For Howie Swanson, working at the Wisconsin Disability Determination Bureau was not just a job; it was a life-changing experience.
"I liked the job. I liked my co-workers. I liked Colleen. She was a very excellent boss," says Swanson. "Made sure you did everything precisely."
Swanson worked at the bureau for five years, copying files and processing mail, among other tasks. He put in about 20 hours a week and made minimum wage. Both were, for him, huge leaps forward.
Swanson, 55, has not held a regular job since his mid-20s, when he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. A Wauwatosa native, he has lived in Madison for 20 years. Beginning in the mid-1990s, he worked for several years at a sheltered workshop run by Valley Packaging Systems. But it was only for five or six hours a week, and he made sub-minimum wage under piecework rates based on the performance of the nondisabled.
"It was hard work," recalls Swanson, who lives alone in a small apartment in downtown Madison. "You had to work fast or you wouldn't make much money. I liked the people, but I didn't like the work."
The state job was different. Swanson was at work every morning, waiting for his Valley Packaging job coach, Colleen Mosley, who supervised him and four others. He rarely missed a day, and in time mastered the tasks.
"The skills were there," says Mosley. "They were just kind of buried deep."
That wasn't the only thing buried. Swanson, notes Mosley, was "very shy and reserved," rarely speaking unless spoken to, with low self-esteem and "almost zero" confidence. But he formed bonds with others in the office. He began talking about his family and his life. He started giving talks through PACT, a program run by the Mendota Mental Health Insitute, where he goes every day to get his meds. He became more autonomous, taking charge of paying his bills.
"I'm proud of him," beams Mosley. "I'm very proud of what he was able to do."
Judy Fryback, director of the Disability Determination Bureau, agrees Swanson and others working under contract with Valley Packaging did a fine job: "I thought it was a tremendous experience for everyone." As for Swanson, "He was a character. We loved him." She calls the program "a perfect match for us."
But it ended in June, as did a Valley Packaging team at 1 West Wilson, home of the state Department of Health and Family Services. Fryback says the photocopying role was mostly made obsolete by new paperless systems, and Jim Euche, director of Valley Packaging's Madison office, says other tasks amounted to "make-work." The contracts were terminated by mutual consent.
Some of the jobs at 1 West Wilson have continued under another agency, and Valley Packaging offered to employ Swanson and others who lost their jobs at its sheltered workshop in south Madison. But Swanson declined: "I thought it would be a step backward. So did my people at PACT."
Since then, Swanson has been looking for another job. He would ideally like to do clerical work, which he knows is hard to find for someone who lacks computer skills. But photocopying and filing, that's a snap.
"I'm open to taking other kinds of jobs, too," says Swanson. "Maybe some kind of restaurant work, janitorial work. Whatever's out there."
Mosley admits supported-employment programs are costly to run. But she thinks they pay off in other ways, as they have for people like Swanson: "It just took a little support and a little time to bring out who he was as a person."
No 'in' at A Room
At first, Sandi Torkildson was perplexed. "Why should we order something we know nothing about?" she asked in a reply e-mail last week to a HarperCollins sales rep. The publishing house was seeking advance orders for an unnamed book, to be released Nov. 30, it said "will be the talk of America."
Then Torkildson, owner of A Room of One's Own Feminist Bookstore, was curious. How bad could it be? "Worst case," she figured, "it would be something by Bill O'Reilly." If so, "I'd just ship it back." So she placed an order for 10 copies.
But by then, all the books were spoken for, just a few hours after this offer was made. The sales rep hastened to console Torkildson: "You wouldn't have wanted it."
Got that right. The book, it turns out, was O.J. Simpson's If I Did It, in which he hypothetically explains how he would have brutally murdered his ex-wife and the mother of his children, were he not completely innocent. Now, Torkildson was angry.
"I think it's outrageous," she says of this publishing venture, for which Simpson reportedly received a $3.5 million advance. "It's really a slap in the face of all women who have been victims of violence. I will not make money off of something like this. Despite what people think, people in business have ethics."
Such reactions have apparently had quite an impact. On Monday, HarperCollins CEO Rupert Murdoch pulled the plug on the Simpson book and planned TV special, calling it "an ill-considered project." And how.
Read all about it
"I'd like to answer your questions," says Eric Defort. "But under Supreme Court rules, I'm afraid to."
Defort is the assistant attorney general prosecuting Julie Thao, the former St. Mary's nurse who accidentally administered the wrong drug, killing a 16-year-old patient. The questions Defort would have liked to answer were prompted by the intensely negative reaction from nurses and others to this felony charge. And the rules he's referring to forbid attorneys on either side of a criminal case from making statements about evidence or that could prejudice a jury.
But Defort does say "the facts in the criminal complaint are a good starting point for anyone interested in learning what this case is based on." It describes how Thao improperly removed the wrong medicine from a locked storage cabinet and then repeatedly disregarded her training and hospital protocol in a series of mistakes that led to the fatal dose. The criminal complaint is posted HERE.
Stacked panel, missed opportunity
A flier from the Nelson Institute for an event entitled "The State of Wisconsin's Environment" notes that all four panelists, from DNR Secretary Scott Hassett to Tourism Secretary Jim Holperin, are state cabinet officials.
Good heavens! Do you think the Doyle administration position will be represented? Are there no views on the environment in Wisconsin except official ones?
The flier, incidentally, notes the event time and location (7 p.m., Wisconsin Historical Society) but neglects to mention the date. It is Dec. 7.