Archive for October, 2014




The other night Alex told me that he would describe me as a “martyr”—a term I don’t like very much, but I can see how he can characterize me as such. Lone Heron says that if I get $100, I’ll spend it on the kids before I spend it on me. That’s true I guess, though it is the result of low income and a stubborn dedication to our mission more than to any self-sacrificing instinct. I like creature comforts as much as the next guy. At this stage of my life, though, I just don’t need much for myself. I get more selfish satisfaction from attending to the needs of others.

I asked Alex if that makes me a rube in his eyes, and he gave me a noncommital answer that could very well have been evasive. So I don’t know what Alex really thinks of me. But in a way, I really don’t care. Actions speak louder than words, and Alex is still here. I don’t need any expressions of touchy-feely emotion to keep myself motivated to keep soldiering on.

Anyway, touchy-feely is not a part of his repertoire (nor has it been for his whole life). The normal distance with which he interacts with other human beings has no doubt been intensified by growing up in prison where everyone is on the take. Alex’s life experiences have taught him that trusting other people is truly one of the most dangerous things you can do. He has responded to this conclusion by constructing a rigid set of boundaries around himself that you dare not transgress.

When he first arrived on the train, I gave him a hug of greeting and immediately knew that I had done the wrong thing. The other day I gave him a pat on the shoulder as I passed by, and he told me that he doesn’t like being touched in any way. So I’ve been told in no uncertain terms.

This is fine with me. Putting the needs of others ahead of one’s own needs (or what you regard as normative) is a fundamental aspect to spiritual hospitality, basic to the vision of what Estrella Vista should be about. Every new resident here will have his or her unique boundaries. Respecting the boundaries of others will make Estrella Vista a safe place for anyone to be.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Depeche Mode performing “Martyr


hate begets hate


A comment to yesterday’s post bothered me a little. BobH said that I should have taken the “soft approach” first with Teri Wadsworth, and asked her first for the reasons why she thinks the way she does. You know, things like evidence and stuff.

I like BobH a lot; what he thinks carries a lot of weight with me. And yes, I will admit that sometimes (not very often though) I have a pretty short fuse. But I am not the kind of guy that responds to a punch in the nose by asking my assailant, “Will you please tell me why you did that?” I’ll strike back first and ask questions later. Maybe it’s a flaw, but we’re all imperfect and I’m willing to live with myself as I am, warts and all.

Sometimes leading with a punch to the nose and following up with an offer of reconciliation is the best strategy, especially in the rough-and-tumble world of prisons. I can think of at least one instance where this approach led to a mutually-respectful relationship with a high-level prison administrator. It continues to this day.

It seems to me that the important thing—the bottom line—is that the kids we represent know that they have a fierce defender in their corner, come what may. Even if the act that got them in trouble with the system is indefensible, they are being rigorously defended, no matter what. Even if all their former friends and family have abandoned them, we will be the last man standing. Without question. Without judgement. Without hate for anyone on either side of the bars.

Thinking about haters, do any longtime readers remember a guy named Steve Piantedosi, a corrections officer from Hartford CT, who publishes a particularly offensive blog called “People You’ll See In Hell”? He first appeared on my radar screen several years ago during the early days of the Jordan Brown controversy. He claimed that Jordan was an “evil little fucker” and I (and, subsequently, the courts) took the opposite view. He and the readers of this blog got into quite a comment war that went on for hours and 62 comments until I cut it off.

Out of curiosity I went out to his blog last night and saw a radically toned-down site. It seems that someone (not me) hacked his site about a year ago and trashed everything that was out there. As one who writes a blogsite, I can imagine how devastating this must have been for Mr. Piantedosi, and I empathize with him. Regardless of what you think of his site, this shouldn’t have been done.

But it was predictable. You reap what you sow, and Mr. Piantedosi trades in hate—the same kind of hate that brought down his site. I guess if you wait long enough, if you’re patient enough, Karma works in this world after all.


Groove of the Day

Listen to John Lennon performing “Instant Karma”



too stupid ti insult

Yesterday I called my friend Mary Ellen and asked her to save me from doing something stupid. I explained that I’d received a hateful email from a woman named Teri Wadsworth about one of our kids:

“He’s guilty as sin he needs to serve his sentence he shows no remorse cocky and creepy a serial killer in the making I will start a campaign to keep him in prison he knew what he was doing let him be it’s the best place for him and society.”

I rarely receive such vitriolic emails, and the few I do receive bother me more than they should. I am upset by such expressions of unmitigated hatred being vented towards someone the hater obviously knows nothing about.

Where does this woman get off using words like “cocky” and “creepy?” Her assertion that he is “a serial killer in the making” is completely unfounded by scientific fact and is said simply to inflame others who are as ignorant as she is. The child she has targeted for her fury has been shielded from the media and has done or said nothing that could be interpreted by any rational person as anything but remorse, regret, shame, and embarrassment.

I told Mary Ellen that I wanted to write back to Teri Wadsworth and say that the only creepy person I could see in this picture is Teri Wadsworth.

Mary Ellen said that while most advocates would advise that I just let the comment pass and not engage the hater, ignoring the comment does nothing to diffuse the hate. She surprised me and said maybe I should engage this Teri Wadsworth. But how?

In the past I have “outed” these haters, drawing public attention to their dark hearts and lack of compassion, forgiveness, and understanding… and I can think of no reason not to do the same in this case, too. There are only four Teri Wadsworths on Facebook (my apologies for drawing attention to the innocent people who share her name), and she goes by the email moniker of “ladybug.” But on reflection, it seems to me that pointing out the shortcomings of others does only half the job.

Last week Matt sent me this link to a story of forgiveness that provides a positive example that has received a lot of praise in the media. If the parents of a slain son can see fit to take in their son’s killer, why can’t an uninvolved person like Teri Wadsworth find a place in her heart to feel compassion for a young boy who made one terrible mistake in his life?

To view this remarkable story, please click here.

I don’t know whether Teri Wadsworth will even get by the fact that I have used her name extensively in this post and go on to explore her motives for being so angry, but I really don’t care. There are lots of people in the world whose views create an unflattering impression, and I consider myself fortunate to have so little to do with them.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Brendan MacLean performing “Stupid”


new a***ole

just around the cornerI am no economist, but my son Henry is. That is why I took notice a couple weeks ago when Henry reamed me out for parroting in this blog what the mainstream media has been saying, that the general economic condition is beginning to improve. You would have thought I’d said something to besmirch the sacred memory of his mother. He couldn’t believe I would suggest such a thing.
In my own defense, my cycles research says that the timing of the dominant cycle says we are due for a recovery about now. Perhaps it is simple wishful thinking that I am looking at the trends and hoping that they are the harbingers of better days ahead.
But on the ground where Henry is, he feels no such optimism. Says Henry: “Here is a nice summary article, with several graphs included, that proves beyond a doubt that only the top of the top have experienced anything that might resemble a recovery.

“What’s even more astounding is that, while reports of slowing activity and falling sales have appeared over the summer for nearly every industry, since last spring not one single one can admit that the reason might be a lack of sufficient income or confidence. Not only has there been no recovery, the monetary policies enacted since 2008 are deliberately ensuring that there will be no gains for the vast majority of people and businesses.

“It’s like there is some prohibition to telling the truth. All declines in data are blamed on the weather, geopolitical instability, or even worse, spun to suggest that the slump is only temporary and that ‘unleashed demand’ or ‘cash on the sidelines’ will reappear shortly to restart growth to the moon. I simply cannot understand why no one can admit that sales and profits are down because people are broke.

“Infinite growth is impossible in a closed system with finite resources. There is nothing at all on Earth that is infinite in supply.

“Our entire way of life as it is arranged currently, from every angle, be it financial, environmental, human, etc., is sustainable only in a hypothetical world of infinite and inexpensive resources. It must collapse upon itself sooner or later and central bank counterfeiting has only been an experiment to see how far we can walk on air before falling, having walked off the cliff a long time ago, as in those Wile E. Coyote cartoons.”


For 90% Of Americans: There Has Been No Recovery

 by Lance Roberts, Street Talk


Lance Roberts is the General Partner and Chief Portfolio Strategist for STA Wealth Management. He is also the host of “The Lance Roberts Show”.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Carson Robinson Trio performing “Prosperity is Just Around the Corner”


as good as it gets


My neighbor, who is a nurse, told me her hospital has instructed its staff to don two paper gowns in instances of suspected Ebola. Two paper gowns when health workers in the big cities find that full hazmat suits are insufficient?!

Admittedly, the chances are extremely slim of Ebola making its way out here. Plus, this is the healthcare equivalent of local police lusting after all that Pentagon-issued assault equipment to deal with, what… their speed traps? But it does underscore the small-town reality of what it would mean if the handful of infections in the US should blossom into an epidemic that makes its way to the margins of civilization.

The place to fight Ebola is in West Africa, not here. Our country should help.

But I predict that if Ebola doesn’t get us, something else will. In the early part of the 20th century it was the flu. Sometime later in the 21st century it will be something else. The world is so overpopulated and crowded, we are due for a devastating pandemic. My son Henry tells me that a number of financial websites he visits predict it will hit any day now.

I don’t think so.

The fear of disaster is more dangerous than any real threat. (God, I am sounding like Franklin Roosevelt.) It’s more dangerous to talk on your cell phone while driving (we don’t have cell service out here, either… so we dodged the bullet again).

The other day my doctor asked me if I wanted a flu shot, and I told him we are already quarantined at Estrella Vista. That’s good enough. We’re safe.

We will be able to see it coming and avoid it… whatever “it” is.


Groove of the Day

Listen to D12 performing “The Ebola Song”


such great heights

rbz Sam Beam Musician 3.jpg

This song was covered in 2003 by Iron and Wine, the stage name of American singer and songwriter Samuel Beam. It was originally recorded in 2002 by The Postal Service, and released on January 21, 2003. So it’s been around for more than ten years.

I was originally introduced to the song several years ago by my friend Marcus Kenney when I was visiting his family in Savannah GA during one of my many road trips. While Alex and I were returning home the other night, I heard the song on the radio and realized I haven’t yet posted it for your benefit.

During the two years 2005 and 2006, “Such Great Heights” consistently ranked in the weekly top five most-frequently-played tracks on the social music site I hope you enjoy it, too.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Iron and Wine performing “Such Great Heights”


juvenile suicides in adult facilities


Teenagers in prison have a shockingly high suicide rate

On any given day in 2012, there were about 2,400 teenagers serving time in adult state or federal prisons. And those teenagers were more likely to commit suicide than were inmates from any other age group.

This chart, based on new data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, shows the suicide rates of state prisoners from 2001-2012 and drive home just how at-risk teenage inmates can be:

teens more likely to commit suicide

In other words, teenagers in adult prisons are twice as likely to commit suicide as are adults in adult prisons. And they’re far more likely to commit suicide than teenagers who are in juvenile detention or in alternative programs. A 2007 report from the advocacy group the Campaign for Youth Justice found that juveniles in adult prisons are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than are juveniles in juvenile detention.

Fortunately, the number of teenagers in adult prisons has declined over the last decade. In 2002, there were 3,000 teenagers in state or federal prison; throughout 2008 to 2012, there were 2,500 or fewer.

“I can’t take it anymore. I give up”

recent New Yorker feature covered what it’s like to be a teenager in an adult criminal-justice system. The subject of the New Yorker piece, Kalief Browder, was in jail on Rikers Island for three years waiting to be put on trial for stealing a backpack. (The trial never actually happened; instead, the prosecutor dismissed the charges and Browder was released.)

Browder tried to commit suicide at least three times while in jail. The chart above covers prisons, not jails, but Browder’s story is  good reflection of what teenagers in adult facilities have to deal with:

For one thing, (Browder’s brother) says, Browder was losing weight. “Several times when I visited him, he said, ‘They’re not feeding me,’ ” the brother told me. “He definitely looked really skinny.” In solitary, food arrived through a slot in the cell door three times a day. For a growing teen-ager, the portions were never big enough, and in solitary Browder couldn’t supplement the rations with snacks bought at the commissary. He took to begging the officers for leftovers: “Can I get that bread?” Sometimes they would slip him an extra slice or two; often, they refused.

Browder’s brother also noticed a growing tendency toward despair. When Browder talked about his case, he was “strong, adamant: ‘No, they can’t do this to me!’ ” But, when the conversation turned to life in jail, “it’s a totally different personality, which is depressed. He’s, like, ‘I don’t know how long I can take this.’ ”

Browder got out of the Bing in the fall of 2011, but by the end of the year he was back-after yet another fight, he says. On the night of February 8, 2012 — his six-hundred-and-thirty-fourth day on Rikers — he said to himself, “I can’t take it anymore. I give up.” That night, he tore his bedsheet into strips, tied them together to make a noose, attached it to the light fixture, and tried to hang himself. He was taken to the clinic, then returned to solitary. Browder told me that his sheets, magazines, and clothes were removed — everything except his white plastic bucket.

Imprisoning teenagers as adults is unsafe for them and others

As I’ve written, putting teenagers in adult prisons doesn’t just increase their danger to themselves. They’re much more vulnerable to assault from other inmates. And teenagers who get treated as hardened criminals while they’re still high-school-aged are more likely to engage in violence when they do get out of prison.

The problem with trying and incarcerating teenagers as adults is that it’s something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Juveniles get treated as adults, in theory, because they’ve committed particularly serious or violent crimes—but even when controlling for the seriousness of the crime, and other factors, kids who have been imprisoned in adult prisons are more likely to commit further acts of violence than those who serve their time in juvenile facilities.

Much of this is because adult prisons don’t have the counseling and education resources that juvenile ones do. If juvenile facilities are, at their best, designed to prevent kids from being incarcerated again, adult prisons have mostly given up on that aspiration. Instead, staff at adult prisons just hope for order—even if it comes at the hands of prison gangs and ethnic or regional cliques. Anthony Pleasant, a young man from DC who spent ten years in federal prison starting when he was 16, says,  “A warden, anybody will tell you, they allow the yard to run itself.”

For teenagers, serving in adult prison is a basic risk to their personal safety. “I was with a lot of people who had life, and I had peanut time compared to them,” Pleasant says. “If they had wanted to harm me, they would have done it and smiled afterward, because it meant nothing to them. Because they got life.”

Juveniles can also develop unsavory associates that will encourage them to commit more crimes after they get out. Pleasant knew one boy in prison who was sentenced to adult prison at the age of 16, and ended up “put in a situation where he had to harm somebody.” He got a new conviction after the incident, for 25 years.

What are the demographics of the prison population?

Prisoners are much more likely to be male, black or Hispanic than the average American.

Here are the demographics of the general adult population of the United States compared to the demographics of people in prison or jail:

comparative demographics 1comparative demographics 2
The racial breakdown of people who commit a crime does not always match up with the racial breakdown of people who are incarcerated for that crime. For instance, the people who use drugs are demographically similar to the broader population, but the people in jail for drug crimes are overwhelmingly black or Hispanic.

One theory for this: In many cases, police have used drug crime as a proxy for violent crime. It’s much easier for a prosecutor to guarantee a conviction on a drug charge—where there’s physical evidence that the defendant had drugs—than on a violent charge, where proving what happened is more complicated. And police target drug enforcement in high-violence neighborhoods, which are overwhelmingly black and Latino.


Dara Lind is a writer for


Groove of the Day

Listen to Scott Stapp performing “Slow Suicide”