Chi-town--A city close to my heart

After driving five hours (I stopped a lot along the way) from Madison, Wisconsin to Pontiac, Illinois, on May 3 I rested so I could have a good five hours with my son the next day. Ramiro is staying in the Pontiac prison complex that includes a maximum security and minimum security prison. Because of his "shortness" in time--Ramiro is slated to be released in February of 2011--he's in the medium security prison with his own cell. Many of the prisoners in both joints have been removed when Department of Corrections planned to close the prison complex. But that has apparently changed--new prisoners are being brought in every day. It's always good to talk with Ramiro. Despite twelve years of incarceration, Ramiro has tried to better himself with two associate of arts degress and a couple of certificates (in horticulture, landscaping and cuisine), but this stopped when the DOC backed off from any educational programs for prisoners--a big mistake, but no accident: prisons live off people unprepared except to return to prison. Ramiro now gives advice and sage counsel to his teenage kids when he can talk to them--they are now 17, 15, and 13. He also helps his mother, myself, and sister. He is removed from the daily dramas we all go through and he prides himself in thinking through issues. He still has problems with his own concerns, but I have to say he's doing well emotionally, at least as well or better than most of us in the free world. That night I went to visit my friend James Lilly and family in LaGrange, IL. James is a champion wheelchair racer. He was paralysed when he was fifteen by rival gang bullets in Chicago. And James now speaks to kids about gangs and violence throughout the country. He's a strong family man--he has three young boys. He had two of his sons in two parks playing baseball league games, and a baby on his lap. You can check a trailer about his life documentary calledy "Pushin' Forward" on The next morning I drove to Chicago--a city close to my heart, having lived there for fifteen years--to have breakfast with my friends in Juvenile Justice work: Amanda Klonsky; her father, a long-time progressive educator, Mike Klonsky; my friend and juvenile justice lawyer, Bernardine Dohrn; among others. Then I spoke to a group of young incarcerated men at the Juvenile Detention in Chicago, once the largest youth lockup in the world (now I believe the Sylmar Juvenile Hall, near my home in Sylmar, CA, is the largest). The boys were creating music, poems, Hip Hop pieces, and murals. They had access to computers and teachers. It's been a big change from the last time I was there when the whole place was falling apart (about a year ago). The new director also came to my talk, and even read a few poems from the young men. Ryan Griesling is directing a special program there for almost ten years, and it's working. That evening, I spoke at a detention home for undocumented youth run by the Hearland Alliance. My good friend Gerardo Serna set this up. We both spoke in Spanish to a group of about fifteen youth. Staff and I believe a couple of parents were also in attendance. I ended up giving most of the books I brought to them. They in turn wrote me letters and a thank you card. I spent the rest of the week dealing with family and friends. I spent a nice evening with my granddaughter Anastasia. On Saturday, May 9, many of my friends and family took part in the graduation ceremony for Tanee Blazquez who just received her BA. This was held at the American Indian Center. I've known Tanee since she was twelve years old (she's now 26) when she got involved with Youth Struggling for Survival with her whole family. Frank and Lou Blazquez, her parents, and their son Frankie also took part. They've been active in YSS ever since. I was so proud of Tanee, to see her develop into the beautiful, smart and spiritually engaged young leader she's become. She's now married to "Chek It," one of the founders of Chicago Tribe Breakdancing group, and a YSS leader himself. Anastasia came as well as her grandmother, Camila, and her husband Alvin Thompson also showed up. Many long-time YSS members were there. It was so good to re-connect with them, as well as the younger youth who are now taking part. The weekend of Mother's Day, I ended up in DeKalb, IL with the Blazquez family and their guest, the Lakota elder/teacher/medicine man, Ed Featherman (Young Man Afraid of His Horse), who facilitated Tanee's ceremony. He's always a great person to talk to, to learn from, to find guidance. I want to wish my beautiful wife Trini a happy birthday - on May 8 - and a Happy Mother's Day. This is also the first Mother's Day I've had without my mother, who passed away last October. I know she's with us in spirit. I love them both very much. c/s

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