Loving U…

U

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly Album was featured in another blog. U stands out as my 2nd favoured track due to its layered complexity. U offers a montage to the story telling that adds to the songs beauty. An outstanding artist knows: it is not what the artist depicts, it is what the viewer brings with them, that adds to the pieces’ power and importance.

Kendrick’s Reflexivity

U invites me to recognise myself in this song. My experience of losing someone I held dear. A friend, a fellow artist, a dancer singer actor, lay therapist. 7 years ago my friend died. Jamui Adebiyi I met at university. He was a fellow attendant at ACS and possessed a wicked sense of humour and a wisdom that seemed other worldly. We both enjoyed the artistry of hip hop and most of 1992’s American Hip Hop. Grime, Trap and Drill were 2 decades away.

Winning and Losing

In June the idea of hip hop as therapy was birthed as a result of a conversation. The below is a perfect example of a therapeutic outcome. I have been ashamed of my anger at the loss of Ade. Celia taught me that in reality there was no more that I could do, or could have done. The pain I feel, have felt is a reality of what I miss – a friend I had discussed the finer qualities of life: to laugh with,  Philosophize amongst and hold a number of disagreements against and not win. An example of our arguments was who was a better artist. Biggie or 2Pac. For me Biggie Smalls was king in his 2Pac was an idol and an important example of  Hip Hop’s relevance and success.

Synchronicity

The hook states that loving you is complicated. I really enjoy that Kendrick’s voice cracks and breaks, perfectly mirrored by Kamasi Washington’s horn. From here I was drawn in to the play between the musicality and the poetry.

{Screams}

[Hook: Kendrick Lamar]

Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated

Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated
Questions unanswerable

But why? What reasons are there for love to be complicated? Is love complicated? There may well be times where love is. Love as complication may be dependent on the person we love and how they then live. Or is it the us who does not manage with love well: complicating it’s experience? I think of the people I have supported at probation. I think of a play I watched in January: The Absence of Silence. Which featured a cast of women exploring experiences of domestic violence. Love is indeed complex and confusing and conflictual.

[Verse 1: Kendrick Lamar]

Love as complicated Art

Love like Jazz is both beautiful and complicated

I place blame on you still, place shame on you still
Feel like you ain’t shit, feel like you don’t feel
Confidence in yourself, breakin’ on marble floors
Watchin’ anonymous strangers, tellin’ me that I’m yours
But you ain’t shit, I’m convinced your tolerance nothin’ special
What can I blame you for? Nigga, I can name several
Situations, I’ll start with your little sister bakin’
A baby inside, just a teenager, where your patience?
Where was your antennas?

Where was the influence you speak of?
You preached in front of 100,000 but never reached her
I fuckin’ tell you, you fuckin’ failure—you ain’t no leader!
I never liked you, forever despise you—I don’t need you!
The world don’t need you, don’t let them deceive you
Numbers lie too, fuck your pride too, that’s for dedication
Thought money would change you
Made you more complacent
I fuckin’ hate you, I hope you embrace it
I swear—

Gaps

Was this person a teacher, preacher, priest? Was he a parent, come brother a community activitst a leader? It appears that he was something that upset and fell short of his own aims. And this gap was intolerable and anger making…

Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated
Loving you is complicated, loving you is complicated

[Bridge: Kendrick Lamar]

Lovin’ you, lovin’ you, not lovin’ you, 100° proof
(I can feel your vibe and recognize that you’re ashamed of me
Yes, I hate you, too)

[Break: Jessica Vielmas]
(Loving you ain’t really complicated)
House keeping, house keeping
(What I got to do to get to you?)
Abre la puerta! ¡Abre la puerta tengo que limpiar el cuarto!
(To you)
¡Es que no hay mucho tiempo tengo que limpiar el cuarto!
(Loving you ain’t really complicated)
¡Disculpe!
(What I got to do to get to you?)
(To you)

An unopened door

This intro to Verse 2 is chilling and begins the emotional response from Kendrick reflecting on what was left… For me this verse is the heart of the song. The understanding is a visceral account of missing a love that is complicated. I enjoy that Kendrick is wildly emotional, his voice captures the raw emotion of the sentiment of loss. I thank the words, the expression, it gives chance for feelings trapped to move, to gain flight and lift…

Porcupine a love that offers pain

Loving you is Complicated

[Verse 2]

You the reason why mama and them leavin’
No, you ain’t shit, you say you love them
I know you don’t mean it
I know you’re irresponsible, selfish, in denial, can’t help it
Your trials and tribulations a burden, everyone felt it
Everyone heard it, multiple shots, corners cryin’ out
You was deserted, where was your antennas again?
Where was your presence?
Where was your support that you pretend?
You ain’t no brother, you ain’t no disciple
You ain’t no friend
A friend never leave Compton for profit
Or leave his best friend, little brother
You promised you’d watch him before they shot him
Where was your antennas?
On the road, bottles and bitches
You FaceTimed him one time, that’s unforgiving
You even FaceTimed instead of a hospital visit
Guess you thought he would recover well
Third surgery, they couldn’t stop the bleeding for real
Then he died, God himself will say, “You fuckin’ failed”
You ain’t try

A Rock

Kendrick opens up on his disappointment here. It sits like a rock. A boulder undeniably blocking his release. Here is where the truth of a death that is a shock is understood and stands as epitaph. The want in Kendrick’s lament is raw. I wanted for Ade to be around still – selfishly. I still do. This is the hard part. Acceptance of what is. Embrace appears impossible of this discomforting idea. If release is what I seek I am to clasp my hands around it like a bow, inhale and draw the spikes of this porcupine in.

[Verse 3]

I know your secrets, nigga
Mood swings is frequent, nigga
I know depression is restin’ on your heart for two reasons, nigga
I know you and a couple block boys ain’t been speakin’, nigga
Y’all damn near beefin’, I see it and you’re the reason, nigga
And if this bottle could talk–gulp–I cry myself to sleep
Bitch, everything is your fault
Faults breakin’ to pieces, earthquakes on every weekend
Because you shook as soon as you knew confinement was needed
I know your secrets, don’t let me tell them to the world
About that shit you thinkin’
And that time you–gulp–I’m ’bout to hurl
I’m fucked up, but I ain’t as fucked up as you
You just can’t get right, I think your heart made of bullet proof
Should’ve killed yo’ ass a long time ago
You should’ve feeled that black revolver blast a long time ago
And if those mirrors could talk it’d say, “You gotta go”
And if I told your secrets
The world’ll know money can’t stop a suicidal weakness

[Produced by Taz Arnold & Whoarei; Additional production by Soundwave]

Doubts

I am aware that this is a story enabling appeasement. I know that U represents the account of losing someone that meant the world. Perhaps that U was the self in pursuit of life’s trappings. Here Kendrick has caught and taught me. Celia’s words are recalled however the strong emotional tug of loss and regret block the safe removal of sad feelings and thoughts of what more I could have done to support Ade. I could have, I should have, provided chance for him to be heard. Perhaps offer refuge from the storm. My mind returns to saving – how could I have rescued my friend from ending his turmoil safely, life enduringly, healthily?

1 – 2 – 3 – let go

Hard acceptance: it was not my role to stop Ade. The answer, losing someone you love to death is undeniably difficult. Loving you is complicated. Losing someone you love to suicide is like an unexplainable phenomena that remains for a long time in the herafter… I accept the porcupine and the pain of hugging the spiny nature of this.

Perhaps by drawing in the unexplainable, healing can begin – after.

Hip Hop as therapy

https://youtu.be/Hu4Pz9PjolI An Interview with Kendrick

Talking Therapy as Hip Hop

Power in Poetry

Music Therapy

My life partner CW happened to say a profound statement as we watched The Defiant Ones. She said ‘Rap is talking therapy.’ I was struck by the fundamental truth of her statement and tried not to confuse or complicate it.

Gutter Rainbows seeing the beauty in the everyday

Beauty in the everyday – Gutter Rainbows

Continuum

I wanted to write this blog as a bridge to offer a larger idea. Pulling current protagonists and icons of Hip Hop culture, and also pooling disparate experiences of music and psychology along onto a continuum. From the Podcast Code Switch, Jean and Shereen often ask ‘What song is giving you life?’ I thank them for the saying and the idea. My answer…

Analogy

To Pimp a Butterfly ends with a prophetic poem that depicts the human struggle in, Mortal Man. I grew emotional whilst listening. Possibly due to the idea shared above with thanks CW…

To: Kendrick Lamar – I witness your genius and the power in your words.

‘Damn
I wanted to read one last thing to you
It’s actually something a good friend had wrote describing my world
It says…

“The caterpillar is a prisoner to the streets that conceived it

A Cocoon hiding potential

The Cocoon from To Pimp A Butterfly

Its only job is to eat or consume everything around it, in order to protect itself from this mad city
While consuming its environment the caterpillar begins to notice ways to survive
One thing it noticed is how much the world shuns him, but praises the butterfly
The butterfly represents the talent, the thoughtfulness, and the beauty within the caterpillar
But having a harsh outlook on life the caterpillar sees the butterfly as weak
And figures out a way to pimp it to his own benefits
Already surrounded by this mad city
The caterpillar goes to work on the cocoon which institutionalizes him
He can no longer see past his own thoughts
He’s trapped
When trapped inside these walls certain ideas start to take roots
Such as going home, and bringing back new concepts to this mad city
The result?
Wings begin to emerge, breaking the cycle of feeling stagnant
Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations
That the caterpillar never considered, ending the eternal struggle
Although the butterfly and caterpillar are completely different
They are one and the same”

Metamorphasis

The beauty of the poem is the perception of a human reality seen through the changing experience of a creature that begins life in one form and earth bound and yet ends life in another and is benefitted by flight.

As analogy the three stages of growth brings to mind crime prison and freedom, infancy life and death. The analogy may arise due to the 8 years I have supported people involved with the criminal justice system in the UK.

Podcasts like Criminal, Ear Hustle, Burner Phone Podcast, books such as Are Prisons Obsolete, The Lucifer Effect, True Believer and documentaries such as the 13th, Teach Us All and Zeitgeist have increased my curiosity and want to develop solutions to the disparity between caterpillars and butterflies.Purple Butterfly

Interview List

There exists a long list of people I would love to interview on behalf of the Counsellors Cafe Magazine (TCCM)

3 Hip Hop Artists that top my list are Dr Dre, Kendrick Lamar and Logic. The former and the latter have been featured in 2 Netflix shows titled The Defiant Ones and Rapture. Both artists convey in rhyme and through living – the joy and pain of life and unparalleled successes.

Dr Dre’s experiences of betrayal loss and meteoric success has been artfully portrayed in the 4 part documentary The Defiant Ones. The hidden pain in his visage is as palpable as his iconic headphones and influence on the music scene.

Logic was an unknown for me, however his story is not only incredible and inspiring and captivating but also immediately recognisable. His idea of breaking psychological concepts down into songs that encapsulate a swathe of people across the US, clarifies his genius. The song 1-800 and the slogan EVERYBODY worn on hoodies, is about you me and everyone that we know. His message is beyond insightful. It takes us to sheer brilliance and has rightfully endeared him to millions.

Giving Life

To answer Shereen and Gene from above: a few years ago Janelle Monae’s Hell You Talmbout was THE SONG! What the hell you talking about (IVERSON) put the feeling of the unlawful killing of African-Americans by the hands of law enforcement into a visual and auditory format that is powerful and justified. Right now the song giving me life is Robert Glasper’s Maiden Voyage/Everything in it’s right place that is giving me life.

Kendrick happens to be for me an outlier, a Nubian poet powerhouse who’s instep with the universe is perfectly poised. The poem above is from the album to Pimp a Butterfly. The aim would be for the interviews to enrich the known world with their visions, their story to support the many caterpillars encased in their cocoons to emerge…

That Thing You Seek.

Zen 1

I finally visited Zenubian on Hither Green Lane after many years living in Lee and had an experience that I had not thought I would ever encounter. Peace.

A slowly widening appreciation of a still, quiet, that seems hard to find in our busy 21st century lives.

I have been researching a counselling space, to begin working outside of my home office. I had contacted Zenubian in April to enquire about a counselling space, and was invited to see their therapy rooms. Later I had chance to look at some of the other venues that they have. Zenubian is a shop selling art, wall hangings and other intricate objects to decorate your home, your office, or a meeting venue with.

Blown Out

Have you heard of the term Burn-Out before? I believed it to be likened to a unicorn sighting, something I would not experience. I first heard the term used after becoming a learning mentor as a helping professional in 2004. The term burn-out is used as warning to those who stretch themselves beyond their limit and still attempt to bridge the gap impossible. It describes someone who has gone out like a flame on a match – leaving a used up embodiment of lost potential.

The Denial

I am not keen to say that I have burnt out, been singed – definitely. I am able to recognise that I have been doing too much. Lecturing, counselling, supervising, and working a full-time job. I have had some of these roles for over three years. I had not appreciated how physically, emotionally and mentally demanding they all are. I went from a human being to a human doing. I was unwilling to bear witness of the fact that I was pushing and pulling and stretching myself beyond my limits. I lay the denial at the feet of my illness. MS the 2011 diagnosis that continues to offer a number of distasteful morsels in haphazard and uncoordinated fashion. I have been unwilling to admit defeat or disability and have attempted to be an Uberman.

End Game

After watching the beautiful and heart wrenching film End Game a thought struck me. The thought arrived as a Dr who had lost both of his legs (below the knee) and an arm (above the elbow) after an accident said something for me that was life changing and life affirming. B. J. Miller MD “When I stopped comparing my new body to my old body… .”

In essence the who I became after the diagnosis was attempting to replace the who I thought I should be now. I have been chasing after him ever since – an illusion.

Energy

Walking into the communal space at Zenubian was strangely familiar, almost like walking around Georgetown Guyana in 2004 (a family reunion), or visiting Harlem in 1995 and hearing Dick Gregory speak, laughing along with men and women that looked like me at the community centre there, or attending BAATNs conferences and most recently watching the Black Panther movie.

The communal space at Zenubian was for me like a celebration, a collection a concentration of energy. The space had wooden floors, brick walls displaying wonderful art, a ceiling. However the vibe of the space offered something unique to me. The space offered peace, it settled me like not many other experiences have recently, that thing that I did not know I was looking for.

As an aside I have been working with a supervisor for 4 years, and he has been my largest supporter of my blending psychoanalysis, psychosynthesis and sensate experiences. As a result of his tutelage and generous supervision skills I have engaged with knowledge that is embodied, that has supported learning about life as both construct and illusion. Trusting more an innate awareness.

Peace is

I have struggled with the idea of peace for a long time. Some suggest that we must fight to attain peace. That it is the human condition to struggle and wrestle with ourselves and others. It appears that even inside oneself we are not at peace. The battles, the wars, the conflict that we encounter on a daily basis between ideas of right and wrong, the ideas of good and bad, even uncomfortable truths to a number of our human experiences have us not at peace.

Zen 2Walking in to the communal space at Zenubian was like a revelation. It was the thing that I had not sought. Chris Voss would class this the Black Swan of a negotiation. I had not recognised I had been negotiating with myself for as long as seven years!

For me the communal space at Zenubian was a place I could allow my spirit release – that felt peaceful, relaxing, comforting, and unusual – as it is for me so precious an experience. I get it now B. J.

There are moments in meditation when a sense of peace arises – where everything is as it ought to be. These moments are rare and yet what happens after the many hours, days, months and years of practice feels justified like repayment for the effort.

We arrive there. We come to, a place – at rest.

Home.

Do or Do Not

Impossible-Possible

Procrastination

I have been walking and talking with a client for 6 months and one of their main concerns is with procrastination. As modern human beings especially now with a large swathe of things to distract us (TV, Newspapers, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Pinterest, Messenger, Google Play, Netflix, Podcasts, Sport, TV on the Go, TV Now, LinkedIn plus countless more) and interrupt us, procrastination often arises as a theme within my counselling work.

As the client presented a number of different scenario’s that had them procrastinating – out of the blue I recalled a saying I had not heard in many years. ‘Do or do not do there is no try.’ The saying from Yoda made us both laugh and it could have been – the light Spring air and fresh budding trees in the park, but I was slightly taken aback by this uncanny recall and wisdom from a film I had watched many years ago.

Innate Wisdom

Many before me have stated that walking and talking in open air environments invigorates the senses and mind in ways that supports new neurological connections and psychological associations to form. I can remember the corner of the park we were walking through and the slight buzz when the important sensate reckoning was about to burst forth – “Do or Do Not Do…”

There was something about the discussion with this client which reminded me of conversations I have had with other clients, students, colleagues family members and friends about the concept of doing or not. I recognise dilemma and fear and the encounters that invite either failure loss and psychological pain of defeat. When trying we are making an attempt. I have clumsily described trying to pick something up with another walk and talk client. In essence the stick that I attempted to pick up remained lodged on the grass. The client saw what I was attempting to illustrate laughed and we walked on. Trying is an attempt to get something achieved. Doing is completing the task.

Two Choices

Perhaps there is chance to see that there are two choices that one can make whilst procrastination strikes, “do or not do” Yoda has said. The client who suggested that their procrastination was affecting their ability to get a certain task completed has choice. They debated about their effectiveness that was being prolonged and deflated as a result of the procrastination, it was also running their energy store to zero. We discussed a number of strategies that could be employed to support decision making and thought about timelines to support tasks being completed. By the end of the appointment an idea of progression had begun to form as well as the Yoda saying ‘Do or Do Not, there is no Try…’

Purposeful Procrastination

Rory Vaden has a book titled Procrastinate on Purpose that I am to read soon, as I would like to make better use of time to procrastinate with. Another concept I am getting used to is the idea of the Leaky Brain by Jeff Goins he of the ‘Real Artists Don’t Starve’ book.

Perhaps there is something more to being caught in thoughtful dilemmas.

https://youtu.be/BQ4yd2W50No

Chris Voss’s Tactical Empathy and Peter Singer’s Effective Altruism team up

blue-masque-2.jpg

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 done to support those who through no fault of their own are facing unsurmountable challenges. The other was is there something here about listening for the solution in a way that supports a peaceful outcome. Tactical Empathy merged with Effective altruism…

A definition of both Tactical Empathy and Affective Altruism follow.

There are plenty of ways to get what you want in a negotiation — kicking and screaming, threats, and bribery among them. But perhaps the most effective strategy is one that’s pretty counterintuitive: Focus on what the other person wants instead – Chris Voss Author of Never Split the Difference.

Or  “Tactical Empathy” is the ability to share someone else’s feelings while executing a specific plan to achieve a particular goal. 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 the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values. Wikepedia

Blending

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.

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 the many.

The idea of effective altruism or tactical empathy is a challenge to our sensibilities, compassion, 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 informing.

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. By putting the needs of a disaffected displaced over represented group of peoples alongside our own, perhaps even before, then significant derailment of the production line can and will occur.

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 from 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 are in mind as a continuum. Arwa setting up a foundation recognises that her efforts to raise awareness and create change for the many she had to organise her thoughts and other people to offer more. The Return to Mosul documentary and frying an egg appear as a reminder of humans caring about other humans.

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.

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/4/8/a/48a779ee34e742f3/Larry_Temkin_on_The_Obligations_to_the_Needy.mp3?c_id=20122623&expiration=1524205451&hwt=73d3eb9c2a810f74954eaf8cd6b13f30

https://crooked.com/podcast/turkey-and-28-hours-pinned-down-by-isis-with-arwa-damon-2/

School to Prison Production Line

The above phrase I heard recently thank you Luke Roberts for introducing the phrase to me. ThSchool to Prisone School to Prison Pipeline I have been dimly aware of after I started working at a secondary boys school in 2004 as a learning mentor. My experience as a learning mentor a role that supported me in discovering my innate ability to listen intently. I did more than just  listen, I also supported young men to resolve their difficulties at school.

Resolution

The challenges they were attempting to resolve were impulse control, anger management, school attendance, completion of school work, issues at home affecting attitudes to learning. My understanding about these young men was if school as a place of learning was unable to meet their needs (socialisation) other opportunities would present. These extra -curricular opportunities would and did offer the socialisation, learning, excitement, experimentation and ego fulfillment that these young men sought.

Water Pipes

There are a number of ideas that leap from my mind in relation to a production line and a pipeline. A pipeline generally is uni-directional in that it flows from one direction to another, think of an oil line or water pipe. A production line like the ones witnessed at a factory are omni-directional largely dependent on what stage of the process the product has arrived.

Ron Brown College

I introduce the 1st episode of a Code Switch Podcast 3 part series. Code Switch is a podcast I have reviewed before in a blog entitled Deliciously Displayed Information.  Code Switch https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/10/18/558104287/a-year-of-love-and-struggle-in-a-new-high-school The podcast centres on a new school Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Washington that is looking to address the disparity of young men of colour that do not graduate from high school due to suspensions and other impediments.

A Global Trend

Unsurprisingly a similar trend exists in the UK as well as other places across the globe. The tendency is, those that do not complete school can find themselves being educated by the streets. Hence entering the pipeline. If a student is removed from either a primary or secondary school, education is continued at another educational setting.

Educated Men PrisonP.R.U. (Pupil Referral Unit), once referred to a PRU – students can be provided with a reduced time table (curriculum) and reduced number of hours to attend school. Some students who achieve a satisfactory level of behaviour at the PRU can be returned to their former school after a determined period of time. If a student has been permanently excluded and are able to attain a satisfactory level of behaviour, they could be placed in another school. Some students do not return to mainstream education. Steaming along the production line.

Black Male Love

During the 30 minute show I found myself hopeful of the prospect of the school. The aim to educate and uphold a value for the Kings in attendance and for the communities that they live within. ‘Work with us and we can help you to be great, able to achieve with the tools at your disposal and overcome the set of circumstances that have be felled many before you.’ The expression of love from black men to other black men is an uncommon and uncomfortable sharing. Experiencing love from another man is rare and due to the rarity difficult to process.

Often during the podcast there are expressions and experiences that challenge the notion of black on black love, wholeheartedly challenge the premise of setting, circumstance and time that appears to wear the resolve of the teaching staff. I am hopeful that the mission of the school will overturn the students hearts and minds. Maybe the hearts and minds of their community.

Healing to Health

An aside, the film Black Panther holds a promise of the utopia of a fictional African nation determining it’s own future echoes the hopes and aspirations of not only the Ron Brown school or the Black Panther Movement or the Black Lives Matter movement but also the ideal that by offering love from self to self an individual and a community can heal. Episodes 2 and 3 shall be revealing…

Oscar Grant III – Marcus Isaiah – Viktor Frankl

FRUITVALE

MICHAEL B. JORDAN stars in FRUITVALE

Recently I watched Fruitvale Station the movie (June 24th 2016). A few of my friends Gromyko Dumuje and Thomas Keenan mentioned the story a few years ago, and how it invited them to feel, sad, angry, disappointed and frustrated. I had held back on watching the movie because I was not looking forward to experiencing some of the identified feelings myself.

In short, I was surprised that I was swept away by how I felt in relation to how Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of a young man who was attempting to turn his life around and how his efforts were ultimately halted. I came across Michael B Jordan in the film: Chronicle and was spell bound by his relaxed affable nature in the movie. The next notable appearance of Jordan for me was in season four of Friday Night Lights. I am to write a piece on the effect that Friday Night Lights had on me. B. Jordan’s acting was notable as Vince the quarter-back. His human struggle were immediately identifiable and I applauded his successes and bemoaned his disappointments and failures.

I had not realised that he also was a character in The Wire called Wallace. There is much I had forgotten about the Wire apart from Season 4. The story of the group of young men whose lives all went in various surprising directions. The Wire was the ultimate experience of creating a TV script that leapt out from the screen and stole hearts. Season four of the Wire was the first time I came across the term Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Which could be a pre experience of personality disorder in teens. Treme was the next TV show that held me in it’s rhythmical and complex sway. Friday Night Lights (FNL) has been the latest story to fully captivate me. The story telling and character portrayal are movie calibre in quality, complexity and delivery.

Oscar – Marcus

Getting back to Fruitvale and what touched me about the story, was me recognising the similarity of Oscar Grant’s story and a young man I worked with in a London Prison. Marcus Isaiah (Not the man’s real name) was a 25 year old black male who grew up in London but was from another city in England.

Marcus Isaiah

Marcus was a footballer and enjoyed playing football (Soccer). At the age of 12/13 he was scouted by a large London football club and placed on their player pathway to access good coaching, regular football games, nutrition advice, support with homework and possible pathways to playing with a premiership team.

I met Marcus in my 2nd year at the London Prison I volunteered at 2011-2012. At the assessment meeting Marcus stated that he did not want any psychological help and that he was fine as things were. He had recently been in a fight with another male who had since been moved to another house-block. He was shaken, and visibly stirred by the event. Marcus appeared to be trying to adjust to life in the prison, and also to the fact he had been in a physical altercation with another and that his life at our point of meeting appeared bleak. I agreed to not ‘therapize’ Marcus and check in on him within a week.

Pausing to reset

The decision to pause support and give chance for Marcus to re-evaluate if the support was needed was useful. When I returned and checked in with Marcus, he appeared a little more settled and ready to begin in some therapeutic engagement. He expressed that he was feeling stressed and that talking with someone about it, he may find useful. It is possible that being non-committal offers possible clients engaging in therapy, an out if the therapy does not resolve the identified concerns. They then can say that therapy didn’t work and will not allow themselves to be too disappointed with the end result. We agreed to meet for 6 weeks with the possibility of review and extension if necessary of more sessions.

The lull of the street

Marcus described how he had been taken into custody and of elements of his past. He talked about his footballing career. At the age of 15 being a difficult time to negotiate the draw of the street or playing football. The tension to maintain both due to relationships away from the football pitch Marcus found impossible.

Invitations to chill with friends and associates, and be into what they were into, he acquiesced to. He shared during a therapy meeting that a choice to follow friends ultimately was his largest mistake. He started not attending football practice, talking back to his coaches when he did attend, and his football playing suffering as a result. The people he was around were into moving drugs and also smoking weed. Marcus had also started to use and found that football was less appealing than being around friends and associates and making fast and easy money. Football appeared to be the longer route to gaining the success he felt owed to him.

Background to Marcus

Marcus grew up in a single parent household. He lived with his sister and a parent. The pressures of living in London and witnessing how hard his parent was working to make a hard life liveable appeared to make his decision to make money quickly more appealing than staying in school and attending to his football career. Marcus had a number of negative experiences with Police which could have been viewed as a wake-up call which he was unwilling to answer. The excitement of one game appeared to have been replaced by the thrill and risk in another.

Choice

Similarly to Oscar (Fruitvale) who appeared to have come to a realisation on his own and had tried to turn the corner on his past. Marcus was aware that the former life he had lead was over. Marcus talked about how he would like to be when he was released. He thought about the people he had been spending time with in the last few years. Not one of these friends/associates had visited him in prison. Moving cannabis and weed and getting paid, Marcus now thought was not worth the risk for himself and for those he was connected to including his parent and his sister.

Self Iso’

During our 3rd meeting Marcus described in a poignant and charged way that he had stopped his girlfriend from coming to see him. He was not sending out any more VOs (Visiting Orders) making it almost impossible for her to schedule a visit. His intention was to end their relationship and sit out the time he had left in prison by himself. His parent and sister were also vetoed from attending the prison.

Marcus appeared to be self-isolating in order to minimise the impact of not being able to live with those he cared about. I have witnessed this act a number of times and the consequences of self isolation were short lived and did not deliver the desired effect of stopping the anxiety and reducing the sense of stress in relation to thinking about those who remain in the community.

The Charge

We discussed the reality of what he was facing and what this may mean for the people in his life. Marcus was being held on suspicion of carrying a firearm with intent, possession of illegal substances with intent to supply and driving offences. If found guilty Marcus was facing 2-6 years of life in prison. Marcus maintained his innocence and shared the story of how he was caught by the Police. The arrest sounded painful, provoking of a fear response and highly embarrassing.

The officers who arrested Marcus believed him to be carrying a firearm and were armed themselves. After a chase through the streets of a Southwark neighbourhood, Marcus was dragged over a wall, pinned to the ground, his arm was brought up behind him whilst the arresting officer knelt his full weight on Marcus’ shoulder. Months after the arrest, his shoulder back and arm were still causing him much pain. Studies have shown that extensive periods of pain management lower a person’s mood and can increase their likelihood of developing mental illnesses like depression.

Marcus’ Identity

In Marcus’ case his low mood after being arrested and hurt at the scene of the arrest, detained and entering custody, facing the possibility of years of incarceration was escalating a number of negative associations for him. By Marcus removing people from his life, he was attempting to jettison the feeling aspect of himself. Wrapped up with what Marcus felt needed to be held away from him, was a felt sense of who he was. We could call it Marcus’ Identity: The who he really is. By denying those he cared about access to him and he to them, Marcus could be seen to be arresting his emotional development. By engaging in therapy there was a chance that the attempt to move into a primal state of being could be averted.

Oscar’s frustration (Fruitvale) was witnessed three times during the movie.

  1. The prison scene: where the other prisoner expressed anger after a space infringement was unknowingly crossed. Oscar feeling violated on his turf by a known aggressor in a place he did not want to be in. His mom being present to witness him be verbally abused she also being verbally assaulted. Oscar attempted to stand up for himself in the only way he knew how. Shouting and looking to stop the words from causing further harm. Oscar tried to get at the other prisoner. This act cost him the visit. As he was physically restrained and his mom walked out on him. Adding further hurt to the harm caused by his own actions – Abandonment.
  2. When back in the community Oscar attends his former work place and asks his manager to give him back his job after he had been fired. This scene is coupled with Oscar showing a customer his ability to help another by giving her his grandmother’s recipe for fried fish. A selfless act of reciprocity.
  3. The fatal scene on the train ride home after the New Years celebration where the guy from the prison is also on the train. It get’s ugly quick. However no guns are pulled at this point. Permanent Exit.

Complex – simple

Those who are incarcerated attempt to split themselves into smaller more manageable versions of themselves. Marcus was on his way to achieving a simpler version of himself that would be able to manage the prison system and all that it threw at him. Meeting me gave him a chance to check through this self diminishing plan again.

Oscar and Marcus shared a number of similarities. They were both brilliant young black men. Who had ideas of what living well meant to them in the contexts of their young urban lives. They both attempted to provide for themselves and their loved ones, by the means they found available at their disposal.

Both Oscar and Marcus held views of themselves and of the world around them that included breaking laws and being aggressive. Their reasoning could be as a result of the experiences they had whilst growing up. Both men came from single parent homes, poverty appeared prevalent for both males. Opportunities to move beyond the circumstances of their families appeared to have been derailed either by themselves or by circumstance. On some level I could perceive that both Oscar and Marcus had been beaten by an unforgiving system that was intent on further stripping both men of their dignity and self-respect. This being the case they made choices that affected their civil liberty, their lives and the lives of others.

Recognising the gap in the wall

The point of change for Marcus arose as we entered the 4th meeting and he asked if there could be any meaning to his life. ‘Like what is my life about now? More of this shit? I’ve had it with prison and with being in here.’ He asked if there was another way it could have been or could be as he could not see it. I asked if he read, and then told him about Viktor Frankl the Viennese Psychiatrist, Philosopher, Psychotherapist who survived concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Marcus seemed genuinely shocked and intrigued by the story of Logotherapy and Frankl’s ability to rise from a very dark moment in history. I believe that what hooked Marcus was hearing a story as bleak as his and identifying himself with an internal revolution. I told him about what I remembered from the book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and wondered if he would like to read it?

I doubt that I have ever been more surprised or pleased to share a book! I read the book with a general interest as to how a man who nearly died in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia could at the end of the war return to his native Vienna in Austria and accept that people he knew may have turned him and other Jewish people over to the German authorities to perhaps die. His wife, mother father and unborn child all died at the hands of the Nazis.

Logotherapy

When I read ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ in 1997 the concept of acceptance was a distant thought, compassion even more remote. On passing the book forward to Marcus I was gaining ground on acceptance and compassion as a concept was also being closely followed. The book was a catalyst for me in seeking change and for providing me with answers to an age old ache ‘Who am I and what am I to do with the who I am?’ I was able to fashion meaning from another’s wisdom and insight: Viktor Frankl. In passing the book forward I was attempting to assist another reconstruct themselves with a picture of a young disenfranchised man: in a new progressive light.

I was to meet Marcus for a 6th appointment a month after the 5th appointment had taken place. I called in to the houseblock’s control room to check that Marcus had been invited to stay on his spur for the appointment. I was told that he had gone to court and had been released from there. I tried to hide my joy but I am sure it was witnessed by the officer at the control desk. I was happy that a young man who had made some unwise choices would get a second chance. For the remaining years I worked at the prison I did not see Marcus return. I can only hope he is doing well and I wish him a peaceful journey