Crucial Minutia
it's the little things...
Daniel MayDaniel May is an organizer and playwright. He has worked for the late Senator Paul Wellstone and organized in Los Angeles for five years with the Industrial Areas Foundation. He writes theHe's the DJ, I'm the Ranter column, which appears every other Monday.
Daniel May
Riker’s Journal, Part 2
1 Comment | posted June 12th, 2007 at 10:32 pm by Daniel May

At Rikers, “upstate” is an ominous term, a name for some shapeless place that steals people away for reasons unspoken and for stretches unknown. There are two kinds of prisoners at Riker’s: those who are awaiting sentencing and the trip “upstate” and those that are serving sentences of less than a year. For some, then, the time on the Island is a few weeks of waiting before long stretches in high security prison; for others, it’s a few months away from home to reconsider the path that led you to the island. This means that there are two distinct groups, marked by their clothes – those awaiting sentencing wear their own, and those serving sentences wear bright orange prison garb. But in practice, the daily humiliations of prison do away with any sense of “innocent until proven guilty.” In Riker’s you’re reminded at every moment that you’re, well, in Riker’s.

Read more…

Daniel May
Riker’s Journal
4 Comments | posted April 30th, 2007 at 11:13 am by Daniel May

There are roughly 14,000 thousand inmates at Riker’s Island. They are divided into 14 different prisons: there is a prison for juveniles, a prison for men who haven’t been sentenced, a prison for drug addicts, a prison for men before they get sent upstate for longer sentences, a prison for men who are serving shorter sentences, a prison for those arrested in the Bronx (–oh, and it’s on a barge. Because there just isn’t enough space on the island), a women’s prison, and apparently another six or seven different facilities. You take a regular city bus to get there. But the stop isn’t actually marked with any signs. You can tell it’s the bus to Rikers because, as my friend Amy tells me while I’m wandering around under the trains at Queens Plaza “it’s where there are a bunch of young women holding babies.” I find the corner with the young women with babies. “Is this the bus to Rikers” I ask one. She looks at me, jostling her daughter in her arms. “You going to Rikers?” she asks. “Yeah.” She doesn’t say anything else. I guess I’m in the right place.

Read more…

Daniel May
What Imus Can Teach Us About Virginia Tech
3 Comments | posted April 18th, 2007 at 04:52 pm by Daniel May

So I was all set this week to keep up with my habit of writing about yesterday’s news several days past the due-date of my column by ranting about Don Imus. And then the incomprehensible occurred in Virginia, again (the incomprehensible seems to keep happening) and so now my vent about the trivial is all folded into my emotions facing the unimaginable (What if my sister were there? What if it was my child who was killed, who did the killing? Scenarios of horror played out in wandering minds around the country). So, here’s the product of a week’s thinking about Imus and two days considering the impossible.

First, on Imus: every few years our nation offers a sacrificial lamb to the gods of racial sensitivity. It makes us feel better, like we’ve come so far, like we can spot a bigot, call the bigot a bigot, and that bigot will pay for his sins, absolving us all the process. It’s a purification rite. I’m not sure if the first act of sacrifice was Jimmy the Greek, or if that’s just the first one I can recall, but in 1988 he said this gem: “During the slave period, the slave owner would breed his big black with his big woman so that he would have a big black kid—that’s where it all started,” and got summarily fired from NBC. And more recently, of course, we’ve had Michael Richards destroy his career via Youtube and a cell phone video. And now Imus joins the ranks of the slaughtered.

Read more…

Daniel May
He’s the DJ I’m the Ranter: Breakfast with Barack
1 Comment | posted March 28th, 2007 at 05:23 pm by Daniel May

The Russell Office Building’s Room 325 is where Anita Hill testified, where hearings into the sinking of the titanic were held, and where John F. Kennedy announced his campaign for presidency. The room looks the part: along the back wall hang red curtains that bend between white pillars, a backdrop so theatrical it makes the room look like a set dressed for a filming of the hearings on the sinking of the titanic more than the actual room where they happened. The pillars are way too big for the space, and the ceiling is easily as tall as the room is wide. Room 325 is, above all, stately.

Room 325 is also where the Senators from Illinois host their “constituent coffee” every Thursday at 8:30am. On a bitingly cold morning February morning, the room was less crowded than I expected. The face of one of the senators, after all, had greeted my walk through Union Station, gently smiling out from the covers of a dozen books stacked in a display in the B. Dalton window. It was cold, and it was early, but it was also Barack Obama. He was set to announce his presidency for candidate the following Saturday, and I was nervous, running in the cold at 8:25, that I wouldn’t get in to the thing. Instead, of the maybe 150 seats, 60 or 65 were taken. Most of the donuts and coffee, on a table to the side, went uneaten.

Read more…