I grew up in Simi Valley, California.
For most of my childhood, it was a fairly innocuous city. Suburban, cookie cutter homes filled with families. Most people had at least one parent that worked over the hill, which was code for over there....in Los Angeles county.
It's a beautiful area, a city nestled in it's own isolated valley, with rock formations on some hills, rolling green grasses on others. It's gorgeous unless it's on fire - then good luck getting out.
Growing up, we knew that when the ground started rumbling, it was far more likely to be Rocketdyne than an earthquake, though those happened too but with much less frequency.
What is Rocketdyne, you ask?
Oh, just a rocket fuel testing facility that had a nuclear meltdown that no one knows about. The groundwater and soil are pretty sufficiently contaminated as have been the runoffs from the site and there are cancer clusters all over town, higher than normal rates of all types of bizarre illnesses.
That's sordid enough on it's own, but the city has all kinds of other issues to contend with too.
Long reputed to be the white bread escape town for those wanted to work in LA, but not live there, that reputation only got worse when the courthouse was chosen as the site for the Rodney King trial. The attorneys for the police officers in the case requested, and were granted, a change of venue. Three were acquitted and the jury hung on one, spurring the riots in 1992, among other incidents of civil unrest.
At the time, I was a high school sophomore living in a world where armed guards now protected our school, named after the city, because bomb threats were being called in constantly. The whole world seemed to blame us. To get in and out of the city, you had to show identification. That summer, I went to downtown LA for a week long leadership conference. My parents were scared to send me, a little white girl, into that world. The first night, we had to individually stand on stage and introduce ourselves. You could have heard a pin drop when I told this auditorium full of teenagers, most from inner city areas, that I was from Simi Valley.
Some of them shunned me, but I met friends I still have to this day that week. I quickly was given the nickname "Simi", and would like to believe that I served as a goodwill ambassador at a fragile time in our history. I was ashamed of where I was from, but more than that, I wanted people to understand that the vast majority of us were good people, and almost none of us had anything to do with the trial.
It took decades for me to make peace with where I grew up because of that trial, and for most of that time I claimed to be from Ventura County. It was just easier than dealing with the assumptions people made about me.
Earlier this year, Dr. Phil did a show on heroin addiction, and how this dangerous drug is ruining the lives of people in suburbs all over the country. The city he focused on? Simi Valley.
And heroin is a big problem, I'm not denying that at all. The truth is that drugs have always been a problem in Simi. I did my best drinking in junior high, at parties supplied by older family members. There's a place in the hills called stoner's den for a reason, and back then pot was the primary drug of choice. The kids who had more money occasionally got into heavier stuff, but back then it was cocaine.
Now, it's heroin.
I don't know how you go about solving a major drug crisis, especially when it's something as addictive as this, but I got even more angry a few weeks ago watching a segment on Vice. (Incidentally, this is my new favorite show to love and hate, because it showcases stories the mainstream media won't cover. I yell at the TV a LOT while watching it.)
In it, they examined the heroin epidemic in this country, and how hard it is to beat the addiction. There is one treatment that has a relatively high success rate, but it isn't allowed to be used in the United States. Makes sense, right? So, those addicts with access and enough money can ship off overseas and kick it. Anyone else is stuck with treatments that carry over 90% relapse rates.
There is something that works, but we can't use it....so, let's just keep waging this war on drugs, criminalizing the addicts and refusing to see the evidence.
So, that's enough bad press, right?
This week, the story of Malia Brooks broke. A young mother of two, this teacher was arrested on charges of sexually abusing one of her students. She teaches elementary school, and it is alleged that she and this student had a relationship of a sexual nature for four months before authorities were alerted. She pled guilty, but is claiming that she has some kind of mental illness (though they aren't specifying what yet), and that caused her to perpetrate these acts. Yet, she continued to teach and parent her own children during this time.
I sit here and shake my head whenever the name of the place from which I came is mentioned in the news, because it never seems like it's for a good reason.