Shedding the stigma of prison

By Martin Ricard, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post
September 6, 2009

Donald Zimmerman was mad at the world, stewing again in a 6-by-9-foot mayonnaise-colored jail cell. Then, he remembered the advice a counselor had given years earlier.

“She told me, whenever you get angry, to close your eyes and take a deep breath,” the 28-year-old Southeast Washington man said, recalling when he was locked up after a police officer pulled him over in October 2008 for a routine traffic stop. They found an outstanding warrant for an old robbery charge, for which he had already served time.

Using his counselor’s suggestion, Zimmerman changed: As quickly as he became upset, something on the inside told him to get rid of that anger, get off the guilt trip and let it go.

For some ex-offenders, the most important part of reentry is not freedom from a jail cell but making an internal change. For some, that means forgiving themselves for their crimes. For others, it’s deciding to stop and listen to the world around them. Continue reading

D.C. mural jam aims to create positive venue for graffiti art

By Martin Ricard
, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post
August 20, 2009

As the 20-year-old graffiti artist stood in broad daylight Saturday morning and aimed his spray paint at a concrete retaining wall behind the Rhode Island Avenue Shopping Center, the pleasant greeting of a passerby startled him.

He nervously put down the paint can and looked over his shoulder. For the past couple of weeks, he had been tagging his alias, AERA, throughout the area at night, with no one around to catch him in the act or disrupt his creative flow.

“Okay,” the artist said he thought to himself as he resumed his work, “this is a little weird.”

But on this day, spray-painting graffiti on public property, an act that would have been against the law any other time, was all good. It was part of a “mural jam,” a city-sponsored project that drew dozens of graffiti artists to contribute their flair to a nearly 1,000-foot-long wall turned canvas in Northeast’s Edgewood community. Continue reading

Southeast equestrian team an unlikely outlet for kids

By Martin Ricard, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post
July 26, 2009

Thirteen-year-old Jennifer Jones and 12-year-old Johnice Patterson slowly approached with a large leather bridle over their heads as the horse jerked away.

Ru-pert,” Jennifer said in gentle rebuke as she struggled to show Johnice, a novice, how to properly bridle a horse. For some reason, Rupert was uncooperative.

Their instructor, Lelac Almagor, stood a few feet back, arms crossed and smiling.

“The hardest thing for me is not being able to help them,” she said, chuckling, before Jennifer and Johnice finally got the bridle on. It’s one of the many jobs they have to do each day before being able to climb on a horse’s back.

This is the KIPP AIM Academy equestrian team. Most of the students live in Southeast Washington and come from families of meager means, which would typically make horse riding — an expensive habit — off-limits. Continue reading

Getting the cold shoulder from the economy, pals venture into the ice cream business

By Martin Ricard, Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post
July 9, 2009

It started as a joke.

Jake Sendar and Timothy Patch, two high school buddies home from college for the summer, would soup up an old family minivan and sell ice cream to kids in the neighborhood. Just for fun.

But no one seriously thought they would do it. Now, it’s probably safe to say the two 19-year-olds, who started their business last week with nothing more than ambition and a rickety old van, have proved their doubters wrong. Continue reading

With development looming, old Burley’s hangs on

By MARTIN RICARD, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
November 26, 2008

There’s an invisible line on West MacArthur Boulevard that divides it these days into two different worlds. On one side of Telegraph Avenue, in the up-and-coming Temescal district, the corridor is full of activity. Up near Broadway and Piedmont Avenue, a new Kaiser facility is being erected, which once built, will literally become a beacon of light for that part of North Oakland.

On the other side, a lone church shares another two blocks with a dilapidated motel strip, boarded-up homes, wilted trees that look like they haven’t been trimmed in a while, and trash strewn along the sidewalk. Continue reading

Statistics aside, San Leandro residents complain of more crime

By Martin Ricard, STAFF WRITER
The Daily Review
January 20, 2008

SAN LEANDRO — Every time Patti Gowan pulls into her driveway at night, she takes a hard look around before walking inside.

It didn’t used to be this way for Gowan, 49, who has lived in the Estudillo Estates neighborhood for nearly 25 years.

But over the past year and a half, what she has experienced has changed her views significantly. Continue reading

Family, friends rally for local man

By Martin Ricard, STAFF WRITER
The Daily Review
November 18, 2007

SAN LEANDRO — Lying in a hospital bed, Craig Alaniz rested with his eyes closed and his body still while his mother, sister and girlfriend gathered around, all eyes intently focused on him.

A few moments went by, then Alaniz awoke, slightly dazed, and opened his mouth but didn’t say anything. His throat was dry and he wanted something to quench his thirst.

His sister, Tina Marie, hurried out of the room and quickly returned with a cup of water, gently pressing it against Alaniz’s lips so that he could swallow. Continue reading

Hayward men’s shelter may be nearing end of the road

By Martin Ricard, STAFF WRITER
The Daily Review
October 8, 2007

HAYWARD — In 2002, the then-director of the Human Outreach Agency, the county’s only homeless shelter for men, quit his post and left behind a trail of financial trouble.

Soon after Israel Chideya left, the agency’s governing board discovered that he had not been paying payroll taxes to the Internal Revenue Service. The agency was left with more than $120,000 in debt owed to the IRS and about $20,000 owed to the California Employment Development Department, records show.

While the Human Outreach Agency has been able to chip away gradually at its debt, it has never quite been able to overcome its burden. Now, the future of the agency and its homeless shelter are in jeopardy because the IRS is looking to seize the agency’s building. Continue reading

Racial slur spray-painted on bar after fire

By Martin Ricard, STAFF WRITER
The Daily Review
August 2, 2007

ASHLAND — A small fire that licked a neighborhood bar here wasn’t the only thing that caused a scare early Wednesday.

A racial slur spray-painted across the side of the building has residents and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department wondering if a hate crime also was involved. Continue reading

San Leandro report details racist past

By Martin Ricard, STAFF WRITER
The Daily Review
June 2, 2007

SAN LEANDRO — For years, the city has been haunted by a part of its past that most people probably would rather forget.

Housing discrimination during the 1970s, particularly against blacks, created a stigma for San Leandro that at one point garnered it the label of a “racist bastion of white supremacy.”

But a new document released Thursday by the City Council’s Human Relations Committee that chronicles the city’s efforts to address housing discrimination since then sheds new light on the alleged complicity of city leaders during that time. Continue reading