Jonah Ogles: The cinder-block school has no windows and no doors, just a string of incandescent lightbulbs hanging down the center of the ceiling like the spine of a great whale. It’s hot and humid, and the room throbs with the voices of 200 Haitians who have paused from fishing, gardening, or painting the sides of handmade wooden sailboats to come see the special visitor who has traveled 1,500 miles to Île de la Tortue, an island where the hills are green and lush and the sand is sugar white and the small children play with shells that line the shore by the thousands.
They have been waiting all day under this tin roof, watching one local man set up his old Casio keyboard and another tune the heads of his bongos, so that they can see the blan, the white man, the first ever to visit the school on this nearly roadless island five miles north of the Haitian mainland. In short, they have come to see me. And I have come to see one of them: Ervenson, the Haitian boy whom I have been sponsoring for 12 years.
Every month since the fall of 2000, I’ve sent roughly $35, or about $5,000 in total, through a Christian organization called Compassion International. Compassion funnels money to children all over the world to pay for things like tuition, schoolbooks, clothes, food, medicine, and sneakers. I sent the money to give him a better life. And I’m here to see if it actually made any difference.
Congrats to Mark Johnson and the I-team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for winning the 2014 Selden Ring Award for investigative journalism.
Read the series: Deadly Delays.
Our friend Neil Swidey’s book is out today. The praise has been great.
Angelo B. Henderson, a Detroit journalist and radio talk show host, died Saturday. He won a Pulitzer in 1999, when he was at the Wall Street Journal, in the feature writing category for his portrait of a druggist driven to violence by encounters with armed robbers.
Read it here (thanks, Mark): DETROIT — “Get on the ground,” a man holding a gun screamed. “I’ll blow your heads off if you move.”
Dennis Grehl and a co-worker complied. Dreamlike, he found himself lying face down on a cold, gritty black-tile floor, a pistol against the back of his head.
“Please, mister, don’t make me shoot you,” a second gunman threatened. A crazy memory: tiny specks of light floating in the tile; that, and the paralyzing weight of helplessness.
Mr. Grehl is a pharmacist, unassuming, mild mannered. A family man with a wife and a daughter. He was being robbed. He works in the Redford Pharmacy, a small neighborhood place in northwest Detroit. It’s been around forever; the kind of place that delivers.
He had gone into his chosen profession in part because his mother had advised him to. “Nice and clean,” she had said. Plus, he liked to help people.
Lane DeGregory: TRINITY — In the passenger seat of his mom’s SUV, Austin Erickson sits silently, clutching his wallet, watching as his subdivision slides by.
“So Publix?” asks his mom, turning onto the highway. “Target?”
Austin, who is 11, doesn’t look at her. “The Hallmark store,” he says. “This has to be special.”
Normally, Austin hates going to the Hallmark store, waiting for his mom and older sisters to sift through Vera Bradley bags while surrounded by all the candles that are supposed to smell like rain.
Normally, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big deal to the sixth-grader who loves Star Wars and Batman and Minecraft.
“But now that I’m in a relationship it seems more important,” he says Tuesday afternoon.
“I want to impress Sarah.”
Lewisville (Texas) high-schooler Katelyn Hoagland: The dreams started in eighth grade, the year when I sang in the choir and performed in theater.
And the year when Logan, the I’m-better-than-everyone-because-I-can-act drama geek, tore me apart with his words daily.
The year when my mom’s lupus hit hard.
They always start the same. We’re in the bathroom. Someone I love (my mother, my grandmother, my sister) slides their hand up my small thigh.
I ask them to stop.
John H. Tucker (thanks, Barry): Here is the friend. Arms cradling the boy he has known since fifth grade. The boy, 17, is on the ground, foaming at the mouth. Moaning, twitching, tongue bleeding—bitten from the convulsions.
“Pull through!” shouts the friend, holding Timmy Castaneda in his lap. “Timmy, pull through!”
“Turn him on his side,” instructs the 911 dispatcher.
“Come on, help me get him on his side!”
It’s around 1 a.m. on Oct. 6, 2012. Several teenagers have been hanging out deep in an Apex woods, requiring a 15-minute trek: walk down the hill from the Beaver Creek Cinema, enter the forest, veer right at the log, then go up the path, across the tarp, over the creek, through the small pines, down the ditch, over the gully. When you arrive at the V-shaped trees, you are there.
This is their special place. A makeshift fort is erected with nails between trees, its wooden planks wrapped in chicken wire, draped by tarps and crusty posters that advertise automotive products. Sap from a pine tree burns, keeping the area warm.
A few well-distilled thoughts from our colleague Russ Rymer:
It would be encouraging to think, as Jonathan Mahler contends in “When ‘Long-Form’ Is Bad Form” (Op-Ed, Jan. 25), that long-form writing is a “cult” so pervasive as to be the “journalistic environment we’re living in.” He suggests that it is so powerful that it may have led to a woman’s death.
However, Essay Anne Vanderbilt, the closeted transgender woman supposedly victimized by bad narrative practice, could as easily have been hounded to suicide by a vicious tweet as by the somewhat longish article that Mr. Mahler cites.
Long form may be fetishized in hashtags and “artisanal” websites, but that, too, speaks to the form’s embattled status. Mr. Mahler is right to fear a moral cost as long form’s methods degenerate. Few among long form’s recent celebrators could define what it actually is (hint: it isn’t necessarily long), and those who still ardently practice its combination of searching metaphor, hard reporting and narrative discipline are forced into shrinking news holes in fewer and fewer prominent venues, despite the efforts of some very good websites to counter the corrosion.
The true prevailing (and murderous) journalistic genre today is simplistic assertion glibly made — a cult not of length, but of haste.
Kevin Hardy: LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. — This place doesn’t look like much.
The brick exterior is falling away. The homemade sign standing by the dead-end gravel road is written in crooked stencil lettering.
“Tabernacle Church of God. Pastor Andrew Hamblin. Friday 7:30. Sunday 1:00.”
But there is no meekness inside this windowless, concrete box of a church. Sound explodes and escalates, a chaotic jumble of tambourines, electric guitar and humming.
At times the volume is so loud it rattles the foundation. Foreheads gleam from olive oil anointing, tongues mumble unrecognizably, hallelujahs scream to the ceiling, arms stretch wide.
There will be a miracle tonight.
It’s in the air.
People can feel it.
Someone could drink from a pickle jar filled with strychnine or lye, but not fall dead. Someone could turn a propane torch to his hand and feel no pain. Someone could wrangle a rattlesnake and not feel its fangs.
Todd C. Frankel (Thanks, Mark): CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO.
His ex-wife gave him $25 for gas. She didn’t need to. But she did. Somehow he had to get to court tomorrow. His borrowed Jeep was out of gas. And as was often the case these days, Scott Moyers was out of money and long ago out of options. So his ex-wife agreed to help. She didn’t want any more missed hearings. No more arrests. No more excuses. He was going to go before that judge and take some measure of responsibility for all that he’d done.
That was the plan, at least. But tomorrow was still far away.
So Scott got a ride from his neighbor Don up to his ex-wife’s house, where his family lived, what used to be his home, in a nicer part of town, up on the hill there, a place where he could sit on the back deck and breathe. Just breathe. But the house wasn’t his anymore. The understanding wife — a doctor — was now his ex. The kids — two boys and a girl — were distant. The job covering crime and courts for the Southeast Missourian newspaper was gone. And so was the money, at least $250,000. He lost it all. In less than a year.
Still, he held that $25 in cash and thought about taking it down to score some meth, speed, a little go fast. Hard to shake those thoughts. Even now. Maybe even more so now.
But he held. He fought the pull. He put $3 into the gas can and gave Don $5 for the ride and drove his Jeep to a gas station, where he bought a pack of smokes and sunk the rest into the tank. He was broke again. His day in court was coming.