This guy is tough, and so is his message.
(By Ruben Rosario, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, MN August 2011. Edited for length)
Like the U.S. Postal Service, apparently nothing keeps Larry Bauer-Scandin - foster dad to 125 - from his self-appointed rounds. Not the weather. Not the heart ailments or the genetic neurological disorder that robbed him of movement and rendered him legally blind. The 64-year-old Vadnais Heights resident just gets up and does it.
"My life was normal for the first nine years of my life until 1957 when my foot went to sleep, except that my foot never woke up," Bauer-Scandin told a group of inmates from the 3100 unit at the Dakota County Jail. But that's not the main message that Bauer-Scandin, a retired probation officer and jail counselor, wants to deliver on this day.
"Whom do you blame for your problems?" he asks the group of 34 men, who are members of IMC, or Inmates Motivated to Change. Under the program, inmates with chemical dependency or mostly nonviolent offenses sign an agreement to take part in several programs and pledge not to make the same mistakes that keep landing them in lock-up.
"What people need to do is stand in front of a mirror and ask: 'How much of the problem is mine and how much is it somebody else?' "
I first wrote about Bauer-Scandin five years ago. It was centered on his life as a foster parent. As he told the inmates, two of his former foster kids are cops, one in St. Paul. Two are soldiers deployed to Iraq. One's a millionaire. One's an author. Most are raising families or staying out of trouble in spite of hardships.
But "15 are dead," said Bauer-Scandin, author of "Faces on the Clock," an engrossing memoir about his life.
The dead include suicide victims, including an 11-year-old, others from AIDS and "my last one, they found in three or four pieces, as I understand."
Bauer-Scandin's worth writing about again for what he continues to do at great pain and sacrifice without pay or fanfare. He didn't sugarcoat or pull punches with his audience. "What I'm afraid is still happening is that the system is trying to figure out how to get tighter," he told them. "The sentences are getting tougher."
And it's not the police, the sheriffs, the courts or even the folks in state and county-run corrections that are responsible for the race to incarcerate. "It's the legislature," Bauer-Scandin said. "And legislatures have been known to do very stupid things."
He also faults the media and a gullible public that forms opinions and dehumanizes people strictly on what they watch on TV and not on real-life experiences or knowledge. "What do they see?" he said. "They see the Charlie Mansons. They see the unusual. They see the extreme. Most of you aren't that way. But that's what makes the news."
Yet he doesn't divert from his main message: It's up to the inmate to take a positive step and choose the right way. "Get yourself back into a position where you can influence those people, to be able to go to a school board or a city council or legislative meeting and have your voice heard. "You can't fight the system from in here," he concluded. "You have to be out there."
The inmates applauded and, one by one, stood in line to shake his hand on his way out the jail complex.
His progressively debilitating disorder is taking more of a toll these days. But he steered the scooter inside the van and deftly wiggled his frail body into the driver's seat. He has no complaints, he told me. He will continue to go out and speak as long as God and his wife allow him.
"I hope something stuck," he tells me before he drives off.
I hope so too, Larry.