SFTF: E17: Incarceration

mass-incarceration1Fifty years ago, the coun­try of Fin­land and the state of Cal­i­for­nia incar­cer­ated their cit­i­zens at about the same rates. Since then, California’s prison pop­u­la­tion has grown five times larger, while Finland’s has been cut in half. On Fri­day, Mikko Aal­to­nen, a doc­toral can­di­date at the Uni­ver­sity of Helsinki, Fin­land, and Full­bright scholar at the Uni­ver­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia Pop­u­la­tion Stud­ies Cen­ter, came to the Alice Peters Audi­to­rium to talk about the dif­fer­ent ways crime and pun­ish­ment are handled.

Spon­sored by the Col­lege of Health and Human Ser­vices, Depart­ment of Social Work Edu­ca­tion, the sem­i­nar was hosted by Dr. Kris Clarke, assis­tant pro­fes­sor. Experts from the Val­ley and the Bay Area also gave pre­sen­ta­tions and par­tic­i­pated in the panel dis­cus­sion afterwards.

The goal of the sem­i­nar was to answer the ques­tion: how do the “cul­tures of cor­rec­tion” in Fin­land and Cal­i­for­nia han­dle law­break­ers, crime pre­ven­tion and allow law­break­ers to make amends and return to society?

These are the open­ing para­graphs of one of the first arti­cles I wrote for The Col­le­gian, this one pub­lished near the end of Jan­u­ary 2012.

Phil Levine, R.I.P.

LevineSpeaking003_THUMB-Cary-EdmondsonThree years ago, I cov­ered Philip Levine being hon­ored by Fresno State. It was a mem­o­rable night. I don’t have any audio on this appear­ance any longer, but here is my final draft–before my edi­tor got ahold of it–for a piece that appeared on page 1 of The Col­le­gian. He was a good man. I witty man. A poet. An artist:

Once a year, the Librar­ian of Con­gress picks an Amer­i­can poet who will spend Octo­ber through May  rais­ing aware­ness and appre­ci­a­tion of poetry. This year’s United States Poet Lau­re­ate is Freno State’s own Philip Levine, who returned to cam­pus Sat­ur­day night to be hon­ored and to honor those who had sup­ported him uring his long tenure at Fresno State.

Hosted by Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent John Welty and Dr. Vida Sami­ian, the dean of the Col­lege of Arts and Human­i­ties, there were read­ings and remarks by seven dis­tin­guished poets and clos­ing remarks by Provost Covino. When Levine took the stage, he had the 200-plus audi­ence, by turns, laugh­ing, then applaud­ing through­out his 40-minute talk, recital and accep­tance speech.

The longest laugh and applause Levine received was when he recounted his retire­ment from NYU in 2008 at age 80.

They gave me a big read­ing, and at that read­ing, I did the for­mu­lary thing,” Levine said. “I thanked my wife, Fran, and I revealed some­thing that almost no one knew: that in fact, she had writ­ten my poems.”

After it got quiet again, he then lauded her for “being with me all the years I was writ­ing bad poems,” and went on to high­light his mod­est begin­nings and thank the many that had sup­ported him over the years.

Levine has accu­mu­lated a long list of achieve­ments over a lifetime–Professor at Fresno State from 1958 to 1992, cho­sen as Out­stand­ing Pro­fes­sor of the Year (1970) at Fresno State and then for the entire CSU sys­tem in 1971, author of 20 col­lec­tions of poetry, 1995 Pulitzer Prize, two National Book Awards and two National Book Critic Cir­cle Awards.

Levine went on to recite two of his works, say­ing “I wanted to read you the first poem I wrote. But I couldn’t find it,” which elicited laugh­ter from those in attendance.

He then gave an involved intro­duc­tion to a poem he wrote in 1968 against cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, “L’homme et la bête” (The Man and the Ani­mal). Even at 84, Levine’s read­ing of his poem held the Music Build­ing Con­cert Hall audi­ence in thrall and elicited sus­tained applause.

Then, switch­ing to “some­thing more cheer­ful,” Levine fin­ished his pre­sen­ta­tion with his poem, “Gospel,” a poem replete with images from the outdoors.

When Levine fin­ished read­ing, there was a sus­tained 60-second stand­ing ovation.

Provost Covino then took the stage and began by cred­it­ing Levine.

We have an MFA Pro­gram here at Fresno State that rivals the best pro­gram any­where, that pro­duces poets and nov­el­ists and essay­ists with rich and com­pelling voices and visions whose work has res­onated through­out the world,” said Covino.

Look­ing out at the crowd, Covino added: “This would not have been pos­si­ble were we not all stand­ing on the sturdy shoul­ders of Philip Levine, who is now our country’s Poet Lau­re­ate and who is indeed emblem­atic of an Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence that calls to us, that makes us see life and lives in ways that trans­form our own.”

Covino related the story about his first expe­ri­ence of read­ing a Levine poem in 1975 when he was a Mas­ters stu­dent in Eng­lish, dur­ing a break while play­ing a party with his cover band.

He had read Levine’s “Ani­mals are Pass­ing from our Lives,” say­ing  he imme­di­ately under­stood that the pig in Levine’s poem, who is being dri­ven to slaugh­ter by a farm boy, “becomes an exam­ple for any­one who has ever been objec­ti­fied, and swal­lowed up.”

He said it became very dif­fi­cult to con­cen­trate on singing Elton John and Cap­tain & Tenille songs after read­ing Levine’s poem. The inci­dent led him to what he called the “Encino Epiphany.”

Peace of mind had never taught me any­thing, never moved me to action, or pas­sion. The dis­turb­ing and ironic and lyri­cal force of ordi­nary life and human fail­ings and the courage and grace to say ‘no, not this pig,’ resonated…I real­ized that it was this dis­turb­ing ten­sion between con­ven­tional and com­fort­able ways of being and poetic ways of see­ing that had brought me to lit­er­a­ture, that had brought me to teach, that keeps bring­ing me back to poetry, and has made Philip Levine’s poetry a force in my life and the lives of so many others.”

Covino fin­ished by recit­ing the stock answer he gave peo­ple from then on who asked his plans for using his Eng­lish degree.

I am going to remain dis­turbed — the kind of dis­tur­bance that ignites the imag­i­na­tion. Thank you, pro­fes­sor, for dis­turb­ing us.

Dr. Vida Sami­ian then spoke on behalf of Mayor Ash­ley Swerin­gen and read a City of Fresno procla­ma­tion that made Jan­u­ary 20, 2012, Philip Levine Day in Fresno.

Sami­ian also announced that there will be a spe­cial exhibit on Levine’s life and books on the sec­ond floor of the Mad­den Library and encour­aged peo­ple to come by and take a look.

Levine then took the stage and quipped, “and they tell me this when the day is past,” then ended with a hearty “Thank you, Fresno.”

Fresno State presents the Levine Prize annu­ally through its Mas­ter of Fine Arts Cre­ative Writ­ing Pro­gram and the Fresno State Win­ery has just announced a lim­ited edi­tion blend hon­or­ing Levine. Pre-release orders for the red blend were taken at the event.

In Feb­ru­ary, Levine will meet with enol­ogy stu­dents to select his favorite of sev­eral red blends crafted by the student-run win­ery, which will be released this fall. The pro­ceeds from all sales will ben­e­fit the Depart­ment of Enol­ogy and the Philip Levine Schol­ar­ship in Poetry.


SFTF: E16: DD07 — On Trust, Pt. 1

trust11A ram­ble from the early fall 2014. Part 1 on trust.

Letters to Michael #3d

MichaelAs far as my adjust­ment to the food, I did sev­eral things that will prob­a­bly bore you but I will tell you any­way.  I imme­di­ately went right back to my Pale­olithic diet, which means no pota­toes, rice, beans or dairy, just eggs, meat, lots of dif­fer­ent veg­gies (but not all), and nuts.

This really works to lose weight, build strength and sta­mina, and keep appetite to a min­i­mum (it takes much longer for the body to digest meat pro­tein).  My sis still had a big jar of my Ionic Fizz cal­cium mag­ne­sium sup­ple­ment and I started tak­ing it 6 times per day to cure the bleed­ing of my gums that I had had in jail.  I did that  every day until I started get­ting the  runs (a side effect of too much) then I backed off to 3 times per day which I am still doing.

Then I went and got a big bot­tle of aci­dophilus cul­ture and started tak­ing 3 table­spoons a day to build up ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria in my intestines that had been wiped out by the crap we were being fed in there.  After the bot­tle was gone, I went and bought a bot­tle of Nordic Cod Liver Oil and began tak­ing 3 to 4 tea­spoons per day in order to build up my sup­plies of the fat-soluble Vit­a­mins A, D, E and K.  To top it off, I got sev­eral pounds of Red Star Brewer’s Yeast and take that mixed in orange juice 2 to 3 times a day. Yeast is a nat­ural source of com­plete Vit­a­min B and has lots of protein.

That’s all I needed, Michael.  Some good sim­ple food and a few supplements.

Finally, think­ing of Keith and Coach makes me think of meet­ing my first gay guy since I’ve been on the out­side.  I had gone up to Bor­ders and was in their Seattle’s Best café read­ing one of my TV Notas when this older guy starts talk­ing to me about it.  It took me like 40 min­utes to real­ize he was gay and he was talk­ing to me like I was gay!  I guess  it really is  gay to sit around a café and read Span­ish mag­a­zines. So if it is, well then, I’m gay!  Not really, but you get the idea.

Ok, man. You know how I feel about you and about your plight and you  have those feel­ings from most of the peo­ple who  know you.  Be strong, be strong in faith.  Write me from wher­ever you are. If I don’t hear from you soon, I’ll find you somehow.

I wish you the best, never for­get that.

Letters to Chris #2b

white_inmateSo, stay tuned.  Things will change, but I don’t know how soon and I don’t know which way. But you know that I do hope things go your way and that day comes soon.

Tell Jeremy, what up, boo boo!!! Yang was already back by the time I left (I gave him one of my writ­ing pads).

I’ll try some chess and may even go to the chess club here, once things set­tle down.  To tell you the truth, I real­ize I’m in dan­ger of get­ting really iso­lated here as Fresno life is every­one going to their apart­ments after work you know.  I need to join some­thing be it a church, club or what­ever.  But then where will I be with this Ohio thing?

Oh one other thing.  My fed­eral attor­ney here called me Fri­day and told me that the very same argu­ments we used to try and get this shit dis­missed worked last week in Sacra­mento in an iden­ti­cal case. Trou­ble is my judge and the other guy’s judge is on the same level (Dis­trict).  Now it goes to the Appeals court in SF and if they agree with the guy up north, my con­vic­tion will be reversed.  Then there will be no 10 years of super­vised release and I will be free to legally travel. We will see.

In the mean­time, write me what’s hap­pen­ing in the pod and  with you, good luck and  God Bless in the upcom­ing sen­tenc­ing I hope you  get some kind of good news from it and if not just know that some­day this sys­tem may not  exist any­more and I hope that  day  comes soon.  I will let you know what’s going on from this end and let me know if you need any­thing that I can pro­vide (like stuff from the inter­net?).  What­ever I can do I will!

Icon of Gay Orthodoxy Debunked

Shepard190Melissa Ethridge wrote a song about the Matthew Shep­ard killing in 1998. I know, I saw her sing it. She and many oth­ers bought the hate crime theme being prof­fered at that time. Yet, that’s not the way it was.

It is heart­en­ing to see this crime debunked. It wasn’t about him being gay. They all knew each other. In fact, their rela­tion­ship involved sex and meth. Mur­der it was. Hate crime it was not.

Gay ortho­doxy and dogma is just as poi­so­nous as any other kind. Here’s an excerpt of an inter­view with author, Stephen Jimenez:

I wrote it because I realised that com­plex truths – the truths all of us share as human beings – are being increas­ingly reduced to half-truths in our age of info­tain­ment, media hype and medi­oc­rity. I saw how Matthew had been fash­ioned into a celebrity on his deathbed to advance a cause, with lit­tle atten­tion to the real cir­cum­stances behind his tragedy.”

via Matthew Shep­ard and the gate­keep­ers of the gay ortho­doxy | Crime and the law | review of books, Feb­ru­ary 2015 | USA | spiked.

SFTF: E15: On Piercing, Pt. 2

piercing-medusa-cuidados-y-procedimientosThe sec­ond set of inter­views for the Pierc­ing arti­cle, the last piece for The Col­le­gian, Sum­mer 2012.