Monday, July 7, 2008

mrr column - louise

I keep forgetting to post my mrr columns. here's an old one I forgot to put up here.


Sometimes a new girl would move to our town who would be so punk that I would refer to her as "the one true punk girl". Louise was one of those girls - mohawk, fish-nets, bullet belt, black eyeliner. She helped start up a new show space when the possibility of there ever being a place for shows seemed hopeless, then she was the singer for the punk-as-fuck band Resserectum.

I remember running in to her one day, and she was dressed kind of square, and she said "do you think I look ok for court?" but she wasn't going because she'd been arrested, she was going as an advocate, working for a place called "Women At Risk". A year later my friend Molly was arrested for inciting a riot and assaulting a police officer. She was in the holding cell with bunch of other women, and somehow Louise's name came up, and Mollie was like "Louise! She's my friend!" and a few of the women couldn't say enough about how fucking great Louise is. This is when Louise became one of my heros.

Here is a quick little interview with her:

Q: Do the punks judge you for being involved in social work?

A: At first when I first got out of college and started working with Women At Risk I had some friends who were critical and who said I didn't do enough activism anymore. I see my job as activism. I feel like for 40 hours a week I'm doing activism, so my energy for other projects that I was doing before in the activist community was a little bit lower. There were people who had the stereotypical response "why do you want to work within the court system, why do you want to work in the jail, why do you want to be a part of the system?" because for some folk that goes against their punk values and what you need to do to be a punk. That critique was hard to hear at first, but it seemed mainly to come from people who didn't know much about the work that I did or people who didn't have the same viewpoints I have around activism. I feel like the longer I've been doing it the more used to it people have become, and I've had some people really tell me they think the work is amazing, how can they get involved, so it feels like it's changing. I don't know if that's because of who I choose to be around has changed, or if it's just become more socially acceptable, or if it's just like "ok, this is what Louise does, that's part of her identity". I'm not quite sure, and also the same thing about talking about my work, when I first started working there, I would talk about it at shows, and when I was having a beer at Rosettas, and it definitely got a bad reception.

Q:Why do you think?

A: Part of it that it's really tragic awful stuff, some of the stories I hear from women I work with are kind of unbelievable and it's too hard to hear. I don't think people were being disrespectful, it was just too heavy and too hard for people to want to hear about.And I respect that. But I have had to really seek out and find people who I can talk to.

Q: What exactly is Women At Risk and what do you do there?

A: Women At Risk is a alternative sentencing program for women who are involved in the criminal justice system. We advocate for women that instead of prison sentances they get access to mental health and substance treatment.

I am a case manager and outreach coordinator. As a case manager, I help women with housing, drive them to the food bank, help them access free or low cost child care, help them get access to medical care. We problem solve with them on all the issues that are getting in the way of them staying clean and sober in recovery, or being "successful" with their probation. Alot of the women have substance charges and poverty related charges, and because of their trauma histories and substance abuse, and the fact that they're women and often times poor women, and often poor women of color, there's a lot of barriers to being "successful" with probation and avoiding prison.

As an outreach coordinator, I go to the cell block in the buncombe county jail twice a week and meet with women and come up with plans to try and get them out of jail and avoid prison time and how to get treatment and housing and all those things that they need. A lot of it is coordinating resources, and part of it is they need to talk, so it's also like therapy.

Q: Is it non profit or is it government funded?

A: It's a private non-profit. We get some funding from state legislator, some funding from the Department of Corrections, because it costs somewhere around $70 a day to keep a woman in prison and $7 a day to have a women in our program, in the community with their family.

We've been able to get, surprisingly, Republicans on our side. We get some money from the ABC board, because they have to donate a percentage of their profits to substance treatment centers, and we have an amazing director who gets grants from a whole lot of different places.

The great thing about it is we get to run our program in the way we think it should be done, how we designed it. We aren't managed by any State entity at all, so we are able to create programs that are based on the women's needs and not based on some hierarchy or state organization that tells us how we can do our program.
Also, it's it's basically a feminist organization, and it's really different than working in most other social work. My coworkers know that I'm a punk, and that I do transgender activism. A lots of places aren't like that. It helps to be able to integrate my different worlds at least a little bit.

Q: Has working there changed your feeling about punk?

A: It's changed everything about my life. It's validated and confirmed my belief system about the prison system, it's hard and terrify to see that in fact the prison system is classist, racist, sexist, all those things, so while that's hard, it also validated my belief system.

There is kind of a tension between my involvement in the community and my work. Like I have to be at work at 9am so I can't go to every show that happens during the week, but also working in mental health and substance abuse, it's been hard for me to see how sometimes in the punk community these issues aren't really addressed. ...It's hard to see what can happen with addiction to these women who are like in their 50's, or 40's or even younger, who have been dealing with it forever, and then being around my peers, who I sometimes see as, I want to be careful with how I say this because I don't want to judge and we are all working on our shit in different ways, but sometime I fear that their lives could become unmanageable. So I've learned a lot around that and it's given me the opportunity to look at myself and what I need and how to address my own issues, which has been awesome and I had never even thought about it when I started working.

Also, working in the criminal justice system, I really have to be careful about getting arrested. So I'm not climbing around on rooftops or breaking into abandon buildings, and some of the kind of wild fun things that the punks are into, you know, drinking 40's at the railroad tracks, I can't do that, I mean, that's not a huge loss, but there are times, for example we had a show on Halloween at the new warehouse show space and the cops came and I felt like it was important for me to just get out of there, and definately when the war started, at the rallys I had to be careful about how far I wanted to go with my street level activism. Because if I get arrested, they'll say, "Oh, Women at Risk, they're criminals too."

It was hard at first to give up fun, living on the edge type activities. It was a big adjustment, even dying my hair and cutting my hair changed. I couldn't just show up with a rat tail and purple bangs anymore, which wasn't that big of a deal, but there were times when image stuff was really hard for me - not feeling like I could always represent who I was even ascetically, and what I've known for 10+ years. Learning how to dress to go into court - at first I felt like it was drag. I was like, "I can do this. It's just drag". I still haven't figured it all out. Part of me still wants to show my style, but at the same time, I want to be the best advocate for my clients in court. I've got to play by some rules, and you know, it's not about me.

Overall it's really awesome. My clients give me a kind of strength in a lot of ways, and I've learned so much from them that I can apply to life myself. Being able to meet with people and hear their stories and be available to them has been such a rewarding gift and so life changing, that all that other stuff, no more mohawks and all that, it's such a small price to pay.
(editors note: although she may not still have a mohawk, she is still totally punk as hell, and her band Subramanium has a 7" that just came out)

Q: What do you love about punk? What keeps you in it?

A: It's been a huge part of my life for about half of my life at this point. So, I don't really know another way. This is how I grew up. And I think that for most of us, it is the only way we could have survived, and to grow and blossom and become creative and work through the things that we see and experience in our lives. And while there can be contention between being a punk and doing social work in the criminal justice system, I think that it is this lens that I have developed in my punk community that led me here and has allowed me to make it here and be so moved to do this work.

What keeps me motivated? Part of it is community. These are my people. Despite some folks who have responded more rigidly to my work choices or have not done their peice to support me as a woman in the punk scene (you know who you are) the majority of the punks that I love are interested in my work and my music and my activisim and we are always looking for ways to work together on our new projects, new showspaces, new zines. Also, music is a huge peice. I grew up in a musical family and all of my family memebers are currently playing in several bands. For me, it is a viable outlet. It is sometimes one of the only accessible outlets. When therapy gets too expensive and close friends pull back, I have a totally constructive and acceptable venue to scream at the top of my lungs and everyone there wants to hear it! It is not intrusive or fucked up to scream it out in band practice or at shows, we're all in it together

1 comment:

Lazy Rani said...

it's funny how after living in the pacific northwest where, these days, you don't really get your punk cred if you aren't involved in social justice activism type things, i just take it for granted that louise is the one true punk girl.

it was a reality check to read about people questioning her work and some sort of perceived conflict between that and punk...