Why I Talk about Sexual Assault on Facebook
dawn, Liberty, moonrise
stefmars

I was challenged the other day by a friend wondering why I continually post on facebook about issues related to sexual assault. She wondered why I don't direct my energies towards research and journal articles, instead. Many of my friends know my story, but newer friends probably do deserve some sort of explanation. I want to address this.

Sexual assault is rampant in our country and throughout the world, really. Even though it is being discussed now, more than before, it continues to be under-reported because victims still fight stigma and hate. It continues to be under-investigated (over 400,000 rape kits remain untested), under-prosecuted, and under-penalized, with probationary sentences still being the norm for first time convicts.

The problem isn't that it isn't well-understood by science. There are tons of high quality research and journal articles addressing the problem. The problem is the collective "us." We are desensitized and conditioned to under-respond. Even when a sex offender is clearly identified, we continue to question the victim and make excuses for the criminal.

The problem is the Damon Wayans of our society. The problem is an ex-President who is a sex offender and the continued support his wife gets. The problem is a boy prostitute ring during the first Bush administration, frequented by elected officials, whose client list remains sealed. A schoolboard member in Beaumont who impregnated a 16 year old girl, and nothing happened. A female sex offender in New Orleans on probation who was allowed by a judge to attend church. At least one sex offender (really, at least 2) kicked off one TSUS campus for child rape, employed on another campus. A Texas governor who, as AG, had that guy's work computer loaded with child porn and graphic sexual messages to kids, and continues to suppress it. District Attorneys who will not prosecute people of affluence and power. The support of Joe Paterno. The waffling by Baylor as to removing Ken Starr and Art Briles for protecting athlete rapists. The fact that over 60 victims at New York's prestigious Horace Mann school have surfaced and not one thing has been done to help them. We criticize people who talk about the problem rather than focus on the problem, itself.

And, we let it happen. We shake our heads and continue to vote for people who support, and sometimes are, sex offenders. We blame victims. We blame people who speak out on the subject. We institute Title IX on campuses and shrug when they don't remove credibly accused sex offenders. We do everything except insure that offenders are kept away from their victim pools. That is on us, and we do it because we are being groomed to do nothing.

Many of my friends have been hurt by the actions of Lamar and TSUS. Many, many more of my friends are victims and know the failures of the system all too well. Some of my friends are actively fighting the system right now. Most of these friends know exactly what I am doing.

How do you change a culture? How do you fight denial en masse? Journal articles and research aren't going to do it; if they could, they already would have. You get down in the trenches, you get your hands dirty, you challenge people to look at it afresh.

Of course I do more than post on facebook, but I do post on social media both to update my friends who follow the specific problems here in Texas and to educate and stimulate thought among my other friends. I realize it isn't kittens and funny memes cute, although I do try to balance the heavy material with lighter, more wholesome fare. Still, this is who I am and what I do. I am not everyone's cup of tea, and I am controversial, and I choose to be both because it is necessary for change. You may want to unfriend me if you find my style distasteful. But I am quickly losing patience with being called names and suggestions that I am the problem for talking about it. I am not the problem. The problem is the problem. And the victims of sexual assault, their families, and indeed, their communities are all paying the price for an ineffective status quo.

I have no intention of sitting back quietly and allowing our unacceptably blase' attitude to continue because to do so hurts us all. I hope you understand.


The Halo Scar
dawn, Liberty, moonrise
stefmars
Uncle Bobby sat across the folding table in the Methodist Fellowship Hall and studied my face intently for a moment, grinned and said, "Oh, Sugar, I know what I can tell you....... Look, I have a halo scar!

While thoughts raced through my mind (e.g., I thought you had to die to get one of those; and, I didn't realize halos left scars), he directed my attention by pointing a finger straight to a band of purest white, about an inch wide, running across his forehead like a band of light.

Uncle Bobby with a halo? Didn't seem improbable at all, to me. Dr. Swearingen to most folks in Tyler Co, Uncle Bobby isn 't precisely my uncle; he's my second cousin. Because of situations of birth, however, he and my mom were raised, more or less, as bother and sister. He always was an uncle to me, and the best one I had.

When I was eight, we moved to Woodville, where Uncle Bobby and two other Baylor educated doctors had founded a clinic and a hospital. Back when we first moved there in the 60's, doctors still made house calls. Once a week, Uncle Bobby made house calls to folks in the Big Thicket who couldn't get into town to see a doctor. The first couple of summers we lived there, he would take me with him on his country rounds. We rode in a black Ford Fairlane sedan with red vinyl interior. I would bring a book and wait in the car while he ran into the houses to see patients.  Oftentimes, he would reemerge with an armful of "payment" in the form of bushels of peas, corn, pecans, homemade primitive artwork.

"Sugar, we don't need this, but they need to give it us," he would explain, discussing the importance of honoring the dignity and pride of those whom you may be lucky enough to serve.

So, you can understand, to me, he was like a saint. However, a halo scar?

He is 84. He still works. He explained to me that he is the doctor at two local jails. I can do an entire other note based on the last sentence, but not now.

I hadn't seen him in years, and he showed up at my father's graveside service, staying by my side throughout the day. Still dapper and impeccable in his dark suit, eyes bright and dark as faceted bohemian glass, and mind sharp as a tack and astute. Still, he had a tremor and is a bit unsteady on his feet.

So, he is 84. One day, during a heavy rain, he decided he was hungry and needed to go to a restaurant. When he stepped off the curb, he stepped into rainwater rushing by so fast that it swept his feet out from under him. He fell down and bashed his head open on the curb.

"Darlin', I heard a pop, but I thought I had just busted my skull. I sat there for a moment, though, and decided I was still hungry and drove to the restaurant.

Once inside, he approached the counter person to place his order. She was immediately alarmed by his appearance and inquired if he was okay. Then she took his order, sat him, went and promptly called 911. EMS took him to the hospital where an x-ray confirmed that he had broken his neck. A halo was affixed to his head via screws, and he wore it for 3 months.  It did, however, leave a scar of white across his brow.

So, my 84 yr old uncle broke his neck, got up and went to lunch. And, he is still working. In a prison.

He also was the doctor who mainly attended the Alabama-Coushatta people on the resevation - the only Indian Reservation in Texas.

"They love me out there, Sugar, and they've invited me to have my funeral there to celebrate in their way. Come to my funeral at the Reservation."

Uncle Bobby passed away, yesterday. I look forward to seeing his new halo.

The Dewberry Brothers, on the Trail of Secrets, a Review
dawn, Liberty, moonrise
stefmars

There is an atmosphere, a tangible oppression, that hovers over Beaumont, TX, and Jefferson County. And, it is the first foreshadowing impression the French film-maker, Jean-Sebastien Desbordes, creates in the documentary, The Dewberry brothers’ case : on the Trail of Secrets (English Subtitles). https://vimeo.com/143798965 Coupled with a musical score reminiscent of Twin Peaks, a series where a facade of normalcy cloaked seething evil, this documentary catches both the ennui and the gritty reality of a miscarriage of justice in Texas.

In 1994, the Dean of Admissions and Registrar at Lamar University, a celebrated member of the Young Men's Business League (YMBL) in Jefferson County, Texas, was found bound, gagged, and murdered in his home on Christmas Day in Beaumont. Despite documented police resistance to sharing information with the media, the Beaumont Enterprise immediately posted a story that not only described the murder, but included the shocking information that marijuana and a cache of videotapes had been found in his home. The videos, taken secretly, included sexual assaults of under-aged boys along with homosexual trysts with older men, some rumored to be related to important local figures.

Within days, Jefferson County law enforcement focused in on two brothers, Christopher and John Dewberry, as the likely perpetrators of the heinous deed. The public information and trial suggested that these two boys, one still a minor, had set upon the respected Dean at Lamar for simple burglary and irresponsible violence. They were quickly convicted. John who was 17, was sentenced to death as the gunman. His older brother, 20 year old Christopher, was sentenced to life imprisonment because he allegedly “chickened out” and was not the trigger man in a robbery gone bad.

After 10 years, Governor Rick Perry rightly commuted all “Capital Murderers” who were convicted of murder and sentenced to Death while they were juveniles (Texas had over 25, at the time) to life imprisonment. Perry's reasoning acknowledged the influence of a growing body of scientific data that indicates that it is wrong to sentence a child to death for murder because their brains are not yet fully developed; in other words, they are children. However, that was a mixed blessing because, on Death Row, the State is obligated to pay for one's appeals; once commuted to Life, the access to legal help from the State disappears. How convenient this is for the State of Texas. It makes no accommodation to provide counsel for juveniles to appeal an illegal conviction. If convicts cannot afford expensive attorneys, they have no way to mount an appeal.

This excellently crafted documentary carefully illustrates how badly things went wrong for two brothers from a financially poor family once the corrupt legal machine in Jefferson Co. set its sites on them. The filmmakers look up the people who were there at the time, from friends and family to witnesses who testified against the brothers. During the course of the film, they discover key witnesses who have disappeared and evidence of Elmer Rode's secret life. By the end of the doc, they offer incontrovertible proof that DA Tom Maness knew he was using perjured testimony to railroad these two young men into a life of imprisonment.

By the end of the film, the despair and hopelessness that characterizes not only these boys, but their friends, family, and community, sits as heavy as a drenched atmosphere over those seeking justice. A giant, soggy blanket weighs down oppressively over the truth in Jefferson County, Texas. Yet, it ends with a message of hope for justice, of liberty for the oppressed. This is no longer just a story that has torn at the hearts of a localized few; JS Desbordes and crew have elevated this injustice into the international forum so that all of the world can witness the corruption in Beaumont, TX that has harmed so many and stolen the lives of Chris and John Dewberry.

The film ends with a promise to return, to continue, and a motivation for the rest of us to keep working for justice in the most corrupt county in Texas.


Speaking Out (originally published June, 2010)
dawn, Liberty, moonrise
stefmars

Recent events in the Catholic Church, both in Europe and the US, since January 2010 are astounding.   As someone who has worked for years now as an advocate for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I am pleased by the Church’s new commitment to transparency.  This is especially true in the Pope’s homeland of Germany, where the Catholic Church is taking massive assertive action to face the truth about sexual abuse at the hands of priests.  It is also true here in Southeast Texas where Bishop Guillory of the Beaumont Archdiocese released a formal statement acknowledging the presence of an alleged sex offender, “Father” Frank Paduch, who had served as a priest in the Golden Triangle and in Liberty and Sour Lake, as well as at Monsignor Kelly High School.  The statement revealed that allegations about inappropriate behavior with young boys surfaced at Kelly, but were not dealt with effectively for several years.  My surprise grew at the end of last week as news emerged linking both the Pope and his brother, Monsignor Ratzinger, to knowledge of abuse of children, and as failing to adequately protect those with whose care they were charged.  Monsignor Ratzinger directed The Regensburg Domspatzen boys’ choir connected to a Catholic boys’ boarding school from 1964 to 1993.  Last week, as a growing avalanche of victim’s reports documented that abuse had occurred while he was there, Ratzinger was queried as to how he could not have known what was happening, as he claims.  By way of explanation, he said, “Things like this were never discussed.” http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/top/all/6905430.html....


           On Saturday, Associated Press writers Melissa Eddy in Berlin and Eliane Engeler in Geneva reported on the Vatican’s attempts to distance Pope Benedict XVI from the growing scandal in Europe involving allegations of decades of institutionalized sexual offenses by priests. The impetus in this latest seismic upheaval of Catholic policy lies with the German Catholic Church.  Perhaps the German people know a thing or two about the value of full elocution of one’s participation in atrocities; perhaps they have more discretion with a German Pontiff.  Whatever factors are involved, on Saturday, the New York Times reported the first bristling resistance from the Vatican as His Excellency’s spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi said,''The pope is a person whose stand on clarity, on transparency and whose decision to face these problems is above discussion.'' http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/03/13/world/AP-EU-Church-Abuse.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1


           I find Rev. Lombardi’s comment disturbing.  In an atmosphere where he is supposedly nurturing the Church’s new embrace of Transparency,  to then turn around and say that some extremely critical issues are subjects “above discussion” seems disingenuous, to say the least.  I usually associate this type of patronizing reaction with passive aggression, awash in a bouquet of arrogance. ....


           Silence rarely protects the vulnerable.  Making certain subjects taboo to discuss throws a heavy, oppressive blanket of silence on top of criminal harm.  Silence protects perpetrators and those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  However, the European Catholic Church as well as the Beaumont Archdiocese has apparently made decisions to throw off the shackles of secrecy, and I admire that.....

           Having said that, I would like to stand in solidarity with SNAP - Survivors Network of those Abused for Priests – and their message this past weekend of “call police, not bishops” in cases of suspected abuse. http://www.snapnetwork.org/   In other words, much as I appreciate the proactive stance of the Church on this issue, where are the secular authorities?  Why should it be up to the Catholic Church to police itself?....


           A Pulitzer Prize winning story in The Boston Globe in 2002 looked at one facet of this question.  “Scandal Erodes Traditional Deference to Church” by Kevin Cullen examined how DA’s in the Boston area gradually became adamant about treating priests who were alleged sex offenders like they would anyone else, despite personal allegiances to the Catholic Church.  http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/6744   In 2002, Boston became the first US city to hold a Cardinal to secular standards regarding knowledge and protection of a pedophile priest.  Thomas F. Reilly, later an Attorney General, led the legal charge as a prosecutor.  A life-long Catholic, he became furious as he learned how Cardinal Law had protected priests who were harming children.  Cullen quotes him as saying, “They were raping children.  Where’s the moral outrage?”  (Cullen, p2)....


           Reilly’s efforts to expose the perpetrators and cover-up were aided by neighboring DA Kevin M. Burke, another familial Catholic.  The award-winning article quotes him as observing, “But what really struck me, in communications with the archdiocese, was that there was never any concern shown for the victims.  Not the slightest nod of concern for these young people whose lives were turned upside down by this abuse.” (Cullen, p2)....

      A week after Law insisted there were no sexually abusive priests working in the archdiocese, Reilly and Burke went public, saying that prosecutors, elected and responsible to the public, should be deciding the culpability of sexually abusive priests – not the Cardinal.  P2

Reilly then created a coalition of 5 DA’s to pressure Law into compliance.  Later, he remarked that “the response from the public convinces him that ordinary people want secular authorities to be less deferential.”  (p2)....


           An area lawmaker, State Sen. Marian Walsh, described how she felt betrayed as she read about Cardinal Law’s deceptions.  She said, “I never thought that a leading facilitator for child abuse would be the church, where the church would supply the victims and hide the perpetrators.  I understand why pedophiles do what they do.  I still can’t understand, I still can’t appreciate, how the church could do this, how sophisticated and how diabolical this was.  And how the cardinal could preside over it.”  (p4)....


          Again, I find the Church’s new stance to be remarkable.  However, what if precisely the same sort of abuse occurs in a secular setting?  What happens then?  Is the same sort of deference that was offered the Church until 2002 in Boston being extended today in Jefferson County in regards to Bishop Guillory’s disclosures?  Is that deference extended to Lamar University?  If so, is that what the good folks in Jefferson Co. want?  I believe that parents in Southeast Texas value their children’s wellbeing above any church, school, or other institution in the area.....


           A book review by Rebecca V. Stredny, PsyD examines a 2006 volume entitled The Socially Skilled Child Molester:  Differentiating the Guilty from the Falsely Accused by Carla van Dam, PhD. http://www.jaapl.org/cgi/content/full/34/4/567 The book includes an examination of “societal tendencies to silence suspicions for fear of offending individuals who are ‘pillars of the community’; the reluctance of parents to report abuse in the interest of sparing their child publicity and the need to testify; and the tendency of some Groomers (a type of predator-sm) to move around geographically for the express purpose of avoiding detection.” (Stredny, p2) van Dam identifies a deficit in information sharing as a major factor in the ability of a predator to be successful for years. ....

       ……because the information is not shared with anyone, the offender can continue to operate successfully.  Even more chilling, she describes how some groups (the Catholic Church is one example) may choose to transfer individuals within the organization while suppressing complaint information to avoid a scandal. (p2)

           Van Dam goes on to identify 9 levels that occur between a successful predator’s offenses and the eventual arrest and conviction.  “At Level Three, individuals begin to share information and the realization fully dawns that there may be a significant problem.  At Level 4, individuals begin to make complaints to community organizations or individuals that employ the molesters, such as church elders or community sports organizations.  At Level 5, individuals or organizations finally begin to make allegations to the police.”  (p2)  After that, the system usually starts to move effectively to remove the offender from vulnerable people.....

           So what if you, or your child, or somebody about whom you care has experienced childhood abuse from a sexual predator?  Carla van Dam’s work indicates change quickens as people begin to notify the police.  People can call the police departments in the city where abuse occurred and report it.  I would suggest that if a department has a Sex Crimes division, these officers usually have advanced training to deal effectively with predators.  Of course, I cannot know the efficacy of every individual police agency that may need notification.  So, another suggestion would be to contact RAINN http://www.rainn.org/, the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network.  There, one can contact counselors 24hrs a day who can listen to specific situations and offer individualized advice.  I feel it is important to mention, beyond mandatory reporting laws, RAINN does not try to pressure people to go to the police.  They will, however offer advice and information on the best way to proceed to those who are ready to take that step.....

.. ..

Silence protects violence, not victims.  To effectively address this problem, communities must decide that we do talk about these things until they are corrected.....


Father Frank Paduch at Kelly High (originally posted in February, 2010)
dawn, Liberty, moonrise
stefmars

The dominant story out of Beaumont, TX, today is one that reports a former priest, Frank Paduch, stands accused of a history of complaints alleging sexual abuse of minor-aged boys, including a long period during which he worked in churches and with other youth while he lived in and around the Golden Triangle area. Of special interest to me was the information that more than one of the complaints against him occurred while he worked at Monsignor Kelly High in Beaumont.

In the Jan. 22, 2010 edition of the East Texas Catholic (http://easttexascatholic.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/bishop-guillory-issues-formal-statement-on-former-catholic-priest-frank-paduch/), Bishop Guillory issues a formal statement regarding “Father Frank” which includes a time line of alleged complaints and various responses. One bullet that caught my attention says,

• In January, 1991, a signed complaint letter was sent to Bishop Ganter about Fr. Paduch’s alleged unbecoming behavior with students of our Catholic high school. The letter was given to the school Principal, who addressed the complaints with Fr. Paduch.

Also,

• In April, 1996, a second signed complaint letter from parents was sent to Bishop Joseph Galante, then Bishop of Beaumont, alleging verbal and emotional abusive treatment of their son by Fr. Paduch, also stating that he allegedly served alcohol in the rectory to their son and other high school students. With the disciplinary procedures in place at that time, Bishop Galante confronted Fr. Paduch, who subsequently resigned from our Catholic high school.

My question is, “Who was the Principal of Kelly High around the years of 1991-1996?

While I freely admit that I have not been able to independently verify this, as her Resume has no Work History section, my best deduction is that Mary Gagne, the current Director of TALH, was the principal of Kelly during Parduch's tenure. This man has come to attention now because, apparently – aside from being “spoken to”, relocated, and defrocked – he never received any consequence that served to adequately protect the innocent inhabitants of his alleged victim pool.

I respect Bishop Guillory's forthcoming statement as an elegant example of how to handle allegations of sexual abuse in a way that is both Transparent and respectful of complainants and witnesses. Comments to this story in various publications are filled with emotion and some rather harsh criticism of the Catholic Church, too. I, myself, am so far impressed with the Church's stand RIGHT NOW.

What about criminal laws that were flagrantly disregarded as “Optional to Apply”? When adults respond to complaints and allegations of sexual abuse of children – be they ultimately true or false – by “moving the problem on” instead of investigating it objectively and dealing with it in a lawful way, CHILDREN are hurt. When you have an adult who demonstrates a pattern that fits the description of dereliction of duty, evidenced not only by an incredible lack of effectiveness in protecting youth in his/her care, but by a strategy of silencing & even retaliating against complainants and witnesses, why on Earth would anybody put such a person in a position of authority over kids? What were the secular authorities in Jefferson Co. thinking by hiring Gagne to run the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities after her dismal performance at Kelly?

Call me crazy, but I BELIEVE parents have an absolute right to expect that sexual predators will not be tolerated at their children's schools. And if, God forbid, something untoward happens, that they will be notified so they can take adequate measures to protect their young. Parents MUST know that will be the case at their children's schools – the safety of our youth MUST be paramount in our schools.

If you had a son at Kelly during the stay of Father Frank, my heart is with you.

Dr. Gagne, who was the principal at that time, and who failed to adequately address the problem, well, personally, I would not consider sending a child to a school run by such a person. Nor would I choose to be affiliated with an institution who would place that sort of person in control of minors.


A Review of Dr. Mary Gagne's Journal Article (originally published in July, 2010)
dawn, Liberty, moonrise
stefmars
On her resume, the second item on the Publications/Presentations section listed by Dr. Mary Gagne is an article in Tempo entitled Teaching Loving Kindness in the Heart.  (Tempo; v22 n1-4  Win-Fall 2002, pp 8-9, 18-19.)  The actual title is The Texas Academy of leadership in the Humanities:  Teaching Loving Kindness in the Heart, and she uses the name "Mary Gagne".  In the article, she asserts that several states "require their schools to teach character," and that Texas established TALH as a response to this challenge.  She goes on to state that "Central to the mission is the development of compassion as the main character trait in the state's future leaders."  (p8)
In order to teach compassion, she lists 4 vital elements:  1) philosophical clarity; 2) strategies to fulfill the philosophy; 3) an on-going dialogue about compassion; and 4) concrete activities for kids to "practice loving kindness of the heart." (pp 8-9)  She explains #1, the philosophy, as being "consistent with the definitions utilized with most programs that involve teaching compassion." (p 9)  However, she sets her program apart by saying the academy "understands that compassion is the most average, every day virtue." (p 9)
Her list of 10 strategies (#2) includes things like "Treat all creatures with kindness"; "Remind everyone to always speak kindly"; "Help people to practice compassion while they are suffering in their own life"; and "Learn to observe that though compassion is at the heart of all people, it is clearly present in those who do admirable deeds." (p 9)  She explicates #3, the on-going dialogue, by listing various courses the whole group takes, and by noting the staff meets every morning to discuss the "specific needs of specific students." (p 18)  For #4, the activities, Gagne has a fairly extensive list of service-type projects the students participate in.  She concludes by mentioning 9/11, a quote from Lamar Univ. President Dr. James Simmons re "The Golden Rule", and a poem by Emily Dickinson.
How does that sound to you?  On a very superficial level, it may sound OK.  After all, it is supposed to be a leadership program; leaders should develop character, and who doesn't like a strong, compassionate leader?  So, what could be the possible problem with an academy that has, as its "central mission", a focus on teaching compassion and loving kindness?
Well, to compare and contrast, I actually went through an Honors leadership program at LSU through the College of Arts and Sciences.  We began our freshman year with 75 students and, when I graduated 4 years later, 4 of us graduated having completed the program.  (There were probably more graduates from my initial class; they may have finished at different times.)  This experience has colored permanently the way that I live and conduct my life, and has given me definite opinions on education.
It would be fair to say that I have a somewhat different philosophy from Dr. Gagne.  My #1 rule for college students always is "Question everything!"  I drill it into them from the first day of class, and they take me up on it!  I tell them to question everything, because if it's true, it will stand up; if it's false, they are better off knowing that.  What I am actually doing is modeling and encouraging them to seek truth.  In doing so, we discuss and implement critical thinking skills in every class.  Upon this foundation of scientific inquiry, I then build with facts and information about Psychology.
Even the briefest application of critical thinking to Gagne's article shows it to be rife with problems.  Chock-full of “quotable quotes of the day,” there is very little substance in the entire paper.  Even her choice of quotes and references gives pause.  With mind-numbing gall, in the first paragraph, she actually cites studies that about the number of “student bullies” in the U.S. today.  She then goes on in the second paragraph to quote statistics on suicide amongst teens and young adults, editorializing the “Evidently, something is wrong with American children's values.  Increasingly, they do not value life – either their own or those of other children.” (p8)  (Blame the victim?)
She next asserts that the Texas Legislature's response to this “crisis of character” has been to create TALH.  In reality, TALH was created to be a counterpart for TAMS; a state sponsored dual credit program whereby gifted high schoolers talented in the Humanities could receive an education that did not bore them to death.  At this point, Gagne justifies the focus of “compassion as the main character trait in the state's future leaders.” (p 8)
She defines character as “what distinguishes one person from everyone else.”  (p 8)  So, how does teaching character then address the problems of  bullying or suicide?  Though negative activities, are those not distinguishing behaviors?  Gagne says “To be educated is to be equipped to find character and to live character.” (p 8)  I challenge that notion.  Many relatively uneducated people do that just fine on their own.  I would suggest that to be educated is to be given the wealth of facts and knowledge and the ability to consider them critically that separates the educated from the ignorant.
In the same paragraph, Gagne states, “When someone asks:  What is leadership in the humanities? One can honestly state that leadership in the humanities is being of service to one's fellow human beings.” (p 8)  Again, I take exception to her assertion.  There are many, many fine people who live lives full of service to others who possess not a jot of leadership ability.  However, there are not many leaders who fail to possess a tenacity for finding and speaking the truth, regardless of the popularity of the issue.  Those who speak out, those who act boldly are the leaders.  They may or may not live “in service to fellow humans.”  However, this stance speaks volumes about the political agenda of the academy.
Next, Gagne lists her “4 vital elements” of teaching compassion.  Even the first one is problematic:  philosophical clarity.  That is the #1 element, so how does Gagne define it?  She doesn't.  She sidesteps the issue by saying that the academy uses basically the same philosophy as other institutions teaching compassion.  What other institutions?  What is their philosophy?  She does not say.  She does, however, try to distinguish her school from the others by asserting that while others may understand compassion as a hallmark or goal,  TALH “understands that compassion is the most average, every day virtue.” (p 9)  Later, on the same page, she reiterates that “compassion is at the heart of all people.”  So, which is it?  Is she saying that compassion is a defining mark of leaders or that it is basic to all humanity?  Is it not important to have philosophical clarity on the very premise around which you build your entire program?  There is no clarity here; there is circular logic and duplicity.
Her list of ten strategies is guileful in its preciousness.  I suppose my favorite is  #10, where she asserts the presence of compassion in those who do admirable deeds, then lists Albert Einstein as an example.  Einstein was, indeed, a leader in the field of physics, but compassionate?  I recently saw a PBS feature on his personal life, where they revealed that his long-suffering wife left him due to his propensity for having numerous extramarital affairs, then coming home and regaling his wife with the details.  How compassionate is that?
In explaining her #3 vital element, Gagne contradicts herself once again.  She writes. “The reason for establishing a humanities leadership program for gifted and talented junior and senior high school students in a university is to teach the skills of leadership.” (p 9)  Well, that is what I thought, but it is different from what she said one page earlier about TALH being the legislature's response to the need to “teach character.”
The description of the fourth element again lends insight into the academy's socialistic mindset.  She lists a litany of activities the students participate in, but it is unclear how many of these are required and how many are purely voluntary.  Requiring student participation in “compassionate” projects is akin to slave labor in service to the academy's own self-advancement more than an activity likely to foster compassion in a teen.  Lest it appear that I am exaggerating the political agenda, in her closing paragraph, Gagne quotes the university president as saying, “The Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities exemplifies the golden rule:  To do unto others, to give of themselves in an effort to make their community a better place, and to help others, expecting nothing in return.” (p19)  That is not the Golden Rule.  The differences are illuminating.
If you read the article, be sure and give a look at her Reference page. It is loaded with citations of works not used in the article. You see, it is all about appearance, not substance.
So, why would a school for gifted and talented teens choose such a nonacademic focus as compassion instead of guiding students into an unabashed pursuit of truth, bolstered by critical thinking?  See Gagne's resume.  What I hear from all this talk of “speaking kindly” and being compassionate is a strategy to defend against anyone taking a critical look at what actually happens at the academy.  Even if you think her 10 strategies “sound good,” I have numerous first-hand reports that those strategies are not what actually occurs there.
Like a pristine shell covering a rotten egg, this is a brittle facade.  The documents concerning the death of Gabriel Kelley indicate his overwhelming frustration at not being able to speak his mind; of being retaliated against by academy personnel if he dared defy their unreasonable rules.  Over and over that continues to be the picture painted of the academy today.  Students and parents who have “dared” question Gagne report her vicious verbal backlash in the most “unkind” manner.  Until I started blogging about the problems at the academy, it was difficult to find anything on-line that would suggest that TALH wasn't all butterflies and rainbows.  There is a reason for that; negative information is suppressed.  See the Early Entrance.org testimonials where “names are removed by subject's request;”  that “subject” was not the writer of the testimonial, it was the person he was criticizing.
Even to this day, the large number of students and parents who have been harmed by the academy are cautious to speak out as doing so jeopardizes the records and referrals needed to continue one's education after leaving the academy.  Actually, there is a clear philosophical foundation underlying TALH, it just isn't the one explained (sort of) by Gagne.  The guiding philosophy that I perceive is “Loyalty to the academy first and foremost; appearances are everything.”  This reliance on appearance was part of the reason LaGrone was allegedly opposed to Gabriel Kelley's web-page, and it still colors every aspect of the academy today to the detriment of the actual truth of what happens there.  And what happens there?  How far would TALH go to protect its image?  The answer is as bad as you might possibly imagine.
Look at the specious logic of this paper.  Pick it apart critically yourself, along with Gagne's resume.  Talk to more people than the handpicked few the academy offers up as examples of how wonderful they allegedly are.  What a terrible atmosphere to raise the future leaders of Texas in!  It offends me at a very deep level to think that the overriding message these kids are taught is that appearance is everything; unpleasant truth must be covered up at all costs.  There are details I cannot divulge, but I will say this emphatically:  If you are or your child is considering in going to TALH for an education, DO NOT DO IT!!!!  No child deserves the kind of “education” he or she will receive from this morally bankrupt, manipulative, intrusive program.

Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities - "Dr. Mary Gagne"
dawn, Liberty, moonrise
stefmars
"TALH nearly ruined my life....  Even the most minor disagreements with administration result in severaal hours of interrogation-style "discussions" so the admin's can determine, willy nilly, what should be done with you....  The emotional strain is enormous....  in the end, I would have paid anything to NOT have some of the TALH memories on my mind."  John, class of 2000    http://www.earlyentrance.org/Testimonials?Prog=TALH
"The administration was consistently the most disappointing element of all. They favored positivity over achievement, and they alienated the students with the most academic potential. "  Richard, class of 2002, earlyentrance.org
"No [  ] there will never be a reunion because of the emotional scarring that so many people were inflicted with during their stay
at our little prison."  former TALH student, Facebook
Three boys had died at the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities (TALH) at the end of the Spring '97 semester.  I had been told that changes were made at the academy, including the replacements of Dr. Dorothy Sisk and Jean LaGrone, in order to improve the circumstances of the minor age students enrolled there.  In May '98, I graduated with my Master's in Psychology and left the university.  I found a job as a psychotherapist for Family Service Center of Galveston Co., and worked in Liberty Co. in that capacity.  Our agency had a memorandum of understanding with CPS; so, one aspect of my job included training by the director of Liberty Co. CPS as to that agency's procedures and policies.  Most semesters, I continued to teach Psychology as an adjunct for various colleges and universities in my area.
In the Fall '07 semester, I returned to Lamar Univ. in Beaumont to teach 3 Psych courses.  In less than 1 week after returning, I began to hear stories concerning the students at TALH that my training told me warranted an official report, which I did.  But I have to say, I was extremely surprised to hear stories of alleged abuse, spanning over a decade, as I thought those problems had been addressed long ago.  While I waited for the official investigation to progress, I began doing a little on-line checking myself.  What I found was both baffling and disturbing.
Given what I have already blogged about regarding the problems of bully educators and the magnetic draw programs that deal with kids have for child sexual predators, one may ask how can parents protect their children when placing them in various schools and activities.  The first answer is, of course, to nurture a trusting relationship with your children so if something untoward ever does happen to them, they will feel confident to tell you about it.  The second answer is to check out the adults involved with your kids to the best of your ability.  Check out their credentials, their experience, and their backgrounds to the extent possible.  Keep in mind, though, that people who will hurt your kids are motivated to lie, so examine their info critically; check it out when possible.
The day after I blogged about child sexual predators, one of my MySpace friends posted a bulletin that said this:  "Be calm.  Be safe.  Just know."  I found this advice to be applicable to parents concerned about the safety of their children.  The problem is, how can you know if relevant information is difficult to access, obscured, and deceptive? For the average good parent, I don't think they can overcome a lack of forthcoming, transparent information.  Parents in Texas can also rely on TEA to help them monitor the credentials and behavior of faculty and staff in every high school in Texas, with the exception of TALH and its sister school, TAMS. They are uniquely exempt from the scrutiny and oversight of TEA because they were legislated that way. Understand that when parents ran into trouble with the Academy, there was nobody to back them up. Therefore, all of the checking is up to the parents.
The new director of the academy, at some point after Sisk became uninvolved with its day-to-day operation, was a woman who called herself Dr. Mary Gagne.  (Her actual name is Mary Jo McMunn Gagne Patton, best I can tell.)  Keep in mind there are only a dozen or fewer residential-type early entrance programs like TALH in the entire USA, so being director is a fairly prestigious position.  I found her resume listed on Lamar's edu website; however, I had to enter my faculty code to access it.  I have been assured by my lawyer that the resumes of public employees are public documents.  Therefore, in the interest of helping parents do the steps I have suggested in checking out the adults working with their children, her CV appears at the bottom.  I encourage you to look at it with a critical eye, and judge it for yourself.
I found the document filled with information that was extraordinarily difficult to verify.  I am not saying it is untrue; I'm merely saying that I cannot verify very much of it.  There are a few things about it that jump out to me at first glance, so I will raise these as questions here.  The first thing that strikes me is in the first section entitled Education.  Gagne claims to have a "Doctorate in Administration with a minor in Industrial Engineering."  OK, I have been around highly educated people for the past 30 years, and I find a couple of things about this claim to be quite remarkable.  One is, I cannot think of another academic resume that I have ever seen that listed a degree in such general terms as "a doctorate."  Most people (who are understandably proud of their accomplishments) cite their specific degree, eg - Ph.D., or E.D., or J.D, etc.  Second, and even more unique, is the claim that her doctorate carried a "minor in Industrial Engineering."   I have never heard of a doctorate with a minor.  I have known people with multiple Ph.D.'s, and a doctorate in one thing and a master's in another; but, as a doctorate is a highly specialized education in a specific discipline, I personally have never never heard of "doctorate with a minor."  Maybe... I mean, it could be, but that is one diploma that I would LOVE to see.
Second, I would love to be able to say when Dr. Gagne took over as director of the academy, but there was no work history listed. Have you ever done a resume?  Don't you usually list your work history near the beginning of the document?  Yet, here there is none.
Third, on the Merit Education section, she lists a Merit Fellowship from A&M, then to the side has "Dean of Graduate School."  I don't know what that means.  Is she saying that she was the dean, or that she worked for/with the Dean?  I just don't know.
In trying to verify the plethora of academic and civic awards she claims, I had considerable trouble.  Here is one example:  on Civic awards/honors, she makes the claim of being "Board member: Mental Health Association"  When I tried to validate that, the questions immediately arose, What Mental Health Assn?  When?  Where?  Is she saying the Rotary Club has a Mental Health Assn?  Well, I looked at the Beauont area Rotary Club's webpage and could find no info suggesting that they have a mental health association; I went to Jefferson County's MHA and did a search on her name, but got nothing.  I searched her name through Texas MHA, and still found nothing.  So, I don't know.  Maybe I used the wrong version of her name.
One piece of information I was able to check out was the top entry on awards/honors - "Finalist in the H.E.B. Outstanding Principal, 2007."  In 2008, I was able to print out the press release from HEB's Excellence in Education Awards Regional Finalists.  (Today, I cannot find 2007 on the HEB website; it only goes back to 2008.  Maybe you can find their archives - go to HEB/Company Info/Community and look for Excellence in Education.  Let me know if you find anything.)  Anyway, the 2007 document lists 8 finalists for Principal; Gagne is NOT on the list.  I actually tried to contact HEB about this at the time, working on the assumption that perhaps there was an error on the document.  I received no response to emails or telephone messages.
Anyway, all of this is to demonstrate the level of inquiry parents who want to try to ensure their kids' safety might want to do.  In applying this line of reasoning to this particular resume, I was left wondering who at Lamar had vetted it. Given that it is so inaccessible to average parents wanting to check, is it not reasonable, then, to deduce that the higher administration at Lamar was responsible for making sure the claims were legitimate?!!!!  I will ask again the question that I have been asking for over a year and a half:  WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFETY OF THE MINORS AT TALH?!!!!!


Lamar Cardinal Law ~ 4/30/2011
dawn, Liberty, moonrise
stefmars

One of the reasons I continue to be fascinated with events at the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities (TALH) at Lamar University is that it serves as a microcosm for similar occurrences happening in larger domains of society. Like studying a snow (job) globe, understanding how this tiny environment works offers insight into how the "real world" operates. The latest example plays out on the world stage this coming Sunday, May 1, in Rome. On Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope John Paul II will be beatified, setting the stage for his eventual canonization by the Catholic Church. The ceremony will presumably be presided over by his acolyte, the current Pope Benedict XVI, who has "fast-tracked" the process by waiving a traditional 5-year waiting period for the process to start. In fact, beatification within the 6 years since John Paul died is breathtakingly fast, by Church standards - it will be the quickest beatification, ever.

A blog posted by Anura Guruge, http://popes-and-papacy.com/wordpress/?p=2044, contains tables that compare the lengths of time taken to beatify and canonize other former popes. Guruge offers data that indicate that the "average time to beatify the 7 popes prior to John Paul = 345 years." He offers links that sample questions and concerns over both the speed of the process and the uniqueness of one pope being beatified entirely during the term of the following pope. These concerns are reiterated by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in a statement released by Outreach Director, Barbara Dorris.http://www.snapnetwork.org/snap_statements/2011_statements/011411_deceased_pope_moving_toward_sainthood_sex_abuse_victims_respond.htmIn this press statement, SNAP urges the Church to slow down the haste to confer sainthood on a pope "under whose reign most of the widely-documented clergy sex crimes and cover ups took place." They observe that prudence dictates that we let some time pass before conferring honors in order to allow unsavory aspects of a person to surface. As SNAP points out, "When we honor those who ignore or conceal wrong-doing, we essentially condone wrong-doing."

A fascinating article appeared in the Huffington Post this week, written by author Bill Briggs.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-briggs/john-paul-catholic-what-makes-a-saint_b_850699.html In it, Briggs goes even farther, by explaining how radical changes to the canonization process made in 1983 by John Paul, himself, have served to launch him into the quickest beatification in history. The two major changes the article identifies are the reduction in the number of miracles performed by the candidate from four to two, and the abolition of the post of the "Devil's Advocate," who raised questions about the candidate's character and challenged the validity of claimed miracles. It is this second change that concerns Briggs the most. While he goes to great lengths to explain saints are not expected to be perfect people, and that Pope John Paul II made significant and important contributions to the Church that caused him to be rightfully beloved by millions, Briggs counterbalances those positives by noting that "John Paul's papacy will be forever tainted by the crimes of pedophile-priests during his tenure -- and, far darker, how his Vatican buried many of those sexual assault allegations."

"His Vatican" included the current pope, Benedict XVI, who served as the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981-2005. This is the office responsible for handling matters of sexual misconduct within the Church. During Benedict's tenure in that post, the Boston Globe exposed a horrendous scandal happening within the Boston Archdiocese in 2002, for which the Globe won a Pulitzer Prize. They investigated and documented the systematic sexual abuse of parishioners - most of whom were adolescent and teenage boys - by a bevy of area priests. The accusations had apparently existed for years, but accused priests were protected and moved around like chess pieces by the then leader of the Archdiocese, Cardinal Law.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_abuse_scandal_in_the_Catholic_archdiocese_of_Boston When the Church could no longer deny or silence the outcries of victims, and courageous District Attorneys began successfully prosecuting several of them, Cardinal Law resigned and returned to Rome. There, under the protection of John Paul and the current pope, Law was made Archpriest ofBasilica di Santa Maria Maggiorein Rome, where he remains to this day. Safe within the Vatican, Law has never been subjected to American court procedures to pursue justice for scores of victims harmed by the former Cardinal's preferences for protecting fellow priests at the expense of innocent victims.

Now, with the Catholic Church wracked with accusations of global priest abuse and an international scheme of moving accused priests from parish to parish and country to country, all done under the aegis of John Paul as Pope and Benedict in his position of Prefect, attention is being neatly shifted to the pomp and ceremony of beatifying John Paul II. In fact, his beatification will, in itself, become part of his defense against posthumously being held accountable for any role in the harm he allowed to happen to heaven only knows how many people. His acolyte, Benedict XVI, enjoys the same sort of rationalized vindication in his role of Pope with its veneer of infallibility. Cardinal Law continues to face no consequences. Victims are left with no sense of justice and a reaction of outrage for even suggesting accountability of men who are so honored. Thus, honoring themselves becomes a strategic mechanism for silencing accusations.

As Rome goes, so goes the Empire. Why pick on the Catholic Church? This same dynamic is seen up and down the spectrum of today's society. Bringing it all the way back down to a local Southeast Texas level, it appears to be a similar strategy used by Lamar University to silence accusations of wrong-doing by it's faculty. Take, for example, the 1994 murder of Elmer Rode, Dean of Admissions at Lamar. On Christmas Day, he was found bound, gagged, and murdered at his home in Beaumont. Early newspaper coverage reported that the police had discovered at the crime scene a hidden video camera and a cache of some 150 videotapes, apparently taken surreptitiously. These tapes were reported to have shown Rode engaged in homosexual acts with dozens of men, and with some under-aged boys, as well. Subsequently, two teen-aged brothers were charged and convicted of the murder. One, John C.P. Dewberry, 17 at the time of the crime, was placed on Texas's Death Row, although his sentence has since been commuted to life. Dewberry has maintained his innocence from early on in his prosecution, although he initially "confessed". Earlier, he had posted assertions that the 150 videotapes, which he claimed could have exonerated him, had disappeared before trial. I have not been able to verify this claim, but imagine the implications if it is true - a minor in a capital trial with missing, potentially exonerating evidence. His case remains on appeal, although being commuted to a life sentence has left him without state funded representation. He posted recently on Facebook that his current lawyer had quit. https://www.facebook.com/johncpdewberry?sk=notes The point is. Lamar named a Presidential Scholarship after Elmer Rode.https://www.cappex.com/page/meritAid/programDetail.jsp?id=226091&program=374330 So, we have a Lamar administrator alleged to have had inappropriate sexual liaisons with young men being honored, and a minor being sent to Death Row.

Bringing the focus all the way back down into the snow globe that TALH represents to me, imagine a faculty member creating a wake of complaints and raised eyebrows over alleged "inappropriate behavior" with the minor-aged students at the Academy. Rather than these concerns being strenuously addressed and investigated by the University, they are ignored and "swept under the rug". Surely, such critical lapses in fiduciary responsibility happen frequently in educational environments. Imagine how seriously compounded the consequences are, however, if - beyond ignoring concerns - the educator in question is actually rewarded and honored by the University. This then becomes both a justification for sending such a person into neighboring communities with the University's blessings and sanction, but also becomes a defense against considering accusations of wrong-doing against the employee. If accusations against such an individual were credible, can you visualize how many more potential victims that person would then have access to? Can you fathom how alone minors would be if they felt they had been harmed, and nobody would believe their complaints about such an honored and respected member of the University community? I see such situation as having great similarity to the honoring of a Pope about whom dark questions remain.

In a tangentially related aside, this weekend marks the 14th anniversary of the deaths of three students at TALH - Gabriel Kelley, John Hodges, and Mike Torres, Jr. The director of the program at the time was Dr. Dorothy Sisk. Unlike her successor, Dr. Sisk is truly a prolific contributor to her field of Gifted and Talented education. In 2009, she was endowed with one of Lamar's most prestigious awards, the Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award. Rest in peace Gabriel, John, and Mike.


John Hodges and Mike Torres Jr. ~ RIP, 2012 Update
dawn, Liberty, moonrise
stefmars

     The body of Gabriel Kelley was found early on the morning of Tuesday, April 29, 1997, hanging from a light post outside of his dorm at Lamar University. The 17 year old was a student at the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities (TALH), a dual credit program for high school juniors and seniors. This tragedy was not over.

  The following day, Wednesday, three of his fellow Academy classmates decided to go sailing on nearby Sabine Lake. What happened next, I have tried to piece together from newspaper articles and my own memories.

The three students were John Hodges, Mike Torres, Jr., and Pollyanna Dimke. An article from the Beaumont Enterprise entitled "Searchers Press On" (David Bauerlein, 5/3/97) describes John Hodges as "a perfect kid" who always wanted to go to the U.S. Naval Academy and planned to study mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. Originally, the article states, he wanted to train as a military pilot, but vision problems had ruled that out. Yet, he remained passionate about flying and sailing. He was due to graduate in two weeks. His family had moved to Atlanta, and he had stayed behind so he could complete the high school requirements that the Academy satisfied.

The article goes on to say that John's love of sailing had "rubbed off on" Mike Torres Jr. Torres had only come to the Academy that year, opting to give up football to concentrate on Academy courses that he hoped would prepare him for medical school. The Enterprise article quotes Mike's mother as saying that she had stacks of college invitations waiting for him at home, from institutions like Yale and UCLA.

Why did the three go sailing that day? According to a note I received from Mike Torres' sister, Kristen, they were trying to cope with the loss of their classmate, Gabriel Kelley. She explained that the three had arranged permission from their families and the school to take an outing, and had dinner plans with other friends later that evening. By Wednesday afternoon, they were sailing across Sabine Lake. The Enterprise article explains that they had "docked" the boat by a small island by "moving it close enough to the shore for the boat to rub the lake's bottom." The 2 boys jumped out to swim, with Pollyanna remaining on-board. However, the boat began to float away, and was pulled by the current. Unfortunately, Pollyanna could not start the engine and, lacking the knowledge and experience to steer a sailboat, could only drift until the boat reached another shore eight hours later.

It was now 1:00
AM on Thursday morning. The article reports that the Coast Guard launched a helicopter and boat search immediately. Pollyanna was able to identify the island where she had last seen the boys. When the Coast Guard arrived, they were no longer there. The article states that searchers found footprints and what appeared to be a makeshift camp. Another Enterprise article entitled "Searching for Answers" (Chad Eric Watt, 5/2/97?) reports that near the discovered tracks, searchers found "recently overturned boards."  Another report, from the Houston Chronicle on May 3, adds that “Searchers have found footprints and a recent makeshift campsite of palmetto leaves and tree limbs that they might have built to protect themselves from the damp weather and mosquitoes”.

For the next couple of days, a massive search was launched at the lake. The Bauerlein article reports the search included the Coast Guard, the Port Arthur Police Dept., as well as "numerous volunteers who braved the choppy water in their own larger boats." The Chronicle article puts the number of volunteers helping authorities from Texas and Louisiana at over 100. These facts are repeated in a story from Texas News.

 A final article (Adam Welsh, 5/5/97?) reports that John Hodges body was found around 11:30AM Saturday morning, and Mike Torres Jr.'s body was discovered on Sunday.

What happened to these boys after they were last seen by their classmate? I remember that it was inclemently windy and chilly at that time, and the local rivers were running with unusually rapid currents. On the other hand, these were two savvy, smart boys. The Bauerlein article quotes a friend as saying that "John could fix anything." Mike Torres already had an interest in medicine.

From the beginning of the search, when the boys were not on the island, searchers had expressed concern that they may have tried to swim to the nearest shore. While much of Sabine Lake is only about knee-deep, the waters and currents may have been higher and swifter than usual. The story from the Chronicle cited a witness who reported seeing the boys wading toward shore after the boat floated away. The fear was, the lights on the nearest shore made it appear closer in the dark, whereas it was actually about seven miles away.

Consider these facts, as well, though. First, they had arrived at the island in daylight (about 5:00 in the evening). This time of year, it stays light until at least 7:00PM. So, it seems unlikely that they would have so severely misjudged the distance. Second, officials are quoted as saying early on that they hoped that, if they tried to swim, they had used some sort of flotation device. Well, "recently overturned boards" were found. I feel pretty sure that these two young men already knew that wood floats. The note from Mike Torres' sister, Kristen, disputes the report of a makeshift campsite. She says that, having gone to the island where the boys were last seen, there was nothing but marsh, nothing they could have held onto to help swim, if need be. When I started asking questions in 2007, I was interested to learn that the cause of death was not drowning, but hypothermia. Still, help was there in only eight hours, and the boys were gone.

At that time at Lamar, I was completing my Master's degree in Psychology, part of which included a highly supervised counseling practicum. I was also teaching Intro to Psychology. I remember arriving at the Psychology building on Monday morning to teach, unaware that the boys' bodies had been found. There had been some scuttlebutt at the end of the previous week that perhaps the two had used this as an opportunity to run away; it just seemed so unlikely that these two boys had drowned in knee-deep Sabine Lake. The news that morning that now three Academy students were dead in one week was incredibly shocking.

Early the following Monday morning, two women came to the Psychology Department to seek help for counseling the remaining Academy students. Our clinical supervisor was not in at the time, and three of us (all students ourselves) were sent to the Academy dormitory (Brook/Shivers) to offer services. It is difficult to put into words the "vibe" I felt at once upon entering the dorm, but it was not good. We were led to an inside atrium; it glowed with a sickly yellow-green light filtering in from windows. I remember thinking immediately that we should not be there, that this was serious enough to warrant far more experienced psychological professionals. It also seemed to me that the rush to get us there (without even consulting our supervisor) was aimed at being able to publicly claim that help was already in place. It was not.
I remember that we were being closely scrutinized by a woman who worked there. I asked her for someplace with more privacy than the common area, and was told no other rooms were available. After quickly setting up in the dorm's atrium, the three of us just waited; nobody was coming to talk to us. There was a young female student nearby whom I approached to see if she wished to speak to us. I remember her telling me, "Isn't it obvious? they don't want us to talk." Very soon after that, our supervisor came flying in, having just arrived on campus and finding out where her students had been sent. She told us to get our things, and we were leaving. I remember feeling relieved and validated that I was right in thinking this was too big for students.

That was the last week of school. I have since learned that local professionals were brought in after that. I had a couple of TALH students in my classes. We were told that they were exempt from finals; they were being sent home. And then, school was over. When we came back after the summer break, it was as if nothing had ever happened.

But surely something profound had happened, and it is critical to past and future students at TALH that the lessons of the past are not swept under the rug and forgotten. Yet, every effort was made to encourage that these students were forgotten. As recently as 2010, not even the death certificates for John Hodges and Mike Torres Jr. were available online. In 2008, I went over to TALH's main offices in the Carl Parker building specifically to try to find a photograph or two of Gabriel Kelly, John or Mike. While the walls boast many pictures of students and staff and faculty, there were none older than 1998. When I asked where the materials from the first 3-4 years were, I was told that if any still existed, they would most likely be in Dr. Sisk's office. What would I expect differently? I would have thought that the Academy would be overrun by SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation) agents immediately, combing through files, issuing reprimands and suggestions. I have since found out that SACS does not work that way. Complaints about a university are generally referred back to the university Provost for review. Not surprisingly, Lamar felt they had solutions in place and needed no outside intervention. I would have thought, maybe one of the highly vaunted community activities undertaken by TALH students in all the years since may have included a memorial to fallen brothers – a tree, a bench, a statue, a picture, for heaven's sake. Instead, at the time, there was nothing besides a memorial scholarship in honor of Hodges and Torres. In 2008, I found it stunning how completely the deaths of three high school students on a college campus were silenced. I suggest that it is precisely this policy of suppressing the truth instead of confronting it and dealing with it transparently that has nourished the culture of corruption surrounding the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities.

This is the fifteenth anniversary since three young students died in Beaumont while attending a so-called honors academy. Please join me in remembering three exceptional young men, John Hodges, Mike Torres, Jr., and Gabriel Kelley. You were all full of promise. You had family and friends that loved and valued you. I am sorry that more has not been done to honor your memories by the school responsible for your safety. I am compelled to tell your stories; you should never be forgotten. I am so sorry that you are no longer with us!


The Death of Gabriel Kelley, 2012 Update
dawn, Liberty, moonrise
stefmars

"I cannot impress upon you how violated I am feeling at this moment."

Gabriel Kelley, April 1997.


Gabriel Kelley was a tall, slender, good-looking 17 year old in 1997. I know this from seeing his autopsy pictures. At 6:14AM on the morning of April 29, 1997, he was found dead, hanging from a light post outside his dormitory at Lamar University. A handwritten suicide note was found in Gabriel's pocket. It read:


"It has come to my attention in light of recent events that someone has to make the LU administration realize the LaGrone is a danger (at least in a psychological sense) to Academy students. Perhaps this will make it clear that this has to stop. I cannot take the harassment any longer. It's time to let the extreme make an impression... Gabriel Kelley".

In my opinion, for the last 15 years, the "LU administration", the administration of Lamar University, has done everything in its power to keep Gabe's action from making any impression whatsoever. In doing so, Lamar has allowed the toxic environment at its Academy of Leadership in the Humanities (TALH) to continue to ferment and to harm its students.


So, what caused Gabriel to feel so despondent that he believed ending his own life was the only answer? The story I am about to tell is based on the Investigative Report into Gabriel's death obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Most of the documents I refer to in this blog I have scanned in - as is - in a Livejournal Scrapbook. (Investigative report -  http://stefmars.livejournal.com/photo/album/2112?page=1) (Gabe's website -  http://stefmars.livejournal.com/photo/album/1256?page=1) I did not scan in any of the autopsy pictures out of respect to the many people who loved Gabriel. Here is the tale that the report tells.


The TALH program was started in 1994, under the direction of Dr. Dorothy Sisk. It was designed to be an alternative for very intelligent Texas high school students, whereby they could obtain dual credit by finishing their last two high school years on Lamar's campus by taking courses that would satisfy their high school requirements and also count toward their first two years of college. There are only a dozen or fewer such residential programs in the US.


From the beginning, there was concern about placing 15-17 year olds into an older college population. One way that worry was addressed was by housing them in their own dormitory. Apparently, Gabriel was a popular leader, because he had been chosen as the President of his dormitory council.


Clearly intelligent, he and some friends had created a web page which they attached to the Student Government Assn's (SGA) website, with the provocative URL of http://sga.lamar.edu/pimping/index.html . Back in 1997, this was no small accomplishment. He named his web page "The A-Wing Straight Pimpin' For Dat Ass Homepage". A woman named Jean LaGrone, evidently the interactive arm of the Academy's administration, became offended by the web page. Soon after it appeared in the Spring of 1997, LaGrone actively began trying to censor it. A memo dated March 7, 1997 from the Vice President of Student Affairs to the Assistant Vice President of Information Systems acknowledges that the website had been reported (anonymously). The substance of the memo suggests a tolerant attitude between the two Vice Presidents, although curious about how this new technology should best be handled.

Apparently unsatisfied with the formal reaction, the Academy issued a "Disciplinary Notice" to Gabe on April 15. In it, he was informed that he would be "brought up on charges of obscenity and harassment in regards to [the] homepage." He was told that his "trial" would happen the next day, and could result in enough demerits to warrant his expulsion from the Academy.

Gabriel took immediate action, contacting the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs - Dr. William Cale - and filing a grievance against LaGrone and Dr. Sisk with Dr. Czupryn, the Vice President of Student Affairs. The upshot was summarized on a letter to Gabe from Dr. Cale on April 16, advising him that the disciplinary notice was not valid, and that his parents would not be notified of his "misdeeds" as threatened. Quoting from his letter of grievance to Dr. Czupryn, Gabriel explained that upon making sure LaGrone knew she was not to bring his parents into the mix, he was "very rudely told to 'shut my mouth' and that I was 'already in a lot of trouble.' "
Despite Gabriel's clear support by the Student Affairs office, Jean LaGrone reissued the charges on April 21, mailing notification to Gabriel's parents before anyone could stop her this time. This had created such anxiety in Gabriel that his RA, Wayne Paulus, felt compelled to arrange a meeting between Gabe and a priest to provide comfort for the student. According to Paulus' statement, on April 28, Gabriel found out that Dr. Cale had (once again) dropped the charges.

Reading the investigative report, the evidence suggests that Jean LaGrone regarded this situation as a sort of power struggle with Gabriel. At least, Gabe seemed to have believed it was personal because Paulus reports that the evening of April 28, Gabriel confronted LaGrone, tearing the disciplinary notice in half in front of her, and saying something to the effect of "better luck next time." At that point, Paulus reports LaGrone responded to Gabriel by saying that this was not over and that she would find some way to get him on this. Apparently Gabriel took this to heart, since the following morning he was found dead with the suicide note in his pocket.
In his official statement later that day, Dr. Cale reported that LaGrone had called him at 5:30 the evening of the 28th to tell Dr. Cale that Gabriel's website was "illegal" according to persons outside of Lamar, and "must be removed." Dr. Cale goes on to state that he basically told her that it was not her concern and that she had no authority in the matter.

Jean LaGrone's official statement is particularly enlightening. Here is what she said the day that Gabe died:

"On the evening of Monday, April 28, 1997, approximately 9:00 p.m., Gabriel Kelley entered study hall and approached my desk. At the time, I was typing on the Conn Chair notebook. He informed me that he had met with Dr. Brentlinger and his infraction had been dismissed and he held his infraction notice in front of me and tore it in half. As he tore the notice in half, he hatefully told me, "Better luck next time." I asked him when he met with Dr. Brentlinger. He told me they met in the afternoon. I told him that I had talked with Dr. Cale late in the day, after hours, and I did not think it would be dismissed. As he stood at my desk, he appeared glassy eyed and I was concerned that he was staying up late or possibly on drugs."

Despite LaGrone's self-serving suggestion that Gabriel was misbehaving, autopsy results indicated the presence of no alcohol and no drugs in Gabriel's lifeless young body. Furthermore, her statement is contrary to what Dr. Cale reported having told her.

And so what happened? Well, within two days, two more students from TALH would be dead. I'll blog about that later. As for Jean LaGrone and her boss Dr. Sisk? Jean LaGrone is no longer with Lamar. I would suggest anyone interested run Google searches on their names. In 2009, Dr. Sisk received the prestigious Lecturer of the Year Award and still remains the Director of the Conn Chair at Lamar, although she no longer is directly involved with the Academy, apparently.

So here we have a student, a young man filled with promise and accomplishment, only 17 years old. He was harassed and threatened by those with power over him. Despite records indicating that he was suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and that he had been terribly upset previously over his parents being dragged into a "turf war," the people directly responsible for his well-being allowed petty ego trips and unbecoming power plays to create a scenario of hopelessness for him. And because it has never been addressed in a transparent, accountable way, this type of behavior exists to this day, both at the Academy and within the toxic domains surrounding some of the adults working at Lamar at that time. Enough for now, I will blog more later.

But, to you Gabriel Kelley, I would say you impressed me. You stood up for yourself and your principles when the adults around you behaved like schoolyard bullies. Taking your life was unnecessary and futile if you were trying to get a point across, because you became silent. I do not blame you though, you were still a child. You were abused by those entrusted with your care, and I will never stop telling your story, as it is a powerful illustration of the catastrophic consequences of verbal and psychological abuse. Rest in peace, Gabriel; time is on your side, now.

P.S. April 23, 2012 ~ Imagine you are out on a leisurely boat ride on the lake of life with your typical American family when, suddenly, lightening strikes the boat, killing your firstborn, wounding and traumatizing everyone on board. Imagine the life-altering, irreversible consequences of a bolt out of the blue on the survivors - the injuries, obvious and subtle, the trauma, the scarring. With time and grace, we hope for healing; whether or not we receive it, the unrelenting dynamics of the demands of the involuntary transformation reverberate through the years for those left behind.

These are the thoughts I have when I try to think of how to describe the impact on Gabriel's family to his unexpected and untimely death, as explained to me by his father, Mark Kelley. His death was like a lightning bolt to their family; it tore them apart and wounded everybody involved. We have been communicating for a couple of years. During this time, I have witnessed the healing powers of love and faith in Mark's life, fruits of grace and redemption and human dignity. I contacted him recently and explained that I wanted to update this blog and to get his feedback on the idea. His feeling is that if Gabriel's story can help others, he wants it to be told.

Gabriel's story still leaves me with more questions than answers in the attempt to demystify, clarify, and analyze what exactly was happening to him in the weeks preceding his death. Mark reports that Gabriel was not perfect, and, like virtually all parents of children whose deaths are ruled suicide, wonders if there were signs that were missed. Of course, Gabriel was out of the safety of his home during the weeks of that fateful Spring semester. I wonder many things about what clues may have been present, what interventions may have been effective, how this can be prevented from happening again, as well.

Updating the original blog, I revisited the photos of Gabriel's website that we had obtained with the investigative report on his demise.  A couple of things still bother me. First is the reference Gabriel makes to a scandal, followed by a link to a History Page. Whatever may have been on that link, I don't know because its contents were not included in the materials we received. So, I wonder, what scandal? The range of possibilities of what quick-witted 17 year olds may have considered scandalous on a website about their dorm life runs the gamut from innocent, absurd shenanigans to - given what is now clear about the behavior of some of the adults involved with those students - horrifying. I mean, I became aware of a scandal happening at the Academy and started reporting it in 2007. Was it the same scandal? Something different, but still serious? All in good fun? It could be anything. I wish I knew.

"I cannot impress upon you how violated I am feeling at this moment." So begins the second paragraph of another document that continues to trouble me, Gabriel's letter to Dr. Czupryn, lodging complaints against LaGrone and Sisk. Continuing, Gabriel makes it known that there will be consequences if harassment over the website didn't stop. Less than a month shy of graduating and never having to deal with the Academy again, but being threatened with enough demerits over the website to essentially cause him to have to repeat his senior year or lose credits, and a kangaroo court to decide his fate, Gabriel states he will not stick around for more abuse. "I will be long gone before that happens" certainly could be construed as a veiled suicide outcry, and warranted investigation. Yet, in the following sentence, he clarifies by listing at least one option, moving to Austin. According to the Wayne Paulus statement, Gabriel had threatened to run away before, so his warning was not unprecedented.

It is what he says next that I cannot get out of my mind - he threatens to go public with his complaints and promises uncomfortable disclosures if his concerns are not resolved "completely and totally to the satisfaction of the students who have been wronged" (italics are mine). What students? How were they wronged? Remember, Gabriel was a student leader; he is advocating here not just for himself, but on behalf of others. And then, within days, having been assured by Lamar officials far more powerful than Jean LaGrone that his graduation was not in jeopardy, and without ever mentioning killing himself that I know about, he was found in the early hours of a Tuesday morning two weeks before the end of the semester, hanging from a lamppost by the patio outside his dorm with a "suicide note" - which also does not mention killing himself - in his pocket.

No obvious signs of foul play, investigated by Lamar's very own campus Police Dept., it was quickly ruled a suicide. The earliest indications of a cover-up began immediately. Student Press Law Center (SPLC) reported on the theft of nearly every copy of the issue of the University Press that covered the story http://www.splc.org/article/1997/08/parents-say-harassment-over-web-site-led-to-sons-suicide. I remember by the time I got to campus and tried to obtain a paper the next day, none were to be found. Nine students, and one in particular, were deemed responsible by the University, according to the article. The unspoken implication was that this was the reaction of grief-stricken kids to a perceived act of disrespect (the picture that accompanied the article.)

Maybe that is exactly what it was. I never heard nor found anything else about the theft or how the Press recouped its losses. Of course, at that point, who could have guessed that two more students would be dead within a week? Also, it remains unclear how well-known it was that some of the adult faculty and staff engaged with Academy students may have represented real threats to the welfare of the youth in their care. Certainly, Gabriel himself left enough documentation to indicate that some serious problems were manifesting in the program, and that upper echelons of administrators at Lamar were aware of it. In light of what is obvious now, I seriously wonder how much of the idea to steal every copy of that edition of the Press on campus was the brainchild of the students alone and not the result of suggestion or coaching by adults with secrets to hide. I would love to know. I would tell you if I did.

I needed to update the blog. The original is very emotional. I had the investigative report for months before I could bring myself to read it. Once I started, I couldn't stop. The more I read, the more upset I became. I wrote the original blog in somewhat of a fog of horror and disbelief. I was heartsick at what I read as a therapist, as an educator, as a parent, as somebody who had wholeheartedly encouraged students to consider going to Lamar for over a decade. The indignation and irony at seeing the documentation of the struggle of a young man naïve enough to believe his college honors program was a reasonably safe place to exercise his idealism regarding his rights to free speech and due process and the resistance and repercussions he endured galled me. He felt violated? Yes, I bet he did. He was violated. To see his courage and determination to stand up for his rights and how he was treated at a public university, and then to compare what he did to the oppressive silence - silence - on the part of any public official or investigating agency or journalist, for heaven's sake - in the years since his death regarding 1997 is stunning. I cannot tell you how many times over the years I have been struck with the profundity of the record this exceptional young man left.

Like I said, I have more questions now than when I started. And, why not ask them? Why would anybody who has nothing to hide have any qualms whatsoever about delving into the TALH and its faculty and staff during the years? It is a publicly funded program, murky as that funding may be, the public has a right and perhaps a duty to know. Then and now, the leadership of Lamar University has an anaphylactic response to criticism, balks at scrutiny, and demonstrates a poverty of understanding regarding the issue of transparency. If criticism and accusations are leveled within system, the typical reaction I have observed time and again is stark denial, attacks on the credibility of the accuser, a closed group response resistant to outside oversight or intervention, and eventually, honor and rewards heaped on those accused. Arrogant, belligerent, entitled, cronied up in a nice cozy bed with the Jefferson County DA's office and many, many friends and alumni in politics, the leadership of this public school has insulated itself from responsibility and consequences for decades.

This position is evident in a news feature from Jefferson County a couple of weeks ago, involving a leaked document: http://www.12newsnow.com/story/17325007/lu-president-says-internal-review-sparked-change. The report covers a document leaked to Channel 12 indicating the presence of "unaccountability", a euphemism for misuse of state and federal funds. The President of Lamar, Dr. Jimmy Simmons, illustrates the university's typical reaction to any suggestion of wrongdoing. What I hear him saying is that anytime that he suspects there may be a possibly criminal problem on campus and someone leaks word of it to the press, we can rest assured they will jump right on it and fix it all internally without ever needing to bother with troublesome outside, independent investigators. "No problem here, folks, nothing to look at. Everyone says we have it all under control just fine all by ourselves. Trust us. Now, go away." That is what I hear him saying.

And County District Attorney Tom Maness? Entrenched and covering the university's backside since 1986, his office has told me to my face of their lack of interest in pursuing justice if the upshot would represent embarrassment to Lamar. If a few taxpayers get screwed, if some kids get sexually assaulted, really not as important to Maness's office as protecting friends from the country club and his own career. Why would I say such a thing? Maness was there in 1994 when Elmer Rode, an alleged pederast and a Dean at Lamar was murdered, and his result was to put a kid on Death Row for the crime. Maness was there in 1997 when Gabriel Kelley, John Hodges, and Mike Torres Jr all died within 3 days, and no sign that he ever launched any investigation to see if the deaths may have been related or the result of criminal behavior. Maness was there in 2007 when I began reporting alarming reports from the Academy. I can easily spend a blog telling you about the response of his office - incredible statements were made to me. Maness is there now; I am not holding my breath for any action from the DA's office to the scandal du jour, either.

Why should anyone else care? Beyond the fact that the history of the Academy and its students is compelling and rich with lessons for us all, there is something else to consider. The incestuous little cesspool of corruption that is Jefferson Co. turns out to be the terminal location for the much debated Keystone Pipeline Project. This project is megahuge. Every pipe-yard in the area is active day and night producing pipe like crazy. There is lots of controversy over this project and billions of dollars at stake. And the proposed endpoint is in a county that is run like a feudal aristocracy, with little or no permeability or interference allowed from the outside. Do you care? I am suggesting that you should. Certainly there are lessons to be learned here; it isn't like anything was resolved about this, ever. Never any independent investigation to determine if criminal wrongdoing occurred. Just silence. And an ever growing, increasingly pressing list of questions.

This blog, however, is about honoring the memory of Gabriel Kelley and remembering Gabriel's family - Mark, his mother, brother and sister - and recognizing and sympathizing with their loss. It is about acknowledging the impact of a remarkable young man upon me, his family, and his many friends. I thank God for Gabriel Kelley, for his courage, his idealism, his documentation, and his leadership. I ask you to join me in pressing for answers regarding what happened to him, and in calling for an outside, independent, critical investigation of the TALH program then and now. It is time for answers and accountability. To get them, we will have to demand them.


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