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.


About Sylvia

Sylvia Hart Wright, the interviewer and blogger, has combined efforts to help achieve a more peaceful world and social and economic justice, with a career as a librarian, author, and longtime college professor. For more about her, please visit her website at There you can also find the first chapter of her memoir-in-progress, ACTIVIST: Adventures at the Cutting Edge of Social Change.
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