Venturing into the World of Poetry

I want this e-portfolio to serve as a space for me to share all sorts of writing, and that includes poetry.  This is a poem I wrote a couple summers ago of which I am extremely proud.  The idea was sparked in my head after watching a series of videos online called “Everything Is a Mashup” in which I was introduced to the concept of a cento.  A cento is a type of poem which is comprised of lines or phrases from other poets’ works.  I thought that sounded like a fun and interesting challenge, but I wanted to have my own twist on it.  What I ended up with was the following poem, in which each line of the poem is an unedited quote from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident

that mankind are more disposed to suffer

when a long train of abuses and usurpations

are absolved from all allegiance to

the United States of America,

protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders,

in the name, and by the authority of,

“necessary for the public good.”

Screenwriting: an Entirely New Challenge

Early in the fall, when I went with a group of friends to the Arts Involvement Fair, I’ll be honest: I was only going to support my friends and had absolutely no expectation of finding something with which to get involved.  I have no artistic of musical talent whatsoever (unless you count my singing voice having been described as “surprising” and “passable” as talent) and my only on-stage experience has come in the form of one semester of drama class in high school and playing the small role of the cat and the fiddle in my second grade production of Lemonade.  However, at the small little fair in the basement of the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Mad Royal Film Society caught my eye.  I knew one of the leaders of the club from another club with which I was involved, and I thought Hey! I like movies; maybe this could be cool.

I went to their first meeting and found out that every semester they make their own short film as a club.  This sounded fascinating to me and so I joined the screenwriting small group.  I had taken creative writing classes in the past and worked on my school’s high school newspaper and have always been an avid writer, but I had absolutely no idea how to screen write, let alone how to do so collaboratively as a large group.

We started just with brainstorming ideas for the plot and characters and setting and slowly but surely our film started to take shape.  Once we had a rough outline in place, we took to devising the dialogue and stage directions.  We eventually also needed to edit our script in accordance with the suggestions and input of the set design and cinematography / story-boarding groups.  It was a great learning experience for me, and we are set to finally do our filming this upcoming weekend.

Though I am not sure whether film is something I want to pursue as a career, I had never even considered it before.  After this experience, what I’ve realized is that creativity and writing can take so many more forms than just journalism or newspaper work; I think that as I continue with this club, skills like editing and working in a group on something as big as a short film or planning a film festival can help me whether I work in film or in something else entirely.

On Voting Yes on Issue 1

This November, in just a couple of weeks, voters all across the state of Ohio will vote on Issue 1, a bill aimed at addressing mass incarceration through a constitutional amendment.  I, however, have already placed my vote early and had already made my position on this issue clear months earlier when I worked with the Ohio Student Association helping to collect signatures to get this issue on the ballot.  I believe very strongly that this bill is not only good for Ohio but should be used as a model for states across the country to follow after, and I would like to explain why.

First, I think that it is important to understand what passing the ballot initiative would mean for Ohio.  There has been a lot of media attention drawn to the portion of the issue focusing on drug law, so it might be best to start there.  If Issue 1 were to be passed, fourth and fifth degree (lower-level) felony charges for drug possession and/or use would be reclassified as misdemeanors and individuals convicted on such charges would not be eligible to serve prison time unless it was their third such charge in 24 months; those individuals currently serving time for these classifications of crime would also be eligible to appeal their sentence under this new amendment.  Now, that’s a lot of words and stipulations and it has been vastly misconstrued by many politicians, so let’s break down what that actually means.

This bill does not take any laws off of the books; it does not make anything which is currently illegal, legal.  Instead, what it seeks to do is implement sentencing reform so that our already overcrowded and expensive prisons do not continually become further overcrowded and expensive in service of locking away non-violent offenders.  Proponents of this bill wish to see addiction treated as what it is: a disease.  We don’t treat cancer or pneumonia or HIV/AIDS with incarceration, so why should we treat addiction any differently?  Locking people away in prison for the use or possession of drugs does nothing but take away from the potential treatment these offenders could be receiving.  In my 4000 level Sociology classes on Prisons and Jails and on the Criminal Justice System this semester, we’ve talked and read a lot about the research surrounding recidivism rates and there is substantial evidence that recidivism (meaning re-offending) rates are significantly higher for people convicted of drug crimes when they are sent to prison rather than placed in probation or given some other sentence.

Many politicians, including gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine several times during the gubernatorial debates, have made it a point to emphasize the specifics of what constitutes a low-level charge for fentanyl possession, making the outrageous claim that someone could be found with enough fentanyl to kill 10,000 people and not be sent to prison.  Even if it were true that this much fentanyl classified as only a fourth or fifth degree felony, these politicians should take issue instead with how are laws are on the books; as I previously stated, Issue 1 does not seek to change what is or is not illegal, only to change sentences.  Secondly, prosecutors are still more than free to prosecute offenders on the charge of drug trafficking and/or drug dealing.  As Mike DeWine himself points out, if someone has that much fentanyl, they are likely engaging in one of those two activities, so prosecutors need only do what they would likely currently do anyways and charge offenders accordingly.

The second part of our criminal justice system which this issue addresses is probation.  While parole is what offenders are placed in after being released from prison early for good behavior, probation is an alternative sentencing program for offenders whom judges have deemed are not a danger or threat to society and therefore do not need to be imprisoned.  Individuals on probation must abide by a variety of rules–things like showing up to regular meetings with their probation officer, paying mandated fees, staying employed, staying housed, avoiding alcohol and other drugs, etc.  They may also face other more stringent requirements like using an ankle monitor or doing mandated community service.  Currently, offenders on probation can be sent to prison at their probation officer’s discretion without an additional court date if they fail to abide by one of those stipulations, even if it is not a crime.  For example, if an offender is unable to find employment because of structural barriers in place for people with felony convictions, or if they are subsequently as a result of this unemployment unable to pay the mandatory fees or afford housing or afford transportation to their meetings, they could be sent to prison.  Under the current system, individuals can and have been sent to prison for nothing more than being late to a few meetings.  If Issue 1 were to pass, it would require a gradated system of responses to non-criminal rule violations; several steps would have to be taken before someone on probation could go to prison without committing a new crime.  This still would allow for imprisonment in the case of an offender who repeatedly and unflinchingly violates the terms of probation, but would help avoid imprisoning people who are not a threat to the community.

Thirdly, if Issue 1 were to pass it would overhaul the Ohio earned credit program.  This, and not the drug law portion, as most media and advertising campaigns would have you believe, would have the most impact with respect to the number of human beings behind bars.  The earned credit program, which nearly every state either has or has some very similar version, allows for incarcerated individuals to earn credit toward their release by participating in programming such as jobs training, education, community outreach, substance abuse treatment, cognitive and behavioral therapy, and various other programming options depending on the institution.  Currently, out of the 44 states that offer inmates with some sort of earned credit program, Ohio is the stingiest of all of them; to earn just one day toward their release, inmates must participate in 30 days of programming and inmates can only earn up to a maximum of 8% of their sentence reduced.  If Issue 1 were to pass, these numbers would change to one day toward their release for every two days of programming completed and a maximum sentence reduction of 25%.  These changes would not apply to individuals convicted of violent and serious crimes such as rape, child abuse, pedophilia, and murder.

Finally, it’s time to talk about money.  Depending on how much you know about the United States’ criminal justice system, you may or may not know that it is extremely expensive.  For how this would affect Ohio specifically, researchers expect that if Issue 1 were to be passed, it would reduce the Ohio prison population by about 25%–or 10,000 human beings–over the next 10 years.  This would amount to roughly $100 million saved annually once this reduction were actualized.  Issue 1 takes the money saved specifically through the reduction in prison populations and dedicates 75% of it to publicly funded substance abuse treatment facilities for those suffering from addiction and dedicates the remaining 25% to funds for victims of violent crimes.

I wish that these final three points, rather than only the first part about drugs, were emphasized in the media’s coverage and in advertising circling around Issue 1.  Not only do I think that voters ought to be informed about the portions of the bill which actually will have the largest scale impact on real human persons, but I also think that we ought to engage the public in a large-scale discourse about mass incarceration and its effects on not only those in prison, but also those who have family or friends in prison, and also its effects on the public at large.  Issue 1, if passed, could be a major step in the right direction for Ohio in attempting to remedy the near-irreversible harm it has done to large swaths of our population, particularly poor and marginalized communities.  It could also serve as an excellent blueprint to other states to do the same.  There is a swell of rising bipartisan support for criminal justice reform, and it’s about time something is done about it.

Columbus Dispatch Op-Ed

This past spring, near the end of the year, a couple of suicides on campus gripped the Ohio State University community and there was a (for me) unprecedented amount of discussion about mental health and mental health resources on campus.  Many students (and faculty, too) were understandably distraught in the wake of the tragedies and there was a renewed discourse focusing on what some perceived to be a lacking in dedication to mental health on campus.  A lot of attention was brought, especially, to the student counseling and consultation services (CCS) because of unbelievably long wait lists to receive help, which many attributed to there not being enough funding for the CCS.

Depression is something that has affected my life and the lives around me for several years and, largely because of that, mental health reform and treatment is something about which I have become passionate.  When I was in middle school, my mom was diagnosed with clinical depression and was forced to leave her job because she was dealing with too much.  A friend of mine in eighth grade had been forced to transfer from her previous school because of harsh bullying and dealt with suicidal thoughts.  In high school, one of my best friends fought through multiple bouts of extreme depression, winding up hospitalized at one point.  During my sophomore year, a classmate in my same graduation year died by suicide.  If I were to total up all of my friends who have been hospitalized because of either attempted suicide or fear that they may attempt suicide, I would need to use more than one hand; to count up all those close to me who have dealt with depression in less severe but still very real ways, it would take several.

With this in mind, and with the knowledge that waiting lists for CCS were dismal and that some of my friends at Ohio State who had needed help had been unable to receive it because of that, I was angry.  I was angry and I was frustrated at what I thought was a lack of care at the administrative level; it seemed to me that given the state of our financial situation, we could more than afford to properly fund adequate and sufficient mental health resources and we could certainly put more funding into them than we were.  I reached out to the Columbus Dispatch in the hopes of writing an opinion piece and airing my frustrations and urging something be done.  They quickly responded that, yes,  they would like to publish my thoughts in a long letter to the editor.

After I finished my first draft, I wanted to share it with some people who worked in mental health care on campus to ensure that I had not made anything up and to ensure nothing I had written could be triggering to folks who have suffered or currently were suffering from depression and/or suicidal thoughts.  After talking with them, I made a number of changes because the way I had written the letter was unintentionally and unnecessarily very combative and could be taken to imply that Ohio State did nothing in the way of mental health resources.  While I still wished to air my grievances and make it clear that what I thought we were doing was not enough, I also did not want a student to stumble across it and assume that there was no where they could turn.  After making the adjustments, I was very proud of how it turned out and it was soon published online and in print for the Columbus Dispatch.