This American Life

Why don’t we still see radio as a staple in the US household anymore? Are we honestly that swept up by digital images on screens? Well, I am an advocate for bringing back the radio. Sean and I are those kind of people, who listen to radio while we make dinner and download the podcasts of good shows like Car Talk, Radio Lab, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me, and This American Life.

In case you all didn’t get to listen to this past weekend’s episode of This American Life, it was a really good episode. I tend to like the shows where the focus the entire hour on one story, as opposed to telling three mini-stories. Not that those aren’t good, but I like getting a lot of details that the little 20 minute stories don’t offer.

The story this week was about a drug court judge in my (now home) state of Georgia. Apparently she is one million times tougher on people than any drug court judge has to be.

Here’s a link to the story’s information, but I’ll just copy and paste it here, too.

Ira reports from Glynn County Georgia on Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams and how she runs the drug courts in Glynn, Camden and Wayne counties. We hear the story of Lindsey Dills, who forges two checks on her parents’ checking account when she’s 17, one for $40 and one for $60, and ends up in drug court for five and a half years, including 14 months behind bars, and then she serves another five years after that—six months of it in Arrendale State Prison, the other four and a half on probation. The average drug court program in the U.S. lasts 15 months. But one main way that Judge Williams’ drug court is different from most is how punitive it is. Such long jail sentences are contrary to the philosophy of drug court, as well as the guidelines of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. For violating drug court rules, Lindsey not only does jail terms of 51 days, 90 days and 104 days, Judge Williams sends her on what she calls an “indefinite sentence,” where she did not specify when Lindsey would get out.

We hear about how Brandi Byrd and many other offenders end up in Judge Williams’ drug court. One reason drug courts were created was to save money by incarcerating fewer people. But in Judge Williams’ program, people like Brandi end up in drug court—at a cost of $350 per month—who would’ve simply gotten probation in most other Georgia counties. When offenders like Brandi are kicked out of the program—and half of participants in Judge Williams’ drug court program don’t successfully complete it—they go into detention, at a cost of $17,000 per year. Brandi did two years.

We also hear how one model drug court participant, Charlie McCullough, was treated by Judge Williams.

Crazy, right? It’s an awesome episode, and I highly recommend you listen to it.

With that being said, I have to tell you about one of my favorite episodes of This American Life so far. It was a “driveway moment” when it came on because Sean and I sat in a parking lot for like 30 extra minutes so we could hear the entire story.

It is episode #419: Petty Tyrant.

In Schenectady, NY, a school maintenance man named Steve Raucci works his way up the ranks for 30 years, until finally he’s in charge of the maintenance department. That’s when he starts messing with his employees. Teasing them at meetings. Punishing them with crummy work assignments. Or worse things, like secretly slashing their tires in the middle of the night.

Host Ira Glass introduces the story of Steve Raucci, by way of an anecdote about a contraband space heater. It seems that everyone who knew Raucci experienced something he did that was just a bit…off.

Producer Sarah Koenig tells Raucci’s story—the story of a virtuoso tyrant and bully, a man who made himself feared and untouchable, in a place where no one thought to look for a tyrant.

Sarah Koenig’s story continues. This is the ‘fall’ half of the rise and fall of Steve Raucci…including secret recordings of the man himself.

I don’t know why I like it so much, maybe it’s the storytelling. Maybe it’s the strangeness of the whole story. Maybe it’s that the villain is SO hateable. I don’t know. But so far, it’s my favorite. I’ve listened to is multiple times.

One of my other favorites is so interesting. It’s part of episode #385 Pro Se.

From London, TAL contributor Jon Ronson tells the story of a man who has spent more than a decade trying to convince doctors that he’s not mentally ill. But the more he argues his case, the less they believe him.

I like the narrator. I like the story. Listen to it.

Ok, this is the last one, I promise. It’s called #360 Switched at Birth.

On a summer day in 1951, two baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families.

One of the mothers realized the mistake but chose to keep quiet. Until the day, more than 40 years later, when she decided to tell both daughters what happened. How the truth changed two families’ lives—and how it didn’t.

Host Ira Glass introduces four characters: Kay McDonald, who raised a daughter named Sue, and Mary Miller, who raised a daughter named Marti. In 1994, Mary Miller wrote letters to Sue and Marti, confessing the secret she’d kept for 43 years: The daughters had been switched at birth and raised by the wrong families. This week’s entire show is devoted to the story of Mary Miller’s secret and what happened when both families finally learned the truth.

Reporter Jake Halpern tells the story of Marti Miller and Sue McDonald, the daughters who were switched at birth, and the many complications that came with learning the truth. Jake is writer whose books include Fame Junkies and Braving Home.

Jake Halpern tells the mothers’ sides of the story. At 69, Kay McDonald had to cope not only with learning that her daughter wasn’t her own, but that another mother had known the whole time. And Mary Miller explains why she was tormented by her secret but unable for decades to share it.

Overall, I’m trying to tell you that if you’re not listening to This American Life, you’re missing out, like a lot.

2 thoughts on “This American Life

  1. Brunswick News finally printed something on this yesterday ,but as usual small town corruption had to put its spin on things. She received death threats, likely from her own camp to discredit those trying to oust her. The article comes out six days after the national radio broadcast, six days not a word, then this, corruption in Brunswick? You decide. The “news” article:

  2. Please help us! We have been suffering since this woman took office in 1990! Now that her power-mad corruption has finally reached national attention we have a chance to finally get rid of her. Don’t believe there’s real corruption in Brunswick? Our local paper has still yet to print one word about this. Listen to the podcast. Google her name. This doesn’t even address her conduct in civil and criminal court! The story Our site.

    Read more at Thank You for any way you can help us.

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