Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it’s here is up to us. Journey wisely.” Alexandra Elle
“The universe doesn’t give you what you ask for with your thoughts - it gives you what you demand with your actions.” Steve Maraboli
"It was a war, chiefly, between the Irish and the Italians. I'm Irish and I'd come into my office in the morning after another shoot-out and I would say to my co-worker, who was Italian, 'Well that's one to my side' and the next day he would come and say 'well, it's leveled Jim, we chalked one up on our side last night.' It was awful really, they were all such young men."-James Doherty, crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune
By 1930, Roger Touhy and Matt Kolb were millionaires. Their small, but profitable beer and gambling empire stretched from midtown Chicago to as far north as St. Paul, Minnesota. They owned dozens of speakeasies, roadside casinos, handbook parlors, three large breweries, and an enormous fleet of trucks. Roger saw repeal approaching and invested his earnings in a dry cleaning business with Kolb's brother, commercial real estate, a well digging company and a winter place for himself in Florida. Unlike Matt Kolb or even his own brothers, Roger intended to be completely legitimate by 1933. Then he and Clara and their boys would sell everything and move west to Colorado, although Clara was holding out for Florida.
However, if Touhy was ready for prohibition to end, the mob wasn't. The depression hurt more and more of the mob's traditional enterprises like prostitution and gambling. A1 Capone decided to take over Chicago's labor racket business and gain control of the Teamsters International strike fund, worth an estimated $150,000,000 with another $10,000,000 a year flowing into its coffers from membership dues.
Leading Capone's assault was George "Red" Barker, a west side Irishman and former bookkeeper. Working under Barker as his assistant was the up and coming Murray Humpreys, a Welshman who had strong-armed his way into at least twenty-six Teamster locals by then. When the decade of the 1930s opened, George Red Barker was, as one Chicago cop put it, "riding on top of the world." Barker all but controlled the Chicago Teamsters and was reported to be earning $200,000 a year as a result.
Before he took to a life of crime, Barker had been an honest bookkeeper. He was literate, devouring every union newsletter and newspaper he could find from anywhere in the country, and paid for information on locals as well. Barker would get a copy of the financials and study them. If the union had potential, Barker recommended the takeover to Ralph Capone and Frank Nitti who talked it over with A1 Capone. If Capone agreed-and he almost always did-Barker and his boys would go after the union.
In early 1931, Capone urged Barker to go after the coal teamsters.
Barker approached James "Lefty" Lynch, a semi- honest thug who owned the Coal Teamsters Local 704, which delivered fuel to the entire downtown district where every office building depended upon the local for fuel to warm its buildings against the brutal Chicago winters. Barker told Lynch that Capone expected him to turn over half of the control of his union as well as his seat on the prestigious and important Joint Teamsters Council. In exchange, Barker offered Lynch protection. On the up side, Barker told Lynch, Capone intended to double the union's membership and as a result Lynch's income would double as well.
Lynch sat through Barker's speech and then threw him out of his office. It was his union and he wasn't going to give it up to Capone or anyone else.
Later in the month, Lynch went to his summer home on Brown Lake outside Burlington, Wisconsin. His family was preparing a barbecue and the members were seated around a long picnic table when Danny Stanton and Klondike O'Donnell, two of the meanest Capone hoods in Chicago, drove into the yard. They climbed out of the car slowly. They were in no hurry. There were no cops or witnesses around for miles. They were armed with shotguns, pistols and rifles. Stanton walked over to Lynch and said, 'The Big Fellow back in Chicago sends this message: you just retired from Local 704. From this moment on, you stay away from the union hall. You stay away from the office. You stay away from the Joint Council. You understand?"
Lynch nodded his head and Klondike added, 'Well just so's you don't forget what was said...." and pulled out his pistol and shot Lynch through both of his legs while his wife and children looked on in horror. Lynch fell to the ground, groaning in agony. Stanton bent over Lynch to make sure he was alive and said 'You got balls; I'll give you that." He stood up and turned to Lynch's daughter and said "get him to a doctor and he'll be alright."
At the next meeting of the Joint Council, Red Barker and Murray Humpreys appeared at the door with a dozen heavily armed Capone men.
Barker, carrying a baseball bat, stood in the center of the room and asked "Which one is Lefty Lynch's chair?" Somebody pointed to a large leather chair in the middle of the room and Barker sat there. He looked around the room and announced that he was now running the Coal Teamsters Chauffeurs and Helpers Union Local 704 and that everything would remain just the way Lynch had left it. The only difference was that the entire treasury was turned over to Capone except for $1,000 which was left to cover administrative payrolls.
After that, Barker went to the fuel dealers in the district and informed them that they were only hiring union members and that they were giving all of their drivers a massive pay raise or else Capone would see to it that not a lump of coal was delivered downtown.
The dealers had no choice but to agree and passed the cost along to the real estate developers who consequently raised the price of office space in the area. Capone kept Lynch on the payroll to avoid a revolt in the ranks. However, Lynch never appeared at another union function.
As a reward, Capone gave Barker control over the ushers' union with orders to exploit it to its full potential. Barker sent word to every theater owner in the city that they were to use his ushers for every political and sporting event, indoor or outdoor. He
said they would have to pay for "crowd control," a service only his union could provide, at a rate of $10 per usher.
Movie theaters avoided the hike by paying off Barker in cash. Five dollars per usher was less expensive for them. Within weeks Barker was being paid off by every strip show, opera, ballet, symphony, prize fight and ball game held in the city. He was collecting a fortune until one prize fight promoter named Walter George decided to hold out.
Barker waited until the promoter had sold out the entire Coliseum on South Wabash Avenue for a major prize fight. Then, just before the fight was to begin, a half dozen cabs pulled up to the coliseum and let out building inspectors, fire marshals, electrical inspectors, plumbing inspectors and health inspectors, all led by Red Barker. Within minutes after entering the building the inspectors declared that the water was unhealthy to drink and ordered it turned off. The hot dog, beer and soda concessions were shut down by the fire marshal and the electrical inspector said the wiring was faulty and ordered the stadium lights shut off. During the delay, the crowd became violent. George turned to Barker and said "All right, how much you bastard?"
Barker answered that his price was up to $20 per usher and that the minimum number of ushers needed for the night was 120. Barker was paid and the fight went on.
Roger Touhy and Matt Kolb had their own plans for Chicago's labor unions. Prohibition, gambling and the ability to avoid big political payoffs and long drawn out beer wars had made them rich. By 1932, they had the money, and the firepower to take over the entire Chicago Teamsters organization without having to split any of it with Capone.
Unlike Capone, they didn't need to terrorize their way into each local union before reaching the Teamsters International office. They had a direct and trusted contact in the International office with Edward Chicken McFadden, an old time labor terrorist with deep contacts into the Teamsters International leadership.
McFadden picked up the name Chicken when he organized a shakedown operation known as the Kosher Chicken Pluckers Union. He had an arrest record dating back to 1901 that included intent to rob, police impersonation and labor slugging. He had been a business partner with a labor mobster named "Big Tim" Lynch, controlling the Chauffeurs and Teamsters Union together, until Capone had Lynch killed. Capone took over the union and chased McFadden and his contacts into the waiting arms of Roger and Tommy Touhy. In early 1932, when Capone started his major push against the unions, it was McFadden who set up a meeting between the Touhys and Patty Burrell, the Teamsters International Vice President. Burrell called a meeting of all the locals threatened by the syndicate and gave them a choice; they could stand alone against Capone and lose their unions and probably their lives, or they could band together and move their operations into Touhy's camp.
Most of the bosses already knew Roger and decided he was the lesser of the two evils. They pitched into a $75,000 protection fund that was handed over to Tommy Touhy. In exchange, the union bosses were allowed to keep their locals, and the treasuries that came with them, and live under the Touhys' protection.
Sometimes life is too hard to be alone, and sometimes life is too good to be alone. -Elizabeth Gilbert
After the cops banged open our front door on Christmas night, they rushed into the house, groping around in the dark. I grabbed my plate of olive loaf from the kitchen and made a run for the cover of the bed in the living room. A massive red-faced cop scooped me up by my shirt collar and sat me hard on the floor with a single fling of his arm, and my blessed olive loaf flew across the room and disappeared into the night.
The other cops lifted up the bed, and Paulie, Denny, Bridget, and the baby scurried out, faster than cockroaches, in three different directions across the room, each intending to make a run for the front door where some of the older cops were standing.
I decided to join them and leaped up off the floor, but I was dizzy, as I was all the time, and fell forward. I got up, but the cop who had pushed me to the floor grabbed my coat collar and yanked me backwards, bent down to my level, stuck a long finger in my face and said, “You sit down or I’ll crack you one!”
I think that if I were forced to pinpoint a time and place in my life when my hair-trigger temper and penchant for violence, those two thieves that have robbed me of so much peace in my life, began, it would be at that moment. Our parents, for all that was wrong with them, never raised their hands against us or scolded us, and I was too young to tell the difference between an implied threat and the real thing.
I suppose I could have done what the cop said and sat down, but there was something about the sound of his voice, and that finger in my face, and that snarl of his, that disappeared when I landed a roundhouse right to his jaw and dug my teeth into his ear when he fell back. He was a big man. Factory town cops are big because everyone else in a factory town is big, too. He shoved me away and his lips grew tight and he said, “You son of a bitch,” letting out each word slowly and deliberately, and landed me across the room with an open-handed smack across the face. Denny and Paulie were on him before I hit the floor. Paulie had him by his knees while Denny tried to take the cop’s gun from its holster so he could shoot him. The other cops joined in, overpowered us, and dragged us, one by one, out of the house, past the gathered neighbors and into the back seat of their squad car.
They drove us silently to the police station on Grand Street, a broad and impressive road lined with marble government buildings. Inside the station they told us to sit on long, gleaming wooden benches, and the desk sergeant, a great pumpkin-shaped man with a shirt that was too tight and a gun belt that hung almost up to his ribs, wagged his finger at us and warned, “Don’t misbehave. Be quiet. Sit still and don’t move.” He turned and pointed to a black metal door and said, “If you misbehave or try to run away, I’ll toss you in a cell.”
Yeah, big deal. He couldn’t scare us. Our whole world was threats. Besides, a night in a jail cell with your own cot that you didn’t have to share wasn’t really punishment. But to press the point, the sergeant rested his thick hands on his gun belt and gave us a firm looking over.
“Who, who, who,” Paulie stuttered. “Who—”
“Come on, kid,” the cop said. “Spit it out.”
“Who dresses you?”
As the hours passed, we sat in exhausted silence. It was past midnight and we faded off into sleep. About an hour later, two cops in heavy winter coats stood in front of us snapping their fingers and clapping their hands loudly.
“Come on, get up,” one of them said. “This isn’t a hotel.”
“It is for them,” the other one said.
They knew us. We threw rocks at their patrol cars and then disappeared into the streets. We laughed at them when they ventured into our neighborhood. And now they had us. They ushered us back into a squad car and drove us a few blocks to Saint Mary’s Hospital, where I had been born. On the way over, the cop on the passenger side said, “Should we just toss them in the river or what?”
“Naw,” said the cop behind the wheel, “they’ll just bounce off the ice”.
Three smiling nuns in bright white robes were waiting for us at the hospital’s front entrance. They were delighted to see us, and the cops, being cops, changed their tune, removed their hats for the nuns, rubbed our hair, smiled at us and gently turned us over to the Sisters, who put us to bed in clean, cool white sheets.
“In da mornin’,” one of them said in a brogue heavy with a western Ireland accent, “It’s breakfast in bed for ya.”
It was good that we were in the hospital. Maura was malnourished and Denny had untreated ringworm and I had pneumonia that took away some of my hearing and left me forever dizzy. Many years later, when in a moment of desperation I joined the U.S. Army, I was sent to the recruiting station in New York City where I was given a physical examination, and promptly sent back to Waterbury, to the back seat of the Chevy Imperial in which I lived.
“Kid,” a well-meaning sergeant told me, “if we bottled everything that’s wrong with you and spread it around, we could take over the world without a shot.”
After our breakfast in bed, our state-assigned social worker arrived, by car, I assume now, but that day I would have believed that she descended from the heavens on a cloud carried by smiling cherubs. Her name was Mary Catherine Hanrahan, Miss Hanrahan to us, who hailed from Marblehead, Massachusetts, and had recently graduated from Smith College. She was tall, blonde, beautiful, young, and stylish. Everything about her seemed new and fresh.
I studied her face and concluded she looked like Marilyn Monroe.
“You’re as pretty as Marilyn Monroe,” I announced and she blushed red and nodded her thanks.
“Marilyn Monroe,” Denny felt the need to add with his heavy lisp, “is fuckin’ beautiful.”
She threw her head back and laughed and said, “Thank you, Denny. I didn’t know that. Thank you for clearing that up.”
Then she bent down to our level and whispered, “I am not with the police.”
“Yeah,” Denny said, looking sideways down the hall. “Fuckin’ cops though, huh?”
She gently pulled Denny closer and whispered, “We’re not going to say the F word anymore today, okay?”
Always willing to get along, Denny slapped her on her backside and said, “You got it.” She turned her attention back to us and said, “I work for the State of Connecticut. You are not in any kind of trouble at all. I’m your friend.”
We surrendered to her immediately. She smiled a lot and she seemed kind and genuinely happy to be with us. As tough, ragged, and suspicious as we were, we wanted peace and happiness, and like all kids everywhere, we wanted adults to be nice to us. We didn’t want to be chased from stores nor have angry cops blow cigarette smoke in our faces and threaten us with jail, or listen to our mother curse us.
We piled onto her, elbowing our way to her attention by telling her things we knew, but always making sure that Maura, only four years old, got the bulk of the attention. She stood up and looked down at us and with a clap of her hand sang, “We’re going shopping!”
Holland Hughes was Waterbury’s premier department store. Its front entrance was done in distinguished grey stone and highly polished brass and a man in a green and red uniform at the revolving front door greeted customers and kept out indigents, possible troublemakers, the badly dressed and children who weren’t with their parents.
Although the store was way out of our meager price range, it didn’t stop us from taking a weekly excursion down to the toy department and playing with the products until one of the sales clerks tossed us out. We got around the doorman and his “no-parents-no-entry” policy by breaking up into two and walking in alongside some unsuspecting woman.
Otherwise we had gone to Holland Hughes every Christmas to have our photo taken on Santa’s lap. Now, as we trudged through the store with Miss Hanrahan towards the grandiose brass and copper elevator and waited for the extravagantly uniformed operator to open the doors with his white-gloved hands, Denny said, “Santa Claus lives here.”
I rolled my eyes, exasperated. “He doesn’t live here. He has an office here.”
We were going up to the store’s central business office to get a reimbursement certificate to purchase our clothes. We sat quietly on a long, shiny mahogany bench while Miss Hanrahan went to speak with one of the women behind the wooden counter.
When she strolled by the manager’s office, the manager, a big-bellied man with a crewcut, and a black janitor, who was leaning heavily on a broom, stared her up and down. The manager said something to the janitor, who laughed at the remark harder and at more length than he should have, and then pushed his broom away to another room.
I watched Miss Hanrahan speak to the senior clerk behind the counter, a tall, lean, middle-aged woman with a long nose and a generally disapproving demeanor. She looked constipated.
They spoke for several seconds and then I heard the clerk’s voice crackle across the room, “Do you have serial numbers for the children? No? And do you know why? Because we didn’t issue you one because the policy is for you people”—the “you people” seemed to hold a specific acrimony for her—“to phone ahead twenty-four hours, and you haven’t done that, have you, young lady?”
Miss Hanrahan offered the woman her Miss Hanrahan smile and said, “I understand that, but this is an emergency. All the children have is on their backs, and it’s cold.”
The old lady leaned her neck out as long as a viper and hissed, “Do you have serial numbers for them?”
“No, I told you that,” Miss Hanrahan answered quietly with a taut smile.
The clerk’s face grew tight and she stared hard at Miss Hanrahan for several seconds. “You told me that?” she mimicked. “Young lady, I will not be spoken to in that fashion, am I understood?”
Miss Hanrahan’s faced flushed red, but she remained composed and apologized. “I’m in a bit of a hurry. The children haven’t eaten since yesterday, and I’d like to take them downstairs for a bite. I’m sorry if I was rash.”
“You’re taking them down to the cafeteria to eat?”
“Yes, I am. I thought it would be a nice treat for kids.”
The clerk was already shaking her head. “Oh, I’m sure it would be,” she said. “A nice treat indeed, at the expense of the American taxpayers of this state!”
I watched the pleasantness slip from Miss Harahan’s face. “I’m paying for the meal. Not the taxpayer.”
The lean old woman was unimpressed. She leaned forward and pointed a long, bony finger at the young woman. “And who pays you, Little Missy? Let me ask you that!”
Miss Hanrahan tugged her skirt and looked past the woman and said nothing.
“Take a seat, dear,” the woman said. “This is going to take a while to sort out.”
The clerk had won the opening scrimmage and Miss Hanrahan returned to the bench where we were waiting.
“You should have smacked her one,” Denny declared, loudly enough for the old woman to hear. Then he added in his best Ralph Kramden voice, “Whammo! Right to the moon!” Then he crawled up to his rightful place on Miss Harahan’s lap. Paulie, always the diplomat, looked at the bright, white marble floor and murmured, “She isn’t nice.”
I decided to change the subject by giving Miss Hanrahan a nice pick-you-upper.
“You got a real pair on you, sister,” I said with a smile that was intended to encourage her. But her eyes narrowed and she stared straight ahead for several seconds, probably in disbelief, and probably deciding whether to honor the remark with a reply. Finally, a faint but pleasant smile came over her pretty face and she turned to me.
“What did you say?”
“I said you got a real pair on you,” I said, and I gave her a reassuring pat on the back. I was proud that a friend of mine had a real pair, whatever that was, and that people noticed.
“Pair of what, John?” She was still smiling.
“I dunno.” I shrugged, distracted by everything else in the room.
“Why did you say that?” She was smiling now.
“I didn’t,” I said, and pointed to the manager in his office. “He did. When you walked by to get in line he said, ‘Sister, you got a real pair on you.’ And the other guy with the broom, the colored guy, he laughed really hard, but then he left.”
She looked into the manager’s office. He looked up and their eyes locked for a second. She gave him that demure smile that only she had, and he smiled back. After several seconds she stood silently, strolled over to the manager’s office, and positioned herself in a slightly provocative way against the open door.
“I was wondering if you could help me,” she whispered.
He smiled and nodded as she explained our plight and blamed herself for not understanding the store’s procedure in billing the state for dressing poor kids. The more she blamed herself and feigned incompetence, the more understanding he became. He was suffering from TBB, or Temporary Babe Blindness.
I tossed a glance at the women behind the counter. They were completely mesmerized by the conversation between Miss Hanrahan and their boss. The mean, thin clerk loudly sighed for the benefit of the other women, who predictably nodded and rolled their eyes. After several minutes the manager stood up, put on his suit coat, and guided Miss Hanrahan and us toward the brass elevator. When he reached out to press the down button, Miss Hanrahan grasped his bulky, hairy arm with both of her small, delicate and gloved hands and held it close to her.
“I’m so pleased there’s a real man here to take command of all this.”
Just as the elevator doors closed I looked up and caught a look of absolute horror, disbelief, and shock on the clerk’s face. Looking over to my left, at my eye level, I saw a smiling Miss Hanrahan discreetly give the old woman the finger.
Down on the sales floor of the children’s clothing department she reached into the racks and piled our outstretched arms with new clothes, with each of us exaggerating the weight with dramatic and well-acted grunts and groans. After a few minutes, the piles grew higher than our heads and we performed the mandatory pratfalls to the floor, arms and legs outstretched as though we had been completely crushed by the weight of the cotton fabric.
Miss Hanrahan tilted her head slightly to the right and gave a sad smile while she combed her slender fingers through the shock of Paulie’s sand-white hair.
“They authorized only twenty dollars per child,” she said. “They need so much, poor children.”
The manager put his hands on his round hips and stared at his feet, and said, “Well, we need the word from a higher-up for that.”
She opened her eyes wide and looked deeply into his face. “Oh,” she said sadly, “I thought you were in charge. I’m sorry. Perhaps you could phone someone in authority; maybe they would help.”
The manager paused and said with a tough-guy half-smile, “Little lady, I am the final authority here. You just let me take care of this.”
She grasped his meaty arm again and leaned close to him. “You’re too kind.”
He blushed and gave her an “Aw shucks, ain’t nothing” look, shrugged his broad shoulders and winked. “You just get these children what they need and let me take care of the rest.”
We marched to the glistening white-tiled food counter with a hundred and sixty dollars in new shirts and pants, a lot of money at that time. The manager also gave us lunch on the house tab. We dined on tuna-salad sandwiches, a new and exotic delicacy for us.
Later that day, with our new clothes and full bellies, Miss Hanrahan dropped us back off at Saint Mary’s Hospital. She hugged and kissed us all and told us she would be back in the morning to bring us to a new house to live in, and everyone relaxed. Even Paulie didn’t look tense. Everything was going to be all right. It was one of the greatest days of my life and I’ll never forget it.
Miss Hanrahan did come back the next morning, as promised, and her arrival on that morning changed everything in our lives forever, because the next step for us was foster care.
For the next decade, each of us would be whisked away, sometimes on a moment’s notice, from one foster home to another, and always in black four-door sedans with the Connecticut state emblem emblazoned on the front door with the motto, wrapped in vines: “Qui Transtulit Sustinet,” meaning “He Who Transplanted Still Sustains.” I always saw the humor in that, even if the state did not live up to its motto or its obligations.
I would spend the rest of my childhood and a good part of my adult life trying to return to Waterbury and Pond Street and the Garden of Eden on Pine Hill, the last places where I knew I belonged or didn’t feel out of place.
In folklore there is the story of The Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship that can never go home, and is doomed to sail the oceans forever because the captain and crew have been struck down with bubonic plague. When they try to dock, they are turned away. Their water and provisions run out and, eventually, all on board die and their souls are doomed to sail the seven seas for all eternity.
We were like that, roaming the state in those small black cars looking for a place to live. Over the next ten years, the five of us—Paulie, Denny, Maura, Bridget and I—would live in thirty-four foster homes, schools, and group homes before the system spat us out.
God enters by a private door into each individual
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
We returned to the hospital in the late afternoon and within an hour, we were bored. In those days, the Children’s Ward didn’t have a television set and we were restricted to just a few rooms and a short hallway covered with white tile from floor to ceiling. A few minutes after Denny and I discovered that the hallway made a magnificent echo chamber, one of the younger nuns in the ward took us on a walk through the hospital “to burn off some of that energy.”
We stopped at the gift shop and were loaded down with candy bars by a kindly and well-meaning clerk, who, like the rest of America at that time, didn’t associate hyperactivity in kids with sweets. By the time our tour took us to the hospital chapel, we were so hyped up we could have made Jack Kerouac look like a slouch.
Entering the cool, dark chapel with its fine mahogany panels and imported Roman marble floors, the Sister pointed to a very large, very graphic statue of Jesus mounted on a crucifix.
“Here is Jesus,” she said in a very low whisper. We looked up at the crucifix with wide eyes, our mouths agape. This was unbelievable.
“You should take this down, this isn’t funny,” Denny said.
“Well it’s not supposed—” she began, but I cut her off.
“What’d you do with his clothes?”
“Well,” she said, dumbfounded, “I—”
“Denny,” I said, cutting her off again, “You remember that deck of cards Joe Mullins had on Pond Street? The one with all the bare ladies who had no clothes on?”
“Yeah,” he smiled, and turned to the nun and said, “You ever see cards like that?” outlining a woman’s shape with his hands.
“There is no joy in the naked body,” she said firmly.
“Yeah,” I added, trying to be helpful. “Look at him.”
“This,” she said waving an arm towards the cross, “is to demonstrate the price Jesus paid for our souls.” We didn’t know what a soul was and were not impressed.
In a hushed tone, the nun continued, “The Romans whipped Jesus and their whips tore the flesh from his back.”
“Jesus Christ,” Denny whispered, more to himself than anyone else.
“Yes,” the nun smiled.
“Did they punch him?” Denny asked, throwing a punch into the air.
“Yes,” she said sadly, “They punched him.”
“They kick him?”
“Yes,” she said, and nodded solemnly. “They kicked him.”
“Did they,” I began, while jabbing my index fingers into make-believe eye sockets outward, because the question concerned Jesus’s eyeballs.
“Let’s just say,” she interrupted, “that the Romans brutalized our Lord.”
“Yeah,” Denny asked hurriedly, “but what’s the rest they did to Jesus?”
There was a very long pause and I watched the understanding wash over her face that we didn’t know that “Jesus” and “our Lord” were one and the same.
“Jesus,” she said slowly, “is our Lord.”
“Why?” I asked. I didn’t care why, I was just making conversation, but there was another long pause on her part. It may have been a conversation piece question, but it was also a very deep question, too.
“You know why Puerto Ricans wear pointed shoes?” Denny asked, placing his hand on her thigh. “Because their feet are—”
“Jesus,” she began, trying to save both her dignity and civil conversation, but Denny would have none of it.
“So they can climb over—” he continued, but this time he was interrupted by the nun.
“Jesus is the son of God who came down from heaven—”
“So is he a colored guy, this guy, this Jesus? “ Denny asked. “He looks like a colored guy.”
“What did you do wrong they make you dress like that?” I asked the nun. “You drink too much?”
As to why they wore the habit, Denny was direct.
“Are you bald?” He asked with deep sincerity. “’Cause it’s okay. I got a bald spot.” He turned around to show her the patch of missing hair taken away by ringworm. This, he figured, would help them bond and allow us to solve the great mystery of bald nuns, a rumor that was alive and well in most parochial schools in America through the decade of the 1960s.
“So,” said the nun, now talking directly to the crucifix because it wouldn’t interrupt her, “the Romans nailed our Lord—”
“You know,” I added with great authority, based completely on my film knowledge from the Palace Theater, “Tony Curtis was a Roman. He’s from Brooklyn. Ask my mother, she’ll tell ya.”
The nun lowered her head in defeat and returned us to the children’s ward. A while later, Denny and I were sitting on the front steps of the hospital, facing Pine Hill with its enormous cross, when a thunderbolt struck Denny. He pointed to the Pine Hill cross and said, “It’s empty!” and then he stood up and rushed into the hospital, and finding the nun inside the chapel at her evening prayers with the other Sisters, he shouted, “It’s okay! Jesus escaped!”
Love and understand the Italians, for the people are more marvelous than the land. -E. M. Forster
We arrived at our first foster home on January 6, 1962, my seventh birthday. There was no party because there were no adults around who knew it was my birthday, and I didn’t know it was my birthday without an adult to tell me.
Our new foster parents were a young couple, in their mid-twenties perhaps, and were cool cats who were products of the Beat generation, but at a time when beatnik culture was on the wane and more or less reduced to a cultural cliché. The Hippies were still six years away. Since neither Tina nor Kenny worked on a regular basis, they opened their house to the city for temporary placement of children so they could to make a few extra dollars.
As bizarre as it may seem, Tina and Kenny—I’m not sure we ever knew their last name—had been my parents’ occasional drinking partners. Tina, tall and slim with long, dark black hair, worked occasionally as a bartender at Shaum’s Tavern on Main Street, so we knew who she was but barely recognized her that day.
On our first morning at the house, Tina gathered us around the picnic table in the back yard, lit a Pall Mall cigarette, took a deep drag and said, “Look, I’m not gonna kid you. I’m nobody’s mother. Even if I wanted to be, I wouldn’t be very good at it. So here’s the deal.” She pulled a small pile of dollar bills out of her jeans pockets. “Kenny and I are making a few dollars on you being here. I guess you figured that out already.”
We hadn’t realized that, but it was useful information.
“Kenny and I will give you each a dollar a week not to cause any problems.” She handed Paulie, Denny and me one dollar each. “Any trouble, no more money.”
Now in 1962, a dollar went a long way, especially for a little kid. A movie ticket was fifty cents, a soda at the movie concession stand was twenty cents, and a candy bar was a nickel. But Paulie held out for more. My mother used to say that Paulie had “the face of Ireland and the mind of an Arab.” He looked harmless but could wheel and deal with the best of them. And that’s what he did with Tina.
“I should get two dollars,” he informed her.
“Because I’m in charge of them,” he said, pointing a thumb at us, “and that’s a lot of work.”
Tina pushed her lips out and asked, “How much work can that be?” and then waved her hand over our heads to demonstrate how little we were.
“Well, they’re very stupid,” Paulie countered, and turning to me he said, “Johnny put a fishhook in his eye because he wanted to see if it would hurt.”
She looked down at me with a mixture of horror, disbelief, and amusement and I nodded and showed her my slightly drooping right lid. “Cartoon” was the only word I could muster in my defense.
“Denny,” he continued, “Got hit by a car.”
Tina shrugged, unimpressed.
“Three times,” Paulie added.
Tina shrugged again.
“In one year,” Paulie said.
“So?” she asked.
“In the same place, on the same street,” he answered.
Impressed, Tina turned and looked down at Denny, who, proud of his feat, shrugged and smiled. “It was easy,” he blushed, and waved her off.,
Then came the pièce de résistance of Paulie’s argument. He pulled down his shirt collar and showed her the five-inch scar that ran from his jawbone to his chest. “I fell off a wall onto broken glass and cut my throat.”
“Run over three times, fish hooks in eyes, and slashed throats,” Tina said, shaking her head.
“Abi gezunt,” I said, and we all cracked up laughing, except Tina who had never heard my mother’s admonishment, “Stop complaining. You got your health, abi gezunt.” It was the gallows humor we loved most of all.
She handed Paulie another dollar.
“And what about Maura’s dollar?” he asked.
“She’s four years old, for God’s sake!” Tina said, feeling the full effects of what the legal community calls extortion.
“Then she doesn’t fall under the agreement,” Paulie said, and folded his arms across his chest.
“You would let your little sister fall into harm’s way because you didn’t get paid to help her?” Tina asked.
“Yeah,” we all said, more or less at the same time. Business is business. The thing about little kids and money is that they don’t understand the value of a dollar but you can’t cheat them out of a penny.
“All right,” she said, and handed Maura her dollar, and as she walked away we heard her mumble, “You cheap little bastards.”
But Tina was faithful to her promise. Every week she paid us our allowance, and, as agreed, we stayed out of trouble. But for all of Tina’s talk about not being a fit mother, she was actually good in the role. She cared for us and for her father, Dennio, who lived in an apartment in the basement. When Tina went to work, Dennio cared for us and we cared for him.
The house was on the very edge of Waterbury, way up in the hills, overlooking a large lake to the west and downtown Waterbury, a mile or so away, to the north. Back then the area was an undeveloped part of the city with woods and the occasional small vegetable farm. And that’s what our new home was, a small farm that had once been part of a much larger enterprise that was long since gone. Dennio had cultivated every inch of the land with vegetable and flower gardens, fruit trees, graded stone walkways, and horrendously ugly Greco-Roman sculptures that would have been out of place in Greece or Rome.
In the middle of the property was an unusually tall, but, I must say, well-dressed scarecrow, draped in a dark wool three-piece suit complete with black leather wingtips and raincoat tossed leisurely over the arm.
“He’s a’ the management,” Dennio would say as he observed his scarecrow with pride. “I think maybe he’s a college scarecrow, huh?”
Dennio was tall and slim, as was his daughter, and had a naturally distinguished and aristocratic air about him that seemed out of place among the grapevines and plants that he loved so much. He also had an artistic gentleness. A man inclined to Old World respect, he felt it was inappropriate for children to refer to an adult by first name. We addressed him as “Papa Dennio.” We spent weekends with him as he prepared his gardens and he told us of hundreds of things, for he was something new to us—he was an educated, cultured man who had been a professor of antiquities but was drafted into the Italian Army as a colonel to fight the Americans in North Africa.
“The first American I see—Private Enrico Coppola from New Jersey,” he told us one day as he peeled a fig for us with his pocketknife. “I surrendered,” he said, holding the knife up above his head.
“Why?” I asked, disappointed that he didn’t fight to the bloody end.
“It seemed like a real easy way to come to America,” he winked. And it was. The U.S. Army sent him to a prisoner-of-war camp on Jamestown Island in Rhode Island and when the war ended, he stayed in the States, earning a living selling insurance to Connecticut’s enormous Italian population, teaching the Italian language to Americans, and selling homemade wine. His wife had died of cancer only a year before we arrived but I noticed a steady stream of ladies from his parish who found their way to his gardens for an evening stroll and a glass of wine pressed from his vines.
Papa Dennio taught us about gardening, European opera, Greek and Roman history, mythology, the origins of Latin and, we in turn taught him the words to the song “Who Put the Bomp in the bomp, dah bomp, dah bomp.”
Hidden under his vines was a wooden shack stuffed with tools and an overstuffed easy chair and wooden crate used as a place to sit and sip wine. In the back of the shed was a small, white plaster statue of a man with an enormous erect penis. Catching me gazing at the work, Papa Dennio said, “That is the Roman god Priapus, stolen from the Italian people by the Greeks who said he was their god,” and by now his hands and arms were flying in five directions.
“He is the god in charge of a-you pene, ah, capisci?”
“Spaghetti?”” I answered, thinking of penne pasta.
“I got spaghetti,” he said, grabbing himself between the legs. “Young man, they got pene.” He looked at the statue admiringly and said, “Tina tells me ‘Papa, you can’t have this thing out in the field. What do people think?’”
He handed me a palmful of oily ripe olives and said, “Priapus is also the god of gardens. So, when you tomatoes are late, you pray to Priapus, you go like this.” He pressed his thumbs against his index and middle finger, held them up in the air and closed his eyes and whispered, “Dove i miei pomodori, che cosa sono voi stanno dormendo sul lavoro voi Greco pigro?” then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know what that means?”
“It means ‘Hey, Priapus! Where the hell are my tomatoes? You sleep on the job, you lazy Greek, you!’ ” and he finished with the international Italian salute of two fingers flicked quickly from under the chin.
As he pulled the hoe, he hummed and then lightly sang out:
Ma n'atu sole,
cchiù bello, oje ne'
'O sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
“You know who Giovanni Capurro was?” he asked.
“The barber down on East Main Street?” I answered.
He thought about my answer for a moment, because if the barber’s name down on East Main wasn’t Giovanni Capurro, it was something damned close to it. “No. He was a great Italian—”
“You know,” Denny interrupted as he patted soil around a green pepper, “a lot of these guineas are crooks. You gotta watch those people.” He didn’t bother to look up when he insulted our host but he did spit out an imaginary piece of tobacco just as our father would have done.
Papa Dennio rolled his eyes to the heavens, sighed deeply and continued speaking directly to me. “Giovanni Capurro was a great Italian poet. He was Napolitano, of course, like me,” and paused to let that sink in. It didn’t. But I dropped my rake and listened. About half the time I had no idea what he was talking about, but the half the time I understood him, he was fascinating.
“Do you know why he was a great artist?” he asked me without waiting for an answer, although I had one. It was the wrong one, but I had one. “Because he was an artist for art's sake.” He contorted his face into a look of great pain and said “He suffered for his art.” He returned to his rake and asked, “You know O sole mio?” I thought about it. I had an answer for that too. Again, it was the wrong one, but I had one.
“The great Giovanni Capurro,” he continued, “he wrote those beautiful words. A poor boy, he goes to the garden of his girl and he sings up to her window that she is his sun, just for him.”
“Why didn’t he just call her up?” Denny asked.
“So he sings,” he continued as if Denny had said nothing. “His solo mio, that with her in his life he is rich because she is so beautiful that she makes the sun more beautiful, you understand?” And at that he dropped the hoe, closed his eyes and spread out his arms wide and with the fading sun shining on his handsome face he sang:
Che bella cosa è na jurnata 'e sole
n'aria serena doppo na tempesta!
Pe' ll'aria fresca pare già na festa
Che bella cosa e' na jurnata 'e sole
Ma n'atu sole,
cchiù bello, oi ne'
'O sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
'O sole, 'o sole mio
sta 'nfronte a te!
sta 'nfronte a te!
It looked like fun. We dropped our tools and joined him, belting out something that sounded remarkably like Napolitano. We sang as loud as we could, holding on to each note as long as we could before we ran out of breath, and then we sang again, occasionally dropping to one knee, holding our hands over our hearts with exaggerated looks of deep pain. Although we made the words up, we sang with the deepest passion, with the best that we had, with all of our hearts, and that made us artists, great artists, for in that song, we had made all that art is: the creation of something from nothing, fashioned with all of the soul, born from joy.
And as that beautiful summer sun set over Waterbury, the Brass City, the City of Churches, our voices floated above the wonderful aromas of the garden, across the red sky and joined the spirits in eternity.
PHOTO'S I'VE TAKEN......Union Station, Washington DC
HERE'S SOME GREAT ART TO ENJOY
Cy Twombly - Scenes from an Ideal Marriage, 1986
Diamond, Diamond or Finding the Way by George Ortman, oil on canvas on Masonite with ping-pong balls, 1965
Diego Rivera - Escena nocturna (also known as Carnaval). Painted in in Paris in 1909. Oil on canvas
Drawings from Wojtek Kowalczyk
HERE'S SOME LOVELY POETRY FOR YOU......................
Fitz-Greene Halleck (July 8, 1790 – November 19, 1867) was a poet notable for his satires and as one of the Knickerbocker Group. He was sometimes called "the American Byron". His poetry was popular and widely read but later fell out of favor. It has been studied since the late twentieth century for its homosexual themes and insights into nineteenth-century society.
Born and reared in Guilford, Connecticut, in a house at the corner of Whitfield and Water Streets. He had an older sister Marie, and his father owned a store in the town. At the age of two, the young Halleck suffered when two soldiers fired off their guns next to his left ear; he was partially deaf for the remainder of his life. He left school at 15 to work in his family's shop in Guilford.
He went to New York City at the age of 20, and lived and worked there for nearly four decades. In May 1811, the 20-year-old Halleck moved to New York City to find work. After a month of searching, he had all but given up and made plans to move to Richmond, Virginia, but he was hired by a banker named Jacob Barker. He worked for Barker for the next 20 years.
Halleck began to write with his friend Joseph Rodman Drake. In 1819 they wrote and published the anonymous Croaker Papers, which were satires of New York society. These 35 poems were published individually in The Evening Standard and National Advertiser over several months. An unauthorized collection was published in 1819 with 24 selections. They published the poems under the pseudonyms Croaker; Croaker, Jr.; and Croaker and Co., taken from a character in Oliver Goldsmith's The Good‐Natured Man. The "Croakers" were perhaps the first popular literary satire of New York, and New York society was thrilled to be the subject of erudite derision.
That year, Halleck wrote his longest poem Fanny, a satire on the literature, fashions, and politics of the time. It was modeled on Byron's Beppo and Don Juan. Published anonymously in December 1819, Fanny proved so popular that soon the initial 50 cent-edition was fetching up to $10. Two years later, its continuing popularity inspired Halleck to append an additional 50 stanzas.
Both Halleck and Drake became associated with the New York writers known as the Knickerbocker Group, led by William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving, pioneers in their fields.
Drake advised Halleck to pursue becoming a nationally known poet and to sit on "Appalachia's brow." He thought contemplating the immense power of American nature would inspire his friend's imagination.
A medical student, Drake died in 1820 of consumption (tuberculosis) at age 25. Halleck commemorated his friend in "The Death of Joseph Rodman Drake" (1820), which begins, "Green be the turf above thee".
On The Death of Joseph Rodman Drake
Green be the turf above thee,
Friend of my better days!
None knew thee but to love thee,
Nor named thee but to praise.
Tears fell, when thou went dying,
From eyes unused to weep,
And long where thou art lying,
Will tears the cold turf steep.
When hearts, whose truth was proven,
Like throe, are laid in earth,
There should a wreath be woven
To tell the world their worth;
And I, who woke each morrow
To clasp thy hand in mine,
Who shared thy joy and sorrow,
Whose weal and woe were thine;
It should be mine to braid it
Around thy faded brow,
But I've in vain essayed it,
And I feel I cannot now.
While memory bids me weep thee,
Nor thoughts nor words are free,
The grief is fixed too deeply
That mourns a man like thee.
Sarah Eckford Drake, the student's young widow, was left with their daughter. She showed interest in having Halleck as her second husband. His satires included her as a figure, and in one he referred to her as a witch. She died young in 1828. Halleck never married.
In 1822, Halleck visited Europe and Great Britain, which influenced his poetry. "Alnwick Castle" was written that year and refers to a stately home in Northumberland. His long poem Marco Bozzaris (1825) was dedicated to the heroic Greek freedom fighter against the Turks, showing the continuing influence of Byron's example. In 1827 Halleck published a collection, Alnwick Castle, with Other Poems, but after that his writing decreased.
At midnight, in his guarded tent,
The Turk was dreaming of the hour
When Greece, her knee in suppliance bent,
Should tremble at his power;
In dreams, through camp and court he bore.
The trophies of a conqueror;
In dreams his song of triumph heard;
Then wore his monarch's signet ring;
Then pressed that monarch's throne-a king:
As wild his thoughts and gay of wing
As Eden's garden bird.
At midnight, in the forest shades,
Bozzaris ranged his Suliote band,
True as the steel of their tried blades,
Heroes in heart and hand.
There had the Persian's thousands stood,
There had the glad earth drunk their blood
On old Plataea's day;
And now there breathed that haunted air
The sons of sires who conquered there,
With arm to strike, and soul to dare,
As quick, as far as they.
An hour passed on-the Turk awoke;
That bright dream was his last;
He woke-to hear his sentries shriek,
'To arms! they come! the Greek! the Greek!'
He woke-to die midst flame and smoke,
And shout and groan and sabre-stroke,
And death-shots falling thick and fast
As lightnings from the mountain-cloud;
And heard, with voice as trumpet loud,
Bozzaris cheer his band:
Strike-till the last armed foe expires!
Strike-for your altars and your fires!
Strike-for the green graves of your sires,
God, and your native land!'
They fought like brave men, long and well;
They piled that ground with Moslem slain;
They conquered-but Bozzaris fell,
Bleeding at every vein.
His few surviving comrades saw
His smile when rang their proud hurrah,
And the red field was won;
Then saw in death his eyelids close
Calmly, as to a night's repose,
Like flowers at set of sun.
Come to the bridal chamber, Death!
Come to the mother's when she feels,
For the first time, her first-horn's breath;
Come when the blessed seals
That close the pestilence are broke,
And crowded cities wail its stroke;
Come in consumption's ghastly form,
The earthquake shock, the ocean storm;
Come when the heart beats high and warm
With banquet-song and dance and wine;
And thou art terrible-the tear,
The groan, the knell, the pall, the bier,
And all we know or dream or fear
Of agony, are thine.
But to the hero, when his sword
Has won the battle for the free,
Thy voice sounds like a prophet's word,
And in its hollow tones are heard
The thanks of millions yet to be.
Come when his task of fame is wrought,
Come with her laurel-leaf, blood-bought,
Come in her crowning hour, and then
Thy sunken eye's unearthly light
To him is welcome as the sight
Of sky and stars to prisoned men;
Thy grasp is welcome as the hand
Of brother in a foreign land;
Thy summons welcome as the cry
That told the Indian isles were nigh
To the world-seeking Genoese,
When the land-wind, from woods of palm
And orange-groves and fields of balm,
Blew oer the Haytian seas.
Bozzaris, with the storied brave
Greece nurtured in her glory's time,
Rest thee-there is no prouder gave.
Even in her own proud clime.
She wore no funeral-weeds for thee,
Nor bade the dark hearse wave its plume,
Like torn branch from death's leafless tree,
In sorrow's pomp and pageantry,
The heartless luxury of the tomb.
But she remembers thee as one
Long loved and for a season gone;
For thee her poet's lyre is wreathed,
Her marble wrought, her music breathed;
For thee she rings the birthday bells;
Of thee her babes' first lisping tells;
For throe her evening prayer is said
At palace-couch and cottage-bed;
Her soldier, closing with the foe,
Gives for thy sake a deadlier blow;
His plighted maiden, when she fears
For him, the joy of her young years,
Thinks of thy fate and checks her tears;
And she, the mother of thy boys,
Though in her eye and faded cheek
Is read the grief she will not speak,
The memory of her buried joys,
And even she who gave thee birth,
Will, by their pilgrim-circled hearth,
Talk of thy doom without a sigh,
For thou art Freedom's now and Fame's,
One of the few, the immortal names,
That were not born to die.
By 1830 Halleck had become a kind of celebrity for his poetry, sometimes called the American Byron. In 1832, Halleck was hired as the private secretary to John Jacob Astor. The wealthy fur trader merchant turned philanthropist later appointed him as one of the original trustees of the Astor Library of New York (the basis of the Public Library). Halleck also served as Astor's cultural tutor, advising him on pieces of art to purchase.
During this period, Halleck was widely read and was part of New York literary society. As one of the younger members of the Knickerbocker Group, he published with them and met associated visiting writers, such as Charles Dickens. His satires were thought to challenge the era's "sacred institutions" and Halleck was known for his wit and charm.
At Astor's death in 1848, he left Halleck an annuity in his will: of only $200 annually. Astor’s son William increased the amount to $1,500. Astor was the wealthiest person in the United States, leaving an estate estimated to be worth at least $20 million. His estimated net worth, if calculated as a fraction of the U.S. gross domestic product at the time, would have been equivalent to $110.1 billion in 2006 U.S. dollars.
With the annuity by Astor's estate, in 1849 Halleck retired to Guilford, where he lived with his sister Marie Halleck for the remainder of his life.
In April 1860, a lingering illness made Halleck give instructions for his funeral and burial, but he recovered. He often turned down requests for public appearances in his later years, and he complained about being pestered by "frequent appeals for letters to hard-hearted editors". When people named children after him, Halleck seemed annoyed rather than honored. He wrote, "I am favored by affectionate fathers with epistles announcing that their eldest-born has been named after me, a calamity that costs me a letter of profound gratefulness".
On November 19, 1867, around 11:00 at night, he called out to his sister, "Marie, hand me my pantaloons, if you please." Then he died. He is buried at Alderbrook Cemetery in Guilford.
Halleck never married. His biographer Hallock believes that he was homosexual. He found that Halleck was enamored at the age of 19 with a young Cuban named Carlos Menie, to whom he dedicated a few of his early poems. Hallock suggests that Halleck was in love with his friend Joseph Rodman Drake
In his will Halleck asked for Drake's body and family to be exhumed and reburied with him. In 1903, plans were set to move the bodies of Drake, his wife, daughter, sister, and nephew to Halleck's plot in Guilford.
In 2006 the Fitz-Greene Halleck Society was founded to raise awareness of this nearly forgotten historical figure.
Fanny was younger once than she is now,
And prettier of course: I do not mean
To say that there are wrinkles on her brow;
Yet, to be candid, she is past eighteen—
Perhaps past twenty—but the girl is shy
About her age, and Heaven forbid that I
Should get myself in trouble by revealing
A secret of this sort; I have too long
Loved pretty women with a poet’s feeling,
And when a boy, in day dream and in song,
Have knelt me down and worshipp’d them: alas!
They never thank’d me for’t—but let that pass.
Her father kept, some fifteen years ago,
A retail dry-good shop in Chatham-street,
And nursed his little earnings, sure though slow,
Till, having muster’d wherewithal to meet
The gaze of the great world, he breathed the air
Of Pearl-street—and "set up" in Hanover-square.
Money is power, ’tis said—I never tried;
I’m but a poet—and bank-notes to me
Are curiosities, as closely eyed,
Whene’er I get them, as a stone would be,
Toss’d from the moon on Doctor Mitchill’s table,
Or classic brickbat from the tower of Babel.
But he I sing of well has known and felt
That money hath a power and a dominion;
For when in Chatham-street the good man dwelt,
No one would give a sous for his opinion.
And though his neighbours were extremely civil,
Yet, on the whole, they thought him—a poor devil,
A decent kind of person; one whose head
Was not of brains particularly full;
It was not known that he had ever said
Any thing worth repeating—’twas a dull,
Good, honest man—what Paulding’s muse would call
A “cabbage head”—but he excelled them all
In that most noble of the sciences,
The art of making money; and he found
The zeal for quizzing him grew less and less,
As he grew richer; till upon the ground
Of Pearl-street, treading proudly in the might
And majesty of wealth, a sudden light
Flash’d like the midnight lightning on the eyes
Of all who knew him; brilliant traits of mind,
And genius, clear and countless as the dies
Upon the peacock’s plumage; taste refined,
Wisdom and wit, were his—perhaps much more.
’Twas strange they had not found it out before.
Dear to the exile is his native land,
In memory’s twilight beauty seen afar:
Dear to the broker is a note of hand,
Collaterally secured—the polar star
Is dear at midnight to the sailor’s eyes,
And dear are Bristed’s volumes at “half price;”
But dearer far to me each fairy minute
Spent in that fond forgetfulness of grief;
There is an airy web of magic in it,
As in Othello’s pocket-handkerchief,
Veiling the wrinkles on the brow of sorrow,
The gathering gloom to-day, the thunder cloud to-morrow.
Since that wise pedant, Johnson, was in fashion,
Manners have changed as well as moons; and he
Would fret himself once more into a passion,
Should he return (which heaven forbid!), and see,
How strangely from his standard dictionary,
The meaning of some words is made to vary.
For instance, an undress at present means
The wearing a pelisse, a shawl, or so;
Or any thing you please, in short, that screens
The face, and hides the form from top to toe;
Of power to brave a quizzing-glass, or storm—
’Tis worn in summer, when the weather’s warm.
But a full dress is for a winter’s night.
The most genteel is made of "woven air;"
That kind of classic cobweb, soft and light,
Which Lady Morgan’s Ida used to wear.
And ladies, this aërial manner dress'd in,
Look Eve-like, angel-like, and interesting.
GOOD WORDS TO HAVE.......................
Quaggy \KWAG-ee\ 1: marshy or boggy 2:Flabby or soft. Quaggy is related to quag, a word for a marsh or bog, and quagmire—which can refer to wet, spongy land that gives way underfoot or, figuratively, to a predicament. Etymologists claim no firm footing when it comes to the origin of the syllable the words share in common, though it's been suggested that quag is imitative, echoing the soft, mushy sound that wet ground makes when you walk on it. The words are all roughly the same age, with earliest evidence of quagmire, quag, and quaggydating to 1566, 1589, and 1596, respectively.
Constellate (KON-stuh-layt) To gather or form a cluster.From Latin con- (together) + stella (star). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ster- (star), which also gave us star, asterisk, asteroid, astrology, disaster, stellar, constellation, Persian sitareh (star), the names Stella and Esther, and astraphobia (an abnormal fear of lightning and thunder).
Why SEARHC thinks paying for 8 weeks of parental leave will save money
By Lisa Phu, KTOO - Juneau
Insurance will give SEARHC members more flexibility in health care and generate revenue for the Native medical organization. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
A Southeast health provider has adopted what may be the most progressive parental leave policy in Alaska. At least two experts say they don’t know of another employer in the state with a comparable benefit.
The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium’s isn’t as far-reaching asNetflix’s new 1-year paid leave policy, but it may start a trend.
Ann Stepetin is due to deliver her fourth child in February. She and her husband had already decided she’d only take two weeks off from her payroll job at SEARHC.
“Because I didn’t think we could afford to be off any longer,” Stepetin says.
Then, she went into work one day and that plan drastically changed.
“You can see me getting emotional, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It was such a blessing,” she says.
SEARHC’s new parental leave policy lets Stepetin take eight paid weeks off instead of using her accrued leave.
“Having that in place does give me more of a relaxed feeling to prepare emotionally more or less for the baby rather than stressing about the finances,” Stepetin says.
And that’s exactly what SEARHC executives hoped the new policy would do.
“We want that family to be really focusing on the new child, the new addition to their family, and to not have to worry about any of the other issues,” says Peggy Kadlec, SEARHC’s interim head of human resources. “It’s an important time of bonding.”
SEARHC has about 650 employees in communities throughout Southeast Alaska; most are concentrated in Juneau and Sitka. Kadlec says the health organization wants its employees to have work-life balance.
“We believe our employees that are healthier, happier, will be here at work more frequently, provide the better kind of service into our community and at the end, (it) saves money,” Kadlec says.
She says people who take an active role in health and families have less health issues.
“If our employees are out less for medical reasons, our costs are reduced and we can transfer those dollars to programs to help them as well.”
Kadlec is excited about the new parental leave policy. So is Joy Lyon.
“Because that might pave the way for other organizations to see how successful that is,” says Lyon, executive director of theAssociation for the Education of Young Children in Southeast.
She says it’s critical for the time after childbirth to be as stress-free as possible.
“When you add the extra stress of trying to get back to work, find childcare, figure out your feeding schedule, that just adds such a layer of stress,” Lyon says. “Babies are little sponges for stress, so they’re going to be feeling that stress. Continuous stress inhibits the child’s ability to learn and grow so it has a really long-term impact.”
Ironically, AEYC does not offer paid parental leave to its employees.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires most employers with 50 or more workers to guarantee up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for a new child, among other reasons.
AEYC only has 10 employees, but follows these guidelines, like many other employers.
“Being a small nonprofit we just don’t have the ability to pay the extra the whole time,” Lyon says.
Most state and municipal employees are entitled to up to 18 weeks of unpaid leave for a new child. People who take family medical leave often use accrued time off to get paid.
Dan Robinson, head of research and analysis for the state Department of Labor, says the agency doesn’t have any research on paid parental leave in the state. That could change. The department has applied for a federal grant to look into it.
“It’s very possible that there will be state legislation, that a legislator will say we want to require employers to pay for parental leave, we want to make that paid. In that case, those questions could likely come our direction,” Robinson says.
At SEARHC, parents of new children can still access 12 weeks of Family Medical Leave after the eight weeks of paid parental leave. Ann Stepetin isn’t sure if she’ll dip into it.
“I haven’t thought that far yet. Eight weeks is a blessing compared to the two that I was planning on doing,” Stepetin says.
She says she’ll start with that and see how it goes.
I LOVE PULP ART (I just generally like art)
The Dutch “basic income” experiment is expanding across multiple cities
Maria Sanchez Diez
August 13, 2015
Free money, anyone? (Image by Jaakko Hakulinen on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-2.0)
Free cash is in the works for a growing number of Dutch urbanites. After the city of Utrecht announced that it would give no-strings-attached money to some of its residents, other Dutch cities are getting on board for social experiments with “basic income,” a regular and unconditional stipend to cover living costs.
Tilburg, a city of 200,000 habitants close to the border with Belgium, will follow Utrecht’s initiative, and the cities of Groningen, Maastricht, Gouda, Enschede, Nijmegen and Wageningen are also considering it.
Supporters of basic income say it is a good mechanism to alleviate poverty and social exclusion. A recent study conducted in 18 European countries concluded that generous welfare benefits make people likely to want to work more, not less.
Ralf Embrechts, director of the Social Development Association of Tilburg and one of the promotors of the program, said that’s the theory the program is designed to test.
“We want to discover, if you trust people and give them a basic income without any rules or obligations—so, unconditionally—that they will do the right thing,” he explained in an email to Quartz.
If Tilburg’s basic income project gets the green light from Netherland’s state secretary of social affairs, the town will provide an extra paycheck to a pilot group of 250 people starting in January 2016, said Tillburg officials said. The city has not confirmed the amount of the stipend, but in Utrecht checks will range from around €900 ($1,000) for one adult to €1,300 ($1,450).
Although the classic basic income theory proposes universal payments across the population, the two Dutch experiments will only focus on residents who are already recipients of social assistance. Those in the program will be exempt from the severe job-seeking requirements and penalties in Dutch law.
Authorities aim to test how citizens react without that sword of Damocles over their heads. Will the money encourage them to find a job or will they sit in their couches comfortably?
Several cities across the world have experimented with basic income, from India to Canada, where the famous Mincome program took place in the 1970s, in the town of Dauphin, Manitoba.
Detractors say that such schemes are expensive and harmful to the economy, since they don’t stimulate people’s initiative to work. And some complain that these programs just feel unfair.
“It would be outright unjust if in this way welfare recipients would be getting more money than employees that have been doing full-time low-paid work for years,” asserted the economic daily Het Financieele Dagblad in an op-ed piece (paywall) on Tilburg’s initiative.
The Most Educated Places in America
by Sreekar Jasthi | posted in Cities, Lifestyle
Many cities might think they have the most skilled workforce or smartest residents. That can’t be measured, but we can discover which are the most educated cities and other places in America.
College towns surprisingly don’t dominate our list even though new grads often decide to stay and launch their careers in the city where they went to school.
To find the most educated places, NerdWallet analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data on the educational levels of residents in over 2,000 places. See the methodology section at the end of this article for more details.
High school and college graduation factor more heavily in our rankings than other levels of education because these are the two most common levels achieved. About 86% of Americans 25 years or older have at least graduated from high school, and 29% hold at least a bachelor’s degree. In contrast, only 8% of Americans have a master’s degree, 2% hold professional degrees and 1% have doctorates.
Spoiler alert: East Coast wins. There were more places in Maryland and Massachusetts than in any other state in the top 20.
Silicon Valley is brainy, too. Cities such as Palo Alto, Cupertino and Menlo Park all ranked in the top 20, thanks to concentrations of tech workers at companies such as Apple and Facebook.
Holding steady. Seven places from last year’s list remained in the top 10. As well, the percentages of residents with at least a high school diploma increased from 11% in some places and up to 20% in other cities.
Most educated places in America
1. Bethesda, Maryland
For the third year in a row, Bethesda has earned the top spot of all educated communities on our list. Nearly 99% of residents over 25 years old have at least a high school diploma or an associate degree, and 81% hold at least a bachelor’s degree. As the headquarters of the National Institutes of Health, Lockheed Martin, other companies and government agencies, this community is home to professionals in fields such as biomedicine and engineering.
2. Brookline, Massachusetts
In this town that’s a hub for colleges, 13.8% of people hold professional degrees, the third-highest percentage on our list. The city is located in the heart of the Boston metropolitan area close to Boston College and Boston University, with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology nearby. Brookline features industries specializing in technical expertise, such as medical centers, and community enrichment programs at Boston College Neighborhood Center.
3. Potomac, Maryland
About 13 miles from the center of Washington, D.C., Potomac is home to government officials, scientists and other specialists who commute to the capital. The community places highly on our list because at 15.4% it has the second-highest percentage of people with professional degrees. Potomac also includes some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the U.S.
4. Palo Alto, California
Home to Stanford University and its research centers, Palo Alto is a breeding ground for intellectuals with 80% of residents having earned at least a bachelor’s degree. The city is also headquarters of Silicon Valley companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Tesla Motors and Skype. Students at Palo Alto’s public schools are top performers, with 92% of graduates attending college.
5. McLean, Virginia
Like Potomac, McLean is home to many Washington, D.C., commuters, including members of Congress and other government officials. Major corporations, such as Hilton WorldWide and Capital One, are based here. Nearly 81% of residents, the third highest on our list, have earned bachelor’s degrees. This Virginia community is close to a host of universities in the capital area.
6. Princeton, New Jersey
You don’t need to look any further than this city’s name to know its connection to education. Princeton University is a member of the Ivy League, and at least three dozen Nobel Prize winners are on the faculty. Princeton is home to the highest percentage of residents with doctorates, 16%, on our list. Its public school district ranked seventh on NerdWallet’s Best School Districts for Your Buck in New Jersey, which considered students’ high average SAT scores, 93% graduation rate and other factors.
7. Newton, Massachusetts
Located about seven miles west of downtown Boston, Newton is a suburb with a strong mix of academic experts and medical practitioners. Boston College, MIT and Harvard are all nearby, as are Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The proximity to these medical centers contributes to Newton’s relatively high percentage of residents with a professional degree. Newton also is the location of the Peabody Award-winning New England Cable News.
8. Lexington, Massachusetts
Although fewer than 32,000 people live in this community, 97% graduated from high school and 14% went on to get a doctorate. Two of its public schools, Bridge Elementary and Jonas Clarke Middle School, have been recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools, a program that honors high-performing schools. Cambridge, which MIT and Harvard call home, is nearby.
9. Chapel Hill, North Carolina
About 95% of residents in Chapel Hill have at least a high school diploma and 76% have earned a bachelor’s degree, which is due in large part to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Medical students and professionals come to the area for UNC Health Care, a state-owned system of hospitals with ties to the university’s school of medicine. The city is also part of the Research Triangle that also includes Durham, with its Duke University, and Raleigh, the location of North Carolina State University.
10. Cupertino, California
This Silicon Valley city is the headquarters of Apple, which means it’s home to engineers and other tech professionals. About 31% of the residents have a master’s degree, which is the highest percentage of any city on this list.
'Happiness an ongoing journey'
Happiness. If you google it, the definition of happiness is "the state of being happy". Contentment, pleasure, joy, satisfaction, cheerfulness, glee, enjoyment, delight. The list goes on.
I feel many of these emotions in my life. Happiness in my life is caused by family, friends, sometimes strangers and work.
If you look closely enough, happiness can sometimes be caused by the simple pleasures in life such as your morning coffee, the sound of the waves at the beach, witnessing random acts of kindness. I am thankful for all these great things.
I have achieved happiness by surrounding myself with those I love and who bring out the best in me. However, happiness is an ongoing journey for me and many others.
We tend to get so caught up in our busy lives, that we sometimes forget the simple things that create happiness.
If we allowed time for reflection, we might gain a better understanding of what makes us unhappy and therefore the chance to get ourselves on track to happiness.
Reflection can also help us appreciate the things in life that make us truly happy. What makes you happy?
I have discovered that serving others brings me the warm fuzzy feeling of joy and of happiness - "Serving others is the foundation of meaningful lives, healthy communities and leadership." Living for something greater than self-interest brings me happiness.
I attended an amazing forum on leadership in July that made me assess what leadership is and what my faith and values are. This was a catalyst in my life that has inspired me to become something bigger than myself and to help make a positive impact on people's lives.
It gave me a truer understanding of myself and of others. It helped me realise that the path to happiness and fulfilment is sometimes a great challenge.
As Oprah Winfrey once said: "I define joy as a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace – a connection to what matters."
Oprah has changed many lives with her leadership and has found happiness in helping others. This is a journey that I am discovering and I wish you the best with yours.
What's your secret to living a fulfilled life? Share it here on Stuff and you could win tickets to see Oprah in Auckland.
Click the green button below to find out more about this competition, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your tips.
The Bail Trap
Every year, thousands of innocent people are sent to jail only because they can’t afford to post bail, putting them at risk of losing their jobs, custody of their children — even their lives.
By NICK PINTOAUG. 13, 2015
New York Times
On the morning of Nov. 20 last year, Tyrone Tomlin sat in the cage of one of the Brooklyn criminal courthouse’s interview rooms, a bare white cinder-block cell about the size of an office cubicle. Hardly visible through the heavy steel screen in front of him was Alison Stocking, the public defender who had just been assigned to his case. Tomlin, exhausted and frustrated, was trying to explain how he came to be arrested the afternoon before. It wasn’t entirely clear to Tomlin himself. Still in his work clothes, his boots encrusted with concrete dust, he recounted what had happened.
The previous afternoon, he was heading home from a construction job. Tomlin had served two short stints in prison on felony convictions for auto theft and selling drugs in the late ’80s and mid-’90s, but even now, grizzled with white stubble and looking older than his 53 years, he found it hard to land steady work and relied on temporary construction gigs to get by. Around the corner from his home in Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Tomlin has lived his entire life, he ran into some friends near the corner of Schenectady and Lincoln Avenues outside the FM Brothers Discount store, its stock of buckets, mops, backpacks and toilet paper overflowing onto the sidewalk. As he and his friends caught up, two plainclothes officers from the New York Police Department’s Brooklyn North narcotics squad, recognizable by the badges on their belts and their bulletproof vests, paused outside the store. At the time, Tomlin thought nothing of it. ‘‘I’m not doing anything wrong,’’ he remembers thinking. ‘‘We’re just talking.’’
Tomlin broke off to go inside the store and buy a soda. The clerk wrapped it in a paper bag and handed him a straw. Back outside, as the conversation wound down, one of the officers called the men over. He asked one of Tomlin’s friends if he was carrying anything he shouldn’t; he frisked him. Then he turned to Tomlin, who was holding his bagged soda and straw. ‘‘He thought it was a beer,’’ Tomlin guesses. ‘‘He opens the bag up, it was a soda. He says, ‘What you got in the other hand?’ I says, ‘I got a straw that I’m about to use for the soda.’ ’’ The officer asked Tomlin if he had anything on him that he shouldn’t. ‘‘I says, ‘No, you can check me, I don’t have nothing on me.’ He checks me. He’s going all through my socks and everything.’’ The next thing Tomlin knew, he says, he was getting handcuffed. ‘‘I said, ‘Officer, what am I getting locked up for?’ He says, ‘Drug paraphernalia.’ I says, ‘Drug paraphernalia?’ He opens up his hand and shows me the straw.’’
Stocking, an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, a public-defense office that represents 45,000 indigent clients a year, had picked up Tomlin’s case file a few minutes before interviewing him. The folder was fat, always a bad sign to a public defender. The documentation submitted by the arresting officer explained that his training and experience told him that plastic straws are ‘‘a commonly used method of packaging heroin residue.’’ The rest of the file contained Tomlin’s criminal history, which included 41 convictions, all of them, save the two decades-old felonies, for low-level nonviolent misdemeanors — crimes of poverty like shoplifting food from the corner store. With a record like that, Stocking told her client, the district attorney’s office would most likely ask the judge to set bail, and there was a good chance that the judge would do it. If Tomlin couldn’t come up with the money, he’d go to jail until his case was resolved.
Their conversation didn’t last long. On average, a couple of hundred cases pass through Brooklyn’s arraignment courtrooms every day, and the public defenders who handle the overwhelming majority of those cases rarely get to spend more than 10 minutes with each client before the defendant is called into court for arraignment. Before leaving, Stocking relayed what the assistant district attorney told her a few minutes earlier: The prosecution was prepared to offer Tomlin a deal. Plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance, serve 30 days on Rikers and be done with it. Tomlin said he wasn’t interested. A guilty plea would only add to his record and compound the penalties if he were arrested again. ‘‘They’re mistaken,’’ he told Stocking. ‘‘It’s a regular straw!’’ When the straw was tested by the police evidence lab, he assured her, it would show that he was telling the truth. In the meantime, there was no way he was pleading guilty to anything.
When it was Tomlin’s turn in front of the judge, events unfolded as predicted: The assistant district attorney handling the case offered him 30 days for a guilty plea. After he refused, the A.D.A. asked for bail. The judge agreed, setting it at $1,500. Tomlin, living paycheck to paycheck, had nothing like that kind of money. ‘‘If it had been $100, I might have been able to get that,’’ he said afterward. As it was, less than 24 hours after getting off work, Tomlin was on a bus to Rikers Island, New York’s notorious jail complex, where his situation was about to get a lot worse.
‘‘Criminal justice,’’ President Obama said in a speech to the N.A.A.C.P. last month, ‘‘is not as fair as it should be. Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it.’’ Two days after the speech, Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, meeting with convicts in a corrections institution in El Reno, Okla. The setting was dramatic, but mass incarceration isn’t actually a federal problem. Of the 2.2 million people currently locked up in this country, fewer than one in 10 is being held in a federal prison. Far more are serving time in state prisons, and nearly three-quarters of a million aren’t in prison at all but in local city and county jails. Of those in jails, 60 percent haven’t been convicted of anything. They’re innocent in the eyes of the law, awaiting resolution in their cases. Some of these inmates are being held because they’re considered dangerous or unlikely to return to court for their hearings. But many of them simply cannot afford to pay the bail that has been set.
Occasionally, these cases make the news. In June, Sandra Bland was found dead in her cell in Texas after failing to come up with $500 for her release. But often, they go unnoticed. The federal government doesn’t track the number of people locked up because they can’t make bail. What we do know is that at any given time, close to 450,000 people are in pretrial detention in the United States — a figure that includes both those denied bail and those unable to pay the bail that has been set. Even that figure fails to capture the churn of local incarceration: In a given year, city and county jails across the country admit between 11 million and 13 million people. In New York City, where courts use bail far less than in many jurisdictions, roughly 45,000 people are jailed each year simply because they can’t pay their court-assigned bail. And while the city’s courts set bail much lower than the national average, only one in 10 defendants is able to pay it at arraignment. To put a finer point on it: Even when bail is set comparatively low — at $500 or less, as it is in one-third of nonfelony cases — only 15 percent of defendants are able to come up with the money to avoid jail.
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Bail hasn’t always been a mechanism for locking people up. When the concept first took shape in England during the Middle Ages, it was emancipatory. Rather than detaining people indefinitely without trial, magistrates were required to let defendants go free before seeing a judge, guaranteeing their return to court with a bond. If the defendant failed to return, he would forfeit the amount of the bond. The bond might be secured — that is, with some or all of the amount of the bond paid in advance and returned at the end of the trial — or it might not. In 1689, the English Bill of Rights outlawed the widespread practice of keeping defendants in jail by setting deliberately unaffordable bail, declaring that ‘‘excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.’’ The same language was adopted word for word a century later in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
But as bail has evolved in America, it has become less and less a tool for keeping people out of jail, and more and more a trap door for those who cannot afford to pay it. Unsecured bond has become vanishingly rare, and in most jurisdictions, there are only two ways to make bail: post the entire amount yourself up front — what’s called ‘‘money bail’’ or ‘‘cash bail’’ — or pay a commercial bail bondsman to do so. For relatively low bail amounts — say, below $2,000, the range in which most New York City bails fall — the second option often doesn’t even exist; bondsmen can’t make enough money from such small bails to make it worth their while.
With national attention suddenly focused on the criminal-justice system, bail has been cited as an easy target for reformers. But ensuring that no one is held in jail based on poverty would, in many respects, necessitate a complete reordering of criminal justice. The open secret is that in most jurisdictions, bail is the grease that keeps the gears of the overburdened system turning. Faced with the prospect of going to jail for want of bail, many defendants accept plea deals instead, sometimes at their arraignments. New York City courts processed 365,000 arraignments in 2013; well under 5 percent of those cases went all the way to a trial resolution. If even a small fraction of those defendants asserted their right to a trial, criminal courts would be overwhelmed. By encouraging poor defendants to plead guilty, bail keeps the system afloat.
‘‘What, did they arrest all of Brooklyn today?’’ one court officer asked another on a recent Sunday night in one of the two bustling arraignment courtrooms in Downtown Brooklyn. Defendants, a vast majority of them black, paraded past the judge in quick succession: Unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. Open container of alcohol in public. Marijuana possession. Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. Misdemeanors, many of them minor, some aggravated by an outstanding bench warrant for failure to appear in court on another case, failure to complete court-ordered community service or failure to pay a fine. Hundreds of people were awaiting arraignment, first in central booking across the street, then in cells on the ninth floor and finally in a small communal cell called ‘‘the pen’’ behind the arraignment courtrooms on the ground floor. On this night, there were more than a dozen men in the cell waiting to see a lawyer, pacing, sitting on benches, crouching in corners.
One man called out from the pen, saying that there was dried excrement in there from the day before. ‘‘Nobody comes in here to clean!’’ he exclaimed. ‘‘It’s mad dirty!’’ A guard approached the bars and briefly sprayed a can of air freshener. Around the corner, the pen opened onto a series of booths, where, separated by heavy metal screens, the defendants met with their lawyers. Scott Hechinger, a senior trial attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, picked up a stack of case files, quickly scanned the charges and rap sheets, stepped down a short hallway behind the courtroom and started calling names through the mesh screen. The first client was charged with criminal mischief after getting in an argument with his girlfriend and breaking some bowls. It was more complicated than that, he told Hechinger. She came home drunk, threw his clothes out the window. It escalated. He left. They arrested him across the street. Hechinger called the girlfriend and left a message. He called the client’s mother, whom the man lived with. If bail was set, how much could she afford? At most $250. Time’s up. Next case.
A young man jumped a subway turnstile. Prosecutors were offering to make it go away and let him out that night if he did two days of community service and avoided being rearrested for the next six months. This one was easy. ‘‘Take the deal,’’ Hechinger said. It was better than paying a $120 fee.
Next up was a homeless teenager, charged with ‘‘obstruction of governmental administration.’’ The paperwork said the police saw him with a knife, and that he resisted arrest. He said there was no knife, that the cops stopped him for no reason and beat him. He showed Hechinger bruises on his arms and a fat lip. It was hard to see much through the screen. Hechinger promised to take a closer look in a few minutes when they were in front of the judge together. The final person was a man arrested for driving with a suspended license, a straightforward case.
After less than half an hour, Hechinger was back in the courtroom. The defendants he interviewed were marched out onto a bench against the left wall. First was the turnstile jumper. The prosecutor laid out the charges and the offer. The defendant took the deal and would have to complete community service. Next was the homeless teenager. The prosecutor asked for bail of $5,000. Hechinger argued that bail was unnecessary. The judge set it at $250. The teenager didn’t have it. He would be sleeping at Rikers. The guy with the suspended license was released on his own recognizance — without any bail — and would be due back in court in a couple of months. Next appeared the man who broke his girlfriend’s bowls. The prosecutor wanted bail set at $2,500. Hechinger argued that there was no reason to believe his client wouldn’t return to court on his own. The judge set it at $1,000. ‘‘Your honor, I called the mother, she said she could afford $250,’’ Hechinger said. ‘‘I’m sorry, counselor, that’s my bail decision,’’ the judge responded.
Another half-hour had elapsed. Hechinger went back to the case pile and picked up another stack. One of the three other defenders working the courtroom stepped up with her own cases. When court shut down for the night at 1 a.m., defendants were still waiting. They would stay in their cells and be arraigned when court started up again in the morning.
The sheer speed of the arraignment process makes it virtually impossible for the court to make informed decisions. Prosecutors have nothing to go on but a statement from the police and possibly a complaining witness, and defense lawyers know only what they’ve been able to glean from their brief interviews and perhaps a phone call or two. It’s in this hurried moment, at the very outset of a criminal case, before evidence has been weighed or even gathered, that a defendant’s freedom is decided. The stakes are high, and not only for the obvious reason that jail is an unpleasant and often dangerous place to be. A pretrial stretch in jail can unravel the lives of vulnerable defendants in significant ways.
It is depressing and cause for soul searching for people who will never be invovled with this dark cycle of injustice. It almost sounds like something out of the Soviet Union.
The next hearing in Tyrone Tomlin’s drinking-straw case was scheduled for a week after his arraignment. He left the courthouse, was loaded onto a bus and crossed the narrow causeway that connects Queens to Rikers. Tomlin was assigned to the Anna M. Kross Center, one of 10 correctional facilities on the island.
Incarcerated people rarely have nice things to say about the places where they’re locked up, but an investigation by the United States attorney’s office this year found ‘‘a deep-seated culture of violence’’ among Rikers guards, who reported using force against inmates more than 4,000 times last year. Violence among inmates is also pervasive. A Department of Corrections document obtained by The Daily News reported 108 stabbings and slashings in the last year. ‘‘That place is miserable,’’ Tomlin said. ‘‘It’s dangerous. It’s every man for himself. You could get abused, you could get raped, you could get extorted. That stuff is all around.’’
Housed in a unit with more than 50 other prisoners, Tomlin tried to keep his head down, and he was able to get through a week without incident. Outside, his aunt worried about him. His employer had no idea where he was. On Nov. 25, he was back in court for a discovery hearing, during which prosecutors were supposed to turn over any relevant evidence. None was presented, but prosecutors repeated their offer for Tomlin to plead guilty. He still refused. ‘‘I wasn’t taking nothing, because I didn’t do nothing,’’ he says. His case was adjourned for another two weeks.
Tomlin’s willingness to hold out against the charges was unusual. Across the criminal-justice system, bail acts as a tool of compulsion, forcing people who would not otherwise plead guilty to do so. A 2012 report by the New York City Criminal Justice Agency, based on 10 years’ worth of criminal statistics, bears this out. In nonfelony cases in which defendants were not detained before their trials, either because no bail was set or because they were able to pay it, only half were eventually convicted. When defendants were locked up until their cases were resolved, the conviction rate jumped to 92 percent. This isn’t just anecdotal; a multivariate analysis found that even controlling for other factors, pretrial detention was the single greatest predictor of conviction. ‘‘The data suggest that detention itself creates enough pressure to increase guilty pleas,’’ the report concluded.
Still awaiting a trial, Tomlin returned to Rikers and quickly got into trouble with a group of younger inmates while on the phone with his aunt. ‘‘A young guy tells me, ‘Yo, pop, you gotta get off the phone,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘I said, ‘I’m in the middle of an important call.’ He wanted me to just hang up.’’ Tomlin quickly realized he’d made a mistake. That evening, in the shower, he was jumped by a group of young men. ‘‘Most of the punches went to the side of my head and my eye,’’ he said. ‘‘I was tussling one and had to worry about the other three, there was blows coming from everywhere.’’ Punched, kicked and stomped, Tomlin received medical attention, his face monstrously misshapen, his left eye swollen shut. ‘‘You’d think I was Frankenstein’s brother or something,’’ he said.
Tomlin’s eye was still swollen shut on Dec. 10, three weeks after his arrest, when he returned to court. At this hearing, prosecutors handed over a report from the police laboratory, which had tested the drinking straw. At the top of the report, in bold, underlined capital letters, were the words ‘‘No Controlled Substance Identified, Notify District Attorney.’’
The report had been faxed to the district attorney on Nov. 25, the same day as Tomlin’s last court hearing and days before his beating. The key to his freedom had been sitting unexamined. Conceding that the case had unraveled, the prosecutor asked that the charges be dismissed. ‘‘The judge says, ‘Mr. Tomlin, this is your lucky day, you’re going home,’ ’’ Tomlin recalls. ‘‘I just left the courtroom, signed some papers and that was it.’’
Tomlin had lost three weeks of income, was subjected to brutal physical violence and missed Thanksgiving dinner with his family. But he resisted the pressure to plead guilty. His previous convictions all came from pleas, most of them made with bail looming over him. He knows the bitter Catch-22 of pleading guilty to get out of jail. ‘‘It feels great to go home,’’ he says. ‘‘Anybody’s happy to go home. But at the same time, it feels bad, because that’s more damage on your record.’’
For defendants who would fight their cases and maintain their innocence if they had the money, a guilty plea involves a ritual of court procedure that verges on the Kafkaesque:
‘‘Your lawyer tells me you want to plead guilty to the charge. Is that correct?’’ the judge will ask. Yes, the defendant must reply.
A defendant being questioned at the Kings County Criminal Court. Credit Philip Montgomery for The New York Times
‘‘You understand that by your plea of guilty you are giving up certain trial rights?’’ Yes.
‘‘The right to remain silent, the right to confront witnesses against you, the right to have the prosecutor prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?’’ Yes, yes, yes.
And then: ‘‘Are you pleading guilty freely and voluntarily, because you are in fact guilty?’’
Hechinger, the lawyer with Brooklyn Defender Services, hates this part of the process. ‘‘A lot of times, at that last question, you feel the client beside you bristle,’’ he says. ‘‘Everyone in the room knows it’s not ‘freely and voluntarily.’ They’re making a decision coerced by money. In many cases, if they had money, they wouldn’t be pleading. But they put their heads down, and they say, ‘Yes.’ It’s a horrible, deflating feeling.’’
The long-term damage that bail inflicts on vulnerable defendants extends well beyond incarceration. Disappearing into the machinery of the justice system separates family members, interrupts work and jeopardizes housing. ‘‘Most of our clients are people who have crawled their way up from poverty or are in the throes of poverty,’’ Hechinger says. ‘‘Our clients work in service-level positions where if you’re gone for a day, you lose your job. People in need of caretaking — the elderly, the young — are left without caretakers. People who live in shelters, where if they miss their curfews, they lose their housing. Folks with immigration concerns are quicker to be put on the immigration radar. So when our clients have bail set, they suffer on the inside, they worry about what’s happening on the outside, and when they get out, they come back to a world that’s more difficult than the already difficult situation that they were in before.’’
This spring, a 24-year-old woman named Adriana found herself newly single in New York, trying to make a life for herself and her daughter. Short and round, with oversize glasses that frequently slide off her nose, she has an easy manner and deadpan sense of humor that belie her past as a runaway from an abusive mother. Adriana arrived in New York in the middle of 2014 with her baby daughter, not yet 2, and knew no one but her boyfriend at the time, a controlling figure who lived off her earnings from massages she advertised on Craigslist. (Like many runaways, Adriana had sometimes relied on sex work to survive, though recently she was trying to avoid it.) After separating from her boyfriend, Adriana managed to secure a spot in a Brooklyn shelter for victims of domestic violence. ‘‘I was trying to get a job, trying to get my life together,’’ she says. She was focused on her daughter. ‘‘I just want to be the best mother for her that I can be,’’ she says. ‘‘That’s my priority. That’s my only priority.’’ (Because of safety concerns, Adriana asked not to be identified by her full name.)
On the night of March 18, Adriana realized she was running low on diapers. A friend at the shelter who also had a child agreed to keep an eye on her daughter, and Adriana headed to a nearby Target. This was after curfew, and when a staff member saw Adriana leaving without her daughter, she called the police. ‘‘When I got to Target, I started getting all these texts from my friend,’’ Adriana says. ‘‘She was saying, ‘You’ve got to get back here — there are staff in your room, and they won’t let me in to look after the baby.’ ’’ Adriana rushed home with the diapers. In the shelter’s courtyard, she was met by police officers, who had her daughter.
‘‘Where are you going with my baby?’’ she asked, according to court documents. ‘‘That’s my baby. I just went to the store to buy diapers.’’ It didn’t matter. The police placed her under arrest, charging her with endangering the welfare of a child. She gave one of the officers the diapers she’d just bought, in case her daughter needed to be changed. She was handcuffed and taken to the precinct. The police took her daughter to the station, too, where she was turned over to the city’s Administration for Children’s Services and eventually placed in a foster home.
Before her arraignment two days later, Adriana explained to her public defender what happened. Her friend could confirm that she was looking after the baby, she said. The lawyer told Adriana she’d do her best to get her released on her own recognizance. But when Adriana appeared in front of Judge Rosemarie Montalbano, the assistant district attorney asked for bail to be set at $5,000. Adriana had no criminal record and had never failed to make a court appearance, but the prosecutor cited an ‘‘A.C.S. history,’’ meaning that Adriana and her daughter had previous contact with the Administration for Children’s Services. This was true but misleading. The A.C.S. report involving Adriana had found that she wasn’t responsible for any neglect or abuse. What the A.C.S. did find was violence and coercion on the part of her boyfriend; this is how Adriana landed a spot in the domestic-violence shelter.
With no way to come up with $1,500, Adriana spent the next two weeks on Rikers Island. Her bail made it harder for her to fight her case, but it also effectively dismantled the new life she was trying to build for herself and her daughter. She lost her bed at the shelter, and her child was living with strangers. ‘‘It feels like they were kicking me when I was down,’’ she says.
Over subsequent hearings, Adriana’s lawyers tried to get her bail lifted, but they ran into another common problem facing defendants: Once a judge sets bail, other judges are often reluctant to second-guess their colleague’s decision. If they free a defendant who commits a crime while out on bail, the blowback from politicians, police unions and the tabloid press can be substantial. ‘‘I have no idea what motivated Judge Montalbano to set bail,’’ said Judge Andrew Borrok at one of Adriana’s hearings, four days after her arraignment. Still, he said, ‘‘I’m not inclined to change what’s been done.’’
Adriana’s lawyers managed to move her case to a court that specialized in sex-trafficking cases, hoping for a more sympathetic judge and prosecutors. In the trafficking court, however, prosecutors remained reluctant to lift bail, now citing concerns that Adriana’s safety could be at risk if her ex-boyfriend found out she was set free. Ultimately, after two weeks of hearings, prosecutors agreed to remove Adriana’s bail provided she complete weekly ‘‘life-skills coursework’’ administered by a group that serves arrested sex workers. ‘‘Congratulations on being in a place where a lot of people care about you,’’ Adriana remembers the judge telling her as she stood before him in handcuffs, quietly asking a court officer to push her glasses back up her nose. ‘‘There’s a lot of people in this room that want good things to happen to you. The fear is that you’re not ready for all of these great things.’’
The judge ordered Adriana released. She could begin reassembling her life, finding a new shelter, retrieving whatever remained of her possessions. But her baby was still in foster care, and her case still wasn’t resolved. In June, a judge finally agreed to dismiss her case if she wasn’t arrested for the next six months. As this story went to press, five months after her arrest, she was still fighting in family court to regain custody of her daughter.
Outside the courtroom after the hearing for her release, Scott Hechinger, who helped coordinate Adriana’s defense, was exasperated. ‘‘Remember,’’ he said, ‘‘this is all about some diapers! Bail changes the conversation. If bail hadn’t been set, Adriana wouldn’t have to be negotiating to get out of Rikers. She’d just be released.’’
In early 2013, Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the State of New York, decided that the business-as-usual approach to setting bail could not be tolerated any longer. ‘‘We still have a long way to go before we can claim that we have established a coherent, rational approach to pretrial justice,’’ he said in his annual State of the Judiciary address. ‘‘Incarcerating indigent defendants for no other reason than that they cannot meet even a minimum bail amount strips our justice system of its credibility and distorts its operation.’’
Lippman sent a package of proposed legislation to reduce the reliance on cash bail to lawmakers in Albany, and he lobbied for the reforms hard in the press. His efforts went nowhere. ‘‘Zero,’’ Lippman says, shaking his head. ‘‘Nothing.’’ Lawmakers had no appetite for bail reform.
Two years later, that may be changing. This summer, the New York City Council took a tentative step toward reform by earmarking $1.4 million for a citywide fund to bail out low-level offenders. The fund, proposed with much fanfare by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in her State of the City address in February, is modeled on a number of smaller bail funds around the city. The oldest of these, the Bronx Freedom Fund, was established in 2007 in association with the Bronx Defenders, a public-defender organization. The founders shut down the fund after only a year and a half, after a judge argued that it was effectively operating as an unlicensed bail-bond business. But before they did, the fund bailed out nearly 200 defendants and generated some illuminating statistics. Ninety-six percent of the fund’s clients made it to every one of their court appearances, a return rate higher even than that of people who posted their own bail. More than half of the Freedom Fund’s clients, now able to fight their cases outside jail, saw their charges completely dismissed. Not a single client went to jail on the charges for which bail had been posted. By comparison, defendants held on bail for the duration of their cases were convicted 92 percent of the time. The numbers showed what everyone familiar with the system already knew anecdotally: Bail makes poor people who would otherwise win their cases plead guilty.
Armed with these statistics, as well as a 2010 Human Rights Watch report that calculated that New York City was paying $42 million a year to incarcerate nonfelony defendants, the Freedom Fund’s founders managed to persuade state lawmakers to pass legislation explicitly legalizing nonprofit bail funds. In 2013, the Freedom Fund resumed operation. Close behind was the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, begun by Scott Hechinger and a colleague at Brooklyn Defender Services. It was opened this spring and has already bailed out more than 60 clients.
But even the staunchest supporters of bail funds are quick to say that they are, at best, temporary Band-Aids for a broken system. ‘‘They are a useful form of relief as long as people are being locked up because they’re poor,’’ says Hechinger, who is no longer affiliated with the Brooklyn bail fund. ‘‘They’re an intervention for an urgent need. But they’re not actual bail reform.’’
Earlier this summer, in the wake of the shocking suicide of Kalief Browder, a Bronx teenager arrested on suspicion of stealing a backpack and held on bail for three years in Rikers before his case was dismissed, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his own initiative. ‘‘I wish, I deeply wish, we hadn’t lost him — but he did not die in vain,’’ de Blasio said. The centerpiece of de Blasio’s initiative is a $17.8 million citywide initiative based on pilot programs that have been running in Queens and Manhattan, offering something called ‘‘supervised release.’’ Under these programs, a small number of qualifying defendants, who might otherwise be held on bail, are instead set free and required to check in with caseworkers by phone and in person. The pilot programs have shown good results, but they have narrowly tailored eligibility requirements. Tyrone Tomlin, for example, would not have been eligible because he had too many previous convictions. Kalief Browder would not have been eligible, either, because the crime he was accused of, stealing a backpack, was charged as second-degree robbery, a violent felony. ‘‘If Kalief Browder’s death wasn’t in vain,’’ says Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, ‘‘it won’t be because of the proposals we’ve seen so far from the city.’’
The only truly meaningful reform, many observers agree, is to take money out of the bail process entirely. Lippman has been championing this idea for several years. ‘‘You have to eliminate cash bail,’’ he says. The ramifications of such a move are far-reaching. Without bail — and the quick guilty pleas that it produces — courts would come under significant strain. ‘‘The system would shut down,’’ Goldberg says. ‘‘A lot of the 250 people who were waiting to be arraigned in Brooklyn last night would all be coming back to court soon to go forward with a trial for a misdemeanor that no one has any interest in pursuing.’’ This crisis, Goldberg believes, would be a good thing. ‘‘You want pressure on the system. You want everyone involved to be reconsidering. Because of how much it could clog the system, you might have people on high telling cops to stop picking people up for an open-container violation, because ‘I don’t want to deal with it in my courtroom.’ ’’
The idea of eliminating cash bail is hardly unprecedented. When Washington overhauled its bail system in the 1980s and ’90s, it instituted a supervised-release program and other measures designed to reduce the number of people held on bail. But judges continued to set bail until the law was rewritten to effectively forbid the imprisonment of people on financial grounds. The number of people locked up on bail plummeted. ‘‘D.C. had all the tools in place,’’ says Cherise Fanno Burdeen, executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute. ‘‘They just needed a way to change the court culture.’’ Kentucky, Colorado and, last year, New Jersey have joined Washington in adopting legislation severely curtailing bail’s use.
The more modest reforms being proposed in New York City, Goldberg says, are hardly cause for celebration. ‘‘Robert Kennedy, when he was attorney general, raised exactly the concerns with bail we’re talking about now,’’ he says. ‘‘Fifty years later, we’re still having the conversation. We can’t be satisfied with cosmetic fixes. And the truth is, even meaningful bail reform is just the beginning. The real work is asking why we’re arresting so many people on low-level offenses in the first place, and why so many of them come from poor black and brown communities. Bail is easy.’’
In late June, Tyrone Tomlin sat at a picnic table in St. John’s Park in Crown Heights, trying to cool down after a hot day of work and sipping bodega iced tea through a straw. Beneath his baseball cap, his left eye still looked askew, his gaze unfocused and hard to meet. ‘‘My sight is still a little blurry,’’ he said. ‘‘I still feel the aftereffects. Pains in my eye, in my head.’’ The whole situation could have been worse, he knows. He could have been hurt more seriously at Rikers. He could have been fired from his construction job, after being a no-show for the better part of a month while locked up. But even so, he was still angry about what happened last winter. ‘‘I’m not no prince,’’ he acknowledged. ‘‘But I got a raw deal.’’
The inability to make bail has been a virtual constant in Tomlin’s life. His first encounter with the law came when he was 14 or 15 — he recalls being picked up on a robbery charge and sent to Spofford juvenile detention center in the Bronx because his family couldn’t pay bail. After a few months, he says, he pleaded guilty and received probation. ‘‘They said it’s supposed to teach you a lesson,’’ he said. ‘‘It just got me worse.’’ In two-thirds of the times he has pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in the last 14 years, he did so either at arraignment to avoid being sent to Rikers or after already spending as much as two weeks at Rikers. Not once has he been able to pay bail.
“I’m not Johnny Rich-Kid with a silver spoon,” he says. For Tomlin, the historical evolutions of bail and pretrial jurisprudence are abstractions without meaning in his life. Bail is simply a feature of the landscape, the thing that means he is locked up when someone with more money wouldn’t be. ‘‘Sure, yeah, I’m mad about it,’’ he said grudgingly. ‘‘But that’s the way it is. I’ve got to accept it. It’s not right, but it’s the way it is.’’ He shrugged. ‘‘What are you going to do?’’
Nick Pinto is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. He last wrote for the magazine about the history and purpose of policing.
A version of this article appears in print on August 16, 2015, on page MM38 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: The Bail Trap.