Incarceration in Ithaca, NY

Christopher “The Animal” Hartman is sprawled out on the tattered, red couch at Ithaca’s Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources center, otherwise affectionately referred to as “518” – a nod to its street address by those who are frequent clients and users of OAR’s services.

He is wearing the same oversized, stained, beige blazer and ragged, light-wash blue jeans that he has had on for a few days now, and a crumpled up, half-smoked joint is safely curled up in his fist.

“I am just a misunderstood American hero,” says Hartman, whose last stint in jail was this past summer, for a charge he claims was unjust.

“Those bastard cops shot me in my back with a Taser gun and then kicked me when I fell down. They charged me with obstruction of governmental administration and, of course, this was right before they were all required to wear body cameras.” He smiles, as if he is privy to a police secret that he can’t expose.

As he goes on grinning the 39 year old reveals a set of already graying teeth, half of which are either chipped or missing altogether. Hartman is familiar with Ithaca’s Police Department. Born and raised in Ithaca, New York, Hartman was first incarcerated in 2000, for trespassing charges in Owego County. “I sat in that Owego jail for a few days, it was a hell hole. They all are.”

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How Would the Proposed Living Wage affect Tompkins County?


The Commons in Ithaca, NY


Nestled in the heart of the Ithaca Commons among other restaurants and small businesses is Finger Lakes Running Co. Owned by Ian Golden, the store is one of the many small businesses that may be affected if the Tompkins County Legislature votes to raise the minimum wage from $8.75 to $14.34, which is the calculated living wage for Tompkins County.

Though the Legislature has yet to pass the proposed wage of $14.34, many local business owners are already speculating what might happen to their businesses and the Tompkins County economy should it pass.

“I get the dynamics of it,” Golden said. “They make more and there’s more to spend. But I also know that in 2014, my business lost $30,000. We didn’t make any money, we lost money. So I don’t know what that [minimum wage increase] would mean for the bottom line.”

Pete Meyers, coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers Center Coordinator, is all too familiar with local workers struggling to make ends meet on the current minimum wage.

Meyers and the Workers Center support raising the minimum wage to the calculated living wage.

“The minimum wage right now, people can’t live on that,” Meyers said. “You might be able to as a teenager when you’re living at home, but workers that are providing for themselves and their families cannot possibly live on that.”

Meyers said the Workers Center set up a hotline for those workers making around minimum wage to contact them whenever they had any sort of grievances at work.

“We needed to get workers in the door. Workers who agree with the idea of a living wage,” Myers said. “It could be a pipe dream if you’re working in a fast food restaurant or a similar place, so we started a workers’ rights hotline right away as a way to get people in the door.”

Amanda Fogus, a recent college graduate and sales associate at Trader K’s, echoed Myers sentiments on raising the minimum wage.

“When I hear living wage, I think about how I am a full time worker, I work 40 hours a week here and don’t make much more than minimum wage,” Fogus said. “I just graduated and my student loans kick in next month, so that is really what I am thinking about.”

With the minimum wage set at $8.75, workers bring in around $17,500 annually. For a family it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain living needs.

“My biggest thing is that I am just one person, and I am pretty comfortable on my wage and I have some savings, but I know next month I have to start saving more because I do not want to blow my savings on my loans,” Fogus said. “But then I also think about people who have families or children who may not even be employed 40 hours a week. And plus, rent is so high here.”

With the prospect of employees making more money also comes the idea of that extra money being put back into Ithaca’s local economy. Colleen Kearns, an employee at Alphabet Soup on The Commons, mentioned that Ithaca specifically could benefit from a wage increase.

“I think that Ithaca has a fairly strong ‘shop local’ culture, and that people are spending almost two-thirds of what they’re making on rent,” Kearns said. “So having extra pocket change would make a big difference.”

Yet, for small business owners such as Golden, raising the minimum wage to $14.34 could put Finger Lakes Running Co. in jeopardy of going out of business.

“It is something I believe in,” Golden said. “I’d like to pay my employees more. I’d like to be saving more for my own kids. At present, I really don’t have any savings. It’s a tough equation. It’s something I believe in, but the bottom line is I don’t make money, and I don’t know how I could make it work.”

New York wineries attract tourists, boosting local economy



Locals taste wine and spirits at Six Mile Creek Winery in Ithaca, N.Y.


Nestled on a quaint 27 acres of land a few miles up the road past Cornell University is Six Mile Creek Winery. Six Mile Creek is the only winery located within the Town of Ithaca and plays a vital role in producing a large number of tourists each year that visit the area wanting to experience the Upstate New York wine trails.  

Six Mile Creek offers a tasting room and outdoor patio overlooking its 6 1/2 acres of vineyards. Producing 17 of its own wines, mostly Sauvignon Blanc and Vignoles, Six Mile Creek offers its support of the local Ithaca economy by marketing itself as a destination spot for tourists. The more tourists that visit and the more local hotel and bed & breakfast rooms are booked, the more reservations are made at restaurants and the more customers local businesses and shops see.  

October is typically the busiest month of the Upstate New York wine industry season, said Della Hovanec, special events coordinator at Six Mile Creek Winery.

“When leaves change color, we see a lot of people travelling,” Hovanec said. “Leaf-ers” they’re called. They come up here and the Finger Lake Wine Trails are a big draw for something to do with their day.”

The upstate wineries draw in a large and varying demographic. Hovanec said Six Mile Creek sees a crowd ranging from college students to young professionals in their 30s, and many older couples taking a weekend getaway.

“Having these wineries in the region and around Cayuga Lake is a cornerstone for our marketing efforts,” said Bruce Stoff, director of the Ithaca Country Information Bureau. “It is something that really differentiates our area from the rest of New York and even the rest of the country. So it is critically important to us as a region and locality to be able to talk about wine and wineries.”

The wineries around Cayuga Lake get over 500,000 annual visitors combined, said Cassandra Harrington, executive director of Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, making the beautiful fall scenery of Upstate New York an influencing factor in the local wineries’ busiest months.

With October being the highest grossing month, the local wineries must find ways to keep the revenue flowing during the off season or winter months, winter months.

“A large part of our revenue in the winter months tend to come from the seasonal events that we hold in our tasting room,” said Kelly Miller, assistant general manager at Six Mile Creek Winery. “We also try to build our connections with local restaurants during the winter and get our wine on their menu for the next tourist season.”

“Everything slows way down in the winter, some wineries will even shut down and only stay open on weekends,” Hovanec said. “For those who work in the industry, the winter months are a time for us to get a lot of projects done, talk with owners and work on the products.”

Six Mile Creek also sees a large portion of its revenue in the winter come from its relationships with local restaurants, such as Agava, Bandwagon and other local liquor stores.

As with the flow of the tourists, the work flow in the wineries changes in the winter months as well.

“We harvest in October and then we make the wine, so in the first couple months of winter we are making all of our wine,” Hovanec said. “After that, we just keep an eye on our barrels and make sure we are keeping up everything and it is still tasting OK, then when spring comes around we bottle.”

With the local wineries’ revenue fluctuating with the change of the seasons, it is no surprise that working in the industry can be tough at times, “You have to be a certain type of person to go for a job in this industry,” Hovanec said. “But in the end seeing everyone enjoy the local wines and the beauty of the area we are in makes it worth all of the work.”

Local artist shares weaving skills with the public

FullSizeRenderJune Szabo demonstrates a weaving technique using her loom at Handwork in the Ithaca Commons


Colorful threads hang off of four different looms near the entrance of Handwork, a well-lit craft store in Ithaca. The clicking of the wooden machines can be heard throughout the store.

June Szabo is leaned over a small floor loom, with her feet on the treadles, which look like large, wooden piano pedals. The treadles move the harnesses as she slides spools of thread called the shuttle that contains the weft — the crosswise threads — back and forth to create a pattern and ultimately, a scarf, rug or small bag.

Szabo performed a weaving demonstration on Nov. 6 at Handwork, a cooperative art and craft store located across the street from the State Theatre on The Commons. She is an experienced artist  who teaches weaving classes and has been producing weaved goods her entire life.

“I started weaving about 38 years ago,” Szabo said. “I started with rugs because I had a lot of wood floors in my house and I wanted to cover them with something in not carpet, so I learned how to make rugs.”

The weaving process is lengthy, especially during setup. The seven or eight different looms Szabo works on in her 18-by-20 foot studio are significantly larger than the ones she has on display in Handwork.

“Setting up the loom takes longer than actually weaving does,” Szabo said. “I spend probably a day on my big looms just setting it up. And I try to wind off for about eight scarves.  And then it takes probably two hours to weave a scarf.”

Weaving with thread weavings aren’t all Szabo creates. The local artist weaves with copper wire and creates  sculptures out of wood and other materials. She took a break from sculpting when she had children and focused on what she called “functional art” and returned to sculpting when her children grew up. Inside Handwork, you can find several of Szabo’s wooden sculptures displayed in the third room window, which are visible from the outside.

Handwork exclusively exhibits and sells handmade work created by artists who are members of the cooperative. In turn, artists work at Handwork 16 hours per month, doing sales and tidying up the store.

Stacey Esslinger, a potter from Corning, New York, stands behind the cash register on the day Szabo demonstrates her weaving. She explains that artists must apply to be considered to have their artwork sold at Handwork.

“They come in and fill out an application and we decide if their work is up to our standard and fit with the rest of everyone else’s work and if we have space for it because the space is limited,” Esslinger said. “Then we vote and then they sometimes they are accepted and they become a member. There’s a trial period and eventually you become a full member.”


When Szabo isn’t weaving or creating artwork, she is a part-time teacher at the Tompkins Seneca Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services and helps older adults get their high school diplomas.

But weaving is still Szabo’s main passion. There aren’t very many weavers in the Ithaca area and because of this, Szabo took matters into her own hands. She and her students started the Finger Lakes Fiber Guild, which meets approximately once a month.

“We bring in our work so we can talk about our problems and our successes … We do a lot of different things,” Szabo said. “Anything to do with fiber whether it’s the technique, or the fiber, or anything, we’re really interested in. It’s a lot of fun. Even though I didn’t have a community of weavers, now I’ve kind of grown one.”

The Ithaca community is home to a number of unique artists who contribute to the diversity of artwork seen in Handwork and other locations throughout the area. Szabo believes the natural beauty of the Finger Lakes region is related to  the kind of artwork that artists produce.

“I think there’s an amazing artist community in the Ithaca area that do a tremendous number of different kinds of things,” Szabo said. “I don’t know why there are so many people here, but my theory is it’s the landscape. It’s the beauty that we’re surrounded with. It’s the way that you feel in this community, in the surrounding areas. I think it draws creative, artistic people. That’s my theory on that.”

Following serious injury, Bombers pitcher plays football


Zach Pidgeon, a senior linebacker on the Ithaca Bombers football team, is second on the team in sacks with 2.5. As the team looks to bounce back from a three-game losing skid Saturday against Buffalo State, Pidgeon will play a vital role in the team’s pass-rush. This time last year, Pidgeon wasn’t focused on rushing the passer- he was focused on throwing a fastball.

After pitching for the school’s baseball team for two years, Pidgeon tore his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), an elbow ligament, while throwing pitches off the mound in the batting cage prior to his Junior year.

Instead of going through the grueling process of Tommy John surgery, which typically takes a calendar year for pitchers to recover from, Pidgeon did something he’s always wanted to do at Ithaca, play football.

“One of the first things that really went through my mind was ‘I want to play football,’” Pidgeon said. “Every August comes around and you just get that football smell.”

Pidgeon, an Oneonta, N.Y. native, was recruited to Ithaca by both the baseball and football teams. He played linebacker on the gridiron and catcher on the baseball diamond. While he comes from more of a football background than a baseball one – his dad Tim was a standout linebacker at Syracuse and had a brief stint in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins in 1987 and his brother, Brenden played linebacker for four years at Division III University of Rochester. Even so, Pidgeon chose baseball and was highly touted by Bombers head baseball coach, George Valesente.

“From a baseball standpoint he literally could be a professional baseball player.” Valesente said. “When he got the elbow injury I was really disappointed and sad for him because I thought he’d really have a future in this game.”

As Pidgeon gradually improved as a pitcher at Ithaca, those pro aspirations took a turn for the worse when he suffered the UCL injury last February.

“It wasn’t a pop exactly it was a discomfort kind of thing,” Pidgeon said. “I was like this is weird I never get elbow pain.”

After attempting to rehab the injury the next week, he then found out the severity of it, and the tough decision he would now have to make. This type of injury is very unorthodox, in that the only time it hurts the person affected by it is when they throw a baseball.

“The only thing that hurt me was throwing a baseball,” Pidgeon said. “I could do every lift every lift, I could do pushups, I could do anything.”

With Pidgeon deciding against the Tommy John surgery so that he could play football, Coach Valesente suggested that Pidgeon also continue playing for the baseball team as designated hitter. Taking Valesente up on his offer, Pidgeon served as the DH of the baseball team last spring, while also working with the football team during spring practices.

Pigeon was able to do well in his new role on the baseball team, finishing second on the team in hitting with a .379 average as the Bombers captured the Empire 8 title. As he helped the baseball team win games he took on the tall task of learning the ins and outs of the football team’s defensive schemes.

“That’s not something people usually do in one year,” Pidgeon said. “You don’t really see freshmen making an impact or truly playing a lot on defense.”

To help Pidgeon make the transition to football, Mark McDonough, Ithaca defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, spent hours on end going over the defensive playbook, defensive schemes and watching film with his new player in order to catch him up to speed on the 3-4 defense the Bombers run.

McDonough was thrilled to be able to bring in someone with Pidgeon’s combination of speed (he runs a very impressive 4.47 40-yard dash) and size (6’5 230). That being said, he also knew it would be a very tough learning curve for Pidgeon to overcome.

“The number one thing is you have to want to do it,” McDonough said. “As a coach I can’t make you do it. He wants to do it.”

Pidgeon of course made the transition and come August was ready to get back out on the football field. Unfortunately the start to his season didn’t go as planned for him. Pidgeon suffered an appendicitis early into training camp, which forced him to miss the team’s first game against Union.

Just as he was ready to make his football debut week two in the home opener against Hobart, Pidgeon dislocated his kneecap in practice that Wednesday. This injury kept Pidgeon out for both the Hobart game and the Alfred game the following week. He finally made his long-awaited Ithaca football debut on the road at Utica.

Pidgeon has now played in five games for the Bombers. His best one came in week five, when Ithaca faced Hartwick in Pidgeon’s hometown of Oneonta. In that matchup Pidgeon had 3 tackles and 1.5 sacks, as the Bombers defeated the Hawks 47-19.

“It definitely added to it that it was my hometown and I had a lot of people there watching me.” Pidgeon said.

With the Bombers football season almost finished, Pidgeon will make the reverse-transition this winter, going from football back to playing baseball. As Pidgeon reflects on his athletic career at Ithaca College thus far, he is happy he’s gotten the chance to play both baseball and football, just like his idol Bo Jackson – who excelled in both sports at the professional level.

“I think being a two-sports athlete in college is something to be proud of.” Pidgeon said. “It’s something not a lot of people do especially with two big sports like football and baseball.”

Religious advocates petition for environmental stewardship






David Holmes, a Ithaca College and Cornell Catholic Communities Campus Minister, reads a passage from Genesis 2

As an environmental studies major at Ithaca College, Sarah Butler ’15 learned about a perfect job. In it, she could use her Quaker upbringing to generate interest in the community about environmental issues dear to her heart.

After graduating from the college, Butler began working for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbyist group based in Washington, D.C., in September 2015. As one of 18 Advocacy Corps organizers across 15 states, Butler works in the Ithaca community to urge representatives to take on climate issues.

“I want people to realize that they should care about political and environmental action because it really does align with and relate to their religion, no matter what faith they identify as,” Butler said.

On Sept. 17, 2015, H.Res. 424 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, which expresses the commitment of the House of Representative to conservative environmental stewardship.

The Resolution

H.Res. 424 – Expressing the commitment of the House of Representatives to conservative environmental stewardship, or the “Gibson Resolution,” is a signal of House members’ affirmation of climate change.

The resolution was dubbed the “Gibson Resolution,” after the sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Christopher Gibson (NY-19).

The resolution focuses on representatives’ dedication to creating solutions that address the real effects of climate change and “efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.” Instead of focusing on whether climate change exists, the resolution aims to shift this debate to what House members can do to help.


Religion and the Environment In Ithaca

Butler worked with David Holmes, a campus minister for the Ithaca College and Cornell University Catholic Communities to gather signatures from the interfaith and Catholic communities on Ithaca College campus.

Butler joined the community during one of its weekly soup suppers, and then also during masses, to petition for signatures to ask Rep. Tom Reed to support the Resolution.

Holmes said he was more than happy to join Butler in her petition. He talked with churchgoers during the Catholic Community’s mass on Sundays. Holmes said people were excited and “wanted to help in any way they could.”

“It really all stems from a line from Genesis 2, where basically, God says, you as humans are in charge of this, you have to take care of this creation,” Holmes said.

Butler also reached out to a student club called the Ithaca College Interfaith Council, where she found the members welcoming to her petition and sharing some of her same beliefs regarding the environmental crisis.

“It is our call to action for people to speak out on these environmental issues because it is very important and pressing,” said Grace Neely, a member of Interfaith Council. “As a person of faith, our religion says that it is our responsibility to make sure that our Earth is in good condition.”  

Both Holmes and Butler said protecting the environment is also about individuals and caring for one another.

Butler said people with no political voice are the ones who are harmed the most by bad environmental policies, as landfills and toxic waste dumps are often close to poor communities.

Support for the Resolution in Ithaca

“The Gibson Resolution, it’s a first step in reality, and it’s kind of sad that it took this long to take the first step, but we need to take it anyways,” Holmes said.

On September 29, 2015, Holmes and Butler gathered around 70 signatures from the Catholic Community and brought them to Rep. Tom Reed’s office in Ithaca. Butler said she collected 80 signatures total and sent about 20 support letters to Reed’s office. Currently there are 10 co-sponsors of the Resolution.

“Religion can be a hot topic and causes a lot of global conflict,” Butler said. “But really all religions say in some part of our text that we have an obligation to care for God’s creation, or whatever higher power you believe in, and make sure you are leaving something for future generations.”

Butler said she will continue to work on gathering support for the Resolution in the Ithaca community and is beginning to reach out to other faith groups about protecting the environment.

Reed’s office could not be reached for comment.

Local actors support growing refugee and immigrant population


BOCE students play a game of cards

Housing, legal services, education and employment are commonly considered requirements for a basic standard of living. Yet for many refugees and immigrants gaining access to these basic needs present significant hurdles when adjusting to a new community.

Sue Chaffee, Program Director of Catholic Charities Immigrant Services Program said that some of the more difficult barriers pertain to obtaining jobs and getting past differences in language, “There is the issue of wages and having full-time work and employment, and keeping them with a living wage,” said Chafee. “There are just so many language barriers and not really understanding.”

In Tompkins County, however, services are available to help make this transition easier for those unsure of how to gain access to these necessities.

Programs such as Catholic Charities, the Board of Cooperative Education Services, and individual advocates provide assistance in offering legal services, and a first place to stay for people from around the world looking to relocate in the Ithaca community.

Catholic Charities of Tompkins and Tioga counties often serves as one of the first stops for refugees and immigrants entering Ithaca and surrounding communities. Chafee said the program sees as many as 250 individuals per year, the majority of which continue a relationship with Catholic Charities beyond the initial months of acclimation.

“We have a hybrid program. We offer legal immigration services and we also help people get their basic needs met,” said Chafee. “We help with housing, we help people find jobs, help them locate local food pantries or apply for food stamps, anything that is going to impact their daily life.”

Catholic Charities also provides free legal counselling to refugees and immigrants, including citizenship application support, as well as providing refers to external education opportunities.

“When immigrants and refugees first arrive to Ithaca they are enrolled in ESL programs, such as BOCES. Once they are in these classes we try to help them become immersed into the workforce,” said Chafee. “If they have limited English we help to develop and find their first jobs. We are working with those who are coming right out of a refugee camp and may have never had formal employment.”

The Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) of Tompkins, Tioga and Seneca counties works to combat this barrier by providing English as a second language programs to non-native speakers in the community.

“When the primary need in this town is learning English to survive, they come here,” said Julie Coulombe, ESL Program Coordinator at the BOCES ESL office located on Ithaca’s Cayuga Street.

BOCES provides adult English language classes ranging from beginner to pre-college. The ability for students to attend classes varies, but most attend anywhere from three to 30 hours of classes per-week, Coulombe said. While some students may pass through the program quickly based on prior english knowledge or educational experience, Coulombe said, many spend three or more years in the program before they graduate through the sixth and final level.

“Most of the classes are geared toward becoming communicatively competent. So in speaking and in the higher levels that means reading and writing as well. Computer literacy is in the curriculum now. We have to make sure all students have a basic understanding of computer and digital literacy.”

While many immigrant and refugee families receive support from services provided through the likes of Catholic Charities and BOCES, finding an immigration or refugee sponsor is often the first step.

Edith Johnson, a local family counselor, has opened her home to Burmese refugees over the last few years. Currently, Johnson serves as sponsor to a Burmese mother and daughter, who are involved in education programs through BOCES and Ithaca High School respectively.

“I met my sponsee family at church, there are about sixty of them from the same family in the area. When a new mother and daughter came to town and needed a sponsor i volunteered to help them get acclimated,” Johnson said. “They needed help filling out all sorts of forms. Forms for social services, forms for housing, forms for medical appointments, and school. So you get really involved with a family when you start to sponsor somebody.”


Johnson has worked with her sponsees, and their extended family, to find housing and job placement in the area, as well as supporting their acclimation to the local community.

“There are a lot of people who are willing to help in the Ithaca Community. From a social services standpoint Ithaca is a really positive place,” Johnson said.