Friday, April 1, 2016

LEAP and Why I Haven't Had Time to Blog

Congratulations Class 11 Graduates!!

On February 05, 2016, LEAP proudly graduated Class 11

Anchelin Gonzalez was just 17 when she left the Bronx and moved to Palm Beach to give birth to her son back in 2005. She was "leading a fast and dangerous life" in New York, she says, but relocated to live with her uncle in a sunnier side of the country. It didn't change anything - six months later, Gonzalez was arrested for trying to rob a store with a firearm. She was sentenced to 11 years in the Homestead Correctional Institution.

But Gonzalez didn't spend those 11 years stewing. Last month, she was one of ten beaming graduates in matching caps and gowns who marched to "Pomp and Circumstance". With only five months left before she can reunite with her now 11-year-old son, Gonzalez is exiting Homestead Correctional with a certificate of graduation from LEAP.

"You have to believe you can change," says Gonzalez, who dreams of eventually opening a Puerto Rican food truck called "Boricua Flavor." "If you don't have that, what do you have?"

"I've been able to really learn about myself through LEAP," Gonzalez says.

Rebecca Brown, who was a victim and aggressor of domestic violence, created a business plan to raise awareness about domestic violence. "Trac_Z" will sell wristbands that link to an online resource of support for domestic violence victims. One dollar from each band will go toward battered women's organizations. It's a business model that is "very dear" to Brown's heart. Other business ideas range from a wellness center to a hotdog stand, each one imbued with the woman's passion, interests, and business savvy.

As graduates and guests prepared to mingle with loved ones and friends, guest speaker Tracy Mourning wisely advised, "Forgive yourselves. But don't look back, all you see are your tracks. Keep your nose clean," and most important, "Leave those no good men alone."

Mentor Spotlight: 
Angela Bailey

At first glance, Angela Bailey is a statuesque goddess. She beams external radiance. A quick conversation with the former model, first time LEAP mentor, and entrepreneur quickly reveals that her radiance extracts from within.

First-time LEAP mentor Alexandra Martinez recently had the opportunity to speak with  Bailey about her experience as a mentor and community leader. Here are excerpts from their conversation.
Q: Where are you from?

A: A rural town in Lakeland, Central Florida.

Q: What type of work do you do outside LEAP?

A: I run a nonprofit, Urban Urban Reflections, where I provide mentoring services for at risk youth. I also have a for profit business, called Walk This Way Productions where we train aspiring models.

Q: How did you get into that business?

A: I used to be a professional model in New York City and Atlanta between 1996-2000. I am from a small town. Modeling was not a dream, as a young black woman growing up in the inner city people are not encouraging you to be a model. I was recruited in while I was at FAMU in Tallahassee, but my mother told me I couldn't pursue it until I obtained my degree. So I waited, got a masters in poly sci and went to New York right after graduation. 

Q: What did you learn from that experience?

I saw too many young people losing themselves, selling souls, who didn't have confidence or the structure needed to pursue the career. It's a very harsh, very adult business. I've always known that I needed to be in the education realm, I needed to work with young people. So I created this organization to help young people who are navigating the industry. It's worse now, young girls are doing everything to be beautiful.
 Q: What goals do you have for your students?
A: I want them to be successful women, I want to build self sufficient women who value their worth. Get their diplomas, graduate, get gainful employment, do what they want to do. We're getting mixed messages, young people are exposed to so much, they're confused. I want to be the advocate and say, "listen you don't need the boobs at 16." So we build them from the inside out, the principle applies in both organizations, they're all suffering from the same thing

Q: What type of work are you doing with LEAP?

A: With LEAP, I'm providing the same services I do with my two other organizations. Character development, business development, only here, I'm encouraging them to become entrepreneurs. I can share my experiences, since I've been one for 17 years. I want to help them with their journey and be an emotional support.

Q: How is it mentoring an adult compared to young people?

A: I love it. I was a little nervous at first. I have mentored adults before but never inside a prison setting. But after meeting the young women, I look forward to going in every month. Its hard to explain, its bigger than what I expected.
There are differences, you don't have to work hard on selling someone older and incarcerated on things that can happen. They know all too well.
Young people say "it won't happen to me." It's a really challenging thing, especially in Miami. It's a fast, fast city, and there are so many destructive things to get involved in.
Q: Who is your mentee?

A: Karen Graves, she wants to start a business for amputees called We have a lot in common, our energies and spirits, we have a lot of similar interests. I love her idea, you don't think about these things.
Q: Who has been one of your guiding mentors?

A: I only have one and she was not an official mentor, she didn't know she was my mentor until later on. She was my 5th grade teacher at Rochelle Elementary in Lakeland: Ms. Bailey. She was tough. I had behavior issues when I was younger and she reminded me often that I could change my life. She pushed me to think differently, outside the box. She didn't realize the words were sticking with me.

From the Executive Director
Mahlia Lindquist

"It takes a village to raise a child" is an oft quoted proverb. The same idea applies to helping women successfully transition from prison to community. The majority of incarcerated women go in with a history of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and/or mental illness. When released they leave with the stigma of a criminal record, and usually without money, job, prospects or family support. Not one person or agency is equipped to deal with such a wide array of problems.
However, the experience of a recent LEAP graduate, Ms. Sanderson, illustrates how with the help of a village, transformation is possible. As a LEAP participant Ms. Sanderson received entrepreneurial training from Barry University professor Dr. Sandler. LEAP's main teacher and over a dozen community volunteer teachers offered classes on substance abuse, financial literacy, mindfulness, nutrition, anger & stress management, employability & interview skills, public speaking, resumes, business etiquette, and cognitive behavioral management over eight months. Ms. Sanderson's LEAP mentor, Vala Kodish, connected her with Johnny Leiberbaum, owner of Swago Custom Apparel, who took a chance and hired her for a position where she is acquiring skills related to the business she dreams of starting one day. When LEAP's case worker was unable to find Ms. Sanderson housing near her job, LEAP's board members called on their contacts in the community to get her placed at the Broward Outreach Center, which is close by and provides supportive transitional housing. Vala also took her thrifting and recruited friends to donate a bike and $100 for a thrift shopping spree. Then there are the donors who keep LEAP going.
I had the pleasure of visiting with Ms. Sanderson this past weekend. She loves her job, has reconnected with her kids, raves about the folks at the Broward Outreach Center, can't wait to help other LEAPers and is brimming with joy and optimism. The woman seriously has it going on, and I have absolutely no doubt she will be completely self sufficient within a year. Between LEAP volunteers, mentors, donors, Barry University, the Broward Outreach Center and her employer, literally dozens of people were involved in providing Ms. Sanderson with a fresh start. Without them she would be homeless, unemployed, and at high risk of becoming one of the many repeat offenders.
 It's not a lot of work from one person, but a little help from many people that makes all the difference. So, to the volunteers, board members, donors, teachers, case workers, community agencies and employers who comprise the LEAP village, thank-you - you are helping more than you know.
Just ask Ms. Sanderson. 
For more information  about LEAP, check out our website:, E-mail, or call 786-401-2070.
We are also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!!
Ladies Empowerment and Action Program, P.O. Box 848, Miami, FL 33243

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Day I Betrayed Cecil

By Mahlia Lindquist

Most people fantasize about sex, and so do I. But unlike most of us, I also fantasize about converting mean people to kind ones. In fact, I have a dream list of potential converts. 

Dick Cheney, Donald Trump, and the anonymous neighbor who called the police on me one New Year’s Eve, to name a few. Ditto for those who who park in handicap spots whilst not actually physically impaired. These are just mean-assed people. For their own good, as well as the greater good, they need an intervention to convince them to try niceness on for size. 

I imagine meeting my neighbor the tattle-tale, and imparting words of wisdom so compelling, so obviously from a place of intelligence and kindness, that he experiences a transformation, renounces his disagreeable ways, and thanks me. He promises to never, ever call the police on neighbors just trying to have a bit of fun on New Year's Eve, especially if it's barely midnight. Then he goes out into the world spreading love, cheer and good will to all mankind and animals. 

Speaking of animals, Walter Palmer, who butchered Cecil the beloved black-maned lion, is a recent addition to my list of fantasy converts.

When I heard the story of how Palmer and his guides lured Cecil from the protection of a preserve, shot him with an arrow, and finished him off after a 40-hour chase, my heart hurt. My heart hurt not just for Cecil, but for the decimation of rhinos, elephants, gorillas, whales, and legions of other species. My heart hurts even more when I consider what it means to be human, when the annihilation of hundreds of species is mostly a result of the rapacious appetites of my own.

When I added Palmer the lion slayer to my list, our imagined meeting had the same format as all of my other fantasy interventions: I would address him with courage, conviction and moral certitude.

Unfortunately, I discovered that I am so lacking in all three that I deserve to be on my own list of reprehensible souls. That, at least in my case, when fantasy collides with reality; courage, conviction, and moral certainty are easily displaced by shallowness and lack of fortitude.

I didn’t meet Palmer, but I did meet a version of him. His name is Stuart. 

Stuart and I met as I stood in line at my favorite coffee shop. We recognized each other from the gym and, as we waited for our coffee, enjoyed a cozy chat. Stuart is charming, funny and smart. And, oh yes, he is totally hot. 

Honestly, I would venture to say that  Stuart is one of the most beautiful men I have ever met.  At least on the outside. 

Stuart mentioned that he spends half the year in Africa.  “Oooohh,” I thought, “he probably works for one of those NGOs — charming, funny, smart, gorgeous AND an  international do-gooder.”  My version of winning the lottery. 

My imagination didn’t  just run away from me, it did in an olympic sprint. However, as always happens when imagination makes a run for it, reality beats it to the finish every time.

That ugly reality was Stuart's revelation that no, he doesn't work for an NGO. He is a professional hunter and leads safaris in Tanzania.

Unfortunately, fantasies die hard.

"Fascinating," I cooed. "I’ve always wanted to go on one those photograph safaris."

But, nope, Stuart was unabashedly specific; he uses guns, not cameras. 

Still, I couldn't wrap my mind around this genial man, so handsome on the outside, doing something so ugly.    

My heart, the one that hurt when I heard about Cecil, was filled with righteous indignation. But what came out of my mouth was tepid and mealy-mouthed.  
 Me: Oh how, um, <cough>, ahem …  interesting. Has all that publicity with Cecil hurt  business?  
Stuart: <snort> No, why would it?  
Me: Well, er, there’s been a lot of negative publicity, you know, killing a beloved lion, luring him from the protection of the preserve and all that. 
Stuart: Hah! With the $50k paid to kill an old lion, the public should be thanking the guy who shot him. The money he and other hunters pay goes a long way in protecting wildlife. Species are dying off due to destruction of habitat, not because of hunters. And who says Cecil was lured off the preserve? It’s normal to bait game, plus lions are free to wander. And, why does the outrage over a dead lion exceed the fury over the routine gunning down of innocents in our communities? Shouldn't we be talking about poor, abused and starving children? The threat to our planet from climate change and the poisoning of our oceans and rivers?  How hamburgers and hotdogs are made? The hypocrisy is sickening
What I thought was, can't we care about an old lion AND mass shootings AND the planet, AND the gross abuse of animals to satisfy our Big Mac cravings?  Isn’t it possible to protect habitat without hunting?  What kind of person kills majestic and endangered animals for sport? What kind of person likes killing so much he is willing to pay $50k for the privilege of the slaughter?  Wouldn’t it be infinitely preferable to pay $50k to protect habitat and not kill Cecil? I DON’T GET IT!!!!

Sadly, that monologue and concluding primal scream only happened in my head.

What I said was muted and lame, "well, there sure has been a lot of bad publicity, I wouldn’t want to be Palme."

When Stuart flashed a sexy smile and suggested we get together that weekend, primitive impulses almost allowed for an enthusiastic "ooohhh baby, your place or mine?!"  It was only through a miraculous flicker of my waning righteous indignation, that I coughed up a half-hearted, "sorry, I'm busy."

I walked away feeling an ashamed and spineless sell-out. All it took was a handsome face, charming personality (and killer body) to throw principles to the wind. For a few weeks I was filled with despair, no longer able to entertain fantasies of changing the world, one compelling and quick-witted conversation at a time.

I wondered if people who suffer from a depressed libido, unable to fantasize about sex, feel the same sense of loss and hopelessness.

But then, ever the first-rate rationalizer, I thought about how Stuart was an unfair barometer of my moral compass. After all, unlike Stuart, most heinous souls are just as repulsive on the outside. At least the ones on my list are. Besides, I didn't actually go out with Stuart. I am confident that if given the chance, I could redeem myself for betraying Cecil.

I am back to fantasizing about being a one-woman intervention wonder. However, in hopes that dreams do come true and I actually meet someone on my list, I am now careful not to include any hotties.

Fortunately, I won't have to delete Dick or Donald.

Monday, July 13, 2015

What's Wrong With This Underwear?

By Mahlia Lindquist

My 21 year old daughter, Dylan, threw away my underwear last week. 

And not just old tattered undies from the 1990s, we are talking perfectly respectable briefs purchased this century. Some even within the past month. 

It started last week at the mall where a happy mother-daughter afternoon of lunch and shopping turned into an awkward intervention in the middle of ladies’ lingerie.
Dylan:  Um Mom, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about. I’ve been thinking. … Gosh this is really hard … Okay, I’ll just say it … Mom, er, you’d feel so much better about yourself if you wore pretty underwear 
Me: Awww, thank-you honey, but I actually feel okay about myself. 
Dylan: Sorry Mom, but only a person filled with self loathing wears Hanes ladies' cotton hip hugger briefs. They're hideous.
Being more of a shoe person when it comes to fashion, I admittedly don’t give much thought to underwear. So I considered my panty wardrobe. Not exactly cutting edge but not grannyish either. Functional and comfortable. Certainly not hideous.
Me: Young lady, that is an unkind thing to say to your mother. My underwear is NOT hideous. Besides, who cares? That’s why it’s call underwear, no one sees it. 
Dylan: Mom, remember, build it and they will come. 
Me:  Don’t you think that’s a weird and inappropriate thing to say to the person who gave you life? 
My appeals to Dylan’s filial sensibilities were of no consequence. In fact, she seemed to think it  her daughterly duty to convey the gravity of the situation, no matter how painful the telling might be. Again, I quote: “Mom, you are stylish enough on the outside, but your underwear situation is akin to a person who is superficially beautiful but harbors a black soul.

Yes, my daughter compared my underwear to a black soul. What seemed to me to be nondescript and inoffensive undergarments, to Dylan shocked the very conscience. 

So I relented as she led me to Victoria's Secret, a retailer she is well aware I abhor. A retailer I have taught her is part of an evil empire designed to perpetuate distorted, no make that f@#*ed up, notions of sex and the ideal woman. A retailer single handedly responsible for the felling of zillions of trees to publish it ubiquitous and misogynistic catalogues.

Yet, here I was, with my daughter in a Victoria's Secret, my equivalent of Dante's Lowest Circle of Hell.

There in hell, I got to thinking how I had utterly failed in passing on wholesome values to my progeny. How I was one of those dangerous and ineffective single moms that commentators warn are the bane of society. How I was a bad parent whose failures doomed  her daughters to lives of eating disorders.

I paused the self-flagellation long enough to wonder if Dylan wasn't right. Now that she mentioned it,  maybe I wasn't feeling so great about myself.  Perhaps new underwear would improve my self esteem!

Victoria's Secret was an experience, if nothing else. I was amazed by the dizzying array of bras, like the "Bombshell Add-2-Cups Multi-way Push-up" and the "So Obsessed Push-up." The selection of panties was just as exotic and overwhelming, and included variations of the "Cheeky," "Cheekini," "Cheekster" and "Itsy.

I was like one of the Beverly Hillbillies on her first day in civilization -- "look pa, their outhouse is inside the house!" 

At the same time, Dylan navigated the store with familiarity and ease, expertly sifting through and selecting panties she promised would change my life. Plainly, this was not my daughter's first Victoria’s Secret rodeo. I had the dazed, confused and anguished feeling of an Amish parent who has just discovered her child’s cell phone and stash of weed. 

As I came to my senses and examined  Dylan's choices, I momentarily rebelled:
Me: Seriously? One of these pairs has lace on the crotch. Everyone knows that lace is itchy and bad for the vagina. Plus these are thongs, which everyone also knows are unhygienic and only to be worn with clothing that is too tight across the ass in the first place.  
Dylan: Seriously? That’s ridiculous. I wear them every day [talk about an arrow to my heart] Trust me, you are going to feel soooooo much better. 
Me: But do we have to buy them at Victoria’s Secret, a company you are well aware objectifies women, plus is responsible for destroying huge swaths of forest so that its semi-pornographic catalogues featuring images of malnourished and photoshopped women can be delivered to billions of households around the globe?  Those catalogues send bad, bad messages to women that they are not good enough and create unrealistic expectations among young men.
Dylan: Exaggerate much? Plus, when it comes to  feeling beautiful, we sometimes have to compromise our principles. Your principled purchases are ugly. 
She had me there. Though loath to admit it,  if forced to choose between principles and pretty, I usually opt for pretty. 

And so I did. I bought buy five pairs of pretty panties, lovingly selected by my daughter to enhance my sense of well being.

Later that week, Dylan asked if I didn't feel better wearing my new pretty underwear. I guiltily thought of the Hanes hidden beneath my skirt, but thought it best to just agree, "yes, totally, I feel like a new person."

The next day  Dylan stalked into my room with all 5 pairs of the new, obviously unworn, panties in hand.   "You've been wearing your old underwear!"  I made a mental note to self to remove the price tags next time and guiltily mumbled something about saving them for a special occasion. Dylan, a determined look to her brow, in turn mumbled something about this not being over.

The following morning I opened our trash can, and found what appeared to be all of my underwear covered by used coffee grounds and other refuse. I ran upstairs to check my drawers, and just as I feared, all that was left was the 5 pair of new panties.

My daughter reminded me of a vigilante who pours alcohol down the drain in hopes of stopping a loved one from drinking.

And it worked for the first four days. Having no other choice, I wore the new underwear. While not life altering, they were just as comfy as the Hanes. If me wearing pretty underwear made my daughter  happy, then I was happy.

But then, on the 5th day, only the pair I had been avoiding all week was left, the lace thong. Resigned, I put them on. Definitely not comfy. Plus, I was wearing a dress and felt completely exposed. The undergarment-naming geniuses at Victoria's Secret should have named these the "Feel Naked" line of panties.

Oh well, Dylan claims to wear them every day, maybe I would get used to it.... Except I didn't.

I came home that night and informed her that her "pretty" underwear definitely did not make me feel better. In fact, they were uncomfortable and I was feeling positively worse. And now, thanks to her vigilantism,  I didn't have any normal underwear to put on. 

She actually started to look a bit sheepish. But then, as I changed, her guilty look turned into mirth followed by uproarious laughter.

It turns out I had the underwear on backwards. It also turns out that in the case of thong underwear, the tag sometimes goes in the front, something even the Beverly Hillbillies could have figured out just by looking at them. 

Dylan took pity on her mom and pulled out a few pairs of my preferred panties that she had wisely kept in case of emergency. 

She asked if I recalled the time she was 14 and I took her to Nordstrom's to get fitted for a bra, despite her mortified tears of protest. 

How could I forget? It was a scene that she often claims scarred her for life.

"Here," she said as she handed me my Hanes, "I think we're even now."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Governor Rick Scott, A Real Tear Jerker

Florida Governor Rick Scott is one of my favorite topics. Like one of my favorite comedians, George Carlin, Governor Scott has a unique ability to make me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Governor Scott's comic genius is rooted in the fact that it is so effortless. He doesn't try to be funny, he just is. Similarly, he doesn't try to elicit tears, he just does. 
Fellow blogger, "Life in the Boomer Lane," also has visions of Rick Scott dancing in her head. She graciously allowed me to reprint her take on what an interview with Governor Scott on the topic of climate change would look like.
Readers who are like me will need a box of kleenex close by to wipe the inevitable tears of laughter, as well as the ones of outrage. 
An Interview With Rick Scott
Although Life in the Boomer Lane might appear to be someone whose thoughts run no deeper than whatever will cause readers to spew coffee, she is, in fact, fairly appalled at the state of the planet. She is especially appalled by some of our elected officials and by those who wield enormous power, with little concern for the environmental wreckage they leave in their wake. Rick Scott’s recent decision to eliminate the phrases “climate change” and “global warming” from state documents caught her attention. After a period of teeth-gnashing, she decided to “interview” the Governor in order to get to the bottom of what could have been behind his misguided decision. 
LBL: It’s been quoted in numerous sources that officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have been barred from using the phrases “climate change” and “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports. Is this true, Governor Scott?
GS: I have made it clear that I will not discuss anything that is not a true fact. And I will not allow state employees to do so, either. I’ve said over and over that I’m not a scientist. I have no opinions about this.
LBL: So, in other words, you don’t think climate change actually exists?
GS: Here in the Great State of Florida, we don’t believe in climate change. People move here from Minnesota because it’s warm. It’s what makes this state great. And it has stayed warm, in spite of all the hysterical environmentalists. We don’t hide from the sun, here. I haven’t heard of anyone moving from here to Minnesota. Case closed. (chuckles softly to himself)
LBL: But global warming doesn’t mean that everything is getting warmer. It means that all weather patterns are getting more dramatic. Our ecosystem is being disrupted.  We will all suffer the consequences.
GS: Again, I’m not a scientist.  But I do invite those with adequate means to come to the Great State of Florida and play on our beaches, meet The Mouse, and watch dolphins try to survive in captivity.  We are here, living in Paradise, in spite of the doom and gloom that is being spouted about in other places.
LBL: But Florida is a state bordered on two huge bodies of water. Whether you personally believe in this or not, it’s been documented that sea levels are rising. Both the Atlantic coast and the gulf coasts are at risk. Are you concerned about this?
RS: I’m not an oceanographer, but I do know that here in the Great State of Florida, the last I checked, the beaches felt sandy and the water felt wet.  I’m not sure you can do better than that.
LBL: Are you aware that for the first time in history, California has instituted mandatory residential water restriction, in order to deal with the record-breaking drought. While lack of rain may not have been set off by climate change, scientists say that global warming is making the situation worse.
GS: I’m glad you brought this up, LBL.  I’m not a geographer, but I do know that California is really far away. I don’t believe anything I don’t see with my own eyes, and I sure don’t believe anything that takes place outside of Florida.
LBL: Are you aware that over 10,000 baby sea lions have washed up dead on a California island, with experts calling the unexplained deaths a “crisis” and “[Pups] are washing ashore at a rate so alarming, rescuers said Thursday, this year is the worst yet”.  It’s being blamed on rising sea temps.
GS: Ha, once again, California. I refuse to address myself to anything not in my home state. Most of my constituents don’t even know where California is.
LBL: OK, let’s talk Florida. Numerous high-rises are continuing to be built along the coast, with little consideration for the rising seas projected to frequently flood South Florida in the coming decades and to submerge much of it by the end of the century.
RS: I’m not a prognosticator, so I refuse to address myself to anything that might or might not happen in the future. And I’m not a longevity expert but I suspect that my constituents will all be dead by then.
LBL: With all due respect Governor,  have you read the latest issue of National Geographic? I’ll read from it directly: “Along with rising seas, Florida will be battered in the coming decades by extreme weather—dry-season drought and rainy-season deluges—the U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment predicts. Heat and drought threaten an agricultural industry that supplies the East Coast with winter vegetables, and they could undermine the three mainstays of Florida farming—tomatoes, sugarcane, and citrus. The rainy season will be stormier, with fiercer hurricanes and higher storm surges.”  A lot of this will be happening in the next 10 or 20 years. Won’t many of your constituents still be alive?
RS: Hey, this is the Great State of Florida. The median age is 102. I’m not a mathematician, but I  don’t think so. Anyway, it’s typical liberal schmutz. I’ve never trusted National Geographic.  They always have a least one photo of titties.
LBL:  You win.  Let’s talk Florida. Every day, tons of toxic waste is being dumped into St. Johns River, by the Koch Brothers company, Georgia-Pacific.  The Brothers put millions into your SuperPac. The St Johns is the longest river in Florida and the greatest recreational body of water in the state. You are the current chairperson of Florida’s Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, and yet you refuse to investigate.
RS: I’m glad you brought up The Koch Brothers.  I’m not a citizenship expert, but I believe the Koch Brothers are outstanding citizens.  They always carry proper identification with them and have never falsified voting documents.  They stand for everything that is good and decent in America. If we follow them, the only things the government will have to pay for will be the prison system and national defense.  The rest is extraneous. I’m behind the guy who has 80 billion in his pocket, over the guy who has some schlub job and lives from paycheck to paycheck.
LBL: So, in other words, we have absolutely nothing to worry about.
RS: Only if you live in the Great State of Florida.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Prison: An Inside Out Perspective

My first experience of the Miami-Dade Correctional Institute was on a bike ride to Everglades National Park. It is a sprawling, drab looking complex surrounded by barbed wire at the edge of the Everglades. Standing there, in front of its incongruously small sign, the prison seemed to me just as exotic as the flora and fauna of the surrounding Everglades.

Indeed, the prison reminded me of the alligators that populate the area. Placid on the outside, neither pose an immediate threat. Yet, both seemed to be lying in wait, ready to swallow the reckless or unwitting wanderer. To me, the prison, like alligators, evoked a sense of foreboding. 

They also evoked a weird fascination. 

I couldn’t help it; I had to stop and take a selfie. Along with photos of alligators, iguanas, and tropical birds documenting my Everglades adventure, there’s me in front of the Dade Correctional Institute: “hey mom, look at me in front of a prison, LOL!” 

Not once did I think of the actual people living within. When it comes to causes, like the environment, domestic violence, education, the arts, homelessness, or world hunger, we all have our thing. The plight of prison inmates has never been my mine. Maybe it’s the former prosecutor in me, but other than Orange is the New Black, prisoners were not on my radar. 

In retrospect, I must have subconsciously considered them lost causes who have only themselves to blame.

Fast forward a few months and I am outside the very same prison, waiting to meet a woman who has been incarcerated for almost five years. I am to act as her mentor as part of the Ladies Empowerment Action Program (LEAP,) which  provides entrepreneurial training to women about to be released from prison. 

Thirteen fellow volunteers and I cluster at the entrance to the prison. We are dressed conservatively, no jewelry, with only our driver’s license and car keys, per instructions from Yvette, one of LEAP’s fairy god mothers. The prison officials were expecting us, yet kept us waiting almost an hour in the blazing sun before letting us in. They did not provide an explanation for the delay and I suppose there is no reason why they should. After all we had an appointment at a prison, not dinner reservations. 

Still, it seemed inconsiderate. I felt powerless at not being able to demand to speak to a manager. The same emotion as when subjected to Byzantine rules and surly TSA agents at airports. In prison, as with airports, there’s nothing to be done except submit. 

I considered how much more degrading it must be for the prisoners. Of course, the TSA and prison guards have an unpleasant and important job to do, and are just as deserving of my compassion. More so, considering that unlike TSA and corrections officers, the inmates owe their circumstances to criminal conduct. Yet, my sympathies were more with the convicted felons than the guards trying to make a living. 

I imagine that’s because it’s easier for me to empathize with the inmates. I can’t envision a scenario where I would end up a prison guard, it's not something I would actually choose. But, as for being a prisoner… “there but for the grace of God….”

It seems so easy to go wrong.

When we finally got in, a corrections officer provided each of us with our own personal panic button. If pressed, the guard explained, the prison would go on lock down and send security to our rescue. She also cautioned us not to accidentally sound the alarm. The guard’s admonishment launched us into a state of anxiety, as we imagined the mortification of being the idiot to accidentally put the entire prison in a state of emergency. Or worse, a situation that would justify panic.

Once in, a corrections officer led us across the grounds to meet our charges. On the way, we passed inmates who looked on curiously, said hello, and stepped aside politely to let us pass. My anxiety over the panic button subsided, only to be replaced by a new one -- fear of failure.

What on earth did I have to offer an incarcerated woman studying to be an entrepreneur? Other than a two person law firm, I have never run a business, and have only worked part-time intermittently since having kids. My only experience with criminals was to put them behind bars. 

I never felt so unqualified for a job since I arrived home with my first newborn. Surely, someone trying to start a new life after prison deserved better than me.

The women were seated at desks and looked at us, their mentors, with giddy anticipation. The 13 of us stood before them feeling, and probably looking, a bit dopey. That awkwardness lasted all of 30 seconds.

We were quickly paired up and moved the desks so that each mentor could converse semi-privately with her student. It was a cacophony of talk, lots of girl talk: “oooh, I love your pants!” … “I know you were mine as soon as you walked in the room” … “cute haircut” …

Whitney, a LEAP teacher, who at 8 month’s pregnant managed to be adorable, sweet, competent and tough all at the same time, made a futile effort to quiet us. We were too busy getting to know each other in our allotted 30 minutes to heed her pleas to lower our voices. Because the inmates do not have access to the internet, they were to explain their business plan and be prepared with a list of questions for their mentors to research for them. While there was business talk, the women mostly seemed to bask in having a special someone genuinely interested in their life. 

I get to mentor “Beth,” 37, who plans to open a hair salon. Beth is already licensed to cut hair and has over 15 years of experience. She is also good with make-up and would like to combine beauty services. She asked me to look into the licensing requirements for doing permanent make-up.

Beth is personable and beautiful. Just like the Piper character on Orange is the New Black. Except, not quite. 

Unlike Piper, Beth is not in prison for just one misdeed. She messed up many times over a period of many years. In the process she disappointed and inflicted pain on many people.  

I do not claim to have learned everything about Beth in 30 minutes. 

However, I do know a few things about her. I know Beth regrets what she did and genuinely wants to lead a productive, good life when she gets out. I also know that Beth is not a lost cause, and that  she is terrified of how she will get by post-prison. It will be difficult but, with help, she can do it. 

Talking to the other mentors afterward, they expressed similar sentiments about their students. The nervousness that filled the air as we walked in, was replaced by a collective sense of hope and purpose. 

On the way out, I passed the small sign where I took that selfie months ago. The prison and its inmates no longer seemed exotic or a threat. The prison was just a hard, sad place. As for the inmates, they were just people who made mistakes and need help — not so different from where virtually every person I know has been at some point.

Overall, my visit to the Miami Dade Correctional Institute was a positive one. It was interesting and I left feeling hopeful and like maybe I can make a small difference. I have only only regret. It's that we were not allowed to bring in our smart phones. 

I sure would have liked to have gotten a selfie from the inside.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Thank-you Alabama

By Mahlia Lindquist

My former step father was from Geneva, Alabama, and growing up I spent holidays there with his family. With Alabamian Judge Roy Moore and his brave stance in defense of God in the news this week, I feel it high time I express proper appreciation for all that my step-family and other good people of Alabama have done for me.

Thank-you for teaching me about Yankees, and all the harm they have done. When I overheard you refer to my mom as a Yankee when she was out of earshot, I didn’t understand. My Alabama step-cousins helpfully explained that Yankees are bad people from the North. If you hadn’t taught me the truth, I would have foolishly gone through life thinking Yankees were nothing but a bunch of baseball players.

Thank-you for teaching me about Rocky Mountain Oysters. If you hadn’t served me that heaping plate of “chicken” when I was 13 and laughed uproariously as I turned a bilious green upon learning the truth, I would never have learned how to take a joke. I know now that you were laughing with me and not at me. 

Thank-you for not running my Jewish boyfriend out of town. Not knowing better, I  brought him to Thanksgiving dinner. I heard afterward that you all didn’t know what I was thinking bringing a Jew to dinner. Please forgive me, I was just 17. 

I also appreciate your teaching me that it's not taboo to refer to an African-American as nigger and that inter-racial marriage is not okay. Growing up in my Godless and liberal circles, I definitely was getting the wrong message.

And, now, your Judge Moore is out there fighting the good fight. 

That's Judge Roy Moore, the Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court who directed state officials to ignore a federal court decision striking down Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage. I am filled with gratitude that he is unwilling to put the laws of man before God. 

Of course he shouldn’t bend to a silly federal court mandate striking down Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage.  Chief Moore is standing strong, even though he knows from personal experience that he is bound to lose. That experience was being removed from office for refusing to take down a 2-ton monument of the Ten Commandments in the state judicial building. 

Judge Moore is truly a hero, and though the left wing media holds him up in ridicule, I am sure that history will recognize him as the giant that he is.

As we all know, our founding fathers were God fearing dudes. They may have said separation of church and state, but they actually meant our country should be governed in accordance with a literal reading of the Old Testament.  I just hope that when Judge Moore is finished protecting the sanctity of marriage, he gets around to enforcing other Old Testament rules. Especially the ones prohibiting men with wounded penises, women with uncovered hair, and bastards from entering church.

Now, some may say that not everyone in Alabama deserves as much praise as Judge Moore and the good people I got to know in Geneva. After all, almost 5 million souls live there. They surely must include a fair share of homo loving liberals and spineless cretins willing to succumb to the pressures of a Washington controlled by Ivy League elitists.  

However, let's recognize that the majority of Alabamans are on the right side. They re-elected Judge Moore even after a panel of his peers deemed him unfit to be a judge. They also voted for Governor Bentley, who promised not to take legal action agains probate clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses. They also elected Governor Fob James, who in the 1990s argued that the Bill of Rights did not apply to states. In fact, Alabama voters have a long history of electing leaders willing to stand up to the Federal government.

It's also important to recognize Alabama's long history of refusing to back down from its defense of Christian principles. 

Alabama's brave last stand in the 1960s against desegregation is legendary. Even more recently, Alabama became the last state in the country to overturn its ban on interracial marriage. Despite more than three decades having passed since the Supreme Court ruled such laws unconstitutional, more than 40 percent of Alabamians voted against taking it off the books.  

Thankfully, the law against sodomy, which is right up there with the mixing of the races, is still on the books. The law is unenforceable, but I appreciate that the citizens of Alabama want us to know where they stand. Symbols are important.

Importantly, Alabama can't be bought. Its leaders have taken a strong stand against the evils of socialism and federal interference by opting out of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. The expansion would have provided health insurance coverage to thousands of its poor families, but no amount of federal money is worth selling out. 

Yes, my personal experience was with a small segment of Alabama's population thirty years ago, but the lessons I learned have stayed with me. They helped learn right from wrong. I have every reason to believe that the majority of Alabamans are still every bit as worthy of my gratitude.  

Go 'Bama!