Search Results for: David Kushner

The Bones of Marianna, by David Kushner


This week’s Longreads Member Pick is by David Kushner, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone whose work has been featured on Longreads often in the past. He has just published The Bones of Marianna, a new story from The Atavist, and we’re thrilled to give the ebook to Longreads Members.

Kushner explains:

Almost everyone who hears the shocking story of the Dozier School for Boys, one of the country’s oldest and largest reform schools, and a model for the nation, asks the same question: how could this happen? How could the Florida government allow generations of young wards to be whipped, shackled, forced into hard labor, and possibly worse for over 100 years? Allegations of abuse dogged the school through its closing two years ago, and continue today, with troubling questions and answers still remaining.

In The Bones of Marianna, which I spent the past year reporting, I tell the story of two determined crusaders who pushed this dark past into light. Jerry Cooper, a star of Dozier’s football team, haunted by the memory of a teammate he accused the school of killing, spends years quarterbacking the fight to expose the truth, while a leading forensic anthropologist, Dr. Erin Kimmerle, digs up grim secrets in the school’s unmarked graveyard. The Prologue, excerpted here in Longreads, draws from Cooper’s recollection of a little white building that he, and hundreds of boys who passed through Dozier, will never forget.

Thanks to Kushner and The Atavist for sharing this story with Longreads Members. Below is the opening chapter. You can also purchase the full ebook on Amazon.


It didn’t take much to get sent to the White House. Smoking. Cussing. Taking an extra pat of butter at lunch. Or, as Jerry Cooper learned late one spring night in 1961, refusing to play football.

The White House was a small building near the cafeteria at the Florida School for Boys, where 15-year-old Cooper had arrived earlier that year. The school was the oldest reformatory in Florida, spread across 1,400 acres of rolling farmland in Marianna, a town of 7,150, an hour from the state capital in Tallahassee. Like most schools in the South, it treated football like religion. But the reform school’s Yellow Jackets had languished of late, and acting superintendent David Walters—who took such pride in the team that he kept its few trophies in his office—wanted Cooper to lead them to victory again.

Cooper was tall, lean, and amiable, the star quarterback at his high school in suburban Orlando before his life veered off course. When Walters, a stocky, crew-cut middle-aged man, summoned Cooper to his office a few months after his arrival, he didn’t ask if he’d play quarterback for the Yellow Jackets. He told him to.

But Cooper didn’t want to suit up. With his good behavior and dutiful work as a teacher’s aide, he had earned an early release from the school and would be going home in a few months. He didn’t want a commitment to the football team to keep him around through the fall. He obligingly attended practices with the other boys, struggling through the Florida heat in thick, ratty pads every afternoon, but he refused to sign up for the coming season.

Then, one night, he was awakened by a hand gripping his neck. Two guards—one larger than him, one smaller—dragged him barefoot from his cottage. They wouldn’t say where they were taking him as they threw him into the back of an old blue Ford. They drove along the rocky dirt roads across campus until they reached a little white building. Cooper had never been sent to the White House before, but he had heard the stories of kids being taken there to be whipped—or worse.

As the guards shoved Cooper through the door, the stench of bodily fluids overwhelmed him. A lightbulb hung from the ceiling of the bare concrete room, illuminating three husky men: Walters, school disciplinarian R. W. Hatton, and a supervisor, Troy Tidwell, whom the boys nicknamed the One-Armed Bandit. As a child, Tidwell had leaned on the muzzle of a shotgun and blown off his left arm. His remaining arm possessed a fearsome strength, and he was known to the boys as the strongest whipmaster of the White House.

“What do you know about a runner?” Walters asked Cooper, referring to a boy who had run away from the school earlier that night.

“I don’t have a fucking clue,” Cooper replied.

Walters lunged for him, and Cooper’s football instincts took over. The boy jammed his shoulder into the superintendent, taking Tidwell down with him. But the men recovered, and Tidwell’s hand closed around Cooper’s neck, hurling him against the wall. Tidwell smashed his heel down on Cooper, shattering the ball of his foot. When Cooper grabbed his foot in agony, he caught a fist to the mouth, which knocked loose his front teeth.

The men threw Cooper facedown on an army cot and tied his legs down. Cooper heard Tidwell’s whip snap against the ceiling and an instant later felt it sear his skin. One burning lash followed another, and Cooper, who never considered himself a coward, begged for mercy. “Jesus, God help me!” he cried. “Mother!” Then he passed out from the pain.

That night in his cottage, Cooper nursed his broken foot. The wounds from the whip were still so raw that the blood soaked through the back of his nightshirt. A boy who had been waiting his turn in the White House during Cooper’s beating later told him he had counted 135 licks in all. The supervisors had told Cooper he was being punished for not helping them find the runaway, but Cooper surmised the real reason for the whipping: They wanted him on the football team, even if they had to beat him into compliance (though they probably hadn’t planned on breaking his foot). Now, on account of his alleged insubordination, he wouldn’t be released from the school anytime soon—certainly not before the end of the football season.

Lying on his bed, Cooper wondered how he would survive the months that stretched before him. The White House had changed him. He vowed to bring the men who had broken him to justice, no matter how long it took.

But first he had to play ball.


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The Bones of Marianna, by David Kushner: Our Latest Longreads Member Pick

Longreads Pick

This week’s Longreads Member Pick is by David Kushner, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone whose work has been featured on Longreads often in the past. He has just published The Bones of Marianna, a new story from The Atavist, and we’re thrilled to give the ebook to Longreads Members.

Source: The Atavist
Published: Oct 31, 2013

When Gamers Assumed the Role of the Antihero

At Gamespot, an excerpt from David Kushner’s book Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto, which details the origin of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Initially, designers devised a game where the player would assume the role of a police officer who had to obey traffic lights and avoid hitting pedestrians. Players found the gameplay boring. Everything changed when the designers decided to let the player assume the role of a bad guy:

One day a new build of Race ‘n’ Chase arrived for Sam and the others to try out. At first, it seemed the same. With the top-down perspective, the gamer felt as if he were hovering over a city in a balloon, looking down on gray and brown rooftops. Puffy green trees poked of out of green parks. Horns honked. Engines roared. When you tapped your forward arrow on the keyboard, you saw your unnamed character, a tiny guy in a yellow long-sleeved shirt, stride across the street.

With a few more taps of the arrow keys, you maneuvered the character toward a stubby green car with a shiny hood, then tapped the Enter key. That’s when it happened. The door flew open, and the driver–some other little dude in blue pants–came flying out of the car and landed on the pavement in a contorted pile. He got jacked. As you held down the forward arrow, the car careened forward, supple to the flick of the side arrows–left, right–with a satisfying vroooom. You headed toward a flickering traffic light. Why stop? This was a game, right? A game wasn’t life. A game takes you over, or you take over it, pushing it in ways you can’t for real.

So you drove through the light, squealing around a corner. As you took the turn too wide, you saw a little pedestrian in a white long-sleeved shirt and blue pants coming too close, but you couldn’t stop. Actually, you didn’t want to stop. So you just drove. Drove right into the ped–only to hear a satisfying splat, like a crushed grape with a wine-colored stain on the sidewalk, and the number “100” rising from the corpse. Score! This wasn’t the old Race ‘n’ Chase anymore.

The moment that DMA let players run over pedestrians–and be rewarded with points, no less–changed everything. Instead of cops and robbers, the game became robbers and cops. The object was to run missions for bad guys, such as jacking cars, the more the better. The leap was radical. In the short history of games, players had almost always been the hero, not the antihero. You were the heartsick plumber of Super Mario Bros., the intergalactic pilot of Defender, the glacial-paced explorer of Myst. One obscure arcade game from the 1970s, Death Race 2000, let players run over virtual ghosts, and it got banned. Nothing put you behind the wheel to wreak havoc like this. As Brian Baglow, a writer for DMA, said “You’re a criminal, so if you do something bad, you get a reward!”

Read the story

Longreads Best of 2013: 22 Outstanding Book Chapters We Featured This Year

This year we featured not only the best stories from the web, but also great chapters from new and classic books. Here’s a complete guide to every book chapter we featured this year, both for free and for Longreads Members: Read more…

Longreads Member Exclusive: Cormac McCarthy's Apocalypse

This week we’re excited to feature a Longreads Exclusive from David Kushner, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone whose work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ and Wired. “Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalypse” is Kushner’s 2007 Rolling Stone profile of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Road,” “No Country for Old Men” and “All the Pretty Horses.” See an excerpt here.

p.s. You can support Longreads—and get more exclusives like this—by becoming a member.

(Illustration by Katie Kosma)

Longreads Member Exclusive: ‘Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalypse’

Longreads Pick

This week, we're excited to feature a Longreads Exclusive from David Kushner (@DavidKushner), a contributing editor to Rolling Stone whose work has also appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ and Wired. He's been featured many times on Longreads, and he's the author of Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto

“Cormac McCarthy’s Apocalypse” is Kushner's 2007 Rolling Stone profile of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Road, No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses. Kushner explains how he first met the reclusive writer:

"I owe my Cormac McCarthy story to two people: Harvard physicist Lisa Randall, and my dad. My dad urged me to read Cormac's books when I began writing for my college newspaper. The sentences are amazing, he said. He was right, and I read every one of them. Years later, I was interviewing Randall for Rolling Stone when she told me that Cormac had done an edit of her most recent book on theoretical physics. Come again? I said. Cormac hangs out at the Sante Fe Institute, she explained, a science research center in the foothills of New Mexico. After meeting him there, he offered to read her book—and surprised her by sending back an edited copy of the manuscript. Hmm, I said. Can I interview him about you for the story?

"Randall laughed, and I knew why. Cormac had a reputation for being reclusive, and had only done a couple interviews over his career. It's a long shot, she said, but she'd give it a try. A few minutes later my phone rang. You're not going to believe this, she said, but he'll talk with you.”

Source: Rolling Stone
Published: Dec 1, 2007
Length: 16 minutes (4,196 words)

An illiterate child from a small town in India falls asleep on a train and ends up lost in Calcutta, unable to find his way back home. Twenty-five years later, while living with his adoptive family in Australia, he locates his lost hometown using memories and Google Earth:

This was it, the name of the station where he was separated from his brother that day, a couple hours from his home. Saroo scrolled up the train track looking for the next station. He flew over trees and rooftops, buildings and fields, until he came to the next depot, and his eyes fell on a river beside it—a river that flowed over a dam like a waterfall.

Saroo felt dizzy, but he wasn’t finished yet. He needed to prove to himself that this was really it, that he had found his home. So, he put himself back into the body of the barefoot five-year-old boy under the waterfall: ‘I said to myself, Well, if you think this is the place, then I want you to prove to yourself that you can make your way back from where the dam is to the city center.’

Saroo moved his cursor over the streets on-screen: a left here, a right there, until he arrived at the heart of the town—and the satellite image of a fountain, the same fountain where he had scarred his leg climbing over the fence 25 years before.

“A Home at the End of Google Earth.” — David Kushner, Vanity Fair

More by Kushner

How George Hotz, a teenager from New Jersey, kicked off a hacker war that pitted Sony against Anonymous and the group LulzSec:

That year, someone mailed Hotz a PlayStation 3 video-game system, challenging him to be the first in the world to crack it. Hotz posted his announcement online and once again set about finding the part of the system that he could manipulate into doing what he wanted. Hotz focussed on the ‘hypervisor,’ powerful software that controls what programs run on the machine.

To reach the hypervisor, he had to get past two chips called the Cell and the Cell Memory. He knew how he was going to scramble them: by connecting a wire to the memory and shooting it with pulses of voltage, just as he had when he hacked his iPhone.

“Machine Politics.” — David Kushner, The New Yorker

More #longreads from Kushner

Chris Chaney was a 33-year-old loner in Florida who decided to shake up his boredom by breaking into celebrities’ email accounts. Soon he discovered nude photos of Scarlett Johansson and other stars, and then the FBI came calling:

While perusing the e-mail of celebrity stylist Simone Harouche in early November 2010, he stumbled across photos of her client Christina Aguilera trying on outfits in a dressing room, wearing little more than silver pasties. Chaney found a random guy on a celebrity message board and sent him an e-mail telling him he knew ‘someone’ who had hacked pictures of Aguilera. Did he want to check them out?

Chaney freaked the moment he sent it. What the hell am I doing? he thought. He was using a phony e-mail address, but he didn’t know how to effectively cover his tracks. On December 8, a headline appeared on TMZ: ‘Christina Aguilera: My Private Sexy Pics Were Hacked.’ Aguilera’s rep told TMZ they were ‘attempting to determine the identity of the hackers and will pursue them aggressively.’

“The Man Who Hacked Hollywood.” — David Kushner, GQ

More Kushner: “The Hacker is Watching.” Jan. 15, 2012, GQ