Category Archives: Politics

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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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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