The Sarajevo International Poetry Festival

The rain came down most of the day on Saturday, not heavy, but enough to bring out a sea of umbrellas in the packed center of Sarajevo. This city has seen some amazing development—apparently $500 billion was invested with mostly foreign capital after the war some ten years ago claimed tens of thousand of lives. There are still buildings pock mocked with bullet holes, other bombed out. One poet recalled coming in 2003 and seeing gravesites scattered around the city center. Travel advisories warn of 500,000 land mines that have yet to be removed from the outlying areas. Yet Sarajevo is presently alive with shops, bars, restaurants, churches, mosques, and people. Apparently the country is also suffering economically like most of the world. There is supposedly a 45 percent unemployment rate. From war to economic distress, the country now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina is working hard to survive. [caption id="attachment_690" align="alignleft" width="271" caption="The author reading at the Kamerni Theater, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Photo by Opal Palmer Adisa. "]Luis J. Rodriguez reading at the Kamerni Theater, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Photo by Opal Palmer Adisa. [/caption] This past weekend—from September 24 to 26—the spirit of these formidable people is alive with the strains of jazz and the powerful performances of poets from Bosnia-Herzegovina, other parts of Europe as well as the world. I’m fortunate to be one of the poets invited, with the assistance of the Italian Embassy and the A. Chorale Foundation. I performed on Saturday evening at the Kamerni Theater, where from 150 to 200 people showed up. Largely organized by the Casa della Poesia in Italy, led by my new friends Sergio Iagulli and Raffaella Marzano, the other countries represented included Holland, Andora, Czech Republic, Jamaica, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, France, and Turkey. I’m the only one this year—the festival is apparently in it’s ninth year—to represent the United States, in particular the vital stream of Chicano poetry. Video presentations include the voices and poems of writers such as Mario Benedetti, Mahmoud Darwish, Janine Pommy Vega, Taslima Nasrin, among others. The poets reading include my new friend Opal Palmer Adisa, originally from Jamaica and now making her home in the Virgin Islands. She and I had a band of three jazz musicians from Italy behind us when we performed, which was just perfect, adding multi-dimensions to our words. [caption id="attachment_692" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Left to right: Luis J. Rodriguez, Opal Palmer Adisa of the Virgin Islands, Muesser Yeniay of Turkey, and Sergio Iagulli of Italy. "]Left to right: Luis J. Rodriguez, Opal Palmer Adisa of the Virgin Islands, Muesser Yeniay of Turkey, and Sergio Iagulli of Italy. [/caption] I also made friends with a young Turkish poet named Muesser Yeniay. Other poets performing include Petr Hruska, Ferida Durakovic, Ivo Ledergerber, Elvedin Nezirovic, Alexandra Petrova, Giancarlo Pontiggia, Tomaz Salamun, Ada Salas, Gabriella Sica, Christiane Veschambre, and Marko Vesovic. All the poems were translated into Italian and Bosnian. I didn’t understand the vast majority of what was read, but I tried to let the rhythms and tones of voices keep me present—poetry, after all, breaks through all borders. I was particularly amazed to hear poems in Catalonian, an ancient regional language of Spain, read with a powerful presence by Teresa Colom. I was also fortunate to be interviewed on Saturday by a national TV station in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The reporter asked her questions in English—I was impressed how much English people speak here. When I read, I said thank you (in honor of the many languages) in English, Spanish, and Nahuatl (the Mexika, so-called Aztec, language). I have to say how great it was to be in a place where so many languages abounded. Nobody seemed disturbed by this. The interpreters pulled off everything smoothly, even when at times certain words were hard to translate across the idioms. People corrected from their seats. People on stage laughed. Everybody respected everyone else. The festival is now over. I prepare to leave on Tuesday for Los Angeles, via Budapest and London. After I finished my set—which went well with the music of the band that created new sounds for each of the five poems I read—I relaxed and continued to enjoy the other poets. c/s
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Bosnia and Beyond

I leave for Bosnia & Herzegovina today to take part in the International Poetry Festival in the capital of Sarajevo. I have to thank the Italian Embassy and the A. Chorale Foundation for supporting me on this trip. Also a big shout out to Casa della Poesia of Italy for making this possible, especially Sergio and Rafaella. They’ve just informed me that a band of Italian and Bosnian musicians will accompany me during my reading there. I didn’t place this festival in my website’s events calendar because I wasn’t sure I was really going, but now it’s confirmed. I’m excited to visit this ancient city in a vitally important part of the world. I’ll be back at the end of September. Also my son Ramiro, who’s living at a Chicago transitional housing for the recently paroled, was featured in the Chicago Sun Times yesterday on an article about a jogging program directed at the homeless and parolees. You can check this article online. I’m very proud of my son, who has a difficult road ahead of him, but who’s committed to doing good and making the most of this life. Trini and I were also able to be at the opening day of a new high school in East LA – the only newly constructed school in East LA in 85 years. The school is called Esteban Torres High School, which houses five autonomous academies such as Social Justice, Renaissance, Performing Arts, Engineering & Technology, and Humanitas. Some 2,200 students are already enrolled at the high school. The school was built on top of the old Hammel Street Elementary School, where my oldest son Ramiro and daughter Andrea attended as children (I lived in City Terrace at the time—just down the street, at the Guadalupe Church, I married their mother, Camila, in 1974). The school cost $125 million, which I understand is the most for any public school in history. Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural is one of the community partners for Esteban Torres High School. We were asked to be part of this important endeavor by members of the community, students, and teachers. We hope in a year or two to have a cultural plaza at the school that will include East LA’s only bookstore and a café, performance space & arts workshop center. We are working with other community partners—including a bank and a wellness center—to make this school a truly community/school collaboration. I also spoke to 10th and 11th graders at the Social Justice Academy later that week. We had great talks about the struggles of this community over many years to create this wonderful school. And about how we need to imagine a better life for all the Eastside—one free of violence, drugs, disparity, and lack of power. I hope to speak to 9th graders soon. My goal is to address all the Torres High students at some time. Most of students came from Garfield High School, which was once one of the most overcrowded schools in the country. Teachers at Garfield have for years used my books, including “Always Running,” but also my poetry and fiction. Garfield is still in existence, of course, but with less overcrowding. This school is dear to my heart because of my early years organizing there, but also at Roosevelt High School and other Eastside schools. I also did some community poetry readings, including for poet Damnyo’s new Slam hot spot at the Mangrove Club in Los Angeles. I also took part in the Flor y Canto Poetry Festival at the University of Southern California, which involved Chicano/a and other Latino/a poets from all over California and other states (and a beautiful poet from Barcelona, RaKel Delgado). The luminaries included Francisco Alarcon, Ron Arias, Danny Romero, Gloria Alvarez, Xanath Caraza-De-Holland, Dorinda Moreno, Juan Felipe Herrera, and many others I, unfortunately, won’t be able to name here. I’m honored to be included, although I was limited in catching most of the poets due to my busy schedule. And I was one of the readers for the San Fernando Valley Contemporary Poets event at the Tarzana Family Community Center in Tarzana, CA. On September 19, I also spoke at the memorial service for Richard “Scar” Lopez, one of the four original members of the legendary East LA band, Cannibal & The Headhunters. This band had a Top Forty hit with their version of “Land of 1,000 Dances,” which included the chorus of “naaa, na, na, na, naaa…” that came about when singer Cannibal forgot the lyrics during a live recording. It’s a mistake that changed the song forever and contributed to Rock N Roll history. They were also the opening act for the Beatles second US tour. This music—including the other East LA personalities and groups like The Premiers, Thee Midniters, The Blendells, the Salas Brothers, and others—helped a young troubled Eastside kid like me believe that something good was possible. I thank Scar and his bandmates for being part of this. In addition, Tia Chucha’s on September 18 held a lively bicentennial celebration of Mexico’s independence – as well as independence for a number of Central American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala. We opened up space in the parking lot for vendors, chairs, bands, and many regional traditional dances. More than 500 people showed up. The next day, at the same parking lot, Tia Chucha’s youth project, the Young Warriors, held their benefit event with the lowrider clubs “Bad Creations,” and “Good Times” showing their customized cars. We held a live graffiti art show where young people worked on their own canvasses. And there were bands, poets, Hip Hop acts, and others on the stage. I thank YW founders Brian and Mayra Dessant for all the work they did, as well as all the youth and their families who took part in making this a success. More than 200 people came by that day. The Young Warriors is a social action, self-healing, youth empowerment group based on the arts. The following day, our Mexika danza group, Temachtia Quetzacoatl, held their Fall Equinox ceremony at Tia Chucha’s on Monday, September 20. Again to lay a spiritual foundation to what we do at Tia Chucha’s and to recognize the energies and elements of the earth and the universe in the blessings we’ve have and hope to have in the future. I thank Monique and all the danzantes for their sacrifice and hard work. I also spoke to various schools that have been coming on field trips to Tia Chucha’s for a few years now—we’ve been getting like two to three schools a month. They come from all over Southern California, and as far away as Oakland and San Diego. This past week we even had a group home for foster youth come from the desert communities of Hemet/San Jacinto. Also I did a Skype teleconference with students at a Chicano studies class at Glendale College—they had great questions through this new (to me anyway) technology. And Trini and I spoke at the weeklong celebration for the new Chicano Studies Department at Mission College, up the street from Tia Chucha’s, in early September—this is a great victory for our community. I hope to enjoy my time in Sarajevo and to return healthy and strong. I plan to stay active and indispensable for some time to come. There’s so much we all need to do to create a world worthy of our children and generations to come. c/s
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Ramiro’s Words

My son Ramiro has enjoyed almost two months of freedom now. I took off for ten days in Chicago this past August to visit with him as well as my granddaughters, my daughter Andrea, older members of Youth Struggling for Survival, and my many friends in gang intervention work, among others. I miss him already and hope to get back there soon. Ramiro’s already entered the 3-G world—he has a fully-loaded cell phone and even a Facebook page. Last week, when I did an international webchat that involved more than 80 people in the US, Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, and other countries, Ramiro took part, getting a couple of questions in Spanish through to the moderator. What a trip—I’m thankful he got in on this. When I last saw him, Ramiro gave me a short statement he wanted to share with all of you. I’ve typed it below. Presently he’s in a good space, in strong spirits, and joined by positive family and friends. I present this with many prayers for his safety and strength. And with gratitude for the ongoing support and love he’s getting from many of you.
"It took a while to finally write something down. I have been concerned with family, visits, programs. My mind has been so disorganized and cluttered. Sometimes things become overwhelming for me. Yet no matter how confused my mind may be, I’m just so happy to be free. I’ve had over thirteen years of psychological warfare. My mind has been a battlefield with so many casualties. Disconnections. Reconnections. Everything’s new. It feels good to see my kids, my family, and everyone who has supported me. It feels good to know that on this next journey of my life I don’t have to do it alone. This is a new journey for everybody. All the hardships, the struggles, were not just my own. While I did time, everyone else did life. The ups, the downs. The lefts, the rights. The forwards, the backwards. A life of chaos. So what have I come home to? What’s out there for me now? I am happy to say that I have come home to a lot of blessings. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what the next step was going to be. As I stepped out the prison door, and saw my family and friends standing in front of me, I didn’t want to look behind me. Behind me was desolation. In front of me was absolution. Now I’m just going forward. Taking advantage of all my support. Not afraid to ask for help when needed. For too long I was trying to do everything alone. I was selfish and weak. Full of pain and full of pride. Holding on to so much anger. Never knowing what I was truly angry at. That’s all over with. All that sadness and hurt, I want it to be gone. I look into my daughters’ eyes and all I can do is smile. I wake up with a smile. I walk everywhere with a smile. I smile because I finally made it home."
c/s
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Soul Work and Men

I returned last Sunday from a vibrant, difficult, painful at times, but in the end joyous event with more than a hundred men, including gang youth, ex-prisoners, and former addicts. It was the Mosaic Foundation’s men’s conference in the Redwood Forest outside Mendocino, CA. Called “Paths of Initiation,” for a week we dealt with the vital connections between the hearts of men and the soul of nature with song, dance, drumming, poetry, healing practices, martial arts, meditation, and stories. The main teachers were Mosaic founder and gifted storyteller Michael Meade as well as yours truly. We had additional help from Duncan Allard, who taught songs and dances from the musical traditions of the Shona people of Zimbabwe (he also drummed and played the mbira—a magical instrument if ever there was one). Also on hand was Kokou Soglo Katamani, who brought percussive Ewe music and tribal songs from his homeland of Ghana. In addition, Noel Amherd taught essential Aikido skills and the spiritual basis of martial arts that included insights from his writings on Ifa rites and rituals. And Hector Aristizabal, formerly of Colombia, worked with the “wisdom of the body” gleaned from extensive work with the Theater of the Oppressed and the Program for Torture Victims. On top of all this there was plenty of ideas, imaginations, teachings, and cultural interactions. I must say it was an amazing event all around. Participants included groups of young people from Homeboy Industries, Youth Mentoring Connection, Street Poets and others, including from Watts, Compton, Boyle Heights, East LA, and Pico-Union. We had ex-prisoners who did from 17 to 31 years behind bars—they’re now free, helping themselves and others, and becoming assets to our communities. The men were from all races, walks of life, professions, and income levels. The issues they dealt with ran the gamut of incest, war (one man just returned from duty in Iraq), home abuse, street violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and relationships. The common aspect they all had was trouble—in their lives, their psyches, their hearts, the surrounding realities. I’ve been taking part in Mosaic conferences, workshops, youth programs, poetry events, and more for sixteen years. While it appears I’m there to help heal, in particular through my poetry and Native traditional practices, I’m also there to be healed, to address my own rages, to find my own way. I have nothing but gratitude to Michael and all the men—I’m a fuller more congealed person because of these experiences. To find out more about Mosaic’s many events and projects, please go to www.mosaicvoices.org. c/s
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Blessings All Around

I spent ten days in Chicago – from August 2 until August 12 – to see my son Ramiro, recently released after 13-and-a-half years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. It was a wonderful time. My son looks healthy, in good spirits, and focused on a new life. He’s staying at one of the best transitional housing for parolees in the state. I even got to speak to the parolees for about an hour, a request by Ramiro’s case manager. I also found time to re-connect with friends—Gerardo Serna spent a few breakfasts with me as well as visits with Ramiro. He also spoke to the parolees with me—we’ve had many years in Chicago establishing urban peace programs and mentoring/healing relationships with gang and nongang youth. Another friend, James Lilly, is a world-class wheelchair racer (his image will appear on a mural in downtown and in pole banners near a rehabilitation hospital) who was paralyzed at age 15 in gang violence. For the past decade, he’s been moving up the international wheel-chair racing world, including marathons all over the US—and he speaks in schools and other facilities to help keep kids out of gangs and violence. His story is powerfully told at www.pushin-forward.net. My compa from LA, Frank Lizornio, just moved to Chicago and also accompanied me to see Ramiro in my ongoing efforts to surround my son with positive, active, and decent men. Frank—known to his friends as Pancho—is a long-time family and youth counselor. We’ve worked together helping young fathers, gang-involved youth, and teenage drug users over the years. His wife now works with the University of Illinois, Chicago, Education Department. We also had a reunion of the older pioneering leaders of Youth Struggling for Survival, a nonprofit I helped create some sixteen years ago with troubled youth, their parents, and community leaders from the Chicago neighborhoods of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Little Village, Uptown, among others. Almost all of these young people work, have families, and have removed themselves for a few years now from the world of guns and drugs. A few I knew when they were 12 or 13 years old. Now they are healthy young fathers, mothers, workers, businesspeople, community leaders. Ramiro and my daughter Andrea, as well as their mother Camila, were also there—all three are YSS founders. I have to give props to Manny, Ruth, Rocio, Lorena, Ely, and all the rest who came by Palmer Square Park in Logan Square to join us. It was interesting to see my granddaughter Catalina among them. Now 14, she was just a baby when we started this group. The most special time of my trip in Chicago, however, was a Young Woman’s Ceremony conducted in Sterling, IL for my 15-year-old granddaughter Amanda May, one of Ramiro’s three teenaged kids. My wife Trini and I facilitated a Native-rooted ceremony and circle to acknowledge and honor this important stage in Amanda’s life. My other granddaughter, Anastasia, 16, was there as was Ramiro, of course, Andrea, Catalina, Camila, and our many family and friends. Although it rained earlier in the day, the sky cleared for the ceremony and the feast afterwards, as if to make room for us to pay attention properly and prayerfully for Amanda May. She looked radiant—I was so proud. I also connected with my many activist friends in Chicago, a city I hold dear to my heart. One special gathering on a Friday night was held to welcome back Trini, who's had almost ten years of not coming back to the city. I could tell she was so happy to be re-embraced by many who continue to love and think of her, aware of her new life as Operations Director of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and as Native women’s sweat lodge facilitator, healer, and teacher. I spent fifteen years in Chicago from 1985 to 2000 (Trini lived here a couple years longer), during the worse gang violence in the city’s history—a city long known for gangs and violence. We established peace efforts that have now become widespread throughout the region and other parts of the country. The violence, unfortunately, continues. Shootings were constant in certain neighborhoods even during my short visit. Yet, I know, great work is blooming and developing to help bring our broken communities together. One good thing is to see Ramiro committed to that work, to help bring healing, peace, justice to cities like Chicago. I returned to LA strong and hopeful, but also with an internal calm. I never could relax or sleep properly as long as my son was behind bars. I can breath more freely now, knowing that dangers lurk at most corners and there are difficult roads ahead. It’s in my son’s hands to shape his life—I plan to be there as a positive and guiding hand whenever I can. c/s
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Going to see Ramiro--and other matters

Many of you know I’m off to Chicago tomorrow, August 2, to visit with my son Ramiro, who was recently released from the Illinois Department of Corrections after thirteen-and-a-half years behind bars. I’ve been talking to Ramiro almost every day since he was freed on July 16. He’s now at a transitional housing program in downtown Chicago that Ramiro says has great beds (finally), decent programming, respectful staff, and other parolees like him. Ramiro has also had many visitors—family (mostly his mother Camila, who worked very hard to get him into this housing program, and his daughter Anastasiaa), friends, including many of the old stalwarts from Youth Struggling for Survival, which has worked with gang and nongang kids for sixteen years (Ramiro, Camila, my daughter Andrea, myself, and around 200 other people were founders). I’ll let you all know how this visit goes, which will last two weeks until August 12. My wife Trini and I are also facilitating a Young Woman’s Coming Out Ceremony in the Native American tradition on August 8 for my granddaughter (and Ramiro’s other daughter) Amanda May. She turned fifteen this year. It should be a beautiful and spiritually rich experience. This month, I’m also a teacher (again for sixteen years) at the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation’s Men’s Conference in Mendocino, CA from August 17 to August 22. This year’s event is called “Paths of Initiation: A Mentoring Retreat for Younger and Older Men.” We are already getting filled up, but if there are any men interested in going please go to www.mosaicvoices.org to find out more. Last Wednesday, I had the privilege to speak at Francisco House, a sober-living home for ex-prisoners in South Los Angeles. My good friend Julie Harmon Chavez, who works there, invited me to address an attentive audience. We talked about life, choices, the freedom in prison, the prisons among the free, and the value of creativity, the arts, and imagination in a full life. I also got to meet one of my “fans,” Maria Constanza Palmer of the prison outreach program Get On the Bus—uniting children and families with prisoners. I want to relate to everyone about the first airing of a new radio program that I co-host with Shirley Wilson called “La Neta/The Truth,” which is on every last Sunday of the month from 6 to 7 PM at www.latalkradio.com. If you go to “Scales of Justice” with Shirley Wilson you’ll get the latest broadcasts with her other guests, including myself. You can access our July 25 show at http://www.latalkradio.com/Scales.php. Our next show is Sunday, August 29. In addition, I’ve been meeting with the Community Partners, LA Unified School District 5 staff, teachers, staff members from board member Yolie Aquilar Flores’ office, and the new principals of the Esteban Torres High School—East LA’s newest high school linked to the well-known Garfield High School. As part of this process, community members invited Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural to be part of this partnership, to help create the only bookstore & cultural center in the East LA area. We are close to determining a possible site at the school and a plan for fundraising, building, staffing, and more. I also want to get back to my trip to England, which continues to resonate with me. Let me give thanks again to Josephine Metcalf, who organized various speaking events for writer/activist Barbara Becnel and myself. I also have to thank my friend Garth Cartwright, who set up a BBC London radio interview with Robert Elmes and a reading/music night at the Darbuka Club (where I met his friend Leslie, a tattoo artist who happens to be Chinese Kiwi—I apologize for saying she was Chinese Brit in an earlier blog post). I also had a nice dinner with Rebecca Shaefer and her husband in the Brixton area where she’s doing community work. Thanks should also go to Danny Lafayette who organized two days of talks with the government’s Home Office; Hannah Lowe, a teacher and great person from City & Islington College; Mike Jervis, from Active Change Foundation, for funds and support; Twilight Bey & Paul Obinna (from Hogarth Blake, Social Solutions Institute, P2P Kensington Housing Trust); Professors Brian Ward and Eithne Quinn of the University of Manchester; as well as Eryl Doust, Head of Re-Offending and Neil Coad, from A4E, for allowing me to read, talk, and conduct writing workshops for two days at Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institution in Portland, England. One thing that got over well in England – and to places I’ve visited in the US and Mexico recently – was the “Effective Community-Based Gang Intervention” model, created by 40 gang intervention workers, urban peace advocates, and researchers (including yours truly). Thanks to LA City Councilmember Tony Cardenas who facilitated almost two years of meetings and helped pull together this model, including printing copies for anyone who asks for it. For free copies, contact Cardenas’ office at 213-473-7006 or write: Councilmember Tony Cardenas, LA City Hall, 200 N. Spring Street, Suite 455, Los Angeles, CA 90012. c/s
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Freedom for Ramiro

I am a man of words, but words are failing me as I try to describe my feelings of joy and love when my son Ramiro called me today as a free man. Yes, on Friday July 16, Ramiro was released from the Illinois Department of Corrections’ Danville Prison. He had spent thirteen-and-a-half years in various prisons throughout the state since his conviction and sentence in late 1998 (the sentence included the year-and-a-half he spent in the Cook County jail in Chicago from early 1997). Ramiro joined a street gang in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago when he was fifteen. He was the main catalyst for my book “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA.” Since then the book has become a best seller (in the LA area, it’s the most stolen book in school and public libraries). Reports on my struggles as a father to Ramiro have appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Good Morning America,” CNN Talk Live, “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams,” Head Line News’ “Leaders with Heart,” CNN’s “What Matters,” and publications such as the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, New York Times, San Jose Mercury, US World & News Report, Entertainment Weekly, among others. Ramiro is now 35 years old. He has a 17-year-old son, a 16-year-old daughter, and another 15-year-old daughter. He will be living in a transitional living space for a while. We also have people trying to get him a job. While he may be willing to speak and get around to help young people from entering this life (or trying to get out of it), for now we’re suggesting that he take his time getting adjusted, to focus on his health and wellbeing (and spending time with his kids), and getting spiritually and emotionally centered. There will be plenty of time for Ramiro to offer his strong voice for real rehabilitation and resources so that our young people can stay out of the criminal justice system and into a meaningful, knowledgeable, and imaginative life. For now, I want to give the strongest thanks to his mother Camila, who stayed on in the Chicago area and worked hard to provide what Ramiro needed, including getting a decent housing situation. Also to the rest of my family, who stood by us during this ordeal, taking Ramiro’s phone calls and his letters. And, of course, a deep thanks to the vast community—especially in Los Angeles and Chicago, but also throughout the country and other parts of the world (he now has friends in England, where I just visited)—who never wavered in their prayers, good wishes, letters, and support. We’re blessed to have come this far. Ramiro is in a good space. He will inherit new problems, big challenges, more issues, but he’s come through the hardest time so far. He also turned his life positively toward personal change and to help others. He gave up violence and drugs. He also turned to his indigenous roots and has been doing Mexika and other native rituals and ceremonies whenever he can. When I get to Chicago next month, we plan to have a sweat ceremony together with friends and family. He’s become a knowledgeable and vigilante warrior through the initiatory darkness of the many prison cells he’s inhabited—he’s been on a thirteen-and-a-half years sweat lodge. I also called his lawyer, the wonderful Julie Aimen, who took on his case when others didn’t and against great odds helped Ramiro get a more reasonable sentence than the 40 years to life he was facing in 1997. Ramiro had to pay for his actions, but this did not mean he had to be thrown away. Many others, poor, working-class, black and brown (but also white), don’t have the funds, support, or adequate defense needed and are rotting away in our growing prison cellblocks. We have fought for real justice and meaningful consequences when young people do wrong, not the punishment-driven, costly and no rehabilitation reality that we have today. I also give thanks to the Creator, to all the energies and elements of the universe and this world for aligning so that my son can be free, protected, and much loved. I pray the next path of his journey will be good, proper, and spiritually filled as Ramiro grows deeper into his life and those of his children—as well as the great community we’ve established throughout this country and in other countries as well. In the Nahuatl language I say tlazhokamati (thanks) and tiahui (we move forward). c/s
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Stories and Poetry from Behind the Walls

A few of the young men were boisterous, laughing, loud. Others were quiet. They were black, Asian, and white. Yet in one full day—and in the following half day—they all proved to be great writers, raising hard but brave issues, and risking some of their emotions and even grief in writing workshops I conducted at Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institution/Portland. As I mentioned in my previous blogpost, HMYOI is located on an island on the southern coast of England near Weymouth. It’s a prison for young men ages 18 to 21. An adult facility called The Verne is located on the same island—both of the prisons had old stone walls with razor wire. They held around 500 prisoners each. On Monday and Tuesday, July 12 and 13, my host Josephine Metcalf and I were allowed behind the heavily secured walls. We had to be there at 8 in the morning. A tour of the facilities proved that this institution is at the cutting edge of rehabilitation, vocational training, and life skills development. Prisoners had horses, chickens, and goats to take care of as well as carpentry and electronics repair shops. There was a unique rail yard training program (complete with several yards of real train rails) and a radio station. And they even had a state-of-the-art barbershop training space. I also admired their well-stocked library—this is very important in such institutions. I was most pleased and impressed. When we finally settled into the classroom for the writing workshops, we had up to ten young men, all volunteers, who gave up gym, other classes and projects to take part in this special event. We also showed clips of a new documentary on the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams, Crips co-founder and later a redeemed writer and activist. And I read poetry, talked about writing and life, and had these young men doing writing exercises that proved one important thing—they all had powerful stories, ideas, and language about their lives and the world around them. Barbara Becnel, who had accompanied us through much of my Manchester and London events, created the Tookie Williams documentary. Unfortunately, Barbara and Joanne had to return to the United States and couldn’t join us in Portland. The film features eulogies for Tookie after his wrongful execution in San Quentin’s Death Row in 2005. The speakers included Snoop Dogg, Minister Louis Farrakan, Tony Robbins, Rev. Jesse Jackson, his lawyer, and closest friends. In the two days, we showed various parts of this film, helping spark important dialogue about crime and justice. I found the workshop participants to be aware, insightful, generous. Neil Coad of Actions 4 Employment, and a teacher at the facility, took us around and stood with us during the writing workshops. He gave us the best rundown on the facility and their programs. He also picked us up and took us back to the train station and every morning drove us to the prison. I want to thank Neil for the time and effort he took to make our stay wonderful, not only in the classroom, but even afterwards when we visited more of the Portland island, including the lighthouse at the edge of the English Channel (on a clear day, Neil said, one could see the French Normandy Coast). I also want to thank Eryl Doust, Head of Re-Offending at HMYOI-Portland. She jumped at the chance to have me come and conduct writing workshops with prisoners and even visited us during one of the writing sessions with the leading governor of the prison. Ms. Doust also arranged for Josephine and I to stay at a clean and well-run bed & breakfast in Portland called Leam House. The owners are Jane and Steve, who were attentive and gracious. I recommend this place for anyone who plans to visit the Weymouth area. We left Portland and Weymouth on Tuesday evening, getting on a three-hour train ride to London, had dinner near the Waterloo Station (with Josephine’s “mum,” a nice and engaging person), then grabbed a taxi to the Euston train station. Another two hours later, we were in Manchester. Despite an eight-hour delay of the plane from Manchester to Philadelphia, forcing me to stay at a hotel in Philly before getting on an early flight to Los Angeles, I have no complaints. This was an amazing trip. I’ll give proper thanks to everyone involved in my next blogpost, along with deeper observations of this important trip. I must mention, however, the wonderful walk and tour I had in the Peckham and Elephant & Castle working class neighborhoods last Friday with my friend Garth. Garth, the writer and world traveler, lives in working class housing in Peckham. I learned much about public housing in England, changing demographics, and other stories of these areas. Peckham has a large Afro Caribbean community (with other nationalities) and Elephant & Castle, another mixed neighborhood, was also the community with more Latinos than any other in London (mostly Colombians, but also from other parts of Latin America). c/s
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On the southern English coast

I spent my 56th birthday on July 9 at one of a well-known Turkish chain of restaurants called Tas/EV. Garth, Barbara, Joanne, Josephine, and Hannah were there—even surprising me with a slice of birthday cake and a heart-felt “Happy Birthday.” I don’t like to celebrate birthdays much, except with family. But I must say this was nice. I also walked around earlier with Garth through the River Thames area south of the Tower of London. We visited Shakespeare’s Globe Theater (although the original one burned down, this version took the original plans in account during reconstruction). And we stepped into the Tate Modern Museum of Art to catch a few exhibits, including one called “Poetry and the Dream” about surrealism. At Gabriel’s Wharf we sat down for a while, taking in the many small shops and loads of tourists hanging around. Most of these areas were once industrial, now rehabbed into artists’ lofts, galleries, upscale stores, and tourists’ hangouts. The weather remained warm, in fact muggy, and people were out in droves. On Saturday night, I had afternoon tea with Josephine, Barbara and Joanne at the Wolesey, a famous spot known for their tea setups and ambience. I tried to do more sightseeing, but the humidity was too much and I stayed back to continue writing and working. On Sunday, Josephine and I took a three-hour train ride from London to Weymouth on the English southern coast. Weymouth is a colorful sea village with a large marina, fishing port, and old structures. Again, people were out to enjoy the warm weather. We ended up at a bed & breakfast in Portland, a nearby island where two prisons are located, one for adults called Verne and another for juveniles called Her Majesty’s Juvenile Offenders Institution. On Monday and Tuesday, I will spend many hours with a select number of juvenile prisoners to do creative writing workshops. I’ve done these types of workshops throughout the US, but also in Mexico, Central America, and South America (and once with Italian youth offenders during a major Hip Hop gathering in 1995). c/s
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London Done Right

Yesterday, I had a busy day with an important radio interview in the afternoon on the Robert Elms show of the BBC London. Mr. Elms was prepared, gracious, and gave me a good fifteen to twenty minutes—which is hard to get these days on major radio. Apparently, Mr. Elms is very popular in London. I also heard he discovered Amy Winehouse and once lived with the incomparable R&B singer Sade. He also played about three minutes of “Meeting the Animal on Washington Square Park” from my CD of poetry and original music called “My Name’s Not Rodriguez” (2002, Dos Manos Records/CDbaby.com). Later that day my friend Josephine Metcalf and I made our way to the Fulham neighborhood to speak at a youth center to a predominantly Afro-Caribbean audience. Parents, youth workers, teachers, organizers, and young people were in attendance, filling up the meeting space. The talk was highly engaged and the audience participation strong. Our host was Twilight Bey, who runs his own youth organization and has many years of urban peace and gang intervention work in Los Angeles and London. Later that night I did a poetry reading and talk at the Darbucka Club, which is well known for musical events, talks, and poetry. About fifty people were in attendance. My friend Garth Cartwright worked the turntables, playing Chicano music including El Chicano, Thee Midniters, Los Lobos, War, Joe Bataan, and other favorites of mine. A couple of people walked up to me who worked in youth organizations and came precisely because they heard about my talks concerning gang violence. I sold a good number of poetry books and CDs. I also shared tattoos with a Chinese Brit tattoo artist named Leslie—she was impressed with the fine line, shadows and grays, of the dozen or so Chicano-style tattoos I have. She had visible tattoos on her legs and arms. We talked about how tattoos can be done right, for their artistic value and beauty. Though I still have tattoos from my gang days (I got my first tattoo at age 12), I also have later ones of family and Mexika/Mayan images. So far London has been an amazing experience. c/s
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