Thursday, October 30, 2008


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.

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


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.