Thursday, December 25, 2008

FREEDOM--Merry Christmas

Merry christmas to every one. I have not spoken to you since Thanksgiving but it was very important for me to at least wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Much is going on with my life and I will share the evolution and perspectives with you over several parts in my Christmas series.
Two years ago, I was sitting in jail on Christmas. I had no windows. I had no one except the men with whom I shared Christmas. Instead of sitting with the men at the tables to eat the Christmas dinner, I grabbed my tray and walked to my bed and cried a lonely cry. There were no windows in the men's dormitory of the Peter Pitches Detention Center of the Los Angeles County Jail system, commonly known as Wayside to the inmate population. There were only skylights and from my bunk I could look up into one. I could see a bright sunny day. The sky was blue and I saw an Air Force jet streak past my view leaving a vapor trail behind. It was a beautiful sight, a sight of freedom, and I clung on to that feeling for dear life. The vapor trail was at first sharp and crisp as was my feeling of freedom. Slowly it began its dispersing process and as it evolved in that process, so did my feeling of freedom. Finally the trail disintegrated and, of course,there was no evidence that it ever existed. In my heart there was no evidence that I had ever been free. That feeling was not only a function oflanguishing in jail, but the years of substance abuse that preceded it. No matter how my life appeared on the outside with the facade of success with titles and suits, I was shackled to dependency. Freedom in many ways was a stranger to me and my search for it was like the endless quest for the Holy Grail.
I found it all the more tragic because my legal problems started AFTER I finally succeeded in overcoming drug use. “Why now?” I kept asking myself. I had worked so hard and battled for so long in a lonely fight that finally ended in victory. I deserved to enjoy it.
Jail was followed with a court ordered stay at a facility on Skid Row. Of course I thought the judge had ordered me to a drug program. But that was not the case. And even though I did everything the program told me to do, I was told, seven months later, though I could leave, I still had to go to another program for 52 straight weeks.
Whenever I looked west from Skid row, I could only see the Great Wall of the Office Skyline. It separated the reality of my existence from what I viewed as freedom and dreams. Skid Row was the dormitory cell. The North-South Skyline dividing line of the office skyline was the row of bars in the skylight that reinforced the fact the freedom was so close but so far. And of course the other side of the skyline laid freedom.
Of course, many other physical things were in place to reinforce the idea that I was in one world and there was another one far beyond my reach. Seeing friends of mine on television, for one reason or another, was a big one. It practically drove me crazy. I felt like I could not dream about that world. That world meant freedom and I was far from it in a physical sense. Everything around me reminded me of that.
I had to survive. I had to keep going. I could not concentrate on the victory of overcoming drug use. I had concentrate on making it through each day emotionally and endure the test of time. I was on a mission and nothing was going to deny me. I had to feel freedom and it was going to be a feeling that I had never before felt because what defines freedom as a teenager or young adult is completely different from what defines it for a middle age man. What defines imprisonment however can be the same and I shed those shackles of psychological dependency and thus rid myself of that nature of imposed psychological and physical imprisonment.
Sure I had the courts limiting my options and they seemed to extend for a lifetime. But people kept telling me life would change. “Just keep going Walt. At least now you know what you must do. There will be no other surprises. Just keep going. “

I found that program. It was slow but each week I knew one thing. Each week I would get closer to the end. I started classes on November 29th of last year. It was rough. I had to pay for it. I had no money. I found the money collecting cans and bottles. I paid my initial fees. Each week I paid something. Each week I went to class. I cussed and swore at a City Attorney friend of mine, Jose Egurbide. I cussed and swore at General Jeff, of Dlanc.

Oh yes, before I catch hell from both of them, I whined a lot also. Boy did I whine. Jose let me whine for a second or two then he told me he could not take it. Jeff was not patient on the whining bit. He lit into me so fast it made my head spin. Each of them challenged me. Each of them pushed me. Each of them challenged me to break the most important moat that separated me from success and any vision of creative success. IT WAS MY MIND. I was allowing the courts and what people may think of me to define my future. It was easier to do that than think beyond it. I had lost the ability to dream. I was used to imprisoning myself anyway. I just found a more subtle way—a convenient way to stay stagnant. Why? The reason was simple. That is what I knew. It was my known quantity.
“I do not want to hear one thing out of you, Walter” declared Jose, former point man in Skid Row for the Safer Cities Initiative. “You are going to do every one of those 52 classes and you are not going to miss one week. You have your whole life ahead of you. You can do anything. You stopped doing cocaine Walter and you never went back to it. You can do anything.”
“Stop with that ole bullshit, man. You can’t let these people or the courts stop you. I am not going to sit here and let you talk yourself into defeat!, barked General Jeff. Both knew I was not going to go missing in action. Both knew I was not going back to drugs. They did not know how long I was going to hold on to the defeatist attitude. Nor did I.
I had to kick that. I had to fight back against the mental moat. Each week I went to class. Each week I made one more step of progress. Each week I took a swing at that giant redwood tree blocking my path.
I had to stay focused. I did not want to move. Everything was convenient: the courts, the transportation lines, the emotional support, my room and eventually the job.
I kept chipping away at that. I finally called one friend. A month or two later I called another friend. I was scared of rejection but I fought through it.
I had a victory in one area of life. I had a victory in another area. Of course those victories came in spurts after hard work. You know the stories of my path already. Those victories are not the point of this post. But each week I knew I would make progress. Time would elapse and I would go to class. I would get one step closer.
During the process. I slowly felt a confidence developing. I guess I was looking at the little victories that had been going on. They were across the board life categories as I had embarked in the beginning to fix my life in all areas. I wanted to clear the way so I could grow and be creative in my growth.
I think it was when I moved to my present residence. I started to focus more on what I felt inside after each completed class rather than getting closer to the end of the obligation itself. Each week I developed more confidence. Each week I noticed that more and more of what had faced me was gradually moving behind me, in addition to the other challenges and victories and confidence that came from it. Roots of confidence were building inside of me. Each week, fresh water, nourishing that confidence, showered onto me with each passing class.

I began to notice that I was not calling Jose or General Jeff to sooth my insecurities about the future. When moments of doubt would surface, I would take a deep breath and say “Walter, you have been through this a thousand times. The feeling will pass. Ride it out.” And it would pass. Perhaps it took take a while but it would pass. “Ah yes, FREEDOM.” I recognized that over a period of time I started training in the triathlon, I was building my ability to be free. It started with the obvious dependency of drugs. Yet over a period of time, even while sitting in jail, I was learning, across various platforms and categories, the respective formulas for being free.
Along the way, I was learning new skills of independence, skills that I had took for granted and neglected to nourish them. Soon they wilted like a plant in the hot sun that goes without water. I had the pleasure of observing myself like a parent who marvels at watching his child grow and learn. I was marveling at myself. And that feeling of despair, of being on a deserted island of misery, was dissipating.
Greater efficiencies in recognizing short term confidence lapses kept me on track. Increased confidence kept me striving. And each week I got closer to the end.
I knew I was building a broad foundation of confidence a pyramid where the pinnacle would be Maslow’s phase of actualization. I had to go through the process. I realized that I had the confidence that came from hard work and perseverance. Every day I knew I did everything I could to be the best I could be. I worked on every single category of necessary development. The pieces of growth were coming together. They came together within each category and soon I was integrating and blending the categories for greater efficiencies. Economics of scale in all categories increased.
My first move from a shelter was to a room on San Julian St. I would visit the roof top and look west. I viewed my physical distance from the core of skid Row to the Skyline as a measure of progress. I was closer to the buildings. I had the feeling I was almost within grabbing range. However, mentally, I was still light years away from understanding. There was a huge mental moat that separated me from freedom, a moat as formidable as the bars in the skyline that separated me from the clear blue skies that I could see from my bunk in the county jail.
I moved to my present location. And yes, I was even closer to the Skyline. I was closer to the border of Skid Row. I realized that over a period of time, it made no difference to me where the physical border was. Mentally, I was crossing the moat. I was building my own bridge across the murky waters of mental imprisonment.
On Decemer 19, 2008, I went to my last class. It was over. I reached the end. I was free. I no longer had to do anything to fulfill the court requirements. I also realized that I no longer worried about if the felony would be reduced to a misdemeanor or not. I was going to make it. I had built a foundation of various sorts that insured me a future. I knew it. I believe it. I earned it.
Early this Christmas morning, I decided to look up John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. I found a colorful picture of it and studied each building block. I read them. I never really studied them when I saw them as a young adult, in corporate training sessions, where the instructors made the pyramid a standard handout.
There it was. In front me was everything I had experienced from the moment I jumped into the pool at USC to train for the triathlon, purging my dependency on drugs, to crossing across the moat of mental and emotional freedom.----the path to self acceptance. FREEDOM. I had to develop each part of me as a team member and integrate each part of me into a team and push forward. I had to smile.
I looked it at the buildings on Christmas morning. The sky was not crisp and blue. It was cloudy. It was dreary but to me it was bright. It was cheery. Physically, I had not moved any closer to the buildings that used to be the Great Wall. However there was no more mental moat. I crossed it. I was embedded in the buildings. I was a part of them. I was on the other side. I was free. I stood there and looked at them and realized how grateful I was to have had the privilege of going through this journey, forging my mental steel in the raging fire and crucible of Skid Row.
I made a copy of the Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and it is now the background of my desktop. I stood in the window and looked at the cloudy Skyline. It was beautiful. I was out of the storm. I thought of everyone who helped me along the way, from the person in jail who kept screaming at me to keep writing, to the person on the street who screamed at the demons inside of himself. I learned from them all.

It no longer mattered whether I left immediately or stayed a while to do some work. I knew my blog was successful in that it helped me and it is a model for those to follow who are on that quest for freedom. It is not the elusive Holy Grail. It is attainable. I proved it. I knew without a doubt one very important fact.

I had graduated from the University of Skid Row.

I walked out of the door. I went to see my mother It is Christmas.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Homeless Connect Day.(Queen of 7th Street)

“Walter, what do you feel when you see a homeless person?” I was asked by someone who suddenly found themselves homeless and spent eight months sleeping outside in the courtyard of the Midnight Mission. In so many ways the question was profoundly poignant. It was a few days before Thanksgiving and I had been reviewing the last few years, revisited the path that I took from the day I was arrested until now. It was a terrifying time for the most part. There were many challenges ahead of me and each had its unique set of emotions with a Kaleidoscope of pain, fear, anxiety, and heartache that was specific to each one. Sure, I was thankful that I was not out in the cold but I feared that I would have no place to go. I feared that when I had someplace to go that my benefits would expire before I found a job. If that would have happened, after going from shelter bed to my own room, I would have been on the streets. No one gets points for being clean and sober if you cannot pay the rent. Skid Row is like any other place. One must pay to play particularly in your own rescue. Life is not free on Skid Row. Those who believe otherwise are na├»ve. Would I win or would time run out. It was a constant worry keeping me awake at night while roaches around me in my former room danced the night away.
Occasionally I would look out of the window, in the middle of the night, and see someone standing in the light or sitting on the ground. During rainy nights I could see plastic sheets crumpled on the ground knowing that beneath them was a person tucked inside trying to keep dry. I would not allow myself to feel too much. I was not as sorry for them as I was grateful I was not out there with them. Each morning I would wake up and begin the task anew of trying to find a job, trying to maintain the faith. Trying to take one more step in the tunnel of doom where it was dark and I could not see any light.
Finally, through the grace of God, I had a job. It was in the nick of time as my General Relief had expired. I was working and over a period of time as I became more confident that my job was not a dream, I began to feel, to believe that there was distant light at the end of the dark tunnel and a bright new day was emerging. As each day came and went, I believed more and more the lessons I was taught on Skid Row—to be positive and to have faith and that I would get through it.
I noticed more and more that all that I had to face was disappearing behind me and the burden of gloom and worry was being replaced by a peace and confidence. What was lost was being regained and there were things I was gaining that I had never before felt, or it had been so long ago that the antecedent experience of feeling no longer applied. It was a new day, a new time. I found it funny that I used to wear a business suit every day and had no confidence and lived every moment with an uneasiness that left a feeling similar to that when fingernails scratched a chalkboard. Now, on Skid Row, there is this growing fascination of experiencing self love while learning new things and gaining insights that I would not have acquired if Skid Row were not in my life.
I state in my profile that this journal is the thoughts and experiences while I am in the University of Skid Row. I am proud to be a student of this fine university. There is much to learn here and so few understand the broadband of its curriculum. One thing for certain is if one has spent any time here at this University, one understands pain. Whether one lives or works here, Skid Row allows you to understand pain(of course the flip side of joy as well). Whatever pain you felt before you arrived here is nothing compared to what you experience as you review your life. It is a healing process, if of course, the process itself does not kill you. It can do that is so many ways. From one’s own experience you become adept at recognizing it in body language and so many other ways. The eyes alone are a concentration of study in and of themselves. It is said that they are the eyes to the soul. True. But one must understand the language, the syntax of the meaning. Each variation is a font with its own accent and texture of story.
I thought of all of these things over the last few months as my confidence allowed me to thaw out my emotions and examine the condition of my homeless neighbors on Skid Row. Homelessness has many meanings. It creates different feelings when you look at each person. A person is homeless. There story is not homogenous. The feelings you get from talking to one is different when you talk to another. Each has their own brand of pain. It tastes differently from another. Being homeless within the boundaries of the Skid Row district is different than when one walks down Broadway or or the streets further west. People respond to homeless people differently. In Skid Row, though there is a social hierarchy, stratification, and in some cases a caste social order, respect is given to all while experiencing the common areas of the sidewalks and streets. As you leave Skid Row, the level of respect diminishes for those who are deemed to be from Skid Row, let alone concluded to be homeless. A level of distrainment surfaces as well as an abstract distrainment, respect taken away and to regain it only comes when paying the price of having a home.
I have said that Skid Row is a reflect of our society. And through the homeless we have the eyes of society’s soul. It is not pretty. It is replete with viruses.
I thought of these things over the last few months while wondering about a woman. I saw her one day. She was on Seventh St and Broadway. Bare footed, layers dirt embedded into the souls of her feet served as cushions as she navigated her way from trash can to trash can in search of food. I watched her as she had a striking presence. People avoided her. She was invisible to them. She was not a person. She was nothing to them-- less than an animal. She smelled, I am sure but nothing compared to the stench left by the people who walked by her not accepting her into the human family.
The lady was the lens into the souls of our society and its superficiality. And this occurred while many people across the country were edging toward homelessness themselves, losing homes, as the nation sank deeper into financial chaos. Perhaps it was the fear of being like her that made people ignore her. I understand that. That is a process one goes through when they first arrive on Skid Row, not wanting to be like the homeless instead of helping them.
On Thanksgiving Day I got off the bus at 7th and Broadway. There she was, the queen of 7th street. I wondered what her story was. Where is her family? What is her pain? I wondered if anyone cared. It was clear that no one had any use for her. I went into a store and bought something to get change. I walked out and gave her a couple of dollars. I had given her dollars in the past. Yet this time, I wanted to see her eyes. I wanted to connect with her. I wanted her to know me. I wanted to see her eyes. I wanted to understand her pain and translate that into her probable story.
Instead I received a lesson I did not count on. She sensed the money and reached out and grabbed the dollars. Her focus was on the means to survival, not her benefactor. She was supposed to be mentally ill, not capable of understanding anything—deranged. She understood one thing and made it clear as her eyes beamed into me with a fierceness I have not felt from anyone in quite some time. She knew that my giving her a couple of dollars did more for my soul than it did to help her survive a day. In the scheme of things, those dollars did nothing for her. They only served to prove that society did not understand. No matter what my level of sincerity, she saw through it and found the virus that was embedded in me, allowing me to identify where it was localized in my being.
Society has no use for her. Let me tell you something. She has no use for society. She knows what it is. She knows that those that those that spit on her are one paycheck away from being thrown from their high and mighty homes into the streets where they will join her. More importantly, she understands what it is not. She sees people for what they are and experiences every day what they are not. She has no use for us. She expects nothing from our spurious society.
It is Homeless Connect day across America, where social services make themselves visible and accessible in mass to the public. I felt compelled to reach out to society and have it connect to the homeless.
What do I feel when I see a homeless person? I feel this sums it up. To borrow the words of one to convey a concept I feel this way:
“ASK NOT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR THE HOMELESS. ASK WHAT KNOWING, HELPING , OR UNDERSTANDING THE HOMELESS CAN DO FOR YOU?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving on Skid Row


I returned from visiting my mother in the late afternoon. I put my laptop in the room and walked around the neignborhood. They were folding downt the stage at the Midnight Mission when I arrived. The entertainment was over and the reality of life, as experienced by these citizens of the United States, is the aftermath. As the holidays are experienced and enjoyed by many in this country, let us not lose sight of the fact that, while many during these holidays revisit the dreams and hopes they have for themselves and there families, there are, in this country, during holiday times, very scared, lonely and frightened people. They are in homes and warm apartments as well as on the streets of America.

They had special dreams, hopes and desires. They believed they would come true.
However as what happens more often than not in this world, the reality of life continually leaks upon us, and, in many ways, forms vast oceans that separate many from those islands of hopes and dreams that bring joy and peace to souls.

Some people can still see rheir dreams in the distant horizon and can hold on to a faith that they will be able to swim ashore and enjoy the blessings that each respective island brings. To others, those dreams and hopes are not visible or felt. they are beyond the visible horizon and have also beyond the feeling of their souls. These individuals feel lost and feel forgotten. I know what it is like to feel lost and forgotten.

Someone recently said "American is better than this." I hope we prove it because nobody in America should experience Thanksgiving Day like these people experienced Thanksgiving Day, 2008. There are many Skid Rows across America where people outside in the streets feel like they will never feel the warmth of being inside. There are people who are inside who feel they are outside or who fear being outside soon. It is a time for people in America to not isolate ourselves, but to reach out and link up and through our links form a strong chain of unity.

Lets pray for the people on the streets and pray that we can find within ourselves ways to help them. For to help them we help and enrich ourselves as well.

"America is better than this."

Monday, November 17, 2008

HIV Loneliness in Skid Row

There is a phrase in the salutation before every class of the martial art Pentjak Silat , “Let my eyes see what they do not see.” I have many times asked that very same thing. I know there are things that I do not know about Skid Row. There are many things that I know escape my attention. Many times these things are right in front of me, but I am just not ready to see them.
I have been living in the Skid Row community for almost two years now. And as many have described it, Skid Row is a community where many of society’s unwanted and shunned has found themselves, whether by intent or circumstances that they did not control. I have found that people who could not talk about substance abuse problems can discuss them out in the open. Women who have been abused and were ashamed of their plight could gain support by seeking out someone who share a similar past.
I have came here as a client and now I work here and I serve those who have various challenges. Needless to say considerable insight into the life experiences of many who have challenges that are understood or even cared about by those outside of the Skid Row community.
I thought every person was visible and could openly discuss their problems and issues. Women and men talk about being disconnected from their families. They also talk about having their children taken away from them. They deal with that pain while fighting the addictions, in most cases, that brought about the reality of their present circumstance.
The transgender population is open and visible and they are shunned in most places. So I was led to believe that no matter who you are, you could walk up to almost anyone and you would have an open ear to which you could ask for guidance and direction. But I was wrong.
The HIV population in Skid Row does not walk around in open communication. I was in one meeting, in early 2007, in which a person talked about being HIV positive. They are in the shelters but no one knows who they are because of confidentiality laws. Two men died in the shelter that I was in and I did not know they were HIV positive until they died.
I interviewed for a position recently. I would have interfaced with HIV clients. It was talked about in a very matter of fact fashion. There was no judgment in the attitude of the project managers in referring to their clients. The case workers view them as clients and are there to support them. But in the community at large, a community in which they are embedded, they walk and suffer in silence. They cannot openly discuss their problems with anyone they see. To do so would begin a wild brush fire of gossip and finger pointing. Soon they would be isolated from others in the neighborhood. In a community where most of the residents are shunned by outsiders, the residents shun a segment of their own population. Ironic isn’t it. In a community where sex partners are traded on a regular basis, where people practice unsafe sex or share needles to use drugs, you would think that there would be more compassion. However, I guess there is a social stratification in every society and in the Skid Row Community does not escape that social dynamic and all of the ugliness that can accompany it.
I wonder if there will be hope for the HIV population in the next four years. Will they get the attention and understanding they deserve. When there is so much suffering in our country, I speculate that people will be more concerned with their own security and have little energy to worry about those that are already forgotten by most of society. In a community where there is so much suffering, it is clear that there are levels of suffering. The suffering has characteristics unique to its specific category.
Jubal and Cheryl Rade of the HIV Alliance in Eugene, Oregon put together this video. Three individuals talk about what it is like to live after being diagnosed as HIV positive. I hope this video teaches people to have more compassion for others. Many in Skid Row suffer like these three individuals. If there is going to be change in America, let us also change the way we treat eachother. Understand the pain of your fellow man or woman. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Skid Row Women's League

The Skid Row 3 on 3 Street Basketball League now has a women's division. This fall the league added on a women's division. In a community where the institutions have been created and designed have largely designed services to answer the needs of men, to the exclusion of women AND families, the Skid Row 3 on 3 Street Basketball League has embraced women into its agenda of community outreach. Currently there are two women's teams and OG, the league commissioner, is very excited about the involvement of women in the league. "They are much better than the men. The men will show up to the games but the women will show up to all of the meetings. They are getting involved in the total planning process. They are used to that type of activity because they take care of kids and the family so they are accustomed to keeping an eye on the details", commented OG.
I was sitting next to OG when he was talking to his staff about the women. He suddenly softened his tone and shared with them a very special moment. It was during a woman's game when a woman limited skills had been struggling during the game realized that she had possession of the ball in the last two seconds of the game. The game was tied. She desperately tried to find a stronger team mate to whom she could pass the ball. There was no time left so she took the last shot. The ball bounced around the hoop before it sank through the nets. She made the game winning basketball.

The woman was more shocked and relieved than happy but her teammates ran to her, hugged her and gave her a round of high fives. It was a confidence building moment and you could see it developing within her. "That is what this league is about. We build confidence in our league members and you could just see hers building right in front of your eyes."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Historic Voting Day

This morning, I pulled myself up and struggled with my socks and shoes while marginally navigating my way toward the store that had my needed cup of coffee. I could not sleep as the anticipation of the previous not of today's historic event kept me awake. I descended downtown stairs in an elevator and heard a buzz of noise that was foreign to my ears.
The elevator door opened and when I disembarked from it, I noticed that another door leading from the elevator follyeah to the main lobby was closed-an aberration. Faces were behind it. Many faces with no bodies as the door only had a small viewing piece of glass. I opened it and found a long line of people. Ah yes. It was election day and people were in my lobby to vote.
I voted in the primary and was not certain if I was allowed to vote. In the primary there was no line. This time there was a line that snaked from the voting room through the lobby and out of the door and extended down the street. It was beautiful to see. Indeed it was an historic day.

I talked with some who were had been on Skid Row for some time. They said that it was the first time that lines were so long. In the past a voter could walk right in, vote and be on their way within minutes.

Yes folks, I voted. I, like many others, believed we couldn't. Well, I found out I could vote. I could participate in this historic day in America.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

jazz musicians on skid row

Downtown Los Angeles dwellers are interested in the arts. In fact the proliferation of the art galleries in downtown Los Angeles arguably paved the way for additional development in downtown. Cultural events and activities are also an important part of the New Skid Row. The Skid Row Art Exhibit, a few months ago, was the first of its kind in the Skid Row community. The Skid Row Photo Club has started and is increasing in popularity. Indeed there is a strong interest in the arts as well in Skid Row. In some cases the elements of birth that you find sprouting up in the Skid Row community are reminiscent of the Harlem Rennaissance movement in New York in the 1920's and 1930's.

There are people who very dedicated in elevating their artful expression and some of them can be seen every day on the north east corner of Maple and 7th streets. This is a very short clip of them playing Summertime.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

EX FELONS CAN VOTE IN CALIFORNIA

When I was in jail trying to figure out whether to plead guilty or innocent, one of my concerns was my right to vote. Of course my public defender gave me a very short period of time to decide."You have 60 seconds to make this deal otherwise you will do 8 years in prison," she barked. Truth had nothing to do with the issue at hand. she was more concerned about her docket schedule.

"Will I be able to vote?" I agonized, as she looked at me with such impatience She had this look on her face as though such a guestion is not relevant.

Her snarled another response holding back the expression of an impatient growl. "No, you can forget about that. You can forget about everything."

Well my friends. She was wrong. I can vote. The link below will connect you to an article done by New America Media that clarifies the issue of voter eligibility of ex felons in California.

New America Media did an article about this issue. I just found it. It was too late in some respects because the deadline to register to vote is past. However, for those who are registered and have recent felony convictions you may be in luck. The article is a good resource reference.

I tried to link the page of the article but it would not take for some reason. So in lieu of that option, I pasted the article. You can also go to New America Media. Scroll down to about 2/3of the page and you will see a link to All Ethnic Media Articles. Click that link and then click page three and you will find the article. If that is too much energy then read the article below. thank you.
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In California Ex-Felons Can Vote

Black Voice News, News Report, Chris Levister , Posted: Oct 20, 2008

Undaunted by the heat, ex-felon Curtis Griffin spends his late summer afternoons walking Rialto and Fontana's bleakest neighborhoods on the hunt for ex-cons - each a potential voter who might cast the decisive ballot in the historic November 4 national election.

Finding them isn't the hard part, explains Griffin, it's getting them to admit that a past mistake has kept them from the ballot box.

At voter registration events like this, activists and election officials are spreading the word: ‘For the record, felons can vote’

"Most ex-felons out here are under the false assumption they can't vote. In California you can vote! There's a lot of misinformation and confusion out there."

That's an understatement. Consider this: a 2001 U.S. Civil Rights Commission report concluded that the disenfranchisement of ex-convicts is "the biggest hindrance to Black voting since the poll tax."

The racial impact of racial disenfranchisement laws is particularly egregious. Thirteen percent of all Black men - 1.4 million cannot vote due to a patchwork of voting restrictions and the paralyzing grip of post Civil War Jim Crow laws. That represents just over one-third (36 percent) of the total disenfranchised population blocked from the vote even after they have completed their sentence and paid their debt to society: a rate seven times that of any other group in America.

The effects of voter disenfranchisement are universal except for Maine and Vermont, all states deprive individuals with felony convictions of the right to vote for varying periods of time.

In California where the criminal justice system remains particularly rife with racial disparities, advocates like Griffin and nonprofits groups like Voting Rights for All are hard at work spreading the word: "In California ex-felons can vote."

Under California law, people with felony convictions can register to vote if they are out of prison (fully served their sentences) and off parole.

Although most of the state's voting code was passed in 1974, these important legal rights have been mostly hidden, unspoken and unknown by the general public.

Last week during a Bible study at the Rock Church in San Bernardino, Melvin Stokes lamented about felons not having the right to vote.

"I've always wanted to vote... it has always been told to me that if you were convicted of a felony, you can't vote," said the ex-felon who has been off parole 10 years.

The misconception is not just among ex-felons. "I thought people convicted of felonies lost their right to vote. I see now it must be a common misconception," said a retired Alameda County judge, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, October 16, 2004.

To return to the ballot box, felons must negotiate suffrage laws that vary from state to state, in many cases working with election officials, parole officers and judges who can be both unfamiliar with the law and hostile to former convicts seeking to register.

Such challenges matter little to Griffin and others trying to return former criminals to voter rolls, an effort they consider crucial in light of the results of the past two presidential elections: A shift of a few hundred votes in Florida in 2000 would have changed the outcome of the presidential race, and the results in 2004 came down to a margin of 119,000 votes in Ohio.

The nonprofits groups and individual activists making the push on felons' behalf agree the effort is broader this year than in previous elections. They expect the effort to benefit Barack Obama more than John McCain, given that the population of former felons is disproportionately Black.

Who Can Register?

A person entitled to register to vote must be a U.S. citizen, a resident of California, not in prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony, and at least 18 years of age.

You can vote after you have completed parole. There is no waiting period and you do not have to prove that you are off parole. Election officials have access to parole status data. You can vote if you are on probation, or have completed probation. If you have been charged with a felony but not yet been convicted; If you have been convicted of a felony but are in county jail and not in state prison.

You must register by October 20. Pick up a registration form at your local library or post office. If you are in county jail, ask a friend or family member to pick up a form for you or request one through jail authorities.

Use your home address or your residence address. The registration form is a legal document that requires your signature and either a California driver's license/ID card number or the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you are not sure you are registered, voting officials encourage you to register again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

LAPD Officer Involved Shooting In Skid Row


At approximately12:00 PM,a LAPD officer shot a man near the intersection of 6th and Stanford in the Skid Row neighborhood. According to individuals who were standing around the scene as well as those with whom I talked later in various neighborhood gathering spots, a man, considered to be in his early 50's, was asked to stop and be questioned by two passing motorcycle officers. The man complied.
The officers approached the man and it was then, according to witnesses, that the man removed a large knife from his pocket and brandished it.
Everyone with whom I talked agrees on those facts. From that point on there is not a unanamous version of the facts. According to some witnesses, the police officers told the man to drop the knife several times. He did not comply while hurling obscenities at the police officers. (It was widely believed that the man suffered from mental illness.) The man, according to some witnesses, lunged at the police officers in an apparent attempt to attack them.
Others state that the man did not attempt to attack the police officers. Some people believed that there was enough distance between the man and the police officers so that the officers were not in danger. Others believe that there was not sufficient distance believe the officers and the man. In any case, according to those who talked with me, the man was shot twice; once in the chest and once in the leg.

The above photos were taken at approximately 3:00PM where there were still numerous investigators at the cordoned of intersection.

Monday, October 27, 2008

SRO Housing Hosts Residents Appreciation Day

On Friday, October 17, SRO Housing Corp. held its annual Resident's Appreciation Day picnic. It was held at Gladys Park, in the Skid Row community, with festivities beginning at 10:00 AM. All of the residents in the SRO operated buildings were invited. There was plenty of food and drink for all. Anita Nelson, the Executive Director of SRO Housing,
loves raffles. She made sure that everyone knew that at the recent employee picnic at Elysian Park and held true to the tradition at SRO events by having a huge raffle at the end of the day.In the top picture you see Anita Nelson, Executive Director, SRO Housing, on the right, joined by her assistant Jonna McCarthy, and the new Director of Housing, Charles Lim.
The Charming woman in the sun shades, in the next picture, is Sue Pervatt, Supervisor of Human Resources. She is joined by Case Manager Terry Furlough as masters of ceremonies for the SRO raffle.

I attended the event last year for a brief moment. This year I stayed a little longer. My perspective is different as now I have been in Skid Row longer and I work here as well as live. I was surprised at how much the residents looked forward to the event. I was asked during the week when it was going to start and how long it was going to last. Interestingly enough, the employees looked forward to it as much as the residents. The event provides a diversion from daily toils but it also is one of the staple events that provides and encourages community cohesion.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

MONEY WAS STOLEN--A CHALLENGING CLASS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SKID ROW. I GAINED MORE FROM THE EXPERIENCE THAN I EVER COULD FROM HAVING THE MONEY

This jar was my most favorite possession. I know longer have it. It was stolen. Someone walked into my room and stole it. When I took this picture, the jar was approximately 25 percent full. This past Sunday, it was 70 percent full. It was a source of deep pride to me. I started saving the coins when I was in the Transition House. I would collect cans and with that money, I would purchase tobacco. There would always be change, and I would put the change in a little bottle. The change would be used to wash clothes. I watched the little bottle fill up. I did not have any quarters when I first arrived on Skid Row. I had nothing. I had to wash my clothes by hand in the sink for the first two months I was in that facility, until I saved enough money to wash them in the machine. Another couple of months past by month before I felt I could spend the extra quarters to both wash and dry them by machine. Those quarters traveled with me from the Transition House to the Marshall house. They were never spent.
I made sure I had money to wash clothes. I purchased two roles of quarters, when I first moved into the Marshall House. It was my self- insurance plan to prepare for the day when I may not have any money and still needed to wash clothes. Those roles went into the bottle. The bottled filled up to capacity. I never touched those rose of quarters. There was a bottle of quarters from which I could always grab a couple just to clean clothes. I never touched those quarters for any other reason. Furthermore, I would never spend any change from the dollar bills I spent during the day. All change went into that bottle. It was my security blanket. On Skid Row, one develops them whenever and wherever one can.
One bottle led to another one. I outgrew that one as well. In the meantime two wonderful friends, Kevin and Debbie, gave me a big jar of cookies for Christmas. They knew I had a thing for Chocolate chip cookies. Once finished, I decided to use that jar as my next holder of quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. The jar had a lid that I could flip open so I would not have to unscrew it each time I need put coins in it. It made things more convenient and more efficient. Efficiencies, economies and increase productivity are the themes that I strive to exercise and improve upon in every area of my life each day.
Each day I saw that jar, it was a living shrine as to what can be done- what can be built from scratch. When I moved to the Courtland, where I am now, it was the very first thing that I moved. It was my little baby that I would not let out of my sight. It kept growing and growing. I kept looking at it and it reinforced in me every day that anything can be done. I felt the spirit. I felt my friends that gave me that jar.
It was special for another reason. I used to see jars of coins at the homes of my friends all of my life. Everyone has a catch all jar. Some of them hold a potpourri of items-paperclips, rubber bands etc. along with loose change. Many jars or bottles were filled with coins at the homes of my friends. They never needed the money which left me pretty much perplexed. How could they have money in the bank AND jars filled with coins and never need to use the change? The answer eluded my grasp like water slipping through the fingers of a hand. And yet the answer was so simple. They did not spend every dollar they had on addicted substances, let alone expensive ones. Of course, all are expensive in one way or another.
Each time, I put a coin into that bottle I appreciated more and more how things can be built and developed. Each time I put a coin in the jar, I thought of my friends and the trust and faith they had in me when they invited me to their home for Christmas. They gave me the strength to carry on. I am in the process of paying for my mother’s car and I thought about using the coins for that. Easily there was a couple hundred dollars in that jar, probably much more. The jar was famous with a couple of people who knew about it, people that one would not mind knowing about it because they would not try and still it. In fact, they encouraged me to keep saving. Sounds funny that I would even mention that but I am living on Skid Row and those considerations must always be remembered.
I forgot those considerations, momentarily.. I was so happy to move into the Courtland. I thought it was so different from most buildings on Skid Row and indeed it is. But it is a Skid Row building and recently I was reminded of it when I talked to someone who knows the building well. I asked about the tenants and was told that, yes, many of the people in it still consume drugs (I have also begun to smell the fragrance of marijuana coming through the doors when I walked my units in the hallway). Yes, there is a high turnover. In six months, the building has experienced a great deal of turnover in the residents. “Walter, some of the residents of have told me that they don’t care if they get kicked out. They just want a roof over their heads for a while. The fact is many of them still live like they are living on the streets. They don’t care and they just go out and relapse and they do not want anything. “That was the response when I asked about someone who lived on my floor. His message to me was urgent
That message was a wake up call. I did not heed it. I left my door open. I must have. It would have been easy to blame the building management for allowing someone to have access to the key. After all this is Skid Row. Thieves are everywhere. Sure, the manager of the building had resigned on the previous day. The jar was taken the day after he resigned. “Was it an inside job?” The potential was there. The security camera, facing my door, was the only camera that was out of order. “Was it an inside job? Was it a conspiracy?” The evidence was mounting and it was easy to conclude that it was a conspiracy. It was easier to do that than to look at what had a greater probability of occurrence. And that was that someone who lived in the building, either walked into my room, or let someone in the building that walked into my room and took the jar with the coins. It was easy to begin to conclude their was a conspiracy, in house, than it was to take responsibility for my own actions, or lack thereof. That meant that I must hold myself responsible for not locking my door.
Yes, I was too comfortable in here. Yes, my instincts told me to slow down a minute and lock the door. But no, I did not do that. I looked at the building like a college dorm, where you can keep the doors unlocked much of the time. I let myself be lulled into a false since of comfort because of the quiet and RELATIVE serenity that is the essence of the atmosphere here. I forgot that inner city university dorms are targets for those who want to prey on the naive and trusting. I did not pay attention to the man that informed me of the tremendous turnover of tenants in the building due to relapse. I discounted what was beneath the surface, like a calm sea that hides the strong undercurrents beneath, which can carry you deep into sea. I forgot that I lived on Skid Row.

Immediately I went downstairs and found a manager. We looked at the films. "The camera did not work", he explained. I was fuming. I was a victim. I focused in on it. After all, I had no choice. I was violated.
Ah, but that is the point. Was I a victim or a volunteer? Did I have no choice or did I have to recognize that I had a very important choice to make? Would I accept responsibility or would I allow myself to get distracted by directing my attention to something that would keep me stuck and stalled, the same type of stagnation that I experienced so long while I was using cocaine.
With each level of progress that one experiences in this recovery trail, there comes with it a set of challenges. The challenges are not as visible as the highly visible chains of controlled substance consumption where the consumer chooses not to see the signs that are so plainly in sight. No, these binds are not the big and very visible chain like links similar to the ones that keeps ships tethered in the water when they drop anchor. No, these chains are small and transparent, and yet, just as strong, like the fish lines that snag big game marlin in the deep sea. They never see the line but once they are snagged, the struggle and fight for a long time, not knowing what it is that has them tethered. So in effect the do the same damage as the visible big heavy chain links. They keep one stuck.
Making the wrong choice could have kept me stuck. It would have been easy. I would have been worried and obsessed about the money instead of taking care of certain things. I had an appointment at 10:00 AM that morning with a young man to take photos of me for Chrysalis. Evidently the photos and accompanying story about me were slated to be in a publication for one of their events. My appointment with the man was scheduled to take place one hour after the discovery of the theft.
“I will tell the man I have only five minutes to give him,” I said to myself. Instinctively, however, something told me I was taking the wrong approach in handling the latest challenge that came my way. I grabbed the computer and immediately Google searched for the best way to handle the feelings of anger and fear anger that are born from a burglary experience. (Those anger management classes, deserved or not, were yielding fruit, weren’t they? Made me take a step back). I found several academic articles but I found a New York Times article about a dentist that fell into drug addiction after a divorce. She had been abused by her father and her husband prior to the divorce. She lost her practice an began living on the streets and burglarized apartments in Lower Manhattan, New York City, to finance and maintain her heroin habit. She faced losing her license to practice dentistry after she was arrested for burglary charges. Eventually she cleaned up her life and dedicated herself to surviving HIV/AIDS patients. It reminded me of not only how far I have come but the responsibility I have to continue to grow and lead by example as the dentist in New York. Upon researching her phone number, I called her and left her a message of encouragement as she was facing sentencing that day for her former crimes. I know how uncertain life looked to her the morning she was going court. I have been there.
I felt better. I felt I helped someone. It got my mind off the money. I did something to help someone just like a fellow student at Penn did something for me right after she was sexually assaulted near the Penn campus. I remembered that and my experience seemed so minor relative to what she had endured.
I thought I was going to give the man five minutes to film me but we talked for five hours. In those five hours, I learned many things that could help me in my endeavors. Subsequently I talked to other people and learned more things and was able to apply the things I learned in advancing the understanding of the creative process.
None of it ever would have occurred if I had obsessed on the burglary. I would have been just as stuck had I chose to do cocaine after the burglary.
I made that breakthrough and, in doing so, I was able to tie the strings tight on some loose ends that I let go for a while. I have been learning so much and doing so much that I was not taking care of the details of certain matters. One unresolved matter led to another and I felt overwhelmed. I was worrying about not taking care of certain things as I was busy trying to forge ahead. Forging head is good but in doing so, new time demands are required. If I don’t take care of them as well as the matters left unattended, then the laces of the shoes unravel and everything falls apart.
It is easy to drift back into the anxious feeling because I lived with it so long in the past, worrying about things instead of taking care of them. I became overwhelmed and the feelings of helplessness would overtake me and so I would anesthetize myself with cocaine. The difference now, from hard work and self monitoring every day, I recognize that feeling of anxiousness that I used to live with like calluses on one’s feet. They are there but you still walk but life is uncomfortable and limited. The difference is now I have felt and have breathed that fresh air of freedom so much that my system will not allow myself to go back in any kind of way
I could have been trapped but I hose to be free and in doing so, I made breakthroughs. Got more things done. I developed more strength. I developed more focus. I fought with myself and won so I could advance further in life. You will see shortly the results of that growth.That is what I can give to those who are climbing the latter of rebuilding their lives. Don’t be distracted. Focus on what is important. Be honest with yourself. Don’t look at what is on the surface. Always look at what lies beneath the surface. The snakes that bite you are not the ones you see. Pay attention to details. That is where the challenges are at the higher loves of development. Pay attention to them and all will be well. It is funny that paying attention to more and more details, in the pursuit of development, reduces the risk for so much.
I had a major victory. I turned a negative into a positive. Kevin and Debbie, I felt the spirit. You told me to be focused. I have been. The jar is gone but the lessons learned from it are, in value, much greater than the amount of money in that jar.
Whoever you are, thank you for stealing my money. It gave me the opportunity to see where I am in many ways. I must go. I feel the spirit of success. It feels good. I am at a higher level. I know that now.
It took me a long time to do this blog. A lot has transpired in my life since the last post. I fought many battles. I prevailed. I am a different person. Funny how things happen.
The journey continues and it is becoming more fun as I feel myself grow into what I envision to be. This was a very challenging class at the University of Skid Row
Good night world, I love you.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

My View of Skid Row (Part 2) --First Year Anniversary of Scribeskidrow. Recovery programs on Skid Row

Last week I wrote Part One of my View of Skid Row, One Year Anniversary of Scribeskidow. After doing so, I had to figure out what I was going to write in Part Two. I knew it was going to be difficult as it is probably one of the touchiest subjects on Skid Row. It is the subject of Cocaine and Cocaine Recovery. There are many viewpoints about this subject. My own viewpoints have shifted over time as I received more information and personal knowledge about the topic.
I remember clicking the publishing button when I finished writing ‘My View of Skid Row’. My post flew into the internet for anyone to see. Perhaps it would add a morsel of insight to someone who had any need to know about the plethora of topics that Skid Row touches. But what was I going to write concerning cocaine? I walked out of my building and the first thing I saw was a counselor who worked at the Transition House when I was there. She had not seen me in a while and wanted to catch up on my activities. I decided to keep my promise to see her so I made my way over there. I figured that on my way I could see things and review the past year to gain some type of perspective.
I saw several men when I hit the corner of 5th and Wall Street. They were with me when I landed at the Transition House. They did not recognize me. It used to surprise me that people with whom I lived in a facility would not remember me a few months later—would not even notice me while they were walking down the street wearing the Skid Row version of the Vietnam 1000 yard stare on their faces. Some have been in and out of jail or shelters so much that it would be impossible to remember anyone. Some people give information out on a need to know basis. The brain in Skid Row or in jail remembers information on a need to know basis, usually it is based on the need to survive. Once there is no need to know the name of someone because that person is not integral to the need of survival it is deleted quickly. Indeed, so many people go in and out of those facilities that it would be in possible to remember names. The relationships are temporary. The need to remember is temporary.
The Los Angeles Mission was full. The courtyard was filled with people. Everybody was busy. What they were busy doing was another question. I seemed to identify an aura, something distinctive about the atmosphere that I had not noticed previously. I took note of it and filed it away in my memory bank .It was just in time because a loud noise assaulted my eardrums. “Cavi, Cavi. Weed. Weed “pierced my consciousness and violated my sanctity. Oh yes, it had been a while since I had to navigate my way daily through that barrage of never ending assaults by those who sell cocaine and marijuana.
I continued to walk and began to see more familiar faces as I made my way to the Transition House. A man was ever vigilant sitting on the ground against the wall of a corner store. Another man, across the street, was still sorting things in his cart. It was as if he had been doing the same thing, non-stop, since the last time I passed the same spot.
Finally I arrived at the Transition House. The lady who I wanted to see was not there so I spoke to Larry, a man who, like others, kept me sane while I was there. I briefed him on my activities and asked him for direction. I always ask people for direction on Skid Row. I noticed that some faces were missing so, finally, I asked. “Where is Michael”?
“Walter, Michael is in jail. In fact, he is on his way to prison. They caught him selling drugs on San Julian St. He will do four years in prison.” Michael was another that kept me sane
“Where is Shannon?”
“Shannon relapsed. She did not come back one night. They say she is on Gladys turning tricks.” Shannon kept telling me not to lose faith. It hurt to hear that she was back in the streets.
After hearing about Shannon, immediately, I thought about Connie. Connie was in the Strive program, a small program that has struggled to keep its clients from returning to drugs and street life. I had seen her the day before at the Recovery Month Celebration Day at the Central Division police station. The last time I saw her, before seeing her at the celebration was a few months ago. She had graduated from the program. She was on her way to Florida to see her new grandchild, and then back to Las Vegas. I thought she was in Las Vegas but she told me that she had been in Los Angeles for several weeks. She had returned to her original treatment program. She told me to call her. I called her the very next night as I could see that she needed encouragement. She encouraged me every day when I used the computer lab to publish my blog. I called the program. She had checked out. No one has heard from her.
Stories like those that I have shared are everyday life in Skid Row. Every day somebody relapses. Often those that relapse die on Skid Row. I find it poignant that I share with you these stories. Last month was Recovery Month. I walked into my bank and saw a man on the CNN Channel. He was advertising his book. His name was Chris Prentiss. He owns and operates a substance abuse facility in Malibu. I read about him in the LA Weekly newspaper. It presented a series of articles on recovery programs and his was spotlighted. To some he is a revolutionary. To others he is a snake oil salesman, selling promises to desperate families members that he can cure their loved ones. The family members are vulnerable. It does not take much for a seasoned salesman to figure out what to say.
Some say that you need to spend $50,000 a month to get cured. In Malibu they have private rooms, spas and private therapists. On Skid Row, if you are lucky, you may get a room with only one other person. More than likely you have to share it with three other people. And you must earn the right to get that room. You must pay your dues. Initially one must stay in a dormitory.
Does the price of recovery guarantee better results? I forget the doctor’s name but he works out of Beverly Hills. Channel 2 interviewed him after a couple of actresses were arrested for cocaine possession. He found that eighty percent of patients of these expensive treatment centers relapse, usually, within twenty four hours of leaving the facility. He believed that the doctors facilities had no idea what they were doing.
I was reading textbooks on drug recovery and the general consensus was that 95 percent of people relapse within two years. In that particular book, they interviewed former cigarette smokers who abuse cocaine and the majority of former cigarette smokers stated that it was more difficult to stop smoking cigarettes than it was to stop doing cocaine.
On Skid Row, the recidivism rate is very high for drug users. The very first thing that was stated in the first Cocaine Anonymous meeting that I sat in on was that 95 percent of the people in that room would not make it. Indeed, the relapse rate in Skid Row is high. I asked a Case Manager what was the relapse rate of people who were in that program? He told me that 95 percent relapse within two years of leaving the facility.
I was at the facility recently and talked to people that were there when I was there. I was told that all but three individuals who were there when I first moved in have relapsed. They are either in the streets, having lost their housing, or are in jail or prison. What makes that figure frightening is that SRO Housing Corporation takes great pains in providing the best possible environment for success. They test people regularly and if they discover a person tests dirty for drug use, the person is asked to leave. The company does not want one person to start an epidemic of drug use among the other clients.
Some people feel as though the system is designed for people to relapse. They believe the programs are flawed and the choice of treatment methods is too few.
I believe one thing to be very true about those that attend treatment programs on Skid Row. Most of the people who are in treatment programs are court ordered. They have been ordered to attend these programs. They are there to fulfill court requirements. One cannot assume that they are all in these programs for the same reasons. Not everyone has the desire to be clean and sober. They have the desire to stay out of jail. Indeed, many who are in these programs, who are court ordered, have stated that they would have preferred to just do their time in prison. They believe that it is inevitable they will relapse and thus be sent back to prison anyway. Why delay the inevitable is their point of view.
It can be argued that the high relapse rate in Skid Row is due to the fact that the motivation is external. Also, there is a school of thought in Skid Row to basically make it acceptable to relapse. Some lecturers tell people that they are helpless against the drug so that relapse is inevitable. I believe they say that because they relapsed and they feel as though the same must be true for everyone else. But everyone is different. Once that becomes the mantra, that everyone will relapse, then it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. When a person is sick and things are going great, it is not uncommon for the sick person to have the propensity to search for something wrong. A sick person, who is only accustomed to being sick, goes out of his way to find something wrong because the invisible prison is a known quantity. Freedom from it is an unknown quantity. Therefore, the person is more comfortable with the prison he/she already knows than the bliss of the unknown. Change, even positive change, can be very traumatic and people are afraid to go it alone. In most cases, sobriety means that most people must leave behind everyone they have ever known. Many were socialized into a life of drugs, alcohol, crime and institutionalization. Freedom means walking away from everything in life they have experienced. It is not easy.
Some say the case workers don’t care. It is true some case workers do not care. They go to work to get a pay check. Were they always that way or were they let down so many times by the those in whom they had such an emotional investment that they no longer can afford to put additional emotional investment into their clients.
Then I think of several men who went through programs on Skid Row. One of them is Orlando Ward, the Director of Recovery Services and Public Affairs for the Midnight Mission. Two others are Wesley and Aaron, who went to the Harbor Lite program. The last one is Andrew Conner, the Resources Coordinator for People Against The Homeless (PATH). I read an article about Orlando Ward. He was very open in how he just had hit rock bottom and surrendered. He had gone to several programs before he entered the Midnight Mission. The final time he wanted it so badly he did it the right way. He no longer rationalized thoughts or past behavior. He took full responsibility for failed relationships and a failed marriage. He put aside his ego and worked at different jobs. He paid back taxes. He built building blocks towards his long term recovery.
“Walter, I did not feel that I was worth too much of anything, “said Aaron. “I had no education. He did not complete high school. Did not think I was going to amount to anything but someone told me I was going to smoke crack forever. I was determined at that very moment, when he said that , that I was not going to smoke that poison forever. “ He had no formal education. None at all and yet he was able to navigate himself to the absolute core of truth and acceptance of himself. He has been in recovery for twelve years.
“Walter, I lived on the streets for five years. You know me but you would not have known me in those years. I was an animal and lived like one. I spent money on cocaine instead of food and after smoking my cocaine, I dug in trash cans for food. I must have been deranged, “ said Wesley. That was a profundity of his statement and the courage that he displayed by sharing his most private beliefs with me was absolutely awesome.
“I crawled into the detox program on Crocker St. Walter. I owe everything that I am to the programs on Skid Row,” said Andrew. All of those men feel that way. I have not talked to Orlando Ward but I am sure he feels the same way. His life work is on Skid Row. Everywhere a Midnight Mission truck is seen it is usually at an event to encourage people to stay on the path of recovery.
Those three statements of truth are statements from men who lived in the streets. Men, in general, will tell you what they think. Maybe. Men, in general will not tell you what they feel. Many men may not know what they feel because their feelings are encased in concrete type barriers from themselves like gold nuggets buried deep in the ground. However, if they were to discover those feelings, they would discover riches far beyond their wildest dreams. Let us be clear about this. Men in the streets will not tell you certain truths about themselves. The rules of survival in the streets preclude any healthy truth to someone else. It would be viewed as a weakness. One would become a target for prey by someone who mistakenly held the misguided male doctrine that truth was a weakness instead of a certain sign of strength. These men from the streets displayed tremendous growth and strength sharing with me such intimate self-truths. They also planted seeds in me that took time in germinating but would eventually grow sprouts of truth and acceptance that are getting stronger every day.
That is what I noticed. All of these men are honesty, not only with themselves, but with others. The seeds that were planted in me kept growing into a lake of honesty where I can swim everyday and discover new truths and understand the past. I do not have to have a mask. I can accept how I was because I was ill.
I kept looking at Skid Row. People are categorized as a drug user or mentally ill, as if the two are mutually exclusive. Then one day it hit me like a Mack truck going 100 miles per hour. I was looking at people walking down the street and for some reason I thought of an economics statement that savings=investment. If you do one you are simultaneously building the other. Well, I stood there and said to myself, “Smoking Cocaine=mental illness”. If I am doing the former I am increasing developing the latter. There was no way to escape the truth.
That is the beauty of being in an environment where you can find people who are in different stages of recovery. You can ask questions and listen. I have asked many questions and as I told you just those few statements that those men made to me struck a chord and I have been learning how to play that chord freely and effortlessly since then. What I mean is I have learned to become honest with myself.
Things that I could not accept, I now can accept. Those men led who shared certain truths with me led by example. They gave me a glimpse of what recovery is and can be. Only recently have I begun to understand recovery. It has been over two years since I have done any drugs. As time has progressed, I can see that I am beginning to see and understand things as well as accept the things that eluded my grasp in the past. Much of that success I owe to asking people questions and they took the time to share with me. Many times I could not understand what they were saying. Other times I could understand but not appreciate what they were saying. Over time I learned how to understand and appreciate.
I am now able to say to myself that I was mentally ill while I was doing cocaine. Seeing so clearly how smoking cocaine=mental illness in Skid Row, I have been able to understand how I was developing mental illness in a variety of ways by smoking cocaine. Once you accept and understand that, it is easy to push the ball of understanding downhill and connect the dots for additional insight.
$50,000 dollar per month programs has an abysmal a success rate in treating drug addiction as a free program. Nobody has the answer. One thing is clear. Those that are successful in recovery are extremely motivated. One must be extremely motivated to succeed. Along with motivation, one must be willing to manifest that motivation into long term results. One must be ready, willing and able to commit himself to the task at hand. It is not easy. The one thing I can say about Skid Row is that you are in an environment where there exists a high concentration of individuals who are in different stages of recovery. Each and every one of them is willing to spend whatever time it takes to listen to the questions of anyone who is serious about changing their life. I have never been turned away by the men and women of Skid Row. Do not count on the Case Workers. Count on yourself. In recovery one must discard the skin of institutionalization. One must expect that the programs to do everything for them. The programs are not the housing authority. They cannot give you a place to live permanently. They are not the welfare office. They cannot give you a check.
ASK NOT WHAT A RECOVERY PROGRAM CAN DO FOR YOU. ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR OWN RECOVERY. It is not the program that makes the recovery. It is the environment of Skid Row that provides the emotional support for one to learn and understand everything must learn in order to succeed. There are hundreds of coaches that can tell you if you are moving too fast. They will be honest with you. They are around and they are not hard to find. So I tell everybody that Skid Row has done a lot for me in understanding recovery and the people of Skid Row have helped me survive the process of recovery so I can begin to taste the fruits of my labor. The environment is excellent if even if the respective programs fall short of expectations. However, a person’s personal recovery is more than a program. A program is only a part of it. It is the people that one meets along the way that make the difference. Funny how people make the difference is most things.
So that is how I view recovery in Skid Row after my first year here. I am thankful for the environment. As I said from the beginning, I called this the University of Skid Row. In any university one can find someone to help them study. Someone can find someone with whom they can waste time and goof off. In Skid Row, you can find someone to do drugs or you can find someone to help you understand and build a life without drugs. You cannot find a better place than this in many ways. Yes it is a warehouse in some respects. People will vacillate here until they go to jail, prison or die. No doubt about it. But for the person who has done drugs. The choice is yours. Make the right one. Do not hold a program accountable for your recovery. It is not the program's life. It is your life. Hold yourself accountable. If that is done and you put one foot in front of the other, one would be surprised how successful you can be.

These programs do a lot for people. Those who are successful are very focused. Nothing is more important than the maintenance of their sobriety and the pursuit of happiness. Nothing. Personality conflicts with counselors do not take place when a person is ready to change their life. Nothing must interfere with that. Find what you need. It may be a person within a program that can give you the answer. The answers are there for you to find. Ultimatley the answers must be understood within one's heart and soul. Ultimately the answers are found within oneself. No program can do that for you. They can help you do that for yourself.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Recovery Celebration at Central Division

On Thurs September 25, there was a celebration of sobriety at the Central Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Andrew Conner organized the event. Andrew works for People Assisting The Homeless(Path)however, he was operating as a private citizen. Hot Dogs and hamburgers were
werved to the couple hundred people that attended the event. City Council woman Jan Perry spoke as well as many who are on the recovery path.
Maple Street was blocked off and chairs were set up. I was pretty surprised to see that so many people showed up. I arrived late but in time to see several people that I met when I first arrived on Skid Row and was quite pleased to see that they were maintaining their sobriety.



Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My View of Skid Row(Part One)-OneYear Anniversary of Scribeskidrow.

Today marks the first year anniversary of my blog. It is hard to believe that it is actually been one year since I started writing it. I started writing the blog the same day that I moved out of the Transition House into the Marshall House. I shall never forget that day. I was quite fearful of my future, though, when I went to sleep, and woke up in the morning it was the beginning of a new life. You see, It was the first time I slept soundly for twelve months. Four months in jail followed by eight months in The
Transition House were not places were privacy was something that was remotely possible. In addition to that I was told when to wake up and when to sleep. I slept way into the morning that first morning. It was what I needed to start me on the next phase of my journey on Skid Row. So, I left people behind. They stayed with me in my heart. It was a good thing because most of the people that I met fell prey to circumstances, one way or the other. That candle that you see is not only for the one year anniversary but it is in memory for all who touch me and there were so many. I have been thinking of all of them. The ones that made it, I am more in awe of them than I was previously. The ones that did not, I am in awe of them as well for they gave me their wisdom and they fought a courageous battle with their demons. It was just not meant for them this time around. I miss them. I miss them deeply.
I recall when I first wrote about Skid Row I said that I knew nothing about it. Yes, I had been on Skid Row for eight months but I was in a compound and I rarely ventured out. However, when I moved to San Julian St., to the heart of and soul of the neighborhood, I knew I was going to learn a great deal about it. But as I said in the profile introduction, I began to learn a great deal about myself. My strengths and weaknesses were magnified. I was not able to enjoy my strengths as I had to battle and endure the weaknesses. The strengths meant nothing if I would succumb to the weaknesses. No, I am not talking about using drugs. I am talking about losing faith. And let it be known that I am not talking about losing faith in making through the Skid Row tunnel. I could not think that far ahead. That would be a weakness that would bring about inner chaos and emotional turmoil. The risk was to worry about the future and that would paralyze you from progressing through the day.
"Don't trip." That is where that phrase comes from. Many learned not to trip in jail or prison. They tried to teach me in jail. I understood it in jail. I did not have to deal with it as I had to focus like a robot to survive mentally and emotionally. I tried to deal with the concept when I first arrived on Skid Row because I had more time to let my mind wonder. I could speculate more about the future. In jail, there was no future--just the moment.
Some moments were extremely profound-in ways that are hard to describe. After all that I had experienced, the smallest act of kindness to me would evoke a body shiver and a waterfall of tears. Each act of kindness allowed me to regain faith that softness existed in the world. I would thank the person who extended that human kindness over and over again. Within the first couple of days of moving into the Marshall House and starting my blog, I went to the store to purchase something. A man was sitting on the ground in front of the store. He sat on the ground and asked me for some change. I ignored him. Each time I saw him, he asked me. Each time he asked me, I ignored him. I had my own anger at the time.
. I was not looking down on the man as much as I was fearful that if things did not go as I wanted them to go, needed them to go, I would end up on the ground like him. But in the final analysis, I was rejecting him and his needs. I learned later that his needs were far beyond the money for which he asked. I was hurting at the time and probably angry that someone would ask me for anything. Of course, I forgot that I had asked people for answers to my questions and the time they spent giving me those answers provided comfort and reassurance in my moments of insecurity. And believe me, there were many of them.

Last week marked the end of my first six months of employment and thus was eligible to receive medical benefits. On that day a woman who lived in the building where I worked asked me if her television had arrived for her. She has to urinate in a bag and many times it leaks on the floors and in the elevator. People complain about her and she can be very insistent on what she wants and demands immediate service, service for which I do not have the authority to provide. She gives me hell sometimes. But the woman had to be in a hospital for sometime and was transferred out of here to another location. When she returned the television was delayed in coming with her. Upon hearing that the television was here, she gave me the biggest smile in the world. Behind those otherwise sad eyes, you could see that she felt that somebody cared. She even said that she could hug me.

I saw that man again last week, the one that I told you I ignored. I went to the very same store and he was there. He looked at me like he was familiar with a hostile vibration from me though he obviously did not remember who I was. I went into a conditioned response mode when I saw him. I went into the store, bought what I wanted to buy and walked out and passed him. I walked ten feet and froze, standing dead in my tracks for about 20 seconds. I turned around and approached the man. He looked at me with a wonder in his eyes. After all, so many men like him are attacked every day by those who have such anger they feel that the mentally ill are available punching bags for anyone that feels they need to get out frustration.

I handed him the few dollars that were in my hand. He looked at me as if he was wondering if there was a mean trick in store for me. He looked deep in my eyes and finally saw that I was willing him to take it. It was as much for him as it was for me. "God bless you," he said. And in his eyes I understood that look. I had wore that look myself not too long ago. I felt that look. I ached when I recognized it.
It was the look of hope, a look that let me know that I nourished that hope in him enough for him to fight long enough to have someone provide him with some more hope--The hope that human beings still care for one another in a cruel, mean and vicious world.

I turned away and tears ran down my face. I fed my own need for something inside me to stay alive and grow, something where I can be of service to my fellow man. I looked down and saw the logo of the company for which I work and I had to smile.
As the CEO said one day to me when I told her that her organization can lead the way, "Walter, we are trying." Trying in Skid Row is not an easy task. It takes allot. But all of the people that I have met, gave their all with me when I was in the Marshall House. And now a year later, I am able to do the same for others.
That is what will bring change in Skid Row.
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People have asked me what I think of the non profit organizations. That answer is not easy to come by. One must be objective and when in Skid Row it is difficult to be objective. It is easy to grab onto something at which arrows of your own anger and frustrations can be aimed. Any story can make you pull out an arrow from your quiver.

Let me tell you a story. My story. And I tell this story not in anger but as a matter of fact in hopes that the spirit in which it is intended is received in the right way.

I was released from jail on February 7, 2007. It was two weeks after the court released me when I was picked up by Volunteers of America. I did not know I was going to be released in their custody. I was told differently. The judge, himself, did not know where I was. Each time I went to a court hearing he thought I was in another program other than to where he sent me.

I did whatever they told me to do at the Transition House. 7 months later I walked into the court room and the court released me from their custody. However, he said to me that though he appreciated all of the cocaine anonymous and alcohol anonymous meetings that I attended, that was not what he wanted me to do. He wanted me to go to an anger management class for a year. I did not know that. Basically the whole 8 months I that I spent in the program was a waste of my time because I had to still find a program as the judge still wanted me to attend an anger management class.

If I was not angry before then, I was angry after court. Why because I was already frustrated etc etc. I still had to go to a class. Volunteers of America had failed to deliver what they were supposed to do. Somebody in a decision making capacity dropped the ball. It cost me 8 months and I had to find a program before the next court date in December. No program was available. The free ones had a waiting list of 6 months. Perhaps, with a note from several programs, the judge may have understood and not sent me back to jail. I could not count on that.
One of the counselors from the program told me of a program that started at the LA Mission in February but that was speculative in my point of view. Even so, I would have to postpone my life another 4 months. It was already costing me a couple of years.

One counselor came up to me and told me that I should sue Volunteers of America. because they failed to deliver services and I lived in that 100 bed dormitory for no reason. He was right and most likely I would have won. But at the same time I would have lost. And that is my point.

Yes, Volunteers of America failed to do what they told the court they would do on one level. But on another level, on an interpersonal level, each and every person in that organization was there for me. The judge did not know where I was and he ordered me there. How can I assume that Volunteers of America was told I was to be in a certain type of program. Everybody that goes there is there for a drug program.
Should they believe that I was any different? I would say NO.

Each employee gave me wisdom in how to deal with my emotions. Each employee taught me how to deal with the separation and isolation from my family which was court ordered. Each and every employee fought to make me believe in myself and that all would work out if I just was patient. They were patient with me as I would as the same questions repeatedly. They mended my heart as best they could.

What happened to me was not so much a Volunteers of America failure, it is a Skid Row SYSTEMATIC DISORDER. There are communication problems between courts and organizations. There is under staffing. The staff is overworked. Organizations do not hire enough. People cost money. Counselors tell me that they are frustrated because of the unprofessionalism of their peers. Their colleagues do the best they can. It is not their fault that they are not being provided the training.

In cases where training is available, then you have a high transition rate of employee. Some relapse. Others seek other employment after cutting their teeth in the trenches of Skid Row. Some are there just for a paycheck. Is it because they don't care or they can no longer afford to care emotionally as they have been disappointed by clients that let them down or bureaucratic handcuffs that prevent them from doing what they feel needs to be done.

Organizations have a fear for being sued, and lets face, many who are in Skid Row come from a background where scams are a traditional source of employment. Fraud does not only live in Health Care Hospitals. A large percentage of the people that "seek shelter" in the LA Mission, the Midnight Mission, and the Union Rescue Missions are merely taking advantage of the system. They are running some type of scam. Two people were evicted from where I work and they told me they did not care because they can go to one of the missions. Indeed, that is where they told us to forward their mail.

Lets face it. and many in Skid Row believe this. Many counselors believe this. Many of these non profit organizations serve as enablers for those who want to continue to scam the system or do drugs. "Walter, I will relapse when I damn well please." Is it bravado hiding their shame of relapsing? Is it mental illness bred from many things, the seeds of which were planted long before they were born. Let us be clear. There is a socialization process in certain mental illnesses particularly if the roots stem from the eggs of disenfranchisement and the growth comes from a need to survive, whether through ignorance or expedience.

If the missions were to throw out all of those that rotate to one mission and then the other when they have overstayed their welcome at one place,or if they would be tougher on relapsers, then I pretty much guess that their would be enough beds available for the mentally ill and emotionally crippled who are not slick enough or whose souls are not corrupt enough to "run game" to have shelter. They are the ones who are suffering. They are suffering deeply. The other sufferers are the people that relapse after fighting a hard battle and resources are being depleted by those who make a lifestyle of it. These missions are homes to them.

There is an argument by many that the missions do not want to turn anyone away or kick anyone out who is relapsing. To do so would discourage those from stepping forward to receive help. Some say that is nonsense. Some say that the people who are "full time residents" are playing a game and are playing the missions for fools.
Some say that the missions need the crack smokers more than the crack smokers need them. The missions need them to fill the place in order to receive funding. That view is echoed by counselors who believe that the goal of some of the missions or non profits is to obtain funding and that everything else is secondary.

Some also say that at the LA Mission and the Union Rescue Mission you must first commit to being a Christian before you can either gain employment or receive assistance for drugs. Therefore the perception on the street is that help is subject to being converted over to a religious group. I have not talked to the leaders of either place. I do not know. I have read the employment application of the Union Rescue Mission. It does ask you to state some commitment to Christianity. If one is excluded from employment because they are not Christians, I do not know.

I believe the missions have their purpose. I also believe that it would be politically a tough call to throw people out after they have relapsed repeatedly. Everyone is conditioned to certain policies. Business on Skid Row has been done a certain way for a long time. But lets be honest. Everyone knows that drugs are sold by those that live in the missions. Some believe that low level employees protect those that are buying the drugs and even supply them as well, taking a percentage of sells as a supplement to their incomes which are definitely low.
Temptation is there. I was walking with a woman a month ago and she told me to wait for her because she had to stop in the mission, where in front we were standing, in order to purchase her bag of heroin.

It is a difficult call. So no one can expect expect things to change from establishments that have been in Skid Row a long time. They have their axes to grind. It is harder to bring change in huge organizations--too bureaucratic.

It is just like trying to get the agencies or government to committees.
I can recall many times in the last year when government officials would call me to rant and rave about how frustrated they were. County and City agencies were in agreement for a couse of action for Skid Row but everthing was held up because one of the Agencies did not only want top billing. They wanted ONLY billing. Therefore the people who needed assistance did not receive it because of marqee issues.

That led some of the people participating on Skid Row issues to conclude, as do people on the street, that everyone wants Skid Row to stay the same. "Walter, nothing gets done. We have meeting after meeting. We have meetings to discuss the next meeting. Everybody gives lip service of agreement in public. As soon as the meeting adjourns, everyone is backing out of their commitments. it is as if they want to sabotage it. It makes you think that not only nothing is going to change but that everyone wants it to stay the same," spoke a several year front line veteran of Skid Row issues.

"Walter, this thing about containment. It is actually true. No one will state that it is the case but the decisions are, in effect, a defacto policy position. We have this discussion to spread out the services that are offered to the homeless. Every government organization says "yes", we should not put the pressure on the city of Los Angeles. But then they vote down money allocations for their own municipality or respective counties. So in effect nothing changes and LA maintains it position as the homeless capital with Skid Row being the center for it all. But,of of course, eveyone would deny indignantly, feigning trmendous umbrage, if you mentioned that they were in effect perpetuating the 'containment" policy.

So with that, I believe that innovation will come from new sources-sources that are not set in their ways and are open to ideas. There are organizations in Skid row that are open to change. They are more able to adjust to the needs of the community if management feels the situation warrants it. More on that in Part 2 of my first year in review.