Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A fitting quote as we heal from the baseball field shootings June 15, 2017

This plaque marks a baseball player sculpture at Memorial Park in Dundas, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

THREE YEARS AGO I photographed a plaque at Memorial Park Baseball Field in Dundas. It marks a woodcarving of a Dundas Dukes baseball player.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Today, the day after the shooting of House Republican leader Steve Scalise, four others and a gunman on a baseball field near our nation’s capitol, these words by John Thorn seem especially fitting. Thorn is the official historian for major league baseball.

 

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which sits on my office desk as a constant reminder to hold onto hope. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Now, more than ever, as attacks and tragedies like this continue in the U.S. and throughout the world, we need our spirits replenished, our hope restored, our losses repaired, our journeys blessed.

 

Batter up for the Faribault Lakers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

We must continue to play ball. Violence can change us. But it cannot steal away the freedom we hold dear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

From Minneapolis neighborhood to prison, one inmate’s life story June 13, 2017

 

NOT ALL THAT FAR from my home, across the historic viaduct spanning the Straight River, past the hospital and down the road a bit, razor wire tops fences surrounding the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Faribault.

Among the men incarcerated there is Zeke Caligiuri, prisoner and author.

I recently read his book, This Is Where I Am, a memoir that takes the reader from Caligiuri’s growing up years in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of south Minneapolis to a prison cell. His urban life was marked by school truancy, drug use and dealing, crime, violence, and a lack of purpose. All this despite loving parents and a grandmother who never gave up on him, who wanted and expected so much more. He doesn’t blame them for the choices he made.

I’ve never read a book like this because, well, I’ve never read a book written by an inmate. His story is both revealing and yet not so. I kept waiting for Caligiuri to share information on the crime that landed him a 34-year prison sentence in 1999. He never did. To me, the absence of that presents a gaping hole in an otherwise revealing read. For the record, he is in prison for robbery and second-degree murder with a scheduled release in 2022.

A threading theme throughout Caligiuri’s story seems to be an innate desire to change. Yet, the pull of environment, the pull of long-time friends, the pull of drugs, the pull of darkness overwhelmed him. Depression defined that darkness. Given the recent public shift toward addressing mental health issues, this particular part of the story is especially enlightening in its in-depth details. My heart hurt for the young adult overcome by an illness that is too often not addressed by society (although that seems to be changing).

Caligiuri doesn’t write about daily prison life as much as he writes about his feelings and his struggles to maintain his sanity within the confines of a penal institution. When he throws food out of his cell and when he hides a banned something (which he fails to identify) in his cell during a lockdown, I feel no sympathy for the rebellion, defiance and anger he holds. Perhaps I should. But then my thoughts trace back to his crime.

How you view this book depends, I think, on your experiences. If you have been personally affected by violent crime either directly or indirectly through a family member or friend as I have been, you will probably react differently than a reader who has never been victimized.

I appreciate, though, this honesty in Caligiuri’s book: I looked around and everyone had a story about getting f****d by the system, or by their best friend, or the mother of their kids.

Blame, blame, blame…anyone but themselves for their incarceration. That this inmate-writer recognizes that lack of responsibility and accountability is noteworthy.

The author considers himself a much different person than the young adult who entered prison nearly two decades ago. That is evident through the telling of his story. He’s clearly proven himself as an author with a unique voice. He can write. He’s educated himself. He’s matured. In five years he’ll leave prison, trying to determine his new role in the world away from the men who have become his family and away from the place that’s been home for so long.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Any “domestic” is one too many June 2, 2017

 

SEVEN DOMESTIC CALLS in four days…and one call for violation of a restraining order.

The stats, published on the May 31 Matters of Record page in the Faribault Daily News, shocked me. That’s a lot of domestic-related calls handled by the Faribault Police Department from May 26-29 in a community of some 23,000.

I’ve been especially cognizant of local domestic situations since the late December 2016 high profile murder of Barb Larson by Richard Larson. The former Faribault police officer committed suicide after killing his ex-wife at her workplace, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office. She had a restraining order against him, granted within days of her murder.

Just weeks prior to the Larson murder-suicide, Ryan Perizzo murdered 8-year-old Lynnaya Stoddard-Espinoza before killing himself in their Faribault home.

Those crimes shook my community. And they should have.

But the reports I am reading of nearly daily domestic calls within Faribault should shake all of us, too. Four in one day. To all different parts of my community. Domestic abuse and violence can happen to anyone in any neighborhood. And it does. I’ve witnessed such abuse and called police.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

I recall my Uncle Bob, a retired Minneapolis police officer, telling me domestic calls are the most dangerous. Why? Emotions and passions are running high. Perpetrators of abuse often fail to accept responsibility for their actions and blame others. They desire power and control. All of those factors put victims, and law enforcement, at great risk.

What can we, the public, do? We can educate ourselves (and our kids) so that we understand domestic abuse and violence. We can refuse to remain silent. We can listen to and support victims and connect them with resources to help them escape abusive situations. We can encourage the judicial and probation systems to hold offenders accountable. Too often these abusers walk away with little or no punishment, only to reoffend.

Frankly, I am tired of it.

Consider, too, for a moment how many cases of domestic abuse go unreported. Compare it to the motorist who drives drunk many many times before he is finally stopped for driving while under the influence. Or maybe he’s never caught.

Be aware that domestic abuse is not just physical. It’s emotional, too. That abuse can also be psychological, mental, spiritual, financial and technological. Abusers are often narcissistic. They manipulate and twist and exert their power. They are the center of the world, in their eyes, and you better not challenge that.

I wish I could wave a magical wand and end domestic abuse and violence. But because I can’t, I can at least spread awareness. And there is power in using my voice.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

NOTE: My insights into domestic abuse and violence are not specific to the cases cited within this post. Also note that if you are in an abusive relationship or know someone who is, leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time for a victim. Seek professional help to make a safe exit. Know, too, that a restraining order is just that, an order, with no guarantee of protection. 

 

Wanted in Faribault June 1, 2017

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ANGLED ONTO A CORNER LOT at the intersection of busy Second Avenue Northwest and Sixth Street Northwest near historic downtown Faribault rests this reward sign.

In the vale of darkness bulbs flash, drawing attention to the message from an upset homeowner whose front door faces Central Park and whose yard is now minus an impressive wind spinning sculpture.

Just across Second Avenue, the aged The Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior rises. Thou shalt not steal.

And on the opposite corner, a stone’s throw from the DEAD OR ALIVE reward sign, sits the Parker Kohl Funeral Home.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo by Randy Helbling

 

Set in central Minnesota, a psychological thriller draws my personal interest May 5, 2017

 

I BLAME IT ALL on Nancy Drew. She is the reason I read mysteries more than any genre. The series was especially popular when I was growing up.

So it’s no surprise that, after reading a review of a debut mystery written by Minnesotan Frank F. Weber, I simply had to get my hands on Murder Book. His publicist obliged.

 

Frank F. Weber grew up in Pierz, Minnesota.

Frank F. Weber grew up in Pierz, Minnesota.

 

But there’s more to this I need to read this book than its mystery classification. The author grew up in Pierz. My husband likewise is from the area and knew the Weber family. Frank’s mom was Randy’s teacher, a brother a classmate.

The book is set primarily in and around Pierz. I was curious to see how the setting would weave into the plot. We writers are often advised to “write what you know.” The author’s familiarity with rural Morrison County and its people and his knowledge as a forensic psychologist are deeply imprinted throughout this fictional story.

Murder Book held my interest from beginning to end as I tried to determine what happened to 16-year-old Mandy Baker who vanished, followed by the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl some 10 years later.

The story narration switches between the main character, Jon Frederick, key suspect in Mandy’s disappearance and now a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator; Serena Bell, Jon’s long ago love interest; and the perpetrator, Panthera. This method of storytelling offers in-depth character insights that define this book as a psychological thriller. Jon, for example, exhibits obsessive traits in his fixation on numbers and more. Panthera’s narcissism shows in his thought process and horrific crimes.

This is much more than simply a whodunit story of crimes, resolution of those crimes and a look at minds of criminals, the accused and victims. The author, raised in a Catholic family of 10 children, incorporates the region’s strong Catholicism and faith base into his book. I would expect that in a story set in Pierz.

Throughout the story, Weber also includes powerful statements that are especially credible in the context of his extensive experience as a forensic psychologist. According to his back book cover blurb, he has completed assessments for homicide, sexual assault and physical assault cases. In particular, I took note of these statements written into this work of fiction:

The perfect victim is the one who never goes to the police.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.

Narcissists…can’t stand being denied.

No family member comes out of a bad situation unscathed…

Our most powerful drive is a desire for affirmation—to be heard, understood, comforted, and soothed.

There’s one more nuance of setting that I appreciate about Weber’s book. He writes about rocks pocking the landscape of Morrison County. I have seen many a rock pile in this central Minnesota region and heard many a story about rock picking from my husband. And now I’ve heard another, this time associated with a fictional crime.

FYI: Murder Book, the title of Weber’s mystery, is defined as follows: the twenty-first century term for a cold case where a homicide is suspected.

His book, published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, releases May 9. For more information, click here.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Images and my review copy are courtesy of Krista Rolfzen Soukup at Blue Cottage Agency.

 

2016 Femicide Report: The stories, the stats, the call for action in Minnesota January 31, 2017

The 2016 Femicide Report and

The 2016 Femicide Report and a guide from the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial, both projects of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Photo by Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center, Faribault.

FORTY-FOUR PAGES.

This information about Barb Larson's murder was displayed with a personalized t-shirt as part of The Clothesline Project exhibited during the MCBW Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday. Photo by and courtesty of Sandra Seelhammer, Rice County Blueprint for Safety Cooridnator.

This information about Barb Larson was displayed with a personalized shirt as part of The Clothesline Project exhibited during the MCBW Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer, Rice County Blueprint for Safety Coordinator.

Names of 21 known domestic violence homicide victims, including that of Barbara Larson from my community, are printed within those pages. She was shot to death on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband at her workplace, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

An index lists section titles like Homicide Statistics, Red Flags for Batterer Lethality, Findings & Recommendations, Our Charge to Minnesota Communities, Victim Stories

The 2016 Femicide Report was released at a press conference Tuesday morning. Here Maplewood Police Chief Paul takes the podium. Photo by Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center, Faribault.

The 2016 Femicide Report was released at a press conference Tuesday morning. Here Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell speaks. Schnell received a 2016 MCBW Inspire Award “as a community ally for improving law enforcement responses to victims of domestic and sexual violence.” Photo by Erica Staab.

This comprises the 2016 Femicide Report released Tuesday morning by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. It is a document packed with statistics, facts, names, stories, educational information and recommendations all related to domestic violence homicides in Minnesota in 2016.

I challenge each of you to read this document by clicking here. It matters not whether you live in Minnesota, half-way across the country or on the other side of the world. If you read this report, you will better understand domestic violence, how it affects all of us and how you can make a difference.

A photo of a graphic posted on the MCBW Facebook page shows photos of all 21 individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson

A photo of a graphic posted on the MCBW Facebook page shows photos of 21 known individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson is pictured on the left, second photo from the top.

Be forewarned that the victim stories, especially, are difficult to read. But those are necessary to put a face to this violence, to provide clarity, to effect change. This needs to be a collective effort.

HOPE Center staffers and Faribault Police Department Captain Neal Pederson stand united with Barb Larson in honoring her memory. The family is holding the personalized t-shirt designed in Barb's memory for The Clothesline Project.

HOPE Center staffers Erica, left, Olivia, Sandra and Nikki, right, along with Faribault Police Department Captain Neal Pederson stand united with Barb Larson’s family in honoring Barb during the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial. The family holds the personalized shirt created in Barb’s memory for The Clothesline Project. Photo courtesy of Erica Staab.

I am especially grateful for places like HOPE Center, offering support to victims/survivors of violence (and those who love them) in Faribault and throughout Rice County. HOPE staffers participated in the MCBW’s Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday in St. Paul as did a captain from the Faribault Police Department.

This The Clothesline Project t-shirt honors Barb Larson. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer.

A closer look at The Clothesline Project shirt honoring Barb Larson. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer.

Rather than attempt to summarize more of the 2016 Femicide Report, I leave you with this strong statement published in the Foreword:

Victims deserve to be believed, to be heard, and to be safe in their homes and in public. We still need to invest in resources, effective interventions, and in accountability measures that are victim centered, including prevention efforts. We can also work to end these homicides by being a resource ourselves for victims; as their family members, friends, faith leaders, employers, teachers, and neighbors. Services provide necessary tools and support, but it takes a community to keep a victim safe.

Allow me to highlight what I perceive to be particularly important words in that paragraph: believe, accountability, victim centered and prevention.

And finally: …it takes a community to keep a victim safe.

TELL ME: How is your community tackling domestic violence? What are you doing to make a difference?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering those who died of domestic violence homicide in Minnesota January 30, 2017

Barb Larson. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home.)

Barb Larson. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home.)

TO THOSE WHO KNEW Barb Larson, she was classy, sassy, upbeat and kind, always smiling.

Tomorrow she will be among those remembered at the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial at the St. Paul College Club in St. Paul. Barb was murdered on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband at The Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office where she worked. Richard Larson then turned the gun on himself.

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women..

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Barb’s name, and that of Minnesota’s 20 other 2016 victims of domestic violence homicide, will be read during the 4 p.m. memorial program. The January 31 memorial also includes The Clothesline Project, a display of personalized t-shirts honoring victims. That visual makes a strong impact. I know. I viewed a previous The Clothesline Project at a July 2015 event in Owatonna.

A graphic from the MCBW Facebook page promoting release of the 2016 Femicide Report.

A photo of the graphic published on the MCBW Facebook page promoting release of the 2016 Femicide Report.

Prior to the Tuesday afternoon memorial, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women releases its 2016 Femicide Report, a compilation of information on intimate partner homicides in Minnesota. Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center in Faribault, is serving as the MCBW member program rep during that morning release to the media. She will also attend the afternoon memorial along with Rice County Blueprint for Safety Coordinator Sandra Seelhammer and, I expect, others from the Faribault community. Family and friends of all 21 victims were specifically invited to the public event.

Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored at The Clothesline Project display this summer in Owatonna. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women coordinates the project to honor victims of domestic violence. Redeemer Lutheran Church brought the project to Owatonna this past summer.

Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored at The Clothesline Project display in July 2015. Redeemer Lutheran Church brought the project to Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

I wish events like this were not needed, that domestic violence did not exist. But it does. And it affects all of us, directly or indirectly. My community understands that all too well with the death of Barb Larson in December and the murder of Faribault native Margie Brown Holland and her unborn baby, Olivia, in March 2013.

Clothesline Project, in her honor

Words on a t-shirt at a The Clothesline Project display in Owatonna in July 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

We all need to care—enough to educate ourselves so that we understand domestic violence. We need to stop blaming victims. We need to support victims/survivors and those who love them. We need a system that holds offenders accountable. We need to take a stand against domestic violence. We need to speak up, to end the silence.

A comment on the MCBW Facebook page from the daughter of a

A photo of a comment on the MCBW Facebook page honors Barbara Ann Wilson, murdered in April 2016 in Mankato.

FYI: The Tuesday, January 31, Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial runs from 3:30 – 5 p.m. at the St. Paul College Club, 990 Summit Avenue, St. Paul.

Please check back for information on the 2016 Femicide Report, which I will review upon its release.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling