Michael Yandell and Amy Yandell

People often come to StoryCorps to revisit the moments that shaped their lives. For Michael Yandell, that moment came one morning in 2004.

Michael was 19 at the time and serving in the U.S. Army as a bomb disposal technician. He was on a routine mission in Iraq to clear explosive devices when he was exposed to the deadly nerve agent sarin — the same gas that was used in an attack in Syria in April 2017. He came to StoryCorps with his wife, Amy, to remember that day.

Michael received a Purple Heart for his injuries from the exposure and is now doctoral candidate studying theology at Emory University.

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Originally aired April 28, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Michael and Amy outside their home in Tucker, GA. By Todd Burandt for StoryCorps.
Bottom photo: A close-up of the Explosive Ordinance Division patch on Michael’s Army uniform. By Todd Burandt for StoryCorps.

Calvin Burns and Stepheni Bellamy

Calvin Burns has trouble getting his 15-year-old daughter, Stepheni Bellamy, to talk, which is something parents of teenagers everywhere can understand.

Calvin knew that Stepheni was having a hard time adjusting to being one of the only Black students in her school. Having grown up in a similar situation, Calvin could relate to that, but he had never taken the time to talk to his daughter about it.

He thought that bringing Stepheni to StoryCorps and sharing stories from his teenage years might help Stepheni open up.

Please note that this conversation contains a racial slur.

Originally aired April 21, 2017 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Photo courtesy of the Burns family

Michael Benjamin Ryan and Michael John Ryan

As a juvenile court judge in Cleveland, Ohio, Judge Michael Ryan encounters many children who have had a tough start in life. At StoryCorps, Ryan explains to his 19-year-old son — also named Michael — that he knows where these kids are coming from.

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During his own childhood in Cleveland during the 1970’s, Ryan lived in a violent household where he often witnessed his heroin-addicted mother endure beatings from his stepfather.

He sought refuge in books, went on to study law, and eventually gained a seat on the bench at Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. But Ryan’s difficult childhood didn’t just motivate him to better his own life — it shaped who he is as a dad and what he wants for his own children.

Originally aired February 24, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bottom photo: Judge Ryan and his son, Michael, at Michael’s graduation on May 31, 2015. Courtesy of the Ryan family.

Aiko Ebihara and Roy Ebihara

February 19, 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast.

In the weeks leading up to the executive order — shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor —  anti-Japanese sentiment reached a fever pitch. So-called “enemy aliens” were forced to register with local authorities and turn over radios, flashlights, and anything else that could be used as a signaling device.

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Roy Ebihara was 8 years old at the time living in Clovis, New Mexico with his family. He watched as his town grew increasingly hostile towards its small Japanese community. His father had to stop working as a machinist at the Santa Fe Railroad Company and the children were pulled out of school under threats of violence.

Several weeks before the executive order was issued, Roy’s family became among the first to be forcibly removed from their home and taken to a detention center.

Roy’s wife, Aiko, was also interned along with her family.

At StoryCorps, Roy and Aiko reflect on the days leading up to their internments.

Originally aired February 17, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: Roy Ebihara (far left) with his siblings Mary, Kathy, and Bill on Easter 1941 in Clovis, New Mexico. They were taken to an internment camp the following January.

Philip and Andy

In 2014, we heard a conversation between Paul Braun, a sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard, and the interpreter he served with in Iraq, who goes by the name Philip — a moniker bestowed on him by American soldiers because he favored Philip Morris cigarettes.

In Iraq, former interpreters’ lives are in constant danger because of their association with American soldiers. So Braun helped sponsor Philip’s immigration to the U.S., and at the time of their interview, they were living together in Minneapolis.

But Philip had to leave his wife and four children behind in Iraq. He spent three years attempting to obtain visas for them so they could join him in Minnesota, even putting his life at risk by traveling back to Iraq in 2014.

Finally, in October 2016, the visas came through, and now Philip’s family — including his nephew, Andy, who was also an interpreter — are adjusting to life in the U.S. Two months after his family’s arrival, Philip came back to StoryCorps to give Andy some advice on adjusting to his new home.

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You can learn more about Philip’s story in the 2015 documentary The Interpreter.

Originally broadcast February 3, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Bottom photo: Philip with his wife, Ghania, the day she arrived in Minneapolis. Photo by Sameer Saadi.

Ellie Dahmer and Bettie Dahmer

During the mid-1960s, Vernon Dahmer was a successful black farmer and businessman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He was also a civil rights leader and had served as the head of his local NAACP chapter. This work often made his family a target of threats by the Ku Klux Klan. Despite the danger, Vernon worked to help register black voters in the community.

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Although the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gave racial minorities equal access to the right to vote, the state of Mississippi still required residents to pay a poll tax when registering, impeding many potential black voters. And so on January 9, 1966, Vernon publicly offered to pay the poll tax for blacks who wanted to register but could not afford it.

That night, the KKK firebombed his home while he was inside with his wife, Ellie Dahmer, and three of their children—Bettie, Dennis, and Harold. Vernon exchanged gunfire with the attackers and held them off so he and his family could escape. He later died from injuries he sustained in the fire.

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Ellie went on to serve as an election commissioner in Hattiesburg for more than a decade, continuing the work that she and her husband had started. It took more than 30 years for Samuel Bowers, the Klan leader who ordered the attack, to be convicted of Vernon’s murder.

At StoryCorps, Ellie and Bettie, who was 10 years old at the time, remembered the night Vernon was killed.

Originally aired January 13, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Top photo: The charred remains of the Dahmer home and car. Courtesy of Moncrief Photograph Collection, ID #513, Mississippi Department of Archives & History.
Middle Photo: Ellie Dahmer (L) and Bettie Dahmer outside Ellie’s home, which was built in the same location as the house that was destroyed. Credit: Roselyn Almonte, StoryCorps.
Bottom Photo: Ellie Dahmer holds a photo of her late husband. Credit: Roselyn Almonte, StoryCorps.

Francisco Ortega and Kaya Ortega

Growing up in rural Tijuana, Mexico, Francisco Ortega was among the youngest of his family’s 10 children. In 1975, his parents made the difficult decision to leave him and his siblings in the care of his beloved aunt, Trinidad, and move to Los Angeles to find work. Once there, his father worked as a busboy and his mother as a seamstress in a clothing factory; each month they sent back money for food and clothing.

francisco-1978-1Only about 6 years old when his parents left, Francisco was an intuitive, energetic, and excitable boy. He spent hours playing in the hills and fruit orchards of Tijuana, and chasing rattlesnakes with his dogs. He also acted up a lot and often gave his aunt a hard time.

He didn’t see his parents for nearly three and a half years, and couldn’t understand why they left. He missed his mother terribly but through hard work his parents became more financially stable, and in 1978, 9-year-old Francisco joined them in Los Angeles.

At StoryCorps, Francisco—who works to strengthen relationships between the Los Angeles Police Department and the community—shares memories of his childhood in Tijuana with his 16-year-old daughter, Kaya, and tells her about the day he left Mexico to reunite with his parents in Los Angeles.

Originally aired December 16, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Above: Francisco and his younger sister Ana after arriving in Los Angeles in 1978. Photo courtesy of Francisco Ortega.

Fred Davie and Robert Sanchez

Robert Sanchez (right) is a social worker who helps people coming out of prison find work and get the support they need. He has a unique understanding of his clients’ struggles because in 2001, Robert was released from New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility after serving 15 years for a nonviolent drug offense.

Robert has also recorded StoryCorps interviews with those who have helped him over the years, and in March 2010, his conversation with Felix Aponte was broadcast on NPR. More recently, he sat down with Fred Davie (left), a long-time mentor and friend to thank him for the spiritual support he has provided.

A Presbyterian minister who heads the Union Theological Seminary, Fred met Robert in 1998 when he was visiting Sing Sing and Robert was working towards his master’s degree in theology. They struck up a conversation and made an instant connection, and after Robert’s release, Fred helped him navigate the difficult process of finding work, interpersonal relationships, and fatherhood.

They have both remained outspoken about the importance of providing guidance and support to individuals following their incarceration, and together they developed the Ready4Work reentry program which provides mentoring and job counseling to former prisoners to help with their transition and avoid returning to prison.

At StoryCorps Robert and Fred remember their first meeting, and discuss how their relationship has grown since.

Originally aired December 2, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Leslye Huff and Mary Ostendorf

Leslye Huff (left) and her partner, Mary Ostendorf (right), met in 1983. Leslye was open about her feelings for Mary and wasn’t shy about publicly showing her affection—even on their first date. Mary felt less comfortable with public displays of affection and had not told many people in her life about her sexuality, including her family.

When Mary introduced Leslye to her mother, Agnes, they did not immediately reveal to her the nature of their relationship, but during that meeting Leslye felt a connection with Agnes. “I liked her. She was short like me, and pretty vivacious. She and I sat and talked and I thought the makings of a pretty good friendship was beginning.”

Later that year, days before they gathered for Thanksgiving, Leslye picked up the phone and told Agnes the truth about her relationship with Mary.

At StoryCorps, Mary and Leslye discuss what happened after the phone call and how their relationship with Agnes changed in the years that followed.

Originally aired November 27, 2016, on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Jasmine Pacheco and Carmen Pacheco-Jones

Carmen Pacheco-Jones grew up in an unstable home and had stopped attending school by the time she was 13 years old. She was abusing drugs and alcohol, and throughout her childhood, she spent time in and out of more than a dozen foster homes.

Her drug and alcohol dependence continued into adulthood—even as Carmen started her own family. Her five children remember being raised in a chaotic home; that changed nearly 20 years ago when police in Washington state raided the house where the family was living. Following her arrest, the children were separated and placed in different foster homes.

At StoryCorps, Carmen sat down with her 27-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who was 10 years old when the raid took place, to remember what it was like when their family reconnected after being torn apart.

Today Carmen has been alcohol and drug free for 17 years and is a part of all of her children and grandchildren’s lives. This winter Jasmine is on track to graduate from Eastern Washington University with a degree in psychology and a minor in art.

Originally aired October 28, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

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Each week, the StoryCorps podcast shares these unscripted conversations, revealing the wisdom, courage, and poetry in the words of people you might not notice walking down the street.