Sunday Sermon (January 25, 2009)

¡Hola! Everybody…
It’s soooo cold…. By now, I’m sure that I am considered on a par with such luminaries as Farrakhan and Sharpton. Yes my friends, I am a hater of white people!

BTW, that’s my lovely mother in all her glory… notice something? I must hate my mother too! LOL

In an effort to show that I am willing to stop hating white people, my friend Sweet Potato and I will hold an all-night “WASP/ Safe Negro/ NegroRican Yeehaw” this coming Saturday! Please bring all your hate, as we’re going to burn it in effigy. Also, please bring food, but try to keep it WASPy, OK? No fried chicken and shite like cuz it might encourage unsafe Negros, Po’ White Trash, and Nuyoricans of low morals (who are all unsafe) to attend. Pate and cheese, Chardonnay, not Gin ma’fuccas!!

* * *

-=[ Cognitive Dissonance ]=-

Frames are a way that people use make sense of their reality. It’s using metaphor to create preconceived notions. When presented with evidence that refutes a deeply embedded frame, people will keep the frame and throw away the evidence.”

I was invited to a national conference one to present my community-based model on re-entry. I knew beforehand that there would be a young prosecutor from Mississippi essentially presenting the exact opposite of my view. I prepared…

She was young, not bad looking (as prosecutors go) and had blazed a trail in her state basically locking up every (mostly black) young person who dared sneeze in an inappropriate context (well, I am exaggerating, but she was a huge proponent of the “broken windows” theory in criminology). She came on before me, taking most of the morning session. As I mentioned, I prepared and part of my preparation was to develop an empirically sound rationale for my approach (I argue that incarceration should be a last resort). My research led me to some great findings showing that mass incarceration actually made communities less safe. I even supplied data from the state of Mississippi to illustrate my case.

Of course, I was at my best behavior, but even when I’m being nice, my blade cuts deep. I then went on to show how my approach created safer communities and I managed to change the frame of the debate. I insisted that the debate at hand wasn’t about criminal justice per se, but about community safety. Moreover, I went on, if we’re implementing policies that have negative consequences and make us all less safe, we need to take a good hard look at such policies. I finished off my presentation by using one of the prosecutor’s points and taking it apart.

I was given a huge round of applause — from people concerned about crime and safety from across the country. The prosecutor was beside herself. When the question and answer period came up, she kept throwing objections at me. They were more like pronouncements, rather than actual questions and she had to be reminded by the moderator to keep her comments to any questions she had regarding my presentation.

I stopped the moderator and asked that she give a rebuttal. And you know what? She fell apart.

She couldn’t cope with the conflicting feelings created by the existence of evidence that refuted her cognitive frames. Essentially, her rebuttal was something like, “I don’t care about your evidence!” she looked bad and the more she ranted, the more she put her foot in it, until she walked out.

Fuck that bitch, was my thought.

My point was made. Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that my presentation was accepted without question, but it did open up a discussion that wasn’t happening before. Namely, is it smart, from any perspective — economic or morally — to use incarceration as the sole means to address a wide range of social ills.

To me, that’s a win.

I have been confronted with cognitive dissonance many times in my life — coming face-to-face with new” data” that contradicts my frames of reference. I will be honest and say that my initial impulse is always to throw away the data and keep the frame.


I guess if there is a real sermon here today, its message is not only to thine own self be true, but even when you want that honesty, there are obstacles we need to recognize. I have learned over the years that these moments, as uncomfortable as they are, are opportunities for growth.




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