Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Death and Drugs

"Walter, did you hear about the shooting around the corner?", he asked me when I walked into the office for work over a week ago. He was referring to the two murders in the Lamp residential facility. The rumor is that it was a contract killing: competitors in the drug trade could not arrive at an agreement so two men died/

"Walter, just so you know, a woman overdosed in the shower on Saturday," were the first words uttered to me on Monday when I again reported for work.

"Walter, we just found another person dead". That was yesterday. One man loitered about asking questions, feigning concern and interest in the fate cast upon the deceased. However the strain draped upon his face made transparent what he believed was concealed: he was worrying if it was his heroin that killed the deceased. It was not easy to discern if he was worried to ease his conscious or if that anxiety was due to the fact that he may not be able to use his own supply. Four deaths are within a block of each other. All of which are related to drugs. Family and friends are weeping day and not for their love ones who are gone.

A man was looking for his son. He presented me with a flyer. His eyes waited anxiously while I studied the photo. Yes, I thought I had seen the man. No, I was not sure. I did not want to give him hope yet did not want him to be discouraged. Fortunately he shared with me that others had seen him. They called him but before he could arrive, they man had vanished. The man was his son. He walked out of a drug rehabiliation facility and landed on Skid Row. He had only a few weeks to before he completed the program. Once finished, he could have gone into court, had his probation cleared and case of possession dismissed. Now, he risks being returned to jail or prison. His probation officer explained to the father that he must report to him before May 5. Otherwise he will have violated his probation or parole. The father was not clear. It makes not difference what it is called. Incarceration is the same, no matter the label.

Yes, the coroner wagon is not an uncommon sight. Its presence does not dissipate. It has a waiting clientel standing on 6th and Gladys though they may not realize they are patrons of the morgue.

I did drugs for a long time. I was not surprised that I stopped, though it seems to fascinate others. Yes, the relapse rate is high. Sometimes I believe it is high because people are told that relapse is expected. Self fullfilling it becomes. I am not concerned about how to stop.

I am more surprised, as each day goes by, that I ever started. Exploring is one thing but remaining in that forrest is quite another. Once you go deeper and deepr into it, it does become difficult to find one's way out. It becomes easier to stay in it than fighting to get out of it.

There was a friend of mine. We were on a high school championship team together. We went to school together from the 7th to 12th grades. When I came home once I saw his name on commercial real estate signs along the Wilshire Blvd corridor. Eventually I worked with him. However there was a night when we had a long conversation and he shared with me that he did not like doing what he was doing. He was making well over $250,000 a year. Why did he keep doing it? "I do it because I am good at it". He did not mention that he did it because he made a lot of money. The psychological income was more valuable to him than the money.

Why did I continue to get loaded off drugs? I got loaded because I was good at it. It is ironic that being one of the best at something is the road to destruction. Never the less I was good at it. I was a good liar,when, after my money ran out, I could find inventive stories to borrow more. Of course, it tormented my soul. However that was offset by the warped sense of accomplishment I felt when I put it all together to make a deal.

When one sets out to get loaded, you have a goal. When the goal is accomplished, you feel up with confidence. Yes, you see the day when it all may catch up with you. but you continue because it takes so much to turn your mindset around long enough to make a dent in carving out a new path, an enduring path.

Last week, the Safe Cities Initiative almost fell prey to the budget ax. Yes, the mayor's office said that it was an oversight. I find it easier to believe that there is good swamp land in Florida to purchase. There are too many checkpoints that the budget to pass--too difficult for anything to be missed.

It is much more plausible to believe that the Mayor's office believed that it could not gain any more political capital helping Skid Row and that in a time when people are concerned about surviving, they could take away the little Skid Row had been given.

Yes it is the time to tighten belts. But does it have to come on the backs of the people who have nothing and need the most help. It costs the city a lot more to house and cloth people in jail than it would to teach them something, that when they learn how to do it, they feel good about themselves. Something that can help them earn a living.

It is not the time to cut back on Skid Row. It is time to increase aid. People will return to jail if, after freeing themselves from drugs, there is nothing upon which they can grab, that makes them proud of themselves.

If the city does not go that extra step. The coroner wagon will continue to be a regular guest in the Skid Row community.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lesley Taplin And Now 'The Soloist' Teach The Nation about the Power of Love

Lesley Taplin died recently in a car crash.was a tireless supporter of the Skid Row community. She was an early supporter of the Skid Row 3 0n 3 Street Basketabll League while a volunteer member of DLANC, The Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. She championed the causes for children and adults, making resources available that would further the education of both while on DLANC's education board. Her picture will be displayed indefinitely as her spirit will never die in the hearts and souls of the people of Skid Row.

It is ironic that her death came on the eve of the premiere of the movie The Soloist, which is a story about the unlikely friendship between Steve Lopez, a staff columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Nathaniel Ayers, a former musical prodigy who studied at the famed Julliard School until he was stricken with schizophrenia and landed on the streets of Skid Row. As Lesley Taplin developed unlikely friendship with Skid Row, so did Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers.

Lesley Taplin understood that Skid Row is a very complexed environment. She knew that the problems of Skid Row were a consolidated, condensed microcosm of America. Indeed, she endeavored to bring attention to the various issues of homelessness, poverty, mental illness, education and human relations, while encouraging the people of the communit to empower themselves. Lesley knew that this place called Skid Row, that many scorn, is a place of hidden beauty and power where one could learn the profundity of life and relationships. It is a place that fascinates me. That is why I call it The University of Skid Row.

There is a Skid Row deep in all of us. The good, the bad and the ugly. However, there is a unique purity of kindness that evades all of us to some level. If you remain in Skid Row long enough, you begin to grasp it. it no longer runs through your fingers as easily as water. You can cup it essence and drink its refreshing and insightful purity. Lesley epitomized that purity. She was a professor at the University of Skid Row, the de facto human laboratory of the United States. It is all here for any to see. If you unravel the entangled threads of anomalies that form the fabric of this community, you will solve the issues of the country.

National Public Radiohas done a series of articles about the Skid Row environment. Please use the link to read those articles. It will provide a cross section of perspectives that will serve to generate thought and discussion of the many challenges that we face in ourselves, individually and as a national and world family.

Monday, April 13, 2009

LAPD Officer Deon Joseph

Today an article I wrote about LAPD Officer Deon Joseph was published in LABeez, the new online hub for hyper-local ethnic news in Los Angeles. I also write a column which is published weekly on the site.

Please enjoy the LABeez website as it publishes interesting news articles on a variety of issues that impact the various communities, and thus, all of us.

I would like to add that I have started a new blog, A New Era. I share with you my adventures and experiences as I embark on a new phase in my life. A cornerstone to my blog will be the challenges and joys I experience caring for my mother who has dementia.

I will continue to post on Scribeskidrow material pertaining to social issues in general as well as those traditionally associated with Skid Row.

Thank you