Friends Outside in Los Angeles County Case Manager, Samuel Spicer, JR., 1992 – 2008

I was quite saddened to hear of the unexpected death of Sam who was special in many ways. A colleague once told me that Sam had the best people skills of anyone she ever knew. And, that was where the specialness began.

Sam’s family moved from Mississippi to Los Angeles when he was young, such was their fear that a little black boy would not grow to adulthood in the deep South. Perhaps that is why Sam was so much in tune with people’s suffering. He told me how he would drive down Century Boulevard on his way to his office in Watts, often followed by a string of cars. No, he wasn’t giving out dollar bills. People were after that rare commodity of kindness, patience, and genuine intentions to help them. Sam declared to me that we had to start an employment program for parolees. I said, “They already have that service in the parole offices.” He responded that they helped parolees find employment but that they were not helping them prepare for employment. That conversation resulted in the creation of our re-entry employment program, the oldest one of its kind in LA County. A few years later, Sam said to me in a distressed voice, “We have to do something for the fathers coming out of prison. They are so desperate to find their children that they are looking for them under bridges!” That conversation resulted in the creation of our largest program, the Dads Back! Academy. Not many people can see a need and know how to fill it. But Sam did.

Our Founder Martha Jane Dowds loved him deeply, too. Her son Curtis told me about their last visit with Sam. Martha Jane’s voice was weak from post-polio syndrome and years of use. Sam’s voice was weak from a debilitating stroke. As they were parting ways, Curtis was helping Martha Jane maneuver her wheelchair over the bumpy sidewalk and uneven grassy strip in the parkway between the sidewalk and the curb. As Curtis tells it, “Sam saw the problem of getting mom in the car, picked her up in his arms, and gently deposited her in the passenger seat of the car. It was such a beautiful gesture.”

I appreciated Sam for the talents he brought to FOLA. But, for most people, I think it was something different. It is said that “People don’t remember what you did. They remember how you made them feel.” Even though he has not worked for Friends Outside LA since 2008, I am asked at least two or three times a year “Whatever happened to Sam? ” When I saw him for the final time earlier this year, I teased him that I would be long gone and forgotten but that people would still be calling the office and asking, “Whatever happened to Sam?” And, I meant that with nothing but admiration.

Mary Weaver
Executive Director,
Friends Outside in Los Angeles County

In Memory of Harolyn Sacks

“Of all the volunteer work she was involved with, Harolyn always said that what she did for Friends Outside was the most challenging, but it also was the most rewarding.” – Mel Sacks

We were saddened to learn that our former volunteer, Harolyn Sacks, passed away this year.  Harolyn was a volunteer jail visitor at the then – Los ­Angeles County Jail for women, Sybil Brand Institute, c 1990.

Harolyn enrolled in Professor Michael Vivian’s Sociology Class at Valley College through which our Jail Visitation Program was offered. The students made weekly visits to a county jail and wrote a journal about their experiences as the final project.  Their role was to be a non-judgmental person with whom to talk and to assist in ways that were approved by Friends Outside.  This might be to help a parent get in touch with their children’s social worker or to help an inmate arrange for housing after release.

We had about 30 volunteers each year but I do not remember them all.  But, I do remember Harolyn and her friend, Susan Silverman, who visited the jail together.  They were bright and curious and sincere.

I had the recent pleasure of meeting Harolyn’s husband, Mel, who I asked for an interview about his wife.

Q    Tell me about your wife.

R    We met on a blind date in 1957.  When I introduced myself, I looked into her large and beautiful eyes and fell in love at first sight.  We had a son who has been my law partner for the past 26 years. When our son ­began college, she decided to go back to school and graduated with honors, obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from CSUN in 1997.

Q    Was there one situation that you especially remember Harolyn talking about?

R    Yes, when she visited “Susan,” the daughter of a high-profile, nationally-known person.  Her father had turned her on to drugs when she was a child. Harolyn said she was a sweet and likeable person who had a very ­unfortunate upbringing.  Her father seldom visited her in jail.  She attempted suicide while there. When the deputies contacted her father about the attempt, he told them not to be so quick to get to her the next time she tried. She was eventually successful, committing suicide by hanging herself with her shoelaces.

Q    How did Harolyn describe helping her?

R    She provided a safe place where Susan could talk.  Harolyn advocated to the jail medical services to get her the medicine she needed to control Gran Mal seizures and contacted her public defender to make sure she got visits to plan her defense.

Q    What were the challenges?

A    Gaining the trust of the clients and getting the people in the clients’ lives to help the women when they needed it.  This might be family members, social workers, correctional staff.

Q    What do you think Harolyn got in return for her efforts?  Do you think she was changed as a result of her experience in our program?

A    She was changed in how she perceived the criminal justice system.  One of the major flaws at the time was that, even though more women had entered the profession, the legal system was still, for the most part, the “good ole’ boys club” with women in general getting the short end of the stick. Her experiences with Friends Outside showed her how a system that prided itself on ‘justice” did not in many respects live up to that high platitude especially when it came to the less fortunate – women, the  poor, black and brown, – who were less well-represented in court than their white counterparts.

She loved the challenge of being an advocate for less fortunate women in need.  She was always a compassionate person but she became a more serious advocate for these women because of her experiences in working for them through Friends Outside.

In Memory of Eddie

I am very sorry to share with our supporters the news that we lost one of our valued staff members, Eduardo “Eddie” Estrada, over the December Holidays.  Eddie was the Peer Navigator for Project imPACT, our reentry employment program located at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.  The Peer Navigator is the “glue” between clients, potential clients, and the program.  The Peer Navigator recruits new clients for the program and develops relationships with existing clients so they remain involved and meet their employment goals.

Eddie was so good at this.  He cared about people very much and that is the one quality the position has to have when hired.  It is difficult to train someone to care about others.  I don’t know much about Eddie’s prior life other than he ended him up in prison at some point in time.  What I wanted to know about him in the job interview was how he presented himself, how he spoke about the duties of the position, and whether I could sense from him a passion for the work.  I quickly discovered that the answers were yes – yes – and yes.

Eddie had several tattoos, including one large one on the top of his head.  I had never hired anyone with so many visible tattoos but it only took me about 30 seconds to get beyond that.  The quality of him as a person, his obvious compassion, and his intellect won me over quite readily.  I last saw him at our Holiday Staff Party on December 21.  I asked what he wanted from his “Secret Santa” and he responded “a gift card from Bed, Bath, and Beyond.”  “For your girlfriend or partner?” I asked.  “No,” he responded, “for me.”  I like the Teakwood fragrance . . . the body wash, the spray, and the cologne.”  I chuckled to myself, thinking “This is not the response I thought I would get from this former gang member, tatted-up, rather large individual.”  But, then I remembered one of the first lessons I got at Friends Outside, which was not to judge a book by its cover.  Some of the finest persons I have met in my life are ex-prisoners.  And, Eddie is on my short list.

Rest in Peace, Eddie.  We will miss you.

Mary Weaver

Executive Director

Thomas Fleming Rhodes: A Wonderful Man and Volunteer

Thomas Fleming Rhodes was the epitome of a volunteer.

He began volunteering at our Pasadena office so many years ago that we don’t even remember exactly when he began.  We think it was sometime in the late 70’s.  9:00 – 12:00 Tuesday morning was Tom’s perennial shift.  He was a supervisor’s dream – always on time, seldom missed work but called on those rare occasions when he could not be at work, and always willing to do what you asked him to do.  Wherever he was, there was always Tom’s radiant smile and his laugh, lilting and lively.

Those of us who had the privilege to know him remember a man who never complained, in spite of physical and mental challenges that would have given him sufficient reason to do so.  Through Tom, we discovered that an individual, no matter their personal challenges, always has something to give.

A couple of years ago, Tom called to tell us that he was no longer able to volunteer.  He left us as unassumingly as he had come to us.  The Tuesday morning slot would no longer be filled by this selfless, kind, and gentle soul.  We were saddened to learn that Tom passed-away quite suddenly last September at the age of 63.

Tom’s siblings, Margaret, Richard, and Ted, granted us permission to memorialize Tom.  But, how do you honor a man who answered our telephones for about 25 years.  At a rate of about 10 calls per hour, Tom likely handled somewhere around 37,500 telephone calls!  How do you memorialize a man whose service helped us meet the conditions of our contracts, a man who gave not only of his time but also of his monetary resources, a man who asked nothing of us in return but to be given a place and a means through which he could serve his community?

And so it is, with the blessing of his three siblings, we are proud to announce that we have named our most well-loved and enduring community activity in Tom’s honor, the “Thomas Fleming Rhodes Memorial Holiday Party for Children.”  In doing so, we sincerely hope that we have done justice to his life, his values, and his many contributions to Friends Outside and our community.