Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism
Links to Social Responsibility
Previously I wrote about the School to Prison Production Line. The need for interrupters to change the direction, influence and flow of the components that can produce those that make up a forensic population taps into the idea of tactical empathy and effective altruism. (Soap Box moment) By putting the needs of a disaffected displaced over represented group of peoples alongside our own, perhaps even before us, then a significant derailment of the production line can and will occur. My reasoning is that the They are Us. Forgotten song goes someway to explore this concept with the Neimoller poem.

Clutch
For Arwa the understanding I arrived at was a sense of compassion that even though one might live in an area affected by conflict, war, and civil unrest. Life is still lived. A birthday is still celebrated, a new visitor treated like a very welcome guest. Arwa’s description of her experiences with the people that were able to offer her a safe place to hide with the threat of capture and death are ‘clutch’ moments. If we were to apply tactical empathy and a degree of critical thinking to Arwa’s story we would note that her job was to collect a story. The story became about her survival.

Tactical empathy – effective altruism. Two concepts that have become fixed in my mind and operate on a continuum. Existing as variant strains of the same complex web of connections and communications that are made and lost. We live our lives daily by knowing dimly. With Arwa setting up a foundation recognising that her efforts to raise awareness and create change for the many, forced her to organise her thoughts and organise people to offer more. The Return to Mosul documentary and frying an egg appear as a reminder of humans caring about other humans in all manner of settings. Living truly with the active philosophical slant of effective altruism. Affecting change.

The Call
The aim here then, could be to encourage critical thinking. By being aware of our altruistic natures and when necessary using tactical empathy to listen and create change for ourselves and for others with others.

Resources
Philosophy Bites – Larry Temkin
Arwa Damon – The Seige

Cover photo by Hemal shah on Unsplash

Re-Edit Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism Pt 3

Links to Social Responsibility
Previously I wrote about the School to Prison Production Line. The need for interrupters to change the direction, influence and flow of the components that can produce those that make up a forensic population taps into the idea of tactical empathy and effective altruism. (Soap Box moment) By putting the needs of a disaffected displaced over represented group of peoples alongside our own, perhaps even before us, then a significant derailment of the production line can and will occur. My reasoning is that the They are Us. Forgotten song goes someway to explore this concept with the Neimoller poem.

Clutch
For Arwa the understanding I arrived at was a sense of compassion that even though one might live in an area affected by conflict, war, and civil unrest. Life is still lived. A birthday is still celebrated, a new visitor treated like a very welcome guest. Arwa’s description of her experiences with the people that were able to offer her a safe place to hide with the threat of capture and death are ‘clutch’ moments. If we were to apply tactical empathy and a degree of critical thinking to Arwa’s story we would note that her job was to collect a story. The story became about her survival.

Tactical empathy – effective altruism. Two concepts that have become fixed in my mind and operate on a continuum. Existing as variant strains of the same complex web of connections and communications that are made and lost. We live our lives daily by knowing dimly. With Arwa setting up a foundation recognising that her efforts to raise awareness and create change for the many, forced her to organise her thoughts and organise people to offer more. The Return to Mosul documentary and frying an egg appear as a reminder of humans caring about other humans in all manner of settings. Living truly with the active philosophical slant of effective altruism. Affecting change.

The Call
The aim here then, could be to encourage critical thinking, being aware of our altruistic natures and when necessary use tactical empathy to listen and create change for self and others.

Resources
Philosophy Bites – Larry Temkin
Arwa Damon – The Seige

Re-edit Pt 1
Re-edit Pt 2
Re-Edit Full Script

Photo by Duniah almasri on Unsplash

Re-edited Tactical Empathy and Effective Altruism Pt 1

Flow state thinking
An interesting blending experience happened after I listened to two of my favourite podcastsPhilosophy Bites and Pod Save the World. One was the thought that both ideas appeared similar and could be used/accessed to support those who are facing insurmountable challenges. Like the men and women I counsel in prison.

Anything Left?
The other thought was about asking myself ‘if there was something here about listening for the solution?’ Listening in a way that supports a peaceful outcome for the many? The thought was what if Tactical Empathy merged with Effective altruism…?

What are they?
A definition of both Tactical Empathy and Affective Altruism follow.

There are plenty of ways to get what you want in any negotiation
Kicking and screaming used by infants and some adults!
Using threats to coerce an outcome using the idea of danger and/or harm.
Finally we have bribery as a way to produce a desired outcome from others.

Loops
Perhaps the most effective strategy is one that’s pretty much counter-intuitive: Focus on what the other person wants instead. Chris Voss Author of Never Split the Difference advises that this closes a loop for the other and the negotiator.

Or with “Tactical Empathy” it is the ability to share someone else’s feelings while executing a specific plan to achieve a particular goal. Information collected from LEO Hearted T-shirts

Affective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in a way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values. Definition by Wikipedia
Re-edit Pt 2
Re-edit Pt 3
Re-edit Full Script

Cover Image by: Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash

Musical Interlude

1986

Waking up to the sounds of Hip Hop in 1986 was like a coming of age experience, but now as I think about it the experience was matched by Musical Youth a year or two earlier. In 1982, aged 8, Pass the Dutchee was a huge phenomenon and spoke directly to my youth and Joie de Vivre of living on a council estate in Tottenham, North London.

Autumnal Graffiti Lewisham London

Old School
Before Musical Youth, music consisted of my mum and dad’s records, 70s classic soul songs from Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5, Gloria Gaynor, Aretha Franklin and some West African Hi-life music that if I could find now I would wrap my arms around and release – never. There is something I find undeniably uplifting to the energy of high-life music.

Making It
In the late 70’s and early 80’s the Bob Marley phenomenon had phased in but not affected me as much as Musical Youths song had. I couldn’t get enough of Pass the Dutchie. Hoping for a repeat every time ‘Pass the Dutchie’ was on the radio. I must have driven my mum mad, eventually she bought the single! In the 70’s and 80’s Black representation in popular culture was minimal whether on the radio or on TV. Back then social media, the internet and Youtube were simply not invented and getting access to an African Diasporic influence was rare in the UK. Musical Youth for the 2 weeks that they were in the charts topping sales and appearing on various shows including top of pops felt like an important arrival.

The Tail end of Autumnal Graffiti Lewisham

Hippidy Hoppidy
Than came 6 minutes you’re on by Doug E Fresh featuring Slick Rick! And this song blew my mind. In 1983 we had moved off of the estate and our landscape and environment looked very different. We were nearer to Wood Green and that shopping experience, nearer to Green Lanes and that shopping experience and also closer to West Green Rd and that shopping experience too. A Trifecta of sorts. We had moved into a neighborhood of houses and streets. The vibrancy of the estate was replaced by a quieter more progressive neighborhood and Doug E was inviting me to not forget the ‘hood I was from. Scratching, mixing, breakdancing, graffiti, MCing took my Musical Youth experience and flipped it up 100 notches. I was also entering puberty and all of the upheaval that brings.

Giving Life
Listening to Jazzfm a few years ago and hearing the Jackson 5’s Never Can Say Goodbye and Foster Sylver’s Misdemeanour brought my youthful musical musings and wanderings full circle. The youthful exuberance and joy of music came immediately flooding back to me.

Using the words of ‘Gene Denby and Shereen Marisol Meraji of Code Switch fame, “What song(s) are giving you life, right now?” List below, comment, let me know your thoughts…

Songs that Give Me Life: It’s Time
Radio Silence Radio Silence Talib Kweli Amber Coffman & Myka9
Write At Home Radio Silence Talib Kweli feat Datcha, Bilal & Robert Glasper
Day to Day Art Science Robert Glasper Experiment

And He Laughed.

Black laughter. Black Love.

There are times when I am amazed by the generosity of spirit of the people I meet in prison. They may only be dimly aware. For this man I would like to share this piece of writing with him. An action of reciprocity. Effective Altruism? Maybe…

Bad Day
I was having a shitty day. Walking with a walking stick in prison is a cumbersome and slow experience. The walking stick has me feeling vulnerable and very out there on my own. It’s a constant worry that at any moment something is going to go down and I’m going to be jumped beaten and my keys snatched off of my chain.

It has never happened to me.

(Yes, staff walk around with keys attached to a belt.) Uniformed Staff and civilian staff walk with aware that they carry a large responsibility along with those keys – a symbol of power.

Questioning
The opposite is often what I encounter. I generally do not feel powerful. My visible vulnerability brings from many I meet, including officers and often young and mature black men, the nod, or the question of
“Are you alright?” Or
“You cool?”
“What’s happened?”
“You good?”
“Take it easy, yeah?”

Fade
Here I am seen and my daily struggle is met by others compassion, seeing myself as the injured and frail one. I find myself at times wanting to be invisible. But these calls are a gentle reminder that humanity lives here. These moments are of genuine sensitivity being shown from men who are doing hard time, some serving 18-30 years. I have accountability and a responsibility to uphold, mine and theirs.

Between
On this day I passed from one wing to another. There are a number of wings/house blocks, housing between 100-150 men. Every house block has it’s own distinct vibe and concentration of prisoners: Vulnerable prisoners, lifers, remand and re-categorised prisoners. These men are due for parole or to be sent to other prisons for more open conditions. The prison has a total capacity servicing over 1000 men. Me negotiating the gates, doors and stairs takes longer as I manage the cane, the keys, assessment charts, writing paper to note take and my diary. An unholy slow moving ungainly mess.

Rutland Water Normanton Church: Slow Moving

Check-in
I am to meet with a client who attends the bereavement group. (Thanks for the reminder I will offer a write up about this group soon.) I need to see him as he left the group early on this week and I want to make sure that he is okay.

Take
We meet on his house block and I make my way into one of the offices that has a desk and 2 chairs on his wing.

I offer,
“I wanted to come and see you as I wanted to find out how you are after Tuesdays meeting?”
He says “Yeah, I just wasn’t feeling good you know? Sometimes this place takes the piss!”

I nod showing that I understand.

He continues “I asked for something that’s important to me for my religion and it’s not on the canteen sheet and I can’t get it!
“It’s frustrating me.
“I’m usually okay with it here.
“But this thing.
“I’ve been patiently waiting for 3 months and I couldn’t wait any longer. “I’ve done it their way for a long time and nothing ain’t happening for me. “I’m not just going for mine and leaving everybody else you know?
“This is about me and for others like me.”

Release
He shares his disappointments and numerous experiences of being let down and similar disagreements about the prison. Like, losing weight, standing forward and supporting others, confronting officers and attending to his overall fitness, wearing clothes he has had to keep care of for years because he can’t trust that things sent in will safely arrive.

Prism
He says something like jail being more like a mental health institution in patois and we both laugh. Initially tentatively. Then gleefully. Recognising ourselves in a prison situation as Black men. One choosing to be there with the other, another doing his best to find peace within his situation in prison.

Re-set
The laugh of this black man was like the baring of a soul with a comrade at arms, a fellow road weary traveller, a baller. His laugh invited me to view both his and my plight with compassion. This black mans laugh somehow seemed to restore me and also him. We sat and laughed in a prison, about prison and the folly of the circumstances we both found ourselves in. It was Capoeira meeting Jazz, Gum Boot Dance to Blues, Hip Hop bopping slow with Reggae, Salsa and Calypso rejoicing. It was natural and affirming that even here -prison – humanity could be found.

Re-Mix
The wonderful ability to take something that is both internal and external put a spin on it and make it both his and mine. The experience of the infinite in a few short moments of laughter. How deliciously wonderful, amazing and so uniquely surprising. I left the prison a little lighter that day, usually a little guilt escapes with me.

Not on this day!

There was no space for it.

Only smiles and laughter.

Resources
The Nod Do Rag
Code Switch School Daze and Gum Boot Dance
2 guys on your head Laughter/Jokes 
Making Sense Mind, Space, Motion

CTA
Comments welcome and appreciated. I am looking to engage in conversation re. Black Laughter. Black Love and the other blogs written. Thank you for reading.

Photo by Giulia Pugliese on Unsplash