Archive for February, 2013


the guards

guards 1

It’s been almost a year since I wrote about the band Arcade Fire, and this much newer band reminds me in some ways of them.

The Guards is a NY-based band comprised of Richie James Follin, Loren Ted Humphrey, and Kaylie Church, and they’ve been around for about three years. They’ve just issued a new disc named In Guards We Trust.

This is a selection from the new CD. I hope you like it.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Guards performing “Coming True”


going it alone

Hands of parents fighting over their son each pulling him their way.

Last week Matt sent me an e-mail observing that juvenile parricides often happen amidst the instability of divorce and that I should write about it.

“The impact of family instability on kids has been well documented, but broken, single-parent, and blended families have become so common in our modern society that I think we’ve lost sight of how these situations often impact the kids. This past week, I was reading about yet another parricide case, and was struck again by the seemingly obvious relationship between family dysfunction and kids committing crimes, especially teenage boys. Let’s face it, divorce is traumatic on the kids. They often feel responsible, sometimes they are forced to take sides by the adults, sometimes they feel abandoned, and sometimes the remarriage of the custodial parent creates an instant adversarial relationship between new parent and child, especially when that new parent is a stepfather to a teenage boy.

“I make no inference that all single-parent or blended families are dysfunctional, nor do I suggest that all kids raised in two biological parent homes will avoid trouble with the law.  Certainly family instability is not the only causal factor to these crimes, but there seems to be an obvious connection.”

Oh duh. Divorce is bad for kids. But so are bad marriages… maybe even worse. And it generally takes more than a messy divorce to lead to a juvenile parricide.

Abuse by adults is almost always at the bottom of parricides, but not always. Sometimes the kids are crazy. Sometimes (in cases such as Noah Crooks’) psychotropic drugs are to blame.

But someone being selfish is almost always the case. Adults acting like children.

I am fairly intolerant of divorce. My own marriage was good, and I speculate that I would still be married to the same person today had she not died after 22 years. Yet I am aware that we were beating the odds, and it is wrong for me to say “if I can make it, anyone can.” More than forty percent of first marriages end in divorce. It is too easy, in my opinion, for people to get hitched and have kids.

According to documentary filmmaker Kate Schermerhorn, Dr. John Gottman has a compatibility test that is 94% accurate (Link 1, Link 2). It would be nice if there were some sort of test requirement for people to get married. But it isn’t going to happen. People who are ill-suited to be either spouses or parents will continue to be married and have kids.

As much as I hate to admit it, Dan Quayle was right twenty years ago when he caused a huge stir by faulting the TV show “Murphy Brown” for portraying the choice made by its title character, an unmarried professionally successful woman, to have a child outside of marriage, and without a father at home. Quayle got pounded mercilessly by the cognoscenti, but a couple years later in a cover story in The Atlantic, author Barbara Dafoe Whitehead said the social science was on his side. It takes a mother and a father to raise a child right.

I’ll leave it to you to review The Atlantic article for all the reasons cited by Whitehead in favor of the traditional family, but I will highlight here one impact of rising singleness. In 2011, the Census Bureau found only 6.2 percent of married couples lived in poverty. In households headed only by a female, the poverty rate jumped to a staggering 31.2 percent. Men living alone also experienced higher poverty, 16.1 percent.

Income disparities were immense: median income for married couples was $74,130 compared to $33,637 for single women heading a household and $49,567 for a single male. The data are clear: marriage reduces poverty and increases financial security. And this benefits kids.

Dan Quayle has said that we should be advancing a national family values agenda, and I reprint it here because it deserves our respectful review:

  • Increase the tax exemption for children.
  • Eliminate the “marriage tax” penalty.
  • Radically reform the welfare system to reward marriage, eliminate incentives for having more children, eliminate disincentives for absentee fathers to rejoin their families, and require unwed minor children to live with their parents.
  • Change the divorce law so that the needs of our children are given priority.
  • Begin public service announcements that underscore the enormous responsibilities of being a parent.
  • Reform the education system by giving all parents the right to choose their children’s school and insist on a value-based education where virtues such as integrity, responsibility, industry, morality, and courage are taught.
  • It is time we put our children first. Our families and our nation depend on it.

It asks for too much to expect people to change their ways. Divorces will continue as before. But if a divorce is in your future, for heaven’s sake make it easier on your kids.

The following advice is taken from the book Don’t Divorce Your Children, by Drs. Jennifer Lewis and William Sammons, pediatricians trained with Dr. T. Berry Brazelton:

1. Jointly tell the children about your decision to separate/divorce.

2. Answer questions truthfully. Do not lie.

3. Do not substitute gifts for love and time and attention.

4. Facilitate visitation by the other parent at regular and predictable times.

5. Designate time for the children to spend individually with each parent.

6. Periodically discuss with your children their wishes about residence and visitation.

7. Actively participate in your children’s lives.

8. Facilitate private communication with each parent by phone/mail/fax etc.

9. Encourage your children to understand the importance of maintaining both parental relationships.

10. Keep handover times free of inter-parental arguments and hostility.

11. Discuss your children’s feelings of guilt about causing the divorce.

12. Refrain from using your children as messengers between parents.

13. Refrain from using your children as hostages, or weapons against your ex-spouse.

14. Refrain from asking your children to keep secrets from the other parent.

15. Support relationships with both extended families.

16. Offer access to a neutral adult (therapist/teacher/pediatrician/rabbi/priest) whose primary interest is the well-being of the children.

17. Help your children understand the terms of the divorce agreement, including financial, educational and visitation provisions.

18. Do not expose your children to your transient romantic relationships.

19. Do not abandon contact with your children under any circumstances.


young kids, hard time

Paul Gingerich being filmed

Quite by accident, I saw today that Calimari Productions has posted this YouTube video about Colt Lundy and Paul Gingerich. In case you didn’t see this when it ran on MSNBC, this is your big chance… and in any event, your chance to see it without commercial interruption.


a juvenile in the adult system

Nathan Ybanez

My Experience as a Juvenile in the Adult System

by Nathan Ybanez

After my initial arrest I was given an initial appearance before a judge. It all felt like a blur. There was a smear of strangers about me popping in and out of existence, prodding, moving me here and there, and jostling to scrutinize me like a car wreck. So much was happening so fast, and I didn’t understand anything, though people kept trying to tell me what was going on. I felt like I was cut loose in a turbulent river. The people in authority treated me like I didn’t exist. Like I was just an object being assessed, recorded, measured, and traded back and forth. All the people that mattered just spoke to each other, never addressing or looking at me. I felt kind of like I was in a movie—just watching events rip rapidly by.

I was placed in a juvenile facility called Foot Center for my first couple of days. I’d never been in a jail, juvenile facility, or anything like that before. But I had been in a locked mental facility once called Centennial Peaks. The Foot Center reminded me of Centennial Peaks—they were both cold, sterile structures feigning the softness and warmth of what’s human. The staff in that facility made it a point to single me out from the other kids and tell me that I was an unredeemable, evil kid who disgusted them. But the other kids treated me kindly. Strange that I had more to fear from the staff than the dysfunctional, adult jails and prisons as well.

In the Foot Center my world became the size of the common area I was permitted to go into at various times during each day. The real world outside of the walls seemed like little more than a fantasy. When I thought about the outside and the serious things going on it was all fuzzy, as a dream becomes fuzzy when you try to recall it during your waking hours. I’m not sure if this shrinking of reality has continued to this day, but it certainly continued through my days of transition from Juvenile Facility, to adult jails and the criminal courts.

After three or so days I was moved to an adult section of the Arapahoe County Jail, and placed in a cell with an adult and cameras in the corner of the ceiling. It was a mental health pod of the jail, where all of the most unstable people are. There were white, rubber rooms with grated holes in the ground for a toilet where the cops put suicidal people and those who’d had some sort of psychotic episode. I was told that I’d been placed there because they thought I was suicidal.

I was nervous about being in a cell with an older man. I was dressed in yellow, while he was dressed in orange—and it was clear I was just a kid. I was worried about being taken advantage of or attacked. But the guy they put me with was nice, twisted with an extremely dark sense of humor, but nice. He gave me some canteen food and talked to me to pass the time and brighten my spirits. It felt unnerving knowing that everything I did was on camera. When I dressed and undressed, used the toilet, slept—someone was watching me. I felt naked even when I was fully clothed.

The crazy pod was co-ed, though the sexes were separated in their time allowed out into the common area (which was about the size of a small living room). Everyone (guys and girls) seemed very sad to see me with them because I was so young. I remember one woman making me a life-like rose out of curled squares of toilet paper, and when she slid it under the door to me their were tears in her eyes. It was like she was putting flowers on my grave.

Eventually I was moved to another, much larger, pod in the jail. This pod was all juveniles who’d been charged as adults. We were all dressed in yellow, and though the pod was as gritty, the atmosphere felt kind of like summer camp. It was the fact everyone was so young there. There were kids who were just thirteen years old. I was sixteen.

Despite the summer-camp-like feel, it was very violent. Bloody fights were common, as well as extortion and thievery. I struggled to keep my bearings. There were so many rules you had to discover in order to feel safe. I had to learn to be very perceptive when it came to the kids around me—sensing when they were emotionally unstable or up to no good. I developed the skill of being in a constant state of heightened awareness, which hasn’t left me to this day. And, while I did what I could to avoid fights with others, I had to be prepared to be very violent at the drop of a hat, so their was always this sense of unpredictability, just like an adult prison.

The cops assigned to our pod did treat us a bit differently than the adults. They seemed to be kinder, and would try to do little things to make things a little easier for us like handing out candy bars for clean cells and letting us use a radio during dayroom time. But when they had to use force to arrest (cuff up) somebody or break up a fight it was just as brutal as if you were an adult. And when we got in trouble we were put into the same hole as the adults. I spent quite a bit of time there for small rule infractions—never for being violent. The hole was a very harsh and depressing place. Dirty, echoey, lonely, without fresh air or sunshine. I remember one cell I moved into had a looming humanoid figure stuccooed to the wall in toilet paper. The guy who’d had that cell before me was another juvenile and he’d become so lonely he’d made the “man” to talk to.

With everything going on, trying to survive in the new environment I was in, my court proceedings seemed far away. Like none of it was even happening to me. I attended court hearings in a daze: I don’t even remember when the district attorney decided to direct file me or what happened at my preliminary hearing. Jail and the rest of life were two separate worlds. When I returned back to my cell from court I didn’t reflect on how my case was proceeding or what I could do to help my attorney. My mind was completely taken up with trying to get by day after day.

The last time I saw my grandmother and grandfather was in that jail. I remember that the officers who ran the visiting initially permitted me to meet with my grandparents at a normal table where they could touch and hug me. Then the officer assigned to my pod told me to go back to my cell so he could speak with my grandparents alone. When I was allowed back out I had to visit them through glass. He told them I was dangerous, and for their own protection he had to separate us. They were very upset. My grandparents appreciated the seriousness of my situation. But I was still to young and immature to grasp it.

After I was convicted I was moved into a regular adult pod. It was a shock because it was so over crowded and loud. I was used to two persons per cell, which is what they were designed for. In the adult pod there were three or four people per cell. Extra guys slept on the floor in “boats” (blue, plastic containers about six inches high by two feet wide by six feet long). It was very uncomfortable to be in such a small space with so many people. Even out in the dayroom you literally had to step over people to get around. I felt claustrophobic the whole time I was there, and I prayed for it to end. The oppressive isolation of the hole was easier to deal with than that thickness. Once again, I was nervous being around all the adults, and very distrustful. I felt like a target because of my youth. I probably only weighed a buck thirty.

But I wasn’t there very long. I was quickly shipped to DRDC (the Colorado Department of Correction’s Reception and Diagnostic Center). I was shuffled in with chains, cuffs, and shackles off a bus into a small holding cell packed every square inch with guys entering CDOC. Everyone was older than me, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. I had no idea what was going on, where I was going, or who any of the people around me were. Guards came in at odd intervals to shout names and make announcements which made no sense to me. I was than corralled through a series of tight hallways and chambers along with a solid line of other guys. In each chamber I was stopped and guards did unusual things to me: strip search me, shaved all my hair, etc. Eventually I made my way to a large room with piles of green clothing everywhere. There was a guard asking people their sizes. When I told him mine he shook his head and said: “Nah! Those are too big. Here—take these. You’re gonna learn to wear normal sized clothes here in DOC.” The pants he gave me were uncomfortably tight. I felt like I was on display for sexual deviants. Finally, I was shepherded into a large pod and told to go up to a cell on a high tier. The doors all slammed shut and there was an unsettling murmur which came at odd intervals from unknown places.

I was given no orientation or explanation about CDOC. While in CDRC I was made to take a bunch of psychological tests, but never found out my results. I wasn’t even told why I was being forced to take them, though I know now it was to create a file on me that travels with me everywhere, and which is used to make all decisions concerning me. The inmates in DRDC were more disturbing than those in jail. They seemed to revel in violence and hatred. They also seemed crazier. I kept to myself as much as possible and tried to stay in my cell.

A few months later I was told to pack up my things. I was again chained, cuffed, shackled, and than put onto a bus. It was cold and hard, and I wasn’t allowed to wear a coat or anything. I found myself scrunched up and shivering as the bus lumbered away. I was not told where I was going or why. The guys around me all talked nervously, but I tried to stay silent. I didn’t want them to know how little I knew about things. From looking out the windows I learned we were going west up into the mountains. I tried to lose myself in the scenery. The bus was loud and its vibrations nearly lulled me into sleep in spite of the cold. At length we pulled up into a parking lot in front of an old-looking building nestled between sheer cliff and fences. I struggled to see where we were going but the fences and turns we made were disorientating. I couldn’t move well in my tiny seat either.

We were uploaded and corralled through a series of chambers like in DRDC but this place was much darker and older. There were inmates working in the intake area, cleaning things and hauling property. Some of the men I’d come with seemed to know them, and I tried to grasp as much as I could of what was going on from their conversations. We filtered down a staircase into a wider room where a couple guards stood with clip boards. They asked for our names and numbers we’d been issued at CRDC, and then they told us to got o a particular cell and tier. I peered through an archway behind them and saw a long corridor with open bar cells on either side just like I’d seen on TV. There were small tables in the center of the floor and I could see a few inmates sitting there playing cards. Everything was dim and heavy—like being in a cave. The guards were also vulgar and disheveled. They seemed disgusted with us. I went to my cell which was on the second tier. It was so small I couldn’t believe it, but I was relieved to see it was single occupancy. I saw the toilet was right there in front of the open bars and I wondered how I’d use the restroom without everyone across the way seeing me.

The rest of the day was chaotic and confusing. Loud speakers echoed announcements, but they were garbled and I had no idea what they were saying. I just tried to pay attention and mimic what everyone else was doing. At night after we were all locked in our cells) I noticed that people who used the toilet pinned a blanket up across their bars, so I did the same. All the guys around me seemed muscle bound. I decided I needed to get strong so I began working out. But the cell was so small I couldn’t get the space to stretch out even to do a pushup. People held conversations with each other through their bars. Mostly they spoke about sex, drugs, gambling, fights and stabbings, and “pieces of shit” they’d been around. It was pitch black until the beam of the officer doing his rounds broke everything up. It cast eerie shadows that seemed surreal. After the first walk—when the darkness reigned—a strange thing happened. One man somehow lit a piece of toilet paper on fire and threw it out of his cell. Everyone started hooting and yelling and the next thing I knew, every cell was lighting things on fire and tossing them out of their cells. I saw little flames cascading down from above and swirling around on the floor below. It was like a waterfall of fire.

The next morning was terrifying. We were allowed to shower, but it was communal showers. Everyone rushed out of their cells in the morning to be the first to grab an open showerhead or stand in line. These showers stood right in front of the observation tower, and I noticed that there was a group of female officers just standing there laughing and gawking at us. It all felt wrong to me. I had real issues with being naked around other people, and with having naked people around me I was incredibly stressed. But I knew I had to be clean. I took as quick a shower as I could and did my best to avoid everyone’s eyes.

A couple months later I was told to pack up my things and get on another bus. I wasn’t told where I was going –only that it would be a more permanent place. I ended up at AVCF after another long, uncomfortable bus ride. I was treated to the same kind of intake procedures, only less severe. I was told to go to a particular living unit, but that was it. No other guidance or explanation of what to expect. I was let out into the main compound and the contrast was dramatic: there were people walking every which way in tennis shoes and sweats, flowerpots, frosted glass etchings, and decorative signs over doorways. I didn’t know what to make of it. It seemed like a college campus or something.

I went to the living unit I was assigned to and the guards treated me like I should know what to do with myself. Once someone noticed I was just standing there dumbly, an officer pulled me into the office and told me to go to a particular cell and pod. I felt trepidation as I made my way there. I knew I’d be celling with a complete stranger. I’d been on my own the whole time they’d batted me around in the adult court system, and I was alone in this prison I was supposed to spend the rest of my life in. Groups of people eyed me suspiciously as I wound my way up to the second tier. It was a relief to get into the cell away from the weight of their stares.

I was very lucky with my first cellie. He was a 23-year-old who sympathized with my youth, and had similar interests. More important, he’d done time before and he cared enough to explain things to me. He assured me he wouldn’t let anyone come into the cell and attack me. AVCF might have had the veneer of a college campus, but it was a place where fights happened daily, stabbings weekly, and drugs, intimidation, and extortion were rampant. I was relieved to know I at least had a cell where I could feel secure enough to relax as I tried to acclimate myself to my new surroundings.

Though I was in a man’s prison, I was still a kid with a kid’s mentality. I still watched cartoons, got kicks staying up late, and played practical jokes with people I felt comfortable around. This caused some friction with the older guys, and it took some time for me to become mature enough to learn how to deal with people. I maintained my hyper-vigilant state whenever I was outside my cell, and I witnessed a lot of crazy things. People hanging themselves, shooting up heroin, rapes. I even witnessed guards beating up cuffed inmates. I remember one time I played a practical joke on a guard. I was arrested, strip searched, and than taken to the shift commander’s office. There I was forced up against a wall where a group of the biggest guards loomed over me. They interrogated me about what I’d done. Than they said “You know what we’re gonna do now? We’re gonna take you into the back and kick the living shit out of you.” They hauled me to my feet and dragged me to a dark, back area with holding cells. They shoved me in one, slammed the door shut, and said “We’re gonna get a few more people. We’ll be back.” I sat there in pitch blackness for hours. Finally someone came by and let me go.  “How’s THAT for a practical joke?” he said. It took me years to really grasp the seriousness of the environment I was in, in spite of all the violence, racism, and harsh treatment. I know this is because of my stunted growth and lack of life-experience. Things would have been different had I come in as an older person. It would have been easier to deal with the officers and other inmates. I would have some idea of who I was and what I was doing.

I was only in general population for a year or so before they put me in Administrative segregation. That was a hopeless time for me. The experience was so severe I almost can’t describe it. I don’t think I can separate it from who I’ve become now. It wasn’t physically harsh—I was warm, clean, fed at regular intervals—but it was incredibly taxing mentally and emotionally. I often sat in my cell imagining others my age out there. They were in college, learning who they were and what life was about. They were gaining skills and knowledge, renting houses or apartments, having relationships, socializing at parties. I was alone in an 8’ by 15’ cell 23 hours a day. The world which was once as large as the dayrooms I’d been allowed in now shrunk to the size of my cell. But, in another way, it expanded infinitely. To survive Ad. Seg. I had to steel myself. I had to commit to fighting for my life—otherwise the depression of isolation and confinement would end me. I was determined to develop my mind. I read voraciously, and tried to learn as much as I could of the things people my age out there in the world would be learning. Though I couldn’t experience Life, I could imagine it. My youth served me in this way. I still had a playful mind, eager to fantasize. I made an internal realm filled with subjects I could roam in. Going inside in this way saved me.

My 21st birthday was horribly sad. I was still in Ad. Seg., and I reflected that now—if I were out in society—I’d be considered fully adult. I could legally vote, buy alcohol, and do any of the other things our society permits citizens to do. But I would never do these things. I would only think about them, observe them from a distance like one who would gaze at a bank on the other side of a river. I thought about how kids out there could break their lives into stages of development: Elementary School, Middle School, and College… the world. For me, The Foot Center was Elementary School: County Jail was Middle School; Adult Prison was High School; and Administrative Segregation was college.

When I was 22 I was released from Ad. Seg.  I went back into General Population with all of its standard rate prison garbage. Gangs, drugs, mental games, power trips etc. But I’d finally grown into my own skin. Like how a lotus grows out of the mud.

The above essay is, with permission, taken from Nathan’s website, Concrete Echoes.


Jordan Brown news

Jordan Brown tcToday Dodi Marie left the next message on Jordan’s Facebook page:

“Update: GREAT news today on Jordan’s appeal!! Can’t get into the specifics as of yet but I can say all of the attorneys that have been involved in Jordan’s defense agree that the news we received was a “great sign”. Rest assured that your prayers are being heard… Superior Court is not taking this case lightly. I believe in my heart with all that I am that Jordan will be granted a retrial at the very least.”

Jordan Brown 2011In response, Cynthia Brown-Wiseman (Jordan’s aunt) said: “No News Yet…… I bet its that ‘we will get back to you in 30 days,’ which is what we have heard for the last almost 4 yrs now.”
I have two things to say.
First, I don’t doubt the veracity of Dodi Marie’s report. (I can almost hear the characters in this story saying things.) I do not have the same connections as Dodi Marie. I, too, have had no contacts–and news–from the family. There is a great temptation to anticipate the actions of an appeals court, even for lawyers. They might have said something.
Second, and this statement will offend some ears, but the outcome of this appeal is about an issue that is at once no big deal and everything in the world to our interest in the Jordan Brown case.
No big deal: Since the last appeal was won and Jordan’s case was remanded back to juvenile court, half our beef with justice was met.  Jordan was tried as the child he obviously was at the time of Kenzie Houk’s death. It is a shame the appeal took so long, but it did go our way in the end.
Everything in the world: We want to know that the whole thing is fair. On this measure, Lawrence County failed us every step of the way from cops, to prosecutor, to judge. It makes no difference to me and my support whether Jordan committed the crime. It means everything that the evidence is evaluated on its own merit and not what is politically expedient. I believe that the physical evidence suggests Jordan’s shotgun was not even the murder weapon and that this was a political set-up from the beginning.
With all people–but with kids especially–anywhere in America, you should not have to go into an appeal to get a fair trial.


head in cloud

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m slowly working my way back to everyday posts. It is very painful not writing to you each and every day.

The trouble is, I have less to say than I did before.

I take too much pleasure from listening to Minnesota Public Radio and hearing about thirty-some-below-zero temperatures. Someone is always worse-off than me.

I take too much time thinking about how good some people are. People have been so kind to me.

The little things in life seem so much more important than the “big”. They somehow seem much bigger now.

The other day I woke up with this song in my head. Sorry to inflict it on you. It just seems so appropriate.


Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Troggs performing “Love Is All Around”