Sunday, August 9, 2009

There’s No Place Like Home, If You Can Find One ( Article from 2008)

(This represents a different aspect of the subject brought up in my last post)

I saw them in class everyday, they were at every school function. I ate lunch with him, did class projects with him, fought with him, laughed with him, after a party he walked me back to my car. At the prom, one of them danced the robot. We were not close friends, only classmates, but never once did I ever think ‘these boys are sex offenders,’ but they were and we all knew it.

In my lifetime, I have known four men who have committed sexual crimes. Two of them were too young to be registered, one of them fled the country, one was incarcerated.

I will never excuse their actions, but I will say that people who commit sexual crimes or are accused of committing them are individuals with family, friends, and deeply rooted emotional problems. When we talk about sex offenders we tend to group them into a faceless lump. If they were your old friends, your classmates, your male relatives, you would not dismiss them so easily.

I can never say that all sex offenders can be fully rehabilitated. One of my classmates committed another nonsexual crime and has since dropped out of high school. He now works in the town, but he will probably never outrun the reputation and scars of his past.

My other classmate was arrested from the school the year after I graduated. His crime involved lewd acts with a minor at the after school program, even though he was supposed to be under supervision.

While their actions are unforgivable, they are not the hardened criminals you think of when you hear “sex offender.” The came from broken, low income families. They had parents and other family members in jail, they moved around from home to home, and suffered abuse and neglect. I have watched them struggle to fit in and keep up in school, succeed and then relapse.

It is hard to watch someone fight a battle they are losing. Especially, in a small town, like mine was, where everybody knows your name. Communities, have to figure out what to do with these people. How can you help them to live normal lives, as well as keep them out of high risk areas which offer opportunities for behavioral relapses?

This is the question that Carson is asking itself. The Daily Breeze reported that 30 registered sex offenders have been living in the Carson Plaza Hotel-a high concentration for a city that considers itself a “vibrant city with a small town atmosphere.”

click on image to see source

Rita Boggs, a professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills and a member of the politically active group Carson Citizens for Reform, said that the city council is still going over the situation and suggestions have been made for the city to limit the number of sex offenders allowed to live in a specific area.

“ We can ask that there be no more than a certain number,” Boggs said.

Boggs also said that, at the next council meeting, City Attorney Bill Wynder will give a presentation based on how other surrounding cities have dealt with similar problems.

“They are human beings and they do in fact have a right to live someplace,“ said Gilbert Smith who has lived in Carson for 45 years and was the city’s third mayor.

“Do you build a place isolate in the desert somewhere…I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Smith said.

Smith said that establishing quotas for how many sex offenders can live in an area would not be effective because arriving at a specific number would be problematic. He also said that sending out public notices could cause a “community panic,” at the very least, he said he thinks that local jurisdiction and law enforcement agencies should be aware of where and how many sex offenders are living in the city.

Both Boggs and Smith said that, at the last city council meeting, the number of sex offenders reported at the Carson Plaza Hotel was down to 10. However, the Daily Breeze and the Office of the Attorney General’s online list of registered sex offenders say the number is between 25-30.

“It’s been since reported that there are 10 (sex offenders) as of yesterday,” Hitesh Patel, general manager of the hotel, said.

Patel said that there has been a surge of misinformation and sensationalism created by the initial Daily Breeze article.

“We’re bound by law to provide housing…We’re running a business here, we need to protect the livelihood of our business, but we share the concerns of all the residents,” Patel said.

He went on to say that the hotel is complying with the law in everyway, but it has chosen not to post signs about the sex offenders because it would deter business.

Patel said the Carson Sheriff’s Department said the average amount of time that each parolee spent at the hotel was about two weeks. They are placed at the hotel by the state parole board, Patel said.

This is what Smith said he is most concerned about.

“I don’t think our community should be the dumping ground for any kind of activity that other communities find undesirable,” Smith said.

According to an article in the Daily Breeze, state parole officials “identified (the) hotel as a viable spot to house sex offenders because of its location.”

While no one seems to have the right answer to what should be done with sex offenders on and after parole, I think that remembering the fact that all concerned are human beings, is the most important part of the discussion.

Update: Carson, CA Passes Ban Prohibiting More than One Sex Offender from Living in a Single Dwelling

Pure and Simple Truth (2006)

click on photo for source

Oscar Wilde’s book The Picture of Dorian Gray backs up his remark that “the pure and simple truth is never pure or simple” or in other words, facts are never black or white, cut and dry. In the story Dorian’s gift of eternal youth, which would seem to be a blessing, turns out to be a curse, inadvertently leading him to commit several murders including that of Basil his friend and the very man who painted the “Picture of Dorian Gray.”

In today’s society I see another such enigma concerning the issue of older men with under-aged girls. Society asks, “What is the truth? Is it always a crime or not?” Some see this situation with the view that the “older man” is always at fault while others, like me, evaluate each case depending on its surrounding circumstances.

Take for instance the case of 22 -year -old Matt Koso and 14-year-old Crystal Koso whose situation was brought to public attention by the ABC show 20/20. Matt and Crystal, though eight years apart, had been friends for several years before their relationship developed into a romance. In fact, it was Crystal who took the step to move them to the next level by initiating the first kiss. Soon they were married in Kansas, which permitted the union, with the consent of both their parents who felt that marriage was the best move since Crystal had recently found out that she was carrying Matt’s baby.

With the illusion that their problems were settled Matt and Crystal tried to set up a loving home to raise their newborn baby, Samara. However, even though the USA legally accepted their marriage, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has proceeded to prosecute Matt for first-degree sexual assault. This move ignited a public outcry on the Koso’s behalf. In his own defense Bruning stated, “When somebody has sex with a 12-year-old who’s a grown man, you can’t suddenly try to fix it by saying, ‘Let’s go get a piece of paper (marriage license).’”

As Matt awaited trial, with Crystal’s support, he hoped that he would at least be granted probation so that he could provide for his family. As he said in his own words, “One thing’s for dang sure, I’m gonna be the best father I can be. And I ain’t gonna treat my little girl badly. I mean, like I said, I’m going to grow up and just give her all I can give.”

In February of 2006, Matt was sentenced to 18-30 months in prison with no probation. He was released in May 2007.

As more and more cases of older men having sexual relationships with under-age girls are brought to light, the truth, though clear to me, always seems to be perverted by those like Bruning. While I do not advocate child marriage or rape, I feel that in situations such as the Koso’s, if both people are consenting individuals then the older member of the relationship bears no blame. Today, children are maturing at a much earlier age and before we put the brand of “sex-offender” on men who have relationships with younger girls we need to see if we are really dealing out justice or just simply settling for a one-size fits all solution?

I believe that if both parties feel like they love each other and want to be together, then they should be allowed that freedom. At the very least, no legal action should be taken unless it is against both parties. These girls should not be allowed to cop out and say, “they were coerced” when at the beginning they confessed that they wanted to be in these relationships. They need to take responsibility for there own actions. It is because of people such as these girls and Jon Bruning that Matt and Crystal’s lives were derailed.

A Community in Harmony

“Don’t interrupt Mommy while she’s on the phone…Leave the kitchen please…Excuse me, my kids just left the house,” Jackie Shannon, adjunct professor at the California State University, Dominguez Hills, said as she put down the telephone to round up her two sons, ages 3 and 5.

Besides teaching music at the university and keeping an eye on her boys, Shannon still finds time to practice her skill on the French horn for up to three hours everyday and play in several community orchestras including the Carson-Dominguez Hill Symphony Orchestra.

photo from the City of Carson

Since 1972, musicians of all ages and from all walks of life have been joining together to form the Carson-Dominguez Hills Symphony Orchestra.

Even though Carson is most famous for having its politicians arrested and its council meetings broadcasted on YouTube, the semiprofessional community orchestra has also made a name for itself by winning the National Recreation and Park Association Arts and Humanities Award.

The orchestra has come a long way in its 35 years.

Les Woodson, a tuba player who has been with the orchestra from day one, said when they played their first concert, in October of 1972, they weren’t very good at all.

“There was a guy who wanted to start an orchestra…He had a big ego,” Woodson said of the orchestra’s first director, whose name he couldn’t even remember.

It wasn’t until 1975, when Frances Steiner, professional cellist, conductor, and adjunct professor at the California State University, Dominguez Hills took over as director that the orchestra started to improve, Woodson said. “(The orchestra) would not have survived,” he said.

It was under Steiner’s direction that the initially city-funded orchestra combined with the California State University, Dominguez Hills to become the Carson-Dominguez Hills Symphony Orchestra. The 50 to 60 members of the orchestra get paid a stipend ranging from $150-$200 per show.

Through the partnership, the orchestra gives university music students the opportunity to perform with seasoned professional and semiprofessional musicians, Hector Salazar, trombone player and assistant conductor for the orchestra said.

Salazar has been in the Carson-Dominguez Hills Symphony Orchestra for 20 years. He has been playing the trombone since middle school and he now teaches music and conducts professionally.

“Community regional orchestra is really important…They offer concerts to people who can’t afford to go to the philharmonic,” Salazar said.

Every year the orchestra puts on at least five concerts for the Carson-Dominguez Hills community, which include two evening concerts and three children’s concerts. They rehearse only five times before each show. Both students and community members are glad to have an outlet for their musical talent.

Shannon, a former professional musician, who now teaches music at the California State University, Dominguez Hills, and gives private lessons, said performing with her students helps her connect with them and reach out to the community through her music.

Shannon has been playing the French horn ever since elementary school, when she said she literally heard the instrument calling to her.

She said she remembers going to the school gym to hear a sampling of all of the instruments available at the school. It was the day when she was supposed to pick what instrument she was going to play for the school band. Before she even saw the instruments, she had already chosen.

“I heard this beautiful sound and I said I want to play that instrument,” Shannon said.

Shannon, whose husband plays trombone for the Beach City Sling Band, is already preparing her children to follow in their parents musical footsteps. Since her sons were 6-months-old, they have been taking piano and Orff music lessons. In Orff lessons, young children are introduced to music, especially percussion instruments.

Even though Shannon said Orff is basically a parent tapping rhythms on their baby’s back, she said she it gave her kids a goods sense of rhythm.

Meanwhile, Steiner, whose mother was a professional violinist and father a professional cellist, said it was never important to either marry a musician or push her daughter into music.

Since she was 15-years-old Steiner has been performing professionally; she started taking lesson at age 5. By age 21, she was a fulltime professional cellist. She has performed with orchestras on both the East and West coasts including at the Kennedy Center and the Los Angeles Art Museum. However, she decided that the life of a professional musician wasn’t for her and instead went on to study at the University of Southern California, Harvard University, Temple University, and several music schools in France, New York and Vermont.

“It was a competitive lifestyle…somewhat political,” she said of her life as a professional musician.

“I opted very early to teach and play,” said Steiner who, besides teaching at the university, also directs the Chamber Orchestra of South Bay and the Southwest Youth Music Festival Orchestra along with the Carson-Dominguez orchestra. She still finds time to practice the cello.

For many, being part of the Carson-Dominguez Hills Symphony Orchestra meant finding a place where they could keep their musical skills in tune.

“I always looked for opportunities to perform. I was determined when I got out of college to not forget my music like so many other people I knew,” Tuba player Les Woodson said.

Woodson, who is a financial advisor, started playing the tuba in high school.

His father was also a musician who played the violin and the piano and finished fourth in an international competition for barbershop quartets. His mother played the piano and his siblings sang in a choir. When Woodson was a child, his parents made him take piano lessons but he never enjoyed playing music until he found the tuba.

After high school, during the first years of the Vietnam War, he joined the National Guard Band. Woodson thanks the tuba for keeping him out of Vietnam.

Tuba saved my life,” he said repeatedly. Woodson, who doesn’t live in Carson, drives 85 miles from his home in Crestline just to perform with the orchestra.

Woodson isn’t the only musician who goes out of his way to be a part of the orchestra. Joe Jackson, a tuba player for the Carson-Dominguez Hills Symphony Orchestra as well as a professional musician, music teacher, and steam train engineer for Disneyland also makes an effort to play with the group, which he’s been with since 1996.

“It’s really hard to juggle and sometimes I don’t juggle as well as I should. It really comes down to picking and choosing,” Jackson said.

Even with his multiple jobs and his wedding coming up in February, Jackson
makes time to practice from one to four hours a day.

He’s been playing tuba since middle school.

“I always liked things that were big. I saw the tuba and I was really impressed by its size,”

Jackson said. He went on to major in tuba performance at the University of Southern California.

Now, however, he said it’s the tuba’s sound rather than its size which keeps him interested. He often performs tuba solos for the Carson-Dominguez orchestra and freelances for other orchestras.

“I really enjoy solos, that’s really when I’m the happiest,” Jackson said.

Even if they have little else in common, for Jackson and the other members of the orchestra, it’s the love of music and the happiness they get out of it that bonds them together.

“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it,” Shannon said.

Whatever they are in the rest of their lives-students, teachers, theme park steam train conductors, financial advisors, computer technicians, mother, fathers, sons and daughters, when they come together as the Carson-Dominguez Hills Symphony Orchestra, they’re all musicians.

“Orchestra is like a sense of family,” Salazar said.

Gilbert Smith

click on photo to see its source

For the last 45 years, Gilbert Smith’s life has been intertwined with the city of Carson as it transformed from a barren industrial area into one of the most diverse cities in California.

In 1968, Smith was the city’s first councilman, then its third mayor from 1970-71 and again from 1974-75. He was later councilman until 1980 and city manager in 1998. Smith is also one of the founders of California State University, Dominguez Hills, from which he received an honorary doctorate last May.

“If you compare the Carson of 1968 with the Carson of today, it’s like night and day,” said Smith who, as a child, used to pay fifty cents for horse rides in the undeveloped Carson land.

Back in 1963, he and his first wife, Glenda, were living in a 40-year-old, house in Los Angeles. They wanted a bigger house to raise their three sons.

It was a hard search.

Smith, an African American, said that at almost every housing sales office, the salespeople would say they were closed or sold out. Sometimes they would say they couldn’t sell them a house.

“‘There is a problem with the color of your skin,’ literally those were the words,” Smith said, “It was the general climate at that time in the state of California.”

Once, a salesman told him that he didn’t believe in discrimination but it was company policy, Smith said. With “tears running down his face” the salesman tried to offer him a house that was in a location he wasn’t interested in.

The Smiths were finally able to buy a home in the area that would be Carson. The four-bedroom, two-bathroom, house cost $25,000, it wasn’t even built yet.

The first time they drove up to their new home, it was surrounded by a group of mixed-race picketers calling for a boycott of the racist housing companies.

The family soon realized that the area needed a lot of work. There were 23 dumping sites, more than 100 wrecking yards, no sidewalks, no shopping center, five oil refineries, and three chemical companies around the developing residential area, Smith said.

The community had been pushing for incorporation since the 1950s, the goal was accomplished in 1968, under Smith.

As president of his homeowners association, Smith was elected the first chairman of the citizen’s organization for the incorporation of Dominguez-Carson, later named Carson.

“I didn’t know they were going to elect me, I guess I had the biggest mouth,” Smith said.

The city began with only 63,000 residents, today it has almost 100,000. Smith said they were proud to be a diverse community from the very beginning.

In the first two years after incorporation, they planted more than 5,000 trees in the once barren land. Smith’s first $25,000 home recently sold for almost $600,000.

“It’s truly a blessed city,” Smith said.

Now, 40 years later, Smith is still involved with Carson’s politics,

“It should have been part of this city 40 years ago,” he said about the proposed annexation of the Rancho Dominguez area. It was included in the proposed 1968 boundaries, but political problems prevented it from being annexed. Smith said he thinks, if city can afford it, the proposal should be accepted.

Recently, the group supporting the recall of Mayor Dear asked Smith, who ran against Dear in 2005 to run for mayor again. Smith said, if the recall goes through, he will run again.

“This is my city, I live here,” Smith said.

Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn

from Babe's and Ricky's Inn website

It’s almost 10 O’clock, on a Monday night, and the street outside is quiet. But inside the door, which is just a little hole in the wall, life is teeming.

Like some kind of forgotten anthill or left over from the golden age of the Big Easy the legendary blues club, Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn, on Leimert Boulevard, still flourishes underground.

from Babe's and Ricky's Inn website

Like a queen with a bright purple beret of a crown, founder Laura Gross, 88, sits just inside the door adjusting the cover charge from $8 to $10 as she runs out of change. For 44 years, and two locations and the threat of bankruptcy, Gross has reigned over Babe’s and Ricky’s with an iron rule.

The mirrors along the back wall make the room seem bigger and fuller than it really is. Not that it isn’t full, people are lined up against the bar and almost every seat is taken. The crowd is a mix of college students looking for an old-school experience and middle aged patrons for whom this is probably a regular hangout.

The big red pleather booths are occupied by people just starting to feel the effects of their alcoholic beverages.

On stage, several bands play in succession. They’re good, but not what you’d expect for a blues club where legends like B.B King used to perform. Amateurs and greats alike still play here.

The musicians tonight are mostly young white males, but they’ve got soul. Some are eccentric, following in the modern “emo” style of young bands they are dressed in black, or skinny jeans, with hair just covering their eyes having perfectly mastered the look of socially competent “geek“, meanwhile one older artist expresses himself in a bright red sequined scarf.

There is a list by the door where musically talented club-goers can sign up to play the instrument of their choice.

A college student in a black and white striped shirt steps onto the stage for a turn on the drums. He is announced as a recently freed jailbird, the announcer enjoys the joke more than the crowd.

The drummer plays with the attitude of an entertainer, pulling faces, bopping to the music. It’s clear he’s played for crowds before and enjoys it. Every time he hits the drum the light reflected in it jumps to the rhythm of the music.

The other college students are cheering for him, whistling. Some are his friends, some are feeling their drinks. He’s good though, the job offers he gets when he steps down are proof of that.

Around 11p.m. dinner is served. From the back of the club, no announcement can be heard but word spreads and a lazy S-shaped line is formed from the front to the back.

You can serve yourself from dishes of collard greens, black-eyed peas, and potato salad, but two strict looking women, one of them Laura Gross, serve only one slice of hot link sausage, one piece of fried chicken, and one fried corn biscuit per person. It’s Jam Night so the meal comes with your cover charge. The regular menu has only three options, chicken wings, hot links, and fried fish.

You can order drinks all night, you may not get exactly what you ordered, but you’ll drink it anyway. The food is taken back to tables decorated with plastic white doilies and red, white and blue flowers.

The flowers match the dark red walls, covered with old photos and posters, and the blue Christmas lights, and the partly deflated red, white and blue, balloons that look like they’ve been left behind from some 4th of July celebration a decade ago. Somehow, it just escapes being tacky.

From the corner of the middle wall, an old Central Avenue street sign juts out, reminding customers of the club’s first location. You know this place has history, even if you don’t know it.

As people finish eating they slowly trickle out. They come as much for the food as the atmosphere and music. Gross has something to say to everyone. She tells some college girls not to get fat and she tells the jailbird drummer to put on some weight.

It’s just about midnight and Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn is dying down, strange for a Los Angeles night club, but maybe not so strange for a bustling blues club left over from the 60s.