• Rights relinquished: How 25 hours became 21 years for Jerome Dixon

    By Jeremy Loudenback, ChronicleofSocialChange.org

    On July 25th, 1990, the course of Jerome Dixon’s life changed forever. After 25 hours of interrogation, the then 17-year-old Oakland youth would find himself sentenced to decades in prison.

    As California state legislators now ponder a bill that would change the way law enforcement officers are able to question juveniles, the fallout from that day continues to haunt Dixon, now 44 and living in Los Angeles.

    “Even to this day, I still can’t sleep a full night. I’m waking up two or three hours into my sleeping,” he said. “Why is that? That’s because of what happened to me in that interrogation room.”

    Alone, and pinned into the corner of a dim police interrogation room, Dixon felt small and powerless on that summer night, trying to find some way out of his desperate situation.

    About 10 hours before, just after midnight, the Oakland police had hauled him into the station as a murder suspect. At around 10:00, a young man was shot to death in the crime-plagued West Oakland neighborhood where the teenaged Dixon had been hanging out with friends.

    In the cramped room where he would spend the next 25 hours, Dixon recounted his whereabouts leading up to the moment when he was arrested for the murder.

    At first, the detectives were friendly, offering him water and food. But after about five hours, the mood shifted. The police investigators began to press him, commanding Dixon to place himself at the scene of the crime and stop “playing games.”

    By about 15 hours in, Dixon was exhausted. Two teams of investigators rotated in and out of the room during his interrogation, switching off every couple hours. The only window in the room was covered by a piece of cardboard, which was sometimes lifted, Dixon remembers, to reveal faces watching him.

    Dixon says he lost track of whether it was day or night outside.

    “I felt extremely hopeless at that point,” Dixon said. “Whatever self-esteem I had at that point was literally gone.

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  • Perspectives on building healthy communities

    National Policy Implications Panel

     (l to r) Dr. Garth Graham, president, Aetna Foundation; Wendy Ellis, project director, Building Community Resilience Collaborative, GWU; Stuart M. Butler, The Brookings Institution

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    After decades of working at the national level on health and mental policy in Washington, DC, I find myself looking for ways to get involved locally—the closer to home the better, and the more tangible the work, the more gratifying. There has never been a better time to act locally, not just because of the polarized national scene, but because opportunities abound to really make a difference at the local level.

    With this budding interest local involvement taking shape, I was eager see what lessons I could learn from a May 9th event titled “New directions for communities: How they can boost neighborhood health,” sponsored by the venerable organization The Brookings Institution, best known for leadership at the national and global levels.

    Brookings has developed a series titled “Building Healthy Neighborhoods” that is exploring “the crucial elements to building a culture of health, education, and economic mobility in low-income communities.” Since my neighborhood has people of all income levels and has undergone rapid gentrification especially in the last decade, its diversity is a source of its vitality but also presents challenges in creating community. A number of the reports in the series provide ideas and strategies for addressing problems at the neighborhood level.

    What I didn’t expect to hear at the Brookings meeting was the degree of interest by several of the presenters in the role that “villages” could play in improving community health. Villages are springing up around the country to help people “age in place” by addressing the multiple needs of seniors. Village members are both lending and receiving help.

    Members of Mt. Pleasant Village

    Volunteers in the Mt. Pleasant Village meet to discuss the village’s participation in a study on social inclusion among its members. Pictured here (l to r) are Bonnie Cain, Kelly Callahan, Katie Tyler, Sharon Hart

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  • Providers hope trauma legislation will help native children in foster care

    By Jeremy Loudenback

    Recent federal legislation put forward by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) proposes to address the issue of childhood trauma through the creation of a federal trauma task force.

    The Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act would gather federal officials and members of tribal agencies to create a set of best practices and training to help create a better way to identify and support children and families that have experienced trauma.

    In North Dakota, the home state for co-sponsor Heitkamp, advocates are hoping that the bill can have an impact on addressing the needs of Native American children who disproportionately enter the state’s foster care system. According to one report, Native American youth deal with post-traumatic stress disorder at a rate of 22 percent, three times the national average and at the same level as Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

    At PATH North Dakota, a non-profit child and family services agency, a trauma-informed approach means helping Native American children address historical trauma, as well as contemporary adverse experiences faced by children in foster care.

    Jodi Duttenhefer and Heather Simonich, operations directors at PATH, recently talked with The Chronicle of Social Change about the new legislation, the importance of collecting data on the adverse childhood experiences of youth in its treatment foster care program and how the tribal community at Standing Rock is thinking about child trauma.

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