Category Archives: Politics

What is Bad About Jail, What is Good About Jail

2017 Vanderbilt University Coursera Justice Mercy Mass Incarceration 1 Dec 2017

I recently finished a fascinating six week Vanderbilt University class called “Justice, Mercy and Mass Incarceration” presented through Coursera online.  The course goals were “to discover alternatives to the current systems of crime and punishment in order to imagine a more inclusive, just and moral society”.  It was taught by Graham Reside, Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University Divinity School.  This is my second online class in the area of justice and criminology, the first being “Crime, Justice and Society” by The University of Sheffield, presented online by FutureLearn.  I am both interested in the topic and in the MOOC (massive open online course) method in which these classes are presented.

Since 2015, I have developed and led a seminar at Elmwood Jail in Milpitas, California, in the Silicon Valley. Our seminar curriculum and books are from the Education for Ministry (EfM) program of the University of the South – School of Theology. EfM is a four year college-level certification program, started in 1975. So far as we know, ours is the only jail-based EfM program, although there are two dozen prison-based programs in the USA. In addition to covering the official EfM material, in the seminar we also work on listening, respectful group interactions, study skills, and basic leadership skills – like how to open and close a class with prayer.

This jail-based EfM program is supported by the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy, Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (Saratoga, California), and the University of the South – School of Theology. I worked with a group of volunteers from St. Andrew’s to start our first weekly seminar in a medium security dorm, and we have recently added a second weekly seminar in a minimum security dorm. Two of the EfM students at Elmwood are in Year 3 (Church History), two are in Year 2 (New Testament), with the remaining students in Year 1 (Hebrew Bible). The EfM year is only nine months long but my Co-Mentors and I run the jail-based seminars back-to-back (since inmates do not get summer vacations).  About two thirds of the inmate students in our EfM seminar are men of color – mostly Latino – and the rest are white.  We conduct discussions in English (and Spanglish) but provide Bibles, Books of Common Prayer, and Dictionaries in both English and Spanish.

In leading this EfM seminar, I have observed many consequences of incarceration. One of my reasons for taking “Justice Mercy and Mass Incarceration” was to understand more of the context of what I am observing when I am teaching in jail. Last month, I told the seminar students about the “Justice, Mercy, and Mass Incarceration” class and asked them to tell me one good thing and one bad thing about being in jail. Here is what six of them said:

What is Bad About Jail

  • I don’t see my family.
  • Some innocent people are punished (but not many).
  • I am not there for my kids.
  • I can’t be there to help my wife when she needs me.
  • Not being there for loved ones: I am frozen, unable to do anything.
  • Being a number – losing who you are.
  • I never get the time back.
  • I have no say. I am less of a citizen.
  • I am treated as low in the hierarchy.
  • There is no mercy, no leniency.
  • I can’t be there for my babies, my wife. I am hurting.
  • I am missing my family.
  • I lose my job, my apartment, my wife and kids, my paycheck, everything.

What is Good About Jail

  • Takes evil off the street.
  • Families are safe from bad people.
  • I have a clear mind. I am closer to God.
  • I have more belief, more faith, more spirituality. I am more close to God.
  • I have free time to spend on prayer, sobriety, like the worst-ever vacation. We can be with ourselves without a phone or Facebook.
  • If I stay clean, I have a clear mind, can reflect and prepare for becoming a better person out there.
  • I can clear my mind, rethink decisions on things I have done (and things I did not get caught for).
  • I can stay off drugs, not putting poison into my system.
  • It has made me think, be a better person. Reflection, closer to God. I am learning a lot.
  • There is free medication (health care).

There are connections and discrepancies between what “Justice, Mercy, and Mass Incarceration” teaches and what the EfM student inmates say. They agree on the benefit of taking violent, evil, bad people off the street. They also agree that imprisonment has the potential for supporting personal reform – inmates rethinking who they have been and who they want to become. “Justice, Mercy, and Mass Incarceration” does not spend a great deal of time on effective reform but in the recommended 1998 documentary film “The Farm: Angola Prison”, several of the long-term inmates had clearly over time become very different people, positive forces in the prison community.  My hope for my EfM students is whether they are inside or outside, they can make a positive difference in the world.

2017 FutureLearn University of Sheffield Crime Justice and Society certificate July 2017

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Honoring STEM Mentoring

ECR Simple Servant Award to Katy Dickinson 3 Nov 2017

At the 37th Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real annual convention last weekend, I was honored by Bishop Mary Grey-Reeves with a second Simple Servant Award for my work since 2010 with the TechWomen mentoring program of the US Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The award certificate reads:

Simple Servant Award
Presented on November 3, 2017 to
Katy Dickinson
The Diocese of El Camino Real honors you. May God bless you for your
faithful ministry mentoring women in Africa and the Middle East in STEM
professions, and for your contribution to the creation of a “virtuous cycle” of
knowledge and wisdom sharing in the world of technology.

It has been an honor and pleasure to work with TechWomen and my mentees from Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Watching this program thrive and touch so many lives is a great delight. Since I worked in 2010-2011 as the TechWomen Process Architect, I have been a volunteer with this life-changing program as a mentor, working with groups of STEM leaders who travel to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley to be hosted by 122 science and technology companies and organizations for a month (and then continue a mentoring relationship once they have returned to their home country).

Beginning with the first cohort of 37 from 6 countries in 2011, there have been 518 TechWomen Fellows from 22 countries and 698 mentors. I have formally been assigned to mentor 14 women in Lebanon, Algeria, Gaza-Palestine, Jordan, and Tunisia – and have worked with many more who have asked me to be their mentor. I have also participated in nine formal TechWomen Delegations with the State Department, to: Jordan (twice), Kyrgyzstan, Morocco (twice), Rwanda, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe, as well as making informal trips with TechWomen mentors to visit our mentees in Lebanon, Gaza-Palestine, and Sierra Leone.  Learning from my sister mentors as well as from my mentees is part of the joy and value of this excellent program for Citizen Diplomats.

Want to make a different in STEM? Please consider joining TechWomen as a mentor yourself!

ECR Convention Simple Servant award Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, Katy Dickinson 3 Nov 2017 by Elrond Lawrence

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Photo Copyright 2017 by the Diocese of El Camino Real, Elrond Lawrence.

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Truth on the Internet, Sierra Leone

Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, July 2017, photo by Salwa Campbell

While Jessica and I visited Sierra Leone earlier this month, we gave presentations to Terri Khonsari‘s technical center Families Without Borders, and the University of Makeni in Makeni, and at Fourah Bay College (University of Sierra Leone) in Freetown – to about 300 students in all. We answered many questions but variations of one question came up most often everywhere we went: “How do you tell what is true on the Internet?”

Since we were presenting on web research, e-learning (also known as educational technology), and blogging, and since the topic of fake news has been much discussed worldwide during the last year, I suppose we should not have been surprised at the frequency of this question.  We answered it in a variety of ways, including many that have been widely discussed elsewhere. For example, Factcheck.org provides this list on “How to Spot Fake News”:

  1. Consider the source
  2. Read beyond the headline
  3. Check the author
  4. What’s the support?
  5. Check the date
  6. Is this some kind of joke?
  7. Check your biases
  8. Consult the experts

Two other ways we answered the question:

  1. During our Internet Treasure Hunt exercise at Families Without Borders in Makeni, we asked the 50+ students to find out what the CIA World Fact Book thought was the population of Sierra Leone, and then what Wikipedia said (since they do not agree). We then asked them to find an error on the Wikipedia page and discussed how these mistakes or differing opinions can happen.  We encouraged them to help by correcting the Wikipedia page and directed them to instructions on how to do so.
  2. At Fourah Bay College in Freetown, after asking about Finding Truth, a first year Engineer asked me why someone does not fix the Internet – make it always correct. I looked at the large and eager young audience and asked why someone does not fix them – make their own answers always correct. They laughed. I followed up by saying that the Internet was and continues to be created by people of many viewpoints who may want to deceive, or who may not know what is correct, or for whom there may be many versions of Truth.

Families Without Borders, Makeni, Sierra Leone, July 2017

University of Makeni, Sierra Leone, July 2017

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Images Copyright 2017 by Katy Dickinson and Salwa Campbell

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Sierra Leone: Leader in Religious Tolerance

Makeni, Sierra Leone July 2017

Jessica and I returned late Saturday from a short trip to Sierra Leone where we presented at Terri Khonsari‘s technical center Families Without Borders, and the University of Makeni in Makeni, and at Fourah Bay College (University of Sierra Leone) in Freetown – to about 300 students in all.

Sierra Leone is one of the friendliest and most welcoming countries in which I have ever traveled.  This West African country is particularly remarkable its its religious tolerance.  Although about 60% of the country is Muslim, we saw a wide array of religious institutions and practices coexisting in peace.  Jessica and I were particularly delighted with two small stores on either side of a shop where we bought bowls.  One store was called Christ In Me Enterprise and the other Allah is Great Enterprise.

Catholic Church in Makeni, Sierra Leone July 2017

Church near Makeni, Sierra Leone July 2017

Mosque in Sierra Leone July 2017

Mosque in Sierra Leone June 2017

Stylish Grandmas, Makeni Sierra Leone, June 2017

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Images Copyright 2017 by Katy Dickinson

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Technology for the Incarcerated

Christmas 2016 Elmwood Jail

I read Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh‘s recent article “How Technology Could Improve Mental Health in Prisons – But So Far Isn’t” (13 Dec 2016, in Fast Company) and considered other ways in which technology helps inmates.  I lead a weekly Education for Ministry seminar at Elmwood Correctional Facility (County Jail – in Milpitas, California). Here is how I see technology helping the ten men in my seminar:

  1. Because they do not have computer access, I make a standing offer to research topics that arise from our class discussions and bring the curious students more information.  Last night, I delivered printouts on Suetonius, Julius Caesar, prophecy in the Book of Daniel, the Caiaphas Ossuary, Galilee Boat, Ketef Hinnom, and Tel Dan Stele, plus a biography of Pontius Pilate. Wikipedia‘s easy access to vast fields of knowledge means in only an hour a week, I can bring the inmates a richer view into the world of the Hebrew BibleNew Testament, and Christian history.
  2. I was one of the St. Andrew’s prison ministry team who brought worship and song to Elmwood on Christmas Day. When leaving, I noticed a group of lovely deep purple irises blooming next to the back parking lot. Further on, I stopped to take a photo of two ducks on the water behind the jail. Just then, a big white egret erupted from under the bridge where I stood – as if an angel were arising from the water.  Because of easy and cheap digital photography and my color printer, I can show the inmates pictures of how nature was celebrating Christmas with them.
  3. One of my students was transferred from Elmwood jail into the state prison system.  He is highly intelligent and deeply faithful and wants to keep up his Christian studies.  Because prisons and jails will accept book deliveries directly from Amazon, I can use ecommerce to send him better books than are available in the prison library.  For Christmas, I sent him two EfM books: Transformed Lives: Making Sense of Atonement Today, and Care for Creation (a franciscan spirituality of the earth). We hope he will be transferred to a prison that offers an EfM Online course or one with an in-person class.
  4. The Elmwood class asked for song books in both English and Spanish so that they can sing hymns together.  I found Oramos Cantando – We Pray in Song. There are Spanish-only and English-only hymnals but this seems to be the only bilingual song book available. I even checked with our church’s Director of Music – who said he did not know of any.  I was able to locate eight paperback copies in good condition for less than $10/each on Amazon, delivered in a week from eight different used book sellers located all over the USA.

Oramos Cantando - We Pray in Song, 2005
Christmas 2016 Elmwood Jail

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Updated 3 January 2017
Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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Honoring Jail Ministry

Katy Dickinson's Simple Servant-efm-elmwood Jail Award, 4 Nov 2016

Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves honored dozens of jail and prison ministry volunteers last month, among them, myself. Since 2007 Bishop Mary has served as the third bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real (ECR) in California. Since 2015, she has also been the Vice President of the House of Bishops. Some years ago, Bishop Mary created the Simple Servant Award to honor those working as faithful ministers in the community.

I was out of town – in Sewanee, Tennessee, renewing my Education for Ministry Mentor Accreditation, and being trained as the Diocesan Coordinator for EfM – so I missed the Simple Servant presentation at the ECR annual convention on 4 November 2016. However, my husband John Plocher helped Bishop Mary prepare her presentation slides, so I was able to contribute photos and information in advance.  The Reverend Peggy Bryan worked with two of my student inmates on the artwork for the certificate.

Jack Fanning and I received our certificates the following week.  Jack helped me to start the first EfM program at Elmwood Correctional Facility (Milpitas, California).  There are about 25 EfM seminars in prisons in the USA but ours seems to be the first class in a county jail. We just started our second EfM term inside Elmwood. Our seminar includes have six men in Year-1 plus four continuing to Year-2.  Thanks to the University of the South, The Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real, CIC Ministries, and Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church for their joint and generous support of this program!

If you are interested in volunteering in a Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley) jail, please contact the Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy (CIC).

Katy Dickinson and Jack Fanning with Simple Servant Awards, 13 Nov 2016

Two photos taken by Elrond Lawrence of the 4 November 2016 presentation in Salinas:

Simple Servant Award by the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real, 4 Nov 2016 - photo by Elrond Lawrence

Simple Servant Award by the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real, 4 Nov 2016 - photo by Elrond Lawrence

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Top Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson, 2 Lowest Images Copyright 2016 by Elrond Lawrence

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Lincoln Avenue Road Diet, Pokemon Go

Willow Glen bike rack 30 July 2016

In the nearly twenty years my family has lived in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose, California, we have enjoyed shopping and eating on The Avenue (Lincoln Avenue between Minnesota and Willow) several times each week. We often walk from our home near the Tamien CalTrain station to Lincoln and back – about 3 mile round trip. Recently, several of us have being playing Pokémon Go as we walk. My son Paul is our family expert and advisor on all things Pokémon.  The Lincoln Avenue area is particularly rich in pocket monsters and PokéStops!

On 28 June 2016, the City Council approved proceeding with the Road Diet (“Lincoln Avenue Pilot Project”).  Since then, there has been much road work and many changes on Lincoln Avenue. The 28 June 2016 City Council Synopsis for Agenda item 6.1:

6.1 Lincoln Avenue Pilot Project Report.
Recommendation: Accept the Lincoln Avenue Pilot Project Report, and support the
plan to pave and stripe Lincoln Avenue in the current pilot configuration, implement
minor traffic signal improvements at the Minnesota/Lincoln intersection, and traffic
calming improvements in adjacent neighborhoods. CEQA: Exempt, Section 15301(c),
Existing Facilities and Section 15304(h), Minor Alterations to Land, File No. PP16-063.
Council District 6. (Transportation)
The memorandum from Council Member Pierluigi Oliverio, dated June 27, 2016, was approved as follows:

  1. Accept traffic and sales tax reports provided by Staff.
  2. Accept Staff recommendation to make the current lane configuration
    permanent in July.
  3. Accept Staff recommendations for further improvements on neighboring streets verified by the Department of Transportation (DOT) data.
  4. In the event that monies for improvement are depleted, DOT Staff is
    welcome to fund improvements out of the District 6 Office Budget ending December 31, 2016.
  5. Return to Council with an amendment to the existing ordinance that bans bicycle riding on downtown sidewalks, with an exemption for pre-teens and propose expanding the area to include Lincoln Avenue between Coe and Minnesota. This would minimize conflicts with pedestrians, strollers and canine companions now that bike lanes are permanent.

Changes I have noticed since June on Lincoln Avenue include:

  • Addition of “bump out” eating area for Tac-oh! restaurant (1384 Lincoln Ave. at Minnesota) – creating a seating area in what used to be parking spaces.
  • Upgrade of street light at Lincoln / Minnesota.
  • Addition of “Willow Glen” branded racks – for bike parking.
  • Slurry seal over existing paving (not a full repaving), with new road markings such as cross walk lines, bike parking signs, and arrows in turn lanes.
  • Addition of small statues in the existing planter boxes.

Stop light upgrade at Lincoln and Minnesota, San Jose, CA, 12 July 2016

Painting Bike Parking Sign Lincoln Avenue San Jose CA, 11 August 2016

New Sculpture, Lincoln Avenue San Jose CA, August 2016

Most of these are welcome changes; however, the five categories of Lincoln Avenue problems associated with the Willow Glen Road Diet, described in my 17 June 2016 post largely remain unresolved:

  1. Traffic safety and speed
  2. Too Little Parking
  3. Bicycles on the sidewalk
  4. Delivery Trucks parking in the turn lane
  5. Community Trust

Parking continues to be the biggest concern to local businesses (and the problem least addressed) – parking both for private cars and for trucks trying to make deliveries.

Delivery truck in turn lane, Lincoln Avenue San Jose CA, 23 August 2016

I am delighted that so many local treasures – like the US Mail Delivery Mural, Chase Bank mosaics, and the Pizza My Heart surfboards – are now Pokémon Go landmarks.  The PokéStops help players notice some of the charming details of our neighborhood downtown and make walking The Avenue even more fun. I still wish that we could resolve some of the persistent larger problems during this time of cosmetic enhancement.

US Mail Delivery Mural, Lincoln Avenue San Jose CA, 23 August 2016

UntChase Bank mosaic, Lincoln Avenue San Jose CA, 23 August 2016tled

Pizza My Heart Surfboards, Lincoln Avenue San Jose CA, 23 August 2016

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Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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