Monday, August 23, 2010


Hal Pepinsky,,
August 23, 2010
I was a guest of a devout Muslim family in Magomeni Makuti, Tanzania, a district of Dar es Salaam, from January to June of 1990. I have just viewed youtube’s “injustice cannot defeat injustice,” after listening to a local npr talk show, There Ann Fisher’s guests spoke of what it meant to them to celebrate Ramadan. First of all, it meant deepest jihad, the ultimate Koranic “struggle,” to do god’s work as in a community center designed to invite in and reach out in the face of religious extremism…as servants of the god of peace in the neighborhood of spiritual darkness.
During Ramadan, my Magomeni hosts served me kebab skewers in midafternoon when I got back from the U of Dar. They assured me that I dare not try fasting myself, and demonstrated their service of god to neighbors by giving me tiny delicacies like little kabobs.
The house I stayed in in Magomeni had a bench along its frontside, called a “baraza” in Swahili. Being on the baraza in casual dress is pretty much like being in a swing on a porch in an old US urban neighborhood.
One starlit evening a week or two after my arrival, after a fried-egg supper that followed his return from evening prayer, Mshangama took me out to his baraza. He looked up at a super starlit sky and asked me, Heri (my Swahili name), do you believe in God? By that time he knew my father was Jewish, my mother Christian by birth, my wife born Polish Catholic, and myself unaffiliated. And as Mshangama’s fellow child of Abraham, I readily answered yes, I believe in a higher force that spreads love and friendship.
Jews, Christians and Muslims are in ancestral order descendants of one dad guy named Abraham. My Cherokee friend Steve Russell calls Abrahamists collectively “patriarchal desert cults.”
I see the Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan as an act of grace—of demonstration that public intolerance of non-violent religious practice will not be tolerated in our midst.
Surely in the eyes many in the outside world, the US nationwide Judao-Christian movement against mosques is political demagoguery fueling one more round of Judao-Christian religious Crusades also known as wars. Enough already. Love and peace--hal

Sunday, August 22, 2010

peacemaking one score years ago

Hal Pepinsky,,
August 22, 2010
It humbles me to look back at how I concluded a book twenty years ago, The Geometry of Violence and Democracy. In yesterday’s blog I quoted a prophecy that east/west cold war split in 1990 would turn into a north-south polarization between white folks and southern people of color. Here I copy from the geometry book. I first copy the last 2 paragraphs of the book’s penultimate chapter on “speaking freely with children as a path to peace.” Then I excerpt from the final four paragraphs of the book’s conclusion. I notice that my conclusions have not changed. What haven’t I learned in twenty years?
From the geometry book, p. 122:
There is no shortcut to peace. We cannot raise our children undemocratically and expect them to know how to create democratic plans and policies on a grand scale, let alone in workplaces and homes on a small scale.
Earlier I dwelled at length on the causes and consequences of violence. Violence is a common preoccupation of us criminologists. When, as now, I struggle to envision the opposite of violence, I can think of no more meaningful or more vivid setting for it than in adult-child interaction. Ageism is the ultimate barrier to peace. While I can dream far-our dreams of how to reorganize life on a grander scale, as for police, my daily life with children makes change more tangible, more concrete, more manageable. It is a good place to start one’s journey toward peace.
At pp. 128-129, I concluded:
I came to criminology believing that crime was a behavior, and trying to find it and define it. I now understand that crime is at root a relationship among human spirits. We may at any time and place proscribe behavior because we impute invariant motives to actors and those they act toward, but these legal conventions are at best imperfect approximations of the defects in relationships among human motives that truly concern us. With the understanding that the interaction of motives is the real issue, political ambiguities of defining crime are wiped away. Only then can the fundamental antithesis of crime be given forme, only then can life free of crime be articulated and planned.
….Most of us will die convinced that the truth we have invested in the more heavily in our lives remains the truth, and frightened that those who survive us don’t know it….I’d like to die thinking people are still learning.
Looking back twenty years, I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t learned much better than I knew or imagined back then. Love and peace--hal

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Human Engulfment

Hal Pepinsky,,
August 21, 2010
As I recall, it was political turmoil surrounding the Mexico City earthquake of 1985 that finally led me to recognize junctures between collective human distress and natural disaster. Recently, there is the earthquake that shook Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas—a superb product of Franco-American imperial exploitation. Now there is the deluge in Pakistan. I see mother earth attempting to dampen the concentration of military firepower downstream from the Afghan border.
I am a castellan, a citizen/owner of the US castle that has for global human righteousness sake—from Dresden to Afghanistan—unleashed and commanded firepower as big as mother earth will tolerate. Having become as big and mighty as any one people can ever become ever again, we in the US are scared, distrustful; as usual in such times of hegemonic decline, we are xenophobic, adding walls and firepower to fortresses along the Rio Grande, and now, escalate Islamophobia, or Christian fundamentalism—same thing.
Nation-statist global military empire has peaked in the US. With increasing indifference to “foreign” civilian life, as with drone aircraft, we will kill abroad. We will distance ourselves from our imperial collaborators and denounce them for losing our wars. At home, our loss of empire will increasingly turn into disapproval of our leaders and mutual condemnation. That’s just how these historical moments go.
This moment has been underway for awhile. In a paper I wrote in 1989 on “societal rhythms in the chaos of violence that became p. 60 in my 1991 book on The Geometry of Violence and Democracy, I wrote:
As a U.S. citizen, I can see that my country has probably reached its peak of global domination. I can foresee that for someone with my liberal inclinations, the prevailing political ethos of the coming decade will be a relief from the repression of the 1980s [Wrong! Criminal justice punitiveness accelerated.] I can foresee a Soviet-U.S. political accommodation and eventual Northern white military global alliance against Southern and Eastern peoples of color…
I’m always open to ideas on how we in the US might go. I think Gaia is telling US and all humanity that she and our living environment have had as much of human consumption and occupation as earthly life can sustain. I see no way to shift this course of events. I’m living in a country where we are throwing a temper tantrum against being deposed as kings of the global human mountain. I do think that investment in private, local family economies is prudent personally. I do see diversification of local networks, as in bartering economies, as the most dependable form of social insurance. Yes, President Obama, I even think it was an act of grace that Muslims might want to celebrate peace near towers where people from 88 nations died on 9/11.
Escalation in human disaster is inevitable at this moment in human history. I think Gaia is telling us that faith that national/state father figures/leaders can't solve our problems. In this fiscal climate, I feel particularly inclined to invest in family and local economy. Love and peace--hal

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Hal Pepinsky,,
August 15, 2010
I too am thoroughly enjoying statgroup. I’ll post and forward this message to statgroup. Statgroup is a mixed group of survivors of extreme ritual child abuse and their associates. For those who don’t know me, I retired last year after teaching criminal justice at Indiana University in Bloomington for a third of a century. As far as I know, I am the only professor anywhere to have included more than one survivor of ritual abuse/mind control in a single class. Googling my name has tended to be led to my writings on ritual abuse torture. I was privileged to be included in Neil Brick’s SMART conference from its inception until my retirement.
Here I resonate with therapist Kathy Dowling’s survival skill of setting boundaries on her relations with survivors. By 1996 when my classes were already filled with accounts of intergenerational, essentially satanic ritual torture and murder, and when I had stumbled upon two long-time active ritual torture sites near my home, when I was so scared for my family that I was having paranoid psychotic episodes, I signed on for over a decade’s therapy with someone who’s boundaries were firm (I never tried to call her personal number; she gave me 100 percent unconditional attention while I was with her in sessions that ended on the hour). Linda Alis taught me I was first and foremost entitled to cut myself a break, and to share vulnerability. Out of town guests to classes routinely spent an extra night at my place. I would be left with intensity of understanding what my survivor and advocate guests unfolded to me and my students. My schedule was such that I almost always had a free day next morning to hug and thank a guest, and spend the rest of the day alone to regain my own bearings and write guest and students what new I had learned in class. Time and again, I would start my sessions with Linda with, “It’s been intense…” Linda taught me respect for my boundaries, and for all the knowledge my encounters in the worlds of ra/mc survivors had given me. So I didn’t burn out and I brought in my guests with gusto right up to my retirement in December 2009. Time and again, my guests drew me out as Linda did. I have told guests including those on this list personally how much I feel they understood and validated me, while colleagues especially regarded my stories about ritual abuse and mind control to be professionally bankrupt.
When Linda agreed to become my therapist, she promised me that as I became able to express my own emotional vulnerability, events would always trigger unpleasant reactions, including body memories, that I would more readily process that emotion and let go, knowing that I was now in a place different from where the alarm that sounded when I had been mistreated in the past. For me now, that’s as good as social security in fact ever gets.
To me, a nice part about recognizing and respecting my own boundaries first and foremost is that my boundaries become negotiable. If someone volunteers personal information to me that makes me uncomfortable, I can say so and see where we go from there. Most of all, if I need time to myself, I take it. I find that this enables me to feel calm and attentive (and students with me) to hearing stories so gruesome I would never have imagined them twenty years ago. Without time and attention to our own ups and downs, we have no room to hear what ra/mc survivors are telling us happened to them. Ra/mc survivors’ stories are too much to hear insofar as we cannot entertain discourse on our own personal senses of violated boundaries in everyday life. (Anyone who knows the work of Harold Garfinkel on everyday life will appreciate my thanks to Harold for having persuaded me to go to graduate school in sociology, which conversation Harold has long since forgotten.)
Empathy and compassion for others entails empathy and compassion for oneself. Empathy and compassion for oneself entails establishing boundaries on what on is willing to give of oneself—how, when, where and what one is prepared to share of one’s own life in any conversation. I am more firmly convinced than ever that I need to identify and defend my own personal boundaries, and to respect y’alls’ in return. Thanks Kathy, for your defense of boundaries. And to all on this list who might want to be in touch, I have lots of time, email or call anytime. That’s one boundary life currently allows me to relax Love and peace--hal

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Kindness

Hal Pepinsky,,
August 12, 2010
“Othering” is the opposite of “kindness.” “One’s own kind” is redundant. Look it up, “kind” means tribes, and “kin” means family. I just spent a week with kin in Montreal. Jill and her parents are Polish-Canadian; she holds three citizenships. Meanwhile, on e-mail, I continued inquiries on behalf of a prisoner whose parole has repeatedly been denied.
When I was studying police-recorded crime trends in Sheffield, a lieutenant told me of the advice his sergeant had given when the then rookie had been sent into the field: Always treat any unruly citizen the way you would treat your own father. At the time, this patrol constable had no communication to get help when a fight broke out, when his ass was literally on the line. Now (1983), he told me, patrol constables with wireless communication would roll in in numbers and a brawl would ensue. Oh for the good old days when a police officer’s own safety depended on treating a belligerent as though the belligerent were one’s own father, one’s own kind, a member of one’s own family.
A parole board member in an arcane parole system recently gave me insightful advice on how to get a prisoner friend released. I’m reminded of messages like Gandhi’s that in confrontation with forces of violence, one aspires to celebrate the compromises they make. Putting ourselves in positions is the problem. We separate them from us. It remains the fact that they and we cohabit the planet. We are kind. Making peace, building trust to cool mistrust in our relations, depends on making them into us. In matters of public security, building trust in the face of violence entails kindness.
I have since 1983 learned that there are fathers who ritually torture their children with impunity. The worst personal violence at all class levels I have encountered has happened in private. There are many glaring exceptions to the rule that we treat our own better than “those people” do. In my experience, violence at institutional levels reflects violence in the darkest recesses of our personal lives. Kindness recognizes that privacy and privatization are as vulnerable to systematic violence as is our discourse on “national security.” That Sheffield lieutenant was telling me how he would treat his father in public in the same situation. In public discourse for example, kindness would entail the news media’s publishing the names of Afghani and Iraqi dead as personally and prominently as news of “our” war dead. Kindness entails publicly treating one’s enemies as one would publicly treat a brother or sister. That’s what kindness means to me.
Recently in the case of a friend, two parole board members treated me with the utmost respect. The first I talked with, who had most recently voted for the prisoner’s release, recommended to me that I explore sentence modification on the prisoner’s behalf. That was an act of kindness, both in disclosing a vote for the prisoner and in advising me on a possible legal avenue, as fully as I’m sure he would have done for his own father (or recused himself). This does not make me bosom buddies with the board members; it does establish that in this moment, our interests in forthrightness coincide. I have thanked them and remain grateful for their honesty. Thus informed, I continue to explore my prisoner friend’s options.
“Those” people, parole board members who had voted differently in my friend’s case, treated me (and implicitly my friend) like kin. Roger Fisher calls that Getting to Yes! in international negotiations, moving from “position” to “interest.” Peacemaking is a matter of building bridges across enmity and suspicion.
Correspondents on one list on which I have posed the question as to what inspires kindness have suggested that kindness inspires kindness. I agree.
I think our quest to distinguish right from wrong, let alone good from evil, is a waste of human energy. But when, in the early morning at closing time, I imagine a police constable telling a rowdy crowd outside a pub to go home, I do think of the kindly aunt or uncle in all of us reaching across claims of loyalty.
I see no absolute good or evil. I see no absolute right or wrong. I do see resolution of issues an empathic step at a time. This moves everyone involved from positions to interests, as though in the event, they’ll lower their weapons and cut momentary deals.
I remember shouting as a child: “Sticks and stone may hurt my bones but words will never hurt me!” That’s a lie. Words hurt, as in a denial of my friend’s parole without explanation. In the midst of human carnage, I find parole board members who are super-helpful to me, and by extension I hope, to my prisoner friend. The parole board members were kind to me. I rely on acts like theirs with me that make peace in the face of violence. I’m just after acts of kindness. Love and peace--hal

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What inspires kindness?

I wonder as I wander in retirement these days...l&p hal

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Unaccountable Parole Decision-Making in Indiana


Hal Pepinsky,,

August 5, 2010

I have recently been trying to find out grounds on which a friend of mine has repeatedly been turned down for parole in Indiana. Two forthright parole board members have told me the same story of how the board has as far as they know always made decisions. After each parole hearing, the five members simply vote to grant or deny parole. They take no notes during the hearing. They do not discuss, or as one member put it, ever “poll” one another before the vote. They never discuss cases outside of any hearing. Hence, board members, let alone prisoners, never know why any vote has been cast. Hence there is no record indicating to anyone, including prisoners themselves, why parole is granted or denied.
One board member analogized this procedure to that of a judge who enters a judgment without explanation. But in courts of record, there are at least accounts of issues that have been raised by attorneys as bases for parties to infer why judges have made their decisions, and as bases for higher level reviews. My friend in this instance received a life sentence in Indiana in the mid-seventies under the “old Code,” when the only avenue to release was parole, or if parole had never been granted, via a vote of a majority of the board to recommend clemency to the governor.
The parole decision-making procedure in Indiana blows my mind. In my four decades in criminology and in and around criminal justice, my illusions about due process have been shattered many times over, but the Indiana parole procedure goes beyond anything I have ever encountered before, let alone imagined. Back when my prisoner friend was convicted, the federal parole board was already required to account for its decisions case by case. The same then became true in my home state of Ohio. I have no idea how many other states do as is done in Indiana. I only know that Indiana’s parole procedure is the most thoroughly unaccountable, unreviewable legal decision-making procedure I have ever encountered, and that it took me personal inquiry after more than thirty years in Indiana to have a clue as to what that procedure might be. How on earth could anyone think that Indiana’s procedure is constitutionally permissible? Perhaps it’s because prisoners are so low on the legal totem pole that no one until now has thought to ask the question. Love and peace--hal