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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

San Diegans 75+ Now Eligible For COVID-19 Vaccines

Cover image for podcast episode

PHOTO BY MATTHEW BOWLER

Above: COVID-19 vaccines at the Vaccination Super Station near Petco Park. Jan. 10, 2021.

San Diego County public health officials announced those 75 years or older can now receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Plus, the story of one Bay Area man who's been both a victim of unemployment fraud and the effort to fight it. And health and safety precautions during the pandemic have led the Air Force to eliminate parts of basic training. Then, after 29 years in prison for murdering her three children in a house fire, JoAnn Parks was exonerated thanks to the work of her attorneys from the California Innocence Project . And Billy Lemon has been sober for eight years and now runs the Castro Country Club, helping other gay men get off drugs. He says it’s all because of Kamala Harris. Finally, as part of a new multimedia project, Al Howard is writing 100 songs — each one accompanied by an original watercolor painting by his mother.

Speaker 1: 00:00 The County starts vaccinating people 75 and older.

Speaker 2: 00:04 We know that appointments for yesterday filled up very quickly. Once the County made that announcement. So they may not be able to get it right away.

Speaker 1: 00:12 I'm Maureen Cavenaugh with Jade Hyman. This is KPBS midday edition

Speaker 3: 00:24 Military.

Speaker 1: 00:25 Our leaders worry. The pandemic is producing unprepared recruits. We do

Speaker 3: 00:29 You feel, uh, kind of robbed in the sense of we're not being able to complete all those additional training objectives that, that enhanced training,

Speaker 1: 00:38 The California innocence project marks another victory. And the San Diego team works on art and music to help us survive the pandemic. That's a head-on mid day edition.

Speaker 1: 01:00 San Diego County is now making COVID-19 vaccines available to the population. Most likely to become seriously ill from the virus, people 75 and up can now make appointments to get their shots at County vaccination sites, including the Supersite at Petco park. Other healthcare organizations are expected to open up their appointments to seniors. Scripps health says it plans to start accepting appointments for patients 65 and older beginning tomorrow. But the caveat in this good news as always is vaccine availability, which is still in limited supply. Joining me as KPBS health reporter Taran Manto Taryn. Welcome. Thanks Maureen. Why did the County say I could now start vaccinating people 75 and over

Speaker 2: 01:46 Statement from County officials that it had to do with a slow down in demand among healthcare workers. That's the group that's been prioritized since the beginning, along with long-term care facility, residents and employees. Um, but yesterday there were more open appointments than they expected possibly caused by the holiday, but they had all their vaccinators standing by. So they wanted to fill those openings very quickly. Initially they decided to just expand it to people 65 years and older for just that day. But then later that change and it was fully opened up to anyone 75 years and older. Um, you know, that means that some people between 65 and 74 years may have gotten appointment just yesterday, but only people 75 and older can make appointments. Now going forward, the County has said it hopes to fully expand to 65 years and older sometime next week.

Speaker 1: 02:36 Okay. Wow. So KPBS has been getting a lot of questions from our audience about this here's one from a listener named Ted who's in his late seventies,

Speaker 4: 02:46 We've called around. We're able to get an appointment, uh, a waiting list to get the vaccinations with having no idea when, and also I'm concerned that there's not enough vaccine go around. So that's my problem. And I'm hoping that we can get the vaccination soon.

Speaker 1: 03:06 Okay. Taran. So how does that appointment system work? How do people sign up and where do they go?

Speaker 2: 03:12 So for the counties, vaccination locations, people should be able to make appointments online at the county's website. The locations are the Supersite at Petco park, but there's also smaller sites around the region. And, you know, we have links to all of those sites at kpbs.org/vaccine. So you can go there, click individual sites and see if there are open appointments. Um, or again, you can go directly to the county's website. And if people prefer to call, I, you know, two, one, one has been where the County has been pushing people to get information. So you can also try to one, one, um, but if you still have trouble, you can contact us at KPBS and we can see if we can help you navigate, but the counties vaccinations are, are, are appointment only. They aren't taking walk-ups. Um, and as far as people, uh, it gets a little confusing when people are trying to learn if their own provider is doing vaccinations for people that are of a certain age, you know, the, the we're getting messaging from the County that you should be double checking with your provider to see if they have vaccinations available for you, because the county's supposed to be the safety net.

Speaker 2: 04:15 So if you can get a vaccination elsewhere, you know, we don't want to use a vaccination, um, on you. If there is somebody who doesn't have that provider and can't get it and needs it only from the County, but we know providers are also worried that people are going to overwhelm their phone lines with, with these questions when they have limited supply. So they're trying to tell people, Hey, we will contact you and you will get an invitation for when you can get a vaccine. So it is a little bit confusing, but hopefully those systems are working and people who can get a vaccinate, vaccination are being notified. And then there is the county's website. If people want to sign up there,

Speaker 1: 04:51 But straight up a 75 year old San Diego, and who is a patient of scripts or Kaiser or other health care organization, once a vaccine, now they can contact the County. Is that right?

Speaker 2: 05:03 Correct. Correct. The counties is making its vaccination sites available to people who are 75 years or older. Absolutely. And they should be able to make an appointment. Although we know that appointments for yesterday filled up very quickly once the County made that announcement. So they may not be able to get it right away. Do we know anything,

Speaker 1: 05:20 Anything more about the problem with that batch of modern, a vaccine that caused a higher than usual number of allergic reactions at a clinic here in San Diego?

Speaker 2: 05:30 Yes. So there was a six allergic reactions that occurred among healthcare workers. I believe at the Petco park location, the investigation as to what happened is ongoing by the FDA and CDC. But I did ask UCS D about this, which is helping to manage, uh, the Supersite. And I talked to UCLA health, Dr. Christopher Long Hearst. And this is what he had to say.

Speaker 4: 05:52 And even those folks that are having, um, some reactions we're able to manage those right. Nobody's had long-term

Speaker 5: 05:58 Impact. And it's still a very small percentage of the folks that we've vaccinated,

Speaker 2: 06:03 Right? And so he said, you know, about 25,000 people were vaccinated over the last seven days. And there were six severe reactions, which were higher. The cluster was higher than what's expected based on research out there, but still very, very, very few compared to the volume of people receiving the vaccination and people who have had past reactions to vaccines or severe food allergies are supposed to talk to the provider or the vaccinator about that ahead of time.

Speaker 1: 06:28 Now, moving to the cases of COVID-19 in the County, are there any signs it's slowing down?

Speaker 2: 06:34 Well, you know, hospitalizations are relatively steady, but still very high. And that's been the largest we've seen since the pandemic began, but it's, it seems to be holding there at least for the past several days. And as far as cases, we haven't broken a daily case total record in a while, which is a good sign, but again, daily case totals are still very high. And, you know, we're almost three weeks since new year's Eve when people weren't supposed to gather, but, um, officials expected, they would. And, and we do know that we see a jump and hospitalizations about two to three weeks after those kinds of holidays and gathering events. So we're nearly there. And hopefully that means good news. Um, but we do know of a more contagious strain that circulating. So things are unpredictable as they've been for a while. Now,

Speaker 1: 07:23 Talk to us a little bit more about the concerns about the COVID variant, which is now circulating in the community. There are some, um, experts who are predicting that could be the dominant strain in the U S by March,

Speaker 2: 07:37 Right. Um, you know, they're actually kind of, you know, two strains, um, one that is believed to be, um, or evidence has shown that it is a more contagious. It was first discovered or reported in the United Kingdom. Some cases have been confirmed in San Diego and elsewhere in California. Um, and then, uh, state officials recently just had at late Sunday night, unexpected, um, news conference or news briefing talking about another strain that they're increasingly seeing more of, but we do need to wait until there's more research to definitively know, um, how this will affect vaccines, how this will affect, um, the severity of illnesses right now, it doesn't seem like the strain first found in the UK is actually increasing the severity of someone of how sick someone gets or nor the, the fatality of it. Um, and so that's a good sign and they don't believe that it's actually going to, um, impact the efficacy of the vaccine, but we need to be ha we need to have that definitive data. Um, and so research is, is ongoing to kind of figure out what this does mean for us

Speaker 1: 08:41 And Taryn. Is there any optimism that you can pick up about the change in administrations and the focus on COVID that the Biden administration has been talking about?

Speaker 2: 08:51 You know, it's, it's pretty clear that right now, things aren't great. And so change brings hope. And I think people are, you know, really banking on the fact that I'm doing something different is at least better than what we're doing right now. I've been speaking with KPBS health reporter, Taron mento, Taran. Thank you very much. Thanks Maureen.

Speaker 6: 09:21 The pandemic has created opportunities for crime fraudsters have stolen as much as $8 billion and counting and unemployment benefits from the state. Now bank of America is facing a federal lawsuit in connection with that fraud and the impacts it's had on innocent customers, KQ EDS, Mary Franklin Harvin brings us the story of one Bay area. Man, who's been both a victim of unemployment fraud and the effort to find it in the before times, Gregory Collins worked as a tech contractor. He's been trying to hustle since he got laid off, but at 51 years old, he says, he thinks his age has been an added barrier in the already. And you make job market a few months ago, despite being a vegetarian. He even applied to work at a burger joint.

Speaker 7: 10:06 And I thought, you know, until things get better,

Speaker 6: 10:09 He didn't get the job. At the end of last year, the state's employment development department froze more than a million accounts in an attempt to fight fraud. Collins was one of them last week. He was finally able to verify his identity and restart his payments, but it feels like two steps forward, 5,000 steps back to him. Here's why

Speaker 7: 10:30 When I logged in today, it says the account is over withdrawn $5,080. So any benefits that I would receive would basically go to be paying bank of America and whoever the thieves were that took my money

Speaker 6: 10:45 At the beginning of September Colin's bank of America debit card, through which he receives his benefits was hacked. The irony Colin said is even he'd triggered freezes on the card in the past when he was using his own benefits, but somehow someone else was able to make 50 or 60 fraudulent transactions in Southern California. Remember Collins lives in Northern California without any alert from BFA. The claims process took months countless hours on the phone police reports. And in mid December B of a sent Collins, a letter saying after review the bank had denied his claim and decided there were no fraudulent charges on his account. Collins called BFA for an explanation.

Speaker 7: 11:27 Yeah. They just said, Oh, we'll just reach them at your claim for reconsideration. And I'm like, um, why did they decline it? It doesn't really tell us why it was declined, but we can resubmit it for you.

Speaker 6: 11:40 X-Men says, bank of America has beefed up the call center team handling inquiries on EDD cards to expedite processing times. But Collins is still waiting to hear back from the reconsideration request he submitted and a chance the hacking of his debit card in the freezing of his EDD account last year are linked, says Daniel, urban founder of the center for workers' rights in Sacramento. We've been hearing more and more about problems like this, where the claimant themselves have reported the fraud and all that did was make it more difficult for that claimant to receive the payments. And that's not all urban says, EDD is fraud. Defense systems are often requesting the same identification material people have already provided for earlier claims, which makes people skeptical about whether those asks are legitimate. We've heard from several claimants who receive text messages, asking them to upload documents to UI online. And they just assumed that it was a scammer and people who've already experienced fraud like Collins or even more reticent about forking over the additional personal information. Last week, Colin's verified his account and got his first unemployment payment for 2021. It was deducted from his current bank of America debit balance, which is now negative $4,638 and 23 cents. I'm Mary Franklin Harven.

Speaker 6: 13:07 The Corona virus pandemic has led air force

Speaker 8: 13:10 To scale back basic training. They've removed elements like hand-to-hand combat and shortened field training to try to keep troops safe. But sub military training instructors say they wish their recruits were better prepared from San Antonio Carson frame reports for the American Homefront project. Some elements of basic military training at Lackland air force base are the same as they've always been. Think pre-dawn workouts, obstacle courses, silent meals in the chow hall and screaming instructors. But as the pandemic tightened, its hold on the country, the air force made adjustments. Basic training was shortened by a week and things like marching hand-to-hand combat casualty care and survival skills were cut back. Tech Sergeant Alexandra Springman is a military training instructor.

Speaker 3: 13:59 So we always say flexibility is the key to air power. And that's really been a true statement. Um, we have definitely had to adjust.

Speaker 8: 14:07 [inaudible] normally do chemical and biological weapons training where they expose themselves to tear gas and practice putting on protective equipment. But now that's off limits because the gas masks can't be properly cleaned between uses and because of social distancing trainees have to use dummies to practice applying tourniquets and bandages something they used to do with

Speaker 3: 14:26 That does not provide even close to that real-world application. So while it's pretty easy to apply a tourniquet on a dummy, you can't, you can't know if you're actually putting the tourniquet on tight enough and cutting off that circulation, cutting off that blood supply,

Speaker 8: 14:40 Those spring men and other military training instructors understand the need to keep airmen safe. They still wish they could teach them more.

Speaker 3: 14:46 We do feel, uh, kind of robbed in the sense of we're not being able to all those

Speaker 7: 14:52 Additional training objectives that that enhanced training, because sometimes those are the things that the trainees remembered,

Speaker 8: 14:57 But with new health and safety guidelines coming down all the time, both trainees and instructors have had to roll with the punches would be linguists, sacri, Maples finished basic military training in November

Speaker 7: 15:08 With all of these things, you just got to go in with the attitude of I'm. I'm not here to know exactly what's going to be happening. I'm here to be trained. And just having that mindset kind of, it kind of kept the stress of change, kind of to a minimum

Speaker 8: 15:21 Air force leaders say the upheaval in basic training won't affect readiness. Colonel Rocky Wilson commands the 37th training wing at Lackland. He says basic training is supposed to work as an orientation to the military, not a final lesson. He says, there'll be more opportunities down the road like during an airman's vocational training or before a combat deployment,

Speaker 7: 15:40 They get all that when they get back, when they get to their home station anyway, especially if they're going to deploy into contingency.

Speaker 8: 15:45 But critics argue that curtailing basic training is a problem. Mark Kantian is a senior advisor with the center for strategic and international studies, a bipartisan think tank in Washington, DC. He says traditional military skills help teach airman about hardship and teamwork and what it really means to be in the air force without enough of that. They might not be mentally prepared for what's next,

Speaker 7: 16:06 The kinds of things that they've had to cut out. You know, these are the military skills, the warrior skills that let people know that they are now in a very different kind of environment. And it makes it a little harder for someone arriving at a unit to accept the sacrifices that might be entailed in service in the field.

Speaker 8: 16:30 He adds that it's difficult for advanced training and operational units to get airman caught up on basic skills, especially since there are already so many other demands on their time. Back at Lackland Colonel Rocky Wilson says they're taking the opportunity to teach recruits more about the air force, his history and values. And the pandemic has been a valuable lesson in and of itself.

Speaker 7: 16:49 This has been a wonderful readiness training and it's not an exercise it's real. And so if we can be COVID, um, then we can beat any competitor around the world. We know that,

Speaker 8: 16:59 But he says his top priority is controlling infections and protecting trainees, even at the expense of some traditional skills I'm Carson frame in San Antonio, this story was produced by the American Homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.

Speaker 7: 17:25 [inaudible].

Speaker 8: 17:31 This is KPBS day edition. I'm Maureen Kavanaugh with Jade Hyman, the California innocence project is celebrating another hard one victory in its efforts to get wrongly convicted. Prisoners released Joanne parks who was convicted of setting a fire that killed her three children in Los Angeles County is now out on

Speaker 1: 17:50 Parole after spending 29 years in prison. The innocence project says errors in understanding the science of arson fires led to Park's conviction. This has been an odd year for the work of innocence project attorneys across the country. The COVID pandemic has led to the early release of some prisoners whose cases had been worked on for years and erratic presidential pardons have released some wrongly accused and allowed some others to avoid accountability for their crimes. Joining me is Justin Brooks, director of the California innocence project and law professor at California Western school of law. And welcome back, Justin. Thank you so much. Raquel Cohen is here. She is the attorney with the California innocence project who worked primarily on the Joanne parks case and Raquel welcome. Thank you for having me, Maureen. Now we're killed. Let me start with you. As I say, you were the lead attorney working for Joann Park's release. How did it finally happen?

Speaker 9: 18:48 Oh man, it's been a crazy whirlwind, but when we first started working in Joanne's case, she was serving a sentence for life without the possibility of parole. So basically sentenced to die in prison. Um, and uh, in 2013, as you know, Justin Brooks, Michael's ManTech and Alyssa miracle, March 12th, clemency petitions up to governor Brown's office. And one of them was Joanne Parks's case. We hope that governor Brown Brown would grant clemency and commute her sentence, giving her the chance of parole. But when he didn't, um, governor Newsome stepped up and in March of last year, so March of 2019, he commuted her to 27 years to life, which made her immediately eligible for parole and took her off of, uh, the life without the possibility, uh, sentence. So from there, we geared up for her parole hearing, which is something she had been doing while she was in there. Anyway, she had been working on bettering herself, so she set herself up for success. And then in October, the end of October, we had our parole hearing and she showed the parole board. She was not a danger and she got her date. And then we walked her out last Tuesday.

Speaker 1: 19:58 Wow. Justin, that this conviction was largely based on what investigators thought was an arson fire set by Joanne, but are their conclusions now considered junk science? Well

Speaker 10: 20:12 Is a science related to arson and there are scientists and very good experts. But the problem is there's also a lot of bad experts. There's a lot of a glorified fireman who loves CSI and Joann's is one of those tragic cases where when the fire was analyzed, a conclusion was obtained that it was intentionally set fires. We now know can jump inside a house. And what happens is a fire can start accidentally as it did in this case as a result of an electrical problem. And then the fire can pass up to the ceiling and then move around the house and start in other locations. So the examiner later on comes to the conclusion, Oh, it must've been intentionally set because there were multiple points of ignition, but we now know you can have multiple points of ignition in an accidental flyer.

Speaker 1: 21:05 Raquel, the story of the fire and parks conviction is told in the book burned by Edward Humes, which came out a couple of years ago. And I believe before this commutation, you were in the process of raising money to build a recreation of the parks apartment, to prove that the fire was not arson, are those the lengths, the innocent project has to go in it's efforts to get wrongly convicted people out of prison.

Speaker 9: 21:31 When we first, uh, lost the hearing and from the superior court, I would have loved to set all of the, um, fire investigators who disbelieved in her innocence, set their mind to rest by recreating the fire and showing that, uh, what they believed were multiple points of origin were really just one single origin and a post slash over fully involved fire. Um, unfortunately we weren't able to raise that money, but we did have, uh, something close to that. We were able to raise enough money to do computer modeling. So Dr. Gregory Gore Britt Corbett, um, is able to simulate a fire on the computer. And so what he did was after we lost that hearing, he did this computer modeling, which definitely demonstrated that, um, based on all of the evidence, including witness statements and the burn damage, so that there was one single area of origin in the living room. Um, and that, um, the two areas of origin is not supported by the evidence.

Speaker 1: 22:27 You know, Justin, the March that was just referenced that you made it to seek clemency for several of your clients from governor Jerry Brown was unsuccessful. And that governor seem to be reluctant to issue pardons and grant parole. Is governor Newson turning out to be different in that area?

Speaker 10: 22:45 Absolutely. After 30 years working in the criminal justice system, it's hard not to be a little cynical. So when Gavin Newsome made a lot of promises when he was running for office, I wasn't sure what kind of governor who would be, but as soon as he got an office, he immediately suspended the death penalty. And we know in the United States, nearly 200 people have walked off death row after finding their innocent. And he immediately started examining these cases COVID did create an opportunity for us. And as you mentioned in the opening around the country, governors have started giving clemency because they had to get people out of the prisons. They had an emergency, but they weren't just walking people out who were guilty of serious crimes. Um, there were a lot of low level offenders who were released, but only in cases like this, which is, you know, a murder case of children where we able to actually establish an innocence claim to get them out. Otherwise, Joanne parks would still be in prison. It's not like they've emptied out the prisons and are letting everybody go. Uh, violent offenders are still all locked up, but it created an opportunity to present those cases and get some attention to them.

Speaker 1: 23:58 You know, as, as I also mentioned, the president's pardons have been controversial overall, what do you think has that note notoriety been good or bad for your work? Does it taint the idea of pardons?

Speaker 10: 24:11 It's really been abused over the past couple of hundred years and governors also abuse it. And it being as a result of, you know, favors and lobbying and, and the people, most of deserving, don't typically get clemency. It's the people who are most politically connected that get it. And president Trump will have his whole list of people who will be released before he leaves office. And it's, it's just, it's disheartening sometimes because we have the most compelling cases and innocence organizations around the country have the most compelling cases that should be looked at by governors. And yet those are the ones that don't get attention because when not politically connected and we don't have that kind of power. So I've been really heartened that, that governor Newsome has granted clemency and pardons to the powerless

Speaker 1: 25:00 Raquel how's Joanne doing.

Speaker 9: 25:03 She's excellent. It's actually, um, really, really fun to watch her transition back into society. I mean, she was down 29 years and, um, we've done so much since she's been out, I've taken her grocery shopping. I've taken her yarn shopping cause she likes to crochet. Um, we've gone to the beach and um, through all of it, she's just grateful. Um, she is adapting well. I mean, you know, sometimes you walk clients into a grocery store and they're nervous and they stand by your side. I think I lost her like three times cause she was looking for specific items that she really wanted. Um, so she was very ready for this. Um, she's making good friends at her transitional living facility and I'm just really proud of her. It's just really awesome to watch her, um, take the second chance and really run with it.

Speaker 1: 25:50 I want to thank you both Justin Brooks and Raquel Cohen for coming on and talking with us and thank you for the work you do. And it was a pleasure to speak with you again. Thank you. Nice talking to you too.

Speaker 11: 26:09 Many of us are still rocked by the siege of the capital and some of us are anxious about the upcoming inauguration, but a lot of Californians are getting ready to celebrate. Our state is about to send the first woman of color to the white house. The whole world will be watching tomorrow as Kamala Harris is sworn in as our next vice president, but there's one person who will be tuning in who says he owes his life to her. The California reports, health correspondent, April Demboski brings us his story.

Speaker 1: 26:39 Growing up in Modesto in the seventies, Billy lemon was popular and outgoing. He

Speaker 11: 26:44 Was kind of a jock, but he says all that was a coverup.

Speaker 12: 26:51 I really wanted to be a backup dancer for chorus line. I didn't want you to know that. And so with secretly listened to chorus line at home by myself and my parents and my sisters were gone.

Speaker 3: 27:10 [inaudible]

Speaker 12: 27:11 Hide all that stuff all the time is exhausting. It's exhausting.

Speaker 11: 27:16 His reckoning came when he was 27. He was still in college, studying abroad in Europe and got an invitation to see mass at the Vatican on Christmas day.

Speaker 12: 27:25 And I was in like row number 12 with Pope John Paul, who had been the Pope my entire life. I was this close to what I had been raised to believe was God as I would ever get. And I said, I, you know, I'm gay, I'm putting it out there. Um, I know that I am gay. That was the moment. The next week I was wearing a fake ostrich feather coat. And I was listening to Madonna.

Speaker 11: 27:58 When Billy came back to California, he headed straight for San Francisco. He was 30, but he says it was like he was 16 discovering his sexuality for the first time.

Speaker 12: 28:09 And it was like a gay paradise. It was Mecca. It was the time of very big dance clubs here. There was one every night, you know, you're in a dance club with a thousand men. They're all basically naked. And most of good majority of them are high. It was off the wall. Crazy.

Speaker 11: 28:31 Billy got into crystal meth and wiped out his shame, his inner critic, and it gave him the sex drive of a 16 year old. It was fun until it wasn't. After the twin towers came down on nine 11, he lost his bartending job

Speaker 12: 28:45 Hospitality here in the city, came to a screeching halt restaurants all over the place closed down. It's kind of like now into a lesser degree. And that's when I started selling.

Speaker 11: 28:56 It was just to support his own habit. But eventually he was shipping pounds of meth across the country.

Speaker 12: 29:01 You know where Bodine's is over on the, on fisherman's Wharf, I would get bred bulls and I would hollow them out. I would lie in the inside of the sourdough with meth and then cover it back up and shrink, wrap the bread and then send loaves of bread with some accoutrement from fisherman's Wharf. So it looked like a care package to people in Boston. And then they would literally send me 15, $16,000 in twenties or hundreds via FedEx If you've ever, have you ever seen breaking every episode? Okay. So my no exaggeration, my life was breaking bad was show too. And that sounds, sounds fun and funny, but it wasn't. It was, it was that bad. There were guns and there was people getting robbed. There were stolen cars, people getting beat up and it was, it was bad.

Speaker 11: 30:07 Over the years, Billy was arrested three times raids all the time. First two times he served a month or so in jail. Got it from probation. Third time he got caught with half a pound of math, half a pound of dope and was facing a mandatory sentence state prison. Without question, the day he was scheduled to go before the judge, he sat in his jail cell, desperately bargaining with himself, with God, with the universe.

Speaker 12: 30:31 I said, please, just anything please just make, is there any way that you can get me out of it?

Speaker 11: 30:37 Billy was escorted to the courtroom. He stood before the judge and an orange jumpsuit and shackles and the judge dismissed his case.

Speaker 12: 30:46 I was released that day.

Speaker 13: 30:48 This is CNN breaking news. Hundreds of narcotics cases are in jeopardy. Hundreds of cases have been thrown out more than a thousand criminal drug cases may have to be dropped as 60 year old lab technician accused of stealing drug evidence, suspected of stealing cocaine, evidence stole cocaine evidence.

Speaker 12: 31:07 All these cases had to get thrown out. I was the lucky beneficiary of one of those cases. I mean, it was like a, it was like Christmas for drug addicts. Everybody was getting released.

Speaker 11: 31:18 This was the decision of then San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris. She didn't want to drop a thousand cases, but faced with tainted drug evidence and under fire for failing to disclose the scandal to defense teams. She did reluctantly to Billy. It was the answer to his prayer sign that the universe wanted something different for him. So

Speaker 12: 31:40 I committed that day to stop selling drugs.

Speaker 11: 31:42 And I did. Then he made his way to rehab through years of therapy, Billy unpacked, all the shame and trauma underlying his addiction. The internalized homophobia he's been sober for eight years and now runs the Castro country club, helping other gay men get off drugs. Billy says it's all because of Camila.

Speaker 12: 32:02 She saved my life. She literally saved my life. Like she has no idea that she saved my life, but she saved my life. She gave me my second chance,

Speaker 11: 32:11 Continue to draw inspiration from Kamala Harris as her political career advanced from da to attorney general to Senator it's as though each of her successes was an affirmation of his own small triumphs. When she announced her run for president Billy's friend told him it was time to take the next step.

Speaker 12: 32:29 He texted me immediately and he's like, girl, you got to work on her campaign, X amount of hours to kind of like pay back fact that she kept you out of prison and doesn't even know it. And I was like, Oh yeah, I'm already making a shirt,

Speaker 11: 32:45 Billy canvased and raised money for Harris's campaign. He says, she's a fighter for folks who struggle and that smile.

Speaker 12: 32:53 No, I just, I love her. I think she's fantastic. Really? I really do. I think she's fantastic.

Speaker 11: 33:03 Of course other people have mixed reviews about Kamala Harris and her record is da in San Francisco. She had to walk the line between being the top cop and living up to her more progressive promises either way. She was not in the business of handing out, get out of jail free cards. She initially fought hard to keep all those drug cases alive. Billy knows this, but he sets it aside. He's got his narrative about her role in his life and he's sticking with it.

Speaker 12: 33:31 It was easy for me to put her on a pedestal. And uh, since putting her on that pedestal, she's only gotten bigger. I feel this kind of like weird fairy godmother connection

Speaker 11: 33:44 To her. The gay community has had a steady run of celebrity fairy godmothers over the years, Judy Garland's Madonna Beyonce, especially for men of Billy Lemon's generation. Who've been rejected by their families or the church they've elected these women to fill the role of nurturer and advocate.

Speaker 12: 34:05 A lot of us has gay men that grew up in kind of strict religious dogma. The idea of God is just kind of gross. And so the idea of a goddess actually sounds really kind of awesome.

Speaker 11: 34:17 So for Billy it's fully in line with his experience and his politics to deify Kamala Harris, especially now that she will be the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, responsible for some of the biggest decisions in the country.

Speaker 12: 34:31 It's kind of rad as like it's super rad. The first like 50, 50 votes that they have and they get the zoom in on her. Gaveling in the vote is kind of bad-ass

Speaker 11: 34:41 There was intentional or not. Billy says he turned his life around because of a decision she made her Ascension to power is just another sign that he made the right decision to believe in her. Even if she is just the human symbol of a massive lucky break. That was the California reports April Demboski.

Speaker 1: 35:05 This is KPBS midday edition. I'm worrying Kavanaugh with Jade Heinemann and these tumultuous times of protesting racial inequity, living through a global pandemic and suffering, growing economic hardships. The arts have tried to keep us saying, as we move through the current bleak reality, San Diego songwriter, Alfred Howard and painter Marion Howard, his mother have been collaborating on a multimedia project over the year to write 100 songs. Each one accompanied by an original watercolor. KPBS

Speaker 7: 35:38 Is Alison St. John spoke to them last year about how they stay inspired through hard times. Here's their first song from the project. We all breathe the same air by Al Howard performed by Nathan Moore, no ocean of tea scant undo the M booze of a moment in Amber. We all will remember when the wind blew in the timbers, the timbers and the truth was exposed to the leg [inaudible]

Speaker 14: 36:56 That was Al Howard song. We all breathe the same air performed by Nathan Moore. It's part of Allen, his mother Marion's new multimedia project. Alfred Howard writes Marianne and Al Howard. Welcome to midday edition. Now the song that we just heard, we all breathe. The same air is the first song released for this project. I got to say, I love some of the lines like 20, 20 vision is a blinding affliction, and I want to read part of the chorus. Again. We all breathe the same air. Only love can pull us through the dark. And if it's one it's everyone, someone's daughter and someone's son. So Al first of all, you, what does this song mean to you?

Speaker 7: 37:37 So this song was a direct response to the lynching of George Floyd and seeing that happen live in the streets in America. And, um, one of the important things about this project to me is like, I've been in bands for years and you'll write a song and sometimes it'll take two years to get the album out, but this platform and creating music this way allows you to be very reactionary. So something like that can happen. And, you know, we were just in shock and awe and also just numb to it too at the same time, because there's been so much of this kind of violence on, on blacks in America.

Speaker 14: 38:17 Marion, can you describe your painting for this song? We all breathe the same air it's it's, it's kind of wash of color watercolors you work in, right? Yes.

Speaker 7: 38:26 Thank you. Um, that was a hard one for me because as a mother to a son who was a young black man living here in America, it was very heartfelt. Um, if you can understand what I'm saying. Um, I just, it was, it was heavy for me, very, very heavy. It was very emotional. I cried a lot when I heard it when I heard the words, because it just, it just, it just came to my heart, you know? Um, because all I could imagine is my own son doing the right thing and this him being taken from me just like that, you know,

Speaker 14: 39:08 So out of you're writing two songs a week, that means that you can respond to what's going on in the news quite in real time.

Speaker 7: 39:16 You know, being able to react to it, instantaneously, create a song, have it out as a response, one week later is a different kind of creativity that I'm used to. But I feel like for me, it's the way forward. You know, our art is always reactionary at its best, you know, and there's, there's a lot to be inspired from right now, whether it's like adversely inspired or positively inspired. You know, I always try to find hope in these dark situations.

Speaker 14: 39:45 So Al you've been working, uh, as a musician for decades and you're one of San Diego's most prolific musicians, but you were close to quitting music altogether before this project began. What inspired this project?

Speaker 7: 39:59 Well, I've been playing in, uh, eight bands and writing lyrics for eight bands for a long time, but I've also been struggling with chronic Lyme disease for 24 years. And, uh, I was getting to this point in my life where the shows and late nights and the toll that it took on my joints, it, it just wasn't pleasant anymore. And it, it started to feel like work. And then during the downtime of pandemic, I sort of got a, a passion for writing again. And I was trying to figure out a way to involve myself in music without the gigs, but, you know, work senior new people. And then I kind of came up with this idea.

Speaker 14: 40:34 Let's listen to another song from your project. Now, then this one is called P

Speaker 7: 41:13 [inaudible].

Speaker 14: 41:13 That was piece performed by Shelby Bennett vocals in Owen guitar, Daniel [inaudible] keyboard with lyrics by Alfred Howard. Well, the two of you are obviously very tuned in any way, but what would you say working together like this has done for your relationship?

Speaker 7: 41:30 I lived on the East coast. My son came to the West coast athlete. He graduated from college. So this gives me a chance to really know the person as a young adult, not a child also to involve myself with him. Creatively has been really interesting because a lot of times Alfreda and I will sit and we'll talk about something, have a discussion. And we'll say the same thing at the same time, or we'll be thinking about the same thing at the same time. And it just boggles my mind, just not working with Alfred, but as a mother and very, very proud mother. I am so glad that my son is back to writing because as a creative person, I can't imagine never doing my art. It's just unimaginable. And for me to see Alfred not picking up a pen and putting it to paper to write it broke my heart.

Speaker 7: 42:28 So with this epidemic that we have going on and that him being closed in for months and me being closed in, I was always going to be able to paint. But when he picked up his pen and start writing and working with this project and shared it with me, I was blown away. And I was like, yes, you really want me to be part of this? Of course I will, you know, no pay, no pay. You don't have to pay for freebie. You know? So, um, this has been very challenging, but very rewarding for me as a mother to see my son create again and such a nice and a big way, and also a very giving kind of way, because Alfred is not selfish. And he's not thinking about himself. He's thinking about all the musicians that can't work right now and how can I enhance their life?

Speaker 7: 43:23 How can I help them? And so, yes, I'm, I'm just in awe of what, what I'm able to do with my son right now. So Al anything to add. Yeah. You know, um, especially during the pandemic, like my mom and I, we would get together a few times a week. Sometimes we'd watch a movie or, you know, we'd go for walks. And, you know, we both been very careful during the pandemic and we don't get to, to share in the same things that we did, but there's different ways to communicate and getting to communicate via this project, I think has been important for both of us, you know? So we're still sharing something that's really significant and that's, that's been a great and important and needed thing for me in my life. And I hope so for her too well, Marianne and L Howard, thank you so much for joining us on midday edition. Thanks. Thank you so much. And they were speaking to Alison St. John.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.