The Art of Reading Another Human

Woman reading in the park under a tree.

We like to think that we are all good judges of character and imagine we’re able to see through to the heart of a liar, but the truth is, we rely too much on our own personal prejudices and experiences to really understand the differences.  A new movie out on Netflix, Unbelievable showcases the true story of a young woman named Marie who was brutally raped and tied up in her own home by a masked intruder.  When she reported the crime, her world turned upside down because she wasn’t believed, resulting in the police charging her with a crime.  Marie grew up in foster homes and had been molested before in her past, and when she reached out to one of her former foster mothers, the foster mother said she didn’t believe Marie because she didn’t sound upset.  Her foster mother said she had also been raped at one point and saw that Marie’s experience didn’t match up to hers.  She told the lead detective this and he agreed with her when he would see her laughing and joking after the incident as if it didn’t bother her.  Because of how they perceived what a rape victim should appear like, they concluded that she made up the whole thing for attention.

Another Netflix movie concerning Amanda Knox really underscores this point as well when she recounts what happened after the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher.  She is first suspected of murder because she is not acting as a normal friend of a victim should act as the police viewed her calmly talking to her boyfriend and not being emotional.  What I realized from watching the documentary was that Amanda Knox is a logical thinker and as such, she does not react emotionally to events, which the police mistook for clues of being a sociopath killer.  If you tell an emotional thinker that you are having a bad day, they may commiserate with you and tell you to cheer up.  If you tell a logical thinker the same thing, they may give you solutions instead, which some may view as cold because they didn’t react in the same way as the emotional thinker.  Logical thinkers are not looking to emotionally support you, but want to provide actual solutions because that’s how they think.  Because Amanda could not perform as a ‘normal’ person emotionally, many people to this day still believe that she had a hand in the murder of her roommate because they know they wouldn’t act in such a way during a murder investigation.

In 1988, Martin Tankleff woke up to find his father profusely bleeding and near death and his mother dead in their bedroom.  When he summoned the police, he told them that he thought his father’s friend committed the crime, but all the police saw was that he was oddly unemotional about the deaths, leading them to believe that he wasn’t normal.  And if wasn’t normal, he could commit a crime that no normal person could, assuming he murdered his parents for their great wealth.  The police tricked him into an oral confession, telling him that his father miraculously awoke and told them his son committed the crime when he actually died at the hospital.  As Martin was raised to trust the police knew his father never lied, he initially agreed, but refused to sign the confession.  Because of his oral confession, the jury sentenced him to 50 years and he fought for 17 years to prove his innocence to finally be freed.  Later on, Martin would say that he didn’t have a reaction because he was in shock, but it was too late as the police already thought they had their culprit.  They just needed a confession and never pursued his father’s friend, who most likely orchestrated the murders.

Why do we think we can read people and think that we can parse the truth from other’s actions, but not their words?  We want to believe that we are all masters of understanding how humans work and we will not retract our statements if confronted with the truth.  Why?  Because you must be a master to know humans if you know yourself.  We think that everyone else thinks like us and therein lies the fault, for many people do not think and react like us.  When we use our own emotional history and personal background to judge and condemn others, especially those in precarious situations, it ends with disastrous results.  Marie didn’t act like an average rape victim perhaps because of her rocky childhood and how she had been molested previously.  Amanda Knox didn’t think as an emotional thinker, so she didn’t understand that she was on display at the moment and needed to convey those motions.  Martin Tankleff was too stunned to react and the police took this a sign that he was emotionally cold and capable of murder.  However, it is those who are sociopaths who really understand this concept of playacting and feign emotions so they can trick us, but we don’t care to discuss them because we want to feel as if we are the ones who saw through someone, so we concentrate on those we think are trying to fool us.

The truth is, we are not good at reading humans.  We don’t understand how an average rape victim is supposed to react.  We want to think we are clever and as such, we deny those that we think are guilty because we have already assumed they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.  And in cases where the truth comes out, such as the Central Park 5, we do not back down because to admit that we were wrong is to admit that perhaps we can’t read humans after all and as such, we don’t know who we are.  Instead of trying to read others in our own image, we should try to ascertain who they are and what their reasoning is.  We may find that not everyone is like us and we shouldn’t fear the ones that can’t pretend to emote, but rather, we should be wary of the ones that do know how.  Except, we can’t read them.

http://www.oprah.com/own-oprahshow/the-son-wrongfully-accused-of-murdering-his-parents#ixzz5znlAw05y

https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=3675

 

Mile of Murder

Part 1

Day Street is a residential street that is synonymous with murder to many of the people who live in Green Bay.  It is a street that is steeped in horror, legend, and fear, but also one that resembles any other street in downtown Green Bay.  Located on the city’s near east side, it measures approximately 1 mile in length and includes many lower to mid-level income families in a mix of rental units and owner-occupied housing.  You can see children playing in front yards, teenagers riding their bicycles on the sidewalks, and families out for a stroll on an average warm, summer day.  However, you would’ve also seen multiple condemned properties in the past and the occasional police car stopped near the curb.  Day Street is an aging street that has seen a wave of demographic changes over the years, but continues to remain a source of anxiety for residents because of the events that unfolded there and the stories surrounding them.  It’s not that the concentration of crimes pertaining to that specific street are more numerous than any other part of the city, but rather the ones committed there have been extremely heinous, leading to this view.

The most heinous of all the murders that occurred on Day Street was the murder of a five-year-old Hmong girl named Nancy Thao, who attended a nearby elementary school.  No one could have imagined that Johnson Greybuffalo, a young Native man with a child of his own, would be so cruel as to kill a small child that simply woke up to interrupt him stealing into their apartment in the middle of the night.  If she were alive, she would be a few years younger than me today, but she never got the chance to live out her life.  The most well-known murder that became national news was that of Tom Monfils, which took place at the James River Paper Mill at the start of Day Street.  5 of the 6 men who the courts convicted of the crime have been released or are just now being released after serving their time, but there are still numerous people who believe that all the men were innocent and continue to espouse the theory that the victim actually took his own life.  From 1988 to today, the string of murders and crimes that have plagued this particular street continue to haunt its inhabitants.

The following murders occurred on Day Street: Clinton Cardish was beaten to death by his former cellmate on May 13, 1995, Lorenzo Ayalla was shot and killed by an acquaintance on January 28, 1995, who later left the country and was never caught, Nancy Thao was stabbed to death by Johnson Greybuffalo in the attempt of a burglary on July 22, 1994, Tom Monfils was beaten, bound, and thrown into a paper pulp vat by disgruntled co-workers on November 21, 1992, Eugene McIntosh was stabbed to death by his wife on April 30, 1988, Ouida Wright was killed by her boyfriend on May 3, 2013, and Ricardo Gomez was shot by Richard Arrington on April 2, 2016.  It is hard to believe that such misery and crime could happen in the stretch of only one mile, but these murders now define the street and how people view it.

According to the United States Census, the population for Green Bay was 104,879 persons in July of 2018.  In 2010, that number stood at 103,911 and 102,313 in 2000 respectively.  Green Bay has not grown as exponentially as Madison throughout the years, but the suburbs surrounding the city such as De Pere and Howard have thrived.  This was very apparent when we first moved to Day Street in the late 1990’s, when droves of families who previously lived there escaped to the suburbs and subsequently were replaced with a more multi-cultural landscape.  Along with a more multicultural population, Green Bay also saw an influx of workers who always lived on farms or traveled long distances to reach work in the city due to a scarcity of work in their towns and villages.  Although the population size has not increased much, the demographics of the inner city have changed over the years with different groups of people moving in.  This has led to tensions in a small town that always identified itself as a small-town, all-American city.

I’ve lived on Day Street three times in three different houses in my life.  The first time was when my parents bought a house, which was not an easy feat for an immigrant family that struggled to speak the language and understand the societal norms.  I recall my mother saying that she heard terrible rumors about the street and wasn’t eager to move there, but with the low price of the house and how close it was situated to everything else, my parents changed their minds and closed the deal.  We moved in after the murder of Nancy Thao and I would get chills every time we passed the former residence.  At that time when we first moved, I distinctly recall many for sale signs planted in lawns all around our neighborhood.  It was very apparent that families who had lived there for years had decided it was time to move due in part to the crime in the 90’s.  The neighborhood was definitely changing and our family and others like ours were part of that change.

Green Bay has added multi-cultural events celebrating all this diversity to the city through picnics, town talks, and more.  However, this doesn’t change the fact that more minorities and low-income families are affected by crime because of the lack of affordable housing and job advancement.  The median income of a household in 2017 was $45,473 as opposed to the 2017 national median income of $61,372.  While the official national poverty stats of 2017 was at 12.3%, Green Bay had 17% of its residents living in poverty.  A majority of those living in poverty either live downtown or in certain areas that provide more affordable housing.  These groups of people then experience more hardships because of where they live, making it tougher to rise out of poverty and where they are.  Race also plays into how victims and perpetrators are treated in a town that is overwhelmingly white.  In the trial of Johnson Greybuffalo, a juror expressed fears that she might not be partial enough because she thought poorly of both Hmong people and Native Americans.  This casual racism is usually unspoken, but is always there as people fear a foreign race who they assume are taking over their lands and rights, leading to apathy for a little girl that was murdered and for those that continued to inhabit the space of those who discarded it.

My life has been intertwined with this particular street and with that, some of the crimes that have happened on it.  My parents moved from Illinois to the city when I was barely one and I have spent the majority of my life here.  While living on Day Street, I have actually heard a gunshot that killed someone, knew one of the murderers as a young teenager, and attended the funeral of one of the victims.  Since Green Bay is a relatively smaller city, some residents have a connection to one or more the crimes that have occurred on the street, and some even have knowledge of the actual crimes that took place.  Currently, I work at a correctional center that some of these same murderers have either lived in or moved through.  Having worked in a maximum-security prison, I have seen all sorts of offenders from those who trafficked drugs to those who committed homicide.  There are various misconceptions about what happens to inmates once they are incarcerated and what goes on behind the locked gates, but the truth is that although the whole prison system nation-wide could be reformed, it is not what some make it out to be.

Despite these things, I’m proud to call this city my home and am excited for the changes that have occurred so far.  Although wages in the city are not as high as Madison or Milwaukee, the cost-of-living is very accommodating to growing families.  Rents are relatively lower than the more populous cities and crime occurs at a much considerably lower rate here than Madison or Milwaukee.  When I attended UW-Madison, I remember a body being dragged from the water the first few weeks I was there and it didn’t even make front page news.  Many residents of Green Bay will claim that the city is becoming more and more crime-ridden, but the data shows that crime overall has been down over the decades.  In 1993, the national murder rate was 9.5 murders for every 100,000 while it was 5.3 for every 100,000 in 2017.  The reason it may appear as if crime is occurring more is that specifically for Green Bay, it doesn’t happen regularly, so when it happens, it becomes front page news, whereas it is barely a mention for larger cities.  The more we hear about crimes, the more we think it is happening.  However, it could easily be attributed to the fact that we are getting the information at a faster rate than we ever have before and that is why it feels as if there is more crime when there isn’t.

With social media, the spread of harrowing news such as kidnapping and lost children are rapidly fed into our Facebooks and Twitter accounts and continuously shared, with almost no lag time in between the incident and the post.  If a child goes missing in a small city, even those in cities two states over will know and share the posts by the end of the day.  Technology has allowed for information to proliferate like never before, allowing it reach people that may have never known previously.  However, it also added an inflated sense of fear as people think that crime is getting worse, when in actuality, they are just hearing about it more.  We thrive on fear because it is an innate, primal instinct that has kept us alive through the centuries.  Fear is ingrained into our DNA whether we like it or not, and although we like to believe we are move evolved than that, we simply are not.  We seek out fear.  We court fear and we can influence people through fear.  The more we deny this small truth, the more those who understand the power of fear can use it to control us.  What is at the root of fear is the desire to stay alive.  Those who spread fear are seen as heralders of safety even if they are wrong.

We don’t fault someone for spreading misinformation because we feel as if they did it in the hopes of keeping us safe.  We also continue to spread misinformation even if it’s been proven wrong because we feel it’s our duty to keep others safe.  To understand fear, we must understand how the instinct has worked for so long. We as a race have used fear to survive and thrive, and because of it, we seek out fear to keep us alive.  We want to be scared to within an inch of our lives on roller coasters, haunted houses, and paint ball games.  We want to know fear, but a controlled fear because it is exhilarating.  I saw a post on Facebook on a community policing page where someone reported a group of men for trying to kidnap children into sex slavery.  Some commenters stated that the police already investigated the situation and found that it was merely a bible group who was aggressively trying to recruit, but this did not stop people from sharing after the fact.  We live for fear because it keeps us alive and we excuse those that rile up the fear in us because we thrive on it. Real crime does happen every day, but the perception of crime is what we hold on, for we have been conditioned to do so.

There is a difference between reporting accurately on crimes that occurred and willingly spreading false information that others debunked.  With the first, one is simply relaying information about a crime that has occurred, but the latter helps spread an unfounded story that further causes more misinformation and fear in the community.  With this book, I hope to accurately inform the readers of the crimes that took place on Day Street, but it is in no way a recrimination of the street or the people that live there.  Oftentimes, we will indict a whole race based off of the crime of one individual or in this case, a whole street.  Day Street is a street that I grew up on and holds many misconceptions about it due to these crimes, but it is still one that families have decided to live on.  It is not always in the best of conditions and does not always house the best of tenants, but it still deserves the truth.  For those who have chosen to escape it and those who have chosen to stay, the truth still remains.

 

 

 

 

 

Mourning a Break-up: The hurt you feel

How-to-Break-Up-With-Someone-4

When you go through a break-up, you will hear things like ‘You’ll laugh about this in a few years,’ and ‘You’ll find better,’ but these things are only helpful once you’ve gone through the entire experience and come out the other side.  These comments also downplay the hurt and pain you are feeling in the moment.  Sometimes, your identity is wrapped up in the relationship, so much so that when it ends, you lose who you are and your fear for the future increases because the safety net is no longer there.  With the attachment theory, partners in a relationship generally look to each other for security, comfort, and closeness.  A break-up can sometimes mean that you are completely lost and emotionally scarred, and it does not help to hear others talk about it as if it is meaningless.  These people mean well and are in correct in their assumptions that you will one day laugh about it, but they do not realize they are minimizing your pain.

There is no research on the direct correlation between break-ups and suicides, but they do happen.  Break-ups are serious and when they aren’t treated as such, there is a stigma around it where the person thinks they must also act like it doesn’t matter when they are crying for help internally.  Many people laughed at Selena Gomez for going to therapy after her break-up to Justin Bieber, but what she did shines a light on how break-ups should be viewed.  Those who scoff at these things have also gone through a break-up, but no longer remember the immediate pain that occurred, and as such, they devalue the experience of those who are currently going through it.  It affects you if you admit it or not.  Sometimes, a break up will devastate you and sometimes, it will free you, but either way, it is a loss that must be mourned.  If we don’t take the time to mourn the death of our relationships, we will never acknowledge the depth and breadth of what it once meant to us and what it means to not have it anymore.

There is nothing that will ease the pain and the process is different for everyone, but know that whatever you experience is true and real.  If it doesn’t hurt, then you weren’t investing as much as you should have into the relationship or it was already dead at that point.  Even when you leave an abusive relationship, it is odd to feel sadness because you know you shouldn’t be in it, but it’s okay to mourn it.  With abusive relationships, you still have the right to feel whatever you feel afterwards.  If you don’t process your feelings, you may be prone to enter the same type of partnership again.  Break-ups are a time for reflection: to think about who you are and what you want.  It means giving yourself time to grow into the person you want to be.  It also means giving yourself time to heal.  Keep yourself busy.  Talk to friends.  Find new activities.  Challenge yourself.  None of these things will help with the pain, but these things will keep you busy.  The key is to find a good balance between contemplation and action.  Too much of just one means you are trying to avoid the hurt.  Either the hurt of going through pain or the hurt of accepting the finality of what has happened.

There are no easy answers.  No sayings that will make everything better.  It simply hurts and it’s okay to hurt.  Talk to your friends and if you need extra help, it is okay to seek out a professional.  The best thing you can do is to take care of your mental health.  Just take it one day at a time and don’t give up.  Sometimes when we break up, we come up with ‘what if’ scenarios.  What if I never find anyone else again?  Face that fear.  Answer that question.  What if you never find anyone again?  One day, you will be able to answer  with ‘I’ll be okay, then,’ and you’ll know you’re on the other side, but until then, don’t let others or yourself minimize your pain.

 

The Abusive Gentleman

Gentlemen-in-1913

I once had an ex who never once laid a hand on me because he was taught that a gentleman would never do such a thing, and as such, he considered himself a gentleman. He did, however, emotionally abuse me.  He had never learned not to emotionally abuse someone and although this was ultimately his failing and not his parents, it persisted in our relationship because I was also never taught to reject emotional abuse and recognize it for what it was.  For me, I was always fiercely vocal about my opinions and let him know when he did something wrong like punch a hole in the wall or yell at me in front of strangers like I was a child.  Because I thought I addressed the situation, I didn’t see myself as being emotionally abused and he had no idea that is what he was doing.

Emotional abuse can take many forms, and in my case, he was very verbal in telling me how I did things wrong, how I needed to conform to his liking, and isolated me from others who may have told me differently.  I wanted the relationship to work so badly that I ignored all these signs and stayed, but advocated for myself as well.  I developed a small gambling habit because it took my mind off my troubles and I realize now that if it starts up again, there is something else in my life that I’m avoiding.  He was always unhappy with me, but I know now that it was because he was very unhappy with who he was and instead, projected it unto me and that he wanted to make me as miserable as he was so he could feel better about himself.  The abuse is never about the victim.  It’s about what is happening to the abuser, but they make the victim feel as if it is their fault.

I now have a son and know that this something I must teach him.  First off, emotional abuse is abuse and just because you don’t hit a woman does not mean you’re a good man if you’re still berating them.  Secondly, I think we need to teach our boys how to handle rejection, what self-reflection is, and most importantly, build their self-worth.  The truth is, many boys may have a high self-esteem in that they see themselves worthy of more, but some of them feel as if they don’t deserve it and this causes them to lash out.  They may be able to get the job or the girl because they see they are worthy of, but deep down, they may feel as if they don’t really deserve it, so they sabotage themselves by losing what they got.  Of course, not all boys are like this, but I guarantee you that the ones who are abusive are and if we don’t address this issue when they are young, it will only grow larger as they do.

A Successful Marriage is Not Important

couple-holding-hands-table

We hear that question a lot.  How do you have a successful marriage?  In the midst of any marriage, no two people can answer that question because a successful marriage only occurs when they are both dead and still married to each other.  A successful marriage means that you remain together through thick and thin and never part, but that shouldn’t be what we should focus on.  Instead of focusing on an enduring marriage, we should focus on if we are happy in the moment in our relationships.  Oftentimes, we may even think we are successful and there are celebrities who write books about how well their marriages are going only for the relationship to disintegrate right after the book is published.

We then ask what happened?  What happened is that relationships are organic and people and circumstances change.  We should not judge a relationship by it’s longevity, but instead what is happening in the moment with the couple.  Are you both happy?  Content?  Respectful?  If you are in that moment, that is all that matters.  For the thing is, that could all change overnight due to no fault of your own.  Does that mean that you should stay in a bad relationship for the rest of your life because that is the picture of perfection we’ve been told all our lives?  The truth is, it is better to be divorced and happy than it is to be married until you die and miserable.

People change and so do relationships and that is okay.  What isn’t okay is staying together because society tells you that is what you’re supposed to do.  A successful relationship is organic and ever changing.  If it means you separate because that is the healthy thing to do, you have completed the transition into a successful non-romantic relationship.  It’s time we start thinking about what success means to us and how it can ultimately ruin our lives if we let it consume us.  If success is vindication that you out-lived the nay-sayers, your relationship may not be as stable as you’d imagine.  However, if your definition of success depends on how you treat each other and how you value each other’s opinions and happiness, you may see that your definition is all that matters.

Razor Blades & Civil War Monuments

front

Anytime change is introduced, people, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or gender misconstrue this as an attack on themselves.  The reality is that everyone believes that they are good people and to suggest otherwise forces them to look introspectively at themselves, which is the real issue.  Most people in general don’t change unless they are forced to change.  Most people tend to change after someone breaks up with them, their health is threatened, or if they experience a traumatic experience.  To change means we have been doing something wrong, so if we are confronted with change, we will vehemently deny it because it allows us to not think about who we are.

This has nothing to do with masculinity or race, but happens to be more pronounced in those who are privileged.  Those who are privileged tend to have their voices heard more often over those who are minorities and not the norm.  Just because we are confronted with change does not necessarily mean we have been doing something wrong, but sometimes it does.  When statues of southern generals from the Civil War were taken down, people were upset because they did not believe they were wrong and to take them down indicated that they perhaps were wrong in erecting the statues in the first place.  It allows people to believe that they were right and to threaten that threatens their core beliefs and so, people will fight tooth and nail to retain their ‘culture.’

With the Gillette ads that admonish unsavory tendencies of men, many men who do not commit these tendencies are deeply offended simply by the suggestion that they are lumped into the same category of these men without acknowledging that this category of men exist.  Then there are a few men who have done these things and they vehemently deny that these things are issues because once again, to do so would mean they have been wrong this entire time and need to change.  As such, we get an ‘over-reaction’ of defending oneself, which leads to defining oneself by their past and not being able to change because of it.

If we don’t have the ability to change, we will always remain stagnant, never learning or growing beyond who we were.  Change is difficult and hard and that in of itself needs to be acknowledged.  Change will never come easy socially and individually, but simply realizing that we all approach change the same way should tell who we are.

How to affect change by yourself

world

I heard someone pose a question to a celebrity, asking how they as an individual, who didn’t have any clout or resources, could help change the world.  As a person who was not a celebrity or rich, this kid wondered how he could help add to the good of everyone else.  Although you do not have the resources or reach of those in the media, you can affect change simply by being yourself.  Yes, you can volunteer and donate if you can and those things are crucial, but what is more crucial is you and how you act.  Believe in who you are and live your truest life.  That means holding dear to your ideals and morals.  Not someone else’s morals, but simply your own.  Own who you are and do not be afraid of what comes your way.

When you respect yourself and those around you, always abiding by you own edicts, you teach others that it is possible to be a great human being.  When you know who you are and your role in your community, that is a powerful thing and others can sense that.  It manifests itself in everything that you do.  When those around you see that, they can be encouraged to the same and they in turn, can influence those around them.  You then create a ripple effect that reaches out infinitely, just by being yourself.  The change in this world does not usually happen through great, monumental shifts.  Usually, they happen in tiny whispers that barely anyone notices until the world we know is completely different.  Those whispers are contingent on being true to yourself and holding yourself to your own rules.  That is the test of a great person: someone who can do as they say.  If no one notices, you have lived your life as you wanted.  If one person noticed, they can see the possibility of doing it as well.