Nothing's Black & White

What do we know about why crimes are committed?
Today my little brother, who has been in prison for 10 years, gets his freedom. 

Personally I think he paid too much for his crimes, but that's a policy conversation for another day. 

Because of my bias, I wanted to get another perspective - from a robbery victim's point of view. 

A childhood friend, coincidentally, was the victim of a crime (similar to my brother's offenses) when we were in high school nearly 20 years ago. 

I decided to interview my friend - a father & educator - via email, since I have never asked him about the details of the robbery. Somewhat surprisingly, it turned into a conversation about healing & race.

Names have been changed & edited for time. 

Tampa Do-Gooder: What it was like to be robbed?  

Friend: The surreal thing about being robbed was how calm I was during the robbery. I took a grim pride in that later. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself - I should set the scene, first. 

My brother, myself and a friend went to Wawa for snacks. Unfortunately, we finished shopping at different times and I came out to the car before they did. 

Little did I know that we were being watched the entire time. Maybe if we had all left the store at the same time and taken off together, none of this would have happened. 

Anyway, one of the robbers knocked on my window and asked something inaudible. I rolled down the window and he jammed something inside, pointed at my crotch. In horror, they stuck around while my brother and his friend eventually made their way back to the car. 

All in all, they probably didn't get more than $20 from the three of us.

After they had taken our stuff, they hung around for a while and I remember the guy with his arm in the car hesitated for a while, maybe wondering if he should actually pull the trigger or not. 


2012 (Prison) Reading List

One week from today, after 10 long years, my brother will get another chance at being a productive member of society.  
This is the third year I've blogged the list of books I've sent him, and kinda like the third child, I've forgotten to keep track of them this time around. 
(Bad joke, although my brother is the third of three children...) The books pictured are the ones I've managed to remember. 

Ex-cons face great odds, of course, not usually having been rehabilitated in prison. There's few resources on the outside to keep them on task, and plenty of bad habits to pick up again.  
I know he now thinks about the consequences of his actions, and hope that will lead him to make better decisions.

And somehow, despite all the horrors he experienced on the inside, he's managed to grow up into a pretty decent man. 
There were a few years early on when I didn't think that possible, he was so broken and abused. 
Something weekly to help pass the time. 
And fortunately he'll come home to a family more prepared to help than we were when he first started on his spiral downward. 
Many ex-cons are not so lucky to have such support. 
Something grounding for the soul. 


Homelessness in Arlington, VA


Speaking Up & Out

I am the gift. Even if it took me a while to see it. 

Though I am not a fan of cable news, I was recently floored by the intensity of MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, a fellow survivor of sexual assault, in her open letter to yet another asinine politician who thinks he has the right to tell women what to do with their bodies. 

More women & men, in & out of the media, need to stand up to these bullies. 

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I am all for religion as a guiding principle in life, but when you want to force your religious beliefs onto someone else - as Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock would like to do - especially someone who has already been violated, you are not good enough to lead anyone anywhere at anytime, ever. 

I can imagine the joy I will feel & how amazing it will be when I one day have a baby with an awesome partner. But already knowing how it feels to be sexually violated, I cannot believe that some men, and even some women, think they have the right to dictate when I should conceive, and that the father could potentially be anyone who forces himself on me. 

Please vote wisely, citizens. 


The Ethics of Doing Good

Last night after getting a primer on homelessness in the great city of Arlington, I found myself on a train with a passenger of questionable consciousness. 

Another concerned passenger called 911 and we were met at the next stop by two Metro employees who tried to help her off the train. 
She came to and shook her head several times, then murmured the name of her stop. 

The guy who called 911, I'll call him Doug, said he'd ride the train with her and make sure she'd get off safely at her stop. The Metro employees announced to our car that if she passes out, we should call 911 again. 

There was the usual chatter and energy of a post-happy hour Thursday night train ride, but many passengers kept glancing over at the lady with the fishnets, hair matted to her face, purse overturned, Metro card clutched in her hand. 

I asked Doug if he knew her. He said no and explained he'd gotten on the train at the same time she had, that she had been wobbly on her feet. Then the moment she took a seat on the train he watched her pass out to the point of drooling.


Hey Girl, Call Me Maybe

I'm (finally) getting tired of all these CMM parodies but here's one that pays homage to one of my favorite blogs. Plus there's lots of spanking. 


Do-Gooder Film School

After being understimulated for much of my life, moving to Washington, DC has brought on much needed overstimulation. 

Only problem now is that I don't have time to do all the exciting DC stuff that lured me up here in the first place. 

Or my laundry. 

I did, however, briefly meet Ralph Nader while waiting for a table on a recent Saturday night at Busboys & Poets. 

Here's some of the other things that have kept me from blogging/sanity in the last few months.

Reporting on the public media as an intern with Current newspaper.

Avoiding hooligans on dangerous city streets. 
Lots of commuting. 

Investigative journalist David Kirby spoke about his book Death at Seaworld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity.

Also present were Dr. Naomi Rose, a senior scientist at Humane Society International, and Courtney Vail, campaign director for the Whales and Dolphin Conservation Society, who addressed how damaging it is for orcas to be kept as play things for human entertainment. 
Ocean Doctor David E. Guggenheim gave a presentation on ocean life, how we landlubbers are wrecking it, and how it may be possible for us to one day live under the sea.

He also mentioned an excellent app for those who want to consume seafood responsibly.


To Know Coursera is to Love Coursera

Earlier this year I wrote about Tampa's Free Skool, which is part of a brilliant yet mostly unorganized movement of free education going on around the United States. 

Near the end of that post, I linked to a Cousera course that I had stumbled across, intending to take it. But I didn't have the time since I was working full-time & taking part-time grad classes at USF's College of Public Health. 

I was extremely lucky that my esteemed employer at that time, Tampa General Hospital, paid my tuition because otherwise I would not have been able to afford to go back to school. I wish that encouraging your employees to have more education was the norm
these days, unfortunately, I think those kinds of excellent employer benefits are becoming more of the exception. 

That's where Coursera comes in. It offers free online courses from America's top schools. Co-founder Daphne Koller said during her TED Talk that the purpose of her organization is to provide “The best courses from the best instructors at the best universities and provide it to everyone around the world for free.” 

After some struggle, I found that public health wasn't the best fit for me, and as my frequent readers know, I instead went after the program that was. Three weeks ago I started my master's in film & video at American University in Washington, DC. 

I've already learned that my decision to come to AU is one of the best things I have done or will ever do for myself, though it comes with a very hefty price tag, via federal student loans. 

In the months before I left Tampa, I was antsy and bored and wanted to prep my brain for school, so I finally enrolled in a Coursera class. It was Internet History, Technology, and Security, taught by the University of Michigan's Charles Severance, but known to his students as Dr. Chuck

Coincidentally Dr. Chuck was in DC the week after I moved here and I got to meet him, as well as some of my DC-based Coursera classmates, at his "office hours" in a cafe downtown.

IHTS is definitely more of a history class than a tech class, but since my knowledge on both the internet & tech world is limited, I figured it was a good starting place. And not a moment too soon - I can't be a multimedia maven while not knowing all I can about the internet and where it came from. Without that knowledge, how can I possibly become one of the people who figures out where it might be headed?

Coursera's IHTS might be the cheapest class I've taken all year, but it's possibly the most priceless.


Charleston, SC

Best way to see the sights.

Colorful old houses on Rainbow Row

Between traveling to Nashville, the Florida beaches & Charleston, I feel like I could be happy living in any one of these places, as long as I got to do the kind of work I like.

Glad to be moving on towards more learning & work opportunities. Hope I like D.C.


Holmes Beach to Cocoa Beach

Last 24 Hours in Florida.

Welcome to St. Pete

Breakfast with the Ekhos in Holmes Beach, Manatee County. 

Brevard County

Took me hours to slosh through Jacksonville, but I made it out in one piece.  


If You Knew You Couldn't Fail

What would you do? 

That was the topic of discussion at August's Conversation & Cocktails, a networking event sponsored by the Ekho's (of which I am a member), and open to the public. 

The conversation was led by Susan Freeman, founder of Step Up Leader. She reminded us that failure comes down to perception and attitude. 

Susan with Ekho Laura FontanillsDoes failure cause you to work harder or give up?

One Ekho, a nonprofit professional, said that she has yet to take her biggest risk. Via text message she explained that she "takes risk in professional life but [in] personal life, always over analyze and play it safe." 

Another Ekho said her big risk came with a big benefit. "Getting divorced and finding the love of my life!" 

It was the perfect topic for me to mull over as I prepare to leave a comfortable but ultimately unsatisfying professional life in search of a better fit in Washington, DC. It's a risk, albeit an exciting one, and I'm open to wherever it takes me in grad school and beyond. 

Becoming an Ekho earlier this year was a risk too. At first these young mid-career professionals seemed so different from me. 

My inner Woody Allen wanted to know why a bunch of bankers & PR professionals would want me in their club. 

But I got to know these ladies beyond their job titles. They're mothers and girlfriends and artists and readers and need an outlet to discuss issues all women face. In this short time the relationships have given me much needed camaraderie and improved my overall outlook. 

I wouldn't have been as mentally prepped to leave for a bigger city had I not been inducted into this group. Getting to know them, and be one of them, is the cherry on top of my life in Tampa.  


A Night of Daniel Rodriguez

All month long at Carrollwood Cultural Center
Daniel's grandson & local musician Carlos Rodriquez
with friend Alvaro Montealegre & Cantinflas
Jim, the curator of the exhibit, said we had the same taste in fashionable dresses.
I suppose these guys won't ever make a comeback?

Colombians and Gringos

I met my friend Jim De Mauro a few years ago when we were both FMOPA volunteers. 

Tonight is the opening of a month-long photo exhibit at the Carrollwood Cultural Center that is dear to his heart & family. 

Jim's lovely wife Martha, who passed away earlier this year, was previously married to the son of Colombian photojournalist Daniel Rodriguez. She remained close to her former father-in-law, and continued to visit him in Colombia with Jim and her son Carlos.

Jim said he'd scour through thousands of Daniel's photos, and one day advised him to write down the names of all the people in them. 

When Daniel passed away, Carlos received box upon box of photos, all neatly inscribed with the time, place and people featured in each one. 

With the help of their supportive community, Carlos & Jim are giving Daniel's work its first American appearance. 


Hey Lit Girl

Occasionally I am so content that the only thing I want to do on a Saturday night is read.