I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Later this year, there will be a change in Canadian County, one for the worse and not the better as District Court Judge Gary Miller retires from the bench.
If there is one person in our county who has led the charge in making children’s lives better here, it is Gary Miller. Long before there was the center that now bears his name, the judge worked to help children and their families, working to provide services still not available in many counties even bigger than our own.
“During his career, Judge Miller has been a visionary leader in the area of juvenile justice and children’s issues,” Canadian County District Attorney Michael Fields said. “Through his dedication and advocacy, he’s played an immeasurable role in helping transform our juvenile justice system into what it is today.”
That statement was brought to life before the March election over the children’s justice center sales tax. It was then I heard testimony after testimony of children – now adults – who had been impacted by Miller and the center. Whether they were involved in the group home, had faced behavioral or legal difficulties or were protected as children of abuse or neglect, they in one voice talked about how the center and its personnel had changed their lives for the better.
“It all began with Judge Miller,” one of them said.
It’s been a long ride for the judge, who has been part of Canadian County’s judiciary for 21 years. When he retires, most likely in September, he will leave not only a legacy of children he has helped, but also a courthouse of people who have learned and grown from his wisdom, victims who have gotten justice under his watch and a county that is regarded as one of the most progressive in the state when it comes to juvenile affairs.
As a reporter, I’ve seen many signs of Judge Miller. In my early days, it was as an advocate for the children’s justice center and then on a few occasions interviewing him during his work for the Department of Human Services. But, it’s since his return to the judiciary, when he took over Canadian County’s top spot, that I have seen so much more to this man.
Six trials, hearings probably numbering in the hundreds now, and I have seen in Judge Miller someone who takes the law and his responsibility to everyone – accuser and accused both, families and witnesses – very seriously. And, while it might seem like that should be a given, it not always is. As a legal assistant, I’ve been part of trials where judges played solitaire on their phone, slept, let jurors sleep and more.
Suffice it to say I thought I knew Gary Miller pretty darn well – and I do. But, I was again surprised just recently when working on a story about the county’s adult drug court. Again, I was impressed with a judge who cares about people, all people, and who works every day to make their lives better. His interactions with those taking part in drug court were a perfect illustration of that.
“What can we do for you, what do you need from us,” he asked participant after participant. Phrases like “You’re doing great,” “We’re proud of you,” “You can do it,” “That’s just a setback” were his response to most of the people who were part of the program, some of them who had stumbled and fallen.
But, he hadn’t given up on them, no more than he has our county’s children or families impacted by crime.
“There are a lot of children who are now adults whose lives would be much different had it not been for Judge Miller’s commitment to children’s issues,” Fields said to me when I asked him to give me a quote about the judge. “Can there be a more significant legacy than this?”
I say no, that’s about as significant of a legacy as anyone could ever ask for. And, I thank you for all you have done for so many, judge. You will be missed.
The media is under attack – and, in a way, it’s our own fault.
There’s a very public, and loud, example of this in the form of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Several times throughout the course of the campaign, Trump has taken on the media – calling journalists “dishonest,” “the scum of the earth,” “most horrible people ever,” while banning publications and reporters who print items he doesn’t agree with and sugar coating an altercation between his campaign manager and a female reporter.
The funny thing is that Trump, who talks about the records he’s broken in this election, has topped out one that isn’t really mentioned: he has received more than $2 billion (yes, that’s billion with a B) in free media coverage, according to data compiled by non-partisan firms mediaQuant and SMG Delta. So, while Trump trash talks the media, he is also getting the lion’s share of television and radio news time, as well as print coverage.
It’s a difficult thing – like any business, television stations, newspapers and all other media outlets must make money to survive. That means providing the news they believe their audience wants to see or read about. The problems start when journalists start selling out their credibility for profits and putting themselves before what they are meant to do and what they know is right.
Trump is a great case in point. CBS Chief Les Moonves spoke in March about the businessman’s campaign, including its decisiveness.
“Sorry, it’s a terrible thing to say, but, bring it on, Donald - keep going,” Moonves said. “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
But, this doesn’t just occur on a national level and not just in television. Newspapers can be guilty of the same kind of bias – running stories for one particular candidate or featuring favorable items on one, negative on another. Print media can also make a difference by what it doesn’t print. And, that can be as powerful as what it does.
City and county politics might not exactly light a fire under a lot of readers, but what happens here does matter. Look at the city of Yukon and its current financial issues. Right now, the fallout means the loss of a new city hall, which could have been a big bragging point for the city in furthering economic development. It could devolve into the loss of programs and services for residents, higher rates and more.
It's not a fun job, but it’s the media’s job to talk about those things and let readers know what is really gone, not just rumor. Stories like that are more likely to be found – at least in detail – in a local community paper. When newspapers don’t cover those kinds of things or when they only partially reveal that information they are not fulfilling their purpose.
But, there are also stories – and this has happened in Canadian County – that are not news at all. They are something that papers generate as a conflict to create a news story, something I suppose they hope will sell papers or perhaps gain them some kind of interest. Those stories might be interesting, but they are not news. They are not, as some have said a case of journalists telling “the people the whole story” so they can decide for themselves.
These tactics, like not fully vetting sources, not only shed a negative light on these publications, they can really hurt people. They can make a decision in a political race, they could hurt someone’s career or standing in the community. When they are run, not because they are “good for the county, but they’re damn good for the publication” – a twist on Moonves’ thoughts on a national scale – they put a stain on everyone who is working as a real journalist everywhere.
Let’s face it – there are people who don’t always like our stories. Some people believe if you don’t include every word, no matter how wordy or self-serving it may be, you are biased. I have been blessed with a career going on nine years covering Canadian County and can count on one hand the number of people who have accused me of being biased – but they are out there. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, if you are a true investigative journalist and going after difficult and sometimes controversial stories, it’s going to happen.
And, that’s OK. Some people – like Donald Trump - have a difficult time taking criticism. No matter where you stand on his politics, it should be obvious that Mr. Trump does not like it when people question him. The problem is that’s what the press is meant to do. We are there to ask the difficult questions, to illuminate both the good and the bad. If not for the press, how much corruption would there be? Even more than there is.
Everyone is entitled to air their opinion. I’m fortunate to be able to write a column; readers can write letters to the editor. Then, there is social media, which is an entirely different bag of tricks. If as journalists, we can’t be responsible and realize that what we are doing is not just a right, it’s an obligation – to get it right, to be fair no matter what our personal feelings, to present news because it’s news and not because it could engender likes on our Facebook page – then we are as bad as Trump and others like him say we are.
I don’t believe that. I look at our papers and see, yes, the controversies and the crime, but also the achievement and the pride of our community. That is the way to keep readers’ attention and loyalty. Hopefully, that’s what we are doing – at least, I believe so.
“There but for the grace of God go I.”
Oh, it is easy to be judgmental, perhaps easier because when looking at other people’s failures, we are not holding a mirror to our own. Addictions, failures, mistakes – they are all a part of life. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that.
And, that can be very true of addiction; in fact, perhaps maybe more so than other things that can befall us in life. Disease, death, even divorce and financial problems, often are seen by those not involved as a “blameless” situation – we are suffering through no fault of our own. Of course, some of those might not be that clear-cut; a divorce may be the result of adultery, financial hardships through poor choices. But, in these areas, many times there is empathy and understanding – after all, many of us have been there.
Not necessarily so with addiction. Whether it’s alcohol or drugs, these problems still hold some kind of taboo. It’s as if discussing them in the open – not judging, but talking – will shine a light on something we’d rather keep hidden. As the saying goes, we are afraid of what we don’t understanding.
The truth about addiction, the secret we’d rather forget, is that it could happen to each of us. No one sets out to be an addict; for every story of addiction, there is the underlying tale that would tell us why and how this particular person came to this specific place. In order to learn that, though, it means opening up ourselves to the idea that addicts aren’t just some “losers” predestined to a sad, self-inflicted kind of exile, but real people who have taken some wrong turns and who have lost their way.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to cover Canadian County’s Adult Drug Court. Over the years, I’ve written my fair share of crime stories, some of those in the system because of drugs – which is the norm in a majority of cases, experts say; as a former legal assistant with 22 years’ experience, including criminal law, I have a pretty good understanding of the legal system and how it works. I never believed it was right to look at addicts with some blanket judgment that they were bad people; I thought I was pretty realistic about who these people were and what they faced.
I knew nothing.
That became clear within about five minutes of meeting four graduates of Canadian County’s drug court program. They were four people as alike – and as different – as anyone can be. But, they had something in common, a character trait that some people who’ve never experienced their issues has – grace.
That’s because they weren’t the faces of addiction alone – they were the faces of mothers and fathers, sisters and sons, daughters, friends and employees. They were the face of recovery. They have lived through the fire and loss of addiction and have come out the other side, not just alive but thriving. And, with a sense of self-awareness many people could use.
They see how drugs and/or alcohol changed them and their lives and they know the inherent selfishness that goes along with addiction. “It was always all about me,” one of them said – and the other three agreed. But, despite a life that includes the black mark of a felony conviction, they are rebuilding their lives, working to reach out to those they love and realizing there is a lot of love in return. They only needed to reach out for it.
That’s far too simplistic, of course. It’s easy to say “addiction will never happen to me.” But, I believe it’s closer to most of us than we’d like to admit. The loss of a child or a job, a spouse or a parent – all of these could trigger the need to escape, which is how many addicts begin. For people like me with a chronic condition, facing endless pain can make trying to ease it for good appealing. While I’ve never abused pain medication, I can see how for some people the feelings that could lead to looking for a way – any way – to make the pain go away, even for a while.
Unfortunately, some of us – too many of us – can’t open our hearts and minds to the very real truth that all of us are susceptible to addiction. In embracing that philosophy, it’s easy to look at those who have fallen with judgement and anger. I wish you could meet these four real people and see how they have transformed not only their lives and their families, but others who are given the gift of knowing them.
“Now it’s about doing something for others – because I was so selfish, I took so much, I wasted so much time,” one of them said. “Every day is a chance for me to give back and to let people know they are never alone, someone always cares.”
That’s a huge testament to someone who herself struggled with isolation, who still gets snide comments for past behavior. It’s a testament to who she is, who all of them have become, as they’ve been brave enough to face not only what they did, but also what led them there.
In a time when “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” seems to have fallen by the wayside, these people – people who many would judge to be unworthy – are among the most honorable and honest people I’ve met in a long time. And, we can all learn a lesson from their journey.