Short short stories

Fiction 59 goes to Juvenile Hall

A local teacher, Scott Bailey, called me recently to tell me about a good use being made of our annual Fiction 59 contest.

Bailey works with kids in the Butte County Juvenile Hall to create an online site called the Writing Exchange ( Also involved are kids from the Fresno County Juvenile Hall and the Oroville Intensive Based Treatment Program. Bailey and a fellow teacher in Fresno, Bill Feaver, have worked closely with Erin Gruwell of The Freedom Writers Diary fame and model the project after her journal-writing work with students.

The site has some powerful stuff on it. Kids who end up in “Juvie” have lived hard lives, and they describe those lives in blunt, unadorned prose that hits like a hammer.

For the past month, Bailey said, the kids have used Fiction 59 as their format, writing super-short stories instead of nonfiction (posted at Again, I was moved by their emotional honesty. There’s a lot of pain in these stories, but there’s joyfulness, too, and the imaginative humor and prankishness that emerges whenever kids tell tales.

End days are here: Have you seen the billboards around town warning that Judgment Day is coming May 21? Perhaps you saw the van caravan that came through town a few days ago. There are several such caravans traveling the country these days. They are sponsored by Family Radio, a Christian ministry that broadcasts on hundreds of stations nationally, including KHAP FM 89.1 in Chico.

According to an article on, members of the caravan are convinced Judgment Day, aka The Rapture, is coming on May 21, and that by Oct. 21 the Earth will be kaput. That’s what the Bible tells them and why they’ve left jobs and families behind to trumpet the “awesome news.”

Gee, and I thought the end was coming Dec. 21, 2012. That’s what the Mayan “Long Count” calendar predicts, anyway. Dueling prophecies. Which to believe?

If you read the Chico E-R, you probably saw its stories about the media watchdog group Californians Aware, which dinged Chico State University and the Chico Unified School District for their failure to respond correctly to a Public Records Act request for documents. Both received grades of “F.”

I was surprised by Chico State, but not CUSD. I’ve always found it easy to obtain documents from the university. But the school district is another kettle of fish.

My own familiarity goes back to 2007, when I was researching a story about former Marsh Junior High Principal Jeff Sloan’s ouster. When I requested documents that included payment records for inspection of the computer taken from Sloan’s office, I was told they couldn’t be found. Sloan later found them himself.

We’ve gotten other poor responses since then, most recently News Editor Melissa Daugherty’s effort to obtain records about the district’s stormwater-management practices.

At the very least the district consistently has failed to take the PRA seriously and set up systems and procedures for responding to requests. Maybe getting this “F” will spur it to do better.