In their own words…
“It’s the highest affirmation to turn your work in anonymously and know those respected judges looked at only the words on the paper as they separated it out from the rest. And it’s surreal to attend the awards dinner (wait all the way until dessert!) and come out a first-place winner. It still hasn’t sunk in. This trip was the most professionally and personally rewarding endeavor I’ve tackled in my life. It left me entranced with journalism and only wanting to do more and see others succeed.”
Interview with members of the Delancey Street Foundation
A gray checkered suit couldn’t hide the suggestive teardrop tattoo under Gary Dockery’s right eye.
John Long’s navy blue suit did, however, mask burns from scalding water and scissor-inflicted stab wounds.
But concealing their past is not what the Delancey Street Foundation asks.
The foundation accepts ex-convicts, former drug abusers and prostitutes into its 400,000 square-foot complex of impressive townhouses and businesses to live, work and most importantly, come to terms with their past and rebuild the future.
About 500 reside at Delancey Street with its founder, Mimi Silbert, said Sandra Munõz, a 10-year resident of Delancey Street and former heroin addict and ex-convict.
Dockery, 29, said his father beat him and used drugs. He abused heroin and became involved in a racist gang. He was facing a life in prison for a hate crime. Luckily, a judge allowed him to join Delancey Street.
“Society don’t want us no more. We’ve done horrible things out there,” Dockery said. “Then Mimi takes us in, shows us love and shows us there is a family that does care and by doing that, it helps us push ourselves along.”
Long, 43, spoke of an extreme family rift over skin color. He said his aunt dumped searing water over his body out of spite.
A few years later, “she had me jump on a bed with scissors and stab myself,” Long said, “… so I had a lot of anger.”
Long became a cocaine addict and felon. He faced 111 years in prison before joining the Delancey Street Foundation.
Munõz said most residents stay between two and four years. The foundation runs 13 independent businesses and divides tasks among its residents with an “each one, teach one” model, she said.
Each resident earns a high school education, and 15 have left with bachelor’s degrees in urban studies through a six-year program in partnership with the San Francisco State University, said Raquel Pinderhughes, the program director.
“It’s transformative,” she said. “They go from really not having the skills to graduate high school to mastering a set of very complex, intellectual and basic skills.”
Munõz said they are looking to form another class of students willing to commit six years.
Robert Mansfield, 57, a Delancey Street college graduate, received a prestigious city leadership award in 2006 and now works as the global health sciences office manager at the University of California, San Francisco.
“I was in and out of San Quentin (State Prison) for 10 years on all sorts of drug-related charges,” he said. “At Delancey Street, I’d spend many nights up to midnight with flashcards or trying to put together a PowerPoint.”
Often with a two-year minimum, Delancey Street is court-ordered in lieu of a prison sentence.
“I, for many years, would send a large number of criminal defendants who were involved in drugs to Delancey,” said Federal Judge Thelton Henderson, a member of the distinguished support group, the Delancey Circle. “I’m a huge believer in the effectiveness of the program.”
Silbert, a criminal psychologist, along with ex-felon John Maher, formed the foundation in 1971. It started with four residents and has since graduated more than 14,000.
The foundation’s “excellent” reputation ripples through the treatment community and the general public, said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
“It has reduced recidivism and created hope for formerly incarcerated people,” Adachi said. “Delancey Street has left a big fingerprint on the criminal justice system.”
Profile Article of Delancey Street’s Director, Dr. Mimi Silbert
Thousands idolize Mimi Silbert for her contagious spirit and persistent belief in self-sufficiency.
Her following includes ex-convicts, former gang members, heroin and crack addicts and prostitutes.
Silbert, 65, founded the Delancey Street Foundation — a rehabilitative home for hundreds of people with troubled pasts— in 1971 with the late John Maher, who was an ex-felon.
They wanted to create something “that would be run entirely by the people who were the problems in society” to provide an alternative to prison, said Sandra Munõz, a 10-year resident of Delancey Street and former heroin addict and ex-convict.
Silbert, a criminal psychologist, lives within the Delancey Street complex and works with its residents daily.
“She’s like an angel. She does it because it’s truly in her heart. She could be anywhere in the world … but Mimi chooses to live here with us, be here with us and teach us,” Munõz said. “I want to be just like her.”
More than 14,000 residents with violent and addictive pasts have graduated from Delancey Street moving on to restore family lives and to find respectable jobs within the community. Each resident leaves with at least a high school diploma and three marketable job skills.
“I think it makes an amazing difference in rehabilitation. It turns them into model citizens who are contributing and making a difference in our society,” said Gwen Mazer, a San Francisco-based image consultant and author of the recently published “Wise Talk, Wild Women,” which profiled Silbert.
Mazer, who has known Silbert for more than 20 years, said she remembers when Delancey Street was a single home with less than five residents.
“I’m just constantly amazed at what is accomplished,” she said.
Empowerment is key to Delancey Street, Munõz said.
“Mimi believes we are all teachers,” she said. “So when the newest person comes through the door, we act as the counselors, as the mentors, that sort of thing for all of our folks.”
Delancey Street’s conception stemmed from Silbert’s childhood and experience as an immigrant family in New York attempting to figure out their new world.
“She found that the process of ‘each one, teach one’ really works,” Mazer said. “She believes the kernel of good in each person will ultimately prevail.”
Gary Dockery, 29, a former gang member and heroin addict, affirmed the “blind faith” Silbert had in him.
“She knows what I used to be like, and it doesn’t even matter. She took me in anyways and gave me chance,” he said. “That was just like … there’s nothing else out there. It’s like not willing to let a person down that’s just giving your life back.”
Dockery faced life in prison for a hate crime. He has been at Delancey Street for 18 months working in construction.
“Mimi’s like mom to me. She truly is,” he said, smiling. “When she comes up to hug you, you can just feel the love. She just believes in us.”
Federal Judge Thelton Henderson, who is a member of the support group called the Delancey Circle, said he finds her formidable presence among Delancey Street residents remarkable.
“She’s under 5 feet tall, but just a whirlwind of energy,” Henderson said. “To see her in the meetings with mostly these guys who are big, often over 6 feet tall … she just says ‘jump’ and they say ‘how high?’ ”
Henderson said he has sent mostly drug abusers to Delancey Street and beyond that, visits the complex regularly to talk about overcoming a criminal environment.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Silbert’s program reflects her integrity and belief in self-sufficiency.
“There are very few organizations that provide the kind of comprehensive services that Delancey Street does,” he said. “What Mimi has believed is that anyone can make it and provide for themselves.”
Silbert provides a clean slate for crime-ridden people, said Raquel Pinderhughes, director of the Delancey Street and San Francisco State University joint college program.
“She really has an extraordinary capacity to inspire people, to motivate and to help them reach their dreams and realize their potential,” Pinderhughes said. “She is a woman on a mission and that mission is to repair as many lives as is possible. She is committed to every person who comes through that door.”
At Delancey Street, about 500 residents work from 8 a.m. to about 11 p.m. at a full-time job among other interpersonal tasks.
“Everyone starts at the bottom, and you work your way up,” Pinderhughes said. “Through hard work, you are rewarded not only externally by being able to rise in the program and do more, but by feeling confident in your abilities.”
Delancey Street is a non-profit organization, meaning nobody, including Silbert, pockets a dime.
“Everybody pitches in, and nobody gets paid. The reward is you get to experience success and helping others to it,” Pinderhughes said. “In a capitalist society, that kind of message and experience is unheard of.”
Robert Mansfield, a graduate of both Delancey Street and its college program, said he managed Crossroads Café and ran the credit department at Delancey Street, while also working in Silbert’s office.
“She’s probably the most incredible person on Earth quite frankly,” Mansfield said. “There’s no reason in the world for her to do what she’s doing. She’s not getting paid at all. It’s just so people like I can have a chance.”
And it seems that’s all Silbert needs.
“I think she gets a true satisfaction being a part of and watching people change and grow,” Sandra Munõz said. “If she can save one of our lives, she’s done her job. Mimi is somebody who has everything to do with making the entire world a better place.”
Summer of Love
A largely unpopular war raged in Vietnam. A daunting draft hung over every man’s head. Constituents rarely questioned the government’s actions.
Society revolved around the concept of the nuclear family — a father, mother and 2 1/2 kids. The thought of a woman ditching the kitchen was unthinkable, and a biracial couple embodied the true definition of taboo.
It was the 1960s.
But with the “hallmark suit-and-tie conformism” of the 1950s weighing down on the college-aged generation, a cultural “groundswell” culminated in the summer of 1967, later known as the Summer of Love, said Barry “the Fish” Melton.
Melton, 59, is the latter half of the rock duo band Country Joe and the Fish, which regularly performed music brimming with anti-war messages during that famed summer 40 years ago.
The pair will reunite for the 40th anniversary commemoration of the Summer of Love on Sept. 2 at the Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park.
San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood became the center of a counter-cultural storm, Melton said. “Particularly when it came to growing long hair, exploring eastern religion, experimenting with drugs and challenging the accepted concept of the family unit,” he said.
The upheaval surged for many reasons, Melton said; however, he thinks it was especially due to the Vietnam War — it being the first war televised — the civil rights movement and the assassinations of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy.
“It definitely was the kind of thing where I think people felt like ‘we don’t like this society, we don’t like where this war is going and we’re going to create our own alternatives,’ ” he said. “As we approached the summer of 1967, we were facing it with a great deal of idealism.”
Despite impracticalities, people across the country adopted parts of the counter-cultural “constellation,” Melton said.
“From the long hair and rock and roll to being a single parent or a gay couple coming together and having a family …” Melton said. “It was transported around the world.”
People just wanted to live a better life, said Rock Scully, Grateful Dead’s former manager.
“The whole thing was about trying to bring out the best in people and provide people with the feeling that there was a better way to live on this planet,” Scully, 65, said. “Most people don’t think about it either, but recycling came from this back-to-the-land sentiment.”
Grateful Dead earned a significant following from the Summer of Love, elevating its reputation and demand quickly, he said.
“They enjoyed a really unique relationship with their audience,” he said. “And the message was in the audience. It was always packed, always great people and never any trouble.”
Scully started a concert business in San Francisco in a Haight-Ashbury neighborhood apartment and eventually came to manage the Grateful Dead for 20 years. He now lives in Monterey, Calif., with his family.
“The 40th Anniversary Summer of Love Oral Archive by Rock Scully,” an audio book CD, was released on Monday, and Scully will also join in the Sept. 2 tribute.
We were part of the “birth of the anti-culture,” said Boots Hughston, 59, producer and promoter for this year’s Summer of Love event.
“We thought we were just four or five starting to grow out our hair, party and talk about important things,” he said. “Then this event happened, and we realized there were thousands of us. We weren’t just this pocket of strange people.”
Participants left spreading kindness and spirituality, Hughston said, which he thinks led to an awakening of equal rights movements still resonating today.
“Anti-war movements, women’s rights movements, farm workers’ movements…” he said, “and you know, we all supported that.”
The evolution of the last 40 years is what drove David Wills, 65, to coordinate an art gallery entitled “40 Summers of Love in Haight.” The gallery features about 40 artists who have “lived and loved” in the Haight. It will open Aug. 17 at the Haight-Ashbury public library.
Although the time period first seemed marked only by revelry, he said it transformed into much more.
“It was very dramatic,” Wills said. “Suddenly you could talk to people on the street like you never could. People were finding the freedom of the streets. The birth control pill was just coming out, and pantyhose were just being invented. Can you believe a time before pantyhose?”
Wills worked for a London underground magazine, which boasted similar counter-cultural statements, during the summer of 1967. He moved to San Francisco in 1969.
Ultimately, society at large chose fractions of the Summer of Love to retain and re-adopted some values initially cast aside, said Barry “the Fish” Melton.
Melton is now a practicing attorney in Yellow County, Calif., wearing a suit and tie each day to work — the very conformist attire he tore out of in his twenties by donning bright floral prints and striped bell-bottoms.
“Well, I’m an attorney. I have to wear that. I wasn’t a huge fan of bell-bottoms anyway,” he said. “But I hold on to that cultural shift and pay attention to the echo of it today … and I still feel most comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt.”