by Sara Klock
This semester as a whole:
I have to say I cannot believe I am writing this. I cannot believe that I will be home in two weeks. I never thought I would have done the things I’ve done here, ever. Before coming here I was never away from home for more than a month at a time and I had reservations about coming to a place so far away from home. All doubts are gone and worries are over, I survived. I actually did more than survive; I experienced life in an entire new way. I’ve never had to take public transportation, ever. I can pretty much get you wherever you need to go in D.C. I now offer tourists help if they look lost or confused. I honestly didn’t think I would do that. I’ve learned that being away from home stinks at times, but those times are far and few in between. I’ve learned that I am an independent, strong woman who can tackle a brand new city. I’ve learned that while you may think one way and think that way for a good reason, someone else may think another way for a better reason. The Washington Semester Program throws a bunch of type-A personalities in a room far away from home for 3 days a week for 16 weeks. You learn to get along. You learn to like the people who are the complete opposite of you. You learn to enjoy your time together and engage in heated, but respectful, discussions. You learn to think in a completely different way and look at the entire picture and not just the small little dot.
Before coming here I had never gone to a jail or gotten catcalls, let alone sat down and talked to the people inside. And honestly I didn’t care. That could not be further from the truth today. Those in jail made a bad decision, but they still are human. Being in Washington D.C. has made me think about a lot of issues I had never thought about before. At first it was intimidating and a little nerve wracking walking into a prison, but at the end of the day you’re fine and you simply have to step back and look at what you gained from that experience.
If I were asked what my favorite and least favorite parts of the Washington Semester Program were, I would say my favorite(s): the West Wing Tour, and inauguration, my least favorite: the bus ride from the Baltimore Prison (I got sick). I had to opportunity to do so many things, meet so many people and go so many places. I can give you 26 Supreme Court decisions regarding the death penalty, or tell you how to improve your chances of getting into the FBI. I could probably write a book about my time in D.C. I’ll miss D.C. I’ll miss going on a run and seeing the monuments, or walking by the White House twice a week. I’ll miss the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been. Yet, while I may be sad that I’m leaving, I have definitely added D.C. as a potential place to live five years down the road from here. It’s a great city that offers more than just what tourists see. The Washington Semester Program exposes you to this, something being here for a week won’t do. It allows you to actually be a part of the city and potentially a part of history.
by Sara Klock
First, I want to begin that I have one week of classes left. This is totally crazy! I’m pretty sure I just moved in. Anyways, this past week was pretty busy. On Monday we went the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or NCMEC. NCMEC was founded after the disappearance of Adam Walsh. Adam’s father, John Walsh started Americans Most Wanted. NCMEC’s role is to assist law enforcement in finding children with a 24/7calling center. They receive calls from parents, teachers, children, and the general public regarding any information or leads. They have a cyber team which focuses on cyber predators. NCMEC also has software available to age regress and age progress a child’s face. We saw various examples of how powerful these pictures are when attempting to look for a child who went missing ten years ago. NCMEC does some amazing work and has a 97% success rate of finding children.
Tuesday the Washington College of Law hosted a panel titled “Youth in Solitary Confinement: Facts, Justifications, and Potential Human Rights Violations.” Lunch was provided..but we missed it because we were late. To sum up the discussion, children should not be held in solitary confinement, EVER. Up to four hours is the max a child should be held and this is only for severe cases. Solitary confinement in general isn’t just bad it’s torture, and this extends beyond children. Wednesday we went to Montgomery County (Maryland) Pre-Release center. Clearly the prison system as it is not working, especially with a 70% recidivism rate. This pre-release center is for people who are serving their last 6 months of their sentences. To be at Montgomery County Pre-Release Center an individual must have a job and cannot have escaped from any previous facility. They provided drug rehab and counseling and the facility is similar to a college campus. Inmates lives and eat there, they are allowed to leave the facility to work and can have passes to go home on the weekend. It’s a good stepping stone back in to reality.
My best friend from home was here this weekend, which I was super excited about. Everyone has told me from the beginning of the semester to go the monuments at night and Saturday night we did just that. Okay, it was a little sketchy walking down the National Mall when no one was there, but everyone who told me to go down at night was absolutely correct. The aura of the history is so much more present in the dark. It was almost magical
By Emily Artalejo
After losing a full 24 hours traveling, we arrived in Amman at 12:30 am. Our very first venture in Amman was to a Palestinian refugee camp, for which none of us were fully prepared. Our bus brought a horde of children waving excitedly to us from the school. We were welcomed in by the camp’s residents. The first home had a thinly carpeted floor with all windows open for ventilation. The few appliances looked to be 15 years old or more and we were told that 9 people lived in this tiny home with 3 rooms total that were not separated by any doors. The residents did not speak English and as they welcomed us with smiling faces, we replied with one of the only words we knew, “Shukran,” meaning “Thank you.” We heard the testimony of a woman who, though her son had been able to move out of the camp, but that it was not an option for her, who had a grandson with special needs. A man told us about the regulations of the camp, and how, because of building regulations, could not build a fence to keep wild dogs from entering their home. As we listened to these tragic stories, we were treated with the utmost hospitality; family members served us hot tea and soda, and checked to make sure we were enjoying our beverages. Later in the afternoon, we visited a Gaza refugee camp; the hospitality was equal, but the living conditions were even worse as we walked through gutters that were, essentially, the camp’s sewer system. One of the men informed us that they had faced a lot of adversity and opposition to our visit from the authorities. He had also informed us that the Jordanian government had halted plans to create a working sewer system because many of the surrounding Jordanian communities did not have sewer systems.
The next day we visited both representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jordanian National Party. We were given extended question and answer sessions in which we asked about the Free Syrian Army, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and the status of refugees.
The next day we visited the baptism site at the River Jordan. We had the opportunity to wade in the River Jordan. Of course, I took advantage of the opportunity, as we waded to our left were Jordanian soldiers and to our right were Israeli soldiers. The day was excruciatingly hot and the water was cold and refreshing, and very symbolic of what this river mean to an entire civilization of people.
Shortly after, we arrived at the Dead Sea. Being able to sit completely upright on top of the water was a feeling like no other. Our group then went over to the mud bank of the Dead Sea and threw mud at each other and then covered ourselves with the smooth, cool mud.
That night we stayed in Petra and where we exercised our negotiation techniques in order to garner the best prices. We climbed up the desert of Wadi Rum, which in Arabic means “Moon Valley.” As we climbed up the red sand of the mountains we were able to see across the entire desert. The acoustics of the valley produced an amazing echo as we all yelled to each other from different areas of the mountain. After climbing down the mountain, we had the opportunity to ride camels across the desert. All of our class was up for the adventure, and we rode the camels for about 20 minutes around the valley. My camel quickened its pace, which caused me to panic, and then bent down several times in order to eat, which lurched me forward. Despite my moments of fear, the camel ride was an amazing experience. We then had lunch at a Bedouin camp at which we had some of the most delicious hummus and bread.
Consistent with our demanding schedule, we then drove two hours back to Petra where we climbed the ruins of the ancient city. We saw the Treasury, the Monastery, the Amphitheater, and several tombs.
With most of us sunburned and exhausted, we returned to Amman, ready for our departure to Cyprus.
As soon as we arrived in Cyprus, we enjoyed the delicious Cypriot take on Greek food. We were present for the day the bank had opened after the Cyprus banking Cyprus. All we had to do was look out our hotel to see the lines that wrapped around the bank at 9 am- the banks were scheduled to open at noon. Needless to say, we were able to witness several signs of protest against TRIOCA.
We stayed on the Greek-speaking area of Nicosia, and in order to cross over to the Turkish-speaking side, we had to present our passports and have a piece of paper deemed a visa, stamped. Many of the Greek-speaking Cypriots we interviewed told us that they do not cross over to the Turkish side because they are indignant that they must produce their passports to move freely about the island, since they (like the UN) do not recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as a country.
We visited the UN buffer zone, where we learned more about efforts to bring together the youth from the two sides. Projects ranged from environmental efforts to soccer games. Photography was prohibited in the buffer zone. We met with the UN Committee on Missing Persons Board, which determines the identity of the deceased victims of violence during the violence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots in the 1970s. The board is a recovers bones (informants are kept confidential) and tests the DN to determine the identity of the deceased. The deceased’s family is informed and invited to view and collect the bones and personal remains. We visited the DNA lab and witnessed remains that were nearly complete skeletons and others that were only 6 bones. Throughout our visit there, I was fascinated by the techniques used to extract DNA from remains found forty years ago, but even more so, mourning at the lost lives of the conflict, and empathy for the families whose loved ones have been missing for decades.
The next day, we visited mass graves with Cypriot high school students. The mass graves we a result of EOKA soldiers killing Turkish Cypriots in villages near Famagusta. One Greek Cypriot girl showed me the area where her mother and father used to live before they were forced to move to Nicosia and became refugees on their own island. She cried as she saw the schoolhouse, which was veneration to the lives lost on the day of attacks. She told me that history books never reflect the massacre and teachers do not discuss it. Attending the mass graves with locals gave us as outsiders a deeper connection to the tragedy.
We visited the church of St. Lazarus, which flew a Byzantine flag overhead. In the church we were able to enter the tomb and honor the relics. We ended our time in Cyprus on a beach in Larnaca. The beach also served as a national park so we were able to hike up to the best view of the Mediterranean Sea, and even able to find our way into a sea cave.
By Sara Klock
On Monday we went to the Baltimore Prison. Before Monday we had only visited jails, Baltimore was the first prison we went to. Baltimore is what one would picture as prison, it looked like a prison you would see in a movie. It is the oldest prison in the country, it used to house maximum-security inmates as well as Baltimore’s Death Row. Today, while the death chamber is still there, it holds minimum-security prisoners. That does not mean that these men have committed petty crimes, there are murderers, rapists, and bad people in there. While there, we were allowed to view the death chamber. Maryland is only waiting for Governor O’Malley to sign a bill that would get rid of capital punishment in the state. It was very dark, ominous room. Baltimore has two execution methods, both lethal injection and the gas chamber. Therefore, they actually have a gas chamber there. It’s a small glass room that looks a little bigger than a port-a-potty with a metal chair. Baltimore also has a pre-release center. There we got to listen to a panel of 9 inmates. Honestly they were just like you and me who just made a bad decision at some point in their life. A majority of these men were in prison related to drug charges.
Tuesday brought more death penalty information. I know this is a difficult topic, but I’ve become a little de-sensitized to the issue due to all of the information I’ve learned about over the past four months. Tuesday we heard from Anne Holsinger, an information and resource specialist from the Death Penalty Information Center. The Death Penalty Information Center is a small non-profit that looks at the death penalty on a public policy issue, without a moral stance or legislative agenda. Tuesday afternoon we heard from Director the Sentencing Project and co-editor of Invisible Punishment, Marc Maurer. He spoke of the collateral consequences prison has on inmates. On Wednesday we went the Montgomery County Court House in Rockville, Maryland. There we heard from John Malloy, a Depute State Attorney. He said that his job the past twenty years was not to sentence men to “death” but to find them guilty of committing murder.
Finally the cherry blossoms bloomed! We went down to the tidal basin on Wednesday afternoon, in the 90 degree weather to witness the beauty of the blossoms. If you ever have a chance to come to D.C. when the blossoms are out, do it. You will never see anything as pretty as the cherry blossoms. I read in the paper that their peak bloom was on Tuesday, we went on Wednesday so we were pretty close to seeing them at their finest. They were absolutely gorgeous. Friday night a few of my friends and I went to the Nationals game. We went to the first game out of a three game series against the Atlanta Braves. We each paid $20 for really awesome seats. As a Yankee’s fan, it is really expensive to get good seats at Yankee Stadium, but at Nationals stadium the tickets are cheap and good. Unfortunately the Nationals lost, but they were ahead when we left during the seventh inning stretch!