DEDUCTING PROFITS AS IF THEY WERE LOSSES–THE GAPING TAX LOOPHOLE FOR REAL ESTATE INVESTORS (SYLVIA HART WRIGHT)

Sylvia: For a change, I’m using this blog to sound off myself.

Savvy real estate investors with ample assets can avoid ever paying taxes on gains in the value of the commercial property they own. They can even use paper losses on such holdings to offset their income from salaries, profits from trading stocks, whatever. The Republicans say they’re setting out to reform the tax code. Here’s one aspect of it that badly needs reforming.

Professional real estate wheeler-dealers-–almost certainly including Donald Trump–-routinely use this dodge to avoid paying property taxes indefinitely. No wonder he doesn’t want lesser mortals to see his tax returns. Nonetheless, under the federal tax code this is all perfectly legal. It involves using two sets of regulations in sequence.

The first is depreciation, the government’s assumption that the value of a physical asset drops over time. The second is an obscure procedure called a 1031 exchange (referred to as a “ten thirty-one exchange.”) More about that later.

The IRS sets arbitrary rates for depreciation on different classes of assets. For instance, you’re generally required to “depreciate” rental property over 27.5 years, at 3.636% per year. You or your accountant are expected to claim this paper depreciation on your property as a loss-–even though in fact it’s probably been going up in value while yielding income in the form of rent.

Unfortunately for the middle-class wage earner or small business person trying to get ahead who’s invested in a rental house with mortgage to match, selling that investment can cost big in taxes. Suppose you bought a house for $100,000 and after ten years it’s gone up in value 50% but you’re still paying off that pesky mortgage while sweating out the headaches of being a landlord. Now you want or need that money for something else: to pay off medical bills, to put kids through college or graduate school, or just to take early retirement and travel around the world. You figure that if you sell your house for $150,000, you can lock in a tidy profit. Good luck with that. Internal Revenue has other ideas.

Over ten years, they’ve generously granted you $36,360 in depreciation on your $100,000 house — but obviously its value hasn’t gone down at all. Suddenly, if you sell it, they take all that money back. That loss for tax purposes becomes a gain and you have to pay taxes on it along with the $50,000 increase in the value of the property. Now you’re subject to taxes on long-term gains of $50,000 + 36,360 = $86,360. Painful – but probably fair. Except that, from the point of view of bigger time operators, paying such taxes is just for suckers. A convenient tax dodge leaves them free and clear.

The 1031 Exchange

Suppose instead of selling your investment property outright, you trade it for a similar property of equal or greater value. If you follow a set of tricky procedures stipulated by the IRS, you can avoid paying taxes on your profits indefinitely. You have just 45 days to identify your replacement property and must close on it within 180 days after your original property settles. In practice, it’s customary to first locate a replacement property, place a deposit on it to hold it, and then set about selling the property you already own. If you google “1031 Exchange” you’ll discover that a small industry of real estate brokers and lawyers is eager to guide any willing investor through these hoops for a fee. Then you can use IRS-mandated depreciation on your new property to reduce taxes on any other income you may have.

Unfortunately, most of us ordinary working stiffs are unlikely ever to cash in on the benefits of these arcane regulations. We lack the ample capital, credit, flexible schedule and expertise to make such a tax dodge pay off for us.

Tax Rates of the Rich and Famous

Until Donald Trump came onto the political scene, candidates for president routinely made their tax returns public. In 2012, news that Mitt Romney had paid federal taxes of just 14.1% on his income, received mostly from investments, aroused indignation. In recent years, much sound and fury but little action has been directed at IRS regulations that grant special treatment to professional hedge fund managers, not an especially needy group. Top earners often collect over a billion dollars a year! Yet since most of their compensation is classed as capital gains rather than normal income, that portion is taxed at just 15%.

Meanwhile, by using IRS regulations on depreciation and the 1031 exchange, real estate moguls can escape taxes altogether. Take it from two experts, Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki, a self-proclaimed real estate millionaire, who in 2013 jointly published Why We Want You to Be Rich.

 In it Kiyosaki writes, “There are many ways a real estate investor can avoid paying taxes legally—ever. One way is known as the 1031 tax-deferred exchange. Last year [my wife] and I sold a small apartment house and made over a million dollars in capital gains. By following the rules of the 1031 exchange, we were able to reinvest that money without having to pay taxes. This tax-deferred treatment is not available for people who invest in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. You’d be surprised how fast you can get rich if you reduce or eliminate taxes.”

Now Republicans claim they want to reform the federal tax code by cutting taxes for the middle class. Good on them – provided they do so without slashing public services or causing a spike in the national debt. Any honest and honorable rewriting of our nation’s tax laws will do away with or drastically reconfigure the 1031 exchange.

 

 

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EGALITARIAN EDUCATOR TURNED REALTOR TACKLES CHALLENGES IN SCHOOLS AND THE TINY HOME MOVEMENT (PHIL BERTRAND)

Sylvia:  It’s July 29, 2017 and I’m interviewing Phil Bertrand. My recollection is that you’ve been involved in education and then real estate most of your life. Is that correct? 

 Education and real estate. In education I was an inner-city elementary principal. That was in Richmond, Indiana, during the time when they finally had desegregation. However, the school that I became principal of had been grandfathered in and had clustered all the black students into this one school. It was grandfathered in until that building fell down or whatever.

I had been a teacher already for, I don’t know, 13 years, 16 years. It was almost all elementary and it would’ve been 5th and 6th grade mostly. And I started in an inner-city school. Almost my whole career in education was either inner-city or very poor rural situations. I fell into the activism part — I didn’t consider myself an activist. It’s more that Mom taught me to do the right thing. Simple as that. But I had one oddball job, as a headmaster in a very uppity private school down in Florida.

It was very upper class, if you will, chauffeurs would open the doors for the children when they came. Teachers would walk them, under the canopy, to their classrooms. That was the only job in my life I’ve been fired from. Because I would help the janitor carry the ladder. I would socialize with teachers. And I was fired because I did those sorts of things. Which is interesting.

Which led me into my principal-ship at an inner-city school in Richmond, Indiana, which had had the 3 principals before me fired or run out of town by the parents, or the children had come after one with an ax. He left. Fortunately there happened to be a teacher nearby that caught the downward swing.

After that, the kids hung the principal, who happened to be black, out the window of the second floor. The mothers drove that same principal out to the edge of town and said, “Don’t come back.” And then guess who became the next principal? I became the principal there. It was very stressful but very successful. I related because I was an innocent. I’d been raised in northern Wisconsin. Hadn’t any kind of prejudices at all. Everybody was a person. And so I …

You didn’t have that feeling that these are the “other”?

 No! In fact, I found myself on the playground one day — and I always played with the kids on the playground. I didn’t just supervise. And one day I found that I was high fiving the kids on the team I played with that recess. And we were celebrating and then I realized I was on the all-Black team, cause there were a few whites.  I hadn’t noticed. So that’s the integration part. So it was successful because the kids, they know. Their chemistry knows. And the parents reacted well to that. But, I saw the injustice because there were holes in the walls. Plaster was falling from the 12 foot ceilings. The old steam radiators that hung on walls in the gym were spraying. Every once in a while, they’d leak and they’d spray steam on the kids.

 So I managed to get the building condemned. There were about 275 students. With the building condemned, they had to go someplace. Put me out of a job, actually. They gave me a year in the district to do something else while I got my feet under me. They gave the children and their families a choice of school. And the one I got transferred to, and the secretary, who happened to be black, in two minutes our school filled up with its quota. Cause everybody wanted to follow us.

I never considered this activism until you approached me and asked this question. “Where did it come from?” And actually, going back in time, I had been through the same falling into circumstances. You see things happening. You become involved and suddenly you’re in the middle of it. You step into a pond and then the water keeps getting deeper and you realize you’re in a swimming pool. Northern Wisconsin. Lot of injustices back then about how teachers were treated. And how drug education wasn’t taught to the children. And their parents didn’t know anything about drug education.

First of all, teachers couldn’t go into bars in the local town. We were not allowed to go into a bar unless we went out of town. Very prudish. Women, of course, had to wear slacks, no skirts.

Probably this was in the days of miniskirts.

 They were approached by upper administration and compromised on, if they wanted to keep their job, etc. they were supposed to do a certain thing.  You know, “Contracts are coming up. Why don’t you come out with me.”  That type of thing.

That’s the opposite of prudish. More like predatory.

  So that was a part of it. So then — it was all called ”teacher’s associations” and dealt only with curriculum ideas. Teachers were being very cautious and not wanting anything called a union. So I became president of the first union of a conglomerate of different school districts, cause they were all so tiny. Some of ‘em only had 17 teachers, for example. I got elected to be the president of 27 school districts and we formed a union. We had 9 wildcat strikes, they were illegal, that year. And we even had a state strike that we were a major part of in the state of Wisconsin and several of our people went to jail.

And again, there’s good ol’ Phil in the middle of it. But, not as an aggressor, keeping a soft [manner]. I’m talking fast now and I’m probably not the same person as I was but I usually slow the pace down.

You still have a little of that manner. You seem to be deliberate in what you say and very calming in your tone.

 I have been told that before within the real estate community where there can be a lot of stress, and I studied to become an eco-broker as well. I’m switching forward now. An eco-broker deals with environmental issues and sustainability. And I added to that, put in “urban farming” if you will. And I’ve worked with the Saturday Market people, also on the smaller farms. I encourage people to grow food and share with the neighbors, kind of thing, as a way of creating community. And that’s where I am now in the real estate field.

That becomes activist in a sense. First of all, nobody else is doing it. It’s creating connections, brings all of the people that care about everybody together. OK? And so then within the Unitarian church, the church that I attend, I became an earth keeper. An earth keeper is someone who does the same thing, really, as an eco-broker would. They look out if pipelines are gonna be crossing. If there’s eminent domain going to take property away from people. The social injustices, especially around the things that involve the earth. And water rights, etc. It’s one of 12 or 13 churches now that have a representative on this earth keeper group in the city of Eugene.

Going back a bit, how did you get from Indiana to Oregon?

 First I came out here as an educator. I came to Noti Elementary. Part of the Fern Ridge School District. A small, rural lumber community. And a lumber company was right across the street. So from that inner-city experience where I had the school condemned, after they gave me one extra year to land on my feet and look for another position, I came out to Noti Elementary here in Elmira, Oregon. At the time, this one school was kind of ignored in the budget. This was in 1979.

There were two other elementary schools, a middle school and a high school and they got the bulk of the budget and this school didn’t have a strong P.T.A. presence. There were within that community, three distinct groups at Noti Elementary which, by the way, has been closed for some time. They had a lot of erosion problems. They had a plant — I’m trying to think if it’s goldenrod — that’s highly allergenic to some people. It just covered the area, they tried to cut it back and so there was erosion.

Deep cuts [in the budget.] I saw an entry for a door, off the library, that had been in for three years straight. And it literally was falling off its hinges and had not been replaced. That’s one example. Part of the situation was because they had three distinct groups out there, and I’m stereotyping now. There were the loggers who have their boots on and heavy duty clothes for out in the woods and they got their chainsaws and hard hats. Then at the opposite end of the spectrum you have the very gentle folk who live in the woods and may not even have a house. I knew some that lived in a big teepee. They were very artistic and musical. So, they were the counterculture. And of course those two groups don’t speak a whole lot to each other.

Then there was a third group who were professional attorneys and such that worked in Eugene but preferred country living. And so coming from a background of having been trained in negotiations because of my union work earlier, and trying to bring people together, first we had a lot of potlucks. Food brought them together.

Then we went to the Board meeting together for the budget hearings. And they filled the room. Interesting story. Because the Board is really in control in these little tiny districts. Not mentioning any names, they are in control.

How many people in Noti or in the school district?

 In the district we had 128 students in that little tiny school. There weren’t enough kids going there to matter to some people. And then there were Central Elementary and Elmira Elementary which were bigger. We all fed into the same middle school. But, population-wise, they’re all spread out, extremely spread out. Another reason they didn’t coordinate. And so I couldn’t give you a number. Noti itself has maybe 500 residents. You could do a head count as you drive through!

 Oh, and we had another group. I forgot. They’re a very small group out there, but there’s the motorcycle gang’s children. I got along fine with all of them. Because, the inner-city thing really played out immensely well for me because again, I had no “I like this group or that group.” I kind of fit in everywhere.

 So we went into the Board meeting and the Board laid out the budget. And the more gentle people stood up and started to [ask about art supplies or the music teacher] and the Board just shot ‘em down. “Sit down. This is a Board meeting.” You know, you had a chance to talk. Well. the lumberjacks jumped up. Because now we’re all on one team, see. And they would say, “Wait a minute!” And they’d get loud and use a few colorful words. And I can remember one Board member turning red and saying, “You don’t have the right to stand up in this meeting and do such and such.” And our attorneys would stand up and say, “No. The statute says….” And we got everything we wanted.

 We had that for the time that I was there and I was there for six years. So, we had everything kind of taken care of. That was activism without my realizing it. Never thought of it just then.

Well, you’re an organizer.

 Change agent, too. Actually, trained change agent as well as trained negotiator from my union days.

Incidentally, when you were talking about the union, you mentioned that in name it was not a union. It was something else, right?

 Actually, we were affiliated with the National Education Association. And then we became the Northwest United Educators. We actually founded that — myself and a few others – and went from there. In the first year of existence, we got the union of the year award for the state, for having done the most in our very first year. I was in that school district ten years. And in that time there were seven superintendents. There was a lot of turmoil. From there, I went up to the Portland area. And had come in second on interviews there in three different jobs. So that’s when I became a realtor. That was when I switched careers. And I’ve been doing that for 21 or more years.

Nowadays, you’ve told me, you’re a realtor with special interests in ecology and the environment.

 In talking with my wife, we came up with our philosophy where it’s the harmony of the dwelling, the people, and the environment. And that isn’t just for real estate. That’s in anything. So we really don’t sell homes. We sell the whole environment. My wife is my transaction coordinator. She had her license for a while in a couple of states with me. And now she acts as a transaction coordinator. So she isn’t licensed but knows the business and doesn’t need the license, so we make a good team.

I have this standard question: What issues have you worked on? It seems to me that what you have been talking about is education and all the issues of inner-city students and neglected schools, not physically being kept up and so on. How does this relate to real estate?

 My wife and I decided as part of our philosophy, that we don’t try to eliminate the boxes. We work outside the boxes. We eliminate the boxes. So that it can be social at the same time as we’re doing business. So I work with the people that are behind the tiny home movement here. I get paid nothing for that but it’s housing. That’s the harmony of people and dwelling. And they’re environmentalists, very often. So, I’m working with them because that’s what we stand for.

There’s Todd Miller, he’s an architect-builder and he’s very picky about the environmental pieces. Everything he builds is environmentally sound and he prices right for people. Lane Community College has a program on building tiny homes. All of this is the connections that I start to put together within the community and give that information, so then you become a maven, I guess it’s called, in the community. If I help someone, somewhere along the line comes a referral. And so that ties into helping people.

There are meetup groups online for those who are interested; one of the meetup groups deals with the tiny home movement. Some people are trying to put together a co-housing type of little community, to create a village. Others in that group have their own land already, just want to put one up. Others volunteer to the Lane Community College program and when they volunteer, they get to help build one for somebody and then that goes sometimes to a homeless person. The person who’s teaching is also part of Opportunity Village and such.

I’m familiar with Opportunity Village, here in Eugene. When I visited there it was an established community with about 30 tiny houses occupied by formerly homeless people. Maybe it’s larger now. And they were in the process of building added amenities like a place where residents could take showers. The residents govern themselves with a set of strict guidelines..

 There are things like that out at the first exit off I-5, going South — there is an RV park. Because a tiny house can be considered an R.V. if it’s on wheels. This meetup group is working with the city to get the laws within Eugene changed. So that they can be parked as an auxiliary dwelling unit in backyards and such. It’s all in a gray area right now but that’s some activism that’s going on.

What would you estimate is the number of people either building tiny homes or already in tiny homes?

 There’s a permaculture meetup also. I get my figures mixed up. I know one of them has several hundred and one of them has over 800. The permaculture group has many, many members and they help each other like the old barn raising things. They meet at somebody’s house and do weeding, for example. Or they exchange seeds. This all ties together cause some of the same people are in both “tiny homes” and “permaculture”. They get into “soil amendments” and  “environmentalist” wrapped in there, and “no till soil” when you’re making your gardens.

It all starts to wrap together. The earth keepers that I’m a part of are very interested in all of that.

Maybe you’ve already answered this but I’ll throw this out, what are the most interesting or satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist?

 It’s reactions of people and what you’ve brought into their lives. Also what they’ve brought into your life. Helping people open up. You know how they always say “Don’t go to your grave and not have released your music or not have danced your dance”? My wife and I have that very strong in our philosophy of living day to day.

 I read a quote from Winston Churchill. And I’m taking a little bit of liberty with the way he said it, but we race through life so often looking for Why am I here? What’s the truth? And sometimes we stumble across the truth but we’re in such a hurry that we just pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and go rushing off. And we never realize, you know. We need to stop and see the miracle every single day and in every single person. Everybody, all they really want is to be seen. And so listening comes into it. Now I got a chance because you’re a good listener.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WRONGFULLY IMPRISONED, THEN CLEARED AND FIGHTING THE SYSTEM (LUCINDA HITES-CLAUBAUGH — PART 4)

Lucinda:  I ended up getting an attorney that was a drunk. I didn’t know that she was an alcoholic. She was drinking port each day at the breaks and at lunch so she wasn’t quite all there. She also, I think, had the beginnings of dementia. She used to be a D.A. in her former career. And she was, I think, forgetting which side she was on sometimes because she was not advocating for me and jumping up and objecting and fighting for me the way she needed to. And all my friends were saying, “Why didn’t she object?! Why didn’t she say something?”

There were at least 25 different points where she should have said something that we wrote up later. I was convicted because they never got to hear the story of what happened. The sentencing judge who was the trial judge was gonna let me go. He sensed that something wasn’t right. But he wanted to believe the D.A. He wanted to believe that everything was kosher.

A jury ruled 10 – 2. Guilty, 10 – 2. There’s only two states in the whole United States where that is even possible. It used to be, all the other states you have to have a unanimous vote. But in Oregon you can go to prison when there are two people who are intelligent and educated and see that there’s more to this. And 10 people who are uneducated and biased and they didn’t get to hear all the facts.

I started to cry and as each left, I said, “May God have mercy on your soul.” And I thanked the two people that had said that I was innocent. The judge was supposed to sentence me but my son popped out of his seat in the peanut gallery and he said, “No, no! My mom is innocent!” And he pointed at Nicole, who was the deputy district attorney  prosecuting me, and he said, “Nicole knows that the girl never said a word. Nicole knows that she just gestured. And that was misinterpreted. She knows that the kids all know the truth! The kids know that this didn’t happen. My mom is innocent.” And the judge could’ve sentenced him to contempt of court but he actually listened to my son.

I had 120 people that showed up each day, day after day for court. When they’d said, “Guilty,” they all went, “Ohhh!” and started to cry, weeping because they knew that I was innocent.

The judge said, “I’ve never done this before but I know it’s the right thing to do. I’m going to let your mom go home with you.” The D.A. popped up and he waved her off. He says, “I’m going to do this after all this testimony and these five witnesses.” They only let me have five character witnesses. The people that had spoken for me had spoken well and one was a police officer, a detective from my son’s swim team. They’d known me with their kids for years. And the judge said, “I know, based on the witnesses here, that she will respect what I’m going to say. She won’t do anything I’ve asked her not to do. I’m gonna let her go to church. She can’t teach Sunday school right now but she will be allowed to go to church.”

 I go two places. I go to the Methodist church to sing in choir once a month and sometimes twice a month if they ask me to serve communion, cause I do love to serve communion, which is not Quakerly, but I love it. I go half the month and more to [the Quaker Peace and Social Concerns committee] and go to Multnomah silent meeting [in Portland.]

I was allowed to do everything as long as there was another person sitting beside me and accompanying me if I was gonna be near children. And I was gonna be staying pretty much at home. Otherwise, I could go accompanied to doctor’s appointments and dentist’s appointments. I could go out into the community. He said he was gonna let me spend November and the holidays with my family. December 4th when he was supposed to sentence me, the counselor from the school finally was brave and came forward and said, “Lucinda didn’t do this. I talked to the kid and what the kid said on the stand is not the same. She’s lied, she’s embellished! That’s not what she told me at all!”

The counselor knew the kid had a history of lying and wanted attention. So she had gone to the D.A.’s office and said, “I have information. You can’t be putting this person in jail.” And they said, “We’re trying to convict her.” They would not take her information. So she went straight to the judge. She wrote out a two-page affidavit about the kid and what the kid had told her. She swore to it to the judge and told him all about it.

Was this a family court?

 This was a circuit court, a criminal court. The counselor went to Salem from Woodburn and took time off to do that and she knew she would be probably getting in trouble, because [the school administrators] had not liked me and they told all the people from the school district, “Don’t say anything at the trial.” But she felt a moral obligation.

With her coming forward with new evidence and then all my 120 friends showing up again on December 4th when the judge was supposed to sentence me, he was compassionate. He said, “There’s new evidence that’s come up and I’m not happy.” He glared at the D.A. And he turned to my [alcoholic] attorney and he said, “You investigate and you get that evidence that you should have brought forward to me in court in the first place. You did not defend your client. Do your job.” He let me go a second time.

The third time I’ve come again and he said, “There is new evidence of innocence.” And he turned to my attorney and he said, “Get me these details.” And then he turned to me and he said, “I’m going to let you go home again for Christmas, to be with your family because you could be in prison for a long, long time.” And so I thought, that doesn’t sound good.

 I got to be with my family. [deep breath] Because my attorney was so bad and the judge had publicly shamed her, I told my friends, “I’m sorry, but I have to get a new attorney.” I prayed and I found a guy who was an investigator, who’d done a case for the Innocence Project, one of the first exonerees in Oregon. The attorney they’d worked with was Mark Geiger. He was mild mannered, and kind of milquetoast but he did listen.

I said, “Talk to all the kids in the class.” He talked to the kids and every single one of ‘em said, “No. This girl’s a liar.” And they told that in their affidavits. They told about how she made up stories. They told about how I had only been with the class, we had not been in two different places at the same time. So I had all these alibi witnesses and got really good statements from the counselor about how this kid had had other situations where she made up stories and falsely accused other kids of things. And then lied about it and dug herself in.

The judge was gonna release me. So the D.A. pulled some strings and found a skeleton in his closet and had him removed from the bench. About the end of January they released the news that he was going to be resigning from the bench, supposedly because he had an improper conversation with a drug person and then he hadn’t sentenced him. They made up other stuff in his background and he decided not to fight it.

 The new sentencing judge was a former D.A. who had a mindset that it’s all about winning, getting your conviction. He had a history of prosecutorial misconduct and had put people, wrongfully, into prison. He was known as a hanging judge. So he ignored all of the affidavits and the counselor’s statement and the regular teacher’s statement. And he ignored the legal precedent that the Supreme Court in Oregon had made that for tapping you’re supposedly protected by that teaching law. If they would somehow try to twist that, the amount of time for going to prison for tapping would at most, with discretion, be 12-18 months. Instead he sentenced me to 6 years, 3 months. And then I was going to be, supposedly, held as a sex offender and have to register as a sex offender in Oregon.

You were not gonna plead it down.

 I was not about to ever tell anybody that I had committed a crime that I had not committed. So, I was telling everybody in prison. “I’m here because I’m a political prisoner. I’m here because of a dirty D.A.” [Nicole, the deputy district attorney] hid an exculpatory witness, not just the kids. That’s a big point because she’s gonna be brought up for the charges on prosecutorial misconduct. I’m gonna take her to the Oregon State Bar. The ACLU wrote an amicus brief for me.

They say that I have to take her to the Oregon State Bar and have her disbarred because of what she did. She knew she was putting an innocent person in prison. I had begged the guy from TSPC, the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission, to investigate. And what he had found was that the girl hadn’t said a word, she’d only gestured. It was because of the [mis-] interpretation of that gesture, that things went hysterical. They weren’t following protocols and nobody was being logical and calm.

 He had been told that by Nicole. She knew that was the case, then she fabricated evidence. She led the kid to say other things on the stand. Because the kid was deferential to the police officers with the guns.

 People are gonna make books and movies out of my story of my life. And it’s also gonna be used for legal precedent in the state later. We’re gonna have an Innocence Project-based law eventually that gives compensation to people such as myself who are wrongfully incarcerated. A lot of states have that. We’re gonna work on that.

 So the new judge comes along and he’s friends with the D.A. who’s been lying.  He lies to my attorney. He tells him that I would not be going to prison but be kept out with bail. He said that they’d made this arrangement so I would be able to wait until the second trial, if necessary. Instead, he just sentenced me harshly and I was drug away right there in the courtroom.

And my son and my husband were aghast because I wanted them to take my wedding ring cause it was made from gold nuggets from Alaska. I was afraid it would disappear in prison. And I had all my asthma and allergy medication because I have such bad asthma that if things get triggered I can die. I needed to have my emergency inhaler on me at all times. And I had a doctor’s note that said that but they took all that away. And so there I was with my throat closing down as I’m going off to prison.

Anyway I was put in the county jail first and then they take you from the county into Coffee Creek [women’s state prison.] I would tell [my story to] everybody in prison that would listen. I was in grave danger because 92% of the women in prison had been abused, assaulted, raped. And so they saw the label that had been put on me, “Sexual Abuse 1 with a minor.” There were people who tried to kill everybody that was labeled as a sex offender. They were badly beaten up, badly hurt and some killed.

And I was lied about by some of the people who were murderers who didn’t like me because I was not actually a sexual offender and when they would have sex parties I would turn my back and I’d get out my Bible and I would cry while I read my Bible and put my focus on something else with my earphones on. I was not participating with them and so if I wasn’t with them I was against them.

 They said I did something — I don’t even know exactly what they said because I never got to see the evidence — but I was taken to the hole. I was put in solitary confinement. I don’t remember if it was 13 days or 15 days. I just remember it was too long. Cause they say you’re not supposed to be in over 10 days, according to the United Nations. It starts having an effect on your mental capacity. I know that I was starting to feel more desperate in there during those last days.

Before all this, when I was just in the regular prison population and they were having all these sex parties, I’d gone in one day to my Bible study in the chapel and I was crying. And the chaplain said, “Why are you crying? I can tell something is really wrong.” And I said, “I can’t tell you.” And she said, “You need to tell me because I can tell you’re very upset.”

So I told her people are having sex orgies around me and they’re raping various women. They’re hurting them and raping them and sodomizing them and it’s just horrible and I can’t say anything about it. I’m a Girl Scout. I wanna try to help people when they’re crying for help. It’s really hard to hear people crying for help and not go help them. Cause you’re not allowed to touch anybody else in prison, even if it prevents injury. And I was a rescue ranger and I was a rescue Girl Scout and rescue ski patrol. I rescued people and I help people.

 This one girl was having an epileptic seizure and I ran over to put my legs so she’d hit my legs instead of hitting the cement floor with her head, over and over again. And I was told that I was gonna go to the hole if I didn’t move away from her and let her hit her head. That was just the most horrible thing. They let people get hurt and they let people die. There’s no compassion.

 How many people were in your cell?

 Well, you put two people in the cells in Coffee Creek.

But you were talking about sex orgies.

 Oh. Well, I was a good behavior inmate. I was a goody two shoes. And so everybody hated me. But I was kind to everybody and I would talk to the guards. The regular cells have two people. But I was put in the unit for good behavior and it’s an open dorm. An open dorm has maybe 57 people in it. And they’re all within 3½ feet of each other’s open bunks. So people can assault each other and beat up somebody or even stab somebody or kill somebody and the guard won’t even notice. They can’t keep an eye on that many people with one person walking around.

It’s a huge warehouse. And these are guards, for the most part, that used to work at McDonald’s and now they’re suddenly working at a prison and they don’t have master’s degrees or counseling degrees or psychology degrees that would help them to be compassionate people or use alternatives to violence. Some of them are pretty sadistic. I was in the open dorm section. People that were supposedly good behavior inmates were raping and sodomizing and having sex parties. But I had told the chaplain and the chaplain said, “I’m required to tell the regular chaplain and the security, I’m sorry.” And then I was like a snitch to everybody.

I said, if you’re gonna talk to somebody and get a statement you should do it quietly and discreetly. Instead they call on the loudspeaker that I’m supposed to go down to security. So they take me into this room and they plunk a recorder in front of me and say, “You will now tell us everything you know about these sex parties.” So I said, “You can have my journals. You are welcome to read everything in them and use all of it as evidence.” But I wasn’t going to do this until the day I was gonna walk out of there. Because I couldn’t share this information until that time or they’d kill me.

And sure enough, they said, “No, you must tell us now or you will be put in the hole until you tell us.” And so I told ‘em. But, I said, “You realize that I’m in grave danger now.”

Did you request to be taken out of that . . .

 There’s no place! If they put you into solitary confinement, you’re in even more of a dangerous place. People die in there. I saw. A woman committed suicide. She hung herself. She’d been crying and crying for three or four days and they ignored her. And then they drug her body out unceremoniously. They don’t care if people die back there.

 And I didn’t have my emergency inhaler and it triggered my asthma. I couldn’t breathe. Six times when I was in prison, I couldn’t breathe. And they didn’t care. I knew I couldn’t stay in there for months and months. For 6 years, 3 months. I couldn’t do that.

Also, I would not be allowed to go to the chapel for services. I wouldn’t be able to go sing in the choir or go have piano music time in the chapel. I wouldn’t be able to go to Bible study or have yoga class. I wouldn’t get to have any contact with any human being. Because if you get put in solitary confinement you don’t get to have visitors.

After you’re out of the hole, you can have these again?

 After I got out of the hole, this lieutenant who had heard me give my statement about women who’d been having sex parties, he said loudly, as he saw me getting released out of the hole, “She should never have been in there in the first place!”

These are all men who are running the place?

 A lot of men, but there was a woman who was a captain. While I was there, a woman was the warden. So there were some women. But, there are a lot of men at the top, a lot of men guards. Cause they can break up the women who are fighting by just pushing ‘em apart. Whereas the women guards just spray Mace in your eyes. And they say, “Stop fighting.” But they don’t intervene. So people can still get killed during a fight.

When you get out, you’re slowly given privileges again. You have visitors. When I was in the hole, my family and friends came and tried to see me and they were told that they couldn’t and they got really upset. They called the prison and said they wanted to see me physically to know I was safe. And that they weren’t going to stop until they found that out.

They called the state police and filed a charge against the prison for putting me into the hole and not allowing me to see my family and friends because they said I was wrongly being put in the hole. They knew that I would not have done anything. I was a girl scout. I didn’t do anything wrong while I was in prison and I still got put in the hole. The first thing I did was a mistake. I did my laundry. I didn’t know you had to sign up for the laundry. When it was empty and nobody was using it, you couldn’t just put your stuff in.

 So I was told that I was in trouble and had to be kept in my cell without getting out for dinner. I was brand new to prison. I didn’t know the rules and they didn’t have ‘em published, they didn’t give you a book. And I demanded that they give people a book of what the rules were so we could read them if we were supposed to be responsible for them. So I changed things a little bit in prison. They made everybody have a book. I complained. I mean, I was an educated person!

Squeaky wheel!

 I tried to do things that I knew I had the right to do, even though in prison you don’t have any rights. I would talk to people on the outside and say, “Call OSHA. They’re painting in here and there’s no ventilation. And it’s triggering my asthma and I can’t breathe. Get the word out! Call the press! Tell people about these things that are happening.

“A girl just committed suicide. Tell people on the outside. They need to know that women commit suicide at a much higher rate in the women’s prison than all the other prisons combined. They need to know they’re serving us food that says, ‘Not for human consumption, bait.’ Things are green and things are purple and things are stamped DO NOT and yet we’re eating it.” I tried to get the word about all kinds of things.

Because the women thought I was a bad person, one woman threw caustic floor cleaner in my face and eyes. And that gave me a chemical burn on my eyes and face. In my left eye, I’ve only got 58% of my vision now. And I’ve got 85% in my right eye. But I had first aid training so I knew that I needed to wash it out with cold water. And then I begged for ice cubes to lower the chemical burn temperature down cause that’s what you do in basic first aid.

They would not let me have my ice cubes. They took my ice pack away from me. Then on the next shift I asked again and that lady gave me an ice pack but the next one that came on took it away. One person would be a kind guard. You could count on one hand all the people in the prison that were compassionate and would listen and be kind. And were doing good work. But that was about five people in the whole prison. For a month and a half my eyes burned because they did not give me proper medical care even though I begged for it every day.

So how did you finally get out?

 I got out because my people who had done all this work with all these affidavits before I was sentenced by the new judge, kept working on my behalf. They knew what had  happened to me was just so wrong. My attorney cried when I went to prison. He said, “I’m so sorry.” He gave me a hug and said, “I will do everything I can to get you out of here.” He wrote the appeal and won my appeal.

 The judges from the appeals court said that what had happened to me was egregious, my case should never have gone to trial in the first place. They lambasted the D.A.’s office but she still wouldn’t admit that she’d made a mistake. That she’d lied all the way through the whole thing and fabricated evidence and kept witnesses and investigators from testifying. She’d had a quash put on that investigator from TSPC so that he wouldn’t speak. My attorney and my investigators worked for me. They gathered even more evidence of my innocence. Then he won the appeal!

Have you been paid any kind of compensation?

 At this point, there’s no law in Oregon to allow me to have compensation and that’s why I have to create it. I have to go to the Oregon State Bar and place a complaint against the D.A. that did this to me. And against the judge that did this to me. Because what they did was deliberate and against the law. And I’m going to try to create a bill in the legislature that makes it like California, that has a law that says that it is a felony to withhold evidence. So then she [the prosecuting attorney] would be guilty of that crime. Because she did it deliberately, over and over again.

There are other states that have innocence commissions. I want to create an ombudsperson and an innocence commission and I will volunteer to be the first case for it.

I have come out because I won my case. The D.A. was furious. She didn’t want to admit that I was innocent. The appeals court reversed the conviction and vacated it. But, then it was sent back to the very same D.A. and the very same judge, the very same court that made the mistake in the first place. And they need to send it to a different set of people. But they don’t in Oregon. They just send it right back.

Are you saying that you’re still under some charges?

 Well I was still in prison when they said, “We are really sorry. You have earned a new trial but we don’t have any money to do it.” And my friends didn’t have money to do it again. Cause it was gonna take $136,000 to fight it again. Meanwhile the D.D.A. who prosecuted me was going to drag this out so that I would still be in prison the whole time I was waiting for my new trial. And I had just been badly hurt by people who had vowed they were gonna kill me. And I didn’t know that I’d be able to live through any more of that. [voice breaking]

 I’d gone through six times of not having my inhaler. And I’d almost died from that alone. And I’m not a big person. I’m really small, 5’1”. And they wouldn’t let me use tai chi to protect myself in prison. They told me if I ever used tai chi, I’d be put in the hole again. And I hadn’t survived it well the first time.

 My friends said, “They want you to take a plea deal. You don’t have to go to trial. Nicole wants you to say that what you did was harassment, a misdemeanor. That you tapped this kid and that she didn’t like it.”  That will be exaggerated and stretched to be called harassment. They would take away the [charge of being a sex criminal.] And I said, “Well, I’m not gonna do that!” I won my appeal on July 18th, but it was August 30th before I would agree. And I said, “I could never understand why people take a plea deal. But, I knew I was gonna get killed if I stayed.”

So you basically copped a plea.

Yes, but I didn’t say I was guilty, I said no contest because I didn’t actually commit that crime. It was a misdemeanor that I’d already served more than the time for. All fees, all fines, all everything were to disappear. And no probation, no parole, nothing required of me — it was all over.

I’ve told the legislature all of this as well, because I’ve been trying to stop some bad bills. I don’t want them to do this to anybody else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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AN INNOCENT TEACHER, PRESUMED GUILTY, IS RAILROADED TO PRISON (LUCINDA HITES-CLAUBAUGH — PART 3)

Lucinda: She reported that her child had said that a substitute had touched her. It didn’t go into any detail, but the intake people were brand new and they didn’t have proper training. The state protocols say that if you get told that there’s something like that you are supposed to call Cares Northwest. And at Cares Northwest they’re supposed to go to a 2-way mirror and interview with an impartial set of questions that can ascertain whether there’s really been a crime committed.

It’s supposed to be a trained person that’s an MD, psychiatrist, psychologist, and so on, not just anybody. And it’s all supposed to be fully recorded, not just audio but a videotape. So, there is state precedent for what they were supposed to do and they didn’t do it. What they did instead was DHS [Department of Human Services] contacted the school and then put things into the hopper for police.

 They immediately jumped to conclusions. They didn’t ask enough questions. They presumed my guilt. They were obviously thinking it was abuse. So second day I’m teaching and things are a little bit better. I write up the end of the sub report. I clean up the room enough so [the regular teacher] can see the substitute report and my phone number and I say, “Please call me and ask me any questions. We really need to talk about what happened with these kids.”

So I left all that information for her. The third day I worked at a kindergarten classroom in the same school. I’d already known I was gonna do that. The kindergarten classroom was actually connected with an equipment room right next to the room where I had been teaching. I was looking for supplies that the teacher from kindergarten had said would be in this back room and when I looked, I said, ‘O my gosh! I think that’s the classroom I was just in.’ I knocked and  opened the door and there was the regular teacher back! And guess who she was talking to? The troubled girl.

And I said, “Oh good! You’re here. I was your substitute teacher for the last two days and I’m teaching right next door today. I see you’re busy, but I really need you to read your substitute report. Have you had a chance to read it yet?”  (It was 14 pages, written with really big handwriting and half sheets of torn construction paper, cause I couldn’t find regular paper.)

And she just kind of looked at me.

 Sylvia: So, what happened? Was there a legal process?

 Yeah! Cause the DHS had contacted the police and so on the third day I was finishing up, starting to write up my sub report for kindergarten, and the vice principal walks in and he goes, “How’s your day been?” And I told him some good things that had happened. And he acted distracted and said, “Well, I need you to come down and talk about something in the office.”

He took me into a room in the back office and there are two uniformed police officers and just one chair. The vice principal nodded to the policemen and then he left. And I thought, “That vice principal just lied to me.” He told me he wanted to talk to me and he didn’t. And I was very aware of the fact that I was a Quaker and these guys had guns, but I’d been a teacher a long time and I’d reported 16 times in my career for children who’d been either neglected or physically abused and had marks on them and things that were obvious evidence of a problem.

 So I sat down and I said, “How may I help you?” Cause I thought they needed my help. And they started doing the Reed technique of interrogation where they have one person on one side of you, to the far side of your peripheral vision and the other is on the other far side of your peripheral vision. They go back and forth asking rapid fire questions with a very harsh tone.

 It was brought from Nazi Germany and to this day they train police officers in interrogation methods at our Oregon police academy with those techniques. Some states say it’s illegal. [big inhale] They started asking me questions with this technique and it makes you dizzy. It disorients you. Cause you’re going really quickly from one face to the other and you’re starting to answer the question and the other one starts asking questions on top of that one.

 You’re disoriented by it. And you’re going, “Why is this happening?” Cause as an innocent person you don’t know what the heck they’re talking about. It’s all based on a presumption of guilt. It’s really horrible. But, anyway, it made me dizzy. And it was very frustrating because you couldn’t answer the question fully before they’d start asking the other one.

I thought they were wanting me to help them and they were asking what’s my name, and some other basic stuff. But then they started asking did anybody have any physical contact with … I can’t remember how they’d say it. I didn’t see any kid attacking or molesting another kid. And I thought to myself, well maybe Aldo who’s really big, maybe he bumped up against one of the girls or something. But, I hadn’t seen that. This was May 15th of 2008. I was trying to answer their questions completely but I said, “Wait a minute. What’s going on?” And then they said, “No, no. You are being accused of assaulting a student.” And I said, “You’ve gotta be kidding.”

I says, “I’m a teacher. [gasp-y laugh] I’ve spent, my whole career sacrificing and giving and helping and serving and I don’t hurt people.” I couldn’t believe it. I said, “You need to investigate very thoroughly and carefully, because if somebody really has assaulted somebody then you need to find out all about that but you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’m not it.”

 And then I said, “I’m going to reach down,” and I put my hands up in the air because they had guns, “I’m going to get my cell phone from my purse and call my husband.” Because he was a federally commissioned law enforcement agent for the park service years ago so he knew about police work. “I need to have a witness to what you are saying and what you are doing to me here. Because what you’re doing to me is wrong.” And I told my husband, “Sweetie, you’ll never guess what’s happening. These people are accusing me of assaulting a child.” And he says, “What?! You’ve gotta be kidding.” I said, “I know! I don’t have time for this. Well, stay on the line, Sweetie, because I need you to be a witness to this and I need this to be recorded.”

They didn’t have the right to interrogate me and say things about me when there was no witness. So I said, “I’m gonna walk out that door and find the union rep and then we’re gonna come back and if you need to ask me questions, then that person is going to write down exactly what questions you’re asking me and, verbatim, what my responses to you are. Until I have a witness I’m not gonna say another word.”

The building rep had gone home already. There was a young teacher who was a union rep and I said, “Sweetheart, this is not meant disrespectfully, but I need to have the oldest, white haired guy who’s been up against administration with unions, because I don’t think you’ll understand why you need to listen as carefully as you’re gonna need to listen.” And just as I was out there in the hallway talking to other teachers trying to get some help, the policemen come trotting after me and they said, “We want you to come down to the station with us.”

And I said, “No, I’m not going anywhere. I have not done anything. I am innocent and I need to have a union rep to record everything and then we can talk.” And I said, “I’ve got a class that I’ve got to go to for renewing my teaching license. And I’ve gotta get home. I’ve got a family. And I’m not going anywhere with you tonight.”

They handed their card to the vice principal. And then the vice principal handed me a little short letter typed up from the personnel director that said, “As of this moment you are no longer a substitute teacher for Woodburn School District and you are to leave the property of the school.”

The vice principal said, “I need you to get your stuff with me.” And so I said, “I haven’t finished my sub report for the teacher. I feel really badly leaving it unfinished.” But I grabbed my stuff and I said, “I assure you, I have not committed any crime. I have not hurt any child.” And I had tears in my eyes. And then I was escorted off the property. I got in my car and I cried a little bit but I thought, “Well, I’ve gotta get to my class.” So, I drove to my class in a different school. I gave my presentation to the class to get my credit and then I asked one of the other teachers, “Are you still the building rep for the union?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Can we go talk?”

[After I explained what had happened,] he said, “Call this number for the Uniserve rep and they’ll get you in touch with the lawyers with the OEA.” [The Oregon Education Association is the teachers’ union.] The Uniserve is Union rep specialists that cover several districts. I called the Uniserve rep. and they said, “You did exactly the right thing. You asked for a union rep and that helps to start the Weingartner act. It prevents them from being able to arrest you on the spot.” It’s like declaring your rights with the ACLU.

“You asked for a union rep so they could witness and record what was happening. They were interrogating you illegally. It was improper for the vice principal to leave the room and leave you alone with them. You didn’t have to say a thing. The bad news is they’re going to use everything you have said against you. Tell me about your day. Were there any kids that misbehaved?”

So I told him the story I told you. And they said, “Of all those people, who do you think maybe caused this?” And I said, “Well the first person  I would have guessed was Aldo, but they said it was a girl.” So it was probably the girl that I had tapped. Cause I had disciplined her and she didn’t have her recess and she was shocked, maybe. She didn’t act shocked but it may have been surprised when I tapped her.”

“You haven’t broken any laws.” he said. “The bad news is they’re gonna try to twist this and put you in prison. And they may actually be able to do so because they wanna make an example out of a bad teacher.”

Then I called the union itself and asked, “Should I go down with the building rep?” and they said, “No, no. Don’t go until you go with the OEA attorneys.” I’d belonged and paid my dues for many years but that year I didn’t have a contract. I was substitute teaching. And it didn’t matter if I’d been a member for 25 years. I was not under contract. So the OEA said, “I’m sorry. We can’t help you.” I couldn’t believe it. I was left high and dry. I was gonna have to pay for this by myself and they would not be able to assist. Which is wrong. They said, “ They’ll probably charge you with child sexual abuse 1 which is a felony. It’s 6 years, 3 months in prison and then you’ll be registered as a sex offender for the rest of your life.”

I said, “That’s not what happened!” And they said, “It doesn’t matter that that’s not what happened. They’ll try to twist that into being the story cause they want the conviction.

We’re sorry, we can’t help you.” But I should go instead to Todd. He’s a good attorney that has taken some OEA cases. He’s expensive, but he’s good. So I looked him up, got an appointment, paid 350 bucks for an hour of his time. And had a friend drive me down cause I was so shaken up that I couldn’t drive. My husband had to work so my friend took me down

 Todd was a good attorney. He started at the very beginning saying, “Tell me about the day in question. What happened?” So I was able to tell him the details. And I said, “May I touch you to demonstrate how I tapped her? It was very light, like a feather but, it zapped her chakra points so energy did flow through them for the first time in a long time.” [deep breath

 On the third day, when I was there in the kindergarten room, first recess in the morning this girl taps the teacher and she says, “The substitute teacher touched me.” And the teacher, who’s a second year teacher, freaked out. And presumed things. She thought that the kid was pointing down with her finger. But the gesture that she made could have been interpreted quite differently.

And instead of saying, ”Where did she touch you?” the first year teacher thought that some kind of abuse had happened down somewhere. So she went running to the principal and said, “My child from my class has just said this.” And she’s forgetting that this is the kid that lies. She’s forgetting that this kid has falsely accused other people of other things. She’s just freaking out and the principal freaks out with her.

The school counselor was called in by the principal. And the principal said, “I want you to talk to this girl. We believe she’s been sexually abused. We want you to find out what happened and get a statement.”

She never should’ve given out this sort of judgment in advance.

 But the principal did judge. The school counselor brought the kid in and, unfortunately, she didn’t record it. By law you’re supposed to record it. She should’ve taken her to Cares Northwest and had them do it. She did take anecdotal records for her counseling files. Which is good. She wrote a little bit in there. What she asked was just open-ended questions. “Can you tell me what happened?” And the girl shows her a chi gong tap. One finger chi gong tap, just bloop! And [the counselor] looks at her and says, “What?” At first she said, “The teacher touched me.” And the second time she said, “The teacher hit me.” And she shows her this “chi gong” tap. And it looks like a little flying thing with her hand, just a little flying thing that grazed her front was all she showed her. And the counselor said, “How do you feel about that?” “Well, OK.” “Anything else you want to tell me?” “No.”

Did she mention the tap on the forehead?

 No, she didn’t. So the counselor said, “We want you to feel safe at school. If you have anything else you wanna tell me, come back.” She went and said to the principal, “There’s nothing to report here, nothing that rises to the level of a crime.” And the principal wanted there to be something. She didn’t like me. Because I didn’t think she knew what she was doing and it must’ve showed. [chuckles] Cause I’d been kind of critical one time when I had sent a different kid and they had sent the kid right back and I had said, “I would appreciate it if you would keep this child and would counsel, you know…. So anyway, the principal didn’t like me. So the counselor was told that she needs to talk to her again because the principal believes that there must be something more.

So the counselor calls her in again and she shows her the same thing, this little chi gong tap and she said, “Is there anything else?” And “No.” “How do you feel about that? Do you feel okay?” And she goes, “Mm. Yeah.” She hesitated a little bit, maybe she didn’t like it, the second time. Because the adults were putting a lot of pressure. You taint the statement of the kid if you keep badgering them — and if it’s not recorded, how do you know?

 That’s one of the things the Innocence Project really looks at is the tainting of statements of witnesses. So, the counselor goes back and says, “There is nothing reportable here. No crime has been committed.” And the principal says, “Well, it’s too late anyway. It’s out of your hands, I have called the police.” And that’s when they’d come and taken me.

 So then I’d gone to Todd, the attorney in Salem, and had showed him and tapped on him the way I had on the student. And he said, “This is fine. This is not gonna be a problem. The jury would just need to hear you tell your statement about this and then learn about you as a teacher and your work, have people who know you as a person of good moral character. And then we’ll do an investigation to get these kids and everybody as witnesses. Alibi witnesses, that nothing had happened.” Cause I was with the whole class when this had happened.

 Todd tells me it’s gonna cost $136,000 to fight these false charges. And I said, “Well, my house isn’t even worth that much. I could sell my house and be homeless and I still wouldn’t have enough to pay you. I could give you barter and exchange of organic vegetables and fruit for life. I could work for you as an interpreter/translator for court or something but I don’t have that kind of money. I’ve always given my money away to people who needed it more than I did.” He says, “Well, you’re gonna need $10,000.00 for bail. Otherwise, you’ll be going straight to prison and be in the county jail right away.

“You’ll be manacled and led over and they’ll probably hurt cause they put ‘em on too tight. You’re gonna be taken over to the county jail and they’ll be making you undress and checking out your body cavities and then they’re gonna put you into a jail cell and you’ll be there for a little while.” Well, it ended up being 6 ½ hours with people who were crazy, who were on drugs and all kinds of things. But anyway, they did arrest me. But then my husband paid $5,000 bail. They released me to his recognizance but I couldn’t be near children. So suddenly now I didn’t have a job. And at church I couldn’t be around children. Just all the things that I do in my life.

 Fortunately, I didn’t have small children. My son was 19 and in college. And then he’d gone off to Alaska to work so he’d been up in Alaska a few months. And thank goodness he was as mature as he was during all this, to handle the stress of it. Anyway I said, “I don’t even have $5000. I don’t have that kind of money in my bank account. We’re not rich people. I have a teacher’s salary, but we don’t have a lot.”

My husband worked as the caretaker for the United Methodist Church. And then he was working for an old couple that had been in the church. He was their gardener and did landscaping for them. And also helped them a little bit with stuff in the inside cause they were in their 90’s and they were needing help. So we were suddenly thrust upon his salary alone and it’d always taken the two of our salaries to pay all of our bills.

 We unplugged our TV and we turned off the heat. We did all kinds of things to save money. Because we only had his salary which was a meager one in comparison to my teaching salary that I’d had. I was suddenly unemployed.

I started immediately calling my friends and telling them what had happened. And asking what they thought I should do. Cause I couldn’t afford the good attorney. I qualified for the public defender. But when I showed up at the public defender’s office the first words out of his mouth were, “I have 87 open cases and I don’t have time to hand hold. I want you to just plead to this and get it over with.”

 And I said, “What?! I’m a Quaker. I don’t lie. And I’m not gonna say I’m guilty of something I haven’t done.” He said, “Well, the teacher says that and the principal says this is a good kid.” I said, “This principal doesn’t know the children at the school. And she doesn’t know this child. And that’s not true. I’m being lied about and the whole class are my witnesses to this.”

 But the public defender wanted me to take a lie detector test instead of actually going out and investigating. And I did take a lie detector test. And I knew I would pass it because I was innocent, but I had asthma and I was on eight different asthma and allergy medications which affect my heart and my breathing. And when you study those things you discover that you can get a false reading or an inaccurate reading that is not able to determine your innocence fully.

And I thought, “Oh my god.” I know I told the truth and I figured it would save me. And instead they’re telling me that these are things that they can’t really tell. But I didn’t do this! So I need to have those kids, I need those witnesses. I need their affidavits. And so I told people to go and search there. And the public defender wasn’t even gonna listen to me.

They’re understaffed and underpaid.

 Yeah, they’re very understaffed. I called to my friends, I said, “I need a real attorney. This guy’s not gonna help me.”

 People from the Bridge City and the Fanno Creek and Multnomah [Quaker] monthly meetings all helped me. I had friends from California, from my Quaker meeting down there that helped me. They sent me the money I needed to afford an attorney that would hopefully listen. Problem is they didn’t send me enough. That guy was not making up that figure, that was the going rate, between $125,000 and $136,000. And you could pay more for a really good attorney but I didn’t have $150,000. What does a poor person do in this country? Everybody who’s black or Hispanic and has poor financial means is put in that situation. They’re stuck.

 There’s absolutely no justice for people that are poor. And I didn’t know that until I experienced it. My eyes were opened to a whole set of people that I would never have been friends with or gotten to know that had slipped between the cracks. They were people I would have avoided most of my life. You know, “Oh, those people have troubles. I’ll just walk on the other side of the street.” I had to deal with people like this every day in my cell. So that they wouldn’t kill me. It was a very different experience.

CONTINUED IN PART 4

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GOOD DEED BACKFIRES: ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ABUSE (LUCINDA HITES-CLAUBAUGH — PART 2

Sylvia: Now, please tell me how you got wrongly imprisoned.

 Lucinda: Well, that’s related to my training in Tibetan chi gong. It’s a healing technique that I learned when I was doing my dance therapy work in New York. And it’s very effective with PTSD sufferers. It’s been used effectively by the VA here in Portland. They have an incredible success rate when people use “tapping”. Tapping techniques help things literally, like bubbles, to pop out of people. And they can make big changes that come out of the unconscious or subconscious better than anything I’ve ever seen in PTSD work.

 In California I’d been tenured and I’d been tenured at other places but in Oregon I was a substitute teacher. I found myself without a contract because I’d been laid off so I was substituting down in Woodburn because a friend of mine was a counselor at a school down there and she said, “Oh! You could get a job down here easily because you’re such a good teacher and you care and you’re bilingual, [Many of the students in Woodburn are the children of Spanish-speaking farm laborers.]

So I’d been a sub at three different schools down there and I was letting people get to know me and watch me teach and watch how I worked with kids. So eventually I would get an interview and would have a real job again. I was subbing practically every day, driving all the way from Forest Grove down to Woodburn.

I’d gotten a call and I was going to be a music teacher for K2 that day and I was looking forward to it cause I love to teach music and play guitar. And she calls from the [district office] and says, “No. You have to turn around and go to this other school because I can’t find anybody else to take that class.” It was a class at an elementary school and they said it was like a 3rd/4th combination class. Nobody would take that class. And I thought, if nobody else in the sub system wants to take that class there must be a reason.

 So I said, “No. I’m already here and I’m looking forward to [being a music teacher.] “No,” she goes, she says, “You have to take that class!” [deep breath] And I thought, OK. I want to be a team-player. I want to get a job in the district. But I thought to myself, what is wrong with that class?– and turns out that there were a couple of kids in the class that were really difficult.

 [The school secretary] couldn’t find the attendance sheet or any of the stuff with the kids’ names on it to take roll. So, I made my way through the other 800 kids that were trying to get to their classes through the hallways and sure enough these kids were already there in the classroom. I calmed everybody down and I asked for their cooperation. It was bilingual so I was speaking in Spanish cause when I asked, the kids raised their hands and said they were all from Mexico, except for one girl who had been born in the United States.

Turns out they had a sub the day before. She fed them little Jolly Rancher candies and let them do whatever they wanted. No work was required and it was a play day. I found a mountain of papers on the teacher’s desk. I tried to find an attendance sheet and a lesson plan. I’d asked if there was a lesson plan and the secretary had said no that morning. That’s OK cause I can wing it. But I needed to have names of kids in case there was an emergency to know who the heck’s parents to call. I eventually found a sheet that was from October and this was May. And there are all these names crossed off. It was really hard to read. So, I started making my own list and to discover who had actually moved and stuff.

 There were supposed to be like 25 kids in the class but there were only, I think, 19 or 20. I was totally dependent upon the goodness of these kids to be honest about who is who. And at one point one brave little boy said, “That’s not her name! That’s not who she is! That’s not her seat! She’s supposed to be sitting over there!” The other kids glared at him. I thought, ‘What a brave little boy.’ His name was Jesus. [chuckles]

And so I said, Aha, a kid I can rely upon to at least tell me the truth. So I started jotting down little descriptions of what was happening. And then a bunch of kids got up and they moved to what had been their real seats. And only 30 minutes into the school day, the kids are supposed to be reading on a rug and working cooperatively as partners. This girl gets up and she pokes me and I noticed that she hadn’t even cracked a book to do her reading time.

 I’d gone around 3 or 4 times and said, “Please get out your book.” But she didn’t, she just kept playing. She was humming and talking to herself and then she taps me and she tattles on these boys. “Those boys over there! Kicking and hitting each other!” And I looked at them and I didn’t see them kicking or hitting. And the boys immediately pop up and — Hispanic boys aren’t supposed to cry. But, these boys had tears in their eyes and they said, “Teacher! She’s lying! She doesn’t like him so she’s trying to get him in trouble. She always does that! She’s always lying and trying to get people in trouble!” And the boy points at the girl and he practically spits out the words, he says, “You, you mentirosa.” Which means liar girl.

All the boys in the room were shaking their head in agreement, saying, “Yeah. She’s always trying to get us in trouble.” She ended up being the person who falsely accused me. And turns out that was her modus operandi, you know. She actually did that a lot.

So she accused you of what?

 Well, let me just tell you the story. First, the girl looked shocked. She got mad because she wasn’t controlling me. Apparently, the other teachers believed her when she told stuff. And I had said, “No.” That I wanted her to go back and do her work. And she put her arms crossed, and stomp stomp stomp, and refused to do any work.

Could she read?

 She could. I don’t know that she was a good reader. I think that she had some problems with reading. But she was refusing to get out her book or do anything. Instead, she was tearing apart an eraser. And then she was chanting to herself, rocking, forward and backward and she was saying mentirosa, mentirosa which is what the boys had called her. And I’d seen that kind of chanting and rocking behavior when I worked in the mental institute.

 A little click went off in my head, ‘Ah!’ I worked in alternative high school classrooms with adjudicated kids a number of different years in my career. They’d been through the system and this was their last shot. Expelled from regular schools and it was this or go back to prison. I remembered a kid that had stabbing and bloody knives and everything and kept saying, “I’m bad. I’m evil. I’m bad. I’m evil.” Had this negative tape that he didn’t have goodness.

It was only another like 15 minutes and this other girl starts sobbing, wailing at the top of her lungs. And I thought, O my gosh. Must be blood on the carpet or something. I started running toward the sound and all the little girls in the class go swarming around and create a protective shield around this crying girl. And the only girl in the class that didn’t do that was the girl that was falsely accusing kids. She was off in the far corner, rocking back and forth and chanting to herself. And when she heard this girl sobbing, she was smiling.

And I thought, “Oh my gosh. This kid is sick.” She is sadistic enough to think it’s OK to hurt other people and she gets pleasure out of it. She needs long-term help. All these other girls were trying to pat and console [the crying girl]. I said to her in Spanish, “My child, why are you crying?” She sobbed so hard it was hard to understand her but one of the little girls said, “That girl,” and she pointed to the girl who was out there by herself, rocking and chanting, “She was saying that this boy likes her,” and blah blah blah blah blah. So it was really a nothing. It was a verbal thing. It wasn’t a physical attack.

And what I learned about the lying girl later was that she would make up stories to get attention. And she would also make up huge stories to try and belong. An example is, they’re all talking about allowances. Everybody was one-upping, you know. “I get this much. I get this much.” And she said she gets $500 for her allowance each week. And the teacher knew that that couldn’t be. She called the parents and they said, “She doesn’t even have an allowance. We’re migrant workers!” The teacher had talked to the parents previously about the child’s lying and having trouble making friends. She was falsely accusing people of things and being mean to them and trying to make them cry. You could understand why she was having some people ostracize her.

The class had a little stuffed penguin when they did Antarctica as their Science/Social Studies unit. And the little mascot penguin had disappeared. The class was all sad that somebody had stolen it. And then on the teacher’s birthday the lying girl wraps it up and she re-gifts it to her. And she gives it to her as a big deal in front of an all-school assembly, cause at the beginning of every school day, they start the day by singing and having an all-school community time. And they sing and have announcements and then the parents leave. It’s a very nice bilingual community outreach thing they do.

So the lying girl does this in front of 800 people. She says, “This is a gift for your birthday.” And the teacher opens it and goes, “Oh! That’s where our class mascot penguin has gone!” And the girl looks horrified and she says, “Oh no. This one is brand new. My uncle took me to Portland and I watched them make it in the toy factory.”

She went into all this detail about how she’d seen the penguin being made and she used her $500 allowance to buy it. And she did this in front of the whole school. And the teacher knew that it was the penguin that had been missing, but this kid dug in deeper, she won’t give in with the lie. And she did that with a number of things. I learned this after investigators eventually checked. When I was, unfortunately, already needing to stay out of prison [deep breath].

So, what did she accuse you of?

 Let me tell you the process. This girl who’s been sobbing gets comforted and then everybody’s OK and I think, I’ve got to start dealing with this because this kid is upsetting everybody. What could I do to help heal her? She was very confused kid and didn’t have friends — and that was brought home later at math time when everybody got a partner or a small group but she was not chosen by anyone. No one wanted to be around her cause she was a loose cannon.

[Meanwhile I also had to deal with] Aldo, this big kid who was in the class because he couldn’t read and was physically bigger than I am. He weighed almost twice as much as I did.

Aldo was causing a lot of trouble and this girl that was lying so much and ended up falsely accusing me, looked up to him like she was a little puppy dog and she would copy, like an echo, what he said. And if he did something, she would try and do it, too.

 So then it was recess time and I said, “I’m going to release people to go to recess as they show me their work. I’ve been watching who’s been working” and I start pointing and 2/3rds of the class got to go. Nine kids were left and one of them was the kid who was accusing people cause she hadn’t done a stitch of work. Everybody else starts writing furiously and she’s just still rocking and arms crossed and acting snotty. And, one by one, I was letting ‘em go. And Aldo had already been sent to the office. [But the lying girl] missed the whole recess.

After recess she misbehaved again. She was sitting in her seat and I scrunched down, kneeled so that I would be below her eye level and I talked to her. I tried to counsel her. “If you want to have friends, you’re going to have to stop telling lies about people. Not trying to get them in trouble. That’s not a good way to make friends. People are not going to like you if you do that.” And “if you want to be a friend you have to be kinder to people.” This whole time I was trying to talk to her, she was chanting and looking away from me.

 And so I thought, What would Jesus do? He would help her. What would the Dalai Lama say. He’d say “Help this child.” So I took my middle finger on my right hand, cause that’s the tapping finger for chi gong and I tapped on the upper part of her sternum. The sternum is the breastbone, right below the little dip in your neck, like an inch and a half down. If you tap with your finger you can feel it resonate in your whole chest.

 I did a little one and a half second tap, little double tap. Right on that spot cause that’s the sub-chakra point of your heart chakra. It affects your lungs. And when people have PTSD and they’re afraid, they tighten down in those muscles and they hold their breath. When you tap, they let go. You release that breath and that tightness for who knows how many years lets go. And you take a deep new breath and let the energy flow up your chakra. All of your whole alignment actually, up to the crown of your head. And it brings all that knowledge up to your third eye. The mind is centered there so that you can become an awareness then. Meta-cognitive awareness that you might not have had before, so it will help integrate it. [big breath]  So [as I tapped her] I said, “You need to change your heart.” Cause she needed to heal her heart, and she needed to know that she had control over doing that.

 She stopped chanting for a second. She was surprised. She didn’t expect that. And then she took a breath. And then when she took a breath I tapped her on her third eye. For again, one and a half seconds, while I said, “You need to change your mind.” Cause she needed to heal her mind and integrate what had happened. And then she went right back to chanting again. And she turned away from me again.

It was like, for a split second, she had a moment where she connected with humanity. She connected with everybody else in her classroom. She was in a spot where she was not used to being. I did not have her tied down in a chair. I was not sequestering her. But I did have physical contact with her for one and a half seconds. With a double tap, upper chest. It’s not an intimate part of the body. It’s not a sexual part of the body. It was not done in a sexual way. It was not done with any intention that was anything but to help her and to heal her. And to calm her down and to center her. Because I knew she had to be grounded. And I knew it would ground her. And it did ground her for a split second.

It grounded her enough that she did not hurt any of the kids the rest of the two days that I was there. And she did not say mean things to the other kids the rest of the time I was there. She still was chanting and being very much alone but then she actually started to talk to a couple of other kids. Some of the girls were being nice to her. And were tolerating her more. She still didn’t do any work the whole time she was there. [laughs] She was still defiant and had her arms crossed and lip out and she didn’t like my authority. She didn’t like me cause I’d kept her from recess. And she had said in Spanish, “You don’t have the authority to do that!”

 And I said, “Actually, I do…. I’m a substitute family person who cares about you, I care about all of you. I want you to be safe and that’s why you have to mind me because there might be an emergency and I need you to mind me right away.” When I tapped her and she had just gone back to chanting my heart sank. Cause I realized that as a substitute teacher I was not the one to help her in the long term She needed long term therapy..

So what happened as a result of this?

 This kid was a troubled child. She didn’t say anything to me. I waited for her to ask questions or anything about what had happened, but she didn’t. She just went  back to her chanting. But in her tradition in Mexico there are curanderas. So, I thought, ‘Well, maybe her parents had taken her to a curandera for healing before or something. Maybe this won’t be too outside of her realm of experience.

 The next day they called me again and they said the regular teacher was still sick. And I said, “Okaaay.” [gasp-y laugh] Because for continuity’s sake we should have me again, right? And they said, “Well, nobody else would take the class.” So, I came back for the second day and I was really thinking I should just quit being a substitute teacher. Cause it was really hell. Aldo was difficult and she was difficult, too.

I wrote down in a substitute’s report everything that had happened and everything that I had done. These were my observations and these were my concerns about this child and I would recommend highly that she be evaluated for an emotionally disturbed, behaviorally disordered classroom with an IEP. I wrote a 14-page sub report of all the details over the two days of all the kids and their misbehaviors. And I kept mentioning her and Aldo.

 Also, the very first day when I tried to get the door undone, the lock mechanism was broken. It was spinning around and round, it was really difficult to keep the door unlocked and keep it in that position. So I had opened it but then I had to put a trash can to prop it open for the day. Cause I had to get the keys back to the office. But some kids had come through and they must’ve slammed the door shut.

Now, this was unbeknownst to me because it was a double door, a door on the hallway. Then there was a room that had play equipment and a chair. And I’d had to set that door open as well to get fresh air and open the classroom. Kids had slammed that first one shut but I couldn’t see that because of the little mini hallway of that second room before you get to the second door. So, the principal comes, knock, knock. And it was noisy because of Aldo and I couldn’t hear him at first. Then you can hear his keys rattling and he opens up and he’s, “Why is this door locked?!” And I was like, “I didn’t realize it was locked.” And he acts as if I intentionally locked the door.

But, I didn’t have time to talk to him about that right then cause I was in the middle of the kids dealing with Aldo. And he said, “How’s it going?” And I said, “I really don’t have time to talk to you right now but I would like to talk to you later. Most of the kids are fine there are a couple of kids that are a little difficult, I’m writing it all up in my sub report and I’ll try to talk to you after school.” But he’d acted real weird [because] he thought the door was locked on purpose.

After school, I’d been writing and writing on this sub report and then I went to get the address and phone number to make a home visit to this false accuser’s home. Cause when I’m a substitute teacher, if there’s anything weird that would happen I would want to go on a home visit and talk to the parents. But the person that would have that information was not at school that day. I went to the main office and everybody in that school got out of there immediately when the contract for the union was up. It was all locked up and lights were off. So I said, I’ll just have to do it early in the morning — but the lady wasn’t there the second day either.

There still was no lesson plan. There still wasn’t an attendance sheet. I’d sent my own version that I’d hand written with Jesus the first day and I didn’t know if it was accurate. I had said I need to have you print this out for me please. But they were too busy and they didn’t. [big breath] So on the second day, shortly before we leave for the day, a girl comes down from the office and she has the lesson plan that I was supposed to have had for 2 days. And I said, “Oh, you gotta be kidding.” Because I’d been needing that so badly.

So I went through it and I said, “Well, let’s see what your teacher really wanted us to do. And I read what she’d written to the kids. “I know you can all behave very nicely for the sub. I’m gonna be really proud of you.” And the kids all glared at Aldo and the girl who’d been lying – who would be my accuser — cause they knew that they had not been behaving, those two, the whole time. And thank goodness, cause later in the affidavits the whole class all told the same story. They all said, “That girl always makes up stories. This is what really happened.” And what they said is exactly what I said. But, none of that got to come out in the courtroom. The judge the jury never heard that.

So, what were you being charged with?

 The [lying] girl had said to a girl on the way out the door that first night, “I’m gonna tell my parents that the teacher touched me!” And so she goes home and I don’t know what she started to say, and if the parents jumped to conclusions and started wailing. The kid went along with it because her mom was at least paying attention to her instead of paying attention to the older, pregnant daughter and all the boys in the family. She either didn’t tell the truth of what happened to her parents or they presumed, they made it up. But mom called the Department of Health and Human Services on the hotline, Child Protective Services.

CONTINUED IN PARTS 3 AND 4

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DAUGHTER OF IDEALISTS SETS OUT TO REFORM HER WORLD

Sylvia: It’s July 17, 2017 and I’m interviewing Lucinda Hites-Claubaugh.  I know that you’re a Quaker, you’re 60 years old, and for over two years you were imprisoned for a crime you did not commit. Now you’re working to correct the system. Has activism been your main career or did you shift into it at some point in your life?

 Lucinda:  I was 14, 15 years old when I started becoming a political activist. I was a member of the National Organization for Women, I had a subscription to Ms. magazine and I read everything I could get my hands on about feminism. My great grandma, Jenny, was a suffragette. She ran for the Iowa state legislature back when women didn’t even have a vote. But, she ran anyway. And of course she didn’t win but she really raised a lot of consciousness.

My dad had some Mennonite background and he grew up very poor. He believed in leading a life of service. He was an engineering student and my mom was a teaching student and they decided to switch and go into medicine together. He became an M.D. and she became a registered nurse. And then they went out to Colorado to create free clinics, basically, in the late 50’s, early 60’s. My mom and dad were examples to me of living simply, being aware of your environment and then living a life of service. And so I figured everybody grew up that way. [laughs]

My dad charged $5.00 for an office visit. Then right before he retired he charged $10.00 for an office visit because he really believed that people should not have health care kept from them. And he never ever put anybody into collections and never made people pay him. So I grew up thinking, well, you just have to be really smart, study hard and get scholarships to go to college. I didn’t have any idea that my parents were just kind of unique that way.

I planned on taking over my dad’s practice someday and having his little black bag and going on house calls the way he went on house calls in the hogans. I grew up by the Ute Mountain, Ute Indian reservation. And he would go to these hogans. And I had never seen a person sweep a dirt floor before. [chuckles] I can remember a lot of pinto bean farmers down there. They would bring huge hundred pound sacks of dry pinto beans and pay my dad by giving us pinto beans or a big bushel basket of peaches or pickles. And a couple people wove rugs or made jewelry. And so I grew up with that. And I was also experiencing what it is to be a minority.

Because you were white?

 Yeah. When I was 6, I had an experience that also shaped my activism. I was in first grade and they bussed these kids from the reservation that were only 3 or 4 years old who were Ute speaking. They made them go to the school with us on the school bus and they forced them to not speak Ute. They had to speak in English. And they made them stick out their hands and they slapped their hands with a ruler really hard. And it made them cry. And I can remember thinking, even as a 6 year old, I saw the injustice in that. I was angry that these children were not being allowed to speak their native language from home. And I became a bilingual teacher. [laughs]

 Children from the reservation were my best friends in the Brownies and the Girl Scouts. I’d grown up in a unique place and I’d seen people being treated badly. Local people treating the Ute tribal members badly in the stores and other places and I can remember thinking, “Why do they do that?” You know? So I became an activist in a lot of ways.

I think I found some of my spiritual guidance and direction when I was very little. There wasn’t a Quaker meeting in that small place, but my mom went to a Presbyterian church and I can remember standing on the pew backwards and looking at the people and everything was silent and I can remember the sun shining through the stained-glass windows and then when people sang, beautiful music, beautiful colors, you know, quiet and peace, and people smiling at me. And I really felt the presence of Spirit.

Do you want to talk about some of the things you may have done in your teens that were activist?

 Well, I was a gymnast. I was pretty good because I had been a dancer and so I qualified for the state [competitions] when I was in Junior High. The district meets and state meets on the balance beam and floor exercise. Each school sends a team of gymnasts. And our girls’ teams were not being treated the same as the boys’ teams. The woman who was our coach, she would hardly get anything as her pay, being the gymnastics coach, and yet our team qualified for State all four years in high school.

 We were really good. We had an incredible record cause this woman who was our gymnastics coach had been on the Olympic team. We’d had to come up with our own money and fund raising for our own uniforms for the girls and our transportation in her Volkswagen van to go to meets. And pay for our own meals and the whole bit. Whereas the boys were taking money that the Boosters had raised and I was a Booster for supporting school teams and they were taking that money and they were going to carpet the boys’ locker room.

 So, I thought this isn’t right. And then we were practicing for the State meet and we still had 2 weeks to go and we all of a sudden looked up and the boys were dragging our mats away and they said, “Well, wrestling team needs these mats.” And we said, “But your wrestling season doesn’t even start yet.’ And they said, “The coach says we get these mats.”

So, the injustice of those things really upset me. So I wrote a letter to the editorial page of our local paper, the Fort Collins Colorado and it got published. And here I was a high school student and I was criticizing the school district for allowing these policies, that our girls team was not being treated the same as the boys teams. And our coach wasn’t being paid the same amount of money. And the school board members starting calling my parents and upsetting my parents and criticizing me for “How dare I criticize the school district?” And I got hate mail.

And then I was nominated by somebody on the faculty for a scholarship. I guess it was my senior year and it was called The Honor Athlete Award. And they had a father/son banquet in which they would announce the winner of this good size scholarship. And you had to be both an athlete and also have a great academic background. I went in and I said, “How much do I pay, you know, for tickets for my dad and I?” And I was told I couldn’t go.

I was told that it was for fathers and sons and I was obviously not a son. And I said, “Well, my dad is very proud of the fact that I’m an Honor Athlete and is willing to go in spite of the fact that I’m not a boy.” And they said, “No. You can’t go cause they’ll tell some racy jokes that are inappropriate for girls.” So, again I called the press. I called media. I wrote another letter. They did a front page story on me in the Fort Collins Colorado.

 The principal was telling me that I maybe was gonna be expelled from school but it made national news cause NOW picked it up. And there was an attorney that knocked on my front door and said, “I’m from the National Organization for Women.” She said that that they would take care of all the expenses but would I be willing to be a person to start a suit because of Title IX sex discrimination laws, which needed to be challenged in court. and I said, “Well, of course.” And my parents were a little dubious but they nodded OK.

If I may interrupt you for a minute, were there other children in your family?

 Oh yeah, there were 4 of us. My brother was the oldest, and then I was the eldest daughter. There were 3 girls. And then my sister Kathy was killed in a head on car collision years ago. So, anyway, the school district backed down really fast, the moment that they knew the suit had been filed. And, they started paying our wonderful coach, who’d taken us to State every year, a better salary. And had money set aside as a budget for the team. That was kind of a big turning point.

But also when I grew up in Cortez, the Four Corners area there in Colorado, the Dolores river was the water supply for the towns of Dolores and also Cortez and on down. And they had a real environmental problem there. They did uranium mining in Southwestern Colorado. And they would leave these big piles, these tailings from the uranium mines, that were radioactive. They would just leave them blowing in the wind and then they even dumped them into the Dolores river which was our water supply. And all of the women in my family had cancers.

And we weren’t the only ones who were affected environmentally by the kinds of practices that they had. That set the tone for me that you have to care for your body and you have to care for your world that we’re all supposed to be listening to the rhythms of. And that shaped my environmental awareness partly because of the incredible vistas that were there. Those huge broad blue skies and high altitude desert and then the mountains. Incredible beauty and I felt close to God in those settings.

What are some of the campaigns that you’ve been involved in more recently?

 My parents, of course, believed in the right for everybody to have health care. So, it came pretty naturally to me to support Dennis Kucinich’s campaign strongly and then Bernie Sanders.

Yes, and what part did you take in those campaigns?

 Well, I was one of those people that called people, went door to door and then passed out literature and talked to people all the time. I really thought Kucinich should’ve won. And then with Bernie’s campaign, the moment I heard Bernie speak, I said, “Oh, this is it.” This is the man of integrity. This is who Quakers should be voting for, you know.

Yeah, personally, I was very much part of the Bernie campaign.

 I went out and just started calling people because I speak fluent Spanish, and then I was a Spanish teacher and I speak a few different languages. I volunteered to help with bilingual campaigns and so I called all these states and talked to Spanish voters and also talked to other immigrants because I also speak Cambodian. I worked with Cambodian refugees for 5 years in California. I volunteered to work with English as a Second Language Immigrant Voters, first time voters, that kind of thing. Did a lot of calling for people in California and other states. I called a whole bunch of different states and called on their campaigns for hours and hours. Trying to help Bernie. And then when it came time for the State of Oregon to have their delegations to go for the Democratic National Convention, I was elected to represent the first C.D. for the State of Oregon.

You are the 4th person I’ve interviewed who was there. That’s really amazing to me! [laughs]

 [One thing that shaped] how I went to college was I looked for the people that had been in the McCarthy hearings for Un-American activities. [the House Un-American Activities Committee, commonly called HUAC] Reed College professors had been challenged for their patriotism and some of them had even gone to prison and lost their jobs. And they were interrogated, a whole bunch of the faculty. So I said, “Oh, I would like to meet some of these really liberal, radical liberal people who were brave enough to stand up during the McCarthy era. And some of those people were still teaching at Reed. And so when I had scholarship offers from every school in the State of Colorado, my parents were so mad because I chose Reed instead, in ’74. And that’s how I got out here.

 I looked at the states and it was either Vermont because of legislation that they had been passing, or Oregon. And Oregon had just passed the bottle bill [charging a deposit on soda and beer bottles] in ’73. And they had a beach bill [assuring public access to land along the coastline.]

The creation of the LCDC [Land Conservation and Development Commission] was starting to loom as well, and so I said, “I think that’s the place for me.” I thought that any place that valued farm land over development was important. Cause I’d seen prime agricultural farmland in Colorado being built over by houses and crying when I saw smog in the blue sky.

What interests me so much about what you’re saying, Lucinda, is that you not only had the right impulses, but you acted on them and found ways to make political statements and involve other people in doing that.

 Well, it was what I saw my parents doing. When you have people model for you, it’s kind of a natural thing of Well, why not? And so I haven’t understood people playing it safe. People are fearful and they play it safe. But, for me, that hasn’t really been an option. Life was happening and I said, “I’ve got to try to live it.” The other thing was when I was a senior in high school, I had cancer. Everybody had been affected and I think it was environmentally caused, from the tailings.

 So I kind of bargained with God that if I didn’t die I would try to do everything I could to live life as fully as I could and be of service. So, I guess, to a certain extent, I’ve been working towards a Bodhisattva kind of existence. You never know what will be your last breath, and who’s the last person you get to say, “I love you” to and that you care. And I’m not dead yet. [chuckles]

What are the most interesting or satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist?

 When I went to college at Reed I became very active. There was the Clamshell Alliance and the Crabshell Alliance depending on which coast you were on and I ended up protesting with both of them against nuclear power plants. Also, I was a volunteer with OSPIRG, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group. The Ralph Nader’s Raiders PIRGS needed volunteers to testify at various hearings and I was asked if I would present some information with the Thousand Friends of Oregon. Companies were trying to develop condominiums out there. And they were cutting off the deer’s winter range from the water supply. And so I testified for them and then people from the PIR Groups asked if I was interested in becoming an intern and working full time for them. And my project was to [help] stop the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant.

 So I stopped what I was doing, I didn’t go back to school that second year. I just quit and worked for Ralph Nader’s Raiders. And I can remember testifying, representing the people of the State of Oregon. There weren’t enough of us. It became really clear to me that we [needed] sheer numbers of people showing up to testify at a hearing, to overwhelm when there’s a public hearing called. Sheer numbers, peacefully. They don’t have to be violent in any way but sheer numbers can scare the pajeebers out of those guys.

 But I worked so hard with my research on nuclear energy and nuclear power. What it was like in the mines in Colorado with the cancers and the black lung. And I did a cost-benefit risk analysis of nuclear power vs. solar vs. wind.

Well, lots of people tried to turn that one around. It was a big and long campaign.

 It took years. It took Lloyd Marbett and a lot of people after me many years. And then finally there was enough momentum and enough people behind it. But, it took years. I’m glad that people got the momentum finally and were finally able to close it down. But at the time, I felt I’d failed. And so I started getting cancer again. So I saw there’s a body-mind connection. Body-mind-spirit connection.

Let’s move on to other campaigns you want to talk about.

 As a Quaker I believed in everybody having a right to education and power and empowerment. But that experience that I had when I had failed to get Trojan stopped also became kind of a personal spiritual transformation point for me because it made me realize that maybe what I needed to do instead of trying on the large scale with testifying and legislators and so on, maybe what I need to do is become a counselor. Help people one on one and change people’s hearts and minds and souls that way. So, I decided I should become a performing arts therapist. Because counseling, when you use the arts, becomes another spiritual practice.

I loved music and I loved to sing and I knew that music had a very spiritual component to it. I sing for God and I sing for the perfection that I try to reach with it. And also dance movement comes from the very soul and I do Tai Chi and Yoga as practices. So, I started hitchhiking around the United States to look for a place where I could study. This was 1976. And I ended up going to Western Washington University where there was an Honor’s program and you could study anything that you wanted interdisciplinarily, if you could put it together and find 10 or 12 faculty advisors for it and write a thesis about it.

[Later] I was a part of a feminist artist collective in New York. And I took voice lessons and saw how breathing is important to health and centering. And then I took a lot of ballet and jazz ballet and studied dance techniques. And then I studied dance therapy. I met people from around the world when I was in New York that showed me how I could use music, theater, dance and arts spiritually and also for revolution. And I have applied that to education.

So, what would you say was your career path, in general? Because I know you’ve done bilingual education and you’ve done therapy using the arts.

 I did therapy circles with dance therapy at Blue Canyon Institute for chronic schizophrenics and manic-depressives as part of my Senior project. I thought that was gonna be my degree work and I was all ready to get my B.A. in Performing Arts Therapy and 2 weeks before graduation I came to the realization that this was really draining, and I would burn out if I chose this as my career. So I ended up going for a fifth year and got my B.A. in Ed. degree.

Now, has there been a period in your life when you were not working at a paying job?

 I’ve always worked in some capacity or another. Because I was from a poor family, I became a teacher. And I used creative methods to teach and I’ve taught every grade. I’ve taught everything from 3 and 4 year olds with the Migrant Head Start Oregon Child Development Coalition. As a reading specialist, I am a credentialed California Language Development Specialist. And I studied Cambodian for 5 years. So, I worked with Cambodian language and I also worked with Spanish.

 I’ve worked with 6 different language groups of refugees in my California classrooms and I worked with tribes with Cooperative Learning Group Structures, people seeing a classroom as a beloved community and cooperating to learn. On the playground, I created little Desmond Tutu truth and reconciliation commissions where everybody would be in a circle and a person would take the talking stick and everybody would get to speak and everybody would get to say what they saw or heard in their own experience. But, only that. Not making presumptions, you know.

Now, please tell me how you got wrongly imprisoned.

 Well, that’s related to the work that I had done with dance therapy….

 

 

 

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Using the “Alternatives to Violence” Program to Teach and Heal Inmates in Prisons (Ethen Perkins — Part 2)

Ethen:  For many years now I’ve been involved in introducing nonviolence workshops to prisons and visiting in juvenile detention and jails and things like that. And became aware of the real need that people had in those institutional settings for some exposure to the normal outside world. And especially became aware that the people in 23-hour lockups in their little tiny cells — it was kind of driving people crazy.

 Sylvia: As it often does.

 Right. So that’s one of the things I’ve been focusing on in my work now. The Friends Meeting here in Eugene created a minute [a formal statement] recognizing that I had a leading [a God-given call] for ministry in that area and I started using it in the jail. That minute qualified the jail to see me as clergy. So then I could go in and visit people in 23-hour lockdown and help them come out and have an hour or however long we both had to sit and talk and be in a different environment and have some stimulation instead of having to shout through the cracks at the bottoms of their doors to talk to the people next to them.

Is that one thing that prisoners do?

 Yeah. They’ll lay on the floor and try to communicate. So, if they decide they’ll organize a Bible study, they’re all laying on the floor with their Bibles beside them and they’re shouting under the doors so they can talk to each other and study together. So I realize that just my presence for these people makes a difference. That’s one of the things I’ve been doing. Trying to see how those mandatory minimum sentences can be changed so that people aren’t being just warehoused in our jails and prisons as a means of the rest of us feeling, quote, safer. Cause you know, ultimately, if nothing changes for them, if they’re in 5 years or 20 years, when they get out, they’re really likely to do more crime.

 We’re not really changing things until these people have a way to change. And the prisons are generally not offering them that. Also, our prisons are warehousing people who are mentally ill who need treatment or who are drug addicted and need other kinds of treatment. So, it’s as though we have this ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ attitude for people who have needs that we’re not meeting.

I should say for the tape that I know you from the Friends [Quaker] Meeting and from the Peace and Justice Committee there.

 Right, right. And the Peace and Justice Committee was one that I worked on when I first moved to Eugene in the early 90’s, and then that committee wasn’t active until more recently. Now that it’s been reactivated, that feels very good. Like how the Meeting now supports other non-profits and things like that. There was a real backlog of that work not getting done. And like that work I did in environmental restoration, it feels to me like the kind of work we do — it’s OK that it’s almost invisible. Though I’d like to see the whole society change.

Wouldn’t we all! [laughs] Yes, of course!

 [laughs] But part of my feeling about the work is if it’s successful, people assume that’s the way it normally should be. What’s the big deal!

You’ve already talked about some of the issues you’ve worked on. What are the most interesting or satisfying experiences you’ve had as an activist?

 Mmm. I think it’s actually seeing individuals in the workshops that I do in the prisons change from this sort of stone-faced mask that they’re wearing of “I’m a tough guy” to, at the end of a basic workshop and a single weekend, they’re open, they’re happy, they’re ready to accept that people are different in the room and that they can talk to them. They’re making connections across lines of race and gang membership and kind of crime that was committed. It’s like they suddenly have seen that they can do something together that they couldn’t do in their isolated little protective world that people have to build around themselves in prison to survive.

How long have you been doing this program in prisons?

 The first ones I did around 1993. So it’s been a long time. And I’ve done workshops in San Quentin and Oregon State Penitentiary and Sheridan Federal Correction Institution near McMinnville [Oregon]. And in Idaho State Correctional Institution. And individual visitation in the jails and so on. That’s somewhat the same. Some wonderful moments in my history of visiting in the jails are running into someone in a very different context who remembers that I went and visited them in jail and said, “I still have that poster that we drew together.” Or, “Do you remember me?” And I’d look at them and they changed! You know, they’d grown up! They were juveniles when I saw them.

Just to know that that little hour or however long it was that I spent with them in juvenile detention or in the jail has made a difference to them. And yet it’s sort of like invisible. You know? There’s something satisfying about the fact that important work gets done and that it’s sort of invisible at the same time. Because, it’s ‘Oh! This is the way the world’s supposed to be!’ [laughs] Back to that sort of thing. The important thing is change happened. The transformation occurred.

What would you say you are bringing to these people? Can you summarize what the Alternatives to Violence Program really is?

 It’s like a new way of seeing and a new way of understanding how they could be in the world. Sort of like, “I can work to make a positive connection with you and we don’t have to be enemies or afraid of each other.” There’s a way that we can break through that wall of fear between us. It’s this personal empowerment process that makes people realize that things can be better and they can make them that way.

And how can they do that?

 Simply by using surprise and humor, or by finding a way to be assertive without being aggressive. I love the fact that it’s Alternatives. The plural of that is very important. Like saying, yeah, there’s maybe several ways to be violent in a situation, and that will change things. It might temporarily solve or make some kind of a change. But, it doesn’t change the violence itself. Whereas, there are many many ways to do something that’s not violent. And if we open ourselves to the possibility that there are these many different ways, something will come up. Something will be right for us. Whatever feels right for me to do might not be the same that feels right for the next person to do. But to know that it’s there. To know that most of the time even the murderers in the world have gotten along nonviolently.

Most of the time they’re not murdering anyone.

 Right! Yeah. And you know, I very much agree with the guy who wrote Just Mercy.  He said that we are all more valuable than the worst thing we’ve ever done. We are more than the biggest mistake we’ve ever made. And that’s such an important realization! I think that’s what Alternatives to Violence opens the window to.

I feel like I’m leaving out a lot of work you’ve done over the years. Right now I know you’re involved with solar panels at the Friends Meeting.

 Right. I became very involved with the maintenance and safety issues of the Meeting over the last few years. And that’s led to the possibility that we can have solar panels. I had this wonderful moment at a meeting this last Sunday about installing solar panels where someone said, “Oh, I get it. This isn’t an issue about making our utility bill better. It might do that. But, it’s a moral issue.” It’s a matter of what kind of life we want the world to have. Do we want to keep using nuclear energy? Do we wanna keep burning fossil fuels? Do we wanna keep affecting fish runs? Do we want to have air particles worse than the worst days in the winter when we have to breathe them? If we had this other way of doing energy all of that is not there. We’re producing clean systems.

I thought it was just great that an older member of our meeting said, “This is a moral issue, isn’t it?” And I thought, Yeah. You get it. And that was really a great moment for me. I don’t know if the Meeting will choose to have solar panels or if it will be able to. I’m leaving that up to the Spirit. But I do know that if we in our thinking are going in that direction, that’s something.

 For the benefit of this interview I should say that you’ve taken a lot of personal responsibility for this project of organizing the congregation to pay for and do all the necessary work to get solar panels on.

Yeah. I’m hoping the organization works out. And I’m realizing that in the near future my interests are gonna be so conflicting that I [may have to drop this effort.] Someone else is gonna have to pick up and do the solar panels to get them done. And that’s the way it should be, really. Again, I’m back to that point that when we get the solar panels on, I hope it’s not all “Oh, Ethen did this for us.” It’s “Oh. This is the way it’s supposed to be.”

And the fact you’re doing your part of the work makes it possible for other people to contribute in their ways.

 That’s right. And that’s what I want is eventually for us all to say, “Hey! We did this.” Or to look out at the wetlands and to say, “Isn’t that nice?” [laughs] And not to have an award on my wall about it. That’s not what it’s about.

Now, obviously, activism on many fronts has been a part of your life for many years. Is there something you’d like to say, without my asking at this point about a specific project or something else? Is there anything else you feel you would like to add?

 Wow. What would it be? [pause] I’m just glad that there are so many different ways that people become active and change the world. And I’m so happy to be in a community of people where that is closer to the norm.

People have been trying so many different things in so many different ways. I reestablished a friendship just yesterday with someone who’s been doing all this work in community gardens. Has just poured themselves into it and made these beautiful places that are productive. In the Friends Meeting and in Eugene, you don’t have to scratch the surface very far to find people doing these marvelous things. I dance with somebody who is promoting bees. I got some work done by somebody who is making these beautiful wooden altars for people. It’s all over, this kind of stuff is there if you look for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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