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Dec 21, 2019

When Lighting the Voids

Co-produced with PRX Logo

This week, we present a special episode of Reveal produced by our partners at StoryWorks, a documentary theater company. “When Lighting the Voids” is an audio drama inspired by Reveal’s investigation into a deadly explosion at a Mississippi shipyard. This deconstructed mystery is based on real accounts, real events and real people.

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Credits

StoryWorks Theater

This week’s show was produced by StoryWorks. “When Lighting the Voids” was created by Jon Bernson and Jennifer Welch. Bernson wrote, scored and designed the show. Welch was the producer and director. You can learn more about their work at storyworkstheater.org.

Sound engineers for this week’s show were Zari Moore and Derrick Richardson. Dionna Malone was the assistant director. Special thanks to Cortheal Clark.

Actors on this week’s show were Lisa Shattuck, Robert Estes, Alec Barnes, Todd d’Amour, Sherri Marina, Chris Phillips, Aallyah Wright, Frederick Mead, Beth Bartley, Kayla Banks, Zachary Paige-Westbrook, Christopher Robinson, Eduardo Losan and Alexandria Lofton.

Story inspired by reporting from Jennifer Gollan of Reveal. 

Thanks to Dillard University and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for their support of today’s show.

Reveal’s production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Engineering by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, who had help from Amy Mostafa. 

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Found, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson:

Hey, it is your favorite host in all of podcastdom. Now, for the rest of the year, I'm going to be asking you to join us by becoming a member of Reveal. Reveal is all about going deep, pulling on threads, telling stories that matter.

Al Letson:

For more than three years now, Reveal has been fighting a lawsuit that's been jeopardizing our very existence. It's over a story we did about an organization called Planet Aid. Our story raised serious questions about whether international aid was actually reaching the people it was intended to help, and what's more, our story was truthful and we stand by it. We believe it's our duty to fight attacks like this. But fighting a lawsuit comes at a huge cost. Our legal fees alone total more than $7 million. Luckily, we have pro bono legal support to help our in-house counsel, but it still takes significant resources, resources that should be used to do more public service journalism. This kind of investigative journalism, well, it takes time and it costs money.

Al Letson:

If you believe in the work we do, the absolute best way to support us is by becoming a member of Reveal. To do it, just text the word reveal to 474747. Standard data rates apply, and you can text stop or cancel at any time. Also, all new members who donate at least $5 a month will get our facts tee-shirt. Again, just text the word reveal to 474747. And to all of you who already support our work, I want to offer a deep sincere thanks. We can't do this work without you. We're looking forward to 2020. We have big things planned, so let's go do some good work together.

Speaker 2:

When I lift the blanket, you're going to grab his hand.

Speaker 3:

Okay, ready.

Speaker 2:

Too much swelling!

Speaker 3:

Wrap him up, then get that burn blanket around his leg!

Speaker 2:

And what's the deal? Let's get out of here!

Speaker 4:

All right, buddy, we're going to give you a little something for the ride.

Speaker 2:

Come on, Bram, open up.

Speaker 3:

Hang on, you all.

Al Letson:

This is When Lighting the Voids, a special presentation of Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson. Today we bring you an audio drama that deconstructs the mystery around a deadly 2009 explosion at a Mississippi shipyard. It's inspired by one of our investigations and produced by our partners at StoryWorks, a documentary theater company. This dramatization is based on real accounts, real events and real people, people like Clyde Payne, a tenacious OSHA director who investigates the tragedy, Joey Pettey, a shipyard painter, who risked his life to save people trapped on board the burning ship, and is now in therapy, and Bram Ates, a young shipyard worker who was caught in the explosion.

Al Letson:

Our story opens in a hospital burn unit, where Bram is lying in bed. He's in a coma, slipping in and out of a dream state. It's the middle of the night, and Bram's mother Liz is sitting in the room watching over him.

Liz Ates:

A Bronco with a white top, metallic Ranchero, a gray, beat-up F-150, a McDonald's monster truck with the skull on the roof and them oversized tires. That was your favorite for a while. I can't believe you don't remember them. Remember when Nicky chucked your cars out into the cow field? I know you do, and Nikki was mad at you so he scattered your Hot Wheels every which way. You were so pissed off. But you stayed out in the cord grass all damn day on your hands and knees. Son, you didn't give up and you didn't stop until you found each and every one of them.

Doctor:

Evening, Mrs. Ates.

Liz Ates:

Evening, doc.

Doctor:

We're going to have to change Bram's bandages when the next shift starts.

Liz Ates:

Well, when's that?

Doctor:

Any minute now.

Liz Ates:

Figured as much.

Doctor:

Can I walk you out?

Liz Ates:

Nah.

Doctor:

Well, all right. Drive safe, Mrs. Ates. The weather outside is frightful.

Santa:

(singing)

Bram Ates:

Santa, you're here early. Don't take this wrong, but it ain't even Thanksgiving. Well, it's almost Thanksgiving, I guess.

Santa:

Your chimney's haunted.

Bram Ates:

Begging your pardon, Santa, if I ever get out of here, I'll take care of that, I promise.

Santa:

Heard you were laid up.

Bram Ates:

Been freezing my ass off.

Santa:

That's not the winter you feel. The chill is from the burns.

Bram Ates:

Guess I'm pretty messed up, ain't I?

Santa:

You got some tough going ahead.

Bram Ates:

You're a little more complicated than those TV specials make you out to be.

Santa:

For the kids, we try to keep it simple.

Bram Ates:

Amen.

Santa:

You've been good this year.

Bram Ates:

Thank you, sir.

Santa:

Brought you something.

Bram Ates:

You didn't have to.

Santa:

That's what I do. Merry Christmas, Bram. Ho, ho, ho.

Joey Pettey:

Don't get me wrong, they offered up counseling.

Therapist:

Why didn't you go for it, Mr. Pettey?

Joey Pettey:

I needed the work.

Therapist:

Okay.

Joey Pettey:

I needed to feed my family.

Therapist:

You could have gone to therapy while you were working. Isn't that what you're doing now?

Joey Pettey:

You go see a shrink, they run you off straight away.

Therapist:

For seeking therapy after an accident on their job site, which they offered you.

Joey Pettey:

Is that a question?

Therapist:

Joey, they can't fire you for that.

Joey Pettey:

Okay, [inaudible 00:06:48]. They can't fire you for seeing a psychiatrist.

Therapist:

Psychologist.

Joey Pettey:

They can't fire you for seeing a psychologist, but they can fire you for putting a air horn back in the wrong locker.

Therapist:

Air horn?

Joey Pettey:

It's a cone attached to a hose for ventilation.

Therapist:

Oh, so you can breathe.

Joey Pettey:

Yes, ma'am, but what I'm getting at is it could be anything, forgetting to clean out your blasting gun, or showing up two minutes late for the-

Therapist:

I see.

Joey Pettey:

You go see a shrink, you're a liability in their eyes, so to speak.

Therapist:

So no one took the therapy.

Joey Pettey:

Oh, yeah, yeah, some of them guys took it, but they was sent back to the house real quick over stupid stuff, you know.

Therapist:

Are you saying they got fired?

Joey Pettey:

Not asked back, yeah.

Therapist:

So that's why you didn't take the therapy.

Joey Pettey:

After working the shipyard for a while, you learn not to show any signs of weakness.

Therapist:

But you are-

Joey Pettey:

I wasn't going to tell anyone I needed therapy, and besides, I didn't think I needed help at the time.

Therapist:

You are here now, Mr. Pettey. Why now?

Joey Pettey:

Here I am, more than a year later. I can still see them guys' bodies, like it was yesterday. Just like I remember Bram coming above deck after the fire with his hands freaking out from the smoke and his fingernails charred, and blood streaming from his fingertips like Spider Man. So finally I decided to get some help on my own out my own pocket because it messes with your mind, and that's why I asked you if you have worked with anyone in the industry before.

Therapist:

I have, but more importantly I have worked a lot with trauma victims.

Joey Pettey:

Even more important? I need to know that you ain't working with any of these yards. They got every lawyer within a 100 miles on retainer.

Therapist:

By law, everything that we discuss here is completely confidential.

Joey Pettey:

Mm-mm (negative), the law is one thing. I need your word on that before God. I got a wife and four kids. They're counting on me. I'm counting on you.

Therapist:

You have my word.

Joey Pettey:

God as your witness?

Therapist:

God, my word, and the law, too.

Reporter:

Moss Point police and emergency crews converged at the Escatawpa Shipyard after a massive explosion rocked the tugboat Achievement. VT Halter Marine CEO Bill Skinner spoke with reporters in Moss Point.

Bill Skinner:

We haven't identified an exact cause. Shipyards can be dangerous, but all our workers are trained to uphold certain safety standards. We go through safety orientation and have a dedicated safety officer on staff who is working tirelessly to get to the bottom of this. We're deeply concerned about the families and our sympathy goes out to them at this time.

Reporter:

Three confirmed victims were taken to Singing River Hospital and another was airlifted to the USA Burn Unit in Mobile, Alabama.

Ed Foulke:

Ed Foulke here.

Bill Skinner:

Hello, Ed, Bill Skinner.

Ed Foulke:

I don't get too many 911 calls, so let's just go to it, huh?

Bill Skinner:

Sure. I'm the CEO for VT Halter Marine in Mississippi, and we just had a very large explosion over at our Escatawpa yard.

Ed Foulke:

You lose any guys?

Bill Skinner:

At least two. I got EMTs on site right now.

Ed Foulke:

Well, I'm sorry to hear that. Look, not to be insensitive or anything, Bill, but you know that I'm based in Atlanta now.

Bill Skinner:

We need strong legal representation. I heard you're the guy when it comes to defending the smaller yards, like ours.

Ed Foulke:

Non-union.

Bill Skinner:

Correct, non-union. We got a small staff, nothing like Ingalls or Austal.

Ed Foulke:

No, I understand, but I don't come cheap.

Bill Skinner:

Hoping to get what I pay for.

Ed Foulke:

Well, you will. Let's talk in the morning. Does 9:00 a.m. work for you?

Bill Skinner:

Ed, OSHA will be here first thing in the morning.

Ed Foulke:

Who's handling the case?

Bill Skinner:

Clyde Payne. He's the area director in Jackson, I believe.

Ed Foulke:

Tell you what, Bill, you book me a flight.

Bill Skinner:

Yes, sir.

Ed Foulke:

Before you do though, one question. Were you on the site when the explosion took place?

Bill Skinner:

No.

Ed Foulke:

Okay, how about your safety officer? Bill, please tell me that you have a safety officer on your staff.

Bill Skinner:

I do, but she wasn't there either.

Ed Foulke:

Business class, window seat, and don't go anywhere. I got some ducks that you're going to need to get in a row before tomorrow morning. I'll text you.

Therapist:

Joey, you said that it feels like the explosion happened yesterday.

Joey Pettey:

Not exactly, it's when I close my eyes at night, the whole series of events, it just keeps playing over and over again, like a skipping CD. It never goes away.

Therapist:

Those are symptoms of trauma, possibly PTSD.

Joey Pettey:

Come on, now.

Therapist:

It's not just something soldiers go through.

Joey Pettey:

I didn't get burned, no concussion or nothing.

Therapist:

You were in a horrific situation that you couldn't process in the moment. Now that you've got some distance, your mind is trying to make sense of what you had to bury. The problem is you have not been allowing that process to happen. You work, you stay busy, but whenever you slow down, it is right there waiting for you, and it always will be until you give your mind the chance to heal.

Joey Pettey:

You want to put me on some meds? I don't want to turn into no vegetable.

Therapist:

Every one is different. Some people shut down, get depressed and isolate. Others get anxiety, become hypervigilant, angry, even violent, pretty extreme differences. I'm not going to recommend anything until we've talked about your situation.

Joey Pettey:

Exactly what I don't want to do.

Therapist:

It's counterintuitive, because in the beginning, talking about it will be more painful. The part of the mind that stores emotional memories is called the amygdala and the confusing thing about this primitive region of our minds is that it has no sense of time. It doesn't know whether this explosion happened last year when you were a child or yesterday. By recounting it over and over again, we're going to share that memory with the higher order parts of your brain.

Joey Pettey:

Sounds like feeding the beast, as they say.

Therapist:

Actually, the more times you recount the explosion, the more distance it will give you. It will help you become desensitized to the experience and control your emotional responses.

Joey Pettey:

How many times you talking about? How long does it all take?

Therapist:

It's different with everyone, but most see an improvement in about three months.

Joey Pettey:

Three months, you got to be shitting me.

Therapist:

Look, Joey, you are a hard-working guy. You wouldn't be in those shipyards if you weren't tough. Perhaps you could look at this as a job. It's going to take some time. We can't skip steps. What do they say? Measure once, cut twice.

Joey Pettey:

It's measure twice, cut once, but I catch your meaning.

Bram Ates:

Don't throw those bandages away.

Santa:

You won't be needing them, Bram.

Bram Ates:

Why not?

Santa:

You're on the mend. Have a look.

Bram Ates:

These ain't my legs.

Santa:

Well, sure they are.

Bram Ates:

These are hog legs.

Santa:

Use them or lose them, Bram.

Bram Ates:

What happened to my legs?

Santa:

They still work, don't they?

Bram Ates:

Santa, they ain't mine.

Santa:

Yes, they are, but you got new skin on account of the burns. Look at your hands. I took skin off your backside and used some pig skin, too.

Bram Ates:

What about my face?

Santa:

The burn doc thinks you blocked the flames with your hands.

Bram Ates:

They look like waffles or something.

Santa:

Ah, don't think about that now. Best to start walking.

Bram Ates:

I seen the light.

Santa:

It's not your time, Bram. Now, rest up, son.

Bram Ates:

Goodbye.

Santa:

Don't even look at that light, Bram. It's not your time.

Therapist:

Hang on a second, Joey. Help me understand the purpose of these empty compartments.

Joey Pettey:

Ships carry different types of fluids in different tanks. Fuel oil, diesel oil, gas oil, fresh water, salt water. You don't want them mixing together under any conditions. So you got these tanks and they're called voids, which are basically empty compartments between larger spaces on a ship. Some call them cofferdams, probably because each section really is about the size of a coffin.

Therapist:

Why would you need to work inside of one?

Joey Pettey:

Before a ship gets launched, the void need to be blasted, buffed, cleaned, sealed, painted, everything we do to the rest of a ship. Working in the voids is for smaller guys, like myself, because it's a cramped space. Big fellows can't even fit down in them. The explosion happened in the port side of the lower bottom void, but the [inaudible] still had to finish the lower bottoms on the starboard side.

Therapist:

So the boat didn't blow up in the explosion.

Joey Pettey:

No, nah, nah. We was back working on that boat a week afterward.

Therapist:

Everyone?

Joey Pettey:

Everyone who survived or wasn't injured.

Therapist:

And OSHA was still investigating the accident.

Joey Pettey:

Yeah, that took six months, but the show must go on. That could have been what really messed me up as far as the flashbacks go. It's hard not to think about them guys while I was working.

Clyde Payne:

Son of a mother, found it.

Sam:

They got someone to let you in?

Clyde Payne:

God willing and the creek don't rise.

Sam:

All right, call me when you're done, boss.

Clyde Payne:

Afternoon, Clyde Payne, Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Gate Guard:

ID, please.

Clyde Payne:

You all closed down today?

Gate Guard:

On account of the accident.

Clyde Payne:

Here you go.

Gate Guard:

See that lot on the right? Just park there. They're on their way.

Clyde Payne:

Thank you.

Gate Guard:

Welcome to VT Halter.

Clyde Payne:

Clyde Payne, OSHA area director.

Bill Skinner:

Bill Skinner, CEO.

Clyde Payne:

Morning, Bill.

Bill Skinner:

Clyde, this is Ed Foulke.

Ed Foulke:

Morning, Clyde.

Clyde Payne:

Morning, Ed.

Bill Skinner:

You all know each other?

Ed Foulke:

Of course. It's good to see you again.

Clyde Payne:

Everybody at OSHA knows Ed. Head of OSHA under George W. and all. I didn't realize you were working with VT Halter.

Ed Foulke:

I retired last year. Now I'm over at Fisher and Phillips in Atlanta.

Clyde Payne:

Okay, right, I forgot about your law degree. Didn't take you long to move over to the private sector.

Ed Foulke:

You know Obama wasn't going to hire me, and a man does have to make a living.

Clyde Payne:

That's what those young men were thinking when they showed up to work on Friday.

Ed Foulke:

Well, we're all here to make sure that that does not happen again.

Clyde Payne:

I'm going to hold you to that.

Ed Foulke:

You hold me to it. We're going to get a lot more accomplished if we work together.

Clyde Payne:

That's good to here. So now that I have your full cooperation, let's get down to a few questions.

Ed Foulke:

Just you today?

Clyde Payne:

Today, yes.

Bill Skinner:

Today?

Clyde Payne:

Whenever you have a fatality, or in this case fatalities plural, we dedicate more resources and manpower. A few general questions. Where did the explosion take place?

Bill Skinner:

In the engine room of the Achievement.

Clyde Payne:

Tugboat.

Bill Skinner:

Correct.

Clyde Payne:

And did you witness the incident?

Bill Skinner:

Not directly, no.

Clyde Payne:

Were you onsite at the time?

Bill Skinner:

No, sir.

Clyde Payne:

Okay, then, anecdotally speaking, can you tell me what happened?

Bill Skinner:

We believe it was a gas fire. Huge, but it burned itself out quick. You got your main propulsion engine right there. It switches between diesel and heavy fuel, which luckily didn't catch. Otherwise, we wouldn't be standing here.

Clyde Payne:

Did the fire cause that damage I saw on the port side hull?

Bill Skinner:

No, sir.

Ed Foulke:

Unfortunately, the emergency crews had to cut out that section of the hull in order to remove Dwight Monroe, one of the deceased.

Clyde Payne:

They had to cut into the hull? Why is that?

Bill Skinner:

The body was difficult to get to.

Ed Foulke:

As I'm sure you know, the access open into the void is very small.

Clyde Payne:

Did you have guys in here?

Bill Skinner:

Yes, sir, they were prepping the voids and the engine room to be sprayed.

Clyde Payne:

Sprayed?

Ed Foulke:

Painted.

Clyde Payne:

How many guys?

Ed Foulke:

We're still trying to determine who was working here at the exact moment of the explosion.

Clyde Payne:

I'm going to need that list of names ASAP.

Ed Foulke:

Absolutely.

Clyde Payne:

And do you access the voids from the engine room.

Bill Skinner:

Yes, sir, there's only one entry point on the port side, which is right here.

Clyde Payne:

Okay, I see.

Bill Skinner:

If you need to get down there, I can help you.

Clyde Payne:

Oh, I don't, I don't think that's going to be necessary. You can't hardly see a thing. You all got a flashlight?

Bill Skinner:

Here you go.

Clyde Payne:

This is the only opening?

Bill Skinner:

Yes, sir, on the port side.

Clyde Payne:

And it runs forward all the way to the bow, which is where they had to cut out the deceased.

Ed Foulke:

Mr. Monroe, yes.

Clyde Payne:

It doesn't even look like you'd be able to stand up.

Bill Skinner:

No, sir. It's just a crawlspace.

Ed Foulke:

About two or three feet of clearance, typical dimensions for a cofferdam on a tug.

Clyde Payne:

Sure is tidy in here. It's hard to believe this is where it happened. Cleanest job site I've seen in a long time.

Ed Foulke:

Well, Clyde, now you know how flash fires are. They burn up those vapors real quick.

Clyde Payne:

What's that sound I'm hearing?

Ed Foulke:

Blowers, right?

Bill Skinner:

Two blowers and one dust collector.

Ed Foulke:

See, they've been running blowers all night to clear out any smoke and residual fumes.

Clyde Payne:

Same blowers you were using yesterday for ventilation.

Bill Skinner:

As far as I know. Mona may have moved on over from another vessel after the explosion to make sure everything was completely safe.

Clyde Payne:

Mona?

Bill Skinner:

Mona Dixon, she's our safety officer.

Clyde Payne:

Was she on site at the time of the explosion?

Bill Skinner:

No, sir.

Clyde Payne:

Who was supervising your yard yesterday, Mr. Skinner?

Bill Skinner:

Danny Cobb. Cobb is one of our most knowledgeable guys. He's been working in these yards a long time.

Clyde Payne:

Was he injured?

Bill Skinner:

No, he wasn't.

Ed Foulke:

But he was one of the first to respond after the incident.

Clyde Payne:

Is he around?

Bill Skinner:

We gave all our guys the day off.

Clyde Payne:

Of course.

Ed Foulke:

Now the workers need time to grieve, and VT Halter has offered to provide the employees with counseling as well.

Clyde Payne:

When do you expect Cobb to be back? It sounds like he should be one of our first interviews.

Bill Skinner:

Of course.

Clyde Payne:

And these blowers, the ones going right now, you say a few of these were going at the time of the explosion.

Woman Worker:

Welcome to McDonald's. [inaudible]

Clyde Payne:

Sausage, egg, and cheese, make that two. I'm going to need a coffee, a big, a large, a venti, a venti coffee, three sugars.

Woman Worker:

8.67

Clyde Payne:

Here you go. Sam?

Sam:

Hey, Clyde.

Clyde Payne:

You got that list of solvents?

Sam:

Working on it.

Clyde Payne:

I need it today.

Sam:

By 5:00 p.m. in your inbox.

Clyde Payne:

Starting tomorrow, I need you on this Halter case with me full-time.

Sam:

Whoa, okay.

Clyde Payne:

They got Ed Foulke on retainer.

Sam:

Director of OSHA under George W.?

Clyde Payne:

Yep.

Woman Worker:

Okay, and here are your drinks.

Clyde Payne:

Perform the impossible task of cutting OSHA positions and lowering fatalities at the same time.

Sam:

Son of a bitch, and now he's working for Halter.

Clyde Payne:

Another one bites the dust. He's a partner in a firm in Atlanta.

Sam:

And a mind-reader, I'm guessing.

Clyde Payne:

Knows the entire OSHA playbook. Always one step ahead of me.

Sam:

But if they hired Foulke, we know something's up.

Clyde Payne:

Something is most definitely up.

Woman Worker:

And here are your food items.

Clyde Payne:

Just finish the solvent report. We'll pick this up at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.

Al Letson:

We'll be back with more When Lighting the Voids in just a minute. This is Reveal.

Al Letson:

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Today, we're bringing you an audio drama, When Lighting the Voids, from our partners at StoryWorks. It's inspired by our investigation into an explosion at a Mississippi shipyard that left two people dead and others seriously injured. The story picks up with a flashback to the day of the incident. A group of yard workers are gathered around Danny Cobb as he passes out job assignments for the day.

Danny Cobb:

Morning, boys. Busy day ahead. Main job is getting the Achievement prepped for spring. The bulk of you, Nettles, Bram, and you all, mask off that whole engine room fore to aft, top to bottom, corner to corner. Each one of them electric panels is going to be taped off nice and clean. Dwight, Juan, Alex, you all are going to be in the port side voids making sure it's ready for paint. I need you to buckeye them weld seams, block off all that rust, and make sure everything's cleaned out, spotless, with MEK.

Bram Ates:

Yes, Mr. Cobb.

Danny Cobb:

And when that's done, I'm going to have Pettey spray it this afternoon. After that, I want you all to come and get me so I can check it. Bill Skinner just pulled up, so you all be on your best. Well, all right, let's get to it.

Danny Cobb:

Morning, Mr. Skinner.

Bill Skinner:

Morning.

Danny Cobb:

Everything okay?

Bill Skinner:

You tell me, Cobb.

Danny Cobb:

Hurricane set us back a few days, but we made up some time yesterday on that [Crowley] hull.

Bill Skinner:

How about the Achievement prep?

Danny Cobb:

Oh, I got guys in the engine room right now, plus a few in the voids. Should be ready for spraying by noon.

Bill Skinner:

I haven't looked at your budget yet. What's the latest?

Danny Cobb:

We had to pay out some overtime this week, but we're coming in under budget on gear, sand, paint, et cetera. This tug is going to be in the water on time, if I have to camp out in the wheelhouse.

Bill Skinner:

You're speaking my language.

Danny Cobb:

I'm speaking the truth. Next year this time, we'll be working for the Navy.

Bill Skinner:

Those subs are worth their weight in gold.

Danny Cobb:

We're going to get that contract.

Bill Skinner:

You got more faith in Uncle Sam than I do, but we got a shot.

Danny Cobb:

No doubt.

Bill Skinner:

All right, that does it for me. Got to run.

Danny Cobb:

Nettles and Ates, you all got to wrap those electrical panels in plastic. Foil them wires and tape off the valve.

Robert Nettles:

Yes, Mr. Cobb.

Bram Ates:

Yes, Mr. Cobb.

Danny Cobb:

Pony tail, you all got to-

Bram Ates:

I was stressed 'cause I thought I was going to be late to work.

Robert Nettles:

We sent you back to the house, man.

Bram Ates:

The entire ride over here, she said things you should never say.

Robert Nettles:

I'm sure you said a few things of your own.

Bram Ates:

I did, but you just don't say certain things, no matter how bad it gets.

Robert Nettles:

Like what? I wish you was dead.

Bram Ates:

That's the nicest thing she said.

Robert Nettles:

Damn, that's cold.

Bram Ates:

Hey, do you smell something?

Robert Nettles:

Man, it smells like trouble, and it's always something with you two. Seriously, man, have you ever thought about calling it off?

Bram Ates:

No, man, I love her kids just like they was mine, but that's not what I'm getting at. Butterscotch and acetone, you don't smell that?

Joey Pettey:

You need a light? Mr. Cobb? Mr. Cobb?

Danny Cobb:

What's up, Pettey? You done?

Joey Pettey:

Hull is ready for them guys to come over and clean it.

Danny Cobb:

They finished in the voids?

Joey Pettey:

No, sir, no. I'd say they got about another 30.

Danny Cobb:

30?

Joey Pettey:

Yes, sir, yeah. The thing is they ain't got no blowers or fans down there. I was hoping to go get a blower or a fan from the locker before I went down there?

Danny Cobb:

Can't do it.

Joey Pettey:

How you mean?

Danny Cobb:

I wish I could, but I can't open up that tool room.

Joey Pettey:

I ain't going down there without no fan.

Danny Cobb:

I ain't asking you to get over there, Pettey.

Joey Pettey:

I got you on that point.

Danny Cobb:

Tell you what, I'm done with all the crafty delays. So put on your fancy mask and get it done.

Joey Pettey:

I ain't spraying without no ventilation.

Danny Cobb:

You can go and try and find yourself some ventilation.

Joey Pettey:

You know I can't get in that tool room without you opening it.

Danny Cobb:

Like I said, you can go and find something, but I need you down there spraying when them guys are done. Rumor has it that should be in about 30 minutes.

Therapist:

Cobb wouldn't let you into the tool locker?

Joey Pettey:

Said he couldn't open it.

Therapist:

So you went to look for one on another job site.

Joey Pettey:

Same yard, different site.

Therapist:

But you weren't supposed to be there.

Joey Pettey:

I wasn't not supposed to be there, doc.

Therapist:

So wait, what's an air horn again?

Joey Pettey:

It looks like a cone, which you attach to a hose, and then that hose is attached to an air compressor. It's nothing compared to the gear we should have been using, but an air horn was the best I could do. The messed up thing, there were brand new masks and air horns just rusting away in that tool room. There I was trying to scab in somebody else's. I knew there might be one in an overturned Crowley hull on the south side of the yard. I figured I could borrow it while I sprayed the voids.

Therapist:

Was anyone down there?

Joey Pettey:

No one. When I think back on it, the hair stands up on the back of my neck. I was walking on the ceiling of an upside down ship in the pitch black darkness. You follow? It had all these exposed nails sticking up on the floor, side panels. Did you ever see one of those Freddy Krueger movies from back in the day?

Therapist:

I can't believe you had to work that hard just to find a mask.

Joey Pettey:

Working like a Hebrew slave. It was nothing new, but getting down on my chest and crawling across a ceiling on a bed of nails, well, that was a first. I scooted further aft, scanning from side-to-side with my headlamp until I finally found it, like the Holy Grail, just hanging on a six-inch nail. At the time, I was cursing my fate in that overturned Crowley hull, but the good Lord was looking after me that day.

Bram Ates:

God dang, you don't smell that?

Robert Nettles:

I don't smell nothing. Well, except them stinky-ass boxers. Oh, man.

Bram Ates:

Yeah, funny, more like those socks you've been wearing for like a month straight.

Robert Nettles:

Oh, these here? Brand spanking new. Walmart, $3.

Bram Ates:

Seriously, man, that's MEK.

Robert Nettles:

Man, I can't smell a thing, but then again I ain't got no sense of smell. I tell you what though, they got the wrong lights.

Bram Ates:

How do you mean?

Robert Nettles:

They just got them regular bulbs.

Bram Ates:

Who's down there?

Robert Nettles:

Dwight, Alex, I don't know, maybe Juan.

Bram Ates:

And you didn't say nothing?

Robert Nettles:

I don't fuck with other people's shit.

Bram Ates:

Not me, I love fucking with other people's shit. Hey, people, you all need fresh air, in and out.

Alex:

(singing)

Bram Ates:

Hey, people, you all need fresh air, in and out.

Alex:

(speaking in foreign language)

Juan:

I love that song.

Alex:

Even my mom likes it, man.

Juan:

Your mom listens to Linkin Park?

Alex:

Oh, I made her listen. She's visiting from Florida. Bless you.

Juan:

I didn't sneeze.

Alex:

Well, bless you anyway.

Juan:

Hold on. I though you were from Puerto Rico.

Alex:

I am, but my mom and my sister got me moved here a few years ago.

Juan:

Oh, so you were jamming out with your mom.

Alex:

We stayed up last night going through old photos, man. I must have listened to that song five times. I don't think she got it at first, you know? Then she finally said, "That is a good message in that song."

Juan:

What's the lead singer's name again?

Alex:

Chester Bennington.

Juan:

I heard he almost quit music before he joined Linkin Park.

Alex:

Que?

Juan:

Yeah, his first band never went anywhere.

Alex:

It just goes to show, man.

Bram Ates:

Seriously, man, it's making me sick to my stomach.

Robert Nettles:

I couldn't smell a strip of bacon if you stuck it in my nose, but I tell you one thing, they done brought the wrong lights down there.

Bram Ates:

Hey, people, you all got the wrong lights.

Juan:

Okay.

Bram Ates:

We're not messing around, you all.

Juan:

Okay, we hear you, bro.

Bram Ates:

You all need fresh air, in and out.

Alex:

Yo, man, go take five. Listen to your lungs, you need some fresh air. Go on, I'm right behind you.

Juan:

You coming?

Alex:

Right behind you.

Bram Ates:

Hey, I know you all can hear me.

Juan:

I'm coming, I'm coming.

Bram Ates:

I shouldn't be smelling this the way I am.

Juan:

Where are you?

Bram Ates:

You sure took your sweet time.

Juan:

Be cool, bro, I can barely turn around down here.

Bram Ates:

Hey, pass me that light.

Juan:

Okay, hold on.

Bram Ates:

Careful now, you see my hand?

Juan:

Yeah, you got it?

Bram Ates:

I got it.

Juan:

Thanks.

Bram Ates:

Listen to yourself, man. I told you that was too strong.

Juan:

I'm going to get some air.

Robert Nettles:

And grab them explosion-proof bulbs on your way back.

Juan:

You got it.

Robert Nettles:

Lay that lamp down over there. Don't turn it off, it might spark.

Bram Ates:

Yo, Juan, is Alex down there?

Juan:

Yeah, and the light is, too, somewhere.

Bram Ates:

Hey, Alex, pass up them lights!

Bram Ates:

Hey! Ow, oh my god. Help me!

Robert Nettles:

Damn.

Joey Pettey:

Hey, man, hey, Nettles, your head's on fire. Hey, you need to put your head out. Anyone down there?

Robert Nettles:

Damn, damn!

Joey Pettey:

What's damn?

Robert Nettles:

Everything's damn.

Bram Ates:

Help!

Joey Pettey:

Hey, Nettles, get him to the guard shack!

Robert Nettles:

Let's just get you to the shack. Hey, we got guys in the void.

Joey Pettey:

Okay, how many?

Robert Nettles:

I don't know.

Joey Pettey:

Call 911, and Nettles, you meet me down there.

Robert Nettles:

Hang on to that air horn, we're going to use some of that air.

Joey Pettey:

Where the hell's Cobb at?

Robert Nettles:

I don't know.

Bram Ates:

Ah, my hands!

Robert Nettles:

Just move your legs, man. Go with Juan. I'm going below. Hey, hey, Pettey?

Joey Pettey:

Yeah.

Robert Nettles:

Where you at?

Joey Pettey:

Engine room. Hey, Nettles, put your headlamp on. It's pitch black.

Robert Nettles:

You see him?

Joey Pettey:

No, nah, nah, man. I'm going down to the voids, all right?

Robert Nettles:

Hey, I'll feed the hose to you. Take a breath before you give him a breath, and then be careful. It might explode again.

Joey Pettey:

Hey, Nettles, don't leave me, man.

Robert Nettles:

I got you.

Joey Pettey:

Hey, man, hey! Hey, you all right? Can you hear me, man?

Robert Nettles:

Pettey, you see him?

Joey Pettey:

Oh, hey, man. Hey, we're going to get you out of here. He's knocked out. I'm going to give him some air. Come on. I don't think he's breathing.

Robert Nettles:

Hey, he's got to be dead. Anybody else down there? Where's Monroe?

Joey Pettey:

Oh, not in here.

Robert Nettles:

Oh, he could be further forward.

Joey Pettey:

Let's get this guy out first. Fuck's sake!

Robert Nettles:

You all right, Pettey?

Joey Pettey:

Oh, man.

Robert Nettles:

Pettey, talk to me!

Joey Pettey:

I just tried to grab his belt and there ain't no belt. It's just his buckle burned to his stomach.

Robert Nettles:

Oh, what the fuck, man! Pettey, you're sure he's alive?

Joey Pettey:

How about getting down here and finding out?

Robert Nettles:

Oh, goddamn it all! Pettey, how are we going to get him up through the hole?

Joey Pettey:

All right, I'm going to tie my sweatshirt around his chest. Reach down in here and grab him by the top of the arms of the sweatshirt.

Robert Nettles:

Grab him by the top of the arms of the sweatshirt, I got you.

Joey Pettey:

Yeah, I think his joints are all shot. Nettles, he's like a bag of bones, so don't grab him by his hands and nothing.

Robert Nettles:

All right, get some of that light from your headlamp on him if you can.

Joey Pettey:

All right, hold on. Come on, man. Nettles, grab him!

Robert Nettles:

I got him, I got him!

Joey Pettey:

Easy, easy.

Robert Nettles:

Up we go, up we go.

Joey Pettey:

Easy.

Robert Nettles:

Oh mother of mercy, I can't even tell who he is!

Al Letson:

You're listening to When Lighting the Voids. We'll be back with more in a minute.

Al Letson:

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. And now the final act of our audio drama, When Lighting the Voids, from our partners at StoryWorks. We're at the VT Halter shipyard on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, the site of a deadly explosion. OSHA's on the scene investigating, and Joey Pettey is back on the job. He's painting the same ship that was in flames just one week earlier. His boss, Danny Cobb, walks up on him.

Danny Cobb:

Joe. Hey, Joe!

Joey Pettey:

Yes, Mr. Cobb.

Danny Cobb:

What's up with that bulkhead?

Joey Pettey:

Almost done spraying.

Danny Cobb:

Five minutes done?

Joey Pettey:

More like 15.

Danny Cobb:

Well, you can get back to this tomorrow. They need you over at the Moss Point yard ASAP.

Joey Pettey:

They can't wait like 15 minutes?

Danny Cobb:

They're going to need a final coat on the pump room cofferdam before inspection tomorrow. It's going to take the rest of the day.

Joey Pettey:

I thought they just had an inspection.

Danny Cobb:

Didn't pass. They got another one tomorrow.

Joey Pettey:

You sure this ain't got nothing to do with them OSHA guys over there investigating the explosion?

Danny Cobb:

Them guys ain't none of your concern.

Joey Pettey:

But they got something to do with the explosion, you best believe that-

Danny Cobb:

Best to believe you got nothing to say, unless they ask you.

Joey Pettey:

They ain't going to ask me shit if I'm over at Moss Point.

Danny Cobb:

Well, sooner or later, they will. But you stick to the questions and keep your opinions to yourself.

Joey Pettey:

I ain't got no opinions.

Danny Cobb:

Good.

Joey Pettey:

Just facts, Mr. Cobb. I got plenty of facts.

Danny Cobb:

A job and a paycheck, two facts you best keep in mind.

Clyde Payne:

Sam.

Sam:

Sorry I missed you, Clyde.

Clyde Payne:

Got a pen?

Sam:

At my computer.

Clyde Payne:

Let's do the numbers.

Sam:

Hit me.

Clyde Payne:

We got [inaudible] at eight times the permissible exposure limit, acetone at 14 times the PEL, and methanol at 600 times the PEL. And that's based on conservative calculations.

Sam:

Holy shit.

Clyde Payne:

If the fire didn't kill them, the fumes would have. Lord, have mercy.

Sam:

How do you want to handle this one?

Clyde Payne:

My recommendation to the OSHA board, make Halter purchase tracking software at all three sites, and put that under the purview of the tool room, specifically that each tool must be logged with an ID number and that, quote, "painters shall not check out lights unless they're explosion proof."

Sam:

Wait, hang on.

Clyde Payne:

All those masks and blowers ain't worth a damn unless they make it out of the locker.

Sam:

Amen to that.

Clyde Payne:

Mandatory meetings and confined space training for all employees.

Sam:

We're looking at 1.3 million in fines.

Clyde Payne:

Sounds like a lot, but you know Ed, he'll try to downgrade.

Sam:

He knows the drill. Be lucky if they pay a million when all is said and done.

Clyde Payne:

Over my dead body. I'm flying to D.C.

Stewardess:

Good morning. Welcome to Alaska Airlines, flight 589. If you have a large roll-

Clyde Payne:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Clyde Payne. I'm based in Jackson, Mississippi where I serve as the area director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Now I appreciate this opportunity to travel to Washington and to speak to you all directly about one of the most egregious cases I've investigated in my 23-year career. In my report, I documented 17 willful and 11 serious violations. VT Halter was aware of the hazard, and knowingly and willfully sent those boys into a confined space with an explosive and highly toxic atmosphere. They failed to test or prevent entry into that confined space, with a concentration of flammable vapors exceeded prescribed limits hundreds of times over. They permitted workers to use lights that were not explosion-proof, which is one of the most basic precautions imaginable. The resulting fire killed Alex Caballero and Dwight Monroe, and seriously injured two others.

Clyde Payne:

Ladies and gentlemen of OSHA, I would urge you to move forward with all of the fines outlined before you, every single one. Uphold the requested penalty of $1.3 million and send a clear message to the entire industry, loss of life cannot be considered a natural cost of building ships. Workers and families across the Gulf Coast are counting on us to lay down the law.

Young Bram Ates:

Come on, boy. Come on, boy. Zeus, it's time to go. Come on, boy, I got something for you. There's mama.

Liz Ates:

Bram, where you at?

Young Bram Ates:

Come on up, mama.

Liz Ates:

Ain't going to break my leg on these stairs.

Young Bram Ates:

They all fixed.

Liz Ates:

Zeus, how are you, boy?

Young Bram Ates:

I'm worried about the river.

Liz Ates:

You got your sheet rock in.

Young Bram Ates:

I ain't finished my room, but the kitchen's done.

Liz Ates:

Looks good.

Young Bram Ates:

Can you grab this?

Liz Ates:

Why are you bringing your toaster?

Young Bram Ates:

The last time the water come up, they stole my appliances.

Liz Ates:

Sweet Jesus, how do they get in when the water's up?

Young Bram Ates:

Boat in at night and break into the camps.

Liz Ates:

Whose stuff is that?

Young Bram Ates:

Her name is Angel, and you don't know her.

Liz Ates:

I see.

Young Bram Ates:

It's just for the month.

Liz Ates:

Heard that before.

Young Bram Ates:

She's paying the power bill, okay? I thought you'd be happy about that.

Liz Ates:

Well, anything's better than your ex.

Young Bram Ates:

Amen.

Liz Ates:

What's up with the toy? She got a kid or something?

Young Bram Ates:

Wilder than a fifth ace.

Liz Ates:

Where are they at?

Young Bram Ates:

Not sure.

Liz Ates:

She know about the water?

Young Bram Ates:

Probably.

Liz Ates:

Call her, Bram.

Young Bram Ates:

She ain't got no phone.

Liz Ates:

You got to let them know.

Young Bram Ates:

That ship left the harbor.

Liz Ates:

If you say so.

Young Bram Ates:

Let's roll, mama. The water's coming up fast.

Therapist:

OSHA never interviewed you?

Joey Pettey:

Eventually, yeah. It seemed like every time OSHA showed up, I was needed at one of the other yards right away. What could I tell them anyhow?

Therapist:

It sounds like you're pretty angry at OSHA.

Joey Pettey:

The best we got when it comes to safety, I don't mean it's perfect. But if you ask me, some of them guys are taking bribes to downplay the violations. Some of them are just stressed too thin or kind of budgetary reasons. None of them are getting rich on their salary. Top dogs, maybe, when they go to work as consultant or lawyers, but I don't bear no grudges against them, not even against Danny Cobb. He done a lot of wrong doings to a lot of people over the years, some of it knowingly possibly, some of it lack of knowledge and stuff, but like the good book says, love thy friend, thy neighbor, and thy enemy. I don't hold it against him personally. That's on VT Halter.

Therapist:

Well, that's a pretty generous outlook.

Joey Pettey:

What comes around, goes around.

Therapist:

But how about the guys that died? Nothing came around for them.

Joey Pettey:

You got me there.

Therapist:

Did the families of the deceased ever get any kind of settlement or anything? I've read that you can't even sue a shipyard.

Joey Pettey:

Oh, you can sue a shipyard, but not if you work for them. It's pretty messed up. Employees can get Worker's Comp, disability, but then you ain't working for no shipyard again. You're a marked man, so to speak.

Bram Ates:

That's all I remember. I was hollering at them to give me them lights and to get out, but they gave me a light all right. The fire come out that hole. I put my hands down, I threw my head back to shield my face, but once it come up, I was locked in that one position for what felt like five minutes. It wasn't that long though, because the explosion three me back about 10 foot. I replay it every day. The tangerine light, putting my hands down to shield my face, turning my head away from the fireball, all day, every day. It never stops and it never goes away.

Liz Ates:

Bram, is that you?

Bram Ates:

I got to go, Santa, okay? But you call me back. It's been too long.

Liz Ates:

Who you talking to?

Bram Ates:

No one.

Liz Ates:

You was talking to someone.

Bram Ates:

Calling me a liar?

Liz Ates:

I just heard you talking is all.

Bram Ates:

I was leaving a voicemail.

Liz Ates:

Of course, you was. No one's going to pick up the phone at this hour.

Bram Ates:

I couldn't sleep last night.

Liz Ates:

Then go in my bedroom and close the shades.

Bram Ates:

I'm good here.

Liz Ates:

You ain't good. Son, you're stuck.

Bram Ates:

All day, every day, it never stops and it never goes away.

Liz Ates:

I know.

Bram Ates:

You don't know.

Liz Ates:

I don't know it like you know it, but I can't tell you how many times you-

Bram Ates:

You have no fucking idea.

Liz Ates:

Take it easy. You're under my roof. I am not criticizing. I'm just saying you got to get up and try. A job's not going to come find you.

Bram Ates:

No shit.

Liz Ates:

I said, take it easy.

Bram Ates:

That's what I'm trying to do, take it easy.

Liz Ates:

What about that security job?

Bram Ates:

Turned in an application.

Liz Ates:

It's been a week. Give them a call.

Bram Ates:

They're going to do like everyone else, wondering why I ain't worked in years. I tell them about my injury. They say they'll call me, and then they don't.

Liz Ates:

For the roofing and the shipbuilding jobs, I get it. You've been blackballed. But this is security work.

Bram Ates:

At a concrete yard. It's all the same folks. Word gets around.

Liz Ates:

Son, I know you been through things that I will never understand, but attitude is everything. God don't give us challenges we can't overcome.

Bram Ates:

God saved me, but he damned me at the same time. Sometimes I think maybe I killed them guys. If I hadn't asked them to change the lights, they might have just finished up and gone on about their business.

Liz Ates:

Or maybe those fumes would have built up even more, or maybe Juan would have died along with you and everyone in that engine room. Your intentions were pure. You can't doubt yourself in that way.

Bram Ates:

It can't be helped.

Liz Ates:

It can. You're feeling guilty because you survived when others died, but no one blames you, except yourself. You may have lost that suit with Halter, but that's because they're protected by a bad law. This burden ain't yours to bear. Son, you got to see someone. You got to talk to a psychologist or-

Bram Ates:

That's not my thing, and you should know that by now.

Liz Ates:

People change. People have to change. And your life won't change unless you change the way you been living. You have to adapt.

Bram Ates:

After I got my Worker's Comp money, I thought I'd be able to move on. I got the camp, but that wasn't no fresh start.

Liz Ates:

You got a fresh start, but a start is just the beginning. It wasn't much money, but it was enough to get you on your feet. You got your life. You got your family. And if you can come back from all them burns, you can do anything you put your mind to.

Bram Ates:

I'll call them, okay?

Liz Ates:

There you go.

Bram Ates:

But I ain't talking to no shrink.

Therapist:

You quit?

Joey Pettey:

I quit.

Therapist:

What happened?

Joey Pettey:

Nothing happened.

Therapist:

Something happened.

Joey Pettey:

What makes you say that?

Therapist:

It just feels sudden. I'm not judging your decision, but honestly, I'm shocked.

Joey Pettey:

After all we talked about in here? I'm shocked you're shocked.

Therapist:

I'm not surprised that you wanted to quit, just that you did. That's all I meant when I said that something must have happened.

Joey Pettey:

It's true. Something did happen. Two decades happened. I got the lungs of a senior citizen. I'm done working them shipyards.

Therapist:

You sound really clear about it, but what about your family? Is your wife working?

Joey Pettey:

Yeah. I'm going to be helping out with her business a little bit, but I've been getting into Bitcoin.

Therapist:

So you're investing in cryptocurrency?

Joey Pettey:

Been making more in one week than I made in a month working in them shipyards.

Therapist:

I don't know much about investing, but when I hear about Bitcoin, I can't help but think if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Joey Pettey:

I worked hard for my money. I ain't going to throw it all at just any one thing. Did an interview with a reporter from California a few weeks go.

Therapist:

Interview?

Joey Pettey:

She's been investigating the explosion.

Therapist:

How did it go?

Joey Pettey:

I recounted that story so many times, I could probably do a TED Talk.

Therapist:

And no flashbacks or anything?

Joey Pettey:

Smooth sailing.

Therapist:

What's the story about exactly?

Joey Pettey:

Shipyards. There have been other accidents at Halter. Lee [Tipido 01:01:00], sandblaster helper got killed on the job in 2012. Another guy got crushed by a crane that tipped over. The Navy don't care. Awarded them a huge contract just one month after the explosion. You know, Halter only paid $800,000 in fines when all was said and done? Is that the price of two lives and all those injuries?

Therapist:

Did you tell the journalist?

Joey Pettey:

She knew. It's public record.

Therapist:

So you feel okay about this article?

Joey Pettey:

I told her that a lot of people around here won't take kindly to the media attention on the shipyards. They're going to see it as a threat to their livelihood. But is a man's livelihood worth more than his life?

Therapist:

Did you say that?

Joey Pettey:

I did. You take your life into your hands when you work in these yards. I don't want to see people out of work. I don't want to see the yard shut down. I don't want to see the government regulate every single breath that a man takes, but we got to keep folks safe. I'm not sure how to do that. It's above my paygrade. I tell you what though, the Navy should be giving contracts to yards who look after their people.

Santa:

I got your message, Bram.

Bram Ates:

Which one?

Santa:

The one you sent.

Bram Ates:

There you go again, speaking in riddles.

Santa:

I get a lot of messages. Each one is important.

Bram Ates:

I get a lot of messages, too, but they're all the same.

Santa:

It's good to see you. Season's greetings.

Bram Ates:

Did you even listen to my messages though?

Santa:

It took me a while, but I listened to them all.

Bram Ates:

Well, what did you think?

Santa:

I think you've been through a lot this year. I understand why you've done what you've done.

Bram Ates:

Do you?

Santa:

I've been lost myself on more than one occasion.

Bram Ates:

I hear you, but you got steady work, a good woman, reindeer, elves, and shit like that.

Santa:

You have a family, your own camp, a bulldog, and a truck.

Bram Ates:

Is that all you came here for, a list of things I should be happy about? Is that all you're good for, high hopes and cheerful nonsense?

Santa:

Is that all you've got, excuses, things you expect me to do for you?

Bram Ates:

I don't expect no one to do nothing for me. I'm just looking for something I lost.

Santa:

You've gone through hell. Folks have done you wrong and you didn't get what you deserved. But I seen a lot of guys, and you're tougher than most of them.

Bram Ates:

At one time, maybe.

Santa:

When you get old like me, you got to be tough in new ways, which makes it even tougher.

Bram Ates:

Riddles!

Santa:

No one built me a workshop in the middle of the North Pole, and I'm just expected to keep it going, counted on year after year. Meanwhile, my property is melting, mostly on account of the parents of all the kids that I love. Now there's a dilemma for you to ponder. It doesn't get easier.

Bram Ates:

No, it don't.

Santa:

You'll find a way.

Bram Ates:

What if I don't?

Santa:

There are no guarantees.

Bram Ates:

Time will tell, I guess?

Santa:

It's not your time, Bram.

Bram Ates:

It sure ain't.

Liz Ates:

The night before Bram died, I dreamt I saw him in a gray coffin, same color as the Gulf itself. God gives us clues to prepare us for what lies ahead. How else do you explain my dream? It came out of the blue. I got a call from a nurse over at Singing River Hospital. Bram had gone into cardiac arrest, and he was in a coma. I couldn't talk, couldn't breathe, I just lost it. I thought they had the wrong kid. He hung on for a day, and at one point, his heart rate went up, which the doctor said was a good sign. But hours later, he just crashed. Five times they tried to resuscitate him, but after that, I told them, "Stop, just stop." The second you're born, you start dying. I just have to believe that his work was done. It don't make it no easier.

Al Letson:

Thanks to our partners at StoryWorks for bringing us today's show. When Lighting the Voids was created by Jon Bernson and Jenna Welch, Jon also wrote, scored, and designed the show. Jenna was the producer and director. You can learn more about their work at storyworkstheater.org. Thanks to sound engineers, [Zaury] Moore, Derek Richardson, and Jason [Kick 00:56:08]. Assistant director was [Deanna] Malone, and special thanks to [Corthel Clark 01:01:00].

Al Letson:

Our actors were Lisa Shattuck, Robert Parsons, Alec Barnes, Todd d'Amour, Sherri Marina, Chris [Philips 01:01:00], [Alea Wright 01:01:00], Frederick Mead, Beth Bartley, Caleb Banks, Zachary Page Westbrook, Christopher Robinson, Eduardo [Lusanne 01:01:00], and Alexandra Lofton. The story was inspired by reporting from Reveal's Jennifer Gollan. We also want to thank Dillard University and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for their support of today's show.

Al Letson:

Reveal's production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Our engineers are Jay Breeze, Mr. Jim Briggs, and Fernando, my man, Arruda. Christa Scharfenberg is our CEO. Matt Thompson is our Editor in Chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by [Camarato] Lightning.

Al Letson:

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson. And remember, there is always more to the story.

Al Letson:

These are our last few shows of the year, and let me tell you, in 2020, we are bringing the fire, launching some of our most ambitious projects we've ever done. I cannot wait for you to hear them. Reveal is all about going deep, pulling on threads, telling stories that matter, and this kind of investigative journalism, well, it takes time and it costs money. These are the final weeks of our end-of-the-year membership campaign. We depend on listeners like you to help make this work possible. To support us, just text the word reveal to 474747. Standard data rates apply and you can text stop or cancel at any time. Again, just text the word reveal to 474747. All right, let's go do some good work together.

Announcer:

From PRX.