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women’s issues


A Breast Cancer Survivor “Pampers” Other Women….Veterans of the Gang World Tell Their Stories….and More on Tanaka Supporters’ Lawsuit

October 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR ORGANIZES “DAY OF PAMPERING” FOR OTHER WOMEN STRUGGLING WITH THE DISEASE


Isabel Guillen was 32-years-old and was raising her four kids
on her own when, on February 7, 2010, she was diagnosed with stage 3-B breast cancer, and nobody seemed to be able to tell her what her chances were of surviving.

In the year before her diagnosis, Isabel gone to the doctor multiple times, worried about a lump in her breast. Yet, incredibly, the docs she saw kept telling her the lump was nothing to worry about. A cyst. Nobody bothered with a needle biopsy. Even when the thing grew from 1 centimeter to 9 centimeters.

It was only when an alarmed nurse cornered a doctor who was examining Isabel, and pestered the man into finally doing a biopsy, that the cancer was discovered. By then, Isabel was told there was no choice but to do unilateral mastectomy. The surgery was followed by 7 months of chemo and radiation.”

Isabel got so sick with the chemo that she had to ask to be laid off by both of her jobs, working for LAUSD, and also for Homeboy Industries. Since she was also too sick to go on job interviews, she was denied unemployment.

So while Isabel worried about what might become of her kids if she died, she also had to worry about how in the world she would pay her bills.

“But I was lucky,” she told me. “I had a lot of friends and family around me who were really supportive. My friends even put on a fundraising benefit for me, which helped me through the worst months. But when I went for my treatments, I saw a lot of women who were as sick as I was, and were from the same kind of neighborhoods I grew up in, but they had no support. They had nobody.”

(Isabel grew up in what were then the Pico-Aliso housing projects of Boyle Heights, a community that, at the time, was one of the poorest and most violence-haunted in Southern California. I first met her in Pico-Aliso when she was 15-years-old, and I was reporting on the area’s gangs.)

Now, three-and-a-half years after her surgery, Isabel is thus far cancer free. She is back working at Homeboy, where she just finished doing field interviews for a substance abuse/mental health project grant project.

But she hasn’t forgotten the needs of the women she met during the months of her doctor visits and treatment.

So this Sunday, Isabel is putting on the 3rd of what she calls “Chavalyta’s Pamper Me Day.” (Chavela and Chavalyta are Spanish variants on the name Isabel.)

This means that 20 women (and a few men) who are struggling with (or recovering from) cancer will receive a day of “pampering.” They’ll get massages, facials, hair-styling, hair and beauty makeovers, and other forms of happy indulgences—plus a gift basket stuffed with goodies to take home.

“We’ve found it really lifts the women’s spirits, and raises their self-esteem,” Isabel told me. “Just feeling good about yourself for a little while can make a big difference.”

All this pampering will take place Sunday, Oct. 27, from 11 am to 4 pm, Aliso-Pico Recreation Center at the corner of 4th and Gless Streets in Boyle Heights.

So for anyone desiring to donate gift items for Sunday’s pampering project, Isabel may be reached at Homeboy Industries, 323-526-1254.


HOMIE STORYTELLING NIGHT: FORMER GANG-INVOLVED MEN AND WOMEN TELL THEIR STORIES

Also on this coming Sunday, Oct. 27, at 7 pm, a special storytelling night with homeboys and homegirls who have transformed their lives.

Father Greg Boyle will be there (and so will WLA.) All proceeds from the night benefit Homeboy Industries.

Sun, October 27, 7:00 pm at The Echoplex
1154 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026. All tickets: $20.00


MORE ON THE SUPPORTERS OF FORMER LASD UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA & THEIR RETALIATION LAWSUITS

Several news outlets have followed up on our story earlier this month about the various members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who are newly suing the department. They claim that Sheriff Lee Baca is retaliating against them because they have openly declared their support for former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is challenging Baca for the office of sheriff.

Here are some clips from the LA Times story by Seema Mehta.

….Capt. Louis Duran, has filed a complaint against Baca with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a precursor to a possible lawsuit. Of the nine captains who have publicly backed former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka in his bid to replace Baca, four were transferred to other jobs earlier this month, according to documents obtained by the Times.

Attorney Brad Gage, who represents Duran and other members of the department claiming to be victims of retaliation, said he expected to sue the Sheriff’s Department next month.

[SNIP]

A representative of Baca said any transfers were driven by the department’s needs and the employees’ performance.

“There is absolutely no retaliation. This is politics at its lowest form, and the facts will bear that out,” said spokesman Steve Whitmore.

[SNIP]

Duran said in a phone interview that he was a long-time supporter of Baca’s who decided to back Tanaka because of his work righting the budgets of both Gardena, where Duran grew up, and the Sheriff’s Department.

The 33-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department said his career has suffered since summer, when he publicly backed Tanaka. He said he first was removed from his post of five years, as a captain of the Aero Bureau, and assigned to the vehicle theft program, which he said resulted in a “considerable” loss of salary. Earlier this month, he said he was transferred again, to the office of the assistant sheriff, where he has no assignment, no staff, no office, no desk and no chair.

“There is no job for me there. There’s nothing. Lately I’ve been so disheartened, I’ve been burning time, I just haven’t been going in,” he said. “It’s basically purgatory.”

We spoke to Attorney Brad Gage who told us he is representing Louis Duran and several other veterans of LASD’s Aero Bureau (Serg. Casey Dowling and Lt. Robert Wheat), along with Commander David Waters, and others.

According to Gage, still more Tanaka supporters, such as Captains Kevin Hebert and Robert Tubbs, are filing lawsuits with another local attorney, Arnold Casillas.

Posted in American voices, Gangs, health care, Homeboy Industries, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, women's issues | 65 Comments »

Central CA School Replaces Zero-Tolerance With Restorative Justice…VA Group Aids Homeless Female Vets…Baca & Yor Health…and More

October 1st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LE GRAND HIGH SCHOOL’S “RESTORATIVE JUSTICE LEAGUE” ANNIHILATES ZERO-TOLERANCE PRACTICES

In her blog, ACEs Too High, journalist/child advocate, Jane Stevens brings to our attention a little high school in Le Grand (a rural town in Central California) that has eradicated zero-tolerance school discipline and replaced it with restorative justice practices to great success. The program, funded by the California Endowment, began as a group of twelve seniors, self-titled the “Restorative Justice League” acting as peer-mediators. Now, in it’s third year, the program has expanded and become a meaningful example for other California schools. Last year, suspensions were down 70% from two years prior, and expulsions dropped from six to just one.

Here are some clips from Stevens’ story:

At Le Grand High School, all 487 students are given a tablet computer for the year. They’re free to use cell phones (appropriately). One-third of the students participate in after-school programs, including martial arts and cooking. Where there used to be regular gang brawls, only two fights have occurred over the last two years. Half of last year’s graduates attend college.

The school, which also draws students from the nearby communities of Planada and Plainsburg, isn’t wealthy. In fact, the high school is 100% “free and reduced” — education-speak for the fact that students come from farm families (workers and owners) that live just above, at, or below poverty level. But [Principal Javier] Martinez is a grant-writing machine. Over the last five years, he’s brought nearly $2 million to the school to support technology and programs for the students and their parents, including a restorative justice program.

At the core of this restorative justice program is the Restorative Justice League. Starting off as a dozen students flailing uncomfortably with their mission, they evolved into a tight-knit band that jumped in to help resolve a major school crisis. In doing so, they became the tipping point in the school’s decision to jettison its zero tolerance policy, and replace it with a supportive approach to school discipline.

[SNIP]

They trained to become peer mediators by role-playing made-up conflicts, and by discussing the confrontations they saw at school and developing strategies to intervene appropriately. Then Griggs gave them assignments, such as talking with a student they had never spoken to. Each took a different approach. For example, Briana Biagi talked with a fellow student at a college entrance exam, while Yuhuen Ceja texted to as many of the students as she could: “Who wants to be my friend?” “That got a lot of people talking to me,” she said.

[SNIP]

By June, the Restorative Justice League students have trained 50 juniors, sophomores and freshman to be mentors for the 2013-2014 school year’s incoming freshmen. They hosted a restorative justice conference for students from surrounding school districts. And, they have seven interventions under their belts.

Their first intervention was for a fellow senior, a gang member who got into a fight and broke his hand. At an intervention panel, the Restorative Justice League members listen to students who have committed an offense that would normally result in suspension or expulsion, offer ideas for restitution, and, if the students agree, follow up to make sure they carry through. In the case of this gang member, they asked him to write a formal apology, to clean up after all school dances, and to become involved in something positive after school. The process uncorked his creativity and changed his life. He founded the Modeling Club – a fashion club that attracted 20 student members who learned how to do photography and magazine shoots, and put on modeling events for the school. He’s now attending Merced College.

(The above demonstration video was made by the student members of the Restorative Justice League for their fellow students.)


VETERAN’S GROUP PROVIDES MUCH-NEEDED HELP TO LA’S HOMELESS VET WOMEN

A Los Angeles VA outreach team led by chief of community care, Michelle Wilde, has prioritized finding and aiding LA’s homeless female veterans. The team combs through areas with dense homeless populations and reaches out to women whom, Wilde says, often don’t seek help because they don’t fit the “stereotype of a man coming back from war.” Through HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH), women are provided housing vouchers and helped to find homes, support, and treatment when needed.

LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Many women, when we initially outreach to them, may not even identify themselves as veterans,” said Michelle Wilde, chief of community care at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

“They still think of that stereotype of a man coming back from war,” Wilde added.

Wilde’s department was the first in the nation to organize an outreach team specifically to find and help homeless women veterans, whether they served tours overseas or stayed stateside, in times of war or in peace.

The team formed right on time, especially in Los Angeles County, when the number of homeless women veterans rose 51 percent from 2009 to 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. That meant there were nearly 1,000 homeless women veterans living in cars, converted garages, and elsewhere across the region.

[SNIP]

With some federal funds from the Obama administration’s “Opening Doors” initiative, the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program has given projects like Wilde’s a boost in finding housing and assistance to homeless veterans.

[SNIP]

Like men, women veterans also may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, some because of sexual assault. They may return home and find that family support has vanished. Or they may have returned to jobs that no exist.

But the outreach team’s efforts have helped. Of the 3,000 homeless veterans placed in homes, 10 percent were women. And the number of homeless veterans in Los Angeles County also has shown an overall drop, from 8,131 in 2011 to 6,248 this year according to the latest figures. Among women, the stats have fallen from 909 in 2011, to 352 this year.


BEFORE ABC7 AIRS BACA PITCHMAN STORY, HIS ENDORSEMENT VIDEOS MAGICALLY VANISH

ABC7 aired a segment Monday night on Sheriff Lee Baca’s involvement as a pitchman for the company Yor Health. (Which we previewed here.)

Here’s a clip from the segment:

“Hi, I’m Lee Baca and I’m the Sheriff of Los Angeles County and I’m going to live to be 100 years old and beyond,” Baca says in a video. “You still need some nutritional support.”

Does this look like a commercial to you? The pitchman might make you do a double-take.

“The advice I give my friends who are trying to take full control of their body is to take the YOR Health products, sustain their daily nutritional needs and operate on less than 2,500 calories a day,” Baca says in the video.

“To me, this is 100 percent unethical,” says Dr. Maki Haberfeld of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

ABC7 noted that Baca has been a special guest speaker at YOR Health’s annual conferences every year since 2010, and appears in a YOR Health magazine.

Baca also stated at a 2010 Yor Health conference, “We are selling these products in the sheriff’s department emporium for the deputies,” Baca said at a 2010 conference.

So what, if anything, did the sheriff get in return?

ABC7 found that Yor Health gave Sheriff Baca a $1000 campaign donation in 2010, and a $527 reimbursement for travel expenses.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, had this to say about whether the endorsement violates LA County’s conflict of interest laws:

“I’m not convinced that he’s kicked over that threshold, but when we look at the purpose of the conflict of interest statutes and the spirit of the law, then I think it’s perfectly fair to ask questions.”

ABC7 shared some complaints that had been made to the FTC:

“Yor Health is really a pyramid scheme.”

“It’s focused more on recruiting others than selling the actual product.”

“It brainwashes and manipulates people.”

…and “uses cult-like techniques to get people to join their company.”

The FTC wouldn’t disclose to ABC what was being done about the allegations, if anything.

When ABC7 did the math, they found that over a third of representatives made no money, and half of all representatives lose money.

ABC7 pointed out that today, after three years, the Yor Health videos featuring Sheriff Baca were made private and the sheriff’s photo was removed from the company’s website.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said that Sheriff Baca would now be separating himself from Yor Health, and that Baca was under the impression that the videos he shot were only for use within the company.

(CBS2 followed ABC7′s lead and also did a story on Baca’s Yor Health connection, which you can find here.)

Posted in Homelessness, Restorative Justice, Sheriff Lee Baca, Veterans, women's issues, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 16 Comments »

LASD Deputy Involved in 7th Shooting… Seeking Answers on Those CA Prison Sterilizations…Stop & Frisk Leads Young Adults to Distrust Police, Says Study

September 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


FATAL SHOOTING OCCURS AFTER PAUL TANAKA REPORTEDLY PUT DEPUTY WITH SIX PREVIOUS SHOOTINGS BACK ON PATROL DUTY

Michael Gennaco of the Office of Independent Review (OIR) wrote the LA County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday regarding his concern over a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy who had just been involved in his seventh shooting, this time a fatal one.

Reportedly, part of Gennaco’s concern was that the deputy, whose name is Anthony Forlano, was returned to field duty earlier this year after having been removed from active patrol twice before, specifically after shootings number five and six, at least one of which had been flagged as being tactically problematic. Moreover, three of men he shot turned out to be unarmed.

According to Gennaco, Forlano was returned to duty by former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. A few months later, the deputy and his partner shot a seventh suspect, this time fatally.

Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi have more on the matter in a well reported story in Friday’s LA Times. Here are some clips:

In a department where many officers spend their entire careers without firing their weapons, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Forlano is an outlier.

Following his sixth shooting, Forlano was pulled from patrol duty and assigned to a desk job. He was also disciplined for “tactical deficiencies” in that shooting. But recently, he was allowed to return to the streets.

After a few months back on patrol, he got into his seventh shooting last week when he and a colleague fatally shot a suspect in East Los Angeles.

[SNIP]

Seven shootings in the Sheriff’s Department is extraordinary,” Gennaco said in an interview, “compared to the number of patrol deputies and how many they get involved in, which is usually zero or one.”

A department captain identified the deputy as Forlano, an 18-year department veteran.

Capt. Robert J. Tubbs, who supervises the Community Oriented Policing Services bureau, said Forlano had done a fantastic job doing administrative work for the last two years. Tubbs said the deputy had been eager to return to the streets to “do the thing he loves to do, and that’s police work.”

As the Times reports, Forlano worked for Community Oriented Policing Services—or COPS—a program funded with federal dollars which is overseen by Capt. Robert Tubbs.

Tubbs, it is interesting to note, is one of the active department members who has endorsed Tanaka in his candidacy for sheriff against Lee Baca, and was one of those supporters seen standing behind the former undersheriff when Tanaka announced his intention to run.

Why Mr. Tanaka would be involved in returning a benched officer to active duty is unclear, especially since he was pushed into retirement in March 6 of this year, and last fall the former undersheriff was supposedly removed by Sheriff Baca from any responsibility for departmental oversight—either in custody or patrol—except for that of the LASD budget.

The shooting issue is the second controversial incident to spring out of COPS in the past few weeks:

Veteran department member, John Augustus Rose II, who was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of having sex with a 14-year=old girl, also worked at COPS under Capt. Tubbs.


SEEKING ANSWERS ON THE CDCR’S QUESTIONABLE STERILIZATIONS: WHO WAS STERILIZED IN CALIFORNIA’S STATE PRISONS AND WHY?

This summer Corey Johnson from the Center for Investigative Reporting brought us the startling news that, during a four year period, from 2006, to 2010, around 150 women inmates had been sterilized in California prisons, against state policy. Many of the sterilizations reportedly took place under coercive circumstances, such as when a woman was prepped and anesthetized just before undergoing a C-section.

Paulene Bartolone reports for KUOW on new developments in the story that was originally uncovered by Johnson. Here’s a clip:

Sitting in her San Francisco living room, Kimberly Jeffrey is combing her son Noel’s hair. He groans, but she meets his energy with calm — and adoration.

Noel’s birth was not an easy time. While Jeffrey was pregnant, she served a six-month sentence for petty theft at a state prison. When it came time to deliver Noel through a caesarean-section, Jeffrey was also confronted with the prospect of sterilization.

“As I was laying on the operating table, moments before I went into surgery, [medical staff] had made a statement,” Jeffrey recalls. “I’m not even quite sure if he was actually talking to me or if he was just making a general statement to all the medical staff — that, ‘OK, we’re going to do this tubal ligation.’ And I said, ‘Hey, I don’t want any procedures done outside of the C-section.’ ”

Jeffrey refused the tubal ligation, but a recent investigation from the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that scores of female inmates underwent the procedure, which is supposed to be prohibited for California prisoners, between 2006 and 2010….


NEW STUDY REPORTS THAT STOP & FRISK POLICIES MAKE YOUNG PEOPLE LESS LIKELY TO REPORT MORE SERIOUS CRIMES

The NY Daily News reports on a new Vera Institute study that indicates New York PD’s stop-and-frisk policies erode trust in police to the point that a significant number of young adults “won’t go to officers to report violent crimes.

The VERA study surveyed 500 young men and women from ‘highly patrolled neighborhoods,’ most of whom had themselves been stopped, most multiple times.

Here’s a clip from the Daily News story:

A landmark study has found that stop-and-frisk policing leads to so much mistrust of cops, many young adults won’t go to cops to report violent crimes — even when they are the ones victimized.
The study, by the Vera Institute of Justice, found a stunning correlation between those who have been stopped and frisked, and an unwillingness to cooperate with the police.
For every additional time someone was stopped, that person was 8% less likely to report a violent crime, the researchers found.

“Our main finding is pretty plain and simple: Stop-and-frisk is compromising the trust needed for public safety,” lead researcher Jennifer Fratello said.

The study titled Coming of Age with Stop and Frisk: Experiences,
Self-Perceptions, and Public Safety Implication
s was released
on Thursday and may be found here.

Here are excerpts from the study’s fact sheet:

For many young people, stops are a familiar and frequent experience and also perceived to be unjustified and unfair.
• 44 percent of young people surveyed indicated they had been stopped repeatedly—9 times or more.
• Less than a third—29 percent—reported ever being informed of the reason for a stop.

Frisks, searches, threats, and use of force are common.
• 71 percent of young people surveyed reported being frisked at least once, and 64 percent said they had been searched.
• 45 percent reported encountering an officer who threatened them, and 46 percent said they had experienced physical force at the hands of an officer.
• One out of four said they were involved in a stop in which the officer displayed his or her weapon.

Trust in law enforcement and willingness to cooperate with police is alarmingly low.
• 88 percent of young people surveyed believe that residents of their neighborhood do not trust the police.
• Only four in 10 respondents said they would be comfortable seeking help from police if in trouble.
• Only one in four respondents would report someone whom they believe had committed a crime.

Half of all young people surveyed had been the victim of a crime, including 37 percent who had been the victim of a violent crime

Photo by Jaime Lopez, LASDnews.net

Posted in CDCR, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca, women's issues | 46 Comments »

Prisoner Hunger Strike Begins, CA Prisons Sterilized Women without State Approval…and More

July 9th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

THE CA PRISONER HUNGER STRIKE COMMENCES

Monday was the first day of a 30,000 CA prisoner hunger strike against the conditions of Secure Housing Units (SHUs) and the policies that determine what inmates get put into solitary confinement and how long they remain there—among other things.

LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.

The corrections department will not acknowledge a hunger strike until inmates have missed nine consecutive meals. Even so, Thornton said, Monday’s numbers are far larger than those California saw two years earlier during a series of hunger strikes that drew international attention.

KPCC’s Julie Small also has coverage of the strike.

Two LA demonstrations were held today in support of the hunger strikers and their “five core demands,” with Homies Unidos and other non-profits among the participants.

(We’ll keep you updated as we know more.)


ALMOST 150 WOMEN STERILIZED IN CA PRISONS WITHOUT NECESSARY STATE APPROVAL

Doctors working for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) performed 148 tubal ligations (or “tube tying”) on female inmates in violation of state law between 2006 and 2010, the Center for Investigative Reporting found.

Here’s a clip from this story, which is starting to get a lot of coverage:

At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years – and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews.

From 1997 to 2010, the state paid doctors $147,460 to perform the procedure, according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners.

The women were signed up for the surgery while they were pregnant and housed at either the California Institution for Women in Corona or Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, which is now a men’s prison.

Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.

[SNIP]

Federal and state laws ban inmate sterilizations if federal funds are used, reflecting concerns that prisoners might feel pressured to comply. California used state funds instead, but since 1994, the procedure has required approval from top medical officials in Sacramento on a case-by-case basis.

Yet no tubal ligation requests have come before the health care committee responsible for approving such restricted surgeries, said Dr. Ricki Barnett, who tracks medical services and costs for the California Prison Health Care Receivership Corp. Barnett, 65, has led the Health Care Review Committee since joining the prison receiver’s office in 2008.

“When we heard about the tubal ligations, it made us all feel slightly queasy,” Barnett said. “It wasn’t so much that people were conspiratorial or coercive or sloppy. It concerns me that people never took a step back to project what they would feel if they were in the inmate’s shoes and what the inmate’s future might hold should they do this.”


COLORADO PRISONS CHIEF’S DEATH LINKED TO SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

The Colorado Independent’s Susan Greene superbly depicts the story of Tom Clements, the director of the Colorado Corrections Dept. who, in his brief two-year tenure, cut solitary confinement numbers nearly in half. Clements was widely known for advocating for effective reentry programs, rather than releasing prisoners directly onto the streets from solitary confinement (or “ad-seg”).

Tragically, in March of 2013, Clements was shot in his home by a man who, released directly from ad-seg two months earlier, demonstrated exactly what the prisons chief was working so hard to prevent.

Greene’s story is lengthy, but definitely worth reading in its entirety. Here’s a large clip from the opening:

To have known Tom Clements during his first year in Colorado meant hearing a statistic, sometimes over and over again, that haunted him as director of the state’s Corrections Department.

He mentioned it the day we met, shortly after shaking my hand.

“Did you know that 47 percent of offenders in ad-seg are walking directly out onto the streets?” he said.

Ad-seg, short for administrative segregation, the department’s term for solitary confinement, originally was meant to house the most violent prisoners, the so-called worst of the worst, to separate them from general population. In practice, it also has been used for gang leaders, convicts with gang affiliations and those who, for various reasons, aren’t considered compliant inmates.

Ad-seg involves locking prisoners down 23 hours a day alone in a cement cell about the size of two queen-sized mattresses. It means limiting human interactions to the small slot through which guards pass food, mail and toilet paper. It means shackling them for the short walk to and from an indoor exercise cage where their 24th hour is spent, also alone, without sunlight or fresh air.

In Colorado, ad-seg has meant spending months, years and sometimes decades without normal social contact. For many prisoners, it means marinating in numbing boredom, loneliness and the untreated mental illnesses that either landed them in solitary or that developed as a result of isolation.

“Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,” Clements told me in 2011. “Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.”

In slightly more than two years on the job, Clements cut the use of ad-seg by more than 40 percent, and the prison system saw no uptick in prison violence during that time. Clements closed Colorado State Penitentiary II, the state’s brand new supermax prison in Cañon City designed exclusively for solitary confinement. And by reintegrating isolated prisoners into social environments before setting them free, he managed to lower the 47 percent statistic that preoccupied him to 23 percent. His goal was to drive that percentage down to zero.

He didn’t get the chance.

On March 19 of this year, a man dressed in a pizza delivery uniform rang the doorbell at his home in Monument, fatally shot him and fled. Rumors spread instantly fueled by mainstream-media reports, that the murder was a hit orchestrated by a white supremacist prison gang, or by a prisoner with ties to the Saudi Arabian government, or both.

But those were just conspiracy theories.

The truth about Clements’ murder is rooted in the statistical reality that kept him up at night – that it’s a public safety risk to let any percentage of prisoners walk directly out of solitary confinement without helping them adjust to being around people. As it turns out, his fears were justified. Evan Ebel, the Colorado Department of Corrections parolee who killed Clements, had walked directly out of solitary into society and struggled with the transition for less than two months before he killed Nathan Leon, a pizza deliverer in Denver, gunned down Clements and then led police on a high-speed chase in Texas that ended in a shootout and his death.

“Evan Ebel was exactly what Tom warned us about every single day,” said Roxane White, chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“Here you had two people, one who suffered significantly from solitary confinement and the other who was trying to do something about it,” added Paul Herman, Clements’ longtime friend and colleague. “If what happened to Tom isn’t the ultimate irony, I don’t know what is.”



Photo Credit: Bill Hackwell

Posted in CDCR, solitary, women's issues | 1 Comment »

WINTER WOMEN: Finding “Non-Traditional” Employment for LA County’s Women in Need of Jobs

March 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



Most every weekday in a parking lot in Long Beach, clusters of LA women,
ranging in ages from 18 to over 50, are learning to become skilled at the use of power tools, training to be certified in clean up of hazardous materials (HAZWOPER), grasping the skills necessary for certification to work in confined spaces. Some also become proficient in operating a fork lift.

These are “WINTER women.” The classes and apprenticeships they are taking part in are provided by WINTER Inc., which stands for Women In Non Traditional Employment Roles. More specifically, Winter is a non-profit economic development agency that was started in 1996 by a group of tradeswomen who wanted help economically disadvantaged women with employment. Now Winter trains and certifies 40 or 50 women a year in construction and related professional fields

Then Winter helps the women find jobs in those fields.

Some of the Winter Women are on probation or parole. Many have been referred by judges. Others have just heard about the program and need help getting a job that pays decently.

Like construction.

“It’s hard work so we also help them condition themselves,” said Mary Mercado, one of Winter’s program directors. Not everybody makes it through the program, she said. But those who do make it are ready to take on a new career in an environment that used to be reserved for men.


“I’LL BE AN OSHA INSPECTOR!”

I learned about Winter Women from my friend Frances Aguilar, a former gang member, now married and the mother of seven kids—eight with her step daughter. (You can read more about Frances here and here.)

Frances is a bright, talented, hard-working woman who had a horror-show upbringing, followed by a string of scarringly unwise choices. Yet, while Frances has long-ago turned her life around, finding reasonably paying work in this economy, with her background, is anything but easy. She was thrilled, therefore, to hear about Winter Women.

“It’s great! For one thing, I’m getting a certificate to be an OSHA inspector!” she told me, her excitement spilling through the phone line.


LA COUNTY’S WOMEN ARE OUT OF WORK

Right now a lot of LA women, like Frances, urgently need the kind of leg up to employment that Winter Women provides.

In December 2012, in Los Angeles, the unemployment rate for women 20 years and older jumped from 7 percent to 7.3% in a single month, while men’s numbers remained the same at 7.2.

For the county’s harder to employ women—women without special training or who have been out of work for a while, or worse, those who have a felony conviction on their records, as many of the Winter Women do—then matters become even bleaker.

In addition, many of the economically distressed women who are out of work, are single parents heading households, thus people who need to at least aspire to jobs that pay well enough to support their kids.

Matters are not helped by the fact that the gender wage gap for all women nationally, widened in 2012, rather than lessening.


SOLUTION: ENTER A TRADITIONALLY MALE FIELD

Of course, for both men and women California’s jobs situation is complicated. With 9.9 percent unemployed statewide, California is now depressingly tied with Rhode Island for the nation’s worst unemployment rate according to figures released on Monday.

But along with this bad news, there is also the very good news that, despite its unemployment numbers, the state is actually a leader in job growth. Naturally, these new jobs are being created at a faster clip are in some professions than others.

The construction industry is one of those that is seeing the most growth, with more than 7,000 construction jobs added in California from December to January.

Unfortunately, as Mercado said, construction is not a profession that has traditionally employed a lot of women.

Or as Winter’s website puts it: “Women are dramatically underrepresented in areas where employment opportunities are plentiful and wages are livable.”

Winter Women is doing its best to change all that—one training class at a time


ROSIE THE RIVETER

In addition to training women, Winter also trains “at risk” girls from ages 16 to 24, helping them to graduate from high school or get their GEDs while they are being instructed and mentored in professional skills, similar to those of the women are attaining, in Winter’s Rosie the Riveter Youth Program-–named for the cultural icon who represented the American women who worked in factories during World War II.


PS: IF YOU WANT TO HELP….

As is usually the case with non-profits like Winter, they are always looking for donations and funding. (If you’re interested go here.)

Also, on Thursday the 21st of March, Winter is having its yearly gala fundraiser at the Maya Hotel in Long Beach, from 6:00pm-8:30pm. Tickets are $125 per person. And everyone—from trainees to supporters and fans—is asked to wear 1940′s dressy attire—in other words, fabulous garb from of the Rosie the Riveter era.

Should you wish to attend, call: 213-749-3970

(Last time I talked to Frances, she was looking for the ideal 1940′s floor-length gown for Thursday night. I have no doubt about the fact that she found it.)

Posted in Education, Employment, gender, women's issues, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

40 Years of Roe…..Coroner Says Man Killed by Deputies Shot in Back….Controversy Over Restitution for Victims of Child Porn…..3 Strikers Getting Out Face Challenges

January 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


40 YEARS OF ROE V. WADE MARKED WITH RALLIES AND COUNTER RALLIES IN SF AND ELSEWHERE

THere were rallies marking the 40′s anniversary of Roe v. Wade all over the county this past weekend. Matthai Kuruvila from the San Francisco Chron has an account of the rally and counter rally in San Francisco. Here’s a clip:

The account of the events in San Francicso. Abortion activists on each side of the issue converged on San Francisco Saturday, creating parallel universes testifying to what 40 years of reproductive rights have wrought.

At Justin Herman Plaza, pro-choice activists danced and spoke about liberating women from the horror of back alley abortions conducted by coat hanger-wielding quacks.

Before legal abortions, what might happen to you “was a terror in the back of your mind,” said Chris Malfatti, 64, of San Francisco, who knew someone who lost her fertility to an illegal abortion.

Katheryn Smith of Politico covered the events in DC.


RELEASE OF CORONER’S REPORT FUELS CONTROVERSY OVER CULVER CITY MAN SHOT MULTIPLE TIMES BY DEPUTIES

The newly released autopsy report on the shooting death by sheriff’s deputies of Jose De La Trinidad shows that De La Trinidad was shot 7 times, all from the rear, five of the shots striking the Culver City father in the back.

The LA Times Wesley Lowery has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

A Culver City man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies after a pursuit in November was struck by bullets five times in the back and once each in the right hip and right forearm, also from behind, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Times.

Jose de la Trinidad, a 36-year-old father of two, was killed Nov. 10 by deputies who believed he was reaching for a weapon after a pursuit. But a witness to the shooting said De la Trinidad, who was unarmed, was complying with deputies and had his hands above his head when he was shot.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting.

De la Trinidad was shot five times in the upper and lower back, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s report dated Nov. 13. The report describes four of those wounds as fatal. He was also shot in the right forearm and right hip, with both shots entering from behind, the report found.

“Here’s a man who complied, did what he was supposed to, and was gunned down by trigger-happy deputies,” said Arnoldo Casillas, the family’s attorney, who provided a copy of the autopsy report to The Times. He said he planned to sue the Sheriff’s Department…


THE PRICE OF A STOLEN CHILDHOOD

In a deeply affecting story for this week’s New York Times Magazine Emily Bazelon writes about two young women with the first names of Nicole and Amy who, as children, were sexually abused, with their rapes recorded on video and distributed to thousands of men. In the cases of Nicole and Amy, however,the court has ruled that they can both obtain monetary restitution from those who downloaded the videos of them to mitigate the harm that was done to them. Bazelon’s article explores, among other things, if financial restitution actually helps victims of child pornography.

Here’s a clip:

The detective spread out the photographs on the kitchen table, in front of Nicole, on a December morning in 2006. She was 17, but in the pictures, she saw the face of her 10-year-old self, a half-grown girl wearing make-up. The bodies in the images were broken up by pixelation, but Nicole could see the outline of her father, forcing himself on her. Her mother, sitting next to her, burst into sobs.

The detective spoke gently, but he had brutal news: the pictures had been downloaded onto thousands of computers via file-sharing services around the world. They were among the most widely circulated child pornography on the Internet. Also online were video clips, similarly notorious, in which Nicole spoke words her father had scripted for her, sometimes at the behest of other men. For years, investigators in the United States, Canada and Europe had been trying to identify the girl in the images.

Nicole’s parents split up when she was a toddler, and she grew up living with her mother and stepfather and visiting her father, a former policeman, every other weekend at his apartment in a suburban town in the Pacific Northwest. He started showing her child pornography when she was about 9, telling her that it was normal for fathers and daughters to “play games” like in the pictures. Soon after, he started forcing her to perform oral sex and raping her, dressing her in tight clothes and sometimes binding her with ropes. When she turned 12, she told him to stop, but he used threats and intimidation to continue the abuse for about a year. He said that if she told anyone what he’d done, everyone would hate her for letting him. He said that her mother would no longer love her.

Nicole (who asked me to use her middle name to protect her privacy) knew her father had a tripod set up in his bedroom. She asked if he’d ever shown the pictures to anyone. He said no, and she believed him. “It was all so hidden,” she told me. “And he knew how to lie. He taught me to do it. He said: ‘You look them straight in the eye. You make your shoulders square. You breathe normally.’ ”

When she was 16, Nicole told her mother, in a burst of tears, what had been going on at her father’s house. Her father was arrested for child rape. The police asked Nicole whether he took pictures. She said yes, but that she didn’t think he showed them to anyone…..

The idea of the kind of restitution Bazelon’s story describes is not without controversy. It seems that, as terrible as such crimes are, creating tough laws that don’t also capture in their net the wrong people along with the predators, can be challenging, as Jennifer Bleyer of Slate points out.


THREE STRIKERS NEWLY RELEASED FACE A MULTITUDE OF CHALLENGES, OFTEN WITH NO HELP

Tracey Kaplan at the Contra Costa News has the story. Here’s a clip:

In an unforeseen consequence of easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, many inmates who have won early release are hitting the streets with up to only $200 in prison “gate money” and the clothes on their backs.

These former lifers are not eligible for parole and thus will not get the guidance and services they need to help them succeed on the outside, such as access to employment opportunities, vocational training and drug rehabilitation.

The lack of oversight and assistance for this first wave of “strikers” alarms both proponents and opponents of the revised Three Strikes Law — as well as the inmates themselves.

“I feel like the Terminator, showing up in a different time zone completely naked, with nothing,” said Greg Wilks, 48, a San Jose man who is poised to be released after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco, where he secretly lived in a vacant office while working as a temp in shipping and receiving.

[SNIP]

“We want these people to succeed,” said Michael Romano, director of Stanford’s Three Strikes Project. “We don’t want them committing crimes and creating more victims.”

Proponents say the main reason they didn’t foresee the situation is that the rules regarding parole changed significantly — after officials had already approved the ballot language for Proposition 36.

Under California’s realignment of its criminal justice system, the role of supervising most nonviolent offenders is shifting in stages from the state to county probation officers. But neither the realignment statute nor the Three Strikes Law made provisions for monitoring released strikers.

Romano said the issue is now being litigated in Los Angeles County, where a prosecutor claims strikers should be supervised by probation officers. But even if they are, he said, many counties lack the resources to help the mostly male population of former lifers make a successful transition….



Photo of San Francisco rally for 40 years of Roe v. Wade by Christine Duong

Posted in Child sexual abuse, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Human rights, LASD, Life in general, Prosecutors, Reentry, Sentencing, women's issues | 1 Comment »

DOJ Opposes CA Bar Admission for Undocumented Law Graduate, The Difference in Coverage of 2 American Tragedies….and Title IX in London

August 14th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


There is a pile of Amicus Briefs filed in support of admission to the California state bar
for Sergio Garcia, a 35-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant who was brought to the US when he was 17 months old, worked his way through law school, and passed the bar on his first try. Garcia’s application for a green card, sponsored by his father, has been pending for 18 years.

According to the LA Times’ Maura Dolan there are only two groups or people who have filed briefs in opposition to Garcia’s admission to the bar. One is a former state bar prosecutor. The other is the U.S. Government.

Dolan has the rest of the story. Here are some clips:

An illegal Mexican immigrant who wants to be licensed to practice law in California has received support from the state’s top law enforcement officer, the State Bar of California, civil rights groups, county bar associations and law professors — but not from the Obama administration.

In a brief to the California Supreme Court, theU.S. Department of Justice said federal law prohibits giving a public benefit, such as a bar license, to an “unlawfully present alien.”

The federal law was “plainly designed to preclude undocumented aliens from receiving commercial and professional licenses issued by states and the federal government,” a lawyer for the Justice Department wrote in a brief requested by the state high court.

The Justice Department’s position surprised and dismayed some supporters of Sergio C. Garcia, 35, the immigrant who has passed the bar examination but cannot be licensed unless the state’s highest court approves.

[BIG SNIP]

Retired California Supreme Court Justice Carlos R. Moreno, who now practices law in Los Angeles with Irell & Manella, said he had expected the Obama administration to take a more neutral position.

“It does seem contrary to recent efforts by the Obama administration to make immigrants like Garcia a low (enforcement) priority,” said Moreno, who wrote a brief in favor of Garcia on behalf of bar associations.

[WLA NOTE: As it happens, Justice Moreno is also on the Jails Commission.]

Moreno said the federal government’s position, if accepted by the state’s top court, could affect licensing for undocumented immigrants for a wide array of jobs, from cosmetology to building contracting. “If you take the broad interpretation they are taking, it could have wide ramifications for cities and counties and hundreds of professions that require some kind of license,” Moreno said.

Jerome Fishkin, Garcia’s lawyer, called the U.S. position “disappointing but not fatal” and described it as based on a “pretty thin” legal analysis.

As mentioned above, Garcia’s father, whom Dolan reports is now a U.S. citizen, sponsored his son for a green card 18 years ago when Garcia was 17.

That application is still pending.


MIDDLE CLASS SCHOLARSHIP ACT, LEGISLATION THAT WOULD GIVE CA COLLEGE STUDENTS A BREAK IN TUITION, PASSES THROUGH STATE ASSEMBLY

Late on Monday, the state legislature passed the so-called Middle Class Scholarship act. The San Francisco Chron has the story. Legislature watchers say that state senate may not be as easy to bring across the line.

Here’s a clip:


WHY HAVE WE TREATED THE SHOOTING RAMPAGE AT THE SIKH TEMPLE IN OAK CREEK, WISCONSIN, SO DIFFERENTLY THAN THE WAY WE TREATED THE SHOOTING RAMPAGE IN AURORA, COLORADO?

The New Yorker’s Naunihal Singh writes about the two recent American shooting tragedies, the difference in how they have been covered by the media and the politicians—and why it is important that we care.

Here’s how it opens:

The media has treated the shootings in Oak Creek very differently from those that happened just two weeks earlier in Aurora. Only one network sent an anchor to report live from Oak Creek, and none of the networks gave the murders in Wisconsin the kind of extensive coverage that the Colorado shootings received. The print media also quickly lost interest, with the story slipping from the front page of the New York Times after Tuesday. If you get all your news from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” you would have had no idea that anything had even happened on August 5th at all.

The tragic events in the Milwaukee suburb were also treated differently by political élites, many fewer of whom issued statements on the matter. While both Presidential candidates at least made public comments, neither visited, nor did they suspend campaigning in the state even for one day, as they did in Colorado. In fact, both candidates were in the vicinity this weekend and failed to appear. Obama hugged his children a little tighter after Aurora, but his remarks after Oak Creek referred to Sikhs as members of the “broader American family,” like some distant relatives. Romney unsurprisingly gaffed, referring on Tuesday to “the people who lost their lives at that sheik temple.”


LONDON 2012:  ONE MORE REASON WHY TITLE IX ROCKS

Mother Jones Magazine reports that, if American women were their own country, they would have gotten the 5th highest number of medals of any of the countries competing—behind the U.S., China, Great Britain and Russia, and before Germany—and everybody else but those top four.

Just thought you’d like to know.


OH, YES, AND A VERY NICE MOUNTAIN LION, P-22-HAS JUST BEEN SPOTTED LIVING IN GRIFFITH PARK

The National Park Service says that P-22 seems to be a shy creature with no interest in pouncing on humans.

Martha Groves from the LA Times reports.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, immigration, women's issues | 4 Comments »

RIP Nora Ephron….and A Few Words About Breasts

June 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


NORA EPHRON AND THE MATTER OF BREASTS….WRITING….AND LIFE

Nora Ephron was a gifted essayist, novelist, and humorist, a wildly talented screenwriter and film director. And she was a brilliant avocational chef, a devoted mother and wife, who also happened once to be famously married to Carl Bernstein and even more famously divorced from him, and she was a glorious wit—among other worthy occupations.

Ephron died Tuesday of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia, according to the New York Times.

She was 71.

It is preposterously and painfully soon to lose her talent.

I met Nora Ephron once, only briefly, but I liked her right away. Despite her double, triple, quadruple threat talent (writer, screenwriter, director, etc.), she seem grounded and present. Somebody you’d want as a neighbor. Mostly, of course, like the majority grieving her today, I knew her through her work—her movies, naturally, and her books.

Her books more than anything.

Like many American women who happened to pick up Ephron’s writing at a formative age, I was fascinated and inspired by her gutsy girl voice. Most particularly I loved her early essays—written when she was young, vulnerable, sassy, and impressively fearless. Since I first read them when I was also young and vulnerable without the sass, and wishing very much to be far more fearless—they were fantasically permission-giving.

For those of you who only know Nora Ephron from her screenplays (like Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally) and the films she wrote and directed (like You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie and Julia) please allow me to introduce you to at least one piece of her prose writing.

And if you’re going to read only one, it should really probably be the 1972 essay Ephron wrote for Esquire Magazine (for which she then penned a regular column).

The essay, which was later reprinted in her 1975 collection, Crazy Salad, is titled: A FEW WORDS ABOUT BREASTS

(I’ve just excerpted the opening, but there are links to the full piece and, trust me, you’d be foolish  to start and not read to her final line, which is:  ”I think they’re full of shit.”  Happy reading.)


A FEW WORDS ABOUT BREASTS

by Nora Ephron

I have to begin with a few words about androgyny. In grammar school, in the fifth and sixth grades, we were all tyrannized by a rigid set of rules that supposedly determined whether we were boys or girls. The episode in Huckleberry Finn where Huck is disguised as a girl and gives himself away by the way he threads a needle and catches a ball — that kind of thing. We learned that the way you sit, crossed your legs, held a cigarette and looked at your nails, your wristwatch, the way you did these things instinctively was absolute proof of your sex.. Now obviously most children did not take this literally, but I did. I thought that just one slip, just one incorrect cross of my legs or flick of an imaginary, cigarette ash would turn me from whatever I was into the other thing; that would be all it took, really. Even though I was outwardly a girl and had many of the trappings generally associated with the field of girldom — a girl’s name, for example, and dresses, my own telephone, an autograph book — I spent the years of my adolescence absolutely certain that I might at any point gum it up. I did not feel at all like a girl. I was boyish. I was athletic, ambitious, outspoken, competitive, noisy, rambunctious. I had scabs on my knees and my socks slid into my loafers and I could throw a football. I wanted desperately not to be that way, not to be a mixture of both things but instead just one, a girl, a definite indisputable girl. As soft and as pink as a nursery. And nothing would do that for me, I felt, but breasts.

I was about six months younger than everyone in my class, and so for about six months after it began, for six months after my friends had begun to develop — that was the word we used, develop — I was not particularly worried. I would sit in the bathtub and look down at breasts and know that any day now, in second now, they would start growing like everyone else’s. They didn’t. “I want to buy a bra,” I said to my mother one night. “What for?” she said……

You can find the rest here…..or here.

Or better yet, buy the book. It has aged well. (As did she.)


Photo of Ephron with her husband, writer Nicholas Pileggi, by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, American voices, Life in general, women's issues, writers and writing | No Comments »

The Invisible War: Rape in the Military – by Matthew Fleischer

June 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

THE INVISIBLE WAR: RAPE IN THE MILITARY

A San Diego Navy vet speaks out in a deeply important and shattering new film

by Matthew Fleischer


“When you get raped in civilian life, you go to a court that’s independent and unbiased to seek justice and recourse. When you get raped in the military, your only recourse is to go to your commander, who knows you and likely knows your rapist.”
–Amy Ziering, producer, “The Invisible War”



Navy veteran Allison Gill says she was violated three times during her military service in the early aughts: once when she was raped by a fellow service member, once when she tried to report the crime and was told to go away, and a third time when she tried to get the Veterans Benefits Administration to acknowledge her sexual assault-based PTSD and authorize treatment—only to denied and stonewalled for three years and counting.

“To go to countless therapy sessions and truly get to the place where you believe that this is not your fault, and then to be denied and denied and denied,” she tells WitnessLA, “it sets you back in your therapy. That’s a devastating thing for a survivor, to tell them ‘we don’t believe you.’”

Gill is one of the dozens of military victims of sexual assault featured in the new documentary The Invisible War, which opens nationwide Friday. The film offers an astounding portrait of military veterans living with the trauma of sexual assault—perpetrated by their brothers in arms. This epidemic of rape in the military is seemingly impossibly widespread. Since World War 2, nearly 500,000 military men and women have reported being raped during their service. 3,000 military on military rapes were reported in 2011 alone—and authorities think the actual number could be six times higher.

Almost worse than the act itself is the treatment these victims receive from military authorities when they attempt to report these crimes. I ran into Gill at a recent screening of The Invisible War at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and we spoke about the film and about her ordeal. “When I went to report my sexual assault to military police, I was told I was silly,” Gill remembers. “They said I’d been drinking, I’d put myself in a bad situation and I should ‘suck it up.’ They threatened that if I filed a report and it was found to be false, I could be dishonorably discharged. They talked me out of it.”

According to the film, 80 percent of military rape victims do the exact same thing—stay quiet.

“The thing that hits me like a ton of bricks was the barrage of women in the film who said the exact same thing as I did,” says Gill. “I’ve never met anyone that went through what I went through. It blew me away that everyone’s story is the same.”

That story too often includes Gill’s problem of getting the Veterans Benefits Administration to acknowledge she suffers from sexual assault-induced PTSD from her attack. She first filed her claim 2009, was denied, she appealed, was denied again, and is still waiting for the results of her second appeal three years later.

Gill happens to be graded 30 percent disabled by the VBA, based on other injuries she suffered during her service, which entitles her to free medical care at the VA. But because the VBA refuses to acknowledge that sexual assault is the cause of her PTSD, she has to pay for any meds her therapist prescribes for treatment out of pocket.

It could be much worse. Military sexual assault survivors who have their claims denied, are not graded 30 percent disabled or more, or do not meet the minimum service threshholds, do not receive free care from the VA at all. They are subject to co-pays and other fees for PTSD treatment and other basic medical care.

Gill is very clear in distinguishing between the difficulties she’s had with the Veterans Benefits Association and the actual VA hospital system. Despite her ordeal, after getting out of the Navy, she wound up working for the VA in San Diego, a job that she loves.

“I’m a pretty patriotic person,” she says. “I wanted to serve my government in some capacity. I wanted to give back something. It made sense to me to give back to my country and serve veterans at the same time.”

Gill has found one unusual form of therapy to heal the mental wounds the VBA declines to acknowledge: standup comedy. The local press in her adopted hometown of San Diego has dubbed Gill the city’s “funniest woman.” (Incidentally, if you’re too busy to drive south to check out her act, she’s going to be at the Hollywood Improv on Friday August 10th.)

“The way I cope is I fill my life up with stuff to do, so I don’t have time to sit and think,” she says. “After my service I went back to school to get my master’s degree. I go to yoga 6 times a week. I’m always doing something, or on my way back from doing something. Some people medicate with drugs or alcohol. I medicate with having shit to do.”

Posted in Veterans, War, women's issues | 17 Comments »

LA Mag Gets LA Women Together

June 22nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



Monday night, Los Angeles Magazine held a gathering they called a Women’s Leadership Reception.
it was co-hosted by Editor-in-Chief Mary Melton and Publisher Amy Saralegui along with City Controller Wendy Greuel.

The women present were an eclectic mix.
They were from government (like Greuel, city planning director Gail Goldberg, and longtime California Democratic powerhouse, Roz Wyman) from journalism—(Director of the Annenberg School of Journalism, Geneva Overholser, columnist/radio host, Patt Morrison, KPPC’s Shirley Jahad, KCET exec Val Zavala) —from literature and the arts…from the nonprofit sector and, well, from a lot of varied fields– County Counsel Andrea Ordin, L.A. Conservancy chief Linda Dishman, author Gina Nahai. However, unlike most such gatherings, although all of us knew a few people, no one but perhaps the LA Mag editors who did the inviting, seemed to know a lot.

It took about fifteen minutes of collective shyness before everyone ventured out to talk to those whom they’d not met.

A lot of intriguing and decidedly non-small-talkish conversations seemed to emerge from the mingling (even though accessories were occasionally mentioned).


For instance, I heard from Emmy winning composer Laura Karpman
that she was in the middle of writing an “multi-media opera called The One Ten—about…well… the 110 Freeway. It seems that the 110 turns 70 in December of this year. So to commemorate the anniversary, the LA Opera offered Karpman a quirky commission to create an opera about it. (Laura and librettists M.G. Lord and Shannon Halwes blog about their creative process here.)

Wendy Greuel veered easily between topics that included her newest audit (more on that another time) and and the fact she and Wyman were two of the three women ever to get pregnant and have a child while serving in LA public office. (The third was Gloria Molina, said Greuel.)

“I’m glad she took on the DWP,” I heard two different women whisper when they spied Greuel.

Stephanie Stone, the Vice Chair of LA County’s Veterans Advisory Commission, told me disturbingly that according to the most recent estimate, 25 percent—likely more—of the women soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, have been sexually abused during their time in the service. One out of four.

(I’ll be following up on that story.)

I heard from Elena Stern of Para Los Ninos about the desperate need for psychological counseling among the children living on Skid Row whom her agency serves.

I talked with Literary agent Bonnie Nadell, who was the longtime agent of the late David Foster Wallace, about whether she thought that D.T. Max, who wrote the long, unutterably sad, but relievingly informative story about DFW in the New Yorker, was the right person to do the upcoming biography of Wallace. (She did. She thought he’d be good. And, since she’d known both men for over 20 years, I figured she was in likely the best position to judge the matter.)

Mary Melton also mentioned, when she gave her welcoming speech, that Roz Wyman was the youngest LA City Council person ever. (She was first elected in 1953 at the age of 22.) Mary also said that Roz was instrumental in bringing the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957, figuring that LA needed its own sports team.

And so it was that, as the longest night of the year unfolded—along with myriad conversations—everyone seemed to settle into the pleasant realization that it was nice (even if merely for a change) for just girls to get together with just girls…in LA. (And a kick-ass group of grrrllls it was.)

Thanks to LA Magazine for making it possible.



Group photo by Zach Lipp via LA Observed.

Posted in art and culture, literature, media, women's issues, writers and writing | 2 Comments »

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