10/28/09

Hazel Jean's Victory!

Someone needs to write this. Attorneys won't touch it. Local authorities won't touch it. Everyone does what they have done for the last 20 or so years - looks away -hopes that they are not labeled as instigators and tattle tales and pretends nothing bad has ever happened to Hazel Jean.

I moved here over 7 years ago. It wasn't long until I was visited by my neighbor and Hazel Jean. He is/was a big man - powerful, loud, well connected to certain elements, intimidating - yet very friendly. She was sitting in the back of his pick up truck, with his dogs, looking down, mumbling, wearing multiple layers of clothing. It was cold then. I have come to learn that she wore those multiple layers all year round.

Hazel Jean can outcurse and out fuss even the best. She learned it from him. I am told that it's been over 20 years that she was his....captive. Her sense of self worth was slowly beaten out of her and never reaffirmed by anyone who witnessed the tragedy of her existence. I can add myself to that list. When I asked him WHY he told her continually he would beat her, he simply said "that's the only way to keep that n....straight! Everyone knows that! If it weren't for me she would be wild in the woods somewhere!" If it wasn't him outlining to her the future she faced if she rebelled it was another member of his family.

Hazel Jean had her own home - a shed next to his house. She had her own bathing facilities - a 5 gallon bucket. On weekends, she was treated with a bowl of scraps he brought home from church social events. After she washed and hung out his clothes, she was allowed to hang her on along the barbed wire fence at the edge of the property - lucky her! He outlined himself and many of his friends outlined him and still do as "her angel of mercy". Without him, she would end up in some institution/cage instead of the luxury accomodations she had. Many who didn't look the other way as I did advocated his abuse of her as "necessary" to keep her quality of life to the outstanding level it was.

I did ask over the last many years how this happened. How was she lucky to live as a dog, next to the dogs, treated possibly worse than livestock on the farm? How was it that she was always working - sun up to sunset - on the farm - in the garden - in the fields? Why didn't anyone speak out? She was by all legal definitions disabled yet she worked harder than any human I know. I was told people DID speak out but Hazel would always want to be returned to him. I have a friend who filed a report - no one responded. There are sums of complaints and reports. In 1993, there was an investigation and the conditions were found "deplorable" yet she remained. Her fear of "captivity" overwhelmed her fear of the abuses (mental, physical, sexual) she experienced on a daily basis. I suppose she was so indoctrinated to the beatings - sometimes with a whip - and the verbal abuse that she thought that was normal. This modern day slave seemed to embrace her situation. Her mental capacity - diminished before she matured into an adult - left her incapable of realizing that alternatives could possibly be better. His ability to make sure she felt "lucky" to have him was profoundly powerful. After all, according to him - she was like family- you know - like a dog or cat would be.

It's been 7 years. This spring someone noticed - someone with more political pull than him - someone with the ability to stand up for right and say wrong is wrong - someone who contacted other someones. Hazel Jean was removed from captivity by authorities. Her disability funds were redirected from his bank account into an account where her care would be foremost.

First, she went to the hospital to get a real bath, real care, and to sleep in a warm bed. Over the last many months, she's been found accomodations in an extended care facility. She has her own room, her own things, she's fed, she can bath in a real tub. She can sleep in a warm bed. Yet, she still requests to "go home" to her "house" - the shed within which she submitted herself every evening after dark -no heat, no water, no light. His son told her it would be destroyed were she not to return. It was the only thing that was "hers" she ever knew as far as anyone can understand. After a short visit, however, she begins to ellaborate on the abuse. It's the kind of stuff you would have expected a 100 or so years ago.

Then she begins to smile and to talk almost like a normal person. She looks you in the eye, she doesn't mumble. She doesn't bow her head. It would seem that beating her is not required to keep her submissive and under control after all. She's actually funny - witty. I am so undeserving of her notice. I am ashamed I feel so much relief now that she is safe given the fact that I did nothing to secure that for her.

I once told this man not to bring her to my house. That's it! That's the extent to which I went to try to help her. Looking back, that's really pathetic. However, it was enough for him to assume I turned him in and to be harrassed for the last six months by him. My sweet Jo Jo (one of the puppies that I raised from the day it was born) has been poisoned. Many bad things have happened. Am I innocent - absolutely not! I didn't make a stand, I simply pretended to look the other way -just like everyone else. But, all these things that have happened to me remind me of how awfully she must have suffered in the direct power he had over her. I have a husband who defends me. I have a legal system that tries to slow him down. She had nothing. She is a small black woman in a big white man's world. If he can hurt me in the manner by which he has, I imagine how he could have hurt others in the past given his "status" in this small little corner of the world. It sort of helps me reconcile to the facts of the matter.

Even now, no one really wants to hear her story. "She's safe now - be grateful for that" they say. I am grateful because I was not a big enough person to see to it she was safe but someone finally was.

But I wonder. Is putting her in good care and locking her away from him justice? He's free. She's sheltered and protected. But has justice been served to her? Apparently around here people believe it has.

If anyone heard half the stories I have heard regarding what she has endured, they would not feel that way though. She IS caged in order to be protected. That just seems really backwards to me. Yet, even now, no one finds her situation worthy of further notice. They just keep on doing what they have always done - looking the other way.

So today, I am frustrated with the system, with myself and with the guilt I feel. I am sad to know that the majority of her life was spent imprisoned in her mind and in her real world. I am sad to know that our system let her down horrifically. It's a blessing that she is where she is now. Her new caregivers are loving, kind and generous. But I keep asking myself how can it be better for her? No one wants to represent a person who has difficulty speaking out for themselves. No one wants to investigate why the system let her down. I guess it's a lot of work with little reward. So, for now, I pray for her and I do thank God that He has freed her from the hell within which she was living. At least now she smiles.

10/9/09

I'm not one for politics but...

I just read this morning that the Pilgrim's Pride Chicken Plant in Athens, Georgia was closing. This is just a few weeks after the Pilgrim's Pride plant in Athens, Alabama closed.

My Great Aunt Effie (pronounced AAANT Effie) lived across the street from the Pilgrim's Pride Plant in Alabama. On good days, a chicken or two would get away and run across the street. She would sneak out and chase it into her garage, closing the door and subsequently calling the rest of the family to inform us of fresh chicken and dumplings for supper. Try as I might, I have never and will never duplicate the cooking skills of Aunt Effie! That's partly because I don't use substances like "lard" and partly because she was just a very gifted cook! When she got fresh chicken and shared it, we fought for the scraps!

That plant has been operating for at least 50 or more years. What people don't realize is that it won't just be the factory workers who are out of work and suffering. The chicken industry is driven by the individual processors. The farmers who were supplying those chickens will now be shut down - many of them are financed to the hilt to maintain current techologies within their operations.

The truck drivers will be losing their jobs. The feed processors will be suffering as well - some of them possibly completely ceasing operations. That's the backwards trickle down of the shut downs. Now for the forwards flow - the grocers, the retail establishments, the restaurants, the local governments who no longer have those tax dollars.

Basically, shutting down what appears to be an old, worn out operation is going to have dismal consequences all the way around.

I don't know where we are going with our world right now. I suppose poultry can be purchased from cheaper sources overseas? But, is it as carefully guarded by health officials? When I worked in the catfish industry and the Vietnamese Catfish began to destroy the American industry with their cheap product, it was quickly discovered that the product was not well watched and the very reason for the "cheapness" of the product was the complete lack of government oversite.

This leaves me with so many questions - do we ask our government to back off their oversite? Do we ask them to insite that the same oversite is maintained on the foreign product brought in more cheaply? Is our public simply eating that much less poultry as a result of the broken economy? Why does poultry cost so much anyways - when I was growing up only the poor ate chicken everyday.

It's a given that I try to keep life simple - I raise my own chickens, gather my own eggs, garden most of my own veggies but not everyone has the time or energy to do that and too many people think it's really hard when it's not. I just don't know how simple you can ask people to get before our entire system breaks down to nothing.

10/2/09

It's Friday!

Life is full of tribulations. Whether they are the result of some accident, some person or some situation, they tend to overwhelm and complicate our lives. This morning, I was pleasantly reminded that everything in life is trivial. As I walked out the front door to feed, there was the most beautiful sky I can ever remember. The distant horizon, where the sun had not yet appeared, was fuscia. There was a thin layer of clouds overhead. They had little whipsy aspects - like cake icing when you dab your spoon into it. Each whisp was reflecting shades of pink, purple, red, even some grays. It was just breathtaking.

I am left reminded that today will be a blessing regardless of how the rest of it works out. I woke up. I am breathing. I am here. It's a good Friday indeed.