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!

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.

As We Progress with the Project…

Collaborating on this project has been great.  I can’t ask for a better group of colleagues to work with.  We watch, listen and learn. We are patient with each other.  Group members are communicating and as a whole we are progressing.  The most challenging and time consuming issues for me involve inworld activities.  Logging on and learning the process of maneuvering  the camera and avatar proved challenging.  A little tidbit when logging inworld for the first time: your login  is first name space last name. Remember the space.

I wanted to be part of two groups: public relations and journalism, but decided to stick with journalism. Navigating the inworld platform is not that difficult, but learning the process is time consuming. By Sept. 2, 2015, the journalism group will have written outline/plan detailing goals, strategies and tactics for the entire group and for each individual journalist.  We are focused, determined and working hard to make sure the finished project represents our exceptional talents and efforts.  Everyone on the team understands the final goal is creating a phenomenal 4 to 5 minute machinima.

Today I spent a couple hours inworld with my avatar learning how to build.  I was fine until I got to the hallowing and cutting segments.  I left the virtual world to correspond with journalism group members regarding next Wednesday’s meeting and blogged. Our team goes above and beyond to exceed expectations.  It’s refreshing to know I am collaborating with very talented and motivated people.

Going back inworld, blog more soon.


My Voice: Contributing to the Virtual World Project

We had our show and tell on Wednesday, August 26, where we discussed our own greatest works along with connecting that to how we can contribute to the project. My presentation was on an article I wrote about my life with Asperger’s which was published by The Talon in April 2015. Dr. Witt had stated how mental health is one of the issues surrounding juveniles in the justice system, clearly not strange waters to someone who grew up in the autism camp. This makes me want to fall down on my knees and thank God that none of my struggles didn’t lead to being behind bars for any violent mishaps stemming from problems on the inside.

JJIE recently publish a story of a 14-year old inmate who committed suicide on last Easter Sunday. The lead sentence states “Severe understaffing and failures in training and mental health procedures” were factors in his death. It’s no surprise. It would be an interesting study to see how prevalent such circumstances are today and their correlation to the criminal actions of juveniles in the system.

The misconception, still prominent today, is that suicidal teens merely have a vain desire to “seek attention”. That there is no internal problem with them.  All they want is the proverbial spotlight cast on them by their peers or others around them, perhaps only to hear the wailing cries of “Don’t kill yourself! We love you!”. This is pretty far from the truth.

Many of those who feel the burden of suicidal idealization want to be happy. They don’t want to die, they want to live life and live it to the fullest. Yet, on the flip side, they may have a missing sense of self worth which leads to the conclusion (albeit a delusional one) that the world would be a better place without them.

What of those that get convicted and incarcerated so young? Who feel their life is over? Such a young imprisonment may bring the thought that one’s life is over. Especially when combined with mental health issues going unnoticed or untreated.



Inworld Yet?

Has everyone been in world? I have been working with Gwenette setting up my inworld presence, but have not been successful. Verifying the type of system you have prior to setting up the viewer is highly recommended 🙂 I installed and uninstalled the viewer but still having difficulties getting into the JJIE world.  Stopped by the Center for Sustainable Journalism to see Eric, but didn’t find him. Not sure of his schedule so sent Eric and Derek an email regarding help getting online.  Troubleshooting has been time consuming but the lessons very valuable.  I have no doubt I’ll be in world soon. Happy Friday!

Virtually Prepared, but Extremely Excited

Since “virtually” as an adjective actually means “nearly” or “almost,” I wanted to make it clear that I am not quite prepared, but I am extremely excited for the JJIE Virtual World Project. Furthermore, the main reason I used “virtual” is because “virtual” is not only one of the most important aspects of this project, but it is also one of the things I am most excited to learn more about.

Now that the JJIE Virtual World’s Project is finally underway, I am so extremely excited for so many reasons.

First, I am excited to be working with so many extraordinary students, professionals, technologists, and researchers to reach one unified goal: to amplify the voices of the marginalized youth in the Juvenile Justice System with innovative technology.

Speaking of innovative technology: this is one of the main reasons why I am “virtually” prepared. OpenSimulator is something I had never experienced before this project; however, all of my insecurities have been calmed thanks to the help of our Virtual World expert, Gwenette. She has already set up a Virtual World Welcome Workshop on OpenSimulator JJIE Virtual World grid, where a set of tasks is awaiting to help us all orient ourselves.

Although not all of us will be working on the technology side of this project, I think that it is so important for every team member to become familiar with the Virtual World environment. As a journalist for this project, the only way I can fully capture the story for the Virtual World is by knowing the types of questions and information I must collect and relay to our VW creators. Furthermore, if we are expecting our audience to navigate through this world as they follow the youth’s story, then we should know how to do the same.

When I first began my inworld experience, I was completely lost. However, the video tutorials and entire Workshop that Gwenette has created for us has really helped me to become more comfortable in this world. After the Prim-Building Tutorial, I feel like I can actually contribute to this world (to a very small extent), and that I can actually teleport, fly, walk, and use many different forms of transportation to navigate inworld. Although I don’t feel completely connected with my Avatar quite yet, I am sure I will begin feeling “one” with her once I can get her clothed the way I want and gain more inworld experience.

Now, as a member of the Journalism team, my next step is to find a story to bring back to life inworld.

Here’s to my first post — sorry about the length, I am really just so excited – the other ones won’t be as long!