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May 2008
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Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 3:24 pm

                 “FROM ONE UNGUARDED MOMENT”  (43)

“One Unguarded Moment - A Lifetime of Regret.”  How often have you seen or heard about an example of that situation?

In the heat of the moment all of us have done some thoughtless, harmful and even dangerous things.  Some of us have been fortunate to have escaped our behavior without many adverse consequences, and others have emerged with only a bit of embarrassment.  But all too often many of these spur-of-the-moment explosions have resulted in injuries to others, and the loss of friends, family and jobs.  And they have even resulted in prison sentences.

The areas for abuse include anger, with all of its dangers and potentially devastating consequences; alcohol and other drug abuse; and spousal and child abuse and other domestic violence.  As individuals and as a society we must be aware of the warning signs of trouble, and be prepared to step in as much as possible to head them off both for ourselves and for others.

Once people who have been brought into the court system have been identified with problems in these areas, I am proud to say that we are doing a reasonably effective job in dealing with them.  But the main purpose of today’s column is to talk with you about the measures being taken today by the Marine Corps to head off these problems before they occur. 

With the Marines the dangerous situations discussed above are often combined with combat stress as well as long and frequent assignments in combat areas, so the problems both for the returning troops as well as their families can be seriously compounded.  Fortunately, under the leadership of Judge Pamela Iles, the Family Violence Project has joined forces with the Orange County Superior Court and the Marine Corps to institute day-long learning seminars that are entitled “Heroes and Healthy Families.” 

These seminars show both the warriors and their families how to recognize the signs of stress and their related consequences, and also provide all of them with the tools to reduce or even neutralize those pressures.  By doing this the Marine Corps is supporting its warriors and their families in a safe return, as they say - “all the way home.” 

Among other things, these seminars drive home the reality that it is always wrong for an adult to hit a child.  Similarly, it is wrong for a man to hit a woman, and, of course, for a woman to hit a man.  But if that abuse has occurred once without being confronted, it almost certainly will happen again.  So it must be addressed - formally and promptly. 

Anger management classes really help in this regard.  The aggressors can be taught to take “time outs” when they feel themselves losing control, and the family members can be taught to allow the aggressors some space and time in order to regain their equilibrium.

But just as importantly, the people being battered should have a private escape plan - “just in case.”  That means that all adults who are at risk to be victims of this abuse should have their own personal checking account, even if there is little money in it.  They should also have a personal bank safe deposit box that contains their important personal papers and their valuables, including a spare set of house and car keys. 

If your partner’s behavior is abusive, you must understand that you can and probably should leave until that behavior is addressed and corrected.  Have a packed bag at the ready in a safe place that contains a change of clothes for yourself and your children.  Furthermore you should tell someone you trust the straightforward truth about your situation.  And do not be hesitant to tell that person that sometime with short notice you might be needing a ride, some help with your children, or even a place to stay.

Domestic violence can have a significant harmful effect upon children, and along the way it almost always increases their feelings of anger, fear, guilt, shame, confusion and helplessness.  It is also a fact that children over the age of five have a distinct tendency to identify with the aggressors and to lose respect for and attachment to the victims.  The children also tend to develop a tolerance for violence, which results in an inclination to perpetuate that violent behavior when they eventually have families of their own.

            The seminars also provide useful pointers on reducing the stresses that can result in domestic abuse.  One of the most effective points is developing the ability to be an effective listener.  Some of the tips to developing this skill are to maintain eye contact when your partner is sharing his or her feelings with you; to nod, smile and provide other acknowledgements of listening and understanding about what your partner is saying; and to ask respectful clarifying questions about the subject at hand.  But throughout all of this, resist being defensive and trying to problem solve.  And you should also be aware that understanding what your partner is saying is not the same thing as agreeing with it.  Finally, remember that listening is not the same thing as waiting to talk!

The bottom line is that abusive behavior will seldom get better unless it is addressed, and the longer it is allowed to continue the more likely it will be to result in long-range problems for everyone involved. 

The Marine Corps recognizes these realities, and it has implemented these seminars in furtherance of its proud tradition of taking care of its own.  In my view, the Corps should be commended and even honored for that tradition.  So I hope that the rest of us can learn from the preventive steps being taken by the Marines, and in that way we can more effectively take care of our own as well.  For more information about this great program, please visit HeroesAndHealthyFamilies.com.  

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008).  He can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com. 

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Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 12:31 pm

                        “WHAT TO DO ABOUT GANGS AND POVERTY”  (42)

            What should we do about the criminal and antisocial acts and other aberrant behavior of young people in gangs?  It’s a tough issue.  Law enforcement obviously has its limitations, so instead we need to get to the root of the problems.  So what can we do?

            In my view, the best chance for success is to show these young people a better way.  Show them that they actually can have a better life by having the security of a good job, the gratification of a strong family life, and increased longevity by leading a healthy lifestyle.  Okay, that is probably obvious.  But how can we so this in a way that will stick?

            Well by analogy to other problem behaviors, the most successful way to get drug-addicted people on the road to recovery is to partner them up with someone who has “been there” and is a recovering alcoholic or other drug addict.  That is one reason why Alcoholics Anonymous has been so successful.  And one of the best ways for our young people to see that things like ditching school, shoplifting and smoking marijuana aren’t “cool” is for them to hear that message at Peer Court from their fellow students.  These people “speak the same language” as the addicts and juvenile offenders, and don’t accept their rationalizations and excuses.

Similarly, I believe the best way to get gang members to turn away from antisocial behavior is for former gang members who have evolved into a more healthy and productive lifestyle to share their stories, views and personal experiences with the present gang members.  Actually this is now occurring in South Los Angeles with a group of former gang members called “The Businessmen.”  It is also happening here in Orange County in a program sponsored by the Orange County Bar Foundation called “Shortstop.”  These programs use former gang members and others who have been convicted of felonies to show the young people how the way they are going leads nowhere.  And these programs are successful.

In fact, the same approach is now being used by our government in places like Iraq and Palestine, where former terrorists try to educate present terrorists about the futility of their actions, and how they are being callously manipulated by extremists along the way.  In other words, someone with a common experience and familiarity with the aberrant behavior, whether it be drug addiction, gang involvement or terrorist activity, will have the best chance of communicating effectively with people who are presently stuck in that behavior.

But it takes more than that - it also takes hope.  Most people realize that a person without hope is probably the most dangerous person in the world, because a person without hope has nothing to lose.  And it is mostly people who don’t know any better and who have no hope that become drug addicted, gang members and terrorists.  So how do we help to provide hope to those people?

In that regard, I will pass along to you something I observed when I was in the Peace Corps.  Surprisingly enough, most of the merchants in my small town, which was in the southwestern part of Costa Rica, were Chinese.  That included the owner of the place where I and the other high school teachers lived.  His name was Chunga, and we lived on the second floor of his “Soda Interamericana,” which was the only place in our town large enough to hold a dance.  So one day I asked him why most of the merchants in our town happened to be Chinese.

He told me that after the fall of Chiang Kai-shek in China, most of his supporters fled to Taiwan.  But many others kept on coming.  Some stopped in Hawaii, but others continued to most of the western coasts of North, Central and South America.  And that included Costa Rica.  And when they came, they brought with them a cultural tradition.

At about the age of 18 to 20, young men would come to the Elders of the Chinese community and present to them what amounted to a business plan for a proposed business.  The Elders would give some suggestions, and then if they decided that the candidate was sincere, able and had a reasonably good plan, they would provide the “seed” money to get the business venture started.  (Yes, at least at that time the program was only available for young men.) 

This seed money was not a loan, it was a gift.  But there would never be a second opportunity.  If the young man was eventually successful, he would have the hope that one day he also could be a member of the Elders, and contribute his own funds to perpetuate the tradition.  To him, it was a matter of cultural “face,” or pride.  But if he was not successful, he might as well leave town, because the shame he would bring upon himself and his family would make his continued presence in the community hard to bear.

Although to my knowledge no other community in our country has this particular tradition to build upon, why could it not be developed?  It works! 

Personally I deeply admire Bill Cosby.  At the moment he is taking a lot of flack in the African-American community for speaking the truth.  As you know, recently he has been saying that their community is suffering from unacceptable amounts of violence, single-parent families and a general lack of education.  Furthermore, he is saying that it is their own responsibility to turn those conditions around.  But that effort will be more successful if it also helps to provide some hope to the people who are involved.

Likewise, if our government would change its foreign aid programs to provide small loans to people at the bottom rung of the economic ladder, instead of grants of large amounts of money to the governments of these economically poor countries, much more tangible progress would be made. 

Private organizations do things like this quite successfully today.  For example, a group called Oxfam provides small loans to people in poor countries so that they can purchase things like a sewing machine, and thus begin a small business.  But Oxfam also ensures that the money is eventually repaid.  That promotes personal responsibility.  Similarly a group called Heifer International provides farm animals like goats, chickens and cows to families in poor countries, along with an education about how to care for them.  These people then have the incentive to take care of the animals, because they can use them for milk, eggs and meat to feed their families.  Then eventually the excess food products can be sold to others for the benefit of all.  Instead of large amounts of our money ending up in the Swiss bank accounts of corrupt government officials, these much smaller amounts of money actually promote and establish businesses, nutrition and self-sufficiency.

We should learn these lessons, and adopt them to our practices both governmentally and privately, and domestically and abroad.  Like all economists say, “Incentives Matter!”  And an infusion of positive mentors, incentives and realistic hope will have a meaningful chance of reducing gang and terrorist activity and otherwise changing aberrant behavior, as well as promoting a better, safer and more prosperous world.  And, by the way, it will cost a great deal less money than we are now spending.

James P. Gray is a judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe - the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.


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Filed under: General
Posted by: Jim Gray @ 4:39 pm

                                DRUG PROBLEMS VS. DRUG MONEY PROBLEMS  (41)

            As all sophisticated people know, life is full of distinctions.  One of those critical distinctions that we will discuss today is the difference between drug problems, and there certainly are many, as opposed to drug money problems.

            There is no doubt that illicit drugs can sometimes be dangerous and addictive and cause harm.  Many people’s health and lives have been ruined, and families torn apart emotionally and financially because of the havoc caused by the abuse of and addiction to illicit drugs.  So without question this is a big problem.

            But there are also big problems that are caused exclusively by drug money.  For example, for years we have been hearing and reading about the large-scale violence and corruption that takes place with drug dealers in Colombia, Mexico, Afghanistan and many other countries.  And certainly the United States has had its share of this violence and corruption as well.  These problems are not caused by the drugs themselves, they are caused by the drug money.

            Similarly, it is drug money that is causing drug-addicted people to commit crimes in order to get the money for their drugs.  Obviously that includes burglaries, purse-snatchings, check offenses, shop-liftings, and prostitution.  As a practical matter, all of the illicit drugs themselves are extremely inexpensive to raise, manufacture and package.  In fact they are actually “dirt cheap.”  The only reason they are expensive is because they are illegal, and that expense causes many crimes.

            For example, marijuana is not called a “weed” for nothing.  It will grow virtually anywhere.  In fact, for all of our efforts for its eradication, marijuana is presently the largest cash crop in California.  (Number two is grapes, if you care.)  And even though the DEA has gone to great lengths to convince us that the opium poppy can only be grown in mountainous regions, the National Park Service was actually growing those poppies for years at Thomas Jefferson’s home in Monticello before the DEA found out about it and made them take them out.  (They are a beautiful flower.)  So if the opium poppies will grow in Virginia, it is pretty obvious that they will grow anywhere. 

            But now I want to talk to you about another drug money problem that you probably are not aware of.  The following scenario would take place in my courtroom about every four or five weeks when I was sitting on a Juvenile Court calendar.  There would be, for example, a single mother of two small children who made a bad decision, namely she decided to hook up with the wrong boyfriend.  The man would be selling drugs and the mother would generally be aware of it, but that is the way things were.

            One fine day the boyfriend would tell the mother that if she would take a package across town and give it to “Charlie,” he would give her $500 for her efforts.  She would basically know the package contained drugs, but she was behind on her rent and the $500 would really help.  So she would do it.  And then she would be arrested and convicted for the offense of transporting drugs, and sentenced to five years in prison.  Now to be honest, in today’s world being sentenced to five years in prison for transporting four ounces or so of cocaine is not an unreasonable sentence. 

But let me ask you a question: when the mother is put in prison, what happens to her children?  Well, that answer is easy.  The mother has legally abandoned her children since she is not available to take care of them.  As a consequence they would all come to me in Juvenile Court on the Abused and Neglected Children calendar. 

So I would have this young mother in my court in a jail jumpsuit and handcuffs and I would tell her the truth, which was that she would not functionally be a part of her children’s lives for the next five years.  At that point she would usually become misty-eyed at the realization.  (Wouldn’t you?)  But then I would tell her the brutal truth, which was that unless she was really lucky and either had a close personal friend or family member that was both willing and able to take custody of her children until she was released, her children would probably be adopted by somebody else by the time she got out of prison.  At that point she would usually break down in tears.  (Wouldn’t you?)

But if that human tragedy is not enough to break you down, I can probably dissolve you in tears as a taxpayer.  Because in the first year, we will be spending upwards of $5,000 per month per child to keep them in a group home until they can be adopted by someone else.  That means that in that first year we will be spending about $60,000 per child, times two children, plus an additional $25,000 to keep the mother in prison.  As a result we will be spending somewhere around $145,000 in taxpayer money physically to separate a mother from her children! 

And who gets to enforce this situation?  I do.  Of course I do it because I have sworn to uphold the law.  But I do not have to do it quietly, and that is why I am passing on this story to you.

So from my experience and perspective, if we would change our drug laws to hold people accountable for their actions instead of what they put into their bodies, we would begin greatly to reduce the drug money crime.  And this could be easily done by undercutting the market for the sale of illicit drugs to adults. 

As was discussed in an earlier column, we could start by treating marijuana like alcohol.  That would result in the savings of huge amounts of taxpayer money that are presently being spent on efforts to eradicate marijuana and to prosecute non-violent marijuana users.  In addition, we could generate additional billions of dollars annually simply by taxing the sales of marijuana to adults, just like we do for alcohol.  And all of this would have the substantial additional benefit of making marijuana less available for our teenagers than it is today.  Why?  Because illicit drug dealers don’t ask for i.d.

So what is not to like?  We should pattern our conduct after most countries in Europe and start to address these problems as managers instead of moralists.  This would reduce the crime, violence and corruption brought about by drug money.  And then we could re-focus our efforts upon the actual drug problems themselves, like many countries are doing in Europe.

I think that everyone agrees that the federal government does not have all of the answers in this area, so why don’t we allow each state to decide what is best for its people?  This is the concept of federalism upon which our great country was founded.  There are viable alternatives to our present failed federal policy of Drug Prohibition, so let’s allow each state to try some alternatives.  What do you think?

James P. Gray is a judge of the Superior Court in Orange County, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It - A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001), and can be reached at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net, or at his blog at JudgeJimGray.JudgeJimGray.com.

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