November 15th, 2017

Welcome to the Focus Group

The first rule of Focus Club is – you do not talk about Focus Club.

Sitting around a table with strangers and snacks provided me with a glimpse of the higher levels of emotional pollution we live with today.

Before focus group attendance required a reference and the best paying research firms became fodder for Yelp, back when the topic of extra cash was still “light” conversation, my school-teacher mom enjoyed bragging about the extra $40, $60 or $90 she’d nabbed just for sitting around talking cars or cooking utensils. Her exaggerated enthusiasm made my brother and I feel like idiots if we failed to grab our own piece of this windfall. So I signed up.

Phone interviews asking after household budgets, TV time, annual electronics expenditures and so forth were the first step. Screeners frequently came off like car salesmen –as if the only thing between them and a three-day weekend was filling a late afternoon quota– but it was difficult not to play along. Answers that were a degree or three off elicited a disappointed sigh and a more “accurate” response.
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August 2nd, 2017

And then You Recognize that Homeless Person

Jogging around a neighborhood park, I realized the homeless woman sleeping under a tree is someone I’ve known most of my life. 

We were 15 once, and proud. She liked girls and I liked outcasts. Her Army buzzcut was black, blue, and brave, her sarcasm like a flamethrower. Pointed at you or not, it was dangerous to be near. She had an enviable wit I tried to emulate, and she could be as prickly and poker-faced as she was fast and funny. Being able to speak to her in ways others couldn’t was great.

All these years later and approaching the tree on my first lap, I saw only a female shape sleeping atop assorted backpacks and grocery bags. That particular bit of shade was usually occupied by sweethearts, fútbol hombres, or shadowboxing stroller-pushers, but I didn’t think much about it other than to mentally note the woman’s (relative) luck for claiming it first.

Staring straight ahead while I run helps me convey ultimate Kenyan focus, allowing me to mask the fact that I hate running and am actually dying inside. But the second time I passed the tree, I broke my gaze and glanced over. This woman was wearing Capri-style leggings, sunglasses, and a driver’s cap over her face. What I could see of it was weary.
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July 14th, 2017

Upselling Prison #4

A former inmate sizes up detention products, #4 in a casual series.

Accessories, upgrades, add-ons, telecoms, toilets, and the first responders of the detention supply industry.

It’s a dubious distinction, I know, but I’ve been among the first 75 inmates to populate a brand new prison. The place hadn’t even been “officially” opened and it wasn’t entirely complete; it took months for the technological marvel it was said to be to actually function as designed. But while Where Excuses Go to Die (the book) can tell you a lot more about that story, today we return to those particular design elements and specialized detention products that represent modern mass incarceration in America. Unlike previous editions, this time we’ll look at just one pressing problem: inmates who stop up cell house toilets and the wastewater control systems that swallow every dinner, document, dictionary, and domino thrown at ’em.
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June 7th, 2017

Kathy Griffin: Empathy Panhandler Pts. I & II

PART I – It’s as simple as both Griffin and Trump having mastered reality television, where “drama” is processed to the point of becoming doublespeak and insecurities and pettiness are aggrandized. In this way, and probably others, they’re similar. Both claw at their own skin for our attention, and both are so accustomed to having a national media platform from which address the public that it’s the first thing they reach for to solve their problems.
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May 4th, 2017

Smart Prerelease Instruction: Inmates Helping Inmates

The double-edged-sword of getting out of prison.

For those of us who follow incarceration and reentry issues, the inmate-created, inmate-run, prerelease program in Cumberland, Maryland, that was just approved by the Federal Bureau of Prisons will be something to keep an eye on.

Ideally, Young Men Incorporated (YMI), as the program is known, will prove that switching from curriculum enforcement to the much more coercive power of wisdom and teachable moments is the right way to reinvent prisoner reentry methodology.

Hitting your release date and getting out is a trip. Individual results may vary, but when it comes to civilian employees, frontline custody personnel, and prison administrators, soon-to-parole inmates often face disparagement and placating attitudes. The way some Badges see it, you’re still a criminal, soon to be protected by rights that weren’t there a couple of weeks ago. More than a few are just waitin’ for you to act special, by which I mean individual. Read the rest of this entry »

April 29th, 2017

LA Riots as Seen from Maximum Security Prison

You’d think someone would have covered what it was like to experience the LA riots behind bars in the past 25 years. Something. Anything. But nope.

Then again, with Netflix’s Orange is the New Black ranking just below LA LA Land in grounded reality, such coverage probably would have been twisted into the taffy of a Broadway musical anyway.

So while a mention would’ve been interesting, I have my own view…

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March 16th, 2017

Brass Tacky

This week, former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca was convicted of obstructing an FBI corruption investigation of the jails he oversaw. But despite having once been a part of his fundraising machine, all I can think about is the Department’s new belt buckles.

I can go two ways here: ask what the hell these guys are thinking spending $300,000 on new belt buckles to give their uniforms more shock and awe, or write off new-guy Jim McDonnell as meddling and distracted.

Isn’t this the controlling, big spender schtick that the newly formed, McDonnell-supported Civilian Oversight Commission is supposed to question?  Read the rest of this entry »

March 8th, 2017

FULFILLMENT BEFORE FURY!

There’s no excuse for getting all angst ridden over the day’s headlines before first accomplishing something meaningful. 

And there’s no excuse for partaking in America’s new national pastime –scratching the outrage itch– without first empowering yourself through personal performance. Fulfillment before fury!

Why? Because we live in a world that encourages us to agree with ourselves every chance we get. Because the strength we get from knowing that we put ourselves first has the power to declutter our thinking and make us feel as though we’ve earned something.

Examine the back end of any hard, successful day and track how much your sense of completion downgraded your anxiety. By comparison, how does a morning of social media feel, or reading articles from your preferred news outlets? Read the rest of this entry »

January 11th, 2017

There’re Many Excuses for Eating McDonald’s – These Are Mine

I don’t have to chew as much.
Because what’s chewing when I can chimney-slide it down? From the second my McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder is unsheathed to when I squish ‘n toss the wrapper, I barely have to work my jaw. It’s a true metaphor for American cultural identity: less chewing/more swallowing. And whoever thought up printing “nutritional” information on something with such a limited hand-to-mouth life is a genius!

Don’t look at me; I’m hideous.
Even as I decry such privileged attributes as lazy eating, I’m occasionally swayed by food-matter that requires neither fork nor self-respect. Never mind that I’m hunched in my car, windshield angled at a hedge to hide my private shame. Kookiest part is, the way I wipe my mouth, use my napkin, or react when a chunk falls from my fingers or face is very different than what I exhibit at my own dinner table or in an actual restaurant. It’s the Jekyll and Hyde of posture and manners: as if it would feel right somehow to take off my shirt to eat a Big Mac.

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December 16th, 2016

2016 EXCUSE OF THE YEAR

2016_excuse-of-the-year_where-excuses-go-to-dieAnd the 2016 Golden Excuse is:

“He just calls it like he sees it.”

“He says what we’re thinking.”

“He tells it like it is.”

Three versions of the same excuse-to-pulverize, now a political allegory, courtesy of the charisma of crude. 

If “blunt” is a merit by which sincerity, mental acuity, and humor can be measured, it’s also an appraisal of manners. Because for those of grace, wit, or old age, plain speaking can be charming.

But… 

. Read the rest of this entry »