Things Worth Reading
I finally finished my podcast series that I mentioned in the first issue. It’s why I’ve been MIA for a few weeks – it was truly an all-day, all-night project, one that was so intense that I didn’t even have time to worry about not newslettering, much less actually…newsletter.
The series, called Unreformed, is about a juvenile reform school for black children in 1960’s Alabama. We look at the history of the institution — the safe haven it was supposed to be at its inception in the early 20th Century, and the hell that it eventually became. We also tell the story of what happened in the late 1960s, after five girls ran away and decided to tell someone what was happening.
This project has taken the better part of the year and a not-insignificant chunk of my sanity, so I’ll be mentioning it plenty over the coming weeks. But enough of that for now! I have three things for you over the next few days. Today I’m sending a few things to read. Then I’ll send something out about Adnan’s release and what I call the “snapped fallacy.” And lastly I have some crazy articles from my archives that I guarantee are worth reading, as well as some questions for y’all.
(My “archives” is just my overstuffed Documents folder. I am unreasonably fixated on having things available offline and as a result I have hundreds of thousands of newspaper articles and blog posts and law review articles saved. My computer is the digital version of this meme:
Hopefully my hard drive will survive the impending apocalypse and future species/the aliens will have the correct computer charger so they can read article after article about 21st century law enforcement.)
Anyway. Here are some things you should read!!
1) I love Rachel Aviv’s work, and so I was really looking forward to her debut book, Strangers to Ourselves. I thought it couldn’t meet my impossibly high expectations, but I am thrilled to say I was wrong. When it comes to books, I’m not always the biggest non-fiction fan — I’d rather read novels any day — but Strangers to Ourselves is legitimately engaging. For other great Rachel Aviv stuff, read this piece on Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who focuses on the “malleability of memory.” It’s a fascinating piece that examines how Loftus’s work intersects with the #MeToo movement and explores the limitations of Loftus’s own memory.
2) Here’s an important article about a terrible thing: Louisiana will now lock up children as young as 10 at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The prison, otherwise known as Angola, is perhaps the most infamously awful prison in America. These children will be incarcerated in windowless cells inside the prison’s old death row. (For more on Angola, you should read my friend and former podcast co-host Clint’s chapter on it in his book How the Word Is Passed.)
And speaking of how our punishment infrastructure treats children – here’s an article about the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, and the miserable conditions children are forced to endure there:
“The teenagers in the JTDC spend most of the day, every day, locked alone in small cells with only a mattress and toilet. They have no pen or pencil, no chair or desk and not even a pillow. The JTDC locks up youth 12 hours a day for “sleep time.” During the other 12 hours, youth can be locked up for additional reasons, including administrative convenience. And the JTDC does not report to anyone the total number of hours youth spend in their cells.”
3) This article on the Manhattan District Attorney’s “community investment” funding is worth reading— though, my friends, I HAVE SOME REAL ISSUES WITH IT.
It doesn’t do a very thorough job contextualizing this money. For example, it doesn’t explain how unusual this funding allocation is — this is likely the only office in the history of prosecutors offices that’s had THIS much money to give away to outside programs that focus on “prevention.”
There’s also no context regarding the total amount of money that was at the office’s disposal initially – it wasn’t $250 million, but over $800 million. $250 million is just what was allocated to the office’s “Criminal Justice Investment Initiative,” a fund Vance created. Look, $250 million is not nothing, and probably more than most prosecutors would have given to something like this, especially back then. But lots of that $800 million went to, uh, less admirable causes. In fact, Cy Vance spent almost 100 million on phones (???) and tablets (???) and apps (????????) for the cops. So.
But, issues aside, the article highlights some of the practical dilemmas with an initiative like this, where there’s a ton of money in a non-replenishable pot coming from a law enforcement office. (As you can imagine, there are a lot of ethical dilemmas here, too.)
Anyway, a good activity would be to try to find out how much money YOUR local prosecutor has spent on prevention programs and how much that is of their budget. If you manage to determine the amount, leave a comment (don’t forget to let us know where you live.)
4) After years of intending to actually sit down and read Lawrence Wright’s 1993 piece in The New Yorker piece called “Remembering Satan,” I finally did last week. It’s a two-parter, and it took more than half of a two-hour drive to get through both. (Here’s part 1 and here’s part 2.) But it was absolutely worth it. Wright looks at a particular story of “repressed memory” where an entire family became convinced they’d spent years participating in satanist rituals that included child sexual abuse and sacrificing infants. It's an almost unbelievable story, and the aftershocks of what happened reverberated for decades. It’s very long and a few decades old, but trust me – it’s worth your time.
5) In advance of my longer piece on Adnan Syed’s release, here’s something I wrote back in 2014 about his case, called What Serial Gets Wrong. As you can see, I’ve always suspected the real story could be found in the prosecutor’s office, not at the Best Buy. Honestly, rereading this last week was a bit infuriating and this is one of the (few) times I find no joy in being right.
If you have thoughts on any of these articles or your own reading recommendations, leave them in the comments! Meanwhile, more in the next day or so on the snapped fallacy!