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Archive for August 2012

Redwood 0, Sonoma Valley 36

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MARIN COUNTY — California

High School football season is here, and I photographed my first night game last Friday when Redwood lost to Sonoma, 0 to 36. Redwood is my neighborhood high school, so I’ve adopted it as the team I root for. Since they were limited to only 72 yards of total offense, I found it a challenge to get good pictures of this first game of the season.

I’ve read that compared to the lighting at professional football stadiums, high school fields are poorly lit, making it difficult to expose properly. This was true of the Sonoma field, but I was able to get passable shots shooting at 1/1000 sec at ISO 12,800. Being able to expose at this high ISO means that I’m fortunate enough to have a Nikon with extremely good light-gathering abilities.

Now if Redwood will just oblige and pick up their offense.

Redwood Football

You can see more of these photos at


Written by Ron Greene

August 31, 2012 at 10:43 am

John Brown on Stage at San Quentin

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You never completely know what’s in a man’s soul, or what he is capable of. That said, before retiring from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), I met a number of men serving life sentences who I would trust back in their communities.

I repeated  this in psychological reports I wrote for the Board of Prison Hearings, but my recommendations were never followed. I wasn’t alone. Most recommendations for parole are turned down by ultraconservative  parole boards distrustful of psychologists. This might be changing.

A changing political climate and prison overcrowding

There’s now talk in California of making it easier for lifers to be granted parole, especially for those convicted in their teens. The specific bill, SB9, would only apply to inmates sentenced to life without the possibility of parole when they were minors. It would allow them to ask for reconsideration. With luck, some of these inmates would be eligible for parole after 25 years in prison. I say with luck because I know how capricious the California prison system can be. (This is part or what’s helped the United states gain the distinction of having the highest incarceration rate and some of the longest sentences in the world. Even Norway’s infamous Andres Behring Breivik, who admitted killing 77 people, might be released from prison in 21 years.)

I worked closely with a number of lifers who had languished for years in a dysfunctional prison system even after turning their lives around — mostly by their own efforts. I saw very little official effort to “rehabilitate” the prisoners I came to know at San Quentin, Salinas Valley, and Soledad prisons. The psychologists and psychiatrists I worked with did what they could, but mostly worked in isolation, not part of any system wide effort to prepare inmates for a successful return to their communities.

Some bright spots

There were exceptions to the generally pathetic attempts of CDCR at inmate rehabilitation. I witnessed one of these at San Quentin in 2002, under the leadership of Warden Jeanne S. Woodford. She allowed an outsider, John De Francesco, to produce and direct an interracial cast of mostly lifers (killers and career felons) in a stage production of John Brown’s Body, a play based on the epic poem written by Stephen Vincent Benet. The play is about slavery and liberation in the Civil War era.

John Brown’s Body is rife with extremely sensitive issues, and forced the actors to examine their most deeply held feelings about race and their place in society as white men and men of color. Almost three years in the making, this was, I believe,  a transformative experience for all who took part.

John Brown's Body on stage at San Quentin

John Brown was a Civil War era abolitionist.

John Brown's Body, San Quentin Prison

John Brown's Body at San Quentin state prison

Women were not allowed on stage, so this female role was projected.

John Brown at San Quentin

The sheets were meant to represent female dancers who weren’t allowed on stage according to prison rules.

John Brown's Body

Actors wore their prison blues to make it harder to escape into the crowd.

John Brown's Body, Warden Jeanne S. Woodford

Warden Jeanne S. Wordford, sitting in the first seat in the front row, made it all happen.

(added August 25, 2012)

Friend Susan Kirsch has directed me to a mother’s parole board experience very much worth reading.

The Fence to Nowhere

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I’ve been scratching my head on this one, thinking it belongs on Anderson Cooper’s RidicuList.

A few months ago a neighborhood group called Friends of Kite Hill put up a modest sign protesting the construction of a housing project at a busy intersection in Mill Valley, California. The group believes “the project would result in unacceptable adverse impacts on public safety and traffic congestion—daily gridlock—at what is already the City’s most congested and subpar-rated intersection. . . .”

Friends of Kite Hill, Brithedale Terrace

The little sign that started it all.

As you might expect, the developer objects, claiming that his building plans are environmentally friendly and intended to “create a small community of housing for persons of ordinary means who will appreciate the opportunity to live in Mill Valley.” Fair enough. Letters to the local newspaper, appeals to the planning commission, etc. All fairly routine and boring except to the parties involved.

But here’s where things start to get slightly wacky. The developer has build a short fence on his property going nowhere, but blocking the community group’s signs. Now it could be that the property owner intends to fence the entire 1.2 acre lot, and just happened to start in front of the signs, but this seems unlikely.

The Fence to Nowhere

The Fence to Nowhere.

Adolescent? Ridiculous?

So how did the neighborhood group respond? Of course, by raising its protest messages above the fence! The next move in this tit-for-tat affair is up to the developer.

Friends of Kite Hill, The Fence to Nowhere

The Friends of Kite Hill respond to the Fence to Nowhere.

The scrappy neighborhood group seems to have the upper hand at the moment, because the city attorney has decided that the protest signs are covered by rules governing free speech, while the developer’s fence is governed by the lowly rules of fence construction. Fencing in Marin County can’t be higher than seven feet.

But what if the fence had a ‘free speech” message painted on it? And what if a fence to nowhere isn’t really a fence? I can’t wait for the next round.

Friends of Kite Hill

A view of Kite Hill.

Written by Ron Greene

August 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm