Tag Archives: Sierra Vista

Ending Agony in Fry Town

When Sierra Vista became an incorporated township in 1956, it excluded a half square mile of land that was originally owned by turn-of-the-twentieth-century settler Oliver Fry. Mr. Fry resisted inclusion with the town growing around him, and as a result his land, which came to be known as Fry Town, remains un-annexed and has steadily fallen into disrepair; its residents poor, its crime rates high.

Residents of Sierra Vista proper do not go untouched by this, either. Crime is not conveniently contained within Fry Town’s historic blocks, nor can Sierra Vistans easily ignore such a relatively small section of disrepute. Not when Fry Town and its many bedraggled residents are so prominently on display at Sierra Vista’s main entryway. It’s the first thing newcomers see. It’s not a problem that can be swept under an indifferent rug. It is front and center, and it demands our attention.

Fry Town’s annexation into Sierra Vista’s city limits seems long overdue, but Fry residents have voted against this appropriation in the past. And, while annexation would certainly offer Fry Town residents many city benefits they’re currently bereft of, it is not going to eradicate the problems derived from a socio-economic petri dish of poverty, drug abuse and crime – one that’s been left to fester over the last half century.

Similarly, recent city and county led efforts to give Fry a cosmetic makeover –demolishing abandoned, dilapidated mobile homes and raising new, more aesthetically pleasing, low-income housing – merely whitewashed the neighborhood for appearance sake. It did little toward the long-term health of the community. And, without investing in the future of the residents themselves, it’s only a matter of time before those new developments look like the graffiti-laden relics they replaced. Real change starts with people, not real estate.

To be certain, residents, city leaders and law enforcement have debated the issue for years, and there have been several efforts on all sides to address it. But, ramping up police presence and tearing down structural eyesores amounts to adhering Band-Aids to gushing wounds. And, while not all of its inhabitants live in abject poverty, many do. Many of Fry Town’s inhabitants are trapped in a hellish cycle of poverty. They grew up with crime as not just a fact of life, but a way of it, learning no honor among countless thieves. Their parents were poor, uneducated, abused substances, and abused them. They grew up to do the same, and their children, and their children’s children, in one, long, ghetto nightmare.

Helping these people break the cycle, that is the solution. Granted, there are programs in place designed to address this issue. Unfortunately, Arizona isn’t all that keen on funneling tax dollars toward welfare subsidies; thus, said programs are not adequately funded. Most agree that welfare isn’t intended as a way of life, but rather serves as a helping hand; a hand that pulls one up from the gutter and helps them stand on their own feet.  That is the definition of a working welfare program, and the impoverished population of Fry Town desperately needs it.

Their plight calls for a program that offers drug rehabilitation, where necessary, and intensive therapy. No one abuses drugs because they have a healthy sense of self-worth. You don’t do that to your body, or to your life, if you’re not already in a profound amount of pain. These people, whether they’re abusing drugs/alcohol or not, need to be armed with healthy, psychological tools in order to combat their own mental anguish. Fry Town needs a crackdown on mental health; a SWAT team of counselors at the ready.

If part one of a successful welfare program teaches life skills, then part two offers job skills and employment training. Of course, that would require there being viable jobs for which to train. Sadly, there’s a vast wage gap in Sierra Vista. The local middle class sustains itself with government jobs, government contracting jobs or healthcare work. And, as the government downsizes, it’s a very small employment pool to draw from. Sierra Vista must work on drawing new industry to the area. After all, food service and retail work does not a middle class make.

Yet, the most important, most sure-fire resolution to the woes of Fry Town is this: educate its children. If children are the future, let us plant the seeds that ensure a bright one – and those seeds are called tax dollars; tax dollars that fund their schools and tax dollars that fund the social programs these children require. Some of these kids play in dirt lots and crumbling streets, some with empty bellies and bruised bodies. I know. I have seen them. They exist. They need their community at large to help. They need citizens who are invested enough in their city’s future to pay it forward in taxes, just as they need a city council and a school board that won’t mismanage those taxes.

You can avoid Fry Town all you like, ignore its struggles if you wish, or be satisfied with quick-fixes to its unsightly surface but, eventually, Fry Town will call on you. Whether its presence drives your property values down, its criminals steal your car, or its drug dealers sell their wares to your kids, its suffering spills over those half square mile borders, and its consequences will affect you. It is not their problem, it is our problem – and luckily, it’s one we can fix.

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Dear Amanda

4/10/09

“Niki,

I wanted to let you know I did make it back from Texas. Was planning on heading back to the old rehab place but Michael is filing for an emergency hearing for full custody of Aidan. With all that has happened and my mom testifying against me chances are he will be granted custody of him. My mom was the one who emailed him to let him know all the problems we’ve been having.

I can’t even come up with enough energy to cry about it anymore. Maybe he is the better parent for Aidan right now. I don’t have a leg to stand on or a really good excuse.

I’ve been fighting my ex for almost 6 years now. Three years for the divorce and three and a half of Aidan’s life for custody. I can’t remember not fighting him for something, like my life back. Now it seems like he finally found the weak link in my chain and is going to take everything.

I’ll try to call but I’m not up to much except sitting with Aidan for the next week or so before some judge decides my life. I’m not ready for this or even sure how I will even get through this if it does go wrong. Starting over alone at 30 isn’t sounding too damn appealing right this minute. I’ll let you know what happens and hopefully it won’t be as bad as it seems right now.

Amanda”

5/24/13

Dear Amanda,

That was the last email you ever wrote me. And this reply comes very late. Four years late. Much too late, as you know, because I found out yesterday that you are dead.

Scott recognized your picture in a Facebook group attached to a profile with a different name. He clicked on that and discovered it was your mother, and the picture of you was in memoriam. It didn’t take him long afterward to find your obituary in the local paper, dated November 2012. It said you had succumbed to a “lifelong illness” and I knew immediately that meant you had drank yourself to death.

I wrote your mother and she confirmed my suspicion. Told me you’d passed away on Thanksgiving. My first thought was: “Oh God, her poor little boy.” My second: “Could I have made a difference? Could I have helped her?”

Because I didn’t help you. I didn’t think I could. And as you began to take more and more prescription drugs, lose more and more of your grip on reality and spin more and more out of control, I chose to distance myself. It’s not the first time I’ve quietly bowed out of the life of a drug addict and/or alcoholic; my best friend, my first husband….the list is long. But what I loved about those people is also what usually causes me grief, and a touch of guilt, like I failed them. Like I failed you.

And I know better. But my head knows lots of things my heart never will.

What I wish to tell you is that I love you. That I will never forget you helping me pick out my wedding dress, gifting me the best housewares, giving me a crib, changing table, playpen, stroller, alongside so many other items I hardly needed to shop for my baby (and you had the very BEST taste), our small adventure crossing into Mexico, those months we spent becoming close, before you started slipping away, I remember all of it. That your son and your dog Kujo were the kings of your world. That you were whip-smart, beautiful and so funny.

And I feel guilty as hell for having avoided you in the last years of your molten lava mess of a life.

But not only do I know there’s little I could have done for you (I’m out of the “saving people” business, leavin’ that one to Jesus, I guess), I also know that I was at high risk of enabling you – or, much worse, being sucked down with you. My propensity for self-destruction is a forever threat. My distant past is riddled with it, and ever since I became a mother I have worked terribly hard to remain as healthy a human being as my demons will allow. That means being cautious about those I get close to, and distancing myself from those that invite the “cray-cray.”

Still, I am so damn sorry your own demons ate you alive. Sorry for you, sorry for your family and my heart absolutely breaks for your son. And the news of your demise rattles me most deeply because I know if it weren’t for a small tweak of genetic wiring, and a few twists and turns of fate, your story and your end could very well have been my own.

I feel like I should be learning something from this, but as yet I’ve no idea what. I still think it’s a good idea for me to keep destructive peeps at arm’s length. But whatever the point is (assuming there’s a stinking point to all the pain in all the universe), I wish you peace. I hope you know peace now and that you’re properly prepared for your next adventure. For I believe in reincarnation, and I believe the name of that cyclical game is called “Don’t fuck it up next time.”

And you would have laughed at that.

Love Eternal,
Niki

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Autumn is a State of Mind

It’s a beautiful September day in southeastern Arizona. In these parts they refer to fall as a second spring. But honestly, autumn here is like a perfect summer day anywhere else. It’s 80 degrees. The sky is Crayola baby blue, spotted with floating clumps of cotton balls. It often looks like a child’s delightful art project up there.

I seized the weather with a walk. Two miles of pushing a happy toddler in a comfy stroller through paths lined in blooming greens. The monsoon rains give us a three month reprieve from desert-living. We won’t feel a real chill until Christmas. And even then, it’s not exactly the Artic north around here. When the temp drops below 70 we all run, en masse, for our sweaters.

But autumn has always been my favorite season. Once upon a time, in another life, I associated it with Technicolor burgundy and blood orange. Leaves crackling beneath my cute knee-high boots, deep inhalations of crispy-clean earth, hot-n-sweet beverages, hearty broths, resurrected fireplaces, soft, color-splashing scarves, Happy Halloweens, moody grey heavens above and rain – Seattle rain. And when I moved to Arizona, all those many moons ago, how I mourned the loss of it.

Other than the occasional harvest wreath, hanging on someone’s front door, or the jack-o-lanterns that can only sit out the day of October 31st before melting into mush, there’s very little, traditional sign of the season. Trees retain most their leaves until December; then those leaves make some sort of suicide pact and all plummet at once to their leafy death. Green one day, gone the next – and it’s straight from “second spring” to winter we go. This took some getting used to.

But I’ve come to love a new brand of fall. Blue skies and sunshine in fitted tees and capris. Outdoor activities, warm breezes, lizards, toads and their babies. Thanksgiving dinner on the patio and pumpkin spice lattes -ICED! Because it appears autumn, like so much else, is just a state of mind.

HOT COCOA, ANYONE?