A Man with a Flashlight


And he was driving a Prius
July 5, 2007, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Drug Prohibition, Politics, The Earth

Can you get greener than being Al Gore’s son, cruising along the San Diego freeway and smoking green buds?

I’m sure I won’t be the first to ask if the marijuana was as hybrid as the car. Yuk yuk yuk.

Strange to say, but my first reaction is a slight tinge of envy. It must be my hippie roots. There’s something strange, even dreamlike, about the whole situation. It seems to come straight from the subconscious of the Left. Does Al Gore III stand for something in all of us, the rampaging id of the gentle liberal psyche?



The trouble with Bill
July 5, 2007, 11:47 pm
Filed under: Politics

Since posting about Bill Richardson I got email from his campaign suggesting I could link to his site. This is the blogosphere’s way of telling you you are kissing too much ass, so let’s mention the funny thing about Bill Richardson: he wants to pull completely out of Iraq, and he wants to do it yesterday. He would literally leave no troops there whatsoever – not to train the Iraqi army, not to secure Kurdistan, not to secure the borders. Coming from someone with Richardson’s foreign policy experience, I can only interpret this as a bone he figures smells pretty juicy to Democratic primary voters, because as a strategy for peace in the middle east it is pie in the sky. An Iraq pullout would be far worse than America’s withdrawal from Vietnam, which at least abandoned the field to a clear victor: Communism. In Iraq we would leave nothing but a vacuum. Richardson is using this to try and set himself apart from the other Democratic candidates, but for me, his sensible policies on medical marijuana, the use of diplomacy, CLOSING GUANTANAMO, and keeping the government the hell out of people’s sex lives does a fine job already. Anyway for now I like him more than Obama, partly because he is much clearer about where he stands (perhaps as a forgotten candidate he has little choice about this, but anyway it interests me).



Oh yeah… Bill Richardson
July 3, 2007, 10:58 am
Filed under: Politics

For those of you who’d forgotten (I had), New Mexico governor Bill Richardson is running for the Democratic nomination. I caught his June 19th speech at the Commonwealth Club of California on NPR. Richardson talks policy with more substance than any of the Democratic frontrunners (that’s why they call them frontrunners, they run for office by fronting).

Richardson would end “don’t ask, don’t tell,” end federal raids on patients legally using marijuana; allow civil unions for gays and lesbians; make nuclear arms reduction a foreign policy priority; and he says he doesn’t believe in raising taxes. How reasonable – and these days, how unusual.

He’s also a self-effacing, low-key guy from New Mexico, none of the Massachussetts ego that keeps sinking the Democratic party. And he doesn’t mind making light of himself:



Heads in the sand
July 1, 2007, 11:09 am
Filed under: The Earth

I’m not an expert, but the theory of peak oil seems straightforward to me. The petroleum we use accumulated slowly over millions of years. There is no prospect of renewing it, at least not on a human timescale. As it becomes increasingly scarce, it will become increasingly expensive. And at some point, there will be left only petroleum which requires more energy to extract than it yields. In any case, long before that it will be so expensive that solar power will be a bargain by comparison, and oil will be dead. (Please do correct me if I’ve blundered so far.)

So I guess we should not be reassured when the chief economist for British Petroleum claims that oil is infinite:

This scenario is flatly denied by BP, whose chief economist Peter Davies has dismissed the arguments of “peak oil” theorists.

“We don’t believe there is an absolute resource constraint. When peak oil comes, it is just as likely to come from consumption peaking, perhaps because of climate change policies as from production peaking.”

So we don’t have to worry about the inevitable downslope in oil production making it prohibitively expensive, because the environmental costs of using oil will be prohibitively high, killing demand for it.

An interesting prediction, especially since there seems to be no indication of this coming drop in demand:

BP’s review shows that world demand for oil has grown faster in the past five years than in the second half of the 1990s. Today we consume an average of 85 million barrels daily. According to the most conservative estimates from the International Energy Agency that figure will rise to 113 million barrels by 2030.

We are addicted to oil, and like any junkie, we have an assortment of lies to support our habit. No-one wants to be the one who tells us the obvious: oil is the author of our current way of life, and that way of life may last no longer than the oil does.



“His great virtue and his weakness”
June 30, 2007, 9:07 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics, The War on Terror

I just finished part 2 of the Washington Post’s Cheney profile. Read it if you have any interest in understanding the mindset of an American who comes to embrace torture – and understand it we must, if we are resolved to begin the long and hard work of removing this stain from our honor.

It is striking to me that the torture crowd paints themselves as the realists in this debate. I submit that the entire foundation of their argument rests on a singular fantasy – the fantasy that if we just try hard enough, and compromise enough of our core values, we can ensure that Americans will be safe from another terrorist attack. If you believe this then all else follows. It means our historical disdain (and proud disdain) for torture is meaningless. It means the public interest in privacy and protection from government scrutiny is a bygone. And it may come to mean many other things, to our lasting regret. This fantasy – this dangerous fantasy – can justify anything, and it will, until we give it up for good.

My opposition to torture is not idealistic, it is realistic. I know – though of course I wish it were otherwise – that any government’s promise of security is hollow. When politicians bring us their sweet offers of safety – think Rudy Giuliani – I see the shrewd self-interest that lies beneath their reassuring strength. When has a politican ever won office by telling people what they do not want to admit? We are being targeted by killers, and they are bent on murder, and we can not stop all of them. That is the truth, and we can “double Guantanamo,” as Mitt Romney bravely suggests, and it will make no difference.

This is not defeatism; I believe we can defeat the jihadists, and we must. But show me the terrorist movement or insurgency that was defeated by torturing those who were captured. Show me one. You will find no examples of this, only examples of the opposite; movements which were fueled by oppression, and strengthened by it, and given the one thing we should find most repugnant to give them: a sense of justification.

We can never hope to erase the risk of attack, but it is completely within our power to uphold the traditions of democracy. Bush and Cheney notwithstanding, limits to the power of kings are an enduring monument of our civilization. That achievement probably took more toil than erecting the pyramids. Unlike the pyramids, it passes on a sweet benefit to every new generation, for as long as we can find the strength to honor and defend it. Also unlike the pyramids, it is being dismantled.



Susan Aldous interview, part 3
June 2, 2007, 2:32 pm
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, The East, Undiscovered writers

The last round of questions with our favorite Thai prison activist. Read Part 1 and Part 2. And check out Susan’s new book. It’s an eye-opening look at prison life in Thailand and the redemptive power of helping others.

Dear Susan,

Very sorry to take so long with the last set of questions, it’s been a hectic week or two. I know you’re very busy right now with the launch and your work, so please answer at your leisure and I’ll throw it up on the website. Thanks so much for taking the time to have this conversation, I’ve quite enjoyed it, and I hope my five readers have as well. Here we go:

Hi there Jonathan,

Yes, I know the feeling—hectic past few weeks that is—anyway here we are again, you, me and the gang of five, how fun and I too have really enjoyed chatting! One of my favorite pastimes!

You were inspired to give your life to service when you converted to Christianity, and you write that at times you hear a voice that guides you. Is it God? An inner voice? Or what? And how much do you rely on that voice?

The inner voice is definitely a God thing. Sometimes the voice is angels or spirit helpers and at other times it’s Jesus and the big Guy Himself. Sometimes it’s a combination of all those along with the gift of women’s intuition and discernment that comes from tuning into God’s voice and life’s experiences. God broadcasts all the time, it’s just up to us to set our receiver to the right channel.

I rely on the direction-giving, life-changing and miracle-producing radio broadcasts as if they were my lifesaver in the sea of madness. Cannot do any of what I do without the transmissions …

The only credit I take for any other inner voices are the dark, let’s-not-go-there thoughts, which I do have to battle as most of us do daily. You know the self-defeating type of dialogues that we have with ourselves telling us that we should not attempt the impossible etc. I have to shut this kind of communication down by retuning to the Love Channel.

Human rights abuse is a problem all over the world. As an American I am angry that my own government is now practicing torture and worsening the problem. However, from a viewpoint of human rights, many Asian countries don’t compare well with the west. Burma, North Korea, and China are the famous examples, but even in Japan – a developed country with a large middle class – the police have broad powers, suspects do not have the right to an attorney, and the conviction rate per crime committed is over 90%, which makes one wonder if all those convictions are accurate.

Speaking from your experience in Thailand, does Asia have a particular problem in the area of human rights, and if so, why do you think that is?

Definitely a huge problem! In my opinion, the causes are many.

Life is cheap; a disregard for life can be a common mindset. For example, your Karma got you into it so you’re going to have to get yourself out by suffering through and hopefully you can change your destiny to something better. If you were crippled, mentally retarded, orphaned or a criminal you were in the same basket say 20 years ago in Thailand. You were suffering because you were in some sort of pay back mode for past bad actions. This is slowly changing thankfully and I see compassion starting to win out over indifference. Perhaps folk are being a bit more proactive in trying to create good Karma by showing mercy to those in need. Westernization is also responsible and Amnesty reports, books written by former inmates etc too. The changes in institutions have been huge and that is a credit to the Thais as well—I am always amazed when I see the differences in places I visited or worked at years ago compared to how they are at present.

Prisons have improved a great deal, but they are still closed affairs and there is a huge way to go. Additionally, there is much farther to go when it comes to the legal system, especially the court system and lack of concern for the individual. As with Japan, most likely, the big guy is ALWAYS right.

Corruption and greed is rife in Thailand and the west does not set a good example nor do they demand changes as usually our countries want only economic returns. So life may be cheap for us too…

If you are a lowly paid government officer, corruption is easy to succumb to even at the expense of someone else’s life. But, what is our excuse as so called “enlightened” western societies, the supposed bastions of democracy and equality? We are worse because we know better.

I find it interesting that religion played such a large role in your life, yet you write that going to church doesn’t interest you. Do you feel that organized religion falls short of the ideals of Christianity?

My faith is my foundation for my life and all I do, but that does not come from an organized form of religion…sort of a more Jesus, live-the-love-life-style of worship. Walk your talk, live it, do it, don’t preach it. It’s very intimate, passionate and it’s extremely motivating.

My kind of Jesus, if He were in human form on earth today, would take me for a whirl on His Harley and we’d go for long moon lit walks on the beach as we discussed how to better the lives of those that I am put in touch with, plus He’d take time to answer my deepest questions etc. Sort of how it is right now, minus the Harley actually…ha!

Believe me, I respect whatever form of worship folk chose to take, but for me the big money-making hypocritical form of go to church on Sunday to be ‘seen’ doesn’t light my fire. Sometimes I feel closer to God sitting on the floors of some filthy holding cell with open toilets, violent criminals and withdrawing addicts.

So much evil has been committed in the name of God, which I believe to be political power plays rather than true religion. Anne Lamont said in one of her books when referring to some horrid situation, ‘it’s enough to make Jesus want to drink straight gin out of a cat bowl!’ Sometimes when I see man’s inhumanity to man, I am tempted to ask Him to sit down and share the cat bowl with me, and make it a double…

If I did not have faith, could not pray and did not believe that there is a God of Love, I could not bare the things that I constantly see. One day it’ll all come out good in the wash though!

Where would you be today if you hadn’t come to Thailand?

Geesh, that’s a tough one!

Can’t really say, because what was meant to be fell into place as I was swept along in destinies current. However, if I was given a carte blanche, go wherever you want, do whatever you want, no holds barred, no expenses spared, I’d probably use Thailand as a base and hit the road and do the world big time. Perhaps when my daughter is older, settled and if I still feel the same way, I most likely will let my inner gypsy child take over.

Must say though, I feel with my work, constancy of purpose is what makes it effective, so would keep the base here, keep on with the work and then make short forays into other countries and do projects. Somewhat similar to the things I have done in the past in the surrounding countries, but further abroad and a bit more exotic and with greater impact.

If for some reason, I cannot remain in Thailand, I would love to move to Latin America. In many ways I feel more suited to the Latin way of life, but this is the plot I have been given to work with for now. One day at a time, this takes me to the next question…

What goals do you have that remain unfinished? What is ahead for you?

On the personal front: I want to see my daughter grow up and find her niche in life. She is incredibly talented and writes amazingly well, so maybe that’s her thing. Who knows, but we are on one amazing journey to find out.

Take a real holiday.

I love to study, so most likely will do some more of that when the right doors open.

Take a real holiday.

I would like to establish a more stable financial base.

Take a real holiday.

Dare I say it? Perhaps even fall in love again.

Take a real holiday…it’d be nice to even be able to conceptualize what a real holiday looks like at least.

Take a real holiday! Did I already say that?

Improve my Thai and perhaps even learn how to spell in English. The first, being a more achievable goal and then take a holiday.

Work wise: I want to continue working towards seeing the death penalty abolished and working standardized prisoner exchange treaties globally in place. Also, fair treatment for the incarcerated, mentally ill and whoever suffers due to lack of love and justice!

Yeah, yeah, I know I sound like Miss Congeniality’s Sandra Bullock’s antithesis. And with such goals in mind, there goes the holiday! Better to wear out than rust out at least.

Currently, I am having a part in creating two new books. One is giving a voice to Thailand’s Ladyboys and the second is the story of a male sex worker, which all play into some of my outreach programs. This has been extremely interesting and a real learning curve for me, more to come I am sure.

I just want to keep on doing what I am doing, and keep on loving it as much as I do and I am very open to whatever form it all may take as time moves along.

I am satisfied enough to be content and dissatisfied enough to keep on reaching out to accomplish more.

Something that I really love about my life is that no matter what horrid things, difficulties or obstacles happen, I can always eventually reframe them and use them to empathize with those who are in need of encouragement or answers.

I look forward to the future with great hope and expectancy.

Thanks and best wishes,

Jonathan

Thank you too Jonathan, all the best!

Shine bright!

Susan.

Hugs and kisses to you and the Famous FIVE…

“Dusty” Susan Dustin
P.O. Box 33 Suanyai Post Office
Nonthaburi Thailand 11003
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/onelifeatatime
http://onelifesusan.homestead.com/OneLife.html

Many thanks to Susan. I wish you luck both in love and in abolishing the death penalty. Keep up the lovely work. Cheers!



Bruce Bawser puts his finger on it
May 23, 2007, 9:10 am
Filed under: The West

Andrew Sullivan gets it. In an interview:

BILL MOYERS: You describe so well the values of democracy, pluralism, tolerance and sexual equality that took root in modern Europe. Why aren’t they powerful enough to absorb and assimilate and mitigate these tribal customs?

BRUCE BAWER: I think that for one, I think that European leaders in many cases have lost confidence in the values of their own society. They’ve placed multi-culturism above democracy and freedom.

I sensed a similar attitude among many of my friends in the young left in America who were and are active in anti-globalization politics. I might not use the word muliticulturism, but there is a widespread devaluation of freedoms that are too hard-won to be treated with indifference. In this day and age it’s considered bad form to say we are better than anyone else – not in general, but even in any particular way. The irony, as Bawer points out, is that this hurts not only ourselves, but also the powerless within other countries and cultures who would be protected most by Western freedoms.



Two U.S. laws
May 19, 2007, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

that the President might want to consider his own exposure to.

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 113C > § 2340A

§ 2340A. Torture

(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 118 > § 2441

§ 2441. War crimes

(a) Offense.— Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.
(b) Circumstances.— The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States (as defined in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).
(c) Definition.— As used in this section the term “war crime” means any conduct—
(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;
(2) prohibited by Article 23, 25, 27, or 28 of the Annex to the Hague Convention IV, Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, signed 18 October 1907;
(3) which constitutes a violation of common Article 3 of the international conventions signed at Geneva, 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party and which deals with non-international armed conflict; or
(4) of a person who, in relation to an armed conflict and contrary to the provisions of the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices as amended at Geneva on 3 May 1996 (Protocol II as amended on 3 May 1996), when the United States is a party to such Protocol, willfully kills or causes serious injury to civilians.



A glimpse into the Death Star
May 18, 2007, 11:13 am
Filed under: Politics

that the Bush white house has been these six years. Alberto Gonzales (when he was still on his way to the top, and a hot prospect for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to extract John Ashcroft’s approval for their illegal wiretapping program at his hospital bed, when he was so incapacitated that he was not the acting attorney general. Ashcroft stood up to them even though he was lying down. I must say I gave the man too little credit.

Oh, and they were sent by the President, according to Bush appointee James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee (free partisan HQ).

Comey’s testimony caused Chuck Hagel to join the ranks of Republican senators calling for Gonzales to resign. The Washington Post reads Gonzales’ demise in the stars. Pray that they speak true. If ending American torture were a video game, Gonzales would be the boss at the end of level 1.



Politics in America start breathing again
May 18, 2007, 11:06 am
Filed under: Politics

Is this an unfair characterization? For several hair-raising years, it seemed that the opportunity provided by the 9/11 attacks would be successfully exploited by a cabal within the Republican party to seize the Congress’s (the voters’) power, re-draw the boundaries of freedom within the country on much smaller lines, and strangle all dissent.

I am by no means sanguine about what the Democrats can deliver – to me their mettle is not yet proven, and there is much reason to doubt them. But Senators Leahy and Spector (yes, not all Republicans surrendered) are trying to breathe life back into democracy. Letters like this one are a sign of life for our republic that I have been waiting far, far too long to see.

Somehow I don’t think the 1 Rove email that Justice found after “scouring” their computers will satisfy Leahy and Spector. Nor should it.



Right on the nail, from Ron Paul
May 18, 2007, 10:55 am
Filed under: Politics

“We should have a strong president – strong enough to resist the temptation of taking power that a president shouldn’t have.”

Paul cuts open the central fallacies of the Bush administration like so many tomatoes. And he exposes Giuliani and Romney for the fearful, compromised men that they are. You can see why the Republican establishment is terrified.

Then again, he also opposes the law giving citizenship by birth on American soil, blames volcanoes for global warming, and doesn’t seem to think Israel deserves our support. So I am charmed but not won.



Gonzales’ testimony in the House
May 12, 2007, 12:42 pm
Filed under: Politics

Keith Olbermann observes Gonzales reading from the same script he used in April:

“So that’s why you’re not going to answer the question, because you want to protect the integrity of the investigations.” Conyers speaks with deceptive slowness, but before you know it he’s around your neck like a boa constrictor.

Congressman Schiff used to be an Assistant U.S. Attorney. He seems to relish the twist of fate which now lets him grill the U.S. Attorneys’ boss. And he’s about the only one in the House who brings the sort of heat that the Senate brought to bear on Gonzales in April.

On the whole, a disappointing performance by the Representatives after April’s Senate hearings. Schumer alone, in his shark-like attack, made for great television then. These hearings were sleepy by comparison.

The Washington Post covers related stories here and here.



Pretty pretty
May 12, 2007, 11:50 am
Filed under: The West

The animated Bayeux Tapestry.



Radical
May 12, 2007, 11:04 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I was going to say the far left does crazy quite well. But this is so far left it almost becomes right again.

On one level the video is a disgusting attack on actual thought. No, actually it’s that on every level.
The disturbing thing about it, and what gives it potency, is that it draws its power from some kernels of truth. The images of arms production reflect an anxiety that I feel also: why do we need to produce so many weapons? And why are we so indiscriminate about who we will sell them to?



The Dems: waiting for a better opportunity???
May 12, 2007, 10:55 am
Filed under: Politics

The president is weak, unpopular, and embroiled by scandal. The war continues to deteriorate and the public opposes it. Republicans are calling for the close of Guantanamo and the restoration of Habeas Corpus has bipartisan support.

So why are the Dems so shy about restoring Habeas Corpus? At the end of the day, are they made of anything more than pretty talk?

It’s like you’re playing basketball and you cherry-pick a pass with no defenders around, it’s just you and the basket. There is no more perfect setup for the Democrats to take action. This is a downhill charge in every respect, the wind is favorable, the sun is shining. If they do nothing now, I will never forget it.



Obama: close Guantanamo and restore Habeas Corpus
May 12, 2007, 10:36 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

“We need to bring to a close this sad chapter in American history, and begin a chapter that passes the might of our military to the freedom of our diplomacy and the power of our alliances. And while we are at it, we can close down Guantanamo and we can restore habeas corpus and we can lead with our ideas and our values.”
Barack Obama, Richmond, VA, May 8th



Ron Paul clips from Youtube
May 12, 2007, 10:18 am
Filed under: Politics, The War on Terror

It’s gratifying to hear a Republican say this:

The catchall phrase “the war on terrorism,” in all honesty, has no more meaning than if one wants to wage a war on criminal gangsterism. Terrorism is a tactic. You can’t have a war against a tactic. It’s deliberately vague and non-definable in order to justify and permit perpetual war anywhere and under any circumstances. Don’t forget the Iraqis and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with any terrorist attack against us – including that on 9/11. Special interests and the demented philosophy of conquest have driven most wars throughout all of history. Rarely has the cause of liberty, as it was in our own revolution, been the driving force.

It’s also disturbing that we so rarely hear Democrats saying it.

Ron Paul in the Republican primary debate:

It’s good for Ron Paul that 65% of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. Unfortunately they are mostly not Republican primary voters.

Now the bad news: Paul doesn’t think the science is settled on global warming.

Vote for Ron Paul: sidestep the coming apocalypse of the Forever War, but bring closer the coming environmental apocalypse.

It’s a dilemma.



Yes, yes, yes
May 11, 2007, 12:20 am
Filed under: Hell, Let's Call it Torture, Politics

So how about it Senators Clinton and Obama? You too John Edwards. It’s not your vote yet, but you could sure tell us where you stand on what should be the least controversial topic of our time: respect for habeas corpus (a well established principle in the Western tradition since…the freakin’ Magna Carta!). If you can’t spine up about that, what good are you.

-Eric Martin of American Footprints.

Not much good at all, if they can’t. Frankly, and I am speaking as a liberal, on this subject I have more faith in John McCain’s credentials (remember it was McCain who passed the bill forbidding the military to torture) than any democrat running. I would be happy to learn otherwise.



Eavesdropper’s paradise
May 7, 2007, 11:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Ever wish you could be a fly on the wall and listen to users of ecstasy and hard drugs talk about their gnarliest experiences?
How about a group who all have family members in prison discussing how they can support their loved ones?
How about Christians of all denominations debating theology?

Welcome to forum-dropping. An addictively guilty pleasure. Especially for writers.

Bluelight
Prison Talk
Christian Forums



Susan Aldous interview part 2
May 7, 2007, 10:45 am
Filed under: Depression, Drug Prohibition, The East, Undiscovered writers

Susan Aldous is back! In the second part of our conversation we talk about her current charity work at a Thai women’s shelter, her wild adolescence, and being a mother.

See previous posts on Susan here, here, and here.

Hi Susan,

Good stuff! Thanks for such substantial answers, I’ve put them up on the blog, for all five of my readers! Here are my next questions. If this starts to take up too much of your time, just let me know and I’ll understand completely.

HI there Jonathan,
Back in the saddle and getting settled in Thailand after a grueling convoluted trip back home from my original home. Hi to all five readers by the way!
Ok, so here goes round two!

You’re still working part-time with prisoners, but you write that most of your time now is spent at a women’s shelter with abused women, single mothers, and women with HIV. Tell us a little about what you bring to these women, or indeed what they bring to you.

I spend a good amount of time with the women, perhaps not as much as I’d like, but each little bit surely counts in such a place. Number one is just being a friend, someone who cares and shows attention and encourages them with their lives and the lives of their kids. I help them feel good about being mommies, I help them feel important in their illnesses, I strive to be a part of all that they go through as best I can. Something that they particularly like is having their photos taken, especially with their kids and newborns. A tiny gesture on my part, but huge for those participating. A photo magically cements their relationships with their children and builds self-esteem. As for the HIV girls, it shows they will not be forgotten; they have a souvenir to send to their families back home, they will not be erased after they pass on. We play and glam it up, it’s so fun.
As for me, wow, somehow going to spend time with the girls is an exercise in serenity, happiness and the celebration of life, it’s a blessing of love to them and in return in my own life. Serenity in the sense, it’s a beautiful, quiet, safe place and I feel that the women are given dignity and that is so rewarding, I partake of the spirit.
Additionally it’s a joyous venture having twenty-something snotty nosed kids jumping all over you, hanging off of your arms and grabbing your legs so that you cannot escape. It can go from serenity to a madhouse in mere seconds. We all hug and kiss a lot too-joyful, joyful!

Shifting gears somewhat – I confess that for me, one of the most entertaining parts of your book was the description of your teenage years. I can call it entertaining because I know you survived and put it behind you, otherwise it would be depressing. To say you raised some hell wouldn’t really do it justice – you had probably done more drugs at the age of 14 than most people manage all their lives. You describe putting on shows for your friends where you would cut and pierce yourself, and burn yourself with cigarettes – sort of exhibitionism and self- destruction at the same time. I thought it was fascinating because it seems like you were trying so hard to escape the normalness of life. Indeed you told a friend you might kill yourself.
Not everyone goes through this, but many young people do. What can be done to make their struggle easier? How do you feel looking back at your adolescence?

It’s very surreal looking back as if that person died when I was born into a new life of caring for others. Somehow though, the old person is my bridge to reach those who hurt and ache now, a gift if you will. I respect all that I went through as being a great teacher. It’s been odd for me to hear how shocked folk are by my past when they read the book. I suppose it was normal to me and par for the course. In fact, I just read the book in print for the first time yesterday, and I felt that even by today’s standards I was definitely hard core and it was nothing short of a miracle that I survived to tell the story and to even make something good of the mess.
My greatest desire is that some young person will pick up the book and be affected for the better by it, that they will identify and it will offer hope and a way out. So many folk are affected by suicidal notions and attempt to kill themselves, many sadly succeeding. I think we can all make it easier on those who suffer by being honest about our own failings and weaknesses. It starts by being honest with ourselves, then by being real, open, available
and really listening.
Not only did I threaten to kill myself, I tried to several times, all in hopes that someone would rescue me and plant me on a more satisfying path. I was trying to escape normalcy, but more accurately, I wanted to find truth, a way of life that did not match the nine to five box that I was told I should get into. I was desperate for answers; I searched in all the wrong places. Finally I found what I needed to not only give me purpose, but to arm me for life’s difficulties and reach out to others. We live in hugely materialistic societies, where we are building walls against each other. Folk are isolated and lonely. The latest trinkets, the unfulfilling education, the grand job and the perfect marriage do not satisfy-there has to be more soul satisfaction, something to get passionate about.
Nothing better than being a part of the solution. If we want friends we have to be one. We can all reach out to a soul who is hurting and in turn find happiness as a bonus byproduct. We don’t have to have all the answers to help someone; we just need to be a friend.

At the age of 16, you leave all of that behind and decide to give your life to serving others. In your book the transformation seems almost effortless. Was it really that smooth? Can you describe how it happened? Did those feelings of being lost or desperate ever come back later in life?

It was a fast and easy transformation initially. Not dissimilar to asking someone to leave poison, fear and loneliness behind and showing them where to dump it, someone did that for me, so I walked from my past into something way better. That was the easy part, I had nothing to lose but the harder bits followed later. I battled with life, obstacles, lack of funding and relationships that left me sad. I met with folk who did not want help. I battled with my own selfishness, pride and anger. I had much to overcome within myself and to learn how to love and unselfishly care for others. I had to deal with disappointment time and time again in so many forms; I had to deal with the knowledge that I had disappointed others. It can be a
lonely job and sometimes you have to fight those closest to you to keep on going. The path that I have chosen, so few walk on it and it can be a solitary process at times.
All my battles and sadness though have a purpose and they teach how to empathize and help another, they are productive, therefore the old feelings of being lost have never returned in 30 years. Even the worst day now is better than my past, while some of my present days can be pretty frustrating, I can now make them work for me and others. A higher purpose!

You’re now a mother. Like a lot of hippies who have started families, you must struggle over what to tell your daughter about that era of drugs and free love. How do you deal with that question?

I have always been exceptionally honest and open with my daughter; of course all information has had to be age appropriate too. I have used my past to share with her the pitfalls of life and the solutions to these situations-I have tried to give her the tools to deal with such situations. She in turn, as all teens will do has hidden some things from me. However, she is on the overall extremely open with me and usually ends up ‘fessing up. She can ask me anything and sometimes she asks some pretty heavy sexual questions, which I welcome as it’s better to hear it from mom than to have misinformation from her peers. She knows she’ll not get in trouble for asking, and only a wee bit when confessing some wrong, but there’ll be big trouble if she lies and hides things and I find out later. Honesty pays in my house, even when it’s a hard truth to bear.
Like me, she’s had to learn some things the hard way, but we work through them and she’s a great kid with many gifts and even on her bad days she always somehow draws on her resources and pulls through.
Life was hard for me as a teen, but I’d hate to live in my daughter’s generation, I feel it’s much harder and the peer pressure is insane. I admire her for her fighting spirit at times, it’s just not easy and it’s hard being a mom at times.

That’s it for now, thanks again for taking this time!
Jonathan

Thanks to you too. All the best,
Love, peace and tie-dyed,
Susan.

“Dusty” Susan Dustin
P.O. Box 33 Suanyai Post Office
Nonthaburi Thailand
11003
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/onelifeatatime
http://onelifesusan.homestead.com/OneLife.html

Even after learning the hard truth about my blog’s limited readership, Susan comes through with another batch of detailed, hard-hitting answers. Much appreciated!

One last round of questions is coming up, so if you have any questions for Susan you’d like me to ask, this is your chance to email them to me.

Susan Aldous’ new book is The Angel of Bang Kwang Prison, published last month by Maverick House. Maverick House also published the memoir of Chavoret Jaruboon, Thailand’s last prison executioner, The Last Executioner.