From the depths, ex-con hits the heights with ‘Fixed’

Every Saturday, Doug Piotter heads out to help other addicts and in so doing continues a remarkable journey of recovery. More than two decades of sobriety have convinced Doug of one thing: in a sober life, anything is possible.

The proof? Piotter’s debut memoir, Fixed: Dope Sacks, Dye Packs and the Long Welcome Back has just been given the Kirkus Star, which enters the book in the competition for its Kirkus Prize award and the $50,000 prize that comes with it.

“The author’s life, as portrayed here, contains enough screw-ups for 10 dysfunctionality memoirs,” the review writes, “but unlike other memoirists, he eschews angst and self-pity and highlights the absurd humor of the predicaments he made for himself. The pathos here is all the more moving for being spare, understated, and well-earned from hard experience. A smart, occasionally wise, and always entertaining recollection of addiction, crime, punishment, and recovery.”

No faint praise. Piotter has been called a lot of things, like ex-con, addict, felon, etc. But those describe where he’s been, not who is he or where he is going. Now words like businessman, craftsman, mentor, husband and award-winning author describe him.

As chronicled in Fixed, Piotter’s gripping addiction unclenched during his time in federal prison for bank robberies. He has continued to champion the road to recovery for others, knowing well that no human being is beyond help. But it starts with the addict. A person has to want to make the change.

Fixed is funny, but it also inspires. Anyone who reads it can know what Doug knows: If he can rebuild his life, they can too.

Doug has never forgotten the depths that he has emerged from, continue to reach back and offer a hand to anyone who would follow his path. This book might be the one thing that helps a person see the hope that Doug lives every day. At the very least, they’ll laugh. And who doesn’t need a good laugh?

 

Homework required for a vibrant democracy

Remember the Swift Boat Veterans For… Truth? Watching Donald Trump accept the Republican nomination for president America, America saw the full extent of that legacy played out. We all need to do a little more homework. It’s our democratic duty.

Ignorance has run rampant long enough.

A decade ago we bought it. We believed a bunch of old white guys who convinced us that George W. Bush, who dodged Vietnam in the “Champagne Unit,” was more courageous and qualified to be commander-in-chief than a decorated war hero who was wounded leading soldiers into battle.

Somehow that made sense. That was “truth.”

Little wonder that now we buy it when a reality TV star with less credibility than a Kardashian is somehow a law and order strongman who will be “our voice.” He alone knows how to fix the entire government. We can believe this because he said it was true.

Somewhere over the past twenty years or so we tossed logic out with all definition of the truth.

The American Presidency requires no more qualification that a high school prom queen. Millions will exercise an enviable right to vote with little more insight into facts than a Barbie and Ken doll.

We are told America is falling apart. We are in ruins. Our economy is destroyed. Of course, we are. Every outsider party talks about the need for change, which requires a bit of woebegone sentiment. Barack Obama made similar charges in 2008 but wrapped them in the inspiration of hope and change. Hope proved so powerful that we elected our first black president.

So I don’t bemoan the GOP gnashing of teeth. They too want change. The issue is not party spin because both do it and will continue to do so. The issue is the shit we buy, toss it around social media, and then suddenly believe that everyone else is saying it, so it must be true.

Citizens of a democracy have the responsibility to be informed.

I have at least a dozen examples, but let’s just take one:

For more than seven years the Republican agenda has been to thwart any move by President Obama. This is not in dispute. It was stated by party leadership even after he won re-election as their top goal. So now we are told America is in decline.

Are we? Let’s only use past Republican goals to check it out:

in 2012 Mitt Romney said he alone could bring unemployment back to 6 percent by the end of 2016. It was then 8.2 percent. It is now 4.9%.

President Obama was blamed in 2010 for the state of rising unemployment and the Great Recession. It had topped out at 12.1 percent, following the devastation of banking and mortgages and the Bush Administration’s emergency bailout of banks to the tune of $700 billion. So under President Obama we have seen the unemployment rate drop from a high of 12.4 percent to a low, today, of 4.9 percent. The economy has added more than 9 million jobs.

As CNN points out, back in 2012 GOP candidates Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann promised gas under $2.50. Few economists would you argue that the Presidency has much to do with gas prices, but that was the spin. So prices now? $2.20 a gallon.

The stock market? Since 2012 the Dow has risen more than 40 percent.

Donald Trump’s response to these GOP successes under this administration: Obama’s a “loser” on the economy.

The economy is a complex issue. Wages began their downturn under President Bush and have not grown again. “Blaming or crediting one president, doesn’t make sense,” CNN reported.

President Obama also passed (love it or hate it, but understand it please) a health care law crafted by then-governor Mitt Romney that refused to include key Democratic positions like a single-payer format in favor of GOP-backed principles of capitalism.

We need to do a little homework. By any measure, President Obama has been a stunning GOP success.

Swift Boat that.

 

 

 

Tragic loss of man who wasn’t ‘done’

He told me he was “done.” But the addiction’s grip wasn’t done with him. And now he’s gone.

A young father I wrote about a while back lost his life to his drug addiction early this morning. His infant daughter is now fatherless, and his mother–yet another mother–has to face the gripping pain of the loss of her son.

I’m folded up inside upon myself, a clusterfuck of anger, sadness, disbelief and, if I’m honest, indifference, because sometimes that’s the only way to wade through it all without imploding.

We knew each other only through letters, the first of which came when he was in county jail.

“I’m so done,” he told me.

I had my doubts. I told him as much. I tried to get him a sponsor he could relate to and who would help him. We both reached out. But he didn’t respond.

The Bride had a chance to see him later and he said it had been a struggle. I guessed as much. But he was clear and determined, some of the resolve he showed in his letter had returned.

Life is a storm. A raging fucking sea much of the time. We spend so much time like Ahab, hand in a vice grip, pinching ourselves so we can find something that grabs in this slippery world.

Today the seas claimed another one. Too young. Too much potential unfulfilled. A wake of pain and sorrow left behind. A grieving mother. A fatherless girl.

I can’t imagine their pain. I won’t begin to pretend it’s mine. I am a distant observer, yet still crumpled a bit by it all. The permanence of it. The lack of a mulligan.  This happened and it can’t be changed.

So I just ask anyone who reads this to pause. Do you need that drink? Is it worth it? Do you really just use “recreationally?”

I wonder now, seven years on the other side of sobriety, is it worth it? Why even play around with this killer of use and/or abuse?

We think it won’t be us. We think, poor them. We shove it away. Until it is. Until it’s our son, our father, our funeral.

If you are on the edge, contact us. We’ll do whatever we can to help you find the way to the other side. Just ask yourself, are you done yet? If you are, contact us. If you aren’t, think again, before it’s too late.

In this storm of life, I hope we’ll all grip each other a little more, love a little more and do the best to make our way as best as can.

 

Window of reform sliding closed

In recent months, the issue of prison reform and the creation of a criminal justice system that is just has spread. The movement grows with influence and purpose. New policy and public-private partnerships seeking reform blossom.

It’s an exciting time of hope for millions caught in the behemoth of our industrialized prison economy.

True, true, all true, and yet…

The time is coming to an end.

Soon.

And what exactly have we accomplished in this window of reform?

Precious little regarding meaningful, lasting, life-changing, cost-cutting, justice-demanding change.

The same cast of characters who built and profit from the prison economy are now leading the charge in this window of reform, which is akin to anti-smoking campaigns by RJ Reynolds while they boost sales in vaping that are proven successful in raising up a generation of new smokers.

The owners of the industrialized prison economy can’t be in charge of reform. In short, we’ve got a long, long way to go, and we are fast running out of time to do it.

For those just arriving at the realization of how exhaustively flawed our system is, it will seem strange to talk about closing windows.

But without this realistic view, we are bound to miss the window of reform opportunity 2016 afforded us.

And why 2016? What makes this “the moment.”

By any account, 2016 is a critical moment. Decades of indifference formed by the political advantage of “tough on crime” positions gave way to bipartisan interest in reform. The true cost of incarceration began hammering state and local governments when combined with the anvil drop of the Great Recession. And conservatives touting smaller government and lower taxes could no longer discount the enormous costs of being a global leader in incarceration.

Simply put, criminal justice reform is the only issue that will be on the political planks of both presidential candidates. It is the only issue that both conservatives and progressives and the few nearly extinct moderates will fight for a leadership position, though admittedly for widely different reasons.

This is the window of opportunity for political reform.

Entrepreneurs know well the critical nature of timing. Every time a window of opportunity gets tossed open, it begins a slow descent toward closed again. There are moments in every movement, every idea, every plan for something new.

It’s worth considering now in light of the recent wave of interest in #prisonreform. But the window is closing. Neither like presidential nominee has shown any genuine interest in the issue of reform. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will sooner or later embrace the political necessity. But you can’t fake leadership for causes you don’t care about.

Be certain, the window is closing. Neither like presidential nominee has shown any genuine interest in the issue of reform. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will sooner or later embrace the political necessity. But you can’t fake leadership for causes you don’t care about.

Philanthropic leadership is growing, looking for innovative solutions. Nonprofits who have slugged away for years without funding are throwing sharp elbows to get their piece of a growing pie. With the search for quick answers, funds flow to the usual suspects or the best branded innovations before a clear target of reform can be established. In the scurrying about to “lead” on the issue, few will take the time to worry about long-term, industry-shaping change.

The window of reform is closing fast. Will we collectively have the will to shove a brace it in, demand that it remain open even when the cold reality of the size of the problem blows in like a winter storm? Will we elevate a lasting platform of change?

Answering those questions will have much to do with what #prisonreform and #cjreform will look like in 2017 and beyond.

Former Columbian cartel ‘prince’ fights to regain freedom

Andolian Juan Ochoa-Napraja Jr., a former drug cartel family member, has no shortage of names, including Lewis James Martin, Yosanti Juan Blanco and the Infamous Paper Boy.

He also has no shortage of experiences to draw from as he works to build a new career as a writer.  He says he founded the multi-million dollar drug organizations Junior Cartel and El Santas Muerte Cartel when he was still a teenager.

He says all of that contributed to his reputation as a “notorious Columbian cartel prince,” who helped build a multi-million dollar drug ring.

“My parents raised me to be ruthless, ambitious and calculating in the drug business from a very young age,” he says.

He draws heavily from his life in his first book, Columbian Bloodwhich he self-published recently.

Andolian wants to walk a fine line, using the stories from his criminal past to fuel his ambitions to rebuild a successful, legal life in the future.

“This life has cost me everything,” he told Criminal U. “One must survive. I will survive.”

Andolian says his parents were critical figures in three of the biggest drug cartels in the world: Bogata’s Cartel Del Norte, Medellian’s Pablo Escobar cartel and Griselda Blanco’s Miami organization.

“These are three of the richest and more powerful cartel’s in history,” he says.

His mother, Rosalyn “Columbian Roz” Martin-Blanco gave birth to Andolian when she was just 13 years old. His father, Felix Ochoa, was based in Bogata. Andolian says the cartel earned $12.5 billion a year selling cocaine.

Wanting to earn favor with his parents and extended family, Andolian launched his Junior Cartel in 1995 and recruited hundreds of young black men. His father helped him build distribution points  in places like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Detriot, Texas and Miami. He launched another, with older more experienced Columbians working the trade.

Only 5′ 6″ tall and 150 pounds, Andolian said he commanded respect despite his size because of the strength and rapid growth of his own empire, which he says brought in more than $1 million a day in sales.

“I lived a lavish life, like a true prince,” he says, “with world-class homes, sports cars, luxury planes and yachts. I was obsessed with it all.”

It didn’t last long. In 2000, Andolian, aka Lewis Martin of Detroit, was charged with a laundry list of serious charges, eventually leading to convictions for trafficking, conspiracy to distribute money laundering, RICO violations, armed robbery of an armored car, tax invasion and weapons charges. Barely an adult he faced live in federal prison until he won an appeal. He served nearly 15 years before his release in March 2015.

“I taught myself to write in prison,” he says. “I wrote my life story Junior Cartel: Rise of the Infamous Paper Boy, which hasn’t been published yet. I wanted to publish Columbian Blood first.”

He was determined to live a different life once outside, even though it has not been easy. He was sent back to jail for a parole violation. Before he can rebuild his new name and new life, he must serve a few more months as inmate #373542 at Handlon Correctional Facility in Michigan.

The many names were part of the problem he faced on re-entry. He had no legal ID in either his real name or his assumed named, Lewis Martin, as the state knows him. He couldn’t get an ID, which kept him from getting a job or earning a living or even opening a bank account.  Without proper ID, he couldn’t get assistance. His many requests to solve the problem were greeted with indifference from his parole supervisors.

“It seems the only thing they want me to do is go back into the cartel business with my family,” he says. “I made a lot of mistakes in my life and now I’m trying to clean them up. But the systems acts like they do want me to. The government doesn’t want me to succeed as a tax-paying citizen. They want me to be a drug lord.”

Which he refuses to be, he says. Instead, he writes all about it.

He admits he still has strong feelings for those he once considered family, his brothers-in-arms who at a very young age felt like they ruled the world.

“We have always said, ‘brothers in life, brothers in death,'” he says. “We had over five hundred main members of the Junior Cartel and 40 main members of the El Santas Muerte Cartel. They all know what those words mean, our bonds last forever in life and in spirit.”

He knows people are fascinated by the life he led, so while some may accuse him of glorifying it, he believes he’s using it for the right reasons. Writing is an outlet for his frustrations, but also a step toward a life beyond his past. He prepares for his next release, knowing many of the same challenges remain.

“If I am still unable to get legal documents and get on with my life, then I am lost. Hopefully, it will be easier this time around, but who knows. All I can do is wait and see what happens,” he says.

And keep putting pen to paper, letting the stories from his “infamous” past spill out, a glance to the past with an eye toward the future.

 

Prisoners of Age shows power of story

Floor-to-ceiling photos on display and paired with a simple, clear story told in the subject of the photo’s own words make up an important exhibit called Prisoners of Age.

The exhibit accomplishes many things like humanizes those behind bars, highlights a growing health crisis, raises the issue of life sentences and activates a discussion of what “justice” really entails. But more than anything it exemplifies the transformational power of story.

You see these faces and it begs for attention. A quote in the exhibit from a prison warden captures the mood: Just what are we doing here? 

The photography is brilliant in its simplicity. Inmates in their environments. All old. All profoundly human. The short captions that accompany them show the artist’s commitment to honest storytelling, both in photo and word. There is no whitewashing these people, as the Prisoners of Age website explains:

“The portraits in the ‘Prisoners of Age’ exhibition are immense [4’x8′], graphic and command the viewer’s attention. The full exhibition comprises 60 4×8 ft prints, vertically suspended from the museum ceilings. All prints include text from interviews with inmates and corrections personnel. It’s hard to imagine these old men as criminals running from the law. You see the frailty, the forgetfulness, the universal problems of old age apparent in generations of your own family. Many of their stories are those that ring true today about fits of anger, rage, foolish steps they took in their youth that brought them to where they are now. Others are remorseless. ‘Prisoners of Age’ seeks a balance of the two dispositions, through images and text, lending insight into the lawbreaker’s proclivity to commit crime.”

Prisoners of Age are just one more subset of a larger problem. Locking up more and more people for longer and longer periods of time hasn’t worked. Solutions are harder to come by, and perhaps worthy of healthy debate.

What can’t be debated is the humanity in those faces. Despite all they’ve been through, they remain, profoundly human. As such, we are obligated to ask again, just what are we doing here?

The Prisoners of Age exhibit is now on display at Alcatraz in San Francisco. 

Senghor completes rise beyond prisons

Shaka Senghor’s childhood in Detroit went mostly according to plan. He was abused as a child, a victim of gun violence as a teen, a criminal drug dealer and eventually the man squeezing the trigger. Another man died, Senghor ended up in prison, a slick slide down the school-to-prison pipeline that fueled the industrialized prison industry for the last three decades. The plan didn’t include life beyond prisons.

What happened next was was anything but the plan. While serving 19 years, seven in solitary, Senghor defied the odds — and the plan — and changed the course of his life.

“I was sent to prison at the age of 19 for second-degree murder. I spent my time reading and writing, using books to free my mind and expand my thinking. I clung to words–my own and others–as I pulled myself out of the anger that led me to prison and kept me from reaching my full potential,” he says now.

Like those who have been inside Criminal U, Senghor saw the brokenness all around him. Unlike many, he saw it in himself as well. He faced it. He figured out how to heal and began to envision life beyond prison.

So what’s all this about some plan, you may ask? It’s not like his plan for life was kill someone and end up in prison. It’s not like police and public officials sit around and say, “hey, this kid will use a gun, then we can lock him up.”

But somehow that became expected, even the norm, in places like Detroit, and Oakland, and Richmond, and urban locations all over the country until we became a nation that sent hundreds of thousands of people–mostly young men, and disproportionately black men–to prison.

Maybe saying such pain and brokenness “was the plan” is too jaded. But plan or not, our entire system ignored a truth that Senghor discovered in his personal reclamation project.

“Hurt people hurt people, and a lot of people are hurting,” he says. “We keep turning a deaf ear to their pain.”

Senghor’s new memoir, Writing My Wrongs, chronicles his story. It has captivated readers since its release earlier this month, already hitting the New York Times Best Seller list. It captivated Oprah for goodness sakes. Oprah, mind you.

“My first glance at the person on the book’s cover—a dreadlocked, tattooed, heavyset blackmale—left me skeptical. Full of judgment,” said Oprah. “‘Why should I be interested in the story of a murderer?’ But as his words unfolded, so did my understanding—of what it means to fall short, to go astray, to lose your way.”

Senghor’s life has gone to a new plan since a turning point in prison, inspired by a letter from his young son. He was twice denied parole but made a vow to the parole board that if he were ever released, he would dedicate his life to helping others and becoming a writer.

On June 22, 2010, one day after his 38th birthday, he was released from prison and was finally a free man. He stood by his words he shared with the parole board member, his family, and friends and became an activist and mentor to young men and women facing circumstances like his. His work in the community and the courage to share his story led him to fellowships at the MIT Media Lab and the Kellogg Foundation and invitations to speak at events like TED and the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Senghor has emerged as a leading voice for reform. More importantly, he represents the wealth of talent that exists among the millions of Criminal U alumni. Many, like Senghor, are deeply committed to the reform movement, and most have both talent and experience that is critical to genuine reform. The more ex-inmates like Senghor sit at the table of reform, the more likely that effort will be successful at changing a system that to date has proven adept of breaking the human spirit.

Senghor is both an example and a voice for the human potential that exists in the bleakest places on Earth. His is a call to all of us, to do what we can to reclaim that human potential both within ourselves and with those we connect with every day.

Join the reform movement:

  • Buy Writing My Wrongs here.
  • Share it on social media using #beyondprisons
  • Send a book to an inmate in prison through books for prisoners by clicking here.

Read more about Shaka Senghor here.

See him in person:

WritingMyWrongs_Tour Card

Inspired to turn lens of truth onto prison industry

America is the land of the second chance,­ and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.   — George W. Bush

We want to be in a position in which if somebody in the midst of imprisonment recognizes the error of their ways, is in the process of reflecting about where they’ve been and where they should be going, we’ve got to make sure that they’re in a position to make the
turn. ­­ — Barack Obama

By Dave Moutray
Founder CruxJinx Films

For a country that prides itself in freedom and was founded on the promise of it, it’s tragically ironic that the U.S. incarcerates its citizens at the highest rate of any other country in the world. While the U.S. only represents 4.4 percent of the world’s population, somehow it houses 22 percent of the world’s prisoners. Business is booming in America if you’re in the prison industry.

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How is this possible? How did the “land of the free” end up building so many prisons, so much so that it’s become a billion-dollar industry? Those questions, and many more, are fueling my drive to do a documentary through a partnership with CriminalU and Effin Artist this coming year. Well, if I’m honest, it’s more than just the questions at this point.­ The more I research, the more I dig, the more I know it’s the answers–the answers to how we got to this point and how we can get ourselves out of this business of incarceration that costs taxpayers 80 billion a year–that motivate me.

While some movement toward reform has happened since Obama made it one of his priorities, we’re not close to the real reform that needs to happen. Shane Bauer, a columnist for Mother Jones, writes that “ultimately, the only way to bring our prison population anywhere near pre- ­Reagan ­era levels—when we had about 300,000 people behind bars—would be to make major changes in sentencing for more serious crimes.

“Nationally, 47 percent of prisoners are incarcerated for violent crimes and 18 percent for property offenses. If we let out everyone incarcerated for a drug offense, our total prison population would drop from 1.6 million to 1.2 million.”

The possible solutions are complex and layered ­­ and not ones that will be popular with a corporate-driven business model. Under our noses, we’ve let our prisons become factories for some of our biggest industries. Michelle Chen of The Nation writes that an “incarcerated person may be surveilled at his facility constantly by taxpayer­funded 3M tracking devices. He might manufacture license plates in prison factories, which are supplied by 3M’s reflective coatings. Post­release, if he manages to pass the background check, he might land a job at a 3M warehouse, joining a workforce infamous for its links to the prison­ industrial complex as well as labor and environmental violations in the mainstream economy. And both in and out of prison, the company extracts profits from commercialized social control.”

Global Research found in its exhaustive report on the business of prisons that “this multimillion­dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail­order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies,
construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colors.”

That doesn’t sound like a model for reforming prisoners considering we have a recidivism rate close to 70 percent. Rather, it’s a model of a corporation, of a business with a bottom­line and investors to please. And that’s one of the driving components of the documentary I’m developing and­ of the frustration I feel for a broken, corrupt system. We’re not doing enough to change because we’re not even trying to reform those that enter into the system.

Reform is not good business for the prisons that need to fill beds to meet the needs of their corporate sponsors.

If that sounds crazy, consider this: an Arizona private prison, run by Management & Training Corp., threatened to sue the state because a line in their contract guaranteed that the prison would remain 97 percent full, arguing that they had lost nearly $10 million from the reduced inmate population. State officials renegotiated the contract but ended up paying $3 million for empty beds as the company continued to address problems.

There’s only one reason prisons need to stay full: the inmates are their workforce, their commodity, and both are essential for a healthy bottom line. They’re not even trying to hide it, but somehow we’re not paying attention.

I’m paying attention. I want to shine a light on how this continues to happen right under our noses and with taxpayer money. I’m not sure exactly where this story–this journey to have an honest evaluation of how 2 million U.S. citizens (the equivalent of the population of New Mexico) not only end up, but stay incarcerated–will take me, ­­ but I know where I’m driving it toward: real solutions that instigate real reforms.

Stay tuned; because this journey will be unlike any film I’ve ever done. But it will also be the most important film I’ve ever done.

Colombian Blood written from inside

Life on the outside hasn’t been easy for Andolian Napraja. After spending most of his adulthood and a dozen years in federal prison, Napraja released into poverty stricken streets of Detroit. A litany of problems awaited starting with the lack of a proper ID. This meant being unable to work at the job that awaited. Then problems with his housing and obviously a shortage of cash and… and… and…

Andolian is back in jail on a parole violation. He will soon be out again with another start and restarting his life. The same problems remain, but he’s a bit wiser about the traps and bit more resolved about staying out. But all the challenges remain.

Andolian wants to take the skills he used to build a drug dealing cartel as a teenager to build a viable business as an adult. The gap between where he will be when he gets out and where he wants to be is cavernous.

Andolian’s first legal success toward his new life began in prison. Once out, with the help of Criminal U, he published his first novel, Colombian Blood, a book he wrote while still in prison. He has written more books and wants to keep publishing. He wants to build his brand and eventually launch a business. The step of publishing Colombian Blood will have to be followed by many many more, all moving away from the life he once lived — and still the lifestyle he knows best.

We can help in clear and concrete ways:

  1. Buy the book here.
  2. Share it on our social media networks and ask others to buy.
  3. Write a review on Amazon to help expand the network of interested readers.
  4. Go a step further and buy a copy for someone inside prison. They will relate to both the crime story and the success of an author who had the ability and drive to write a book while in prison.

These successes are huge. It doesn’t take much for us to help an ambitious young man who has lived his whole life in the prison pipeline. We can help him find productivity pipelines that will shift his considerable talent into contributions that will benefit society.

Happy New Year homeless: Now get the hell out

On Sunday, I picked up some donations of supplies for homeless folks in my neighborhood. I planned to take some lunches out, drop off some needed rain gear, buy some cups of coffee and again encourage people to think about where they would go because the city had a big Super Bowl party coming soon and it would take place on the plaza these people called home.

On Monday, I went for a run. Justin Herman Plaza never looked so clean. A strip of concrete lined with trees that is home to nearly three dozen fairly regular people was deserted. The former homeless camp now looked like a ghost town.

Happy New Year people, the city seems to have said. Now get the hell out.

At first, I thought the rains might have chased them to other spots, and perhaps it did. But somehow I doubt it. The city of San Francisco’s relocation plan has begun.

“Where do you think they all went,” my wife asked as we ran past.

“The jail, I suspect,” I said.

San Francisco’s jails house more homeless than any other facility. It makes sense that’s where they ended up, and the police, not the rains, chased them away.

The mayor said as much a while back. When announcing plans for Super Bowl 50 Village to be located at Justin Herman Plaza and Market Street, he was asked about the homeless who consider this stretch home.

“They are going to have to leave,” he said.

“We’ll give you an alternative,” Lee said. “We are always going to be supportive. But you are going to have to leave the street. Not just because it is illegal, but because it is dangerous.”

The danger is the police who likely rousted them in the middle of the night.

Granted, this is all supposition. But the timing of nearly 20 trash bags left nearby for city trucks to pick up, suggests a hasty removal. That trash is likely the stuff those arrested use to keep warm. When they are released from jail, they will have nothing.

Further evidence: Signs posted in front of the area where the folks sleep said, “keep out.” And other signs in the nearby park saying, “keep out, grass restoration underway,” all materialized very quickly in the New Year prior to Monday and the start of the post-holiday work week.

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Maybe I’m wrong, but what I’m not wrong about is if it didn’t happen, it will soon. We’ve all known it is coming. And yet, the uproar never came for a very simple reason. We don’t visualize dozens of people being kicked awake, chased off and/or arrested. We depersonalize it. We call the problem “the homeless” instead of people who are suffering. We make it distant, which makes it easier to be indifferent.  We walk by a sidewalk once “blighted” by illegal residents who lived largely in peace and think, “wow, something is different here.”

And to be honest, we probably like it. The plaza has never looked better.

What few people know about those who call the plaza home is they seek it for a specific reason. It is safer than most streets, away from the more difficult elements in the Tenderloin. A small community exists there. They often look out for each other. I came to know many by name. Now, these neighbors are gone.

Thousands stream past the plaza twice a day commuting through the Ferry Building. On this day, the stream of humanity didn’t glance left, didn’t stop to notice the humanity missing.

They will be back. They will stream back in and get bumped again through the Super Bowl Party. Afterward, some will return for good. Maybe they will then be left alone, but I doubt it. The Super Bowl gives the city a reason to clean up one very public, very touristy part of town. I suspect those that came here seeking peace will never find it there again.

Again, I don’t know any of this as fact. But I suspect it is.

I’d love to see the plaza clean and friendly and free of the homeless. I just prefer it happening because those homeless folks are no longer homeless, not because they are just no longer there.

The most rebellious thing a person can do is educate themselves – CriminalU.co

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