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May 28th, 2008 Lillian Hogan | News Stories
 

Thugs Gone Green

How the environmental building movement turned around a crew of troublemakers.

     
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GANG-GREEN: FDP could now stand for Fixing Da Pad.
IMAGE: Lillian Hogan

It’s a Saturday afternoon and members of the self-titled Fuck Da Police crew are listening to loud political hip-hop and admiring their work on a newly remodeled house on Northeast Wygant Street.

Zach Ashby, at 20 the group’s oldest member, just had his birthday and he’s bouncing around the outdoor deck poking fun at his friends in a way that shows they’ve known each other for years.

“That fence we built is jagged like little Austin’s grill,” he says, giving his 17-year-old friend Austin Bisenius grief for his teeth as he points to the fence he helped build in the front yard.

FDP—a group of 16- to 20-year-old friends—previously gained notoriety for its involvement in house burglaries in 2006 (“F---- Dese Profiles,” WW, Dec. 20, 2006). Three of the current 10 FDP members were arrested and served between three months and a year in juvenile correction facilities or rehabilitation programs.

But the young men say their group has cleaned up its act, by making a commitment to cleaning up the environment in their Cully neighborhood.

Doubt that conversion? Well, the two biggest witnesses to the FDP’s change of focus from marijuana to Marmoleum are two green remodelers, Jill Lyon and Gerrit Smith, both 32.

Lyon and Smith moved into FDP territory in April 2006. The pair bought a 68-year-old home originally built as a farmhouse, which neighbors and police say was a meth house, for $205,000 at 6541 NE Wygant St.

Lyon and Smith, who have remodeled seven homes and two apartment complexes in Portland, then looked no farther than the Northeast 66th Street corner for their new construction team.

The two befriended the young men by inviting them to a demolition party to kick off construction in June 2006. Party favors included goggles, gloves, sledgehammers and a barbecue.

“We were out on the street smoking, doing nothing good, and Gerrit and Jill just came up to us and asked for our help on the house,” Ashby says. “That day was life-changing.”

Lyon and Smith say the young men were easy to like. And the FDPers took to the business partners, who are close friends, because “we got a good vibe right away,” Ashby says. “As soon as I saw Gerrit’s big earrings and tattoos, I was like, he looks like a rocker.”

At first the home served as a new refuge for the young men to gather to skateboard and play video games like Halo 3. But it wasn’t long before they developed an interest in the green remodeling at the 2,700-square-­foot house and its 11,000-square-foot lot.

They started showing up every day to learn about sustainable construction. And over the next 20 months, the group collectively averaged 70 hours of work per week, by Lyon’s estimates.

The project provided jobs that paid $8 per hour and worked like apprenticeships.

Lyon and Smith didn’t just remodel a house; they built lifelong friendships. The two hosted as many as four movie nights a week at the house and took the young men camping and kayaking. They even invited two of them for a 10-day trip to work on Lyon’s sister’s remodel in Brooklyn.

And in just under two years, the home went from an eyesore to a highly aesthetic sustainable enclave built with 90 percent salvage material.

Lyon says the young men are “infinitely hirable” after the continuous hands-on construction experience.

Rebecca Forch, mother of two of the FDP members—Zach Ashby and 18-year-old Nick Ashby—calls Lyon and Smith “saviors.” She says her sons have developed an exceptional work ethic helping with the house.

“They helped my kids to see you have to work for what you want,” Forch says.

Brandon Farley, 17, says he has the confidence to do a green remodel on his own.

“I learned more in this house in a year and a half than if I had stayed in school for four years,” he says. “This is much better for learning than reading a book and getting told by someone who read a book how things work.”

Lyon says the change she has seen in the young men, all Madison High School dropouts, is remarkable. Nine have their GEDs or are in classes at Portland Community College to obtain their GEDs. And all of the FDP members say they don’t steal anymore.

Police records show five of the boys have never been arrested, but they all tell WW that they have stolen in the past. Some say they have not stolen more than a candy bar while three members say they were caught up in the house burglarizing.

FDP’s transformation didn’t happen at once.

“Some kids were skeptical at first because they were making good money an illegal way,” Ashby says.

The most skeptical, perhaps, was James Tabor, who is serving time at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility for violating parole, former Portland Detective Dave Anderson told WW.

The infamous house burglaries in October 2006, involving Tabor and two non-FDP neighborhood residents, are the last police record of FDP theft, according to Portland police spokeswoman Officer Cathy Kent.

Police officers who patrol Cully such as Officer Jerry Cioeta aren’t so quick to believe FDP has changed. Cioeta told Lyon and Smith it’s a liability to keep the young men at their house.

Detective Anderson agreed, saying that at one point FDP fit the definition of a criminal gang.

The young men insist that FDP is overblown at the precinct.

“We’re just a crew; everyone misconstrues the word,” says Sam Knight, 16. “We’re not beefing; it’s just us. The name expresses our view on life. Police harass us when we’re just hanging out and they try to disperse us for no reason.”

After communicating with the boys daily for almost two years, Lyon has come to the conclusion that “FDP is sort of a mentality—any boy on the block that has seen injustice or has frustration with the police might consider himself FDP.”

Despite the differing versions of what FDP really is, one thing is clear: The Northeast Wygant project was successful in teaching a group of unruly young men to take notice of their environment and take pride in their neighborhood.

“I think we consume too much,” says Andrew Laughlin, 18. “I’m trying to convince my parents to buy the dual-flush toilets. My dad’s a strict Republican conservative; he was a Bush voter, unfortunately. He doesn’t even believe in global warming, it’s so funny.”

WEB EXTRA: Video

WEB EXTRA: Q&A WITH THE BOYS OF FDP

Kevin Castle

Age: 17

Lived in Cully: 8 years

School: Dropped out of high school to get GED at 16. “My sister taught me algebra. I didn’t go to 9th or 10th grade much—I didn’t feel it was necessary to learn it again.” Castle wants to get his GED with honors so he can get into a four-year college and either get a professional music license or study botany.

Parents: “I don’t really see my mom often, but we check in. I’m usually out doing my own thing.”

On FDP: “No one totes guns or goes out and robs people. If someone comes around and messes with us, we’re all there for each other, but we don’t go out looking for trouble.”

For the record: Currently on probation for aiding and abetting in a truck burglary. “Some of my friends broke into a truck and stole a moped. I went to Safeway and they met me. I could have easily said it wasn’t my fault.” He was locked up for three months. “I was working on the house—I had just gotten off work and I was outside relaxing and having a cig, and the police came by and took me. I haven’t gotten into any trouble since I’ve gotten out. Gerrit and Jill are a big help with me getting my shit together.”

On Gerrit and Jill: “I love Gerrit and Jill; they’re the best for advice. If you have a question one of them will know. You can ask them any question and between the two of them they will know it.”

Green values: “I’m a vegetarian and I don’t use products that are tested on animals. I tried to be vegan, but I just couldn’t live without cheese. I just don’t like the vegan cheese.”

Hobbies: Skateboarding and going to live hip-hop shows (he recently saw Immortal Technique), and writing occasionally, “like poems to express myself.”

Music: “I’m really open minded. I consider every genre to have at least one good artist. I’m really into hip-hop and classic like CCR and Tom Petty.”

If I had $1 million: “I would buy this house first thing.”

Zach Ashby

Age: 20

Lived in Cully: About 16 years off and on until he moved to Tacoma in January to live with his mother.

School: Dropped out of high school at 16. “I just wasn’t doing well in school. Bad grades, little credit, and just didn’t like it. No interest in really being there. They were trying to teach me stuff they already taught me.”

Parents: Parents divorced when he was 4. Father lives in Cully neighborhood and his mother lives in Washington. He has bounced between the two homes. “Me and my mom are close. I tell her about everything. As far as my dad, I really don’t give him a clue. He’s not too helpful with the advice.”

On FDP: “It’s a skateboarding crew. It’s been blown up to be some gang and underground ring. The person who was doing all the bad stuff is in jail. The rest of us miss him, yeah, but [James Tabor] put himself there. He did a burglary and got caught for it. He served one year in jail, then missed a parole meeting, and now he’s back in jail for six months to 5 years. We’re just a group of kids who don’t have nice, comfortable feelings about the police.”

For the record: Never been charged with anything, never had handcuffs on. Went to court once for driving without a license. “That cop I dealt with was real nice and wrote a special note to the judge.”

On Gerrit and Jill: “They basically taught me to be a man, taught me how to focus and get my priorities in line and taught me work ethic. Jill taught me about making the right choices, she’s my personal therapist ’cause I have a lot of stuff in my mind. Gerrit and Jill are the closest thing I have to an older brother and sister.”

Green values: “I care about the environment a lot and seeing trash on the street disturbs me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to clean up after people in the neighborhood.”Hobbies: Skating, writing raps and playing Halo 3—“top favorite game ever.”Music: Everything: heavy metal, country, hip hop, but not jazz or blues.

Fear: Falling from a really high place and the pain that would ensue.

If I had $1 million: “I would buy a Subaru WRX white hatchback style with every possible part they sell.”

Andrew Laughlin

Age: 18

Lived in Cully: His whole life but moved around to different houses.

School: Dropped out at 16. “I got in some trouble and I lost a lot of time—like three months of school in a delayed expulsion program—it’s hard to make back up. I figured I didn’t need school because high school diplomas and GEDs are kind of similar. I want to go into work that doesn’t require education—painting basically. I’m going to try to get plugged into construction projects with Jill. I want to paint, but if I don’t, you might see me at Burgerville. I hope not.”

Parents: “Strict. Hella strict. They were against me dropping out of school—they did not want me to. Finally it just came down to them giving up because I was too stubborn. I’ve been kicked out of my house. I’m 18 now and they said I can stay at home as long as I work and save money. It’s been a good relationship with my parents, but a lot of rough times. Gerrit and Jill have really helped me; they’re like a second set of parents.

On FDP: “It’s not a gang, we’re just friends that chill together. We don’t wear colors, we just have similar thoughts about the police. We’re like a family. We all look out for each other.”

On Gerrit and Jill: “Gerrit has taught me the basic skills: painting, caulking, construction skills. I’ve really absorbed the painting because I like to do it. Jill has helped me become a better person.”

Green values: “Gerrit and Jill influenced me. I think we consume too much. I’m trying to convince my parents to buy the dual-flush toilets. My dad’s a strict Republican conservative; he was a Bush voter, unfortunately. He doesn’t even believe in global warming, it’s so funny. I love him, he’s my dad, but I don’t like his values.”

Hobbies: Playing Halo 3 and chilling with the homies. “I don’t skate as much. I mean I’m getting older (and) my knees and back are starting to hurt—I know that’s sad, ’cause it’s not supposed to happen until later. But when you’re on a ladder all day and moving ladders, it’s hard to skate.”

Music: Classic rock and underground hip-hop.

Fear: “Spiders. This house was full of them. Hobo spiders used to live here. That’s the only thing I’m scared of when I see it. I’m not scared of a lot of things.”

If I had $1 million: “I would probably put it in the bank and take advice from my parents. I would ask a lot of adults what I should do with it. Probably save it and get my own place like a little apartment so I could be on my own.”

Sam Knight, aka Sam Seezle

Age: 16. “I’m one of the young ones, but I’m still the toughest.”

Lived in Cully: Lived in neighborhood almost all his life, then moved out to Clackamas. “I still hang out all the time because I have a car and this is my hood.”

School: Dropped out at age 16. “I decided to get my GED and then jump right into college at Portland Community College, maybe doing auto work. I want a physical job. I really want to be a boxer, but that takes too much money.”

Parents: Lives with grandma and mother. “There are arguments like every other family. My mom gets mad because I’m not around a lot.”

On FDP: “We’re just a crew; everyone misconstrues the word. We’re not beefing; it’s just us. The name just expresses our view on life. Police harass us when we’re just hanging out and they try to disperse us for no reason. A lot of neighbors don’t like us and call in noise complaints because we’re loud during quiet hours. There aren’t really quiet hours with us.”

For the record: Never charged with anything.

On Gerrit and Jill: “They’ve taught me a lot of skills about life.”

Green values: “I don’t litter. Gerrit and Jill opened my eyes to how houses can be redone in an environmentally friendly way that costs more up front but ends up saving you money.”

Hobbies: Wistfully admits he quit skating, but wants to get back into it.

Music: Hip hop, rap, rock, jazz—“stuff that moves.”

Fear: “I’m scared of a lot of things. I can’t really narrow it down.”

If I had $1 million: “I’d get my dream car—a 1970 Chevelle Super Sport—and I’d buy this house.”

Austin Bisenius

Age: 17

Lived in Cully: “I’ve been on the block in this neighborhood since the fifth grade.”

School: Dropped out at 16. “I was expelled for fighting and I decided I didn’t want to go back. I’m going to Portland Community College and getting my GED. I want to get into construction and get an apprenticeship.”

Parents: “My dad just moved out. I live with my mom and brother. I like it better since my dad moved out. There’s less yelling.”

On FDP: “I don’t like crooked cops. That’s where the name comes from. Cops have showed me a lot of disrespect.”

For the record: Has been to jail for a parole violation and spent 3 1/2 months in the Residential Alcohol and Drug (RAD) program for smoking weed. He is on probation on charges related to two home robberies and an assault.

On Gerrit and Jill: “I’ve learned how to clean light fixtures, put in floors—lots of construction knowledge. They have given me a lot of advice on life. They’ve taught me to budget money.”

Green values: A little unsure about calling himself an environmentalist, but says, “It’d be cool to build more houses like this one.”

Hobbies: Skating and playing Halo 3.

Music: Rap and underground hip hop.

Fear: “I’m scared of going to jail.”

If I had $1 million: “I’d buy this house, and probably put half in the bank and save it and buy a car and get a job because the money wouldn’t last.”

Nick Ashby

Age: 18

Lived in Cully: Living in Portland with father in neighborhood.

School: Dropped out at 16 because of bad grades and zero credit and got GED. Currently processing for the military to start a career and make good money. The career he has chosen is railway repair. He will be stationed at Fort Lewis in Tacoma.

On FDP: “We’re not a gang, we’re a bunch of people who will always be there for each other.”

For the record: “I’ve never been in any serious trouble.”

On Gerrit and Jill: “They taught me how to be a better person, to repair homes and to limit myself.”

Green values: Considers himself an environmentalist.

Hobbies: Skateboarding and hanging out with friends.

Music: Rap

Fear: “Not much...heights.”

If I had $1 million: Buy a house and car, and then put the rest in the bank and let it grow interest. “I’d buy this house.”

Brandon Farley

Age: 17

Lived in Cully: Whole life.

School: Dropped out at 16. “I couldn’t stand the people at school. I want to get my GED and get a contractor’s license.”

Parents: “I get along with my mom and dad now but didn’t before; I was young and we argued.”

On FDP: “Just a group of friends. I don’t claim it. I’m not going down the street yelling, ‘FDP ain’t got shit on me.’ The neighbors have a negative view of FDP. We’re not a gang. It’s the only way to include everyone.”

For the record: “I was with a group of kids who broke into Madison High School and we had to pay a bunch of money for broken windows—most of which were already broken. That’s when I really started hating school. I’ve been clean since that.”

On Gerrit and Jill: “They’ve helped me a lot. I’ve learned every skill on a house. I feel like I can build a house by myself. I’m pretty satisfied with that. I learned more in this house in a year and a half than if I had stayed in school for four years. This is much better for learning than reading a book and getting told by someone who read a book how things work.”

Green values: “I try to defend [green building] because my dad gives me a lot of shit for it because it’s costly.”

Hobbies: Skate, draw, play guitar. “I have a side project; I’m working on my Mustang. I like rebuilding houses and cars. I’m what you would call old school—I’d rather do it myself.”

Fear: “I try not to be scared of things. I’m scared of my own failure, of failing myself.”

If I had $1 million: “I’d stay busy and have something to do with every minute of my life.”

Austin Willis

Age: 17

Lived in Cully: Lived in neighborhood whole life with mom and stepfather.

School: Dropped out at 16. Currently attending Portland Community College to get GED. “It’s not ’cause I’m not smart. I just didn’t want to deal with the drama.”

Parents: “I get along with them now, I was just a little shit back then.”

On FDP: “We’re just homies that got each other’s back.”

For the record: Has been charged with assault, “but I wasn’t in the burglary shit. I got in a fight with a security guard when I was 14 and skating at Clackamas Town Center.” He served two years’ probation for the incident and says, “I haven’t been in trouble since.”

On Gerrit and Jill: “I can always come to them with any of my problems. They’ll help me no matter what. They respect us and we respect them.”

Green values: Gerrit and Jill’s influence challenged him to think about the environment for the first time.

Hobbies: Skating and chilling with the homies on the block.

Music: hip-hop and rap.

Fear: “That’s hard...dying.”

If I had $1 million: “I’d probably buy a house and buy all my homies a car and give some to my family.”

 
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