Friday, August 7, 2009

A Eulogy For Our Dying Community

My manager reminded me to go. “You’ve made such a big deal about this – you had better show up yourself!” Nag. I didn’t need to remember, but that’s his job now. He leaves nothing to chance and I love him for it.

I went in and sat with the family near the front. I was a bit early so I opened up the humble pamphlet I had been handed by one of the ushers.

In Loving Memory of Epifanio Ramirez. Born November 7 1998 Modesto, California.

Entered into rest July 31, 2009 Modesto California

Service: Friday August 7, 2009 11:30 a.m. United Pentecostal Church Modesto California.

Minister Jeremiah Williams, Officiating.

Bearers: Jesus Suarez, Michael Lehyan, Timothy Ramirez and Michael Cervantes.

Interment St. Stanislaus Cemetery Modesto, California.

And on the opposing page, a new picture of Eppie. One I had not seen before. In it’s black and white simple brilliance you knew this was a good kid. A bright kid. You just knew this was not a kid that would follow the pack. This was a kid that would lead one in a positive way. And everyone that was there to listen to the testimony of those who knew and loved him knew this was true.

I craned my neck, constantly watching those that filled in. Almost a habit now from other funerals in which I would be threatened by possible retaliation from rival gangs. Not necessary today though, thanks to the Modesto Police Department’s vigilance in the parking lot and later at the burial, we were all safe and protected.

By the recognitions that shone across the faces of every single person entering, one could tell that each and every one of them were family and friends of Eppie. And there were some of Eppie’s teachers in attendance. But that was all.

Aside from myself and the minister, there was no one else from the community.

I looked up from the pamphlet and set my gaze upon a larger than life photo of Eppie splashed across a screen above the pulpit. In my mind I reminded myself that this was nothing new. Not for me. Nothing special. Not special for me. I had been down this road before. A road paved by funerals spawned of gang violence.

Not just in Modesto but in other cities throughout California. Sometimes sent by NAACP branches and sometimes sent by another referral.

Family counseling. The guy they send in when the minister can only address the spiritual side. I address the emotional. Always addressed the same way. I am someone to cry on. A memory to record screams with. Pre-recorded screams in my consciousness that I will listen to in the middle of many nights when the TV inadvertently shuts down.

I relive the families’ pain through my own nightmares.

And I am often a protector. Someone to call the police if necessary and sometimes even to scream at the police when they become intrusive. Not today. That has never been my experience in Modesto.

The differences today were far and few between, but still recognizable.

The sheer number of people was the first difference.

Families coming together that had been distanced for years was another difference and both of these were brought forth by a little boy laying before us in a virgin-white casket.

Jeremiah Williams officiated the ceremony with strength and spiritual leadership borne of love only in the way Jeremiah Williams himself could provide it. With the very resonance of his voice he immediately provided comfort to all who heard him. Like anesthetic to a wound we were immediately reassured of the everlasting and secure existence of Eppie.

He commanded us to put an end to gang violence. He reasoned with us the senselessness of the lifeless body before us – “Our children are losing their lives! And for What?! A color! A turf! A hood! A hood where they are even behind on the rent!”

Preaching to the choir he was. He didn’t need to tell anyone there today that the gang violence must stop. That we must come together and love each other. That was already happening thanks to Eppie himself. Miracles were happening between individuals right before my very eyes.

Through my tear stained eyes it was whom I did not see that infuriated me. I did not see any of the City Council. I did not see the La Loma Neighborhood Association. An organization that preaches the betterment of the neighborhood for its residents. Obviously some residents are deemed more worthy of their support than others.

Neither did I see my opponents that are running for the City Council seat in the same district that I am. Where is their concern? Perhaps this child fell into what one of them have already categorized as “the other side of the tracks”.

Perhaps they were afraid of suffering some of the wrath that I received when I first began to promote the fundraiser to pay for these services and burial. Perhaps they feared that they too would be accused of pandering for the “sympathy vote”.

Pretty weak. But very telling of where their priorities lay – only within themselves and what they feel they can or cannot gain to further their glitter conscious reputations.

Just like Jeremiah Williams said at one point in the service – “We must talk about these things. We must address this. The killing must stop.”

Eppie’s family, friends and teachers – they already have. They had no choice.

No one else stepped up. What a shame. What a shame. A little boy in death did more for this family than an entire community would even care to do - simply love them as our neighbors. What a shame that it would have to take something like this. And this wonderful family is still ignored. If not shunned.

Shame on all of you that call yourselves community leaders. Where are you when your community needs you most? Where were you today? Do you really think you do not owe your neighbors a mere hour or so of compassion?

Going along to get along? And for what? For the same reason our children are dying? A Color? Perhaps your color is the color of money.

Eppie’s color is not red or blue, or even green. Virgin White is the color of the child’s casket I saw lowered into the earth today.

What color will be the next casket? And the one after that. And the one after that. And the one after that. How many more?

I had hoped to see leadership today. All I saw was the price of going along to get along laying inside a little casket. How many more?

Copyright 2009 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Sad Loss for Modesto Airport District

Rosario's Mother died within a couple of days of the death of my own Grandmother in 2004. I was just embarking on projects in the Modesto Airport District and the mourning of Rosario's mother and my own Grandmother were going hand in hand at the time. It was because of Rosario that many of my new clients, friends and family were even aware of the hardship I was experiencing in the days following the death of my Grandmother.

Rosario was always full of life - never seemed to run out of energy. My first meeting with her younger siblings was quite fantastic - they were such joyful and loving children, just as they are to this day. After my first encounter with the children, it was charming to hear that they did not want to take baths in fear of the little tattoos that I had drawn on their arms of roosters (my nickname in Airport - Pollo) might be washed off.

She was a perfect model citizen that would put the children before everything and take them everywhere with her. Many happy and joyful memories were had at Legion park where the kids would swim and run and chase squirrels that they mistook at the time for cats.

Rosario was one of the very few that I could rely on to provide for me translations, since at the time I could not speak any Spanish at all in a community where English was quite rare, she assisted me very much in immersing myself in, what to me, was a different culture.

I have nothing but fond memories of this wonderful person - as the years went on and the sporadic early evening searches we performed for missing children (who were just down the street the whole time) picnics, many "enchilada" times - many, many memories.

I was told last night that a young child in the neighborhood was struck with sadness throughout the day after seeing her picture on a donation can at one of the local "tiendas". His first battle with the acceptance of death of what was a family member.

In Airport District and beyond, Rosario will be dearly missed. She had such a bright future ahead of her and the way in which she lived her life was a testament to the human spirit and compassion that should always go with it.

In Loving Memory, Airport will never forget.

Copyright 2009 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Proposition 36, Drug Court, Drug Diversion & Incarceration

The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, also known as Proposition 36, was passed by 61% of California voters on November 7, 2000.

This vote permanently changed state law to allow first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration.

Proposition 36 went into effect on July 1, 2001, with $120 million for treatment services allocated annually for five years.

Proposition 36 allows for an alternative to incarceration by allowing a convicted drug offender to participate in rehabilitation program(s).

I believe that the offender is more challenged to provide themselves with their drug of self-perceived necessity than they would be if they were incarcerated due to the intense availability of drugs in our jails and prisons.

However, what warrants investigation into this hypothesis, is it’s actualized seriousness and cause for alarm, that our incarceration system is as crude as the cave man days for certain demographics of the incarcerated general population.

A spot light on this issue has a high probability of affecting positive change within Stanislaus County’s drug problem.

Right from the outset, this positive change would promote dialogue and spark many in the communities to contemplate our drug problem and it’s possible solutions. The collective consciousness of our communities would take the path of least resistance and naturally move closer to positive solutions which it would otherwise not have.

Certainly Proposition 36 is extremely effective for the drug addicted population that has been granted the opportunity of it’s services by the courts.

Good idea. NOT!! Because, you see, rather than calling it accountability - let’s call it accountabilities.

Let’s not count it as one accountability as most opponents of Proposition 36 would prefer you to believe, but rather several accountabilities.

1. The accountability of the offender.

2. The accountability of the treatment program(s).

3. The accountability of the courts.

4. The accountability of friends and family.

5. The accountability of the community.

Am I boring you? Are you tiring of this litany?

No? Maybe it’s starting to impact you that like a thief in the night, there is a part of the Proposition 36 cyclic process now, within our localized society that is missing an important step rendering the process incomplete. Always started, yet seldom finished, making for a low success rate, leaving drug addicts for the most part, on their own to re-offend for multiple, yet accountable reasons.

Thereby going through the process multiple times without recovery.

If applied with more discretion, the Proposition 36 cycle would have a better chance of completing itself with a desirable result – a recovered drug addict.

With the five things that I mentioned above onus is taken by a small percentage of anyone in the community. Kind of like the life boats vs. passenger “classes” of the Titanic tragedy, the largest percentage will be left to fall through the gaping hole of the most necessary piece of the entire cycle. That is accountability. Particularly when only one of the several things I mentioned are considered necessary to be accountable by the very process and attitude of the surrounding community – the drug offender him or herself. Just one of the five. Even that would be ineffective and in my opinion, as I see this cycle start only to continually start and re-start again with most of those that I am in constant contact with. For them, Proposition 36 is nothing more than a treadmill of limbo for the greater part of our drug addicted population.

One life event at a time. One process at a time. For Proposition 36 offenders this one process is all they are exposed to perpetually. Because of its public perception of effectiveness and accountability to the courts, there is no need to try anything further to assist in the individuals recovery from drug addiction. No accountability, no follow up. Limited if any outreach is the reality of this “good idea”.

Another similar program, not as extensively used since the advent of Proposition 36 is the California Drug Diversion program.

This program was sponsored by, among others, then-State Senator George Deukmejian, in order to provide a mechanism for diverting first-offenders from the criminal justice system.

Under P.C. 1000, individuals charged with various drug possession offenses could have all criminal charges against them dismissed, provided they agreed to participate in a drug education and/or treatment program.

Supported by liberals and conservatives alike, the drug diversion bill was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1972.

Decades ago, I myself was blessed with this program as an alternative to incarceration. It worked for me, though I was one of three of a larger group of thirty individuals that even graduated under the threat of long – term incarceration.

I was the only one that got a gold star on my certificate of completion because I attended each and every one of the meetings.

I loved it. Over the six meetings, of which one only needed to attend four for qualification of the program’s fulfillment, all that was required was that each attendant listened to a lecture about a different classification of drugs each time.

I was absolutely thrilled to death to actually be asked by the program’s instructor to orate the final sixth lecture on the drug classification of hallucinogenic (marijuana, peyote, LSD and a host of other compounds that I added to the syllabus for the lecture on my own accord.)

In addition to the gold star on my certificate, all charges against me were dropped and the record of the arrest was sealed. I don’t ever have to inform anyone of the arrest or anything. It is just like it never happened. Well, until now.

All those that did not graduate were incarcerated, most for several years.

There was no drug testing involved throughout the entire process.

One guy was facing 30 years for possession of heroin for sale. Which could have meant that he just happened to have a very large quantity at the time for personal use.

He was so addicted and wrapped up in that addiction that he couldn’t even attend four out of the six lectures which were necessary to graduate the Drug Diversion program. He couldn’t save himself from spending the rest of his life in prison.

For me, my arrest and pending potential doom of incarceration were enough for me to quit drugs forever. Of course I was the only one not addicted to anything besides tobacco, but my drugs were of choice, not of self perceived necessity like heroin or meth addiction, like everyone but me that filled this particular Drug Diversion program.

Proposition 36 would have been just as affective for me, but not for the others. They would just continue to use drugs indefinitely including the other two graduates who did in fact continue to use drugs, even though in this particular instance, they were let go of their charges of drug offenses because they were able to attend four of the six session of the Drug Diversion program.

I was the only one that graduated out of the Drug Diversion program drug free. No more than a mere 3 percent success rate.

My experiences from that point on, throughout this present day has taught me that both Proposition 36 and Drug Diversion, as well as long term incarceration are ineffective in solving our drug problem.

Remember that man I told you about? Don’t think for one minute that if he is still serving and still alive, that he is not still shooting up heroin every day. Because, I can guarantee you he is, unless by some miracle he has been fortunate enough to either successfully complete a drug treatment program or was in the greater percentile to graduate from the Stanislaus County Drug Court.

For this poor soul, Drug Diversion was so much more devastating to this man’s life than Proposition 36 would ever have been. Though, of course, as I have said repeatedly, neither would have been effective for him to recover from his drug addiction.

In my ongoing work, I constantly deal with a population that can be classified into five distinct categories here in Stanislaus County:

1. Those that are in the Proposition 36 cyclic process.

2. Those that are in drug court.

3. Those that are facing long term incarceration.

4. Those that are not currently in the judicial system or a drug treatment program.

5. Those that are in a drug treatment program by their own accord or by the support/sponsorship of someone or some organization.

Of these five classifications, the most successful by far is Drug Court.

Though this statement is skewed by the severity of the fact that a significantly low percentage of Stanislaus County’s population of drug addicted individuals are granted the opportunity of the Drug Court Program. A percentage that has decreased exponentially since the implementation of the severely dysfunctional Proposition 36 process as well as the long term sentences of incarceration passed out like candy by conservative judges acting on misguided values that dictate harsh judicial deliberations for them without consideration of the drug offenders realistic future life – a life that is possible without the use of drugs. All stemming from the denial of the fact that drug addiction as a choice erodes as the addiction fully manifests itself to the point that after a series of bad decisions, it leaves the individual stranded and alone, generally, with no way of winning their battle with addiction. Just like the man I told you about that could not suffer through an hour and a half lecture once a week for no more than four of the six weeks of the Drug Diversion program to save himself from a 30 year period of incarceration.

I ask you - where is the freedom of choice here?

Unlike Proposition 36, Drug Court has the majority of its percentage of those five items of accountability that I previously mentioned:

1. The accountability of the offender.

2. The accountability of the treatment program(s).

3. The accountability of the courts.

4. The accountability of friends and family.

5. The accountability of the community.

Incarceration is but only one of several factors that contribute to Drug Court’s amazingly high success rate.

By insisting on the accountability of more than only one element of those five accountability factors, the success rate is remarkable and practically guaranteed in cases in which the offender truly desires to be free from his or her affliction of drug addiction.

But the slots available for Drug Court are minimal at best. A very small percentage of the drug addicted population of Stanislaus County are given this opportunity to redeem themselves and save their very own lives from the ravages of hard drugs.

And most certainly, these opportunities are not curtailed by Proposition 36 sentencing, because the slots are always full with a waiting list. So much so, that Proposition 36 or long term incarceration are not alternative sentencing based on a judges discretionary decision making of availability of all three options (Proposition 36, Drug court and long term incarceration), but rather due to Drug Court’s high expense and ever increasingly limited availability as a direct result in a recent economic downturn. Because of that, most of the drug addicted population of Stanislaus county either continue to use, whether incarcerated or not, or those that are not involved in the Proposition 36 process may seek out recover services on their own or via the motivation provided by church groups, other organizations, or someone like myself.

Those that enter recovery on their own have an extremely low success rate as well. It is extremely humanly difficult to rely on the strength of one’s own character when his or her very soul is held hostage by a demonic substance which controls their very thoughts.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw a self-performed exorcism? Perhaps it was the last time you saw someone overcome their addiction to drugs all by themselves without the help from anything outside of themselves. It is rare. Because the only choice they ever made about it were the few choices to do their drug of self perceived necessity the few times it took to reach their eventual point of no return – full addiction. They probably never saw it coming in the first place.

So there you have it. The three tools used by the Stanislaus County judicial system to treat drug offenders, as well as the two classifications of those that are not currently affected by the county’s Proposition 36 process, Drug Diversion or long term incarceration.

Respectively, also those that use addictive drugs on a daily basis and are not currently in recovery and those individual that are in recovery. Even divided further through a spectrum of usage of varying times per each individual on a case by case basis. Though so few seem to be interested in the details of a drug addicts horrible life.

Once of the clearest short term goals that must be realized is the necessity to increase the Drug Court program based on the educated conclusion that it is, by far, the most effective instrument we as the County of Stanislaus have at our disposal to remedy the individual’s involuntary afflictions of drug addiction.

That of course takes money. But to bring attention to and educate for the most effective weapon in our arsenal that produces the most desired results with our drug offenders is more slots for Drug Court.

Though I feel that Proposition 36 is a life threatening trap, I begrudgingly accept it’s existence, but not for the majority of Stanislaus County’s drug addicted population.

Concerted outreach by local drug treatment programs are pathetically affected by the wounds of our current economy, though this is a recent excuse for a long existing history of the same symptoms, which are not derived of apathy, but rather, of limited outreach and expansion to the drug addicted population.

The mythological lore which has educated us as a society of the capacity of solitary responsibility and accountability being held solely by the drug user him or herself has been an out of reach expectation of the community as whole, due to mass media and the American Governments’ over confidence in anti-drug propaganda which was thought to be able to “win the war on drugs.”

First we had “Reefer Madness”, and now, since that didn’t work at all, we have the DEA.

But the damage was far greater than it’s mere ineffectiveness.

It produced a complex and self-destructive understanding of an a-typical drug addict that came to represent all drug users in the United States as a whole. Most in particular it had this perceptual affect upon those individuals who had never been addicted to drugs themselves, therefore already limited in their understanding of the pain and suffering that this medical affliction causes.

Leaving with our collective American society’s perception and image, a mass public perception and assumption that drug addicts are not suffering from a toxic medical condition at all, but rather, that every time is the first time that they use their self perceived drug of necessity. That the decision to commit this act is made with a rational mind every single time once the addiction has a hold of them. As though no addiction exists.

Addiction, for the most part, has since been removed from the equation in this “war on drugs”, all along since those glorious “Reefer Madness” days of yesteryear.

Drug addiction is a medical emergency. A medical ailment that requires medical attention and treatment. Just like diabetes or Tuberculosis.

Without the acceptance of this fact, the recovery rates of Stanislaus County’s population of drug addicted individuals will continue to climb and inevitably these people will continue to suffer a horrible life all alone. A life in which, for the most part, they are shunned and despised by the majority of the non-drug using community.

For every single one of these individuals, there must be an offering of support. Not just by themselves solely as individuals, but by other segments of Stanislaus County as well.

We must raise the bar for ourselves if we as the County of Stanislaus and its respective citizens are sincere in our desire to affect positive change to our population of the drug addicted.

Copyright 2009 by Robert Stanford, All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pleased To Meet You. Hope You Guess My Name.

As I struggle to write this piece, I think of all those that will ever read what I am writing right now.

The motivations for reading this are multi-faceted. From search engines to titles, or my personal favorite, those that read it because I wrote it. Whether for good or bad.

For whatever the reasons for reading this, I know that statistically, there is a very good chance that if the reader knows about me at all, they only know select slices of what makes up who and what I am, professionally as a community advocate.

Often, I feel as though I am wrapped up in words and phrases that pigeon hole me, so that people can readily praise, defend or harangue.

Words such as politician. Suddenly the next election becomes the target of feverish slander, “Well, if that’s the way your going to ______ then you can forget about winning the next election.”

Words such as activist, “Well, if your going to call yourself an activist, then you had better ___________.”

Words such as crackpot, “Your such a joke. Our city would be better off without you. Mr. Stanford, go away.”

I could go on for hundreds of pages and each one said or written over and over again, month after month and year after year. However, I believe that all of these things have something in common. These people that say or write these things only know little bits and pieces about me – slices of a whole picture, but not enough slices to know what that picture really is.

Of course, that’s not always a bad thing in so many ways.

“Mr. Stanford, we need someone like you in Government. Someone that will get all these criminals off the street.”

And of course, these same people don’t know that I do not consider undocumented immigrants to be criminals. Nor do I believe that this war on drugs has been anything but a very, very tragic mistake. And for all the same reasons. I have more pieces of the whole picture about these things than others do. But I have personally sought them out. I was “hungry” for them. Hungry to complete a picture.

“Mr. Stanford, your going to lock up all the gang bangers and dope pushers.”

Once again, that’s only partially true.

When I got the Mono Park illegal hypodermic needle giveaway operation which was run by home grown terrorists shut down, many people thought and still think that I am against legitimately regulated and legalized needle exchange. The people that think this do not know that this assumption is invalid. Simply because they missed my articles, blogs, radio and TV appearances.

I have been aware of this miss-assumption all along, since I first discovered the illegal needle giveaways. Yet even now, I find myself forever explaining the harm increase. Explaining the mathematical and precise reality of the situation to counter the misguided myth that the constant disbursement of approximately 800 to 1,000 hypodermic needles to junkies in a park ends up being approximately 80 to 85 percent shared needles. Still reducing any possibility of harm reduction as so many assume. Actually causing the opposite affect.

Not that this article is concerning the issues of this incident, but it’s a good example of assumption that even I had made concerning my effectiveness of communication this from my platform as – (hold onto your hat) –A Modesto Airport District Activist.

And as so much that I assume this title to fit, I must possess two separate capes of two separate colors – red and blue. That’s when the American flag and the Mexicana flag compliment my eyes very well when they are braided together and wrapped around me in the style of Villas artillery belt.

The second cape comes into vibrant view when it is necessary to kick up the dust for sidewalks, sewers, water, lights and gutters as well as other positive, yet difficult to achieve neighborhood goals. For then my title changes to blend within the second cape – I suddenly become a Modesto Airport Neighborhood Activist. On another turf.

So, let’s review, just for good measure:

Flag – American
Cape – Red
Cause – Crime
Title – Modesto Airport District Activist
Dumbed Down – Neighborhood Watch In The Ghetto.
Super Hero – The Shadow

Flag – Mexicana
Cape – Blue
Cause – Neighborhood Vitalization
Title – Modesto Airport Neighborhood Activist
Dumbed Down – Happy face/Dockers Time
Super Hero – Spider Man

If it’s not in the Airport District, it simply becomes community advocate or activist. And I find comfort in what my spidey sense tells me.

Whenever I introduce myself at public gatherings to groups of people, I always say, “My name is Robert Stanford. I am a Civil Rights activist. I advocate primarily for the Modesto Airport District.”

It’s efficient for me, as much as I would like it to be more understood by my introduction of what I do, I feel that it’s the clearest definition that I can provide. Leaving them to fill in. So many blank spots of the picture all based on what they perceive of civil rights, activism and advocacy. Further, the perceptions are immediately forged merely by their very association with each other in a statement.

Since approximately two thirds of the meeting that I attend are done so wearing the red cap, I say the statement as though I were the Shadow.

For the remaining third, I am Spider Man wearing the blue cape.

No need for a phone booth. I can change in mid sentence when need be to focus and home in on particular items for my own agendas. All of them structured from the foundations of positive applications of method to achieve the goals that will ultimately affect an entire population of present and future resident of Stanislaus County. With a sharp eye dead set on those suffering the most. The Lord’s common sense triage like approach to improving a community on a scale that will set in motion all of the elements necessary to propel the entire county of Stanislaus into a utopia.

And from this act, like a true super hero, I shall affect this utopia throughout America and then throughout the world -. My ultimate true aim – Global domination*.

But after making the initial statement, “My name is Robert Stanford. I am a Civil Rights activist. I advocate primarily for the Modesto Airport District.”**

Many people will be saying to themselves, “But he’s white…”

And once again, like a chameleon, I blend in with the apple pie faced redneck draped in the good ole’ red White and Blue. The don’t even know that I speak Spanish more often then English. A virtual myriad of so many things – they have no idea of – no “AWARENESS”.

Unless they read about me somewhere, saw me on TV, or maybe heard about me from some friends or “others”.

I have come to be aware of the fact that generally, for most people, they will know of one or two issues associated with me. Like a roulette wheel coming to a stop, I can begin to recognize things that they may have been exposed to regarding me, whether entirely true or not.

- They heard from Queen La Raza that I took unfair advantage of farm workers, promising them citizenship in exchange for their life savings.

- They saw me when I was alone. Out of a quarter million resident, I was the only one to beg the Modesto City Council to not gut the Modesto Police Department.

- They read an editorial some years ago in an out of town paper, in which I was portrayed as a profiteer, praying on the Andy Raya and Officer Stevens tragedy by glorifying a cop killer.

- They saw me on a blog site empathically telling another user to go screw themselves, getting myself literally banned from the Modesto Bee blogs.

Where would I want the memory to come to rest?

Right Here – They saw me at my best speaking eloquently and passionately for any cause.

I feel if they had witnessed that, I would have reached them on a spiritual level and made a connection. Not for them to vote for me, assist me or even agree with anything I say or do. But to be moved enough by my passion so that at least they would be inspired to pursue goals for our community, whether I agreed with them or not.

If someone votes because they don’t want some kind of _______ like me in that position, I have still affected positive change. I have done the job that I originally many, many years ago, set out to accomplish.

Since my entry into local Government politics, for the most part, one on one, things go well. However, as I meet people they are given select pieces of the entire picture in the hopes of inspiring interest in these individuals that they may want to see what the overall picture would look like if they had more pieces.

So one on one has been a city council campaign for nearly two years now.

“Hi! How ya’ doin!? Hey! My name is Robert Stanford! Annnd I am running for Modesto City Council! Yea! We need to apply positive and effective solutions to eradicate gangs and drugs in our community. And this is why you need to vote for me, Robert Stanford for Modesto City Council District Four!”

This is much more effective. They don’t really need to know anything about me or what I do. All they need to do is trust me. Because more than likely they will not recognize my name again until they see it on the November 2009 ballot.

Pleased to meet you. Hope you can guess my name.

The Shadow knows because his spidey sense tells him so.

Maybe the next time you see my name, you will stop and ask yourself what it is that I am trying to tell you. Or better yet – ask me!

*In a good way!
**I know, but just think of how many times I have to endure it!

Copyright 2009 by Robert Stanford, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

No Child Left Behind

There was a remarkable performance recently. I stumbled upon it strolling an Airport District sidewalk in close proximity to a recent Norteno on Sureno gang hit.

The synergy of various people that I would encounter still glistened from the shudders of a tragic event so close to home. An apocalyptic moment for many of us. So slow is the recovery from too much realization. Too much reality. Too much recognition of our own mortality and vulnerability.

But this particular individual was a visitor to our neighborhood. A person, whom which when I look upon, beams a beacon that spans across my brain’s processing of name and face recognition.

Healthy start – even the very name itself seems to propose what is the best start to everyday?

To one’s life?

A healthy start.

He’s moved up a level now and applies his previous life’s hardships to winning back the lives of youth. Youth once destined for prison and death are now becoming our doctor’s teachers and other benefactors that contribute to our eventual American Utopia. A Utopia we shall proudly call the United States of America.

“Hey, what are you doing right now”, asked the dynamic spiritual leader, Jorge Perez.

I ended up sitting amongst my clients, neighbors and friends listening to Jorge Perez present to us a single solution emoted through the excitement of hope and understanding that only love and compassion of an entire community could bring about.

Very first to grace the stage was the principle of Orville Wright, Heather Shereurn.

She touched on the tragedy of the recent homicide. A touch was all that was needed with her open and straight forward acknowledgement. When no punches are pulled, we knew that she saw what we saw.

And her melodic and eloquent presentation of our solution was presented just as plainspoken. The family and school relationship was poured within us as the foundation of our very future’s concrete security.

Harnessing the ever more cohesive relationship that our community shares a common mission. A mission from God for ourselves individually, as well as for the community as a single, unified whole.

Everyone was armed with a radio and headset for the purpose of receiving transmissions in espanol.

So when Jorge Perez introduced Arturo Flores, The Superintenden of Modesto City Schools – there was no more need for Ingles.

Soft spoken, our chosen one spoke to our hearts as though each one of us were speaking with a warm and trusted family member.

He talked of poverty, the fields, the path of Mexicanos and Chicanos. The sacrificial alters of success that we all must place and practice upon with our very own beating hearts – together.

As Mr. Arturo Flores spoke, plumes of understanding began to grip us as he applied the solution, once again – the importance of an education.

A holy grail that can only be achieved through the dedication of community. He understood through us that there had been a very special import from Mexico with the Airport District’s recent migratory wave.

The values and practices of pueblos and ciudads in Mexico had arrived to us intact and in excellent condition.

Through forced isolation, like fertilizer for roses, these cultural values of family and unity blossomed into beauty rivaled by the most splendid flora anywhere in the world.

Leaving us with the lasting conviction and the very crux of who we are “Si Se Puede.”

And then there appeared from out of nowhere, John Ervin.

Previously out of reach, untouchable and arms length, to no one other than myself, for me it was another assumptive instantaneous recognition trap dating my musical interests and complex comparisons in not so distant memory without him – a time long before, which absolutely no one would ever be able to make the association without combining the spelling out of three magical letters with an attitude that would say, yes, I am Greatfully Dea-DICA-ted.

“Nothin’ left to do, but smile, smile, smile."

Not today though. When John Ervin began to speak, the music stopped playing in my mind.

There was us and there was John Ervin. Once again we set our gaze on another soldier that understood us. We gazed upon one of us as John Ervin displayed his passion as though we were witnessing the private and super spectacular performance of a Japanese Fan dancer.

It was the epitome of the entire performance. So much so that others that spoke will now have no mention from me.

If you ever have the good fortune of meeting Mr. John Ervin face to face and you want to enjoy the illustrious smile of his – just tell him that he can never lose what he never had. Those are the magical words John Ervin blessed us with in his presentation of the solution. The guarantee and assurance of our success.

That every single child in Airport District graduates.

That every single child in Airport District considers college.

That we as a community can make this our goal and what’s more – meet that goal.

We’re on the right track. It’s all good.

Thank you all for believing in us.

Copyright 2009 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Our Mothers' Tears

So here I am once more – not so much defending the slain criminals as much as the slain criminal’s family from the onslaught of short-sighted people, that short-change themselves by not taking the time to look a little bit closer at those they despise so much. Who they were and who they are.

It would seem as if none of the parent’s tears are felt or heard by anyone outside of a two to three block radius. Tears not only shed of grief, but also of the ultimate failure – to allow a child to take a wrong path – far beyond their reach and out of their control. Leaving only the parents to blame. As though the child and the parents were somehow the exact same people. That every decision the child makes stems and is directly caused by the parents instead. As though the parent’s are the real criminals and the children were their victims.

It’s always the same, in these types of situations, whether the child was or was not “gang affiliated”. The unadulterated heartlessness of some of those with whom I speak outside the emotional comfort of my “ghetto”, still surprises me every - single - time.

A writhing feeling twists throughout my soul as I smile and nod, careful to not disagree with those that say, “The apple never falls far from the tree”.

Because it is a fight I would not be able to stand. I know, I use to fight back all the time. But not anymore.

Now, I just smile, nod and say, “yep…yep…that’s right…it sure doesn’t.”

Feeling like a sell out forsaking my people and choked up to the point that I cannot even begin to look for an opening to spread my gospel of hope – my “promotion of understanding” – my plea for community support and involvement.
It’s much easier to relax and be myself with the parents. It comes so naturally for me to be able to look into a mother’s eyes and gently reassure her of the harmless fact that her child is surly in heaven. That the good outweighed the bad and that Jesus forgives all of us, no matter what we have done, if we just simply ask him to.

Referring to scriptures of the New Testament, I tell a story as though she has never heard it before.

I retell the process of how we go to heaven as though she has never had it explained to her before, though she would be hard pressed to remember a single day of church she had missed in years, her reaction to it, is as though she really had never heard it before, because it never meant so much to her as it does right then and there. Truly, a moment of selflessness that immediately proves to me that this was a good parent.

As though I was bringing back her forgotten ways. And all the while in a manner that is raw, real and usually in Spanish.

And then everything is a little bit better. And real tears flow from both of us. Just like her own child’s blood did not so long before.

But, to do otherwise, to me at least, would seem like the real sin. I would never be able to bring myself to say – “It’s good your child’s dead. He was a filthy gang-banger and he got what he deserved!”. Even if I believed that, which I never have, because I know there is always another path – there is always redemption. There is always good choices that can be made – with enough help from the outside world. And that is the problem – there is no help. There are only prisons, other gangsters and death.

Knowing all along that surrounding us outside our area, be it El Campo, South Mo, West Side, or Airport, there are so many people that would immediately take issue with what I was doing, feeling that certainly there is a debt to be paid by this wailing mother. A debt that can only be paid by a useless admission that her own child was evil incarnate and by all rights belongs in the pits of hell and it was all her fault, because she did not care enough, love enough, or discipline enough.

And who the hell was I, anyway? Who do I work for that I would be so bold as to reach out in these types of situations? Who am I indeed? A far better question would be - who are they that do not?

Of everything that I perform in my advocacy and activism, this is the thing that I hate the most:

Shielding the parents and family from the hurling stones of a bigoted and heartless community that seem to always look to place the blame on those most innocent and least able to afford the price of their hatred. A disgusting hatred which is disguised as little more than sterile, out of sight – out of mind solutions, which in actuality, are not even solutions at all, but rather, retaliations. Retaliations to those things which they really do not even take the time to try and contemplate or understand.

It’s always the same – you dare not speak in public about anything good regarding a gangster – you don’t share what was right about the “person” you will only find true acceptance by spitting on the criminal and advocating for mass incarceration or extermination – and be sure to say, “it starts with the parents – they are to blame”.

Even though the child is dead, the hateful bigots will find a reason to cause as much pain as possible for the family. As though their fowl words are the fuel to some time machine that is going to change the past – or the future. And make this a safer place for all of us.

Of course it begins with the parents. But that is such a blanket statement, that it foregoes the majority of parents that did everything they could to raise their child right and then one night, an officer is standing at the door and something so terrible has happened, that their lives and hearts are broken forever.

It never had to be like that in the first place.

If we do not come together as a community and begin loving and caring for our neighbors, no matter what the colors, language barriers or cultures that stand in our way, we will certainly suffer our own annihilation. Our own literal suicide borne of neglect and disrespect of each other.

Can you not see it happening now?

Support your local Neighborhood Watch and National Night Out events. Reach out to your neighbors right now and let them know you care about them and that you are watching out for them, their children and their futures. They will in turn do the same for you. I guarantee it.

Because they are a part of you and yours eternally.

Copyright 2009 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Man Died Yesterday

A Man Died Yesterday
Robert Stanford

A man died yesterday. He died along the banks of my favorite creek. Nameless, faceless and labeled a transient, a man died of a drug overdose. I was not there that day or that night.

There was a telephone call made yesterday. It was made from a payphone located at a liquor store on a corner point. A frantic call. An anonymous call made in a futile attempt to rescue what may have been a fellow junky. Too little and much too late.

There was a short story in the paper today. So short, the story did not even have an author. It was as though it was just a little filler news. Preponderance. An insurance policy against a possible angry phone call. Why report anything at all? I am the only one that would have cared anyway, and I wouldn’t call the paper.

The police said he was probably a transient. I thought to myself, “of course…a transient. But from where?” It was as if I had been given an excuse as a gift.

An excuse to not blame myself.

An excuse to not think that I could have done something this time.

An excuse to not wonder if I knew the man that had been killed by a hypodermic needle full of deadly poison.

A gift to be coupled by a coincidental article I had written a few days before, that confessed my conflict to not dismiss individuals such as this man as nothing more than garbage – their problems leaving no one to blame, but themselves – repulsive and culpable. An article that confessed a spiritual struggle to remember that they were as important as anyone else in the eyes of God.

It may rain this evening. I won’t be able to do anything about that, nor the transients that will not make it to the mission in time for shelter because they have something more important to do - shoot up meth and heroin or keep that alcohol transfusion coursing through their veins to the point of numbness and possible hypothermia. Men and women. Every single one of them is just as important as my best friends in the eyes of God. But for the life of me, I cannot stay constantly mindful of this – not all the time – I just cannot. I become so frustrated with their blindness. With their refusal to look into a mirror and wake up from a nightmare they do not even know they are having.

So many times, I have cursed the Modesto Mayor for only seeming to rise to the occasion of standing firm against crime when tragedy strikes. Isn’t it just like the Lord, to slap me in the face with self-righteous irony, such as this? I feel so low and selfish when I realize how arrogant I have been.

So arrogant I am to think that these “transients” mean so little to me, yet when one dies, I fall into a depression of self-hatred and guilt coupled with anger at myself when a man dies on an evening that I forewent my patrol of the dry creek banks and the back streets of La Loma on throughout the Airport District, searching for people in this very same predicament – lives just as precious as the life of the President of the United States.

On more than several occasions, I have felt so tired, that I have foregone these patrols, which could have provided for me additional opportunities to call police dispatch with my cell phone’s speed dial, clutching the phone between my shoulder and ear, invoking CPR and running on nothing more than sheer adrenaline and urgency of a simple matter such as life and death.

So caught up in these moments and emergencies, that only the next morning would I think clearly enough to consider my own welfare and eventually show up at the county health department for HIV and hepatitis screening.

Fortunately, anyone would assume that it was in actuality not my fault the man died, but rather, his own, probably well deserved and effective for the reduction of blight in the La Loma neighborhood.

I am so fortunate to be free of this man’s blood on my hands. I won’t even have to worry about it coming up as a mark against me in this years City Council election. No one will ask me at a forum about the one junky that died that one night, and all because I skipped my neighborhood watch patrol.

No one will ever blame me as much as I shall forever blame myself for not taking my hour and a half walk through the parks and neighborhoods I so proudly claim to provide protection from and for “transients”.

I guess the thing that really bothers me most about this event – this situation, is that it is by far not the first time and I know that it will not be the last.

Perhaps, if I stay strong and do not run away from my self-perceived purpose, this man’s death will not have been in vein.

A death so powerful to me, that I do not need to know his name, face or whether I knew him or not. Just to know that he was – it’s enough to inspire me to try harder to prevent as many deaths as well as ruined lives as I possibly can in the future – in a geographical area that I have claimed and fought for as my own.

Copyright 2009 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Straight Talk In A Time of Desperate Thought

Straight Talk In A Time of Desperate Thought
Robert Stanford

Through my work with some individuals in and out of the Modesto Airport District, at times, a battle will rage inside myself borne of frustration and disappointment. Generally due to working with those that I sympathetically call “those in recovery”. But often look down upon as junkies that choose the way in which they live and choose to continue their addiction completely free of any compelling urges that addiction may bring. Forever, I find myself needing to remind myself just how wrong I am regarding this assumption that I may have been taught – or prefer to perceive.

It seems so easy to me that they can put the needle down forever, once and for all. Looking at them, I feel that if I can only hold up some sort of an introspective mirror, that they will become horrified of what they look like and what their lives have become and it will be so easy for them to “kick” the addiction, or at the very least, check into some sort of a treatment center.

Like a Tolkien creature in Lord of the Rings that has forsaken every aspect of the reality of life and living for the sake of a seemingly magical band of gold, these individuals live out their lives in exactly the same way – ultimate isolation from all external stimulus with their only true goal being their next fix.

More times than not, I am tricked by my extended hand of assistance and encouragement for treatment. Or worse, attacked.

With other individuals that take my assistance and utilize it to achieve goals that further the advancement of the community and society at large, I relish in the fact that I am a powerful force in their lives – at times fueled by nothing more than a phamplet or brochure to make them aware of assistance that is available to them. They grow.

But not the junky. All they seem to care about is how much closer I can get them to their next fix, they become angry when they can see that money is not forthcoming from me. What good am I to them, unless I am able to assist them to continue their path of self-destruction?

They spit on me, throw things at me, attack me with little or no provocation, accuse me of being a “narc” and complain that I do not give them financial aid or change their environment to be more of that of an opium den – and like other places in more “civilized” society, often I hear the accusation that the only reason I interact with them in the first place is that I am trying to get their vote for political gain – though they do not vote in the first place.

Day in and day out, it is a constant battle for me to not lash out on them or constantly call the local MPD dispatch to have them arrested on possession charges – get them out of my District, so that those that appreciate my help the most can thrive more with what little resources my self-developed direct action methodological system has to function. A constant battle between despising them and understanding them.

But to this very day, I still hold strong to the philosophy that they are in fact God’s children and that they are not in control of their lives in any way.

I use to believe that if they were to hit rock bottom that in these times, it would be relatively easy for them to see themselves for what they actually had become and choose to take another path. But for many junkies that have been self-injecting heroin for many many years, this does not apply. And I begin to lose sight of what the truth is – A choice they make by their own free will? Or a drug so powerful, that year after year they are left to their own devices, trapped in a vacuum of loneliness and despair.

I will continue to advocate for these people, because they are people. Whether they are in the predicament they are in is their fault or not, I believe is impossible to determine without the attempt by the entire community to address them as ill and in need of treatment – rather than discarding them like the repulsive garbage they certainly look like.

Copyright 2009 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.

Monday, January 12, 2009

GANGS - Maybe If We Ignore Them, They'll Go Away

Gangs – Maybe If We Ignore Them, They Will Go Away


Robert Stanford

Anytime, as so now, I write about gangs, I always feel as though I need to educate on at least three points:

1. Gangs are more serious than my readers realize.

2. What gangs are, their origins and/or our current generalizing justice system that seems, to me at least, to be the most contributing factor to the perpetuality of gangs and the impact they have on our community.

3. The signs that show that youth are at immediate risk either through their own parents, the peers of their routine environment or the media.

And there you have it, some universal truths. This time however, I would like to stray from these three points and consider a fourth point. And that would be a discussion about gang discussion.

Let us start by asking some questions:

Question # 1 - When and under what circumstance is it appropriate to ensure that those whom we come into contact with are fully aware of the first three points in general, without my biasness concerning the topic of gangs.

a. Gangs are serious than they realize.

b. The definition of a gang regardless of historical assumptions.

c. How to recognize signs (and other signs of gang activity).

Question #2 – When are some of the times it may not be appropriate to discuss gangs.

a. Gang victim funerals. I have been to many, but never have seen gangs discussed outside of eulogies.

b. When it could negatively affect the relationship with one who is rather defensive. Such as when parents are in denial. I have had more encounters of this type regarding gangs than any other. I believe that this would also apply to many in law enforcement and education.

Question #3 – When was the last time you attended a gang presentation of any type?

a. When have you last heard of one?

Question #4 – What would you do if your child joined a gang?

a. How would you intervene?

Question #5 – Kids love a gangster – how truly effective is an ex-gangster doing presentations for kids?

I am of the opinion that if the individual is remarkably contrasted by their “former” life that it could be lovely and effective for the youth.

And then again, I have never bothered to attend a presentation, much less accompanied by children to see Sir Chocolate’.

Question #6 – What are some of the most effective tools that we have to combat gangs today?

a. Education in the three basic principles of understanding gangs, specifically they are:

i. That gangs are more serious than one realizes.

ii. The definition of gangs.

iii. Gang warning signs (and other signs of gang activity).

Damn. Sorry about that.

b. Fortification and support of local law enforcement.

c. Opportunities for youth (outside the home)

i. Activity programs.

ii. Mentorships.

iii. Community acceptance and support.

iv. Heritage fulfillment (sense of belonging satisfied through healthy and positive means.

Recently, I have been disenchanted by what I see in my Modesto community. I am beginning to feel that the time must be neigh for me to attempt something – anything to bring a reminder to our elected officials that they must most certainly, remain mindful of the seriousness of gangs. Because, of course, gangs are more serious than they realize.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease right?

But why do I get the feeling that asking some straight questions in the hopes of some straight answers can be somewhat tenuous?

The upshot? There are things we need to combat gangs. The more we discuss gangs, the more likely we are to receive at least some of the things which we need to effectively defeat them.

When? That is up to us. It depends on a gang awareness program out of the blue. One of which would be the only attendance problem one in which there were too many in attendance.

A scene like that can usually only be brought about by two things. Tragedy or widespread awareness of three things regarding gangs.

1. Gangs are more serious than they realize.

2. They know what gangs are.

3. They don’t have to know the signs – that’s what the presentation is for.

Don’t just be about it, talk about it.

By committing to talk about gangs in whatever situations we find ourselves, will ensure that we can win this fight.

“But I am just one voice, “ you might say. “What significant impact can I make?”

To which I say, fear not, I am recruiting others to join you. Several thousand actually.

Gangs – it’s literally a matter of life and death. Join us, lift your voice and we will save lives.

If you are interested in attending or hosting gang presentation, please contact me via email at

Robert Stanford
Community AdvocateClick Here to Visit

Copyright 2009 Robert Stanford all rights reserved.