Bagpipe Special Edition: The Issues Issue

Page 1




MARCH 2020

Issues issue

The Issues

Mental Health Teens in Turmoil, Bye Barbie, The Uncomfortable Truth, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Snaps, Not-So-Smart Phone Addiction, A Dream Deferred



Prison Reform

Saving the Sea, Climate Change: An Opinion Piece

The Capital of Punishment, Life After Prison



Addressing our grief and intentions


t is with heavy hearts that we bring attention to how some of the issues in this special edition “issues issue� impacts our student body. Like all of you, we too have been grieving the loss of two of our classmates for the past few months, and we feel we owe it to you to address the elephant in the room and explain our intentions. with this magazine. This special edition has been in the works for some time now.We had always planned to devote a large portion of it to mental health issues that affect us. However, what we did not anticipate was how close to home these issues would hit by the time the magazine was distributed to students. Our original intentions were to simply talk about mental health issues that impact our generation world wide and bring more light to the things our classmates might be silently suffering from. Our goal was not to discuss how


Letter from the Editors the school is or is not handling these issues. What we want is to help spread awareness and empathy of a multitude of mental health issues, ranging from minor to more severe problems. But because our community has been collectively grieving, with the most recent loss due to suicide, we realize that the underlying messages of this section have changed. With that said, we decided not to focus heavily on this topic. We felt the discussion of factors that contribute to depression was more important because our hope is that students reading this magazine will understand they are not alone and can reach out to others for help before getting to that stage. Additionally, we had always planned to incorporate two other sections with mental health, and we decided to stick to that plan because it fit with our original goal of spreading awareness and empathy - far beyond the walls of the school. We know how much our recent losses

have affected the student body, and many of our staff members have been grieving on a very personal level as well. With that in mind, we would like to dedicate this issue to all those who have been personally affected by the death of these classmates. We want you to know you are not alone.

You are all loved. You are all important, and once again, you are not alone. With love, Bagpipe Editors-in-Chief

Sophie Jejurikar Sam Brown Highland Park High School 4220 Emerson Ave. Dallas, TX 75025



Teens in Turmoil

Depression, anxiety, suicide among Generation Z’s greatest threat Story and Design by Sam Brown / Illustration by Elsa Pedrosa-Noguera


ental illness, especially depressive disorders, are on a staggering rise for Generation Z. The amount of serious psychological distress among young adults increased 71 percent in the last decade, according to Mind Share Partners’ Mental Health Report from 2019. Helping to fight the mental issues teenagers face today is Dr. Chris Jensen, a former physician and current science teacher, works as a consultant for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In his work studying depression and teaching high school students, Jensen sees a difference in the maturing teens of 2020 and teenagers of the past. Mainly, he’s noted there are several issues teenagers face that are common in emerging adults. “Some of the deficits seem to be difficulty with problem solving, difficulty with relationships, difficulty working in environments where novel events occur and having to adapt to those changes,” Jensen said. One of the biggest causes of these deficits is stress, which affects Generation Z more than any other age group. In fact, of the over 17 million U.S. kids under 18 have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder at some point, and 32 percent of those are anxiety disorders, according to Child Mind Institute. According to a study done by the American Psychological Association (APA), the majority of Generation Z

is likely to report stress from different topics seen in the news and on social media. Mass shootings, higher suicide rates and climate change are the biggest of these stressors. They also found 83 percent of the 1,000 teens surveyed reported school as a stressor. “It is just very interesting to see that this change in mental health happens to correspond with a perceived lack of resilience in workplaces,” Jensen said. The building of resilience results from intrinsic resistance to adversity and a strong relationship with adults, according to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, and learning to cope with ordinary threats - such as failing a test - is critical to resilience development. Generation Z also reports the weakest mental health, as 91 percent experience symptoms related to poor mental health, such as depression, lack of motivation or having no energy. Only 50 percent of Generation Z reports that they manage their stress well, all according to Western Governors University, and the APA reports that teens underestimate the impact stress has on physical and mental health. These factors and others can lead to mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety, as evidenced by the 37 percent of teen girls and 23 percent of teen boys reported feeling depressed or sad from stress, according to the APA. In the most severe instances, this can even lead to suicide. Looking at suicidal thoughts alone, it is clear that the younger the group, the more in

jeopardy their mental health becomes. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-34, topped only by heart disease. Dr. Jensen spoke about data that shows emergency room visits for selfharm spike during the school year and drop in the summer months. He said CDC researchers initially jumped to the conclusion that school is a detriment to mental health. However, Dr. Jensen proposed that school provides students with a safety net of support in teachers and counselors, so they are more likely to seek out help during the school year. Even so, each year, 17.2 percent of high schoolers have serious thoughts of suicide, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This number translates to almost 400 students having suicidal thoughts at HPHS. But there are things that can be done to help prevent suicide. The Mayo Clinic recommends parents address any depression and anxiety witnessed; paying attention; discouraging isolation; encouraging a healthy lifestyle; supporting any treatment plans involved; and safely storing firearms, alcohol and medications if suicide is a serious risk. There are resources available to students at school too. If you or anyone else you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, talk to school psychologist Candice Connor or anyone on the rest of the counseling staff. For further help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. MENTAL HEALTH



Barbie an opinion piece Society’s unwelcome judgments create unattainable standards for female beauty Story by Ava Perpall / Design by Elsa Pedrosa


eeling too fat to fit society’s ideals for your weight? Well just lose 10 pounds or so. Accomplish that? Good for you, but now you don’t have a butt, and your boobs are too small too. Oh - and you look a little too skinny now. It’s unhealthy. Figure out how to be a perfect hourglass shape with a toned and flat but obviously healthy-looking - stomach, double Ds and an apple-shaped butt.

Sound impossible? That’s because it is. Sound exhausting? That’s because it is.


When it comes to the female body, society creates an endless loop of disappointment for girls. And social media has only made this phenomenon worse. A whopping 87 percent of girls compare their bodies to images they view on social media, according to a study done by Florida House Experience, and 50 percent of these women are making unfavorable comparisons. In addition to these body image issues, social media also allows an easy platform for online body shaming. But body shaming anyone for any reason is not ok and has absolutely no place in society. It should never be acceptable for anyone to bring a girl down because of their shape, size or skin color. According to a study by Dove, only 24 percent of US women feel confident in the

way they look. That’s not even a quarter of our female population. Negative body image can start at a young age. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 42 percent of girls in first through third grade want to lose weight. Additionally, 50 percent of 9-10 year-old-girls say they feel better about themselves when they are on a diet. Nine-year-olds. They haven’t even hit puberty yet. Something is very obviously wrong here. When parents and peers make comments about a girl’s body, it changes the way they view themselves. When kids watch their parents diet or seem constantly unsatisfied with their appearance, the child can grow up mirroring these habits. Being teased about one’s body as a kid or even being negative about others’ bodies can have a huge effect on body image too. These same little girls grow into teens and adults who now not only have poor body images from these early experiences but now face a whole wide world of criticism by society. The hourglass body figure is often seen as the “ideal” shape for a woman to have. This term describes someone with large hips, bust and a smaller waist. There is a lot of pressure on girls to look like this in order to be attractive. Especially in an era filled with Kardashians and Hadids. Those who reach this “perfect shape” are not exempt from criticism either. Having a body type that’s supposedly more attractive seems to get you hated on at the same time. Say this bustier girl wears a tight v-neck top. Some boys might find that appealing, but other adults criticize the

look as immodest. As girls, if we appeal to our peers or our crushes, we hear about it from our grandparents. If we appeal to our grandparents, we hear about it from our peers or our crushes. Really, the only person we should have to think about is ourselves and what makes us feel pretty and happy. But the never-ending stream of unwanted opinions makes achieving that more difficult. It’s crazy to think that even girls with the “ideal” body type receive hate. That being said, how is anyone supposed to get around receiving hate? Additionally, because of the way beauty standards have shifted, many thin girls have a hard time feeling comfortable in their own bodies. Some also tend to lack peer support when they are insecure, and if they have a problem with how they look, they may be accused by others of complaining. Envied for their slim waists and fast metabolisms, slimmer girls seem to have it all. People assume that they can wear almost anything without criticism and eat as much as they would like with no guilt. What many people fail to realize is the amount of body-shaming that these girls often endure. This is in part because most of the time, they are hidden behind back-handed compliments. Some of these include phrases like “Shut up, you’re so skinny” that is intended to make a girl feel good, but instead, it invalidates them and has an opposite reaction. As children, we were given the idea

that being skinny was something valuable. When people make fun of others for it, they assume that their insults are not taken very seriously. Due to this, thin girls become the victims of many “harmless” jokes as being compared to a twig or a toothpick. This results in a negative body image, and recently, many of these girls are body-shamed by being called “flat,” which is derogatory and means they don’t have those Kardashian curves. Shape and weight are not the only factors involved in body image. When it comes to dating preferences, white and light-skinned women tend to be favored over those with darker skin. Due to lighter-skinned girls often fitting into eurocentric beauty standards (light eyes, skin and a small nose), they are exempt from harsh colorism. Some dark

can stick with them through adulthood. As a dark-skinned black girl myself, I experience this first hand. It feels heartbreaking to be told “you would be pretty if you were lighter,” or worse, that the color of my skin makes me ugly - especially living in an environment where there are not many people who tend to look like me. On social media, it has become increasingly popular to use “preference” as an excuse to reject someone because of their race. The idea of preference itself seems pretty harmless. It’s true that you can not always control what your “type” is and who you find attractive. However, this quickly turned into a way to bash certain groups of people, dark-skinned women being number one, and it’s hard to feel beautiful as a black girl if the idea of beauty is white. I am a confident person, and I would not change a thing about my skin. Sometimes though, with all of this body shaming spread constantly, it can feel like you will never be enough. As confident as I am, I have had insecure moments due to body shaming. Nobody should have to feel this way, and it’s about time we do something about it. There is no need to bring one group of girls down to uplift another or to pressure anyone to change. Body shaming anyone for any reason is not okay and has absolutely no place in society. It should never be acceptable for anyone to bring a girl down because of their shape, size or color.

“Really, the only person we

should have

to think about is

ourselves.” skin girls grow up with the idea that they will never be as pretty as light-skinned girls just because of the color of their skin. This type of concept can be extremely damaging to a young girl’s self-esteem and



Every Female


Ava Perpall / 9

Tiger Shelmire / 11

Andy Repetto / 10

Aviana Churchill / 9

ale is Beautiful Riya Katuri / 11

Jacqueline Ruiz / 12

Melenaite Pahulu / 12

Chloe Nugent / 9




Photo by Sophie Jejurikar


Uncomfortable Eating disorders have long-lasting effects for mental and physical health Story by Kimmie Johansen / Design by Sophie Jejurikar


ally Walker no longer liked the way she looked after hitting puberty. “I used to get compliments about how skinny I was, but once I hit puberty I stopped getting those compliments,” Walker said. So she stopped eating. “I just wouldn’t eat, and I stopped being able to function,” she said. Walker, whose real name the Bagpipe agreed to withhold to protect her identity, is one of more than 30 million Americans affected by an eating disorder, specifically anorexia nervosa. These disorders, which come in many forms, affect both men and women but are most prevalent in young women. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and every 62 minutes, someone dies from associated complications, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Those who suffer from anorexia nervosa view themselves as overweight, even if they are seriously underweight. “Sometimes my friends made jokes about me being fat with no malicious intentions behind them, but when I would get home

and look in the mirror, those jokes would get my mind racing,” Walker said. This distorted body image results in creating restricted eating patterns that come with serious ramifications. “When you stop eating, your body starts taking proteins from muscle tissue including heart muscle, which can be irreversible in some cases or lead to heart failure,” Dr. Jennifer Wheeler said. “Another concern is when someone is not eating, they have really low estrogen, causing thinning of the bones which can be permanent because you can only build bone density until your late teens.” These effects can be felt on a daily basis. “I couldn’t run without vomiting or walk up the stairs without feeling like I was about to pass out,” Walker said. Anorexia nervosa has two defined subtypes: food restriction and binging/ purging. Those with the food restriction type lose weight by restricting what they eat and exercising excessively. Individuals with the binging/purging subtype eat a lot or very little in a period of time then purge. “Even when I would eat, I would never binge, I would just purge,” Walker said. Despite the physical effects, these disorders are a mental health illness and


are associated with a host of emotional symptoms as well. Those with anorexia tend to have high levels of neuroticism, which is linked with anxiety, fear, frustration, jealousy, guilt, depressed mood and loneliness, according to a 2002 research study for the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Another common eating disorder is bulimia nervosa. People who suffer from this disorder go for periods of time not eating, then eat large amounts of food, become painfully full, then purge it by forcing themselves to throw up, taking laxatives or exercising excessively. Bulimia nervosa typically does not result in individuals becoming underweight. This can cause an inflamed and sore throat, swollen salivary glands, worn tooth enamel, tooth decay, acid reflux, irritation of the gut, severe dehydration and hormonal disturbances from throwing up often. In extreme cases, bulimia nervosa can cause an imbalance in levels of electrolytes. “If you’re vomiting that can affect your potassium levels which controls how your heart contracts, so that can be very dangerous,” Dr. Wheeler said. Binge eating is also very common,



especially in the U.S. This condition is similar to bulimia nervosa in that it involves eating large amounts of food, but sufferers do not purge it and do not feel hungry. Eating disorders have a multitude of causes. Usually, one’s own drive for perfection and desire to meet their own standards of beauty is at the root of the issue.These insecurities are often triggered by traumatic experiences, feelings of pressure to look a certain way, sports performance requirements, expectations about grades in school or family dynamics. Researchers at King’s College London found five obsessive-compulsive personality traits - perfectionism, inflexibility, ruledriven, drive-for-order and symmetry and excessive doubt and cautiousness closely associated with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Someone possessing these personality traits is 35 percent more likely to develop an eating disorder in adolescence or early adulthood, according to another 2003 research study for the American Journal of Psychiatry. There are also cultural causes of eating disorders. Social media is constantly


saturated with messages about beauty, unrealistic body images and fad diets. “I would see photos of really skinny girls and read the comments talking about how

“eating Even if I’m


those thoughts

never go away.

she had a perfect body, and I wanted those compliments,” Walker said.

In the end,Walker sought help and gained weight during her recovery. Even in the most severe cases, eating disorders are treatable. Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that often require a multidisciplinary treatment team. But after recovering from an eating disorder, some people experience a slower metabolism, which is the process of the body converting food into energy. “My metabolism will probably be messed up for the rest of my life,” Walker said. Like many mental health illnesses, eating disorders don’t just go away after recovery. It is a constant battle for those afflicted. “I still have negative thoughts in the back of my head. Even if I’m eating regularly, those thoughts never go away,” Walker said. “Getting over an eating disorder takes years and years.” To aid her in recovery, Walker decided to start going to therapy. “Going to therapy is helpful because support is necessary, but I had to want to get healthy,” Walker said. “It’s something you have to want because no one can do it for you.”

Photo by Sophie Jejurikar

How to Lose a Guy in

10 Snaps

An opinion piece on teenage relationships Story by Elsa Pedrosa / Design by Sophie Jejurikar


ince the beginning of time, teenagers have always had a means of courting, and in the last decade, Snapchat has risen as a new way for them to talk and flirt with each other. However, in reality, it seems that teens who talk on Snapchat instead of in real life rarely actually date, but why? Many teenagers use Snapchat as a way to get closer to someone, but in reality, it pushes them apart. The truth is, people get comfortable with simply Snapchatting each other because there aren’t any commitments, and there’s no real effort being put into these “virtual relationships.” So instead of making an effort into creating a relationship, they get stuck in this routine where nothing really happens. They wake up, Snapchat each other during the day, then go to sleep. They can talk all they want, but the longer they go without talking to each other in real life, the less likely it is for an actual relationship to result from it. Snapchat should be a secondary means of communication in trying to form a relationship. The so-called “talking stage” can be the most frustrating aspect of trying to start a relationship. I believe I can speak for most people when I say the feeling of wasting your time with someone who doesn’t have the same intentions as you is inevitable and

honestly disheartening.There are many teens, who eat, sleep and breathe in this talking stage. Why bother wasting your time on a real relationship when you can hide behind a screen? Part of being a teenager is going through these kinds of “virtual heartbreaks.” One could even consider it an art form. If one end of the “relationship” ends up getting bored, they have two means of going about it. Pictured: Seniors Hailey Turco and Ethan Vicente The first outcome is ghosting. They stop responding, end all the other person. However, this burst of contact and pretend that nothing ever energy is only used to lure the relationshiphappened. It’s short and to the point - seeker back into and the original “virtual very effective. As someone who has been relationship.” This leads to a never-ending personally ghosted, it can take a serious cycle in which one party gets the attention they desire, and the other party is left in self-esteem and mental health. The second method is “bread-crumbing,” the dust. If you like leading people on for which involves one person who is interested your own benefit, this may be the method in a relationship and one who is only in it for you. Although it may be easier not to have for attention. Bread-crumbing is when an attention-seeker leaves “breadcrumbs” for to do anything or put any real effort into the other person, just enough so that the a virtual relationship, it’s much more fun other person believes that the attention- to spend time with someone in real life seeker is interested in a relationship when, rather than through a screen. To create a in reality, they have no intention of moving relationship with someone, people have to have to step out of their comfort zone the relationship forward. Once the relationship-seeking party and put in the effort, or else they’ll find begins to lose interest, the attention- themselves wasting time on what may seeker puts in a burst of effort to talk to never become a meaningful relationship. MENTAL HEALTH


Not-So-Smart P

Teenage addiction no longer reserved only for substance abuse Story by Lucy Gomez / Design by Sophie Jejurikar


hone addiction is a rising epidemic, and there are far-reaching consequences, or so says the National Institute of Health. While anyone can become addicted to phone use, a large percentage of those addicted are teenagers. A staggering 95 percent of teens now report they have a smartphone or access to one, according to the Pew Research Center. These mobile connections are in turn fueling more persistent online activities that come with addictive consequences. When people are going through social media platforms, it lights up the same part of the brain that also ignites when taking drugs, according to a Harvard University study. American psychologist Patricia Marks Greenfield also sees that smartphones are rewiring the human brain. The addictive technology of the phone makes it difficult for a person to go just a few minutes without it, and they often become anxious if it’s not in their hands at all times. “When I’m doing my homework, I get the feeling that I have to check my phone,” freshman Catherine Stautz said. Almost a fifth of 16 to 24-year-olds spend

around six to seven hours on their phone every day, according to an Apple statistic. “I spend five hours on my phone every day,” sophomore Lizzy Wang said. “[Phone addiction is a problem with teens] because it distracts them from their homework and can lower their self-esteem.” One of the many things affected by too much phone use is attention span. A few years ago, Microsoft conducted a study and found that the average attention span had gone from 12 seconds in 2000 to less than eight seconds in 2013. To put that in perspective, goldfish have an attention span of 5 seconds. This has many consequences, but it especially impacts students in school by making it harder for them to stay focused during class. Using their phones too much leads to a desire to check it frequently, leading to poor concentration. With these already shortened attention spans, students often turn to their phones, exacerbating the problem. Each time students use their phones in class can potentially affect their test grades, according to researcher Chris Bjornsen, who studied the relation between in-class phone use and academic performance in all

“on my phone

I spend five hours


every day.”

of his classes during an academic year. The same thing happens when students start working on school work at home. “[My phone] does affect my schoolwork because I’ll get tons of notifications, and then I’ll get sidetracked and won’t get back onto [homework] for about two hours,” freshman Skylar Hammel said. Grades are not the only thing hurting from phone addiction. Physical health has become a big factor, particularly sleep deprivation. In recent years, scientists found just having a phone close to you at night can really do some damage. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 71 percent of people either sleep holding their phone, have it in bed with them or keep it on their nightstand. When a phone is nearby, it can be hard for some people to resist checking their email or just

Phone Addiction reading texts. The biggest problem with this is that phones, along with other forms of technology like TVs or tablets, emit something called “blue light.” A human’s brain mistakes this type of light for daylight and begins suppressing melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate a person’s sleep patterns.This isn’t a problem if you’re looking at a screen in the middle of the day, but at night, it makes it harder to fall asleep. And then there’s mental health. Over time, phone addiction can begin to negatively impact a person’s mental health. Studies have shown that too much phone usage paired with social media can lead to psychological issues. “Since 2011 there’s been a huge increase in anxiety and depression across many different age gaps but particularly in young adults,” Dr. Chris Jensen said. Jensen is a former emergency room doctor turned teacher and is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research a range of issues affecting teenagers. He sees a correlation between the amount of time people spend on their

phones with rates of stress, depression and anxiety. The problem most individuals face with phones is they are no longer able to hold face-to-face conversations or communicate effectively in person because they have been socially interacting solely through phones. Generation Z is one of the groups with the highest amount of screen time per day, and Jensen says that is harmful to their mental state. “Now there’s the opportunity to value myself with this object that I’m spending tons of time with,” Jensen said. “Maybe the shift has occurred where instead of getting feedback from four or five meaningful friends in my life, I’d rather be judging myself by how many followers I have. ‘How many likes did that picture get?’ ‘Did I get a lot of retweets?’’ Jensen doesn’t see technology as harmful by nature, but that it’s important to note that we are spending more and more time with our gadgets, and spending less of our time interacting with people. Other studies prove his point. In a 2017 study conducted by San Diego State University, it was reported that teens who spend more time on technology and social media were at a higher risk for depression and suicide than those who don’t. However, what all this new research shows above all is that the dangers of phone fixation are being realized. Simple tricks like changing the phone’s setting and putting it away at a certain hour can help a person feel, at least a little, less hooked to their device.

Pictured: Sophomore Lizzy Wang




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A Dream College deferments make for more stressed out seniors Story by Sarah Rogers / Design by Chloe Haag


fter spending hours preparing college applications, seniors wait with anticipation for a decision packaged in a letter that could make or break their dreams of the future. With 93 percent of the class of 2018 going right into a four-year college, some of which included Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton, the pressure to earn a spot in an elite university runs especially high in this community. In some cases, acceptance or rejection are not the only decisions students receive in these letters from colleges. After applying to colleges early in the fall, students can receive deferrals, which can be as disappointing as rejections to students. Simply put, a deferral is a second chance at admission in the spring where early applicants will be reviewed again against the entire pool of hopeful students. Those who are accepted early can relax during the spring semester, and students who are outright rejected in the fall can start setting their sights at different schools. Deferred students, however, hang in limbo, adding increased stress. Because early applications have expanded in recent years, with Dartmouth, Duke and Brown reporting record-setting rates, the number of deferments is also rising, according to the Washington Post. At Harvard, out of 5,919 early action applicants, 4,292 were deferred to the regular round. That’s almost 73 percent


of early applicants. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 4,456 out of 6,519 early applicants were deferred last year. The highly-selective process of applying to these elite schools can cause stressedout seniors to apply to even more colleges as the year goes on, all while anxiously awaiting the final decision. Senior Andrea Trevino experienced this stress after being deferred from Texas Christian University, one of her top choices. “After receiving the decision, I was pretty upset about it, but since then, I have boosted my application with new leadership positions and a job,” she said. Although she eventually found a way to cope with the deferment, Trevino said being deferred from TCU caused her to worry about her decisions from other schools, so she impulsively applied to more schools out of concern. Trevino eventually reanalyzed the decision and contacted her admissions counselor at the university to express interest and highlight new accomplishments. “It was also a great opportunity to ask about the possibility of another interview,” she said. “I coped with the decision by remembering that if a college isn’t meant to be for me, then it isn’t right for me.” Her perspective aligns with how school psychologist Candice Connor encourages students to view the admissions process. “College deferment will be disappointing to the majority of students especially if they

have their mind focused only on going to the university that defers them,” Connor said in a letter to the Bagpipe staff. “If they have a belief/faith that they will be accepted to the school where they are meant to thrive and serve a purpose in the world, they will see deferment as a normal event of life, which will help avoid clinical levels of depression and anxiety.” Senior Nikita Nair avoided anxiety and depression with her deferment by using it as an opportunity to narrow the field in potential colleges. “I was deferred from Tulane which is fine, but I didn’t like waiting six more months for a decision,” Nair said. “I decided to forget about Tulane because I didn’t want to wait until April 1 to hear about the decision.” However, Tulane was not too high up on Nair’s list of dream schools, which also played a role in the impact the deferment had on her. “As Tulane was not one of my top priority schools, I decided to take a different stance on my view compared to others,” she said. Instead, she chose to think about the positive things the deferment said about her, which is an outlook that can benefit all students. “I kept in mind that the college’s admission team was sufficiently impressed with my application and wanted to review my application a second time.”



Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


Saving the Sea

Multiple student organizations work to promote recycling, cut down on plastics in ocean Story by Nick Drexler / Design by Sam Brown


he world dumps about 17.6 billion pounds of plastic into the oceans each year, meaning that by 2050, ocean plastic will outweigh all of the fish in the ocean, according to Conservation International. The plastic in the ocean is broken into smaller pieces of micro-plastic through sun exposure and wave action. Ocean wildlife often consumes the micro-plastic and it


becomes integrated into the food chain. But three organizations at the school are trying to do their part to combat this worldwide issue. One of these is the Environmental Awareness Club, led by club president, junior Jade Harris. “Me and my friend Sarah are really passionate about recycling and the environment and really wanted to highlight

that our environment is slowly but surely declining,” she said. “Especially here where we have the financial resources to do something about it.” The Environmental Awareness Club is making posters with info on recycling, and wants to pick up the area around a lake and hold a recycling drive. Similarly, the recycling club advocates for

more school wide recycling, most recently an unsuccessful attempt to get recycling bins in the cafeteria. Club president, junior Emilie Hong, said the hard part about getting people to recycle on a wider scale is the level of misinformation. “It’s not just about recycling,” she said. “There are four Rs: reduce, reuse, refuse and recycling comes last because we want it to become better. It’s not going to be fixed right away, so we need to focus on the three other initiatives as much as possible.” While the clubs on campus are fighting for more awareness, the school’s career preparation class takes initiative by taking responsibility for classroom recycling. The preparation class, which helps students with disabilities learn how to do different jobs, picks up classroom recycling bins on a scheduled basis. At the beginning of the school year, the class teacher, Tyson Peterson, asked teachers if they would like to have a recycling bin in their room. “About 75 to 80 percent of teachers participate in the program,” he said. This level of participation is on par with other schools in the area.A receptionist at Booker T. Washington High School said student clubs run all recycling in the school, and Jesuit student clubs make sure teachers have bins as well. Peterson said there are several common reasons HP teachers do not choose to have bins. Teachers either don’t want it to take up space in their room, or they complained they have had bins too full for too long in the past. This is because the janitors don’t take out the recycling bins because they know to leave it for the students in career preparation. While the program helps bring more recycling awareness to the school, there are still some areas for growth like making sure only recyclables are thrown into the bin. “We try to tell the teachers exactly Photo by Sam Brown

what can go in the recycling bin, but that doesn’t always work, so sometimes people put potato chips in there,” Peterson said. This results in recycling contamination. When a certain percentage of a recycling is contaminated, the whole batch becomes considered unusable and is thrown away, according to The University of Michigan Social Sciences for Sustainability. The easiest way to tell how to recycle an item is to look for its recycling symbol. The well-known chasing arrows symbol has seven different number labels, which all have different meanings. Symbol one stands for PET or PETE, which is polyethylene terephthalate. This is the most common plastic for single-use bottled drinks like the Deja Blue bottles in the cafeteria and vending machines. The second symbol is for HDPE, highdensity polyethylene. It’s found in things like milk jugs, detergent bottles and some trash bags. Both of these can

be recycled by most curbside programs. The fifth symbol stands for PP, Polypropylene. It has a high melting point, so it’s often used for interaction with hot liquid. Some examples would be a cap and straws, and only some curbside programs accept it. Symbols three, four, six and seven are not so easy. According to the HP city website, there is a possibility these plastics are diverted to the landfill, instead of a recycling plant, at the contractor’s discretion, which means they’re not being recycled. So while the school’s recycling programs still have some things to achieve, statistics show that recycling in schools is an important battle for student clubs to fight. Schools and other education facilities like universities are usually the largest waste generators, according to the American Federation of Teachers, and glass and plastic beverage bottles make up about 15 percent of that waste. The organization states just one glass bottle saves enough energy to power a 100-watt electric light bulb for four hours. At a 10-person lunch table, assuming everyone has either a water bottle or soda from the popular vending machines, that’s 40 hours of light. When these products are not recycled, they are dumped into a landfill, where these light-weight items often blow away into nearby environments, later infiltrating the ocean and contributing to that 17.6 billion pound pile-up. In fact, there’s so much of this garbage at sea, it has formed five giant garbage patches around the world, according to Conservation International. The largest, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, covers an area twice the size of Texas. Now, as the biggest state in the continental United States, it’s up to Texans to help put a stop the spread of junk. ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES


Climate Change an opinion piece

Carbon emissions dominate climate conversation, but should they? Story by Tyee Arey / Design by Alexis Jackson / Background Photo courtesy of Melissa Bradley


lobal warming is becoming a greater threat every day, and with that more solutions are being discovered to fight it. Though the mere existence of global warming is heavily debated in politics, climate change is unequivocally backed by scientific evidence. The Earth’s climate is like an interconnected web of factors,


from the cows that we raise to trees that we walk past. Currently, the discussion surrounding how to combat climate change is centered around carbon emissions, with some democratic presidential candidates proposing carbon taxes, and democratic outrage over the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. But, this

discussion is too focused and needs to be opened if anything is going to change. While carbon emissions are the main factor of global warming caused by humans, there are plenty of other ways that we can combat climate change, and we should be exploring all of them. One of the main problems caused by global warming is rising sea levels, according

to NASA. With increasing temperatures, polar ice caps begin to melt. Ice reflects solar radiation much more than water, and larger, warmer oceans create a danger not only for ocean life, but coastal cities. Changes in temperature can damage coral reefs, a major ecosystem for marine life, and cities near surface level will be threatened with powerful floods and storms. Luckily, scientists devised multiple methods to protect and renew ice caps. Ice911 is a research organization that plans to scatter artificial snow to reflect sunlight, coating the ice with a protective layer. Physicist Steven Desch is using windpowered pumps to draw arctic seawater to the surface of the ice to refreeze and strengthen the current weaker layers. Additionally, in an international design competition last year, the idea of an iceberg-generating submarine took second place at the NASA experimental design competition. After taking in water through a hole in the top, the submarine would extract the salt from the water, making it easier to freeze. Once the new iceberg formed, the submarine would submerge, releasing the ice and repeating the process. Entrepreneurs like Bill Gates are also jumping into the mix, funding a project to create a machine that will shoot salt water into the sky to create whiter, brighter clouds. Dubbed “marine cloud brightening,” it is a technique that would condense the water, so radiation from the sun would be reflected, hopefully to decrease the amount of direct sunlight that hits ice. Unlike issues regarding carbon emissions, these issues are generally free from political stalemates and partisan interests. That doesn’t mean they don’t face skepticism and backlash, as the submarine iceberg generator idea is riddled with unknowns, and the marine cloud brightening project is layered in controversy regarding production regulations from the United Nations. But despite these setbacks, we must look into further aiding these new opportunities to fight climate change. Additionally, we should be paying more

attention to the other greenhouse gases. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane, which is released into the atmosphere by fossil fuels, landfills and livestock contributes about 25 percent of the man-made global warming we’re experiencing right now. The organization also said while methane doesn’t remain in the atmosphere for as long, and only contributes 10 percent of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, methane is more than 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Oil and gas operations significantly contribute to methane emissions. In May 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the country’s first national rules to limit methane emissions from this industry. According to the 2016 EPA, methane from these operations also includes other pollutants known as air toxics and VOCs, which are a key ingredient in smog. This EPA said reducing methane emissions was “an essential part of an overall strategy to address climate change.” However, under administrator Andrew Wheeler, who President Trump appointed to the position in 2018, the EPA proposed amendments to these standards in August. The proposal includes eliminating federal requirements that oil and gas companies control methane leaks. The agency admitted the proposals could result in an extra 370,000 short tons of methane being released each year - the same amount of emissions as 1.8 million additional cars per year. They defended this logic by saying it’ll save oil and natural gas industries $17-19 million per year. Besides oil and natural gas companies contributing to methane emissions, all the gas produced by cows, especially through burping, releases methane. This explains how the steak on your plate is another culprit of global warming. The United Nations estimates livestock are responsible for up to 14 percent of all greenhouse emissions, though this number has been heavily debated. For instance, one Italian environmental scholar put the

number significantly lower at 5.5 percent. But due to the staunch divide on the issue of climate change between Republicans and Democrats, bringing more attention to livestock methane emissions has not been successful. When the issue came up with the proposal of the Green New Deal last year, “farting cows” became the butt of many jokes by Republican lawmakers. Between the contradicting statistics and the politics in the U.S., it’s not clear exactly how much a problem cows themselves are. But while cows themselves might not be a culprit of global warming, humans certainly are. The average American eats four-and-a-half servings of red meat per week, according to the CDC. That’s oneand-a-half more than the World Cancer Research Fund suggests. An international decrease in the production of beef could be a way to benefit the environment through less methane emissions. But if giving up red meat doesn’t sit well with you, there are other ways to use cows to combat global warming. Scientists worldwide are working on technological advancements to decrease the amount of methane produced by cows. And sometimes, it doesn’t even require human intervention to cause a decrease in global warming. With the rise of the coronavirus, carbon emissions have taken a nosedive. According to the International Energy Agency, China is the worst offender of carbon emissions at 29 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide output - right next to the U.S. Recently, factories, refineries and international travel in China have been shut down. According to Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, the three-week dip in carbon emissions is roughly equal to the amount of carbon dioxide that the state of New York puts out in a year. So, while our carbon footprint is certainly the largest issue at hand, it’s also layered in personal interest, politics and public apathy. It’s important to explore other options that don’t have the same problems, and might pose even greater solutions. ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES


The Capital Of

Punishment I Explaining the death penalty in Texas n a Dallas jail in 1997, Christopher Scott wondered if he would ever see his kids again. He was being tried for capital murder, and it was a crime committed by a ruthless drug kingpin. Scott was a grocer with a nice apartment and a family. He didn’t do it. But despite his innocence, he was convicted of the crime.


Story by Jeneta Nwosu / Design by Sophie Jejurikar

The judge asked Scott why she shouldn’t seek the death penalty. “Why should you kill an innocent man?” He said. He wasn’t executed. But he received a life sentence and stayed in prison for 13 years before his exoneration. That same year, a man named Harold McQueen Jr. met a different fate. The Commonwealth of Kentucky

executed him for capital murder, of which he was guilty. While he was robbing a convenience store, he killed 22-year-old Rebecca O’Hearn, who worked there as a clerk. This was the first time Kentucky executed a criminal since the death penalty was reinstated in the US in 1976. That’s when the death penalty “hit home” for a woman named Kristin Houlé. She started human rights activism Photo by Marco Chilese on Unsplash

with Amnesty International, and when McQueen was executed, she felt like a human rights violation was taking place in her backyard. “It felt like the death penalty went against everything I believed about fairness and justice,” she said. Now, Houlé is the executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP), in a state that has executed 569 people since 1976 - more than any other US state. On the other hand, Bill Wirskye, Collin County’s district attorney, said he is “reluctantly” in favor of the death penalty. He said it is a necessary sentence that should be reserved for “the worst of the worst,” in cases where a criminal is so dangerous they can continue to hurt people even in prison. “The death penalty is the exception, not the rule,” Wirskye said, “It is rarely used, and in fact, it’s becoming less frequently used than it was even 10 or 20 years ago.” Wirskye pursued the death penalty most recently for Brandon McCall, who was sentenced to death Feb. 27 for killing his roommate and a Richardson police officer. “In his own words, he decided to go to war with the police, and he tried to kill five, six, seven or more police officers,” Wirskye said. “In civilized society, there’s lines that you don’t cross, and he basically declared war on law and order.” Prosecutors decided after studying his past that McCall would be dangerous no matter where he was. “He committed the ultimate crime, so he deserves the ultimate punishment,” Wirskye said. But Houlé doesn’t think severe crimes justify the death penalty. She understands people might have a strong emotional response to horrific crimes but said, “the reality is the death penalty is administered in an incredibly arbitrary way,” and she calls for an

“unconditional” end to capital punishment. “I don’t believe the government has the right to take a life,” she said. Together, Scott and McQueen’s stories paint a picture of some of the concerns activists have with capital punishment. It all started for Scott when he got a call from Claude Simmons, who wanted to talk about his struggle with addiction. Simmons was a childhood friend of Scott’s girlfriend. Scott was with his family, and reluctant to go visit Simmons, but after repeated calls, he left out of concern. Elsewhere in Dallas, a man named Alfonzo Aguilar was with his wife, Celia Escobedo,

Why “

should you

kill an



when he was shot and killed by an invader accompanied by another man. The police had a description of the two: two darkskinned African-American men with low haircuts, one tall, one short. “When you describe that, you’re describing half our population,” Scott said. Scott noticed the high police presence at Simmons’ house but wasn’t too concerned until the police ordered them to come out of the house. “As soon as we opened up the door, the officers ran inside the house,” Scott said. “All eight or nine of the officers had guns drawn on me.”

Scott was taken to the Crimes Against Persons division of the Dallas Police Department, where Celia was going to look at suspects. If she couldn’t identify him, an officer told him, he would be able to go. Scott was eager for her to come, expecting that she wouldn’t recognize him. But according to Scott, she wasn’t a reliable witness due to all the different medications she took. Scott could see Celia standing with an officer through a window. He read their lips as they talked. “The officer walks the lady up to the window and points at me and said ‘this is the man that killed your husband.’ It wasn’t a question. It was a statement,” he said. Celia said yes. Scott found himself in an interrogation room, facing questions about the source of his drugs. “I told them, what kind of kingpin drug seller do you know works as a produce supervisor at a grocery store,” he said. The investigators, fed up with his evasive behavior, charged him with capital murder. Though he was innocent, Scott was not confident that he would be found not guilty. “When I went to trial, I was like, how can I have a fair trial with the deck stacked against me this much,” he said. “I made a joke about it. I said, ‘The only things of color in this courtroom are me and the furniture.’” Houlé claims the criminal justice system is infected with racial bias on all levels, and the death penalty is no different. “In terms of pursuit of the death penalty, we have a disproportionate number of people of color that have now been sentenced to death and executed in this state and in this country,” Houlé said. She says that it is a subjective decision by the prosecutor whether they seek the death penalty, and often, the decision depends on the race of the defendant or



the economic status of the victim. Though the judge sparred Scott from the death penalty, Scott had days in jail where he could not sleep or eat while he was awaiting sentencing. “That’s a lot of pressure, not knowing if someone’s going to let you live or kill you,” he said. “Now your life is not your life anymore. Your life is in the court system’s hands.” After receiving a guilty verdict and a life sentence, it wasn’t until 2002 that Scott’s path to exoneration began. Alonzo Hardy walked into a prison barber shop and sat down in a chair in front of Scott’s brother. As Scott’s brother cut Hardy’s hair, he bragged about robbing and killing a drug dealer and leaving two other men to serve time for the crime. Hardy was suspected from the beginning. “Everybody knew he did it,” Scott said. Scott’s brother pressured Hardy to fill out an affidavit to the district attorney. Hardy agreed, but because Scott’s case was non-DNA, it was rejected. There was no scientific way to prove Scott didn’t commit the crime. “Then in 2006, the first African-American District Attorney in the state of Texas history got elected, which was Craig Watkins,” Scott said. “Once Craig Watkins heard about my case, he took my case to the University of Texas in Arlington and gave it to an undergraduate law class.” Weeks later, a woman from that class came to see him. She had the confession from Hardy, and she wanted Scott to confess as the second person to let Simmons go free. He refused. “She asked me what I did the day of that murder, and I told her from the time I woke up and brushed my teeth to the time I left to visit Mr. Simmons,” Scott said. “And then she said ‘Well, I think the DA’s office


believed Mr. Simmons, and maybe they will believe you.’” A few weeks after she left, Scott received a letter from the DA’s office. “When I got the letter, I was kind of scared to open it because I knew my life was inside this envelope,” Scott said. The district attorney’s office believed he was telling the truth, but to be let free, he had to pass a polygraph test. He had asked for a polygraph test 13 years ago. Soon after the letter, Craig Watkins, the district attorney, went to visit Scott in person because if exonerated, he would

fail. He said the reason why was the cops don’t want to admit they made a mistake.” Scott stayed in prison for a few weeks while the police apprehended the man that killed Aguilar. He was released from prison in 2009, seven years after Hardy’s confession. Scott does not like the death penalty. He said that when you’re dead, you can’t fight for your innocence. Similarly, Houlé said there is a significant risk of error that can lead to a wrongful conviction. “We’ve had 166 people released from death row nationwide due to evidence of

Now your life is not your life anymore. Your life is in the court system’s hands. be the first in Dallas county history exonerated without DNA. “That’s why I wanted to come, look you in your eyes, and ask you, because if I let a guilty man go, that will be the end of our Conviction Integrity Unit,” Watkins said, according to Scott. Scott gave him his word. He also passed the polygraph test. “Every officer that was there that night that still worked for the police force was at my polygraph test,” Scott said. “And the guy that administered my polygraph test told me those cops are here to watch me

their wrongful conviction. That includes 13 people in Texas.” Had things gone differently for Scott, he could have been the 14th. And then there’s McQueen. McQueen’s conviction was not wrongful. He committed the crimes. At the time he murdered the convenience store clerk in 1981, he was heavily under the influence of Valium, alcohol, and marijuana. Combining benzodiazepines like Valium with alcohol intensifies the effects of both and can cause significant mental impairment.All three drugs are depressants

and dangerous combined together. McQueen suffered from substance use disorder. He was addicted to heroin, valium and alcohol, and he stole to afford the drugs.Years of heavy drug use damaged the frontal lobe of his brain. Friends and family members of McQueen remarked on how drugs had changed McQueen and the difference between McQueen sober and intoxicated was stark. But prison forced McQueen to get and stay sober in the sixteen years between his conviction and execution date. According to a 1997 Louisville Courier-Journal article, he converted to Catholicism while incarcerated and attained spiritual peace, and 72 hours before his execution, he urged people in an interview called “It Could Happen to You” never to start abusing substances. “Often it can be 20 years before someone is executed after the crime,” said Niki Bergin, the Secretary of the Board of Directors of the TCADP. “You lock them away, put them in prison, and [execute them] 20 years later when they’re not even this person anymore. Twenty years later, what does executing this person do? That’s just not justice to me.” Bergin first began thinking about capital punishment in a graduate human rights course at Southern Methodist University that covered the death penalty. “It’s something that I just couldn’t leave,” she said. “I would stay up all night reading different books and different cases, and I was just horrified.” When Bergin was taking the human rights course, she was encouraged to find and reach out to someone on death row. She wrote to a man in Harris County who was sentenced to prison for 99 years at the age of 15 when his father killed a neighbor in a trailer park. He was thrown into an adult

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash



“to choose who

It’s not up to me

lives or dies.

I leave that in

the hands of God.

prison in the 1990s. While incarcerated, he was then convicted of murdering a prison guard and sentenced to death. Bergin claims there was not much evidence in the case. His father and brother were in prison, and his mother had not been able to visit him in years. “I started off by taking his mother [and his niece] to visit him, and eventually, I got on the list, and I started visiting him,” Bergin said. According to Bergin, he was “such a different person from that 15-year-old kid who got his life taken away from him,” and he educated himself while in prison. But he was too poor to afford his own attorney during the capital murder case. “Surprisingly, he was a happy person,” Bergin said. “He had made the best of his situation. He was very grateful for every bit of friendship and contact.” Near the end, he was able to get his execution stayed. But eventually, he was executed for the murder of the prison


guard at the age of 38. Bergin is still in contact with his mother. Today, she is optimistic about the future of death penalty abolition in Texas. “The death penalty in Texas is definitely a long game. But we have little victories along the way,” she said. Houlé made a similar observation. “The death penalty landscape in Texas has really changed over the last 20 years,” she said, “Our state is still far and away the most notorious state when it comes to the death penalty, yet the number of people who are being sentenced to death has dropped precipitously, and I think public opinion has changed a lot on this issue.” Scott is working with Texas state representatives Jeff Leach and Joe Moody to introduce a bill to abolish the death penalty during the next legislative session in 2021. They also will introduce a bill that allows the defense to present to a grand jury, which decides whether someone should be indicted, as opposed to trial juries which decide a verdict and sentence.

“Having been a former defense lawyer myself, I’m not opposed to this on principal,” Wirskye said, “The more information decision-makers have, the better decisions they will make.” This principle could have theoretically stopped Scott’s indictment. Now that he is a free man, Scott leads the House of Renewed Hope, which works to exonerate other wrongfully convicted prisoners. He founded the organization in 2010. He remains against the death penalty. “It’s not up to me to choose who lives or dies,” Scott said. “I leave that in the hands of God.”

Bergin and Houlé both echoed the same saying in explaining the rationale for abolishing the death penalty. Maybe someone deserves to die, they said, but who deserves to kill them?

Life after Prison Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash



A felon’s story and the lasting effects of incarceration on his life experiences


rmed burglary. That’s what cost 42-year-old Ryan Zeller over 15-years of his life. Zeller was arrested for the first time when he was only 18 years old. He and a few of his friends got drunk, and while under the influence, decided to break into a house in the suburbs of Jacksonville, Florida. During the break-in, the boys stole a gun, resulting in a charge of armed burglary. Zeller served 15 months for this. But upon his release, his battle with addiction escalated from alcohol to include drugs, which hurt his relationship with his family. “My mom and dad didn’t let me stay at home because I had two younger sisters, and my dad knew that I would go back to what I was doing before,” Zeller said. So, he lived in a halfway house picking up random jobs to pay for his rent until he and another ex-felon from the halfway house got their own apartment together. “That wasn’t a good idea because both of us were recovering addicts, and it didn’t take long for us to relapse,” Zeller said. In the first year following a prisoner’s release, 44 percent are arrested again, according to a 2018 study done by the Bureau of Justice. Flash forward to 1997, Zeller finds himself in the back of a cop car for the same exact crime he was charged with one year ago, making him a number in that statistic. “The only difference from the second arrest to the first arrest was I wasn’t doing hard drugs on my first arrest,” Zeller said. Of male prisoners in the U.S., 70 percent were drug abusers, compared to the 11.2 percent rate of drug abuse in the entire male population, according to a research paper published in the International Journal


Story by Sarah Small / Design by Sophie Jejurikar

of High Risk Behaviors. The second arrest came from another armed burglary. The two others involved in the incident wrote statements against Zeller before he even had the chance to speak to the police himself. “They spilled the beans about everything, and the other co-defendant fainted when the cops knocked on his door,” Zeller said. Zeller received a 15-year sentence, while his other two co-defendants got off with a slap on the wrist. One of them served three years in prison, and the other just received probation. The reason the sentence for Zeller was so steep was because of his past crimes. In the state of Florida, where he was arrested, if you go back to prison within three years of the initial release, you get more time. After Zeller’s second release on August 14, 2012, he vowed not to become another statistic this time. Once released, the chances of a convicted felon returning to prison increase over time. Those who make it through the first year without being arrested face poor odds as the years go on. According to the same Bureau of Justice study mentioned earlier, 68 percent of ex-prisoners are arrested again in the first three years that they are released. If they aren’t arrested after three years, 79 percent of prisoners go back to prison after six years. And if they make it past six years, over 83 percent of prisoners go back in after nine years. Now in his eighth year out, Zeller has almost beat all of these odds. But though he’s done everything “right,” rebuilding his life after prison has not been easy. “Getting out of prison was easy, but staying out was the hard part,” he said. Shortly after his 15-year sentence,

Zeller searched for a steady-income job, something else that statistics stacked against him. The unemployment rate for ex-felons is 27 percent, according to Prison Legal News. That is over 1.3 million people without jobs. Compared to the overall national unemployment rate, which is 4 percent, this number is extremely high. “For people who go to prison and have a

“of prison Getting out

was easy,

but staying out was the

hard part.

felony on their record, finding employment is more difficult, which is where family connections and a good support system comes in,” Criminal Defense Attorney Phillip Linder said. This is not from a lack of work ethic, but from employers denying ex-felons applications simply because they have a criminal record. Zeller quickly realized that in order for him to get a good paying job, he needed to keep his focus on the select fields that would still accept him, such as construction.

“I already had a background in [construction] anyway, so I leaned towards that atmosphere, and began to better my trade that way,” Zeller said. Even though construction was the best path Zeller could take, at the start of his career, he still bounced from job to job because of how different life was in the real world than it was in prison. “I had anger issues, different coping skills and what not compared from the inside to the outside,” he said. After a few months of an unsteady income, Zeller was able to get himself into the Laborers Union, which helped him find his place. “When I got myself in the Union as a carpenter, life began to really change,” he said. “That allowed me to open my eyes to want to stay clean and right.” While finding a job was not easy for Zeller, his odds were a bit higher as a Caucasian man because gender and race also come into play when potential employers see “convicted felon” on a background report. For women with the felon label, over 51 percent of Hispanic and African-American women and 38 percent of Caucasian women are unemployed, according to Prison Legal News. For men with the felon label, 33 percent of Hispanic men and over 40 percent of African-American men are unemployed, but only 27 percent of Caucasian men are unemployed. Having “convicted felon” on your record also makes it difficult to find an apartment or housing. When an ex-felon is looking for housing, it is almost impossible to find a good place to live because landlords are legally allowed to deny someone housing if they have a criminal record. “When I was honest with the landlords

about my record, I would get automatically denied, so where was I supposed to live?” Zeller said. “The living places they had set aside for felons weren’t a good place to start over because of the environment, so I had to start lying about my record just to get a place to live.” Though these landlords make this decision with the goal to keep the building and other residents safe, what they do not realize is how it contributes to high recidivism rates. When landlords deny housing to those who are labeled as a felon, it creates an easier path for the the exprisoner to return to bad habits - similar to how Zeller ended up back in prison after his first arrest. Beyond jobs and housing, there is an abundance of rights felons lose after getting released from prison such as voting, the right to bear arms, traveling abroad, parental rights and more. Most of these rights differ from state to state and depend on the crime committed. For example, when someone is imprisoned in Texas, they cannot vote while in jail, but once they have served their entire sentence, including probation, their right to vote is restored. In 11 other states, the right to vote is fully taken away unless granted with a governor’s pardon. In some ways, getting released from prison and figuring out how to rebuild your life can be more intimidating than going into prison in the first place because of these new barriers. Zeller credits his success so far to two things: staying sober and family. “It makes it a little easier after prison when you have a good support system,” Zeller said. “If a person doesn’t have a support system, I hawwve always told them the best thing you can do is make your own family.”

44 percent of prisoners are arrested again within the first year of their release

70 27 83 percent of prisoners are drug abusers

percent of ex-felons are unemployed

percent of prisoners go back to prison after nine years PRISON REFORM


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