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The art of the pickup PAGE 9


Also inside: My parents are murderers Surviving Suicide Train hoppers

letter from



Dear reader,

am proud to present to you the second issue of Dam! Magazine, a publication created by a handful of experienced students within the journalism department at American River College, and which serves as a supplement to the student newspaper, the Current. In the process of building this magazine, we eschewed the somewhat traditional student magzine practice of selecting a theme. We decided simply to create the best content possible, and allow it to speak for itself. Delving into the worlds of train hoppers, a political exile and the child of incarcerated parents, we found ourselves moved by their stories, and it is my most sincere wish that we successfully relayed their lives and struggles. I’d like to thank Kameron Schmid, John Ferrannini and Joseph Daniels, Current staffers who found time to contribute. A big thank you also goes to assistant magazine editor Emily K. Rabasto, who was an endless source of support and the perfect collaborator throughout the process of creating this publication. Additionally, this magazine wouldn’t have been possible without the constant guidance and support of our adviser, Walter Hammerwold, whose tireless dedication to our education and personal growth motivates us to rise to every challenge. And finally, thank you, reader, for picking up a copy. Enjoy.

Thank you, Barbara Harvey Magazine Editor


MAGAZINE EDITOR Barbara Harvey ASSISTANT EDITOR Emily K. Rabasto COPY EDITOR Kameron Schmid STAFF John Ferrannini Joseph Daniels ADVISER Walter Hammerwold

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Inside the crust-punk culture of train hopping and the dangers of its freedom.


Before it was called appropriating it was called stealing. An ARC professor analyzes culture sharing.


Exiled from his birthplace as a child, a local artist faced difficulty assimilating, but found his passion.


A look into the lives and practices of a Sacramento pickup artist and his students.


Suicide survivors speak out about their experiences in an effort to combat the stigma of mental health issues.


A language barrier leaves a Ukrainian immigrant feeling helpless while her son faces trial for murder.


Will work for #funding: An ARC alumn’s unique approach to the growing trend of crowdfunding life.


A student comes to grips with a lifetime spent without her parents, both of whom are in prison for murder.

Rail riders


By Barbara Harvey


ometime after sending his last text message on March 10, 2013, 19-year-old first-time train hopper John Paul Alpert was murdered. One year later, detectives in Roseville, California issued arrest warrants for three fellow train hoppers, who had beaten Alpert to death and dumped his body in the nearby Dry Creek, where it was discovered by a fisherman. Two of the suspects were found and arrested in Nebraska, while another was apprehended in New Mexico. By all accounts, Alpert had set out looking for an adventure. What he found was the hidden, and often dangerous, lifestyle of train hopping. Train hopping, which became a common means of travel during the westward expansion of post-Civil War America, is now a culture of its own, ruled by the allure of freedom and the transient lifestyle folk icon Woody Guthrie romanticized during the depression era. “I feel like there’s not a worry in the world out there,” said 28-year-old train hopper Drift Morales. Morales is relatively new to the world of train hopping. Before, he says, he was a “road tramp,” hitchhiking all over the western U.S. He had been stationary for a while, holding down a job for a few months, but couldn’t ignore the call to pack it all up and set out once again. This time, though, he chose to get around by riding the rails, something he had wanted to try since he was a child. Morales arrived about a month ago in Roseville from Ogden, Utah. He said he’ll leave again “whenever I feel like getting up and going.” Some of the dangers of train hopping are readily apparent. Others are not so obvious. “I’ve heard of people dying all the time on the tracks,” said Morales. “They’ll be drunk, fall off, get run over or something. Or another hobo can — if you piss another hobo off — they can get the urge to whack somebody.” Veteran train hopper Tyler Gottlob, 27, has seen much of the same danger in the decade he’s been immersed in the culture. He noted that the type of people drawn to the train hopping lifestyle are often dangerously unstable. “A lot of people that are living that kind of lifestyle, they have issues. They’re running away from something, or they’re f-----crazy. Or who knows what. Because trains are one of the last ways to get really in the middle of f------ nowhere, so there’s just bad s--- that happens. I’ve seen people get

Photo on top and bottom right of opposite page courtesy of Tyler Gottlob. Bottom left and above by Barbara Harvey.

Opposite page, top and bottom right: Gottlob was immersed in the culture for over a decade, and has seen first hand the violence associated with train hopping gangs. Bottom left: Morales arrived by train at the J.R. Davis railyard in Roseville from Ogden, Utah one month ago.

“I wanted to do what I wanted, go where I wanted, when I wanted. And it was dangerous and illegal, and that also attracted me to it too.” —Tyler Gottlob stabbed. I’ve seen a guy get beat to death with a baseball bat,” Gottlob said. Much of the violence within the culture is associated with the Freight Train Riders of America gang, or the FTRA offshoot that Gottlob was once associated with, Blood Bound Railroad. The FTRA gang, which saw its peak during the 1980s and 90s, is particularly active in the northwest, and has been linked to many violent crimes in the region. According to Gottlob, while they were dormant for a while, they are currently beginning to experience a resurgence. Gottlob said that members and other train hoppers identify each other by the color of “rag,” or a bandana worn around the neck. Black bandanas indicate FTRA, while red indicates Blood Bound Railroad. “When I would roll into other jungles and junctions … people would see our red rags or our black rags or both and ask about it. They would get really sour at it. (FTRA) has a nasty reputation,” Gottlob said. “That was

something I kind of was into, just because I wanted to be a badass … But eventually, I realized it was f----- up. S--- was happening that I just did not want on my name.” While the violent nature of the train hopping culture is the dominant risk, part of the danger lies simply in getting caught hopping trains, which is highly illegal, particularly post-9/11, as paranoia of transit-based attacks reached its peak. Gottlob notes that while security has tightened, most rail yard employees can tell on sight whether or not someone is a danger. “A lot of times, they’ll turn a blind eye to it ... I’ve had them let me ride in the unit when it’s freezing outside,” said Gottlob. He adds that in some areas, like Texas, where he moved six months ago to kick his heroin addiction, rail yards take more precautions due to their proximity to the Mexican border. Knowing which yards are lax comes with experience. But for Gottlob, who has been heavily involved in the train hopping culture since he was a teenager in Sacramento, the freedom is worth all the risks. He said that dealing with the repercussions of his parents divorce led him to the seek “freedom” that train hopping provided. “I wanted to do what I wanted, go where I wanted, when I wanted. And it was dangerous and illegal, and that also attracted me to it too.” Gottlob often found himself riding trains without knowing where he was headed. “At first, I didn’t even care. I was just like, ‘Anywhere is better than here.’”

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efore it was called appropriating, it was called stealing. Cultural appropriation is the act of one race or culture taking aspects of another, usually without permission, and using them to raise their own status or gain more power. The nickname of “The Melting Pot” was given to America in the early 1900s for its romanticized potential to create a homogenous mixture of cultures to create one all-embracing American culture. However, white Americans have a history of taking things and claiming them to be their own, and are bearing the brunt of the wave of social media justice surrounding cultural appropriation. People who advocate against cultural appropriation, among other things, have been dubbed by others as “Social Justice Warriors,” or SJWs. On Tumblr and Twitter, SJWs have been tagging posts of images and stories where predominantly black, Native American and Asian cultures are shown in a way that they deem unfair or insensitive with “#culturalappropriation.” And the justice comes swiftly. Even though cultural appropriation isn’t against the law, the internet community has taken it upon themselves to be on the lookout for situations where cultural appropriation runs rampant and respond or report those who commit the sin. But, when does a culture or subculture become part of all-American life? Sociology professor Pamela Chao has been teaching a variety of sociology courses at American River College for 19 years, including the course Minorities in America. “I think it’s important to look at the notion that culture is always transmitted and shared,” Chao said. “It’s only when you start looking at power differences and oppression and all of those other kinds of way in which there’s differences in power in the relationship between the person taking the culture and how the culture has been used in the past. “That has everything to do with cultural appropriation.” The most popular cases of cultural appropriation come about from fashion displayed on the runways in Paris or on the heads of young white girls. In January, Mallory Merk, a white teenager from New York, posted pictures on her Twitter account of herself with head full of box braids, a hairstyle usually worn

by black women. Presumably, Merk didn’t anticipate the backlash that developed over her ‘do. Jamilah Lemieux, a black, female writer and social justice activist named as one of the 55 most influential women on Twitter by American business magazine “Fortune,” tweeted to her nearly 46,000 followers that, “something as trivial as a hairstyle can be triggering or upsetting, Let us have it. This goes to everyone.” Lemieux also tweeted, “Our bodies, our music, our fashion, our lips, our hair … everything about us is ripe for the picking by people who do not treat us well … This is not happy cultural mixing where you bring the blonde and I bring the braids, because you hate me and tell me as much all the time.” Merk claimed innocence and apologized tweeting, “Though overwhelming and harsh, thank you for trying to educate me … Sorry for perhaps making it seem like I am racist or ‘appropriating a culture.’ I honestly just wanted longer hair and I saw a woman on the street and liked it.” Other than African-American culture, Native American culture is the group of people for which the term cultural appropriation is made for. Canadian-based music festival Bass Coast recently banned all of their patrons from wearing Native American-style headdresses and “feathered war bonnets,” or anything resembling them, onsite. The festival’s Facebook page announced the official declaration saying, “We understand why people are attracted to war bonnets. They have a magnificent aesthetic. But their spiritual, cultural and aesthetic significance cannot be separated.” The appeal of something ornamental and, to most people, beautiful, overpowers the need for understanding of any aspect of the culture it’s being taken from. “When folks are marginalized, they stand out … Then there becomes this exoticisnation,” said Chao. “If you’re into something, find out what it’s about. I would never want to say that I absolutely adore a certain way of life without knowing something about it.” However, it is not always the conscious fault of an individual. In the event that a white male is born in a place where hiphop culture is abundant, it’s easy for him to latch onto it believing it to be his own without fully knowing its origins. “Culture is hard to see because we are so immersed in it,” Chao said. “Trying to ask a person to explain their culture is like asking a fish to describe water. It’s just the world in which you live.

Thirteen-year-old Mallory Merk shows off her box braids, a hairstyle usually worn by black women, in photos she posted to her Twitter account in January. Merk received backlash in the form of tweets in response.

“A lot of times, if one is normalized in society, then often times it feels like you don’t have a particular culture. It’s just normal.” Professor Chao feels the notion that everyone is expected to be conscious and aware of underlying racism constantly can be difficult to achieve. “I think that we need to give each other some space, but at the same time understand that there has to be a way in which people then can explore, make mistakes, to question.”

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Portrait of an artist as a refugee AFTER HIS FAMILY WAS EXILED FROM THEIR HOME, MUSTAFA SHAHEEN FOUND HIS LIFE’S PATH ALTERED By Kameron Schmid | Photo by Barbara Harvey

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ustafa Shaheen looked like a million bucks as he walked hurriedly around Witt Gallery, making final preparations for the opening of his first solo art show, “Friends and Sometimes Friends.” On a small table by the entrance was a pencil-drawn image of celebrity chef Guy Fieri, screaming. The picture was titled “Welcome To Flavortown.” Like Fieri, Shaheen attended American River College. Unlike Fieri, everything else.

Born in 1985 in Egypt, Shaheen remembers his early life being centered around the concept of family. In fact, the majority of his family lived in the same building owned by his grandfather, who gave each of his children a section of the building to begin their families. “I had a ton of cousins. English was my first language, but I picked up Arabic just playing with kids,” said Shaheen. Shaheen and his parents, along with his younger brother, moved to Qatar, where both of his parents worked. But they wouldn’t be there long, before having to move to America in 1996 as political refugees after his father, a firefighter for Qatar’s Royal Navy, unsuccessfully tried to blow the whistle on a string of corruption that he had seen. According to Shaheen, co-workers of his father were stealing military equipment and selling it elsewhere. His father was jailed by Qatar’s military until he was released on the condition that he and his family leave the country. “When you’re 11, you don’t really think about how deep that s--- is in any way. You’re just like, ‘Oh, my dad’s in this weird solitary jail facility and I have to visit him once a month,” said Shaheen. None of this was hidden from Shaheen as a child, which he sees as a good example of the differences between Middle Eastern and American cultures. “There is no coddling with children (in the Middle East). You grow up fast and mature quickly there,” said Shaheen. When the Shaheen family first came to America, they settled in Visalia, California, which was approximately one-fifth the size of Qatar in 1996. Mustafa remembers two things becoming very apparent upon arrival: the Power Rangers were two generations ahead of where they were in the Middle East, and at 11 years old, he had a lot of navigating in front of him to fit in. “Assimilating was pretty difficult. You already feel different in those pre-teen years, and then that added a lot of weight,” Shaheen said. “I faked my accent until it went away … Looking back at it now, I realize it was a lot for a little kid.” Added to that stress was the fact that his parents didn’t qualify for the same jobs they had at home. His father became a motel manager, and his mother had to re-train for two years to become a nurse. They separated when Shaheen reached sophomore year of high school, the same year that two planes flew into the World Trade Center, and America was plunged into a period of Islamophobia that it still has not recovered from. “I remember walking to campus (on Sept. 11). The second plane hadn’t even hit yet. This random kid from my grade said, ‘Why are your people doing this?’ … How am I supposed to respond

to that? “I had to start thinking, ‘What would my friends think of me if they didn’t know me? Would they say the same things?’ I remember somebody saying, ‘Oh, well you’re not like the others.’ And that’s pretty racist too.” While America was changing after that day, Shaheen’s new home was changing the course of his life too, as a person and as an artist. Shaheen and his mother, Nadia Yousufzai, both say he picked up drawing when he was three. They also agree that if he had never come to America, he wouldn’t be an artist today. “(Egypt) is a third world country. It’s super super poor. People in general are practical. Art is an incredible luxury. Every Middle Eastern country weighs being some sort of doctor or engineer at the top of the list for their kids.” While Shaheen may have never been an artist in the Middle East, his origins do hold a place in his craft. After initially struggling with using more creativity and expression, Shaheen, a portrait artist, has found a medium between what he calls a “Middle-Eastern practicality” and inventiveness. Shaheen’s portraits are hyper-realistic, but painted with vibrant colors. According to the artist himself, the reality is here to stay. “Depicting things in a realistic manner is always going to be a part of me. I can’t get away from that, as much as I try. I’ve grown to accept it and love it.” All of the visitors to Shaheen’s gallery reception had something to say about him — many called Shaheen their best friend. Over and over again, any of Shaheen’s friends will tell you about his work ethic. It’s legendary, and the one reason for his success, according to Ian Harvey, a professor and mentor of Shaheen’s at Sacramento State. “Of course he has talent, of course he has vision, but a lot of people have that. He just works his butt off,” said Harvey. “I wish it could be sexier than that, but it’s just his hard work.” To Shaheen, his work ethic is just a result of him being grateful for his opportunity. “I’m very aware of the luxury I have living here and being able to make art as a career. So I know I have to work hard, because of that luxury. I’m always appreciative of the fact that I’m so fortunate.” That hard work extended to his opening night at the gallery. More than thirty people came through the small gallery throughout the night, a number Shaheen was ecstatic about. His mother saw past the smile just a bit, though. “I think he’s very happy, but nervous at the same time,” she said. “Sometimes, he can get very nervous about what he’s doing, because he wants to be the best.”

Opposite page: Mustafa Shaheen poses in his studio space at Sacramento State. Right, from top: “Christopher P.,” “Faith S.,” “Madison M.” and “Omar F.” were among the portraits featured at Shaheen’s show.


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Story and photos by Emily K. Rabasto

Did it hurt when you fell from heaven? I seem to have lost my phone number. Can I have yours? Did you sit in a pile of sugar? ’Cause you have a pretty sweet…

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ickup lines are bullshit. It’s not you, it’s just a line.” Matthew Burks bristles when he hears men approach women this way. The 25-year-old photography assistant from Sacramento recently took lessons on approaching women from a self-proclaimed pickup artist. Pickup artists, commonly known as PUAs, consider themselves masters of the art of “the pickup.” Specifically, being able to attract or pick up the interest of any woman. The term gained great popularity with the 2005 release of the non-fiction book “The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists” by author and journalist Neil Strauss. The book chronicles the author’s real-life experience entering the subculture of seduction. The television network VH1 also helped make the term mainstream through its reality TV show, The Pickup Artist hosted by Erik von Markovik, more commonly known by his stage name, “Mystery.” During the show, contestants would be given challenges in which they would have to test their women-wooing skills. After Burks had broken up with a girl he had been with for nine months, he was worried that his diagnosed anxiety would get the better of him in the dating department. So, Burks decided to research his options on how he could overcome his fears and learn how to find a companion. First, he read “The Game,” and soon figured that he could either just read the book or actually go out and try it. Enter Bryan Barton: The Sacramento Pickup Artist. Barton, who sometimes goes by his alternate name “Double B,” is a 34-yearold owner of a tech startup in Sacramento by day and a self-proclaimed pickup artist advisor by night. “I never had a date in high school,” Barton said. “I always struggled talking with girls and figuring out how to flirt. Even when I was attending American River College, I didn’t quite get it.” Barton founded his website Sacpickup. com in 2013 and considers himself qualified to teach other men the proper way to talk to, flirt with and pick up women in Sacramento because of his personal experiences and because of his understanding of the art of pickup from reading books — including the one that helped him realize why he was struggling, “How to Succeed with Women” by David Copeland. Barton charges his clients $40 for his

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Sacramento pickup artist Bryan Barton, right, talks with a woman after a free observation class he offered to his students during a speed dating event on Feb. 11, 2015 in Sacramento. During the event, Barton and his students critiqued men on their interactions with women.

“I want to be who I really am...I have interesting stories. I have depth. This anxiety, this insecurity, this self-doubt all make me question myself.” —Matthew Burks, Pickup artist student­ three-hour mini classes that have up to a dozen people attend them at a time and $225 for a one-on-one personalized sixhour session. In his mini classes, clients can learn certain pickup tactics and methods like peacocking: placing an item on yourself to attract a woman’s attention and get a conversation going. Kino, making physical contact with the woman, and negging, a flirt wrapped in an insult, are two common things learned in the first lessons Barton teaches his students. During a personalized session, Barton often walks with and observes his client around a college campus like Sacramento State University and American River College as he demonstrates his approaches. However, Barton says what he’s teaching isn’t anything new. “There’s nothing in my class that you can’t find somewhere online, but my class is very personalized,” Barton said. “I really drill down asking, ‘What does this guy need to work on? Does he need to work on body language? Does he need to work on kino? Does he need to work on his negging? Does he need to work on his confidence? Does he need to work on reading girls body language? Does he need to work on putting out a sexual vibe?’ I

could go on and on.” Burks says he was surprised how receptive people were during his first personalized lesson with Barton while walking the campus of Sac State. “I really want to just get out there and learn how to talk to people even without the intention of going out with someone,” Burks said. Burks was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of 22 and says he has always had issues with maintaining conversation with strangers, and not just women. “It’s embarrassing to admit. I get shaky and am at a loss for words. I’m just glad I’m taking the steps in trying to overcome my anxiety with this,” Burks said. “I want to be who I really am. I’m a cool, good person. I have interesting stories. I have depth. This anxiety, this insecurity, this self-doubt all make me question myself.” Barton says he can help students make connections with women but every girl has what he calls a “bitch shield.” He works with his clients to help them break down this supposed invisible barrier in an attempt to connect with or pick up a girl. One of Barton’s former students doesn’t entirely agree with all of the methods pick-up artists usually use to attract

women. Stephan Sanders, a 22-year-old originally from Dayton, Ohio, says a lot of what pickup is, is too gimmicky for his taste. “What (Bryan) teaches is pretty good, honestly. It’s just his personality that not everyone might like,” Sanders said. “Bryan is confident, but he can also come off as crude or a little too much for some people. In my favorite book, “Mode One” by Alan Roger Currie, he never talks about negging or peacocking or touching a woman’s leg. His methods are less gimmicky and more straight up unapologetic honesty. Jest tell the woman directly what your intentions are and go from there.” Sanders, who was a high school track athlete and is currently working toward being a personal trainer, believes the key to success with women is confidence and compares it to working out a muscle: “It takes practice to make it good.” The PUA culture has often been portrayed as a culture of deceitful men who use cheap tricks to try to lure women into getting into bed with them, but Sanders disagrees, saying he wanted to be able to approach women, unlike those who are seeking to sleep with them as soon as possible. “These guys all have similar characteristics. They don’t really have respect for women. They can hide their disrespect enough to get a girl to sleep with them … It’s just disrespectful toward women. You need to have a genuine love for women. Care about their emotions, their love, their passions. “The ‘men are pigs’ mentality can make men more ashamed to be men,” Sanders said. “If men aren’t allowed to express their sexuality and they have to mask their feelings, they could be forced to bury them and that’s not healthy.” Sanders says he’s figured out the key to pick up: Humour, confidence, street smarts and developing some kind of skill. “Some guys think they’re not enough. They just need to learn to be comfortable with themselves. How is a girl supposed to like you if you don’t like yourself?” “If you don’t love life and take risks, no one’s going to appreciate you for you.”

Above: Pickup artist student Kevin Brewer demonstrates a technique of peacocking by revealing a red velvet bag filled with pyrite hanging around his neck.

KEY TERMS OF A PICKUP ARTIST KINO Short for kinesthetics, meaning physical touch. Many pickup artists see kino as a milestone that can lead to recognition of IOI’s or indications of interest from women.

NEGGING A controversial practice of wrapping a compliment in an insult. Sometimes used to catch a woman off guard and peaque her interest in the man. Examples include, “I like women with weak/strong chins,” and, “You don’t have to wear so much makeup.”

PEACOCKING Dressing for the sake of attracting attention. Some wear fuzzy hats or t-shirts with slogans that may catch the eye of and start a conversation with a woman.

DHV Meaning “Demonstration of Higher Value.” Talking about one’s volunteer trip to Peru to build a school for blind orphans can build up the perception of importance in a potential romantic companion.

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By Joseph Daniels and Barbara Harvey Photos by Emily K. Rabasto and Barbara Harvey X DAM!



A SENSE OF SHAME ABOUT IT. — Paolo Sambrano, suicide survivor


auline Ghost woke up at Mercy San Juan Hospital, confused and alone after a day of binge drinking. Shortly after waking, she was told by hospital staff that she had attempted to take her own life by overdosing on sleep medication. Ghost, an American River College student, was molested by her foster father. She later learned that the abuse, which spanned from first to fourth grade, wasn’t limited to only her, but her foster sisters as well. “We didn’t know about each other until we ended up all sharing a room,” Ghost said. “We all told each other about it. We got him put in prison for sixteen years.” Ghost’s foster father was given a half-time sentence, (a lighter sentence for which eligibility is based on circumstances like prior convictions) and will be

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released next year. To escape the pain the she felt from the ordeal, she turned to alcohol — a dependence which worsened at an alarming rate. “I had a lot of emotions about it throughout the years. A lot of guilt and shame, because I wish that maybe if I said something when I was younger my sisters wouldn’t have to gone through it,” said Ghost. “I turned to drinking a lot to help me cope with those emotions, to help numb them, because they were just like very intense. I felt like I let my sisters down.” Leading up to her suicide attempt, Ghost’s struggle with addiction left her with a string of DUI’s and a drunk in public charge, which she shrugged off at the time. She also cut friends out of her life, eventually isolating herself. She had one focus: To numb her emotions.

But the day she woke up in the hospital, the only thing she felt was lucky to be alive. “It’s scary that it all could have been taken away,” Ghost said. “I’m happy that I’m able to be here today.” It’s a story that’s all too familiar for Kevin Hines, a suicide attempt survivor turned motivational speaker. Hines, who was featured in the documentary “The Bridge,” which focuses on those who take their lives jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, realized the instant his feet left the bridge that he didn’t want to die. After this realization, Hines repositioned himself to land in the water feet first. The effort saved his life, but the fall broke both of his legs, his sternum, and lacerated him internally. The Golden Gate Bridge is 225 feet from the deck to the water. Those who take their lives jumping from the bridge fall

Photo on right courtesy of Dese’Rae Stage

From top left, clockwise, Kevin Hines, Dese’Rae Stage and Pauline Ghost have all used their experiences as suicide survivors to help others.

at a speed of between 75 to 80 miles per hour, and only two percent survive the fall. For Hines, who was diagnosed as bipolar, his improbable survival was the first step on his path to recovery. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, for every suicide death, there are 25 suicide attempts. Live Through This, a website that features portraits of suicide attempt survivors along with their stories, is intended to raise awareness and give a face to the issue, according to the site’s founder, Dese’Rae Stage. “I started Googling (suicide attempt survivors),” Stage said. “I didn’t know what words to use. I noticed what I did find were statistics. Really a dehumanizing thing … We didn’t have any faces.” When beginning her project, she had initially tried using Craigslist to reach out to survivors, but said that all of her posts were removed. She believes it’s because they contained the word “suicide.” Stage has common ground with her subjects. She attempted suicide at 23, after a long history of mental illness coupled with being abused by her girlfriend. “It was like an emotional pressure cooker,” Stage said. “I’d been suicidal for

two years, (and) there was this catalyst — I just couldn’t deal with any of it anymore.” For Stage, Ghost and Hines, survival brought with it harsh confrontations. While the underlying issues may have remained, each of them immediately decided to take charge of their lives and mental health. “I mean, it changed everything. It made me realize that I needed to do something to change my situation. It made me realize that I had to get out of that. It made me realize that I needed to stop hurting myself,” Stage said. “I was in the hospital when I made that promise that I was going to find a way to stop hurting myself.” Along with the shift in outlook, survival also brings a degree of stigma. In addition to what Hines calls “assumptions and misconceptions” about a survivors’ motives, attempting suicide was historically illegal, and survivors may still be excommunicated by some churches — Facts which make finding acceptance and support difficult for some. Stage’s website aims to change this. “Historically, suicide attempt survivors, in particular, have spoken under conditions of anonymity in order to save them from being discriminated against. The silence and shame created in that act are

dangerous,” the site states. “Live Through This encourages survivors to own their experiences publicly — using both their full names and likenesses — and thereby works to strip the issue of anonymity and raise awareness by simply talking about it.” One of Stage’s Live Through This subjects, Paolo Sambrano, wrote Bi-Poseur, a one-man show partly about his experience as a survivor, which was directed by notable comedian W. Kamau Bell. “My dad used to get mad at me, because he would say I was too open about it, but I never had a sense of shame about it,” said Sambrano. Some of Ghost’s family members had a similar sentiment. Ghost, the first in her family to attend college, is now majoring in psychology. She also regularly attends alcohol dependency meetings and therapy at the Native American Health Center. For her, talking about it is a part of the healing process. “My goal is to be able to talk about it without my voice cracking,” she said. “I try to talk about my past, and be more open. It’s something I have to do.”

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tanding alone in a courthouse hallway and denied entrance into her son’s murder trial as the case was nearing its end, Larisa Postelnyak said she did not know what to do. That is when the Ukrainianborn artist says she remembered that she had colored paper, a sharpie and adhesive tape, the tools of her trade, in her bag. “I was thinking ‘I’m going to write the sign and put tape over my mouth,’” said Larisa. “I thought that if (the bailiff) could see, he would be ashamed about kicking me out.” Spectators in a courtroom are expected to stay silent. Larisa said she was removed from the trial the previous day because she was translating the proceedings for her 70-year-old mother. They are both immigrants from the Ukraine, a former Soviet republic west of Russia. “She only knows three words of English,” said Larisa. “I ask Pavel’s attorney. He told (me) this is his case, not mine. He said Pavel doesn’t need an interpreter and I said ‘Yes, but what about my mother and me?’” Larisa said the trial frightened her because she does not understand the “court level language” of the American judicial system. “I feel like I’m (a) stupid person. English makes me feel this way,” said Larisa. “I was in English school for four years and I take two years in America.” “I don’t understand the rules too much. I don’t really know what you can and can’t do because of the language barrier.” The day after Larisa was denied entrance into the courtroom, her son Pavel, 24, was convicted in the first-degree murder of Anthony Johnson, 28. He was sentenced to 50 years to life. Larisa found out about the verdict from friends of hers who were in the courtroom. When asked how she felt about the conviction, Larisa said “I don’t know, I don’t know … My soul was ripping apart. I just didn’t know what to do. Was it him or not? I started to cry.” Pavel’s father Aleksandar had few words about his son’s conviction. “I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat. What else can I say?” said Aleksandar. Added Larisa: “I don’t feel anything. I’m just crying and shaking. I just stay on my legs and pray ... He’s not a monster. Maybe we still have a chance for him to come out alive when I’m alive.” Pavel worked with Johnson at Democracy Resources, a company that gathers signatures for petitions. Pavel had previously been arrested for

“He’s not a monster. Maybe we still have a chance for him to come out alive when I’m alive.” —Larisa Postelnyak slapping a student on the American River College campus while he was gathering signatures. Shortly thereafter, Pavel’s mother Larisa claimed her son had a mental illness. “(The illness) makes him listen to voices,” said Larisa. Pavel’s defense attorney, Robert Saria, said that translators are only provided for the defendant or witnesses in a criminal case. “In the beginning of the trial, she (Larisa) wanted the state to essentially pay for somebody else to sit in the courtroom and translate what was going on,” said Saria. “The state provides translators free of charge for defendants and witnesses.” Saria said that the rule against speaking in court is intended to allow the court reporter to hear properly and to prevent the tainting of the jury. “You can’t say anything,” said Saria. “Even nodding your head will result in being removed from the courtroom.” Larisa said that she knew she was not allowed to talk, but that she felt compelled to tell her mother that she believed the prosecutor was lying. “(The prosecutor said) (Pavel) is a monster. In the court he looked like a bad guy. He looked like a monster,” said Larisa. “They don’t give chance for me to talk about good things.” Saria said that Larisa’s demonstration in the hallway the next day frustrated his ability to defend Pavel. “She has a First Amendment right to protest,” said Saria. “The time, place and manner was not appropriate. She was very loudly wailing and praying in front of the room. It didn’t help defend her son at all.” Larisa said she first came to the United States on February 14, 1995, a day her family has traditionally celebrated with a party each year, except this year. “We didn’t celebrate because my kid is in the jail,” said Larisa. Larisa said her family came to America to be more free to practice their Christian faith. After moving to Sacramento, Larisa became active in the Slavic community. She works with a small company that teaches art called God’s Peacemakers. “Some people are confused about letting

Photo courtesy of Larisa Postelnyak

Above: Larisa Postelnyak covers her mouth with duct tape as she demonstrates outside of the jailhouse courtroom while, inside, her son Pavel Postelnyak is convicted of first-degree murder on March 19. Opposite page: Ukrainian immigrant Larisa Postelnyak holds a photo of her son Pavel Postelnyak, who was convicted of first-degree murder in March. Larisa was kicked out of the courtroom for disturbing the trial proceedings when she translated out loud to her mother what was happening.

me teach children because they think I’m (a) horrible mother.” Larisa says she visited her son recently and that he said he doesn’t want to talk to her again because she told reporters he was mentally ill. “I (went) to see Pavel and he didn’t want to see me,” said Larisa. “It’s because I had said he had (a) mental illness.” Ultimately Larisa keeps drawing, and praying. “I pray about him (Anthony Johnson), about the judge,” said Larisa. “I told Jesus, ‘Please bless them and give them a good heart. I didn’t see it, only you see what’s going on.’”

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Something for nothing THE RISE OF CROWDFUNDING 19 DAM!

Story and photo by Barbara Harvey


Above: American River College alumn David Loret de Mola used a somewhat unique approach to crowdfunding, offering services of physical labor in exchange for donations toward funding his ambitions.

tewart Ludwig was down on his luck. After a long stretch of unemployment, the American River College theater major hadn’t been able to pay rent for three months. He had, however, noticed friends donating to the crowdfunding efforts of fellow theater students travelling to ACTF, a theater arts conference. “So I thought, hey, maybe I could get those same friends that are reaching out to them to reach out to me to help pay my rent,” Ludwig said. “Help Stewart Not Be Homeless,” his GoFundMe. com campaign, was launched soon after. “It’s kind of like a ‘Why not?’ thing,” Ludwig explained. Ludwig’s campaign made $5 total. Ludwig wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last, to attempt using the crowdfunding trend to finance his life. Since the unveiling of crowdfunding websites GoFundMe and Kickstarter in the late aughts, the act of begging strangers for money has become less based in securing the basic essentials needed for survival by those less fortunate, and more a trendy way to fleece friends and family members into supporting your lifestyle and ambitions. Online crowdfunding is the act of reaching out to the wide-open world of the internet in order to raise funds for a multitude of things, including personal projects, films and business start-ups. This is usually accomplished by setting a “goal” amount that must be reached to consider the campaign successful. The goal amount is typically met by accruing small “investments,” or donations, from a large number of investors, rather than the typical investment practice of a small number of investors investing a large amount of money. It’s been used by filmmakers, tech startups, charities, and one guy who went on a quest to find out what homemade potato salad is like. But most often, we encounter crowdfunding projects scrolling through our Facebook feed, as our friends and relatives reach out for banalities like help with rent, a new bicycle, paying off parking tickets, and more examples of middle class spanging. Robbie Rickgauer, a professor of psychology at Sacramento State, notes that the online nature of crowdfunding changes fundamental aspects of begging. “We are programmed to avoid behaviors that bring shame. Begging for handouts is one of those behaviors,” said Rickgauer. “However, by begging on a crowdfunding website, you are changing a few elements that makes it easier to beg. “For one, you don’t have to humble yourself to potentially have a face-to-face rejection. The internet puts a distance between the potential funder and the beneficiary. Also, you only have to beg once. Each time we beg, we feel stress by being at the mercy of someone who may be our savior or may spit on us. The plea is posted online and then

left to be funded. It’s like having a begging robot that has your face panhandle for you. Finally, the funder is a stranger who is less likely to hold this shame over you for a long time. This is easier than begging parents who would be much more likely to bring this up every Thanksgiving when the beggar comes home to visit.” ARC alumn and poet David Loret de Mola, however, recognized crowdfunding for what it is, and decided to take a new approach: using crowdfunding to solicit work in exchange for donations. “I’ve seen it attempted by people, in the past, who’ve come off a bit more like they were begging and I saw how ineffective the approach was … people need to feel like they’re getting something for their money.” De Mola turned to crowdfunding to finance a trip to Italy this summer to participate in the Salerno World Conference, an event put together by 100 Thousand Poets For Change, a non-profit group based in the United States. De Mola has strong feelings on the use of crowdfunding — his campaign description lambasts what he calls “give me money schemes.” “I wasn’t looking to get by on donations. I wanted to work for it, do odds-and-ends jobs for people,” de Mola said. And he has worked. De Mola said that most of the odd jobs involve yard work. His personal favorite job, however, was doing 16 loads of laundry: “Literally all the laundry they had.” De Mola originally intended the GoFundMe page to serve as a tracker for how much money he’s made doing odd jobs. “Typically, it’s used for people with their proverbial hands-out, hoping someone will fund them for free,” de Mola said. Through just 10 donors, de Mola raised $1,205 of his $4,000 goal in 27 days, averaging $120 per donor. De Mola, however, is an exception to the rule. “I’m not hating on anyone who decides they want to start a campaign and run it how they choose. But there have been several times, over the years, where I’ve seen GoFundMe sites go up, and these people aren’t offering anything in return. They’re just saying ‘Give me money.’ And they’ll get some contributors, but I also see how frustrated they get when the money stops coming in, far short of their goal. I see how frustrated their friends get, having to deal with their friend asking them why they aren’t more supportive,” de Mola said. Rickgauer sees the cultural nuances behind this. “There is a certain shame that comes from being what is referred to as a ‘free rider’ — someone who benefits from someone else’s work while contributing little or none of their own. There is no culture in the world that gladly accepts free riders,” Rickgauer said. “Naturally, if such a culture ever existed, it would run itself into the ground and go extinct.”

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aren Reay sat quietly in the back of her high school class, staring in disbelief at a page of search results. She had finally worked up the courage to Google her parents’ names, something she had dreaded for most of her life. While she had been suspicious of what she would find, it didn’t detract from the shock and horror she felt after discovering the dark secret her guardians had tried to shield her from: Her parents are murderers. 21 DAM!



ow a 20-year-old student at American River College, Reay had been born on the lam in January 1995, while her parents were deep in hiding from police. Less than two years before her birth, her parents, Travis and Nettie Reay, had brutally murdered their friend, Angel Evonn Dixon, in a field near the Sacramento International Airport. “I still don’t believe they could have done it, but they have to have done it. It’s like a nightmare for me. They’re my parents. I love them, but I don’t know anything about them. And that scares me the most,” Reay said. Reay, who lost her parents at two after they were convicted, had grown up knowing they were in prison. But her paternal aunt, who she calls “mom,” would shy away from telling Reay the details of her parents incarceration, saying only that she didn’t believe Travis was guilty. She received similar treatment from her maternal relatives, who blamed Travis for Nettie’s role in the murder, claiming he was abusive. It wasn’t until high school that Reay began to search for answers on her own — and discovered why she had grown up only knowing her parents from behind bars. “Deep in my heart, I kind of knew. People don’t go away forever for nothing,” she said. But her suspicions didn’t make learning the truth easier. After a quick search online, Reay found court testimony and articles detailing every horrific aspect, from the killing to the accusations her parents lobbed at one another during the trial. “I couldn’t read it all. I was just like, ‘No way.’ And I cried. I didn’t tell anybody for a while.” Court records state that on Aug. 16, 1993, Travis accused Dixon of using drugs in front of his young nephew. He kicked her out of the house, but then sent a friend, Scott DeGraff, to bring her back. Once she returned, they locked the door. Travis then handcuffed and beat Dixon, with the help of his then-girlfriend, Nettie. DeGraff, who was given immunity for his testimony, told investigators that Travis immediately feared retaliation for the beating, as Dixon was associated with the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang, according to court testimony. He told DeGraff that in order to avoid retaliation, they needed to leave the area. Travis, Nettie and DeGraff loaded Dixon into a car, driving her to an isolated area

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Photo courtesy of Karen Reay

Photos of Reay’s parents, Nettie and Travis Reay, are among the many keepsakes she clings to. “It was before anything happened, and they look young and happy,” she said.

by the airport. They stabbed Dixon over 50 times before returning to the car, leaving her to die in a safflower field. However, Dixon wasn’t dead yet. She pulled herself toward DeGraff, who was waiting by the car, and begged him for help. DeGraff responded that he did not “want anything to do with it.” “Apparently one of them went back and finished it off,” Reay said, before becoming overwhelmed by emotion. Dixon’s body was found the next day. She was 20 years old. Approximately three years after the murder, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department received a tip from an anonymous caller asserting that Travis and Nettie were responsible for the crime. When

interviewed, Nettie, who also implicated DeGraff, admitted her role, but claimed that the abuse she suffered at the hands of Travis had left her with no choice but to follow his orders and participate in the gruesome murder. Nettie’s defense team called expert witness Linda Barnard, PhD, a licensed marriage and family counselor, to testify that Nettie displayed the symptoms of Battered Women’s Syndrome, now known as Intimate Partner Battering and its effects. Twenty years later, Barnard still has strong feelings about the trial. She stands firm in her opinion that Nettie was not responsible for her actions that night. “My opinion of the case was that she was coerced into the behavior. But because the law doesn’t allow you to use

The expert witness speaks out

Photo by Emily K. Rabasto

Reay sits among the hundreds of letters and keepsakes sent to her by her parents during their incarceration for the murder they committed before her birth.

“Why would I ask a murderer if they murdered somebody? And they’re my parents? For them to say ‘Yes’ would just … I would run away. I’d collapse and die. That’s insane.” —Karen Reay coercion in a murder case, you can’t use coercion as a defense against murder,” Barnard said. On Oct. 14, 1998, just before Reay’s third birthday, Travis and Nettie were found guilty of first and second degree murder, respectively. Nettie was sentenced to 15 years to life, while Travis was given a sentence of 25 years to life. Reay became a ward of the state, and the subject of a custody battle between her mother’s Native American Tribe, the Sioux, and her father’s family. Her paternal aunt was awarded custody. Reay’s aunt raised her alongside her cousins, whom she shares a close, sibling-like bond with. Living with her aunt provided a much-needed source of stability. “I know her as my mother because she’s

the only mom that I know,” Reay said. But as a child, Reay wanted nothing more than to be with her parents. “For birthdays, for christmas, all I wanted was them,” she said. Reay said she understands why her family was not forthcoming with the details of her parents incarceration. “I felt like my whole life was half a lie,” Reay said. “But then the other part of me felt like, well, it’s not like they could have just blatantly told me at six years old.” As a teenager, it was difficult to process what she had learned of her past — to reconcile the gentle father she had looked forward to visiting with the man described in court documents as a violent, controlling killer. Reay’s relationship with her parents sounds almost typical: they fight, they

During the trial of Travis and Nettie Reay, expert witness Linda Barnard, PhD, was called upon by Nettie’s defense attorney to testify that the abuse Nettie suffered at the hands of Travis had caused Nettie’s behavior — that she acted under duress during the murder of Angel Dixon. Barnard, a licensed marriage and family therapist, has been working on similar cases since 1986, and runs a private practice in addition to doing forensic cases. She estimated that she’s testified in approximately 400 cases and provided assessments for 1200. Barnard testified that Nettie suffered from what was then known as “Battered Women’s Syndrome,” now known as Intimate Partner Battering and it’s effects. “What we know from years of looking at IPB, is that women who are in those situations feel like they don’t have any control, they don’t have any choices. If they try to leave they’re horribly abused, if they stay they’re horribly abused, if they do what he says they’re abused, if they don’t do what he says they’re abused,” said Barnard. “It’s a catch 22 all the way around. So you’re as entrapped in that situation as you are having a gun to your head.” Despite Barnard’s testimony, Nettie was sentenced to 15-years-to-life at the women’s correctional facility in Chowchilla, California. Duress, in this instance caused by Intimate Partner Battering, is not allowed to be used as a defense for murder. Barnard feels that this restriction on defense cases is shortsighted. “That never made sense to me, because duress is duress,” Barnard said. “If you’re under duress and commit a crime, the duress is the same whether you’re involved in a bank robbery or whether somebody’s committing murder. She didn’t do it. She didn’t kill her.”

DAM! 24

Mugshots courtesy of the Sacramento County District Attorney.

Travis and Nettie Reay, as seen in their mugshots, are currently serving 15 years to life and 25 years to life for the charges of first and second-degree murder, respectively. The chances are slim that Reay will have a relationship with her parents outside the confines of the prison.

make up, and both mother and father dote on their daughter. But Reay knows that the relationship is limited severely by her parent’s incarceration. “They always ask me ‘You’re a photographer, why don’t you send us any pictures?’ And it’s like, ‘I don’t write you for a reason. It’s so hard. What am I going to tell you? I’ve told you the same thing my whole life: I’m going to school, this is what I love, this is the guy I’m seeing, this is my favorite movie.’ It’s the same stuff all the time,” Reay said. The chances of Reay ever experiencing a relationship with her parents outside the confines of a prison are slim. Nettie was recently granted parole by the state parole board, but was denied release by Gov. Jerry Brown, who uses his power to deny parole far more sparingly than his predecessors. Brown felt compelled to write about his decision, stating that while Nettie had made efforts to improve herself in prison, including earning her high school diploma and completing vocational programs, her crime was “brutal and inexplicable,” and that her actions “evidenced a cruel and callous disregard for human suffering.” While Reay has struggled to accept what her parents are incarcerated for, she’s never broached the subject with either of them.

25 DAM!

“I’ll never bring it up. I don’t know why, I’m just too scared. Why would I ask a murderer if they murdered somebody? And they’re my parents? For them to say yes would just … I would run away. I’d collapse and die. That’s insane.” Reay moved out of her aunt’s home at 17, seeking more control, and was taken in by the family of a high school friend, where she met her boyfriend, Rick Silva. It wasn’t long until Reay confided in Silva, opening up about her past. “She wears her emotions on her sleeve,” Silva said. “I could tell she was a part of something very traumatic, so I knew it had to be true.” But for years, Reay felt isolated and alone. While numerous resources exist for victims of violent crimes and their families, children of incarcerated parents are often left without help, forced to find ways to cope on their own. “I think there’s a lot of stigma for children whose parents are convicted of murder,” said Barnard. “The kids get lost in the shuffle. They usually end up in the system, as a ward of the court, and many of them end up with their own problems, because they’re products of the system instead of products of a loving family.” According to the New York Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, “more than 2.7 million children in the U.S. have

an incarcerated parent and approximately 10 million children have experienced parental incarceration at some point in their lives,” adding that “Separation due to a parent’s incarceration can be as painful as other forms of parental loss and can be even more complicated because of the stigma, ambiguity, and lack of social support and compassion that accompanies it.” The NYICIP adds that visiting incarcerated parents is critical (in most cases) to the well-being of the child, but visits can be difficult due to distance and the costs associated with traveling. While Reay was somewhat fortunate in her ability to see her parents regularly, the visits themselves were often difficult for her. “They talk about movies and music and stuff like that and ask me if I like it, because they listen to the radio. And I’ll tell them about today’s technology and what they’re missing out on. But it just feels like the same sentence over and over again because they’re not here with me to see any of it,” Reay said. Barnard said that the psychological effects of having an incarcerated parent can be devastating. “You’re never going to see your mother again except in prison, when you visit the prison, in the confines of the prison. You’re never going to have a normal kind of life,” Barnard said.

Children with incarcerated parents: By the numbers


Percentage rate at which the number of incarcerated parents of minor children increased between 1991-2007.

Above right by Emily K. Rabasto. Below, courtesy of Karen Reay.

Reay sorts through a lifetime’s worth of letters from her parents. Below, her passion for photography has provided both academic motivation and an emotional outlet.

But Reay doesn’t look at it that way. She had decided, early on, that she would dictate the kind of life she lived, and found motivation in her experiences with her parents. “I wanted to be better than them. Both of them, put together,” she said. Reay’s desire to move forward has been aided by discovering photography while at American River College — A passion she pours all of her energy into, often waking up before 6 a.m. to catch the bus to school, spending hours on campus and scheduling shoots on the weekends. Silva has seen it first hand in the two years he’s dated Reay, and is continually impressed by her determination. “She’s probably the most driven person that I know,” said Silva. “I don’t know anyone that will scrape and scrounge

and will get on the bus everyday, and will get up early, and do it all by themselves.” Now, Reay hopes to start a support group for children of incarcerated parents. While her main objective is to help an often overlooked group find support and healing, she also just hopes to meet others who have experienced situations similar to hers. “I feel like I could relate and find a little bit more peace, because I’m not alone, and somebody else understands, and that person can’t tell me to just get over it and to move on,” she said. “Because you can’t.” But considering where she is now, Reay said that given the chance, she wouldn’t change anything. “Not a damn thing, no matter how much pain it’s caused me. Nothing.”


Percentage rate of increase for the number of children with incarcerated parents during 1991-2007.


Percent of the 74 million U.S. resident minor children with a parent incarcerated.


The percentage rate at which the number of children with a mother in prison has increased since 1991. The number of children with a father in prison also increased by 77 percent during the same time period.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice special report “Parents in Prison and their Minor Children.”

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Dam! Vol 2 Issue 1  

Dam! is a student-run journalistic magazine at American River College in Sacramento, California.

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