Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Nobody's Fault

Published May 15, 2008
North Coast Journal
Humboldt County, CA
on the cover / By HSU Investigative Reporting students

The anatomy of a suicide in the Humboldt County Jail

(May 15, 2008) In January, journalism students from HSU, as part of an investigative reporting class taught by Assistant Professor Marcy Burstiner, set out to understand the intersection of the mental health and criminal justice systems in Humboldt County by investigating the death of one man: James Lee Peters, a Hoopa resident who committed suicide in the Humboldt County Jail last August. Over three months they intended to interview people who knew him as well as people who work in mental health and criminal justice. They were met with a wall of silence: Many people did not respond to repeated requests for information. People in the mental health field who did respond said they could not discuss his case because of privacy protections required under federal law. His lawyers argued that attorney-client privilege survives the death of a client. The Hoopa community, unused to anything but negative news, did not feel comfortable talking about Peters to the press.

The mental health system in Humboldt and across the state turned out to be a labyrinth they couldn’t penetrate; instead of answering basic questions about standard procedures one agency after another bounced them from office to office. A public information officer at Atascadero State Hospital forced them to file a California Public Records Request just to find out how its trial competency program works.

So the students poured through records: Court minutes and files that are open to public inspection; birth, death and autopsy reports; court transcripts, case files released from the district attorney’s office in response to another public records request and procedural reports and data from Atascadero. Their conclusion based on the records and interviews: The untimely death of James Lee Peters was both entirely preventable and inevitable. It reflected the inability of our mental health system to help people until it is too late, and the failure of the criminal justice system to handle the people who end up in the jails as a result.

The students involved in the project were: Chris Hoff, Karina Gonzalez, Matthew Barry, Matthew Hawk, Marc Kozachenko, Tatiana Cummings, Cassandra Hoisington, Melinda Spencer, Deunn Willis, Nicole Willens, Adrian Emery and Meghannraye Sutton.

James Lee Peters spent his 25th birthday last August behind the walls of the Humboldt County Jail, waiting to be taken to a state mental hospital. He spent his previous birthday much the same way. He wouldn’t live to see the next. Instead, 10 days after he turned 25, Peters took the sheet off his bed, tore it into strips, tied them together and hanged himself. He would be on life support for eight days at St. Joseph Hospital before he would die of asphyxiation.

If Peters understood what he was doing when he ended his life, it might have been the only time he fully understood his actions. Complications at birth gave him learning disabilities and a low IQ. Throughout his life he needed mental health counseling but received little. He tended to lash out when he was angry and that repeatedly put him in trouble with the law. What began as small outbursts became increasingly violent, until the criminal justice system could no longer overlook the threat he represented. Instead, as his criminal record piled up, the Humboldt County Superior Court bounced him between a variety of mental health facilities, but only to make him competent enough to stand trial.

But this story doesn’t stop with Peters. Because the tragedy is that we fill our jail, and jails across the state and country, with people just like him. There are alternatives, but not in Humboldt County.

“This community treats dogs better then the mentally ill,” said District Attorney Paul Gallegos. “My hope is that we [would] treat our mentally ill better than we treat a dog.”

What little we know about James Lee Peters plays out through documents obtained under the California Public Records Act. Everyone he interacted with, from teachers, police officers, lawyers, doctors, counselors, probation officers and jail guards refused to speak about him or his particular case for this story. Neither would members of his family, who still grieve over his death and who intend to file suit against any party they can find responsible. As of yet, no lawsuit has been filed.

Here’s what we do know. James Lee Peters, nicknamed Hans, was a Yurok Indian from Hoopa who entered the world much the same way he would leave it: gasping for air.

At birth Peters was without oxygen for several minutes. That manifested into developmental and cognitive problems. Jamie Lynn Solano gave birth to Peters at age 16; he was the first of her three children. His biological father did not acknowledge him and the first years of his life weren’t easy. He suffered physical abuse and several members of his family battled with drug and alcohol problems. Sometime in his childhood Peters saw a counselor briefly in Hoopa but stopped because the family feared he would be taken from his mother. Around age five, social workers took him from his mother and he went to live with his grandmother Joyce Croix, whom Peters credited with raising him.

If you drive easton Highway 299 and head north on Highway 96 through dense redwood forests, you will descend into the Hoopa Valley. Here a Ray’s Food and the Lucky Bear Casino stand against a backdrop of jagged mountains. Nearby, the Trinity River flows past grounds where Hoopa residents still hold ancient healing and renewal ceremonies, such as the sacred Jump Dance and Boat Dance.

With about 2,600 people on 144 square miles, Hoopa is at once the state’s largest Indian reservation and a small town where everyone knows everyone. The sovereign nation is separated from the rest of the county by both distance and culture. The tribal government administers health services on the reservation, including some drug, alcohol and mental health treatment, but offers no residential treatment facility. It educates students in conjunction with the Klamath-Trinity Joint Union School District.

Peters had a difficult time learning, so he was put in special education classes at Hoopa Valley Elementary. His fourth-grade yearbook picture shows a dark-haired boy with a big smile. The picture of him in fifth grade shows an 11-year-old boy standing straight and looking proud. (Few of the people who knew Peters at that age were willing to speak of him on the record. Most of what follows comes from reports written later by officials and psychologists who interacted with him at various stages in his journey through the criminal justice system.)

In the ninth grade, his grandmother died. Peters later said that that period in his life was emotionally difficult for him, and as a result he had trouble in school. He was involved in three physical fights, was caught with marijuana, and was expelled.

At 14, psychological evaluations determined that his verbal comprehension was “particularly impaired.” He continued his education at Captain John Continuation High School in Hoopa, and was shuffled between the homes of various members of his extended family. But he lacked a primary guardian.

The lack of guidance took its toll. At 16, he picked up a rock and threw it at a teacher’s car, cracking the windshield. Police charged him with battery of a school employee and he served 60 days in Juvenile Hall. In throwing that rock he threw himself into the Humboldt County criminal justice system and he would never climb out of it.

The Hoopa Valley Tribal Police station has no holding cell. Each time a suspect is arrested police drive him 60 miles to the county jail in Eureka. Taking someone that far for relatively minor crimes adds a “traumatic element” to an already traumatic situation, said Graham Hill, chief of the Rio Dell police department. While Rio Dell sits at the opposite end of the county, his department also lacks a holding cell. The drive from Rio Dell to Eureka is just 25 miles, but that extra trauma, he said, can do more harm in the long run for prisoners who are mentally ill. The geographic distance also makes it difficult for family to visit prisoners in the county jail.

Peters soon added two more infractions — criminal threat of assault and battery and assault with a deadly weapon — to his juvenile record. About that time, he landed his first and only job, that of a choker setter for Three Star Logging Company, a typical entry level job in the logging business.

As a choker setter, he would likely have trudged up hillsides machines could not access, to wrap a cable under and around a log, forming a noose so that they could be pulled up to a place where they can be put on a truck. It is not an easy job, said Robert VanNatta, part owner of a 30-year-old logging business in Apiary, Ore.

While VanNatta didn’t employ Peters or know of him, he could explain the type of work Peters likely had. “You cannot exaggerate the difficulty and danger of choker setting,” VanNatta said. After securing the noose, the choker setter must quickly get away or risk getting crushed from rolling logs. Peters liked manual labor, but quit after he was denied a $1.25 an hour raise. That marked the end of his employment and education.

Unable to control his anger or impulses, his offenses became increasingly serious. As an adult numerous evaluations found that he suffered from Paranoid Personality Disorder, mild mental retardation and schizophrenia. At 24, his IQ was 67, which is the equivalent to that of an average 11-year-old child. Only 2.3 percent of the population possess IQs lower than 70.

His trouble deepened in 2001. Between October of that year and August 2002, he would be arrested five times. In two of those cases he assaulted women. In one he threatened a woman with great bodily injury. As a result of those arrests, he was sentenced to a 52-week batterer’s program that he would never complete, and three years probation. When released, he became a statistic.

Megan Gotcher was Hans Peters’ probation officer and is now a senior officer for the Humboldt County Probation Department. There are more than 50 officers in the county, but each officer is responsible for 60-100 probationers at a time.

“If you have a hundred cases, it is hard,” Gotcher said. “You deal with searches, subpoenas and home contracts. Sometimes you just have to put out the fire.” Probation officers work closely with Hoopa Human Services, but are not trained in mental health services.

The Humboldt County Superior Court questioned Peters’ mental health in Dec. 2001 and placed him on two years of conditional release under a program run by the county’s Department of Health and Family Services. It was responsible for providing Peters with treatment and supervision while he lived in his community.

But whatever supervision it gave him wasn’t enough. In Aug. 2003, police arrested him for pushing his mother and assaulting a friend of hers with a shovel, sending him to the hospital. Around that time a car accident left him with major injuries. Peters would later tell a probation officer that after the accident, he more easily lost his temper and experienced suicidal feelings.

That January, police arrested him for trespassing and vandalism. A month later, they arrested him again for attacking a man with an iron. He was sentenced to three more years probation, but this time the court ordered him to enroll with the Redwood Coast Regional Center, a private, non-profit referral agency for the treatment of people with developmental disabilities, and to participate in a counseling program run by psychologist Karl Fisher through the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Division of Human Services. While waiting for the regional center to evaluate him, he attacked an inmate and in another incident was charged with attacking a custodial officer.

Finally, in April 2004, Eureka clinical psychologist Otto Vanoni evaluated Peters and suggested that his problem was medical rather than criminal and that he belonged in a medical facility rather than a jail.

Peters was housed in isolation during the time of the evaluation, which worsened his condition, Vanoni wrote. “A failure to move him from solitary confinement and a continuation of jailing will only lead to further decomposition of functioning,” Vanoni wrote. Vanoni described Peters at the time as having short brown hair, brown eyes, a mustache and “a fuzzy chin beard.” At five feet, eleven inches, he weighed 155 pounds. Most important for the court, Vanoni deemed Peters mentally incapable of assisting in his own defense.

Five residential treatment facilities in California specifically treat people with developmental disabilities, but as a criminal, Peters needed to be put into a secured facility. So the Redwood Coast Regional Center sent him to the only secured facility — Porterville Developmental Center, in Tulare County, 520 miles from Hoopa.

After six months, doctors at Porterville deemed him competent and sent him to a “licensed board and care facility,” according to court records. (The records don’t identify the facility.) In June 2005, the regional center asked the court to terminate his commitment and release him. It argued that Peters was no longer eligible for its services as he was not developmentally disabled. In doing so it contradicted Vanoni’s report a year earlier and its own subsequent finding that Peters was eligible for its services based on his diagnoses of mild mental retardation.

“It is believed now that Mr. Peters’ mental status at that time of RCRC’s psychological evaluation while he was incarcerated affected the results of that testing,” wrote Wendy Stout, an intensive services specialist for the regional center at that time. Plus, Stout noted, Peters had not caused trouble in the eight months he’d spent in residential treatment. In layman’s terms, being in jail had made Hans Peters crazy, and that tainted the psychological evaluation.

In an interview this month, San Francisco forensic psychologist Paul Good said mental retardation is a “static condition” that doesn’t change and can’t be cured. And as far as the courts are concerned, a competent person understands the legal process, the roles of courtroom players, legal strategies and can work with an attorney in an effective way. A person can be competent in understanding the law, but that doesn’t mean they are mentally healthy.

Five months after his release, however, his anger got the best of him again. In Nov. 2005, he went to a house to talk to a woman he’d been dating. When she said she didn’t want to see him, he refused to leave. Her family tried to force him out and Peters reacted by pushing a 13-year-old boy. The boy fell and injured his back against a stool. Police issued an arrest warrant, charging Peters with misdemeanor cruelty to a child.

Back in jail, things got worse. In January 2006, correctional officer Steve Christian opened the door to Peters cell to get some janitorial items and Peters punched him in the face. When officers asked him why he did it he said, “Leave me the fuck alone. Dealing with the voices in the back of my head is hard enough, I don’t need to listen to you as well.”

Peters later expressed remorse and apologized for his sudden outburst at Christian. “A lot of things were messin’ with my head,” he said. “I feel bad. No one deserves to get punched.”

Again, his lawyers questioned Peters’ competency and Judge Christopher Wilson ordered another evaluation. During the two years that preceded his death, Peters, whom doctors said was mentally unable to assist in his own defense, appeared in court 25 times. Five different defense attorneys represented him and he faced 10 different deputy district attorneys and three different judges. It seemed as if Peters was the hat that everyone would pass but no one would wear.

The inability to get Peters the help he so obviously needed frustrated Judge Wilson. Over the next 18 months, Wilson would repeatedly order Peter’s attorneys to get him into a local treatment program or a state hospital only to be told that no place would take him. For almost three months in the beginning of 2006, Peters sat in jail while Wilson waited for the California Department of Mental Health to determine if he qualified for conditional release. In February, Eureka clinical psychologist Michael M. Ramirez determined that Peters’ was still incompetent to stand trial.

But in March, the Redwood Coast Regional Center again found Peters ineligible for their services. Meanwhile Atascadero rebuffed Wilson’s order and refused to take Peters.

On Nov. 6 the court acknowledged that Peters was there too long. “I’d like to know when Napa’s going to come get Mr. Peters,” Wilson said in court. “They said they’re going to reject him because he’s mentally disabled. We sent him back to the regional center. They said he’s not disabled. They’re just playing games with us.”

Finally on Dec. 4, 2006, almost a year after his arrest, Peters was transferred to Napa State Hospital. But again, the goal was only to make him competent enough to assist in his own defense, not to silence the voices in his head. He would spend two months there and when doctors deemed him competent, he was back in the jail.

The delays Peters went through are common for the mentally ill prisoners who fill the jail, said Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Wesley Keat, Jr. in an interview in April of this year. “Those in jail have some kind of mental illness and jailers say the jail is a mental health facility,” he said. ” There are a lot of people in the County Jail waiting to be transferred to a mental health facility.”

The problem is that the jail is not equipped to handle such problematic prisoners, said Brenda Godsey, public information officer for the Humboldt County Sheriffs Office. “We are not a mental health facility,” she said.

Humboldt Countyisn’tthe only place with this problem. One study published in 2006 estimated that jails across the country house more than 94,000 people with severe mental illness. The Los Angeles Daily News reported in April that the psychiatric patients who fill most of the 1,000 beds in Los Angeles County’s Twin Towers jail facilities have turned the jail into the largest mental institution west of the Mississippi. It cited data that show that statewide, California has just 6,285 beds for mentally ill patients or 17 for every 100,000 residents. Researchers said the state needs at least 12,200 more.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2008. If passed by the Senate, it would provide grants for diversion programs and increase cooperation between the criminal justice and mental health systems.

At least 13 counties in California rely on special courts for mentally ill prisoners to ease the burden. These courts only accept criminal offenders with severe mental problems and dismiss charges after the offender commits to and completes an individualized program designed for their illness, most often one that involves a residential treatment facility. After a year of sobriety and being crime-free, the defendant attends a trial and the case is dismissed. They are then given job training and GED exam preparation.

In Gainesville, Ga., a mental health court entitled HELP (an acronym for Health, Empowerment, Linkage and Possibilities.) puts prisoners on a plan for success, which includes, among other things, getting a job and taking medications. According to an article in the Gainesville Times, prosecutors, defense attorneys, case managers, treatment providers and judges work together to ensure that the prisoners stay on the right path. They review each case in weekly meetings, and determine which ones progress and which ones seem to regress.

California voters tried to address the problem back in 2004 when they passed Proposition 63, also known as the Mental Health Services Act. The statute raised an additional 1 percent tax on the 30,000 state residents (1 percent of the state population) that make an annual income of over $1 million. By 2006, the statute generated about $730 million for mental health services in California. But the law did not specifically fund mental health courts. Mental health providers across the state, and in Humboldt County in particular, complain that much more funding is needed.

A new program known as STAR (Supervised Treatment After Release) started in Humboldt County on April 1, 2007. The goal of the program is to provide evidence-based treatment in treating seriously mentally ill offenders by coordinating mental health service providers, corrections, probation, the district attorney’s office, defense attorneys and community/family advocates.

The STAR program only serves 25 offenders at a time, according to its website. Regardless, Peters may have been ineligible, as it does not take inmates considered a public safety threat.

Julie Ohnemus, mental health director of the Open Door Community Health Centers said that in the past five years she has seen a jump in the number of mentally ill patients. The Arcata clinic alone sees 4,000 such patients a month, and that means that counselors can see each patient for only about 15 minutes each. That’s not enough time for a doctor to properly monitor a patient. But resources are limited. The Open Door network has a total of eight counselors for both Humboldt and Del Norte counties. That’s forced family practitioners to act as psychological counselors.

Hans Peters did not go to an Open Door clinic. But Ohnemus said that the clinics see people like Peters every day, released from the jail and bound to return. That’s because the jail releases prisoners who suffer from severe mental conditions without any medication, and without medication they are in no condition to get themselves the help they need. “That’s wrong,” she said. “There’s no reason not to follow up,” she said.

Robynne Lute has worked as a behavior health consultant at the Humboldt Open Door since 2004. She sees about 10 patients every day. They suffer from depression, anxiety, substance abuse and chronic pain. She has lost five patients to suicide and several others to drug overdoses. One female patient hanged herself while on a waiting list for county psychiatric services.

“People are not getting what they need,” she said. The county has an intensive treatment program but it only has 12 beds for three counties. There is also an emergency treatment program that can keep someone under surveillance for 72 hours. But after that it refers them to other facilities and leaves it to the patient to follow through. Meanwhile, the shortage of beds means that only people who are very sick are admitted into the two programs. “We don’t have a lot of services for people that fall in between.”

Perhaps Hans Peterswas doomedfrom the start. Although suicide is taboo in the Hoopa Valley Tribe as well as many Native American cultures, rates are high and rising. The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2005 that that among American Indians/Alaska Natives ages 15 to 34 years old, suicide is the second leading cause of death and the per capita rate of 21.4 per 100,000 people is 1.9 times higher than the national average for that age group. Native Americans are disproportionately represented in the Humboldt jail. On the day Peters hanged himself, the jail housed 47 Native American men accounting for 16 percent of the total jail population. Native Americans account for just six percent of the total population in Humboldt County according to a 2006 U.S. Census estimate.

If he could have been steered to an alternate fate, it would likely have had to happen early on. But deputy public defender Christina Allbright described current California law regarding minors and mental incompetency as a “huge black hole.” She noted that Humboldt County has no facility to treat mentally incompetent juvenile offenders.

Some in the U.S. Congress are trying to bolster resources for Native Americans. The U.S. Senate passed the Indian Health Care Improvement Act in February. If passed by the House it would fund greater mental health services for tribes and could address the need for in-patient mental health treatment in Hoopa.

Hans Peters wanted to get treated. After Napa released him in March 2007 he told Judge Wilson that he hoped for a normal life. “I just want to go to my programs and take my medication and do good in life and get me a job, sir,” he said.

His defense attorney, David Lee, argued that Peters deserved a chance at freedom. “He’s served far more time in custody on all of these charges probably than anybody would have gotten at the onset,” Lee told Wilson. “It’s nobody’s fault he was not able to handle the criminal proceedings for many, many, many, many months based on his mitigating mental condition.”

Wilson was reluctant to allow Hans Peters to be released without adequate supervision. “If there’s some form of decomposition, we’re back to where we were,” he said in court. “And that just cost Mr. Peters two years of his life.”

The process took so long that Wilson released him three times during the two years to take care of personal business: Once to visit his brother, once to cash some checks and once to go to a dentist for a root canal.

In May 2007, Peters spent two days in Sempervirens Psychiatric Health Facility in Eureka, the only inpatient care facility in Humboldt County, while waiting for acceptance into a drug treatment program.

It’s not clear exactly how long Peters spent outside confinement on the last go-around, but he was back in jail June 22, this time charged with false imprisonment and two counts of battery. Yet again, the court questioned his mental capability, ordered another psychological evaluation by Dr. Michael M. Ramirez, waited for a report from the mental conditional release program and ordered Peters recommitted to Napa State Hospital for recovery of trial competency.

According to a report from Deputy Coroner Charles Van Buskirk, Hans Peters did not want to return to Napa. Instead, in an attempt to prove mental competence, he had stopped taking his court-ordered medications. At 3:15 p.m. on Aug. 29, 2007, Peters fashioned a noose out of his bed sheet. Two officers found him hanging in his 7 1/2-by-11 foot jail cell. He had pushed the ends of the cloth strips through the small holes in a ventilation grate over his toilet, using a tool he had made by chewing on a spoon.

The officers tried to resuscitate him, but it is unclear if they were able to get a response from the body. At St. Joseph Hospital, doctors put him on life support but he never regained consciousness.

In ending his life, Peters put a stop to what had become an endless cycle: Arrest, temporary treatment, release and re-arrest. The problem is that the system expects mentally ill people like Peters, a man with the mentality of an 11-year-old boy, who suffered from paranoia and who was incapable of controlling his emotions, to get themselves the help they need.

Rebecca Porteous, a licensed clinical social worker, said she sees people come in and out of jail with recurring mental issues. When the jail releases mentally ill inmates, it instructs them to see a mental health professional. If they do that within the first two weeks, they will continue their medication. But not all do.

“It is still America,” she said. “And people have free will.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

Former Lady-Pimp Honored by City of Los Angeles

For many, 2009 has been a year of struggle, loss and disappointment. But Jeri Estes and her crew harvested many opportunities both personal and in support of Jeri’s book, “STILETTOS AND STEEL.” While Jeri and her crew had been hoping to be accepted by the publishing world with open arms and open checkbooks this year, she was instead met with the companies cowering with their tails between their legs before the recession that halted book-buying almost completely. While the dry spell was discouraging, the little, personal notes from the publishers were reassuring that the project was revolutionary and adored but it would have to wait.
Jeri, the great optimist she is, saw her waiting period as an opportunity to branch out on her own. Whether party, premiere or the cereal aisle at Gelson’s, people are drawn to Jeri’s infection energy and unabashed passion for her project. Movie directors offered to help Jeri make short films without having read a script, actors and models were begging for parts in a movie that hadn’t been written yet and everyone Jeri met was begging to buy a book that hadn’t been published yet.
The crew was ready. Jeri commissioned a beautiful new website and set up shop on Facebook and My Space rallying her troops. By the year’s end, Jeri had created a beautiful line of men’s and women’s clothing based on “STILETTOS AND STEEL,” she had 1,600 friends on Facebook and Outsmart magazine had named her book, ‘the best book you can’t read this season.” While the publishing companies are twiddling their thumbs, waiting for the next “Harry Potter” to fall into their laps, the public has become absolutely rabid for “STILETTOS AND STEEL.”
Jeri has a lot to be excited about this year. She will be teaming up with famed artist Howard Chaykin to create an entirely unique graphic novel based on her book “STILETTOS AND STEEL.” Jeri is also hopeful for a response from Dark Horse Comics concerning their publishing of this graphic novel. Along with her publication aspirations, Jeri is planning to hold an open casting-call in the gay and lesbian community in Hollywood to bring life to her book onstage at an upcoming event. Jeri is also excited to bring her cast and crew to this year’s Dinah Shore Golf Tournament in beautiful Palm Springs.
Anything is possible in life, Jeri has learned. Jeri who was once formally asked to leave the city of Los Angeles for good on accusations of pimpin’ and pandering, has recently received a letter of praise and approval from the mayor of Los Angeles himself, Antonio R. Villaraigosa. In this letter, Jeri was praised for her astounding work within the city of Los Angeles and was praised as one of the city’s shining citizens. Quite a lot can change in forty years.
So here’s to the New Year. While 2009 may have been filled with fear and hedged bets, may 2010 be the year that the publishing world takes a chance on a book about love, San Francisco in the 1960s, pride and pimpin’ and pandering.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bringing Spiritual Enlightenment to Long Beach


Every aspect of the universe has impact on your daily life, whether you recognize it or not. The position of the planets can alter your mood for better or worse. The tides can bring you waves of creativity or leave you feeling dried up. Every aspect of nature is whispering in your ear, if only you could understand what she is saying.

Ayamanatara, the Residential Shaman at Everyday Zen Relaxation Studio in Long Beach, Calif., has learned through her years as a multi-denominational Shaman the language of the universe and how to teach the less-inclined to harness those powers to benefit their own lives.

Through her work as a teacher, author, clairvoyant, healer, animal communicator, corporate relaxation coach, Ayamanatara has touched many lives and traveled the world to share her message of healing and to teach people how to better communicate with themselves and the world around them. Through these efforts and a positive outlook, Ayamanatara works to raise the vibrations of the planet.

Currently, Ayamanatara offers a wide range of services and classes ranging from regression therapy, life coaching, chakra balancing, nutritional adjustment, couple's counseling, dream interpretation, finding lost items, channeling and animal communication.

Everyday Zen Relaxation Studio, owned and operated by Keicher Payne, originated as a massage and body work facility when it opened in January 2009. Today, the studio offers a wide range of classes in alternative healing, meditation, and relaxation. “Business is going really well,” Payne said. “When we started, there wasn’t a client base but now there is a high demand for meditation, tarot reading and meditation.”

Payne found Ayamanatara when she placed an ad looking for a partner and Reiki healer. Payne said she instantly liked Ayamanatara, “She has a large body of knowledge and she’s very passionate about what she does.” Ayamanatara now does much more than Reiki healing, teaching classes on meditation, spiritual healing, self-empowerment and finding your spiritual potential.

“I am charged with the personal and spiritual development of our clients, should they choose to avail themselves of my services,” Ayamanatara said. “To that end, I teach classes (currently teaching a 'meditation and more' class, will be teaching Faerie Feng Shui, and Goddess Workshop, and a workshop for Samhain/Day of the Dead, in the fall), and offer shamanic healing, life coaching, trans-crystal therapy, and tonal healing.”

Ayamanatara will be at Chewsy Dog on August 22, 2009 teaching pet owners how to better communicate with their furry family members. For more information about this event, call Chewsy Dog at 562-354-6040.

For more information about Ayamanatara and for future events, please visit www.ayamanatara.com
365 Days to Enlightenment is available now at Amazon.com.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pennywise album review

Reason to Dis(believe)

April 11th, 2008

Pennywise - Reason to Believe (Myspace Records, 2008)Pennywise’s twelfth album and first release of any kind in three years fell into the public’s hands on March 25th in a way that is becoming more and more popular in this age of digital wisdom and battles with big-name record companies. Reason to Believe was available to any man, woman and child the world around for the trifling price of being their friend on MySpace. That’s right, for the first two weeks after its release, fans could legally download free digital copies. Old-fashioned types could also find hard copies of the album in stores, but those, unfortunately, were not free.

The fact that the album was released for no cost at all seemed to produce more of a buzz than the actual music itself, proving that everyone loves to get free things no matter what they may be. But Reason to Believe, while aggressive, politically driven and energetic, is not entirely relevant on the Southern California skater punk scene. Pennywise have slowed down and mellowed out in a way that is inevitable after playing power chord-driven punk music for more than 20 years.

This is not to say that Reason to Believe isn’t a “good” album — but many songs on the album happen to sound very similar to each other, very quickly. The driving force and dynamic guitars behind “One Reason” give the listener a feeling of power over a worthy cause, but upon closer inspection, the song appears to be merely about fighting with a manipulative girlfriend: “Give me one reason for stopping your fall/Give me one reason to answer your call/ Give me one reason why I should care at all.” Something that had so much potential fell on its face by allowing itself to be completely shallow and inane.

That’s a shame, because the album’s cover has such deep and insightful imagery. With five symbols of peace and harmony along with the Pennywise logo inside a silhouette of a human head, the cover suggests that this album will offer the listener a “Reason to Believe” that the world has a chance. To place a shallow breakup song so close to the beginning of the record was a poor choice in my opinion and basically shatters the ideals the artwork had set up the listener for.

However, the radio-friendly “The Western World,” which speaks of the “celluloid boys and video girls,” allows the listener to feel at least slightly political while rocking out hardcore. The song expresses the depressing idea that “there’s nothing left worth fighting for/in the western world.” This doomsday message is cleverly disguised by the upbeat melody and non-stop avalanche of power that spews forth from the lead guitar. But is Pennywise softening with age and throwing in the towel? It may appear so.

While the band tried to redeem themselves from the shallow messages of the first few songs of the album with political pieces such as “The Western World” and “Affliction,” they do not give the listener any kind of glimmer of hope or even a soap box to stand on. They merely point out that the current political administration is not doing all it can for its people. But instead of rallying the troops to fight back as punk rockers are often wont to do, they choose to stand in the corner and sulk about how hard their lives are now that they are aging, former punk-rock-sort-of-stars who can’t play as fast as they used to.

Final Grade: C+

The Raconteurs album review

The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely (Warner Bros., 2008)Many of the so-called “super groups” are less than fantastic and have a tendency to merely bank off of their successful past and don’t feel the need to create actual works of worth. The Raconteurs do not fit into this category as is evident with their second album, Consolers of the Lonely which was released on March 25th. Jack White and his comrades are able to create music that is wholly unique from anything that they created and played in their other more famous bands.

Consolers of the Lonely is an audio trip for the listener. Immersed within the tracks are the voices of the performers, and what I assume to be their friends, talking, laughing, joking and making notes as to how the track will sound in final publication. While this is not a new tactic in making a record feel more “real,” if is definitely effective in reassuring the listener that these musicians are real people who just want to make a bunch of good songs together. The fact that they are individually famous has nothing to do with what they are doing when they are together.

It is easy for the listener to get lost in these tracks and fade out of the real world into another dimension built on heavy-handed piano chords, raging and squelching guitars and Jack White’s unmistakable whine. The harmonies of “You Don’t Understand Me” create such an ambiance of sadness in the listener’s ear that the pain is actually tangible. It is easy to feel the desperation in White’s voice when he says that “there’s got to be a better way to do what we do.” While it really is just another love song, it is possible that this is the most genuine one I’ve heard in awhile. “You Don’t Understand Me” goes through the battle that so many go through once they realize that their mate just doesn’t get it.

It is so easy in this age of technology for a band to whip out an album, throw down the vocals, double-, triple-, or quadruple-track everything to make it sound like a bunch of people are involved and release utter rubbish to the public. This album isn’t like that. Each song has intricate interwoven pieces and a story of their own. Every time you listen to a song you hear something new and different. This is not an album that is easily overplayed. Every song finds a way to hold the listener’s interest in a different way with every spin, almost as if it were getting better with age.

The Raconteurs have gone out on a limb by trying something new in the name of experimental rock. The intermittent trumpet and the use of guitar as almost a percussion instrument bring elements of jazz and funk into tracks like “The Switch and the Spur.” In many ways, this is a risky record due to unusual instrumentation, the complexity of the musical arrangements, intelligence in both music and lyrics and the mixture of different styles in order to create something wholly unique — but somehow The Raconteurs pull it off.

Consolers of the Lonely is unique, dynamic and real in ways that the vast majority of today’s popular music could never be. It’s good to hear a band enjoy what they do for once.

Final Grade: A

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Not Your Typical Marching Band


Marching Lumberjacks are a wacky good time for band members and their audience

by Melinda Spencer

On the quiet and desolate field, the football teams converse with their respective

coaches about tactics for the remainder of the game. Suddenly, an announcer’s voice

booms through the speakers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Republicans and Democrats, the joint

efforts of the CIA and the FBI are unable to prevent your world-famous Humboldt State

Marching Lumberjacks!” A roar breaks the silence, not from the crowd but from

the field, as dozens of hard-hat wearing musicians run frantically onto the turf. They

narrowly miss running headlong into one another and finally settle into formation.

The Marching Lumberjacks, who started out as the Humboldt State College

Lumberjack Band, were once your typical marching band with polyester costumes, baton

twirlers and formations. When this group disbanded in 1968, an all-male band was

created in its stead. This band dressed as lumberjacks and, unlike most marching bands at

this time, did not have a strong attachment to marching in-step, or even marching in lines

at all.

The first woman band member joined in 1972, Maria A. Johnston, and she contended with a great deal of sexism and harassment She was determined, however, to be a part of this group. Unfortunately, once she was accepted she only played at one football game and three rehearsals before she quit. Though she did not remain long, she opened the door for six more women to join the band the following season. This was the beginning of the Marching Lumberjacks as we know them today. The Marching Lumberjacks are a rarity among marching bands. They are one of only eleven scatter bands in the country. Called scatter bands on the West coast, and scramble bands on the East Coast, most of these bands originate from the Ivy League schools of the East coast. The Marching Lumberjacks is the only one that hails from a public university and the West Coast

Liz Schroeder, the president of the Brown University Pep band, believes that the

reason students at Ivy League schools are so drawn to the scatter band structure is

because band members do not have to worry about attending as many rehearsals to learn

formations and marching steps.

Another theory, held by the student director of the University of Virginia Pep

band, Suzie Wright, is that scatter band members need to be of a higher mental ability.

Scatter band half-time shows are more “intellectually based” and aimed at poking fun

at opposing schools and current events. “They have to be more with it,” she said. Cornell University is the only Ivy League lacking a scatter band.

This raises the question, what exactly is a scatter band? A scatter band is very similar to a traditional marching band in several ways: they wear uniforms, carry instruments, and play music. But the similarities stop there. While scatter band members refer to their outfits as uniforms, they would be considered costumes by anyone else. They sometimes include tutus, Hawaiian shirts, wigs, oversized sunglasses, or anything else that band members can find in a thrift shop.

Many bands have signature pieces that every member wears – like the Marching

Lumberjack hard hats – and these often display homemade and store-bought buttons referred to as “flare.” The Marching Lumberjacks decorate their hard hats and suspenders with their flare while the University of Virginia band displays their flare on orange vests. Brown University, makes their own buttons to represent every football game. They display their flare on brown vests.

While scatter band members may play the standard brass and percussion

instruments of a marching band, they often add in some fun of their own. Different bands

play cellos, electric guitars, beer kegs, prosthetic legs, kazoos, banjos, bells or anything

else that will make noise on the field. Scatter bands are not all about making the most

beautiful and precise music possible, though when it does happen it can be nice. They focus more on playing tunes that the audience can recognize, such as “Hey Baby,” the theme from “Hawaii Five-O,” and “Stacy’s Mom.” The main priority is to get the crowd riled up and make sure everyone, including the band members, is having a great time.

The most important part of a scatter band, what truly separates them from all the other “normal” marching bands, is the field show. While most typical field shows start with the band marching in step, in neat, evenly spaced lines onto the field to form the shape of the school mascot or spell out the schools initials, scatter bands do not use the same air of dignity when entering the playing area. They will instead charge, full speed, onto the field yelling, leaping, rolling and crawling into their formation, which could range from anything between the school’s initials and a giant martini glass. Instead of seamlessly transitioning between formations, the scatter band has more of a tendency to dash haphazardly.

One of the most unique scramble band field shows can be seen at Brown

University where the band members wear ice skates to perform on ice for the half-time

shows at hockey games, Schroeder said. Once again, it’s all in the name of fun.

Being a member of a scatter band, such as The Marching Lumberjacks, is a rewarding experience for college students with any level of musical experience. One of the most welcoming things about a scramble band is that the only requirement to join is a willingness to learn and to have a great time.

“We are the most accepting group of people I have ever met,” said Chloe Ali-Oshatz, the current Axe Major of the Humboldt State Marching Lumberjacks. (To go along with the lumberjack theme, the Marching Lumberjacks have Axe Majors instead of Drum Majors to lead the band.) “You could really be purple and people will just be like ‘That’s awesome! You’re purple! Here’s a Kazoo. Play your purple self.’”

For many people, scatter bands are a way to relax after an academically taxing

week. These groups allow students to break out of their shells and be the person they

always wanted to be. Jacqueline Robertson, a first-year student at Humboldt State and a

Tambourine player in the band, was shy and quiet when she first joined the band. “Being

a part of this group has really pried and lovingly dragged me out of my shell. I have built

confidence and a self image of myself that I am proud of,” she said.

An important factor in keeping the group’s spirits and enthusiasm high is the

director. “I want to lead by example,” Ali-Oshatz said referring to her loud, enthusiastic,

over the top approach to all things band related. “I want to show people it’s okay to act

like that.” Ali-Oshatz is known throughout the band as a leader who is ready to go all the

way for her team and her band. She has been known to march into the ocean up to her

hardhat in the middle of a rainstorm in February to show her love for the band and its


It’s not just members who are affected by scatter bands. Often people who see them in parades, at games, or other events feel the love and energy that the band exudes. The small towns of Fort Bragg, Calif., Bandon, Ore., and Cloverdale, Calif., are home to the largest Marching Lumberjack fan bases. When the band is in town, residents wearing customized Lumberjacks fan shirts come out to greet the band, cheer them on and recount stories about the performances from years past.

For many band members their first inspirations in life came from watching scatter

bands. “When I was a little kid I saw a scatter band in the Rose Parade and it was like

‘Yeah, blah blah blah. That band is marching in-step and oh look there’s one person who

is rolling on the ground and playing music. That looks neat,’” said Ali-Oshatz.

Because of the connection the band makes with the audience, and the time and

energy put into making sure people have a good time, The Marching Lumberjacks have a

fan base wherever they go. “We’re not run of the mill,” Ali-Oshatz said. “People f—king

love us.”

Chris Larsen, a baritone saxophone player, has been an active member of The

Marching Lumberjacks since the first time he enrolled at Humboldt State in 1995. For

Larsen, the best part is seeing the looks on peoples’ faces when they first see the band.

His favorite thing is “probably the smiles on little kids’ faces when we do parades. That’s

why I leave the line a lot,” he said. “When you see this huge smile on a little kid, the

feeling that they are special because someone in the parade came over just to play for

them, it’s a great feeling.”

Aside from all the madness, lengthy road trips, basketball games, football games,

marching into the ocean in February, modern tunes, parades, festivals, weddings and

funerals, scatter bands are a fantastic way to guarantee that college will be the best four

years of your life and will create bonds even beyond.

Emma Brown, a first-year Humboldt State student and clarinet player is already

thankful for what The Marching Lumberjacks have brought to her life. “I’ve only been in

The Marching Lumberjacks for one semester but I’ve already made some great friends,”

she said. “I’ve also had the chance to go places and see things that I otherwise wouldn’t

have been able to experience.”

The band is ever-growing and changing but one thing will always stay the same,

scatter bands are for everyone, whether you are in the band or not, and can build

characteristics that last a lifetime. “It’s a great social activity and I love to play and

travel,” Larsen said. “It’s kind of like a fraternity. [It’s] a group of people with a lot of

common interests, beer among them.”

Published in The Osprey, 4-13-08

I Come from a Land of Sun and Smog

Los Angeles has been called the city of dreams. It is the place where thousands of Americans go each year in hopes of gaining fame and fortune. But with the steady stream into the Los Angeles area, there is also a stream leading out into the more rural regions of the United States.

Currently, more than 17 percent of the Humboldt State University student population is comprised of people who previously called the city of dreams home, according to the most recent census. If L.A. really is the land of opportunity that it claims to be, why have such a large percentage of students migrated to the furthest possible California university?

There are many reasons why students come to Humboldt State to study in the final years of their academic career. Some note the inviting atmosphere of the smaller class sizes, some will point out the laid-back feel of small-town life. But it seems that whenever a former L.A. resident is asked this question, the answer is usually along the lines of, "It was the farthest I could go and still stay in California."

Kenna Oliphant, a Studio Arts senior, is one of those people. Oliphant, a L.A. resident of eighteen years, "hated" L.A. while living there and so made the voyage to Humboldt State because she was drawn to the nature that surrounded the university.

Oliphant says that she did have some attachment to the city but she was looking for an escape. "It was fun and there was always stuff to do but the people there make me crazy," she said. Since moving to Humboldt State, Oliphant says she has become more relaxed and it has made her able to find her place in life. "Living in Humboldt has shown me how to be humble and to not be concerned with TV, movies, and material possessions but to get out more and appreciate nature and pay attention to more important things," she said.

Many students come to Humboldt knowing nothing besides the busy life of an L.A. resident and are shocked by what they find when they arrive. Louis Gordon, an economics freshman, thought that everyone operated on the busy schedule that he was used to. "Honestly, I didn't really think about it," said Gordon who lived in L.A. for eight years. "I just accepted it as where I was. I accepted smog and traffic and large crowds as a part of life."

When Gordon returned home after his first semester at Humboldt State, things felt different to him. "I feel like L.A. numbs me," he said. "It makes me irritable and anxious and I don't like being there. I heard stories about people going back to L.A. and having trouble breathing. I dismissed them as exaggerations at first, but then I came back for winter break and was able to corroborate them first hand."

Yet no matter how bad the smog may get or how slow the traffic may travel on the freeway, for some Los Angeles will always be home. Jonathan "Doc" Myers, a Technical Theater freshman, still misses the hustle and bustle of city life on quiet nights. "I think it's dirty, but it's still home," he said. "I think it has more of a buzz and more unity than most other places have."

Printed in The LumberJACK, 1-23-08