Del Norte Roller Derby: Ready to Roll [Daily Triplicate]
About 40 women lace up skates to form new league
Roller derby has made its way to Del Norte County.
What started as a few local women interested in starting a local league for the full-contact sport has grown to about 40 women.
“Women want to put fishnets and short skirts on and be tough and sexy,” Misa Hexiner, secretary for the league, said about the unconventional uniforms roller derby players wear. “And they’re not doing anything bad.”
They’re called the Tsunami Sirens.
The Del Norte Roller Derby league has generated a lot of interest within a few weeks. Housewives, athletes, mothers, women in their 20s and up into their 50s are pulling on skates; some know how to skate, others haven’t skated in years.
John Silver discusses the political and economic policies of former President Ronald Reagan in a new certificate program at City College of San Francisco that trains community health workers to help former inmates navigate the medical system. Many class members are ex-inmates themselves or relatives of ex-inmates.
SAN FRANCISCO – About two dozen City College of San Francisco students leaned forward in their wobbly desks on a recent evening as they debated personal responsibility, the role of correctional officers and the fear of going to the doctor.
Many of these students are former inmates and family members of inmates. The course they’re taking is part of the country’s first certificate program for post-prison health workers, which trains participants how to handle ex-inmates’ chronic health problems and negotiate the barriers that hinder access to care.
“Can you manage your life outside an institution without someone managing it for you?” asked Clifton Martin, a City College student who spent 20 years in and out of prison on drug and robbery charges and now works for a drug counseling organization.
The first group of students will graduate this spring. Other schools around the country are watching the program as a possible model for shoring up county-led indigent care programs and saving public health dollars by catching diseases early, getting parolees into primary care and reducing the number of emergency room visits.
“People may not have gotten good health care or health education in prison,” said Tim Berthold, chairman of the health education department. “As a consequence, … they might be particularly reluctant to access health services on the outside.”
About 120,000 California prison inmates are now paroled every year. Over the next two years, the state may also reduce the overall prison population by more than 40,000 inmates to comply with a federal court order.
Because of IV drug use, unprotected sex and tattooing, rates of HIV infection are nine times higher among prison inmates than the general public. Hepatitis C rates are at least 10 times higher, according to a 2009 report from the Rand Corp.
With an aging prison population, chronic diseases such as advanced diabetes, hypertension, asthma and cancer are all common.
“Incarceration is pathogenic,” said Donna Willmott, who teaches the class on the health effects of incarceration. “It creates ill health, and it complicates ill health people already have.”
Challenges of care
Willmott’s students learn how to manage these diseases. But they focus even more on the challenges of delivering care to ex-inmates.
“There’s an assumption that they will not be treated well or with dignity,” said Berthold. “There’s real discrimination, and the fear that it will happen everywhere.”
So many problems were detailed in a lawsuit against California’s prison health care system – insufficient facilities, long wait times, even deaths – that a federal receiver has been appointed to oversee it.
Because many of the students were once incarcerated themselves or have family members in and out of prison, they know firsthand what their future patients have experienced and the obstacles they face when they get out.
“Incarceration strips you of responsibility for yourself,” Martin said during Willmott’s class. “You get three meals a day, your laundry is done for you, even your medication is brought to you.”
Hands flew up around the circle of desks during the discussion. You can’t relinquish responsibility like that, says Johnny. What about kids who grew up in jail and never learned responsibility? asks Desiree. You get broken down, Jessie says. People go in fine, but they come out with post-traumatic stress disorder, Norell says.
“I was in the best shape of my life when I was in the penitentiary,” student Kevin Mitchell said. “I spent days laying on my bunk dreaming what to do when I got out. But when I hit the streets, it’s a whole different ballgame.”
‘Been there, done that’
Willmott helps put the personal stories into context.
“What is the purpose of prison and jails? Why is there this instrument for social control?” she asked. “How does that impact people’s health?”
The public’s health is also at issue. When chronic diseases go untreated, people can land in emergency rooms with advanced illnesses that are expensive to treat, with taxpayers often picking up the tab.
Even if prescriptions are called in to community pharmacies, parolees rarely pick them up, according to a University of Texas study. Co-author David Paar says parolees don’t have practice navigating the health care system.
“If you call to verify an appointment, you get 10 minutes of phone tree. If you’re like me, you get irritated and you hang on,” Paar said. “A lot of those patients don’t have those life skills, so they call their crack dealer who lives down the street and get their crack.”
That’s a scenario that the City College program is trying to prevent by training workers to coach parolees through difficult times. They learn how to walk patients through the health care system and help them find housing, employment, and mental health and substance abuse services.
Administrators expect this year’s graduates to find jobs at nonprofits, county public health departments, and specialty centers like San Francisco’s Transitions clinic, which treats ex-inmates only and offers internships to the program’s students.
“They trust me because they know I’ve been there, done that,” said Juanita Alvarado, a former inmate who’s now a community health worker at Transitions.
Funding for such training programs is hard to come by, and City College is already scrambling to cover next year’s costs. But advocates believe that such care for parolees will save money in the long run by controlling disease, preventing emergency room overuse and reducing recidivism.
And, at least for some former prisoners, the City College program provides an opportunity for them to find work that leverages their incarceration history, instead of forcing them to hide it or make excuses for it.
“They come to community college with the goal of independence, the goal of standing on their own two feet,” Berthold said. “Many have a mission to give back to their communities, where some of their individual strengths can really be assets in the public health field.”
Hermann Bormann, majoring in social work, is part of the first-in-the-nation program. Its aims include providing jobs for former inmates and saving taxpayer dollars by reducing emergency room visits.