Thursday, July 06, 2017

When it feels right

Back in January/February Marla and I sat and had lengthy deliberative discussions about what was next for us. We had settled on Toronto as a great place for our family to live. That would be at the start time for Willa heading into primary school, Fall 2018, and there was the matter of what should we do now, right now? What would be best for our family.

Sabbatical made a lot of sense to us as we're waiting for my permanent residency paperwork, which has a natural course of action. Costa Rica appealed to us for many reasons. We had previously travelled here and loved the whole experience. Ticos are wonderful, kind and easy going people; they embody their Pura Vida ethos. As two relatively wound up people that would do us good. Then there's the 77-87º F weather -- with a shower in the afternoon half the year -- every day. Add to that a tranquilo beach town with good beginner surfing, yoga on the beach and a great bi-lingual pre-school. It all was too hard to drown out the chorus of resounding "yes" or "claro que sí".

Fast forward through lots of planning, a little bit of preparatory shopping, and a lot of good-byes, a taxi, a flight, and another taxi, and we arrived last Wednesday. Key to comfort here are cross breezes through the house, and as such we had the front door open wide with the screen door offering fresh air. Shortly after dark a neighborhood cat sidled up to the screen door to see who had come into town. Willa being quite tired and road weary launches into sympathetic pleas of "But where is he gonna sleep?" & "He's so lonely." She repeated these alternating inquiries and pleas in the sweetest and most innocent way that only a four year old girl can.

I suspect the cat understood Willa because over the following few days we received multiple presents. Walking out the front door Marla shrieked. She had squished the first present not having noticed the cat had left us a dead something; we couldn't identify it after nearly all of Marla's foot had descended; although, I did see a tail and some guts still on the mat, and I had to scrape the bulk off the underside of her foot with a paper towel. We all get clean, I wash the welcome mat, and a day later we come back from an outing to see this lizard curled up in the mat. Dad is definitely getting the unceremonious responsibility of cat gift disposal. You know you're not in Brooklyn when...

We are still settling in, and we were keeping a close eye on Willa's reaction to our new world. It has been a flurry of new, different, and exciting. It has all been the adventure we anticipated, and it all feels right so far. Willa's school is on the same two week break as the rest of the nation, and it's giving us plenty of time to figure things out together.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

My first taste of the ocean

Over the past many months I have been settling up our affairs in New York. We made the decision to pack up and head to Costa Rica in February, and this past Wednesday we arrived. There were lots of ins and outs to the whole transition. We had a long arc of goodbyes to our family and friends and to our city of 20 years.

Most everything went off without a hitch, but of course I can be silly sometimes. I had to have one more urgent care visit before leaving. After having settled up in Brooklyn we headed to Scarsdale, NY to spend a week with family. We went to the local pool, and not 15 minutes in I attempted a few breast strokes with my eyes closed -- my new goggles were arriving the next day. Several strokes in I veered off course a bit, and I banged my head into a ladder. Reportedly, eight staples at urgent care sealed the cut, and worse it donned on me that I couldn't jump in the ocean immediately upon arriving in Costa Rica. Irritatingly, I continue to have my fair share of accidents, but I got my feet in on the first day nevertheless. Marla, importantly, took that first day Pacific plunge and came back glowing. We have made a great decision for our family. Willa is a whole other matter, and we're still inching her into the water; on Wednesday she would have none of it.

Needless to say there was a bunch of conversation about my staples before departing. Should they come out early before I leave? Would I be able to get them out in a small town? Sámara only has about 4,000 residents. Answer turns out to be yes, there's a clinic run by Dr. Freddy Soto, and he indeed has a staple remover. Cool, we're good to go staples and all. They didn't set off the metal detector at JFK, but I had the visit notes handy just in case.

Yesterday was to be staple removal day, and I couldn't wait. First though we joined Willa's new school, Sámara Pacific School, on their beach day. The trip celebrated the school year half way point. Costa Rica's school calendar runs year round with about 210 days in session. This was a great opportunity for Willa to begin her new school introduction, meeting the other students and playing at the beach. Of course the ocean was looming, and not even the enticement of a fellow girl who went dashing into ankle deep water was enough to get Willa there. She did stick her toes in, which was a marked improvement over the two prior days.

At the beach picnic Marla and I were introducing ourselves and meeting lots of parents. Many have been here for a while, some were here only weeks before us, and some were leaving the following day. As it happens, Brian and his family were departing the next day after a three and a half year stay. Brian had lots of great suggestions for settling in, turns out they had two bikes to sell, and to boot he's an ER doctor with a pair of staple removers back at his house. After the beach party we went back to their house where he deftly removed my staples, and moments later we bought they bikes. Nice how that turned out.

During the past week I had fretted quite a bit about the staple removal, and I had discussed at the urgent care getting a staple remover to bring with me, I had seen my internist before leaving and discussed it with her. Marla and I and many family members had all discussed it extensively. I had contemplated how the tools would need to be sterile, and what would I do if they weren't; would I say something? In the end I sat at new acquaintance's poolside table. He pulled a pair of staple removers from a bag with lots of other tools, and he proceeded to pull out seven staples. The urgent care doctor said there were eight, so Dr. Brian and two onlookers all combed through my head with beach hands and scanned for the never applied eighth staple. This is not how I imagined the scene was going to go down.

After all that I was walking the small lane between our house and the beach, and I saw an email from a friend. There was change back in New York, which related to everything that set our family's adventure in motion, and it brought a huge smile to my face. With that I dropped off Willa's beach toys, which I had been retrieving, took off my shirt, pitched my flip flops and walked into the ocean.



Thursday, June 29, 2017

Llegado a Sámara

We arrived in Sámara yesterday. Our family has committed to a significant shift for the next many years. First, we're planning about a year in Costa Rica then onto Toronto. We are seeking adventure, a deeper connection with nature and ourselves and helping our daughter build a lifetime of resiliency. One evening in so far the only falter on our trip was a failure to find Soda Ana, but that may be because I didn't hear correctly and we ended up eating at the correct place anyway, Soda El Mana. I found the casado con pescado that I had been salivating about for months.

Yesterday's drive from Liberia to Sámara was filled with lush greens, a spot of rain and a great conversation with our driver, Ellios to start our live understanding of what is here and happening. Countless hours of online research and digging into forums has given us a fair understanding of what to expect, but you always learn at lightening speed with feet on the ground. Time to explore.


Monday, December 10, 2012

The House I Live (since the drug war still exists)

Eugene Jarecki's The House I Live In powerfully exposes disillusionment from the long waged war on drugs. What's more the exposure is from the story's everyday key actors: cops, judges, and prison guards. What's more the pain is not monopolized by the families and inmates, the key actors note the system's shortcomings. 40 years and a TRILLION (twelve zeros) dollars later, the US has 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated people. The are untenable realities.

I find it confounding, and perhaps it's because I've been studying the prison industrial complex as an activist that people can be unaware that there is still a war on drugs. Do yourself a favor and perform a quick google search on "war on drugs". There are links to US government site, headlines from CNN and Huffington Post decrying it's a failure, and so much more. You probably won't get into the parts about how the multitude of policing organizations get to keep the cash and goods from seizures or the part about systematic racism. For the details may want to look at Christian Parenti's Lockdown America or Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

All is not nigh, there is a change in the tides, and Americans are actively organizing to bring about systemic change in the war on drugs. The current battleground is marijuana legalization where not only are states expressing their right to self-govern such as in Colorado and Washington, but also nationally folks are also in favor the federal government not intervening in these practices. Time will tell whether the veneer of the war of drugs is fading and we witness a contraction in the abhorrent prison system.

Can you imagine a world where more money is spent on prisons than education? Look no further than California where state prison spending outstripped higher education. As someone that has worked on and advocated for educational access for the better part of a decade I am dumbstruck that we could let this happen anywhere in the world let alone in our country. Aren't we the land of the free? Home of the brave? Home of the free-market is where I am ashamed my Wells Fargo mortgage means that my banking is helping invest in the future of private prisons. How could it turn out that the American Dream I have ended up living can be no more easily disentangled than all the leverage that ultimately brought down Bear Stearns? Where do I begin to improve upon where I find the world today?

One way I have been helping make a difference is by volunteering with the Education from the Inside Out Coalition (EIO). We're advocating for educational access inside the prison system. That's where 2.3 Million people, who are by-in-large are undereducated and face serious challenges to re-enter society prepared to be contributing members. 

If you agree with these ideas, your help is needed. Take action through the following organizations, and spread the word:
Feel free to list out additional resources in the comments section; I will gladly update this post.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Some thoughts on today's election...


I waited for three hours. When I got the front of the line, I told them who I was, cast my vote, and it was counted.

I am tired of this election. I am tired of the billions of wasted dollars trying to inform low information voters with sound bites. I want change. Not "change that I can believe in". I want M-F'ng change. I want an informed and involved populous.

I want people to be as educated as they care to be - for free (it's an investment with LOTS of dividends). I want people that are prepared for the workforce (there are 3M jobs waiting for the right people to fill them, TODAY!). I want people to have healthcare for an extremely high quality of life (it's not Obamacare -- it's healthcare and we're all better off with it).

I want to stop locking up our people at a despicable rate. I want soft drugs legalized. I want people that have problems with drugs to receive treatment, not incarceration.

I am working on all the above problems to make the world I want to live in. Help me make that a reality or do your best to convince me why I may be off base -- I don't have all the answers, but I'm not waiting for corporations or anyone else to tell me what I need.

I am proud to have the right to cast my vote. I don't have the money to pay for lobbyists and buy the policies I desire. I am reliant on democracy and the voice of my fellow citizens. I expect my representatives to represent everything I have stated above, and I will work to hold them accountable for my vote.

Monday, October 22, 2012

edX initial impressions


For the past several weeks I have been participating in the 6.00x Intro to Comp Sci and Programming class provided by MIT through the collaborative edX effort. It has been really great. Their syllabus states the course requires approximately 12 hours of effort, and unfortunately, it's not too far afield. The structure is very clean, and nicely everywhere I'm encountering difficulties the discussion forums are often well populated with feedback on similar if not exactly the same issues. The learning curve has been steep both getting into Python for the first time and recalling math that I haven't used in 3-10 years.
This course is not the only reason there are a paucity of posts for 2012, but it's a current contributing factor. My hope is that with some added skills I'll be able to begin prototyping some ideas we've been kicking around the house.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

For the last several months I have been studying the criminal justice system with a particular lens of education available in the prisons. The argument is simple: the more education inmates attain, the less likely they are to be re-incarcerated. I am interested in the immediate restoration of Pell Grants and all other opportunities for education in the prisons. Below is a list of organizations I have come across in my research. If you have suggestions of other organizations that should be added, please reach out.


  • Prison Education Associations
  • Reentry:
    • National
    • New York
      • Cases
        • New York City's courts are the front door to CASES programs. Our legal staff maintains a presence in courtrooms citywide. We work with judges, district attorneys, defense lawyers, legal advocates, the NYC Department of Probation and the NYS Division of Parole to identify individuals appropriate for our programs and we advocate for their supervision by CASES. CASES court representatives report frequently to judges and other criminal justice stakeholders on our participants' progress towards the fulfillment of their legal obligations.
      • College and Community Fellowship
        • College and Community Fellowship (CCF) is unique among organizations aimed at helping people reclaim their lives after criminal conviction. Many programs try to address the basic needs of people returning to the community after conviction and prison, but only CCF guides them through the stages of higher education while promoting their leadership, self-advocacy, artistic expression, civic participation and long term economic security. We see beyond reentry. We see limitless possibilities for our participants, their families and their communities. We expect what others deem impossible and the results are incredible!
      • College Initiatives
        • Our mission is to create pathways from criminal justice involvement to college and beyond and to establish and support communities invested in their own success.
      • Fortune Society
        • The Fortune Society is a nonprofit social service and advocacy organization, founded in 1967, whose mission is to support successful reentry from prison and promote alternatives to incarceration, thus strengthening the fabric of our communities.
      • Osborne Foundation
        • We offer opportunities for reform and rehabilitation through public education, advocacy, and alternatives to incarceration that respect the dignity of people.
      • Getting out and Staying Out
    • Washington
    • Washington, DC
  • Juvenile Programs:
    • International:
      • PACT Urban Peace Program
        • The PACT Urban Peace Program is dedicated to helping at-risk youth and building peace and hope in our urban communities in partnership with the courts and schools.
  • Legal Aid:
  • MISC
    • Correctional Association
      • The Correctional Association of New York is an independent, non-profit organization founded by concerned citizens in 1844 and granted unique authority by the New York State Legislature to inspect prisons and to report its findings and recommendations to the legislature, the public and the press. Through monitoring, research, public education and policy recommendations, the Correctional Association strives to make the administration of justice in New York State more fair, efficient and humane.
    • Critical Resistance
    • PEN Writing Assoc - Prison Writing Program
    • Prison Reform Movement
    • Women on the Rise (WORTH)
      • WORTH (Women On the Rise Telling HerStory) is an advocacy/consultant group comprised of currently & formerly incarcerated women, who have the expertise and understanding to engage, navigate and challenge policy and perceptions concerning incarcerated women.