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.