Pittsburgh Current, Dec. 16, 2020. Volume 3, Issue 44

Page 1




Dec. 16, 2020 - Dec. 22, 2020




Alcoholism In The Time Of COVID Coronavirus isn't the only battle

Brian Broome and others are fighting during the pandemic



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Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics By: Larry J. Schweiger Free Shipping Paperback $29.95 or purchase an eBook for $19.00 (Read the first 25 pages for free)

There is only one earth and our world is undergoing dramatic changes brought on by the climate crisis and other human-induced ecological disruptions. The world's top scientists studying these threats and the forces behind them have been warning us for decades to end the use of fossil fuels or face catastrophic consequences. Their long-ignored warnings have become more dire. Larry Schweiger has long been on the front line of efforts to enact rational clean energy and climate policies and has witnessed efforts to undermine our democratic system that has been rigged leaving America hoodwinked and held hostage to dirty fuels. Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics pulls back the curtain on the central role of big oil, coal, and gas interests in American politics through the flow of money to fabricated entities for independent SuperPAC expenditures for mass deception through distorted advertising. Larry wrote this urgent message aimed at parents, grandparents and young adults who care about their children forced to live on the ragged edge of an unprecedented climate crisis. This book is especially for leaders who understand that we must act now with a "Green New Deal" scale response. Together, we must confront and overcome the many toxic money influences, reverse a failing democracy and retake the reins of government to enact policies that secure our shared future and the future of life on earth.


STAFF Publisher/Editor: Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com Advisory Board Chairman: Robert Malkin Robert@pittsburghcurrent.com


Vol. III Iss. XLIV DEC. 16, 2020


Music Editor: Margaret Welsh Margaret@pittsburghcurrent.com

NEWS 6 | Daniel Pastorek 10 | Brian Broome 10 | Alcoholism in the Pandemic 15 | Learning Hubs 16 | Steelers-Bills Photos

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OPINION 18 | Larry Schweiger

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For days, members of the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board did not know who had really died within the walls of the jail on November 26. That is because they were emailed an old notice, a death copy-and-pasted from before, from another death that took place inside the ACJ earlier this year. Jail administrators didn’t realize their error for nearly a week, according to Allegheny County Councilor at Large Bethany Hallam, who is also a member of the jail oversight board. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing: administrators had mistaken the jail’s most recent death for another, a suicide that occurred in June. To Hallam, it felt careless. (The Allegheny County jail has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. There were nine suicides at the facility between 2016 and June of this year.) “They don’t even tell us the names, we find out the identity from the news,” Hallam said. His name was Daniel Pastorek. He was 63 years old. Pastorek’s court records show several cases going back to the 1980s. In 1980,

Pastorek pleaded guilty to a DUI, which was dismissed. In 1995, he was cited for disorderly conduct and criminal attempt. In 2011, he pleaded guilty to a second DUI. In 2019, he was arrested for soliciting a ride in Harrison Township. In August, he was cited for public drunkenness. Magistrate Carolyn Bengel heard the case and sentenced Pastorek to 90 days in jail. According to the Post-Gazette’s analysis, “Bengel’s court had the most cases with jailings for 'failure to post collateral' of Allegheny County’s magisterial district courts in 2016.” Pastorek lived in 05-2-05 magisterial district and when he intersected with the justice system, it was close to home. The Public Defender’s Office filed an appeal to Bengel’s ruling and Pastorek was scheduled for his summary appeal hearing on June 10. Pastorek failed to appear. An email from Frank Scherer, director of adult probation, forwarded to the jail oversight board members reads, “A letter was sent to Mr. P. on August 28, 2020 advising him to


report to begin serving his sentence on September 25, 2020. Mr. P. failed to appear on September 25, 2020 and a warrant was issued by the Court on September 29, 2020. He was apprehended on November 7, 2020 and lodged in the Allegheny County Jail.” According to civil dockets, Pastorek was evicted from County housing in 2018. Magistrate Bengel ruled on the side of the plaintiff and fined Pastorek $716 in back rent. “For all we know he didn’t have stable housing in order to get a notice needing to appear,” said Hallam, “There was not a single violent tendency in that man, you can tell by looking at his record. And his entire criminal record is because of alcoholism and substance-use disorder and homlessness and poverty.” On November 26, Pastorek was found unresponsive in his cell. A corrections officer and medical staff tended to Pastorek until paramedics arrived. He was pronounced dead at 10:43 a.m. There will be an internal review and an investigation from Allegheny

County Police, according to jail administration. There is no known cause of Pastorek’s death at this time. The Allegheny County medical examiner could not be reached for comment. For Hallam, holding the jail accountable is personal, and with decarceration should come safety nets for those struggling with substance use. Hallam is in recovery, too, and has been incarcerated at the ACJ. She said during her time there, everyone on her pod was in for substance use. Hallam said she got sober despite the jail, not because of it. Through community and compassion, she finally stopped using substances, and later ran for council. Her lived experience and empathy motivates her to advocate for the incarcerated persons at ACJ. “A Pennsylvania state statute mandates that the jail oversight board is to protect the health and well-being of those inside the jail,” said Hallam, “If we are not going to protect the people in the jail who


are dying, who are we going to protect?” Detoxing from alcohol: Drugs and alcohol are the third leading cause of death in U.S. jails, according to a study published in Journal of Correctional Health Care in April 2020: “Among the 103 deaths associated with substance withdrawal, 66 involved alcohol … Drugs and alcohol likely contribute to more deaths in jails

than has been recognized due to how deaths are coded.” Dr. Lawson Bertstein knows the horrors of alcohol withdrawal. He’s the medical director for behavioral health at UPMC McKeesport and called the increase of folks detoxing at his in-patient unit a “deluge.” UPMC McKeesport is a 27-bed unit dedicated to detoxification and rehabilitation services for patients with substance abuse disorders and it is the

only location in Allegheny County that combines the two services in one inpatient unit. “This is a trainwreck. There’s nothing subtle about it … and it’s all age groups. Addiction is the great non-discriminator. It doesn’t care who you are and what you do. The great irony of it is that opioids can certainly kill you with overdose, but the withdrawal symptoms are so much worse for alcohol,” said Bernstein.

Generally speaking, the more severe the abuse, the more severe the withdrawal syndrome, and unmedicated alcohol withdrawal can result in seizure, heart attack, and death. “Unmedicated opioid withdrawal you might be mighty unhappy--you will be--but unless you’re medically tenuous to begin with, it is unlikely to kill you,” said Bernstein, “People don’t tend to abuse one substance or just alcohol, there tends to be a combi-


NEWS nation of substances. So that makes the detox process much more complicated.” Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases as well as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and liver disease. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol use is responsible for more than 95,000 deaths in the United States each year, or 261 deaths per day. Julia D’Alo, medical director at Gateway Rehabilitation Center, called Pastorek’s arrest and death inside the jail “so disturbing.” Gateway Rehab has been providing rehabilitation services in the Pittsburgh area for decades, including in-patient and outpatient treatment. Though D'Alo couldn't speak to Pastorek's case specifically, she spoke about the heartbreaking patterns of substance abuse disorders and incarceration. She said criminalization of substance use perpetuates addiction for many of the patients she sees at Gateway. “It just takes these people who already have these broken lives -- you have people who have grown up with parents who have substance use disorders. They get into trouble when they’re teenagers and then they spend most of their lives incarcerated.”

D’Alo described a lifetime of cyclical trauma for those who get out of incarceration and use again. It is unclear what caused Pastorek’s death, but for many folks with alcohol or drug use disorder, health and medical treatment take a backseat to the disease. “You take this person who probably had underlying health issues, which were not being managed because his alcoholism wasn’t being managed. So, you take that person out of their home, where they were safer by themselves. That person needs to be in treatment, not jail or punishment. Treatment where they can get medical care and where they can be safely detoxed from the drug they were using,” said D’Alo. COVID-19 & substance use James Ellermeyer, a counselor and founder of Namaste Holistic Counseling, treated many clients inside the ACJ before the onset of the pandemic. Ellermeyer himself is 23 years sober, and uses that lived-experience in his practice. He often tells his patients, “Punishment didn’t do me any good.” “It isn’t a matter of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, or getting a job,” said Ellermeyer, “They need to be listened to deeply and with compassion.”..


Ellermeyer described hostility from jail security and administration when he entered the jail to treat residents for mental health issues or substance use disorders. “Guards would say to me, why are you wasting your time on these people?” Over the summer, people in the jail could not leave because of staffing shortages. This is because people awaiting release could not be assessed or evaluated by medical professionals who would recommend 30, 60, or 90 days of treatment. Rehab facilities in the region had put restrictions on admitting incarcerated persons for fear of spreading COVID-19. “Understandably so,” said Hallam, “If I were running some sort of facility, I wouldn't want people coming from the Allegheny County Jail where I know there doing nothing to mitigate the spread of COVID.” Hallam pointed out when incarcerated persons leave a state prison, they are tested for COVID-19 upon release. The ACJ does not do that, but instead, tests a sample of the jail population. Of the 866 ACJ incarcerated persons tested, 72 were positive for COVID-19 as of December 14. Renewal, a rehabilitation center next to the jail where many incarcerated persons were transferred, reported five positive cases of residents

from the ACJ. The facility also has 14 positive employee cases as of December 14. What's more, having a substance use disorder was linked with a higher risk of coronavirus, in a recent study by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “It’s keeping people from treatment,” said Hallam, “Treatment that would save their life.” Sentencing, decarceration and rehabilitation: There are 600 people incarcerated in the ACJ currently for probation violations, which can also be a byproduct of substance use disorder. In September, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing published a report which shows that least 50 percent of individuals sentenced to probation in Pennsylvania “could be considered substance-involved at the time of sentencing.” One-third of resentencing for Pennsylvanians on probation is linked to substance use and this costs the commonwealth up to $2.9 million every year. The Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing recommends considering the options for evidence-based treatment at an individual’s sentencing. People struggling with substance use who were ordered to treatment were less than 28% likely to commit a new

NEWS offense. “Incarceration just doesn’t work,” said D’Alo, “These people need out so they can be treated with the compassion they deserve.” From March 16 through noon on Dec. 14, a total of 5,355 inmates have been released from the jail. The jail’s population report as of Dec. 15 was 1,824. President Judge for the 5th Judicial District of Pennsylvania (Allegheny County), and chair of the jail oversight board, Kim Berkeley Clark, was the keynote speaker at the “Justice and the Pandemic: Confronting COVID-19 in Correctional Health Care, the Courts and Law Enforcement” online conference hosted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice. During the webinar, Berkeley Clark said, “The warden [was] helpful, at least at first, to identify who were most at risk at the jail. Court staff worked around the clock to get this happen and the district attorney agreed that we needed to get people out of the jail. We didn’t have a big crime wave when we let these people out of the jail. What can we do to keep this up post-pandemic?” However, the population of the jail steadily increased from the first wave of releases in the spring and summer of ~1,200

persons at the onset of the pandemic until November. The jail’s lowest watermark this summer was 1,641 from 2,400. As of Dec. 15, the population is at 1,824. County officials have emphasized their release numbers, and the jail population has dropped, especially when compared to years of over-population, and the current population is about 576 less than pre-pandemic levels in March. When asked about the county’s future plans and grant funding for decarcerating the ACJ, Berkley Clark said, “The county executive [Rich Fitzgerald] would like to tear down this jail. We need to work on something much much smaller.” Jail oversight board meetings are open to the public and are held at 4 p.m. on the first thursday of every month. SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-ayear treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

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In 2020, there are days when I want to get drunk so badly I can hardly stand it. It doesn’t help that I live within walking distance of a liquor store, which I have to pass when I walk to buy groceries. Since I wear a mask, I can actually hear my breathing become heavier as I pass it some days. A whole building filled with bottles of relief. My social circle has consisted of only one or two people over the past 10 months, anyway -- so no one would know if I went inside and bought a bottle. Sometimes, when I pass that liquor store, I’m breathing so hard that my mask fogs up my glasses and I have to take them off for a moment and everything becomes fuzzy. This actually helps. Not being able to see clearly. I stop to wipe the lenses and I think I can feel my heart beating faster. But so far I’ve managed not to stop at my neighborhood liquor store. Sometimes, I keep moving without even bothering to un-fog my glasses. I keep a steady course because I know what’s at stake. I know that the world I’ve managed to create for myself would fall apart completely if I began using again. I would

become the version of myself that I most hate. I would lose the job I’ve worked so hard to get. I would embark upon a campaign of deceitfulness and selfishness which would, once again, alienate and hurt the people around me. I know that I never again want to be the person that I was. He was pathetic. He was vile. December 5, 2020 marks my eighth year of sobriety and I thought that, by this time, strong urges to drink would be in my past. And, by and large, they have been. As the years went on, I found myself thinking about it less and less. Then the pandemic came along. Endless days spent alone trying to keep busy. Ultimately, I end up in my own head which is the worst place for an alcoholic to spend a great deal of time. I start to hear the voice of the version of me I thought I locked up in the basement. He tells me that there is no one there to stop me. That no one would know if I just don’t say anything. My anxieties begin to resurface. Eight years ago, I threw alcohol on them as one would throw water on a pile of burning leaves. After I chose sobriety, I could manage these feelings better


by going to AA meetings. Being in a room with real-live people who are going through the same thing was a comfort and a godsend. But now, amid so much silence, I am struggling with these anxieties again: attacked on all sides by worry for the future, regret for the past, disdain for the present. A relentless wasp’s nest of fear buzzing non-stop inside my head until I am broken out in a cold sweat. The political tumult that has come with the past four years also serves to exacerbate. When I first emerged from rehab eight years ago, I immediately took to my apartment. I didn’t leave it unless it was absolutely necessary. I stayed in. I minded my business. I avoided hanging out with old friends because many of them drank and I was afraid that, if I saw them, old habits would re-emerge. I only went to work, school, and the occasional AA meeting. It was a self-imposed isolation that I thought would keep me safe from relapse. I went to work, school and back again. I am not nearly as much of a people person” when alcohol isn’t involved. In retrospect, I know that this wasn’t

a healthy way to live. But I had realized that I would have to endure occasional feelings of loneliness in order to stay sober. Work, school, the occasional AA meeting, and then back home again. I would spend my evening reading or watching television alone. Now there is no work to go to. There is no school. The AA meetings have been canceled. I do not know where to find the avuncular, older gentleman who would greet me warmly at the door of the church of my homegroup. I do not know his last name. There is no newcomer cowering in a corner. There are no well-meaning, sincere, if not a bit too eager, veterans surrounding the newcomer and welcoming him to his first AA meeting. The room at the community center sits silent and empty. The church basement is devoid of life. There is only home. Now, I meet with AA groups virtually. We all huddle ourselves on to one screen, one head on top of the other like a dysfunctional Brady Bunch. Talking heads. Some people I can barely see behind their clouds of smoke. They tell me they’re strug-


Brian Broome (Photo: Annie O'Neill courtesy of Chatham University)

gling as well. One man says the pandemic is all a lie. He wears his mask beneath his nose whenever he goes anywhere as a form of protest and he cannot understand all the fuss. He is attacked by the rest of the group. I swallow my words and conceal my disdain for him. I admit to the group that I’ve taken to wrapping myself in my sheets right after I pull them out of the dryer because it mimics human touch. It approximates a hug. They laugh. The virtual sup-

port group helps, but not like having live human support. There is no smell of bad coffee, no meet-up in a Chinese restaurant after, there is only the turning off of screens. I do not share with them that my breathing and heartbeat quicken at least a couple times a week when I walk past my neighborhood liquor store. I am afraid that I will wander in powered by muscle memory alone. I walk more quickly because I know that I can easily be overcome by depression and anxiety.

This, I tell only to my sponsor. “This too shall pass,” he says. He tells me not to surrender to my own demons. I can only hope it passes soon. In the past several months, I have found isolation suits me less and less. I am realizing that with self-imposed isolation, at least I knew the rest of the world was out there and I was choosing not to take part in it. There was comfort in knowing that, should I choose to engage

with it, the world was waiting for me. This new isolation is different. Necessary but forced. Dystopian. It shares a dark and hopeless nature with the life of drinking and drugs that I used to lead and puts me back in that mindset. I thought that, after eight years, I had come to a place where I would no longer feel like this about alcohol. Then the pandemic came. And whenever I am on my way to the grocery store, I am reminded that I still have much work to do. Addiction is fueled by many things: trauma, depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness. And at this moment in history, our news cycle is full to bursting with all those things all day every day. We are surrounded. These dark days are particularly difficult for the addict because every addict has a way out. An escape hatch that ultimately only leads them somewhere worse. But I promised myself that I will keep walking straight past my neighborhood liquor store. I have promised myself that I will even run if I have to. Brian Broome is a K. Leroy Irvis Fellow and is a writer of nonfiction whose work has been featured in The Guardian, Creative Nonfiction, Hippocampus. His book Punch Me Up to the Gods is available for pre-order. https://www.hmhbooks.com/ shop/books/Punch-Me-Upto-the-Gods/97803584391





he response to a social media call for this story, Pittsburghers sent messages and emails, offering to share their story of recovery. But, a trend emerged. Folks wanted to know if they qualified for a story about alcoholism during the pandemic. “But, am I an alcoholic? I should probably talk, it's been really hard.” “Does a box of Franzia a day count?” “I'm struggling with what alcoholism even means in this context. I'm certainly drinking too much (6-7 beers and at least as many shots every other day) but trying to hold onto the notion that this is "ok" because it's a weird / bad time for everyone and that's an excuse for this. The thing is, it's not all that different from my pre-pandemic behavior.” According to Lawson Bernstein, MD, Medical Director for Behavioral Health at UPMC McKeesport, you couldn’t have designed a better paradigm, a more perfect situation, than the current pandemic, if you wanted to augment the number of people returning to drug and alcohol use. UPMC McKeesport is a 27-bed unit dedicated to

‘I am confronted with this seemingly endless expanse of totally meaningless time. I want to annihilate it somehow.’ detoxification and rehabilitation services for patients with substance abuse disorders and it is the only location in Allegheny County that combines the two services in one inpatient unit. “It’s the perfect recipe: isolation, despair, lack of financial resources, enforced proximity without respite to other family members---it’s a pressure cooker,” Bernstein said, “You stress the individual, you increase the risk of the dormant disorder becoming active again.” It's no secret alcohol sales and consumption are on the rise across the United States in 2020, the year that has become synonymous with grief and isolation. Google Trends revealed earlier this year, a major uptick in the rise of searches related to anxiety, panic attacks, and treatments for panic attacks. Researchers noticed, too, that individuals also searched for therapy techniques for dealing with anxiety symptoms. As our stress increased, so did the line outside the liquor


store. Nielsen reported a 54% increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with one year before, online sales increased 262% from 2019. According to a study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, every week of lockdown increases binge drinking: “The findings show the odds of heavy alcohol consumption among binge drinkers -- those who, within two hours, consumed five or more drinks for men and four and above for women -- rose an extra 19% for every week of lockdown.” When asked if she’s noticed an increase in alcoholism in patients during the pandemic, Dr. Julia D’Alo of Gateway Rehab, said, “Oh my god, every day. It is out of control, a perfect storm. What people don’t realize is that alcohol is a drug.” However, Gateway’s census right now is down. “And it is always down

around the holidays, but I am afraid people are afraid to come into the center,” said D’Alo, “We have worked so hard to keep COVID out of Gateway. Everyone is required to wear a mask, we’re testing and rigorously screening.” Gateway’s main in-patient campus is in Aliquippa, but the non-profit also offers outpatient rehab options in areas like Squirrel Hill, the North Hills, Fox Chapel and Greensburg. D’Alo said,”Don’t underestimate outpatient programming. Group meetings and programs occur at all hours every day.” Many folks miss physically seeing their community in-person at 12-step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), but the accessibility for newcomers is unprecedented. Telemedicine has also enabled Bernstein to access first-time patients or with individuals who may need speedy intervention. “Today I saw over 20 patients entirely on telemedicine What that has introduced--you can now get healthcare through your cell phone Accessing addiction treatment, or acute intervention, or an early interview with someone who can help

NEWS you. That will never go back to the way it was. That type of access is here to stay,” said Bernstein. C, 27, who chose to remain anonymous because she is a performer and works in local media, relapsed in September after over two years of sobriety. C wants to drink when she’s alone. She drinks into the night, bottle after bottle, until she throws up. In the morning, she goes to work on her laptop. No one knows she’s drinking again. She is working remotely, so she can turn her camera off if she is hungover or queasy. On screen, her room is hidden, which she says is trashed with bottles and discarded food. “There’s no one to hold me accountable,” she said, “It screws up my life. Even though I’m not getting plastered all day, I can’t stop at night. I hate what it does to me. I can’t sleep through the night. It’s been really really bad.” C started drinking when she was 14 years old, after navigating a childhood of abuse and neglect. The first time she got drunk she thought, “Oh, this is it.” When she went to college her drinking snowballed, partly because of the intense drinking culture at a big state school. C was sexually assaulted in college and later developed bipolar disorder and a dissociative disorder as a result. She said she detaches from reality as a coping mechanism, but after

treatment with a psychologist and psychiatrist, she found a regime of medication that worked for her. It was then, when her medication treatment started, that her doctor told her she needed to quit drinking. So she did. After a month-long bender. C did not work a 12 steps program. She quit cold turkey. “I had the shakes at night,” she said, “But I don’t know if that was from the anxiety or if I was going through withdrawal.” C reached out to The Pittsburgh Current after a call on social media. She said the story was really important, and she wanted other people who are dealing with alcohol use to know that it “isn’t your fault.” “I hate that it makes you feel ‘less than.’ I hate the word alcoholic. It makes it sound so dirty. And I don’t want this for my life. I know I need to quit, but I don’t want to right now. I would really have to fully accept that I have a problem.” Hannah Donovan, 29, said she’s often told she is too young to be someone with a drinking problem. (She quit drinking when she was 25) This idea actually stopped her from getting sober at first. “I thought that was too much life to live. One not being able to drink, and two, being labeled this thing, because people don’t trust alcoholics. So by taking a step that would have been

Hannah Donovan

positive and responsible and difficult, I was going to be stigmatized. Rather than staying where I was, drinking and sometimes abusing alcohol could be somehow more socially acceptable.” Donovan works in commercial, film, headshot, and fashion makeup, told The Pittsburgh Current, “There is so much fucking drinking in media.” Donovan, who grew up in the South Hills, described a city and town steeped in drinking culture. On set for movies, she was surrounded by alcohol, too. Everything deserved a beer, a good day, a bad day, a short day where the crew worked overtime. “Part of why I think we need to be more open about alcoholism is because there are infinite types of alcoholics. And there are people who have such different needs and triggers than I do...There are so many

sober people. And a lot of people don’t talk about it, but our generation, the Millennial and Gen Z generation is talking about mental health. We’re talking about depression and stigma and self-medication. We’re talking and not just accepting this thing that is harmful to you and the people around you,” said Donovan. B, 32, who asked to remain anonymous for this story, worked in the brewing industry for most of his adult life. Within a couple of months, B lost two friends to suicide this year. That grief coupled with unemployment and the isolation of the pandemic, has created a cycle B can’t break. One drink is never one drink. He will drink five beers and then he will drink five shots. Next thing he knows, it is almost 5 AM and he is still listening to music on his porch. The next day, the hangover rattles him. Diagnosed with generalized anxiety, B is familiar with the feeling of an overactive internal alarm system. Sometimes he feels so awful, he can’t even think about alcohol; other times, alcohol is the only thing to stop the sick-stomach dread. There’s been weeks when he’s on a good streak: five days without drinking, he’s working out, he’s cooking healthy homemade meals. “And then I’ll have a drink to celebrate,” B laughed. And the cycle starts over again. But B said, time, not al-


NEWS cohol, is his greatest enemy right now. And alcohol is the “great time annihilator.” When he’s not drinking, he says it is not the alcohol he misses, but “having a way to make the hours disappear.” “I am confronted with this seemingly endless expanse of totally meaningless time. I want to annihilate it somehow,” said B. When his childhood friend died by suicide, B underwent the motions of ceremony. He dressed in black. He wrote a eulogy. He bought flowers. For a moment, the motions of preparing for a funeral, took B back to “normal.” “This is something I know how to do,” he said, “I’ve been to a funeral before. The ceremony was the thing that grounded me. And so does the ceremony of drinking.” B had called drinking the great time annihilator during lockdown, but then later admitted that he’s called his friends from his bathtub at 3 in the morning so that he didn’t attempt suicide. He also doesn’t believe 12-step programs are for him, “I’d rather pull out my teeth before surrendering to a high power,” he said. D.J., 28, a local writer and poet, who has been sober for two and one-half years, said that she’s aware that the assumption that 12-steps or AA is “heavily God-focused” is a deterrent for folks, but, for her, it is the community of AA that has helped her quit drinking for

good. D.J.’s friend took her to her first meeting. D.J. had called her “one sober friend” and said she needed help. In the LGBTQ+ community, drinking and drugs are common, and D.J. had been trying to get sober for a year on her own before asking a friend for help. Her first meeting changed the course of her addiction. “The first time, I felt like being sober was something I could do, because I was surrounded by people who were doing it,” D.J. said. D.J. said you’re never too young or too old to get sober. And you don't have to go through the 12-steps. And you don’t have to meet some sort of standard to get help. She said, too, if you relapse or “have a slip” it doesn’t mean recovery is over for you. “If you think you have a problem, that is enough to want to get better. You don’t have to meet some sort of goal post of ‘I’m drinking this much a day.’ One of the problems I had when I was thinking about getting sober was, ‘Oh, I am too young to be an alcoholic.’” SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)


OFFICIAL ADVERTISEMENT THE BOARD OF PUBLIC EDUCATION OF THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH ADVERTISEMENT FOR BIDS Sealed proposals shall be deposited at the Administration Building, Bellefield Entrance Lobby, 341 South Bellefield Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15213, on January 12, 2021, until 2:00 P.M., local prevailing time for: Service & Maintenance Contracts at Various Schools, Facilities, Facilities & Properties: Gas and Oil Burners, Boilers and Furnaces Inspection, Service, and Repairs (REBID) Concrete Maintenance (REBID) Fire Extinguisher and Fire Hoses Service and Maintenance (REBID) Various Schools Carbon Monoxide Detectors Phase III Mechanical and Electrical Primes Pgh. Mifflin PreK-8 Various Asphalt and Concrete Repairs General Prime Project Manual and Drawings will be available for purchase on December 7, 2020 at Modern Reproductions (412-488-7700), 127 McKean Street, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15219 between 9:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. The cost of the Project Manual Documents is non-refundable. Project details and dates are described in each project manual. We are an equal rights and opportunity school district



The Pittsburgh Learning Collaborative has asked the Pittsburgh Public Schools to provide $2 million for the continued operation of the community learning hubs set up by nonprofit agencies throughout the city and county that serve students whose caregivers cannot be home during online school hours. Without an infusion of funding, the 24 hubs, with 64 locations, face closure at the end of December. They are currently serving 1,000 students, including more than 700 who attend Pittsburgh schools. Initial funding for the hubs came from $4.35 million in CARES Act funding from Allegheny County’s $59.9 million share of the federal funding. Pittsburgh Current published a story about the hubs in August. The Pittsburgh Learning Collaborative (PLC) includes more than 70 organizations and individuals and was organized by the A+Schools advocacy group to respond to the COVID crisis and to work to ensure equitable educational opportunities for all students. In addition to the financial request, the PLC has asked PPS officials “to be transparent in their needs and guidelines for reopening for in-person instruction.” The demands were made by the coalition during a Zoom press conference just before the start of the Pittsburgh board’s monthly public hearing Monday. Kaitlyn Brennan, an educational consultant with the PLC

said the hubs are not only providing support and supervision to students but are allowing parents and caregivers to go to work and are creating jobs at a time when unemployment is at record levels. Brennan pointed out that when the Pittsburgh school board voted in July to provide online-only school rather than the planned hybrid model, part of the resolution instructed Superintendent Anthony Hamlet to “develop a contingency plan for parents of students who are essential workers and those not able to support their child’s remote learning journey.” James Fogarty, executive director of A+Schools, said the hubs cost about $800,000 a month to operate. In addition to the funding sought from Pittsburgh schools, the county Department of Human Services is looking for funding within its budget to allocate to operation of the hubs, Fogarty said. He said he has spoken to individual school board members about the $2 million allocation and they have said they were supportive but said they had to discuss it with the full board and administration. Brennan stressed that remote learning is inequitable for many students, but especially so for those who are homeless or living in unstable conditions, which accounts for about 7 percent of Pittsburgh’s 23,000 student enrollment. Testimony at the public hear-

ing from the Homeless Children's Education Fund said students living in unstable situations “desperately need” access to in-person opportunities such as the learning hubs and consistent access to the technology that is needed for online classes. The testimony said homeless children are missing school for long periods of time and drifting in and out of contact with school. The HCEF statement said the organization “has struggled to receive attendance data” from PPS, but contended it “is not uncommon for high school students experiencing homelessness at our county districts to have missed 15-40 days of class in the first semester alone.” The HCEF testimony included the story of a high school student living in a hotel with poor internet service who knocked on doors asking others if she could use their wifi for her school work. While acknowledging the dramatic surge in COVID cases in the county, some PLC members pointed to data that shows low virus transmission among children in grades K-5 and suggested returning that student group to in-person classes.. “We understand that reopening presents with significant challenges. However, we ask the district to provide the public with up-to-date and accurate information on what it will take to reopen buildings for in-person instruction,” Brennan said. Fogarty pointed out that

two-thirds of families indicated before the start of school they would like their children to return to school in the hybrid system the district initially planned. “We’ve got to open up our schools for some days for some people,” Fogarty said. On Nov. 9, the district brought back a cohort of about 800 students that included those with disabilities and English Language Learners. The students were housed in 19 of the district’s more than 50 buildings. But those students were returned to online education after one week when COVID cases surged and percent positivity rates rose. Fogarty and the PLC want to know the Pittsburgh district’s plans and guidelines for a return to in-person learning. Specifically the coalition and Fogarty are asking what level of community transmission and percent positivity would allow for a return to some type of in-person learning. PLC member Maria Cohen, executive director for the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, called in her testimony for more funding for technology and internet service for low-income families. She said a number of families do not have enough wifi bandwidth for parents to work from home and children to attend online classes. “The result is that students are falling very behind and in some cases dropping out,” Cohen said.








resident-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Elect Kamala Harris won fairand-square. The state-by-state vote of the Electoral College has formally cast an overwhelming majority of votes for them. The Electoral College votes went ahead despite many credible death threats on patriotic electors by Trumpsters in several swing states that went for Biden/Harris. Biden has now won 306 Electoral College votes while Trump won 232 votes. Since a minimum of 270 electoral votes is needed to win, American voters and now the Electoral College voted to stop an assault by a dangerous tyrant. When Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 3 million ballots, he claimed he won in a landslide. Now when he lost the popular vote by more than 7 million, Trump refuses to acknowledge the obvious. While 74 million Americans voted for Trump, fortunately, 81 million Americans voted for Biden. Trump will be remembered as the worst president in history. Never before has a sitting President and his allies tried to overthrow free and fair elections by filing at least 56 baseless legal cases that would affect his electoral standing. In a pernicious effort to slow the transition, Trump turned his fundraising apparatus to raise money theoretically to fund the legal fight. In a closer reading of the fine print, the money will support a personal political action committee with few limitations. Trump has now raised more than 207 million dollars post-election, not for a presidential library but to theoretically fight an election's legitimate


Elector Malcolm Kenyatta and the state's other 19 electors met Monday to cast Pa.'s electoral college votes.

outcome. He has clearly mastered the art of the scam since the federal-court-approved $25 million settlement with students duped by his defunct Trump University. All but one nonconsequential court case in Pennsylvania have been lost, denied, dismissed, settled, or withdrawn. The final blow came when the United States Supreme Court rejected Texas's seditious suit to overturn the election by disenfranchising 81 million voters. The U.S. Supreme Court, with six Republican Justices including three Trump-appointed justices, rejected the crazy claims of the Texas Attorney General (who may be shopping for a pardon) and an


amicus brief by other Republican states AG's and most Republican lawmakers in Congress. Alito and Thomas felt the SCOTUS must hear every dispute between states but would not grant any relief, meaning no injunction. The Court unanimously rejected the effort to block targeted states including Pennsylvania from casting their rightful electoral college votes. The SCOTUS decision came in a one-page order declaring that Texas had no standing denying Senator Ted Cruz an opportunity to showboat before the United States Supreme Court as he has so often done on the floor of the Senate. Disgracefully, nineteen Republican Attorney Generals

and 127 Republican Congress members, including most of the Pennsylvania Republican Congressional Delegation, joined this blatant assault on democracy targeting urban voters. Joy Reid summed it this way, “Let's be clear: this isn't about fraud. These Republicans are simply saying, in effect, they do not and will not accept that black voters should be allowed to cast votes, however legal those votes may be, to overrule the desires of a majority of white voters." Speaker Pelosi issued a statement warning: “Republican Members that signed onto this lawsuit brought dishonor to the House. Instead of upholding their oath to support and de-





fend the Constitution, they chose to subvert the Constitution and undermine public trust in our sacred democratic institutions. The pandemic is raging with nearly 300,000 having died and tens of millions having lost jobs. Strong, unified action is needed to crush the virus, and Republicans must once-and-for-all end their election subversion – immediately.” No amount of whining from Trump and his sycophantic and incompetent attorneys who filed scores of frivolous lawsuits can change the outcome. Congressman Adam Schiff summed it up this way in a tweet, “Let’s make this clear: Donald Trump lost. By a lot. And in defeat, Trump could care less about a worsening pandemic and stalling economy. His efforts to steal the election are a national embarrassment. Since the election, Trump has continued to ignore the exploding pandemic and the failing economy, while the challenge of controlling the pandemic is increasing by the hour. Yet, Trump ignores it. Instead, he goes golfing while running a money-generating grievance campaign. He is not pushing Congress to pass a desperately needed relief package for the many who are out of work and going hungry. Trump should forcefully call on Republicans in the Senate to provide relief, but he is not acting. The last stop on the Biden/ Harris election will involve Mike Pence as President of the Senate, who presides over a joint session of the House and Senate. Congressional proceedings to certify the Electoral College votes on January 6th. In what is usually a perfunctory move, Congress must

receive and certify the Electoral College votes. There is a move afoot by radical Republican Congress members to nullify the popular elections and electoral college and overturn the outcome to keep Trump in power. A faction of Republicans in Congress has become a dangerous force attempting to undermine American democracy by advancing an effort to reject the people's will. Under the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act of 1887, Congress can challenge the Electoral College vote. A senator must submit the challenge in writing with the Senator’s signature affixed. Likely candidates for a frivolous challenge include Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rand Paul of Kentucky. If challenged, each House must separately vote to accept or reject the outcome of the Electoral College. Some just never thought America would be in this perilous situation, but here we are. If it comes to that, the vote in the House will support the Electoral College outcome, but the Senate may be another matter. Republican Senators failed to uphold their responsibility to check on abuse of power by the Executive Branch. The Constitutional mechanism to remove a president through impeachment was highjacked by a complicit Republican Senate majority that failed to even call witnesses before rejecting the compelling case presented by the House. Will they do the same in the recent election result? Several Senate Republicans including Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of

Utah rejected the idea of overturning the results. Since Mitch McConnell has now acknowledged the Biden/Harris victory, this effort should fail. Every Republican lawmaker who still values democracy must repudiate the radicals who have taken over their party and support the results of the electoral college. We are witnessing widening cracks in our system of government. Trump has had his full run of the legal process. Beyond that, he has been trying to overthrow democratic elections by whipping up MAGA supporters who are pressuring elected Republicans. Trump’s false claims are already sowing seeds for more voter suppression in key states. Even his most loyal defender Attorney General Barr was driven from office after a brief moment of honesty concluding there was no widespread fraud. Trump continues to claim that he won the election despite his failed legal bids to challenge what the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council said was “the most secure election in American history.” Benjamin L. Ginsberg is a longstanding Republican lawyer and former co-chair of the bipartisan 2013 Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Ginsberg warned in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, "The country was lucky that President Trump and his reelection campaign were so inept. He ultimately lost by a wide margin, and his challenges to the results have been farcical. His rhetoric ramped up inversely proportional to his ability to

produce evidence supporting his charges of systemic "fraud" or "rigged" elections. The shenanigans during the recent elections are a clear warning that our electoral system is deeply flawed and requires a serious response. Ginsberg recommends the formation of an election commission to address weaknesses in election laws that Trump exploited. Communist leader Nikita Khrushchev wrote in 1956, “We will take America without firing a shot. We do not have to invade the U.S. We will destroy you from within....” Khrushchev’s words may be prescient as Putin’s operatives used social media and the hacking of emails to put Trump-the divider in chief-in power in 2016. For the past four years, Trump has been driving wedges into every crack in America and among our democratic allies while pandering to Putin who placed a bounty on U.S. soldiers. Lincoln warned in a speech, "A house divided against itself, cannot stand." The party of Lincoln may no longer exist as it is morphing into a profoundly divisive Cult of Trump. Meanwhile, we must count the days in a countdown with a mentally unstable lame-duck narcist with a grievance. A question that is growing larger by the day, will America's democracy survive when more than 70 percent of Republicans believe whatever they want to think about the election's integrity? How can we move forward if truth, verifiable facts, science, and the rule of law are no longer respected?







n quarantine, “Joy of Missing Out” has become a kind of mantra for Cam Chambers. “I gotta remind myself JOMO, JOMO, JOMO every day,” says the New Kensington-based r&b artist. “Like literally, I tell myself JOMO because it's like, ‘Ok you’re rushin, you’re rushin.’” He may need to remind himself of the Joy Of Missing Out, and that it's ok to chill a little bit in the day-today. But when it comes to his art, at least, Chambers is good at letting things simmer. In November he released his first record, Prodigal, which has been in the works for about three years. And as a (partial) result of his patience, and his willingness to let things happen at the right time, Prodigal is a sophisticated, well-constructed and remarkably fully-realized debut. Chambers folds jazz and hip hop into his sound, which gives his songwriting a swaggering edge. He’s a crooner, and elegantly shows off his considerable range while staying sing-along-able. In his more straightforward moments, like his first single “Nuedae,” Chambers recalls the grown-up, radio-ready R&B of the mid aughts. Other times, heavy beats and self-

Cam Chambers (Photo: Hounds X)

aware lyrics put him more in the neighborhood of someone like Frank Ocean. Chambers comes from a musical lineage -- he’s related to bassist Paul Chambers, who played with Miles Davis on Kind of Blue and John Coletrane on Giant Steps, among other canonic jazz records. Cam grew up playing


drums in church, where both his parents sang. (Opening track “Fin” features an audio clip of three-year old Chambers and his mom singing together). “Literally everyone in my entire family could be a choir,” he says with a laugh. Gospel introduced Chambers to music’s power. “Growing up in church …

seeing what powerful music can do to people,” he recalls, “when I saw that music does that … that's when I said, ‘I gotta do this pretty seriously.’ Because I knew it was nothing to really play with, if you can really contact someone emotionally like that. “My main goal when I'm





doing any kind of music is to take [listeners] to a good place. As long as they’re feeling something, that's the main base of what I do.” While studying music and communications at California University of Pennsylvania, Chambers joined a band and started playing regular shows. “There were a lot of plac-

es that were booking us but it never became an official thing,” he says. He knew he wanted to make music, but wasn’t quite ready to put out his original work. “This is really just practice,” he thought at the time, “but i love this.” Financial constraints stopped Chambers from finishing school, so he started working. “I had odd jobs, I sold cars … But the craziest thing about it was that I was gigging.” He played anywhere he could, including, on one occasion, at Shults Ford, where he worked. “That's the kind of stuff I did for three years,” he says. “It's been a balancing act, but I wasn’t trying to give up on music. With the music I found literally everything I ever need.” Chambers has some major advocates in the Pittsburgh music scene, including vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/ songwriter/producer INEZ, who mixed and mastered the first song Chambers ever recorded; and rapper Mars Jackson, who’s recent single “Look Up” features vocals by Chambers. At the suggestion of Chamber’s long-time collaborator Dan Sullivan -who along with another close collaborator, Bobby Webster, worked extensively on Prodigal -- Mars stopped by one of the recording sessions.

Within minutes, Chambers says, the two were already writing “Look Up.” “And that's how we became friends, that whole experience of writing that song together, putting that into the world together.” Mars and Chambers have some collaborative projects on the horizon, but for now Chambers is trying to slow down and let Prodigal have some time out in the world. Which brings him back to his mantra, and the very last song he wrote for the record, “JOMO.” The idea of celebrating the

joy of missing out was inspired by quarantine though, Chambers says, he’s realizing he’s always kind of lived his life that way. “With ‘JOMO,’ it's the whole situation of not being able to chase anything right now, but having to be confident that you’ll get there eventually,” he says. “It's about being calm in the situation and making the best of your world as it is in the moment. Even though everything else is burning down you gotta make the best world around you.”





“I knew Britney through work. We worked in a factory together. After maybe six months of knowing her I realized that I had worked once with her husband at another job. Ryan, a coworker, told me Britney and her husband Armando were intending to ask me to join their marriage, they were having problems and looking for a third person. He told me to be prepared. That’s when I sort of took a step back from being friends with her. I didn’t want to give her the wrong idea. I also recognized that her husband was insane. People who are actually into BDSM and kink culture don’t say things to you like ‘I’m a dark and twisted person and you wouldn’t understand.’ “After I stepped back she noticed and started doing things like Venmoing me money. It would always be right after I made a social media post of lingerie, looking for someone to buy it for me. It would be for the exact amount of the lingerie. She would message me weekly, saying affirming things about my body. “Jon was an engineer at the place where we worked. Whenever he would come onto the floor

Prince Edward Island

to work on the assembly machines -- like, to make them better, or to improve them -- Brittney was always the one he would talk to ‘cuz she had worked there for five or six years. So she had a pretty good handle on things. “They worked on engineering projects together. They had only been talking for like two weeks, she explained that she was still married. It wasn’t a


happy marriage. Jon said ‘Well maybe we could get to know each other.’ She told him her husband was a crazy person. “They only hung out, like, maybe two hours total over those weeks, kissed once, and he was decapitated on Saturday night.” “How did the husband find out about him?” “He just picked up Britney’s phone and started going through it. He would

monitor her phone regularly. It seemed like he was okay with her talking to me but I think that was because of the sex thing they had planned. “He had access to her Facebook. There were times she would delete it for months because she just wouldn’t want him going through it. “A lot of times she and I would keep our conversations online very limited in almost like code. Recently,

ESSAY I went back through all the conversations we had over the years. I could see she went through the decline of her mental health and she just basically gave up on life. And then this whole thing happened. “Armando started beating her. It got real bad. He put a gun in her mouth. The kid, she was 9, she walked in on it. Anyway Jon got a text from Britney’s phone saying they should meet up at a park. “Armando parked the car so that when Jon drove in he would see her sitting there in it. He went and hid in the bushes then jumped him. Britney was telling him to stop. So when Armando was beating him he was yelling at her and pushing her away. Britney was crying, he put the gun in her hands and told her to shoot him. She said no. He told her to step on his throat, she was scared. She did it, but wasn’t really applying pressure. Then they got him into the back seat and that’s when Armando had Britney cut his wrists. He wouldn’t die and kept asking ‘Why are you doing this?’ Armando told Britney to get in the front seat of the car and then he shot him three times.” “In the car? Then what?” I asked. “Brittney drove up north with the body and Armando drove a different car. There was a point where he went

into a store to buy things for the body burial. He used her card because he didn’t even have his own bank account. “They went up to the woods, way up to the top of the state which is a really unpopulated area. And he made her cut the head off the body with a hatchet while he puked in the back. You can shoot this guy and make all this terrible stuff happen but you can’t do the real— you’re making your wife do it? “She buried the head. They wrapped the body in a tarp and dragged it up to a little creek. I guess some hunters called the Fish and Game people. “The Fish and Game was able to follow the drag marks. They could see them from the car to the creek. “So what happened that made you suspicious of anything? How did you find this stuff out at all?” I asked. “I was in Pittsburgh, bored as shit. I had just moved here. It was right before my birthday. Jon went missing on my mom’s birthday. The only information was that he intended to go hiking the next day. His cell phone last pinged in downtown Jaffrey. This was all in the posts people put up to try to find him that. “Not a lot of people knew where Brittney lived and from where his phone was pinged there was no reason

for him to be down there. All there was was a bar that closed because they’re putting a Rotary there. “At first I thought it was going to be a hate crime because Jon was super feminine and I thought maybe if the bars were open maybe some homophobic redneck had beat him but A) that’s past bar hours and B) the bar was closed. “That Saturday was when the phone pinged and then Sunday or Monday was when that report was circulating and I saw that Brittney didn’t go to work on Monday and that was when I was like, ‘they’re together, or someones dead.’ After that I started asking people from my old job if they had heard from them over the weekend. “Then this girl sent me a screenshot of something that Brittney had texted her at 7:12 a.m. saying something like she was leaving to go back to New Mexico to figure shit out. And then that Tuesday night still no one had heard from her, so I gathered all the screenshots and asked people what they had heard and sent all of it over to a friend of Jon who I had gone to school with. I said I had a really bad feeling and then I sent her more information. I said ‘I’m sorry if I’m triggering you or making things difficult.’ And she said ‘No, they are

actually looking into her right now.’ “And then Britney called me around 1p.m. the following day and told me everything. She had told the cops everything already. They had released her. “The police wanted to bring in Armando on assault and battery changes against her so they could interrogate him. He bailed. They apprehended him three hours north with his daughter in the car. He was on his way to the body.” “Was this the same daughter who walked in on him putting the gun in Britney’s mouth?” I asked. “Yeah. She is the oldest but she is under 10. The youngest was born in the last couple years. “The Jaffery detectives called me and asked me a lot of questions about it. I told them what I knew. “I don’t know what is going to happen but she has around 120 pages of information against him saying that he made her do it, that she was under duress and scared for her own life. Never once does it miss a beat saying she was forced to do it under duress. He isn’t talking. His trial isn’t for a while, because he wants an in-person one. She is supposed to find out about her trial by 4 p.m. today.”



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