Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts

Monday, October 24

Abandoned

 












The Foundling, set in 1927 at a state institution in Central Pennsylvania, is modeled after the real Laurelton State Village for Feeble-Minded Women of Childbearing Age, that operated between 1920 and 1998. The institution's purpose evolved over the decades, but the goal during the early years was eugenics – to prevent troubled and “feeble-minded” women from reproducing.

Soon after opening, Laurelton had a waiting list to care for women deemed insane by husbands or abandoned by families, women who had large numbers of children by multiple men, as well as women who relied on prostitution or careers deemed as unsuitable. The state Public Charities Association supervised Laurelton along with prisons, orphanages and other facilities that cared for the “dependent classes,” explains a brief history in the West End Quarterly. 

“Throughout the early twentieth century, researchers, social reformers, and politicians cast a wide net for classifying people as ‘feebleminded,’” explains Micalee Sullivan. “The term lacked clear standards or definitions of who constituted ‘feeble-minded’ in the reports of the government agencies, as well as the report of directors at the Laurelton State Village. During the planning stages of the institution, an article described an institution that would ‘provide several groups embraced under the terms "idiotic," "imbecile," or "feeble-minded.'" 

Sullivan argues the institution’s history is complex, providing care and vocational training for women while also restricting freedoms. 

Pennsylvania Heritage praises Laurelton’s first superintendent, Mary Moore Wolfe: “Wolfe rejected the established medical traditions of the early 20th century that argued ‘mental deficiencies’ caused people to commit crimes and warranted locking them up forever. She believed ‘the problem of mental deficiency is not primarily a medical problem’ but instead was ‘an educational, and to a lesser degree, a sociological problem.’ Determined to make Laurelton Village a place of rehabilitation and not permanent segregation, Wolfe developed academic, vocational and moral training programs for the women living there.”

Laurelton sewing class, 1920s

The novel is more critical about such institutions and the power of those who profit from society’s most vulnerable. Protagonist Mary Engle feels fortunate to land a job as a secretary at the facility lauded as “progressive,” run by elegant Dr. Agnes Vogel, psychiatrist and one-time suffragist. Mary, raised in a Catholic orphanage after her mother’s death, squashes memories of seeking favors while enduring sexual abuse by an uncle during occasional visits. The orphan, learning more about the case histories of inmates, could only muse, “There by the grace of God …”  

The facility, not religious, is touted as “modern” – emphasizing rigid controls, long hours of hard work as ground crews, factory workers, dairy maids or housekeepers. Unlike Laurelton, the fictional Nettleton is described as offering no education or treatment. For favored staff members, there is luxury housing and meals, as well as alcohol purchased under the guise of “medicinal treatments” during the era of Prohibition. Local and state authorities pay little notice to the facility that boasts of self-reliance, requiring no tax dollars, while offering local jobs and revenue for local businesses.

Mary – a skilled professional – works tirelessly for Dr. Vogel, and the older woman eventually trusts her like a daughter, a closeness that creates distance for the secretary with other staff members and entangles her in corrupt activities including transport and misuse of alcohol. Mary soon detects physical abuse, harsh punishments and insults, but trusts that Dr. Vogel acts in the best interests of inmates. Skepticism grows as she meets more people her age, including a nurse in the facility, a journalist who is curious about rumors of cruelty, and eventually an inmate and one-time friend who grew up in the same orphanage where Mary was raised. The secretary struggles to act on her empathy for Lillian, the inmate, understanding that admission to a previous relationship with an inmate would result in termination of employment. Lillian, like many other inmates, is hardly feeble-minded, but the records do not reflect her education and capabilities.  

For weeks, Mary, torn over job security and her admiration for Vogel, avoids Lillian and rationalizes that that the other woman resists, simply not understanding the difference between right and wrong. As an orphan herself, Mary fears imperfection in herself and others, failing to understand that any attempt to assess others as feeble-minded or flawed reflects arrogance.  

Mary begins dating Jake, a journalist who questions eugenics and notions that some human beings are not meant to start families or participate in society. Jake is Jewish and Vogel is anti-Semitic, and Mary initially takes offense at his candid critiques of her employer along with the judges and politicians who support the institution. Relying on arrogance herself, she tries to dismiss his concerns for inmates who are institutionalized until they can no longer bear children: “Why would I waste time worrying about his ill-informed ideas when I, at age eighteen, already knew more than he’d ever know about how power and justice really work in this world?”  

Power corrupts, including onlookers who may benefit the least. As Albert Einstein noted, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” As an orphan herself, Mary is timid and na├»ve, trying to rationalize the cruel inequities. At times, the book is too optimistic, offering minimal tension and obstacles in what had to be a treacherous workplace.


Mary and Jake manage to rescue Lillian, but Vogel and her political backers move on to more prominent positions, never investigated or condemned for forcing hundreds of young women to work as unpaid laborers, preventing them from pursuit of any type of normal life. Many women won their freedom only with menopause, and if they were lucky, families and friends helped keep past lives a secret.  Women raised in in rural Pennsylvania during the early 20th century feared and whispered about such places. Orphans, homeless, scorned wives understood they could be locked away for the best of years of their lives. And during the Depression, many families simply could not afford to assist or speak out. A century of change exposes the nightmarish conditions, regardless of good intentions, and readers can only wonder how citizens a century from now might assess today's under-funded schools, homeless shelters, prisons or immigrant camps. 

Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime, noted Aristotle. 

The real institution of Laurelton took on many forms over the years, finally closing its doors in 1998. The empty buildings and more than 265 acres were sold for $1 million in 2021. 

Photos courtesy of Pennsylvania Heritage and Architectural Afterlife.


Wednesday, February 11

Heart-breaking

Three Muslim students were shot to death near their home at the University of North Carolina campus, reports the Guardian. The suspect has been arrested.

The motive is not yet known, but Muslims are understandably worried that the three students known for their career aspirations and humanitarian work were targeted for their religious beliefs.

Hatred and violence directed at any one group is wrong. Those who fear Islamic extremism need to understand that Muslims have suffered terribly under the hands of extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The world has more than a billion Muslims, and they are a diverse group in and of themselves. A few are extremists. Blaming an entire group for the crimes of a few will deliver the chaos of the Middle East to communities elsewhere, including those in the United States. The country is better than this.

Parents are on the front line in combating the petty resentments that fuel extremism and recruits: "Parents must raise their children to detest the swagger, coercion and ‘holier than thou’ attitudes," I noted for the US Daily Review. Parents must train their children to calmly stand up to bullies and haters because silence signals acceptance of their atrocities. This applies to those of any belief.

The University of North Carolina offers rich resources for understanding Islamic art, culture and influences with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and professors like Glaire Anderson whose specialty is Islamic art and architecture during the caliphal period and artistic exchanges between Islam and Christianity, as well as female patronage.

Painting of Christian and Muslim Playing Ouds is courtesy of Alfonso X, the 13th century, and Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, January 8

Free speech

Terrorism starts at home, so suggests the tale of Fear of Beauty. The petty resentments, the irrationality, the scapegoating and complaints, the displays of anger, the bullying, fear of competition, marginalization, abuse and more.

Police quickly identified the three suspects accused of bursting into the offices of a satirical newspaper in Paris, Charlie Hebdo, and killing 12 with assault rifles. News reports describe them as two brothers and a brother-in-law. The case bears similarities to the bombing of a crowd at the Boston Marathon - with two Tsarnaev brothers named as suspects.

The three in Paris will not slow satire in the West. All they accomplished was to ignite interest in a struggling publication and unite diverse citizens to stand up for freedom of speech and embrace satire and other forms of scrutiny. The killers revealed their fears and have shown that ideas and pens wield power.

The Arab League and Al-Azhar have condemned the murders. Leaders of many organizations recognize, as we have said on this pages before, a faith is unsustainable if it cannot endure such scrutiny and tests.

By evening, the news reported the two brothers in the France killings were orphans.

Friday, December 7

Prize

Colleen LaRose, otherwise known as Jihad Jane, was not the biggest catch for the FBI in their war on terror. She was not a prize convert for Islam either. So suggests the start of a four-part series and six-month investigation from  John Shiffman of Reuters, about LaRose, who set out to follow internet orders to kill a man in Sweden accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed.

"The court filings and press releases draw a frightening portrait of the Jihad Jane conspiracy," Shiffman writes. "But an exclusive Reuters review of confidential investigative documents and interviews in Europe and the United States - including the first with Jihad Jane herself -- reveals a less menacing and, in some ways, more preposterous undertaking than the U.S. government asserted."

Some suggest that authorities exaggerated the dangers presented by LaRose, who grew up in the Detroit area and was a victim of incest. Her education was limited to the seventh-grade and, subsequently, she abused drugs and alcohol. The plot may sound inept and outlandish. But the ignorant who are impatient about investing time in studies and self-improvement can be angry and dangerous. 

Be sure to click through the photos in Shiffman's report, and pause at the school photo of LaRose from the 1970s, when she was about 7 or 8 years old.  I have met Michigan women in their 50s who attended schools in the best districts, and now regret the labels, the free time and lack of standards for children deemed not capable of college work. Everywhere, there are teachers who label children, thereby limiting their own work and a child's opportunities, and others never give up trying to expand the future for every child. "Many teachers see a child as one way or another and they are labeled," writes Stephanie Mayberry. "Once that child in labeled, it sticks with them unless someone steps in and stops it." 

Fortunately, most of us have the chance to meet many teachers throughout our lives who challenge us, guide us, and believe we can move beyond the standards.

Saturday, September 22

Women who murder

"Forced marriages are at the root of many of the murders committed by women in Afghanistan," reports Sohaila Weda Khamosh for Inter Press Service News Agency. "The number of Afghan women being jailed for murder has been increasing every year, officials say. More than a quarter of the 700 women in prison are serving murder sentences."

Poverty, forced marriages, inequality and narcotics abuse contribute to the violence.

The women in Fear of Beauty, though, are comfortable with arranged marriages: "Our village, like others, had a tradition of sending women to other communities for marriage. The groom provided gifts, based on a daughter’s beauty and skill, in exchange for a bride, and paid for the wedding. The system worked and kept families stable. Sending us off alone, to adjust in far-off villages, increased a young woman’s dependence on her husband. The system reduced gossip about the prices paid for women, and men understood from the start that the women of their own village were out of reach."

Perhaps the mothers of sons are more comfortable with arranged marriages than the mothers of daughters.

Troop Scoop reports on US efforts to improve prisons in Afghanistan, including Zabul Prison, and establish a consistent and fair system for the rule of law: 

“'The Rule of Law project is central to a safe and secure Zabul,' said 2SCR trial prosecutor, Capt. Harrison Kennedy, about a delivery of basic supplies to Zabul Prison to equip guards and improve living conditions for prisoners. Whether it's providing blankets for inmates or forensic training for judicial prosecutors, the Rule of Law program is making great strides in helping the GoA establish a justice system that ensures the rights for the people of Afghanistan."

Photo of a security assignment outside Zabul Prison, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and US Staff Sargent Brian Ferguson.