Apr 16

When Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu takes the time to read and review a book, the book automatically becomes important – even if it is just a little book about a cow.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has had a busy month. A sample of the events and to-do’s that were entered on Archbishop Tutu’s calendar in the past 30 days includes:

• Protest death penalty punishments for gay sex in Uganda.
• Help launch book co-written with my daughter.
• Autograph soccer ball for “Kick Polio Out of Africa” campaign.
• Be global patron for World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour event.
• Do interview on CNN with Christiane Amanpour.
• Design limited edition sweater to raise money for Tutu Peace Center
• Speak at Springfield Symphony Hall about public health awareness / accept honorary degree from American International College and the Medical Knowledge Institute.
• Write article about my childhood tuberculosis to launch campaign for the UK Coalition to Stop TB.
• Travel on maiden voyage of Queen Mary 2 between Port Louis and Cape Town.
• Back international sanctions against Myanmar.

It’s difficult to imagine that one person – no matter how powerful and influential – could be involved in so many important world events in such a short period of time. When you are a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a world leader, though, there isn’t much room on your calendar for trivialities.

So when one more entry made it onto Archbishop Tutu’s calendar recently – Read “Etre the Cow” book and write review – no one was more humbled and amazed than the book’s author, Dr. Sean Kenniff.

“When somebody like Archbishop Tutu, who has walked the walk and changed so many lives says that my book has a lot of merit and could mean a lot to a lot of people, it’s really a prize in and of itself,” said Kenniff after receiving Tutu’s review and endorsement of “Etre the Cow.”

It probably wouldn’t have mattered to Kenniff what the Tutu review of his first published book had actually said. The fact that “Etre the Cow” had made it into the hands and onto the calendar of the one of the world’s most influential leaders was an honor in itself.

“If the book doesn’t sell one copy after the review from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, then I’d be okay with it,” Kenniff said.

In fact, Tutu’s response to “Etre the Cow” was something that Kenniff could never have imagined when he was hanging out in the cow pastures of south Florida penning the manuscript. “I wrote a little book about a cow. It has a deeper meaning to it. That’s it,” Kenniff says. But when Archbishop Tutu read the “little book about a cow,” this is what his review of the book was:

“Être the Cow is one of the most important books written in a generation. Être’s fight for freedom and dignity is a fight for life itself. Sean Kenniff’s Être the Cow depicts a very human struggle–and it’s a story I won’t soon forget.”

“To have Archbishop Tutu say my book is one of the most important books written in a generation, that just means the world to me,” Kenniff says, still awestruck by the Archbishop’s review and endorsement several weeks later.

The little book with the big message about the meaning of life that caught Tutu’s attention is something that Kenniff didn’t plan, and it’s something he wasn’t sure was even a book at all. After losing his job due to recessionary cutbacks, Kenniff was driving home with his pink slip by his side. He stopped his car at one of the many pastures that he had passed on his daily commute to the job he no longer had, and it struck him almost immediately that he had a lot in common with the cows he was observing. After being put “out to pasture” by his employer Kenniff felt like he was an insignificant part of the food chain, with little purpose, and absolutely no control over his destiny.

Although he didn’t know it at the time, the first day of Kenniff’s new writing career began on his last day of corporate employment. He spent months observing the cows, chronicling their lives, and drawing parallels between their existence and his own. The result was a story about existential crisis and the meaning of life that Kenniff wasn’t convinced would have impact on anyone but himself. At the very least, Kenniff was grateful that the immersion in his bovine adventure had allowed him to purge himself of the shame and powerlessness that sudden unemployment had caused him to feel.

Although Kenniff had doubted the value of his “little cow book,” the story was engaging, the message was powerful, and he was offered a publishing contract very quickly. That was a big enough accomplishment for a previously unpublished, out-of-work medical reporter.

So, how, then, did a first-time unknown author get the 144-page book with the cow hide cover into the hands of a Nobel Peace Prize winner? Much like the creation of the book itself, it’s a strange and unlikely story. Kenniff recalls that the Tutu endorsement happened this way…

“We contacted the American office for the Tutu Peace Center. We also sent it to the South African branch. They wanted a personal letter, and I wrote it. I still didn’t hear anything back.”

“And then, by pure or divine coincidence, one of my friends happened to be sitting next to Archbishop Tutu at a show in Miami. She didn’t know that I was trying to get him to endorse my book, but she happened to text my girlfriend, and my girlfriend told me about it.”

“I drove to the show in the middle of the night. I couldn’t find a parking spot, had forgotten my wallet at home, and didn’t have a dime. I ran a mile and a half, and couldn’t get in through the box office. I snuck around back, went between two generators, pulled open a backstage door, ran up the steps, and asked one of the security guards to personally deliver the book to Archbishop Tutu. And that’s how it happened.”

A few short weeks after that, Kenniff was reading that one of the most influential leaders of a generation thought that Etre the Cow was one of the most important books of a generation. “I really thank him and I thank God for making it happen,” Kenniff said.

After receiving Tutu’s glowing endorsement, Kenniff is finally convinced that his book is really a book, and that it will have value to those who read it. “It’s a book about a cow that’s not really about a cow,” Kenniff says. “It’s a book about being fenced in and powerless over your life like a cow. It’s a metaphor or allegory about something larger that’s being experienced by a lot of people nowadays.”

It’s difficult for Kenniff to get much more specific than that when describing his meaning-of-life book. “Everybody gets something different out of the book when they read it,” Kenniff says. “One thing is sure… You’re not going to learn a lot about cows from this book.”

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Mar 11

A woman recently sentenced to 15 years in prison is the first person known to be convicted in Florida of a DUI manslaughter while under the influence of the drug Ambien. The Florida woman, Della Foss, had a combination of Ambien, Xanax, cocaine and Lorata in her system when her car ran off the road and killed a 49 year-old man who was walking to work. Foss said she was in a blackout when the accident occurred and didn’t mean to do harm to anyone. The jury sentenced her to 15 years in prison for the killing.

A jury in Norman, OK was not as lenient, however, when another defendant, Billy Davis, claimed he had been in an alcoholic blackout when he shot and killed three women. Despite his claim that he could not have had a clear intent to commit murder while in a blackout state, the jury convicted him of first-degree murder. Davis’ jury even recommended that he receive the death penalty.

Although they sound like the fabricated plots from TV crime drama shows, claims of drug and alcohol-induced blackouts are becoming more common in true crime stories. When the “blackout defense” enters the courtroom, juries are left to determine whether it is just a legal maneuver or if drugs and alcohol affected the brain to such an extent that a blackout state was a real phenomenon. In some cases defendants may receive a lighter sentence or even an acquittal if it is believed that drugs or alcohol caused them to be “out of their minds” at the time of a crime.

While many prosecutors and jury members are suspicious of a fabricated blackout defense, Richard Broom is one ex-con who knows firsthand that alcohol-induced blackouts are all too real. On July 5, 1982, Broom woke up and was told by a friend that he had shot two men in a bar the night before. Broom had no recollection of the shooting, and therefore had no details of his own to refute any of the testimony of the witnesses at his trial. The eleven years that Broom ended up spending in jail after his July 4th drinking binge blackout was a relatively light sentence, considering that he had shot two men, and killed one of them that night.

In his book “Cocked and Loaded,” Broom tells the story of the 24 years of substance abuse that led up to the night when he ended a man’s life in an alcoholic stupor. In his own true crime story, Broom had experienced three to four blackouts a week for the eighteen months prior to the shooting incident. Alcohol blackouts were a normal part of his every day life.

“The only time I stopped drinking was when I was passed out,’ Broom recalls about that period of his life in his book. “I didn’t wake up any more, I just came to. Typically, I would be unconscious for three of four hours until I needed a beer again.”

In “Cocked and Loaded” Broom also recalls the many times when he didn’t believe the stories that other people told him about how he had behaved during those blackout periods. Broom found it hard to believe that he could have chased people down, beat people up, attacked his ex-wife, or driven eight hours in a car without remembering any of it. Sometime during his eleven years behind bars Broom came to the realization that all those blackout stories he had heard about himself were probably true.

The person experiencing an alcohol or drug blackout is not the only one who is not aware that a blackout is occurring while it is occurring. People in blackouts can walk, talk, carry on conversations, have sex, and even drive a car, as Broom found out when he once woke up in a seedy motel room in Charleston, SC without any conscious memory of having driven across three state lines to get there.

A blackout is not the same as passing out from intoxication. Rather, a blackout is a period of time when the brain is so anesthetized that it creates a temporary amnesia. During these times of extreme intoxication, not only will people not be able to recall what they said or did, they will often behave in ways that are atypical, irrational, and often violent.

Alcohol abuse does not necessarily cause aggression, but it increases the likelihood that aggressive behavior will occur because intoxication impairs the normal restraint of emotions. Judgment, decision-making and impulse-control are also impaired, which can lead to violent outbursts and actions.

In fact, in a study released in February, 2010 by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, it was concluded that alcohol and drugs were involved in 78% of all violent crimes. The study also found that alcohol by itself is connected to the crimes of more than half of all inmates incarcerated in America.

The CASA study also estimates that 65% of prison inmates can be defined as substance addicts, but only 11% of those inmates receive any kind of addiction treatment or assistance while they are incarcerated. While it might be assumed that prison is a place where inmates are forced to dry out and clean up because of the lack of access to drugs and alcohol, that assumption is far from the addictive substance reality in most prison environments.

This past week six inmates were caught in a Kissimmee, FL corrections facility with alcohol that they had made themselves using fruit that they hoarded, fermented, and stashed in the interior of their cell walls. Richard Broom had access to this type of home-brewed prison hooch as well when he was in prison. In his book Broom admits that it wasn’t until after his first alcohol blackout from prison punch that he finally admitted to himself that alcohol was a problem in his life. You’d think that the alcohol blackout murder that put him in prison would have sobered him up, but apparently Broom needed a little more convincing even after that. Apparently prison is not the “bottom” that most non-addicted people think it would be.

The CASA report says that the substance abuse statistics in today’s prison population point to the need for a different strategy. Treating addicts as criminals who need to be punished instead of recognizing that addicts are people with a disease that needs to be treated is to perpetuate a cycle of repeat offending that is “inane and inhuman” according to Joseph Califano, Jr., CASA’s chairman and president.

Richard Broom agrees that the need for recovery programs in prison is vital. When the sponsor of the prison Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program retired and the twelve-step program was suspended in his Dade county correctional facility, Broom launched a one-person letter writing campaign until the twelve-step program was reinstated. He succeeded fairly quickly by ruffling some prison administration feathers. “I didn’t care,” Broom wrote in “Cocked and Loaded.” “Having the program back was all that mattered.”

Broom was released from prison in 1993, and because of the alcohol addiction rehab work he had been able to do in prison, he has been a sober and productive member of society ever since. “While I can say that prison saved my life, the Twelve-Step program saved my soul,” Broom says in his book. “Before I got sober, I didn’t want to live but was afraid to die. Today I want to live, but I’m not afraid to die.”

Ironically, Broom is now an addiction therapist who specializes in the treatment of police, corrections, parole and probation officers. From a clean and sober perspective, Broom sees his work today as more than just poetic justice. He sees his ability to help others because of where he’s been in his life as just part of the plan of “the big boss of the universe.”

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