When Jonathan Sherman, a licensed marriage and family therapist, first married his wife 27 years ago, he also made a commitment to a vehicle: a VW bus.
As a student, Sherman painted apartments, so for those first few years of marriage he used the bus to cart around supplies and go camping on the weekends with his wife. Four kids later, the bus had become sort of an immobile storage unit, until Sherman got it into his head to fix it up a few years ago.
Once it was up and running, the next most important thing was to give it a fresh coat of paint. First, Sherman used a black matte primer — and, inspired by his daughter who was drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, invited her to come draw on the freshly primed van instead.
It worked relatively well, leading Sherman to paint the whole van in chalkboard paint so anyone and everyone could draw or write on the van.
“People were like, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t do that, people are going to draw all kinds of horrible things on there,’ you know, ‘You’re asking for trouble,’” Sherman said. “People really haven’t drawn anything bad on there, they always draw cool things.”
Once he came up with the idea, Sherman said the newly dubbed “Chalkbus” took on a life of it’s own.
Since the van started running again a few years ago, Sherman drives it to places like the movie theater or to go grocery shopping and he always comes back to new drawings. Once a week he’ll wash it clean, and the process starts over.
“Most of the time it’s in a state of flux, just constantly with new things on it,” he said.
Besides being a fun idea and sometimes serving as an ice breaker with new clients, Sherman said the bus serves a larger purpose as it inspires people to make connections.
“A lot of people are really disconnected in society. And a lot of people suffer in silence,” he said. “Anywhere I can find a little small connection, I think it just alleviates a little bit of a burden somewhere for somebody to know that, you’re seen and you matter.”
Whenever he comes upon someone writing on the Chalkbus, Sherman said he tries not to interrupt them, allowing them to have their moment, before engaging them in conversation.
“It’s always a positive conversation.”
One of the events the Chalkbus has helped make connections at is the Out of Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk in Salt Lake City. Sherman said he tries to go ever year.
“One of the most touching experiences (is), usually people draw all over other people’s comments and (pictures),” Sherman said. “However, at this event everyone (is) so careful not to write over anyone’s messages of hope or remembering a lost loved one. There was a sacred respect among everyone there.”
The Chalkbus gained such notoriety that a group of UVU students decided to make a documentary about it. At the risk of sounding corny, UVU student Tyler McKinnon called the experience “life changing,” giving him valuable experience as a filmmaker, and interacting with Sherman himself, who McKinnon said has become a good friend.
“I’ve just noticed how many meaningful connections have come as a result of or have come because of the existence of the Chalkbus,” McKinnon said. “Because the Chalkbus exists, I’ve made friends that I wouldn’t have made. I’ve had opportunities that I wouldn’t have had.”
One of the opportunities McKinnon had as a result of the documentary, which is available to view on Vimeo under #Chalkbus, was the chance to play in the first ever Chalkbus session — which involves cramming a band into the back of the Chalkbus to play while Sherman drives around.
“I’ve always loved rock and roll, and any kind of music, really,” Sherman said. “And as someone with no musical talents, it’s nice to be able to really enjoy and appreciate others.”
This weekend was the third Chalkbus session, featuring a band of middle school teachers called “Mid-Life Crisis.” Sherman simply drives the band around wherever they want to go, occasionally stopping to open the doors and perform if there are people gathered somewhere. Sherman also livestreams the videos on his Facebook page for all to enjoy, but for the most part it’s just a fun experience for the band members.
“It’s just a fun time for them to bond and have fun together and do something really unique,” he said.
Griffin Dean, who plays bass and guitar in Mid-Life Crisis, teaches German at American Fork Junior High where he taught three of Sherman’s four kids. He ran into Sherman a few months ago at a gas station and, having seen some of the previous Chalkbus sessions, asked about doing one.
It’s something totally new for Mid-Life Crisis, Dean said, as the band normally just plays covers for students around the holidays. For the Chalkbus session, however, they’ve created original material.
“I’m looking forward to bringing out (my) inner hippy,” Dean said. “You see that thing and all you can do is smile. It makes people happy and that’s the great thing about the Chalkbus.”
At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about for Sherman, who admits to owning the hippy vibe that inherently comes with driving a VW bus.
“I want people to have peace, love and happiness.”
Learn more about the Chalkbus and view past Chalkbus sessions by visiting Sherman’s website, http://,marriageenvy.com/.
You never know what treasures you might find at the Orem National Product Sales wholesale store. On Friday the United Way of Utah County found a new partner and a major children’s and teen book supplier.
NPS donated more than six pallets — hundreds — of books to several non-profit programs through the United Way including the EveryDay Learners program and the Sub For Santa program.
NPS receives numerous pallets of books all the time and most often sells them off to auctions that sell the books for less than a penny a piece, according to Julie Farmer Collins, owner.
“We get books all of the time,” Collins said. “Sometimes there have been so many we didn’t know what to do with them; thousands upon thousands of them.”
Collins said they get the books from all over and from several sources and are usually brand new. Now she knows she can give them to the United Way for children and teens to have something to read.
The United Way said it is glad to have a new partner in the NPS Store.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Orem City as we continue our work with EveryDay Learners,” said Bill Hulterstrom, CEO. “United Way EveryDay Learners continues to focus on early childhood development with a real emphasis on early reading. Every child needs access to books that they can call their own. It is gratifying to have partners such as NPS donating quality children’s books.”
For Collins, giving books is personal. She loves to read and to have a good tactile experience of sitting and holding a book. She wants children to have that same experience.
“There are so many kids that might not have a book,” Collins said. “It is just so great to know they will be going to a good place.”
Collins said she approached the city to see if they knew what they could do with all of the books that are getting. It isn’t just children’s and teen books, but all kinds of books, even on research and data.
“We had all these books,” Collins said. “I couldn’t bear to see them auctioned, I’d much rather donate them. This is a better result than what we would get from the auction.”
Collins said there are 40 or more pallets of books sitting in Salt Lake City waiting to go to Orem and elsewhere.
Collins said she is excited to see the possibilities for children and youth to either learn how to read or to keep on reading.
NPS was founded in 1968 by Collin’s parents. Currently her brother Dan Farmer and herself are the owners of the family business that includes two building locations in Salt Lake City.
NPS opened earlier this year in the former Kmart store at 495 N. State St., Orem. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is closed Sunday.
An effort will be made during the 2020 Legislature to quantify how implicit racial biases may be contributing to Utah’s high rate of minority incarceration.
“We all have bias,” said state Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo. “I have bias.”
Judkins is working on a prosecution transparency bill that would require collection of data about how arrest, charging, sentencing and parole decisions may be influencing racial disparities.
According to the Utah Sentencing Commission, 43.2% of people receiving new prison sentences in fiscal year 2017 were racial or ethnic minorities. U.S. Census data that year showed minorities made up 20.7% of Utah’s population.
“Prosecutors have incredible power and an almost complete lack of transparency, checks and balances and oversight over their decisions,” Judkins told the Legislature’s Judiciary Interim Committee in a recent meeting.
Those decisions include who to prosecute, what to charge, when to plea bargain or dismiss cases and what lengths of incarceration are recommended.
The issue is also vital to examine because Utah’s prison population is rising faster that any other state but Idaho’s, Judkins said.
There is indisputable overall statistical evidence of racial disparities in arrests, bail, charges and plea deals, Judkins said.
“But we don’t know many of the drivers of this,” she said. “This blind spot is due to our lack of specific data on the intermediate steps in the criminal justice system.”
She said her bill, still being developed, would list data points to be collected by county prosecutors so analysis of disparity trends would be possible.
Judkins said she will request that the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice add a full-time staff position to help the counties get up to speed on data collection.
“Maybe everything is fine” with prosecutorial decisions, “but we don’t now what we don’t know,” said Kim Cordova, commission director.
“We’re spending a fantastic amount of money on our prison and that’s just to build it,” said Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden. “That doesn’t include the cost of putting people in there and keeping them there.”
Without better data on how disparities might be occurring, “we’re just left with our hunches,” Waldrip said.
Judkins said she has heard “sad stories” of people who feel they were wronged by prosecutorial misconduct, but it needs to be determined whether such outcomes are outliers.
A PROSECUTOR’S VIEW
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said Wednesday distinctions must be made between discrimination and disparity.
“I have taught classes at the university level on this very topic,” he said. “Often those significantly different concepts get conflated by those wanting to equate outcomes with malicious motivations.”
He said he would not oppose an effort to gather “accurate, meaningful, relevant data” if the state pays for the workload.
“We are so busy with cases we do not have time to adequately address an unfunded mandate if poorly and sloppily imposed by the state of Utah,” Rawlings said in an email.
He said he suspects some may harbor predetermined notions that prosecutors “have implicit racial or ethnic biases against minorities, driving unfair use of prosecutorial discretion and violations of equal protection and due process.”
He added, “I would appreciate the opportunity to rebut that false presumption with respect to Davis County using relevant, accurate data.”
‘THE CONVERSATION IS DIFFICULT’
Jason Groth, a former public defender, said talking about the disparity issue “is not easy, but it’s necessary.”
Groth worked on a 2018 report by the American Civil Liberties Association of Utah that bored into the extent of mass incarceration in Utah and recommended steps to reduce the tide.
By implementing shorter sentences and more alternatives to incarceration, Utah could cut its prison population by almost 3,000 people by 2025, saving the state over $250 million, the report said.
The average daily prison population stood at 6,787 in September, up 169 from the same month in 2018.
The racial disparity component is one factor to tackle toward that end, Groth said.
“The biggest pushback we are seeing is those challenging the idea that there are racial disparities because of implicit bias,” Groth said. “That conversation is difficult.”
He said it requires that prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and probation and parole personnel be willing to take a hard look at their practices.
“They may have done their jobs for quite some time and don’t notice bias ... and it’s hard to be critical of yourself as an individual and your office as well,” Groth said. “It feels like you’re being called a racist.”
The ACLU did allege in a 2015 lawsuit against Weber County over the Ogden Trece gang injunction that racial animus motivated local authorities. But a federal judge recently ruled that the civil liberties group failed to prove the injunction was driven by anti-Hispanic intent.
In a 2017 report, the ACLU said Hispanics and other people of color in Weber, Davis and Morgan counties are more likely than whites to end up in the juvenile justice system, relative to their share of the population.
RACIAL MITIGATION AT SENTENCING
Groth said meanwhile that he is intrigued by discussions at the Utah Sentencing Commission about potential consideration of racially related mitigating factors at sentencing.
“This would be pretty unique in the United States,” Groth said. “The general idea is that you can discuss race and ethnic mitigating factors at sentencing, especially in the context of disparities, and get a reduced sentence.”
Sentences still ultimately would be up to the judges.
Mitigation at sentencing could be “a fix, not the best, but a necessary one until the root causes of the issues are addressed,” he said.