It was the fall of 2002, the exact date I cannot recall, when I arrived at the Dwight Correctional Center for women. I had spent months interviewing Rita Nitz, an inmate convicted of first degree murder for her alleged participation in the shooting and decapitation of Michael Miley, a young gay man. I was never convinced that Rita played any role in the death of Miley. My book, “Rita Nitz: A Life without Parole,” was published by the Southern Illinois University Press in 2005. I interviewed numerous people who knew Rita, her husband, Richard, also serving life in prison, and the victim, Michael Miley. To understand this newly discovered world required some behavior modifications of my own — things are not always as they seem, no two realities are the same, and learn to breathe as I became immersed in my new journey.
You might say that Rita’s emotions were activated by the pull of a “hair trigger.” The slightest provocation could upset her and put an end to our three-hour meetings — the allotted time in the prison’s visit room. Each interview required a gentle stride as I walked through an imaginary bed of hot coals. Any misstep could burn my ass. I suppose that it was inevitable: Rita felt that I was too aggressive when I questioned her possible involvement in the murder. She stood, turned, and quick-stepped her way to another room where she was strip searched before rejoining the general prison population. Six months passed before she spoke to me again. So much to learn. Life changed in so many ways; my horse blinders were removed, a broader, crystal clear vision came forth, and spiritual seeds seemingly sprouted from my soul.
In Rita’s world, many of the people — good and bad — had a “hair trigger” of their own, ready to fight at the slightest provocation. We are the product of our genetic makeup and our life experiences. This much I know. Change is difficult, but possible. Of course there are individuals who have been so emotionally damaged that they are beyond repair. That is the unfairness of it all. Most of us have heard the expression count to ten before answering what you perceive as a provocation. This simple rule can be found in Thomas Jefferson’s writings, “The Canons of Conduct.” http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/canons-conduct For Jefferson it was common sense, but for many of us it is a lesson unlearned. Hair trigger, count to ten, knee-jerk reaction share the same message — think before you speak. Today it seems more difficult than years past. There is a segment of the population that is aware of America’s short fuse, and use it to their advantage. Its called politics.
Politics is a cesspool that can be found around the dinning room table when certain relatives come to visit, the local coffee shop, and any place where two or more people engage in conversation. The cesspool is filled with the daily shit dumped on the national airwaves. The garbage, that sounds better than shit, is peddled as truth and is designed to activate the hair trigger, knee-jerk reaction, inability to count to ten, and in general terms, reach people unable to think.
We, as individuals, tend to withdraw “talking points” from the cesspool that has grown to the size of an ocean, and hurl them at people who seemingly challenged our integrity. And if you think that we are bad, just take a look at Congress — a collection of people unable to work together, controlled by the most evil thing of all, a wad of cash. (Check out one of my past blogs about truth.)
Is there hope? I’m uncertain. Maybe it is somehow connected to our inability to think in long-term goals rather than engage in short-term gratification. Several years ago a couple of us met at a local coffee shop located in a university community. It began as a joke that we would watch the students who came to the coffee shop to eat a muffin and drink a cop of coffee. It was our conclusion that the top of a muffin was the best part. So, we decided to see how many students ate the top of the muffin first, and how many ate the bottom half first. The two of us always ate the bottom half first and saved the best part, the top half for last. Being from an earlier generation, we were into long term goals and not instant gratification. We were not surprised at our findings. Nearly all of the students ate the top half first, and were motivated by instant gratification. So sad, so sad.
Oh Thomas Jefferson, where are you when we need you — “count to ten before you speak.”