Saturday, September 26, 2015

Celebrate Recovery

A recent newspaper headline read, “Cheyenne Man Gets Probation For Fifth DUI.” Those who celebrate addiction recovery dream of a day when headlines for such stories might read “Cheyenne Man Given Opportunity To Join Thousands in Recovery as Community Rejoices.”

The public often relates “probation” with a sense that someone deserving of jail got off easy. If you read further into the report, you’d learn that the man didn’t get off easy. The terms of his probation require him to successfully complete the stiff requirements of Laramie County’s DUI Court. Readers learned that he’d been successfully participating in the program. His early recovery meant that for nearly two months he’d been sober and violation-free.

Hopefully, the community will someday celebrate recovery from addiction, rather than punishment for addiction. 

September is National Recovery Month. Millions of Americans across the country and hundreds here in Cheyenne, have been transformed through recovery. Unfortunately these successes often go unnoticed because of hard-to-unlearn stereotypes about addicts and addiction.

Recovery Month is a time for our community to learn of these accomplishments. Each September, those in recovery and their advocates speak about the gains made through recovery and share success stories with their neighbors, friends, and colleagues. In doing so, they increase awareness and a greater understanding about the diseases of mental and substance use disorders is achieved.

What should you know about addiction? First, it is not a moral failing but a disease. Like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other physical ailments, addiction can be, and often is, successfully treated. Jail sentences, no matter how long, do not treat addiction.

Second, while it helps if the addict wants treatment, enforced treatment works. It is why we are blessed in this community to have judges willing to make the extra effort to preside over drug and DUI courts. People often say erroneously that when it comes to addicts, “you can lead a horse to eat but you can’t make him drink.”

The truth is these courts have the power not only to lead the horse to water but also to make sure he or she stays there long enough to become thirsty. As drug and DUI clients become thirsty for recovery, they are also strictly monitored. There are job and educational requirements. People learn the skills they need to enter into years of recovery.  It is the most successful route to recovery. But there are others.

The third lesson is that the community has cause to celebrate everyone who finds recovery. When one person succeeds in obtaining long-term recovery it is not only that individual who lives a better life. So does his or her family. The community becomes safer, healthier and more prosperous. Money is saved. Lives are saved. And it happens every day all around us.

Cheyenne is especially fortunate to have important resources contributing to successful recovery for hundreds of people. Recover Wyoming is a non-profit organization committed to the success of recovering addicts. In 2014, their small staff and large corps of volunteers served more than1900 people. Their services include referrals to addiction treatment, self-help programs, community resources, as well as recovery meetings and special events. The Recovery Center enables people to stay in recovery.

Volunteers provided 2150 service hours at the Recovery Center in Suite 405 of the Majestic Building. Volunteers keep the Center’s doors open, greet visitors, provide administrative support, and host advocacy opportunities. 

Recover Wyoming quietly makes our community a better place to live. They and the thousands of recovering folks in our community deserve our praise. We honor their accomplishments because they’ve earned that and as a means of raising awareness.

Recovery Month highlights the achievements of those who reclaimed their lives in long-term recovery and honors the treatment and recovery service providers like Recover Wyoming. Recovery Month promotes the message that recovery in all of its forms is possible and encourages citizens to take action to help expand and improve the availability of effective prevention, treatment, and recovery services for those in need.

Celebrate Recovery!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My friend Jimmy Valdez

Jimmy Valdez was one of my oldest friends. We met half-a-century ago. I was a disk jockey at KRAE. Jimmy had a band. I was into booking bands at venues around the region. Jimmy invited me to audition his group.

We met for the first time in a garage on the eastside of Cheyenne the summer of 1966. His band practiced there. “Jimmy Valdez and the Blue’s Revolution.” Jimmy was their lead guitar player. Jay Van Jackson played drums, Bobby Giles base guitar. They were “groovy.”

I wasn’t the best manager but we did get a few gigs. It was great fun. Jimmy and I spent those days developing a lifetime friendship. The band recorded a 45 RPM record in an old Ridge Road warehouse. One side was a remake of the classic “Daddy’s Home.” Jimmy wrote the other. “I Want You So Bad.” We received one royalty check for something like eight bucks.

We celebrated at the old “Big Boy” drive-in. We each had a coke. All I had was a twenty-dollar bill. I handed it to the curb hop. Jimmy leaned over and told her “to keep the change.” She did. We laughed, Jimmy harder than me.

Jimmy owned a 1965 Chevy Impala. Purple. Black vinyl top. Bucket seats. Chrome wheels. Beautiful, or as we called it in the ‘60s, “Boss.” Neither of us made much money in those days. There were occasional months when Jimmy couldn’t make the car payment and I could. So I got to drive it sometimes.

One day I walked to the parking lot and found the Impala had a flat tire. I’d never changed a flat. Surely it was easy. I retrieved the jack and lug wrench. I jacked up the back end near the flat tire. Suddenly the rear panel gave way. It looked like an accordion. I had placed the jack under the panel rather than where there was some steel reinforcement. I never saw Jimmy again that he didn’t tell that story with a laugh.

KRAE had a Sunday afternoon Spanish music program. The time came when the station needed a new host. Tom Bauman, the general manger, asked me if I knew someone. I did. Jimmy Valdez. He was hired before we knew he didn’t know a lot of Spanish. Never mind. He knew music and had a charismatic radio personality.

With a little help from his friends, gradually Jimmy added to his Spanish vocabulary. The show was a hit. In one form or another, at one station or another, Jimmy continued to entertain the community with his “Jimmy Valdez and the All-American Spanish Hour” for the remainder of his days.

One afternoon over lunch, Jimmy said he’d decided to go into politics. He was going to run for the city council. I tried to talk him into running for the legislature instead. “City councilmen,” I argued, “are swamped with calls about barking dogs and trash pickup.” But Jimmy was committed to the community and wanted to be involved in problem-solving at the local level.

No surprise. He was elected. Who didn’t love Jimmy? Nor was I surprised at his success in the job.

Of all that Jimmy loved about life, nothing exceeded his family. His devotion to Amelia was unquestioned. He idolized her. I never saw him that he didn’t brag about one or all his children. Nor did I ever see him that he didn’t inquire about mine. Jimmy was an over-the-moon grandpa. Five children, ten grandchildren. Each one carries forward Jimmy’s love of others and his generosity.

Husband. Father. Grandfather. Public servant. Friend. Good person.

For years I’ve kept the old Irving Stone biography of Clarence Darrow, “For the Defense,” because of a quote attributed to Darrow from a eulogy he gave for his close friend. One day I’d have a use for it.

“In the great flood of human life that is spawned upon the earth, it is not often that a man is born.” Jimmy Valdez was that man.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Wyo Liberty Group dead wrong

Ask Matt Mead about the plan to renovate the State Capitol. His mind goes first to those who made the decision to build it in the first place.  Wyoming wasn’t even a state when they sat down and made plans, appropriated the money, and started the construction.

Over the next three decades, they added the east and west wings and the House and Senate chambers. That was optimism. That was vision.

No more so than what it took Governor Mead and the leadership of the legislature to move ahead with the current renovation. The timing is never especially good to spend 300 million dollars on a project, but the time has come for a major renovation of the Wyoming State Capitol.

The project has its critics. Maureen Bader, the Canadian paid with Texas dollars to write columns critical of Wyoming for the Liberty Group calls the plans “palatial.” She predicts, “dreams of palaces (will) turn into nightmares.”

I predict The Liberty Group is wrong.

It’s true. A project of this size and scope will always experience stumbles getting off the ground. The end result, however, will be a Capitol Complex that will serve this state well for the next several decades and make its citizens as proud today as were those who built the original structure 150 years ago.

As the Governor pointed out during a recent conversation he and I had in his office, he has nothing to gain. By the time the Capitol reopens, he’ll no longer be Governor and most of today’s legislators will likewise be gone. It’s not about them. It’s about modernizing and creating a place where the people’s business can be done effectively in the 21st century.

Governor Mead meets visitors from Wyoming and around the nation in the rotunda. They are often nonplussed about the lack of access to restrooms and an elevator that may not make it to its final destination. They don’t know the half of it. The building is a firetrap. How fortunate we are that a fire has not broken out in the historic structure. The building is ill equipped for fire-suppression, putting not only people at risk but also the historic treasures the building houses.

It’s been a long while since significant upgrades were accomplished in the Capitol. The most recent was completed in 1980. That project included stripping and staining the woodwork, painting walls to match original designs and colors, replacing wooden floor beams with steel, and modernizing the wiring, heating, plumbing and air conditioning.

That was thirty-five years ago. Today, the building has grown increasingly inadequate to fulfill its fundamental purposes. It lacks the basic wiring and other facilities necessary to employ current technology. Hearing rooms are generally too small to accommodate members of the public seeking to hear and be heard when the legislature meets. The technological improvements available that would permit people from around the state to participate in their government without traveling long distances are not available. Neither is the security infrastructure demanded of modern buildings in these times.

All of those problems and more exist across the Capitol Plaza in the Herschler Building. It was built in 1981. No major renovation has been undertaken since, though the building has become more and more dysfunctional.

Noteworthy is that the Herschler Building cost $27.3 million when built in 1981. Today, the same building would cost $94.2 million. That speaks to what the much-needed renovation of the Capitol Complex would cost if there were further delays.

This complex multi-year project, which began recently, will repair the two buildings while making necessary health, safety, security and electrical upgrades.
These problems have been ignored for decades. Finally Wyoming has the political leadership willing to take the heat and get the job done.

The Wyoming Legislature set aside funds for this project for 15 years. The planning has been thoughtful. The project is underway.

Our own homes are remodeled now and then to maintain their value and appearance. The peoples’ house deserves no less.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Labor Day Hoax

Labor Day is a hoax. Many of our holidays are hoaxes.

Take Columbus Day, the day white people celebrate discovering something others discovered centuries earlier. Why celebrate President’s Day in a nation that doesn’t respect the office? Then there’s “Martin Luther King-Equality Day,” a holiday unique to Wyoming, created so that Wyoming wouldn’t be the last, but only the 49th state to recognize King’s birthday. To make that palatable to legislators, they tagged it with “Equality Day,” so we could pretend to care about that as well.

Still, no holiday says “cynical” like Labor Day. It was a cynical hoax from the beginning when President Grover Cleveland tossed it, like a bone to a dog, to workers angry that he had sent soldiers to break up a strike against the Pullman Company. His troops killed 30 people. Cleveland figured giving the survivors a holiday in the name of their movement would calm things.

For decades, the labor movement made the best of it. The U.S. Department of Labor website includes a “History of Labor Day” page. It conveniently omits the Grover Cleveland massacre but does say, “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

All off that was true in the days of Samuel Gompers, A. Phillip Randolph, Walter Reuther, George Meany, and Caesar Chavez. It was even true in Wyoming when people like Keith Henning and Paul Johnson used their voices to bring “us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy.”

The long trail leading to the demise of the influence of organized labor began in Wyoming, as it did in most states, with the passage of so-called “right-to-work” law. Those laws said that workers could refuse to join a union but the union could not refuse to represent that worker.

When the Wyoming legislature passed a right-to-work law in 1963, the bill was so controversial that Governor Cliff Hansen stationed highway patrolmen and National Guardsmen in the Capitol Building to assure the peace. At the time, labor was one of the strongest political forces in Wyoming. Conservative business and agricultural interests figured they’d kill two birds with one stone. They did.

While setting labor union membership on a path toward a precipitous decline, they also made meaningless the influence of workers on Wyoming elections.

It should be noted that the workers didn’t help themselves. Some might argue they were a part of the anti-union conspiracy. At some point, many of them decided they didn’t want to fight for wages, benefits or workplace safety. They were far more worried about the federal government’s non-existent plot to take away their guns.

We now celebrate Labor Day in the midst of growing income inequality. The weakest link in economic growth is stagnant wages. Pensions, once part of all union negotiated packages, are being reduced or eliminated. Employers blithely drop healthcare and other benefits at will.

American workers are producing more with fewer jobs and no wage rewards. According to AFL-CIO 2013 data, American CEOs earned an average of $11.7 million, 331 times the average worker’s pay. CEO’s use those dollars to buy multiple homes, go on lavish vacations, build a retirement, and send their kids to the best colleges in the United States.

U.S. workers struggle to pay the mortgage on their homes, receive far less vacation time than most workers, and count on social security for retirement, while their children go deep into debt with student loans paying for an education in state and community colleges.

It seems that American workers are okay with that. If they weren’t, perhaps we’d hear about it on Labor Day or maybe even Election Day.