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This is happening a lot sooner than either of us anticipated. My guest not only says it’s okay for me to share his identity with you, but he urges it. It is his choice, not mine.

Alex at Estrella Vista

My visitor is Alex King, and he loves this place. After less than two days, he says being at Estrella Vista is already working its magic on him.

Alex and his brother Derek were involved in a 2001-2002 arrest and court case in Pensacola FL. Alex received a 7-year sentence and Derek received an 8-year sentence. Derek spent six months at Estrella Vista several years ago. Derek and Alex were the first parricides with whom I became friends, and the first and only kids who have been released from prison upon serving their terms.

I had expected something entirely different. I had thought that it would take at least a week before Alex would begin to relax and shed the negative effects of the outer world. But even shortly after I met him at the train, he began to comment to me how courteous and kind the people were that he encountered in Alpine. After his first day at Estrella Vista, he was struck by the amazing power of being surrounded by so much beauty.

I told him that the Big Bend is said by some people to be one of the most powerful energy centers on earth, and that maybe it was this inherent power in the land to which he was responding. He responded that he believes in that sort of thing and allowed that the speed of his adjustment could be attributed to something like that. But we’re not unduly concerned with analyzing the cause of his reaction; it is enough to see how unguarded and comfortable he is here.

We have met in person several times before; this is an entirely different Alex King than I have ever known. I jokingly told him he’s put me in a bad spot: I will be tempted to take credit for his transformation.

But the truth is, he has learned well from turbulence in his life so far. He arrived a different person than I had expected. He is a mature, intelligent, and talented individual. He already knows what he is about and what he needs. Alex has arrived at Estrella Vista prepared to make use of the place, not so much as a place for healing, but as a locus of opportunity. As I showed him around the property, he not only grasped the vision, but began volunteering what tasks and roles he could undertake to help.

I can’t predict how his visit will turn out or how long it will last. I can only say that Alex couldn’t have reacted better to Estrella Vista, and that we are off to a good start.

Initially, the mission of Estrella Vista appears to be in play at last.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Radiohead performing “Everything In Its Right Place”



pennsylvania does it again

upside down house

The more I learn about how things work in Pennsylvania, the more I’m glad I don’t live anywhere near that state. If any jurisdiction is likely to misuse the laws of seizure and forfeiture, and use them for a corrupt purpose, that jurisdiction is likely to be Pennsylvania (and especially Philadelphia).

Last week a reader sent me a link to a CNN story reporting that a Philadelphia couple say police seized their home due to their son’s first drug offense.

One day this past March, without warning, the government took a house away from its owners, Christos and Markella Sourovelis, even though the couple was never charged with a crime or accused of any wrongdoing. Police just showed up at the house and arrested the couple’s 22-year-old son, Yianni, on drug charges—selling $40 worth of heroin. Authorities say he was selling drugs out of the home. The Sourvelises say they had no knowledge of any involvement their son might have had with drugs.
A month-and-a-half later police came back—this time to seize their house, forcing the Sourvelises and their children out on the street that day. Authorities came with the electric company in tow to turn off the power and even began locking the doors with screws, the Sourvelises say. Authorities won’t comment on the exact circumstances because of pending litigation regarding the case.
Police and prosecutors came armed with a lawsuit against the house itself. It was being forfeited and transferred to the custody of the Philadelphia District Attorney. Authorities said the house was tied to illegal drugs and therefore subject to civil forfeiture.
In two years, nearly 500 families in Philadelphia had their homes or cars taken away by city officials, according to records from Pennsylvania’s attorney general.
Authorities use a civil forfeiture law that allows them to seize people’s property when that property is even alleged to be connected to the sale of illegal drugs.
CNN legal analyst and civil attorney, Brian Kabateck, who has represented clients in civil forfeiture cases says the law is intended to protect the public. “It discourages crime and it takes the ill-gotten gains away from the bad people.”
But in Pennsylvania not all people who have their property taken away are charged with a crime. Unlike criminal forfeiture, the civil law allows authorities to seize property without the owner ever being convicted or even charged.
In some states like North Carolina property can be forfeited only if the property owner is actually convicted of a crime, but this is not so in Pennsylvania and other states.Civil liberties attorneys with the Institute for Justice, who recently filed a class action lawsuit against Philadelphia authorities for abusing the law, say, “Civil forfeiture is something that is an assault upon fundamental notions of private property ownership and due process.”In Pennsylvania, the City of Brotherly Love is far and away the most aggressive in the state when it comes to people’s property. Over a four-year period, Allegheny County, the second largest county in Pennsylvania, filed about 200 petitions for civil forfeiture. Philadelphia filed nearly 7,000 petitions in one year alone, according to the class action lawsuit, in which the Sourvelises are plaintiffs, along with other Philadelphia citizens.Philadelphia officials seized more than 1,000 houses, about 3,300 vehicles and $44 million in cash, totaling $64 million in civil forfeitures over a 10-year period, according to the lawsuit.The very authorities taking the property appear to be profiting from it, according to Pennsylvania state records. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office says about $7 million went straight to the salaries for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office and the police department in just three years. In that same time period, records show the DA’s office spent no money on community-based drug and crime-fighting programs, according to the Philadelphia AG’s office.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office said it seizes property “only as a last resort,” and added that it is limited in what it can currently say because of the pending litigation.

“In most cases the Public Nuisance Task Force doesn’t pursue forfeiture because the underlying issue with the real estate is resolved when a settlement agreement is reached with the property owner in which he or she agrees to take reasonable efforts to prevent future narcotics dealing from the property.”

The DA’s office also says it works directly with citizens, the police, government agencies, and community groups in an effort to abate or close drug properties.

Civil forfeiture can be used on the federal or state level. Only eight states—Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Indiana, Vermont, North Carolina, Ohio and North Dakota—require seized funds be placed in a neutral account. Other states allow law enforcement to directly profit from the civil forfeitures or put proceeds into a special crime fighting fund.

In some states, like Pennsylvania, the burden is on the property owner to prove their innocence. The Sourvelises say they had to go to a courtroom and fight to get their home back where, instead of facing a judge, they faced a prosecutor from the DA’s office.

There was no courtroom or judge, Christos Sourvelis says. “There’s just one guy telling us to sign these papers. That’s it.”

After eight days of sleeping on a family member’s couch, the Sourvelises were let back into their house, but only on the guarantee they would ban their son from the house—a heartbreaking decision, they say. (Their son pleaded no contest to the drug charges.)

Still fighting the city to resolve their case and stay in their home permanently, Markella Sourovelis says: “To me I’m home, but I feel violated at this point. I’m doing things in my house, but I worry is it always going to be my house? Are they going to take it one day like that?”

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office said it strictly follows the state law in an effort to crack down on drug abuse.

“In these efforts we will follow applicable law to protect the rights of those involved—not only drug dealers and those associated with them—but the law-abiding citizens who are negatively affected by them.”

Says Sourovelis: “I’m a working guy. I work every day, six days a week, even seven if I have to.

“I was so upset thinking somebody’s going to take my house for nothing. That makes me crazy,” Sourovelis says, shaking his head.


The above post is a lightly-edited story written by Cable News Network and appearing on the website of Fox 31 of Denver.


Groove of the Day

 Listen to Toby Keith performing “That’s My House”



IMG_3130It was a cloudy, grey weekend and uncharacteristically cool. It even rained a little bit. We’re catching the remnants of the hurricane that hit Mexico. Not good for electrical generation (I ran the generator for the first time in weeks) but a relief nevertheless.

Tonight I must travel to Alpine to meet the train; at this time I can only say that I am meeting a long-anticipated visitor. For the first time in almost three years I will be sharing this little space with someone else for an indefinite period of time. My visitor is going to take over the sleeping loft (which I can no longer access because of the stroke), but most of the time we will be sharing the one single room of the house plus the boundless outdoors.

It will involve an adjustment; living alone fosters habits which must be curbed in the interests of courtesy and mutual comfort. We are both introverts, so I have a hunch we will be compatible, but only time will tell for sure. You don’t really know somebody until you have lived with them for a while.

At any rate, I am hopeful that the presence of an able-bodied person will allow progress to be made on Estrella Vista. For the last couple years, it has been quite a struggle just to stand in place. The natural elements and two dogs (one of them a puppy that chews) seem bent on constant destruction. Despite my best efforts, some days it seems like we have been through the Dust Bowl. This place is not what I would prefer it to be.

I’ll fill you in on more details as my guest’s comfort level dictates. Right now maintaining privacy is of paramount importance. But because so many of my friends have expressed concern at my solitary lifestyle, I thought it advisable to let them know that I am not alone and in caring hands. Actually, I always have been.

I am a fortunate man.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer performing “Lucky Man”


chocolate ice cream!

chocolate ice cream

We hooked up the used propane refrigerator on Friday after UPS delivered some necessary parts, and both the freezer and lower part appear to be working fine. It was a good gamble.

Maybe having refrigeration after six years doesn’t seem like such a big deal to anyone who hasn’t lived through it, but this will change my life. Welcome to the 20th century.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Hannah Montana performing “Let’s Chill (Ice Cream Freeze)”


my friend george

George C Legeros

Since Holly died, 21 years ago today, I have often thought of my friend George C. Legaros—almost every week, and maybe several times a week a week at that. This is because of something he told me now that I was living alone. “You’ll never again have to wash your coffee cup between each use.”

He knew. His own wife Connie had preceded him in death in 1975, also from cancer, and at the time of her death, Holly and I had no idea we would be following in the Legaros’ footsteps 18 years later.

This remark taught me that sometimes, when terrible things happen to us, you have to grasp at anything, however small, to find something positive in your new situation. I have washed a lot fewer coffee cups since then.

I always heeded George’s advice. Sometimes it worked out, and sometimes it didn’t (as when I hired a realtor—one of George’s more successful and affluent customers—who steered me to a mortgage banker I didn’t like, and who I learned years later had justly ended up in prison). But George had taken Holly and me under his wing when we first set up housekeeping in Minneapolis, and I trusted his intentions.

George was the owner, with his brothers, of the nearby Rainbow Cafe, a landmark Minneapolis restaurant founded by his father in the Uptown area of town in 1919. Until it closed in 1979 as one of the last and largest family restaurants in the Twin Cities, it was a place where grandmother-style comfort food was sure to be served by silver-haired ladies with names like Rose, Hermina, Dorea, and La Vaughn. If George discovered me among the customers gracing the restaurant’s comfy Naugahyde booths, chances are no check would appear at the end of the meal.

But that’s not the reason I took George’s advice. He was a really smart guy and knew a lot of stuff that, as a 20-something, I had yet to learn. I never knew until years later, but besides the University of Minnesota (which is de rigueur in Minneapolis), George had attended the Wharton School of Business, Harvard, and the University of Chicago, where he received his MBA. George loved his family, the arts, classical music, cooking, and gardening.

George died in 2001 at the age of 76. He was the age of my parents.

Before he died, George shared the following recipe for lamb stew as his restaurant and fellow Greeks prepared it. It is a fitting memorial to him that it is remembered as part of his legacy.


Rainbow Lamb Stew

3 lbs. lamb, neck or shank
1 No. 2 can whole string beans
1 cup canned tomatoes
1 cup water or chicken or beef broth
1 tbls. chopped onion
½ tsp. oregano
¼ tsp. chopped garlic
Salt, pepper, and paprika

Cut lamb into ½ lb. pieces.  Salt and pepper and roll in flour.  Place the floured pieces in a roasting pan and sprinkle with paprika.  Pour tomatoes over lamb, add the water (or broth) and sprinkle with the onion, garlic and oregano.  Bake uncovered in 325 degree oven until brown, about 1 and 1½ hours, turning continually.   Remove the lamb pieces and place in a sauce pan.  Add the broth from a can of string beans to drippings in roasting pan.  Put roasting pan on stove and bring to boil. Add drained string beans to lamb.  Strain sauce in roasting pan and pour over lamb.  Simmer until done, about 25 minutes.  Serves six.



Groove of the Day

Listen to Artie Shaw performing “The Lambeth Walk”


in its own time


I have a dream, a vision of a world where there are no more throw-away kids.

But I have a problem, too, and it’s not the enormity of the challenges and obstacles to change. The hearts of judges, prosecutors, juries, victims’ advocates, and the public can be changed—it happened once before in the decades since the ’70s and the “superpredator” myth, when America turned to a “harsh on kids” frame of mind. Yesterday in San Antonio a jury ordered probation instead of a jail term for a young man convicted of the 2012 murder of his father. This proves the mindset can be changed back again.

fr perraultNo, my problem is my advancing age. Day by day, relentlessly, the clock is ticking. Although I have recently resolved that there is no predetermined expiration date on my life, in the unlikely event that I live to be a hundred, there will always be people who will refuse to forgive and rehabilitate. I may never live to see my dream come true.

But the other night I had a dream, and I have been a man transformed ever since. I dreamed that I was gone, but through my writing, I was explaining my vision. I realized that if I do a good enough job as a writer, others can pick up my vision and see it through. Since that dream, the burden I had been carrying was lifted from my shoulders. I can continue my work with the peace-of-mind that all will happen in its own time, even if it is not my time.

Estrella Vista & Corazon PeakTomorrow will conclude the experiment in crowd funding. The goal was not met but it was a good learning experience. Only one new person stepped forward with a pledge; everyone else was an existing supporter. But that’s okay. I have to be patient. Everything in its own time. The guest rooms at Estrella Vista will eventually be built. I see them clearly. The vision is still alive.

red carpetThen yesterday I received a phone call out of the blue. It was a famous female movie star. After the role that celebrities Johnny Depp and Marjorie Main played in the release of the “West Memphis Three,” receiving that call was like something from a dream. No agents or middle men. Just us talking for more than an hour.

I didn’t know it, but apparently she has been following the blog for several years. She wants to come out to Estrella Vista and interview me. She is working on a project and there is a character she wants to loosely model on what I do. It’s an amazing break, maybe.

It reminds me that everything happens in its own time, that we set things in motion by our actions that we don’t even know are in motion. It reminds me that someone will pick up my vision even if I am gone.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Peter, Paul & Mary performing “The Times They Are A’ Changing”


a puzzlement


Comments to yesterday’s post by Matt and Frank underscore the insanity of our policies concerning drugs, which are clearly being driven by Big Pharma. But drug policies and their consequences are only a small part of what makes our society so crazy and unjust.

Some days, I don’t even try to make sense of the world. It is so illogical.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Yul Brenner performing “A Puzzlement”


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