This American Life: #604: 20 Years Later
December 13, 2016 4:41 AM - Subscribe

Samantha Broun talks to cops, politicians, inmates, and family closest to the crime that changed policy 20 years ago for inmates serving life sentences in Pennsylvania. It's a crime Samantha knows well, because it happened to her mom. This story was produced by Samantha Broun and Jay Allison for Transom, and won the Silver Award in the 2016 Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition. TW: Violence, sexual assault.
posted by ellieBOA (4 comments total)
I listened to about 3/4 of this before tapping out; it was excellent but so tough to listen to.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 2:22 PM on December 15, 2016

This was one of the best TALs that I've listened to (I've made through 100-200 of them....) I was impressed with the interviews from - that she was able to get a hold of those who made the sentencing/parole changes, asked substantial questions to them, and from what I recall, only Tom Ridge's, responses were evasive or cop-outs of any sort.
posted by fizzix at 2:14 PM on December 18, 2016

As much as I like making this topic a national point of discussion, and as much as I probably agree with the world view of the host and producer, I found it surprisingly hard to pay attention to this program.

The pacing seemed incredibly slow, the questions posed far too soft-ball, and the conclusion obvious from the beginning. I hesitate to poke at a Transom production; but this one seems celebrated enough to weather my amateur criticism.

The only thing in the show that really caught my interest was the interview with the other lifer who talked about other prisoners sorting economic criminals from emotional criminals (psychological criminals? I don't remember which word he used.) I'm not sure how seriously to take those statements; the guy's had decades of reflection and lots of exposure to outside information to color his memory; but it's a fascinating concept I'd never heard from that angle before. I wish they'd gone further into this and spent less time hanging out with the completely engaged brother.

Though I'm someone who cries at an embarrassing number of TAL episodes, even the happy ones, this one left me somewhere between bored and annoyed at being manipulated. This was 10 minutes of great radio, padded out to 60 minutes of dull radio.

None the less, taking people who've committed a huge range of different crimes and condemning them all to "life in prison," and then building in a discretionary escape clause because the sentence is obviously unreasonable, and then getting rid of the escape clause for shockingly uninformed and political reasons, makes it clear that our whole justice system is broken.
posted by eotvos at 11:15 AM on December 24, 2016

I loved this. I disagree a little bit with the criticism about it being too softball/obvious because I saw this piece as telling a very small story (about Jeremy and Samantha) in the context of a much larger story (McFadden), which is itself just a tiny portion of an even larger story with multiple prongs (incarceration rates, juvenile prison sentences, rehabilitation, commutation, etc.) To actually answer any questions, you'd need a season of Serial (of which this could be the first episode).

One question, that I'm hoping the right people are looking into, is did McFadden go into prison as a serial killer, or was it the 25 years of incarceration that made him into that? I'm having trouble finding details about his original crime (mainly because Google is pointing me to sensationalized tellings of the 1994 crimes that I don't want to click on). But the description in the show made me think felony murder, which is oversentenced at the best of times (IMHO), and giving a 16 year old a life sentence for that seems ridiculous (but, you know, black, 1960s, white victim, etc.). So yeah, the original sentence may have been unfair. But in this case, with hindsight...

So much went so wrong here, step after step after step. And this piece felt to me like Samantha doing an act of public service, to help correct some of the wrongs that she was used for in the past.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:07 AM on December 27, 2016

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