Obscured

Stories that Unfold Largely Out of the Public Eye

As journalists, we’ve done breaking news, in-depth reporting, data-driven projects. But over the years, we’ve seen our profession hit hard and coverage gaps widen as there are far fewer journalists working today than when we started out.

The result is that stories are simply being missed. Especially those that happen largely out of the public eye and involve critical issues that are complex and often overshadowed. That’s why we’re launching this podcast, to give obscured stories the attention they deserve and hopefully share something with you that you might not have known before.

As part of our approach, we’ll be mixing it up:

  • Original limited series where we dive deep on an obscured issue
  • Conversational interview episodes with policy professionals, researchers and journalists 
  • Revisiting some of our past reporting and finding out what has happened since we were last on the beat
  • Community-focused panel discussions    

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Trailer

Introducing Obscured: Chasing Untold Stories 

On this introductory episode, meet Emily and Stephanie. They tell the story of how their journalism careers crisscrossed several times before their collaboration and what led them to launching this new podcast for underreported, complex issues missed by the daily news cycle.

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Banned Books: Intellectual Freedom in Prison

Over the last several years, book bans across the United States have increased. But there’s been less attention paid to restrictions on the right to read within prisons and jails and perhaps even more so than before. As part of Banned Books Week, we’re building on our previous reporting and bringing you the latest developments on the issue. To learn more about this issue, you can also check out Kouvenda Media’s original series: Restricted Reading.

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From Words to Weapons Preview: Limited Series Launch

Fatal law enforcement encounters have understandably – and deservedly – captured our attention. But the tens of thousands of Americans who survive trauma inflicted by law enforcement every year are often overlooked. They go without the kind of support our systems offer to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and other forms of trauma. If survivors of other traumas often turn first to police, where are survivors of law enforcement trauma supposed to go? Not to mention, law enforcement often plays a significant role in survivor support beyond that (such as by funding other services and advising providers & policymakers). 

On this episode, Emily and Stephanie preview Obscured’s first limited series, From Words to Weapons. They explain why this topic is the focus of their inaugural series and share highlights of interviews with law enforcement professionals, trauma survivors, healthcare providers, attorneys, social workers, journalists and researchers.   

Links of interest mentioned in this episode:  
No Justice for All: Pennsylvania’s unequal access to adequate public defense 
At the Core of Care 

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FWTW Ep 1: Why Jimmy Warren Ran From Police

In Episode 1 of the From Words to Weapons series, we begin with Jimmy Warren’s story. It’s the first time he’s talking publicly about his gun case that made national headlines in 2016 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned his conviction, ruling that police hadn’t had reasonable suspicion to stop him in the first place. 

That decision attracted attention because it established running from police doesn’t necessarily justify a police pursuit, doesn’t automatically mean someone’s guilty and could seem like the logical thing to do given generational trauma over law enforcement – in communities of color, in particular. And that police need to consider that when evaluating whether a pursuit is legally justified. The thing is, no one ever heard from Jimmy. He wasn’t interviewed by any reporters. The lawyer who handled his newsworthy appeal case never even met him, despite efforts to find him. It’s like the case had a life of its own without him. In this episode, we hear about his story and the pervasiveness of law enforcement trauma and its effects.

Links to research mentioned in this episode:
Latent Class Profiles of Police Violence Exposure in 4 US Cities and Their Associations with Anticipation of Police Violence and Mental Health Outcomes(Leslie Salas-Hernández, et. al) 

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FWTW Ep 2: Barriers to Accountability with Joanna Schwartz

From Words to Weapons Episode 2 focuses on barriers to law enforcement accountability with Joanna Schwartz. Law enforcement accountability in the United States is complex and challenging, especially when it comes to trying to sue the police.

On this episode, Emily Previti and Stephanie Marudas turn to UCLA Law Professor Joanna Schwartz, a leading expert on police misconduct litigation in the United States and the author of the 2023 book Shielded: How the Police Became Untouchable.

Joanna discusses various barriers to law enforcement accountability based on her experience suing the police on behalf of clients and her extensive research.

The conversation covers issues including qualified immunity, plausible claims and public access laws, as well as emerging laws, policies and alternative models for law enforcement accountability.

Links of Interest mentioned in this episode: 
https://www.joannaschwartz.net/shielded-how-the-police-became-untouchable
https://law.ucla.edu/faculty/faculty-profiles/joanna-c-schwartz

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FWTW Ep 3: Chester Hollman III’s Story & the Politics of Wrongful Conviction

From Words to Weapons Episode 3 focuses on Chester Hollman III, who spent nearly three decades in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and the broader political fight over state-administered compensation for people who’ve been wrongfully convicted. A few years ago, Chester was the subject of a Netflix documentary; this episode picks up where that story left off. We talk with Chester about how he’s managing his mental health after being exonerated and now helping others rebuild their lives after prison. Through Chester’s post-incarceration story, we also unpack efforts and obstacles to support exonerees legislatively (fruitless thus far in Pennsylvania, among just a dozen states without wrongful conviction compensation laws) and politically (the Pa. GOP’s quest to oust Philly’s progressive district attorney was peaking while Chester was engaging with us for this podcast).

Links of interest:  

The Exoneree Health and Life Experiences (ExHaLE) study: Trauma exposure and mental health among wrongly convicted individuals.  

Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States 

Pennsylvania State House Bill 1470 

Exonerated Justice ordinance and resolution before Philadelphia City Council 

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner impeachment:  
Commonwealth Court 
State Supreme Court   

The Prosecution: Wrong Place, Wrong Time (Netflix’s The Innocence Files, ep. 7) 

Report of the Advisory Committee on Wrongful Convictions (Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission, 2011) 

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FWTW Ep 4: Community Trauma Interventions with Arturo Zinny

From Words to Weapons Episode 4 delves into community trauma interventions with Arturo Zinny. The conversation explores what takeaways there might be for people working to address law enforcement trauma and navigating relationships among institutions and communities with lived experience.

There’s a small network of researchers and policy makers, around the United States, who are thinking about how to support people who’ve experienced traumatic encounters with law enforcement.

To better understand what that might entail, Emily Previti and Stephanie Marudas have been talking to public health practitioners who’ve done adjacent work, hoping to learn about any models that might be analogous and provide more context about these sorts of interventions.

On this episode, Emily and Stephanie speak with Philadelphia-based public health researcher Arturo Zinny. Arturo is Executive Director of Drexel University’s Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice where he previously served as director of Healing Hurt People, which helps individuals cope with community violence. He’s also a Stoneleigh Foundation fellow and is researching how evidence-based, trauma-informed practices affect the mental health of youth survivors of violence.

Links of interest:  
https://drexel.edu/dornsife/academics/faculty/Arturo-Zinny/#:~:text=Bio,Dornsife%20School%20of%20Public%20Health

https://drexel.edu/cnsj/#:~:text=The%20Center%20for%20Nonviolence%20and,to%20sustaining%20careers%2C%20and%20through

https://drexel.edu/cnsj/healing-hurt-people/overview/

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FWTW Ep 5: Hector Rivera’s Story, Inconsistent Accountability & Revamping Civilian Oversight

On Episode 5 of the From Words to Weapons series, Hector Rivera shares his experiences of surviving police brutality and seeking accountability. His experiences point to the lack of an effective, uniform structure for police accountability in the United States. Instead, solutions – and outcomes – vary from city to city. And experts on law enforcement oversight say it almost has to be that way.

In context of Hector’s story, Emily Previti breaks down what police oversight currently looks like in Philadelphia where she lives.

Just a heads-up: on this episode, we’re really getting into the weeds about this topic that’s so often obscured.

Links of interest: 
https://www.phila.gov/2023-09-13-cpocs-release-of-the-pbi-report-part-2/ 

https://ccrjustice.org/home/what-we-do/our-cases/daniels-et-al-v-city-new-york

https://www.aclupa.org/en/cases/bailey-et-al-v-city-philadelphia-et-al

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FWTW Ep 6: County Jails, Mental Health & Accountability Barriers with Brett Sholtis

From Words to Weapons Episode 6 focuses on how county jails treat people with mental health conditions.

Emily Previti and Stephanie Marudas talk with Pennsylvania-based journalist Brett Sholtis, who investigated this issue in Pennsylvania, about what that looks like and obstacles he’s faced during his reporting.

Brett investigated interactions between corrections officers and inmates with mental health conditions; specifically, how tasers, restraints and other types of force are utilized within county jails.

The conversation also delves into how the lack of transparency can prevent accountability and public understanding of these issues.

Links of interest: 
https://www.witf.org/news/mental-health-behind-bars/

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FWTW Ep 7: Maija Anderson’s Story & Supporting Law Enforcement Trauma Survivors

From Words to Weapons Episode 7 focuses on Maija Anderson’s story and her push to develop a treatment protocol for people after a law enforcement encounter.

Maija has been working on developing a protocol for more than 20 years, with mixed success and support.

Through Maija’s story and talking to other researchers and reformers for this episode, Emily Previti reports and shows the obstacles – and potential path forward – to establishing support for law enforcement trauma survivors comparable to what’s long been provided for survivors of other forms of trauma.

Links of interest:   

Have Nurses Turned a Blind Eye? (Anderson, Maija and Bailey, Mary; American Journal of Nursing)  

Latent Class Profiles of Police Violence Exposure in 4 US Cities and Their Associations with Anticipation of Police Violence and Mental Health Outcomes (Leslie Salas-Hernández, et. Al; Journal of Urban Health) 

Developing a Model of Forensic Care To Victims of Police Violence (Anderson, Maija and Callari-Robinson, Jacqueline; NNVAWI Conference) 

Police in the ED Medical Provider Toolkit (Working Group on Policing and Patient Rights, Georgetown University Health-Justice Alliance) 

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FWTW Ep 8: Post-Incarceration Health Care & Navigating Mistrust with Divya Venkat

From Words to Weapons Episode 8 delves into health care for returning citizens with Dr. Divya Venkat about how law enforcement trauma shows up in her patients and implementing a harm reduction care model.

Divya is a physician and works for the Allegheny Health Network’s Center for Inclusion Health. Divya has treated both incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals and shares her perspective with us.

She’s the co-founder and co-director of RIvER, a health care delivery program in Pittsburgh for people after being incarcerated.

As part of our conversation, Divya talks about how she and her colleagues navigate patient mistrust in institutions across the board, including the medical field.

Links of Interest:  
https://nihcm.org/assets/articles/NIHCM-CIH-RIvER-Venkat.pdf

https://www.ahn.org/services/medicine/center-for-inclusion-health

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FWTW Ep 9: Parole and Mass Incarceration in the U.S. with Ben Austen

From Words to Weapons Episode 9 focuses on the parole system and mass incarceration in the United States.

Emily Previti and Stephanie Marudas talk with Chicago-based journalist Ben Austen. He’s written a new book, Correction: Parole, Prison and the Possibility of Change.

Ben also is the author of High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing and the co-host of a podcast called Some of My Best Friends Are.

Links of Interest:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250758811/correction
https://www.pushkin.fm/hosts/ben-austen

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FWTW Ep 10: Harm Reduction & Law Enforcement Interactions Panel Discussion Part 1

From Words to Weapons Episode 10 features Part 1 of a panel discussion about harm reduction in the context of interactions with law enforcement and solutions that could better promote community well-being and help mitigate mistrust.

Obscured partnered with the National Nurse-Led Care Consortium and the Pennsylvania Action Coalition to hold the discussion with support from the Independence Public Media Foundation.

On this episode, Part 1, we’re going to hear presentations from each of the panelists. And then on Part 2, we’ll hear a moderated discussion among the panelists.

The first presentation we’ll hear is from Talitha Smith. Talitha is a nurse navigator with RIvER, which stands for Rethinking Incarceration and Empowering Recovery. It’s a clinic within the Allegheny Health Network’s Center for Inclusion Health — the same clinic we heard about in episode 8 of our series with Talitha’s colleague Divya Venkat. In addition to her work at the RIvER clinic, Talitha is an adjunct professor at Carlow University and works as a local travel nurse.

The second presentation is from Chad Bruckner. Chad is a retired police detective and spent his career in policing in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He now heads a private investigation firm and is a coach and recovery specialist. Chad reflects on his policing experience in his book, The Holy Trinity of Successful and Healthy Police Organizations: Improving Leadership, Culture and Wellness.

The final presentation is from Laurie Corbin. Laurie is Managing Director for Community Engagement at Public Health Management Corporation or PHMC. She oversees a range of programs that provide social services prevention, intervention, treatment and education to at-risk individuals and their families. Laurie explains how these programs focus on diversion from incarceration and advance release from incarceration, treatment readiness and recovery support for people who are justice-involved.

Links of Interest:
https://www.paactioncoalition.org/news/item/789-event-recap-harm-reduction-in-the-context-of-interactions-with-law-enforcement.html

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FWTW Ep 11: Harm Reduction & Law Enforcement Interactions Panel Discussion Part 2 

From Words to Weapons Episode 11 features Part 2 of a panel discussion about harm reduction in the context of interactions with law enforcement and solutions that could better promote community well-being and help mitigate mistrust.

Obscured partnered with the National Nurse-Led Care Consortium and the Pennsylvania Action Coalition to hold the discussion with support from the Independence Public Media Foundation.

On this episode, Part 2, we’re going to hear a conversation moderated by Obscured’s Stephanie Marudas and Namaijah Faison of the Pennsylvania Action Coalition and National Nurse-Led Care Consortium.

As we heard on the previous episode, the three panelists are: Talitha Smith, Chad Bruckner and Laurie Corbin.

Talitha Smith is a nurse navigator with RIvER, which stands for Rethinking Incarceration and Empowering Recovery. It’s a clinic within the Allegheny Health Network’s Center for Inclusion Health — the same clinic we heard about in episode 8 of our series with Talitha’s colleague Divya Venkat. In addition to her work at the RIvER clinic, Talitha is an adjunct professor at Carlow University and works as a local travel nurse.

Chad Bruckner is a retired police detective and spent his career in policing in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He now heads a private investigation firm and is a coach and recovery specialist. Chad reflects on his policing experience in his book, The Holy Trinity of Successful and Healthy Police Organizations: Improving Leadership, Culture and Wellness.

Laurie Corbin is Managing Director for Community Engagement at Public Health Management Corporation or PHMC. She oversees a range of programs that provide social services prevention, intervention, treatment and education to at-risk individuals and their families. Laurie explains how these programs focus on diversion from incarceration and advance release from incarceration, treatment readiness and recovery support for people who are justice-involved.

Links of Interest:
https://www.paactioncoalition.org/news/item/789-event-recap-harm-reduction-in-the-context-of-interactions-with-law-enforcement.html

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FWTW Ep 12: Compensation and Care for the Exonerated

From Words to Weapons Episode 12 features a panel discussion about compensation and care for people who’ve been wrongfully convicted.

Our series covered this topic in the third episode about Chester Hollman III and the politics of wrongful conviction. If you haven’t heard it, we recommend listening to that episode as well.

Obscured partnered with the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice and Witness to Innocence to hold the panel with support from the Independence Public Media Foundation.

The panelists are Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton; Chester Hollman III, an exoneree who spent nearly three decades in prison for a murder he didn’t commit; and Herman Lindsey, who was wrongfully convicted and exonerated and now is executive director of Witness to Innocence.

Marissa Bluestine, who’s an assistant director at the Quattrone Center, moderated the conversation and the center’s executive director John Holloway introduced the panel.

Links of interest:
https://penncareylaw.cventevents.com/event/0e6dbc47-9ecc-4b09-9331-9e5da0e790b5/summary

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Obscured is a fiscally sponsored project of Media Alliance, which is a 501(c)(3) and longtime media change organization. Contributions are tax-deductible.

We’re grateful for your interest and support!

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We’re excited to share the On Being Biracial podcast on our Obscured feed. The show is about biracial experiences and identities in the U.S. Co-hosted by @daralyselyons & @malcolmburnley. Obscured’s @emily_previti was producer, editor & fact-checker. Listen here