Articles by Debora Gordon

Debora Gordon

About Debora Gordon
Debora Gordon is a writer, artist, educator and non-violence activist. She has been living in Oakland since 1991, moving here to become a teacher in the Oakland Unified School District. In all of these roles, Debora is interested in developing a life of the mind. “As a mere human living in these simultaneously thrilling and troubled times,” Debora says, “I try to tread lightly, live thoughtfully, teach peace, and not take myself too seriously.”

A Day in the Life of Lam Vo

Lam included this sketch of the inmate exercise yard in his last letter.
Oakland Voices/Debora Gordon March 2013

By Debora Gordon Lam ended a recent letter with “Write me when you find the time. I certainly have all the time in the world to wait.” This prompted me to ask him what it is really like to be living in prison and what typical days are like. He sent me a detailed account. […]

A Former Teachers’ Union President Considers Her Legacy

Former Oakland Education Association President and current Sequoia Elementary School teacher Betty Olson-Jones poses in her 5th grade classroom
Photo: Oakland Voices/Debora Gordon January 2013

Former Oakland Education Association President and current Sequoia Elementary School teacher Betty Olson-Jones poses in her 5th grade classroom Photo: Oakland Voices/Debora Gordon January 2013 By Debora Gordon Betty Olson-Jones is back in the classroom after two terms as the president of the Oakland Education Association. As Betty was approaching the end of her second […]

Looking at Lam & What Needs to Be Done

Lam at Kern Valley State Prison in December 2012. On his left cheek is a small tattoo, 4 dots above 2 horizontal lines; "XIV."

By Debora Gordon Lam was, and perhaps still is, a young man with a lot of potential. He could have gone on to lead a life of commonplace trials and triumphs;  having a family, a job or a career, exploring his personal interests in art and body-building. Maybe he would have been one of the exceptional […]

Oakland Teacher Alison Ball Breathes Life into Math & Science

Alison Ball and her friendly classroom skeleton
Photo: Oakland Voices/January 2013

  By Debora Gordon After early teaching stints in far flung locales from Ecuador and China to New York and Sunnyvale, 4th year middle school teacher Alison Ball, 29, came to Urban Promise Academy (UPA), where she is having a blast teaching seventh grade. Aside from computation and life science, Alison is excited about Crew, […]

A Call to Lam’s Mother

By Debora Gordon Many, perhaps most, parts of this story have been hard to tell. I often imagine someone who might be personally affected by a particular part of the story looking over my shoulder. As I write this section, I feel the phantom presence of Qui Lam, Lam Vo’s mother, although I had only […]

Oakland Art Teacher Thi Bui Urges Students to Draw, Think Outside the Box

thi-in-her-classroom-2-300x225

By Debora Gordon Thi Bui, an art and digital media teacher at Oakland International High School, described herself as “a little reckless. I break a lot of rules. I’m very comfortable letting go of the reins if there is enthusiasm. To some people, it might be a little freaky when students aren’t all sitting down […]

School-to-Prison Pipeline

Lam at Kern Valley State Prison in December 2012. On his left cheek is a small tattoo, 4 dots above 2 horizontal lines; "XIV."

By Debora Gordon Every time a student does poorly in school, or drops out, there is likely a great increase in the chances he will wind up in prison. I recall in my discussion with Lt. Jeff Smith at Kern Valley State Prison that 70% of inmates are high school dropouts. While correlation is not causation, […]

Going to Prison, Part III: Lam Tells His Story

Lam at Kern Valley State Prison in December 2012. On his left cheek is a small tattoo, 4 dots above 2 horizontal lines; "XIV."

By Debora Gordon On Sunday, December 9th, I headed back to prison. When I arrived, I learned the previous day’s lock down had been lifted. Many of the same visitors were there again. The woman who had worn  the six-inch heels on Saturday was now wearing sneakers. One young woman in her 20’s was visiting her […]

Going to Prison, Part II: Getting In, the Visiting Room, and Lockdown

Lam at Kern Valley State Prison in December 2012. On his left cheek is a small tattoo, 4 dots above 2 horizontal lines; "XIV."

By Debora Gordon After my visit with Lt. Smith, I had some time to kill that Friday evening in Delano, California. While there may be more than meets the tourist eye, what the casual passer-through will see is mile after mile of strip malls and giant shopping complexes. The prison appears to the main industry there, […]