Monday, April 12, 2010

More from 2010

So Colorado Springs is an unusual place, it seems to me. The first city in the country to sell advertising on the sides of school buses as a means to stretch budgets. Among the first to attempt to establish legal discrimination based on sexual orientation. The first to crow about its terrific natural attributes, while simultaneously dismantling access to them and associated services. Living here, it's often difficult to tell the rhythm of the national pulse, because we seem to have such a distorted view here, and yet, as with some of those things noted above, we seem often to find ourselves at a sort of cutting edge, (or is it a slashing, burning edge?).

Homelessness has been all the way up on the front page of our news around here for several months. Around Christmas time last year the local media began focusing on the burgeoning camps along the highly visible areas of Fountain and Monument Creeks. The community, which seems to have been largely ignorant of the fact that they shared the region with a significant number of impoverished and homeless folk prior to the "news" coverage, leapt to its feet and with little foresight, began establishing a huge glut of random supplies in the camps. The campers, (surprise!), had no way to manage the trash generated by the not-quite-random acts of kindness, and admittedly often hadn't the organizational skills to prevent a huge mess. Within a month, news coverage had shifted from compassionate to distasteful, to downright antagonistic, labeling the camps as, in milder statements eyesores, or in graver terms blaming the campers for Colorado Springs' economic woes.

Local enigma Bob Holmes of The United Way and a coalition of disparate groups banded together to force the passage of an anti-camping ordinance in town, followed last week by a nearly identical county ordinance. The camps are now gone, pretty much. Bob, the CSPD's "HOTT" Team, (a handful of city police assigned exclusively to the havenothings), and other sources agreed previously that there had been around 500 campers. So where did they go? It appears that many, if not most, have moved into local motels funded by a grant from the Springs's fairy godmother, the El Pomar Foundation.

Here comes the meat of this particular thing. Perhaps chief among the current homeless hideaways is the Express Inn, located in the heart of camper territory at I-25 and CO Highway 24. God bless 'em, the folks behind the renewed purpose of the old, hopelessly decrepit Inn seem to be beyond overwhelmed. Although the key players in what really amounts to a very small bit of the overall drama involving the campers in town are obviously motivated and compassionate, (except for Bob and his pals, maybe), very minimal oversight or planning has gone into the Express Inn project. The result, in the parlance of the Inn's clientele, is a clusterfuck.

Mind that the sample from which the perception arises is very limited, but word is, paramedics respond to the Inn on a better than nightly basis. Random sponsored clients are housed together, three to a room. Nothing proactive is done to address the various, often uncontrollable habits of the residents. The rooms are not cleaned or maintained, really, and conditions may have been more sanitary along the riverbeds. Altercations among folks with conflicting habits are inevitable, and some who have spent years in unrestricted pursuit of self-destruction are without any direction at all, so far, as how to manage an abrupt and drastic social change find themselves hopelessly out of place. Management handles problems along this vein by summarily ejecting offenders.

In spite of whatever noble intent may be behind the project, none of this is going to work! Funding for the Express Inn and other similar scenarios in town is expected to disappear in a month, (unless some cryptic hints by El Pomar turn substantial). It doesn't really matter. Unless some significant motivation and assistance is provided for the once and future homeless in the discussion, they will not benefit, nor will the city of Colorado Springs, from this plainly temporary fix. Some residents with a bit greater alacrity at societal maneuvering may luck into a less tenuous situation following the Inns, but when it happens it will be mainly a matter of blind fortune. Most will find themselves in worse straights than the were when the HOTT Team threatened them into a scenario without consultation. The questions posed at various meetings before this solution presented itself remain. What are the campers supposed to do now?

We'll see if we can figure it out in another post. In the meantime, here's a link to a posting by Kathy Kelly posted earlier this year. She sets out to address homelessness in ColoSpgs and immediately becomes derailed in an anti-military rant. Funny thing is, she's probably right.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

From 2010

From 2010.

I promised yesterday that I'd do a little mewling about American justice today. The reason for my interest in the subject matter at this particular juncture in my life is that I spent last weekend in jail in El Paso County, Colorado. I was picked up on a warrant from five years ago alleging "Failure to Appear" as a new charge over an old case. The appearance in question involved an incident for which I stood in Judge Stephen Sletta's courtroom, heard a sentence, and served it out--five years ago. It took most of a week for the players involved to ascertain the explanation just proffered above to be true, and now I am loose. Sletta absolved his court, and the system in general, of any responsibility in the matter by stating that I should have notified his office of my earlier compliance, and that I had failed in my "ordinary responsibility as an adult" when I did not execute this notification, even though it had been specifically stated in that earlier appearance that all was handled, and I had no further responsibility.

So you understand, if you are reading, that my motivation for promising an earful today was largely a matter of angst, and little more. The thing that happened to me just now was an error though, and I don't know how an attack on the system could do anything at all to rectify errors. I'd have been happier if Sletta had at minimum proffered an apology, and maybe even a piece of paper to back my assertion that this faux pas was not of my own doing. It would have been nice to have something in writing to offer my now former employer to show them I didn't simply walk away from my job for a week. Neither of these concessions have been forthcoming, though, and in a way this does serve to illustrate one part of the multitude of interwoven problems extant in "justice" here in our country, or at least in El Paso County.

In a 2005 Economist article, John Ferguson, CEO of Correction Corp. of America, (CCA), the country's largest private prison administration company, advocates for his industry's takeover of the incarceration business, (The Prophet of Prison, Economist; 9/3/2005, Vol. 376 Issue 8442, p58-58). He trots out the well worn argument that competition is always a good thing for the market, and that his company can always operate more efficiently than the government, in any context. The entire discussion at hand in the article is summed up by this consideration, from par. 5: "Critics complain that a private company will inevitably treat prisoners simply as inventory. But Mr Ferguson responds that prisons--like any other public service--can be improved by competition and flexibility." Any third grade reader can point out that, though competition and flexibility may well be admirable and beneficial traits in any enterprise or market, Mr. Ferguson has entirely sidestepped the concern of the general milieu of critics cited.

The mission of any business, corporate or otherwise, is to make a profit. In spite of Ferguson's description of various administrative cost-cutting measures, all admirable, the fact remains that inmates in his prisons are inventory. Each of those human bodies represents a fee from whatever government body is contracting CCA's services. One might imagine any defense by a guy like Ferguson to the contrary to be superfluous to begin with, but he offers none, (I suppose this may be to his credit, or at least to the credit of his subconscious mind), but rather prefers to shift ground.

What does this have to do with El Paso County, one may ask. Time has prevented prompt posting of this little tirade, and the more remote the basis for it grows, the greater the disconnect feels in my mind. The "Criminal Justice Center," (CJC), here is not a contract jail; it's administered by the county. A casual examination of the mechanics of the thing leaves the impression that only the food is farmed out to an outside party, Aramark, an esteemed corporation whose official website is loaded with notation of awards and recognition of its great ethical standard, and whose tentacles hold strong market position in all manner of industry including education, health care, and, (pertinent here), food service. In spite of the adulation of business peers, the fact remains that prisoners at CJC in El Paso County, CO are provided "meals" that would likely make the rice-boilers at an average Chinese prison cringe. Aramark happily supplements their hopelessly inadequate nutritional offerings with junk food, available at a ridiculous premium through the CJC "commissary." (Hmm. Interesting to note the association inherent to the term with "commissar", but Aramark is a fascist outfit, not communist).

This is, no doubt, whining. But it is, I promise, germane. The point I'll be revisiting in a later post is that money is a far, far to big an elephant in the room for any conversation on American jurisprudence to proceed without addressing it.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

First Things

So everyone tells me I ought to write. Here it is then, and what to write about?

Write what you know, I've heard before, but then, I'm with Aristotle in that "All I know for sure is I know nothing for sure," or was that Plato? I can't say for sure.

Some way or another I mean for this to be an expression of things I care about, whether I know them or not. I'll mess around with politics a little, probably stuff that will perturb some more than a bit. I'll blather on about religion, although religion and politics are pretty symbiotic topics, in my head. Then again, so are religion and science, religion and sociology, religion and psychology, religion and actual spirituality, and so on. On second thought, maybe the choice of the term "religion" is a poor one, since only a smattering of my thoughts have to do with actual religion and its tedious mechanics of denomination and conflict between world religious powers. But all those things interest me, and since this is really no more than an exercise for me, I'll probably mingle the ideas around so much that no one will be able to tell what I'm carrying on about anyways.

Just an opener, for now. Tomorrow I'll bellyache about justice in America for a spell, both in terms of overall social justice, and the so-called justice system under which we live. this will be addressed form a spiritual and philosophical perspective, of course.