Love Makes My World Go ‘Round.
When I learn the spiritual laws in life, magic is demonstrated in my life.
I chose to move beyond where I was when I got up this morning …and open myself up to something new.
I feel totally safe everywhere in this universe.
If your dream shatters, pick up at least one piece.
I deserve the best in life.
We Are All One.
Wait up, I thought when I read “We Are All One” on my cell wall; my roommate had ripped the page out of one of the many books by self-help guru Louise Hay that flood the compound. I am not one with these bitches. I refuse to fuse with them.
As far as I can tell, Louise Hay is just Stuart Smalley with a uterus (that is, if Stuart Smalley isn’t Stuart Smalley with a uterus.) Louise has made a cottage industry out of old saws, making them spiritual affirmations. Her company, Hay House Publishing, rakes in millions of dollars every year selling posters, self-help guides, books of aphorisms and “thought cards” – laminated cards with watercolor hearts, sunflowers, lily pads with soft, diffuse borders (sharp edges belong only on female personalities). With Louise Hay signs, the prison blunts inmates into docility with gift shop stock.
I learned early on to question pat, decorative encouragement. My seventh grade math teacher insisted that all of her students copy onto the tops of their tests the word on the poster on the wall– IALAC, an acronym for I Am Lovable And Capable – to remind us that we were more than performance, more than our grades.
Even as various adults tried to feed some permutation of IALAC to me since I was 12, I never really bought it. I thought I was capable only when I aced the tests. And lovable? Yeah, like I said, only when I aced the tests. The IALAC at the top of my paper or pretty posters cannot engrain self-worth in women; that must come from within. Usually it comes from within when one learns that she is lovable and capable by being loved or doing something successfully, even if that something is learning from failure.
This isn’t to say that I’m against positive thinking. Hanging up posters of Grumpy Cat, particularly in a prison, with slogans like “A Friend is Just Someone Who Doesn’t Know You Hate Her” probably wouldn’t help women with low self-esteem, especially since bad messages seem so much more soluble in here than the Hay House-isms and the IALAC’s.
Whenever I receive affirmation from someone, I think: Yeah, but she had to say that because she’s my mother/she wants to sell me something/she feels guilty about what she did to me. Only rarely do I credit compliments for what they are worth.
But verbal abuse? I soak that up like ramen in hot water, meaning until I’m limp and flat and totally noxious. After an insult, I survey everyone I encounter if she or he thinks my abuser was right; my market research seems like I’m trying to disprove him to myself but I go so beyond the evidence needed to know I was insulted unnecessarily, that I end up proving that my tormenter was right. I have no idea why I do this. Maybe the answer is in one of Louise Hay’s books but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to look for it there because I’ve moved beyond where I was this morning – in the Zero South housing unit – and all the books, affirmations and posters are there, not in my new building, One North where we kind of are One. North.
I understand the value of tokens, of maintaining everpresence in someone’s environment to get her to change, so I see why Louise Hay is so popular. But women come to prison for crimes like swinging a baby by his feet, accidentally bashing the child’s head on the corner of a wall. Or helping her boyfriend rape and elderly woman during a home invasion of her house by holding a gun to the old lady’s head. Is “If your dream shatters, pick up at least one piece” really going to help them?
If someone’s dream shatters in here, she’ll pick up the piece and stab her girlfriend or cut rows of slashes on her forearm. We need some serious emotional delving in here and, unlike that sharp piece of dream we’re supposed to save, Louise Hay’s stuff won’t cut it.
I estimate that DOC [Department of Corrections] spends thousands on Hay House products for social workers to use in the various “groups.” Women in prison need serious individual psychotherapy to understand patterns in their behavior, namely why they make bad decisions when good decisions are actually easier to make. But one-on-one psychotherapy is a painstakingly long process and making even small steps requires big bucks; DOC refuses to pay for what works. Maybe the size of the check that DOC cuts to Hay House Publishing wouldn’t cover therapy for everyone, but it might pay for a few inmates so that they don’t repeat bad choices.
I think what bothers me the most about making Hay a hero is that the inmates believe that they’re edifying their emotional states or improving their lives when they slurp up Louise’s spiritual shtick; they don’t realize that DOC is just controlling their thoughts in kinder, gentler ways.
I’m not the only one who questions the Louise Hay-isms everywhere. Womens’ studies scholars call this kind of social control technique “pastel fascism”; you don’t need Mussolini’s Black Shirts’ breaking shins and busting skulls to oppress someone. DOC wants all of us to be one, as in one undifferentiated population. But if Inmate X wants to get out and stay out of prison, then she needs not to be one with Inmates B, C and D, total zeros who are already planning which Dunkin’ Donuts they will knock over by keeping the cashier at knifepoint (I heard them). Inmate X must differentiate herself – by working on herself – so she’s not one with anyone here at all. Then she’ll succeed.
Pithy, pitchy slogans under colored-pencil sketches of seashells prove themselves to be particularly weedy, especially when you consider that Louise Hay’s story is one of a shrewd and go-getting woman who paved her own road, alone. In 1984, she started Hay House because no publisher would touch her self-help manuscript, Heal Your Body, a book that ultimately became a worldwide bestseller. Hay House then published You Can Heal Your Life, another mega-hit, and Louise realized love really doesn’t make the big blue marble go ‘round – but mean green does.
And Louise’s mean green is way meaner than anything Grumpy Cat can say; she sold forty million copies of her first book alone. I don’t know whether the inmates even know that Louise is making “A-rab money” hand over fist of solidarity while she ignores all of the advice in her own affirming posters.
Essentially, Louise self-published and made herself rich and powerful because she wasn’t one with anyone, particularly anyone in the established literary community. In fact, she claims she didn’t take Heal Your Body to a “big-name publisher initially since she feared they wouldn’t let her say what she wanted.” Apparently, Louise never felt totally safe absolutely everywhere in the universe; she must have felt stifled in HarperCollins’ or Simon and Schuster’s editorial offices. So she opened herself up to something new: her own business. Now, not only does she just deserve the best in life; she can afford it, too.
It’s easy to open yourself up to something new when you’re a millionaire. Recently, Louise started Balboa Press, a company that offers “guided self-publishing,” meaning authors can pay an arm of Hay House to print their books. As part of her pitch to pull writers to Balboa Press, she tells them in an online video: “If you’re willing to change your thinking, you can change your life.”
On that one, she’s right. If female prisoners refrain from reading Louise Hay’s books, stop swallowing all of her bottle-fed spirituality and simply start learning from her example, then things will change in their lives. They’ll know that they’re lovable, capable, solvent and secure, just like her.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM MAY 2 – 8, 2016
Although this doesn’t relate directly to justice reform, Trump-tive became presumptive this week, the last man standing to be the Republican presidential nominee. He has no position on criminal justice. None. And I’m not sure that this even matters.
2016 is the twentieth anniversary of the passage of three federal statutes: the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (also known as Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill), the Anti-Terorrism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), all of which contribute generously to our modern criminal justice problems. Liliana Segura of the Intercept detailed why the AEDPA is so troublesome for wrongful convictions here and Meredith Booker of the Prison Policy Initiative explains why the PLRA blocks inmates from getting relief from abuse and should be repealed here. I’m grateful to writers and researchers for picking up on these problematic statutes since they were some of the biggest stumbling blocks to my appeals and other attempts at post-conviction review (I can’t blame everything on the staff at York CI).
The new book Coming of Age in the Other America has attracted a lot of attention, particularly last week, because it suggests a real solution for inner-city violence. Instead of fixing schools, throwing money into street-level policing, or blaming families, the number one way to keep young people from engaging in crime is to offer them “identity projects,” like keeping animals, making films, or starting a mini-business where they learn to view themselves as productive citizens, filled with potential and deserving of some IALAC’s. I see no reason not to try this, large-scale. And try it in prisons.