Reading the documents from earlier in his life, we see Chris described “violent”, “argumentative”, “disruptive”, and “disrespectful”. In recent interviews, however, we have heard quite the opposite. We’ve heard Thomas being described as “bright”, “polite”, and an “attractive kid”. Of course we’re talking about events separated by two decades in Chris’ life from elementary years to late twenties and now age thirty. So some of his current progress, no doubt is attributed to maturity. Yet even those who met with him saw differences in his behavior and general attitude one-on-one than that of his experience in the school system. This is typical of those in his situation, hardened children. They may have trouble functioning in an organized environment such as public school in their younger years, but are very unaware of what they are doing being so young. Even all the way up to Chris’ arrest in 1999, we learn that he had little to do with the robbery at hand and was maybe a little more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Neglected by his parents and grandparents, that are the foundation for every kid, bouncing back and forth to numerous foster homes, and topping it all off with a major arrest. You have to feel for him, and be proud of any progress he has made.
At 8AM this morning, the team was back at the Center for Sustainable Journalism for our seventh group meeting, eager to discuss the next steps. Although Professor Leonard Witt has been at a Journalism conference in Arizona all week, we were able to talk to him via phone and Skype for the meeting. Beginning promptly at 8AM (5AM Professor Witt’s time), the Journalists started off by opening up the CT Timeline in a Google Docs spreadsheet that track any significant information we find in the case source docs. We were searching for any chronological holes in the story. As the story comes together through our timeline that maps out specific dates of significant events, we realize the we are ready to write our first draft of the story. Kevin Enners, who has a great understanding of the case from his research (and writing experience as the author of a crime novel, The Crave), immediately took up the task. To write the first draft, Kevin will be using our CT Timeline spreadsheet of events that outline the youth’s life. Kevin’s first draft will give us a a clear look at what might be missing and what we will want to highlight in the final story.
As we discover holes in the timeline, we know we must uncover more information beyond the documents. And how do we acquire this information? Interviews. Unfortunately, the Journalists have experienced some trouble finding the most recent contact information for this dated case. Not only is it difficult to find the correct contact information, but we also have to recognize the number of years that have passed since many of our interview prospects have worked with the youth. So, when we do actually contact these prospects, we have to hope that they can remember the youth to an extent that will contribute to the telling of his story.
After a few disappointing roadblocks with failures at finding the correct contact information for interview prospects, the Journalism team discussed ways to overcome these obstacles. One solution we came up with is to hire an investigative reporter. Luckily, from the grant this project received, we have money stored away for any extra means needed to complete the project. An investigative reporter may be just what we need to help us track down some of the prospects whose perspectives are so necessary to the accurate telling of this story.
After the timeline talk, Gwenette walked us through the Machinima Script that the Virtual World group has created for the CT Story. The final machinima product will be seven minutes and portray the youth’s life from his early years in foster care, including acting up in school, to the crime, his arrest, and his sentencing. Judging by the previous machinima the Virtual World group has shown us of Chicago crime scene, this machinima will be nothing short of vivid pictures that create a deeper understanding of what this youth has gone through. One major thing to note is the time it will take to create this machinima. This means that the final deadline for the Journalists to get all significant information to the Virtual World group is Wednesday, October 7. With this in mind, all team members are scrambling to find any further significant events to add to the machinima story.
Insights from Pete Colbenson
After the group meeting, Pete Colbenson, a prior juvenile detention center operator, came in to talk to us about juvenile detention centers and how they have changed over time. Pete gave a plethora of information, sharing his experience-based insights. This helped us all to better understand the rulings and societal events that were occurring at the time of the youth’s arrest that may have greatly affected the youth receiving a 40 year sentence. During our discussion with Pete we gained more knowledge about the history of the Juvenile Justice System and how it works today. This will ultimately help us comprehend and showcase the entire CT story.
As we continue to research the contents of the documents and learn more about the Juvenile Justice System, we begin to see our Google Docs are coming together to form a more cohesive picture of the story than just our sketched-out story scenes and scribbled class notes.What started out as thousands upon thousands of pages of cluttered, muddled source docs has taken the shape of a story. A tragic case. A troubled boy’s life. An inside look on the injustices that this youth faced, from the moment he was born to his habeas corpus hearing. Through the numerous individual reports of a boy’s life and his trial transcripts, these documents are a reflection of the Juvenile Justice System and the very real consequences that any troubled youth may be likely to face.
By bringing this story to life through the machinima and a written long-story text, we hope to bring awareness to these issues that are so often ignored – until personally faced.
What an utterly impersonal way to acquire extremely personal information.
No matter how remote and businesslike they can be, phone interviews are unfortunately a very necessary part of the story-telling process. Over the past weeks, we have been reading through the documents to attain the contact information of people who were in close contact with the youth throughout his life. From caseworkers, foster parents, judges, and lawyers, we are determined to reach out to anyone and everyone who can provide us with more insight on the youth’s life. The reason for phone calls is to first establish that initial contact – then, hopefully, we can move from these impersonal phone interviews to more personal visits.
However, since this case occurred over 15 years ago, it has been much more difficult to contact these people than expected. After various calls to many numbers found in the documents and numbers found online, we have become more and more accustomed to the sound of the repeated “beep, beep beep,” indicating a disconnected phone line or an immediate voicemail response from an unrelated individual. Conducting interviews is nerve-wracking in itself, which is why we have a set of questions prepared for each specific person before each call. However, what is even more troubling is the very real possibility of not being able to get in contact with these prospects who are very valuable to the accurate telling of this story.
All we can do now is keep trying. And if we are unable to contact our prospects by phone, we may even have to take a step further and visit them at their houses. If there is one thing I have learned about Journalism from this project, it is the essence of persistence. Never stop trying until you are out of options. Then, find more options. Try everything. Always succeed. Whenever doubt sets in, I remind myself that this isn’t simply a school internship. This is the story and life of an individual who faced an injustice, and it is an opportunity to provide him with another chance at a fair trial. That being said, may the phone calls continue. And may the voice of this youth be heard.
Picture this: Complete silence in a room full of 12 dedicated interns, working hard as they search through their documents to find the most significant parts of each one. With each important fact they uncover and add to the collaboration sheet on GoogleDocs, the closer they become to unraveling and effectively reporting the noteworthy story that could change the life of this particular youth, as well as the lives of many other youth across the country.
If you pictured this, and felt it – with all of these imminent emotions of the substantial impact of this project welling up inside you – you may have successfully visualized and had a slight sense of the sixth JJIE VW group meeting that took place at 9AM today at the Center for Sustainable Journalism.
Now – to have an idea of how we got to this moment of pure collaboration and document absorption, let’s take a moment to reflect on the meetings that had occurred just hours earlier. Before the group meeting today at 8AM, the Journalism group met to discuss the next steps regarding interviews, while the PR group met to discuss social media plans. While the Journalists were working on locating contact information of interview prospects, the PR group were working to make this project more prevalent in the community and beyond through the establishment of Facebook and Twitter accounts. In addition, the Virtual World group met yesterday, Thursday 9/22, to discuss the machinima for the CT story. After many hours of discussion on how to approach the story and how to produce the machinima, the group seems to have created a more precise outline of how they plan to display the story via virtual world. All in all, every single one of these tasks that each group is taking on are extremely important, and will ultimately work hand-in-hand to successfully expose this story to the world.
This brings us back to today’s meeting – where this hand-in-hand collaboration could be clearly observed. Today’s group meeting consisted of reverting back to each of the documents, and choosing the most significant quotes, moments, and facts from each. With each noteworthy finding, each intern took the time to enter the date, document #, description of event, names of people involved, quote, and any other relevant information into a neatly-created GoogleDoc spreadsheet, prepared by Gwenette. The intention of this spreadsheet is to make it easier for the machinimists to find the most important information and art clippings from the story to include in the machinima story.
As GoogleDocs continues to be our medium for information collaboration, we all learn something new every day about the importance of organization and communication. Furthermore, every day, we all take one step closer to telling the story of this incarcerated youth, to making his voice heard, and possibly even magnifying the injustices of his case and in the Juvenile Justice System just enough to make a difference in this particular youth’s life, and more.
Christopher Thomas has been waiting for a big break his entire life. From being neglected as a child to being aggressive with his peers, he came from a very low point and didn’t have a friend in the world. Being in prison since age 13 will take a toll on anyone, I’m sure. Christopher may not know what will become of him should he never be granted a trial and have the chance to be freed. Yet from what we know of him, he is doing well.
It’s been said that Thomas has obtained his GED, a big deal for people in his predicament seeing as though very few of them become high school educated. According to his attorney’s letter in 2012, he was working towards earning his commercial drivers license, a license often needed to drive a larger vehicle. What is he planning on pursuing with this?
Thomas was really a kid cast down before his time. He was given very little options and had very few chances. But he’s making something of himself. Moving forward, it would be great to discover more.
Finding, uploading and displaying imagery inworld is proving challenging for the project interns. 3D object creation is a new skill for all of them, but they are persistent and committed to learning inworld building skills. They are realizing how important it is to do things in order and pay careful attention to details – especially when manipulating a prim object’s shape, rotation and position. The completed assignments will become part of the emotionally evocative imagery used for the CT Story and Forgive poem machinima scenarios.
This week has been extremely busy with the editing of the first machinima and brainstorming/planning for the next ones. However, I went inwold and read over the storytelling slides, which helped give me a sense of how the stories can be told and the structure they can have. These slides are displayed in a place called Storytelling Circle, which is one of my favorite locations. I love the starry sky, the fire, the cottages, and the cozy feeling this location exudes.
When I first found out that all interns would have their own avatars and build inworld, nervous was not the emotion that overcame me. I worried and feared that my confusion and lack of knowledge with technology would hinder my capability to fully grasp virtual reality — I was wrong. Our developer, Gwenette Sinclair, has done a phenomenal job of guiding us through each homework assignment with clear and concise directions. I first logged in knowing nothing and now know when I login I can create, rotate, copy, and change shapes of boxes in inworld. I can create note cards and drop them in a basket that is delivered to Gwenette via Internet. I can fly, run, and teleport to any location I choose. It is amazing how practice and patience with virtual reality has allowed me to acquire skills and enjoy every time I login inworld.
This week’s virtual world assignment required us to take a screenshot of ourselves facing the camera, while sitting on a poseball at one of several locations. I chose to take my snapshot while relaxing under a tree near the Storytelling Circle. One of the wonderful things about being inworld is that two worlds come to life. I chose to sit under the tree because in reality I love to be outdoors. Being able to sit under a tree and stargaze in our virtual world, like I do in the physical world, is the best of both worlds for me.
In the Storytelling Circle interns are exploring displays and slide shows about the classic principles of all storytelling, while learning guidelines for translating their stories into 3D immersive scenarios for journalism machinima documentaries. For one of their assignments, they took evening inworld snapshots of themselves in front of a Pixar Storytelling principle that is personally meaningful. Then they dropped their own written comments about the principle in the Storytelling Creativity Basket inworld.