After weeks of anticipation and excitement, Luis and I arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska in early October. KUAC, Alaska’s public radio station, was celebrating its 50th anniversary and invited participants to come and share their Alaskan stories.
After hours and hours of travel, we made it to the Denali Center, a local nursing home that would be our recording location for the week. Much to our delight, we found that we would be setting up our paperwork and greeting station in the barber shop. For the next five days, we had a steady stream of participants come into the barber shop (along with a few people looking for haircuts!), each with a unique story. Participants remembered growing up in extremely isolated towns in the outback: life without phones or running water; the hunting and building skills that were passed down to them from older family members; and using planes to get to towns with no roads. (more…)
Last night Warren Lee Hill was granted a last minute stay of execution by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals because he is mentally disabled. He came within 30 minutes of being executed by lethal injection in Jackson, Georgia.
Since this country’s last public execution in 1936, there have been no known photographs or recordings of an execution. In 1998, however, audio tapes of 22 Georgia executions–recorded by members of the state’s Department of Corrections for their own records–were discovered and subpoenaed by criminal defense lawyer Michael Mears in a lawsuit he brought challenging the state’s use of the electric chair. StoryCorps founder Dave Isay obtained these recordings, and in conjunction with WNYC, broadcast them on public radio.
To the left is a recording of one of these, the execution of Ivon Ray Stanley in 1984. Note that the tape is edited–extended silences, repetitive phrases, and unintelligible comments have been removed.
This is a recording of the telephone conversation between department of corrections officials in Atlanta and the prison personnel in a room adjacent to the death chamber. The main speaker is Willis Marable, an assistant to the warden at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, where all of the state’s executions are carried out. From the small room adjacent to the death chamber, Marable watched the execution through a one-way mirror and described in detail exactly what transpired to officials in Atlanta. The “clunking” sounds on the tape are prison doors slamming elsewhere in the institution.
To begin the electrocution, three volunteer corrections officers, standing beside Marable, each pressed a button simultaneously. Only one button actually triggered the electricity, so the employees never knew who actually sent the fatal charge. Electricity then passed through Stanley’s body for a total of two minutes in the following stages:
Stage 1: 1,700 volts (5 sec.)
Stage 2: 1,000 volts (7 sec.)
Stage 3: 208 volts (108 sec.)
This was followed by a five-minute “cool-down” period before two physicians entered the death chamber to determine death.
Jerome Bowden–with an IQ of 59–was found guilty of the burglary, armed robbery, aggravated assault, and murder of two women for whom he was doing yard work. He was electrocuted on June 24, 1986. This is an audio clip of Bowden’s last words, recorded in the death chamber, immediately before his execution.
Public outrage at Bowden’s execution prompted Georgia to pass a 1988 law forbidding the execution of a retarded person. And on June 20, 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that executing killers who are mentally retarded violates the Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment (Atkins v. Virginia).
Warren Lee Hill was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of fellow inmate Joseph Handspike. Hill’s lawyers argued that his IQ of 70 should spare him the death penalty under the 2002 decision. Numerous state courts ruled that Hill doesn’t qualify under Georgia law, which requires inmates to prove mental impairment “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Hill was granted a last minute stay of execution on February 19, 2013 by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Hector Black came to StoryCorps to remember his daughter, Patricia Ann Nuckles. Nuckles was murdered by Ivoa Simpson in 2000. Simpson is serving a sentence of life without parole in Telfair State Prison in Helena, Georgia.
Premiered July 1, 1989
On Friday, June 27, 1969, eight officers from the public morals section of the first division New York City Police Department pulled up in front of the Stonewall Inn, one of the city’s largest and most popular gay bars.
At the time, the vice squad routinely raided gay bars. Patrons always complied with the police, frightened by the prospect of being identified in the newspaper. But this particular Friday night was different. What began with a drag queen clobbering her arresting officer soon escalated into a full-fledged riot, and sparked the modern gay rights movement. (more…)
Posted by Dave Isay January 23, 2013 Comments Off
Several years ago, Sarah Littman recorded a StoryCorps interview with her son Joshua in Grand Central, which we broadcast and later turned into an animation. In the wake of the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, we received this note from Sarah:
As a parent, it’s been heartbreaking to watch the coverage of the incomprehensible shooting of innocent children and their heroic teachers in Newtown, CT. But as the parent of a wonderful young man with an Asperger’s diagnosis, watching journalists on nationwide television link Asperger’s to this crime in an attempt to find meaning has added another layer of anger, grief, and stress to this national tragedy. Last Saturday I sat down with Josh, who was going into finals week at college, and had a long discussion about what he might see on TV or online, or even from people who don’t really understand but have been mislead by the media in his real life. He knows that whatever drove that deeply troubled young man to do what he did, it wasn’t because he had a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. We want everyone else, including every journalist who is speaking to a nationwide audience and therefore should be more responsible with their words, to know this, too.
– Sarah Littman
Sarah also pointed us to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network statement.
Posted by Dave Isay December 21, 2012 Comments Off
The Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund hosted StoryCorps for two days last month, for an Military Voices Initiative (MVI) Door to Door recording day. We facilitated interviews with family members of fallen servicemen from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conversation not only gave family members an opportunity to memorialize their lost loved ones, but to connect with other families who were there to remember their own. However, not everyone was there to remember lost loved ones. (more…)
In December, StoryCorps officially launches the Military Voices Initiative. The Southern Order of Storytellers Southside Chapter shares our passion and commitment to preserve the stories of our veterans. Since April, they have recorded 35 stories in partnership with StoryCorps Atlanta. Veterans from conflicts including World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, OEF and OIF have spent time recording their StoryCorps interview during this partnership. (more…)
San Francisco StoryCorps celebrates the 2,000th interview recorded at our StoryBooth!
The participants in this milestone recording, Yara Ahmed (L) and Ayori Selassie (R), each received a copy of a StoryCorps bestselling book to honor the occasion. Here’s Yara and Ayori posing in front of the booth, with their interview facilitator Frank Kingman, and the happy participants after the recording session:
For many families living far away from our StoryCorps Atlanta booth, a visit to StoryCorps offers more than the opportunity to record, preserve, and share their story—it’s a chance to pack the family into the car, hit the wide-open road, and travel to our charming Southern city!
Recently, two separate families, the Gardners and the Fortwendels, journeyed 4 and 6 hours, respectively, to make it to the cozy StoryCorps Atlanta Booth. Our team was delighted that their stories were just as fascinating as their journeys.
Charlotte Gardner, affectionately known as “Nana” to her loved ones, traveled from Charlotte, NC to talk with her granddaughter Jeanine about what it was like growing up in Chicago in the 1920′s. She brought with her a stack of colorful, tattered war bonds that her family had in possession from World War II times. (more…)