Slave labor isn’t dead; it’s just fighting fires

Photo via Pixabay

The tragic fires sweeping through southern California have resulted in dozens of deaths and have brought out only the best of the best to help contain the rampant flames. While many of the best include the Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Fire Departments, it also includes local prisoners.

Several thousand prisoners throughout the state have volunteered for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation volunteer firefighting program, which entails prisoners taking on the role of conservation specialists. When they are providing hard physical labor such as cutting down trees, helping in the upkeep of state parks and assisting in tasks meant to protect areas from floods, these inmates only earn $2 a day. If they happen to be taking their stances on the front lines with highly trained California wildfire fighting professionals, they earn $1 an hour.

While many are reasonably terrified for the lives of California civilians caught in these wildfires the prisoners are fighting, there has been little conversation about prisoners who are putting their own lives at risk. Despite the influx of human rights protests and advocation for equality being that the year is 2018, slave labor is still very much in full force.

As previously reported by CNBC, prison firefighter advocates claim that along with saving the state millions of dollars every year in funding career firefighters, the program actually helps prisoners prepare for a career in the firefighting industry. While that is a nice intention, California law prohibits former prisoners from obtaining an EMT license – a requirement to become a firefighter in the state – such a career is actually impossible.  

The danger in permitting such a program is not that it provides much needed help to fight devastating fires throughout the state, but that it puts an already highly disadvantaged group into a disadvantaged situation that can likely cause lifelong medical issues and can even prove fatal. Being in the wake of intense fire and smoke can result in severe lung and heart complications and intense reactions in the ears, nose and throat that last for decades. Considering California Correctional Health Care Services only allocated $26,275 to the medical, dental and mental maintenance of prisoners in the entire state of California, there is hardly room for serious medical assistance if it was needed.

And of course, there is the issue of the money these prison workers earn. Even if one of these prisoners happens to be on the front lines 12 hours a day for a week, they will still have only earned $84, which is barely enough to cover getting basic needs such as deodorant, toothpaste, razors other hygiene items, and additional food. If that prisoner is a woman, much of that money will be lost to tampons or other feminine hygiene products. If the prisoner is responsible for providing for their family, which many are, that money would hardly put a dent in the family’s total income. That amount of money is negligent to the well-being of the prisoner.

Several firefighters have died within 2018 alone battling the wildfires that have taken over much of California and a few of those deaths are inmates. With the Santa Ana winds adding fuel to the fire, there is no telling how much damage the state’s slave labor system will have on the incarcerated population.

What Amazon’s new headquarters means for Long Island City residents

Photo by Li Cohen

The announcement that Amazon will be opening a new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens has thousands of New Yorkers in an uproar, and it may be for good reason.

While the company has promised that the move will bring 25,000 new jobs to the city, an investigation published in February shows a different scenario. The Economic Policy Institute found that Amazon’s fulfillment centers offered no net growth in jobs overall after being built. While there are new jobs offered, the displacement caused by the development of the site itself is practically devastating to the community and makes the new jobs offered essentially negligible.

It is also essential to factor in the cost automatically associated with the state allowing Amazon to move its headquarters into Long Island City. New York officials offered the company more than $1.5 billion in tax credits and $500 million in construction funding, as well as funding for a helipad.

Residents of Long Island City and surrounding areas have already expressed concern over gentrification. LIC is a minority-majority neighborhood, with 41 percent of residents being immigrants. The cost of living in the city has most families paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent and 19 percent of residents living in poverty.

Despite the city’s original plans to use the headquarter location around Anable Basin for much-needed apartments, public education services and tech jobs, Amazon will occupy the four-million-square-foot area directly on the East River. They hope to double that area over the next decade, displacing more people, more jobs and more businesses within the area.  The recently upgraded Anable Basin includes 335,000-square-feet of space for creative purposes, 4,995 housing units – 25 percent of which is affordable housing – a public school, water recreation, and numerous small businesses.

Protests about the plan flared up within 24 hours of the announcement. ABC 7 reported one LIC resident saying that if Amazon wishes to make its way to her city, they need to invest back in the area’s infrastructure. She told reporters that having a new and large distribution center from a major company is going to cause a spike in rent and basic goods. Others are saying that the money spent on Amazon should be spent on fixing New York’s transportation issues, housing, schools and small businesses.

Long Island City was selected for Amazon’s new location along with National Landing in Arlington, Virginia out of 238 bids from cities last year. The exact logistics of the move to New York have not yet been announced, but Amazon expects to begin hiring people in early 2019.

Wicked awesome

Boston is FANTASTIC. On top of all the major historical points, which I definitely recommend, there are some really beautiful streets and areas that have a unique charm you really can’t find anywhere else. For those visiting, don’t confine yourselves to the downtown area, although it’s hard not to, and rightfully so.

Check out some of these wicked awesome places (Yes, most of them are food joints):

  • Caffe Vittoria (Boston) Like a fine wine, this place only gets better with age. It was

    Hazelnut Cappuccino at Caffe Vittoria

    the first Italian caffe in Boston and they have the photos, heirlooms and recipes to prove it. A very vintage and familial atmosphere, having a cup of coffee and a pastry in Caffe Vittoria will be one of your favorite stops on your trip to Boston.

  • Mystic Coffee Roaster (Medford) Not only does this coffee shop have one of the best chai tea lattes around, but they grind and sell their own coffee. The prices are great, the treats are greater and the vibe is unbeatable.
  • Jacob Wirth Restaurant (Near Boston Cmoon) I’m not the biggest beer fan, but this place is a great German restaurant with a huge selection of food and drinks. The atmosphere itself is worth the trip — think German version of Buca Di Beppo with loads of photos and items along the walls.
  • Nagoya Sushi, Ramen, Chinese (Medford) If you like Chinese/Japanese food, you’ll love Nagoya. They make their ramen noodles from scratch and everything you order comes in huge portions. They have some of the best prices I’ve seen for truly great Chinese food, and their fried rice is hands-down the best.
  • Donuts With A Difference (Medford)  This place has won plenty of awards and for good reason. Unfortunately, we didn’t get there until later in the day, but despite that, we had an incredible experience. Located just across the street from Nagoya, this is the perfect breakfast/dessert/snack/anytime meal. As soon as you walk in you feel the ma and pa type vibe and it just makes it so much better.
  • Emerson College Barnes & Noble (Boston Common) Yes, it’s just a Barnes and Noble loaded with Emerson gear, BUT they have some great deals on books. I bought “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” for A DOLLAR. You seriously can’t beat that.
  • El Jefe’s Taqueria (Cambridge) You order like you’re at Chipotle, but you feel like you’re in an authentic Mexican restaurant. This place is simply amazing and for a pretty decent price you get a lot of food. I highly recommend getting some chips and queso (it’s amazing).
  • Newbury Comics (Cambridge)
  • Brookline Book Smith (Brookline) There is no doubt that this is

    Art gallery at Brookline Booksmith

    THE best bookstore I have ever been two. It’s two floors and has hundreds of new and used books and other knick-knacks that are all a great price and definitely unique. Make sure to check out their $1 book bins as they contain some classics and other books you never knew you needed.

  • Boston General Store (Brookline) Filled with vintage and antique-looking merchandise, this is one of the coolest stores you’ll explore in the Boston area. Everything is pretty expensive, but it’s all high-quality and definitely worth it.
  • The Freedom Trail (starts at Boston Common, ends at Bunker Hill)
  • Redbones BBQ (Davis Square)

The next travel destination is New Orleans. If you have any recommendations, leave a comment or send a message, and stay tuned to see what unique sites are must-sees on your future travels.

The search continues

Hello fellow travelers!

I am on the search for the next big phase — graduate school. Deciding not to attend American University last fall was a difficult one to say the least, but that does not mean the higher education door has closed. The next month or two are booked with travel plans to visit schools and areas to determine where I should spend the next leg of my journey.

My boyfriend and I will be traveling to New York City, Chicago, Pittsburgh and New Orleans (OK, this one isn’t for grad school but we can travel for fun too, right?). These will all be weekend trips, so we’re trying to determine the must-sees, must-seize and must-eats. This is where all you lovely people come in, as Pinterest, Buzzfeed and Yelp only help so much.

If you’re a graduate student, local or just a nomad with a great experience, leave a comment or send an email and let me know the greatest steps to make. I’ll be leaving a list of the greatest stops we’ve made so far and continue as we go, so follow along if you plan on checking out these cities anytime soon.

Chat soon!


Nevada’s gun laws

So by now, everyone (hopefully) has heard about what Las Vegas massacre that occurred Sunday. While it’s important to know the shooter’s history (mental, emotional, physical, career, etc.) it’s equally important to note just how easy it is for people in Nevada to get a law in general.

I posted this information a few days ago on my Facebook, but it is extremely important to know. Nevada’s laws are a lot more lax than many states, but the point is that in order to prevent tragedies such as the one this week, measures MUST be taken.

Las Vegas suffered the worst mass shooting in US history. Let’s get down to one of the most serious roots of the issue: Nevada’s gun laws:

no permit is required
no firearm registration is required
no license is required 
– concealed carry permits are only required for hand guns
– open carry is permitted
– there are no assault weapon laws
no magazine capacity restrictions
no NFA weapon restrictions
– background checks were deemed “unenforceable”

No, gun control will not prevent any and all possibilities of deaths related to shooting, BUT if you look at the countries who have much stricter laws on guns, their death rate (murder, suicide, accident) is significantly lower than the U.S. People who are able to conduct mass shootings are able to do so because they have so much access to guns in the first place. Guns have a lot of power and that power is easy to manipulate any situation because of the split second it takes to hurt someone from afar. Other weapons, like knives, require more one-on-one contact and it makes people reconsider their decisions more frequently, and even if they don’t, they can only cause harm to a few before being stopped rather than 50+ within a matter of minutes.

And mass shootings aside, more than 21,000 people in 2014 alone killed themselves with a gun, accounting for nearly 64% of ALL gun related deaths in the U.S. that year. Studies have found that many suicide attempts are successful because they are impulsive decisions based on large and complicated short-term issues; they’re usually not planned out. Mixing a split-second decision with an adrenaline-fueled impulse and a high availability of a weapon that has the ability to end life with a simple finger movement is a recipe for disaster.

This HAS to end. We cannot keep allowing people to purchase guns unregulated. Background checks, regular check-ins, documentation on documentation on documentation, and much more needs to be the norm for owning guns. It has to start somewhere and it starts with everyone taking it upon themselves to do the research and stop going by party lines and customs.

Just read. Pick up a book or open a new tab from the blog post and start educating yourself and others about the problem.




[Guest Blog] Open Letter to NSU Housing

Welcome to my first guest blog! The below letter was written by Kadeem Hall, a student leader at Nova Southeastern University. While fulfilling his requirements as a summer housing assistant to decorate boards in the hallways of the dorms, he decided to use his position to advocate for a largely devastating social issue. He decorated a board to say “Black Lives Matter,” with corresponding words and images that depict the importance of the movement. Very quickly after, the school told him to take the decorations down because they are not relatable to the students present. This is absolutely appalling.


Courtesy of Kadeem Hall


Black lives DO matter. Black people comprise nearly half of the total incarceration rate in the U.S. and are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white people. There are multiple cases of cops killing innocent black people–in fact, just in the past week there were two new cases of this. [side note: I highly recommend watching “13th” on Netflix for a more thorough grasp of this terrible phenomena]

When it comes to raising awareness on issues such as this, it is up to college students. For years, children are taught they have the power to change the world with a single voice. They are praised for standing up for those who can’t. But when the matter arises in an educational institution, it refuses to take a stance on important matters because it is too controversial and the school can only thrive off external funds from donors who are generally conservative.

I highly suggest reading Kadeem’s letter below. Share it with your peers and comment below to make it known that we cannot and will not stand for racial injustice.

Hello all.

Thank you. For your time, your concern, and your efforts. You’re here for a reason and whatever that reason, I am thankful. I want for you to take a peek into my story and use it to empower yourself and all things positive.

June 19th, 2017

In so many ways, I’ve prided myself on you. That’s MY school. But I see now where it is necessary to have a serious talk with you. This in no way is a critique to claim that you have no strengths because you are a mighty institution. I’ve grown here. Learned here. I’ve been on TV here. I’ve become a next level leader here. I’ve impressed my family here. Made the world of connections here. I’m your BSU President, Writing Fellow, President’s 64 Member, Razor’s Edge Leadership Scholar, and Summer Housing Assistant. I literally, like, love you. However, my problem is not how you provide any opportunities for me, but how you stand by me and support me when I need you.

Now, no surprise here, I’ve chosen to spend my second consecutive summer with you. Like I told you, I literally, like, love you. As a part of me being here, you required me to decorate seven boards with information relevant to young newcomers. Two were decorated with information about our campus and local businesses, one had information about myself, 3 others were left with what the Winter RA’s created, and one had the message “Black Lives Matter” displayed across it. Fifteen days after it was finished, and 12 days after its due date, you called me into the housing office and among other concerns, stated that this is not what was asked of me.

You told me that this is not what NSU wants to offer younger campers. That it is not relevant to the information I was asked to display, or to their experience here. You told me that for these campers, we are not trying to display what is relevant in the world, just information.

How frightening it is that these statements are considered a norm here and allowable.

How is it that at a University campus, we would encourage anything but the publicizing of such ideas and information? We pride ourselves on having a minority majority, but NSU you need to realize that having us here isn’t enough. Why is it noteworthy to have a minority majority population? Because of the systematic and social disadvantages that minorities face within this country. You show that you want to provide an opportunity for all who are able, regardless of background. Now, I applaud your focus on getting us here, but. You must ensure that we are not just another tool for enrollment. You must support us. You must dedicate resources to us. You must focus on us. Please make sure that you don’t just put us in your brochures and ignore our realities.

You tell me that I am a stronger employee and have always been seen as one, but that a message that confronts a serious problem that faces minorities, need be removed. When it is time to discuss students who lead boldly and bring a good name to hard work at NSU, I am honored that I am part of the conversation. But when I portray the message that reinforces the importance of Black Lives, it is seen as outside of the scope of what was asked. I am here to push that idea back into the dangerous corner that it escaped from. At this University, attention to the issues that put minorities in any questionable position should be yelled. Boldly. Students should be congratulated for this message being displayed.

As you applaud me for the skill that I offer and thank me for the benefits that those skills bring you, you tear me down when I respect the history and love that is myself. Less than one full month after being named Undergraduate Student President of The Year, the very message that the organization that I lead promotes was seen as unrelated to campers, resulting in its need to be taken down. It makes me question if you appreciate me and my voice, or what it does for you and your reputation. I want NSU to define policy and have a firm stance on what it is we will portray and allow. Students are assigned floors as Residential Assistants and Summer Housing Assistants. It should be expected that they express ideas, history, and national movements, especially ones that relate to minority issues. It would be odd if they didn’t.

At the end of the day, I wanted to feel understood. I will continue to fight. We need a Minority Office. BSU will continue to grow. I want NSU to begin to appreciate this message in all respects because black lives will always matter. Housing, I truly feel like a piece of me came down with my board. I saw myself as a vital piece to my team and to the campers that I could impact while here, so I took my board down while holding onto the promise that it could be reposted in the fall. NSU benchmarks against seven Universities, Emory, Temple, and Vanderbilt University being three of those. Each of these three have public structures (Like walls in the middle of a field that solely say “white people. do something.”) or statements that support Black Lives Matter purposes and initiatives. The University of Vermont, Illinois State University, and Northwestern University all have, at some point, erected a Black Lives Matter flag on their main campuses. I hold a pride higher than no other to be a Shark. So, NSU, I patiently wait on the day in which we drop this idea of conservatism in a comfortable corner, and begin embracing fighting for what’s right, and challenging systematic and social norms that oppress the majority of your population.

– Fins Up, Kadeem Hall.

See his post on Medium. Have any suggestions or comments? Post ’em below. 

The truth about the GOP ballfield attack

The shooting that took place yesterday morning in Alexandria is deeply saddening. House GOP Whip Steve Scalise is in critical condition and three others were injured when a shooter decided to attack a friendly charity baseball game practice between Republicans. No matter one’s political beliefs, this act of violence was clearly wrong, and while nobody is disputing that fact, there is much disparity in the reasoning. Former Congressman Bob Livingston (R-Louisiana) and many other GOP members, for instance, believe that this attack was caused by anti-Trump rhetoric stirring up the man’s emotional stability. The truth is, however, that the attack was caused by lack of gun control.

Generally, conservatives push for the right to bear arms. Many claim that in order to protect themselves from criminals with weapons, they too, must carry. When everyone has the right to own a gun, however, situations like yesterday occur. The people who needed protecting were not protected, and the person who caused the turmoil had access to a gun.

As NPR reported, the shooter voiced his politics frequently, but never in a demeaning, obnoxious or threatening way. On the other hand, he has multiple records that indicate that the man should not have been able to own a weapon. He was arrested for allegedly punching a woman and choking an individual, as well as firing a shotgun in 2006 and was referred to police after shooting his hunting rifle unsafely.

Clearly, the man’s political beliefs and anti-Trump rhetoric are not to blame for what happened. Trump did not become President until this year, and the shooter’s dangerous tendencies began in 2006, if not earlier. If the man had been referred to a psychologist and/or was mandated for further gun training as a result of his previous incidents, there is a good chance that the incident yesterday would not have happened.

Do not let the individual incident be a distraction from the overall problem. Gun control needs thorough addressing and every crime committed is just one more reason for doing so.

Mundane is OK

Despite popular belief, not every day has to be the most exciting and spontaneous adventure. Yes, living a life full of 24/7 excitement is great for some people, but for those who are plain with mundane, no worries. It’s OK.

And why is it OK? Well, going through a period of time that is not very exciting or eventful is simply a period of time where life is revving its engines. For a few weeks, months or years you may be spending your days waking up, going to work, going to the gym, cooking dinner and going to bed, but that is just time available to really manifest into something greater.

The days spent at home or in the office are moments that can be spent planning for something bigger and better than you could have imagined during your random trip to New York. Time spent planning and money placed in savings is just momentum for a future of excitement, fulfillment and ultimate success.

So, as you lie down on your couch after a long day of working and enjoy that glass of wine instead of going downtown, appreciate the fact that your currently mundane situation is going to be a lavish lifestyle soon enough.

Life is full of turns, and right now, you’re just preparing for the biggest one of all.