Don’t forget! All of my books are free on Amazon Kindle through January 1, 2019. This promotion applies to all of Amazon’s international sites. Here are the links for the U.S. site:
In many ways 2018 was one of my best years – I was promoted, got a raise, started doing a job that I love, lost 92 pounds, improved my health to the point that I’ve been able to stop certain medications, and overall am happy with my position in life.
In some ways, though, 2018 was one of the worst years in recent history. In July, the world lost an amazing human being. My friend, my spiritual mentor, my colleague, my soul brother, Okey J. Napier, Jr. Although it has been five months since he passed to the Summerlands, I find it difficult to comprehend a life without him in it. The thought is still so surreal to me that I have kept a copy of his obituary in my e-mail, reminding myself everyday that yes, he is gone. For whatever reason, I feel that I have to do this because emotionally I’m not ready to accept it yet, but must keep myself grounded in the reality of his passing.
I take comfort in the fact that my faith has helped me through this unthinkable time. You see, I don’t believe that death is the end, but merely another path in the journey of existence. Okey still exists, just not in physical form, not on this plane, in this realm. But he’s still here, just not in the way I’m used to. I still talk to him, and I know that he can hear me. It saddens me deeply that I cannot reciprocate, that my earthly body is limited in this way. Not that I don’t believe that we can interact with spirits – I most certainly believe that…I sometimes pause to recognize something, knowing it’s a message from that realm. I wholeheartedly believe that he’s at peace and with his beloved Granny.
But I’m selfish. It’s not enough for me. At least not now. I miss our talks. We would often chat online or have Skype conversations to talk about everything from life to religion to our writing projects. I miss going to his place whenever I would visit Huntington. We would talk for hours over cups of coffee, often glowing over our nostalgia for the good old days when we were both students at Marshall University, ready to take on the world for the good fight in LGBT rights. He would make me laugh with his stories and humble me with his expressed respect for my knowledge and talent. These are memories that will forever live in my heart.
I recently went back to Huntington to visit family for the holidays. It was a good trip, but noticeably hollow in the fact that it was the first time since his memorial that I went to the area and didn’t spend time with him. For my own emotional well-being, I paid tribute to our connection by doing what we would normally do – I went to Starbucks at Pullman Square, had a big cup of coffee, and reflected on life, the issues of the day, and imagined what Okey would have to say about it all. As the tears ran down my face, I tried my hardest to smile as I thought about him. I’m not there yet. One day I will be able to express happiness for all that was. I guess right now, I’m still grieving.
Over the past few months, all I can think of is one of the last things that I said to him during my visit in June. We were discussing the Egyptian Goddess Bast, the cat Goddess of Joy. He had asked me my opinion on how things were going in life, and I told him that by Bast, to enjoy means to live IN joy – that’s what is meant for us.
In honor of him, I’m going to do my best to live up to that.
To ring in 2019, I have made ALL of my books on Kindle free through January 1! If you have a Kindle or the Kindle app, you can get these awesome tomes on any of Amazon’s web sites (including the international sites). Here are the links for the U.S. site:
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was born in Huntington, WV. I was raised right across the Ohio River, but spent most of my time in the Huntington area. Growing up, if you wanted something to do, you went to Huntington. I used to jokingly say that the only things I did in Ohio were go to school and sleep. Because of this experience growing up, I always had more of a connection to Huntington than I did to the smaller towns of Ohio. It’s because of this connection that I’m writing this post.
I miss Huntington. I have very fond memories of the land and the people. Some would say I’m homesick. As I have researched some issues for other posts, what I have realized is that in many ways, it’s my home that is sick – sick with the decaying rot of crime and poverty.
Let me clarify.
I currently live in the suburbs of Chicago. My current surroundings are definitely a far cry from Appalachia. People often ask me about the dangers of Chicago as the city is often in the news with stories of rampant crime and gang activity. What I have found to be quite disheartening is that Huntington actually has a higher crime rate than Chicago. According to Neighborhood Scout, Chicago’s crime rate is 43.71 per 1000 residents. Huntington, on the other hand, has a crime rate of 56.87 per 1000 residents. Not only is the crime rate in Huntington higher than Chicago’s, it’s higher than the national average – in every category of violent and property crimes.
These facts are truly disturbing to me. It makes me weep whenever I visit Huntington as I can feel an aura of darkness permeating throughout the city. More than anything, it’s not fear that I feel, but sadness. This is most definitely not the Huntington of my youth. My memories of growing up in the Huntington area are brighter when it comes to the land and the people. Because of this, I still believe in Huntington. I believe that things can improve, and I refuse to give up on this ideal.
There are many intersecting issues related to crime – from economic disadvantages, budgetary cuts to social programs, lacking of funding and awareness for mental health issues, education cuts, and the influx of the opioid crisis which has been driven by pharmaceutical companies flooding the market (see the CDC report on prescription rates and drug overdose rates). How can we fix it? I do know that it won’t be simple. We often hear of one-sided reactions to these problems as if they are the magical elixir of life. I have a hunch that such complex issues will not be resolved with simple solutions. My guess is that it will take a multifaceted approach that addresses all the correlations rather than “fixing” one symptom of the problem.
I don’t have all the answers. What I do have is a commitment to looking into these issues in other posts, along with addressing other social issues within the Huntington community. I feel like I owe it to myself and to the area to continue speaking out and keeping faith that one day, Huntington will be a place where people will feel safe in raising a family.
Greetings, friends! Sorry it has been so long since I have posted, but as you can see, I’ve been busy focusing on myself and my health over the past year. But, with my previous post, I’m taking the opportunity to start writing more, both on this site and in novel form – all of course while still focusing on improving my health.
I would like to add a little bit about myself that I haven’t revealed before. My pen name is J.B. Stilwell, but my real name is Jimel Razdan. I was born in Huntington, WV, which is a fact that I’m quite proud of even in the face of getting extremely saddened when I visit my home. The economic conditions, not to mention the crime and drug issues, make me weep for my birth community.
I hope to post more about my life in the Huntington area, my life as Jimel writing as J.B., and what it’s like being an Appalachian transplant in a Midwestern metropolitan area.
I hope that you all had festive holidays and will have a healthy and prosperous new year!
In the interest of transparency, I must start this post off by stating that my husband is an immigrant. He came to the U.S. legally from India in 2007. To streamline the process, we retained an immigration lawyer to help us through this journey. Once my husband arrived in the U.S., he went through the proper channels to get work authorization, permanent residency, and finally, citizenship – and we paid all of the associated fees for each step of the process. At the end of everything, including the lawyer fees, we spent over $10,000. Because of the struggle and cost of the process, I am admittedly sympathetic to people who attempt to come to the U.S. to escape their homes. I say sympathetic because people who are seeking asylum and are trying to escape the horrors of their homelands do not typically have access to the resources that we did. Often, they cannot even afford to pay the processing fees to establish legal residency. Many times, the person seeks refugee status, which is the topic I would like to focus on for the rest of this post – refugees and the recent threat of the “migration caravan.”
In researching this post, I was surprised to learn that refugee and asylum admissions to the U.S. have actually decreased since the 1990s, with an increase in the last three years. Also, most asylum seekers do not come from south of the border. Most asylum seekers in 2016 (the most recent data) are from Africa and Asia. The Department of Homeland Security’s statistics show that the people who sought refugee status were from war-torn countries, some of which have been ravished by genocide, such as Myanmar and Syria. The data does suggest that there is a current increase in people seeking asylum from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Still, the largest group of asylum seekers were from China, irrespective of the 2016 trend of more seekers coming from Latin America.
This begs the question, what is going on in Central America that would prompt people to leave their homes and travel thousands of miles, sometimes by foot, to escape a perceived danger? According to the U.S. Department of State, there are travel advisories in each of the countries that are trending upward in asylum seekers. For El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras the warning is for violent crime and gang activity, with widespread reports of murder, assault, rape, and armed robbery – all of which are characterized as common. Who wouldn’t want to escape those conditions? But what about China, the largest “producer” of asylum seekers? The Chinese government is well-known for detaining people, interrogating them to the point of torture, restricting free movement within the country, and other humanitarian abuses. All and all, horrible living conditions in all these countries.
So, why aren’t we hearing more about closing our borders to prevent the influx of Chinese instead of the migrants of Latin America? Aren’t there criminals in both groups? Wouldn’t people from all these countries “take U.S. jobs?” The Sociologist in me first thought that this is really a classist issue in a way. How much does education a group has have to do with whether they are considered a threat? With this line of thought, I looked at the education rates of each country. Since 1964, China’s literacy rate has climbed from 66% to 96% while the number of high school and college graduates has skyrocketed. It’s not a far-fetched idea to think that asylum seekers from China would be highly educated and able to do highly skilled labor. In El Salvador, primary education is not completely free, so poor families are not able to complete what we consider basic education. Guatemala has the lowest literacy rate of Central America and education is only compulsory for six years. Similarly, in Honduras, children are only required to attend school until the age of 12. Basically, the migrants from these Latin American countries are seemingly poorer and less educated, meaning they would only be skilled to perform lower-paying jobs. As a point of fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be employment growth of 0.7% annually through the year 2026, with the largest industry affected being healthcare. As we would rightly assume, healthcare professions generally require a more highly educated populace. More than half of the growing occupations require a post-secondary education. What his means is that those in the current migrant caravan from Central America would not immediately qualify for this economic boom.
One of the biggest fears we have heard associated with this migration is crime. To me this actually makes sense for someone to believe this. If poor people are struggling to get an income, they might resort to illicit means of providing for their livelihoods. Is this the reality, though? According to the 2017 Unified Crime Report, the most common offender was between 21 and 30 years of age, male, and white. In comparison, what does the typical Central American migrant look like? Well, they’re definitely not white and the majority are children – they do not fit the profile of a violent offender in the U.S. Well, what about being an offender in their homeland? As a part of the established process for registering refugees, each migrant is required to go through a background check and if anything comes back on this check, they will be rejected.
I think this last part is part of the issue – the fear that people are coming into the U.S. illegally and not going through the proper refugee/asylum process and will then be free from scrutiny to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting population. According to the Pew Research Center, illegal immigrants only comprise 3.3% of the U.S. population as of 2016 and have significantly declined since 2007. Sounds to me like we’ve got some immigration processes that are working, all without a wall.
What about the threat to West Virginia, specifically? Well, there’s not much of one. Most refugees are resettled in California, Texas, and New York. The immigrant population of West Virginia is less than 2% of the state’s total population, much of which comprises migrants from Germany. Also, nearly half the immigrants in West Virginia possess a college degree or higher.
Bottom line, in looking at the data, you are more likely to be a victim of crime from a young white NON-immigrant man than an illegal immigrant or someone seeking asylum to escape those same conditions.