Creating Monsters

I was on BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] the other day, scrolling through my horrendous facebook feed, and I clicked on an article about Jared Fogle, the Subway spokesperson who is pleading guilty to child pornography charges and paying restitution fees to 14 survivors. As I kept reading more about the details of the case, I became more and more horrified. I just, kept thinking, “what a monster.” Needing a breath of air, I looked up from my screen and peered around the BART train, wondering how many of these people, these very same people that were on the same morning commute as me, were reading the same article that I was. How many people were thinking the same thing as me? “What a monster.” Honestly, it’s hard not to imagine a reaction of disgust after reading about the extent of his involvement in child sexual abuse.

I also started thinking about Episode 2 – The Work of Love, the BATJC [Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective] and the conversation around transformative justice responses to child sexual abuse. I don’t think Jared Fogle and Subway are what the BATJC necessarily had in mind, but, he also kind of is. Because here’s the thing. I hate Jared Fogle, I don’t like Subway, I don’t like a lot of all of it. And it’s thinking about these things that we really have a distaste for that transformative justice asks us to do. Mia’s voice was echoing in my thoughts.

“CSA [child sexual abuse] is one of the most polarizing forms of violence.”

“We don’t believe that people are born inherently bad, we don’t believe people should be locked away in cages.”

“If we don’t believe in prisons, then what are we going to do with people who have caused harm?”

When someone says those things, I’m down with all of it. I don’t believe people are born inherently ‘bad.’ I don’t believe in prisons. I believe we live in a world that criminalizes communities, profits off of the exploitation of the underclass, and abuses systems of power. But again, as is always the case, even with anti-violence rhetoric, there’s always an exception. Nobody should go to jail… except people who have done something really awful or I don’t believe in prisons… except when it comes to [xyz.] And then I realized, it’s that exception that we grant ourselves as a society, as a movement, that is exactly our greatest hurdle. When I took that first look around BART, I wondered how many people were reading the same article I was reading, experiencing the same feelings of horror that I was feeling. But in thinking about the BATJC, another part of Mia’s story started running through my mind:

“Violence is so widespread. And because violence is so widespread, what we know is that most of us have also caused harm.”

Most of us have caused harm. Meaning most of us have also survived violence as well. When I thought about that, and looked at the same BART riders who I imagined were feeling acute horror, and only horror, my thoughts changed. I started wondering, how many people were reading the same article I was reading, as survivors, as people who have caused harm, as, more often than not, both survivorsand people who have caused harm? Thinking about the folks I was sharing this morning commute with in this way, I really understood that it’s the exception that creates the monster. It’s our impulse to exceptionalize that makes us believe that violence is isolated. That survivorship is isolated. That all of it exists away from us, outside of us, not because of us, not with us, not among us. And that’s just simply not true.

I think that’s what transformative justice is about for me, right now. It’s a deep and complicated concept that will take a lot of time, reflection, and courage to unpack my own biases, so that I can get to a place where I can understand what I am committing to. Not just words. But reality. It’s about undoing these notions of exception, isolation and single incidences, and thinking about the ongoing doing of everything, all around us, all the time. Tapping into the parts that we play in each other’s lives – the parts we ignore and the parts that we own – and understanding how no amount of shunning or selective embracing will ever negate the fact that we are all here, completely, together. There is no more option to separate or select. It’s far too late for that. So, now that we’re in it together, and if we can accept that, truly accept that, then what does that mean for how see each other? Truly see each other.