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    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      I met Catherine Hoke at an entrepreneur's conference last year and like everyone else in the room who gave her a standing ovation, I was swept away. She was CEO of Defy Ventures, the incredible prisoner reform program that has garnered national admiration.

      Someone tipped her off about my time in Juvenile Hall as a 5th grader and she cornered me at dinner. I don't like to think of myself as someone with hangups—I tell myself I'm over them—but I can't seem to shake my phobia of prisons or courtrooms.

      She invited me to prison for a day and I froze. In her kind, understanding way, she managed to talk me through it and I agreed to face my demons and go.

      We went to the Juvenile Detention Center in Stockton and all day we marveled at what Catherine is able to accomplish with these poor kids. We left thinking she is truly an angel and one of our greatest heroines.

      And then The Daily Beast wrote an article claiming she stands accused of sexual harassment, among other things. Catherine wrote a rebuttal but resigned anyway. 😰

      In the age of news like Cambridge Analytica's methods to destroy reputations, what are we supposed to believe? I clearly don't want to believe the news about Catherine. How would you process this?

    • flei

      First let me reassure you and say that having "a phobia" of courts and prisons is NOT a bad thing. You DO want to avoid them. They are put there partly to create such a fear in non-sociopathic people!

      Second, though I do not know Ms. Hoke, her work, or the facts of this accusation of sexual harassment, I do know, as I have seen it daily in my work these past 30 years, that often "good people" do "bad things". I feel in our culture we have the tendency (and maybe the need) to categorize people as either "good" OR "bad", and have great difficulty dealing with the ambivalence necessary to see both possibilities in one person. This causes us to miss the possibility that "good" people are capable of great harm (e.g., pedophile priest), while "bad" people are equally capable of good.

      I read Hannah Arendt's book "Eichmann in Jerusalem" in college and it greatly influenced my thinking about human nature. This work introduced the important concept of "the banality of evil". From Wikipedia: "Her thesis is that Eichmann was not a fanatic or sociopath, but an extremely average person who relied on cliché defenses rather than thinking for himself and was motivated by professional promotion rather than ideology. Banality, in this sense, is not that Eichmann's actions were ordinary, or that there is a potential Eichmann in all of us, but that his actions were motivated by a sort of stupidity which was wholly unexceptional."

      So I would urge you to hold on to what you know and appreciate about Ms. Hoke, while remaining open to the possibility that she, like us all, may be flawed, for, IMHO this is the human condition.

    • tod

      Chris, like you, I am a huge fan of Cat. She is very inspiring and I have seen her work first hand. She is making a difference. My day with her at Solano State Prison was one fo the most meaningful days I have had. I am having a hard time processing this. I don't know what unfolded but I don't see Defy being as effective without her.

    • Chris

      Thanks, Tod and Flei. Tod, you're actually the one who told her about my time in juvenile hall.

      That day in the Stockton Juvenile Detention Center changed my entire perspective. She lined us up, Silicon Valley hipster entrepreneurs on one line facing the inmates on the other line, just a few feet from each other. She would ask us to step back from the line if a statement she called out was no for us, stay on the line if yes.

      "Your parents are incarcerated." Every hipster stepped away from the line. Most inmates stayed on it. "You lost a close family member to gun violence." Hipsters stayed off the line, most inmates stayed on it. "You were the victim of sexual abuse." Most inmates on the line, most of us off it.

      And her dramatic conclusion at the end: "Does everyone understand now why you are on the side you are?"

      When I was growing up, I felt that I was the unluckiest boy in the world. I didn't know about poor kids in india and children with cancer. I also didn't fully understand, until Catherine came along, that I was far from the unluckiest boy in our area.

    • There are some serious allegations made in the article and stepping down may well have been the best thing for the organization. However...

      Some years ago, a co-worker said I told others he was a terrorist. He reported this to HR and HR did their due diligence. While the investigation was in progress, I was basically told to act as if nothing had happened, there was to be no retaliation, etc.. In the end, the allegation was proved untrue-because I never said anything even close to what he claimed. But by the end, everyone in the office knew one side of the story, the allegation. Other folks in the group knew their stories and spoke rather freely (from what I understand) about it. In the end, I was invited to a meeting in which the result was provided and then advised of the original conditions-no talking about it, no retaliation, no, no, no.

      When I read stories like this, I always want to hear both sides because I know what an allegation can do to the people involved and to the organization. I read her rebuttal and quite honestly, I'm not sure what to believe. The Daily Beast article came out gloves off and swinging while the rebuttal was more "I didn't do all the things they say I did" which lends some credibility to the article. What parts are true are open to some interpretation. That she resigned also lends some credibility. I really don't know what to believe.

      I am open to something said earlier; Good people can do bad and bad people can do good.

    • Chris

      It has been awhile, and this happened at a time when the pendulum really swung, with all good intention, to protecting children from predators. We had a neighbor who seemed like the greatest guy. He loved kids and was so fun they loved him. I thought of myself that way.

      One day the neighborhood was shocked to find out he had molested an adorable 6-year-old girl. You can imagine the outrage, shock and fear. An upstanding man of the community, someone we knew, a VP at HP. I don't remember exactly what happened to him but he lost his job at HP and they moved from the area.

      5 years later, as an 11-year-old, she tearfully approached her parents and confessed that she was simply seeking attention. She didn't mean for him to lose his job, move, whatever. It must have been excruciating for her to approach her parents with this. She seemed genuinely humiliated and sorry, but said she had become old enough to understand.

      That forever changed my behavior around children, even my own. I still have a great time with them, but not alone, or if I am it's in a public place.

    • flei

      I've done some reading about Ms. Hoke and her work and discovered that in the past she also had difficulty maintaining appropriate relationship boundaries at work. In 2009 she was banned from entering Texas state prisons for having sexual relationships with four ex-convicts who graduated from her program there (https://www.statesman.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/prison-volunteer-banned-after-admitting-improper-relationships-with-cons/L9RzUK5XB7YFunrVP3mT4L/ and https://www.christianpost.com/news/christian-venture-capitalist-defies-sex-scandal-with-gods-calling-148873/). Though for me this does not at all negate the good work she may have done, it does confirm for me that this woman has some issues regarding what constitutes appropriate sexual behavior. I cetainly hope she is able to get some appropriate therapy so that she can learn to control her problem behavior and continue her good work in the future.

    • It’s sad when it gets to a place you morph behavior because of what could happen. But your story goes to show how careless words can have a devastating result.

    • csiguenza

      Same here. Defy does great work and should be taken nation-wide. I am stunned still about the news and hoping the program can continue. The Prison system here is so horribly bad for inmates and tax-payers alike, that Defy seemed like a small ray of hope for the future.

    • lidja

      I missed this scandal at the time, but this thread piqued my interest, so I read the article and Ms. Hoke’s response.

      I think it is interesting that Chris (a potential donor as far as Ms. Hoke was concerned) described participating in the very activity that is outlined in the Daily Beast article, but explicitly denied in Ms. Hoke’s response

      (See photo of article at bottom of this message - I could not insert it here using my phone)

      Ms. Hoke: “And finally, as for The Daily Beast’s misleading reporting about Step to the Line: we regularly do this important exercise with EITs only – when donors are not present – and EITs consistently report it to be one of the most humanizing and empowering experience of their lives.”

      —-

      I used to teach a postgraduate course in Nonprofit Administration and Finance. One of the topics I led students through was the history of non-profit fraud. It is rampant. So rampant, that a few years ago the IRS has to tighten up reporting requirements in order to increase transparency, which, in turn, gave rise to websites like Charity Navigator.

      We looked at several case studies, including the “Three Cups of Tea” scandal and the Red Cross fiasco. There are many more.

      Non-profit founders are usually big-hearted people with an idealistic outlook, some extraordinary charisma, and a need to change the world. Very often, they do not or cannot see harsh realities and they refuse to acknowledge anything that casts negativity on their pet project. It appears Ms. Hoke is typical in these aspects.

      I am not at all surprised that Ms. Hoke is very charming and impressive. I’m also not surprised there is a dark side to her story.

      —-

      Article excerpt:

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      lidja, I've given this quite a bit more thought and received more emails from Defy and Catherine. Re-reading The Daily Beast story, I'm getting the sinking feeling that one not very well fact-checked emotional story brought down all of Defy and left prisons and hundreds of incarcerated people and volunteers without one of the best things to happen to them.

      For example, the part about Catherine saying Defy regularly does the line exercise with EITs only is true. The EITs confirm that. It's the humane thing to do before they have the public pressure of doing it in front of volunteers like me. Here is what Catherine actually said about it:

      And finally, as for The Daily Beast’s misleading reporting about Step to the Line: we regularly do this important exercise with EITs only – when donors are not present – and EITs consistently report it to be one of the most humanizing and empowering experience of their lives. At the end of the exercise, we call out the question, “I might not be able to explain it, but even though I’ve been revealing difficult things and have made myself vulnerable in this exercise, right here, right now, I feel safe, accepted and loved.” In 13 years of leading this exercise with thousands of EITs, they overwhelmingly agree with this statement. Prison officials who not only witness Step to the Line, but sometimes even participate themselves, frequently say it is one of the most remarkable, game-changing elements of our innovative programming.

      She is not denying that they also do it with volunteers like me. With each session, they take extensive photos of us doing it that we can share on social media. It's not something they have a reason to cover up, it's one of the very best, most life-changing parts of the program.

      Some of the other stuff The Daily Beast seemed to be critical of, that she made a $150,000 salary... Really? Have they any idea how hard she works, how much she has to travel, how much she has accomplished? After witnessing the program, that number doesn't seem out of line to me.

      I really wonder how much Kelly Weill, who wrote the piece, really knows about the program or if she has ever been through it. The two inmates my wife and I were sponsoring didn't pay tuition, couldn't have paid it I don't think, we paid it for them. Their dreams were to learn a trade (body shop) and another to open a tattoo parlor. Aren't those worthy ideals after being drug dealers? The Daily Beast article made it sound like these guys don't succeed after they get out. Now that Defy has collapsed, the wardens in Stockton and the incarcerated kids who loved the program and didn't agree with what Kelly wrote are out of luck.

      I can't answer for the other things, I don't know who could. But I feel I have to defend what I saw and lived.

    • lidja

      But I feel I have to defend what I saw and lived.

      Yes! Absolutely you should defend what you saw and lived!

      There is a life-cycle that every non-profit goes through. It appears that Defy is struggling and may not make it through some critical transitions in that life-cycle.

      Apparently, when Roger Gordon was hired he quickly realized (within a couple of weeks!?!) there were some major problems at Defy—some of which stemmed directly from Ms. Hoke’s leadership. It may be that the non-profit’s success was based more on the founder’s personality and practices than it was on the efficacy of the mission and its implementation, so when Gordon called some of Ms. Hoke’s (and the board’s?) practices into question, he was silenced and then fired.

      I find it rather difficult to believe that a legitimate board would fire an experienced and impressive leader (an attorney) they had just hired based solely on unsubstantiated accusations of sexual harassment. I am suspicious that there is a much bigger story behind these headlines and that sexual harassment is a smoke screen everyone is using to avoid talking about the real systemic problems. But that’s just my intuition...I could be way off base.

      (PS - I think the idea of providing training and opportunity to incarcerated individuals so they can build a life after they are released is not just commendable, but absolutely critical. Bless you and your wife for supporting such an important effort!)

    • Mr

      It's hard to hear challenging things about people we admire, but this is the SECOND time something like this has happened to Ms. Hoke. Behavior at odds with what she portrays (and there is always a very religious element to it) and at odds with professional ethics suddenly causes her to resign. This is disturbing behavior. I'd also ask how, at the non-profit salaries listed in the article, the Hokes could afford the $1.1M house in Boulder county.

    • Chris

      Thanks, MrsPink, and welcome to Cake. 🙂

      I still think about this. It would be such a tragedy to have this program collapse when it does such amazing work at a time when we have the highest incarceration rate of any country.

      This article after her departure lifted my spirits a little:

    You've been invited!