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Mar 1, 2014

Pilot 2: The Heroin Highway

Co-produced with PRX Logo

In this pilot: WBEZ reporters show how heroin moves from Juarez, Mexico, to Chicago and into the Midwest; reports from inside “The Box” from teens in solitary confinement; and an update on our examination of prescription drug abuse in the VA.

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Mar 1, 2014

What it’s like for teens in ‘the box’

Screenshot from "The Box" animation
Credit: Anna Vignet/CIR

New York City’s Rikers Island is one of the biggest jails in the U.S., housing about 12,000 adults. But did you know hundreds of teenagers are among its inmates?

Along with North Carolina, New York is one of two states that prosecute offenders as an adult after age 16, no matter what the charge.

And once they’re on Rikers, many teenagers end up in solitary confinement as punishment, locked in cells the size of bathrooms for 23 hours a day.

Most haven’t been convicted of a crime and simply can’t afford bail. In February, New York said it would stop using solitary confinement to punish prisoners under the age of 18, but the ban does not apply to local jails such as Rikers.

Reporters Daffodil Altan and Trey Bundy spent months investigating why teenagers are held in “punitive segregation” – more commonly referred to as “the box” – and what happens to the juveniles who are sent there.

Altan and Bundy tried to get New York City correctional officials to explain why they’re holding so many teens in solitary and asked to see how young people live in the box. But after dozens of emails and phone calls, and two trips to New York, no one would talk to them or give them access.

In this story,  you will hear from youth who have been inside the box and how it affected them.

Dig Deeper

  • Watch our new animation, “The Box,” for one teenager’s experience of life in solitary confinement.
  • Do you think teens should be punished with solitary confinement? Share your thoughts in the comments or weigh in by tweeting us @Reveal.

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Mar 1, 2014

Investigative reporting inspires poetry

Screenshot from the video, "This Is Home"

What happens when you pair young poets with journalists to investigate issues that directly affect them and their communities?

The Off/Page Project, our collaboration with Youth Speaks, seeks to do just that. Through a process that Project Director José Vadi terms “sourced storytelling,” the Off/Page Project uses facts and characters from our reporting to inspire poets’ writing.

The latest example: a new short film produced as a part of Subsidized Squalor, our collaborative investigation with KQED and the San Francisco Chronicle that exposed the failures of the Richmond Housing Authority in California and how it has left residents living in deplorable conditions.

Three poets from RAW Talent, or Richmond Artists With Talent – William Hartfield-Peoples, Donte Clark and Deandre Evans – teamed up with Amy Julia Harris during her reporting, interviewing sources and walking through dilapidated, mold-infested buildings.

Playing the roles of both documentarians and storytellers, the poets incorporated Harris’ findings into their own investigation of the larger socioeconomic state of Richmond. The result: “This is Home,” a collaborative piece of multimedia storytelling that highlights the findings of the investigation and cites sources’ experiences pulled from Harris’ reporting.

Dig Deeper

  • Watch “This Is Home” from the Off/Page Project.
  • Read the full investigation: Subsidized Squalor.
  • Hear from a resident of the Richmond housing project.
  • Off/Page’s work on the investigation continued with a collaboration with StoryWorks, our partnership with Tides Theatre in San Francisco, to bring our stories and the compelling performances of Off/Page’s poets to the stage.

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Mar 1, 2014


Chicago Reader Chicago Reader

Tracing Chicago’s heroin supply chain

Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman (center) was arrested in February. The cartel is responsible for the majority of narcotics that move through Chicago, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Credit: Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press

Ever wondered how heavy narcotics such as heroin make it to America’s streets – where it comes from, how it’s distributed and who it hurts?

That was the focus of a yearlong investigation by WBEZ and the Chicago Reader, which tracked the heroin supply chain from Mexico to Chicago and across the Midwest.

In our feature segment, reporters Chip Mitchell and Natalie Moore explain the economics behind the heroin resurgence and paint a detailed picture of how the drugs end up in American communities.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Sinaloa cartel is responsible for 70 to 80 percent of the narcotics moving through Chicago. On Feb. 22, its leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was arrested in Mexico.

Dig Deeper

  • Explore the full series from WBEZ and the Chicago Reader here.

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Mar 1, 2014

Security on the border

CIR reporter G.W. Schulz (left) and “Reveal” host Al Letson examine the drug trade and its consequences on one of the nation’s busiest border crossings.
Credit: Ben Adair for CIR

How have the drug trade and a dramatic growth in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s ranks affected communities along the border with Mexico?

For insight, host Al Letson turns to reporter G.W. Schulz in El Paso, Texas, one of the nation’s busiest border crossings. Schulz has been reporting on the border along with Andrew Becker for years, unveiling the real implications of increasingly heightened security. You can read their investigations in our series, Crossing the Line.

One of the biggest surprises that Schulz encountered in his reporting on the Border Patrol: the sheer volume of drug busts by the agency – and the unintended consequences they bring to border communities.

His earlier investigation with Becker revealed how minor drug arrests at a border checkpoint in Eagle Pass, Texas, have put a severe financial strain on the county, highlighting the tough monetary consequences of the U.S. government’s strategy for curbing the nation’s supply of drugs and illegal immigration.

Dig Deeper

  • You can find out how many drugs were seized at the Border Patrol checkpoint near Eagle Pass between 2005 and 2011 on our interactive map.

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Mar 1, 2014

Action on the VA’s pain pill habit

Heather McDonald speaks about her husband’s death at a House subcommittee hearing. Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Scott Alan McDonald died of an overdose of Percocet on Sept. 13, 2012.
Credit: Amanda Voisard for CIR

On our debut pilot, reporter Aaron Glantz uncovered how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been prescribing highly addictive pain medications at an alarming rate – even to patients who are known addicts.

Data we obtained shows how opiate prescriptions by the VA have skyrocketed between 2001 and 2012 – a 270 percent increase.

Since that report aired, we’ve already seen results. Glantz returns to the show to discuss congressional hearings held in the wake of our investigation and how lawmakers might address the spike in opiate prescriptions.

Dig Deeper

Are you a veteran with experience with prescription medication from the VA? We want to hear your story. Take a few minutes to share your experience with our reporters here.

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Mar 1, 2014

No animals were harmed …

“Life of Pi” received the American Humane Association’s “No animals were harmed” disclaimer despite evidence that the movie's star tiger nearly drowned during filming.
Credit: 20th Century Fox

When you go to the movies – if you stay for the credits – you may have noticed a line that says, “No animals were harmed in the making of this picture.”

It’s issued by the American Humane Association, which places monitors on the sets of many film and TV productions.

While that language may reassure viewers, a recent investigation by The Hollywood Reporter found that animals actually were harmed in some of the films that carried the disclaimer.

Though the American Humane Association frequently touts a 99.98 percent safety rating, the association’s internal critics insist the number has no real statistical grounding. THR reporter Gary Baum joins host Al Letson to discuss his investigation and what moviegoers need to know when they see animals on the big screen.


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Mar 1, 2014

Sexual abuse of female farmworkers

Maricruz Ladino accused a supervisor at a Salinas, California-based lettuce farm of raping her in 2006. The manager denied the accusation. Her case settled in 2010.
Credit: Andres Cediel/Investigative Reporting Program

Last year, a collaborative investigation pulled back the curtain on sexual abuse of female farmworkers, revealing persistent peril for women working in the food industry.

The reporting culminated in Rape in the Fields, a joint project among The Center for Investigative Reporting, FRONTLINE, Univision and the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

To tell the story, reporters had to find women who were willing to not only come forward with their experience, but be placed in the public eye on camera. They found farmworker Maricruz Ladino, who agreed to share her story.

Ladino says one of her supervisors raped her in 2006, but she didn’t say anything for months. Once she decided to file a complaint with the company that ran the farm where she and her supervisor worked, she was fired.

Ladino joins “Reveal” to talk with reporter Bernice Yeung about the struggles she endured after she came forward and how speaking out has empowered her.

Dig Deeper

  • Read the series here.
  • To learn more about how communities are working to address the issue of sexual assault against farmworkers, read about our Solutions Summit from January.


Host: Al Letson
Executive Producers: Ben Adair, Susanne Reber
Senior Producer: Mia Zuckerkandel
Editors: Amy Pyle, Andrew Donohue, Robert Salladay, Mark Katches
Producers: Michael Montgomery, Michael I Schiller
Reporters: Daffodil Altan, Trey Bundy, Aaron Glantz, Amy Julia Harris, Chip Mitchell, Natalie Moore, G.W. Schulz, Bernice Yeung
Production Assistance: Allegra Bandy
Mix Engineer: Jim Briggs Jaena Rae Cabrera, Nikki Frick, Sheela Kamath, Christine Lee, Sam Ward, Mia Zuckerkandel
Video Producers: Daffodil Altan, David Ritsher, Michael I Schiller
Senior Management for PRX: Jake Shapiro, John Barth, Kerri Hoffman
Senior Management for CIR: Robert J. Rosenthal, Mark Katches, Joaquin Alvarado, Susanne Reber
Promo Narration: Peter Coyote

"Reveal" is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. It was co-created by Ben Adair, Susanne Reber, Joaquin Alvarado, John Barth and Kerri Hoffman.