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The Heart You Save Won’t Be Your Own

A young social worker fights Medicare to cover a homeless teenage boy's medication, forfeiting her own idealism in the process.

PUBLISHED: June 5, 2014
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3581 words)

The Life Sentence of Dicky Joe Jackson and His Family

In order to pay for his son Cole’s life-saving surgery, he transported meth. But he got caught. Eighteen years later, his family, and the man who prosecuted him, are still working to set him free.

Jackson married his wife Yvonne in 1979 and they had three children, April, Jon, and Cole. Cole was born in 1990 with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, a rare and potentially life-threatening immunodeficiency disorder characterized by a reduced ability to form blood clots. It almost always affects boys. Treatments include bone marrow transplantation, transfusions of red blood cells, and the use of antibiotics.

About the same time, the Jacksons lost their health insurance when an automatic deduction of the monthly fee did not clear the family’s bank account. The Jacksons sued but the case dragged on for years.

PUBLISHED: April 15, 2014
LENGTH: 30 minutes (7710 words)

The List

A former USAID employee starts a list and a campaign to help resettle hundreds of Iraqis whose lives were threatened for working with the U.S. coalition. An excerpt from Kirk Johnson's book To Be a Friend Is Fatal:

"I returned to Boston to find a dozen voicemails from journalists and Capitol Hill staffers whose names I had never heard before. I had no idea how everyone was getting my number. When I logged into my email account, I thought at first that my address had been sucked into some Middle Eastern spammer’s list: three out of every four emails were in Arabic.

"I saw a familiar name and opened the message. Ziad had always stood out in the USAID mission as someone with great ambition and an acidic sense of humor. His ambition had bested him, though: he was fired for trying to organize an informal union of the Iraqi employees to fight for better treatment and more protection. One day we noticed he was gone, and that was the end of Ziad, as far as we knew. He wrote to inform me that he was scheduled to flee within a couple days by way of a smuggler’s network and might need my help."
PUBLISHED: Aug. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4956 words)

Is Baby a Luxury?

On being pregnant and uninsured—too rich to qualify for state-funded health insurance, too poor to afford private insurance:

"We looked into purchasing private insurance. Andrew could get insurance for himself as a small business owner and I could be included in his plan as his wife, but the pregnancy wouldn’t be covered. I found this stunning, but it is common: insurers can and very often do deny coverage to uninsured moms-to-be by defining pregnancy as a preexisting medical condition. This meant that my husband and I both would have to purchase our own separate insurance, which, we learned, would cost up to $275 dollars a month each and did not include copays at the obstetrician’s office or significant deductibles ($2,000, or more). To some people, $550 every month isn’t much to stress about, but we could not afford these plans. After rent, utilities and groceries, we had almost nothing left. Covering the premiums wasn’t just difficult, it was impossible."
PUBLISHED: May 13, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3035 words)

The Longest Hunger Strike

A prisoner in Connecticut who is protesting his conviction by refusing food is now being force-fed. Is it torture?

"Staff turned off the video camera typically used to record medical procedures. They strapped Coleman down at 'four points' with seatbelt-like 'therapeutic' restraints. Edward Blanchette, the internist and prison medical director at the time, pushed a thick, flexible tube up Coleman’s right nostril. Rubber scraped against cartilage and bone and drew blood. Coleman howled. As the tube snaked into his throat, it kinked, bringing the force of insertion onto the sharp edges of the bent tube. They thought he was resisting so they secured a wide mesh strap over his shoulders to keep him from moving. A nurse held his head. Blanchette finally realized that the tube had kinked and pulled it back out. He pushed a second tube up Coleman’s nose, down his throat, and into his stomach. Blanchette filled the tube with vanilla Ensure. Coleman’s nose bled. He gagged constantly against the tube. He puked. As they led him back to his cell, the cuffs of Coleman’s gray sweatshirt were soaked with snot, saliva, vomit, and blood."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5454 words)

Greenland

[Fiction] A man travels to find his father:

"Up there, not far from Greenland, north is not quite north. Rob has been reading about it. He’s learned that the Earth’s magnetic pole drifts nine kilometers a year, that it needs to be found every year by the Canadian government because it won’t stay put. Spiderlike, it roams the glacial landscape; it moves because the Earth’s magnetic field is disturbed by particles coming from the sun.

"Rob likes how dense this fact seems, even though it implies a sort of leak in the world. He doesn’t want to think about the leak but he likes that we know it’s there.

"He is a composer, he prefers closed systems, he prefers managing what’s perfect. He has always been this way.

"Rob’s father is dead."
PUBLISHED: Dec. 18, 2012
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2650 words)

How Things Fell Apart

An excerpt from Chinua Achebe's memoir, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, about growing up in Nigeria during a time when his country was breaking free from British colonialism, and writing Things Fall Apart:

"When I wrote Things Fall Apart I began to understand and value my traditional Igbo history even more. I am not suggesting that I was an expert in the history of the world. I was a very young man. I knew I had a story, but how it fit into the story of the world—I really had no sense of that.

"After a while I began to understand why the book had resonance. Its meaning for my Igbo people was clear to me, but I didn’t know how other people elsewhere would respond to it. Did it have any meaning or relevance for them? I realized that it did when, to give just one example, the whole class of a girls’ college in South Korea wrote to me, and each one expressed an opinion about the book. And then I learned something: They had a history that was similar to the story of Things Fall Apart—the history of colonization. This I didn’t know before. Their colonizer was Japan. So these people across the waters were able to relate to the story of dispossession in Africa. People from different parts of the world can respond to the same story if it says something to them about their own history and their own experience."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 15, 2012
LENGTH: 35 minutes (8905 words)

The Anointing

[Fiction] A woman at the end of her rope turns to a pastor for help:

Seven months into her husband’s depression, Diane called the church secretary. She wanted the elders to come over and anoint Mitch with oil. He hadn’t put his pants on in a month. In the past week he hadn’t left the bed. When he spoke, it was about endings—the end of his career, the end of suffering. This morning, at 3:00 a.m., he’d woken her to ask if summer was over yet. It was early June. Diane was afraid he might kill himself.

She’d seen anointings performed twice before. The first time was at a Baptist summer camp when she was nine. During evening worship—held in a makeshift auditorium beneath a stained canvas tarp—a boy with braces on his legs was brought forward by his mother, his wheelchair leaving tracks in the sawdust. The camp’s pastor removed the braces, knelt in front of the chair, and rubbed oil all over the boy’s white calves as if he were applying sunscreen. The following summer the boy came back to camp still wearing the braces, though now he used crutches with metal cuffs around the wrists.
PUBLISHED: Sept. 4, 2012
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3757 words)

Reporting Poverty

Interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Katherine Boo about the difficulties, rewards—and traps—that come with reporting on the poor:

"When I pick a story, I’m very much aware of the larger issues that it’s illuminating. But one of the things that I, as a writer, feel strongly about is that nobody is representative. That’s just narrative nonsense. People may be part of a larger story or structure or institution, but they’re still people. Making them representative loses sight of that. Which is why a lot of writing about low-income people makes them into saints, perfect in their suffering. But you take Abdul, for instance. He’s diffident, he’s selfish, he’s not very verbal. Even his own family considers him charmless. But when the reader meets him, they sense he’s a real person, that he’s not a construct. And even Manchu—who’s good and generous in many ways—she’s good and generous as a way of getting back at her mother. The more righteous she can be, the better she can stick it to her mom. So you try to let the reader have a sense of this person and soul, as a recognizable human."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 4, 2012
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3108 words)