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Jens Erik Gould
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Jens Erik Gould is creator, host and producer of Bravery Tapes, a web series combining journalism, music and documentary film to tell stories of human courage. Jens seeks out people who have overcome great adversity to do the extraordinary, and he hopes their stories can inspire viewers to be brave in their own lives. A songwriter, Jens also composes much of the music for the series, at times even writing songs with his interviewees.

Jens is a print, television and radio journalist who has reported from over a dozen countries on issues including immigration, education, crime, music, sports, entertainment, economic policy and energy. Jens has been a regular contributor from Los Angeles for TIME Magazine and time.com, covering California news and music. He was Bloomberg’s political and economy correspondent in Mexico City from 2008 until 2011. Prior to that, Jens covered Venezuela as a contributor to The New York Times and National Public Radio. He has earned a Fulbright scholarship, two Pulitzer Center grants, and has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

Entries by Jens Erik Gould

Umphrey's McGee on Yoga, Brotherhood and 2,000 Shows

(1) Comments | Posted December 3, 2014 | 3:59 PM

It's been a banner year for rock band Umphrey's McGee. They released their eighth studio album, Similar Skin, and played their 2,000th show last month. In this video interview, keyboardist Joel Cummins discusses what makes the band so successful, including band members' relationships with each other, how they engage the fan base and even their exercise routines. And be careful, you might be exposed to some "rubbing."

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Les Claypool Discusses Mud, Manhood and Beavers (VIDEO)

(0) Comments | Posted October 21, 2014 | 2:35 AM

Primus bassist and singer Les Claypool says in this video interview that he doesn't want his "creativity to become to dead shark."

No chance of that happening with the band's seventh studio album, which is out this week. Titled "Primus and the Chocolate Factory With the Fungi Ensemble," the record is influenced by the 1971 film adaptation of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A nod to Charlie's golden ticket in the film, fans who find golden vinyl in their newly-purchased albums can win concert tickets for life.

But what of the lesser-known sides of Claypool? Want to know about the time he questioned the manhood of his fans, or when he says he begged MTV not to ban a Primus song? Claypool sat down with Jens Erik Gould to discuss his life, his project Duo de Twang, and Primus...

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The Giant Determination of Jameel McClain

(0) Comments | Posted September 25, 2014 | 12:29 PM

When Jameel McClain readies for the snap behind the New York Giants' defensive line, the imposing 6-foot-1-inch, 250-pound linebacker knows his task is to stop some of the most talented offensive players in the league. To do so, he draws on an unlikely advantage over his opponents: his past.

"Every time I'm lined up, I think they just don't want this as bad as me," McClain says. "They really haven't been through what I've been through or seen the things I've seen to have the same feeling at that moment."

As depicted in the above Bravery Tapes episode, numerous misfortunes marked McClain's childhood in the crime-ridden area of North Philadelphia. His father was incarcerated, his peers were caught up in drugs, he and his family lived for a time in a homeless shelter, and he often didn't have enough money for food or new clothes.

For many people, those hardships might be insurmountable. But McClain saw them as an opportunity, an impetus for success. Not only did he ultimately pull himself out of poverty, but he achieved his dream of becoming a professional football player, helped the Baltimore Ravens to a championship in 2012, and is now playing in his seventh NFL season.

"My past motivates me beyond anything," McClain says. "I've been to the darkest part of dark. I've been down like most people have never been down. I've overcome all of that and I'm still fighting for a dream."

Middle school was no exception. One afternoon, McClain arrived home to discover the windows and doors of his house boarded up and his belongings scattered on the street. The city had evicted his family and so they moved into a homeless shelter at The Salvation Army.

After that, on his way home from school, McClain would get off the bus before his stop and walk the remaining distance so that other kids wouldn't see that he was living in a shelter. "I was completely embarrassed," McClain says. "It's not something I would wish on anyone -- the lack of privacy, the lack of ownership. You can't even hang up a poster."

The family eventually pieced enough money together to get an apartment, but they couldn't afford much else. Sometimes, chips and a dollar hoagie would be McClain's only meal for an entire day. He once salvaged a pair of shoes hanging from a telephone line because he couldn't afford to buy new ones. "That pair of Reebok Classics lasted me months," he remembers.

McClain barely knew his father, who remained in jail for the majority of his childhood, and his relationship with his mother was tepid at best. He was able to find support from stronger parental figures such as his aunt and uncle and, once he made the high school football team, his coach.

Indeed, on most evenings at George Washington High School, McClain would remain under the florescent lights of the weight room long after the last classroom bell had sounded and most students had gone home. He trained as late as he could, and his coach Ron Cohen stood by in patient admiration.

"I just started asking him some questions, and I said, 'Jameel why do you stay so late? Why don't you go home and be with your friends?'" Cohen recalled. "He said, 'Coach, I don't have any friends. My friends are either dead or in jail.'"

McClain wasn't the most talented player Cohen had ever seen, but he had the best work ethic, which he regarded as even more valuable. "Jameel is like 'The Little Engine That Could,'" says Jameel's aunt Gloria Smith. "There's something inside of him that just won't let him quit."

Soon, McClain earned a scholarship to play football at Syracuse University, where he led the Big East Conference in sacks as a defensive end in 2006. Even with that kind of success, the setbacks didn't stop. When he graduated, he was bypassed in the NFL Draft despite predictions that he would be picked.

Yet he persevered and was eventually signed as an undrafted free agent by the Baltimore Ravens in 2008, soon to become a key part of a solid defense that included legendary linebacker Ray Lewis. He started all 16 regular season games in 2010 and recorded 84 combined tackles in 2011.

He was on pace for another solid year in 2012 when he withstood a spinal cord contusion in a game against the Washington Redskins. Not only did doctors think the injury would end his career, it also came at a most inopportune time, forcing him to miss the Ravens' Super Bowl appearance that season. "It was bittersweet because I was so much a part of that journey," McClain says. Remarkably, he was able to recover and play again. This year, he was cut from the Ravens and signed by the Giants.

Through all of the hardship and success, McClain has maintained the value of helping others. He's become a key figure for the Salvation Army's charity events, hosting Thanksgiving dinners for families in need and drives to supply children with winter coats.

True to form, McClain houses his motivation in a series of quotes that he composes and keeps in his phone. "Mountains were built for men to climb and overcome," reads one of them. Indeed.

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California's Best Answer to Prison Overcrowding

(2) Comments | Posted May 21, 2014 | 10:36 AM

CHINO, Calif. - On a hot day in Southern California, William Jones dives to the bottom of a deep-water tank. Clad in a heavy helmet and scuba gear, he spends several minutes at the bottom, removing bolts from large metal pipes, and communicating his progress through a radio to a dive tender on the surface.

It's not just any surface; Jones emerges from the tank to rejoin his teammates inside the California Institution for Men, a state prison in Chino. As he explains in the above Bravery Tapes episode, it's a much different scenario than a decade ago, when Jones made his living through armed robbery. He was caught when he intercepted a small business owner about to make a bank deposit, charged with a felony and sent to this prison. "I wanted to conquer the world one robbery at a time," said Jones, 30, who is from Los Angeles' Crenshaw District. "My priorities were all mixed up. I had no plan for myself, for my family, and didn't care about anything."

Now, Jones is a student at the Marine Technology Training Center, a state-run program inside the Chino prison that helps felons become divers, welders, riggers, construction supervisors and mechanics. The center has succeeded in doing something the state's department of rehabilitation as a whole has failed at: consistently rehabilitating criminals. The state's recidivism rate -- the percentage of individuals released from prison who are incarcerated again within three years -- was 61 percent last year.

The diving center achieves its success by offering felons a skill set that leads to a more lucrative career path than many were capable of before they were convicted. Inmates usually have little knowledge of diving or the program itself when they apply, but they're attracted to the school because they want a way to build a better life once they're released. Average pay in the industry is around $15 an hour at entry level, and annual salaries can climb to $100,000 within four years. That drastically reduces temptations to return to a criminal life.

Perhaps more importantly, the program's physical training and camaraderie gives criminals a chance to build character, discipline and a sense of self-worth that helps them turn away from their former, illegal pursuits. "When I get out of prison, I'll be going on 11 years. I missed a lot," Jones says. "I know I can't make up for everything, but when I get out there I want to try. I want to just live life to the fullest. My motivation is to be the best I can be, to be a good person.

That brand of motivation is invaluable to employers, and has proven more important than any uneasiness they might have about hiring ex-felons. Indeed, Chino graduates are known throughout the commercial diving industry for producing quality work. "The individual that I have working for me is hands down one of the best, most highly motivated guys I have on board," said Bryan Nicholls, president of U.S. Underwater Services, a commercial diving company in Texas. Richard Barta, the owner of Muldoon Marine Services in Long Beach, California, agrees. "If a person comes to you and he's turned his life around and he really wants to make something of himself, you have to look at all the positives," Barta said.

The benefits of such a program to society are numerous. First, it saves the state money. The average prison inmate costs around $47,000 a year to incarcerate, and that's an expense the state can avoid by investing in true rehabilitation that keeps people out of prisons. Second, it boosts the economy by churning out more skilled workers who produce value. Increased oil production in the Gulf of Mexico is spurring more demand for divers who can access platforms and pipelines, said Nicholls, whose company services offshore wells in the Gulf.

Finally, there's the enormous social advantage of having fewer criminals on the streets. "It helps you with your morals. You have a certain pride in what you do and respect for yourself," Jones said. "I'm a different person now. There's no reason for me to go out there and start doing the things I was doing."

Those benefits in Chino are even more pronounced given the pervasiveness of prison overcrowding throughout the nation. In a bid to help federal prisons that are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity, Attorney General Eric Holder has stepped in to ease harsh sentences for low-level drug offenses. In California, overcrowding is so bad that federal judges have ordered the state to remove thousands of inmates from its prisons. In February, federal judges granted Gov. Jerry Brown two years to reduce prison crowding through mental health and drug treatment programs aimed at lowering recidivism. The state can take advantage of this opportunity by investing more in rehabilitation programs that have a good track record.

In addition to the diving school, some 7,000 inmates work in factories on prison grounds to produce clothing, office furniture, license plates, juice, shoes, signs, gloves, eyewear and other goods sold predominately to state entities. Participants in these programs are 26 percent less likely to reoffend and go back to prison than the average prison inmate in California. A report released by the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board said all these programs had "proven to be effective at reducing recidivism" and recommended that the correctional department work to make them more accessible. The dive center is even more effective than these programs because it helps inmates build a valuable career.

Yet, such efforts haven't been very accessible. Historically, the Career Technical Education program, which operates the dive school, has received no funding from Sacramento; it was financed solely by the profits of the products that inmates produce in factories. "We're on a dicey edge all the time on our funding," said Fred Johnson, the marine center's instructor.

That's a shame because Johnson and his team have figured out how to address the cause of California's correctional problem. True, inmates have to want to change in order to be rehabilitated. The physical training is so intense that 80 percent of those who sign up for the dive school drop out in the first week. Of the 200 inmates who sign up per year, only around 20 graduate. Participants are commonly sent on 10-mile runs; workouts include a seemingly implausible number of squats, pull-ups, push-ups and dips; and the training culminates in a dreaded five-mile swim.

But instructors say all inmates who pass the first week's physical tests go on to graduate, and in so doing achieve something they thought was impossible. "The secret is we change the inmate's way of thinking," Johnson said. "We teach them they're not losers; that they can be winners."

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A Woman in a Man's World

(0) Comments | Posted May 6, 2014 | 4:41 PM

The copper mines of Chile are a man's world. Traditionally, miners have considered women bad luck for operations. But Isabel Galleguillos paid no attention to that. She dared to become the first woman to own a mine in the country.

Life hasn't been easy for Galleguillos, who is featured in the Bravery Tapes episode "Woman in a Man's World." Her ex-husband physically abused her and she spent years making miserable pay as a farm and restaurant worker.

"It was very enslaving to work how I worked," she said.

So she decided to start a new life and become a pioneer by opening a mine in the area of Tambillos.

"If I can do it, why not?" she said.

Men didn't take kindly to working with her at first.

"It was difficult," Galleguillos said. "They would say, 'A woman in mining? What?' Even women would think I was strange."

But she only responded with her strong work ethic. She worked seven days a week while raising four children as a single mother. Soon she had built a successful mine with male employees.

"My dream is for my children to be alright," she said. "That's why I'm fighting. I've sacrificed as a woman. I don't want them to go through what I did."

Isabel hopes her determination can inspire others as well.

"Don't let yourself fall. Keep fighting," she said. "If one thing doesn't work out, look for something else. But always keep fighting."

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Courage on the 60 Freeway

(0) Comments | Posted February 21, 2014 | 11:58 PM

You're driving on the freeway. A car in front of you bursts into flames and there are people inside. What do you do?

UPS driver Lawrence Sanchez was faced with that question on the morning of September 6, 2013. As he traveled on the 60 Freeway in Riverside, California,...

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Ted's Story: From Tragedy to New Beginnings

(2) Comments | Posted January 11, 2014 | 12:38 PM

As a young man, Ted Wiard had an ideal life. He married his high school sweetheart, worked as a schoolteacher and tennis coach in his picturesque hometown of Taos, New Mexico, and became the father of two beautiful daughters.

Suddenly, everything changed. Wiard's brother died in a shipwreck in...

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A Survivor's Tale: John Odom and the Boston Marathon Bombing

(0) Comments | Posted November 20, 2013 | 2:38 PM

John Odom says he doesn't think of himself as a hero. The people who helped him survive the Boston Marathon bombing are the real heroes, he says, while his role is just to inspire other victims to recover. Yet it's this type of comment that makes him even more heroic.

...
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For Homeless Singer-Songwriter, Music Gives Solace Amid Strife

(0) Comments | Posted September 10, 2013 | 7:09 PM

Early one morning in June, I had plans to interview Harriet Kilgore, a homeless singer-songwriter on the Venice Beach boardwalk. When I arrived, I found her alone, half-naked and plastered between a flattened cardboard box and a tattered blanket in an alley. There was nothing pretty about it. She was...

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For the Gay and Undocumented, Stakes Are High Ahead of Court Ruling (VIDEO)

(1) Comments | Posted May 15, 2013 | 6:31 PM

Eric Manriquez and Juan Rivera's marriage stands at the intersection of two of the most controversial social issues of the year and of our era: gay marriage and immigration reform. As the nation awaits the Supreme Court's highly anticipated ruling on the former, the following "Bravery Tapes" video shows how...

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Bravery Tapes: Garifuna Courage in the Face of HIV

(0) Comments | Posted April 11, 2013 | 6:49 PM

In the Garifuna communities of Honduras, it's an act of courage to admit to being HIV positive. With a grant from the Pulitzer Center, photographer David Rochkind and I interviewed people who overcame fear and discrimination to go public with their diagnosis and help educate others. The project resulted in...

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Bravery Tapes: Young Courage Amid Mexico's Violence

(0) Comments | Posted March 27, 2013 | 11:05 AM

There's an untold story from Mexico's drug war. Young people are answering the violence with acts of courage. This Bravery Tapes video profiles some of those tales in Monterrey, a city under siege from drug-related violence. It's set to my original song "Guns Down," which tells...

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