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.
StoryCorps Door-to-Door recently traveled to Syracuse, New York, to record interviews with Central New York Community Foundation, Inc., where we met local artist, Dorothy Riester, and her friend Stephen Waldron. Growing up in the 1920′s, Dorothy decided she wanted to be an artist at age 12. She remembered that as a young adult, she listened to a lecture given by American writer Gertrude Stein and decided to drop out of her liberal arts college. Stein’s words, she says, shaped her life: “If you know what you want to do, do it.” She enrolled in art school and became a sculptor.
Years later, Dorothy and her husband, Robert Riester, stumbled upon a piece of land for sale in Cazenovia, New York. They immediately fell in love with it and began building a home for themselves inspired by the shape of the land itself. As part of a community of artists, Dorothy and Robert opened their property up as a home for the work of their friends, and the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park was born. (more…)
Constance Christensen is a retired attorney and the mother of four adult children, and one of her daughters, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Foster, jumped at the opportunity to record a conversation with her at Brooklyn Museum this spring.
A big part of Liz and her siblings’ childhood was regular visits to museums with their parents. Connie says she loved art, but she knew that if her children didn’t want to stay at the museum, then she wouldn’t be able to. Connie knew she had to get creative.
“So, I invented games,” she said, and remembered how she asked her children questions, like “Which piece has your favorite color?” until it evolved into a game they called What I’d Take Home.
During the interview, Liz and Connie explained the rules to me. (more…)
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.”
Han-Yu Hung, Eric Sanderson, and their son Everett Sanderson visited The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) on a wintry Saturday afternoon in February to record with StoryCorps. Co-Facilitator Carolina Correa and I were there because The Institute for Museum and Library Services awarded the NYBG three recording days when it won the prestigious 2010 IMLS National Medal.
Han works at the NYBG and the family frequently visits as members of the Children’s Gardening Program. Everett described exploring the garden’s woods with his friends, admiring the chipmunks, cardinals, and wildlife, all reveling in the pastoral respite from the Bronx’s cement cityscape. (more…)
Last week, StoryCorps Facilitator Carolina Correa and I made our way to Flushing, NY, to record for a day with the Chinese-American Planning Council. The Council is a grassroots organization that’s been around for more than 45 years, and it is one of the largest providers of social services for Asian Americans in the United States. They provide their community with space to socialize (we worked out of a room that contained an awesome ping-pong table, as well as various puzzles), job placement and college prep for youth, services for seniors, and even after school programs.
Participant Lois Lee spoke a little about the birth of CPC, and mentioned that it was not a coincidence that it happened during the 60′s, when she herself was involved in Asian American and civil rights movements. She’s been with the organization for 40 years now, serving mainly as an educator and program director, and remembered fondly many of the children who first were involved with CPC in their after-school programs, and that found their way back for youth programs and even later, to help as volunteers.
Our day of recording was peppered with all the diverse people that CPC touches – from Hsiao Chiang Fang, a former film producer in China, to Abida P. Abbasi, a Pakistani educator, as well as Laurie Bernstein, also an educator and a Bronx native but life-long Flushing resident. They shared their stories and knew each other thanks to their active commitment to the community they live in; with the telling of their stories, they strengthened those ties.
The Chinese-American Planning Council’s constituents couldn’t make the trek to the New York City StoryBooth downtown – so we came to them. StoryCorps has been able to help people record meaningful conversations in offices, classrooms, libraries, even from the room that holds the ping-pong table! Don’t let distance from a booth deter you from sharing the conversation of a lifetime – stop by our website and find out ways you can help bring StoryCorps to you.
Last month, StoryCorps Facilitator Mitra Bonshahi and I went to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY, to visit El Puente, a community organization that – through the engagement in the arts, education, scientific research, wellness, and environmental action – promotes leadership for peace and justice. There, we set up a Door-to-Door recording day, where youth from the El Puente Scholars program had the opportunity to talk with El Puente founders, leaders, and artists about their experiences in the community and their visions for the future. The El Puente Scholars program is a holistic internship program for high school, college, and out of school youth that builds leadership skills in addressing social justice issues within their community while gaining life management skills and self-empowerment through arts and culture.
The scholars present couldn’t have been more excited. Recording during an off-week for NYC Schools, they arrived early and some were just hanging out with their shoes off, comfortable to slide silently in the offices’ hardwood floors. Scholars Alex and Emmanuel had the chance to speak with one of El Puente’s founders, Eugenio “Gino” Maldonado, and eagerly listened to Gino speak of his first impression of Brooklyn after moving there at the age of 9 from Puerto Rico, and of how he became involved with El Puente. (more…)
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.
Last week, StoryCorps Door-to-Door traveled exactly half a mile to arrive at Dwa Fanm, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for the rights of Haitian women in the United States and Haiti. Through education, advocacy, and direct service, Dwa Fanm strives to protect the human rights of the women they serve. The mission of StoryCorps is to record and preserve the lives of people living in the United States. What better place to do this work than in StoryCorps’ own back yard in Brooklyn, NY?
When I reached out to Margarette Tropnas, the executive director of Dwa Fanm, about the organization participating in a recording day, I had no idea that Margarette had such a compelling story of her own to share. Almost two months after my original inquiry, I had the pleasure of Facilitating a conversation between Margarette and her teenage daughter, Melissa.
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.