Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It’s been a very surreal week for me, and while I don’t like to write about myself (except when I’m begging for books for my classroom library), how often does one publish a book, anyway?  Well, unless you’re Stephen King, and trust me, I’m not.  But, I was lucky enough to have LSU Press publish my first book which came out last week, and I want to tell you a little bit about it.

It’s a biography of a fascinating woman named Cammie Henry who, after her husband died in 1918 and left her a widow with eight children on a working cotton plantation in central Louisiana, she opened her home to writers and artists of the budding Southern Renaissance.  Cammie and her husband lived at Melrose Plantation on the Cane River, seventeen miles south of Natchitoches and there’s no doubt that the atmosphere there is infused with creativity and inspiration.

My book explores Cammie’s friendships and relationships with many of the people who came and worked there.  Every time I toured or visited her home (it’s a house museum now, owned by the Association of the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches), I was curious about Cammie and wanted to know more about her.

Books had been written about other famous women associated with the house, but not Cammie.  The house at Melrose was built by Louis Metoyer in 1832; Louis was the son of freed slave Marie Therese Coincoin.  Louis died before construction was finished and his son completed the house.  The story of Marie Therese is amazing, and she has been extensively researched by Gary and Elizabeth Shown Mills.  Their excellent book, The Forgotten People:  Cane River’s Creoles of Color, is simply fascinating.

After the Metoyer period, the house was bought by a neighboring family who held it until 1881. In 1884, it was bought by Joseph Henry who would later be Cammie’s father-in-law.

One of the Henry employees was renown primitive artist Clementine Hunter whose father worked for the Henry family.  Clementine came to Melrose as a teenager and later worked for Cammie Henry.  It was through the exposure to Cammie’s artist friends that Clementine, the story goes, picked up some abandoned paints one day and began to paint plantation life as she saw it.

The Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches held a ribbon-cutting event this past weekend for the Clementine Hunter house on the grounds of Melrose which has been preserved and restored exactly as it was when Mrs. Hunter lived and worked there.  There’s a terrific biography of Clementine Hunter with beautiful color plates of her work written by Art Shiver and Tom Whitehead.

So, tours of Melrose always talked about these three women: Marie Therese Coincoin, Cammie Henry, and Clementine Hunter, but there was no book about Cammie.  I wanted to know what a typical day at Melrose looked like when Lyle Saxon was sitting in his cabin typing his books out on his typewriter, sweltering in the heat, looking out over cotton fields.  I wanted to hear what Cammie and her mother talked about while sitting on the upstairs gallery looking over the Cane River.  I wanted to hear the laughter of the employees in the kitchen or in the gardens.  I wanted to sit with Cammie as she opened her volumes of mail each day.

Cammie’s archives at the Northwestern State University library in Natchitoches are amazing.  This women kept every piece of paper and ephemera she ever touched.  She corresponded with writers and booksellers all over the South in search of material for her library, which is extensive and holds many rare volumes and manuscripts.  Her daily mail was massive.

What I learned at the end of my research was that Cammie Henry was a dynamic woman, accomplished in gardening, (she had one of the premier gardens in the South on the grounds of Melrose); she was a librarian, a documentarian, a wife, a mother, a caretaker.  She was a preservationist before that was a cool thing to do.  She restored many abandoned cabins and had them moved to her property for visiting artists and writers.  She salvaged parts of homes that were to be demolished and used them at Melrose.  She rejuvenated the lost cottage industries of weaving and quilting and even grew Nankeen cotton and ramie to see how that would work in her weaving.  She raised her eight children with the exception of one son who died in 1918 of the Spanish flu.  And that tragedy is documented in her archives as well.

And through it all, though as I said this is a woman who kept everything she ever touched, there are no photographs or letters of her husband in her archives.  And that piqued my curiosity, too.

Well, I could go on and on, but I won’t.

I have a book launch event this week – my first ever and I’m nervous to the point of being terrified.  I want everyone to love Cammie and be as interested in her as I am!    But, no matter how the book goes over, I know that I’ve told her story.  It’s there now for anyone who wants to know about her and her life.  She was a dynamic and fascinating woman and I feel privileged that she chose me to tell her story.  (And she did – I’m not making that up, but that’s a story for another day!).

Shameless book plug:  get your copy of Cane River Bohemia either at Amazon or LSU Press!

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – So much negative news this morning in the headlines…tension, anxiety, anger, and sadness (that limo crash in New York – awful!).

All this anger is one of the reasons I quit full-time political blogging a few years ago: I was mad all the time.  Frustrated because I couldn’t really change anything and nobody was listening.  Well, it’s not that so much as I was just preaching to the choir.  I could feel my anxiety and rage building every single day of the Obama presidency.  I had to walk away.  And guess what?  The world did not implode when I did!

At any rate, I really wanted to pull out some good news for you this morning to try and achieve some balance in perspective, so let’s try this.

I was happy to see that Johns Hopkins has announced a new research building to be named after Henrietta Lacks.  Finally!  You certainly are familiar with the story behind Rebecca Skloot’s groundbreaking book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which told the story of Henrietta and her family.  Skloot’s book is terrific and I use it in my sophomore English classroom every year; my students are thoroughly engaged in the story and it sets us up for so many terrific debates on ethics and moral issues.  Sometimes it is difficult for kids to imagine a world before they were born and so as angry as they tend to become about what they see as an injustice done to Henrietta, they get a chance to learn about a different time in history where medical ethics were not dominated by HIPAA.

From Baltimore:

Johns Hopkins and descendants of the late Henrietta Lacks announced plans to name a new research building after Lacks in honor of her impact on science and medicine.

The new building will be built next to the Berman Institute of Biotechs’ Deering Hall and will support programs that “enhance participation with members of the community in mutually beneficial research opportunities.”

Groundbreaking on the building is scheduled for 2020 and is anticipated to have a 2022 completion date.

Henrietta Lacks was a young mother of five from eastern Baltimore County who, despite radiation treatment at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, died in 1951 of an aggressive cancer. Lacks was the source of the HeLa cell line that has been critical to numerous advances in medicine.

More good news:

It’s NOT good that there’s a new potential hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, but it does make me happy that our Cajun Navy is already on top of it and while they are still working and volunteering in the Carolinas after Florence, they are mobilizing for any potential damage to come from Hurricane Michael.

I’m so proud of these guys and of my friend Rob Gaudet who works tirelessly on crowd funding to help people who lose so much during these storms.  If you can volunteer, donate, or help in any way with what these great people do, go here and let them know.

The Pelicans are coming back to Louisiana!  (Not a sports team – REAL pelicans!)

Drew Brees is pretty great!

The Books Along the Teche Literary Festival 2019 is looking VERY exciting!  Featured writer this year is Rebecca Wells!  Sign me up!

My mood is already lighter.  I’m feeling so inspired right now that I’m going to clean off my desk, box up some of my old research material for my now published book (I’ve been procrastinating this) and make room to start seriously working on my next book project.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It’s a rainy, fall day here in Louisiana and we are one week away from fall break at school, and less than two weeks away from publishing day for my book, so my attention span is all over the map right now.  I have only some loose, disconnected thoughts for you this week:

The Kavanaugh Circus:  Ditto what Fausta said.  One hundred percent ditto.  Last I checked, her post had not received an Instalanche but it certainly should have.  Well done, Fausta!   For my part, I’m watching the hearings distantly and with disgust.  No wonder people are sick of politicians.

Education in Louisiana: We are accustomed to being at the bottom of every type of good-list in Louisiana (or at the top of The-Worst-Place to… lists), but it looks like our education rankings are fixing to take a blow.  When school letter grades come out on November 8, The Advocate reports that “the number of F-rated schools is expected to rise by 57 percent and those with A ratings drop by 38 percent, according to a 2017 analysis by the state Department of Education.”

It is, in fact, expected to be so bad that schools will receive two grades: one under the old system and one under the new in an attempt to soften the blow.

Meanwhile, Louisiana, like many other states, is facing a critical teacher shortage and while some suggest that pay is the problem, I would suggest that the Louisiana version of Common Core in the core subject areas is also playing a huge part in the vacuum of qualified teachers in this state.   Every ELA teacher I know has an exit plan: either hang on the few years to retirement or move from the classroom into either administration, library science, or counseling.  And the new teacher candidates aren’t coming.  They’re changing course.

This will get worse before it gets better.

Book Talk:  When people send new books to our Classroom Library Project, I try to read as many of them as I can if it is a title I haven’t read before.  My daughter sent Monica Wood’s The One-in-a-Million Boy to us and I just finished it yesterday.  What a stunningly beautiful book.   Her writing is exquisite and her characters so endearing…the plot is simple but complicated.  It is charming and I’m going to buy a copy for all of my friends for Christmas.  Go read it.  Now.

Speaking of the Classroom Library Project, a very nice lady shared our project on her social media this past week which resulted in a mini-flood of about a dozen books for our new classroom library!  My students were so excited as they dug through the new titles, thumbed the crisp new pages, and selected titles to read.  The generosity of strangers can be so heartwarming!

And finally, my own book will be published on October 10.  Cane River Bohemia is a biography of Cammie Henry who had an artists and writers colony at her plantation home in central Louisiana during the 1920s and ‘30s.  She was a remarkable woman and hosted such luminaries of the day as Lyle Saxon, Sherwood Anderson, Alberta Kinsey, Doris Ulmann, Julia Peterkin, Ada Jack Carver, and Caroline Dormon.  She was also the employer of folk artist Clementine Hunter.  Cammie was an early preservationist and restored not only her plantation home, but other cabins and structures on her property.  Additionally, she salvaged parts of other homes and brought them to her own.  Her archival collection at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana is filled with original manuscripts sent to her by all types of writers, famous and not famous, for her examination.

I’m incredibly nervous about the book because I want everyone to love Cammie as much as I do.  People keep telling me to relax and enjoy it, that the hard work is done, but that’s so much easier said than done.

I will work on this!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @paustin25.

The Louisiana Legislature

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Normally, news of a $300 million surplus at the end of the State’s fiscal year would be good news, but here in Louisiana it is prompting questions and accusations amongst the political talking heads.

All summer long Louisiana residents were pummeled with news that our budget was facing a terrible deficit and that this would lead to Medicaid patients being evicted from nursing homes, convicts being released from prison, elimination of the food stamp program, and major cuts to higher education.  We spent over a million dollars to hold three special legislative sessions in which we fought over a sales tax renewal of less than a penny which would supposedly solve all these budget problems.

And now, like a rabbit out of a hat, we have a $300k surplus.

Now, it’s not that we aren’t glad to have this money to spend on worthy projects.  We are.  But by and large, many people feel played.  Manipulated.  How can you be that far off with your fiscal projections?

Governor John Bel Edwards now says that this surplus is double good news because not only do we not have a deficit, but we have a robust economy which sparked this higher than expected revenue and so… voila!  Surplus!

Some aren’t buying it; Louisiana State Senator Conrad Appel:

The way I see it there are two ways to explain this sudden revelation. One is that the governor and his staff were so inept that they could not see that revenues were improving and therefore truly believed in the fiscal cliff nonsense. That would have been bad, as we all trust him to manage a $29 billion business which is the state of Louisiana. If he doesn’t know where the money is, we have a problem.

The other possibility is that he and his people knew perfectly well that there was no fiscal cliff because we were bringing in more tax revenue than we were told. Instead, perhaps to support his well-articulated plan to grow government spending, he chose to ignore the facts and to not tell us that there was no fiscal cliff. That would not just be bad, that to me would be disingenuous and possibly even a violation of his oath of office.

I can think of no other options. We either have terrible fiscal management or we have been purposefully misled.

Even better?

Now Governor Edwards wants to give teachers a $1000 annual pay raise.  (It’s an election year, you know.)

So, it’s either a glass half full or glass half empty situation.  You have a robust economy or you have an inept government.  Or both?

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — One of the unintended consequences of Common Core (or whatever your state’s iteration of Common Core is) has been an attack on the classroom library and independent reading.

In the move to implement a “Tier 1 curriculum,” the first thing to go is anything that does not align with that curriculum.  In Louisiana, a Tier 1 curriculum “exemplifies quality.”  As defined on the Louisiana Believes website, it “meets all non-negotiable criteria and scored the best possible on all indicators of superior quality.”

Louisiana’s version of Common Core is called Louisiana Believes and in ELA our Tier 1 curriculum is Guidebooks 2.0 which was “made by teachers for teachers” and “ensures all students can read, understand, and express their understanding of complex, grade-level texts.”  It began in 2013 when the framework was developed and now in 2018 most parishes are well into implementation of the curriculum.  In my parish we are in year two.

In at least two parishes there have been reports of ELA teachers being asked to remove novels, or anything that is not Tier 1 material, from their rooms: one report was from south Louisiana and the other report came to me from northwest Louisiana.  To protect these teachers I will keep their names and parishes private.  In one parish the teacher was able to strike a compromise with her administration after she provided research and documentation on the benefits of independent reading.

As Donalyn Miller so often makes the case, the research on independent reading “is ubiquitous” and not hard to find.

In defense of these school districts, I think that part of the problem is that we are so new to the implementation of this radically different, scripted curriculum that sometimes administrators and supervisors may not all be on the same page with regard to what is acceptable and what is not.  I can think of no other reason to justify why an administrator might tell a teacher that “independent reading has got to go!” or to remove novels from the classroom.  Sometimes these directives vary within a single district from school to school.

It is just difficult for an ELA teacher to hear that a student can’t read a book; it’s hard to justify that.  And frankly, I don’t know how anyone who calls himself an educator would tell a teacher that students can’t read books.  One of these teachers was told she “is resistant” to the new curriculum; if that doesn’t sound right out of Ray Bradbury I don’t know what does.

In fact, the Louisiana Believes website even states that the vision for students is that “Every day, students in Louisiana should build their knowledge of the world, read meaningful text, express their unique ideas through writing and speaking, and attempt complex problems.”

Given that, I don’t believe that the Louisiana Department of Education is truly against students reading books and so I can’t conceive of why they would want them removed from classrooms, yet I have actually talked to two teachers where this happened.

It is no secret that I have a classroom library and this has not happened to me; my students are reading AND they are participating in the Louisiana Tier 1 curriculum.

I can only hope that there was some misunderstanding on the part of these two teachers  and that the issues have been resolved.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Some random thoughts this week:

Book Reviews:  I’ve finished reading two books this week: What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren, and Educated by Tara Westover.  Both have been books that leave what I call a book-hangover, which is to say that they were both so good that it’s been difficult to get into another book immediately after.  Cat Warren’s book about her work and training with her cadaver dog, Solo, is a thoroughly researched and engaging story.  It’s not your sentimental dog tale where you need a box of tissues at the end.  Not that kind of book – you are safe.  I learned so much about the science of dogs and scent and about how handlers train and work with these dogs.  Warren’s dry humor, quick wit, and solid science make this a thoroughly engaging read.

Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, is a heart-wrenching story about her very unconventional childhood.  Westover was home-schooled in the loosest sense of the word and never set foot in a classroom until she was seventeen years old. Her father, most likely mentally ill, is a survivalist and the Westover children spent their days stocking the root cellar for the End of Days and working their father’s scrapyard. Their mother is an herbalist and midwife and her essential oils and other cures were used to treat all of the family’s injuries including third-degree burns and loss of fingers.  To escape the abuse of her older brother and to make her own way in life, Tara buys a math book and an ACT practice book, teaches herself math, and gets into Brigham Young University.  She doesn’t stop there.  I could not put this book down and now I can’t quit thinking about it.

Speaking of Education:  As you may remember, my students are participating in free-choice reading this semester.  I started building a classroom library last spring and through my Amazon Wish List and my own weekly trips to thrift stores and second-hand book shops, we now have just over 300 unique titles (plus some duplicates) in our classroom.  I’ve been giving updates on my blog about their progress but the short version is that so far, here at the end of week four, this is a success.  I have students that have read multiple books now.  They are writing about what they are reading and they are talking with me about their books.  Even better, they are asking me for suggestions for their next books as well as giving me titles to add to our Wish List!  Keep in mind, most of my students came into my classroom telling me that they don’t read for pleasure and could not remember the last book they read outside of required school texts.  It’s still early in this project, but I’m really encouraged by what I’m seeing in my classroom every day!  It’s very exciting to watch!

Still Speaking of Education:  It’s an election time in Louisiana and our governor is proposing a teacher pay raise.  John Bel Edwards is up for re-election in 2019 so it’s apparently time to get the teachers on board.  He thinks a $1,000 annual pay raise will do it.  Let me make this very clear:  he can give me whatever pay raise he wants to but until he returns teacher autonomy to the classroom and abandons canned, scripted lessons, I’m not voting for him.  Period.  Call me a single-issue voter, I don’t care. I.Don’t.Care.

Hurricane Gordon:  The tropical storm we were watching last week turned and fizzled.  This is not a bad thing necessarily but now officials are worried about giving too many false warnings:

Louisiana officials declared an emergency, called out the National Guard, shuttered schools and closed courthouses as Tropical Storm Gordon drew near, but the weather system bucked east and left the Pelican State unscathed.

Such false alarms are the cost of a robust emergency response system, scientists and government officials said Wednesday. Some worried residents could become desensitized to future alerts.

“People think they’re getting over-warned,” said meteorologist Frank Revitte of the National Weather Service’s Slidell office, which issues forecasts for southeastern Louisiana.

I think I’d rather have the warning than not.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

Tropical storm Gordon.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Last night as I was watching LSU’s trouncing of the Miami Hurricanes on television, I received a text message from a friend which included a screenshot of the new tropical storm in the Gulf, Gordon, with the question “Am I the only one who can feel a faster heartbeat and creeping anxiety over a pic like this?”

It’s an ongoing group text thread with five of us teachers and every one of us knew exactly what she meant.  I’d been watching that cone of probability all day long as it centered this storm right over New Orleans.

It’s only a tropical storm, it’s not a hurricane, and it’s probably not that big of a deal, but this is what living in Louisiana is like, especially after Katrina which was much in the news the past week with the thirteenth anniversary of that devastating storm.

Add to that the flooding along the south Louisiana coast with Harvey last year and, well, we can be forgiven if we look at tropical storm warnings a little differently than normal.

The New York Times has a story today about Hurricane Harvey and about how many poor neighborhoods in Houston are “slow to recover” :

A survey last month showed that 27 percent of Hispanic Texans whose homes were badly damaged reported that those homes remained unsafe to live in, compared to 20 percent of blacks and 11 percent of whites. There were similar disparities with income: 50 percent of lower-income respondents said they weren’t getting the help they needed, compared to 32 percent of those with higher incomes, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation.

And while Louisiana escaped the brunt of Hurricane Harvey, areas along the coast received up to twenty-two inches of rain which just added insult to injury after the devastating 2016 Louisiana floods.  In August 2016 much of south Louisiana received devastating rain totals as a slow-moving storm drenched the state and left many homes uninhabitable.

So, yes.  Whenever we see those weather graphics with those cones of probability slamming right into our fragile coast, we get a little nervous.

It doesn’t stop us in our tracks, though.  We are used to this.  It comes with the territory (literally!) and the flooding and storms are part of our routine.  We prepare, we wait, we watch, and sometimes the predictions are wrong.

But I do believe that Katrina changed things for us.  I’m in northwest Louisiana and so Katrina as a weather event didn’t affect me very much, but Katrina as a human drama certainly did.  I’ll never ever forget the haunted eyes of those refugee children in my classrooms.

With this little storm, Gordon, who is making its way over the coast this week and up into my corner of the state this time, what I worry about most is our very fragile coastline and vanishing wetlands.  I wonder why we have no better answers to protect them and I worry about places like Isle de Jean Charles, for example, that are already so endangered.  What must those people be thinking as they look at the weather forecast this week?

In the meantime, we celebrate our LSU Tigers’ performance last night, and I think I will go start a pot of gumbo and hope that the storm moves quickly through.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPOT — Last week Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator visited with Erin McCarty and Robert J. Wright on our local 710 KEEL radio about Governor John Bel Edwards touted Criminal Justice Reform.

The bipartisan legislation revamping the way Louisiana deals with criminals and crime was passed in 2017 in an attempt to lower Louisiana’s notoriously high incarceration rate.  The reform bill was authored by six Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent.  Those designations mean little though; in Louisiana all you have to do to get re-elected to the other side of the legislative chamber is change your political affiliation, if not your beliefs.

In a meeting with President Donald Trump in early August, Governor John Bel Edwards said, “In Louisiana, we’re proud of the work we’ve done. It’s been sentencing reform, prison reform, and a real focus on reentry and for the first time in 20 years, I can tell you Louisiana does not have the highest incarceration rate in the nation today.”

In 2017, U.S. News and World Report listed the top ten states with the highest incarceration rate in the nation and Louisiana was number one, and designated the prison capital of the world.

Everyone agrees there is a problem here but consensus begins to diverge when we begin to nail down what those problems are and how to solve them.  Senator John Kennedy, (R-LA) is one of those voices against the new reforms:  “Well, the governor and I just disagree,” said Kennedy. “He thinks our problem in Louisiana is we have too many prisoners. I think our problem is we have too many people committing crimes.”

Sheriff Prator is more specific.  In his visit on KEEL radio last week he enumerated several changes he believes are problematic.  One of his concerns is that the re-entry programs that are supposed to help the newly released acclimate into society are not yet in place.  “We’re designing the bus while we’re driving the bus,” he said, “and somebody is gonna get killed, and people are getting killed…”.

Sheriff Prator is referring to two prisoners who were arrested on drug charges that were released in November, who have now committed murder, and have been rearrested.  One of these was in Ouachita Parish and the other in Bossier Parish.

These re-entry programs are supposed to be funded in part by the savings gained from lowering the incarceration rate.  Sheriff Prator directs citizens to page 38 of the Practitioners Guide for the new reforms which explains that in the first year, 35% of the savings will go to the Office of Juvenile Justice for Strategic Investments and to the Department of corrections for the same purpose.  Nobody has said what those strategic investments are; Sheriff Prator did not know.

Still in the first year, 14% of the savings will go to Victims’ services (this number drops to 10% after the first year.) Twenty-one percent goes to “Grants: community-based programs” (drops to 15% after year 1) and 30% of the savings from early release goes to the General Fund to be spent at legislators’ discretion.

What concerns Sheriff Prator a great deal can be found on pages 6 and 7 of the Practitioner’s Guide which outlines new thresholds and penalties for non-violent crimes.  Apparently, we are not all in agreement on what “non-violent” means.  For example, under the new law, a person could barge into my home with a firearm and could be free the very next day.  This is now a probationary offense.  Specifically, the former penalty for this was mandatory five to thirty years.  Now it is 1-30 years and the one year is not mandatory, according to Sheriff Prator.

Another example: no longer considered a violent crime is “mingling harmful substances”; in other words, if someone drops a date rape drug in your drink, this is a non-violent offense.  So is extortion and a drive-by shooting if you happen to miss hitting a person.  See page 7 of the Practitioners Guide for these.

Here is the chart found on page 7 of the Guide:

Penalties for crimes have been drastically altered as well, such as debt forgiveness.  One scenario described by Sheriff Prator would be that of a repeat offender for theft, for example.  If the judge orders that person to reimburse the victim, the most they have to pay back is the equivalent of one day’s wage per month, and if they do that for one year the balance of the debt is forgiven.

Additionally, third and fourth DWI offenses are now backed down to probation and may qualify for diversion, which means that it is not recidivism if it never happened.  At least on record.

Nobody, not even Sheriff Prator, thinks our prison system was without fault before these reforms.  Everyone agrees that change was needed.  But perhaps we have once again passed a bill without really knowing what is in it.  At the very least, we have passed a bill that releases prisoners without the safety net to keep them from reoffending.  Those programs simply do not exist yet and that is not a good situation for the citizens of Louisiana or the newly released.

Read the Practitioner’s Guide; it’s not a complicated document.  You can find it here.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – My post here last week was one of random thoughts and musings and that’s what I have for you again this week, if you’ll indulge me.

On Blogging:  It’s been a few years now that Pete asked me to join his crew and contribute to this space and in all that time I don’t think I’d need two hands to count the comments my posts have received.  Is anyone out there?  Is anyone reading this?  I often try to bring you news from my part of the country, Louisiana, and goodness knows we have a raucous political climate down here, but my posts have become less and less about politics.  This has been true on my own blog as well.  There is a lot about my state that needs to be fixed but there is a lot to love also.  I’ve been trying to share that lately and I’ve written a lot about education lately because that’s my field.  Do you guys read any of this?  I’m just wondering.

On Reading:  What are you reading?  I’ve always been a reader and am always in a book, but since starting this Classroom Library Project I have been reading some of the books people have donated to our library.  I just finished 1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose which originally was a series of columns in the Times-Picayune following Hurricane Katrina.  It’s a haunting book and it took me right back to those terrible days after the storm.  Here in Shreveport, of course, we didn’t get the storm but we got plenty of fallout.  Our schools and communities, like so many across the country, took in refugees from the storm; my husband was still in law enforcement at the time and was part of two different excursions to the area following both Katrina and Rita to help out.   Chris Rose’s book is beautifully written and is accompanied by heartbreaking photos.  Check it out.

On Aretha Franklin:  Speaking of NOLA, the Times-Picayune has video of a Second Line through Treme following the announcement of the passing of Aretha Franklin.  Louisiana loved Aretha who was a staple at NOLA’s Jazzfest.

On the Times-Picayune:  And speaking of the Times-Picayune, The Hayride has a post about the decline of that iconic newspaper and its attempt to stay relevant in a challenging news acquisition environment.  I hate to see that paper go down because there is so much great history associated with it and there were so many really great writers that came out of that proving ground: William Faulkner, Hamilton Basso, Lyle Saxon, to name a few.  The 1920s were the true glory days there and if you’re at all interested in that you should pick up Dixie Bohemia: A French Quarter Circle in the 1920s by John Shelton Reed.

On Louisiana:  And finally, it’s almost fall in Louisiana which means festival season!  This past weekend was the Shrimp Festival in Delcambre.  In September we have The Sugar Cane festival in New Iberia to look forward to and the Highland Jazz and Blues Festival in Shreveport and the Red River Revel.  In Louisiana we have festivals for almost everything, including crawfish, mayhaws, seafood, corn, peaches, zydeco, meatpies, tamales, gumbo, andouille, pigs, cracklins, Christmas, and of course poke salad.  I’m not kidding.  Here’s a list.  Any excuse for a party.

Have a good work week, folks, and say something every now and then so I know you are there!

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I’m headed back to my second week of school this week and let me tell you, it has taken me all weekend to recover from week one!  Not that anything went wrong, but it does take all of one’s energy to lay down a good foundation for the semester in that first week.

Just some quick bits and updates this week:

The Classroom Library Project:  as most of you are aware, I started a Classroom Library in my tenth grade ELA room this year with the belief that kids will read when they have choice.   Additionally, the Louisiana version of Common Core stripped all novels from our curriculum and we read a whole lot of non-fiction speeches and articles.  So, I’m trying to restore balance.  At the end of day one, ten students had checked out books.  It was glorious.  By the end of day three, my entire fourth block spent the last twenty minutes of class Friday reading from their books.  Everyone had a book of their own choice and was reading.  I’m very optimistic about what we can accomplish this year!  I spent the entire day Saturday setting up Reader’s Notebooks to give to my students this week.  Thanks to everyone who sent us books and remember, the Wish List is continuously updating!

Currently Reading:  A friend recommended The Sun Does Rise by Anthony Ray Hinton.  I downloaded it on my Kindle (during an especially dull in-service last week) and have not been able to put it down.  Anthony Ray Hinton did thirty years on Alabama’s death row for a crime he did not commit.  He is a thoroughly engaging writer and I am saving the last sixty pages of this book for later today when I can read straight through.

Confederate Monuments:  A couple of articles have popped up on my radar about Confederate monuments this week: this AP article and then the New York Times has a piece as well.  Removal of the monuments in NOLA hasn’t seemed to have restored peace and unity there or solved the city’s other issues as far as I can tell.  The battle over the Confederate monument in Shreveport is still ongoing and the Daughters of the Confederacy is still raising money to save their monument and plead their case.  One takeaway from the NYT piece is that not all these reminders of the Civil War can be removed, which begs the point, to me, why even try to erase or sanitize history?  Let’s just educate.

What People are Talking About:  Prison reform.  Here in Louisiana we are hearing lots of discussion about Governor John Bel Edwards reform package that has released thousands of inmates in an attempt to lower incarceration rates.  The Edwards camp says it has been a success but not everyone, including U.S. Senator John Kennedy, agrees.  At least two have been re-arrested and charged with murder.  The plan might have looked good on paper and may be saving the state money, but the problem seems to be that the education and training programs were not all in place when the doors to the prisons opened.  It will be interesting to watch the recidivism numbers over the next months.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.