Kirstin is traveling to the upper-Midwest in February to share ATLaS' program and our philosophy. Stay tuned as the events unfold.
Kirstin spoke to law students at ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor School of Law about proactively managing their mental health, self care, and trauma. A career in the law brings with it tremendous responsibility, and with that comes anxiety and stress. In addition, attorneys often hold their clients' lives in the balance and are exposed to the traumas that put those lives at risk in the first place. Even a single exposure to another's trauma can have a profound impact on an individual, but prolonged and repeated exposure can lead to compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. Kirstin shares how she has learned to manage both the secondary trauma and vicarious trauma resulting from her work on prisoners' rights issues. Below is the self-care map Kirstin designed both for herself and for students in ATLaS Justice Center's ID program, along with example maps showing different approaches to self care. Kirstin's approach to self-care is to map three activities in the morning and three activities in the evening that help her maintain her perspective and her personal balance. In addition to mapping, Kirstin works with an empath coach and trauma therapists. She worked for years with a career coach for lawyers. In her experience, the more seriously and more proactively you manage your mental health and the inherent trauma of the legal profession, the less likely you are to lose your footing.
ED Kirstin attended her favorite prison reform conference in Dallas last week. And the conference lived up to its historical magic. This conference is such a bed of innovation because of its family atmosphere, its dogged focus on relationships and connections. When walls come down, ideas pop up. This year's conference featured some familiar faces, sharing progress and struggles, but it also featured an amazing poet whose poetry dropped jaws and well as important comparative insights from a colleague working in Scotland. Here is my conversation with one of my favorite people I met at the conference, Armondo DePina, following my seminar on Incarceration Trauma: What it is and how to cope. Armondo does an amazing job each year video documenting the conference. Below are some images from the conference.
ATLaS' ED, Kirstin Eidenbach, Works with ACLU-AZ to Educate Public About Broken Prison Healthcare System
There is a growing discussion among landlords and housing advocates for how and where to strike a balance between the liability landlords face for tenant behavior and the urgent need prison survivors have for safe housing. Even some corporate property management companies are now either avoiding asking about criminal history or are willing to consider individuals on a case by case basis for placement in traditional housing complexes.
My heart is on my sleeve today as I confront the very human costs of our country's obsession with perfection. This toxic myth of perfection permeates American society and lies at the heart of nearly all of our failed programs. Prison, welfare agencies, education. We seek the unachievable at the cost of humanity. We sacrifice everyone to satisfy that elusive "what if." If you're wondering what I am talking about, here is an example from the arena I work in (but this is EVERYWHERE): in response to a successful escape from a prison in Norway, guess what the Norwegians changed? Nothing. Why? Perfection isn't a higher priority than preserving the humanity of their prisoners. American response? Add another wall of razor wire and take more privileges away from prisoners so humanity and normality become a distant memory. This is just one example of so, so many. There is a great article about why the Scandinavian prison model won't work here, which ultimately concluded that our obsession with perfection would doom such a humanitarian model because the success of such a model demands a resilient and flexible system.
But this same concept has infected our system of education. As Shawn Achor points out, we have designed our system to make everyone average, and in doing so, in pushing both ends of the spectrum out of the arena, in relying on gross generalities instead of taking the time to invest in individual and human decisions, we lose the brilliance of so many exceptional people.
Perfectionism allows us to move through the world using black and white classifications, ignoring uncomfortable gray areas. Yes, we Americans hate to be uncomfortable. We hate to talk about issues that may call out the limitation of our personal lens, or may make us accountable and aware of our own privilege. But, these areas of discomfort and gray - these are the areas we need to embrace, for it is in these areas that humanity comes alive, in these areas that connection blooms. Nothing great has ever come from complacency, nor has it ever come from taking the easy and comfortable route.
(For more about the myth and dangers of perfectionism and also incredible approaches to vulnerability and courage, read anything by Brene Brown. She is amazing and life changing.)
In my own work, I am diving into the gray areas. I am always working to check my lens, to listen to perspectives that make me uncomfortable, to confront - or sometimes just sit with - my own contradictions. Here is a personal example: as a woman, I have been raised in rape culture. I have spent my life fearing that circumstance, learning how to curb my own behavior in order to avoid danger. In Idaho, I took Krav Maga because at the time the law required you leave marks on an attacker in order to prove you didn't consent. So, I learned how to leave marks. I have spent just as much time working to unravel that culture, boycotting companies who objectify women, working to educate people on how damaging objectification and body shaming can be. Now, in my work, both as an attorney and with ATLaS, I work with the very people I've feared. And I show them deep compassion. And I believe they should have a chance at redemption. Sitting with these two perspectives, both equally weighted within me, is really hard sometimes. But I have found greater healing in finding the humanity in a population that could easily be flamed out as a group of monsters than in subscribing to the easy generalization that they are monsters incapable of redemption. I have found greater healing in prioritizing humanity over my own fears, over my own lenses, over my privileges.
This is not easy work. And still I get called out on my own lenses, on the blinders that my very priveleged upbringing and life have afforded me, despite what those around me would call hypervigilance to root those lenses out. And instead of letting that get my hackles up, I turn toward the uncomfortable. And I learn. And I listen. And I feel. Through my work with ATLaS, I hope to see America embrace an entirely new prison system. I hope we have the courage to build something human and healing, instead of dooming ourselves to decades of trying to fix an unfixable system with untenable piecemeal solutions. But I also hope that we can return that concept of humanity to our government, to governmental agencies, to social welfare, to business, and to education.
My challenge to you: turn toward the discomfort, work in the gray areas, and let go of any generalities that allow you to otherize. And most importantly, let go of the myth of perfection. People, systems, societies - they are messy. Accepting and celebrating that is how we cultivate brilliance and broaden and deepen our humanity.
Grace Gamez, of the American Friends Service Committee, recently put on two shows featuring the stories of those who have been or are currently incarcerated. These shows harnessed the power of storytelling, spoken word, art and music to educate members of the public about mass incarceration and to give voice to those living through its grind. Jonathon had planned on participating as a storyteller, but as he began to work on his story, the weight of his trauma became too much. He realized, like many trauma survivors, that retelling your story also means reliving it. He sent a heartbroken email to Grace, withdrawing from the show. Grace, wise to the many faces of trauma, saw the story in Jonathon's email, and included it within the show. This is one of the voices that can't be lost - the voice that isn't yet strong enough to sing its own story - but a voice and story that are, nevertheless, a necessary part of the picture. Jonathon and I want to thank Grace and AFSC for so elegantly including Jonathon's story in Entre Sueños.
Click here to watch the raw footage from Entre Sueños.
Kirstin and Jonathon recently met with members of ASU's Prison Education Awareness Club to talk about ATLaS' work on reentry and reducing recidivism. We were so impressed with the verve and passion of the students who participate in PEAC. As members of PEAC, they teach classes to prisoners housed in Arizona state facilities. And now several of them want to expand their volunteer work to include working with ATLaS. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them. We will be presenting to their group again in early 2017 about the Mass Incarceration Continuum, a theory on the effects of mass incarceration published by members of the Advocacy in Action Coalition, a national working group Kirstin and Jonathon belong to. We will also be presenting at PEAC's annual conference and unveiling our plan for a correctional alternative. Stay tuned!