I often say integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking. Today I learned integrity is doing the right thing when everyone is looking.
Today a dear friend posted a link to a seemingly innocuous article showcasing a photographer who captured children’s tears after giving them candy then taking it away. She saw herself in one of the photos and commented benignly about her deft ability to leverage her tears as a child. I did my best to understand her perspective despite my first reaction to the photos: disgusted.
“This isn’t art, it’s child abuse and pedophile pornography. Sharing it in the name of art perpetuates both issues. Shame on the artist and shame on the parents for giving permission to publish their child in such a compromising light.”
I posted this comment to the article anonymously. Then I realized I didn’t mind publicly taking a stand against the photographer’s categorization of the photos as art. So I posted my comment on her Facebook page. Just as quickly, I regretted it and deleted the comment. I realized, I too, may have positions in my life with which others may not agree. I’m a dominatrix. While I am proud to say it out loud, I have no doubt it can rub some people the wrong way. So, I reasoned, who am I to throw this stone?
I did my best to let the issue rest in my head.
Then I thought about my dear friend who posted the link and remembered she has posted a lot over this past year about her experiences with racism. She’s taken an enormous amount of grief for standing up to the very real issue of letting racist comments slide, no matter how slight, humorous, or unintended. When people were looking, and when they weren’t, she took a very powerful stand for something in which she believes strongly, despite that she too lives a life worthy of having a few stones cast her way.
I tell a story before my Corporate Dominatrix Training 201 class about a long corridor in a prison in PA where there are no cameras. No one can see what happens in that corridor. It spans from a medium security women’s prison to a men’s maximum-security prison. I tell the story about the day I entered the corridor and saw three very large women also enter from the other side. As fear overtook me, instantly I felt my body move toward one of the walls while my eyes fixated on their eyes. Slowly we approached each other, their shoulder width, arm to arm, leaving no room for passage on either side. I willed my eyes to look away unsuccessfully. My arm rubbed so hard on the wall I felt it begin to chafe, my heart rate increased to a level I have rarely since felt. When we finally met in the middle, each of them bowed their head away from me, formed a single line, and passed by me without incident. In that moment, nearly 20 years ago, I realized how I saw myself was not how others saw me.
I was the notorious prisoner being held temporarily in this prison who came from ICC, the Intensive Confinement Center in TX, a federal boot camp for women. I was the one who had a reputation of intense workouts during the only 1 of 24 hours a day we were let out of our cells. It was in this moment I realized they were scared of me.
I tell this story before my class because one of the underlying tenets of my class is integrity. I assert that even when no one is looking, doing the right thing is the only option. It’s a rough claim to fame when included in a prison story. Why then, after all, was I in prison if this is my belief? I’ll cover that answer after saying that on that day I learned you are as you are evidenced. It’s a powerful fact worth wielding in the corporate world.
The short of my crime is, as a registered representative of the SEC, a stockbroker, I shared in a client’s loss. It’s against the law to share in a client’s profit or loss. As a result of information I gave my clients, they lost money. I reimbursed them for their losses. I mailed their interest checks and wired their principal so I was charged with mail and wire fraud. The thing that earned me: a first time, non-violent offender, a sentence of boot camp as an alternative to incarceration, was the fact that I didn’t try to hide what I was doing. During my sentencing my judge questioned me, “why didn’t you try to hide what you were doing?” “I didn’t think I would go to jail for it,” was my only response. I was lucky to have a judge who understood my intention was founded in integrity. Boot camp was a 7-month program; it was supposed to be an alternative to incarceration. Three months into boot camp another victim who didn’t know I had already been sentenced filed new charges against me. Federal marshal’s transported me from TX to PA to appear on the new charges. It took another judge 3 months to bang her gavel and declare I was already serving my time before sending me back to ICC. This 3 month excursion exposed me to the realities of state, county and federal prisons, a stark contrast to the minimum security prison camp to which I was originally sentenced.
I learned a lot of lessons about integrity during my eventual 11 months in the system, but few compared with the impact of that unmonitored corridor. They were scared of me!
Stones can be thrown my way, both as a felon and as a dominatrix, but everyone is looking at these photos of crying children. Some of them are child abusers, smiling. Others are pedophiles, jacking off to the images. While I can see the unique intent of the artist, I cannot look past the foundational truth that, children should be protected from abuse in all situations. Always, when everyone is looking or when no one is looking, a child is an innocent worthy of dignity.
I may have been able to look past the pedophile assertion if the children were clothed, but I’m aghast to say some photos exposed nipples of baby girls. Memories of my own nipples covered tightly with my fists so my funny uncles couldn’t ‘get at them’ visually or physically, haunt me. And I can’t look past the abuse behind taunting a child by giving them candy and taking it away just to provoke tears in the name of art. It’s simply not ok. It’s abuse any way you frame it.
Just like my friend standing for a racist free world, I want the photos removed from public viewing! I’m willing to say so publicly, privately and intimately. I am as I am evidenced and I am a stand for children being honored, respected and protected regardless of the stones that will come my way.