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APP: ‘Tusk Magazine’



Ashley Ruiz-Steiskal

Anthony Acierto Karen Cogan


Don Gomez

Cynthia Washicko

Sarah Kim Frankie Najor

ART DIRECTOR Nilayam Patel


PHOTO DIRECTOR Mariah Carrillo






Sarah Hemadi

Mike Murray

Fiona Pitt

Erin Storti



Mandy Alberoni

Jeffrey Brody

Liana Cervantes

Julie Edgington Brandon Hicks


Blanca Navarro

Arnold Holland

Nilayam Patel

TUSK is published annually by the Cal State Fullerton Department of Communications. The opinions expressed within are the responsibility of the writers and do not necessarily reflect those of the university, faculty or student body. This issue of Tusk was printed at Alliance Print & Graphic Services in Orange County. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. Published Spring 2015.

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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR The director Alfred Hitchcock once said, “A lot of movies are like a slice of life, mine are like a slice of cake,” meaning that his films only include the most intense, dramatic, entertaining and delectable bits to create a movie that leaves you wanting more. Journalists can’t choose to include only the juiciest parts of the story. We include all of the facts and details, working with the subjects to present to you, the reader, a slice of their life— the stripped-down, uncut truth that is yours to take. In this issue of Tusk, you will search for one student’s road to success after she swerves off track, sit in the press box with another and watch his career goals come true, and you’ll find yourself pushed beyond mental boundaries, chasing down sanity with a young, aspiring rockstar experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs. You’ll catch flights to Japan, China and South Korea while rushing to photoshoots and dodging danger. You’ll eat dinner with an Afghan teenager and her family, watching in awe as she

voices the opinion that will change her life forever. You will sit alongside a patient as she anxiously awaits a diagnosis that will inevitably change the course of her life. You’ll hit the pavement face first with a student athlete who asks himself whether to tap out or keep swinging. The journey continues as you travel with an investigator who finds herself caught in the middle of the very crime she was trying to expose and you’ll wander through Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, spotting new vendors and searching for the old. You’ll navigate through Guatemala with a group of student journalists as they produce a photo essay about life in a developing country. There you will meet a man who, after losing his job, finds a buzzing new career to provide for his family. The stories in this issue of Tusk Magazine may not have perfect, Hollywood endings, but they are the raw truths of individuals encompassing all walks of life. Life, when it pushes you to your limit and you question

whether you have the strength to move forward. Life that knocks you out of your comfort zone. Life that is imperfect and beautiful at the same time. Life that is full of passion. These tales of trial turned triumph were an honor for us to tell. Our team of writers, copy editors, designers and photographers dedicated their time to bring this magazine to life. Our multimedia team worked hard and efficiently to make Tusk Magazine available online and on our first-ever app. On the website, you’ll be able to view all ten stories plus an exclusive story, extra photos and videos. I am truly grateful for the teamwork that made this collaborative effort possible and so proud of the outcome. A special thank you goes out to our advisers Professor Holland and Professor Brody, without whom we may have been lost more than once. I hope this magazine, this little slice of life, finds you well and encourages you in times of trouble, just as the subjects encouraged us.

ASHLEY RUIZ-STEISKAL Editor-in-Chief | Class of 2015

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WORDS OF REBELLION Forced to flee everything she knew for a few fateful words, a young Afghan woman finds herself on a lone course to indepedence.

GRAND CENTRAL As new vendors move into one of LA’s oldest markets, veteran shops give way to hipster hangouts and the issues of gentrification arise.

WIRED SHUT A student’s dream of becoming a UFC fighter falls to pieces after his jaw is shattered.

INSIDE INDUSTRY IMPERFECTIONS Crossing borders and navigating risky situations, a young woman grows smarter than the scams and seductions of modeling.

WHITE DARKNESS An aspiring rockstar turns to drugs as a way to improve his songwriting and musical ability, but loses his sanity in the process.

FINDING DRIVE A narrowly avoided car accident impacts a woman’s path to success, causing her to reroute and forge a new way for herself.

GUATEMALA For two weeks a group of journalism students captured the stories behind the struggle, dedication and strength of Guatemala’s people.

NO LONGER JUST A FAN One question was all it took for Johnny Navarrette to go from sports fan to sports reporter, qualified enough for the Lakers.

WHISTLEBLOWER An investigative reporter spends months uncovering animal cruelty, only to have her motives questioned and identity revealed.

OVERCOMING A BODY’S BETRAYAL A terminal diagnosis leaves a wife, mother and nurse with limited time and a choice to either give up or get busy living.

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LION Written by James Smith Photos by Frankie Najor TUSK | 8


KABUL, AFGHANISTAN DECEMBER 1979 The words echoed off the vaulted living room walls, only to be answered by silence. Hassina Fazli’s parents, siblings, cousin and the stranger sat in disbelief, staring at the young girl’s chestnut eyes. The casual dinner was placed on hold by the stunning words that poured from her mouth. The 18-year­-old Afghan girl had just committed the cardinal sin—expressing her opinion. “Let’s change the subject,” her father, Farooq, said. The look of panic on his face was magnified by his signature Coke-bottle glasses. But it was too late, the damage was done. Her words could not be taken back. She had broken the newest unwritten law in 1979 Afghanistan: don’t speak negatively about the Soviets, especially in mixed company. But her cousin deserved every name Hassina had called him. His apathy toward the Russian invaders was treason in her eyes. How could he allow these evil conquerors to take control of his country and not speak one word of opposition about it? How could he bring that man into her house? The stranger sat back in his chair, quietly taking note of the drama that had interrupted the otherwise routine dinner—Hassina’s name calling, the passion with which she expressed her accusations and her family’s reaction to her outburst. A mental note was being taken of everything. The conspicuous stranger dressed and looked unlike the rest of Hassina’s family. He was a ‘friend’ of her cousin. No doubt a Soviet sympathizer, if not a KGB agent, the Soviet Union’s committee for state security and foreign intelligence. The recent Soviet occupation dramatically changed the scenery of Hassina’s home in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. The once bustling streets now stood eerily bare. The unmistakable dome-shaped turrets of Soviet T­62 tanks studded the pockmarked streets, their cannons purposely pointed at buildings and homes, a consistent reminder of who actually controlled the city. Russian soldiers with hard faces replaced families on evening walks. The foreign invaders concealed pale features behind the black gunmetal of AK­47s as they menacingly sauntered through the streets of the city in their drab olive Afghanka uniforms. Spectral figures whose presence was constant, an omnipresent force one could never acknowledge. Angels of death. The changes she hated most were the invisible ones. A strictly enforced 10 p.m. curfew made

regular social life impossible. No more late-night dinner parties with friends or family. Everyday routines required planning to finish before nightfall to avoid breaking curfew. But the worst change of all was the inability to trust anyone. Everyone could be a Soviet informant now. A passing comment about the Soviets to the wrong person could land you in jail or put a bullet in your head. There was no single profile of what to look for. Teachers, grocers, cousins—anyone could be an informant. Her cousin laughed off the accusations, diffusing some of the tension in the room. The evening resumed and Hassina sat in silence for the remainder of the dinner. Then the room was empty. The guests, her family and food from the night’s dinner all faded away, yet Hassina sat in the vacant room confronted with the one part of the night that, like an unwanted house guest, refused to leave. Her words. Why did she have to speak her mind, what was the point of it? Did she really think she could scorn her cousin into hating the Russians? And why did she say everything in front of the stranger? She had been warned not to speak out against the Soviets in front of anyone except her parents, but that night the rashness of youth got the best of her. Hassina’s actions had endangered not only her life, but her family’s as well. The Fazlis were not the typical Afghan family. Her father, Farooq, was a diplomat to Poland, and mother, Mariam, was a teacher. They were already placed under higher suspicion than most. Farooq was certain that the house and phones were bugged. Soviet tanks and patrols seemed to linger longer around the Fazli house than any of their neighbors. Her actions that night would only increase those patrols. Morning came and the world hadn’t ended. Neither Hassina nor any of her family were


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HOW COULD A FEW WORDS CAUSE SO MUCH DAMAGE? jailed or killed overnight. Breakfast was served. Hassina sheepishly took her seat at the table—the very same seat where she allowed her impulses to get the best of her just a few hours prior. “About what happened last night,” Farooq said between mouthfuls. “Your Mother and I had a talk and we agreed that you are not safe here anymore.” “What? Father, why?” Hassina asked. “You know just as well as I that you could be jailed or worse for what you said last night. Hassina your life is in danger.” “Father, I don’t want to leave. My life, my friends, my family is here, my everything is here,” Hassina protested. “This can’t happen! There must be something you can do!” “Your life could be in danger. I have to get you out of Kabul and to somewhere safe,” Farooq said with anguish. He knew his daughter would never be able to return to Afghanistan while it remained under Soviet control. Hassina submissively nodded in agreement to her father’s plan. His word was always final, but she couldn’t help feeling slighted. She always got what she wanted. Her father was an ambassador. In the past he’d been able to pull some strings or ask a favor to get his daughter whatever she wished. He chose to do no such thing this time. This would change everything. Her plans of going to college

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and traveling with friends were placed on hold indefinitely, replaced now by her father’s plan for her immediate future: run and hide. Moving was not uncommon for the daughter of a diplomat, she had uprooted countless times before. However, leaving Kabul was different. Although she spoke with a different accent and dressed in different clothes than the locals, Hassina considered the city her home. She had friends here, a rarity for the teen who had been forced to move every three years since birth. She had family here. She had memories here. No longer would she be able to feel the cool crunch of fresh snow under her boots on a winter’s day, her favorite season. Nor would she be able to spend late nights at friends’ houses. The previous night solidified those outings as merely memories, but in reality, those days had come to an end months ago when the curfew was implemented.

THREE WEEKS HAD PASSED In less than 24 hours Hassina would leave her family and home. The Fazli house stirred. A few trustworthy family members were invited over to say their goodbyes. Hassina dodged weepy-eyed kisses and hugs from aunts as she tried to help her mother pack the one piece of luggage she was allowed to take. Folding her favorite jacket, Hassina laid the garment gently into the large suitcase. Her mother immediately pulled the jacket out and began ripping it open from the seams. “Mother! What

are you doing?” Hassina shouted in confusion. “We don’t know how long you will be gone, you must take as much money as you can with you,” said Mariam, as she began stuffing fists full of hundred dollar bills into the freshly torn seams. “Get your shoes and purse out and begin doing the same.” By the time the two finished packing, every article of clothing with a pocket pouch or two layers had a wad of cash smuggled into it. In total, she would be traveling with $10,000. As Hassina zipped her suitcase-turned-­treasure chest, her father tossed a small booklet on top. “You are lucky I was able to get your passport back,” Farooq said with a smile on his face. The family’s passports had been confiscated in Moscow the past year, after a diplomatic mission to Poland. “And with any luck, you’ll be in America before they know it’s missing. That is the plan at least.” That plan was a meticulously calculated ordeal that involved two of her uncles, a Polish ambassador, multiple travel visas and a convincing lie. She would fly out of Kabul’s international airport, through the Iron Curtain, to non-USSR controlled Frankfurt. Posing as a university student on her way to study abroad in Poland, she would be allowed a two-day travel visa so she could leave the airport and stay in the city of Frankfurt. With help from her uncles she would be taken to a U.S. embassy where she could ask for political asylum. That night, sleep was impossible. Hassina laid in her room, unable to escape thoughts of moving to a new country and leaving her family in Kabul with the tanks, soldiers and curfews. She couldn’t help but feel guilty for her actions. How could a few words cause so much damage? That 30-second lapse in judgment forever changed the direction of her life. Why does this have to happen to me? She thought. Ambassador’s daughters don’t have to be


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smuggled out of the country and away from their families. This is not my choice. The sun rose and Hassina felt numb. Final hugs from her aunts and the bitter cold embrace of the morning all felt the same. Her life was spinning out of control and she could do nothing about it. She was in a dream she couldn’t escape. She watched as her father and mother packed her cash-heavy suitcase into the family car. Hassina slid into the oversized leather seat of the Mercedes. She closed the heavy door while her mother corralled her sisters into the back seat. Her father put the car in drive and the family made their way to the airport. Hassina couldn’t help but look back at her home as it faded into the horizon. The house grew smaller in the rearview mirror, as the German car bumped and rattled its way down the road. Every moment from here on was another inch, foot, mile that she was putting between herself and her home. A distance that Hassina would never be able to recover. The car stopped in front of Kabul International Airport. But she still refused to believe it was real. Following a final, tearless goodbye she picked up her suitcase and floated through the terminal doors. Hassina quietly took her seat on the plane. So far her daring escape felt and looked just like any other dull, international commute. Hassina felt the familiar rumble of the jet engine revving and clutched her plastic armrest. The plane lifted off the ground and the numbness that defined her day began to fade. One-thousand feet. Hassina’s knuckles turned white from clenching the armrest.

Five-thousand feet. Her stomach began to turn. The dusty recycled air of the cabin made her want to puke. Why was this happening? She had flown countless times before and never been nervous. Seven-thousand feet. She broke into a cold sweat. Beads of sweat stained her clothes, turning her lavender shirt speckled black. Her jacket, filled with a few thousand dollars of insulation, gradually grew soggier by the second. Twelve-thousand feet. The plane banked and Hassina stared out her window looking down at Kabul. Feeling rushed back into her body and she burst into tears. All at once, the neglected emotions from the day hit her. Tears poured from her eyes as she mourned the life she was leaving behind in Kabul. She reminisced about her family, friends and home, all things that were now irretrievable because of a thoughtless slip of the tongue. This was the last time she would ever see her city. She slumped into her seat and continued to cry. “Miss, are you alright?” a concerned flight attendant asked. “No. No I’m not! I called my cousin a communist and I am being punished for it. I don’t want to go to Germany. I don’t want to go to America. I want to go home!” Hassina wanted to scream at the intrusive woman, but instead she said meekly, “Yes, I’m fine, thank you.”

IRVINE, CALIFORNIA NOVEMBER 29, 2014 It’s early Friday morning, the fun and laughter of the previous night have evaporated, leaving only the faint smell of turkey and Afghan food. Hassina rises from her bed and walks downstairs into the kitchen of her townhome. The dining room table remains cluttered from last night’s Thanksgiving potluck. Dishes of day-old palau and turkey are scattered across the small, hardwood table. Trying to shake off the early morning’s daze, she shuffles and begins to clean up last night’s memories. The previous night Hassina hosted Thanksgiving for over 30 members of the Fazli family. Parents, sibling, cousins, nieces and nephews piled into her house to laugh, dance and feast. A Fazli tradition that looks and feels no different in Irvine than at her father’s house in Kabul, so many years ago. Kabul, her father’s house and her childhood are all just distant memories now. Places that only exist on a few pieces of high-gloss paper inside the family’s photo album. She takes out the album on occasion to reminisce and show her two children, Tameem and Sophia. But it’s what is not inside that faded album, the repercussions of that fateful night, that have come to define Hassina’s life. Those repercussions sent Hassina to Germany on her escape from the Soviets. During the year and a half that she spent there, she learned to speak German and eventually became a political refugee in the country. She resettled in the U.S., where she gained American citizenship and spent four years alone before helping her parents emigrate from Afghanistan. She and her family adjusted to Western culture, reviving some of their old customs in a new home. Although some of Hassina’s decisions made her life more difficult than it could have been, she doesn’t regret any of them. That struggle and independence transformed her into the woman she is today. “I’m at a point where I’m content. At my age, things that would bother me a lot 20 years ago don’t bother me anymore,” she said. “I have my health and my family, which I’m very grateful. And I’ve learned that wherever you are now, that’s home.”

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In the center of downtown Los Angeles lies a hidden gem where the elite cross paths with blue-collar workers and huaraches meet oxfords. Housing bars frequented by hipsters on one end and quinceañera boutiques ready to embellish 14-year-old girls in over-the-top dresses on the other, is an epicenter of gentrification—the Grand Central Market. Throughout the market, Spanish-speaking patrons munch on $3 tacos from Tacos Tumbras a Tomas. Nearby, visitors sip champagne with plates overflowing with oysters from The Oyster Gourmet bar.

The market remained that way until 2012 when 62-year-old Ira died. After which his wife, Adele, took over management and proposed a “deep cleaning,” of the market that included freshly painted ceilings, walls and polished floors. After the cleansing, new vendors gradually made their way in as old ones were forcefully pushed out. Now, the real issue at hand is whether or not Adele’s intention was a “deep cleaning,” of the market or more of an ethnic cleansing of the people. Cultural changes are the easiest and most visible to see after gentrification takes place, but that’s only what you see on the surface level, said Arturo Romo, an activist and member of the North East Los Angeles Alliance. The North East Los Angeles Alliance is a group of north east LA residents dedicated to understanding and documenting the effects of gentrification on immigrant, working class and poor communities, according to NELA’s Facebook. Romo believes the market services were made for working-class people. “To create segregated cities all over urban areas creates invisible borders, but ultimately it’s class based—at first (the location) seems more diverse, but economically? It’s not,” Romo added. However, in an interview with The Planning Report, Adele said, “I do not want this to be a gentrified place. I want this to be a real, authentic environment. I want the stalls to feel like they belong, reflecting the history of the market, but moving into the 21st century.” Despite this, many frequenters of the market fear that it is becoming more commoditized and less of a unique community.

AFTER THE CLEANSING, NEW VENDORS GRADUALLY MADE THEIR WAY IN AS OLD ONES WERE FORCEFULLY PUSHED OUT. “I didn’t recognize it because it got gentrified,” said Ben Yoo, a UC Santa Barbara student, as he took a bite from a carne asada taco from Las Morelianas. “A part of me misses how rugged it was, but I kind of like it too because it’s cleaner now.” The market, which opened its doors in 1917, was originally a place where low-income families flocked for affordable food and produce. Since the renovation of Spring Street and Grand Central Square, however, an influx of wealthy vendors has pushed out the market’s traditional discount sellers. “I used to come here for pupusas and chicharrón, but now I come for McConnell’s Ice Cream,” Yoo said. In the early 1990s, the market underwent a major renovation under owner Ira Yellin to reflect downtown LA’s new generation of Latinos who visited the market to shop for produce at prices cheap enough to feed an entire family.

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“I don’t really like it. I just don’t dig it,” said Gabe Zimmer, a downtown resident who has been visiting the market for over a year. “It doesn’t feel authentic to me, especially places like Eggslut. I don’t feel like this is a place where families can come anymore, all the new stuff is so expensive.” Zimmer, who moved to LA to pursue art, believes the new changes do not properly reflect the changing population, which to him are the young creatives that value human interaction more than survival, he said. “I’m a creative, an artist, but I can’t even afford to live here,” Zimmer said. “If there were actual creatives living here, there wouldn’t be $15 omelets. People like me don’t live like that, you know. The new people that come here are rich, not creative.”

saying they want us out, maybe they won’t. We have been here since 1998 and they won’t give us a lease. We can try to change things, but right now all we can do is wait,” Medina said. When venturing to the south side of the market, a three-man band trumpets an experimental fusion of Mexican corridos, a musical ballad, and Christmas carols that perfectly combine Spanish romance with American holiday classics. The sound of the trumpet echoes through the market as a reedy, organic accordion weaves its way through the rhythm and, for a moment, racial borders dissipate within the music. Dissipate, but never disappear. Yojana Orantes, a previous employee of the market, remembers when businesses were owned strictly by Latinos 11 years ago. Back then, it was more of a farmers market. The fruit was straight from Mexico. The vegetables were fresh and cheap. Elbow-rubbing and short strides made visitors question if they were at the farmers market or a crowded concert, Orantes said. The influx of new vendors has not only pushed out some long-time merchants, but has also reduced the number of homeless loiterers around the marketplace, said Frank Lucero, a Grand Central security guard. Lucero said he wonders how the vendors that were pushed out are making ends meet because, as far as he knows, when they were let go, this was their only job and their only source of income. Gentrifying low-income communities is like shuffling a deck of cards in your advantage—you’re not getting rid of the cards, you’re just moving the low cards to the bottom, Romo said. “That’s gentrification,” Zimmer said. “It’s a double-sided story, yeah it brings in more business, but what does it push out? ... What are you losing? You’re making more money, but is money really the end all, be all at the end of the day?”

“IT’S A DOUBLE-SIDED STORY... IT BRINGS IN MORE BUSINESS, BUT WHAT DOES IT PUSH OUT?” But old and new businesses continue to boom. Marlon Medina, manager of Jose Chiquito, said his business has embraced the change and the amount of new customers it has generated, but fears management will boot them out the moment a newer, more hip vendor comes along. “If we stay, it’s going to be good for us,” Medina said. “We pay about $3,000 for this place. It’s hard, but we’ve been selling a lot so we are good, but the thing is we have to stay and that’s what we never know.” Medina, along with other vendors, who asked to stay anonymous because of fear of management kicking them out, said management ultimately decides if they can stay or not, regardless if they make a profit and pay the rent on time. “Maybe next month they’ll send us a letter

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A JAW SHATTERED AND A DREAM BROKEN, BUT NOT CRUSHED. WRITTEN BY RILEY TANNER PHOTOS BY FRANKIE NAJOR I haven’t eaten anything solid in over a month. I’ve lost almost 30 pounds in as many days and the most satisfying “meal” I’ve had through a jaw wired shut is a blended mix of lasagna and chicken stock. “This is just God’s way of telling you to do something else with your life,” Dr. Yanney told me after my final surgery. “You should never fight again.” As a child, I was reclusive and had little interest in sports. My parents, in an effort to get me outside and away from my science fiction novels, signed me up at a karate dojo. I was in love with martial arts from the first time I sparred. Each moment in the ring only increased my appetite and, before I started middle school, I’d attained my black belt. During high school, I trained in Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu under 19 | TUSK

sensei Richard Cespedes. Kenpo is a Japanese martial art that primarily focuses on strikes, but includes some ground work. Jiu-Jitsu is a Brazilian art with Japanese origins, similar to wrestling, but with the victor submitting an opponent on the ground via choke or joint lock. Cespedes often scheduled newer students to fight larger or more experienced opponents in an effort to toughen us up. Although these unbalanced matches broke five of my ribs, they strengthened my resolve to keep fighting. After high school, I studied Krav Maga, an art that was developed by the Israeli military with the goal of disabling an opponent as quickly as possible. The art is a compilation of the most effective and brutal techniques from multiple fighting styles. I also studied Jeet Kune Do, a similar mix of various

martial arts and philosophy developed by Bruce Lee. Both arts favor the practicality of weapons in combat, so I trained with knives and machetes. The cost of formal training quickly left me broke so I started a free martial arts club at Saddleback College. While we were allowed to recruit next to other student organizations, we were branded a fight club and barred from practicing on campus. Soon after I transferred to Cal State Fullerton, I was introduced to the aggression-oriented art of combat-submission wrestling. Much like Jiu-Jitsu, this non-striking game ends when one opponent admits defeat by tapping out to avoid being choked unconscious or having bones broken. I’ve spent a good portion of my life training in martial arts and taking a few shots to the face comes with the territory. But, a few months ago, I took one on the chin harder than I’d ever thought possible. And it wasn’t from a fist. I was coaching my female, club volleyball team through its first travel tournament. The girls were off to an ideal start, winning every match of their

first day of play in Phoenix, Arizona. “You owe us a backflip. We never lost a single game,” my players reminded me before our first match on the second day of the tournament. Foolishly, I’d promised the team that I would do a backflip if they went undefeated during an entire day of play. It was a tough goal, so I figured an act from my gymnastics background was a fair incentive for exceptional performance. I stepped off the padded court to the raw cement of the gym floor and prepared for a trick I’d done countless times before. I don’t remember much after that, but I suspect my feet slipped out during my jump. Somewhere between takeoff and rotation, I managed to land on the right side of my chin with a resonating crack. I’ve never been knocked out in a fight, but I imagine I came close that day when the cement pulverized my chin. My vision immediately went blurry. Blinking through the haze, I rose to my feet, swaying. It hurt, but I could still stand, so I decided I’d play it off as no big deal.

This plan was debunked when the girls pointed out the blood coursing down my shirt. I quickly headed toward the bathroom so that I could try to pull myself together. I had to act fast, because our next game started in 10 minutes. I knew my chin was split, but I was concerned that I had dislocated something. My mouth’s range of motion was impaired and any movement brought waves of intense pain. I forced my mouth open enough to throw up a few times, then moved to the sinks to check the damage and clean my face. Looking into my hazy reflection, I saw that a few teeth on the left side of my mouth were shattered. I cobbled together a bandage from Band-Aids and toilet paper, then returned to the courts to coach. “Listen, what happened to me, it’s not important. I’ll be fine,” I mumbled through a lopsided mouth during our pre-game huddle. “This game, this is right now. You need to focus on the game and not worry about me. I always talk about fighting your way through obstacles and being

tough. You go be tough right now and play hard.” Not the most inspirational speech, but I needed to direct the team’s thoughts away from my situation and toward the game. I was a mess. My hands were shaking so much that a team mom had to write the lineup for me when I couldn’t put pen to paper. After that match, a courtside doctor stitched me up. It was easier to coach without the bloodstained bandage dangling from my jaw and the team kept up their undefeated streak. I woke up the next morning in a world of hurt. My jaw wasn’t too swollen, but talking was too painful for conversation or breakfast. Despite my pride in the performance of my athletes, I handed the team over to another coach and rushed to the nearby St. Joseph’s Hospital. I expected minor damage, but X-rays showed that the fall had dislocated my jaw on both sides, broken my mandible in four places and shattered my left condyle, the hinge-like end of the jaw bone. There were no doctors willing to operate at St. Joseph’s, as the area around the jaw contains several TUSK | 22

nerve endings that can be permanently damaged by even the smallest of surgical errors. Unfortunately, there was no one in California who would perform the surgery either. After a tenacious search, my mother finally discovered maxillofacial specialist Dr. James Yanney in West Linn, Oregon. My jaw was wired shut during a preparatory surgery to stabilize me for the 16-hour drive to Oregon, restricting me to a liquid diet. It was at this time that I started living on chocolate milk. After a long, bumpy drive up north I arrived at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland with a sore mouth. At 5:30 a.m. I was wheeled into the operating room where I underwent a five-hour surgery to rebuild my ruined jaw with titanium plates and screws. My jaw was once again wired shut and I was left bedridden for three long days, during which I was fed through a catheter by my nurse. I returned to California for the three weeks before my next procedure. I spent this time at my parent’s rental house in Malibu, where I worked on perfecting my cauliflower soup recipe. 23 | TUSK

The next two months were filled with dozens of failed attempts to blend just about anything solid. Meat smoothies sounded brilliant, but never turned out. Curry was a desperate and ultimately terrible decision. Blackberries are delicious, but their seeds clog up the straw. Throughout my trial and errors, I discovered that the worst thing about blenders is how they discard individual food flavors, combining each and every ingredient into a monotonous paste. Two days before my trip back to Portland, I met with the dentist to have my mouth wires cut. Free at last. Finally, I could speak, brush my teeth, spoon feed myself and eat foods larger than the diameter of a straw. Glorious. During my last operation, the metal braces were removed from my mouth and I was fitted for a dual retainer to keep my lower jaw aligned. The headgear slurs my speech, but I’m grateful to open my mouth again—even if I do have to wear it for the next two years. Unfortunately, more than just my jawline was altered by that fall. “This is just God’s way of telling you to do

something else with your life,” Dr. Yanney told me after my final surgery. “You should never fight again.” The impact of this advice hit me harder than the cement floor. His logic was sound—fighting in a cage for the amusement of others comes with a particularly high risk of injury. The painful irony was that my injury wasn’t related to fighting at all. Rather than being beaten down by this news, I held onto Dr. Yanney’s estimation that my jaw would heal in two years. I’ve chosen to see that healing time as an opportunity to improve my game before returning to the competition. Right before my injury, I made significant strides on my quest to become a professional fighter. In December 2013, I won a silver medal in the Sport Jiu-Jitsu International Federation World’s Tournament in Long Beach. It was my first official tournament and I was the only fighter there to medal in any weight class without a coach or home gym. Additionally, I began an internship at a start-up business co-founded by Rich Franklin, a former

UFC world champion. I was literally working for one of the greats. The stars appeared to align, only to scatter the moment my jaw met the pavement. During the first month my jaw was wired shut my muscle mass atrophied and my cardiovascular endurance quickly evaporated. The little walking I did was a short loop between the blender, bed and back. My grappling workouts and running regimen were reduced to maxillofacial exercises to strengthen muscles severed by shards of broken jaw bone. It’s now been eight months since my fall and I’m still far from full recuperation, but I’m making progress. Immediately following my injury, drills that were once warm-ups became unbearable. Now I’m lifting more weight than ever before. Every day, I move closer to my former athletic competence. I still can’t spar, but I’m capitalizing on other ways to improve my game—working on striking, flexibility, even salsa dancing to lighten my footwork. I’m not back yet, but I’m on my way. In one year, if my chin is ready, I know my body and mind will be too.

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As a young girl, I collected fashion magazines, stacking them as high as my windowsill, even covering a whole wall with the images. I had never considered the possibility that beyond the catwalk and behind the glossy pages lay an underworld of desperation, drugs, money, gangsters and deceit. After graduating from Huntington Beach High School in 2009, my only plans were to avoid entrance exams by attending community college. That plan was interrupted when a young, hip woman covered in tattoos approached me and handed me her card that read “Model Scout.” During that brief exchange, she encouraged me to meet with an agency in Beverly Hills.

Despite being weary of a possible scam, I took the card and later found myself driving my junky white Toyota Echo to the agency. I signed a yearlong contract with Models International, a small agency, but a huge step into a world I had never imagined. For the next few weeks I focused on building my portfolio, until I was contracted to work in Tokyo for three months. Anxious mostly about Japanese customs and concerned with who my roommates would be, I hadn’t considered how much I didn’t know about the modeling industry. I would soon learn the ugly truth behind those glossy pictures.

WRITTEN BY FIONA PITT ILLUSTRATIONS BY MANDY ALBERONI Landing at the Narita Airport in Japan half an hour before my first casting had me panicked. At 17, I wondered how I could comply with this already rigorous schedule. Time was short. I still needed to apply makeup to the bags under my eyes, find a public phone to alert my manager of my arrival and be careful and overly respectful to everyone around me. In my luggage was a bulky portfolio, high heels, an 80-day modeling contract and a small card from my mother, who wrote, “Fiona–Have a wonderful trip and time in Tokyo. Be safe.” Alone, I made it into the city by bus. My manager, Kazu, led me through a line of pale, lanky models who held books larger than their waists. The girls chatted in foreign languages, smoked, texted and sized each other up. I sat before three clients as they discussed my portfolio in Japanese, occasionally looking up to examine some part of my face. Kazu would chime in occasionally. One client snapped a

photo of me, bowed and, in broken English said, “Okay, thank you for coming.” Finally, Kazu dropped me off at the model apartment in Sangenjaya, a district near Shibuya. Overwhelmed and almost delusional from the 17-hour time difference, I struggled with my giant, red suitcase down a grim hallway. Illegible pamphlets in Japanese cluttered the door. Inside, a young Russian girl, Anna, was the first to introduce herself. Her porcelain skin and large, blue eyes made her look nymph-like, distracting me from her nearly incomprehensible English. She showed me to my room which contained a single mattress and full-length mirror, spotted with childish stickers. Between her manicured fingers was a strange brown cigarette. She asked if I smoked. I didn’t, but I took it anyway. Anna and I soon became close friends. She had been to Tokyo a year prior so she was familiar with the city. She was just 16.

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We knew this place and in the taxi felt safe. Our other roommate, Erika, was from Hungary. She was the oldest in the house at 19. After spending most of my first week in a van, snaking through Tokyo traffic and attending nearly nine castings a day, the girls were ready for a night out. Still jet lagged, I agreed to go. Anna’s on-and-off boyfriend, a Brazilian soccer player, picked us up in his matte black Porsche Cayenne with laced yellow rims. Alongside him sat Dmitry, an established Russian club promoter in Tokyo. The night began with dinner. Models splashed and scooped out various squid bits and other mysterious edibles from one bountiful bowl. Amongst them sat Japanese men, bearing heavily tattooed arms. Everyone was smoking, drinking and enjoying themselves. Afterwards, we were escorted to a nightclub, my first, and walked back to a VIP section with laminated notices reading, “Reserved for Models.” In this section everything was free: drinks, cigarettes, anything, if you knew who to ask. While nursing a vodka orange, I found myself chatting with an older Japanese man who I recognized from dinner when Anna spotted me. She approached and, over the music, said, “Be very nice to this man. OK? But try to get away soon.” I didn’t understand. She emphasized to me in her uneven accent, “Be a nice girl baby, OK.” In an unspoken way, I understood and did as she said, only after he told me I looked just like his ex-girlfriend and I should take a trip to Italy with him. As I got back to Anna, her eyes were wide. She told me, “Fiona, he is mafia! You have to be careful.” I brushed her off. I didn’t really believe her or his elaborate offers. More run-ins with this man, Jett, occurred. Eventually I found out Dmitry worked for Jett, and it wasn’t a coincidence that we kept encountering him. His offers to take me out became more frequent and intense. Dmitry showed up at our Sangenjaya apartment and handed me his cell phone to talk to Jett. Our district was too far from central Tokyo to be “in the neighborhood.” I told Jett I had a boyfriend back home. He refused to care. They both showed up to our apartment late one night. Anna convinced me that it was fine to go with them just to grab dinner.

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It was apparent in Jett’s driving he was temperamental. After a speedy ride in his Maserati, everyone sat around a low, Japanese table. The restaurant, famous for its view, looked out onto a warmly lit Tokyo Tower that was 40 floors high. Unable to enjoy the dazzling surroundings, Erika, Anna and I sat, tense. Some delicately-placed amuse-bouche came out. Jett didn’t like it. He screamed in Japanese at the waiter and threw the plate at his midsection. Everyone became quiet. Conversation was cautiously coaxed again. For a moment Jett was casual until I politely refused yet another offer to Italy. His temper quickly flared. He yelled, “She’s a bitch! She’s a bitch! This girl is a bitch!” The few guests around us stared. He continued shrilling obscenities in Japanese while Dmitry took my arm. Frightened, I looked back at Jett who was suddenly calm. Waiters bustled around him, apologizing profusely. All Dmitry said was “go,” and we were put in a taxi and sent to Roppongi. We knew this place and in the taxi felt safe. After that night I avoided clubs that mafia members were known to frequent. All I knew about Jett and his “position” is what I was told and, those who I trusted in the city, assured me, Jett was dangerous and to be avoided. I questioned my friendliness toward strangers. Why was it taken the wrong way? Still, something inside me was changing. The naiveté I came to Tokyo with was weakening and in its place grew confidence. Confidence in light of the experience I had been granted. I worked in Japan with experienced models and booked jobs for major companies and publications. I mingled with danger and didn’t care. I felt invincible. Packing to go back home, I found

Mom’s card. I hadn’t listen to her. I was not safe during this trip. Not safe at all. At 18, safety wasn’t my biggest priority. I couldn’t stop thinking about when I could leave Huntington Beach again. So I did. I was sent to Hong Kong in the summer of 2011, after signing with a new agency, LA Models. I spent the first few weeks becoming accustomed to the congested city. Unlike Japan, models in Hong Kong must navigate the city by map instead of being driven. During a time before my first smartphone, I learned to match the Chinese characters in my emails with the ones on the buildings. I landed jobs shooting editorials for Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and other major Hong Kong publications. Photos of me appeared on covers of Chinese magazines and I booked national campaigns wearing Fendi, Lanvin, Valentino, Giorgio Armani and Chanel. I was at the top of my game, but I felt frail—32, 23, 34 were the measurements I recited to clients. Still, agents encouraged me to lose centimeters and, with their advice, I was continuously booked for shoots. By the summer of 2013, I was 21. I took a year off school to model in London, and two months later, I was headed to Seoul,

South Korea. After another humbling flight across the Pacific, my agent, TJ, greeted me at Incheon Airport with a cup of coffee and cigarettes before settling me into another overcrowded and under-cleaned model apartment. Regardless of previous trips to Asia, my first step in Seoul and my first step in snow, was just as shocking and exciting as ever. Life in the fifth-floor apartment began with four new foreign girls and boys to get to know. Sharing bunk beds, arguing over trash duties, spending countless hours in a van and making endless efforts to break language barriers became commonplace. I knew these unspoken customs when it came to roommates and apartments. However, I learned early on some other rules. TJ was protective of his models and being older than the other girls, he asked me to take care of them. He told me about his arch nemesis in the city, a Russian-Korean man he called Bruce. Bruce befriended his models and lured them into dangerous situations, starting with being paid to go to clubs. These warnings felt familiar. Only this time I knew not to brush off such counsel. I became instantly close with my 18-year-old roommate, Alenka. The 5-foot-11-inch Ukrainian model was booked daily for jobs, but she wouldn’t return to our creaky bunk until 1 a.m. every night. She

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“I don’t remember your names, but I would like three and six.”

told me she was disappearing each night to meet with a Russian friend. Suspicious about her activities, I asked if I could join her. She laughed and said I wouldn’t enjoy it because he couldn’t speak English. Though cautious, Alenka finally agreed. She gave me a tight black dress to stash in my purse before we left and I wrinkled my eyebrows at her. This was a bad sign. During the taxi ride into Gangnam, Alenka instructed me to cover my head with a scarf. She ordered the taxi to stop, paid and said “fast,” as we ran inside through a dark lobby and into another room. I could hardly see where we entered at the speed she was going. Once inside, I wasn’t sure where we were. Everything was deep red and imitation Renaissance art hung above the couches. There were six other girls there smoking and drinking Americano. Alenka greeted her friend with two kisses, one on each cheek. I did the same. Even though I had just met him I knew who he was. It was Bruce, but he introduced himself to me as Dima. I followed Alenka into the restroom. There she briefed me on the truth behind her nightly disappearances. She’d been having

29 | TUSK

dinner with rich Korean business men. For this she was making a maximum of 1,000,000.00 won, the equivalent of $1,000 a night. She was doing this to support her family in Ukraine, who were struggling with a newborn—her little sister whom she adored. I told Alenka to translate that I was only there to wait for her. “My lady, just try. You are so beautiful; all you have to do is some karaoke, make conversation, and drink if they tell you to drink,” Dima responded. He made it sound harmless and Dima took my silence as acceptance. I found myself once again brushing off potential danger, giving into this attitude of living my life carelessly, without caution and, as my journal reads, ‘insanely.’ Hours later, someone entered and urgently told Dima something in Russian. I assumed a client had arrived as the girls began to pack up and Dima motioned us quickly into the next room. Inside, all of the girls stood in a line. It was creepy, too similar to a model casting. One by one we introduced ourselves with fake names. It was my turn. “I’m Amanda. I am 20 and from the United States,” I said reluctantly.

After the introductions, the client made no acknowledgements. Instead, he took three long minutes looking up and down the line. Embarrassed, he laughed and apologized, saying, “I don’t remember your names, but I would like three and six.” I didn’t get picked—I was more than relieved. The girls who weren’t chosen went home. I had to wait for Alenka, she was number six and always chosen to stay, which didn’t surprise me. Alenka looked her age—young and animated, yet equipped with strong Slavic cheekbones and features. I waited with Dima for hours. I never went back to that place, but I couldn’t stop Alenka. She explained that the opportunity to make that amount of cash in Ukraine was scarce. With little to no market for models, Alenka worked at a fast food restaurant while studying in school. Luckily, her contract with TJ ended and she made it home safe. Although models at this establishment were merely having dinner with businessmen, it was rumored that Dima was up to worse activities elsewhere, selling drugs and selling girls who were willing to have sex with clients. Those rumors were all but

confirmed when I returned to Seoul this past summer and asked a club promoter about Dima. He informed me that Dima was in prison carrying out a 40-year sentence. The promoter wouldn’t say exactly what Dima got arrested for, but I assume it had something to do with his “businesses.” After Seoul I had the choice to transfer schools and complete my degree at a university, or continue this typically short-lived career path. I believe highly in receiving an education; the dilemma I faced was timing. A modeling career, especially in Asia, usually ends around 25 years old. My family encouraged me to finish college rather than continue traveling, and listening to them was the wisest decision I’ve made. At 22, modeling came to a halt and in May a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Cal State Fullerton will be mine. That I owe to them. I was able to live some of my defining years as an artistically fulfilled young woman traveling abroad and living a dream, despite its dangers. I wouldn’t trade the experiences, or the woman I was shaped into while working as a professional model in an industry filled with imperfection.

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TIN S LA E. A D O NT S FA I NS OLOR ra R TU E C n i g u e r a r t e H IG E T H o e y F i B o n a p H RT O N C n b y J u n u e n O H W S itte by Y r O W A s L Ph



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IT IS FEBRUARY 14, 2013.

Jim Morrison’s voice thunders throughout a small dorm room at Chico State University, as freshman Drew Chaffee drops acid. This is another typical Friday for the ratty, long-haired 19-year-old. A scene out of the ‘60s: The Doors’ self-titled album on the record player, psychedelic writing sessions and heavy drug use. Preferably hallucinogens. The world is altered on these drugs; a fitting vibe for an aspiring rockstar from Southern California. Drew’s passion for music and creativity, which once led him to play piano in a local church, now fuels his drug addiction. The drugs started out as a new and innovative way to experience songwriting and music. After four years of experimenting with drugs running the gamut from cocaine to heroin, Drew has damaged his brain and lost sight of his music career. His purpose is quickly fading behind the distorted perception of life that the drugs have created. And this hit of acid may cause Drew to lose sight of his purpose forever.


The prior weekend is now a dim memory of mind-bending, multicolored madness: A hit of acid. A few mushrooms. Repeat. A hit of acid. A few mushrooms. Repeat. The cycle is powerful. The acid and mushrooms gave Drew the ability to use any color he wanted to decorate a blank canvas. He would paint beautiful portraits on his wall—colorful masterpieces that came to life. He would paint and paint until realizing that all the walls around him were white. Nothing had been accomplished. No masterpiece had been painted. The entire week is lost. Drew sits alone on a small, unmade bed in his cluttered dorm room staring at a white wall. All the color is gone. The sun glistens outside, but the cheap, plastic blinds cover the window and darkness fills the room like a dungeon. Drew hasn’t attended class all week. He hasn’t left the room. No drug has entered his body since the previous weekend, but the damage is done. Drew’s brain has been pushed to its breaking point, too far from reality to come back. Clutching the fading hint of sanity he has left, Drew converses with worried friends who come to visit. It is late in the afternoon. They no longer decide on band names or share song ideas. They do not pass a joint around the circle and exchange squinty-eyed laughs. Drew discusses the end of the world with 33 | TUSK

them and how it is approaching quickly. He quietly mumbles Biblical thoughts that circle his scattered skull. Drew’s brain is frying. His stone-like eyes stay fixed on the white wall in front of him. A gold journal sits open on the desk. Personal thoughts and ideas inspired by Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg fill pages. Drew loves Bukowski. On one page he writes, “I think I bit from the tree. The tree God was talking about. I bit and now I’m fucked. So why not be fucked! I think I’m going insane. So what if I’m insane? You all with your cars and your jobs. Wait. Just wait. When I’m on top of the stage and on top of all my shit, that is when all this greatness will come out. I promise.” The conversations continue in the congested room that has sheltered Drew all week. After all of this “Jesus talk,” the friends propose a challenge to Drew. “If you love Jesus so much, why don’t you go tell everybody about him?” The question relights a fire in Drew. Pacing the room, Drew decides his calling in life is to preach to other people about Jesus. He can't continue living a life devoid of purpose, being shackled by the chains of drugs, fear, loneliness and a false reality. God is opening up a new door and he must make a decision. “Alright, the world needs to hear about the love of Jesus and I’m going to tell them,” Drew shouts as he swings the door of his room open and enters the dorm hallway. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. These are the first strides he has taken outside of the room in a week. No more white walls. His shouts echo throughout the length of the narrow row of student apartments. “Come and hear about Jesus! Our savior is coming back! Everybody needs to hear this!” Dorm doors decorated with pictures of friends and posters creak open to see what is going on. Drew continues preaching. He navigates down the hall sharing his message of hope to a gathering crowd of curious students. Now he has everybody’s attention. But there is one problem. Drew is naked. Treating the coed hallway like a men’s locker room, Drew continues his crazed message without clothes. The laughter turns to fear once the students on his floor realize that Drew is not just stumbling around drunk. He is losing his mind. After 20 minutes of fulfilling the calling to tell the world about Jesus, two pairs of hands grip tightly onto Drew’s thin, drug-induced body. His

IT IS FEBRUARY 14, 2013.

Jim Morrison’s voice thunders throughout a small dorm room at Chico State University, as freshman Drew Chaffee drops acid. This is another typical Friday for the ratty, long-haired 19-year-old. A scene out of the ‘60s: The Doors’ self-titled album on the record player, psychedelic writing sessions and heavy drug use. Preferably hallucinogens. The world is altered on these drugs; a fitting vibe for an aspiring rockstar from Southern California. Drew’s passion for music and creativity, which once led him to play piano in a local church, now fuels his drug addiction. The drugs started out as a new and innovative way to experience songwriting and music. After four years of experimenting with drugs running the gamut from cocaine to heroin, Drew has damaged his brain and lost sight of his music career. His purpose is quickly fading behind the distorted perception of life that the drugs have created. And this hit of acid may cause Drew to lose sight of his purpose forever.


The prior weekend is now a dim memory of mind-bending, multicolored madness: A hit of acid. A few mushrooms. Repeat. A hit of acid. A few mushrooms. Repeat. The cycle is powerful. The acid and mushrooms gave Drew the ability to use any color he wanted to decorate a blank canvas. He would paint beautiful portraits on his wall—colorful masterpieces that came to life. He would paint and paint until realizing that all the walls around him were white. Nothing had been accomplished. No masterpiece had been painted. The entire week is lost. Drew sits alone on a small, unmade bed in his cluttered dorm room staring at a white wall. All the color is gone. The sun glistens outside, but the cheap, plastic blinds cover the window and darkness fills the room like a dungeon. Drew hasn’t attended class all week. He hasn’t left the room. No drug has entered his body since the previous weekend, but the damage is done. Drew’s brain has been pushed to its breaking point, too far from reality to come back. Clutching the fading hint of sanity he has left, Drew converses with worried friends who come to visit. It is late in the afternoon. They no longer decide on band names or share song ideas. They do not pass a joint around the circle and exchange squinty-eyed laughs. Drew discusses the end of the world with 33 | TUSK

them and how it is approaching quickly. He quietly mumbles Biblical thoughts that circle his scattered skull. Drew’s brain is frying. His stone-like eyes stay fixed on the white wall in front of him. A gold journal sits open on the desk. Personal thoughts and ideas inspired by Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg fill pages. Drew loves Bukowski. On one page he writes, “I think I bit from the tree. The tree God was talking about. I bit and now I’m fucked. So why not be fucked! I think I’m going insane. So what if I’m insane? You all with your cars and your jobs. Wait. Just wait. When I’m on top of the stage and on top of all my shit, that is when all this greatness will come out. I promise.” The conversations continue in the congested room that has sheltered Drew all week. After all of this “Jesus talk,” the friends propose a challenge to Drew. “If you love Jesus so much, why don’t you go tell everybody about him?” The question relights a fire in Drew. Pacing the room, Drew decides his calling in life is to preach to other people about Jesus. He can't continue living a life devoid of purpose, being shackled by the chains of drugs, fear, loneliness and a false reality. God is opening up a new door and he must make a decision. “Alright, the world needs to hear about the love of Jesus and I’m going to tell them,” Drew shouts as he swings the door of his room open and enters the dorm hallway. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. These are the first strides he has taken outside of the room in a week. No more white walls. His shouts echo throughout the length of the narrow row of student apartments. “Come and hear about Jesus! Our savior is coming back! Everybody needs to hear this!” Dorm doors decorated with pictures of friends and posters creak open to see what is going on. Drew continues preaching. He navigates down the hall sharing his message of hope to a gathering crowd of curious students. Now he has everybody’s attention. But there is one problem. Drew is naked. Treating the coed hallway like a men’s locker room, Drew continues his crazed message without clothes. The laughter turns to fear once the students on his floor realize that Drew is not just stumbling around drunk. He is losing his mind. After 20 minutes of fulfilling the calling to tell the world about Jesus, two pairs of hands grip tightly onto Drew’s thin, drug-induced body. His

opportunity to spread the message he so recently became passionate about is stripped away. Drew is arrested by two police officers and taken to Enloe Hospital in Chico. The drugs are still eating away at Drew’s brain. He is incoherent on the short ride to the hospital. Unable to speak, Drew ponders the decision he needs to make. Once we get to the hospital, I am going to break free. I need to run away. These people think I’m crazy, but they’re the ones who are insane. The car slowly approaches the white, five-story building that is layered with windows. There has to be a way out. The police officers loosely grip onto Drew again to bring him to his feet and a window of opportunity opens. Drew shakes free and bolts down the street. I am out of here. There is no way I’m going inside that hospital. I don’t need to be hospitalized, Drew thinks as he rushes through the tree-lined street that leads down to the main road from the hospital. Right. Left. Right. Stop. Drew is hunted down again. The hands that once loosely held his weak arms now clutch on with force. There is an urgency in the officers’ actions. They are starting to see what the students living in his dorm saw in the hallway. This isn't a college student who had too much to drink. This isn't a frustrated teen who wants to rebel against the cops for the fun of it. This is a crazy person. Drew is detained again and put back inside the police unit. He does not have the luxury of heading back up the tree-lined road to the Enloe entrance. He is transported to Heritage Oaks, an acute psychiatric hospital 90 miles away, in Sacramento. Drew is placed under a 5150. Section 5150 is a section of the California Welfare and Institutions code that authorizes a police officer or clinician to involuntarily confine a person suspected to have a mental disorder that makes him or her a danger to themself, or to others. Drew is showing all of these signs. Mentally, he is going dark. His mind wanders on the long drive to Sacramento. Thoughts and visions are blurred as Drew pulls up to a smaller red-bricked building with fewer windows. A tug out of the still unfamiliar vehicle gets him onto his feet and into a white room inside. The color is gone. This time, there is no running. A struggle with two larger males holding him ends abruptly. Thick leather straps have replaced their hands, pressing

down on Drew’s body and hugging him to the stiff bed below. A needle forces a liquid sedative into his bloodstream. And then, like an engine shutting down on a vehicle, the liquid takes effect. White walls surround him. His eyes close. Darkness. Hours later, his eyes open again, only to view the same white walls on all four sides. Now the white carries a certain emptiness. There is a darkness in the white. The process continues into the night.


It is a new day. The sun peeks out, but no light shines into the white room inside Heritage Oaks. There are no windows. Time does not seem to exist here and the days feel like eternity. Drew does not speak and, when he does, nonsense flows from his dry lips. The words blend with the banging of a grown man’s head against a nearby wall. People do that in here. Hitting your head against a wall starts to sound like a good idea after a while. Nurses enter to check momentarily on Drew. Nurses are the enemy. Their faces become dark and demonic when they enter the room to check in on him. These smiles they give to families in the lobby are all a mask. They are hiding what I am seeing all day ... darkness, Drew thinks. The day continues with more visits from the dark-faced figures in white coats. Drew’s brain is still not helping him. The white walls swallow so much, and that damn head banging against the wall continues. “Stop!” Drew screams.


The sun arrives at the same time it did the day before. Drew is out on the patio, but still inside the walls of Heritage Oaks. Hope lies out here on the concrete bench that overlooks the miniature garden. It is a brighter day. The world is meant to be seen outside of those white walls, Drew ponders. Drew’s father stops by with a Charles Bukowski book and an issue of Guitar Magazine featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan on the cover. Drew looks them over front to back. It is therapeutic. These items bring comfort. A sense of normalcy comes over Drew—foreign in Heritage Oaks. The air outside is freeing, but inside Drew is still trapped. Each and every inhale counts in the small, green walking area. TUSK | 36

He blankly stares at the white walls in his room. It is the size of an office cubicle with a firm bed in the corner. The pillows are like rocks. Sleep is a faded memory along with life outside Heritage Oaks. The white walls stare blankly back and provoke Drew to stay. It starts to make sense for him to stay. “I hope I hold onto my insanity as long as I can. There is beauty in insanity. Because everyone else only thinks they’re nuts,” he writes. Drew’s words give life to the idea of staying in a place like this. The world outside is such a broken place, why not stay broken inside of Heritage Oaks? Thoughts like these circle for hours. The light from the patio dims and Drew thinks as he falls asleep, It’s official. I am staying in here. I am a part of this place.


Evaluation day. Drew must now decide between freedom or mental prison. The recipient of a 5150 is required to spend three days in a mental institution and then submit to a physician’s evaluation before release. Complying with the doctors on evaluation day means a release to his family. Choosing insanity means another evaluation and possible re-entry into the confines of the white walls. The ultimate decision is up to the doctors. If the team of physicians feels he is safe to return into the public, he will be cleared. They talk with him for over an hour and analyze everything he says. Notes are taken. His every action is closely observed. His responses are closely followed. Drew starts to think about his life outside of the white walls. Visions of his life before drugs drown out the questioning of the doctors. He fantasizes about playing music, the dream he once had that the drugs stripped away. Nightmares of dark figures entering his cold room make Drew want to escape. If I want to get out of here. I have to tell these doctors what they want to hear, Drew thinks. He passes. Drew can go home to his family. The doctors diagnose Drew with a drug-induced psychosis. They prescribe him Klonopin, a sedative that decreases symptoms of paranoia, aggression and irritability. Drew has escaped Heritage Oaks, but a piece of him is gone. The drugs have taken Drew to the darkest pit in his life. He must climb out of the darkness that the white walls created.


The process is slow. Doctors say that Drew may not be able to work or go to school again. His speech has slowed and is almost nonexistent. He refuses to 37 | TUSK

take his medication because he has made a promise to God, but decides he must to show the doctors he is taking the proper steps to recover. Today is Drew’s first day at Pacific Hills, a rehab center in San Clemente, California. He shares his story in a small circle of addicts. They discuss their want and need for drugs and their fight to resist the urge to use. Drew is past that. He knows that, after escaping Heritage Oaks, he has a greater purpose in life. The cleansing process begins. Drew changes his phone number and erases all connections with people back at Chico State. New hobbies must be picked up to pass the time—reading books and the Bible, rebuilding the relationship with his parents and starting new, healthy relationships. It is late April. Starting over continues at the house where Drew began his life. He develops a new relationship with a former high school friend and fellow musician, Jake Berry. Jake and Drew spend the next few months playing guitar together. Playing music had become something Drew never wanted to do again. His passion had faded. But slowly, making music becomes therapy for the once aspiring rockstar. Relearning simple chords on his acoustic guitar never felt so freeing. Jake shares the same dream Drew once had—to play music in a band. Conversations start of writing original songs and making an album. A new, black leather journal rests on top of Drew’s desk at home. The pages are filled with new thoughts and song ideas. One reads, “I still feel like I’m a little nuts. But I understand life more than ever. There’s more to it than just doing drugs, not participating in society and creating my own alternate universe. Being sober allows me to enjoy this beautiful life without any alterations.”


A small parking lot in Costa Mesa is packed with hundreds of friends, family and fans who have come to see Roah Summit. The local band is playing their album release show tonight. Drew Chaffee, the band’s lead guitarist, stands onstage beside his best friend and lead singer, Jake Berry. It is dark. The crowd surrounds the small stage awaiting the sounds of “Deep Bloom,” a five-song album the band has been working on for the past five months. Jake and Drew’s dream album. Drew takes one last sip from his green, glass Pellegrino bottle. White lights flash on the stage behind Drew. They light the face of the crowd. No longer surrounded by the white walls, Drew smiles and strikes the first chord on his white Fender.

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Finding Drive An aspiring journalist avoids a car accident only to hit a roadblock on her route to success.

“I can do this. I can do this.” I repeated this phrase in my head as my hands clenched the steering wheel so tightly that each groove melted into my skin. My heart accelerated, my temperature rose and cold drops of sweat dripped down my forehead. My hands trembled uncontrollably as they ungripped the very thing that they could not muster the strength to maneuver. I sobbed hysterically in a shopping center parking lot. I was two blocks from Cal State Fullerton and driving 20 miles home had become an odyssey. In that moment nothing else existed besides the breath that entered and exited my lungs. I was 21 years old and my junior year of college was going to be my personal “best year ever.” I found an online outlet for unapologetically vanguard views. I expressed those views in articles like “I am not a Mexican” and “Ay Dios Mío I Don’t Want to Get Married” in an attempt to bring new perspectives to traditional Latino culture. The controversy was worth the effort when Facebook messages from strangers across the country flooded my inbox, thanking me for finally writing what they had been too embarrassed or afraid to say. Although I had not yet taken a journalism class, my research hours as an American Studies major danced with my creative spirits and cultural experiences in my articles. I came across Emanuel Pleitez, a politician whose organizational leadership skills and nonprofit involvement I admired. I shared my undergraduate research papers on racial theory, women’s roles

Written by Cynthia Pleitez Photos by Yunuen Bonaparte

in America and romantic poetry with him. I was offered a position as a new media fellow for the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s Latinos on the Fast Track (LOFT), a social network designed to connect young leaders with professional positions. I spent an entire summer blogging. I was ready to take over the world. The Latino media scene was emerging, but in many ways it followed the same stereotypes that existed for years. I wanted to advocate for more enlightening and culturally relevant content that would appeal to Latino audiences. I studied American history thoroughly, but retained the cultural perspective of a proud, first-generation American. My parents were born in El Salvador and it was this cultural heritage that brought me closer to my American identity. I came across Being Latino Online Magazine, a new media venture, and I knew I was the one they needed to bring a fresh perspective. I shared my research papers and poetry with its editors. It was all I had, but it was enough. I was in. I’ll never forget that first email from them—“Due to your lack of experience, we will allow you to contribute during a probationary period.” My probationary period ended shortly after my first article generated thousands of hits on Facebook and was shared on Fox News Latino. When it was time for my political mentor, Emanuel, to nominate a young innovator for the White House Champions of Change Award, he nominated me—and I was chosen. The same girl who, just six months earlier,

Driving 20 miles home had become an odyssey.

TUSK | 40


had nothing but poems and research papers was being invited to a roundtable discussion with other “champions” at the White House. I was becoming the person I’d always wanted to be while contributing to the Latino media scene and no one would stop me. Except myself. Class that day started at 11 a.m., so traffic on the freeway was light. I dressed in black and grabbed all the necessities: cash, cell phone, keys, backpack and a soft, dark-spotted banana. At 10:20 a.m. I tossed my backpack in was facing oncoming traffic my 1996 Honda Accord and placed the banana and my car had come to on the passenger seat. a complete stop. I turned on the radio and drove off. Traffic was light until the point where the 10 and 57 freeways meet, as cars fought for space as they merged from one lane to the next. My fingertips reached for the car stereo to find the Power 106 station and, when I glanced back up, a car was merging into my spot in the lane. I swerved to the right and dodged the vehicle. I avoided the possible accident, but at 70 mph that swerve caused my car to spin 180 degrees. Screeching tires and blaring horns drowned out all other sounds. I was facing oncoming traffic and my car was at a complete stop. Cars flew by. I watched the driver who almost hit me as a

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sudden, breathless shock swept across her thin face. Another driver’s jaw dropped in the lane next to her. Immediate fear consumed me as I processed multiple movements. The time I spent facing oncoming traffic felt like an eternity. I realized that my car was at a complete stop and I pressed the gas pedal. Nothing. I turned the engine off and on and pressed the gas pedal again. Still nothing. At this point, my desperation quickly turned into acceptance. Well, this is how I’m going to die. She’s going to hit me, then other cars will hit me, and I’m going to die. The ambulance will go through my phone, call my brother and tell him what happened. I’m going to die. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t scared. I was ready for death. Then I came to my senses. I can’t die like this! I turned the key again and pressed the gas one last time. Still nothing. I looked down and realized that my car was in neutral. I shifted the gear to drive and slammed my foot on the gas pedal. My car quickly accelerated as I desperately maneuvered through a U-turn. I’m still not sure how I made it to campus. All I remember after making that U-turn was that my hands felt weak and loose like freshly cooked spaghetti. I don’t remember what classes I was enrolled in, let alone where I was driving that day. Somehow I gathered the courage to drive to an

empty parking lot after school. Crying in that lot was one of the loneliest and most desperate points of my life. I can’t remember how I drove home or what was on my mind. I’m not sure what became of that dark-spotted banana, either. Everything changed after that day. I stopped attending classes because I was too scared to drive and too embarrassed to admit what happened. Eventually, even weight gain became a method to disassociate with my past self. I never went to a counselor or spoke to anyone about it. The trauma was enough to make me avoid driving to school, which caused me to fail all of my classes. I was put on academic probation and then disenrolled from the university. Due to a random clerical error, I never went to the White House because I didn’t receive my follow-up phone call. More bad luck. After petitioning to the university, I was readmitted to Cal State Fullerton. I would take a class here and there and pretend I wasn’t afraid of driving. Even though I was progressing with my academic efforts, I still wanted to escape my identity as a writer and everything that reminded me of who I did not become. It wasn’t until I began to accept that I had a problem that I was able to overcome the struggle. Like a baby crawling before walking, I started taking small steps by driving to local places. I pushed my fears to the forefront of my life and dealt with them. I tried to find new accomplishments to compensate

for the fact that I didn’t go to the White House. I joined grassroots campaigns, published features in philanthropic magazines and secured television coverage for The American Heart Association as an intern, but I never returned to the character of that 21-year-old media mogul student. Until now. In 2013, I took on an AmeriCorps fellowship for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. I coordinated my own teen literacy program to serve over 1,000 students, tackling a responsibility I stopped attending classes that required me to drive 44 miles to and because I was too scared to from my house each day. drive and too embarrassed It was during this time I became determined to admit what happened. to finish what I started. I enrolled in full-time courses in fall 2014. I am now four years older than I was when I flunked out of my classes. I will travel to Valencia, Spain this summer with a team of award-winning journalists to prove that who I wanted to become still exists. I am the public relations assistant for the Orange County and Inland Empire Small Business Development Center, using my writing skills to produce marketing and public relations materials for statewide efforts. I’m not nervous. I’m not scared. I’m ready for life. I’m back in the driver’s seat of my career and I drive like my life depends on it, because it does. TUSK | 42

PHOTOS BY MARIAH CARRILLO & LUKE DAWSON Ten Cal State Fullerton journalism students traveled to Guatemala on a reporting trip accompanying a medical mission led by Refuge International, a group that provides surgical, medical and dental help to the people of the country.

During the mission, some of the grittiest aspects of life were on display for the students to see—incurable disease, dedication to a life’s work and the strength of family bonds. These are the stories behind the faces and places of Guatemala.

SUSANA CASTRO, FOOD STAND OWNER (LEFT) MAYAN MARKET Steam rises from a pot of chicken fried by Susana Castro, 54, of Chocolรก. Every morning at 4 a.m. she begins her work patting tortillas, herding chickens and preparing the juices and sodas she will sell throughout the day. Castro saved for a year to buy a refrigerator to help her business and is currently saving for a stove.


Several thousands of people gather every Sunday and Thursday at the Mayan market in Chichicastenango. At the prepared food section cooks fry chickens, stew vegetables and stir soups for shoppers who have traveled great distances from mountain villages to frequent the market.

TUSK | 44



After losing his job, Feliciano Rodriguez Vazquez discovered the art of apiculture and, with minimal knowledge, took his next step as an entrepreneur. Thirty years and 36 beehives later, Rodriguez and his family maintain the forever-expanding bee yard. Customers from communities around Chocolá purchase the honey by the quintal (100 pounds). “Hasta qué, solo Dios sabe a donde puedo llegar,” Rodriguez said—only God knows where he and his business will go. Every 14 days Rodriguez opens the hives to check the health and productivity of his bees. Before opening the beehives, he uses a smoker tool to blow smoke in and around them, a method that calms the bees and prevents them from stinging him. Photo courtesy of Andrés Martinez (BELOW)

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VITELIO UMBERTO, BAMBOO FARMER (RIGHT) Vitelio Umberto De Leon Noriega, 55, stands in the cool shade beneath the stalks of a bamboo field that stretches the length of a football field. For over two decades, Umberto has cultivated the crop, sending his children to the university with the profits from his business creating items including mugs, cutlery and furniture from the wood.

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FLORINDA GARCÍA, PATIENT (LEFT) Florinda García, 42, waits in Hospital Cristiano, after having traveled over an hour from her home to the clinic in Chocolá with severe abdominal pain. An examination later found that the pain was caused by gallstones, an ailment that required García to undergo surgery for the first time in her life.

García spends two days in the clinic recovering from the operation. García’s stay was originally meant to last only a day. However, the operation was delayed when surgeons discovered that she had eaten prior to arrival, prolonging her stay. (RIGHT)



Florinda García’s daughter and daughter-in-law wait for her during her surgery. Fifteen of García’s family members traveled to the clinic in a borrowed pickup truck to support her during the procedure.

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A 71-year-old Mayan man walked four hours to Hospital Cristiano from a rural village, hoping that an abscess on the side of his face could be surgically removed. The man awoke from the procedure to find the abscess untouched. A student translator, AndrÊs Martinez, delivered the news to the man’s son, who in turn told his father that the biopsy determined the malignant tumor was inoperable and most likely cancerous.

No Longer


A black iron gate separating the parking lot and the facility entrance slides opens and uneasiness grips me. Thoughts of failing in my debut enter my mind. This was everything I’ve worked for and where I want to be. This is my dream.

Do not screw this up. I pull open the glass door and enter the Toyota Sports Center. A security guard directs me toward a narrow corridor on the right. I stroll through the hallway, gazing at the pictures of players that dress the wall. These pictures include recognizable faces such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Pau Gasol. I identify the players and cannot help but crack

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a smile. I close in on an open door. I am now at the entrance to the pearly gates. This is my paradise. I am covering the Los Angeles Lakers. I enter under the bright lights for the first time, excitement falls over me. The setup is on the right. Three rows of black foldout chairs face a table with microphones; Lakers logos cover the backdrop. Beyond the media area is the basketball court. The hazel hardwood, outlined in purple and gold, shines from the lights overhead. Replica jerseys line the wall showcasing the numbers of retired players, including Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Above them replica championship banners hang, the originals dangle inside the Staples Center.

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While taking in my surroundings, something catches my eye. In the upper corner of the gym, a window overlooks the entire court. Blinds on the inside are halfway up, high enough to display a row of shiny gold objects. There in their glory are 10 NBA championship trophies. These trophies are the symbols that define the Lakers as a legendary sports franchise. The window peers into the office of Jeanie Buss, president of the Lakers. It is rare for a beginning reporter to experience a press conference at the professional level. At 18, I decided to pursue a career in sports journalism. At the time, I struggled to have a clear idea of a career, but I knew that I wanted to make a living talking about something I am passionate about. And that passion always led me back to sports. Sports are my escape. My sanctuary. Where I feel comfortable. Until that point the only press conferences I’d attended were ones with the Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball team. Those conferences took place in a weight room with four to five reporters. That was considered a heavy turnout. With the Lakers, 15 to 20 reporters fill the seats, a light turnout. Reporters from various media outlets enter the practice facility. Kevin Ding from Bleacher Report, formerly of the OC Register, and Dave McMenamin from ESPN are just two of the faces I recognize from personal admiration in their work. Then it hits me. I realize I am no longer only a fan. Instead I’m a reporter starting his journey at the pinnacle that was, previously, just a dream. Johnny Navarrette, reporter for I take my seat in the second row and the press conference is about to begin. I place my MacBook Air on my lap, with my iPhone near the trackpad. It is time to get to work. Minutes later, a 6-foot-9-inch young man makes his way to the table. He is dressed in a long-sleeve white shirt, purple tie and wears a smile made for Hollywood. Julius Randle takes the microphone and starts things off. Randle, the Lakers’ first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft is just 19 years old. It is intriguing that, like myself, Randle is opening a new chapter in his life. While he plays professional basketball, I cover professional sports. Two different careers, but linked in many ways. At 25 years old, I am living my dream. Randle,

who is doing the same, admits that the Lakers are his favorite team. His favorite player, Kobe Bryant. The experience is unique. Randle finishes his opening statements and opens the floor to questions. I glance at my list of questions and prepare to raise my trembling hand. I quickly remember this is not grade school, so I scrap the hand-raising idea. Simultaneously, voices speak up, cutting each other off, testing the patience and drive of others in the room. The pace is rapid. Randle finishes answering one question and a different reporter asks another. I cross off my questions one by one. Eight questions in, there is a slight stoppage. My chance. But there is a dilemma. No questions remain on my list. I reminisce on how I felt when I stepped into the gym an hour earlier, the overwhelming emotions that took over. Then it hit me. “When you look at the banners and retired numbers on the walls, what goes through your mind?” “It’s humbling,” Randle replies. In that moment, I connect with Randle. We’re both on a journey with unfamiliar surroundings, and people. We’re each experiencing a wide array of emotions. Most importantly, the budding young individual is doing what he loves at a level he strives to reach. A journey that is similar to my own. Randle’s correct. The experience is humbling. At that moment, I am just another reporter to him and that is okay. It is who I want to be. It is what I am. It is something I am proud of. After 45 minutes the press conference ends. I prepare to depart, but not before sharing small talk with legendary sports reporter Jim Hill, who gives me a firm handshake and career advice about being persistant and passionate in the business. It is a tremendous way to top off a memorable day. I approach the black iron gate from earlier. Only this time I am on the inside looking out. As I draw nearer, it begins to open. The feeling of uneasiness is gone, replaced by a sense of accomplishment. Walking to my car, I pass the security booth where an older gentleman sits. I politely say, “Have a good day” and as I walk away, I hear the guard’s response. “See you next time.” As I enter my car, I think of what I experienced. It was exciting, memorable, and fun. I don’t know when “next time” will be, but one thing is for sure.

I cannot wait. TUSK | 52

VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS Written by Nicole Weaver Photos by Karen Cogan

Everything seemed like a disturbing nightmare as Taylor Radig reflected on her experiences the past few months. Her work at Quanah Cattle Company, an animal agribusiness company in Kersey, Colorado, that purchases newborn calves and temporarily confines them before shipping them to dairy farms, lasted through the summer of 2013 and had been backbreaking. Taylor woke up each morning at 3 a.m. and, after making sure her hidden camera was ready, she would set out for a long day of physically exhausting manual labor on the farm.

Her duties included cleaning out the barns, power washing and moving hutches, picking up calves from dairy facilities and giving antibiotic shots to sick cows. Administering shots was a task that she hadn’t been trained to do, she had only been advised not to hit a vein. Twice daily she bottle fed calves pink milk, a result of the blood from adult cows’ infected udders. During her time at the company, she witnessed and documented horrific incidents of animal abuse. Workers violently dragged calves by their legs, kicked them off trucks, pulled them by their ears

and tails, and tossed them into transport trucks like pieces of garbage, resulting in countless deaths from broken necks. Watching this happen before her eyes, on top of a 12-hour workday made her feel sick. “Don’t you think the police would be better at handling this than you are?” the sheriff asked. His tone became aggressive as the questions persisted. Taylor didn’t answer. Her request to facilitate a case against three Quanah employees charged with animal abuse became an interrogation against her. She had been sitting inside the Weld County Sheriff’s Department in Colorado all morning, TUSK | 54

exhausted from a direct flight from Orange County and confused by what was happening with the case. “Why didn’t you come to the police immediately?” Taylor kept reiterating that she had to establish a pattern of abuse while employed at Quanah and that a routine inspection would not have garnered the same evidence she had gathered over the course of three to four months. The sheriff left the room. A few minutes passed. He came back with a sheet of paper. “I’m citing you with animal cruelty for over 150 acts of animal abuse and for failing to report the abuse in a timely manner,” the sheriff said. The realization that she had been brought to Colorado under false pretenses began to sink in. The months she spent witnessing and reporting animal abuse ended with her being charged with the crime. “Despite what the Weld County Sheriff’s Office was suggesting, there is absolutely no legal requirement in Colorado that one must come forward with evidence of animal cruelty, much less within any specified period of time … My citation noted that my ‘offense’ occurred precisely between my first and last day at Quanah. To me this shows that wearing a hidden camera at all, even on my first day, is what bothered them,” Taylor said. Taylor knew the charges were baseless and wouldn’t have held up in court. The message sent to her was a politically motivated one. There is not a mandatory reporting law in Colorado, however mandatory reporting requirements are included in anti-whistleblower legislation seeking to outlaw the legality of investigations. “The outlawing of undercover investigations compromises consumer knowledge and hides the daily cruelties and abuse that goes on in animal agribusinesses,” Taylor said.

Catching this abuse is extremely difficult and it’s nearly impossible during routine inspections. Without undercover investigators seeking to expose the practices, the abuse would go unnoticed. “I knew that Colorado’s open record laws were bad news because mug shots are public record. Any person could grab that and send it to the press. I told him (the sheriff) I was concerned about my safety and that the companies within the dairy and meat industries were out to get me,” Taylor said. Within a few days, the sheriff’s department had written a press release and sent out Taylor’s mug shot to over 120 news stations. Charging her with a crime meant her identity was public knowledge. At only 24 years old, Taylor’s career as an undercover investigator had ended. The arrest was national news. Taylor’s picture

Taylor graduated from Biola University a few months after her arrest with a degree in philosophy and a minor in theology. Her work now centers on Christian philosophy and animal rights. Currently working with PETA as PETA’s Christian outreach and engagement coordinator, she helped launch a new campaign called ‘Jesus People for Animals.’ “Our campaign is a resource for Christians and explains to them how their faith should impact their views and the way they treat animals,” Taylor said. The campaign, which is currently based online, encourages veganism and provides information on animal rights, Christianity, and nutrition. Throughout her time at school Taylor continued pursuing activism. One of her first jobs was working with The Humane League by touring with Warped Tour and passing out leaflets on veganism. She got involved with the Humane Society of the United States shortly after working as their farmed animal protection intern. Her other work as an activist includes Progress for Science, a campaign against UCLA to end testing on primates, and Compassion Over Killing. It was at Compassion Over Killing where she became involved with investigative work for over a year until she was arrested and ultimately charged with animal abuse. Taylor spoke at the Animal Rights National Conference last July about her experience working as an undercover investigator—she also spoke at Twin Cities Veg Fest. Taylor’s been commended by thousands of animals rights organizations, but the recognition is still bittersweet. “One of the hardest parts about this situation, personally, is knowing my career as an undercover investigator is over. I never wanted my identity to be publicized, because this isn’t about me, it’s about catching animal abuse,” Taylor said.


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was spread across national television and the public outcry was staggering. A petition started against the Weld County Sheriff’s Office to drop the charges, which gathered nearly 200,000 signatures. Three Quanah workers were charged and subsequently fired from the cattle farm, but the management who allowed the abuse to happen due to inadequate training and oversight faced no consequences. The charges against Taylor were inevitably dropped. Without a substantial case against her, prosecutors released a statement admitting that the charges could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. It was a victory for animal rights and a loss for corporations who aim to silence the investigators that expose them.

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Jodi Oliver refuses to allow ALS to define her life. Written by Cynthia Washicko Photos by Mariah Carrillo

It began with a tube of toothpaste.

Standing over old blue carpet, staring into the mirror of her mother’s Utah bathroom, Jodi Oliver tried to squeeze the paste onto her toothbrush, but her hands refused to cooperate. She grasped the tube with her right hand and squeezed again. Nothing. A task that used to take seconds now required the full use of both her hands, and even then the toothpaste spilled off her brush and on the counter. Fear sank into her gut and a single thought raced through her head. W ­ hat will I lose next? ­­­Just a few months before, Jodi ran in a 5K race, a hobby she picked up with friends. That’s where the betrayal began, ­w ith November air f lowing past her face on the course. Moving with the tide of other runners, she noticed her right calf felt weaker than it should have. Each time her foot hit the ground, the weak calf caused her foot to smack against the pavement.

She chalked up the weakness to old shoes or a foot issue—there was nothing to suggest otherwise. Months passed. New running shoes, a podiatrist visit, and the problem was considered solved. With children and a longstanding career as a nurse, what seemed like a small issue was pushed aside. But the weakness in her calf progressed, and a weakness in her hand developed. Simple tasks like twisting syringe caps off or opening packages at the hospital where she worked as a nurse became difficult. She made an appointment with her primary doctor, which led to multiple tests—an MRI, lab work, and finally a lumbar puncture. All of which were used to rule out what Jodi didn’t have. Her doctor referred her to a neurologist, who assured her the symptoms couldn’t be signs of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. She didn’t fit the typical markers for an ALS patient. TUSK | 58

What would this disease rob from her first? When would the betrayal be complete? She was too young, she was a woman and therefore 20 percent less likely to develop the disease than a man. It couldn’t be. But she suspected the betrayal was underway. In her gut, Jodi had a growing suspicion of what was causing the weakness in her hand and leg. She demanded to be referred to a clinic with the University of California, Irvine, that specialized in ALS. The clinic doctors ran tests again, using nerve conduction studies to begin the diagnosis. Needles peppered the muscles in her knee, shoulder, and spine, sending waves of painful electricity through her body to determine how her muscles were responding to stimuli. After the tests, she had two weeks of waiting before her follow up appointment. Fourteen days of suspecting what the diagnosis would be, but hoping all the same that her gut feeling was wrong. It was a late appointment­- 4 p.m. - in the

doctor’s small office. Later she would wonder if the doctor scheduled her to receive bad news late in the day. The drawn shades masked the afternoon sun that fell through the window. A motion­sensing light turned off periodically as Jodi waited with her husband, but a simple raise of the arm was all it took to jerk it back on. Dr. Namita Goyal entered the office with tears glistening in her eyes. The sun slanted through the blinds, casting shadows in the office. Her next words would leave Jodi reeling. “I’m sorry to tell you this,” she said, “but you do have ALS.” Jodi felt each word smack into her, and she fell into her husband’s arms as tears streaked down her face. ALS. She had ALS. Jodi became one of over 5,500 people annually to be diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. The progressive disease was beginning its cruel work on the motor neurons running from her brain to her spinal cord, eating away at them and their ability to carry electrical signals to her muscles. All over Jodi’s body lights of electricity were f lashing, sending signals from her brain to her muscles. But, one by one, those lights would start to go dark. She wouldn’t see her children grow up. Her husband would be left to raise their son and two daughters. She would eventually be confined to a wheelchair. When? When would she lose her independence? What would this disease rob from her first? When would the betrayal be complete? Then she was faced with one of the most difficult

tasks of all—­telling her children. She and her husband began with their oldest, Scott, only 15 years old. They called him into his bedroom, and all three sat on his bed. An antique surf board motif bordered the room and a life-­size replica of a similar board leaned in a corner. Medals from sports teams hung against the wall beside the window like windchimes over a porch, and fan blades in primary colors hearkened back to younger days. One wall displayed a picture collage of the family. Scott jumping into a river, Jodi with a large backpack on a hike. Climbing rocks, sitting around campfires—all things that would soon be relegated to memories and photographs. One by one the words fell from her lips onto the bedspread before her, voicing the betrayal that had been underway for months. “I have ALS,” Jodi told him. He knew what an ALS diagnosis meant—he had studied the disease in school. He knew that his parents had just informed him of his mother’s death sentence. After that ordeal, she still had to tell her twin daughters, even younger than her son, a task just as heart wrenching. It was her children she clung to during that time after her diagnosis. If it hadn’t been for them, thoughts of suicide would have worked their way into her head. Instead, she began working on memory books for them while her hands were still strong enough. She bought stock paper for future letters to keep herself involved in her childrens’ lives, even after her death. Letters to be delivered on graduation and wedding days, after the birth of a child, ­m ilestones she wouldn’t live to

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a rapidly progressive, fatal neurological disease that attacks nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.


Jodi became one of over people annually to be diagnosed with ALS in the United States.

ALS is often called the Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the Yankee’s baseball player who was diagnosed in 1941 at only 36 years old. He died two years after.

Common symptoms include: • weakened muscles • trouble swallowing • difficulty walking • difficulty keeping posture • impaired or slurred speech • chronic muscle cramps or twitching ALS can affect anyone. Men are about 20% more likely to be diagnosed with ALS than women. Most people are diagnosed with ALS between the ages of:

40 and 70.

Despite being a healthy runner and a registered nurse, Jodi was diagnosed with ALS at only 43 years old. The average life expectancy of those with ALS is two to five years. Jodi only lived two years with ALS. During that time, she advocated for the everyday struggles of ALS patients using social media, and took her advocacy to lawmakers during a trip to Washington D.C.

There is currently no cure for ALS.

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In just months, the athlete who enjoyed spinning classes and outdoor excursions wouldn’t be able to take a step unaided. see, but nevertheless wanted to be a part of. From then on, her life changed. In just months, the athlete who enjoyed spinning classes and outdoor excursions wouldn’t be able to take a step without support. The muscles throughout her body were slowly giving in to the spread of the disease. Her throat was no longer strong enough to handle thin liquids. Thicker, easier to swallow beverages replaced water and juice. The betrayal progressed from her calf throughout her leg, beginning as a foot that slapped with each step and developing into a complete lack of support for the rest of her body. It started with a cane, some support to aid the muscle fibers in her legs as the disease slowly gained ground in the lower half of her body. As ALS continued its crawling advance through her system, the cane was replaced by a walker. A 2 a.m. trip to the refrigerator became the tipping point toward immobility, and the next step was the one she had dreaded from the moment she was diagnosed. On an early­morning search for a snack of peanut butter cookies, she reached out for a gallon of milk sitting on the fridge shelf. That simple task was enough to send her to the ground. She lost her one-­handed grip on her walker and toppled to the tile f loor, her walker crashing away as she hit the cold tile.

Hearing the crash, her husband rushed in to help her up, and she knew the next part of the betrayal had come—she needed a wheelchair. The process of ordering and receiving a customized wheelchair can take months. It took Jodi four weeks to receive hers. The strength left in her right hand was enough to move the levers to direct the chair, allowing her the mobility her muscles were surrendering. The few steps she could take with the walker were a rare occurrence, reserved for trips to a bathroom that now has raised handles so she can get back up. Walking wasn’t the only thing that changed. A cow bell became the surrogate for her failing voice as she cheered on her daughter at running meets. Shirt buttons and shoe laces became daily mountains to climb, impossible without help. Following her diagnosis, Jodi met with leaders from the local chapter of the ALS Association. As part of its mission to advocate for ALS patients throughout the U.S., the association extends its outreach beyond the local outposts into the halls of the Capitol. Jodi joined the group as a remedy to her post­- diagnosis depression. She found solace in telling her story and bringing awareness to the stories of others. Radio shows and social media helped her face the reality of

her diagnosis, rather than sink beneath the weight of what she was facing. As part of her work as an ALS advocate, she took a trip with other patients and association members to Washington, D.C. The marble hallways filled with Congressional staffers were an incongruous setting for the group of ALS patients on the trip. Motorized scooters buzzed as the advocates moved among the halls. The meetings, however, were clipped. Only 15 minutes with the Congressperson, just a quarter of an hour to impart the struggles of a disease that limits life expectancy between two and five years after diagnosis. Just a short amount of time to relay the struggles, the heartbreak, the financial and emotional burdens of their own bodies’ betrayals. The trip was nevertheless rewarding, filled with positive people fighting against a disease that has taken so many lives. But her personal advocacy shifted. Rather than the massive fundraising goals of national campaigns to fund studies and drug trials, Jodi chose instead to focus on the everyday struggles ALS patients face. Facebook and Twitter became her mediums. She began posting pictures and tweeting images of her life with ALS. Her personal, day-­to-­d ay advocacy didn't focus on stratospheric national goals, but instead

“I can get busy dying or get busy living. I choose to live.” the smaller challenges she and her fellow ALS patients must overcome every time they get out of bed. Even in her sleep, Jodi faces challenges. A misshapen plastic bubble covers her nose and mouth, a tube connecting it to the machine that forces oxygen into her lungs. It’s all held up by straps reaching around her forehead and under her ears to meet at the back of her head. The respiratory mask that covers part of

her face every night is just one of the changes Jodi’s been forced to endure. Squeezing a tube of toothpaste, cooking dinner, even dressing herself are now almost entirely out of the question for Jodi. She’s heard other patients describe the disease as a glass casket, trapping them in their own failing bodies while their minds remain perfectly healthy. Jodi chooses to take a different route— spending time with her loved ones, making

memories they can cherish, that’s where she focuses her energy, on life, not death. “I can get busy dying or get busy living. I choose to live.” Jodi Oliver died April 2. During the two years she spent fighting AL S, she advocated for the thousands of people living with the disease every day. She is remembered by her husband, three children and a network of friends whose lives she touched.

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9.5” X 19”

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Tusk Magazine 2015  

California State University Fullerton's literary journalism magazine.

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