Category Archives: Politics

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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Driving, Rafting, Hiking, Spelunking, and Trains

Jessica, Matthew, John, Paul in Caboose 12, Railroad Park Resort, Dunsmuir CA, August 2016

Our family took a short vacation together this week – a road trip from San Jose to northern California. Jessica and Matthew and Paul and John and I stayed for two nights at the Railroad Park Resort in Dunsmuir. John and I got to sleep in wooden caboose 12.

On Monday, we went on a white water rafting trip with Living Waters down the middle Klamath River, followed by a drive then a hike to 8,050 feet on Mount Shasta (elevation 14,179 feet above sea level).  On Tuesday, we took a boat across the lake to tour Lake Shasta Caverns and then drove to Portola, seeing a train at the famous Keddie Wye junction just before full dark.

Portola is home to the Western Pacific Railroad Museum (WPRM), of which we are long-time members.  WP668, our own backyard caboose, has four sister cabooses of the same age and design in Portola: WP679 (owned by the City of Portola), WP645 and WP646 at WPRM, and Sacramento Northern 1642 – also at WPRM.  When we bought WP668 in 2006, it was housed at the Golden Gate Railroad Museum in San Francisco along with WP646 and SN1642.  We enjoyed seeing these again on Wednesday.

In a variety of places during our trip, we saw signs, flags, and bumper strips for the State of Jefferson. Those supporting this proposed new US state seem to do so as a way of expressing dissatisfaction with our current government, or its representation of them.

Railroad Park Resort, Dunsmuir CA, August 2016

Log Truck at Black Butte CA August 2016

Klamath River Rafting, CA, Matthew and Paul, August 2016

Klamath River Rafting, CA, Jessica, John and Paul

Klamath River Rafting, CA, Katy and John, August 2016

Mount Shasta Buckwheat August 2016

John and Paul on Mount Shasta August 2016

Mount Shasta Volcanic Rocks August 2016

State of Jefferson hay August 2016

State of Jefferson sign August 2016

State of Jefferson stuff August 2016

Rainbow water tanker trucks on Interstate 5, August 2016

Family dinner John Katy Jessica Matthew Paul August 2016

Jessica, Matthew, Paul, Caboose 12, Railroad Park Resort, Dunsmuir CA, August 2016

Lake Shasta CA August 2016

Lake Shasta Caverns CA August 2016

old ladder Lake Shasta Caverns CA August 2016

John Katy Jessica Matthew Paul at Lake Shasta Caverns CA August 2016

modern steps Lake Shasta Caverns CA August 2016

Jessica at Battle Creek Vista August 2016

Katy and John at Keddie Wye, Plumas County CA, August 2016

Keddie Wye, Plumas County CA, August 2016

Portola CA, Western Pacific Railroad Museum - WP917-D diesel engine, August 2016

Portola CA, Western Pacific Railroad Museum - WP645 caboose, August 2016

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Images Copyright 2015-2016 by Katy Dickinson

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Standing Up in Court

Santa Clara County California, Hall of Justice and Main Jail, San Jose 21 July 2016

For the first time, today I was a witness in a criminal justice hearing. As I wrote on 11 April 2016, I have been teaching in jail every week as part of Education for Ministry (EfM), an extension program of the University of the South – School of Theology, for which I am an Accredited Mentor and the El Camino Real Diocesan Coordinator.

One of the Elmwood Jail student-mentees in my EfM seminar had a Romero hearing today and I was in court as a character witness. “The People of the State of California v. Superior Court (Romero), 13 CAL. 4TH 497, 917 P.2D 628 (Cal. 1996), was a landmark case in the state of California that gave California Superior Court judges the ability to dismiss a criminal defendant’s ‘strike prior’ pursuant to the California Three-strikes law, thereby avoiding a 25-to-life minimum sentence” (quote from Wikipedia).  In today’s Romero hearing, the Defendant (my student-mentee) had the opportunity to reduce his sentence from an indeterminate number of years (that is, being sentenced to triple digit years without parole) to a sentence that may be completed during his lifetime.  I was the only witness present in court today but others had written letters to the judge asking for mercy in his case.  The hearing was brief but thorough.  The judge listened to me and the lawyers for the Defendant and Plaintiff (“the people”), then reviewed submitted documents.  What seemed to make a positive difference in this case was that the Defendant:

  • Has shown remorse and accepted responsibility for his actions
  • Has demonstrated a sustained change in his behavior, character, and prospects for the future
  • Did not use physical violence
  • Is middle aged already

I was glad that the judge ruled in favor of the Defendant today and gave him a sentence of 30 years without parole.  My student-mentee will be an old man when he gets out of prison but with luck and good behavior, he will get out someday.  This was the result he had hoped for.

When I serve each year as a Mentor in the TechWomen program of the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, my Mentees may go on to start businesses, accelerate their professional careers, attend graduate school, and change the world for the better.  When I am a Mentor each year for the EfM class hosted by Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church,  my student-mentees after four years of study graduate with more awareness of their personal ministry and with a solid education in the Bible, church history, theology, and ethics.

I am learning that as a Mentor for an EfM seminar in a county jail, my student-mentees gain the same education and potential for awareness of their personal ministry but have smaller potential to change the world for the better.  Even after they leave jail or prison, their socioeconomic status is so low that their prospects are modest as members of the community.  I am learning to celebrate the wins we can get, among them: passing the high school equivalency exam, reconciling with family, being accepted into a good reentry program, and getting a positive Romero judgement as we did today.

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Santa Clara County California, Hall of Justice, San Jose 26 May 2016

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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Diplomacy and Community-Building

San Jose California City Hall, 28 June 2016

Just over a year ago, I was in Salt Lake City as one of the Official Bloggers from the Diocese of El Camino Real (ECR) for the Episcopal General Convention (GC).  At GC, I witnessed remarkable diplomacy and community-building, especially with regard to the historic approval of the very controversial resolutions to create marriage equality in the Episcopal Church.  The way this debate was managed has become my standard for excellence in respectful balancing of sides during heartfelt controversy.  An excerpt from my 1 July 2015 post:

“Marriage equality has been passionately discussed for 39 years in our church and even today there were serious, prayerful, and heartfelt objections raised.  Rev. Gay Clark Jennings (President of the House of Deputies, HofD) asked that the House maintain decorum and respect – as celebrations on one side could only be hurtful to our brothers and sisters taking the opposite view. Chaplain Rev. Lester V. Mackenzie lead HofD in prayer and song before each vote. Over a thousand people were present for this historic decision. We will be processing what is means to us and to our church for many years to come.”

In a highly-local and much less important community debate, on 28 June 2016, the San Jose Mayor and City Council voted to approve that the highly-controversial Road Diet be made permanent in my home neighborhood of Willow Glen.  This final decision was welcomed by many and deeply regretted by as many.  The way the discussion was handled did little to rebuild the community strength that the discussion has eroded during the last year. My husband John Plocher and I were among those who formally spoke against the decision, out of about a dozen citizens who were given one minute each to address the Mayor and City Council.  We only came away with a tiny win: as part of making the “Lincoln Avenue Pilot Project” permanent, the City Council also voted to ban adult bicyclists from riding on the sidewalks of Lincoln Avenue – a welcome change for the better!

I wrote on 17 June 2016  how the problems with the Willow Glen Road Diet sort into categories, of which one was Community Trust:

“The way that the Road Diet was managed caused anger and mistrust of city government among most of the people I interviewed.  …  Many Willow Glen residents are looking forward to electing a new City Council representative in November 2016.  Of the five problems, this loss of trust has the greatest destructive potential for our community.”

When I compare the diplomacy and sensitivity with which the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings managed the raging discussions last summer with the rough  “take it or leave it” style in which our local Road Diet controversy was managed, I feel that San Jose’s leadership does not shine.  I hope that now the decision is made, San Jose’s City Council and neighborhood groups like the Willow Glen Business Association (WGBA), and Willow Glen Neighborhood Association (WGNA) will start to rebuild the community peace that was lost to the Road Diet controversy.

WGBA Board meetings are open to the public: 8 am on the Second Tuesday of Every Month, at the Willow Glen Community Center (2175 Lincoln Ave., San José).

The next WGNA Board meeting will be Thursday, 28 July starting at 7 pm at the Willow Glen Public Library (1157 Minnesota Ave., San José). Meeting is open to Members and Residents.

Katy Dickinson speaking to San Jose Mayor and City Council 28 June 2016

John Plocher speaking to San Jose Mayor and City Council 28 June 2016

Candidate Dev Davis speaking in favor of the Road Diet, to San Jose Mayor and City Council 28 June 2016

Walk Your Bike. Make a Friend. poster, San Jose CA 28 June 2016

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson and John Plocher

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Willow Glen Neighborhood Association Revived

Willow Glen Neighborhood Association Board 23 June 2016

On 23 June 2016, about fifty people attended the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association (WGNA) Board meeting at the Willow Glen Public Library Community Room.  The WGNA was started in 1973 and over the years has done some good work speaking on behalf of our community within the City of San Jose.  One of the most controversial topics discussed by the WGNA has been the Road Diet discussion which has sharply divided our neighborhood for over a year.

The San Jose City Council will discuss making the Road Diet (“Lincoln Avenue Pilot Project”) permanent at their 28 June 2016 meeting. Please join me there tomorrow if you want your voice to be heard on this contentious local issue.  The Lincoln Avenue Pilot Project report by the San Jose Department of Transportation (SJ-DOT) has been finalized and will be reviewed by the City Council at its 28 June 2016 meeting.

The 23 June 2016 meeting started with much confusion.  It seems that there was a WGNA meeting on 25 May 2016 that about six neighbors attended at which the 2016-2017 WGNA Board was elected.  WGNA has shrunk so much that six seems to have been a valid quorum.  Minutes of the 25 May 2016 election and Board Meeting were distributed on 23 June 2016, along with copies of the poster the WGNA Nominating Committee used to announce that meeting.  From what was reported,  it seems that some members of the 2015-2016 WGNA Board would not cooperate in announcing the 25 May 2016 Board election through WGNA email lists and website, so the 2016-2017 Nominating Committee did the best it could through other means of communication.  There are still debates going on Facebook over who said and did what when.  The 2016-2017 Board told us on 23 June 2016 about about closed-door Board meetings held during 2015-2016 about which there were no minutes posted (closed-door meetings are against WGNA By-laws and Policies).  As of last week, the 2016-2017 WGNA Board was still working to get access to the WGNA bank account and website.

After this distressing context-setting, the neighbors who came to last week’s meeting seemed more interested in seeing what can be done to repair our community than in continuing to fight about the past.  The neighbors supported the return of WGNA to being a grassroots organization.  Many of us signed up for committees to help resolve neighborhood concerns.  Key issues before the 2016-2017 WGNA Board include:

  1. Road Diet resolution
  2. Fire Department improved service coverage
  3. Evans Lane Housing Project for homeless people
  4. WGNA fundraising through sales of the Touring Historic Willow Glen book
  5. WGNA treasury, dues, and financial management in general

The WGNA 2016-2017 Board voted on 23 June 2016 to write a letter immediately to the San Jose Mayor and City Council asking for a postponement of any decision about the Road Diet.  The 2015-2016 WGNA Board was one of the strongest supporters of the Road Diet and on 13 July 2015 sent a letter to SJ-DOT endorsing it.  This 13 July 2015 letter is Attachment J of the 6 June 2016 Lincoln Avenue Pilot Project report.  The WGNA 2016-2017 Board will ask the city for a delay so that the circumstances and position of that letter can be investigated.

At the meeting on 23 June, I was glad to meet Helen Chapman in-person.  She is one of two candidates for the San Jose District 6 (Willow Glen) City Council seat being vacated by Pierluigi Oliverio.  Whoever replaces him will need to address the five categories of Lincoln Avenue problems associated with the Willow Glen Road Diet, described in my 17 June 2016 post:

  1. Traffic safety and speed
  2. Parking
  3. Bicycles
  4. Delivery Trucks
  5. Community Trust

John Plocher and I have recommended that since parking is the biggest concern to local businesses (and the problem least addressed), if there were at least two multi-storey parking garages added to Lincoln Avenue, it would change the dynamics of traffic significantly for the better and would eliminate many of the problems of the Road Diet. More information about this recommendation is in my 22 June 2016 post.

Willow Glen Neighborhood Association Meeting 23 June 2016

Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson

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