All posts by Andrea Gibbons

LA’s skid row effort hits a wall

The LA Times can really write a headline. Is this the effort to deal with the systemic problems that have led to massive homelessness and widespread drug addiction? An attempt to deal with the absence of community mental health clinics, affordable housing, living wage jobs, a solution to racism?

I’m afraid not, it is Chief Bratton’s effort to criminalize homelessness itself, to clean up downtown by simply shoving thousands of people in jail, and harrassing them enough to move on. It was the three cops on every corner, seven cops to make each arrest, cops on horses running people down on foot, a frightening show of force. And the fact that it has hit a wall shouldn’t be too surprising. You can’t stop the drug trade by arresting junkies, you can’t clean out an area of people who have nowhere else to go, and it’s never good to piss people off who have nothing left to lose. Though they’ve certainly tried.

Press Take Some Interest in the Angola 3

When NBC asked Robert King Wilkerson what it was like to spend 29 years in solitary confinement, he didn’t know what to say. How can you sum up the horror of 29 years in solitary in one of the worst most infamous prisons in the nation? They asked him to do it in a few words, and “it was hell” made it into the edited version. In a nutshell.

Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox continue in solitary. They have been there for over 35 years. NBC’s nightly news picked it up as the cases of Wallace and Woodfox are set to come before federal court. The question NBC asked is can too much time in solitary confinement become cruel and unusual punishment? It’s a good question to ask, but then look how many questions we’ve asked about waterboarding and other forms of torture and it doesn’t seem to get us very far. I imagine that most would agree that days or weeks in solitary is incredibly cruel, much less decades. I don’t think there’s any way for us to even comprehend what that might be like. Wallace and Woodfox have been in soitary confinement longer then I have been alive…how can such a thing be possible?

The more vindictive among us will ask, hey, what did they do? Maybe they’re imagining Hannibal Lecter. I’m afraid it’s nothing like that. Horrifying conditions brought Robert King, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox together while in Angola to form a chapter of the Black Panther Party. They helped organize hunger strikes and worked to expose the conditions in the prison which included the open sale of prisoners into sexual slavery, a 96 hour work week for 2 cents an hour, segregated living quarters, inadequate food and medical care…their actions were enough to start some investgation and a series of hearings about the prison. Their actions were actually getting some heat put on prison officials and change was in the air.

I didn’t take long for Robert King Wilkerson to be convicted with another inmate in the death of a fellow prisoner. He served 29 years in solitary confinement. The courts released him in 2001 after overturning his conviction; 29 years in solitary for an innocent man. Woodfox and Wallace were convicted at almost the same time for the murder of a prison guard. NBC outlined the evidence showing their innocence, a commisioner has requested the courts to investigate the case, the guard’s widow is asking who really killed her husband. Angola prison seems to be a clear beneficiary, having cast aspersions on the three men’s characters and thereby their cause, and effectively isolated and silenced three voices for change.

NBC doesn’t go into that of course, does not mention the Angola 3 or the Black Panthers or the conditions that the three men were protesting in Angola, itself a former slave plantation…I suppose as always you have to find the real news in looking deeper into what they don’t tell you.

more info at http://www.angola3.org/

also published at http://www.allvoices.com/users/Andrea#tab=blogs&group=2,widget=blogs&page=2&filter=popular

evening

I sit in the conservatory and the light is liquid gold, luminous, impossibly beautiful in those few minutes at close of day when magic seizes your heart and makes it whole…too whole, almost overflowing and the overflow is what you hunger for through your mundane hours, but this moment, glorious and still, like the culmination of passion, the peak of happiness, the eye in the storm it holds you and wraps you round and whispers to you in the falling rain and the world is perfect beauty even with you in it, as flawed and hungry and uncertain of anything as you are, and the moment fades to be replaced with a sadness, and dusk comes on surely now, the darkness creeping over green fields and the flowering apple tree, clouds lit up from behind in pale yellow and silver move swiftly across the horizon and just as you wonder if it is just over there that your destiny lies, the world lights up again with the moving clouds, a reprieve and a second golden time, a hint of blue sky on the horizon, golden light pouring like the rain around you, I love these days of rain and sun, love gold filled light and the pounding of water, it is luminous again, magical again, more beautiful after having prepared oneself for the dying of the light, it gives me hope. For what I don’t know, just hope is enough, a quiet undemanding sort of hope, the hope that carries peace with it, not the demanding torments of passion or desire or blind need.

The blue sky is now encircled by clouds, deep black heavy laden ones running low, a thin line of glowing white ones above. This place is beautiful. I am glad I am here, there is nowhere I would rather be. That makes me smile, it might be a bit sad my smile, bittersweet is life, I taste it on my tongue. I am always amazed at how fast storm clouds move, I remember watching them before the monsoons hit in Arizona, amazing that they race the same over desert and green farmland. Another thing bringing these two worlds together besides me, I have trouble sometimes reconciling myself with myself, I am too many things to exist in one person I think, but watching the clouds race calms me down, I lose myself in them like I lose myself in the light, my inner voice stills and finds silence and I am content. Even as the dusk falls surely now, the darkness comes…

leftover Chocolate Cake

The breakfast of champions!! Especially when thick and yummy with mum’s classic buttercream frosting, T actually called our mum two nights ago so he could make me a vintage Gibbons family birthday cake and it was perfect! He didn’t handwrite happy birthday Andrea in another colour of frosting, but I love those little sugar letters so it was just as good…and funnier than I am used to:

I have grown accustomed to being called the beast…though as lovely, fragile, and sweet as I am, I have absolutely no relation to the creature who lurked on the other side of the high fence in The Sandlot and ate baseballs. I have come to recognize that boys are irrational however, so I don’t mind, and I did love the “yippie” and the “woo”, apparently there weren’t enough letters to spell out the Robert Burns poem on the wee timerous beastie that T originally planned for so yippie and woo had to do. We had party food last night and they put up balloons on the wall for me, T put Marty Robbins on the Cd player for a bit of nostalgia…we grew up with marty robbins as he is one of my mum’s favourites, and all of us still tend to sing along when she plays it in the car, it’s very funny. Well, Laura finds it really funny, I find it absolutely natural and normal and cool. I got some Iain Banks books and a pair of shorts with my Mark’s and Spencers gift vouchers, I have every faith in my luck and global warming and can’t wait to wear them! T read me some of the stuff he’s been writing, 4 of the 6 of us in the family are aspiring writers, I think it must be a record…so much aspiration and so little accomplishment, though it’s only cause our genious goes unrecognized. Apart from Brian Adams who thinks we are the most intimidatingly brilliant family he’s ever met, and he told me that while drunk so I know it’s absolutely true. Dan can back me up on that, he’s Dan’s friend anyways. Besides, his name is Brian Adams, so clearly he has no problems or unrecognized genious of his own.

Well, still working selling underwear, though I need to come up with an alternate story, because when I tell men in the pub what I do they get this happy sort of glazed look and make bad jokes. But I am writing the best fucking story I’ve ever written, that alone has made this the best birthday of all time and entirely validated the mad decision to move to scotland to sell underwear…

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stunning

Today I wandered lonely as a cloud…no wait, that was yesterday, I didn’t work yesterday and luxuriated in blue skies and sunshine, it was fucking beautiful. I went for a run in the Maryhill Woods. Now when I say run, I mean something closer to a short run slowing to a short jog punctuated by long intervals of walking. I remember running back in the day before I ruined my shins, remember running in the dusk and the earth sped beneath my feet and it was effortless and I was motion and nothing more, the wind blew right through me. That was long ago though, now I’m finding running to be a bit more of a sado-masochistic activity, the best thing about it is returning home exhausted and virtuous and sleeping soundly through the night, I am missing my bike ride to work.

But yesterday, ahh, I stripped down to my tank top yesterday and found a new trail up along the hill looking out over Semple Loch and the second loch just to the south and the sun beat down and the wind smelled of spring and the birds were singing and I saw lambs gambolling about and they were so beautiful and I thought holy shit, I live in Scotland. I still can’t quite believe it. Every now and then walking down a Glaswegian street I shake myself and smile just at the thought of it. Especially when someone’s playing the bagpipes, I love the buskers here. You have the bagpipes of course, but there is an amazing reggae player, an old guy who plays old electric guitar surfer music, a 3 man band playing rock’n’roll, and a duo on guitar and accordeon. Last time I passed them they played the theme music to Amelie and gave me 5 minutes of magic on my way to work.

Ahh work, I knew there was a reason to go for that masters…I was not cut out for retail. I like people well enough, but to be all smiley and bubbly and friendly and repeat the same phrase a hundred times to a hundred different faces, well, it makes me want to spit. I am learning an immense amount about breasts however, principally that I am quite happy with mine. Oh, and that in spite of that they will actually get bigger. I do have to get pregnant first, that’s a bit of a downer, but apparently they don’t really look back after the first one. I am also now able to sing along to all of the pop hits, my repertoire of chatter on girly subjects has grown by leaps and bounds, and I am making friends, so on the whole as a life experience this is has been right up there. Still, I am more afraid of being questioned about nursing bras then I ever was to sneak into the Morrison hotel in the dead of night…a small character flaw when your fears involve underwear and not your physical safety. A wonder these genes ever made it as far as they did.

St Patrick’s

Hey ho, home early after a grand celebration, well, not so grand but good, very good, I’m quite happy at the moment…went out out to the Hamilton local, not the Bay Horse which is closer but rough, very rough, no, we walked all the way to ML3, it’s nice, quite nice. It was pouring down rain as we walked there, it came down in sheets across the street lights, lit up golden against the night sky and beautiful, and the wind blew mad against our backs and the trees sang above us and I was happy to be outside, happy to be walking, and I know it’s because I’m crazy, one day I’ll the man who finds that amazing even if I’m a stupid girl, and the world was beautiful and we sang nay, no, never, no never no more, will I be a wild rover…beautiful it was and we arrived in the torrent sopping wet, completely soaked, everyone stared at us and we laughed because life was in the process of being so well lived it was brilliant and I ran to the lady’s toilet and squeezed`the water from my hair so it wouldn’t keep running down my neck and soaking the top of my blouse and ran my fingers through it though fat lot of good it did, I just hoped for the best and figured that perhaps that fresh-out of the shower look was attractive to the occassional bystander because that’s exactly what I looked like, with the backs of my jean legs sopping and clinging lovingly to the backs of my calves and dripping to the floor…

A few drinks, some brilliant indy tunes with a bit of Pink Floyd thrown randomly in, I could have done with a strong dose of the Pogues but it was not to be and it didn’t matter, I don’t know why I’m so happy today but I am, happy. Life is brilliant…

nothing much really

I haven’t written anything for ages. I’ve been busy I suppose but can’t quite find that burning drive to write that hits me at times, I need my own place, want my own place, would do just about anything for my own place…living with relatives you learn quite a bit, mostly about yourself, I discover that I am quite impatient, more antisocial than I thought, not at all domesticated or housebroken, only appreciate dining or high tea formality on very very rare occassions…and of course I am again reminded how good men have it in the world. Why is it that my cousins can get away with letting all the women do the cleaning up so they can watch rugby? I want to watch rugby, and if only my aunt appreciated rugby at all, we would have done the washing up later, or had our lunch on paper plates so there would have been no washing up to do, or sent the boys off to do it, the game was fantastic. I watched the beginning of it as others cleaned around me and was smote mightily by my evil woman’s conscience, I wish that would just go away. Not that I mind cleaning, I just like doing it my own way and when I find it convenient…and the amount of dishes my aunt considers necessary for a meal is astonishing. It astonishes me. The amount of food as well, she loves feeding her boys! I ate more yesterday than I had the entire week before and found it a bit difficult to roll myself out of bed later. And I have not been able to say the word fuck for almost a week now, say what I’m actually thinking, walk around the house in my underwear, listen to music turned up really loudly, leave food on my plate cause I’m full, or fully relax for some time now…

But other than that things are going quite well, I’m meeting more folks, applying to jobs, now understand almost everything I hear unless it is coming from very old men without many teeth…I’m working on a small community online and paper news sort of thing with some folks which is great, and not bad at all for one month in the city, I’m rather proud of myself! And trying to decide how much of an activist I want to be, I’m not sure about that, I think I was actually quite burned out when I left and yet I still love talking politics and getting all fired up over pints in the pub and now have folks to do that with who are brilliant, so I’m happy. Hopefully staying with the brother tmrw, where I can say fuck all I want, and he usually thinks what I’m thinking is really funny and I don’t have to eat everything on my plate…the walking around in the underwear will just have to wait, but I’m not too fussed as it’s just a bit chilly…

Whose sparkling personality?

So I’m trying to figure out if I’ll be earning enough to move out and rent a small room somewhere…it’ll be tight but probably worth it. In the meantime I’ve been amusing myself, I’ve embarked on one mad adventure and I’d tell you all about it but am hoping that everything I write on the subject will be one day copyrighted and sold in newsagents everywhere so you’ll just have to wait for it to be published. I’ve started work on the novel as well, I knew moving was a fucking brilliant idea.

And I’m having so many adventures that some can be shared…yesterday I went into town and walked around with Bob, started at the Gallery of Modern Art which is kind of a cool place and I discovered there’s a library and a cafe in the basement, who knew? I’m going to have to go back and see about getting a card. On the second floor there’s a crazy art piece about the weapons invented by schoolchildren, I quite like it. So after a coffee and some discussion of the common good games, we went off on our walk and Bob’s brilliant to walk with, he knows everything about everything. We passed my new place of work, walked past the old sherrif’s courts and I learned that the building in front used to be an old sweatshop with artist studios on top and Bob had a studio up there and they used to sit out smoking weed while staring down at the sherrif’s bldg, and when the sweatshop workers went on strike in mid winter, they’d come warm up with a quick coffee or tea in the studio before heading back out to the picket line. Passed the Trongate which has a brilliant history: http://www.tron.co.uk/about.asp?page=History, and the Panopticon theatre where Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy made his stage debut http://www.monklands.co.uk/panopticon/index.htm… I love Laurel and Hardy, and I love Glasgow, this town is full of treasures and no one even knows that they’re there. Hope the fucking council doesn’t decide argyll street needs another mall and that it has to knock more cool old buildings down.

Then we headed down to the print shop, I love print shops, met Tom who prints all kinds of radical literature for groups for free, prints the variant paper, and whose door is covered with stickers I assume he printed as well, anti-war, anarchist, punk rock groups, anti poll tax…very cool. Walked past the old anarchist centre which is now a trendy shop selling very expensive industrial looking jewelry. Walked on down to an art centre right next to the 13th note…will have to go back to that pub, plastered with indie rock posters and have bands playing live in the basement, but the art spot was cool as well and I got to go into my first darkroom which was brilliant, made me want to go buy a proper film camera and play with chemicals, I think I’m going to take a class. Heard stories about art under Maggie Thatcher and the beauty of a tube of vermillion paint…fucking beautiful man. I don’t think Bob paints anymore, but I really want to see his canvases which apparently are all huge and piled up in his basement…I’m dead curious to see what kind of things he was painting. After leaving there we met up with someone named Jo who makes documentaries, and the first question out of her mouth was, “well, how was your equinox?” Who knew it was the equinox? Fuck me, can’t believe I let another equinox slide past without proper celebration, which I’d hope involves alcohol, my celebration certainly would at any rate. Found another great pub, cafe, vegie fare place, could end up one of my favourite places here I think…big, relaxed, good music, lighting that’s brilliant cause it has this dome sort of thing…and definitely lefty, bet its one of those places you’re always running into people you know if you’re involved in anything here. Called Mono anyways. So it was a brilliant day, it even snowed! And the wind was calm so the snow just floated down to kiss your face just the way I like it to do, it was beautiful even if it melted as it hit the ground…the hills were all covered in snow and shining white…too bad I started coming down with something yesterday and spent most of today in bed. Reading the Kite Runner, it’s a bit shattering.

Oh, and I think you can tell I haven’t been able to curse freely since last Monday morning…

Tuesday morning at 9 o’clock

Ahh, beatles reference, nothing beats it! It is of course late afternoon and I am sitting in my uncle’s office with a torrent of water pouring down the little waterfall, it is quite incredible what some rain will do. Today on the train back from Glasgow I saw a rainbow between Paisley Gilmour Station and Johnstone and it made me extraordinarily happy. I do not believe that rainbows represent God’s promise to Abraham never again to destroy the world by flood…even if they are nothing but a refraction of light and water they are miraculous, but I like to believe they are promises of something, pure beauty flung across the sky, living colour against the darkness, a call to remember that life is fucking marvelous and to be lived as deeply as possible. My ipod was presenting a classic rock moment as I watched, a little Marshall Tucker band and led zepplin, it was perfect.

I have this ring I wear all the time, silver with amber set into it. I was sitting on the rapid bus down Wilshire in L.A.next to this guy who was tatted and pierced and covered with jewelry and scarily thin. He liked my amber earrings so we started talking and I was telling him about all of the wonder and magic of the Tucson gem and mineral show, and as we approached La Brea his friend sitting across from us pulled out a rubber tourniquet and wrapped it around his arm, then a little vial and shook some heroin into a spoon and held his lighter under it and then he pulled out a syringe and filled it up and I know my face changed. The pain of his addiction hit me like a hammer for some reason even as I pretended not to see not to know not to feel, I raged at the sadness of the human life before me because every human life is beautiful and I wished there was something inside of me strong enough to stop him, to make him choose life, to give him hope as a gift without judgement…I wished I were more like a rainbow than a girl. He sat there, hand with syringe in pocket, veins bulging beneath the rubber, leg nervously bouncing up and down from the balls of his feet, waiting for the bus to stop so he could shoot up. The guy I was talking to leaned over and said it’s alright, there’s nothing anyone can do but him, but us. And then he pulled this ring off of his pinky finger as he stood to go and gave it to me and it was so unexpected I took it without thinking and then protested but he was already on his way out the door…it’s a prized possession though I don’t know why looking at it makes me happy…

Friday in Edinburgh

The old man burst out of the door of the old tenement building, wearing cropped silver hair and nylon navy track suit. A track suit with shorts no less. He stood a moment at the top of the steps, chest out, proud surveyor of a city waiting to be conquered and impervious to shafts of curiosity or laughter. A deep breath and he was carefully, quickly down the stairs, an old roller suitcase bouncing in offended protest behind him. It appeared empty, a brilliant battered red against the day’s muted grey. As the old man shuffled in a determined jog down the main street sidewalk the battered case trundled behind him yielding reluctantly to the afternoon’s adventure. I stood a moment and thought, but of course I followed.


The unlikely pair moved slowly down the street, taking the most direct route in and among and around the masses of Friday’s pedestrians. From time to time the old man’s thin legs would slow to a walk, the suitcase slowed its wheels, confronted with an impenetrable wall of prams or hooded teenagers travelling in packs. A breath only. The old man would slow to a walk but looked neither to the right or the left; he looked always straight ahead and picked up his shuffle as soon as he was able. The suitcase rolled confidently behind him, its wheels trapped in the rut of the road most taken. My own feet were delighting in the absurd and the new and the unknown. Smiles blossomed along our path like flowers, and heads turned to watch him like blades of grass before the wind.


Why would an old man go jogging pulling a roller suitcase behind him? Training for the great roller suitcase derby, senior division. Training for his next holiday with its short layovers and mad rushes from train to train, train to bus, bus to plane. Specialized training for the muscles in his arm and lower back. Perhaps the suitcase wasn’t actually empty, perhaps it held dirty track suits, microfilm, a kilo of cocaine, the maltese falcon, the novel he’d been writing for the past 40 years, the last piece of his wife needing disposal, a hot meal in Tupperware for his granddaughter, his vintage porn collection rescued from diligent housecleaning, smuggled Russian cigarettes, a genuine Renoir, a bottle of chocolate milk to be shaken, black-market watches for sale, pink lingerie, crisps, an entire flea circus, a lock of his lost love’s hair, brilliant poetry on crumpled up paper, the answer to life’s greatest question which he had just resolved through physics and that he now needed to urgently deliver, the winners of tomorrow’s horse racing, his wig collection, cabbages…


And so I followed him, slowly, for my walk was faster than his shuffle. Rain fell. It fell lightly all across the great fucking beautiful city, a web of silver spun silk to shroud ugliness and hide tears and awaken a deep throbbing loveliness of colour in the world. It cleaned the sky. People hurried through their afternoon, hurried through their lives and I exulted in rampant loneliness and adventure, following an old man pulling a battered suitcase. The ordinary become extraordinary. I love how that happens every day.