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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

The Flagstaff High School soccer team celebrates with Mya Zahn (15) after she made the game-winning penalty kick on the Estrella Foothills goalie Saturday morning during the first round of the state playoffs at Flagstaff High School.

Teaching empathy through literature

Part two of a two-part series.

“Do you want me to place them on standby?” asks a correction officer outside the women’s unit of the Coconino County Detention Center.

“Yes. And if you don’t mind, ask them to bring their yellow folders with them,” Richard Parsons, Literacy Center volunteer, responds.

With the amount of female inmates at the county jail around only 11 percent of the total population, the women don’t have a full re-entry program like the men. However, they do have resources like optional weekly Literacy Center classes.

When the five women who opted in for the Jan. 23 class file into F-Pod’s religious studies room, their standard-issued orange sandals slapping the linoleum floor, Parsons hands them informational papers they can utilize after their release: a felony-friendly employee list, programs that assist mothers in need and homelessness, and federal bonding program paperwork.

The federal bonding program covers the first six months of employment of hard-to-place employees, like those previously incarcerated, at no cost to the employer.

“So if that lady who owns the business thinks you might walk out with the cash register, you can give her this form,” Parsons said. “Cause they’ll judge us, won’t they? We’re all being judged and it’s not fair.”

Parsons is sure to explain what the Literacy Center has to offer inmates after their release. Besides writing, the center’s 125 trained tutors can also help teach math, GED classes and learning English as a Second Language, he says.

“We help with whatever it may be in getting along in this world, which is tough if you don’t have literacy,” Parsons tells the women. “You’ve got to be able to speak, write and read English.”

Unconquerable Souls

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Tara Wendlandt reads the poem Invictus during a class in the Coconino County jail taught by Literacy Center volunteers.

This week, Parsons has brought the group some poems he picked out for them. He explains the background of the Victorian-era poem “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley. When the author was a young man, he had to have his leg amputated due to tuberculosis complications. Despite being in extraordinary pain and spending an extended amount of time in an infirmary with screaming patients all around him, his determination to stay strong helped him get through it.

After going through some vocabulary together, one inmate reads the four stanza poem, and then Parsons goes over each stanza individually with the women.

"Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, For my unconquerable soul," the poem reads.

“What do you think unconquerable means here?” Parsons asks.

Inmate Dina Etsitty doesn’t hesitate to share her opinion.

“Things won’t bring him down, even though he’s in the hospital and like almost dead...," Etsitty said. "He’s still got himself together and staying happy.”

Parsons praises Etsitty’s interpretation, and adds his own, and they move onto the next lines.

"In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, My head is bloody but unbowed," the poem continues.

“Somebodies bludgeoning the heck out of him with something. What do they call that stick the police carry?” Parsons asks.

“A baton,” the women answer in unison.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Dina Etsitty looks back while taking part in a class in the Coconino County jail taught by Literacy Center volunteer Richard Parsons.

“If you think of somebody bludgeoning you, you might be down on your knees in bad fortune, bad things are happening to you, you’re getting bludgeoned – life is giving you a rough time,” Parsons continues on to the women. “It’s your own battle, you're just not gonna let it get to you. You know, you’re going to be tough.”

"Beyond this place of wrath and tears, Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years, Finds and shall find me unafraid," the third stanza of "Invictus" reads.

Etsitty is the first to respond on her take of ‘menace.’

“We ourselves are menacing,” she says. “It’s how they put us as 'a menace to society’."

“That’s true. They kind of name you that way, don’t they?” Parsons says.

“It’s how they define you,” Etsitty adds. “A menace to ourselves, a menace to our life.”

"It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul," the poem concludes.

“I like how he put ‘I am the captain of my soul,’ Etsitty says. “He’s taking the punishment. But he is still himself.”

“I think he’s just happy to get by,” another woman suggests, before they move on to Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Taylor Mundine, left, Tara Wendlandt, center, and Dina Etsitty, right, all take part in a class in the Coconino County jail taught by Literacy Center volunteers.

Teaching the teachers

Parsons said he believes that sharing literature with inmates broadens their perspective in life.

“Many of the women especially, have emotional wounds and disabilities,” he said. “I think [literature] helps them see life and the world through others' eyes. It may help them develop empathy.”

At one point during the “Invictus” reading, Etsitty put her hand on her chest. “His heart hurts,” she said of the poem’s speaker.

Inmate development specialist Crystal Luna attempts to bring any self-development and educational opportunities to the inmates. Luna believes it is exposure to the arts through the Literacy Center, as well as the substance abuse classes, parenting classes and meditation classes that the jail offers, that ultimately leads to changes in the incarcerated, which then lead to a safer and healthier community when they are released.

“The [Literacy Center] has positively increased the participants in reading, art, personal writing, storytelling and poetry,” Luna said. “It allows individuals to learn different ways of expressing themselves and offers a moment to step outside of incarceration for two hours a week.”

David Richardson, a retired teacher and attorney who has been volunteering with the Literacy Center since its 2012 inception, said there is a pressing need for more of what they do at the jail.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Tara Wendlandt reads the poem Invictus during a class in the Coconino County jail taught by Literacy Center volunteers.

“The inmates that we deal with are uniformly grateful for our time and efforts," Richardson said. "They often let us know that we are one of the few outsiders who seem to care at all about them in any measure and in any way.”

Richardson and Parsons agreed they have never felt unsafe around the inmates and said they have learned much from them.

"Don’t get me wrong, I know there are many truly dangerous people in our jails and prisons, and they should be kept away from the rest of us," Parsons said. "But we incarcerate too many people. And many of these folks can lead good lives when they get out. If we can help them do that, it will be good for the individuals... and for society at large." 

“These people in terrible surroundings are not terrible creatures, but simply ordinary human beings who have made some bad choices,” Richardson said. “Most of them are aware that they have made mistakes and most truly want to do better and are willing to do whatever is needed to get to a better place. It takes real strength and purpose to exist in our jails and to try, and to keep on trying. It is hard, and I admire the men and women we deal with who are not quitters, who are not defeated.”

Developer lowers number of four bedroom units in Butler/Sawmill development; council wants more

Negotiations will continue between the Flagstaff City Council and Houston-based developer McGrath Real Estate Partners after the former decided to postpone any decision on latter's request to rezone two parcels of land.

Currently, the property is home to the closed Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors facility.

Council made the decision to postpone in order to give the public more time to comment on the matter, as the Feb. 5 meeting fell on the same day as this pas week's snowstorm.

The city’s planning and zoning commission approved the development with relative ease last month, but council has been far more skeptical of the request and has asked for a number of concessions from McGrath Real Estate.

The developer initially pledged 10 percent, or 24 units, would be designated as affordable housing. The developer also said it would give money to the city for more affordable housing and to mitigate some of the impacts of the development. However, by the end of Tuesday night's meeting the developers also agreed to lower the number of four-bedroom units.

McGrath Real Estate said the project could support both students and long-term residents, as originally planned. However, 238 units were planned for the development, 190 of which were to include four bedrooms and four bathrooms.

As a result, only 48 units would be one, two or three bedrooms.

The disparity in the bedroom totals within units rubbed many of the councilmembers the wrong way. Vice Mayor Adam Shimoni said the four-bedroom units would likely not be suitable for many families.

Instead the larger units, which may cost as much as $2,400, appeal to students who can bring the cost of renting such large apartments down with the use of roommates.

“(A total of) 190, four-bedroom, four-bathroom units: it's concerning for me personally, and I’d like to think, other members of council,” Shimoni said. “I am not sure what members of our community are going to want to live here.”

Mark Lindley, a senior vice president at McGrath Real Estate, said he understood council wanted fewer four-bedroom units, but those units are also more profitable.

“This is difficult,” Lindley said. “It’s not difficult because we want it to be, it’s difficult because it costs millions and millions and millions of dollars to buy land and build these things, and they have to perform.”

Nonetheless, Lindley said they had done the math to see how many four-bedroom units they could lose while keeping the project feasible.

While the number of four-bedroom units could be lowered from 190 to 165, the total of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments could jump to a combined 103.

The increase to 268 units would also mean the number of affordable housing options would also move from 24 to 27.

Shimoni said he was also concerned as to whether they would be able to fill the building with the students they planned to market the development toward, adding he has heard of other student-focused developments in town have struggled to fill all the rooms with those attending Northern Arizona University.

Lindley said for every one of the student focused projects McGrath Real Estate has built over the past six years, they have had a waitlist months before construction was completed and they expect no different in Flagstaff.

“I don’t think we would come to town, spend $540,000 to $570,000 to entitle a site and spend $50 million to build a site if we didn’t think [it would fill with student residents],” Lindley said.

Mayor Coral Evans was also concerned about whether it was a good idea to give up land currently zoned for light and heavy industrial, and has the potential to provide jobs, in order to turn it into even more high-density residential housing.

“We are looking at rezoning heavy industrial and light industrial, which quite frankly means jobs,” Evans said. “I’ll grant you that this particularly piece of property has not been utilized for decades, but I also know the way this community works: once we give up heavy and light industrial property, we will never get it back.”

She said because of this, she believed the developer would need to show council the city would be better off with their development than it would be should the land remain for industrial uses, especially as nearby residents of the Southside neighborhood have called for the preservation of land for industrial uses.

Collaboration with NAIPTA

To help address potential concerns council may have regarding the traffic caused by residents, Lindley also said they have been talking with the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority over the past week and signed a letter of intent to provide bus passes for all residents for five years.

The development is situated to allow residents nearly direct access on routes three and seven, with more routes available on the far side of the neighboring Aspen Place. The closest two routes, however, will require a bus change to reach campus, said Erika Mazza, CEO and president of NAIPTA.

The developer also proposed a one-time donation of about $42,000 to go into a fund to support low-income and the disadvantaged, Mazza said. Should their board vote in favor of the proposal, the money would go to providing monthly bus passes at reduced prices to those who are struggling to get by or are homeless.

Mazza said she hopes this money can act as a seed to get such a program started, and NAIPTA would then be able to continue the efforts with money from other sources.

“We would like this development to be a catalyst for the community and a model for future real-estate developers to follow,” Lindley said. “We’ve worked hard to listen to the community to listen to the city and to listen to the leaders of the city.”

Updated for correction at 1:57 p.m. on Feb. 13.

 Adrian Skabelund  / 

A rendered view of the planned development at the corner of Butler and Sawmill from an Aspen Place parking lot.

Raptor Ranch purchases Bedrock City property

A 30-acre property north of Williams, previously known as Flintstones Bedrock City, was officially purchased Jan. 31 and will be replaced with Raptor Ranch: Birds of Prey park.

Raptor Ranch co-founder Ron Brown declined to give specific figures, but said the property was purchased for less than Bedrock City's $2 million listing price from 2015.

Brown and Troy Morris, Raptor Ranch's other co-founder, met through falconry about 20 years ago and partnered to make Morris’ dream a reality 10 years ago. Falconry is the sport of hunting wild animals, such as squirrels and rabbits, in their natural habitat using a trained predator bird.

“Our idea was not only to entertain people, but also use the sport of falconry and our knowledge of nature and natural habitats to educate people on our natural world,” Brown said. “Tourists that are coming here [are] looking to explore nature -- they’re not coming here to ride a roller coaster ride.”

Morris said they are planning to open the campground with some bird demonstrations during the summer. However, building the site will take 24 months to complete. Brown said the goal is to have 30 new jobs when construction is finished.

The original Flintstones structures are still intact and on display. Brown said they want to be sensitive and give the public one more opportunity to see Bedrock City.

“Some of those things are going to ultimately remain, like the brontosaurus slide is going to be incorporated around the children’s playground,” Morris said. “There’s a few small pieces that will be encapsulated in time here, but most of it will go away.”

Approximately 30 miles south of Raptor Ranch is the Bearizona Wildlife Park, another animal-based attraction. While Raptor Ranch and Bearizona are close in proximity, Morris and Brown are not concerned about visitor competition.

“I think there is plenty of business here, so that doesn’t bother me too much,” Morris said. “There’s plenty of people going through here and much like having three or four restaurants clustered together, it kind of builds promise.”

Raptor Ranch is a predator bird park for visitors to view birds such as falcons, eagles and owls. Instead of showing birds fly from one spot to the next, Brown said Raptor Ranch will focus on demonstrating how predator birds hunt in the wild using artificial lures.

“The birds are trained and handled in such a manner that they are very safe. They are not wild birds,” Brown said. “These are birds that have almost all been bred in captivity.”

According to an Arizona Republic article, former owner Linda Speckels and her deceased husband, Francis, originally purchased the property in 1972. It officially closed in January. Bedrock City was a Flintstones-themed amusement park and campground that included a restaurant, gift shop, RV park and statues of cartoon characters.

Although Bedrock City was open for 47 years, it hasn’t been a sought-out location compared to other destinations in the area. Williams marketing representative Heather Hermen said via email that the visitor center had received requests for information and occasional directions, but Bedrock City wasn’t a draw for tourism.

“We would anticipate there will be some increased interest in Raptor Ranch and look forward to it joining the ranks as a location for people to visit in northern Arizona,” Hermen said.

The Raptor Ranch property is located at the intersection of State Route 64 and Highway 180, about 30 miles south of the Grand Canyon.