The Very Real Dark Underbelly of Gentrification

When Tyko and I moved to the South Bronx seven years ago, we unwittingly became gentrifiers. It's hard to think of ourselves that way, but in reality that's what we are. We are people who have moved into a poor neighborhood, not because we must, but because we can. All of our married lives we've lived in poor neighborhoods, not to make a political statement and not to make a financial killing as the neighborhood gentrifies, but because it seemed like a financially smart … [Read more...]

Does it Pay to Be a Snitch?

I was breathing easy about Clemetin. His life was going smoothly. He hadn't been stopped by the cops in quite a while. Perhaps as a result of the change in the stop and frisk policies adopted by the city some months ago. And he's been very proud that he has stopped shoplifting -- something that for Clemetin has been a way of life since he was a child. But then, one day went by and then another without a word from him. I didn't think much about it until the phone rang … [Read more...]

6 Years of Freedom and 3 Valuable Lessons

Next month, my friend Clemetin will celebrate six full years of being out of prison. According to the statistics of the Bureau of Justice, three-quarters of all of the people released from prison get rearrested within five years. And indeed, Clemetin has been rearrested. Not once, but several times. He's been arrested for trumped up drug charges he wasn't guilty of, and he's been arrested for shoplifting, which he did. He's never ended up back in prison, but he gets picked … [Read more...]

Trapped in a Crazy Court System

You might be wondering what happened to my felon friend, Clemetin, who was picked up in the park and accused of selling heroin back in August... A crime he didn't commit. A few weeks earlier, he'd been caught stealing a pack of peanuts from a store. He did do that. But that's a far cry from selling a deadly illegal substance. Punished for an Uncommitted Crime Since then, he's been in and out of court, sitting for days at a time, and then having to come back again … [Read more...]

Do You Feel Safe Sitting on a Bench Enjoying a Summer Day?

I was away on vacation last week. We rented a car and drove to the Berkshires where we stayed in a lovely house overlooking the Housatonic River. The water was high and fast, making splashing and rippling sounds as it went by. Birds came and went from the feeder. We had plenty to eat and wine to drink. We enjoyed the beautiful days and gentle camaraderie of friends. We didn't give a thought to the luxury of feeling safe and unscathed by the world around us. But on … [Read more...]

See Your World With New Eyes

On Friday, my husband Tyko and I are going on vacation. We've rented a wonderful house in the Berkshires for ten days. We've rented a car. And we've invited a series of friends to join us for a night or two. I'll be bringing my computer and block out two or three hours each day to work. So, what makes this a vacation? I'll be cooking and working and writing. I'll be doing what I do. My friend Clemetin who, despite his lack of experience with vacations, had exactly … [Read more...]

Can’t Find Self-Discipline? Try Clemetin’s 3-Step Method

Clemetin pays his rent every month. That may not sound like a feat to you, but for Clemetin, it’s a big deal. Who is Clemetin? My friend Clemetin spent more than half of his life in prison. He’s done 27 years of “hard time” in some of the nastiest maximum security prisons of New York State (think Attica). If you've spent most of your life in a cell under the watchful eyes of prison guards, you probably haven't learned many of the basic life skills you'll need when you … [Read more...]

My Friendship with a Felon

Meet Clemetin, my most unlikely friend. Nearly five years ago, I met Clemetin at St Mary's Park in the South Bronx where I exercise most mornings. I had no idea that he had spent most of his nearly 45 years in prison. Gradually, while we walked around the track at the park together morning after morning, I learned his story. But by the time I had learned enough about him to warn me away, we had become friends. Clemetin's story is both sad and uplifting. His life … [Read more...]