Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sometimes it’s easier than we care to admit to turn our faces away from a headline about a death in jail. Subconsciously most of us believe, if only a little, that a prisoner is someone who has done something bad so the death is not really a big deal. This is probably why, given the number of deaths in the state corrections system over the past few months, there has not been a huge outcry and demand for transparency concerning them.

These deaths have run the gamut of how people die – suicide, homicide and just found dead. If any other agency, from the Alaska Psychiatric Institute to the Brother Francis Shelter, had those deaths occur while the person was in their facility, there would be a public demand for a thorough investigation of all circumstances surrounding the deaths. But these deaths happened in prison and so we all quietly avert our gaze and hope it will go away. After all, they were in jail. They must have done something wrong. So let’s not put too much time and money into this.
Sadly, the state system looking at these occurrences seems totally lacking in everything from competence to computers. Given the reasons stated in the article in Monday’s ADN article, the state Department of Corrections seems to be reveling in its incompetency and daring anyone to put up the time and resources needed to wade through the jumble of paperwork and confusion that passes for an investigation of an in-custody death. It’s as though the DOC has taken the VA as its role model.
The one point on which I agree with the DOC is that people are often incarcerated when, in fact, they should be hospitalized for mental illness. The closing of mental health institutions, combined with the lack of mental health services to support those no longer living in institutions, make our jails and prisons de facto long-term mental health facilities. Dealing with people with mental illnesses takes some very special training and understanding. It is not necessarily the kind of training and education most working in the penal system get beyond a cursory review of the topic. Thankfully, people with mental illnesses have strong advocacy groups in our community who work to help both those ill and those coping with family and friends who are ill. But their reach seems to stop at the prison door.
And what about those others, the ones who died of homicide or bleeding ulcers? Families deserve some answer about how someone is killed in a supposedly secure facility. Families deserve to know how someone has the time and access to items that allow the person to kill him or herself without being noticed by prison personnel. Families deserve an answer to how someone dies of a bleeding ulcer, a condition that is all too treatable if someone if paying the slightest bit of attention. Again I find the resounding silence from the general public on this topic astounding.
When we imprison people in this country, we do so based on a constitutional guarantee of no cruel and unusual punishment. Bleeding to death from an ulcer that could have been treated might be considered by many as cruel and unusual punishment. Being placed in a cell with someone who already tried to kill a cellmate might also be considered in this light. There might be very good reasons why this was done. There might be very good reasons why no correctional officer noticed someone dying on the floor of their cell. There might be very good answers for all these deaths. The thing is, unless the Department of Corrections acknowledges the public’s right to know and becomes more transparent in dealing with the families of those who died in its custody, we’ll never know for sure.
Some prisoners may have done horrible things. Some may have simply gotten too drunk in public. Some may be innocent and incarcerated for a crime they didn’t do and for which they will eventually be acquitted. They are all human beings. They deserve to be treated as such.
You think it will never happen to you or yours. But it can. And when it does, you’ll want answers. Just don’t expect to get them. The DOC is apparently a god unto itself. It need answer to no one.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:15 AM •
Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Am I the only one who thinks watching the Daily Show and the Colbert Report equates to watching real news shows as opposed to the crap that’s on most of the other channels?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:18 AM •
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Most “gun friendly” legislative bodies want to mandate that you can carry a gun anywhere you’d like… except for into the building where they work. Think they get that we might be maddest at them? Or do they simply not trust the mental stability of the people they are empowering with guns?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:16 AM •
Monday, July 14, 2014

Wonderful. Just wonderful. Rather than do any real business, let’s just act like three year olds and throw mud at each other.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:12 AM •
Sunday, July 13, 2014

I am finding that one of the best things about getting older… and trust me, this is a limited list… is that I no longer feel any obligation to fulfill social responsibilities that I don’t feel like exerting myself for. Not only do I not feel obligated, but I’ve finally turned the corner on the guilt and no longer feel guilty about staying home and hunkering in with my animals and a good book rather than go out and be social. So those of you whose social events I actually show up for should be honored. You are on a very short list in my life.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:20 AM •
Saturday, July 12, 2014

As I continue to suffer from dizziness every day, my brother reminded me that our mother also suffered from vertigo and dizziness. Wonderful. I’ve inherited everything from her except her petite figure and full head of hair. Just charming.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:43 AM •
Friday, July 11, 2014
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I always suspected that deep in your heart you were a real animal lover.
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:30 AM •
Thursday, July 10, 2014

My heart goes out to all Alaska Native speakers asked to translate anything into their Native language. It’s not easy. The English language has many words that simply do not convert to a language that never had that concept in its past. Let me give you an example.

Many, many, many years ago, I worked at the North Slope Borough’s Health Department. With a predominantly Inupiat population, we recognized the need for translators in the hospital and clinic for people with English as a second language. Anyone who has tried to convey their symptoms to a doctor in their shared primary language knows that it’s hard enough to get across what you are actually feeling. If you and the doctor do not share a primary language, this can become an impossible task. Not only is it hard for you to explain your problem to the doctor, it is equally hard for the doctor to ask you questions or explain the tests they will have to do.
But if your language does not have a word for the symptom the doctor is questioning or the test he or she is recommending, the whole situation can quickly devolve into a comedy of errors. Needless to say, this is frustrating for all concerned. The patient doesn’t know how to communicate to the doctor. The doctor can’t find the right words to convey his meaning to the patient. And the poor translator sits in the middle of it all unable to offer the service so desperately needed.
So, way back when, staff at the health department asked Elders to help us out by working with one of our Inupiat staff to translate some medical terminology into Inupiat words and phrases that would make sense to those for whom it was their primary language. When we made this request, we didn’t think it would generate the amount of laughter that continually emanated from the room where the Elders, for no particular reason all women, sat to craft the words.
After one peal of laughter that simply went on too long for me to withhold my curiosity any longer, I asked our translator what was happening that was so funny. She looked a bit abashed and then, shyly fumbling for words, said that the ladies had been trying to craft an Inupiat word for the medical term “colonoscopy”.  No further explanation was needed.
Anyone who gets the voting pamphlet from the Division of Elections is aware of just how confusing many of the issues can be when “explained” in such a way as to meet all legal standards. This is probably why most of us toss them fairly quickly into the recycling bin. Imagine trying to take that language and translate it into a language that doesn’t have the words or concepts for that material. It is a Sisyphean task and, in the end, you will never make everyone happy with the results. Quite frankly, when I look at some of the ballot measures I’m asked to vote on, I feel exactly like someone for whom English is a second language in that I find it almost impossible to decipher or understand.
Alaska Native speakers have every right to have the ballots they are asked to vote on translated into language they understand so that they can cast informed votes. So do English speakers. Because if informed voting is not the basis of our democracy, then I don’t know what is.
I don’t pretend to know how to solve this problem but I’d like to request that if and when any given ballot is translated into an Alaska Native language in a simple and understandable form, can they please translate the simple form back into English and send it to me. Because just once before I go off into the sunset, I’d really like to say I understood the gobbly-gook I find on my ballot. Or maybe the answer is to simply have the ballots printed with all the legal words and then a simple couple of sentences in everyday English at the end that explains what all the craziness above it means.
And to all those heroic translators out there who are trying to span two worlds and explain concepts that never existed in their traditional world, kudos for doing an often thankless and extremely difficult job.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:06 AM •
Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Dizziness not associated with pot or alcohol is not half as much fun.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:07 AM •
Tuesday, July 08, 2014

I recently spent almost nine hours on an ER bed waiting for a hospital room. I’ve decided, based on the soreness of my ass, that ER beds are made of the same material as airline seats back in the cattle car section. Yep, those same airline seats they always tell you can double as flotation devices. Just stick your arms through the straps and float. Right. You will sink like a rock. Those airline seats have all the floatibility of a cement brick. And less comfort. So I have to wonder why hospitals went to the same manufacturers to get ER mattresses.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:07 AM •
Monday, July 07, 2014

When I nursed, we had no pretenses about what you were served for meals. It was hospital food. No frills. No muss. No fuss. No taste. No visual appeal. But it did not pretend to any other aspirations.
Now in hospitals they call it “dining”. You order your own personal preferences from a menu that would not be out of place in a decent bistro. The descriptions were clearly written by the same person.
Then the food comes. And guess what? They can call it what they want, but it’s still hospital food.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:04 PM •
Sunday, July 06, 2014

Spent the night in the hospital with dehydration and other stupid things wrong. I knew I was in trouble when I lost my appetite and didn’t want to eat at all. I always figured in my life that would be the first sign of imminent death.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 01:02 PM •
Saturday, July 05, 2014

A wasp gets in your house and you still can’t move fast to get rid of it. Not only that, you don’t even get that excited since excitement would require a level of energy you simply don’t possess.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:52 AM •
Friday, July 04, 2014

My birthday wish for you this year is that the US Congress stops fixing the infrastructure in countries all over the mid-east and instead concentrates on making you whole again.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:14 AM •
Thursday, July 03, 2014

I grew up in a time when Americans did not run around waving rubber fingers and screaming, “We’re number one” at every possible opportunity. Of course we believed America was number one. We felt we proved it every day in the way we lived and thrived, in the way our middle class grew stronger, in the way the world looked to us for moral authority because, in America, we didn’t torture, kill or discriminate. At least, that was the illusion.


The truth, sadly, was that we did discriminate against any citizens we felt were different. If you were black or brown, Italian or Polish, mentally or physically handicapped, you felt that discrimination on a daily basis. Our moral authority rested on the cooperation of the media in not publicizing the extracurricular sex lives of politicians or the CIA backed government overthrows and assassinations that seemed endemic in those “innocent” days.  These things were just not discussed in polite society and respectable news organizations cooperated with government by covering up, not covering, these stories.
The other thing polite society didn’t do was run around tooting its own horn when the toots being broadcast could be, to put it mildly, somewhat suspect. Americans seemingly have lost that sense of propriety. We now run around waving rubber fingers and screaming “We’re number one” whether or not we can actually name anything at which we are still number one. It’s not health care. Almost every first world country has better and more accessible health care for its citizens. It’s not education. Our students are lucky to be in the top ten in science or math rankings. Children’s health… not number one. Enlightened day care and family friendly sick leave policies… not so much number one as nowhere in the top ten. Space race… we rely on Russian rockets to get us to the space station.
I could go on, but you get the idea. As we approach the celebration of our nation’s birth, we should really take a look at the road we’ve gone down in recent years and assess whether or not we’ve taken a very wrong turn.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gives America a D plus for its infrastructure and estimates it will take an investment of $3.6 trillion by 2020 to bring us up to minimally acceptable standards. Congress says we do not have that kind of money. We apparently blew a great deal of it building Iraq’s infrastructure after we blew that infrastructure to pieces searching for WMDs that have mysteriously never been found. Now that same Congress that can’t find money to rebuild America wants us to go back to Iraq and rebuild it again. Or bomb it again. Depends on where the insurgents are. But I’m sure if we bomb it again, we’ll rebuild it again. And then their bridges will be safer to cross than ours.
Somewhere in the past few decades America has decided that it is more important to police the world than take care of its own problems. Interestingly, the nations we choose to police, the nations we choose to “free” from the heinous dictators in charge, are only those nations with oil. I’ve yet to hear a hue and cry for America to invade North Korea. And seriously, if you are looking for a crazed, repressive, repugnant little twerp to take out, how much further do you have to look than Kim Jong-un. And we probably wouldn’t have to look hard in Africa to find some scuzzy leaders as repressive and evil as Kim.
But when the repressive dictator is our “friend”, like the Saudis, we give them a pass. Women are treated as less than cattle in their country, but because they sell us their oil, we look the other way while they allow men to rape and murder women in the name of family honor.
While our bridges and roads crumble, while children go to bed hungry, while our schools struggle to fund the programs needed to propel us back into the number one spot in the world, while all this is going on, Congress wants to rebuild Iraq, not America.
I love this country. I want the best for it. So how about we stop rebuilding other countries and rebuild our own. It’s time for that to again become America’s number one priority. 
Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:28 AM •

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