I was sitting next to Ollie Mitchell in her son Dennis’ garage in September as she talked about her late husband Harry’s alcoholism and vicious mood swings when he was drunk. He could become violent, she made clear, and it was continual chaos for her and her children. I’d heard her tell detailed and honest stories about his addiction the previous November in the same place in West Oxford.
I also listened to her daughter Halleane Isom talk about how, as an adult, she had to put her dad out of her house due to a drunken episode. They then were estranged for three months before reuniting.
As I listened, and as I’m writing now with tears leaking out onto my face, my own memories of both my alcoholic fathers came flooding back. Like members of the Mitchell family, my mother and I loved both my real dad and later my stepdad dearly. They were both characters who loved life and those around them—and alcohol could turn them both into monsters. Both abused my mother. Both brought turmoil to my young life, as I told Mrs. Mitchell in September while thanking her for being honest about Mr. Mitchell.
“I’ve been there, too,” I told her and her family. “He reminds me of my dad.”
There Are No Angels, But …
As I teach in my writing classes, there are no angels—and our readers are more likely to identify with people of other races and backgrounds when we include their challenges, their full humanity. Real human stories don’t read like glowing press releases.
It should also go without saying that, despite our flaws, no one deserves to be bludgeoned to death and dumped over the side of a bridge. And when such brutality happens, law enforcement and media should give all of us, our families and the investigation of our loved one’s death the same care, attention and respect.
But this often doesn’t happen for Black and Brown people in our state and nation.
Some lives are valued more than others. Some families are respected less than others. Police and the
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