Video Blog: Trayvon Martin

//www.youtube.com/embed/wAxxQg7ITuo

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Justice for Trayvon Martin

Last night my wife Trini and I watched the new film release "Fruitvale Station" soon after we heard about the George Zimmerman verdict. The film was based on how a transit police officer killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was unarmed, at the Fruitvale train station in Oakland on his way home from New Year's festivities. He was caught in circumstances of life, but for too many poor, black and urban youth these often end in death.

Oscar Grant's killer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and given two years; he was let go in 11 months. The people next to me were in tears. Not long ago, William Masters, a white jogger in L.A., was let go and freed – not even charged – having killed one Chicano youth and wounding another after he confronted them for supposedly tagging under a bridge. One of the youth was shot in the back. Yet police felt Masters was in danger and shot in self-defense. In my youth, sheriff’s deputies killed four of my friends, unarmed and brown. When I moved back to L.A. from Chicago in 2000 – after confronting years of Chicago police murders and even tortures of black and brown victims – a recent report of L.A. County sheriff department shootings – 52 in one year – proved they were all people of color, unarmed, a few mentally ill.

Here's the other side of the coin: I spoke at the largest juvenile lockup in North America last month for a graduation of 30 GED students (the place has between 800 and 1,000 prisoners – 90 percent or more black and brown). The facility is five minutes from my house. Seven of the graduates talked at the podium, saying great words, talking about big dreams. More than a few are going to adult prisons for 25 years to life. Some of those cases didn't involve any actual involvement in murder, but often just being around with friends when someone was killed. The injustices in the face of the current justice system are so palpable and patterned.

Trayvon Martin deserved his day in court, his story told, his life given value. Anyway you look at it, it was Zimmerman’s actions that eventually lead to Martin’s death (and a culture where black youth are feared and profiled). Still the patterns continue. We can't let up. Justice for Trayvon Martin must not end here. The circumstances of poverty, racism and historical imbalances must now be on trial. The anti-poor and anti-working class criminal justice system must be on trial. The exploitative capitalist political and economic system must now be on trial. Most Americans are for fairness – the majority has no idea what their government has done. It's time to change the conversation. No more of our youth, of any color, should be profiled, sought and then killed the way Trayvon was killed. The way Oscar was killed. The way those Chicano youth under the bridge were shot. Or my four homies. Nobody ever again.

c/s

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Historic Gang Intervention Bill introduced in Congress

Below is the text of a Gang Intervention bill, introduced on Thursday, July 11 by U.S. Congressman Tony Cardenas. This bill arose out of the Effective Gang Intervention Model that some 40 gang interventionists in Los Angeles helped create -- including yours truly -- over two years under the auspices of then L.A. City Councilperson Cardenas. In February of 2008, the model was approved by the L.A. City Council and has been used to help reduce significantly the level of violence in a city known as the "gang capital of the world." ALSO please note that on Saturday, July 27, 2013, my son Ramiro and I will be on a national Issues Call for the Justice Party on Restorative Justice and will include actionable plans to end the the billions of dollars in our prison industry and to place real resources in innovative, meaningful and cost effective rehabilitation, jobs training and engagement, arts development, re-entry, and for offenders and victims to work together for the betterment of our families, communities and country. You must RSVP. Here's the link: http://www.justicepartyusa.org/restorative_justice_issue_call?utm_source=justiceparty&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=7_24_issue_call&recruiter_id=15646 Now here's the bill: ..................................................................... 113TH CONGRESS, 1ST SESSION H. R. ll To provide definitions of terms and services related to community-based gang intervention to ensure that funding for such intervention is utilized in a cost-effective manner and that community-based agencies are held accountable for providing holistic, integrated intervention services, and for other purposes. IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Mr. CARDENAS introduced the following bill; A BILL To provide definitions of terms and services related to community-based gang intervention to ensure that funding for such intervention is utilized in a cost-effective manner and that community-based agencies are held accountable for providing holistic, integrated intervention services, and for other purposes. 1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Community-Based Gang Intervention Act’’. SEC. 2. FINDINGS; SENSE OF CONGRESS. (a) FINDINGS.—The Congress finds as follows: (1) For the first time in the history of the United States, more than one in every 100 adults is incarcerated. (2) The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, with more than 2,200,000 people behind bars and another 5,000,000 people on probation or parole. (3) The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. (4) In 2007, the Federal Government spent $19,617,000,000 on police protection, corrections, and judicial and legal services, representing a 286 percent increase since 1982. This included a 475 percent increase for corrections and a 287 percent increase for police protection. (5) The growing prison system is also impacting State budgets, with total State spending on incarceration topping $53,000,000,000 in 2012, up  from $10,000,000,000 in 1987. (6) With increased prison costs, vital social programs and services such as education, job creation, housing, and healthcare are being cut or eliminated to maintain the prison industry. (7) Between 1987 and 2007, the amount States spent on corrections increased 127 percent, while the increase in higher education spending was only 21 percent (8) Over the past 10 years, the State of California’s general fund expenditures for higher education have fallen 9 percent, while general fund expenditures for corrections and rehabilitation have increased 26 percent. (9) The State of California has the second largest prison population in the nation with 165,062 prisoners under the jurisdiction of State or Federal correctional authorities in 2010. (10) According to one study, there are now 6 times as many gangs and at least twice the number of gang members in Los Angeles since the start of the 30 year ‘‘war on gangs’’. (11) The City and County of Los Angeles have been dubbed the ‘‘gang capital’’ of the Nation with an estimated 463 gangs and 38,974 gang members in the City, and more than 1,300 gangs and 150,000 gang members in the County. (12) According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, allowing 1 youth to leave school for a life of crime and drug abuse costs society $1,700,000 to $2,300,000, annually. (13) In the State of California, the average annual cost per inmate is $47,421 for an adult inmate, and $218 for a youth inmate. (14) The most recent data on overall State spending on juvenile justice programs reveals that in 1998, States spent nearly $4,200,000,000 on juvenile justice related programs, which was a 65 percent increase from fiscal year 1994. Of those expenditures, 67 percent went towards residential placements ($2,800,000,000), while 8.4 percent went towards delinquency prevention. (15) Gang and youth violence substantially decreases when governments address the root causes of gang violence and adequately fund community-based programs and practices. (16) Studies continue to prove that community-based gang intervention provides long-lasting, cost effective results and opportunities for the youth and  families most susceptible to gang violence. (b) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Congress that, in developing a comprehensive violence reduction strategy, the United States should acknowledge and address larger, entrenched social conditions and issues such as poverty, homelessness, inadequate educational systems, and limited economic opportunities that give rise to gangs and gang violence. TITLE I—COMMUNITY–BASED GANG INTERVENTION AGENCIES SEC. 101. COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION AGENCIES. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (42 U.S.C. 5601 et seq.) is amended by adding at the end the following new title: ‘‘TITLE VI—COMMUNITY–BASED GANG INTERVENTION GRANTS ‘‘SEC. 601. PURPOSE. "The purpose of this title is to offer holistic and comprehensive support for the variety of community-based gang intervention activities that focus on and engage active and former gang members, their close associates, and gang members in and returning from confinement. Gang involved youth and their families require specialized intensive and comprehensive services that address the unique issues encountered by youth when they become involved with gangs. Community-based gang intervention involves proactive and reactive responses to gang activities on several levels, including—‘‘(1) the regional level, to promote and coordinate peace truces and cease-fires between groups; ‘‘(2) the State and local level, including community and the juvenile halls, camps, Division of Juvenile Justice facilities, county jails, and State prisons; and ‘‘(3) the neighborhood and street level, including with active gang members individually. ‘‘SEC. 602. SUPPORT OF COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION AGENCIES. ‘‘(a) SUPPORT OF COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION AGENCIES.—Subject to the availability of appropriations, the Administrator shall award grants to eligible entities to carry out the activities described in subsection (c). ‘‘(b) ELIGIBLE ENTITY.—For the purposes of this section, an ‘eligible entity’ means a community-based gang intervention agency that is a nonprofit organization with a proven track record and expertise in providing community-based gang intervention activities through a community-based gang intervention model. ‘‘(c) GRANT ACTIVITIES.—Each entity awarded a grant under this section shall carry out the following activities: ‘‘(1) Conduct street mediation by working with gang members and persons with influence over such member to defuse and de-escalate potential and actual violence internally between gang members and between rival gangs. ‘‘(2) Develop local and regional truces by creating cease-fires or nonaggression agreements between rival gangs and neighborhoods. ‘‘(3) Serve as conduits who facilitate constant dialogue and maintenance between gangs and neighborhoods. ‘‘(4) Provide services that respond to the high levels of anxiety experienced by gang members to decompress critical situations due to traumatic events. ‘‘(5) Provide 24-hour, 7-day-a-week crisis intervention services by responding to requests for violence prevention services made by gang members, the families of gang members, school officials, intervention workers, social service agencies, or law enforcement. ‘‘(6) Provide targeted training and technical assistance to violence-plagued communities after a major gang-related incident. ‘‘(7) Facilitate the development of a community response plan, including training protocols, situational scene scenarios, and emergency response. ‘‘(8) Make a reasonable effort to prevent gang related rumors from intensifying tension between gangs or igniting violent responses by gangs. ‘‘(9) Establish relationships with community stakeholders to inform and engage them in quality-of-life activities that enhance intervention activities. ‘‘(10) Serve as intervention representatives in communities by attending local meetings involving nonprofit organizations, schools, faith-based organizations, and other entities. ‘‘(11) Develop conflict resolution skills and techniques to address and resolve community concerns related to gang activity in order to improve the quality of life within neighborhoods. ‘‘(12) Work with schools to respond to gang-related issues and crises both in and outside of school. ‘‘(13) Provide support services for youth and families affected by gang violence and other victims of gang violence (including any individual who is physically, emotionally, financially, or otherwise harmed by criminal activity, and those affected by harm done to or by a family member), which may include—‘‘(A) advocating for public sector and private sector assistance and services; ‘‘(B) grief counseling; and ‘‘(C) referrals to treatment and rehabilitation for cognitive, mental, emotional, physical, or financial injury, loss, or suffering. ‘‘(14) Provide comprehensive mental health services to youth and families affected by gang violence or involvement, including—‘‘(A) integrated services comprised of individual, family, and group therapy modalities, and psychological education provided through youth and parent training programs; and ‘‘(B) gang-responsive services including skills training, assessing and servicing youth with developmental disabilities, behavioral modification, and services to address substance use and abuse, anger management, emotional regulation, traumatic stress, family violence, depression, suicide, anxiety, and educational problems. ‘‘(15) Provide public and private sector career job training, development, and placement, including—‘‘(A) job-finding and job-maintaining skills, including skills related to resume writing, interviewing, workplace decorum, interpersonal communication, and problem-solving; ‘‘(B) information about legal rights in the workplace; and ‘‘(C) financial literacy. ‘‘(16) Assist with substance use and abuse treatment, domestic violence victims, and voluntary tattoo removal of markings on the body related to gang involvement. ‘‘(d) AVAILABILITY OF VICTIMS ASSISTANCE.—An entity awarded a grant under this section that provides victim assistance under paragraph (13) of subsection (c) shall not discriminate in the provision of such assistance to an individual based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic level, or past record. ‘‘SEC. 603. DEFINITIONS. ‘‘In this title: ‘‘(1) COMMUNITY.—Notwithstanding the definition of ‘community based’ in section 103, the term ‘community’ means a unit of local government or an Indian Tribe. ‘‘(2) COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION AGENCY.—The term ‘community-based gang intervention agency’ means a community-based organization, association, or other entity that—‘‘(A) promotes public safety, with the specific objective of reducing and stopping gang-related and gang-motivated violence and crime; and ‘‘(B) has a history of, or experience or specific training in, effectively working with gang involved youth and their families. ‘‘ (3) COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION MODEL.—The term ‘community-based gang intervention model’ means a holistic and comprehensive approach to reducing gang violence that utilizes the two-prong approach of community based intervention and an integrated approach of providing rehabilitative service delivery to gang-involved youth that—‘‘(A) deploys specialists in community based gang intervention who are are trained to utilize the two-prong approach of community based gang intervention and who intercede, interact, and participate with and in the community to quell rumors, prevent and mediate conflicts, and respond to crises related to gang activity and violence; ‘‘(B) delivers rehabilitative services to gang-involved individuals and families; and ‘‘(C) addresses the barriers that gang-involved youth and their families encounter and the societal factors that promote gang violence. ‘‘(4) EVIDENCE-BASED.—The term ‘evidence based’, when used with respect to a practice relating to gang activity prevention and intervention (including community-based gang intervention), means a practice (including a service, program, or strategy) that has statistically significant outcomes that include a reduction in gang-related violence and an increased number of youth in job development, recreation, arts-based activities, or faith-based activities. Such outcomes may be determined by—‘‘(A) an experimental trial, in which participants are randomly assigned to participate in the practice that is the subject of the trial; or ‘‘(B) a quasi-experimental trial, in which the outcomes for participants are compared with outcomes for a control group that is made up of individuals who are similar to such participants. ‘‘(5) GANG.—The term ‘gang’ means a group of individuals—‘‘(A) organized by geography, culture, or activity; ‘‘(B) that have a group name, and may have other identifying characteristics of the group such as colors and nicknames; and ‘‘(C) who engage in the use of violence to defend the members or territory of the group. ‘‘(6) PROMISING.—The term ‘promising’, when used with respect to a practice relating to community-based gang intervention, means a practice that is not evidence-based, but—‘‘(A) that has outcomes from an evaluation that demonstrate that such practice reduces gang-related violence and crime; or ‘‘(B) about which a study is being conducted to determine if such practice is evidence based. ‘‘(7) YOUTH.—The term ‘youth’ means—‘‘(A) an individual who is 18 years of age or younger; or ‘‘(B) in any State in which the maximum age at which the juvenile justice system of such State has jurisdiction over individuals exceeds 18 years of age, an individual who is such maximum age or younger.’’. TITLE II—AMENDMENTS TO THE OFFICE OF JUVENILE JUSTICE AND DELINQUENCY PREVENTION SEC. 201. DEFINITION OF COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION. Section 103 of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (42 U.S.C. 5603) is amended—(1) in paragraph (1), by inserting ‘‘except when used in title VI,’’ before ‘‘the term’’; (2) in paragraph (28), by striking ‘‘and’’ after the semicolon; (3) in paragraph (29), by striking the period at the end and inserting ‘‘; and’’; and (4) by adding at the end the following new paragraph: ‘‘(30) COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION.—Except when used as part of the term ‘community-based gang intervention agency’ or ‘community-based gang intervention model’, the term ‘community-based gang intervention’ means a two-prong approach to reducing gang violence that—‘‘(A) provides specialized, gang-specific mediation and mitigation to stop or prevent violence by, within, and between gangs; and ‘‘(B) provides the redirection of individual gang members and their families through proactive efforts that increase peace and safety for gang members, their families, and their communities.’’. SEC. 202. COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION REPRESENTATIVE TO STATE ADVISORY BOARDS. Section 223(a)(3)(ii) of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (42 U.S.C. 5633(a)(3)(ii)) is amended—(1) in subclause (III), by inserting ‘‘, community-based gang intervention,’’ after ‘‘delinquency prevention and treatment’’; and (2) in subclause (IV), by inserting ‘‘community based gang intervention,’’ after ‘‘prevention and treatment,’’. SEC. 203. GRANTS FOR DELINQUENCY PREVENTION PROGRAMS. Section 504 of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (42 U.S.C. 5783) is amended—(1) in subsection (a)—(A) by redesignating paragraphs (7) and (8) as paragraphs (8) and (9), respectively; and (B) by inserting after paragraph (6) the following new paragraph: ‘‘(7) community-based gang intervention and gang prevention activities;’’. (2) in subsection (c)(2), by inserting ‘‘and community-based gang intervention’’ before ‘‘activities;’’ c/s
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John C. Smith, Dine Elder/Medicine Man: R.I.P.

Yesterday at around 10 am, I lost one of my teacher/elders among the Dine people (the Navajo). John C. Smith passed on at the San Juan Regional Hospital in Farmington, New Mexico. He was 85.

Mr. Smith was a Hataalii (Medicine Man) as well as a Native American Church/ABNDN Roadman, Historian, Educator, Philosopher, Herbalist, and Elder Statesman. He was of the Ma’iideeshgiizhnii (Coyote Pass Clan) and born for the Dziltl’ahnii (Mountain Cove). Mr. Smith was also a spokesperson and advocate for the Dine Hataalii Association, Inc.

For almost twenty years, I’ve been doing ceremonies, including peyote prayer meetings and sweat baths, with the Dine near the Chuska Mountains on the Arizona side of Dine Bikeyah (Navajo Nation). Medicine man Anthony Lee and his wife Delores of Lukachukai have taken in my whole family – and even adopted my wife Trini in an adult adoption ceremony, which many traditional Navajo do (and they treat these adopted children as their own).

These ceremonies have been one of the most vital aspects of my sobriety that I’ve now carried for twenty years after 27 years of drugs and alcohol (in the Rez, peyote medicine, which is not a drug, although this is the impression usually given by non-natives, is the number one way to deal with the high rates of alcoholism).

Anthony introduced us to John C. Smith, who was almost always at our ceremonies – with songs, with chants, with powerful prayers. Even though I only know a couple of Navajo words, I always felt his spirit, his intense devotion to medicine and ceremony, and was moved when tears would fall. He was a man unafraid to express the range of human emotions, generous and inviting. He was also extremely funny. His jokes, his laughter, were contagious. He knew English and Spanish, with some problems, but he mostly communicated in Dine.

John liked the Chicano Natives that would come to connect to Dine traditions (Trini and I, as well as our two young sons, my daughter, two brother-in-laws, nephews, and many friends, including Louie Ruan who was the first one to bring me to Lukachukai). It has taken a long time, but many traditional peoples have accepted Chicanos as fellow natives, even though most Chicanos, Mexicans and Central Americans have lost direct tribal ties.

It is also true that Chicanos/Mexicans have been responsible for much suffering of the Dine. When this land was part of Spain more than 200 years ago, and part of Mexico more than 100 years ago, ruling governments (during the Mexican period, the country was run by light-skinned mostly Spanish criollos) used other Mexican native peoples (like Yaquis, Chichimecas, Huicholes, and more) to hunt down and kill Navajos, Apaches and others. The old divide-and-conquer has brought much animosity between the large number of Chicanos/Mexicans and other native peoples.

At the same time, our common heritages are now being explored and many inroads have been made to bring Chicanos and Native Americans together. I have done talks to many Dine, Apache, Pueblo and Tohono O’odham youth in reservations and schools. With large numbers of tribal peoples from Mexico and Central America coming to the United States, the issue of us coming together is imperative. There are now three million Mayan people from Mexico and Guatemala in the U.S. (more than the total Native American population) – and millions more such as Mexicas (Nahuatl-speaking people), Mixtecos, Zapotecos, Purepechas, Pibils, and others.

As well Chicanos have been now trained and fully sanctioned as Mexica Danzantes (so-called Aztec ceremonial dancers) and are now a major number in most Sun Dances in Lakota reservations and others across the United States.

John C. Smith will be remembered as one who worked hard to bring our peoples together, although he did this as a Dine, using the complex Dine cosmologies to teach, the wondrous Dine tongue to sing and pray. Anthony and John also taught us how Mexicans – like the Hopi – have been incorporated into the tribe with their own clans. The Navajo know how to adapt and incorporate the world and peoples around them.

I hope what John C. Smith has done resonates throughout all the Native world, regardless of borders that have blinded us to our common heritages, histories and values. We can no longer afford to be divided.

Tiahui

c/s

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A new birth date, a new life

Today I celebrate twenty years of sobriety. My new birth date since the last time I drank in 1993 has been June 30. What a long painful and wondrous road this has been. I never imagined how intense this process would be. First I had to deal with seven years, from ages 12 to 19, when I was on drugs, alcohol, “huffing,” and also heroin. The latter finally getting its grips on me when I thought I’d never end up like the tecatos I knew in the barrio – usually in the alleys, chantes (“shooting” shanties) or hobo junctions along the railroad tracks.

I let all this go against great odds, against my own impulses, after getting politically engaged through the radical wing of the Chicano Movement, linking me to the larger working class, anti-war and civil rights struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I liked being on drugs, especially heroin, but I had convinced myself of the one thing I dreaded most in being in a gang, on drugs and violent – I was never going to own my life if I continued toward these pulls and webs. La Vida Loca – the Crazy Life – was a chain I enjoined to my soul and my mind. I had to let this go.

Political consciousness helps one to become self-aware, especially with the demands to be learned, skilled in words and ideas, and in convincing a world not to act the way it had been accustomed to act. I wanted to be true to myself, a difficult thing for an addict who never is. But, unfortunately, I didn’t give up on addiction—I just turned it toward the bottle, which I was good in imbibing, maintaining for a good while, and for the most part functioning, although after many years I reached a point I only thought about the bars, the women, the smoky rooms, the way tequila and rum germinated inside me, mutating my cells, my brain, my values.

Finally, when I was losing my teenage son to drugs and gangs, when I almost lost my present wife Trini, the last big love of my life, and possibly my daughter and two younger boys, I awoke to sobriety. More liked slapped into it. A year before this I had finished my memoir “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” This proved to be a powerfully healing thing. Then I found a Chicago-based recovery program that spoke to my needs, soul hungers and angers. I quit drinking the same year that “Always Running” hit the literary world like a hammer. Although I had one final terrible relapse during a poetry tour in Europe, apparently almost dying from what recovery people said was most likely alcohol poisoning (although I refused medical attention).

I kept myself sober ever since, even when I switched to Native American and Native Mexican spiritual practices, even when my oldest son ended up in worse trouble, eventually getting a long prison term, even when the family moved back to L.A. from Chicago, then trying to create a community-based cultural center and bookstore while writing more books, more poems, stories, children’s books, and a novel as well as traveling to speak, teach, and read. Even when my mother died, my best friends were taken from me (also heroin, cocaine, and alcohol heads at one time or another, two died by suicide), when I underwent some deep betrayals, and I raged and raged.

I’m still here. My body is worn – bad liver, diabetes, hypertensive, high cholesterol, eye retina tears, slipped discs in my back, kidney and gallstone attacks… but I’m still unbelievably better than if I kept drinking. I’ve made it so far. And my son Ramiro is now out of prison after a total of 15 years behind bars. He’s also crime free, gang free and drug free. In addition, my wife Trini and I celebrated 25 years of marriage this year. And my daughter is doing well, presently pregnant with my fifth grandchild, while my youngest boys are in wonderful straits – one just finished a year at the University of California, Riverside, and the other going to UCLA in the fall.

Twenty years. I have many more years to go – more books to write, more talks, more peace and healing work, more community activism, more revolutionary teachings and writings, even perhaps a political campaign or two (last year I was the Justice Party’s vice presidential candidate). And, of course, many more years as a husband, father and grandfather.

I thank the Creator, my community, my family. Nothing could be done in a vacuum, disconnected, or by following the dreaded internal pressures to give up. My biggest battle was with myself. I now have strict loyalties and principles (for fear if I fudge any of these, I’ll fall back). I’m ready for the next twenty – a new adventure, giving back more than receiving, teaching more than doing, and extending my love for family and community to the world.

Twenty years – and I’m still bleeding blossoms, perspiring poems, and an undeterred warrior of peace and justice wherever I go.

c/s

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In honor of Paula Quezada Pinedo

In late May, my wife Trini's aunt and "nina" (godmother) passed away after a hard bout with cancer. Paula Quezada Pinedo was much beloved by family and many friends. She was Trini's "favorite" relative for more reasons than one: Tia Paula held many of the family stories, many of the values and hopes. She was always quick with a smile, with pleasantries, with kind and embracing words. Trini would visit Tia Paula from time to time to share and exchange thoughts, updates, and, of course, stories. Her mother's younger sister, Trini found in Paula an example of a spiritually strong woman, rich in faith, a beloved mother, and a woman who spoke her mind, yet never brought shame or dishonor to her life or that of her family. I actually met Tia Paula many years before I ever met Trini. Just to show how intertwined our fates can be. In one of my most troubled years as a youth, at 15 I briefly worked that summer at a well-known Mexican restaurant in San Gabriel. A friend -- worried about my street life, drug use and gang involvement -- persuaded his father, who managed the restaurant, to hire me. I didn't last long, but the time I was there I worked hard. I was a busboy -- picking up dirty dishes and glasses, taking plastic trays with dirty dishes to the dishwashers, making sure people had water, coffee, and then clearing and cleaning tables. I had to be consistently on the move, walking with an eye to any customer that may need silverware, napkins, filled water glasses. There was tension between the busboys -- the low employees in the totem -- and the waiters. Even with the kitchen staff. They bossed us around. They made fun of us. They made us do extra work. I didn't like this. Authority figures generally tended to put my dignity on the line, and this was no exception. The waitresses were different. Most were nice. One or two were bossy. But the most congenial and helpful was Paula. She was one of the waitresses, with a version of Mexican-style uniform (mainly to attract the majority middle-class white patrons) that I found unreal and patronizing. But Paula always asked how I was, always had a smile, and when she saw I was distressed for any reason, always asked what I needed. I didn't trust many people in those days, especially adults, but Paula was different. She was genuine and trustworthy. Little did that I know that in around seven years, I'd meet her niece, Trini, who was active in Chicano revolutionary politics just like me. We worked together for years in community, whether in Los Angeles or later in Chicago (and now that we've returned to the San Fernando Valley). When Trini and I married in 1988 (I was 34 she was 35), I reconnected with this remarkable woman. She became my tia as well. I'm honored to have known her, to have been a witness to her grace and soulfulness. Que en paz descanses, Tia Paula. c/s
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Ending Life Without the Possibility of Parole

I was fortunate to be a judge last year in a contest of prisoner writing for a new anthology called "Too Cruel, Not Unusual Enough." This anthology includes writings from prisoners and others addressing the insane and terribly budget destroying (and not much help when it comes to public safety) sentences of Life Without the Possibility of Parole. In deft language and clear argument, including with prose and poetry, the anthology lays out a strong case to end this practice of LWOP. We are the only country in the world that has LWOP for juveniles and one of the few that still has this for adults. It's definitely cruel and unusual -- or as the book title says, "Too Cruel, Not Unusual Enough." I thank my longtime friend, Kenneth Hartman, for inviting to be a judge and to write the preface to this book. Kenneth has served close to 35  years on a LWOP sentence that began when he was a teenager. He is now a published writer, father, and decent human being, despite being behind bars all these years. He is a strong case, like so many others, that LWOP is just another death penalty (in both, prisoners can only leave prison in a box). Here is a link where I speak on this issue and the importance of raising funds to get this book published and distributed as widely as possible. Please donate to this important cause: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-other-death-penalty-project--2 c/s
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Books for Salvadoran Prisons -- Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 22, 2013

Contact: Steve Vigil: 718.710.2567

Alex Sanchez: 213.383.7484

Books Donated to Salvadoran Prisons to Support an Unprecedented Yearlong

Gang Peace

LOS ANGELES, CA – The Transnational Advisory Group in Support of the Peace Process in El Salvador (TAGSPPES) is pleased to announce a donation of some 150 books to thirteen Salvadoran prisons as part of TAGSPPES’s support of the peace truce that has been in effect since March of 2012, resulting in a 40 to 60 percent drop in violence between El Salvador’s largest street gangs: Mara Salvatrucha-13 and 18th Street.

Renowned musician and activist John Densmore, drummer for the Doors, has donated the funds for the majority of these books. The book coordinator is Alex Sanchez, director of Homies Unidos, a gang intervention program in the Central American communities of Los Angeles and in El Salvador. Prisons will receive Spanish-language versions of “Tattoos of the Heart” by Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, and “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” by Luis J. Rodriguez, co-founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in the San Fernando Valley. A few English-language versions of both books will also be sent. The City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, under the guidance of HRC president Paule Cruz Takash, as well as Luis J. Rodriguez donated some of the books.

TAGSPPES was created in April of 2012 to assess, advise and assist the current peace process, coordinated by Monsignor Fabio Colindres and former Salvadoran congressman Raul Mijango. In July of 2012, eleven members of TAGSPPES spent seven days in El Salvador – visiting prisons, including one for women and a juvenile lockup, as well as government offices, schools, non-governmental agencies, and factories. Their report from October of 2012 is available to the media.

In addition talks and report backs about the gang peace have been held in Los Angeles along with the showing of the Salvadoran gang film “Fruits of War” as well as cities such as Boulder/Denver, Seattle, Chicago, upstate New York, San Francisco, Oakland, and Washington D.C., among others.

c/s

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San Quentin Prison’s GRIP Program

I was fortunate earlier this year to visit San Quentin Prison’s Guiding Rage into Power (GRIP) program with around 35 men holding 900 years or so of life behind bars. Many of the participants are lifers, including for murder convictions. Inside-Out’s Jacques Verduin invited me to speak to and hear from the men during a recent visit to the San Francisco Bay Area. Jacques has been doing fantastic work with San Quentin prisoners for fifteen years. I’ve done other poetry readings and talks through Jacques’ former program, Insight Prison Project. I have also visited SQ with other programs about half a dozen times over the past ten years – once reading poetry with a saxophone player, drummer, and other poets in the maximum security yard (with a positive response from prisoners). This particular time was special, especially with older men who are learning how to turn their rages, their traumas, their violent acts and crimes, into dignity and nobility. GRIP helps formerly violent men become peacekeepers. It’s possible – I’ve seen this over and over again in my close to thirty five years of visiting prisons and juvenile lockups throughout California. I started in Chino Prison in 1980 and have done this in other states such as New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oregon, Illinois, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and more. I’ve also visited some stark and even inhumane prisons in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Argentina. And in Europe I did poetry workshops with Italian juvenile offenders as well as spent three days talking to prisoners in a facility in southern England. The “official” narrative from government, law enforcement, and the mass media is that these men are unredeemable, great manipulators, and a danger to society. On the other hand, I contend a vast majority of prisoners have great capacity for learning, healing and transforming. There are countless writers, poets, artists, musicians, intellectuals, and more among them. Although I was a gang member and drug addict in my youth some forty years ago – having been behind bars in various East L.A./Southeast L.A.-area jails as well as juvenile hall and two adult facilities, I avoided the  state prison terms that most of my homies were given. My way of giving back was to facilitate writing workshops in prisons under the mentorship of the late Manuel “Manazar” Gamboa, who himself spent seventeen years incarcerated and twenty years as a heroin addict. He changed his life and in turn helped changed others, including me. I have been crime and drug free for forty years. Today I try to help those men and women who have been caught up in the madness. I’ve also published poetry and other writings from prisoners, and continue to assist former prisoners whenever possible. One book to seek is "Honor Comes Hard: Writings from California State Prison's Honor Yard," edited by Lucinda Thomas and myself (from Tia Chucha Press and available online as well as from from Tia Chucha's Bookstore or Northwestern University Press). I also have family – brothers-in-law and cousins – that have been imprisoned. And as most people know my oldest son Ramiro did a total of fifteen years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. Ramiro has been out for almost three years and doing well, also now free of gangs, crimes and drugs, and working as a gang prevention and intervention specialist. To learn more about GRIP please go to this website: http://www.insight-out.org/ c/s
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Passing on

It’s sad to have blogs with names of people I’ve loved or admired who have passed on. But I must recognize some important people in my life who’ve recently died. First is Los Angeles teacher Sal Castro, who passed on April 15 after a bout with cancer. He was 79.

Sal was a leader in the 1968 East Los Angeles “Blowouts” – one of the largest protests for education in the United States at the time. Schools in L.A.’s vast eastside – such as Lincoln, Garfield, Roosevelt, and middle schools like Hollenbeck, among others – had walkouts to protest discrimination and low education resources for Chicano students. Numbers ranged from 10,000 to 30,000 people involved, students, parents, teachers, and community members alike.

The 2006 HBO movie “Walkout” dramatized the incident, directed by Edward James Olmos and produced by Moctezuma Esparza, a student leader of the protests in 1968. Actor Michael Pena played Castro in the film (and other actors played other leaders and friends of mine such as Bobby Verdugo, Carlos Montes, Harry Gamboa, and the amazing Paula Crisostomo – the movie was based on her story… she was a mentor of mine in high school).

I was 13 in 1968 and walked out of my San Gabriel Valley middle school known as Garvey Intermediate School in the Richard Garvey School District, the district adjacent to the East Los Angeles schools. Although I was a troubled kid, in a gang, using drugs, and not doing well in school, when I heard about the protest this fired up my imagination – it took a while, but this opened a door to social justice and change that became a life-long avocation.

Although only five of us walked out of Garvey School – and promptly suspended – I did later participate in a Chicano Leadership Conference that Sal Castro helped organize to train the next generation of leaders. Sal probably wouldn’t have recognized me from among the many Chicano students listening to his talks and those of other leaders (although usually in cholo attire, I was relatively shy and withdrawn at the time). But I soon took part in study groups, collective actions, and by age 20 left entirely all gang and drug involvement to pursue a revolutionary life.

Sal was part of this transformation, planting a seed that has stayed with me all these years.

I also want to remember Johnny Godinez, “El Huero” from the Arizona Maravilla barrio (one of a dozen barrios in the Maravilla district of East Los Angeles). For years he was a leader in gang intervention in Los Angeles, employed by SEA (Soledad Enrichment Action). He also worked with me and forty other peace warriors, advocates and researchers in the “Effective Community-Based Gang Intervention Model” approved by L.A.’s city council in 2008 and used in cities across the U.S. (I also introduced this model to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; El Salvador; Guatemala; Argentina; and England). Johnny and I have sat on many peace panels, circles and coalitions over the past ten years. He died of a heart attack and will be sorely missed.

And today I read that Richie Havens died on April 22, 2013 – the African American folk singer and guitarist played a large musical role in the civil rights and anti-war struggles of the 1960s. He combined a unique singing and playing style with the powerful folk music tradition. He became famous after opening for the 1969 Woodstock Festival. I did not know him well, but I had the privilege of reading poetry with Richie Havens playing in the background at the Nurorican Café in New York City in the early 1980s. With me were poets like Kimiko Hahn and Miguel Algarin. He was gracious and kind to us poets as we admired the poetry he brought to his lyrics, his singing and guitar.

Que en paz descansen.

c/s

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