Be the Cause

curbside philosophy

My strict-traditional-filipino parents have this paranoid notion that I spend my nights talking to men in internet chatrooms, which is RIDICULOUS — I know, since I spend Saturday nights talking to guys outside the Santa Ana jail


on Saturday nights/Sunday mornings, BTC partners up with Saint Vincent De Paul for the Lights On Project, which is a plain humble RV parked down the street from the jail, 11pm-4am almost every night of the year.
People who’ve just been released can stop by to use a cellphone, grab a cup of coffee and some snacks or a cigarette, find a sweatshirt if its cold out, and wait for their rides to pick them up. Completely free.

As a volunteer, it involves a lot of waiting.
Sometimes no one is released until 2 or 3am.

Last Saturday I brought my prep book thinking I might study during down time (applying for a masters in public service). We used the book to prop up a crock pot of soup so that the extension cord could reach the electrical outlet.
Lesson #1: Application is better than theory.
If only I could explain that when I mail in my GRE scores, you know?

Anyhow, when people are finally released, it’s probably not at all what you’re probably thinking it should be.
If you are in any way hesitant about volunteering at Lights On, you might be a little disappointed.
Everyone is pretty normal.

However, last Saturday we did meet someone from an obscure band who could maybe possibly be nominated for a grammy this year!
You heard it here first.

Other brilliant things I heard while sitting on that sidewalk..

(While trying to convince a homeless woman to go to a shelter)
Her response: Don’t worry about me, I’m used to it. I like looking at the stars. I’ve been in jail for a long time, the last thing I want to do is stare at walls right now. I want to look at cute guys.


then I spent most of the night bonding over a bowl of soup with a nice old man named Richard, reminiscing about all the different places we’ve been, and his sister who passed away a long time ago. By the end of the night Richard and I were both wiping our tears on crumpled napkins, and in the background I could hear Supun’s voice asking people if they needed jackets.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.

If you’re interested in voluteering, please email

Enjoying the stars…looking forward to seeing the sun again

This last Saturday evening, I joined my friends again @ Lights On…a program through St. Vincent De Paul that has become a weekly Be the Cause Compassion Cell. I have to say that I think this project clearly defines..the true meaning of a “compassion cell”=a project which spreads compassion and goodness into the world. At this last “Lights On” event, I was deeply grateful to Sonali for making this project become part of Be the Cause…and to Supun for driving that RV and serving on many Saturday nights and mornings in the last 2-3 weeks or more. I mentioned to Sonali that she and Supun are angels for making this happen…she brushed off the compliment like she does and turned around and complimented me somehow and other btcers. But I hope she knows…in this blog…how much it means to me, all of us ( especially to these people being released from jail at such an outrageously insane hour of the night/morning)….the impact that this weekly compassion cell brings to so many…and the difference that it is making…in all of our lives…even if you aren’t at a “Lights On” event…just know that you…on some level may be feeling the inspiration. Just think…without this RV and volunteers, people released from Santa Ana jail…greet the dark, and if they don’t have a cell phone in their pockets when arrested, they cannot call anyone to get a ride…thus, they may have to sleep outside and unfortunately, could be arrested again for either getting into trouble again somehow or for sleeping on the street. For some women, taxi cabs wait outside…and if they don’t have actual cash to pay the cab driver…the cab driver still expects a payment…but the payment expected is usually some sort of sexual favor(s).

What really got to me this time…was how grateful the newly released were…to see the stars again, and one girl was so looking forward to waking up and seeing the sun…which she hadn’t seen in over ninety days. These comments I heard reminded me of when I was working as a substitute teacher for a few weeks at an accountability program…at Youth Family Regional Center. This was a center for juveniles on probation. They had been incarcerated and the majority of the students wore anklets around their ankles that basically kept them hostage…they couldn’t leave their houses/apartments…past their front yards or the anklet (that was connected to a computer program) would alert probation officers and basically, the students could be arrested again. So when I substituted in front of this class…I basically had a captive audience…if they leaned back in their chair or looked the other way…the probation officers in the room with me were right there…and would say something to them right away…when the students ate lunch (in the classroom), they had to keep both hands on the table…if they had one hand under the table…it was seen as suspicious and they would get in trouble…once again for it.

So here I was…a slightly new sub…especially in this kind of classroom situation. I let the students watch movies, played trivia games with them, and taught them poetry. One day…I spoke to them about the beach…because they asked me what I did over the weekend…they specifically wanted to know if I did something fun. And my interpretation…was that they hadn’t had fun…even the most innocent fun that one can think of…in what felt like eons to them.

So one day I started to talk about the beach and how the water was such a clear blue and the waves were a perfect height, and all the sights and sounds one sees and hears when at the beach. And the moment I started to talk about this….I could see the missing..the sadness of these students…to walk in the sand, climb on rocks…be a kid again. Because in their minds and hearts…I don’t know if they felt they could ever relive…or do over what they thought they did so badly.

I noticed when I taught poetry to the group…the few girls in the class were into it, but I saw that the boys really were too. And I felt that there was some longing to remember beauty and flow and living in the moment…some of the ideals that poetry offers the reader and writer.

So the other night…at Lights On…I felt this remembrance…and felt grateful…sitting on a beach chair outside and watching the stars with some who may have felt at times that they would never see the stars again…

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