Senate Bill 440

Christopher Thomas was sentenced to 40 years when he was 13 years old. Though involved in robbing a pawn shop, he did not remove anything from the store, nor did he kill anyone. He was convicted of armed robbery and aggravated assault. Both Thomas and his co-defendant, Christopher Butts, were tagalongs in the robbery that they claimed was part of a gang initiation.

In the wrong place at the wrong time. Such is the fate of many minors aged 13-17 who get sentenced for one of seven great crimes, nicknamed the “Seven Deadly Sins”, under Senate Bill 440 – SB440. The minors face a huge penalty of adult proportions, being tried before the Department of Corrections as an adult in lieu of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

The “sins” or crimes in question are murder, rape, aggravated battery, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated robbery with firearm, aggravated child molestation, and aggravated manslaughter. Convicts face a minimum of 10 years in prison; those who are sentenced longer cannot receive parole. A second conviction results in a life sentence without parole.

Such juvenile cases were stiffened in 1994 as part of the common belief at the time to get tough on crime. Recidivism, or one’s relapse back into crime, was certainly impacted, but in the opposite direction. Georgia’s crime rates showed as many repeat offenders in the juvenile system as in the adult system. Recidivism is on the rise nationwide, leading many to think that the tough on crime SB440 has failed in it’s purpose.

Strict Project Schedule

Word Cloud created with Jason Davies opensource online tool –

Friday afternoon at the Center for Sustainable Journalism, a few team members, along with Leonard and Gwenette, met up (via Skype for Gwenette) to discuss a necessary calendar of deadlines for the project. As we discussed the stories we planned to cover and measured out the amount of time we actually had to gather/write the stories, create the machinima, and to promote/produce the scheduled events, we realized that we were definitely in a time crunch.  So, we brainstormed a plan for the remainder of the semester.

Below is an outline of  the Journalism, Machinima, & Event Plan:
Roles are not definitive, and will likely change as we learn who is willing to take on which tasks, based on abilities and interests.

We will be working on three basic products and a project manual:

“Forgive” Poem – Stylized Machinima — Supervisor: Gwenette

  • All ready to go – Need permission from The Beat Within (contact: David Inoncencio)
    • Claire & Ann will secure that – get in writing that it is okay to set the poem in a virtual world environment and that we have worldwide rights to distribute that in any form and on any platform, the copyrights to the poem and any other use of the poem belong to the writer. We can provide them a contract.
    • Ariel & Claire: Find a voice: First, see if the writer is willing to voice it, if not, we will have to do the voice for it. Either a student in the project, an acting student or someone with a strong professional voice.  Alternative is to use several voices reading different stanzas, so we will be gathering many voices reading the poem.
    • Derek, Eric & Cristina – artistic look & machinima creation
    • Anyone else interested in inworld building can also help

The CT Story – Presently Incarcerated Adult Arrested When a Juvenile

  • Long text story – Supervisor: Leonard Witt – First draft due Nov. 1, rewrite Nov. 15
    • Ariel, Camille, Claire, Jackson, Kevin: Study documents to gather background information, research further info & interview people involved with case to write story
  • The Virtual World, Machinima spin off – Supervisor: Gwenette Sinclair – Like a Story sidebar – start building it immediately – writers above feed information to inworld build team using our gDoc spreadsheets for sharing information
    • Ann, Cristina, Jackson, Jourdan, Eric, Derek & whoever else wants to help

PR Events: Ariel, Kassidy, Linda

  • October 07: Virtual World Class Speaker Nina Camplin
  • October 07:  Mixed Reality Noon Live Music Concert w/Dancing
  • October 21: Virtual World Class Speaker Chantal Harvey
  • Novenber 18: Mixed Reality Final Project Presentation Event (Determine Campus Location ASAP)
  • Decmeber 02: Mixed Reality Final Project Team Presentation Event, Media Lab of the LSU Social Science Building, 4:30-7:30pmET

Project Tool Kit Manual for Public Distribution:

  • Team only responsible for suggestions and comments on draft versions. Final version will be distributed in early 2016.

A New World

As I begin the third week of this amazing journey, I marvel at the amount of knowledge I have already gained through this project. As the old adage goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, I have literally walked into a world previously unknown to me.  With the mind of a novice, I have learned to walk, run and hopefully by the end of it all, I will be flying into greater heights of knowledge about this New World. Navigating through the virtual world has at times challenged my technological skills, but it has also revealed to me the joys of opening myself up to new ideas and succeeding in accomplishing new tasks.

As a Journalist, I appreciate the role the virtual world plays in highlighting issues of importance in society, and presenting them in a totally innovative way, in this case through the use of machinima. I have learned a lot from my peers who bring to this project such zeal and knowledge, and look forward to the process ahead.

Machinima Muse

Chicago neighborhood circa 1990_004v2

During the summer semester Eric, Derek, and Gwenette were working to develop a complete virtual world region (about 16 acres of land) with a neighborhood from Chicago circa 1990’s and produce a machinima of a young boy’s altercation with police.  It is looking very impressive. Derek, Eric, and I met last week to discuss what my role would be in the early machinima production stages of the project this fall.  We decided that editing what they have recorded thus far would be a great fit. We are looking to create a “prototype” of what the machinima stories we tell during our semester internship could potentially look like.

I spent a couple of hours using video editing software already installed on my computer, but I have not used it much.  Still, I was able to piece together a three-minute video that showcases the Chicago neighborhood. The challenges I encountered involved creating smooth transitions, dealing with flickering objects in the shots, and determining the best sequence for the footage.

We still have some more shooting and editing to do, but our machinima is looking great!

App Talk

Meeting3_6eIn addition to the exciting arrival of the case documents at our third meeting, we spent the last part of our meeting talking with Professor Soloman Negash, Executive Director of the Mobile Application Development (MAD) Center at Kennesaw State University.  We discussed the app we would like to create for the Virtual World Journalism Project.
Soloman looked to the team for our ideas about the app. First, we discussed our goals for the app. What did we want the app to ultimately do? To inform? To entertain? To bring attention to? All the above? We also talked about who we wanted our audience to be. Parents? Teens? Both? We definitely want an interactive app, especially if we plan on appealing to teenagers. However, we also want it to be informative for anyone who downloads the app.  We want to bring awareness to what occurs in Georgia’s Juvenile Justice System and hopefully prevent more youth from entering the system.

Here are some of the ideas we came up with as a group:
– “You Are the Judge” Game: Set in a court scene, if you were the judge, how would you judge these criminals? This app would be both interactive and informative, as you get to make the decision and you get to read about the different laws that you are expected to base the decision on.
– Interactive Quiz: This would be very informative for both adults and teens, as the quiz would ask many questions based on the Juvenile Justice System.
Walk-Through of a Juvenile’s Story in the Virtual World Platform: Imagine walking through a crime as your avatar plays the parts of different characters; and then being at the trial and being able to make the decision that will ultimately determine where the youth end up: in the Juvenile Justice System or life in adult prison, or in a rehabilitation program, etc.

The main goal for the app is through immersive interaction to inform teens that they are responsible for their own actions and can ultimately determine their own fate: including avoiding being put into the juvenile justice system.

By the end of our discussion, we had not made a final decision, but we plan to further discuss the different options in greater depth.  We are looking forward to working with Soloman to create an app that will directly address aspects of our goal: Bringing awareness to what happens in the Juvenile Justice System and in a youth’s life before and after committing a crime.

Case Documents Arrived!

We’ve been eagerly awaiting the documents all week, and today, at our third meeting, they have finally arrived: Big thanks to JJIE editor, John Fleming, for stopping by Emory to pick up the flash drive from Steve!

4,000+ pages of documents all about the prisoner’s life. From his placement in foster care as a 2 years old toddler, to his current life as an incarcerated 30 year old in the Calhoun State Prison, we have all of the background information we need in the palms of our hands.

We may have all of the facts and background information, but, as we are learning through Leonard’s assigned readings in The Complete Book of Feature Writing, we have so many more details, viewpoints, and pure emotions to gather before we can bring justice to this story.  The Journalists have been doing a lot of reading on what it takes to write a great story. As we brush up on our skills, we realize that reporting will be the first and main step in gathering the information for this story. After all, according to David Finkel, a Washington Post writer, “writing is nothing without reporting.”  Reporting will entail all of the research, interviewing, organization and “hanging around” that precedes the writing of the actual story. For this project,  reporting will be especially important, as we must gather as much detail as possible in order to relay the information to the inworld builders.

As we await a reply for an interview with Steve Reba (which will hopefully open the doors to many other interviews with various other people), we will start with step one: Research. Now that we have all the documents, we will find a way to divide them up to become familiar with the case. In addition, we will research the Senate Bill 440 aka SB440 laws and any other significant information that has significance for our particular case.

Before we interview, we want to know as much about the case as possible so we know the right questions to ask. As journalists, we know that during the visits and interviews, we must not only prepare quality questions to gather all the relevant information for our story, but we must also be passive observers. We need to take a step back, observe the area, and take detailed notes to assist our team builders in recreating this story in our virtual world as a set for the machinima.

Along with the information we are obtaining in the case documents, we are learning more and more every day about journalism and inworld building. As a team, we are all extremely excited to combine our developing skills to amplify the voice of Georgia’s youth in the Juvenile Justice System.