Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Inside the Three Strikes Project: An Inmate’s Letter

Again, most of these kids know they’re not going to be spending their lives working as public defenders or handing out blocks of cheese in Compton or East St. Louis. They’re going to go off and make their money and run for office and do all of those things. But the difference between doing something and doing nothing at all turns out to be a huge difference.

“You don’t need to make it your life’s work to make an impact,” says Bailey. “There’s so much that can be done, has to be done, needs to be done – on a smaller scale.”

I had two main reflections after reading this article.

First, our actions do make an impact.  Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here, whether my work is making a positive impact – or any sort of impact.

Of course it is.  Just like a stranger’s kind words at the Department of Home Affairs office yesterday made my day seem a little bit brighter.  I carried that happiness with me and passed it on to everyone else I met.

My university education and my job here – it’s to make a difference to people.  Ultimately it’s the personal stories that are important.  The above article was heartbreaking.  That’s why the next topic is so important.

Second, how ridiculous is the American Three Strikes law and the War on Drugs?

Today on the radio, the South African hosts were gloating that Johannesburg isn’t on this list of most dangerous cities in the world, according to homicide rates:,800cb773f0fec310VgnCLD2000009bcceb0aRCRD.html

Most of the cities listed are in Latin America.

Thank you, War on Drugs, for escalating crime.  Thank you for making parts of Mexico essentially a fail state.  Moreover, thank you for condemning your own citizens to disenfranchisement and a lifetime of revolving prison doors.

And for such stupid, petty reasons!

One of my friends here smokes a lot of pot.  His new girlfriend is trying to get him to stop.  Once when she was harping on him, I couldn’t help but say, “Weed is a really gentle drug.  It’s not near as bad for you as alcohol.”

“That’s a matter of opinion!” she declared.

“Its scientific fact,” I shot back.  “At least, as much as anything can be defined as ‘fact’.”

She dismissed my viewpoints as biased, which I thought was funny since she’d never actually consumed dakka and is therefore basing all her judgments on what other people have told her.

The truth is that I don’t like marijuana.  I’m enough of a left-wing, vegetarian, meditating hippy without adding one more stereotype to my repertoire!  But I respect everyone’s choice of how to unwind.  Some people choose carbs or sugar, others drink alcohol, some (like me) are obsessive exercisers.  Honestly I think the occasional joint is less harmful to your body than the average North American diet full of processed foods – but that’s just a matter of opinion.

Regardless, isn’t it ridiculous that people are going to jail for life over these differences of opinion?  Can’t people chill out a little bit?  Why would anyone feel the need to dictate to others what they can and can’t do?


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