Friday, May 13, 2016

Deadly Force

Last night was the final class in my FBI Citizen's Academy. It was an action packed evening with bomb techs, gadget makers, funny money, lock picking, infrared cameras, the gun vault and simulated scenes of when to use or not use deadly force. I gained a whole new perspective on the use of deadly force.

This helpful USA Today pic is exactly what it looked like for us
We sat in a dark room in front of a huge screen where several life-size demonstations of take-downs and shoot-outs played out right in front of us. During the first scenario the volunteer academy participant was very cautious and would have been killed. By the 4th scenario we had shot and killed a 14 year old mentally handicapped boy. It was so nerve wracking that we would have shot anything at that point. I'm not really into guns. The prior weekend I was a no-show for the popular Range Day during which everyone gets to shoot. I have zero desire to shoot a gun*. So I didn't volunteer for the simulation either, but I had a front row seat for each demo. It was like a video game (which I also have very little experience with), but your imagination generates enough adrenaline and anxiety for you to get a tiny idea of what it must be like in real life. And you judge less. 

I couldn't help thinking about all the media reports about deadly force. Who are they to judge? They're behind a desk or a microphone, not in front of a gun, or a perp. I feel certain that my thought processes will be very different the next time I hear about a law enforcement incident involving deadly force. 

I really enjoyed the FBI Citizen's Academy. It was put on by a great group of people. Next week is the graduation dinner at the Plaza Club where I won't be banned from real time social media activity so look out!

If anyone is interested in being nominated to participate in a future class, let me know. Or visit this link

*My dad was a US Marshall so make no mistake, I have had ample opportunity to shoot a gun. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Against All Odds

Amachi is a Nigerian word that loosely translated means "Who knows what God has brought us through this child." The Amachi Texas Mentoring program through Big Brothers Big Sisters has been providing life changing volunteer mentors for some of the most at risk kids for over 10 years: children of incarcerated parents. These kids are 7 times more likely to become incarcerated just because they are born into dysfunctional family cycles of incarceration. Imagine if your dad and grandfather and brother and uncle have all been in jail. It's only natural for you to follow in their footsteps and join the family business. We only know what we see.

I was inspired to write this post because of some great outcome news for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas Amachi kidsIn the last school year 98% progressed to the next grade level!  Now this is something to joyfully rant about! We are very proud of these kids and excited to add this outcome to many others:
  • In 2015, the US Department of Labor reported that only 5% of previously incarcerated youth served now by Big Brothers Big Sisters had re-offended (6% recidivism rate  in Bexar County).   
  • In 2010 after 4 years, 100% of youth in Bexar County with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, identified as at-risk of engaging in juvenile delinquency due to common risk factors, remained incident free according to the Texas Department of Family & Protective Services. 
In 2011 I wrote about how funding for Amachi was at risk and ultimately cut by 50% by the state; that same year the federal Mentoring Children of Prisoners program was also cut by 100%.  Despite these losses, Big Brothers Big Sisters has continued to serve hundreds of Amachi kids every year, helping to Break the Chain.  Unfortunately there are twice as many children on the waiting list, unserved as a result of the cuts. We will be going back to legislators in this next session year in the hopes of restoring the lost Amachi funding. 

Amachi was started by Reverend Wilson Goode in Philadelphia after he visited a prison and met a grandfather, a son and a grandson in the same prison.   The grandson told Reverend Goode that he had a son on the outside who he had never met but fully expected to meet there, in the prison. The reverend was inspired to reach out to the faith community and recruited the first 500 Amachi volunteers that started a movement.

For more info oin how to help, visit or call 210-225-6322.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

Gangs: The Dysfunctional Club

The FBI Session on Gangs was such a downer. It became very clear to me that gang membership is just a sad quest to find a sense of belonging. These young men band together for comfort and protection and adopt similar types of clothing, tattoos, signs and symbols, and create artistic, poetic club names like these:
  • Brown Leaf Posse
  • Where Chaos Begins
  • Hoover Crips
  • Ganster Disciples
  • Latin Kings
  • La Nuestra Familia
  • Cosa Nostra
  • Hell's Angels
  • Blood Stixx
Yes, there is an edge to it all - they created this for protection.  They just want to be a part of something - like we all do. They feel stronger together, like we all do.  I am quite well aware of how destructive and dysfunctional it all is, but I still felt so sorry that they feel the need to create something like this because a natural, healthy, functional, constructive path is so obviously missing in their lives. 

There are 1-1.5 million gang members in the US, 100,000 in Texas.  There are about 70 gangs in San Antonio with 8-9,000 members.  16% of incarcerated gang members in Texas come from Bexar County.  In order to qualify for the federal or state definition of a "gang" there must be 3-5 individuals who share an identifying sign or symbol and regularly engage in criminal activities.  Their major source of income is the distribution of narcotics.  There are 3 major types of gangs:
  • Neighborhood (88%)
  • Prison (9.5%)
  • Outlaw Motorcycle (2.5%)
The major threat in Texas is the Mexican Mafia (La Eme), which pretty much controls the drug trade,  and was founded and is centered in San Antonio.  Like most gangs, they are very structured; governed by a Constitution and ruled by a chain of military-like command of generals, captains, lieutenants, sergeants and soldiers.  They levy a 10% tax on all sales of narcotics called "the Dime Collection," which means that if you were thinking about getting into the business, you will start out owing the Mexican mafia 10% of whatever you make.  For this, they will "protect" you.  If you don't pay, you will be "green-lit" (marked for death). 
Other than some newer gangs (with poetic Tango names) the commitment for membership is for life and known colloquially as "Blood-in/Blood-out" which means to get in you have to kill someone and you can only get out by being killed.  I asked two questions at the end of this session and both answers were damn depressing:

1.  How young do they recruit?  Answer: "Younger every year and currently as young as 16."  
2.  If a young man wants to get out, how can he?  Answer: "He can't.  Prevention is the key." 

Well, of course it is. 

Tattoos incorporate local symbols like the Alamo, the Spurs and area codes

Baggy pants originated from not being able to wear belts in prison

Hand signs
Rad more about the origins of gangs here.  It is fascinating. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The "Family Engagement" Struggle

I remember my parents having to go to my school only twice when I was a kid. Both times were in high school. The first time was when I got suspended for typing up a colorful* description of my teacher during typing class. The second when my mom came to watch me get a journalism award. That's it. The rest of time they were completely absent from school grounds. Today they would be considered disengaged parents, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Because they were engaged where they needed to be: in the home; in my out of school environment. They signed me up for Girl Scouts and let me join a youth group at church. They made me do my homework. They supported my teachers by teaching me to respect authority. I was nearly a straight A student. 

Since my own school days I've supported 3 academically successful daughters, 14 years apart, from preschool to college. Over that time I've been a witness to a baffling ever-evolving somewhat frantic and ultimately futile barrage of "family engagement" efforts. Efforts to get parents into the schools to somehow make up for the fact that they aren't doing their jobs outside the school. A job that ideally would start much sooner and that is so much bigger than attending PTA meetings or understanding college career pathways. Efforts that I felt increasing pressure to respond to. But why? 

I've written before about the contract that the American education system made with parents over 200 years ago being  irrevocably broken by a vast majority of our youth caregivers. My family was poor.   My parents worked a lot. My dad was working and trying to go to college.  My 4 siblings and I were on free and reduced lunch. None of this prevented my parents from understanding and fulfilling their responsibility to make sure I attended school ready to learn.  The difference was that my parents had had parents who understood and accepted the contract. Too many of today's parents did not and even fewer of tomorrow's parents will have. It's a domino effect. Because who teaches parenting

In 1994 I worked in the University Hospital Social Work Department in Lubbock, Texas with teen moms aged 12-17. A 12 year old who wouldn't or couldn't tell anyone how she got pregnant. A 17 year old having her 4th baby. Too many 15 and 16 year olds to count. Some had daddies in the picture and some did not. Some had daddies you wished were not in the picture. Most of the girls were only in the hospital for delivery for a very short period of time. I wasn't allowed to talk to them about birth control. Only their physician could do that. I never saw one who did. 

Every one of those girls left the hospital completely unprepared for motherhood**. If I could track them all down now, over 20 years later, I'd bet they have all struggled. I bet there were many CPS cases. I bet their kids were developmentally behind and educationally challenged. I bet the percent of their kids that showed up for school ready to learn was small. 

It's very predictable. We know what the problem is**, and even what we need to do, but we don't have a clue how to do it. We need to teach everyone how to parent, but we don't know how to reach them. Hence placing the "family engagement" burden on schools. And parents today need hard core teaching: not only the how to change a diaper kind of parenting, but the grow your child's brain type of parenting, and the set clear boundaries and expectations kind of parenting. And it's not just economically disadvantaged parents or any particular ethnic group that need to learn these skills. That elephant in the room is a big part of the problem. 

Parenting is hard. It's unfair for us to expect the knowledge to appear by osmosis. Most families don't have a village. Times have changed.  I despair that we won't do anything. Or at least we won't do anything new, or actually innovative, or early enough or to scale. We will continue the blame game.** We'll beat the family-engagement-in-school-program dead horse. We will expect schools to be capable of filling and/or replacing the parental role. We'll do a few parenting classes here and there for lower income parents or those identified as at risk of abuse by entities like Child Protective  Services.

We will continue to do too little and be too late. 

**Stay tuned for a future post on how we love to blame parents for failings we knew they'd have, quickly followed by crucifying their children for being so fucked up. Excuse my profanity. I learned it early on.  Also, all those girls left the hospital with a car seat, by God, because the state of Texas had decreed it. Regardless of whether or not they actually even had a car, they got a free car seat. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Give Big, Give Wisely: Give to Big Brothers Big Sisters!

Just Do It

If you already know all about  
just go to  
and donate now. 

But if you need to know who to give to, read on friends.

Why you should give to Big Brothers Big Sisters on May 3rd: 

1. It's what kids need: Studies show that  kids need positive, individual attention from adults in order to thrive and grow, but there's less and less of that going around these days than ever before. When kids get a Big Brother or Big Sister they get a friend and advocate all to themselves. 

2. It's unique: There aren't many community based mentoring programs out there.  Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas provides youth with a unique one to one, face to face, regular on-going and consistent mentoring relationship that lasts anywhere from 9 months to a lifetime. 

3. It leverages volunteers in a Big way: There are nearly 3,000 volunteers every year who make time in their lives to spend time on our youth. When you give to Big Brothers Big Sisters you are thanking every one of them for their service. 

4. It works: Kids with a Big Brother or Big Sister are more likely to avoid negative behaviors like truancy, violence, crime, sex, or drugs, and more likely to engage in positive behaviors such as staying in school, delaying gratification and planning for the future than youth without a "Big."

5. The demand for Big Brothers Big Sisters services is overwhelming: There are over 1,000 kids waiting everyday! Help us help them! 

It's the Big Give on May 3rd all day long, but we hope you'll help us  
win a Power Hour Prize
  • Noon to 1 pm
  • 6 - 7 pm. 
Last year we more than doubled what we raised in year one! Help us reach our $20k Big Give 2016 goal by clicking here to visit The Big Give website. Just $10 is all we ask, and tell your friends to do the same. 

These very cute kids in the video below would like to thank you in advance for your Big Give donation to BBBS!