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  • San Jacinto teen pens socially relevant novel

    IrisJones3Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula | SJNT Local Author Iris Jones reads her first book, “Growing Up Iris,” at the Shepherd Library to a small crowd. At the reading, Iris did a Q&A with the audience, as well as a book signing. Her book is available on both Amazon and Audible.

    By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula
    SJNT staff writer

    SAN JACINTO COUNTY — Ushered in by April showers, local author Iris Jones has been touring the county, visiting the Coldspring and Shepherd libraries to read a preview of her new book, “Growing Up Iris.”

    Originally from Cypress and moving out to Point Blank a few years prior, Iris found less pressure to be the best and more room to be laid-back, giving appreciation for the rural atmosphere by noting “It’s good for your character development to be able to be yourself out here,”

    With plenty of pandemic free time, 15-year-old Iris set out to write about her experiences, not only as a city kid moving out to the county, but also as a biracial girl finding comparative experiences between Houston and East Texas.

    Now 16, Iris has been touring the county and beyond reading excerpts from her book, dabbling in the different roles she finds herself in when around different groups.

    Her chapters range from chapters like “Black,” which addresses subjects like fear of police brutality to struggles of accepting her own skin, to titles like “Siblings” that discuss the dynamic of being the youngest girl out of six brothers.

    The book includes both personal stories of growing up with a White mom and Black dad, (an experience she views as average, while others around her were sometimes taken aback), as well as historical references to Black America.

    During the Q&A portion of the reading, Jones replied to how society has shaped how she sees herself as a Black and White woman. Identifying more as a Black woman, Iris said, “I grew up with Disney princesses mostly being white with blonde haired with blue eyes, and I remember how important it was seeing ‘The Princess and the Frog,’ seeing a new example that I could be proud of.”

    She reflected on learning more about Black History in America, from medical malpractice to systematic oppressions, to present day where laws are still being passed that allow Black people to exist in their own skin (and hair) without repercussion. Alongside oppression, Iris cites inspirations including seeing more people in power and media that she feels she can better connect with.

    Iris hopes her book is able to accomplish similar goals, whether giving those going through similar experiences a page to turn to or providing a new perspective to those interested in reading about personal experiences beyond their own.

    In taking the time to learn more about Black history in America, Iris currently is in the TAMS program that allows her to take university courses through UNT remotely, and she is on track to have her associate’s degree in biology by the time she graduates from high school.

    With plans of becoming a surgeon one day, she cites inspiration found in an African American woman named Henrietta Lacks, whose cancerous cells led to the discovery of the almost immortal HeLa cell line, which under the right conditions, can reproduce indefinitely. Though the discovery was great, malpractice around it is part of what drew Jones into the profession, hoping to provide a voice of accountability for those who look like her.

    On top of her other endeavors, Iris also started the Racial Literacy Project, which aims to give local libraries books that include stories and characters from racial and cultural backgrounds that are historically underrepresented.

    Her donations include books to both the Shepherd and Coldspring Libraries that were used as inspiration while writing her own book, ranging from serious to light-hearted. Iris plans to eventually follow her first memoir with an update, but not before first exploring the possibilities of a children’s book which would deal with similar subject matters.

    “Growing Up Iris” by Iris F. Jones is available on Amazon and Audibleor at any of her book signings.

  • Suspect behind bars after scamming $42K

    Photo Zhang 6COURTESY PHOTO Hongwen Zhang, 32, was recently indicted by a Polk County grand jury for her role in a “secret shopper” scam that swindled a Livingston woman out of nearly $10,000.

    Special to the Enterprise

    LIVINGSTON – A woman is behind bars after scamming a Livingston woman and other people for a grand total of $42,000.

    On Nov. 27, law enforcement authorities with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department arrested 32-year-old Hongwen Zhang, who was recently indicted by a Polk County grand jury for her role in a “secret shopper” scam that swindled a Livingston woman out of nearly $10,000.

    According to law enforcement reports, in March of this year, the victim was contacted by the defendant, or someone conspiring with the defendant, and they convinced the victim to act as a “secret shopper,” essentially someone who would visit local businesses and report back on the nature of the customer service received, the cleanliness of the store, etc. The scammers sent the victim several money orders as payment for the victim’s secret shopper services.

    It was not until the victim’s bank informed her that the money orders were fake that she realized she had been conned. But, by then, she’d already been convinced by the scammers to purchase several gift cards and provide them with the identifying information for the cards.

    The scammers used this information to transfer the nearly $10,000 stored on the cards to other gift cards. After receiving a report from the victim, investigators with the Polk County Sheriff’s Department were able to identify Zhang as a suspect.

    Zhang was tracked to a location in Houston, where investigators encountered her with 652 gift cards with more than $42,000 loaded onto them.

    “Because of the online and electronic nature of these types of crimes, most go unsolved,” stated Tommy L. Coleman, Special Crimes Prosecutor for the Polk County District Attorney’s Office. “But for the relentless investigation of this case by Polk County Sheriff’s Department Detective David Sottosanti, this case too, might have gone unsolved.”

    Zhang is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, one count of conspiracy to commit fraudulent use/possession of identifying information, one count of conspiracy to commit fraudulent use/possession of credit card information and one count of theft from an elderly person as a party. The case is being prosecuted by Coleman. If convicted, Zhang faces up to 20 years confinement in a state prison.

    The investigation is still ongoing as it relates to the identification and apprehension of Zhang’s co-conspirators.