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.
Hector Black remembers the murder of his daughter, Patricia Nuckles, by an intruder in her home.
Recorded in Nashville, TN
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…)
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.
How long have you been at your job? 2 years? 5 years? Ok maybe you’re in the double digits, say ten to fifteen? These days that may qualify you as a lifer. By that definition, Camille Petty is a lifer several times over, as the head nurse on the children’s psychiatry unit at Bellevue Hospital for 52 years.
During a day of field recordings at Bellevue Hospital, in honor of its 275th anniversary, Camille was interviewed by friend and colleague Florenna Thompson about her journey to this incredible milestone.
This July, in collaboration with The Brooklyn Collection, an archive dedicated to the history of Brooklyn, of the Brooklyn Public Library, StoryCorps spent one week recording the stories of people who live and work in the borough. Through storytelling, StoryCorps celebrated the history and diversity of Brooklyn and the members of its communities and…
We did it! With 24 interviews and 49 participants, we have made the first installment of what we hope to be many more, building a growing portrait of the people and life of Brooklyn.
Forty minutes is not enough time to cram an entire person’s life into. Don’t even try. StoryCorps has more than 100 Great Questions for you to choose from, but over the course of the 40 minute conversation you may only get to an handful. When I tell participants they have 10 minutes left their eyes pop in disbelief because time has flown. It’s like the StoryBooth is a time machine where once you enter real time stands still – not true, it flies. So what does one do under these circumstances? Book another appointment!
That’s exactly what Ruth Hunt did. Over the course of 3 appointments she talked about finding her estranged brother, her career as fashion model, and her work with the Jackie Robinson Foundation. During her first visit Ruth came in by herself, unsure of the process, but with a sense of purpose. She was determined to tell the story of being reunited with a brother after 50 years of separation. Her father, a WWII vet, had a child while stationed in London who he’d become separated from until Ruth found him and reunited the two. (more…)
The 2010-2011 academic year marked the 225th Anniversary of Friends Seminary, a Quaker K-12 school in Manhattan. As part of the celebration, alumni and former teachers and staff gathered to reconnect with old friends, share memories, and see all the changes that have happened at Friends. StoryCorps was on hand to record some of these reunions and reminiscences.
One of the pairs who participated in StoryCorps was Ed Randolph and Rachel Jones. Ed started working at Friends in 1977 as a receptionist, one year before Rachel enrolled as a ninth grader. He learned a lot while on the job, especially about Quakerism. “I enjoyed the lifestyle of simplicity and not striving beyond your means,” he says. “Silent meeting was one of my favorite things here. Just to sit and be with yourself and be still.”
In November 2010 my co-Facilitator, Matt Herman, and I set up a Door-to-Door recording day at Youth Insights at the Whitney Museum of Art. Danielle Linzer (L) and Diane Exavier (R), associates at the Whitney, successfully planned 5 interviews for youth members to record visiting artists, their peers or parents.
They also booked the last day’s slot to interview one another. Although Danielle and Diane had then shared an office and desk space for over a year, they told each other some stories of their mischievous childhoods for the first time. (more…)
Eric Wiberg walked into the New York StoryBooth without an interview partner. Looking back on it, I’m not sure anyone could have kept up with him.
A former captain of vessels who has literally been around the world four times over, Eric shared hard-won memories of his life out at sea. There was the time he made $59 for six months’ out at sea. And the time he was stuck on the same boat as a septuagenarian nudist and an out-of-control captain. Nothing however could top the time a shark nearly ate him alive. (more…)
Last month co-Facilitator Daniel Littlewood and I took the subway from StoryCorps’ Brooklyn headquarters to New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood to visit Art for Change, an organization that uses art and media programs to inspire people to take an active role in social justice. AFC is a non profit that has survived nearly nine years primarily on the passion and the commitment of its volunteers.
Two Urban Bush Women Jana La Sorte and Pia Murray visited the booth this past month and spoke about their early inspirations as dancers and the philosophies that compel their work. Urban Bush Women is a dance company that seeks to bring the untold and under-told histories and stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance.
“Here in New York people seem to be afraid to unlock themselves. You can see it in people. People outside of dance, don’t seem to understand how simple it is. If you move your body it moves the rest of you”, says La Sorte.
“For myself as a dancer and a mover, I strongly believe if you can walk you can dance. I think that we all have natural and innate rhythm within us. But because we have this world of “being a dancer” for most people who are not in that world, they think that dance is completely inaccessible to them, that it’s something they can only watch from afar and not participate in. I think that dancing and being comfortable really unlocks something inside of you. I’m constantly moving and I’m comfortable doing that” says Murray.
Ilana Brito recently brought her mom, Iris Lupu to the Lower Manhattan StoryBooth to share memories of Ilana’s saba and safta, which is Hebrew for grandfather and grandmother – Nathan and Berta. Her saba and safta managed to escape Eastern Europe during WWII and made it to a kibbutz in Israel. Nathan’s beloved cousin moved to the U.S in 1959 and when he returned to visit Israel, he said “Berta, America is for you.”
After 18 years in Israel and now with two children, her saba and safta moved to New York City. Iris says Berta “had no education, she had no money, but she had perseverance, she had energy and she had chutzpah…and she actually got an empire going.”
Once in New York City, through advertising in local German newspapers, they found jobs in a sweater factory, where they worked for many years until their retirement. Her saba fixed machinery and her safta sewed sweaters. After retirement, her saba brought leftover schmattas, which is Yiddish for rags, home from the factory. Her safta began sewing sweaters in the basement. This is how it started.
“She’d be sitting there, in this mass of sweaters with lint in the air. It was so thick.” remembered Iris of her parents’ basement.
Last week, StoryCorps Door-to-Door Facilitators Carolina Correa and Yazmín Peña went to New York City’s Upper West Side, to visit the Amsterdam Nursing Home, a residence for older adults, to record the stories of six of their residents.
Our first participants of the day were Elizabeth L. Gardner (Libby) and her daughter Eve Remba. Libby was all smiles as she came into the recording room, and Eve began their conversation by congratulating her mother for winning the Congressional Gold Medal earlier this year. You see Libby was a WASP – a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots – a pioneering civilian organization of female pilots that flew Military Aircraft under the orders of the United States Air Force during World War II.
On the first Monday in June, the Memory Loss Initiative partnered with the Museum of Modern Art for an afternoon of art and memories. Meet Me at MoMA is a monthly program for individuals with Alzheimer’s and their family members or care partners to enjoy art and make art. With specially trained Museum educators, the visitors joined discussions about the different sculptures in the Metropolitan Garden and were given the opportunity to create a wire sculpture or ornament.
This is our second collaboration with MoMA, and you can read about StoryCorps’ last visit to the museum in the post, “Meet StoryCorps at MoMA.” This year we recorded seven interviews at the Museum using StoryKits, our most portable form of recording equipment, and a very popular service for many of our Memory Loss Initiative participants. All of the interviews were recorded simultaneously throughout the museum while the other activities were under way. Sisters, mothers and sons, husbands and wives – all came together to share their unique stories and to bask in the world of art.
Brooklynites past and present, young and old came out last night to hear a curator talk at MoCADA, marking the end of the exhibition “The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks.” Over twenty artist are represented in the exhibit, and their work speaks to the changes happening in communities throughout the borough, and how residents are responding to these changes. StoryCorps collaborated with MoCADA to record the stories of several of the artists, some of which were presented during last night’s program. (You can read more about the opening of this exhibit from the March 16th post, “The Gentrification of Brooklyn”)
The evening began with New York Facilitator John White, who shared stories from the StoryCorps archive about memories of New York neighborhoods. Then curator Dexter Wimberly spoke about his own experience of growing up in Brooklyn, and what this exhibition means for him. There are still a few days left to enjoy “The Gentrification of Brooklyn” at MoCADA – it closes on Sunday, May 16. Fortunately the stories of the artists, along with thousands of other New Yorkers, will live on through StoryCorps.
There is one great question that does not appear on StoryCorps Great Question list: “Will you marry me?” I’ve twice witnessed the excitement of two people deciding to spend the rest of their lives together and it always inspires. It makes you want to run out of the StoryBooth and fall in love.
Joel Weber first came to the Booth to interview his brother. After their conversation he told me he wanted to propose to his girlfriend Laurel Pinson and asked if I could help him out. I told him that we’d do our part to provide the romantic ambiance – the warm wood paneling, the soft lighting – but that he’d have to be the one to pop the question. For those who have never been to the StoryBooth in Foley Square, you are missing out on one of the most intimate getaways in Manhattan. Bring your dates… I mean, book your appointments there now!
StoryCorps Door-to-Door travels all over the country recording the stories of everyday Americans; however, sometimes we prefer to stay right here in New York City. After all, this is the city of a million stories. Two weeks ago, we had the pleasure of recording some native New York stories with the 300 West Block Association of Chelsea. Mrs. Eleanor Horowitz, a long-time Chelsea resident, opened her home to other residents and StoryCorps for this recording day.
Although today Chelsea is thought of as a well-off part of Manhattan, this wasn’t always the case. When Eleanor and her husband moved into the neighborhood in the 1970s, her mother was horrified that the young couple would be living in a place that had garbage cans on the street. Eleanor’s interview partner, Marina, remembered that when she was growing up during that time, Chelsea was often the place people came to for illegal activity. Marina remembers how she and her friends knew which blocks to avoid when they went out. Despite the unsavory characters of the neighborhood, Chelsea was a place where neighbors knew one another and kids played outside. However, the neighborhood is changing.
As part of an ongoing collaboration with MoCADA (the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts), New York City StoryBooth staff completed a day of recording in the basement of the building that is home to both StoryCorps and the museum in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. Curator Dexter Wimberly worked with StoryCorps to bring in a diverse group of artists to talk about their work, life, and inspirations, which led to the opening of the exhibition “The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks” at MoCADA on February 4th.
While I was away, super StoryBooth interns Charlotte Okie and Liam Pierce attended the event to work the crowd, dish about StoryCorps, snap a few photos and take names.
During the month of March, StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled uptown in New York City to record interviews for the Historias Initiative at El Museo del Barrio, one of the City’s leading Latino cultural institutions.
El Museo, located on Fifth Avenue and 105th Street, has been a fixture of El Barrio since 1969, thanks to founder Raphael Montañez Ortiz. Our first participant of the day, a very lively Nolia Lozano, 90, who came with her daughter Sonia, remembered vividly the beginnings of El Museo.
“I came here with my children all the time,” Nolia reminisced in Spanish, “I always brought my kids here, and we’d sell empanadas and pasteles. They were in all the programs.”
Nolia was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the United States in her 20′s. While talking with Sonia, Nolia fondly remembered El Barrio of her youth: a neighborhood where everyone knew each other, and where families freely used fire escapes as a balcony extension of their living rooms.
“People slept with their doors open, didn’t they Mami?” Sonia asked
“Yes. It was beautiful! That’s why I’ve never wanted to leave this neighborhood.” And at 90, Nolia is still an active member of her community, still going to El Museo as often as possible. After having raised her four children in Spanish Harlem, Nolia likes to watch her neighbors play dominoes on the weekends and just have a good time with her friends.
“This is like my backyard,” Nolia said while jauntily walking out of the newly renovated Museo, “and it’s still beautiful.”
Upon his return from a Kwanzaa festival in December of 1994, Malchijah Charles suddenly fell ill. He began suffering from seizures, slipped into a coma, and never recovered.
After losing her son to meningitis in 1995, Sharon “Ife” Charles was devastated and felt lost. “I felt as though my world had come to an end because the one thing I was sure I had done right in my life was having my son. Because of the kind of spirit that he had. When Malchijah died, the human part of me left. I focused everything on what it was to be a mom and dismissed what it was to be a woman, an individual, and so I lost me.”
In the aftermath of Malchijah’s death, Sharon Charles turned to the Yoruba faith and adopted the Orisa name “Ife”, which means love. This became a source of strength for her. “Ife became a name that stuck with me because each time I said it I was forced to say love.”