Search Results for: Texas Observer

Diabetes in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley: ‘The Inevitable Inheritance’

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Residents of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas lose limbs and appendages to diabetes-related amputation at a rate 50 percent higher than anywhere else in the United States. So many people there have diabetes, that “In the Valley, there’s a fatalism associated with the disease, often considered an inevitable inheritance.” While losing a limb is horrible under any circumstances, as Sophie Novack reports at Texas Observer, the greatest tragedy is that because the vast majority of diabetes-related amputations are preventable with education and early intervention, it doesn’t have to be this way.

So he waited. Maybe it would pass.

Finally, the smell got unbearable. Like road kill in the hot South Texas sun. A couple of months after the blister appeared, Zamora drove 2 miles to Valley Baptist Medical Center, where doctors quickly diagnosed him: His diabetes, uncontrolled for years, had blocked blood flow to his toe, preventing it from healing. What began as a minor blister was now a life-threatening emergency. Zamora says the doctors sent him home with medication to treat the wound, but a few weeks later he went back to the ER, where he had two toes on his left foot amputated to prevent gangrene from spreading up his leg.

It’s a story told over and over again in the Valley: You don’t know you have diabetes until it’s severe, because you rarely see a doctor. You get a cut or blister but ignore it, because diabetes-related nerve damage means you can’t feel it, or you’re too busy working or taking care of your family to go to the doctor. The wound gets infected. By the time you get help, the infection is so bad that amputation is necessary. You can’t afford proper care, so sometimes the wound gets infected again. You get another amputation.

…amputations are important indicators that something went wrong with diabetes management, because they’re generally preventable in patients who can access diabetes education and primary care.

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Hurricane Harvey Made Strange Bedfellows in Texas

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Outside of Houston, Cambodian immigrants built a small community in the unincorporated town of Rosharon, growing water spinach, called trakuon, for the Cambodian community. Then Hurricane Harvey hit and flooded the town’s homes and its farms.

For the Texas Observer, Michael Hardy reports on a surprising, uneasy alliance in the rebuilding efforts: Volunteer assistance from white far-right groups wearing Confederate flag jackets and camouflage. These anti-government neo-Confederates arrived to help Rosharon before the local government or the Red Cross arrived, and they took over the rebuilding effort so firmly that they initially refused to let in FEMA. Who were these people, and did they really just want to help?

The groups are affiliated with the so-called Patriot movement, which emerged in the early ’90s from the ashes of Ruby Ridge and Waco’s Branch Davidian compound, and whose ranks expanded dramatically during the Obama administration. The Freedom Keepers are an Oregon-based group whose members appeared at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer brandishing assault rifles and wearing body armor. (Marion, the Freedom Keepers and the New York Light Foot Militia are among the defendants currently being sued by Charlottesville and Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection to prevent them from returning. They’re also being sued by two women injured in the car attack that killed Heather Heyer.) The Confederate Riders, a Missouri-based group, travel the country protesting the removal of Confederate monuments. The two groups share information and coordinate protests mainly through their Facebook pages, which each have 10,000-plus followers.

Both groups harbor extreme anti-government views and believe the Constitution is under siege by a range of nefarious forces. On the Freedom Keepers’ weekly Facebook Live broadcast, “The American Radio Show,” Marion rails against Hillary Clinton, George Soros, Muslims and undocumented immigrants. He portrays the Patriot movement as America’s last line of defense. “This country will fall if we don’t get into the middle of it and change it from within,” he said on the show in December. “We have to become a disease. Some bacteria and some infections are beneficial. And we need to become an infection inside the body.”

Having infected Little Cambodia, the far-right groups were not eager to give it up. They didn’t see an impoverished community that had been shamefully underserved for decades and abandoned by the government in its time of greatest need; they saw a proudly self-reliant people who had built a libertarian paradise. “It’s been a really awakening experience to see what it means for people to live on their own, live their way, make their choices,” Marion said in a Facebook Live video from Rosharon. “It really is the American dream.”

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The Death Penalty on Display

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At The Texas Observer, Robin Ross writes on the rise of dark tourism — the macabre fascination with Huntsville’s Texas Prison Museum — site of America’s first lethal injection.

The three syringes lie in a row, lined up neatly on a somber black background. Displayed with a saline drip bag and looping IV catheter, the vials are oversized, as though designed for the chubby hands of a child playing a macabre game of doctor. Below each is a typed card explaining its purpose in the December 1982 death of Charlie Brooks, Jr., the first person in the United States executed by lethal injection.

To their right is a pair of hair clippers used for shaving inmates’ heads before electrocution as well as a sponge that was soaked in salt water to conduct electricity. The last thing to touch dozens of men’s shaven skulls, the sponge sits on a plastic riser, its face pale and pockmarked like the surface of a distant moon. A second sponge is in a baggie on a shelf a few steps away in the Texas Prison Museum’s vault. The objects sit there matter of factly, their subtle presentation belying the roles they’ve played in execution, Texas history and making Huntsville — with its five prisons and the headquarters for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) — shorthand for the death penalty all over the world.

Last year’s visitors came from all over the world. They arrived alone, with their kids on vacation, on school field trips, on charter buses loaded with senior citizens, with their motorcycle clubs, and on the way to visit spouses on death row. Some showed their prison ID cards, mentioned where they’d been incarcerated and cracked jokes about former residents getting discounted admission.

People like to play outlaw, walking into the replica of a cell, and for a dollar per person, visitors can borrow striped shirts and snap selfies behind bars.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

May 31, 1977 —Cambridge, MA — Photographs of American slaves, possibly the oldest known in the country, have been discovered in the basement of a Harvard University museum. Among the previously unpublished daguerreotypes discovered are these (L-R): a Congo slave named Renty, who lived on B.F. Taylor's plantation, "Edgehill"; Jack, a slave from the Guinea Coast (ritual scars decorate his cheek); and an unidentified man.

This week, we’re sharing stories from Clint Smith, Hanif Abdurraqib, Lise Olsen, Jaya Saxena, and Emma Carmichael.

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1. Stories of Slavery, From Those Who Survived It

Clint Smith | The Atlantic | February 9, 2021 | 29 minutes (7,250 words)

“The Federal Writers’ Project narratives provide an all-too-rare link to our past.”

2. Grief’s Anatomy

Hanif Abdurraqib | The Baffler | January 4, 2021 | 8 minutes (2,074 words)

“Hope awaits organizers like a trap.”

3. Undetected

Lise Olsen | Texas Observer | February 8, 2021 | 15 minutes (3,762 words)

“Prior to his arrest, local authorities had dismissed nearly all of those incidents as an unusual spike in natural deaths—a run of bad luck. But public records and interviews reveal that, time after time, investigators in Dallas made critical mistakes and overlooked or ignored signs of foul play.”

4. The Limits of the Lunchbox Moment

Jaya Saxena | Eater | Febuary 8, 2021 | 13 minutes (3,400 words)

“The story of being bullied in the cafeteria for one’s lunch is so ubiquitous that it’s attained a gloss of fictionality.”

5. Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird Are Goals

Emma Carmichael | GQ | February 9, 2021 | 21 minutes (5,324 words)

“Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe both had Hall of Fame–worthy careers before they met. But to reach new, boundary-obliterating levels of achievement on and off the field, they needed each other. And, as they tell Emma Carmichael, their work is just getting started.”

The Unseen in a Pandemic without Technology

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Zoom has become a lifeline for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. But what if you’re not allowed to use it? Michael Barajas explains in The Texas Observer that the majority of Texas state lockups still don’t have video visitation, and, with in-person visitation suspended, thousands of people have spent nine months in near-total isolation from their families. For the children of inmates, this can be particularly difficult — at a young age not seeing a parent for a long time can render them a stranger: “Justin still tries to communicate by phone with his son but months without seeing each other has made him painfully distant.” Visitation is a lifeline even for those without children, with the social ties it creates vitally important to rehabilitation, especially during frightening times —  more people incarcerated in Texas are dying “from COVID-19 than in any other prison system.” Without the comfort of family, even via video, mental health in prisons has faced an inevitable decline. 

Even before the pandemic hit, suicides and suicide attempts inside the Texas prison system were already the highest they’d been since the 1990s. By September of this year, more people incarcerated by TDCJ had taken their own lives than in all of 2019. One of them was Ricky Hernandez, 26, who struggled with mental illness throughout his life, according to his family. Treatment records show Ricky was hospitalized for a major depressive disorder and put on multiple psychiatric medications before he entered prison in 2017 on charges of harassment and violating a protective order. Henry, his older brother, says that Ricky struggled in prison because of his illness. To try and cheer him up, a big group of family members used to visit him every other week at the Coffield Unit, the East Texas prison where he lived in solitary confinement

“It was always me, my mom, some aunts, our brother and sisters, just as many as could make it because we knew he liked seeing us,” Henry says. At the start of most visits, his brother seemed on edge, eyes darting around the room, but usually seemed to relax somewhere in the middle, he says. “I think we helped settle him down.” 

Henry says his brother stopped writing as frequently after visitation stopped in March. Prison officials called the family in early May to say Ricky had tried to take his own life. Then, on May 22, Ricky was “discovered unresponsive and hanging in his cell,” according to a report the prison filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office. After his death, someone housed near Ricky wrote to the family claiming that officers hadn’t checked on him for hours before his death. For months, Henry has called the prison system’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which investigates deaths in custody, asking whether his brother was treated for mental illness or checked on by guards the day he died. They have yet to give him any answers. OIG did not respond to the Observer’s questions about Ricky’s death.

 

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Longreads Best of 2020: All of Our No. 1 Story Picks

All Best of Longreads illustrations by Kjell Reigstad.

All through December, we’ll be featuring Longreads’ Best of 2020. Here’s a list of every story that was chosen as No. 1 in our weekly Top 5 email.

If you like these, you can sign up to receive our weekly email every Friday. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Michael Barajas, Evan Ratliff, Andrew Mckirdy, Raffi Khatchadourian, and Agnes Callard.

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1. The Prison Inside Prison

Michael Barajas | Texas Observer | January 21, 2020 | 25 minutes (6,335 words)

Decades with no personal contact, no way back into the general prison population, cut off from the possibility of parole — solitary confinement is an ongoing experiment in cruelty on human subjects.

2. The Mysterious Lawyer X

Evan Ratliff | The California Sunday Magazine | January 16, 2020 | 48 minutes (12,100 words)

Nicola Gobbo defended Melbourne’s most notorious criminals at the height of a gangland war. They didn’t know she had a secret.

3. Throwaway Society: Rejecting a Life Consumed by Plastic

Andrew McMirdy | The Japan Times | January 10, 2020 | 9 minutes (2,465 words)

Japan is the second-biggest producer of plastic waste per capita, after the US. One journalist tries to spend a week without using single-use plastic and discovers how dependent Japan’s food system has become on disposable plastic.

4. N.K. Jemisin’s Dream Worlds

Raffi Khatchadourian | The New Yorker | January 20, 2020 | 26 minutes (6,746 words)

In Raffi Khatchadourian’s New Yorker profile, N.K. Jemisin recounts the racism she witnessed as a child in Alabama in the ’80s, as well as racism — editorial and otherwise — that she has lived through in her career.

5. Who Wants to Play the Status Game?

Agnes Callard | The Point | January 16, 2020 | 6 minutes (1,549 words)

Hi, nice to meet you, are we playing the Importance Game or the Leveling Game? With a skilled player, it’s hard to tell one from the other.

The First Book

Sarah Menkedick | Longreads | July 2019 | 38 minutes (10,294 words)

For me the low point came two months after publication, at a playground a few blocks from my house. I sobbed on the phone with my sister, eking out incomprehensible sentences about my career this, my life expectations that, writing this, the publishing industry that, until finally my sister said, “Maybe you should look for a different job?” and I realized the jig was up — I was doomed to keep doing this ridiculous and often seemingly pointless thing.

A few weeks before this, I’d received my first letters from readers telling me how much they’d loved and needed the book, and I’d had another sister-to-sister phone call — just as wrought with emotion — in which I raved about all the deeper meaning and purpose of this milestone and how it wasn’t about the sales and the metrics but about what mattered blah blah blah. I ping-ponged like this for awhile, alternately aglow and despondent, hopeful and wretched, until finally I just started writing again and got on with it.

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Longreads Best of 2018: Profiles

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in profiles.

Sarah Smarsh
Journalist Sarah Smarsh has covered socioeconomic class, politics, and public policy for The Guardian, The New York Times, The Texas Observer, and many other publications.
Smarsh’s first book, Heartland, was long-listed for the National Book Award in nonfiction.

William Barber Takes on Poverty and Race in the Age of Trump (Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker)

The intersection of class, race, and religion — what could be more fraught in these times? Cobb’s rare combination of quiet wisdom and a steady journalistic hand is the perfect guide. He profiles Protestant minister William Barber, the progressive activist and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, with thorough reporting and sensitivity, letting facts speak for themselves but humanizing the subject as no fact alone can do. I’ve been part of the Poor People’s Campaign at the ground level and was heartened to learn here that more than one respected source calls Barber “the real thing.” But, whether or not Barber is your political comrade, you will learn that he believes himself to be your spiritual brother — a refreshing fusion of political and moral force on the sometimes god-averse left.


Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Feature writer for The New York Times.

The mystery of Tucker Carlson (Lyz Lenz, Columbia Journalism Review)

This was a really good year for profiles, despite their death (reported annually). So good that it was very hard to narrow it down, and so I was very grateful that I couldn’t pick any from the New York Times, where I work, which really helped narrow it down. (Though you’ve just got to read this one.)

And how do you choose from the others: Dan Riley on Timothée Chalamet (though exactly which profile/article/photo/table of contents, even, under Jim Nelson wasn’t great?). Allison P. Davis’ Lena Dunham lede-ender of fallopian tubes like outstretched arms? Amanda Fortini opening Michelle Williams’ historically very locked vault. Emily Nussbaum on Ryan Murphy. Paige Williams on Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Wright Thompson on Geno Auriemma. Jessica Pressler on Anna Delvey. (Jessica Pressler on anything.) What a year.

But I finally picked one, and when I did, I realized it was a no-brainer. Lyz Lenz, who has terrifying amounts of talent, pulled off the neatest trick: A profile of screamy Tucker Carlson that walks the line of being way too self-referential, and yet somehow makes that work. It’s perhaps because it’s so funny. It’s perhaps because instead of looking for some fatuous lede scene it goes straight to the most prominent aspect of Carlson (why is he always screaming?). It’s perhaps because she knows that there is no end to the delight of knowing his full name: Tucker McNear Swanson Carlson. Or maybe it’s this section ender: “His publicist calls after our interview to make sure I know that Carlson is not a racist.” Whatever it is, I was very grateful for it.


James Ross Gardner
Editor-in-chief, Seattle Met.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s Battering Ram (Paige Williams, The New Yorker)

I lost count of how many times Paige Williams was obliged to deploy terms like “inaccurately,” “falsely,” “erroneous,” and “lie” in this extraordinary portrait of Sarah Huckabee Sanders. What’s remarkable about Trump’s press secretary though is that, at least here, those words are rarely used to describe statements by Sanders herself — but rather of those whose lies she must justify. It’s also what makes Sanders a cipher of our time. How does someone who vehemently claims to possess high moral character rationalize defending the indefensible? Put another way: How does one become that person? Williams’s search for an answer takes her to her subject’s native Arkansas, where in the ’90s the daughter of then governor Mike Huckabee “was given Chelsea Clinton’s former bedroom” in the governor’s mansion, and Little Rock “residents and journalists mocked the Huckabees as rubes.” Later, during a visit with a lifelong friend, we catch a rare glimpse of the press secretary uncoiled and away from the podium, “wearing tropical-print shorts and flip-flops, with a blue blouse and her pearls.” Details like these are certainly humanizing. But Williams isn’t here to vindicate Sanders’s transgressions. In 9,293 words she deftly dismantles the notion that the president’s “battering ram” might walk away from any of this with clean hands. “A press secretary who had an abiding respect for First Amendment freedoms likely would have resigned once it became clear that Trump intended to steamroll his way through the Constitution,” Williams offers early in the piece. “But Sanders stayed.”


Seyward Darby
Editor in Chief, The Atavist.

The mystery of Tucker Carlson (Lyz Lenz, Columbia Journalism Review)

Lyz Lenz’s profile of Tucker Carlson in the Columbia Journalism Review begins and ends with the subject shouting at the writer, but insisting that he’s not. It’s the perfect encapsulation of Carlson’s raison d’être in the Trump era: convincing people to believe lies despite proof of the truth sitting right friggin’ there in the form of scientific studies, sociological data, photographic evidence, and the like. And when gaslighting fails? To Lenz, hardy soul that she is, Carlson again demonstrates his favorite ripostes. He deflects probing questions with glib mockery, by rejecting a query’s value so that he doesn’t have to address it, or — my personal favorite — with pseudo-intellectual incoherence masquerading as the sort of wily argument that wins high-school debaters gleaming trophies. (This is a digression where I beg someone reading this list to pen the definitive essay on how debate is the root of political evil. I will tweet it every day, forever.) Lenz, wholly in control of her craft, injects the profile with her own anxiety and anger about Carlson’s bullshit and with sly reminders that, for too long, respectable media overlooked his bullshit because Carlson was quite good at mimicking Hunter S. Thompson. People keep wondering, wide-eyed, what happened to Tucker Carlson. They don’t want to admit that the answer is, and was always, right friggin’ there.


Krista Stevens
Senior editor, Longreads.

Jerry and Marge Go Large (Jason Fagone, Huffington Post Highline)

To Gerald “Jerry” Selbee, an “intellectually restless” dyslexic cereal box designer from Battle Creek Michigan, everything in the world was a puzzle to be solved. At age 64, Selbee’s mathematical mind discovered a loophole in the Michigan Lottery’s “Winfall” game. He figured he’d test his lottery strategy as something fun to do to in retirement. Jason Fagone wrote 11,000 words about how Jerry and Marge Selbee won $27 million gaming the Michigan Lottery over nine years and this piece has it all in a winning combination. As you root for the working man who finds a way to win against a big government entity, you too savor the thrill of solving a tough puzzle to make your lottery dream come true. This is longform at its finest.

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Read all the categories in our Best of 2018 year-end collection.