BARRY GRAHAM ESSAYS

Witnessing Violence, Executions, Donald Trump & Leaving the USA

by Barry Graham

It was a Saturday night in Glasgow, Scotland. Clarendon Street is at the bottom end of the Maryhill area, so residents in denial would say they lived in Woodside. It was 1977, so I was 11 years old. I was walking past a block of flats, and I heard something that made me open the entry door and look into the stairwell.

Three or four young men had another man in a corner, and they were kicking him and slashing at him with knives.

They didn’t seem to realise I was there, but when I ran out of the building, I think they heard the door slam shut, and that made them decide to get out of there, because they emerged close behind me, but they weren’t chasing me. They didn’t even look at me; they looked at one another, laughing, and then they walked away, their demeanour no different than if they had just left a bar or club.

I went back into the building. The man they’d attacked was still slumped against the wall, blood dripping from the gashes on his face and making little pools on the concrete floor.

He lived with his mother in a flat in the building. He’d spent the afternoon and early evening with friends on a pub crawl, and these strangers had attacked him as he entered his building.

Young as I was, the scene wasn’t as scary as others I would witness later. As the man sat on the couch in his living room and told two cops what had happened, his mother and another woman, a neighbour, sat on either side of him, cleaning the cuts on his face, waiting for the ambulance the cops had radioed for. What I still remember most vividly is not the hurt that was done to him, but the laughing faces of the men who had hurt him — how ordinary, how normal, it had seemed for them. But the sound of the police radios, and the angry tears of the mother, and the arrival of the ambulance, reassured me that it wasn’t.

Years and decades passed. I became a reporter, and, having an unfortunate appetite for tragedy, I attended more crime scenes than I’m able to remember. In 1995, that unfortunate appetite made me move to the US. Here are a couple I do remember:

I remember when a woman who worked in a porn store the size of a supermarket was abducted at gunpoint, taken out to the desert, shot and left for dead. I remember sitting at her bedside in the hospital, taking notes as she talked to me in a tiny, frightened voice. I remember sitting in an apartment with her husband, taking notes as he tried not to cry. He is dead now, of cancer.

I remember a woman, twenty years old. Her fiancé was a missionary, and he left the country for a while. During his absence, she had sex with one of her co-workers and became pregnant, but she still wanted to be with her fiancé, so she told the other guy it was over, told him to leave her alone. He brought a gun to work and used it to kill her as she walked to her car. Members of his family talked about how much he loved her, how the unborn child was everything to him.

People would ask me how I could be around such awfulness and still live a happy life. I tried, and usually failed, to explain that the lights of police cars, and the yellow crime scene tape, and the very fact that I was there because it was newsworthy, served as a reminder that what I was seeing was wrong, madness, an aberration. Even when brutal crimes were committed by cops, the fact that they tried to conceal what they had done showed that it was not part of the normal world, the realm of the sane.

I had been sickened, horrified or heartbroken by crime scenes, but the first time I felt frightened was in 1998, at a crime scene where nothing illegal happened.

It was around midnight at the state prison in Florence, Arizona. I was there to witness the killing of Jose Ceja, who had been on death row for 23 years, for a double murder he had committed when he was 18. At his clemency hearing earlier in the day, the judge who had sentenced him to death now testified on his behalf. The judge, Mel McDonald, said Ceja hadn’t had a fair trial, and that he wouldn’t have sentenced him to death if he’d known all the facts. He praised Ceja for educating himself while in prison, and said that to kill him after 23 years would be cruel and unusual.

The clemency board voted to kill Ceja anyway.

When the curtain opened, Ceja looked like a man tucked cosily in bed. Because of the sheet that was tucked around him, and the strategic positioning of the gurney he was strapped to, I couldn’t see the needles and catheters that were stuck in his veins. Robust and healthy-looking, he could have been waiting for someone to bring him a cup of coffee. He looked at his lawyer, smiled and winked at him.

They injected him with thiopental sodium, a short-acting sedative. Then pancuronium, which paralysed every voluntary muscle in his body, so that, no matter how much pain he might have been in, he couldn’t show it. Then they stopped his heart with a dose of potassium chloride.

This is how it looked: His breathing got fast, and his eyes closed. His face went into spasm, as though there was an explosion just under his skin. His upper lip trembled and then billowed out from his face, like a rag flapping in a strong wind. After some minutes, it stopped.

Immediately afterward, outside, I saw another of the witnesses, Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, chatting with officials, laughing.

It was the same madness I’d seen at crime scenes, but this was terrifying, because it was the state, the people, the sane ones, deliberately killing an unarmed man. And the laughter of Rick Romley was the same as the laughter of the men in Glasgow who had cut the face of a stranger for no reason other than that they wanted to. And I realised that the border between the realms of sanity and madness, civilisation and barbarism, existed only in my mind.

Others didn’t believe me. Two years later, I saw the optimism of the legal team who were trying to stop another execution in the same prison. Their case was strong. They were arguing that their client, Michael Poland, was mentally incompetent to be executed — and, as the state’s own psychiatrist agreed, the lawyers were shocked when Judge James E. Don ordered the execution to go ahead anyway.

I wasn’t, for the same reason I wasn’t surprised a decade and a half later, when Donald Trump became President.

I’d told my friends he’d win. They said he wouldn’t even get the nomination. When he did, they said it was impossible that he’d win. At one point, in exasperation, I said: “Six months ago, you were saying he wouldn’t get the nomination. Now you’re saying he won’t win. A year from now, you’ll be saying you can’t believe what President Trump’s doing.”

I knew what was going on with my friends, because I’d seen it before, at another crime scene.

It was at a party during a book festival. One of the authors was owed money by his publisher, an upper class trust funder. The author was clinically depressed, and the publisher openly taunted him in front of other people at the party. (In case you’re wondering, and it’s distracting you, the author wasn’t me.)

The author had a friend with him, a man who was less genteel than those who usually attend literary events. This friend was so irked by the publisher’s meanness that he threatened him with violence.

The publisher wasn’t intimidated, because he lived in a world where he felt safe. He sneered at the author’s friend.

I remember the publisher was wearing a hat with a wide brim, because I can still see the hat falling off when the author’s friend hit the publisher with a backhanded slap to the face. But what’s clearest in my memory is how the publisher reacted…

Unable to accept what was happening to him, having no idea what to do about it, he went completely into denial. As if his hat had fallen off by accident, he bent, picked it up, and put it back on. The other man hit him again, twice, with each side of an open hand. Again the hat fell off, and again its owner picked it up and replaced it on his head, not acknowledging the man who was hitting him. It was a reality he had no mental/emotional vocabulary to handle, so he pretended it wasn’t happening, as though acting as if everything were normal could make it so. Before the beating could continue, other people at the party intervened. The publisher left, hat on head, body trembling.

During the presidential campaign, I saw my friends do what that publisher had done. Frightened, vulnerable in ways they had never imagined possible for them, they denied reality. While unable to deny that there was madness, they took refuge in a fiction that there was a realm of the mad, and that its denizens were the distant subjugates of the sane, the rational, the normal.

Then the election result was announced, and the hat was knocked off the frightened head.

I had lived in the US for nearly 22 years, and in that time I had never once gone back to Scotland for a visit. But, as the blow landed and the hat fell, I saw I was living in a crime scene, so I did the only rational thing: I fled. In February 2017, I moved back to Glasgow.

When asked how I could leave the US after so long, I answer that the US left me. This is glib, but it’s also true. I looked at the US, and I saw the laughing thugs outside the building where they had cut a man’s face, the laughing county attorney outside the death house. Any pretence of sanity or decency had been abandoned.

#maryhill #glasgow #scotland #uselection2016 #donaldtrump #deathpenalty #witnessingexecutions #crime #violence #barrygrahamauthor

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by Dogo Barry Graham

October 2018

It’s disappointing that this incoherent mess of a book was written by one of the better contemporary writers on Zen Buddhism, Gesshin Claire Greenwood, author of the excellent blog That’s So Zen.

This book is so different in style, tone and content from her blog, I suspect the fault is more with her editor at Wisdom Publications — although, if I hadn’t read her blog, I would have assumed that her book didn’t have an editor at all. The prose in her blog is usually careful, serious and consistent, while this book reads like disjointed pieces of a very young person’s private journal, or letters to a friend. Much of what she’s saying is hard to understand, because, like a private journal, knowledge about the author’s personality and prejudices is assumed rather than imparted.

Gesshin Osho says she and her teacher fell in love with each other, but declines to say what happened, though their student-teacher relationship continues for years after she moves out of his temple, and he eventually gives her Dharma Transmission, making her a Zen teacher. But, though she skips over the details of that relationship (which would be important to this attempt at memoir for both narrative and Dharmic reasons), she goes into gratuitous detail about a casual sexual relationship she entered with a man she “despised” and considered “evil.”

Throughout the book, she repeatedly says what an honest person she is, but one reason this book is so weak is that she would rather brag than tell a truthful story. So, while there is little in the way of narrative, she makes sure to say she is “intelligent,” “attractive,” “pretty,” “beautiful,” and how men think she’s “cool,” and that, if she were a man, she would consider having sex with her. She says she’s rebellious, while admitting she fears authority and obeys rules. She says: “I can talk to most men about things that most women are not interested in talking about.” And, in a bit of casual racism, she says of Japan: “All the women there are five feet tall, have no hips or breasts, and weigh fifty pounds less than I.”

Little, if any, of this seems to be intended humourously; when she does joke, she takes on the voice of the Zen monk and author Brad Warner (she devotes a chapter to their friendship), in lines that read like outtakes from the books he wrote after Hardcore Zen. For example, she imagines Dogen Zenji saying, “We have all this beautiful nature and mountains around us, and like, there are monkeys swinging from the trees, so what more do you guys want? This is a Zen monastery, not a freakin’ IHOP!” She does this perhaps half a dozen times, and the switch to what is more like a parody of Warner than an imitation is jarring.

But, because of a lack of narrative consistency, or even consistency of tense, most of the book is jarring. That this wasn’t fixed by an editor is astonishing. Although the book is written in the past tense, she says she is (present tense) not interested in getting married… even though she is married. She says when brushing her teeth in the monastery, she learns to cover her hand with her mouth. We don’t have to guess that she means cover her mouth with her hand, because she’s told us so a few pages earlier.

Early in the book, she says its first draft was a novel. “It was a good novel,” she says. “It was sexy and dark. It was intelligent, vulnerable and kinky, kind of like Franny and Zooey meets Fifty Shades of Grey.” She should probably have written that novel, because this book lacks intelligence, vulnerability, kinkiness, and, more often than not, competence. And it contains little of substance about Zen. For that, again I recommend her blog.

#gesshinclairegreenwood #zen #buddhism #bradwarner #hardcorezen #japan #books #barrygrahamauthor #dogobarrygraham

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The strange case of Jameson Johnson, a.k.a. Jimmy Carroll Johnson, J.J. Johnson & James Johnson — fake ex-cop & ex-Marine, real ex-armed robber

by Barry Graham

October 13, 2015

J.J. Johnson: “Fuck, I'm great.”

I first met the activist and self-styled hero “Jameson Johnson” in Phoenix, AZ, in 2009. A mutual friend had been living abroad, and Johnson had been storing some furniture for him. Now our friend was back in Phoenix, and asked me to help him move the furniture from Johnson’s place to his own.

At that time, Johnson was working as a mitigation specialist for various attorneys. His business was called Southwest Litigation Support, and its clients included Joy Bertrand, who was also his girlfriend. Johnson had access to, and frequently posted on, a listserv that was only supposed to be for attorneys.

While we were moving the stuff from a storage room in Johnson’s and Bertrand’s house, he and our friend chatted. Johnson held forth about local politics, so our friend asked him if he ever considered running for office. Johnson responded, “I can’t. When I was a cop in Philadelphia, I shot and killed a 13-year-old kid. That would come out if I ran.”

“A lot of people wouldn’t care,” our friend said.

“I care,” Johnson said.

I was struck by two things:

1) That Johnson would talk about such a thing in front of someone he had met less than a half-hour ago, and whom he knew to be a journalist, and

2) from his demeanor, I was sure that he was lying, and I said so to our mutual friend, who said Johnson was known for his improbable, and inconsistent, stories about his past.

By the time we had moved the furniture out into our friend’s van, Johnson had told another story about shooting someone, this time as a marine.

A week or so later, on a Saturday, there was a protest march against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, which I attended. In the park where the marchers assembled, I happened to be standing near Jameson Johnson. Our proximity was such that he was able to take a close-up photo of me. The earthquake in Haiti had just happened, and I overheard Johnson lecture someone about it, saying, “Let me tell you what’s really going on over there…” Then he said he was flying to Haiti to help out on Tuesday. I was sure this was a fiction, and indeed it was.

Shortly after, I learned that Johnson, who is black, claimed that his father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but told other, widely varying, stories about his childhood.

One of Johnson's mugshots

I was now curious, so I did some checking, and found no record of Johnson’s having been a cop in Philadelphia. I discovered that his father is black, his mother is white, and Johnson was raised by a white family. He was briefly in the Navy — as a cook. He was briefly married, but abandoned his wife when she was pregnant with a daughter he never met. He sometimes claimed to be a cop back then, and kept a nightstick in his car.

“My father was a Klansman.”

In September 2011, Phoenix New Times columnist Stephen Lemons, a friend of Johnson’s, revealed that he was really Jimmy Carroll Johnson, a convicted armed robber who had been in prison during the time he claimed that he had been a marine. He committed armed robbery in Nevada, second-degree robbery in Oregon, and grand theft auto in Idaho. Joy Bertrand had no idea about his real identity, and she broke up with him when she found out. (Since then, Johnson has told women that they broke up because Bertrand was unfaithful to him.)

I wasn’t surprised when Lemons reported that Johnson, after claiming he was being smeared by law enforcement, and that he had been working undercover in prison and wasn’t really a convict, had refused to answer questions from a Federal judge, and then disappeared off the social grid, including removing his Facebook page.

By November that year, he had a new Facebook page and a new(ish) name. His new Facebook page — which apparently hadn’t been shared with many of his old contacts, like Lemons or activist Dennis Gilman (who has been vocal in his support of Johnson post-scandal, and, like Johnson, is given to name-calling and slander when anyone disagrees with him), though there were a few local attorneys on his new friends’ list — has the handle “mitig8r,” so presumably he was still in business.

And this note he wrote on Facebook showed that his troubles hadn’t silenced his pontifications on Phoenix politics:

OCCUPY REALITY
 by J.J. Johnson


A woman who I respect greatly uses an unusual acronym for a reality check: FIGJAM; Fuck, I’m Great! Just Ask Me!


While many of the people I respect have been occupied with the Occupy Wall Street Movement, I’ve sort of hunkered down on my own self-involved sidelines to watch. I’ve been impressed with the energy and passion that I’ve seen, but I’ve been confused, too. While Randy Parraz, Chad Snow, Tom Ryan and countless dedicated volunteers fought a bloodless coup in LD 18 to depose de facto Arizona Governor Russell Pearce, other folks have chosen to set up shop in parks and yell at cops who are union employees. Wouldn’t it make more sense to go out to Fountain Hills or Paradise Valley and beat on paint buckets in front of the 6000 square foot homes of the 1%? Just a thought. The 7000 or so voters in PV that actually control Arizona don’t care if you stay in a park until your pit hair forms dreadlock. They don’t think of the OWS movement at all. They laugh when the mini-utopias turn into an urban Lord of the Flies situation, with everyone screaming for the conch.

Occupying Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland and Zucotti Park in Manhattan are interesting goals, and attract a lot of attention. What is more important is to occupy the ballot box. The victory in LD 18 was only possible because of a focused convergence of interests. The Koch brothers can throw giants checks into bubbling pots of dirty money, but they ultimately cannot mark a single ballot in Arizona. A real, meaningful direct action is registering a low-efficacy or first time voter, then giving him/her a ride to the polls. If you really want to go for broke, get an entire family registered on the Permanent Early Voter List, then swing by to help them fill the ballots out over dessert. Walk with their children to the mailbox, and send those ballots off. Explain to the children why it is important for them to participate in the democratic process when they reach the age of eligibilty. That is an effective direct action. That is literally a voter’s insurgency. Russell Pearce is headed for the unemployment line because activists earnest in their convictions figured out how to show the average denizen of a red district that it was in their best interest to depose the throne. Ma and Pa Lunchbucket did not vote for Chad Snow’s snazzy suits; they voted to oust King Pearce because his values no longer comported with their own. As the author of SB1070, Pearce is still dangerous. I have no doubt he will again rear his head where and when he can hurt the people of Arizona the most.

Perhaps the message that is better digested than Occupy Whatever is a simple message to elected officials: You Are Next. Should you choose to ignore the will of the electorate, we will replace you with someone who does. Stop scaring old people. Start educating the young. Provide a responsible safety net for those amongst us who cannot care for themselves. Focus on jobs. Stop trying to figure out a devious way around Roe vs. Wade, and stop blaming brown people for all of Arizona’s ills. Trim your own palm trees, while you are at it. Oh, and Governor Brewer? We really don’t want you to spend $585 million dollars on unneeded private prison beds in the face of falling incarceration. We would like you to fully fund AHCCCS organ transplants. We well understand that that Corrections Corporation of America is your single largest donor, and we don’t care. Don’t do it. If you do, we’ll punch you in the ballot box too.

Fuck, I’m great. Just ask me.

I emailed Johnson via Facebook and asked him if he’d consent to be interviewed. He immediately blocked me from contacting him or viewing his page, but not before I had gotten screen shots. His chosen quote was resonant, considering that he delights in war stories, but has no experience of war:

By September 2013, Johnson had some new yarns along with his old mix of intelligence and stupidity — or is it insanity?

If you had gone to a new city to reinvent yourself and leave a criminal past behind, would you constantly call attention to yourself by becoming a public figure and telling absurd, Walter Mitty-esque stories about yourself that cast you as a hybrid of James Bond and the hero of Die Hard? Johnson still couldn’t seem to stop himself.

Johnson now claimed to have been a Navy rescue swimmer, to be a cancer survivor, and to have delivered a baby in a supermarket checkout line using only a pocket knife. His profile on a dating site contained this stock photo, which he claimed was of him (note the caption):

He claimed he was still doing mitigation work. I’m not sure what attorneys — if any — are even still speaking to him. None of the ones we know in common will admit to it. I obtained the invitation list for his birthday party, and a number of attorneys were on that, but so was former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon, who I doubt was there, so it was probably more of a wish list. I contacted the attorneys on the list to see if any would admit to still hiring Johnson to do investigative work for them. None did.

When I contacted Johnson for this story, he responded, in an email which gave his name as James Johnson: “Should you make any sort of public disclosure of private facts, all legal remedies will be exhausted. You may think you have accurate information about past events, and you do not. Should you persist in engaging in libelous behavior, I will bring the full force of the courts to bear on you.” When I invited him to sue if he thought he had a case, he wrote: “I’m not just talking a law suit. I’ll have you arrested.”

Naturally, I invited him to have me arrested if he thought I had done anything illegal. He then threatened to spread slanders about me. Since people have been doing that for the three decades I’ve been a journalist, I wasn’t concerned, and I told him I was always open to interviewing him if he wanted to tell his side of the story. He responded with some name-calling, and I didn’t hear from him again.

But I heard from others.

Johnson's OKCupid photo

A woman whom Johnson had met on a dating site wrote me the following:

Mr. Graham:

I thought this was a funny/disturbing story and thought you’d appreciate it. A few weeks ago I decided to venture into the world of online dating. I registered for OKCupid and wrote a fairly vanilla profile. I was immediately messaged by a fellow whose profile was “Tall, Dark, and Complex”.

The profile read that he was a former Navy Rescue swimmer and that he had a passion for rescuing animals. He seemed likable enough, so after several texts and hours of phone conversations, I met him for a drink. “JJ” was quite nice in person — seemed to also know several of the patrons in the bar. One thing that I did find disconcerting was his outlandish stories. The more he spoke, it seemed the more his stories bordered on the absurd. Still a bit unsure about what he did for a living, I decided to do a Google search on him when I came upon your blog about him and the articles Stephen Lemons wrote in the New Times. Far be it from me to vilify anyone without proper cause, I immediately sent him the link and asked him for a comment. His answers were vague and he never once accepted onus for his omissions. I went back over the article and read the comments; surely this man has paid his debt to society and is doing good; do not judge lest ye be judged.

I met him for another drink another night, but this time was much more aware of his stories. Over the course of several hours I learned that he helped give a woman birth in the middle of the checkout line in a grocery store and when it was obvious the baby’s head was stuck, he reached for his trusty pocket knife and completed a quick episiotomy. Granted, as a trained paramedic and Navy Rescue swimmer, he was sure to have been schooled in the basics of labor and deliver.

Okay, far fetched, but could be believable. Unfortunately, that story could not be verified.

A drink later and I short conversation about the Golden Girls led to him saying that he saw Betty White at a USO show in Somalia. Now I actually had something that I could research. And research I did.

The only information I could pull up was that Betty White stopped by the USO Center in Illinois in August, 2012. In fact, my research showed that there has never been a USO show in Somalia.

My bullshit meter was off the charts, so I began thinking of creative ways to duck out of dating him. I thought about showing up at his house with a carload of clothes and expressing my eternal love for him and that I was moving in, but with my luck he would have accepted me with open arms.

So I did what any normal person would do — I called him out on his shit.Once again, rather than owning up to his tall tales, he lashed out and blamed his horrific childhood. He told me I lived in a glass house and was throwing stones. My last message to him was that at least my house was honest.

I went back on his OKCupid profile as I remembered a picture of him in his Navy Rescue gear. A quick Google image served proved that it was a stock photo from the Navy website.

There is an old saying, “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned,” but this is so much more than that. This is about a man, who despite has been called out on his lies numerous times, continues to do so.

Truth be told, I teach English research at a community college and it is my nature to verify. I consider myself an educated, intelligent woman, and I was almost duped by this degenerate.

JJ, Jameson, Jimmy — whatever he calls himself — is just a narcissistic ex-con that finds comfort in creating wild stories to inflate his self-esteem.

What I find the most deplorable is that, after telling him that I was a breast cancer survivor, he told me he had testicular cancer.

I felt that I needed to tell you my story because you’ve have met him and understand my dismay.

Do what you wish with the information. He’s back on Facebook under the name JJ Johnson (Deux) — I wonder if that could mean that this is his second personality? I reported him to OKCupid, so I’m not sure how long that profile will be up, but it is worth taking a look.

When Johnson found out I was working on this story, he took down his OKCupid profile, but not before I got these screenshots:

I also obtained a screenshot of his next Facebook identity, in which he threatened to punch someone in the kidney:

A former friend of Johnson’s told me: “His current public page was wiped mostly clean overnight as the pressure mounted from his new flock of followers. Who, by the way, are in a full rage that he deceived them. There’s a classic quote on this other image — the context is that he posts selfies on a regular basis to the admiring ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of women who follow him. He’s extremely vocal in discussions about the military and always strikes the tone of ‘I was there, you weren’t.’ I’ve seen him and his gang of cronies attack people on public forums with a level of arrogance. The stories about his past are wildly unbelievable — everyone has a wildly different story.”

The same source told me that he is now attempting to reinvent himself as a photographer, with a Facebook page called Intrinsic Imagery, because the work for lawyers dried up after another scandal:

“He continued his video work for attorneys — no idea how he got paid following the incidents you covered in other stories. Apparently he would create packages of plaintiff’s lives and include images of babies etc that weren’t the plaintiff…Just searched up on Google.”

Johnson has recently (summer 2015) compared himself to Adrian Peterson. On September 15, he wrote:

I can well remember being sent out to cut my own switch. The long walk outside to select the implement of my abuse was the part that sticks with me to this day.

I can well remember blood running down my legs into my socks. You can still see those scars on my bare behind. There are other scars, but not as obvious.

Not only did those daily beatings deny me childhood… they denied me fatherhood too. It did not make me the man I am; it made me a shell of the man I could have been.

When he says he was “denied fatherhood,” he doesn’t clarify that he abandoned his unborn daughter.

Another former friend of Johnson's told me: “I met him through friends (all liberals) — I immediately noticed he enjoyed friending people on Facebook and then would gleefully “kick them off the island” if he was outfoxed in a debate. Hot button topics were AZ politics, race, gun safety, motorcycling and his military “brothers.” He and a pack of his followers would surround and strike the people who had dissenting opinions… All to the squealing glee of the other pack members.

“I tired of the hyperbolic rhetoric and stepped away. I shared probably a dozen friends with him — all virtual — and they continued to fawn over his opinions, his near-daily selfies and his alleged sexual prowess. When some of us would compare notes, we’d note inconsistencies in his stories — it was chalked up to his past — and all was forgiven once he started posting pictures of his rescue dogs (which is admirable, I’ll give him that). I always worried that he was a Pied Piper — now I wonder what his motive was.”

Most recently, he has been frequenting Songbird Coffee and Tea House in downtown Phoenix, where last month he was heard telling a woman that he worked on an American Indian Reservation as a schoolteacher.

#jjjohnson #jimmycarrolljohnson #jamiesonjohnson #jamesjohnson #joybertrand #phoenix #arizona #intrinsicimagery #gaslighting #fraud #catfishing #armedrobbery #stephenlemonsjournalist #phoenixnewtimes #barrygrahamauthor

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by Barry Graham

More than two decades ago on New Year’s Eve, my friend Bett and I had dinner with two friends who were older than us, and who intended to make an early night of it. Bett and I had other intentions — we were going to the big party at the Santa Fe Railyard. But that was still hours away, so we headed into town in search of mischief.

We stopped briefly at a restaurant where Bett’s girlfriend was having dinner with some of her friends. As we talked with them I ordered an appetiser, even though I had just eaten dinner.

As we left the restaurant, Bett said many of the town’s art galleries were open, and were serving free drinks. We agreed alcoholic freeloading would be a fine way to pass the time before the party, and off we went.

It turned out some of the galleries offered free food as well as booze. I partook mightily of both, even though I’d just eaten dinner followed by an appetiser.

As I chomped on some buffalo wings, I saw Bett looking at me.

“You can’t turn down food, even when you’re not hungry, can you?” she said.

“You’re right,” I said. Without my explaining why, she knew and understood.

There were many times when the only way I could eat was to steal food. I was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1966, in the Maryhill district, which was a Third World hidden within the first. For most of my childhood, hot water on tap was a fantasy, having a toilet in your home was a luxury, and food of any quality was seldom available. One of the most painful moments of my life, a moment of pure grief, pure loss, was caused not by the death of a person but by being deprived of a meal.

I was in my early teens, and I had just been handed a plate of chicken. This was a rarity. My diet was almost exclusively one of fried processed meat — usually cheap sausages — potatoes, eggs and white bread. Chicken was an expensive luxury, so I was excited.

Before I could eat any of it, a woman whose role was nominally that of parent came into the room. She was drunk at noon, and she didn’t like me. She said something unpleasant to me, I responded in kind, and she knocked the plate of food out of my hands. As she stomped the chicken into the dirty carpet, the hopelessness I felt was so huge that there was room inside me for nothing else.

That woman is dead now, but, forty years later, I can still see the look of dumb malice on her drunken face. In the years to come, I was to mourn the loss of that meal more times than I could keep count of.

There were other times, times of inadequate food or no food at all. And, when these times were over, I still lived in fear of their return. I could never bring myself to pass up a chance to eat. I still felt I had to take it whenever and wherever I could get it, because if I ever had to go hungry again I didn’t want to have to remember the times when I could have eaten but chose not to.

Whatever we think our life’s purpose is, each living day centers around one thing: obtaining what we call food and taking it into our bodies, then doing it again soon after, and then again. Many of us can do so without thought of its terrible, urgent importance.

My friend Charles Bowden is now dead as well, but when he was alive he knew what was most important. In a book called Blues for Cannibals, he wrote: “Before there was a language of words on paper, there must have been a language of food. Speech begins with the fire and the kettle. I am sure of this.”

I’m sure of it too. Chuck Bowden loved to cook, but he didn’t eat excessively, and, though tall and broad, had a lean build. I also love to cook, and I am also lean, and to look at me you might assume I am also moderate in my eating habits. That assumption was made by a friend who invited me, along with some other friends, to his house to eat the racks of ribs he was grilling. He had invited four of us, but only two of us were able to come. “Oh, well,” the host said to me, the first to arrive, “I guess you’ll be carting off plenty of leftovers.”

He was wrong. As the three of us sat at the dining table, my two friends — both large men — ate their share and then stopped. I ate my share, and then ate the racks that had been intended for our absent friends.

My companions stared at me in awe. “You could go in for competitive eating contests,” one of them said.

When I left, there was a single uneaten rack of ribs, and some beans. My host put the food in Tupperware and I took it with me. When I got home, I ate it before going to bed, enjoyed it, and fell asleep contentedly. The next day, my friend who’d cooked it asked jokingly about any ill effects involving a toilet, and seemed surprised when I told him I felt fine.

As a result, I think, of a long practice of Zen meditation, and no lack of food, my constant hunger has lessened from a compulsion to an eccentricity or quirk, but it refuses to be killed by sustenance or logic, and still preoccupies me. I read a crime novel in which the protagonist, waiting for a friend in a small restaurant, orders two hot dogs, one for him and one for his friend. He then realises that his friend is being attacked nearby, and goes outside to help her. Mayhem ensues, after which he returns to the restaurant with his friend in tow, and they find their food waiting for them on the counter. Shaken by the violence they have just experienced, they don’t feel like eating, so they just have drinks instead.

Even though they’re in physical danger, and the protagonist’s life is crumbling around him, all I could think of was the wasted food, those two hot dogs going cold and uneaten.

#hunger #foodpoverty #memoir #personalessay #barrygrahamauthor #charlesbowdenauthor #maryhill #glasgow #scotland

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by Dogo Barry Graham

This morning, I sat in half-lotus position in front of my altar. As usual, I was wearing Japanese monastic attire, and had a Buddhist rosary wound around my left wrist. I looked at the statue of Bodhidharma, founder of Zen, and at the photograph of my late teacher. The bell rang, beginning my meditation. I’ve heard it ring thousands of times in the two decades that I’ve been a Zen Buddhist monk. As usual, I bowed, then sat with a clear mind. I was no longer alone.

More than thirty years ago, a different bell rang, but it had a similarly profound impact on my life.

I was seventeen, and I had gone to a boxing gym for the first time. I didn’t talk to anyone in the changing room as I got ready, or when the training began. I jumped rope. I punched the heavy bag. I did floor exercises. Then the coach called out, “Get gloved up, boys.” It was time for sparring.

There was a cupboard that contained a dozen pairs of sparring gloves, with heavier padding than the gloves used in competition. Along with the other young men, I went to the cupboard, got a pair, and clumsily put them on.

I was staring at the untied laces, and considering pulling off both gloves and fleeing the gym, when a boxer standing nearby, whose hands were still bare, casually took me by the arm and laced me up. As the coach called me to the ring to spar, there were tears in my eyes. He thought I was nervous about getting hit. I wasn’t at all.

At the time, I was so alienated that I had no idea people helped each other. I had never received, or given, any kindness. The only social currencies I had any experience of were violence and coercion. I had been raped and beaten and I had gone hungry and, except for when I had been used, or been told that I was worthless and stupid, I had been ignored. That a person I didn’t know would help me put on a boxing glove, for no other reason than that I was a fellow boxer who needed help, was overwhelming to me. As my spar-mate and I squared off, I had never felt less violent.

That night, I left the gym by myself, but, for the first time ever, I wasn’t alone. The laughter, the camaraderie, the sense of community, came with me. I returned the next training night, and every other one. I didn’t learn how to fight in that gym. I had been fighting for a long time, and the training only sharpened my skills. I learned about friendship. In a place of intense, focused violence, I learned about compassion.

It wasn’t long until the coach scheduled my first fight. My opponent glowered at me as we touched gloves in another ring, in the center of a smoky little nightclub. I felt nothing toward him, no hostility, no antagonism. I went back to my corner. My coach put in my gumshield, and the bell rang.

I was five-eleven, and weighed 118 pounds, a pale stick made of muscle and bone. My opponent was several inches shorter, much wider, and this was not his first fight. As I climbed into the ring and my coach removed my robe, I said a nervous prayer that neither I nor my opponent would be seriously injured. As I looked at the spectators, I was aware of two things: That most of those watching expected my opponent to beat me easily and quickly, and that I didn’t care what any of them thought. It wasn’t about them, or about my opponent, or about me. It was about the fight.

The guy was much stronger than me. After two minutes, when the first round ended, I had a welt under my left eye. As I sat on the stool, my coach told me that I had lost the round. I knew, and I didn’t care.

As the second round began, some of the spectators yelled for my opponent to finish it, walk through me, knock me out. A few others yelled encouragement to me.

My opponent became angry when I smiled at him as we circled each other. I didn’t care how he felt. I slipped his jab and countered with one of my own, then did it again, and then again. As he tried to force me to back up, I hooked off the jab, hard, and he walked into it. I saw the shock on his face as he tried to keep his legs under him.

I had never felt so peaceful, because there was no sense of “I.” Only “this,” the thing I was doing in that moment.

After the fight, which I won by a points decision, my coach told me how happy he was for me. I ate a chicken leg and drank a can of soda, and my coach gave me a ride home. A few blocks from where I lived, I asked him to let me out because I wanted to walk the rest of the way. We shook hands, and I got out of his car, and he saluted as he drove off.

It was cold, and I saw nobody else on the street except a cop. I felt a happiness, without passion, that I had never known before. I did not expect to be able to fall asleep easily, but I was wrong. I slept well, and woke early.

It was a taste of the peace I would later find through Zen. “If you practice here you’re responsible for yourself,” the elderly priest, whose hands shook with Parkinson’s, told me on my first visit to the Zen centre he ran. “You’ll never be any better than you are now. Anything you have to deal with now, you’ll have to deal with for the rest of your life.”

“So why should I bother with Zen?”

“I don’t know. I never said you should. You came here.”

When I look at these words, they seem harsh, uncaring. They were anything but. Hearing them, I felt an almost overwhelming sense of relief. I knew I was being levelled with. I wasn’t being lied to, and so, even though I couldn’t understand why anyone would practice Zen if it wasn’t going to “help” them, I trusted it and I trusted the priest. When the other two participants that evening showed up, I joined in the service. We sat on cushions, chanted in Japanese, and then spent two half-hour periods in silent, objectless meditation called zazen, broken up by ten minutes of walking meditation, clockwise around the room, called kinhin.

When the priest told me just to sit still, I asked him what to do with my mind. He told me I didn’t have to do anything with it, but to just observe it, be present, and, whenever I realized that I wasn’t, to just to come back to where I was.

I thought it was the stupidest, most pointless thing ever – and I knew it was going to save my life. I don’t know how I knew, but I had never felt so certain. And I was right. My sad fury, which I had feared would eventually lead me to prison or the morgue, did not diminish with practice – but it lost all power over me. I would come to relate to my anger in the same way that I related to the anger of other people – as something I was aware of, but that was irrelevant to me.

A couple years later, I took the vows of a Zen monk, a commitment to serve all sentient beings, to save them from suffering, understanding that this includes myself, but without concern for personal salvation. My sangha, or Buddhist group, is not affiliated with any mainstream Zen schools, but, for me, being a monk isn’t about jumping through institutional hoops — it’s about living by my vow. I vowed to meet life as it is, rather than attaching to my preferences about how it should be, to meet myself and others as we are, rather than attaching to my preferences about how we should be. The essence of the vows are contained in the words that I chant every day, at the end of my meditation:

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them. Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them. The Dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them. The Buddha Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.

What I had experienced in boxing is what Zen Buddhists call single-pointed attention, a state of such presence with the activity of the moment, with the moment as it is, that there is no room for ego, for any consideration of self. It’s a peace and freedom that can only be found in compassionate detachment. When I had reached this state through boxing, I’d left it behind as soon as I stepped out of the ring. It was the same with zazen for a while. But, so gradually that I didn’t notice, what I found meditating started to come with me when I stood up and left. And, after a while, I stopped finding it on the cushion but instead brought it there with me, hands palm-to-palm, meeting the moment, sitting present with all creation, and all destruction, each time the bell rang.

#zen #buddhism #memoir #personalessay #boxing #compassion #friendship #poverty #loneliness #barrygrahamauthor #dogobarrygraham

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by Barry Graham

It was the summer of 2004. I was living in East Tennessee, in a house on the edge of woods, at the halfway point on a mile between a mental hospital and a sewage plant.

Someone knocked on my door, and I knew it had to be trouble. I wasn’t expecting anyone, it was after midnight, and not many people knew where I lived.

The knocking on the front door was insistent, though not loud. A burst of urgent knocking, then a pause, then another burst. I went to the door, in the shorts and T-shirt I slept in, and looked through the glass. The security light was on, but at first I didn’t see anyone.

Then I saw the woman who was standing about halfway down the porch steps, crying, her body trembling.

I opened the door.

“Will you help me?” she said.

“Yeah, of course. What’s wrong?”

She cried harder as she said, “A man was giving me a ride, but he raped me.”

“Come in,” I said, and she did. “Sit down. You’re safe here.” She sat on a chair, and I went to the kitchen, poured a glass of water, and brought it to her. She was barefoot, and had a missing front tooth. I realized that she was probably still in her thirties, but she looked much older.

I went and woke Anni, whom I lived with. We asked the woman, who said her name was Wendy, what she wanted us to do.

She said she didn’t want to call the cops. She wanted to call her sister. Anni handed her a phone, but her hands were shaking so badly she couldn’t dial the number on the first attempt, and then when she did get through she was too upset to talk. She gave the phone to Anni, who explained what had happened, but the sister said she didn’t have a car and couldn’t come and help.

Wendy told us she’d asked a guy she didn’t know to give her a ride to her sister’s house in Georgia, but that he’d brought her to this dark corner of nowhere instead, raped her in the woods, taken her shoes, and told her that if he saw her on the road he would run her over. She said she had walked out of the woods and found our house.

I offered to drive her to a hospital, and she said she wanted to go to Rossville Boulevard, Chattanooga, where she’d left her car, where a friend was waiting for her in the car. She didn’t explain why she’d taken a ride from a stranger and left her friend in her car, and I didn’t ask because I wouldn’t have believed the answer.

I didn’t know what had happened to her, how much of her story was true. All that was certain was that something had happened to her, and that she was miles from anywhere, in the middle of the night, terrified, in bare feet.

She said she didn’t want to go to the hospital right away, because the friend who was waiting in the car would be worried. “I can go after I see her,” she said. Anni asked if the friend had a cell phone. “No.”

Rossville Boulevard is a miserable drag where people sell sex, sell their blood plasma, for enough money to buy cheap drugs and cheap booze.

It was where she wanted to go, and so we took her there, in my pickup truck, with me driving, Anni sitting in the middle, and Wendy squeezed against the passenger side door, wearing a pair of flip-flops Anni had given her. (How she had walked barefoot in these seething, insect-ridden woods is more than I want to imagine.) As I drove, nobody spoke, except to ask for directions and if the air-conditioning wasn’t too cold.

As I exited the freeway onto Rossville, she told me to make a right and pull into a gas station. I did, and she pointed to a red car parked at the side of the building. “Over there. That’s my car.”

There was nobody in the car.

“Do you want us to wait here with you until your friend shows up?” Anni said.

“No, that’s okay.” Wendy got out of the truck. With nothing else to be done or said, we told her to take care. As we pulled out of the gas station, I looked back and saw that she’d walked right past the car that was supposedly hers, and was approaching another car parked nearby.

#memoir #nonfiction #poverty #rape #addiction #barrygrahamauthor

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