Ambien is destroying (seriously) lives

I don’t want to write this – – it’s personal, autobiographical, and personally damaging and I’m long since tired of that genre – I say this sincerely, this is not a gimmick I’m trotting out to justify memoir writing.

But I’m a journalist, and you find the best subject to tell a story. And if I’m not the best subject on this issue I’m a pretty damn good one.

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Interview with an Escapee from a Maximum Security Jail, a reform school buddy

With jail/prison escapes in the news, this seems relevant — an old acquaintance from a bad boys home gave me a detailed break down on how he escaped, it was crazy and ingenious and probably instructive for jailers.

Mick (he didn’t want his real name used) engineered a complicated escape from a jail in Nassau County, New York that landed him on the front page. He took along a  career criminal (now deceased), and a man awaiting murder charges; that man, Shi Fu Huang,  once featured on America’s Most Wanted, is still at large.

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A Memoir: The Old School Rehab; shaved heads, digging your own grave outside, young men forced to wear diapers, donkey costumes, eat baby food, and sit for weeks motionless on a wooden chair with no back

They went quite crazy back then in the name of reforming us; the other aspect of the war on drugs.

Photo: Me at 17 with my buddy, the armed robber, dust patient bisexual, martial arts expert from Hollis, Queens

It was the early 1980s in NYC, around the birth of hip hop and these rehabs (TCs) were a world of prison culture, living in Bronx tenements, sleeping with one eye open, 125th Street in Harlem, Pitkin Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn, dusties detoxing on cranberry juice, the cooker, razor blades in mouths, Nicky Barnes, fresh waves, Five Percenters, Mighty Whiteys from Queens, speedballs, the hole stroll, spades, playing the corner slap boxing, wild like reform school, excessively rigid as a skinner box mixed with super Orwellian behaviorism (forced to constantly inform on each other to staff) — all to treat us misfits, gangstas and burnouts in army jackets and work-boots messing with girls with roach clip feather earrings who were made to wear stocking caps if they broke a rule.

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Beyond NSA’s PRISM — The Extreme Monitoring Developed in the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office

In their 2012 Review publication a seemingly obscure government entity, the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), describes an operational program called PRISM.  The description doesn’t match exactly with the NSA slides of the PRISM program that the Washington Post recently published in relation to leaks by former CIA/former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.   In the CTTSO publication there is no specific mention of PRISM working with Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, or Apple and the collection focus is, as some government officials have stated, on what is referred to as foreign web media extraction. There is language that hints at ambiguity, overreach, potential for abuse (“PRISM provided access to an extensive database of related contextual data trends”) and there is language that might just be pseudo-Intelligence babble (“PRISM integrated visualization components with sentiment estimation” or “a cognitive task analysis was conducted to develop an analytic methodology and a processing pipeline to provide trend data from foreign media.”)

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Senator Rand Paul believes mental health is a hoax; legislation pending

In late 2011 Senator Rand Paul introduced Bill H.R. 2769 and related Bill S.1800, co-sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Rep. Dan Burton, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling. It was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

The name of the legislation was disingenuously called The Parental Consent Act – – it pretends to be all about protecting the children and stopping the state from taking away your parental right to raise your child as you see fit, but it’s just as much, more really, about adult issues masquerading as child protection.

The gist of it is that Rand Paul believes mental health is a hoax.

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Here’s a look inside America’s largest gun manufacturer (a bit ugly and hypocritical)


Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm was/is the primary owner of The Freedom Group, one of the largest manufacturers in the world of firearms and ammunition. Their brands include including Remington, Bushmaster Firearms, DPMS/Panther Arms, Marlin, H&R, The Parker Gun, Mountain Khakis, Advanced Armament Corp. Dakota Arms, Para USA and Barnes Bullets.

As has been widely reported, shortly after the Newton shooting massacre (the killer used their Bushmaster weapon, and the father of Cerberus’s CEO Steven Feinberg, happened to live in Sandy Hook), Cerberus put the Freedom Group up for sale.

Here’s the press release they issued:

Cerberus Capital Management Statement Regarding Freedom Group, Inc.

NEW YORK, Dec. 18, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — We were shocked and deeply saddened by the events that took place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on December 14, 2012.  We cannot comprehend the losses suffered by the families and friends of those killed by the unthinkable crimes committed that day.  No words or actions can lessen the enormity of this event or make a dent in the pain that was inflicted on so many.

In 2006 affiliates of Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. made a financial investment in Freedom Group.  Freedom Group does not sell weapons or ammunition directly to consumers, through gun shows or otherwise.  Sales are made only to federally licensed firearms dealers and distributors in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.  We do not believe that Freedom Group or any single company or individual can prevent senseless violence or the illegal use or procurement of firearms and ammunition.

It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level.

The debate essentially focuses on the balance between public safety and the scope of the Constitutional rights under the Second Amendment. As a Firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers.  Our role is to make investments on behalf of our clients who are comprised of the pension plans of firemen, teachers, policemen and other municipal workers and unions, endowments, and other institutions and individuals.  It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators.


Blatant LIE #1

They state that it is not their role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate.

Except that on their gun web sites they link to the NRA web site. And

they also have on one of their gun web sites “Trigger the Vote” buttons, and “Gunvote/ Don’t lose your rights” buttons. Click on one of those buttons and this is what comes up:


Don’t buy the gun to lose the freedom! This year’s 2012 elections are more important than ever for the future of our country and our Second Amendment rights. The only protection against attacks on our Second Amendment rights and the democratic process is your vote. And this year in particular, we will need each and every individual gun owner’s vote, in every precinct and every district across the country.

We’re all concerned about the direction this country is heading, and we need to make sure that our children and grandchildren enjoy the same freedoms that we do. Your rights are within range. That’s why it all comes down to your vote.


Trigger the Vote is the NRA’s national voter registration campaign sponsored by sponsored by The NRA Freedom Action Foundation. Help us Trigger the Vote TODAY

Here’s the link:

This is also on their web site:


We support and encourage community outreach and provide sustainable employment. Safety, health and environmental protection take priority over economic consideration.


We partner with our suppliers and conduct ourselves professionally and ethically.


We produce environmentally sound products and only act within the law. We will not compromise our moral or ethical principles.

Here’s how ethical, moral, safe and community conscious they are. On one of their web sites they take a little pot-shot at Clinton and a boast about how they cleverly skirted his Crime Bill to make and sell high powered magazines:

“In early 1994, Para introduced the P13•45, a tactical-size pistol with a 4.25″ barrel and a 13-round magazine. Later, that year saw the passage of America’s infamous Clinton-backed Crime Bill with its 10-round magazine restriction. Fortunately, Para leadership had anticipated this event and had produced large reserves of legally grandfathered high-capacity magazines, still available to purchasers of Para-Ordnance pistols.”

They also state that they are the world’s leading innovator, designer, manufacturer and marketer of firearms, ammunition and related products for law enforcement.

But how about this patch they sell on one of their web sites, which I’m sure all those first responders in Newtown, Connecticut and cops everywhere who risk their lives for community and family will appreciate. A patch of a fat, stupid looking pig dressed in a police uniform. Real funny — “ethical” business men take law enforcement money on gun and gear contracts and for pensions on one web site, but mock the hell out of them on another site.

And how about this on their web site:

Vision Statement

We always treat our customers, employees, business partners, environment, community and nation with the highest levels of integrity.

So you’re patriots. Except when promoting your gun brand and showing that patriotism by flying the US flag, the stars replaced with a skull and crossed bones/guns — symbolizing death and killing.

Guess that didn’t “shock and sadden” you back when your were hyping guns as sexy cool bad ass killing machines

And some more patriotism, Lady Liberty throwing up a Glock-like long gun with an attached silencer (silencers on guns, it’s all about Freedom). They’ve since removed it from their site (PR? Cowards? Smart capitalists? — no matter, they’ve got guns so they’re automatic patriots (but bitches, and I use the term loosely, I would call you and your executives domestic terrorists — killing our people with your products.


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Brass knuckles, Traci Lords and your gun is for fun- how the army saved our lives

army reception docWhen  you joined the US Army, at the reception station, they gave you one last chance to drop in the Amnesty Box (no questions asked) all your contraband  — your brass knuckles, Oui magazine, num-chunks [sic] etc. — this was back in the day when soldiers would be escorted from the barracks in handcuffs for adultery, gay soldiers could get locked up, soldiers were administered Antabuse if they got in trouble for an alcohol related incident, when we ran our two minute mile in combat boots, toilets –20 in a row –had no partitions between them, a sergeant with two other troops would smother a knucklehead soldier with his laundry bag seconds before he passed out,  we worked out with barbells made of two coffee cans filled with cement with a bar in between them, you joined up with fingers orange from weed roach stains your recruiter telling you to lie because weed use would mean a meeting with a psychiatrist, dogs would run through the barracks on surprise middle of the night inspections sniffing for Amsterdam bought hash (Larsen Barracks, Kitzigen West Germany), we chanted on basic training runs I don’t know but I’ve been told Eskimo pussy is mighty cold and If I die on the Russian front I want to be buried in a Russian cunt, our SMART book (kept at all times, constantly, in the right cargo pocket of your BDUs) advised us to carry a small pebble in our mouth during long road marches to prevent dry mouth, we lit Kiwi cans on fire for a better polish, slept nude in those extreme cold weather sleeping bags, heard rumors constantly about saltpeter and undercover CID agents, called AFN Ain’t Fucken Nothing so instead bought Traci Lords videos at the PX before she would’ve landed you in prison as a Chester, had mo-gas blow up in your face in one of those field hot water drums, knew what lifer stood for (lazy ignorant, etc), knew the maximum effective range of an excuse, wore our gas masks in the field outhouses, got stuffed, really really stuffed in actual cattle cars when we were transported around.

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Tribute to my girl,partner,buddy,wife Sumiko Obata-Rest in Peace

Sumiko Obata RIP girl

Sumiko Obata RIP girl



Let me, a journalist, get personal – this was a hell of a girl, grew up in Japan, came to America for college and died to young from colon, brain, bone, lung, liver caner.  This is the good story as my friend Ilya Chaiken reminded me should be told — this is who she was in life before she was sick – photos, captions — check this and remember her, least I, we can do for her.


Your Wife Dies in Your Arms; This is What it Sounds Like Then and for Five More Years

 Sumiko was diagnosed with stage four cancer in September of 2001  – – 36 years old. She died on April 7, 2004.

For two years and seven months I was by default reporting all day, every day in every nook and cranny of health care.

If I look at it bluntly, now in retrospect, it was probably the worst kind of participatory, immersion journalism – – partly because when it was over I didn’t want to think about any of it again, couldn’t look at anything related to my wife, pictures, diaries, memories, do follow-up interviews. But all I could do was think about it.

What I have now amounts to basically a catalogue of suffering, some grace, and first hand reportorial experience with EMS, hospice, doctors, pain specialists, the insurance industry.

Some of what follows I wrote a month or two before Sumiko died, then I went back and revised it – – some was written after she died. The tense is not consistent so bear with me.

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When You Run Around Afghanistan Alone And in Shirtsleeves While All Around You Your Fellow Americans Are Barricaded, Bunkered, And Bulletproof-Vested Up, This is What You Can Experience

The government, ethnic resentment dynamic seems pretty raw. Power, Karzai was from the south, being bombarded with how bad the government is, how bad the NGOs are – – I don’t know if I’m being used, spun or it’s legitimate resistance fighter rhetoric.

The rural poverty is pretty staggering. The isolation of so many of these villages also staggering — the urban areas, bazaars, mazes of mud huts, little girls carrying water jugs on their shoulders and navigating sharp rock mountains like billy goats, boys standing with naked legs in rivers while I’m bundled up against hypothermia in the SUV.

Then suddenly if you look somewhere else there are palatial structures, gleaming corporate office buildings.Two artillery sounding blasts in Faisalabad, think they were blowing something up intentionally and announced it in Dari over loudspeakers, but ugly sickening sound.

Read full story:

On Being Sickened, Heartbroken, thug angry at the NY Post on their photo of man about to die

I finally looked at the NY Post front page headline, Doomed, the man on the tracks, yesterday.


I’ve been a journalist for 25 years, wrestled with all kind of ethical issues. I know NY Post people, I worked alongside Post city editor Michelle Gotthelf for 2 years at APBNews, invited her to a Livingston Award ceremony I won for a piece she helped edit- cool woman. I sat next to the Post’s main rewrite guy Todd Venezia for two years at another newsroom. I worked in the Bronx courthouse with Post reporter Douglas Montero, a decent guy.

But that front page — a daughter and a mother had to see that photo. Are you out of your fucken minds. What no shame because there’s no name for the headline writer and the person who put it on the front page? No apology? This headline made me so upset, I was screaming at the screen for 15 minutes. I’m not a reckless, immature, protestor — but I seriously, seriously was considering throwing a brick through your window or doing something civilly disobedient. And I probably will — gladly do a small sentence and have a record for something like that. I’ve bought 3 papers a day for 25 years. I won’t buy the Post anymore. I won’t ever talk to a Post employee again. I had a wife who died, if you posted a picture of her like that before she died, I would be in your office acting like a common criminal, a thug, doing as much destruction as possible to your office.

You have power with your paper — you abused that power terribly. The man or woman who made that decision to do that front page — name your goddamn self, be a man, meet with the dead man’s 20 year old daughter Ashley, look that kid in the eye and explain your actions. At least have that courage, that decency — make it right. You really hurt so many people — can you really not care so much?
I taught journalism in a juvenile prison, I used the NY Post sometimes to teach my students — I would never again.
I’m so sickened. Please do something to make this right. It really matters to a lot of people. And people will remember this photo and this headline for a very long time.

Who’s Really Looting Who- To be poor in a hood in Hurricane Sandy/Coney Island (acting nothing like your idea of the poor in the hoods)


Coney Island, Nov.9, 2012, 12 days after Sandy hit.

Arrive down there and find the nyc medical command center for medical/health issues in a trailer in MCU parking lot.  Hey,  I say to the  man in the trailer, I’m medic trained, mass casualty/crisis training, wildland firefighter, worked Irene and Sandy for Office of Emergency management, I have all my certifications, can I be of some help down here? No we’re good, don’t need any volunteers.

Nothing I say, you need absolutely no help at all, everybody and everything is ok, I’m willing to do anything?

No we got it, everything is fine, we have all the resources we need, everything is fine, sorry you came all the way down here?

You sure, no help at all, you guys completely got this?


I so doubt this from experience so I start walking into the neighborhood.  Within 10 minutes I was working, almost everybody I encountered or asked needed some kind of help.  I had a back pack of gear and phone numbers for connections and I the night before I hit NYCHA (the agency that manages nyc public housing projects) where they had a list of projects and which ones were without power, electric, ect.) so I just worked.

O’Dwyer Gardens, a project complex with 6 large buildings, 572 units, with over a 1,000 residents.  Dead, no service at all.  I was doing outreach around there and some guy who turns out to be a CVS delivery man with a bag full of prescription medications and asks me for help.  He’s been sent over to one of these buildings and he’s scared, worried about danger and doesn’t have a flashlight to go up.  I look at the meds and see the DOB and the patient is 73 years old, he’s trapped up in this hell hole 13 floors up; yeah of course I’ll go, he probably needs a lot of help.  Delivery guy   calls the pharmacist, it wasn’t the patient’s his regular pharmacy because his regular one was destroyed, but pharmacist said great.  So I went in.  Hell hole, damage, pitch black, walked up 13 floors, get up there, shining light on every door and there’s no 13 N, the address on the script, only A-F.  What the hell.  I Walk down, double check the address, call the patient’s number, dead.  Call the pharmacy, does he have an emergency contact on file, no, she’s no help.

Talk  to two different cops,   one nothing, one tries, calls somebody he knows who might be able to run this name but we wait and the person never calls back, he says they’re screwed up down there in general that precinct or whoever he called.  He says it might be a set-up for you, if it’s psychiatric medicine and you go up there you could be attacked. Though he doesn’t offer to escort e up there.  I think I can handle it, I say, thanks for your concern.  Any ideas how to find this guy I ask him, databases you guys have access to  No.   Maybe go up other buildings 13 floors see if you can find an N  he suggests.  Then he’s radioed away.

I finally track down the NYCHA manager for the units, Scott.  I explain ask him, he said computers are down, no power.  I say I ‘ve got a small generator in my bag can he just log on using that, no, it’s not like that he says, no access.  I’m calling everybody I can think of , manager comes by 30 minutes later, apologizes, says there’s nothing he can do everything is down, no computers.  Isn’t there a central database in Manhattan or on a generator or someplace that you can check.  He says no.

I start asking around the projects, most helpful two Latino women who were NYCHA maintenance workers raking, cleaning up amid the huge downed trees that fell in the project common areas.  They tell me there’s a NYCHA command center, another trailer, try there, they tell me where it is.  I go in and explain what’s going on.  They were very nice, but they called and called all these different places, they couldn’t get through or couldn’t get the info.  Finally, they called the manager, he’ll be able to help you out.  They offered me food, water, were real nice but I was there for almost an hour.  One guy said, the resident probably evacuated.  Another said leave the meds here, we’ll get it to him– I said I can’t do it.  Finally, I said, “Wait is the manager that I’m waiting for named Scott?”  Yeah, they tell me.  I said I talked to him twice he can’t help.  One worker there, a decent young black man, I’ll call him out by name, Kevin Norman, said call “global,” which turned out to be NYCHA’s (ESD) Emergency Services Department.  Another worker called, someone actually picked up, they gave the residents name, I said tell him to run it through any public housing in that park of Brooklyn. Finally got it.  The address was completely wrong on the prescription, turns out the database showed he lived in a different housing project 12 blocks away.  I shook all their hands, Kevin Norman gave me his cell number and said call if you need any help with him or any other residents — I said are you serious.  Another worker, Louis, I believes said, “Yeah, they’re our tenants to take care of.”  We thanked each other and while I was thanking them manager Scott walked into the trailer, looking a little abashed. Went to the other project and delivered the man his medicine. Maybe 2 hours this whole thing took.

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The real disaster of bureaucracy during Hurricane Sandy; an insider’s glimpse

On Monday during Sandy I worked a 19 hour shift for OEM (medic like stuff) at the evacuation shelter for medical needs at John Jay College west side in the 50s – didn’t handle many many people but there were so so many supplies, tons and tons of everything – food, water, med supplies, personal hygiene stuff, blankets, everything, pallets and pallets of the stuff.

And some school shelters serving as evac centers turned into and remain real homeless shelters for a real hardcore dysfunctional homeless population; same problem I wrote about last year during Irene   no-seinfeldian-glee-temporary-storm-shelter-john-jay?page=all  (okay I suck at a lot but I’m  good at a few things, this being one, so I single handedly was able to  clear the whole homeless population from Norman Thomas high school last year so it could open the next day).  That’s not a policy, that’s one guy with street charisma on a mini martyr trip who happened to be volunteering.   And non homeless folk are not going to want to share evac shelters with serious homeless people during a future disaster, even on just simple hygiene issue problems.  Evacuees  were faking illness this year to move into the nicer med evac center area rather than stay in general population.

On Thursday I went to the Lower East Side/Chinatown on my own, by Jacob Riss school, Catherine Street, near the East river (supposed to be an evac center but it never happened, not sure why, no Tues it’s still closed, presumably because of damage).

Insane – hundreds and hundreds of people lined up (Chinese and black and Latino folk from the nearby Smith projects) for promises of food and water for hours and hours, holding buckets and pots for water– they had nothing, little children and old people filling up and drinking out of fire hydrants, small children half naked using the streets as a toilet, old Chinese women burning newspapers in large flaming cans in the streets — absolutely no one there (volunteers, OEM, FEMA, city – FEMA had one big truck elsewhere in Chinatown, all they had was a power strip to charge phones for people) — nobody there to give them anything or tell them anything, know one knew anything – only a huge police presence at the distribution center and one man from the Salvation Army doing nothing (all those supplies from John Jay and likely the same supplies at many other evac shelters in upper Manhattan that didn’t need them – they could have easily been positioned or sent down there to LES/Chinatown if there was any proper or good coordination).

Up by blacked out 1st ave and the 20s in Manhattan where I live here was a one legged man in a wheelchair seemingly disoriented in a traffic. Turns out he was three days without the heavy methadone dose he takes daily (think he said 150 mgs) and also Xanax – withdrawing, weak, freaking out, crowds of people he couldn’t navigate through. He said he needed to get to Bellevue for the methadone; I pushed him like 12 blocks hard to even push him through all that chaos and when we got to Bellevue he saw the people who run the program in the lobby – they told him the program was shut. What do I do he asked? Um, I think you have to go up to Metropolitan hospital (in Harlem) and I think their meth program is working, they said. 100 blocks and many avenues. How am I going to get there? He asked. The clinic people, health care professionals said, “Um maybe you can find someone who’s going and get a ride with them.” Yeah, right. No handicap transport van, no transport ambulance offered, The guy was screwed so bad. I asked him if he wanted money for a cab and he said no that’s alright and I left him there as he was talking to them about how anguished he was and how much he hated himself.

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On the Ground in Albania Chasing the Mob World

Amazing global investigation about Albanian mob by@kevinjayheldman #longreads


The Week’s Best Longreads: The Daily Beast Picks for June 16, 2012…/the-week-s-best-longreads-the-daily-beast-…– longreads-sessions-120614-tease  Kevin Heldman, Capital New York An investigation into the heart of Albanian-American organized crime.

Wow. Just finished piece on Albanian gangs in @capitalnewyork. Amazing. It’s GTA: Liberty City come alive. Read now:
     I feel, felt, a little like a low rent John McPhee on the cops and robbers beat — 50,000 words on how Albanians settle beefs and toss silencers —  but this is my final story in a long series on Albanian transnational crime in New York, in the US, and overseas.

This article, Part I, goes in very deep on a specific NY Albanian crew and takes you, took me, all over Albania reporting on this world.  I got as deep there as I could as a reporter — gave it my all — somebody in or of that crime world or some agent in IOC2, DEA, FBI or a lawyer, prosecutor out there who’s on these cases may know this world deeper, but I’m already punching way above the weight of a press pass, hey tell me your story, I don’t have a gun, money, subpoena power or a 5k letter to give you (that’s my shout out to all you  ridiculously hard working US prosecutors and defense attorneys on this and related cases — don’t know how you do it).

FBI NY Balkan Task Force: probably have a restraining order on me, this guy again, leave us alone already, be a normal reporter, go become a security guard or something if you want street action but you all would appreciate this account and especially Part II so if you see this check it out.

Part II, to be published pretty soon, will explain why all this matters, document the scope of this kind of crime — kind of say that this is not just arbitrary let’s write about Albanian crime because it’s novel — there is a shockingly established criminal subculture here that is very serious; I resisted believing it for the longest time because it seemed so unreal but it’s there, in mind numbing so many guns in mouths over and over again detail.

Here’e the link to the story on Capital New York.  I think it’s good, never sure on these things, you rewrite and reread and can’t read any more so much you lose perspective, but it is honest and I did work like mad on it.  If it’s not good I’m in trouble because I suck at life and I’m supposed to be good at this so… you know, there’s that. Ah, I always have to go too far.

On the Ground In Albania Chasing the Mob World

Undercover in a Locked Psychiatric Ward


7 1/2 DAYS
Reporter Kevin Heldman spent seven days undercover in the psychiatric ward
of a public hospital in one of NYC’s poorest communities

“Fine, powerful piece… hoping many people will read your story (including those who could improve the situation).”– Dr. Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology and psychiatry; best known for the books The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Awakenings, adapted into an Academy Award nominated film

* National Mental Health Association Award
for excellence in mental health reporting

* American Psychiatric Association Certificate of Commendation
“The entire judging panel was overwhelmingly impressed with your dedication and personal sacrifice for this story. This level of investigative reporting is certainly unique.”

Here’s the link:

Chinese Takeout Story — actually and really behind the bulletproof glass and out on deliveries — who the people are, what their lives are like

chinese take out 7

This is a snapshot of what life is like for one — and representative of many — Chinese takeout restaurants in New York City.  This is in an area where crime is high — Mott Haven, Bronx — and people in the restaurant, and people outside of the restaurant, may not have the opportunities to get out, move, make choices.

Takeout Story

Reporting On A Nudist Club (excerpt)

We arrive at the spa and sign in. Our car mates greet the other entering nudists with hugs and kisses on the cheek. There are couples, singles, the middle aged, twenty-somethings, older folks, all bundled up with coats and hats. We go into the locker room and the sudden onslaught of a sea of flesh is overwhelming (play it off, act natural, hi there). My eighth grade English teacher, the guy who fixes my car, my dentist; everybody is naked, walking by in a parade of immodesty, brushing hair, making small talk, pulling off underwear, bras. There are about a hundred people all stripping or stripped — the effect is like being struck by flesh-toned snow blindness.

A young, extremely shapely woman takes the locker next to me. Not possible. I had seen her standing in the lobby when I came in. High heels, lace stockings, miniskirt — must be the dance club bound aerobics instructor getting ready to leave as the nudists plodded in, I thought. I had assumed nudism was basically a support group for the nautilus-challenged, instinctively applying free market politics where the body is commodity; high quality goods wouldn’t be available so easily, for free. But here she is next to me taking off the skirt, the high heels, peeling off single leg stockings, panties, bending and reaching — why is she allowing me and others to see this, is what I can’t help asking.

I walk out with shorts on, towel in tow, uncomfortably cold. People are sitting in the lounge drinking wine, chatting. There are people covered with tattoos, with pierced body parts, obese women, here comes my dentist again bobbing toward the sauna. I walk into the pool area. The lifeguard hired by the spa is clothed in a bathing suit. I sense a vague superiority, similar to police who watch over a demonstration of activists with that silent smirking contempt. I try to saddle up to Bob who’s working the room, pressing the flesh as it were. He dismisses me and tells me to get involved, do something, then jumps into the crowded hot tub.

I pad around a bit, as people pass me wordlessly. Finally, I go to a nearby corner, pull off the trunks and walk across the deck. I feel the lifeguard’s eyes contemptuously upon my ass. Into the pool, I breaststroke around in an imitation of luxuriating copped from screen actresses who usually play these scenes with their long hair up in a modified bun while someone watches them on a terrace. I small talk with Phil. Phil wants to meet women here but he’s careful not to be blatant about it. More talk about trunk-less freedom. I meet a group of women in chest high water and we exchange pleasantries. A discarded social contract floats by.

Nine o’clock and time for the lingerie show in the lounge. It’s all camp and Tupperware party as the hostess calls out the models who wear the requisite Fredericks gear, men included. I sit naked as fellow nudists chat up the metaphysics of the lifestyle (“being nude doesn’t guarantee honesty and openness, but it helps”). Class distinctions are eliminated, apparel based categorizations aren’t readily available (love beads or pearls, work boots or sandals), so people get to know one another on a more substantive level.

Many of the people in the nudist or naturist movement (the latter being the more liberal) take pains to emphasize that nudity has nothing to do with sexual activity. Peter, who insists nudity itself is not provocative, tells the story of being on a nude beach when he spotted a woman there who was wearing a crocheted top. After a while he found himself watching her, waiting, hoping that she would move a little to the left or to the right so her nipple would come into view. He soon noticed there were a number of men on the beach doing the same thing. This in spite of the fact that there were hundreds of completely naked women all around.

My companion is still in partial dress at poolside, being talked to by bearded radical chic hustler — the others warn me about him. He’s eminently comfortable with his body and wants her to be. She tells him she still can’t seem to separate the idea of sexuality from nudity. A pause. This somehow does it for him. Following nudist etiquette he suddenly throws himself into the water, submerging his lower half, apologizing for his erection. At some point, he casually mentions there is a secluded spot in the women’s bathroom where sex can be had discreetly.

Later, I see her in the water backed up against the pool’s edge, three nudists treading water, forming a horseshoe around her in what looks like a game of sharks and minnows. I imagine them chanting over and over again “Is this your first time?”

I talk to a heavy-set woman in her forties who tells me it took her five summers of going to nudist beaches before she had the courage to disrobe. Now she feels free and good about her body, less self-conscious than if she were in a one piece. A number of women speak similarly, of women who’ve had radical mastectomies walking comfortably around nude beaches, of learning not to be self-conscious of their weight or their bodies because of nudity. I ask if they would go to an all-female nude pool party. They say it sounded like a good idea, they would. All the men I question about attending an exclusively male party ask what would be the point.

The shapely faux aerobics instructor, proud winner of the lingerie competition in her all white baby doll and garters now appears, inexplicably, wearing another lingerie outfit, wielding a whip and mock sashaying in the lounge. A man rushes up to her, prostrates himself at her high heels and says whip me.

She does, doing a little something with her lips and ass. The men guffaw, catcall, gather around, make jokes. She’s the finest one there and she’s playing it. The mood is broken, we’re in a centerfold now, the other women resent her attention grabbing. I resent her for reminding me of sex just when I was having such a good time.

Drug running, slang, and real talk on NYPD wires and gangs r us type sites

(May 18, 2012)

“A notorious drug dealer who got his start during the crack epidemic of the 1980s and was so good at hiding his whereabouts that he was known as “the ghost” has been arrested along with dozens of others on new charges, police and prosecutors said Thursday.

James Corley, 51, was charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance and other drug charges after a 15-month undercover investigation that used wiretaps and surveillance, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. Forty-four other people were also charged with drug crimes in the dismantling of Corley’s operation, known as the Supreme Team, and another drug gang, authorities said.

Corley supplied cocaine to a second gang called the South Side Bloods, and low-level dealers grossed about $15,000 a week in drug sales, Kelly said. Burned by a wiretap before, Corley used at least eight different phones, authorities said.

The Supreme Team was run by legendary gang leader Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff, who reputedly funneled drug money into rap music label Murder Inc. He’s now serving life without parole for a pair of murders after a 2007 conviction.

It was a brutal drug gang that came out of the same Queens streets where platinum rappers 50 Cent and Ja Rule emerged years later. At its peak, the Supreme Team’s network of dealers was making $200,000 a day, authorities said.

After McGriff did jail time on a drug conviction, he was released in 1997 and aligned himself with neighborhood friend and music mogul Irv “Gotti” Lorenzo. The one-time street thugs produced one film: “Crime Partners,” a straight-to-video affair that featured Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg and Ice-T.

NYPD’s Detective David Leonardi put the case together, noting in the charges that the gangs used Supreme Mathematics” and the “Supreme Alphabet,” the language system used by members of the Nation of Islam offshoot group Nation Of Gods and Earths (also known as “Five Percenters”). Leonardi was able to decipher the coded language…”


I don’t know, I heard A is for Allah, B is for Born, etc in 1983, when I was 17 and three probated teens huddled together on a handball court reciting in a residential facility and I knew I couldn’t listen in, dog hair, Yacub, etc, but we were all buddies, really living together, so I did and they were cool, playfully pushing me away.  But slang terms for money, weed, and guns change every two months or so and with all the ridiculously complicated complex handshakes and hand signing thought up by bored in a cell teens all over NYC,  all also competing with raps to put together high level word play and metaphor after metaphor, neologisms every other line – – I think they and an old time veteran like Corley,  probably able to mix up something like 35 years of street talk, prison slang, institutional jargon, drug terms, and hip hop slang, could code deeper and more complex than something that’s all over urban dictionary and Wikipedia.  Something mixed up, nonsensical and easy, riffed without even really trying like:

Heads wearing Asolos violated in the bing ward playing the corner over static about Tony the Tiger (Blood repping ) on the cereal box lifted in the cafeteria and the program retreads shooting dope in the pocket because everywhere else collapsed and the dusties drinking cranberry juice to detox, and the Lincoln Hall irks kidding on the square, saying the only hardrocks are in graveyards in the money makin’ (mighty whitites racistly twisting it to monkey makin’,) in the burnt out, and the girls saying Lets prep in the clubs stepping all over his British Walkers, the 94Bs and masons fraternizing with the civilian dishwashers tricking on their lifer NCO husbands overseas and hit em cause they beat me freaks anyway — grown ass men long after the PINS petition expired like Bosket and the toothpaste on menthols wore off and the WAM ran out and the cologne strained through bread got him too sick worse than the antabuse and he was back on the juggle no struggle seeing how low your money can go (4-5-6) on c-74 with the crazy little ones nice with their hands, yo put me down on that right quick, that’s menthol right.

And some people would understand every word and many more people, grown people with careers and no time to waste would run it past the web sites and after no hits would call it a foolish waste of time, mock it (wait for the teenagers somewhere to sift through it all because they can care back then about all that) and just move on with regular living and regular talk, y’know, foxtrot uniform charlie kilo indigo tango.

Sleeping Rough — Two Months Living in and Reporting on a Homeless Shelter in England



There is an attraction to the street life: those moments when you’re curled up on the pavement, freedom gear slung over your back, cocky in your rebel-as-loser pose. You’re the outsider who can sit on the sidelines and laugh at the misguided straights rushing by with their ridiculous attempts at charity (go ahead, try and help me), and at the parade of journalists, urban anthropologists, volunteers, caseworkers, clergy who are somehow dependent on you. If he, on the street, were to take the next step up and, say, get a job sweeping the footbridge instead of playing homeless on it, all the power and attention he commanded would dissipate and people would likely pass him by without a word.

But there’s also this side: he, that man on the street I was talking about – – When I last saw him he told me he was going to steal a van and seek out a community of witches in Wales and eventually fix up a derelict cottage to live in.

We became very alright with each other.  Before I left England I gave him my poncho and a tartan overshirt and we exchanged addresses. Less then a month later he died in his flat of a drug overdose. He lay there for three weeks, his dog barking inside the apartment, before his body was discovered.

The whole story is on my website JournalismWorksProject
at the link:

The journalist and the ghetto article

So being a journalist and having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me I was going to write a story about a really crime ridden, impoverished section of the city.  I spent so much time there, days, nights, in projects, in cheap hooker motels, on the streets, in clubs, stopped repeatedly by cops and went through what you wouldn’t believe, talking to the mother of a shot girl, gun shot victims, activist groups protesting violence, the fellas on the street on and on — but then I thought what the hell is the point.

Another story about gangs, and teen beefs and cops behaving badly and drugs — what do I have to add, to teach anybody, to contribute — I can notice, point out, write out a few details that are intriguing, introduce you all to new slang, try to break your heart, make you outraged, blow up stereotypes, show folks as real people, diverse and human as you and I — but why, I (and so many other journalists) wrote so many of those articles and what? I got awards, I got flack, some good things happened, conditions changed, I got superficial praise at gatherings — “Wow, you do really serious interesting stuff, bye I’m going back to the guy or girl who loves me, makes me laugh, provides for me and likes watching The Office with me when we get home from Trader Joes.”

But write the article if you don’t really really have something to say that needs to be said and hasn’t been said? Try to find a sexy original way in like a graduate school lit paper — “Herman Melville and The White Whale — A racial trope in the service of a cautionary narrative of mythic bestiality”

Write the article because it’s my job?, it’s work, just like the guy who shows up everyday at the factory and works the lathe or the pediatric nurse who goes in every day and treats patient after patient.

Since I’m still 16 years old in my mind I think of journalism as a calling and doing  a certain type of reporting seems just as useless and useful as waking up and getting out of bed each morning. So what, stay broke until I have something to say? Work blue collar jobs until I have an article I need to write? I did that for years but gettin old and my back can’t hang — can’t unload those UPS trucks anymore, can’t shovel that snow for the city, carry those boards of sheet rock up those stairs, can’t hang from the rafters with one hand wielding a nail gun with the other.

As for the existential whining — Johnny Cash’s lyric, “I shot a man in Reno  just to watch him die” was originally “I shot a city editor just because he said hey welcome to the real world and sent me to cover a city council meeting and told me to use a punchier lead on a story and said ‘And use some humor, you every read Joel Klein in the back of Time Magazine, use him as a model, write like him, funny but he actually makes good points about society and culture.”

What would you do? And BTW, what is the meaning of life and why is the sky blue?

I’m serious actually, too damn serious. Why doesn’t Wolf Blitzer have these problems. Goddamn, is this what blogs are for? – shut down the damn internet and just give us all diaries.

Good-bye and Mea Culpa, or as they say in jail when they’re 15,

My Fault (though a lot of them do say, often,  “Don’t say sorry, it makes you sound weak).   But I’m not 15, not in jail,  not caring terribly about image of weak or strong, and didn’t mind when the Dixie Chicks talked.

However, I should and will just shut up and write (Dixie Chicks Shut Up and Sing reference…)  It’s 4:34 pm in NY, my computer says 10:34 (Albanian time) —  I will change that and shut up and write the damn/darn/fug-n story:  The end and the beginning of Albanian Transnational Crime.

Was, is a litte hard to concentrate, get motivated, but today I just Googled something (yeah, I just Googled something, I Googled my fu–) and found this reporter editor Mike Dang had me on a site, I think and/or LongReads and/or a Tumblr site called Dang and he said about a story I wrote (Chinese Take Out Story), “This was a terrific read” and there were 44 Notes/retweets/likes.

Yo, I’m so easy, that’s all it takes.  Means so much.  I worked hard on that story and it was appreicated — so here goes, back into isolation, let me write this Albanian story, bust my ass and go into my own world and act like this is the most important thing in the world, type until my finegers get clawed out and my calves get swollen (too much information) and my back hurts (every writer’s back hurts) — but hey, as Kershis told me in 5th grade about fighting or about smashing your closed fist into n a tree when you’re prone, on your stomach, zipping down a hill on an old school sled with the navigation handle up front controlled by your hands and you have to go between those two trees (of course we had to go between those two closely positioned trees and of course I hit my almost frozen fist on that tree one time) — he said the pain goes away, it alway goes away.  He was right.

So, good-bye, the next time you hear from me will be when I publish (knock on wood) this article on Capital New York. Hopefully it will be alright and I’ll do a good job.  So bye, back into lonely writer, drinking coffee and zero sugar Monster energy drinks world.

I don’t mind.  It’s a privilege really.  Shoot, I’ve worked in boring factories and done jobs that were atrociously boring — sand papered newly hung and taped sheet rock for hours and hours — practiced writing pieces of prose on the sheet rock to take a mind break, prose that I sand papered over and away, so I shouldn’t be complaining — it is a privilege to be able to write and to be listened to, have to remember where I came from, where so many others are — so here goes, bye for a while, wish me luck.


Kevin Heldman (reporter with literary aspirations/believer in hard work/heart on sleeve wearer/damaged but not broken by roughish life guy)

20 Year Anniversary — A Reporter’s Life. Motel Gypsy on the Road (motel beds and different local tv shows in different cities and brought in nearby convenience store food feels like so at home) Hermit-ing on the Story at your Garreted out Desk (writing it over and over again in isolation, trying to mold gibberish into verbal gold) — Ah, Bartleby, this little bit of a monk-like reporter’s life is so for me

Coffee mugs, filled up and rag-tagged reporting pads, criminal case files, maps, accordion files filled with contact info, notebooks filled with trial notes, red pens used for slashing through all those read aloud gibberish drafts attempting to turn stream of consciousness dumps into balanced sentence gold; the English to Albanian dictionary, the printed out guilty pleas and allocutions; in the field in and out of internet cafes, airport CPUs, random offices in other countries with thumb drives, lugging around  e-mails from anon sources with their names ripped off to protect identities;  folders with lists of alleged criminals; letters from prisoners and passwords and scores of resource info scotch taped to the wall above your desk.

Revising and shaping raw drafts of notebook dumps on a Saturday — I love this reporter’s life. I love it. Playing the computer keyboard, typing like it’s a damn Stevie Wonder piano.

Writing and publishing to make it realer, not real —  have to learn that and keep that idea protected and sure and hold that tight — the idea that it’s real already, the experience,  it doesn’t have to be a published article to make it real.

I got this Fred Friendly (RIP).  I got this James Agee (RIP).  I got this Pro Publica.  I got this AAN, Association of Alternative Newspapers (RIP).  I got this Dean Isaacs and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. I got this Long Reads and Long Form and David Isay and all you submitting to Granta, the Beliver,  Ploughshares, this that and the other Review and small journal.  I got this old Village Voice.  I got this Hitchens (RIP, damn goddamn that’s a waste, all that intellect just taken away) and Orwell and Rian Milan and Izzy Stone.   I got this all you all who spent so much time in the field and accumulated  all those boxes of tapes and were going through hell transcribing with that foot pedal.  I got this Random Family and all you struggling with those 60 page, rewritten 20 times, rejected 11 times, book proposals.

So and And:  Long live independent, long form, in-depth  journalism.  It’s not always about money, advertising,  getting paid.  Those guys and gals of IRE — not to be precious or high falutin because they’d hate that — are artists.  Even the guy much ridiculed for typing in pajamas and mom’s basement — I’m with him — it’s art and the First Amendment is not just a joke, lip service, welcome to the real world, yeah right free press dream on, get out of here you can’t come in here, you can’t see that — I believe  in it.  We stand at Cardinal games during the National Anthem and it’s not corny.   So I’m standing, taking my hats off and respecting and believing in our the First Amendment.

Home From Albania, Finally Home — A Long Long Journey from a side street (Siri Kodra) in Tirana to a fourth floor walk-up in Manhattan, New York

I don’t know how the hell I really did it, just wanting to do it badly enough and showing up again and again, but I did do it — alone, but with the enormous, very very generous help of so many — a random Turkish man I met on an Air Train out of JFK Airport late at night, a random Albanian worker (who is now a friend, true friend for life, Drita) who looked out of windshields through tough, crazy Albanian city and highway traffic and near collisions; to hugging Ana (a mother and father sick, alone in a small office helping people who are angry about lost and found bags); to that working kid who said “that’s nice” in NY about peace and cupcakes and saying thanks to a fellow worker; to that present I got from the grandmother and the sick, but going to do well Mom in Selvia, Thimi’s folks (thank you for cooking for me and allowing me to talk too sentimental  about things that are serious and private, health, life and death)…

To do all this with no real big budget, no real organizational backing, no team, no big structure —  yeah, let’s be transparent, no family, no grandfather giving you blue chip stock, no mom worrying over your eyes,  your job, your worries, no Uncle to hook you up with a job after school — no complaints, I’m free — but still — from lugging your gear down to the street to jumping into vehicles on another continent — pure muscle and will and luck — thank you guys who helped.

Somebody told me don’t go overseas like a lamb, wandering around.  But why not, if you do it with confidence and courageously and decently, why not.  If you look them, if you look people in the eye and tell them what you want, if you make it that personal, I’m fine with that and most people are — they are, you just have to go and do it.  Haters, what did I call them before hip hop gave me that tired  tv language — they’ve always been around, I remember them since elementary school, but also people who looked out, were nice and I was nice back, they were always around,; there’s a lot of us out there.

Glad I get to do this, call myself a journalist.  If you believe it and you’re straight and you keep yourself humble and able, I think it’s all possible, no matter who you are, how difficult or unlikely — I’m just gonna keep on trying like all you try, hang and be nice to regular people, because I’m regular people, no matter what I’m doing, what sucesss failure means (Lek, plata, dinero, genama, cash — it’s possible to do it without all that, harder, but possible) — what good is a free press if journalism is a hobby like fly-fishing, just to do on the side and only a few privleged get to do it good and in -depth.

I can’t sing, dance, play ball or earn money hanging cabinets or show up every day to do something I don’t like or care about and nobody’s recruiting journalists who have a poet’s eye or heart like crazy, nobody’s recruiting anybody for money any more it seems.  But I only get 75, 90 years — why not try and be special and useful, see who comes to my funeral or who reads my articles.  Thank you guys, good looking. Really thanks.  Good night; I’m glad to be home in one piece, finally.