Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Across the Aisle


Across the Aisle

Special Thanks to @CoryBooker & @SenRandPaul http://thegoodfight.fm/episodes/28-cory-booker-and-rand-paul-partners-on-crime AND to Marie Gottschalk http://www.upenn.edu/pennnews/news/new-york-attorney-general-s-office-intern-penn-s-iris-zhang-facing-her-fears and http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Prison_and_the_Gallows.html?id=N9brN4Bx8GgC AND to Robin Garrett http://www.wcupa.edu/_academics/healthsciences/nursing/faculty/garrett.asp AND SEUNG MIN KIM http://www.politico.com/story/2014/07/cory-booker-rand-paul-team-up-108640.html 

At the Chester County Democratic Committee meeting I just attended, I loitered outside like a punk against the wall of a Denver pot house for the arrival of Pennsylvania’s potential next governor. I was jockeying for a photo of the two of us together to be posted to the Growing Examples website as an endorsement, and to increase legitimacy of the organization as we head into our Fall fundraiser. Calculated, I know, but also the sign of forward thinking and commitment to the organization’s success.

The Democratic PA Senator who was hosting the event was an old family friend; my ninety year old grandmother, Lily, has been a longtime supporter of the sixth term senator. A staff member of his recognized me and called me by name. I sort of recognized her and asked would I be able to get a photo with tonight’s guest. She said, “we’ll see,” without smiling.

Two other office aides exited the township building as a black SUV arrived. Out came the candidate and as he approached the building I stepped to him, asking for a photo together. A campaign staff member introduced himself, handed me his card, Howard Starr, it read, and grasped the outstretched camera app. Stepping into the lobby, we posed for a shot, but were interrupted and instructed by Starr that we were backlit and we should shift to have the light on our faces. Good Job, Starr! And so I got the pic. It’s now just waiting for the opportune time to drop.

It was in Grad school that I was introduced to Marie Gottschalk’s “The Prison and the Gallows – The Politics of Mass Incarceration in the United States.” And, it was just after school that I began raising awareness of Restorative Justice in my own hometown. Here is where I intercepted a professor from West Chester University. She had been my own Women’s Studies prof when I attended undergrad there in the nineties. She told me about a PA State Representative in our town who was open to meeting all his constituents, R or D, and suggested that I approach him with my Re-entry Program idea. Way to Go, Professor!

I did do that, made a call, spoke with an Aide, set up a meeting, and waited patiently that first day for coffee and for my audience with the Rep. When we did meet, he was excited to hear about the idea, agreed that it reaches across political party lines and promised to continue our conversations moving forward. We did. Awesome! Now, he sits as an advisory member on the Growing Examples board.

New Jersey State Senator, Cory Booker is also preaching awareness of the positive influence of common ground. He and Rand Paul, who’d thunk it. Thank you common sense. 

#commonground #commonsense #restorative #practices #justice #partylines #growingexamples 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pay For It

kobaSpecial Thanks http://www.youtube.com/user/ApesMovies to the film, https://twitter.com/ApesMovies and to: @Celazul1 @LWolf14 @A_Fieldhouse @juanma_lz @kristenpurcell 

Go see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Skip Universal Studios Orlando. For the same reason.

It had begun to rain, spitting singular large drops; the Central Florida, mid-July thunderstorm was about to begin. And we were at Universal Studios Orlando, in Seuss Land. We could see a cups and saucers knock off ride, and the line was short. There was a roof. My sister, her four kids, and me trooped through oversized, brightly painted, fiberglass character statues, long skinny palm tree legs, bushes shaped like green eggs and ham and increasingly faster rain pellets to the line for the Seuss-a-whirl.

This place where we were guided to wait in line was open air. Unlike the claustrophobic closed split rail halls for Harry Potter mountain, these aisles were just steel pipes and shiny, silver chain link. We could see everyone, and everywhere, and even the ride from where we waited. The family just in front of us was speaking spanish. They stood, a grandfather, mom, grandkids, and one almost-bored preteen. But, even she was laughing every now and again, temporarily distracted from fixing her hair. They were happy, under the ride roof, hidden from the rain, and enjoying one another. They mirrored my family’s own mood. “SMACK” the clap of thunder struck. We laughed and joked, something about angels bowling, and the line lurched forward. Lurched, but there are so few people in line before us, “Why such a little move forward?” I wondered this aloud. Then I noticed. Six ride cars were filled first. Twelve express pass riders had just jumped in front of the line in which we waited. My sister, Cindy, shook her head.

“It’s not Disney,” she lamented. I thought about what she had said earlier.

Universal sells an add-on to the exorbitant $92 ticket price, for an additional 76 dollars you can get the fast track ticket, or express line wait, whatever it’s called. And, not have to stand in line nearly as long as the regular $92 ticket holders. Regular. Ninety two dollars. Prior to this ride, the express line riders were kept better hidden from the regular ticket holder lines. But, here, completely exposed, the difference was plainly visible. I pointed to the line and my sister nodded. “Yes,” she spoke, “I like Disney better, they have express lines also, but every park ticket gets to access the lesser wait times. Each ticket has a code, and every hour it permits a holder to utilize the express lane. You can essentially go on every ride, with that express pass if you plan it right.” She smiled. Then, her face grew sad, “But, I heard that Disney may be following this trend at their parks now, too.”

“That sucks,” I blurted, then, “I mean stinks, that stinks. It makes me really angry. Watch how the kids look at the express pass holders. For that matter, look at my own anger, and envy, for those people. It certainly says a lot about disparate income.” Cindy agreed, while her daughter, Karen, who had appeared to not be listening to us, wrinkled her nose.

“It is lousy,” Karen spoke up determinedly. “If we’ve also paid to be here, then why can’t we all use the express pass?” I looked at Cindy, who I know keeps most household financial matters discreet, but before either of us could respond, Karen spoke again. “It’s not very fair.”

And that is the answer, isn’t it. It’s not very fair. This leads to why I have also included the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes endorsement. In that film, in the first six minutes, a narrator, or perhaps a news feed overlay, someone is talking, and they speak about the resources running out for humans. And how, at first, those with money got to use the resources, but then fighting ensued, and as the resources diminished, eventually, most people had killed one another off. Even the money holders. There are a few different moments in the film when peace could be reached, but greed and hate and power and breach of trust, and murder, they keep us and the apes from that peace pinnacle.

I don’t think I have it in me to go postal, but, if I did, it might be while watching express pass holders jump in front of me for resources. Or, more, watching my niece and nephews watch people jump in from of them for resources. Oh wait, I watch that, already, all the time, just about most everywhere. Oh, money.

#money #resources #family #restorative #practice #disparate #income #growingexamples

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Teacher Peer Self


During one of our first meetings together, I asked low-income, inner city, 7th- and 8th- graders to write one answer for each of three questions onto individual 3 x 5” notecards. Students were enrolled in Conflict Resolution, a preventative program developed as part of Growing Examples. http://www.growingexamples.org The following is a list of their answers, in no particular order.


One thing I expect from my teacher:

Be respectful

Be able to control the students

A lesson


Teach what they have to teach and get rid of the annoying people

Treat me the same way they would like to be treated

Stay strong, be brave, be strict and be caring

Stop quitting on us and letting us get to them

Respect and patience


One thing I expect from my peers:

Treat me with respect

Be good people

Be kind, be loyal, be respectful

Let me learn


Respect and appreciate more, teach others and teachers


Be respectful to others

Be respectful or better influences


One thing I expect from myself:

Be more patient; stop having anger problems

Pay attention/listen

Be respectful



Be respectful to myself and to others; learn how to control my actions

Self-esteem in great amounts

Succeed in life; be respectful to people that are talking

Not worry about others think

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bǎwò Guāngyīn


Bǎwò Guāngyīn

Ken brought Chinese take-out and a bottle of Mezcal for dinner one night last month. The fortune in my cookie read, “Keep it simple. The more you say, the less people will remember.”

I laughed at the presence of the tequila. “I need to photograph this and use it for the blog when I don’t have a topic, or when I don’t have time to write one week.” I said, lifting my highball. My iPhone was in my pocket. It has a great camera.

“Oh yea, read mine, Cutie.” Ken passed me his slip of cheap white paper, his thumb lingering in the center of my open palm, his eyes sparkling.

“Learn to speak Chinese, Nǐ hǎo, hello.” I read. Ken smiled.

“Yea, turn it over, Smartass,” Ken quipped and pulled his hand away.

I turned the fortune over to read, “Flattery will go far tonight.” And it did…

I didn’t photograph the cookie fortune, though. I thought about it again the next day, “Oh, I really want to photograph that fortune for the blog.” Again, phone in pocket, slip of white paper with little red letters readily available, but no photo-taking. The fortune, “Keep it simple. The more you say, the less people will remember,” remained on the small kitchen table.

Two weeks later, while packing the Macbook Pro for the short trip I was taking, and the essay I’d be writing: “This is a great week to use that fortune cookie photo,” I said to the unmade bed, “Keep it simple.” But then went back to packing, and, for a third time, I didn’t get the pic.

As I am tasked with this essay, I am missing the lost opportunities I had to make this post really great. Really short. Really simple. I am missing the photo I didn’t take of the fortune cookie. “Keep it simple. The more you say, the less people will remember.”

Now, the accompanying photo for this essay is the “click to add” photos screenshot from the Facebook “create an event” page. Great, Joe. Next time, how about a little “Carpe Diem,” or, as the interweb says is Mandarin for the classic Latin, “Bǎwò Guāngyīn.” Carpe diem, seize the day, keep it simple. I sit here writing, lamenting, “What’s more simple than smartphone photography?”


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lost or Stolen


Special Thanks to @RevRunWisdom https://twitter.com/RevRunWisdom and to Scott Allison, Ph.D. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-we-need-heroes/201404/do-heroes-make-us-smarter AND to Alan Castel, Ph.D. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/metacognition-and-the-mind/201404/wisdom-ask-siri-or-ask-grandma

Cam called while I was still on 76 East traffic into Philadelphia and I answered. “Joe, Roxie got a call from Franklin Montgomery, the director at the Port Richmond site.” I knew who Franklin was; we’d been working his site for six weeks. “Joe, he says he’s missing a laptop.”

“Well, that sucks,” I replied. “Was it one of our guys?”

“That’s what he’s claiming. He says it was there in the AM when he left for a meeting and when he returned, it was not there anymore.”

“When did he return,” I pressed my breaks too hard as the tractor trailer on my left swerved more than a little over our lane line. “We were there until 3:30,” I said, annoyed.

“After that apparently; he says nobody was there when he arrived back. He didn’t give a time.” Cam paused then asked, “What’s the bathroom policy there, Joe?”

“We use the bathroom inside the building. A guy comes to us, Janice or I, and asks for the front door key. We give it to him. Or her, if its Damaris.” At this point in our Basic Construction class, we were about four months into our nine month program. We were down to only seven participants, and one guy, Luis, who was borderline absenteeing himself out. So technically eight. We had started with 16 in this program, a part of The Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia’s restorative justice programming. That we had eight still in, at the four month mark, was good stats. I felt protective of the remaining guys and girl, who were really showing commitment to their success.

“Im not saying it was one of our guys, Joe.” Cam interrupted the angry analysis track running in my head, “And, Im not saying that it wasn’t. But, we’re going to have to adjust how our guys, and Damaris, enter, or have access to the building.”

Finally, some breathing room in the traffic, as I passed the Conshohocken Curve, “Cam, you know we can do a porta potty, or we can accompany the guys into the building for bathroom breaks. Janice can accompany Damaris. What do you think?”

“We’d rather not hafta afford a rental, but goin’ with the guys into the building sounds right.”

“Fine,” what a pain in the ass, I thought. And it was, for the rest of our time at that site, when someone had to use the restroom, one of the instructors would have to stop and accompany a guy to the building. We eventually made it into scheduled bathroom breaks. And we dissuaded the use of bathrooms when it wasn’t break time. We also never did solve the case of the missing  computer.

The next year, I was program directing for a bunch of kids out in Coatesville, with a woman, Carolyn, and we were invited to spend the day cooking at Chester County Food Bank. Their facility included a large commercial kitchen, a distribution warehouse, and their offices. The restrooms were located out in the office section of the building. Here, desks were littered with personal mementos, plants, and photos in frames, (Author’s note: think office decor of the second half of Dolly, Jane, and Lily’s film.) One girl, Michelle, approached me about seven and a half minutes into the preparation time for our first class recipe. “Mr. Ovelman, I haft use the bathroom.”  She stood on her toes, in white candies, or, what I would call candies, not sure what they’re called now, and pink and orange striped knee socks. Her arms stretched, and hands opened flat with her plea. Completely trustworthy, right, I mean, come on, it’s Michelle. But, we were here today, and it was Saturday, and we were the only people here today. The desks were littered with mementos. And there were two doors between the commercial kitchen and the office space, both on hinges whose natural position was closed. I thought about the missing laptop. I thought about the way it made me feel that one of my guys was accused of theft, when who really knows what happened. You know, a laptop is a hard thing to tuck into ones shirt, unnoticed.

I stopped, running through my head, looking out onto the 14 or so kids around the stainless tables as they diced and chopped, and two making a rue, and more at the sink peeling potatoes. Michelle doin’ the pee dance and beginning to draw attention. But, I didn’t want to hear on Monday that someone was missing something from one of their friendly desks. Perhaps something they’d mistakenly thrown away, or misplaced, or took home, or gave away or traded.. Or, or or… I didn’t want our kids to have to face that opportunity today; I wasn’t going to have all our kids, or our program, take the fall. I asked my partner Carolyn to accompany Michelle out into the office area, telling her quickly of the missing laptop story. She agreed. When they returned, I addressed the class of fourteen fourteen-year-olds. “Can I have your attention.” I called, and they gave it to me. I told the story of the missing laptop. I also shared my concerns about the building set up and access to the personal office space here at the food bank. I told them that I didn’t think any of them would steal, but also said that taking this precaution avoided any negative responsibility being thrown our way, for perhaps, maybe someone else’s mistake. The students listened.

Kyle spoke up as I finished. “Sounds right,” He asserted. And the students agreed to only use the restroom if they really needed it, but would try to wait until one of our scheduled break times. Emergencies had Carolyn or I standing in one of the swinging doors. And on Monday, we did not receive a call that anything was missing. What we did receive was a call that thanked us for leaving such a neat facility, as we had returned it to the state it was loaned to us, clean and tidy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment



Forbes: “If you observe any of these warning signs, you need to intervene now:” Thank you to Zeynep Ilgaz.


She said, “You can suck my dick.” Thirteen year old, “I don’t like myself”, mostly engaged in the lessons, bullied- Raneetha. Ohh, Raneetha. She was standing her full, four foot four, her splayed fingers digging into wide, maturing hips, and her chest puffed up and out. She spat the line with genuine frustration, dropping her jaw with each beat to reveal pink gums beneath mostly straight teeth. “You.” Jaw drops. “Can.” Jaw drops. “Suck.” Jaw drops again. “My dick.” Marking the performance that she knew, deep down, she was capable of performing, her eyes furtively shifted to gauge my reaction, but received little information. Then they were off and back to focus on her epitaph’s receiver, Jamari. Jamari just laughed, while Raneetha tried to suppress her own smile. I could see both of them, but my eyes were focused on Brandon.

Brandon kept interrupting Raneetha, as she was losing her cool with Jamari. Brandon also, now, was standing, shifting weight from one foot to the other, “Raneetha, you got to calm down.”

“Brandon.” My stern voice out. “Brandon, please sit down now, and stop talking. Please. This is the last time that I’m gonna ask.”


Raneetha: I have nothing to calm down for.

Jamari: (laughing) Just quit your playin’ Raneetha.

Brandon: Just be calm.

Raneetha:(shouting) I AM NOT PLAYING!!!


Leveling my voice, “Brandon, sit down now. And stay out of this, please.” Raneetha’s hands began pounding at the sides of her head as she repeated her shout. I decided that this escalation had been allowed to progress as far as I felt comfortable. Standing from my own seat in our circle, I walked directly to where Brandon was standing. I stood as close to his 4-foot frame as I could without touching. “Sit down, Brandon. Now.” I said, looking down.

Brandon sat. “But she just,” he was still talking, even as he was sitting.

“Brandon,” I interrupted. “Stop talking.”

“But she just…”

“I don’t wanna hear it right now. We can talk about it later, if you still want to, but for right now, you need to be here, seated. And with your mouth shut.” I looked down into his upturned face, and his wide brown eyes found mine. Then, head swung down, and eyes leveled, to look out and to his right, beyond me.

“Fine.” Brandon’s skinny dark arms crossed. Now, I was able to return to my seat in the circle.

On my way back, I admonished Raneetha quietly as I passed her, “Stop beating your head, Raneetha. Please.”

Once, I was seated, I asked for everyone’s attention. “Alright, let’s have everyone’s attention here; eyes on me, please.”  Raneetha was still standing; she stopped beating her head. Jamari was already back in his seat, smugly smiling, lounging legs outstretched, shoulders back. Brandon’s head was shaking back and forth, but at least, he wasn’t talking.

“Everyone should now be back in their seats, sitting upright, eyes and attention focused on me.” Jamari pulled himself to straighten at his back. Brandon stopped shaking his head, turned and looked at me. Everyone in the circle, ten or eleven of us, were basically now sitting upright and focused on getting back to the program. Raneetha looked around, then dropped into her seat, with a small huff. She raised her head to look at me.

“Language that is inappropriate during your regular school day is also inappropriate during this program and please refrain from using it.” I stated. I did look directly back into Raneetha’s eyes, and also scanned all the eyes of our circle. Then, I asked, a slow smile on my waning face, “Now, what are some things that can happen when one person is losing their cool, and their is an audience? What do you think about the audience’s role in conflict?”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment