Residents Line Up for Annual Turkey Giveaway

A line of people began forming as early as 8 a.m. on Monday, for a chance to receive a free Thanksgiving meal outside of Jackson Limousines’ fleet yard in South Los Angeles.

E.J. Jackson, founder and president of Jackson Limousine Service, was initially worried because donations were significantly low, but said corporate and local donations picked up before Tuesday’s giveaway.

“Walk by faith not by sight…I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have any doubts, but I knew God would provide,” said Jackson, who has been giving away turkey dinners for the past 30 years.

Volunteers were lined up along a table bagging fresh produce such as broccoli, tomatoes, bell peppers and celery. The plastic bags were then placed into a cardboard box with other Thanksgiving items like a box of cornbread mix and stuffing. image

The frozen turkeys were still safely packed away.

“This helps me get in the holiday spirit by helping the less fortunate,” said South L.A. resident, T.J. Falls. “I have two jobs…I don’t mind volunteering because when you’re doing it from the heart you don’t get tired.”

Eve McCraw and Resee Coney were the first in line for Tuesday’s giveaway, arriving at the entrance at 8 a.m.

The two said it has been difficult to find help in South Los Angeles during the holiday season because many places have been cutting back on food donations.

“It’s a blessing,” said Coney.

McCraw said she has been receiving Thanksgiving dinners from Jackson since 2009 and every year, she has seen the crowd grow.

Over the last four years, a growing number of those waiting in line have been from cities outside of South L.A. like San Bernardino and Ontario, according to Fatty Jackson, organizer and nephew of E.J. Jackson.

Fatty continued that he has also seen the line start earlier each year with residents lining up one and even two days before the giveaway.

“It’s been more of a mixed crowd – all nationalities over the last four years. There’s more young mothers, single mothers and senior citizens,” said Fatty.

Jackson’s nephew has been volunteering for the past 17 years and helps ensure the donation process runs smoothly.

He said each year they have been able to speed up the process and prevent any confusion, especially with the help of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s.

While donations have dropped over the last two years, he believes they will still be able to serve about 4,000 people.

He feels the reason the turkey giveaway is able to continue is because of his uncle’s passion for giving back to the community.

“Sometimes people don’t want to give because they don’t know where the money is going to, but with my uncle, you can see where it’s going,” said Jackson.

Former county jail inmate speaks about abuse

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

image These days, 33-year-old Monte Cullors mentors young gang members, but 15 years ago, he was one.

“I started a crew, a graffiti crew, back in ’93, ’94. From there, due to problems with rival enemies, it turned into a gang through the violence. “I wasn’t in to shooting guns; I was mainly into fist fights,” Cullors says.

Cullors had several run-ins with the law as a teenager, but his life changed forever in 1999, a year shy of his twentieth birthday. After leading police on a high-speed car chase, he crashed into a ditch. Cullors was arrested for fleeing the scene and later sentenced to serve 32 months in jail.

Soon after, Cullors got into a fight—not with another prisoner, but with a deputy during a lineup.

“So he told me get in line, get in line, and I said, ‘I am in line’… He looked at me and he thought I was being obstinate, trying to … puff my chest out at him, so he pushed me.”

Cullors admits he then made a bad decision.

“I should have realized that was the wrong thing to do. It was immature, but … I hit him,” he says.

Afterward, Cullors says he was besieged by deputies who beat him over the head with billy clubs, shocked him with tasers and eventually choked him unconscious.

“When I woke up there was just a pool of blood and I guess they busted that blood vessel and I bled out from my ears and nose. I just remember there was just blood and my head just was ringing,” he says.

Violence against inmates in county jails has been under the spotlight in recent months. A commission appointed by the board of supervisors blamed Sheriff Lee Baca for the high rate of excessive force used by deputies in the jails.

Baca has taken responsibility and vowed to make structural changes in the department while also allowing greater civilian oversight of jail conditions.

But nothing like that existed while Cullors was in custody. After the incident, he says doctors monitored his behavior for several weeks.

Cullors was later diagnosed with bipolar schizoaffective disorder by county doctors. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms for schizoaffective disorder include hallucinations, delusions, and mood disorders such as mania or depression.

Cullors describes it like this.

“You just see things that you don’t normally see … people that are cops, but their faces will change into people. You’ll just be totally confused,” he said.

But that’s not all.

“You feel like you’re literally in a videogame, and you get really hyper,” Cullors said.

Mark-Anthony Johnson is a health researcher who’s interviewed many inmates in L.A. County. He says their symptoms should be described as post-traumatic stress.

“Part of the criteria that people talk about for post-traumatic stress is the sense of powerlessness and incarceration is all about being powerless,” he says. “If you read the testimonies in the reports, [in which inmates describe] literally being handcuffed and beaten while they’re in restraints … those are traumatic moments.”

Cullors says he faced further trauma in jail after being arrested again in 2004 for making criminal threats against another driver – a crime he claims he didn’t commit. Cullors resisted arrest – which he says was triggered by going off his medication.

“You know I thought that I was cured,” he says. “And that was the biggest mistake of my life because I was actually going upwards in 2004, 2005. And I went off my meds, and I flipped my script.”

Today, the Cullors family says they’ve been able to heal. Monte’s sister Patrisse helped create a group called the “Coalition to end Sheriff violence in L.A. jails.” She says the group’s larger struggle has been a mechanism for change in their own lives.

“My entire family has felt extremely courageous in this process. They have been able to find a sense of voice that I had not seen in the past,” she says.

And Monte, who now works as a sign-language teacher and youth mentor in South Central, says he has no regrets.

“Who knows what could have happened?” he says. “I could have been on the street and got killed. I’m still alive. I’m here; I’m a better person; so you always make a horrible situation into a better one.”

And that’s what he and his sister say they’ll keep doing as part of the coalition.