Profile Response: Julie and Michael McBride, Tallahassee FL

HWWLT Logo on yellowThis is the first of four posts profiling Floridians affected by restorative justice.

The social graciousness of an evening with the Grosmaire and McBride families is so perfect; it’s like stepping into a Douglas Sirk movie. Kate provided the venue. “We’ll meet at our house because Andy has a deacon meeting at church and won’t be home until late.” Julie and Michael brought the food. “These look sweet, but are actually savory,” Julie explained as she passed a platter of toast points. Kate showed off her blue ribbon winning wax block. We discussed the changing pattern of deer sightings in their wooded neighborhood.

161214-wax-blockSupper was hearty soup with crusty bread and crisp salad. When Andy arrived we pulled another chair up to the table. When the McBride’s son, Conor, called during dinner everyone chimed in on the events of his day and his prospects for a new job.

The evening’s anecdotes of rescue dogs and honeybees were so comfortable, these two couples such obviously long and good friends, I finally stopped searching for the melodrama foreshadowed in every Douglas Sirk film. The sordid event that brought these couples close does not lurk beneath the surface. They have brought it into the light, acknowledged it, addressed it, and forgiven it. Which enables the Grosmaire’s and McBride’s to move beyond the worst day of their lives.

Six years ago, Conor McBride killed his girlfriend, Ann Grosmaire. Ann’s parents, Kate and Andy, found forgiveness in their hearts, expressed it to Conor and their community, interceded on behalf of the troubled young man, and championed the first case of restorative justice in the state of Florida. As a result, Conor is serving a twenty-year sentence for a crime that usually carries life, or execution.

Restorative justice turns our legal system on its head. Traditional criminal procedures freeze relationships at the point of the crime and isolate victims from perpetrators under the guise of protecting them. This hardens all parties. Criminals never fathom the consequences of their actions; victims never witness perpetrators’ remorse. Restorative justice brings perpetrators and victims together in structured settings to negotiate punishment and restitution. This does mean that punishment will be lighter. Rather, punishment can be more appropriate. Perpetrators are forced to confront their actions; victims have the opportunity to move beyond powerlessness.

161214-grosmaire_mcbride-1Restorative justice provided an avenue for the Grosmaire’s to forgive – not pardon – Conor. There was no precedent or structure within Florida’s penal system to do this. However, through a creative interpretation of the pre-plea conference, the Grosmaire’s, McBride’s, Conor, and a collection of attorneys and restorative justice advocates met face to face for five hours to discuss the young man’s fate. The result – a twenty-year sentence without probation and stipulations on community service and speaking about teen dating violence – is less creative than restorative justice might allow, yet is far different than any doled out to a murderer in Florida.

Conor is not the only person who’s benefitted. All of the parents have also found strength and peace through forgiveness. Ann’s murder can never be atoned, but the Grosmaire’s believe rancor and revenge would only fuel the hole that Conor’s bullet shot through both families. By choosing to forgive, Kate and Andy refuse to be collateral victims of his violence. The process also eases Julie and Michael’s isolating burden as parents of a murderer. They recognize that Conor’s crime does not just affect one young woman and one young man. It reflects our culture and affects the entire community.

How will we live tomorrow?

julie“With kindness.” – Julie




michael“I change the question to how can we live tomorrow. The Grosmaire’s took a stand on restorative justice that affects our whole community. It affects the victim, the perpetrator. They have unlocked the door for a new, more just way to live.” – Michael



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Profiel Response: Aiden Sewall – Fayetteville AR

HWWLT Logo on yellowAiden Sewall studied graphic design at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, but has spent his adult life in education and missionary service. He taught English for five years in Vietnam, then two years in Cambodia. In Dubai Aiden worked among the South Asian immigrants who fuel that bustling emirate. “It wasn’t strictly missionary work. We were providing social services to those in need in Jesus’ name.”

Now Aiden lives in Fayetteville with two apartment mates in a complex that caters to students. He has complied his travel memoirs into books and works for Global Outfitters, an outreach arm of New Heights Church, a local church with a mission of service. Other New Heights initiatives include running a local coffee shop to support a Guatemalan orphanage, a support group for people with disabilities, obtaining refugee center status for Fayetteville, and sponsoring the city’s first reimg_8427-1fugee family from Sierra Leone: people who have never lived outside a refugee camp.

New Heights Church strikes a middle road in terms of politics and ideology, creating a large tent for Christians interested in doing service in Jesus’ name. It is unusual among churches in that it eschews owning property. When the congregation, which meets in the Fayetteville Boy’s Club, outgrew the gym where they meet on Sundays, they funded an expansion of the Boy’s Club rather than build their own facility. “Church should be based on community. The buzzword is that we’re an Acts 2 church, based on the book of Acts, Chapter 2 in The Bible.”


Aiden, age 41 and single, is dedicated to living his faith, but he is not a minister. “I function as a chaplain rather than as a preacher. I am better at consulting. I have a strong personal faith and global point of view. I want to be a good representative of my faith, but not dogmatic.”

imgres-1Aiden grew up in a Little Rock family he describes as, “straight GOP.” Then he discovered, a Christian order that works among the poor, and his perceptions changed. “Undocumented workers are a theological issue. Are national borders god-made or man-made? If they are man-made then must people of God be bound by them?”

Aiden looks forward to a time of universal governance (unlike many fundamentalist who view that as a condition leading to the Antichrist). According to Aiden, there are 83,000 different Christian denominations throughout the world, whose shared principals are few. “There is a passage where Jesus prays for unity, but with 83,000 differences, and other religions, that unity is hard to find.”

images“We live on two planes. One is intellectual; the other is the human you meet in the park. Social media is all intellectual. Faiths have these same two planes. One highlights our differences, the other our commonalities. I try to relate to people directly and not go up into the intellectual attic.”

How will we live tomorrow?

 img_8424“We can answer that in so many ways. It is not just the good overtaking the bad. My faith shows that will happen when people live as decent humans. But it cannot happen without Jesus. His love is contagious. I believe it can expand to encompass the earth.

“You think there’s all this unity, and then there’s Donald. Trump. So it’s a spiral. People don’t learn from history, but I believe we can spiral up. Our survival as a human race has a lot to do with each other. We all know there’s more to life in two than in one. Jesus knows that. His branding is that all who love Him know and love each other.

“We have confidence, as Christians, in the future.”

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Profile Response: Jacqueline and Crunch Stepp St Augustine FL


HWWLT Logo on yellowI have met my totem spirit on this trip: Eskimo, an eight-year-old dog. When Eskimo lived with Jackie and Crunch Stepp on their boat a few years ago, he got hit by a truck on US 1, broke his shoulder and his scapula, had a pin installed, and these days is a mellow soul seemingly unaffected by that trauma. I can relate to the trauma and aspire to the mellowness.

Jackie and Crunch are a young couple from Tennessee who met when living in neighboring communes. They fell in love and lived in an intentional community until a schism led them to leave. For three years they lived on a boat, traveling Florida’s warm waters and the Bahamas, and enjoying the extended community at River’s Edge Marina, their home base in St. Augustine. screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-12-17-38-pmBut they long to return to Tennessee and start their own intentional community. So, they invested in a house and hope to build equity toward purchasing a piece of land in their native state.

“We have notebooks where we each write what we envision. How many people do we want? How will our commune be organized? What is required for membership?” The idea is very present in their lives. In the meantime, they invite all manner of folk, long and short term, to share their home. Jackie’s brother Stephen lives with them more or less full time, a friend Travis was staying for a few weeks, yet they also invited me to sleep on the couch.

screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-12-18-00-pmSix years ago, Jackie and Crunch committed themselves to each other. Crunch’s vows emerged in the spirit of that moment. Last year, mostly to please Jackie’s parents, the couple had a formal wedding. “It felt so fake.” Crunch didn’t like having to write vows in advance, go through prescribed procedures. “I don’t think I’m from planet earth. I don’t get this planet. I’m from somewhere else, sent here as some kind of probation.”

img_8916Crunch works for Roto-Rooter and is weeks away from getting his plumbing license. Jackie was a tour guide in St Augustine and now works in the Old Trolley offices. They see these endeavors as stopgap measures in service of the larger plan. Yet, the spirit of communality drives their daily life. In the morning, everyone moves through their large kitchen, making coffee, fixing lunch, cooking omelets, chatting, listening to wake-up rock’n’roll with an energy far beyond what a solitary couple on a Monday morning.

Eskimo and I sat in the corner and observed the activity. We appreciated the food and drink that came our way, thankful that our broken bones are so well healed.

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8913“I see mass extinction and hard core crazy things you won’t want to publish on your blog. If you’re talking tomorrow, I’m all for one day at a time. If you’re talking tomorrow tomorrow, we’re f@#ked.” – Crunch

“I think it’s a difficult question. There are so many people, how can I create a ‘we’ out of seven billion and growing? Every day we’re accelerating faster and faster than our little monkey brains can handle. We have to get to smaller groups.

“The biggest contributor to climate change is population growth. We have to find a way to work that out. I’m not going to be the one that will figure that out. I want to create my own space, for my own family, sharing space and resources and communication. If I can move toward that with my own family, then it can spread out to others.” – Jackie

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Profile Response: Bonne Bernau, Gainesville FL

HWWLT Logo on yellow“Tall women playing volleyball get a lot of attention.” Bone Bernau, Florida State PhD student in Art Education, got plenty of attention back in December of 1994 when she was invited to play a Sunday game in Tallahassee. Alan noticed the statuesque woman, but he didn’t compete with the other guys for her attention. Instead, he rode his bicycle to the post-season party a few weeks later and finagled Bonne to drive him home. “He kissed me on the back of the hand. That’s when it began.” Twenty-two years later the couple is still together, though rarely in the same place. “We’ve only lived together for four years, and three of those were during my cancer.”

Bonne was diagnosed with Stage Three breast cancer shortly after she moved to DC. She attributes her remission to an extraordinary combination of traditional and alternative care. “My eastern healer was with me during my double mastectomy and reconstruction, six hours of surgery. She sat at my head with her hands positioned on either side. In recovery, the anesthesiologist came to tell me he had never seen such even brain waves during surgery. He didn’t need to tell me that; it was my healer.”

imgresIn 1999 Bonne returned to Florida to care for her parents and became an art educator at University of Florida’s Harn Museum or Art. “The arts help us examine who we are as human beings, even when we don’t have the words to express it.” Alan remained in DC until 2014, when he returned to Tallahassee to care for his mother.

images-1After retirement, Bonne decided to stay in Gainesville. “One of the things that keeps me in Gainesville is the energy. A lot of old hippies have stayed. A lot of young people have stayed here and started entrepreneurial ideas. We are doing what we love, making a living at it, and helping people in the process.”

Bonne and Alan are a couple for the long haul, through disease and job change and aging parents. Having the same address is immaterial to their bond.


How will we live tomorrow?

img_8900“Being a cancer survivor has changed the way I think about tomorrow. You cannot guarantee that it will arrive.”


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Profile Response: Amre, Tallahassee FL

HWWLT Logo on yellowOkay, okay, call me shallow. How could I resist requesting an invitation to stay with Amre after reading the opening line of his couchsurfing profile. A bit about me : +-1m71, +-71 kg. Clear brown complexion. Dark hair. Brown eyes. Big rounded nose. Beautiful ears. The most handsome man in the world according to my mom.  I felt a moral duty to verify his mom’s assessment.

Truth be told, Amre’s mom only got it half-right. Amre is indeed handsome, easily among the most handsome in the world. But there is so much curiosity and depth beneath his features, his physical attributes merely support an equally handsome soul.

imgresAmre is French, though few would guess that. His parents fled Syria several Middle East crises ago and landed in Montpelier by happenstance, which is where Amre was born. At age 18 he spent a year in India. “India was my right opposite. It was my rebirth.” He’s lived several other places around the globe, obtained a Master’s in IT Communications in Paris, and married a woman from Venezuela who had permanent resident status in the US. That brought him to Miami.

imgres-1One weekend last winter everything fell apart. “Within 48 hours we decided to divorce, I found a job in Tallahassee, packed up, drove here, and started a completely new life. Amre is appropriately circumspect on the details, but I gather it was not entirely his idea.

images-1Since then Amre has been working hard, staying fit, eating well, and offering his spare room to visitors like me. Though I arrived with a question on tap, Amre made many more queries. What provoked my trip? How had it changed me? What advice would I give my younger self? Amre is a young man half my age in search of himself; he resurfaced the inner questions I searched at that time in my own life. Given Amre’s earnest inquiries, I am confident he will find a good way for himself.

imgres-2Amre works for a private contractor that provides IT services to the Florida State Senate. Like most immigrants I meet, many aspects of our culture flummox him. “I thought everyone here would be very hard-driven. I don’t find that at all.” “Why are people here so out of shape?” “I am the only one who wears a suit to work. It conveys respect. Unfortunately, appearances matter.”

images-2Nevertheless, like most immigrants I meet, Amre hopes to stay here. “I believe America still has the idea of freedom. It still has more opportunity than most of the world, much more than Old Europe. Here, people know I’m not white, but they don’t care beyond that.”


How will we live tomorrow?

img_8824“I like the ‘we.’ It implies community. I’ve never thought about the ‘we.’ No one in our social system is asking this.

“Eventually, we will get back to our roots. Now, we are living abnormally. It started with the industrial revolution and become more unsustainable ever since. We can proceed for one more generation, perhaps, but your children and my hopeful children will grasp that we need to change and we will live in balance. Some things will be forced in order to achieve that, but we’ll get to balance. There will still be wars and struggle for power, but we will live with more balance. The Occidental world will ascend and bring their spiritual nature to the fore. I am optimistic. I can see that we will get there.

“I am a big believer in universal income. In purest form, you’re given a basic income to cover your expense just for inhabiting the earth. I do not believe this will make people lazy; they will be energized. If everyone who makes a non-economic choice can be happier, then universal income will lead to greater creativity and happiness.”

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Profile Response: Michael Cooper, CEO Weems Memorial Hospital, Apalachicola FL

HWWLT Logo on yellowOne of the most unique projects of my architectural career was a replacement facility for Weems Memorial Hospital, a hospital near the mouth of the Apalachicola River at the tip of Florida’s Big Bend. Six years after our initial concept sketches, the project is still nothing more than a drawing on a wall, but Mike Cooper, Weems’ new CEO, is confident construction will begin next year.

“Before I came here, we started with a replacement facility, then developed a conversion and addition scheme, then a smaller addition. All were over budget. The Board of Commissioners set a $10.2 million budget, thinking we would not be able to meet that and they wouldn’t bear the blame. But our latest iteration, which includes renovation and some addition, comes under budget and achieves critical operational changes we need to stay in business.”

img_8797Mike’s review of the process requires clarification. A hospital is point of pride, and safety, and jobs, for any community. Weems is the only hospital in Florida’s Franklin County. In 1997 Congress passed legislation establishing ‘Critical Access’ designation to rural hospitals that are at least 35 miles from another facility, run a 24/7 emergency department, and have 25 beds or less. Critical Access designation provides some financial cushion for small hospitals, but it does not guarantee they will stay in business.

Mike explained the unpleasant reality of Weem’s business model. “Forty percent of our business is indigents or Medicaid. We get fifty cents on the dollar for Medicaid patients, zero for indigent care. When I spend a dollar on direct care, I’m only taking in sixty cents.” What keeps Weems in business is a one percent county sales tax designated for healthcare. The County Board of Commissioners controls that purse; they have established Mike’s $10.2 million capital budget. “There’s enough money to make the project happen; this area has rebounded from the recession pretty well.”

img_8799Mike has worked in rural healthcare in Kentucky, Indiana and Idaho prior to coming to Florida. He appreciates rural life, though doesn’t consider it as unique as local folk imagine. “People say their part of Americana is special, and it is, but all of these places are essentially the same good place.”

From Mike’s perspective, Weems needs this facelift in order to stay alive. The current facility, which hasn’t been updated in over fifty years, requires multiple staff at ED and inpatient areas. The new layout will streamline staffing. “With a patient census in the two to three per day range, and variable ED traffic, we need to have all clinical activities controlled from one point.”

However, Weems’ largest challenge is probably not the location of its nurse station. Twenty-three miles to the west, the Sacred Heart System recently opened a new hospital in Port St. Joe, close enough to lure patients seeking a new facility even though it is in another county.

It is very costly to maintain a full service hospital in a community as small and remote as Apalachicola. If the county wants to keep Weems afloat, and improve the healthcare Weems can provide, it will require subsidies as far as anyone can see.

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8801“I think we are going to be very much defined by technology. Look at education. In Florida and Kentucky you can get a high school diploma and never step foot in a classroom. It is only going to increase as the Millenials have children. Traditional schools will go away and be replaced by a YMCA or Boys’ and Girls’ Club for focused activities.

“From a healthcare perspective, technology will be the order of the day. Small hospitals will go away as we do more with remote procedures and diagnoses. The technology already exists. Right now hospitals would jump on it, but there are no reimbursements for it.

“We’re going to see the demise of the family practitioner. You want a relationship with a doctor, you’ll have a relationship with a mid-level – a nurse practitioner or a PA – who will refer you to specialists. You’re going to see a change in credentialing for nurse practitioners. They’re going to need a doctorate degree. Pharmacists now need a doctorate; physical therapists need a doctorate. Right now, nurse practitioners are the only ones at that level that don’t need a doctorate, and they can prescribe medication.”


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Profile Response: Adam Collier, Panama City FL

HWWLT Logo on yellowBefore Adam Collier took me out on the town and introduced me to the Bacchanalian delights of Ms. Newby’s bar, we leafed through The Universe, a super-size coffee table book of photos of our galaxy and beyond. Adam purchased the book for $19.99 back in high school and carted it from his hometown of Sarasota, to FIT for degrees in oceanography and engineering management, then on to Groton CT where he worked in nuclear submarine design. “Those projects were going to take thirty years to bring to life. It was my first job. I was not ready to make that commitment.” After six months in Connecticut Adam came to Panama City, where he designs life support systems at NAVSEA for Navy divers. “They tell me it can take two to three years to get the parameters of what we design, but after four months I already like it.”

img_8778Adam’s technical bent is balanced by a counter-cultural, spiritual vibe. He’s mostly vegetarian, practices yoga, campaigns against tossing cigarette butts, intones the didgeridoo he hand crafted, and studies Eastern religions. “People ask me all the time if I’m from California.”

Like all good sons of the South, Adam is well versed in the The Bible, a subject I never tire of discussing with people across our land. He explained how, even though he’s no longer a strict believer, The Bible is still holds a unique position among texts. “Shakespeare may be inspired writing, but it doesn’t have near the scope of The Bible. The Bible tells a great story and it outlines how we are supposed to live and it describes a future. If you believe in it, it includes everything you need to know.”

screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-11-05-24-am screen-shot-2016-12-24-at-11-05-44-am

But even the scope of The Bible falls short of the magnificence Adam and I encounter in The Universe. Humans are simultaneously insignificant among the stars and remarkable in all that we can conceive. As we contemplated bursting nebulae and collapsing galaxies Adam looked beyond Christianity’s primary text. “Ancient Buddhists believed that the sky was filled with gods that expanded and then contracted to sleep. How did they know that?”

How will we live tomorrow?

img_8777“I was just watching Cosmos. We have to have something dramatic to force ourselves to reevaluate how we live. We will have to have a disaster to take us to the fundamentals so we can start from scratch and restructure society from the ground up. By then I hope we will be living on other planets. I’m hoping to be part of that transition. I want to be an astronaut; I am getting there by first being an argonaut. I give us two generations until we live in space.

“Commercialization is powerful. Why do so many people thank we need so much stuff? I haven’t had a TV in six years. I watched too much as a kid. I fear addictions; I was addicted to TV. Someone asked me my biggest fear and I said, ‘dying before I make an impact on the world.’ But really, I’m afraid of an addiction. Actually, my biggest fear is a bar of soap. I figure it’s because my mom put one in my mouth when I was a kid. I cannot stand to touch a bar of soap.”


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