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Dan Huff rests after a long day's work. He spent much of his life incarcerated in the California prison system. Now, he lives in drug- and alcohol-free transitional housing in Portland, Ore. (Beth Nakamura for NPR)

'I Am Not An Inmate ... I Am A Man. And I Have Potential'

by Deena Prichep
Aug 29, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Work and interview clothes hang in the Reentry Transition Center office, available as needed for program participants. David Lee Robinson Jr., a volunteer facilitator (left), plays chess with Michael Ward at a prison reentry program site, while Felton Howard, a navigator with the program, looks on. Ward spent more than eight years in the state prison system before his release in 2012. Huff receives support from a prison reentry program run by Mercy Corps Northwest, which helps formerly incarcerated people transition back into society.

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If you want to know how prison can shape a man, talk to Dan Huff. He's spent more than half of his 59 years locked up. He says he was "raised by the state of California."

"Even judges, when they would send me away — looking back at it now — they's kind of more like a father figure, sitting up there," he says. "Closer to fatherly than any father that I ever had."

Those judges had plenty of reason to be concerned about him — Huff used heroin. He committed robberies.

"I'd go to the spoon, and I'd get a pistol. Or I'd go to the hardware store and get a shotgun and a hacksaw, and leave a piece of that barrel in the parking lot," Huff says.

Huff has served time for robbery, prison escape, and manslaughter. He felt comfortable behind bars.

"I surrounded myself with other people, and we patted each other on the back, and told each other how swell we was," he says. "We was the real men — and everybody else is a slug or worthless or a mark."

About 2 million men are currently serving time in prison or jail in America. For many of them, incarceration has played a big role in shaping their sense of what it means to be a man. And for several former inmates now living in Portland, Ore., like Huff, being on the outside has meant forming a whole new definition of manhood.

'Prison Told Me To Be Hard'

Keith Moody served a few short sentences in his youth. But when he was 30, a drug trafficking charge put him away for a decade.

"It definitely ... gave me a lot of time to think," he says. "And I started saying, 'OK, I've been proclaiming to be a father, proclaiming to be a man. But the whole time, everything I ever done was for myself.' "

Behind bars, Moody enrolled in college classes, including sociology.

"It really just started opening me up, because it let me know, that's not me," he says. "I'm not a convict. I'm not an inmate. ... I am a man. And I have the potential to be much more."

The classes and the time definitely helped. But Moody says he didn't become the man he is because of prison. Nobody does.

"Those bars can't change you. Those guards can't change you. There has to be something in you that recognizes that change is necessary," he says.

Felton Howard spent a year in prison along with Moody. Prison is "not a rehabilitation center," Howard says. "It's a warehouse. That's what prison is, it's a warehouse."

For the past five years, he's worked at Portland's Reentry Transition Center, where he's helped thousands of former inmates. There's a lot of growing that these men have missed, he says.

"They find a way to fit in prison. But that doesn't mean that they've grown as a man — they're just growing older," Howard says. "My formula is, if you go into prison and you're 26, and you're there for 5 years, you might be 27 when you get out."

Prison doesn't just slow down your path forward. It can also set you back, says Emanuel Price. He was a college junior when he fell in with some old high school friends and got picked up for robbery.

Going to prison "was like throwing me into a lion's den," he says. "I'm not a lion, I'm not an animal. But here I am, surrounded by lions.

"Prison told me to be hard, not show your emotions, walk around with a frown on your face," he adds.

"It's Tough Being A Square'

That five-year sentence convinced Price to never make those mistakes again. Like Felton, he also works helping former inmates. But having to bottle up his feelings for so long, he says, made him a different man.

"And when I got out, I was just like, 'Everybody out here is soft. Why is everybody smiling? Why is everybody so happy?' And then I began to unpack those things, like, 'Wait a minute — I can smile!' "

For Price, that transition — redefining what it means to be soft, and what it means to be strong — happened because of friends and family. But it can also happen in prison. And slowly, it even happened to Dan Huff.

"There was just times, when, reading books and stuff, there would be things in there that would bring it to my attention that I was a fraud," he says. Huff started valuing people who were compassionate and honest, and trying to be that same sort of man himself.

It's hard work. Since getting out a couple of years ago, Huff's basically been figuring it all out from scratch.

Huff says. "There ain't nothing I've done that I had any experience of doing. It's traumatized me a time or two," he says. "Just little stuff, like being laid off from work, and bills come up. I had it all mixed up. And now I see that it's tough being a square."

But while dealing with hardships of daily life has been difficult — especially with a criminal record — it's that shift in thinking that's been the biggest change.

"It's devastating on the one hand, you've been thinking all this time that you're Superman, or God, or something. And now you find out you're not even a man."

And whether it's because of prison, or in spite of it, Huff and others like him are figuring out what kind of men they want to be.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
San Francisco on fire in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. (Getty Images)

In An Earthquake, History Fuels One Writer's Anxiety

by Gustavo Arellano
Aug 29, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Work and interview clothes hang in the Reentry Transition Center office, available as needed for program participants. David Lee Robinson Jr., a volunteer facilitator (left), plays chess with Michael Ward at a prison reentry program site, while Felton Howard, a navigator with the program, looks on. Ward spent more than eight years in the state prison system before his release in 2012. Huff receives support from a prison reentry program run by Mercy Corps Northwest, which helps formerly incarcerated people transition back into society.

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While most of America is thinking burgers and swimming this Labor Day weekend, I can't stop thinking about earthquakes.

Last Sunday, a shaker registering 6.0 on the Richter Scale struck the Napa Valley in northern California. It injured dozens and caused about $1 billion in damages. National media coverage focused on how the quake affected the area's famous wine industry — because America needs to know that our stock of Cabs and Zinfadels is safe.

I, on the other hand, immediately remembered the Big One: the catastrophic quake that seismologists have long predicted will wreak havoc on Southern California someday... but no one knows when. So every little movement, every sway of a lamp or rattle of pans puts me on edge, makes me duck and cover. And after the Napa quake, I turned to Simon Winchester's excellent book A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 — you know, for some light reading.

The book was released on the centennial of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, which killed over 3,000 people and essentially leveled the city. Winchester details the devastation—houses turned into piles of sticks, blocks leveled by fires that followed, thousands left homeless for months. But the book's most terrifying passage takes place on the morning of the quake. Here, Winchester describes the calm before the disaster hit: "The breeze was westerly but light. Dawn was unfolding quietly, serenely. All was perfect peace."

Clichéd? Sure. But that's the scary thing about earthquakes: you never know when they're coming, or where.

Only one thing is certain: scientists say the San Andreas Fault that caused the San Francisco quake will unleash the Big One sooner rather than later. So I guess I'll just wait for it, and read and re-read Winchester's book again until then. Happy Labor Day!

Gustavo Arellano is the editor of OC Weekly in Orange County, Calif., and author of the book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.

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San Francisco on fire in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. (Getty Images)

The Spectacle Of The Beheading: A Grisly Act With A Long History

Aug 29, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Work and interview clothes hang in the Reentry Transition Center office, available as needed for program participants. David Lee Robinson Jr., a volunteer facilitator (left), plays chess with Michael Ward at a prison reentry program site, while Felton Howard, a navigator with the program, looks on. Ward spent more than eight years in the state prison system before his release in 2012. Huff receives support from a prison reentry program run by Mercy Corps Northwest, which helps formerly incarcerated people transition back into society.

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Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
San Francisco on fire in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. (Getty Images)

Ferguson's Protests Fade, But Locals Wonder About The Way Forward

by Myles Bess
Aug 29, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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Work and interview clothes hang in the Reentry Transition Center office, available as needed for program participants. David Lee Robinson Jr., a volunteer facilitator (left), plays chess with Michael Ward at a prison reentry program site, while Felton Howard, a navigator with the program, looks on. Ward spent more than eight years in the state prison system before his release in 2012. Huff receives support from a prison reentry program run by Mercy Corps Northwest, which helps formerly incarcerated people transition back into society.

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Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney and with the Lakota People's Law Project, is calling for a turnaround of child welfare and foster care systems. (AP)

Justice Department Supports Native Americans In Child Welfare Case

Aug 29, 2014 (All Things Considered)

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The entrance to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, home to the Oglala Sioux tribe. David Lee Robinson Jr., a volunteer facilitator (left), plays chess with Michael Ward at a prison reentry program site, while Felton Howard, a navigator with the program, looks on. Ward spent more than eight years in the state prison system before his release in 2012. Huff receives support from a prison reentry program run by Mercy Corps Northwest, which helps formerly incarcerated people transition back into society.

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The Justice Department has weighed in on a class action lawsuit in South Dakota pitting Native American tribes against state officials, and come down resoundingly in support of tribes.

It's the first time the department has intervened in a federal district court case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law meant to keep Native American families together. The department filed an amicus brief in the case concluding that the state is violating the rights of Native American parents.

In the suit, tribes claim the state is failing to abide by the 36-year-old federal law, removing hundreds of Indian children from their families in court hearings where parents are rarely allowed to speak, and that often last less than 60 seconds.

The children are then placed in foster care, where they may stay for months or years.

"It's disgraceful," says Stephen Pevar, who is a senior staff attorney at the ACLU, which has brought the suit along with the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes.

As part of the lawsuit, the state had to turn over rarely seen transcripts of 120 recent court hearings. In every one, the Native American children were taken into state custody.

Not a single parent was allowed to testify at the hearings. Most were not allowed to say anything except their names.

"These were virtually kangaroo courts," Pevar says. "There was nothing, nothing that any of the parents did or could have done. It was a predetermined outcome in every one of these cases."

In one case cited in the lawsuit, children were taken away from a mother whom the state said neglected them. Their father, who was divorcing the mother, appeared at the hearing and said, 'I am here, please give custody of my children to me.' The judge placed the kids in foster care.

In another example, a mother returned home from work to find her children had been taken away when her babysitter got drunk. She went to the hearing to explain she was the mother. Her children were also placed in foster care.

"This violates every concept of humanity," Pevar says. "If you have a right to a prompt hearing when [your] automobile is seized. They have a right to a prompt hearing when their children are seized."

State officials declined NPR's request for comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit. Pevar says the suit has been a long time coming.

"There a crisis in many parts of the United States and there has been one for decades involving the forceable removal of Indian children from their homes by state judges and social services employees," he says. "This lawsuit seeks to do something about it."

In its brief, the Justice Department wrote that state court and state officials with the Department of Social Services have an obligation to "actively investigate and oversee emergency removals of Indian children to insure that the removal ends as soon as possible, and that Indian children are expeditiously returned to their parents or their tribe" from the beginning of the process with the first court hearing to the end.

The Indian Child Welfare Act mandates that states must place children with their tribes, their relatives or Native American foster parents if they have to be removed from their families.

In South Dakota, almost nine out of 10 Native American children are placed in non-Indian homes or group homes, says Chase Iron Eyes, a staff attorney with the Lakota People's Law Project.

"It's a human rights crisis what's going on," he says.

This year, seven of the state's nine tribes applied for federal planning grants, which the help of the law project, in an effort to develop their own foster care programs. State officials have said they support that effort.

"We're trying to turn the whole system around," Iron Eyes says, "and give that power back to where it belongs - the power to raise our own families."

Iron Eyes says the future of Native American tribes depends on it.

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Copyright(c) 2014, NPR

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