Blog Archive

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Final Halloween Plan

Well, after talking with Junior, Picasso and Oldest Brady Boy, here's the plan. I will be here passing out candy until 5 p.m. tomorrow. Then I'll take my fog machine and whatever kids want to go with me over to St. Joe's and hang out at their party. Then we'll come back and have a small party (I devoutly hope!) in the basement here. I told those guys they can have up to 10 people but not more than that. We will see if that works out.

A few other highlights from today: School Lady came past my house tonight with Meg and Beth and their baby cousin in tow. They told me that Jo, the one at Kennedy, earned $250 toward college at progress reports for her grades. They were all smiles about this. Meg said she is doing well at Lozano Alternative High School, too. "For once school is going well," she said.

Picasso finally gave me his schedule at Curie with his teachers' names. He's getting As and Bs in everything except Survey Literature, his English class. He's not real happy with his teacher. "She takes everything literally. She can't take a joke," he said. But he wrote a good first draft of his personal narrative. It's about his older brother's death, the funeral, and the impact all of this is having on him so far. It's been less than a month since it happened. I was impressed he could write about it so soon afterwards. I wrote a lot about my dad right after he died, but nothing about the immediate events like the funeral. That would have been way too hard for me.

I called a friend in the Curie English department and she has promised to put me in touch with Picasso's English teacher. I don't know any of his teachers personally and I really want to find one who will keep an eye on Picasso, maybe help him find good things to do at school, and let me know when he needs some outside backup.

I had a long talk with Alicia from up the street, whom I hadn't seen in way, way too long. Then I went and talked to her mother, which was even more interesting but since it's much too late to be writing I will have to save it for another day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

November 8 Community Forum to End Violence

State Representative Esther Golar is sponsoring a community forum on ending violence Saturday, November 8 at John Hope High School, 5515 S. Lowe. The flyer says there will be pizza, snacks and giveaways.

The event is cosponsored by The Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Seventh District CAPS, U.N.I.O.N Impact Center, For Kids' Sake and UCAN.

For more information, contact Chevelle Bailey at 312-738-5913 or

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Safe Halloween Options Nearby

I just got word that St. Joseph's will have a Halloween party in the gym from 6 to 8 p.m. this Friday night, sponsored by the parish youth group. They will have a haunted house, face painting and candy for kids.

The Walgreen's at 47th and Ashland is offering free Halloween photos Friday afternoon. There's a sign on the front door. If I remember right the offer is good from noon or 1 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. I'm sure of when it ends, less sure when it starts.

Holy Cross/IHM is having a teen-oriented event. The doors will be open from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. and the event runs until 11 p.m. Admission is $2 with a costume, $3 without. For more information, see the parish bulletin here.

Not sure what's happening to the haunted basement at my house idea--the guys haven't been around much and I'm working long hours this week. I may take the fog machine over to St. Joe's if we don't get it together here soon. I told Junior last night I'd call Picasso tomorrow afternoon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

High School Admissions Counseling

Yes, it's that time of year again, when the 8th graders and their parents are all trying to figure out what to do about high schools. There's a girl south of 51st who is friends with the Brady Girls and with the girl whose mom put her in Perspectives Math & Science Academy. She's her mom's oldest daughter and her mother is very concerned about what high school she attends. She's been bugging me about when we could start talking about high schools--we ran into each other at the Ashland bus at 47th--I was getting off, she was getting on--and promised we would get it together.

Today we finally did. 51st Girl, her mother and I sat on my paper-strewn sofa and talked about schools and looked them up on the Internet for admissions info. Did you know Morgan Park High School has a lottery for the kids within its attendance area? I didn't know that until today.

51st Girl is a budding actress with reading scores above the 75th percentile but math scores below the 40th. Kids like her have a tough time getting into schools with special programs that say they want kids at the 50th percentile or higher in both math and reading.

"I want her to go some place she can get in, but that will help her graduate," her mom said. "I went to a not-so-good high school myself. At least I finished. I want more for her. I want her to look beyond what's here. I want her to go to college."

So here are all the schools we thought of for her so far. The really long shots: King, Curie and Lincoln Park because they all emphasize performing arts, even though her math scores aren't good enough. Lincoln Park includes an audition in its admissions process so she'd have a chance to prove herself that way. Also Kenwood, because it's good, even though she's out of area.

The maybe not as long shots: Kennedy and Hancock. Although they are out of area, we could try. Beth from our block got into Kennedy last year off the waiting list (I called the principal and pleaded her case--one more reason I want to know how her grades are so far).

Ones I hope are solid options: Simeon and Dunbar. Simeon now requires an application and an essay for everybody.

Pretty much all the charters since they can't exclude by test score: the Nobles (most likely UIC College Prep because it's closest. Also her mom is studying for some kind of health career and 51st Girl has picked up some interest in that area), Perspectives Math & Science (because it's new and accepts citywide with no geographic preference), U of C Woodlawn even though it's almost impossible with all the kids who have preference, DuSable Leadership, even the new UNO way west on 47th.

Readers, if you have any more ideas, please comment. And if anybody knows which is harder to get into, King or Lindblom, I'd be interested to hear the scoop. I think Lindblom is still the easiest selective enrollment to get into, but 51st Girl is way more suited to King, with its emphasis on performing arts. They have an open house November 1st, which I just spotted and will have to tell her mother ASAP. It's a long shot, but hey, you might as well apply to everything possible and see what you get.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Backyard Mayhem

On Wednesday I got home around 5 p.m. and heard a lot of yelling coming from behind my house. I walked around back and found nine boys wrestling all over the backyard: Peter Pan and a bunch of his brothers (I can't keep them all straight), Joey, Picasso, Jay-Z and Oldest Brady Boy. At one point, they had Joey on the ground and were kicking him, then some of them grabbed Jay-Z by the arms and legs and swung him back and forth a few times before dropping him to the ground and pounding on him. Of course there was also the obligatory pile, when all of them just jumped on each other in a giant heap.

In my years of dealing with children and teenagers, I have learned a few tricks. The most important ones are: never freak out and don't get mad unless you can use it for effect. So I stood there and watched the scene for a few minutes, looking for an opening. "All they need is a football," I thought. "They're already having a great time tackling each other."

There was the opening. "Hey, you guys," I said. "Why don't you get a football?"

Peter Pan liked this idea. "Yeah," he said, turning to Oldest Brady Boy. "Don't you have one over in your yard? Go get it."

Oldest Brady nodded and ran off.

"Anybody want some water?" I asked. Peter Pan said yes and so did the rest of the guys. So I went in the house to get a pitcher and plastic cups, thinking I was pretty slick.

Not so fast. By the time I came back out with the water, two guys were tossing the football around and everybody else was back to killing each other. "Water break," I yelled. They broke off and came to get cups.

"Guys, how about if you make teams and play organized football?" I said. "I really don't want you busting somebody's head open back here."

"Can we play tackle?" asked one of Peter Pan's littler brothers.

"Yeah, you can," I said. "Just play fair. Don't kick each other. I have to leave. I'm going to Big Picture to help some kids apply to college." I put Peter Pan in charge of making sure all the cups got stacked on the back porch after they were done with the water.

I stayed long enough to watch and see if they started making teams. Once it looked like Peter Pan was setting them up, I split. When I came back I didn't find any corpses or puddles of blood, so I guess they made out all right. One of Peter Pan's little brothers had used a gray marker to put his name on his water cup. The same marker was used to tag my composter. I'll have to go talk to his mother.

Them That Has, Gets

I spend a lot of time thinking about the kids I know and who will make it and who may not. I would like to be surprised. I would like to pull one or two of them out of the fire they are determinedly marching toward.

Usually, though, it doesn't work that way. The ones you don't have to work real hard to reach, like Junior and his family, take a good idea and run with it. Or like the Brady Girls and their summer jobs at Radio Arte. Once they did the applications, they got accepted and I got out of the way.

I hope Beth down the block is doing OK, too, over at Kennedy. I haven't heard a peep from her since the school year started, except that one of her sisters told me she really wanted to earn that money for kids who get all A's. I haven't heard how her progress report came out. I'm really curious about that.

Meanwhile, Peter Pan's sister is flunking a couple of classes at Perspectives Math & Science Academy and the girl up on the next block missed a whole day of school over there one day when her ride didn't show. Will they get it together? Remains to be seen.

Will Picasso pull himself out of the path he's going down? This one's a toughie. Actually, he and Dawn might be sort of in similar places. Picasso hasn't been as far down the wrong road (yet) as Dawn has. Dawn's been down the road and is still trying to pull herself back up. Picasso might have enough sense not to go too far down that road, but then again he might not. And I don't know how his brother's recent death is affecting him in that regard. From what Junior's mom said today, maybe it's making him less cautious, not more so. Not good.

Meanwhile, I saw Dawn at Big Picture this week. She's doing an essay for Columbia College. She remains interested in the arts, visual and performing (theater). I told her we need to get her into at least one class at Marwen next semester before she graduates, so she can take advantage of their college and career advising services. Her GPA is a 1.9, and I'd still say the odds are not better than 50/50 that she'll graduate on time.

Then you get down a whole 'nother level and start talking about Joey and if not Peter Pan, probably some of his brothers. I think one of Peter Pan's little brothers tagged my composter the other day. I just spotted the tag this afternoon. It's in gray marker on a black plastic surface, so not easy to see, but it's there. People on the block are talking about Joey. They've definitely written him off. "He's going to be in jail, just like his brother." I've already heard people say that.

Anyway, it's pretty easy to see why them that has, gets. It's just a lot easier to help the people with enough resources and initiative to take steps on their own. If it only takes telling someone something, or maybe telling them and one or two followup steps like filling out an application with them or going to one meeting, that's not that hard. It's when they need someone to hold their hand every single day that it gets tiring.

Plus, when so many people don't know basic things like where to send their kid for high school, it's so much easier and more rewarding to help those that just need a little pointing and handholding, who is left to tackle the bigger jobs? And the people who like the bigger jobs around here are all tied up with the really big jobs, which doesn't seem to leave them much time for the Joeys or the Picassos, at least not until they drop out of school or shoot somebody.

A Happy October Surprise

Junior and his mom and I went to first quarter report card pickup and teacher conferences at Golder College Prep this afternoon. Before we left, Junior told me he was nervous. "What if I got bad grades?" he wondered aloud. "If I get bad grades my parents won't let me out for Halloween." He's hoping for an Xbox for Christmas and bad grades would really mess up his chances at that, too.

Junior's mom was teasing him about his bad case of nerves in the car. "Do you need to go to the bathroom?" she asked him, smiling. When she wasn't teasing, she told me that she's seen a very positive change in Junior since he started at Golder. "Es muy hombre," she said. "He's very manly." I see it, too--he's matured some. Most importantly, he's stayed the nice boy he was before he hit puberty. Meanwhile, Junior's mom is really worried about Picasso, Junior's buddy who is now drifting away. "He's not listening to his mother. He doesn't care about his life. All he wants is to do graffiti," she said.

Junior had told me before today that he was working hard on improving his grades. His first couple of weeks were a little rocky. He had trouble remembering where he was supposed to be when and earned a slew of demerits for tardies and things like forgetting the socks for his gym uniform. He did get busted for talking in class, which to me is more serious. His advisor told us he's stopped earning so many demerits and they even offer chances to have some of your detentions come off your record if you can go two weeks without earning any more demerits. Junior might be just about ready to do that, now that he knows how things work over there.

Once we got his notebooks organized, I hadn't heard from him in a while about homework. I was hoping that meant good news. According to his report card, it mostly did. His overall GPA is a 2.45 and his worst grade was a D- in civics. I felt bad about that because I didn't stay on top of him enough about his work. He did his assignments, his teacher said, but sometimes it was clear he didn't understand the question and other times the quality of his writing was too weak to pass the assignment. That we could have worked on, but he didn't call me and I didn't nag him. He's been good about not bothering me because he knows I'm busy, but that's a course I could actually help him out with.

Overall, however, he did much better than I was afraid he might. Academically, I've been very afraid the work would be way too challenging and he wouldn't be supported. I was pleasantly surprised tonight to see that's less the case than I expected. There are co-teachers in his math and English classes and they just created new support classes for kids with IEPs. Each class--one for math and one for reading--has fewer than 10 students. The reading teacher said he'll be checking their progress quarterly to see if they've mastered enough skills to move back into the regular class. I don't know whether Junior will always need that kind of support or not, but I wanted to press them to see if this was intended as a warehouse or if it's a real effort to help them ramp up their skills. From what I heard tonight, I think it's enough of the latter to appreciate what they're doing, though checking in regularly with them to make sure they keep pushing him still seems like a good idea.

Social studies (civics) and science (physics--they do physics first) don't have co-teachers so I'm not surprised that's where he got his worst grades. His health and PE teacher was the most strict with him of all of them. She gave me a good idea--she was saying he needs to be reading aloud every night to improve his English. His six-month-old brother needs someone to read him a bedtime story. Junior is nominated. He says he'll do it. I think we should tell his teacher after he's done it for a couple of weeks. That would be a great two-fer; I've been thinking for months about how somebody needs to be reading to Junior's baby brother regularly in both Spanish and English.

The special ed case manager told me Golder never received Junior's IEP from Chavez. At this point, they would just as soon re-evaluate him as go through the hassle of trying to track down his IEP. Junior's mom was fine with that. Based on the lack of useful information I saw in Joey's IEP, I think re-evaluating Junior would tell us much more than his existing IEP would, wherever it is. I got most of his teachers' emails and some phone numbers. He's working out a plan to stay after school regularly and get help, especially with civics and maybe with physics, too.

Interestingly, I asked Junior today while we were waiting to speak to one of his teachers which of the 8th-graders on our block would really benefit from a place like Golder. "Oldest Brady Boy," he said right away, which is what I was thinking, too. "Maybe Peter Pan, but I don't know," he said, which is also what I was thinking. Peter Pan is supposed to come over tomorrow and talk to me about what high schools to apply to.

Man I wish they had cousin preference, not just sibling preference, in these lotteries. Oldest Brady Boy really needs a good school, and some of his cousins go to another of the Noble schools,
Rauner. Junior said he was talking about going to Curie but he probably can't get in with his current grades. From what one of his sisters told me, I don't think his grades are very good. But he's a good kid and smart--he needs to be someplace where they will get him to stop playing and focus. I bet he would grow a lot at a Noble, the way Junior is.

Afterwards, we stopped at Burger King to celebrate. That was where Junior wanted to eat. His mom doesn't really like hamburgers. Maybe next time we'll go back to Ocean Buffet.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Halloween Prep Begins

So Picasso and Joey stopped by about one to take a look at the basement. They want to do a scary maze with a punishment for the people who go the wrong way (maybe a bucket of rubber spiders coated with homemade slime or something like that). When people get through, they can come upstairs and enjoy candy and cider or pop. Maybe we'll have the costume contest, too.

Joey wants to make money off this, but I'm not so concerned about that. He's sitting on the other sofa here in the living room sketching out a floorplan for the haunted house. I wonder if he's trying to cram too much into too small a space, but I guess we'll find out.

I decided I was willing to spring for a fog machine that runs on tap water and costumes for Joey and Picasso. I will also be springing for a couple of good costumes, some cheaper masks, building materials and the refreshments.

We have a few projects on the horizon:
making slime
building the maze - I'll need some help from someone handier than I am
publicity/flyers (not too much-I don't want a cast of thousands--but some is OK)
making a tape/CD of sound effects and scary music

I can't believe I'm doing this. I'll definitely need some help. Hope I get some. Oh, and I just looked on eBay--they had two boxes of three dozen plastic spiders for about 10 bucks including shipping. That seemed too good to pass up.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Halloween Preparations May Begin Saturday

I ran into Joey on the street about half an hour ago. He was on his cell phone, but when he got off we talked about Saturday. He thinks he'll be home around noontime and that his mom or dad might be able to help us bring the boards and the dropcloths back from Home Depot. He didn't know what a dropcloth was.

"Something to keep paint off places you don't want it to be. I thought we'd put the boards up against their fence," I said, pointing at my other next-door neighbors' house, "but I don't want to get paint on their fence. So we'll get something like those big blue plastic sheets and put it on the fence, then lean the boards up against it."

"Do we have to get our own cans?" he asked me.

"I can get cans, but I won't be able to get them until Monday. And if I get them, they stay at my house," I said sternly. He waved his hands at me with a "yeah, yeah, I know" expression.

He'll call Picasso and their other buddy. I saw those guys yesterday or the day before on the street and they said they'd be around on Saturday. Fortunately, Sarah's big brother has too much homework to drive us to the Notabaert Museum and I couldn't get a car from Su Casa, so the field trip with Sarah and Brady Bughunter will have to wait. Probably until November at this rate.

I've been trying to find some volunteers, especially guy volunteers, to help out with the graffiti on the boards and maybe with this haunted basement thing, too, but so far I'm out of luck. I just emailed 49 Neighbor so maybe he will have some ideas.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Safe Halloween Planned for Back of the Yards

This morning the Peace and Education Coalition of Back of the Yards announced plans for a safe Halloween in the neighborhood, one year after the murder of mother Leticia Barrera while trick-or-treating with her children.

The Chicago Police Department's 9th District will have extra officers on duty that day, and police are already warning gang members who are stopped or picked up now that a quiet Halloween this year will be very much in their best interests. "Stay home, have a pizza and watch Rambo if that's what you have to do," said Officer Tony Mejia.

The Coalition will pilot safe Halloween trick-or-treating hours this year, encouraging families and businesses to limit their trick-or-treating to the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. Flyers with this information will be distributed to local schools, churches and businesses.

The 12th Ward will host a Halloween party for families at 35th and Western from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be plenty of candy and a costume contest.

"In 1997, when we [the Coalition] started, nobody trick-or-treated," noted Sandy Traback, a Coalition co-founder and former principal of Chavez Elementary. "When people started going door-to-door it was a sign the community felt safer."

This year, noted Mike Anderer-McClelland, principal of San Miguel School, parents and students have expressed concerns about their safety if they choose to go trick-or-treating. The area around San Miguel and Hedges Elementary is very close to where Barrera was shot. At the end of the meeting two ideas had been proposed for that area: parent patrols and a Halloween party in the St. Michael's gym, but it was not clear whether either or both of these activities would be pursued.

This meeting fired me up to do the haunted basement the kids have been bugging me to do for years. And yes, I too have heard concerns about going trick-or-treating this year. I'm glad Coalition members are stepping up to address the issue.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Taking Back the Hood, One Sidewalk Square at a Time

It's been probably nearly two weeks now, but after years of begging the 4800 block of South Marshfield finally got some replacement sidewalk. No, the whole block's sidewalks weren't replaced, just the worst patches, but still, it's something. My neighbor from the CAPS meeting got two squares redone in front of his house. He and his wife and one of his sons sat out on their porch and watched the new cement dry, beaming.

They weren't just rejoicing in their hard-won victory. If you don't keep an eye on the cement, someone's likely to scratch their name, graffiti or who knows what in the pavement. That's what was going on a few houses north when I walked by. A little boy had a stick and was scratching his name or something into the wet cement.

"Hey, could you not do that?" I said quietly.

A neighbor across the street heard me and said the same thing more forcefully. "What are you doing that for! Stop that now!" he said and walked over.

The kid stopped, though he pointed out, "Someone else already wrote more in that one." Sure enough, there were things written all over another adjacent square. The three of us got to work undoing the damage. I helped the kid smooth over where he had written, while the neighbor from across the street got a stick and tried to scratch out the other writing, which was closer to dry and harder to erase completely.

When I left, the neighbor and the young boy were still fixing up the worst of it. Now when you walk by, the one square looks close to pristine. At least the other one is illegible.

Thanks to 20th Ward Alderman Willie Cochran for taking a small step toward fixing up the sidewalk on that block. Let's hope street repaving comes in the spring.

A Whale of a Tale

Sarah stopped by earlier this afternoon to do the parts of her homework she didn't understand. She and her niece and a Brady Girl are now sitting on the back porch with construction paper and crayons, drawing and writing notes. I was about to ask if they wanted to put stuff in the composter, but I saw Brady Girl writing, "I love my brother and sister..." and I thought that was so cute I'll save the compost veggies for later.

One piece of Sarah's homework assignment produced an unexpected giggle. She had to read a bunch of short passages on various topics and answer different kinds of questions: some reading comprehension, some word problems, etc. Yes, they had some standardized-style bubbles as part of the mix, but mostly they weren't multiple-choice questions. Clearly this is part of third grade prep for the kids' first ISAT, though.

The passage that gave us a laugh was one about blue whales. It gave the conversion that one ton equals 2000 pounds and then explained that blue whales at different ages weigh different numbers of tons. The questions were to figure out how much the whales weighed in pounds at those ages. Sarah worked on the problems while I was cooking soup. At one point, she asked a question and I came back from chopping vegetables, looked at the line that said "a mature adult weighs 190 tons" and said, "What?!?"

Sarah and I cracked up at the idea an adult human would weigh 190 tons. In fact, Sarah laughed so hard she farted, and then we both laughed some more. Later she did the multiplication to find out that the mature adult whale weighs 380,000 pounds and we both cracked up all over again.

So right now we have two groups of girls drawing out on the back porch. Some of Jay-Z's girl cousins came by earlier, then went away and came back again. They take more supervision than the Brady kids do, although they now seem to have settled down and are drawing out on the porch while my soup cooks and I blog. Sarah and her best Brady Girl buddy finished their drawings and left. They doctored the note Brady Girl started and gave it to me:

From Sarah and Brady Girl
to Maritza

I love my little brother and my friends, including you.

Down at the bottom they have picture of Sarah, her niece and Brady Girl, featuring her spiffy new hairdo--she got those little twisties on the front part of her head that look kind of spiky before they hang down. So she had little triangles on her head.

Ok, gotta go. Now I have a new load of drawings for the refrigerator.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Littlest Brady Boy Gets Baptized

I got home late this afternoon and saw blue balloons sticking up over the Bradys' fence. "Oh, yeah, the party," I thought. Earlier this week I went to the library with some of the Brady kids and they invited me to their little brother's bautizado (baptism). They didn't know the word in English (that's not something you talk about much at school).

So I parked my bike, put up my groceries, walked back up to the Walgreens (where I heard the Famsa music blaring from across the street), got a card, stuck a ten in it, went home and changed out of my sweaty bike gear, and went down to their house to say felicidades.

There were a lot more kids than grown-ups; I don't know if that is a sign that they haven't been on the block as long as some of the other people whose parties I've attended, or if I just got there at a point when fewer adults were around. It looked like people had eaten. There was plenty of carne asada left, though. I just had a little, with some salsa and some surprisingly spicy guacamole.

They did the pinata in the garage. Peter Pan and Oldest Brady Boy worked the rope and kept the kids from getting hit. Once again Peter Pan impressed me with his leadership ability. I'm glad I'm not hearing about him much in the block gossip; hope that means he is staying out of trouble. If his sister can manage not to flunk out of Perspectives Math and Science this year he would get sibling preference in their lottery and have a place to go. She's already failing two subjects, though.

Littlest Brady Boy looked quite dashing in his white suit, though he'd been playing in it long enough the knees on his pants had turned black. He kicked off the first pinata and his mom took lots of pictures of him giving it a hearty whack. They had a second pinata, which I wasn't expecting, and by then it was time for me to go.

I did manage to conduct one important piece of business at this fine event; I've hired one of the older Brady girls to come help me straighten out the paper chaos that has taken over my house. "I'm pretty organized, and I know how to alphabetize," she told me. That's enough to give her a test drive. If she's good we'll make it a regular gig. I really need an occasional secretary and I'd be happy to hire a high school student if I can find the right one.

Goldblatt's Building Reopens as Furniture Store

I don't think I've yet posted about the grand opening of a Famsa furniture store in the first floor of the former Goldblatt's building at 47th and Ashland. The Famsa chain is based in Monterrey, Mexico and has other operations in the U.S.

I first noticed it last week, and stopped in last Saturday night to see what all the fuss was about. It's certainly very pretty. I wonder if it's too pricey for people here in the neighborhood, and whether it will draw people here from other neighborhoods or not. They have appliances, furniture and some electronics--like TV and stereo equipment. They had a few laptops on display but they don't sell printers. Too bad. I would have bought one.

They play music through speakers outside the store. Last week I liked it. I just went by a while back and this time I thought it was too loud. Well, I'm not their target demographic, for sure. Loud or no, I hope the tanking economy doesn't take them under. We'll see.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Prison Letters 2: Dorothy's Dilemma

Well, I tore the living room apart this afternoon looking for something I didn't find, at least not yet. I did find Dorothy's letter, so here it is for you all to see. I am doing my best to make it understandable without altering how she wrote it too much. The letter was postmarked September 30.

Dear Maritza, my god sister,

I have been locked up since 8-15-08. I just got a stamp-envelope from the case worker to write. This time I am hurting bad. Up in here I need some help. I won't be home until Feb. 23. They want me to do 120 days on Unit 17, the drug unit, and I can come home. But I will still be on probation for two years. Or do one year at Dwight [Correctional Center] which is 61 days and one year parole. I don't know which one to do. I go back to court on this [later in October] to find out which one I'm going to take. It's up to me. I will write you after and tell you what I decided to take.

Put my ID number, Quick-Collect. I need you to send me $40.00 so I can get myself. Really I have nothing. And ask [Ms. Ribs] to send me $20.00. I will work it off. She knows I will. You both have plenty of snow for me to shovel. Oh yeah, I need both of you to Quick-Collect it to me. [Quick-Collect is a money-wiring service; I had to look this up on the IDOC web site to figure out what the heck she was talking about.]

Tell every body else I said hi and I miss them. Tell [Yup-yup] I said to be good. I am taking care of my self and I am not going back. I'm going to be O.K. I am getting my medicine and my treatment for my drug habit and my mental health. Thanks a lot. I will write soon. Send me a letter, too, O.K.

Oh yeah. Hi, how are you doing? Please put your phone number on the letter you send me because they need to call you and let you know what to do if I leave. My doctors need to talk to you. [She explains which division she is in now and her visiting days.] This is my ID number. Make sure you write it down - put it on my Quick Collect. Please don't let me down now. Thank you Maritza.

Right now I'm pretty broke and Ms. Ribs is out on the east coast working for Obama, so that Quick Collect thing ain't happening any time soon. Basically, I'm happy Dorothy is someplace where somebody is at least halfway trying to get her medications and drug treatment, even if it is Cook County Jail, with their horrific track record.

The truth is, I'm not in any big hurry to respond to this in any way. I'm probably saving some serious money not having her at my door asking for diapers, and right now that matters. Besides, "oh yeah, how are you doing?" That pretty much says it all right there.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Prison Letters I

I was in the house this afternoon and heard the hose turn on. It's too cold for water balloons, so I went out back to see what was going on. Dawn was out there washing an old beige Toyota Camry on the parking pad.

"Hey, is that your car?" I asked.

"Yeah." She got it last week. Her dad got for $300. He had actually sold it but she told him she needed transportation to her Saturday morning science class at Kelly, and he got it back and gave it to her. It's got a problem with the steering but he's fixed it up as best he could, I gather.

We talked for a little while. She is being more serious about going to school and coming home at night by 10 p.m., at least on school nights. She is thinking about going to Washburne after graduation but her GPA is too low to qualify for scholarships. I suggested she might want to do a year of regular coursework at Daley or Kennedy-King (I bet she'll place into remedial classes) but said she should talk to Alfredo.

She and her mom were going to visit Julian at Cook County Jail--today is his visiting day. They can take a letter in and hold it up to the glass for him to read, so I ran in the house and wrote a quick note.

Dear Julian,

I hope you are doing OK. I pray for you a lot. Sorry I haven't come to visit--it's hard with work. Talk to your brother Joey. I'm worried about him. I'll write again soon.

Love and God bless you,

Dorothy wrote me a letter from Cook County--I got it earlier this week. I haven't decided what to do about it, and right now it's buried in papers so I can't find it. The first thing I thought when I read it was, "I have to post this." So when I get through sorting out paper around here I'll post it for you all to read.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Picasso Loses a Brother

On Thursday night I was at Holy Cross for a meeting that ended around 9 p.m. I turned my cell phone on as I was walking through the church parking lot and there was a message from Junior. I figured it was about homework, so I called back right away.

It was worse than that. "Did you hear Picasso's brother got killed?" he asked me.

"What? Not the one in jail?" (I thought it was a prison riot or something.)

"No. His other brother." (Picasso is the family caboose--he's the youngest and his older siblings are grown. Some have kids and none of them live here, so I don't know them at all.)

"Where? Here?"

"Naw. Someplace west. He got shot."

"Oh, man."

"Damn," said Junior, with the particular pronunciation that expresses profound surprise (dah-um, kind of).

I agreed wholeheartedly, so I couldn't bring myself to make a comment about not cussing. I just said, "Yeah."

Junior asked me if I saw Picasso to tell him to call. (I bet Junior's parents advised him not to call since he'll be busy with family stuff.)

I got home around midnight tonight and saw the lights were still on in Picasso's apartment and even thought I saw him at the window. I put my bike in the basement and came back out.

It turned out they were expecting somebody, but not me of course. I guess it was another brother. He pulled up in a car as I got to the gate and asked, "Are you looking for somebody?"

"Yeah," I said. "I didn't get to talk to Picasso yesterday. I live across the street."

"Oh, OK," he said. "They're coming down now."

Picasso and someone who I would guess is his older sister came down. The sister went to talk to the brother and I talked to Picasso for a minute.

"Hey, Picasso, I saw your light was on. I just wanted to come and say I'm sorry."

"Oh," he said. I asked about the funeral--the wake is tomorrow late afternoon, but it's way up on the northwest side so I probably won't go.

"Did you talk to Junior?"

"No, he hasn't called me," said Picasso.

"He told me to tell you to call him when you have time."

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