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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. 

This episode was originally broadcast in December 2019.

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Credits

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 for this episode was 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, hey, hey, it’s Al and as the year comes to a close, oh my God, thank you it is over. We are asking for listeners like you to become members to support this kind of investigative journalism. So this summer we brought to American Rehab, our first ever serialized investigation. Over the course of eight podcasts, we told you the story of an exploitative treatment for drug addiction, with its roots in the 1960s cult called, Synanon. The New Yorker named it one of the very best podcasts of 2020. And because of our series, the Government Accountability Office announced it was going to open an investigation into the kinds of rehabs we reported on.

 

This project took years of painstaking work, phone calls and public records requests. It took time, money and on the record sources willing to stand up to powerful forces. We tell stories like this because, well we want to change the world. And because facts can transform lives. From now until the end of 2020, if you donate at least $11 a month, you’ll receive our facts t-shirt. Your contribution will help make our reporting possible. Just text the word reveal to 474747 standard data rates apply and you can text stop at any time. Again, to become a member just text the word reveal to 474747 because the only way forward is 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 burnt blanket around his leg.

Speaker 4:

Hey, what’s the deal? Let’s get out of here.

Speaker 5:

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

Speaker 4:

C’mon Bram, open up.

Speaker 3:

Hang on, y’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. Bram Ates, a young shipyard worker who was caught in the explosion.

 

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, sitting in the room watching over him.

Liz:

Bronco with a white top, metallic Ranchero. A gray, beat up F150. The McDonald’s monster truck with the skull on a roof and them oversized tires. That was your favorite for a while. I can’t believe you don’t remember them. Remember when Nikki took 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 corn 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:

Evening, Doc.

Doctor:

We’re gonna have to change Bram’s bandages when the next shift starts.

Liz:

When’s that?

Doctor:

Any minute now.

Liz:

Figured as much.

Doctor:

Can I walk you out?

Liz:

No.

Doctor:

All right.

 

Drive safe, Mrs. Ates.  The weather outside is frightful.

 

(singing)

Bram:

Santa, you’re here early.

 

Don’t take this wrong, but it ain’t even Thanksgiving. It’s almost Thanksgiving, I guess.

Santa:

Your chimney’s haunted.

Bram:

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:

And freeze my ass off.

Santa:

That’s not the winter you feel, the chill is from the burns.

Bram:

I guess I’m pretty messed up, ain’t I.

Santa:

You got some tough going ahead.

Bram:

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:

Amen.

Santa:

You’ve been good this year.

Bram:

Thank you, sir.

Santa:

I brought you something.

Bram:

You didn’t have to.

Santa:

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

Mr. Pettey:

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

Therapist:

Why don’t you go for it, Mr. Petty?

Mr. Pettey:

I need to work.

Therapist:

Okay.

Mr. Pettey:

I needed to feed my family.

Therapist:

You could have gone to therapy while you were working. Is that what you’re doing now?

Mr. Pettey:

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

Therapist:

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

Mr. Pettey:

Is that a question?

Therapist:

Joey, they can’t fire you for that.

Mr. Pettey:

Okay. They can’t fire you because even psychiatrist?

Therapist:

Psychologists.

Mr. Pettey:

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

Therapist:

Air horn?

Mr. Pettey:

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

Therapist:

Oh, so you can breathe?

Mr. 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-

Therapist:

I see.

Mr. Pettey:

If you go see a shrink, you’re a liability in their eyes, so to speak.

Therapist:

So no one took the therapy.

Mr. 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?

Mr. Pettey:

Not asked back. Yeah.

Therapist:

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

Mr. Pettey:

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

Therapist:

But you aren’t-

Mr. 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. Petty. Why now?

Mr. 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 and his hands streaking out from the smoke, fingernails charred, 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.

Mr. Pettey:

Even more important, I need to know that you ain’t working with any of these yards.

Therapist:

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

Mr. Pettey:

The law is one thing. I need your word on that before God. I got a wife and four kids counting on me. I’m counting on you.

Therapist:

You have my word.

Mr. Pettey:

God as your witness?

Therapist:

God, my word and the law too.

Speaker 12:

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 at 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.

Speaker 12:

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:

Don’t get too many 911 calls so let’s just go to it.

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:

Did you lose any guys?

Bill Skinner:

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

Ed Foulke:

Man, I’m sorry to hear that.

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:

Yeah, I understand. But I don’t come cheap.

Bill Skinner:

Hoping to get what I pay for.

Ed Foulke:

Well, you will. Who’s handling the case?

Bill Skinner:

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

Ed Foulke:

I’ll 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?

 

Please tell me that you have 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 gonna 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.

Mr. Pettey:

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

Therapist:

Those are symptoms of trauma. Possibly PTSD.

Mr. Pettey:

Come on Now. I didn’t get burned. No concussion or nothing.

Therapist:

You were in a horrific situation that you couldn’t process in a moment. 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.

Mr. Pettey:

Are you going to put me on some meds? I don’t want to turn into no vegetable.

Therapist:

Everyone is different. Some people shut down, get depressed and isolate, others get anxiety, become hyper vigilant, angry, even violent, pretty extreme differences. I’m not going to recommend anything until we’ve talked about your situation.

Mr. Pettey:

Sounds like feeding the beast, as they say.

Bram:

Don’t throw those bandages away.

Santa:

You won’t be needing them, Bram.

Bram:

Why not?

Santa:

You’re on the mend. Have a look.

Bram:

He saved my legs.

Santa:

Well sure they are.

Bram:

These are hog legs.

Santa:

Use them or lose them, Bram.

Bram:

What happened to my legs?

Santa:

They still work, don’t they?

Bram:

Santa? They ain’t mine.

Santa:

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

Bram:

What about my face?

Santa:

Burn doc thinks you blocked the flames with your hands.

Bram:

They look like waffles or something.

Santa:

Don’t think about that now. Best to start walking.

Bram:

I seen the light.

Santa:

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

Bram:

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.

Mr. Pettey:

Ships carry different types of fluids in different tanks, fuel oil, diesel oil, gas, oil,  freshwater, saltwater. 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?

Mr. Pettey:

Before should get launched the void need to be blasted, buffed, clean, sealed, painted everything we do to the rest of the ship. Working in the voids, is for smaller guys like myself because it’s a cramped space And big fellas can even fit down in them. The explosion happened in the port side of the lower bottom void. The following week, we still had to finish the lower bottoms on the starboard side.

Therapist:

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

Mr. Pettey:

No. We was back working on that boat a week afterwards.

Therapist:

Everyone?

Mr. Pettey:

Everyone who survived or wasn’t injured.

Therapist:

And OSHA was still investigating the accident?

Mr. Pettey:

That took six months. But the show must go on.

Clyde Payne:

Son of a mother, finally.

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:

Y’all closed down today?

Gate Guard:

On account of the accident.

Clyde Payne:

Here you go.

Gate Guard:

See that a lot on the right. Just park there. They 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:

Y’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 gonna 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:

We’re all here to make sure that that does not happen again.

Clyde Payne:

I’m gonna hold you to that.

Ed Foulke:

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

Clyde Payne:

That’s good to hear. So now that I have you 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 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 opening 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?

Bill Skinner:

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 gonna 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. Can’t hardly see a thing. Y’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:

Doesn’t look like you’d even be able to stand up.

Bill Skinner:

No, sir. It’s just a crawlspace.

Ed Foulke:

About two three feet of clearance. Typical dimensions for 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 it 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 one 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? 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?

Al Letson:

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

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Speaker 19:

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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 spraying. The bulk of you, Nettles, Bram, y’all mask off that whole engine room fore to aft, top to bottom, corner to corner. Each one of them electric panels are going to be taped off nice and clean. Dwight, Juan, Alex, y’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, knock off all that rust and make sure everything’s cleaned out spotless with MEK. And when that’s done, I’m gonna have Pettey spread it this afternoon. After that, I want y’all to come and get me so I can check it. Bill Skinner just pulled up. So y’all be on your best.. All right, let’s get to it.

 

Morning, Mr. Skinner.

Bill Skinner:

Morning.

Danny Cobb:

Everything okay?

Bill Skinner:

You tell me, Cobb.

Danny Cobb:

Hurricanes set us back a few days, but we made up some time yesterday on that Crowley hole.

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:

Uh, we had to pay out some overtime this week. But we’re coming in under budget on gear, sand, paint, etc. 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 will be working for the Navy.

Bill Skinner:

The 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. Gotta run.

Speaker 2:

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

Bram:

Yes, Mr. Cobb. I was stressed because I thought it was going to be late to work.

Nettles:

He sent you back to the house, man.

Bram:

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

Nettles:

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

Bram:

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

Nettles:

Like what? I wish you was dead.

Bram:

That’s the nicest thing she said.

Nettles:

Damn, that’s cold.

Bram:

Hey, do you smell something?

Nettles:

Man, it smells like trouble. And it’s always something with you too. Seriously, man, and be ever thought about calling it off?

Bram:

Nah, man. I love her kids just like they was mine but that’s not what I’m getting in. Butterscotch and acetone, you don’t smell that?

Mr. Pettey:

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

Danny Cobb:

What’s up, Pettey? You done?

Mr. Pettey:

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

Danny Cobb:

They finished in the voids?

Mr. Pettey:

No, sir. No, I’d say they got by not 30.

Danny Cobb:

30?

Mr. Pettey:

Yes. Yes, sir. 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.

Mr. Pettey:

How you mean?

Danny Cobb:

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

Mr. Pettey:

I ain’t going down there without no fan.

Danny Cobb:

I ain’t asking you to get over, Pettey.

Mr. 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.

Mr. Pettey:

I ain’t spraying without no ventilation.

Danny Cobb:

You can go and try and find yourself some ventilation.

Mr. Pettey:

No, 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?

Mr. Pettey:

Said he couldn’t open it.

Therapist:

So you went to look for one and another job site?

Mr. Pettey:

Same yard. Different side.

Therapist:

But you weren’t supposed to be there?

Mr. Pettey:

I wasn’t not supposed to be there, Doc.

Therapist:

So wait, what’s an air horn again?

Mr. Pettey:

Looks like a cone which you attach to a hose and then that hose is attached to the air compressor. It’s nothing compared to the gear we should have been using but an air horn was the best I could do. Messed up thing. There were brand new masks and air horns just rusting away in a tool room. And there I was trying to scavenge somebody else’s. I knew there might be one in 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?

Mr. 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 from 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.

Mr. Pettey:

Working like a Hebrew slave was nothing new, but getting down on my chest crawling across the 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:

God dang, you don’t smell that?

Nettles:

I don’t smell nothing but them stinky old boxers.

Bram:

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

Nettles:

Whoa, these here. brand spanking new. Walmart $3.

Bram:

Seriously, man, that’s MEK.

Nettles:

Man, I can’t smell a thing. But then again, I got no sense of smell. I’ll tell you what, though, they got the wrong lights.

Bram:

How do you mean?

Nettles:

They just got the regular bulbs.

Bram:

Who’s down there?

Nettles:

Dwight, Alex, I don’t know. Maybe Juan.

Bram:

And you didn’t say nothing?

Nettles:

I don’t get another people’s business, man.

Bram:

Not me. I love getting in other people’s business.

 

Hey, people, y’all need fresh air, in and out.

 

(singing)

 

Hey, people, y’all need fresh air, in and out.

Alex:

[foreign language]

Juan:

I love that song.

Alex:

Even my mom likes it.

Juan:

Your mom listens to Linkin Park?

Alex:

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 thought you were from Puerto Rico.

Alex:

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

Juan:

You were jamming out with your mom?

Alex:

We stayed home 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:

Okay?

Juan:

Yeah, his first band never went anywhere.

Alex:

It just goes to show, man.

Bram:

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

Mr. Pettey:

I couldn’t smell a strip of bacon, if you stuck it in my nose. But I’ll tell you one thing, they don’t brought the wrong lights down there.

Bram:

Hey, people, y’all got the wrong lights.

Juan:

Okay.

Bram:

We’re not messing around, y’all.

Juan:

Okay. We hear you, bro.

Bram:

Y’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:

Hey, I know y’all can hear me.

Juan:

I’m coming, I’m coming.

Bram:

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

Juan:

Where are you?

Bram:

You sure took your sweet time.

Juan:

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

Bram:

Hey, pass me that light.

Juan:

Okay. Hold on.

Bram:

Careful now. You see my hand?

Juan:

Yeah. You got it?

Bram:

I got it.

Juan:

Thanks.

Bram:

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

Juan:

I’m going to get some air.

Nettles:

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

Juan:

Got it.

Nettles:

Lay that lamb down over there. Don’t turn it off, it might spark.

Bram:

Yo, Juan. Is Alex down there?

Juan:

Yeah, the light is too somewhere.

Bram:

Hey, Alex. Pass up them lights.

 

Oh my god. Help me.

Nettles:

Damn.

Mr. Pettey:

I’m hit. Hey, Nettles, your hairs on fire. You need to put your head out. Anyone down?

Nettles:

Dead. Dead.

Mr. Pettey:

What’s dead?

Nettles:

Everything’s dead.

Bram:

Help.

Mr. Pettey:

Hey, Nettles, get him to the guard shack.

Nettles:

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

Mr. Pettey:

Okay. How many?

Nettles:

I don’t know.

Mr. Pettey:

Call 911. Nettles, you meet me down now.

Nettles:

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

Mr. Pettey:

What the hell is Cobb at?

Nettles:

I don’t know.

Bram:

My hands.

Nettles:

Just move your legs, man. Go with Juan. I’m going below. Hey, hey Pettey? Where are you at?

Mr. Pettey:

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

Nettles:

You see them?

Mr. Pettey:

No, no, no, man. I’m going down to the voids, all right?

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.

Mr. Pettey:

Hey, Nettles. Don’t leave me, man.

Nettles:

I got you.

Mr. Pettey:

Hey, man. Hey? Are you all right? Can you hear me, man?

Nettles:

Pettey, do you see him?

Mr. Pettey:

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

Nettles:

He’s gotta be dead. Anybody else down there? Where’s Monroe?

Mr. Pettey:

Oh, not here.

Nettles:

He could be further forward.

Mr. Pettey:

Let’s get this guy out first.

 

Help.

Nettles:

You all right, Pettey?

Mr. Pettey:

Oh, man.

Nettles:

Pettey, talk to me.

Mr. Pettey:

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

Nettles:

Oh, God damn it all. Pettey, how we gonna get him up to the hole?

Mr. Pettey:

I’m gonna tie my sweatshirt around his chest, Reach down in here and grab him by the top of the arms of his sweatshirt.

Nettles:

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

Mr. Pettey:

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

Nettles:

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

Mr. Pettey:

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

Nettles:

I got him. I got him.

Mr. Pettey:

Easy, easy.

Nettles:

Up we go. Up we go.

Mr. Pettey:

Easy.

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.

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Hey, folks, I’m Byard Duncan.

David Rodriguez:

And I’m David Rodriguez.

Byard Duncan:

We’re reporters at Reveal and we’re investigating problems with the 2020 census. We recently uncovered a pattern of poor training, shifting deadlines and clunky technology that produced chaos on the ground as the census came to a close.

David Rodriguez:

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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 is 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.

Mr. Pettey:

Yes, Mr. Cobb.

Danny Cobb:

They need you over at the Moss Point yard ASAP.

Mr. Pettey:

They can’t wait like 15 minutes?

Danny Cobb:

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

Mr. Pettey:

I thought they just had an inspection.

Danny Cobb:

Didn’t pass. They got another one tomorrow.

Mr. 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.

Mr. Pettey:

If they got something to do with the explosion you best believe-

Danny Cobb:

Best to believe you got nothing to say. Unless they ask you.

Mr. Pettey:

They ain’t going to ask me over in Moss Point.

Danny Cobb:

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

Mr. Pettey:

I ain’t got no opinions.

Danny Cobb:

Good.

Mr. 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 toluene 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 sides and put that under the purview of the tool room. Specifically that each tool must be logged with an ID number and that “painters shall not check out lights unless they’re explosion proof”.

Sam:

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 means 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 DC.

 

In my report, I documented 17 willful and 11 serious violations. VT Halter was aware of the hazards 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 result in fire killed Alex Caballero and Dwight Monroe and seriously injured two others.

 

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.

Therapist:

OSHA never interviewed you?

Mr. Pettey:

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

Therapist:

Sounds like you’re pretty angry at OSHA.

Mr. Pettey:

The best we got when it comes to safety. I don’t mean it’s perfect. 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.

Mr. Pettey:

What comes around, goes around.

Therapist:

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

Mr. 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.

Bram:

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

 

That’s all I remember.

 

I was hollering at them to give me them lights and to get out. But if they gave me a light, all right. Fire come out that hole. I put my hands down through 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 threw me back about 10 foot.

 

I replay it every day. The tangerine light, put 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:

Bram, is that you?

Bram:

I got to go, Santa. Okay, but you call me back. It’s been too long.

Liz:

Who you talking to?

Bram:

No one.

Liz:

You was talking to someone?

Bram:

Calling me a liar?

Liz:

I just heard you talking is all.

Bram:

I was leaving a voicemail.

Liz:

Of course, you was. No one’s gonna pick up the phone at this hour.

Bram:

Couldn’t sleep last night.

Liz:

Then go in my bedroom and close the shades.

Bram:

I’m good here.

Liz:

You ain’t good. Son, you’re stuck.

Bram:

All day. Every day. It never stops and it never goes away.

Liz:

I know.

Bram:

You don’t know.

Liz:

I don’t know it like you know it. But I can’t tell you how many times-

Bram:

you have no [inaudible] idea.

Liz:

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:

No [inaudible].

Liz:

I said Take it easy.

Bram:

That’s what I’m trying to do. Take it easy.

Liz:

What about that security job?

Bram:

Turned in an application.

Liz:

It’s been a week, give them a call.

Bram:

They’re going to do like everyone else. Wonder 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:

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

Bram:

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

Liz:

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

Bram:

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:

Or maybe those fumes would have built up even more or maybe one 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:

It can’t be helped.

Liz:

It can. You’re feeling guilty because you survived when others died, but no one blames you except yourself. You might 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:

That’s not my thing. And you should know that by now.

Liz:

People change. People have to change and your life won’t change unless you change the way you’ve been living. You have to adapt. And if you can come back from all them burns, you can do anything you put your mind to.

Bram:

I’ll call them, okay.

Liz:

There you go.

Bram:

But I ain’t talking to no shrink.

Speaker 12:

You quit.

Mr. Pettey:

I quit.

Speaker 12:

What happened?

Mr. Pettey:

Nothing happens.

Speaker 12:

Something happened.

Mr. Pettey:

What made you say that?

Speaker 12:

It just feels sudden. I’m not judging your decision. But honestly, I’m shocked.

Mr. Pettey:

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

Speaker 12:

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.

Mr. Pettey:

It’s true. Something did happen. Two decades happened. I got the lungs with senior citizen. I’m done marketing them shipyards.

Speaker 12:

You sound really clear about it. But what about your family? Is your wife working?

Mr. Pettey:

Yeah. Gonna be helping her with her business a little bit. But I’ve been getting into bitcoin.

Speaker 12:

So you’re investing in cryptocurrency?

Mr. Pettey:

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

Speaker 12:

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.

Mr. Pettey:

I worked hard for my money. I ain’t going to throw it all I just any one thing.

 

Did an interview with a reporter from California two weeks ago.

Speaker 12:

Interview.

Mr. Pettey:

She’s been investigating the explosion.

Speaker 12:

How did it go?

Mr. Pettey:

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

Speaker 12:

And no flashbacks or anything?

Mr. Pettey:

Smooth sailing.

Speaker 12:

What’s the story about exactly?

Mr. Pettey:

Shipyards. There have been other accidents at Halter. Lee Tibideaux, sandblaster helper, got killed on the job in 2012. Another guy got crushed by crane that tipped over. Navy don’t care. Awarded them a huge contract just one month after the explosion. Halter only paid $800,000 in fines when all was said and done.

 

Is that the price of two lives and all those injuries?

Speaker 12:

Did you tell the journalist?

Mr. Pettey:

she knew. It’s public record?

Speaker 12:

So you feel okay about this article?

Mr. 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?

Speaker 12:

Did you say that?

Mr. Pettey:

I did. You take your life into your hands when you work in these yards. I 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 pay grade. I’ll tell you what, though, the Navy should be giving contracts to yards who look after their people.

Santa:

I got your message, Bram.

Bram:

Which one?

Santa:

The one you sent.

Bram:

There you go again, speaking in riddles.

Santa:

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

Bram:

I get a lot of messages too. But they’re all the same.

Santa:

It’s good to see you. Season’s Greetings.

Bram:

Did you even listen to my messages though?

Santa:

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

Bram:

Well, what do you think?

Santa:

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

Bram:

Do you?

Santa:

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

Bram:

I hear you, but you got steady work. A Good woman, reindeer, elves.

Santa:

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

Bram:

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

Santa:

Is that all you’ve got? Excuses. Things you expect me to do for you.

Bram:

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’ve seen a lot of guys and you’re tougher than most of them.

Bram:

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:

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.

 

Doesn’t get easier.

Bram:

No, it don’t.

Santa:

You’ll find a way.

Bram:

What if I don’t?

Santa:

There are no guarantees.

Bram:

Time will tell. I guess.

Santa:

It’s not your time, Bram.

Bram:

It sure ain’t.

Liz:

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. I 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 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. 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 John Bernson and Jenna Welch. John also wrote, scored and design the show. Jenna was a producer and director. You can learn more about their work at Storyworkstheater.org. Thanks to sound engineers Zari Moore, Derek Richardson and Jason Kick. Assistant director was Deanna Malone. A special thanks to Corthel Clark.

 

Our actors were Lisa Shaddick, Robert Parsons, Alec Barnes, Todd d’Amour, Sherry Marina, Chris Phillips, Aaliyah Wright, Frederick Mead, Beth Bartley, Kayla Banks, Zachary Paige Westbrook, Christopher Robinson, Edwardo Lusanne and Alexandra Loftin. We also want to thank Dillard University and the WK Kellogg Foundation for their support of today’s show. 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 Heisting-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.

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Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Mwende Hinojosa is the production manager for Reveal. Prior to joining Reveal, she was the training strategist and innovation manager for the Bay Area Video Coalition, a nonprofit media arts center in San Francisco. At BAVC, she provided resources and support to students training in video, motion graphics, web and graphic design and managed a community for creative freelancers called Gig Union. She has produced segments for public radio stations KUSP, KQED, KALW and KUOW; videos and short documentaries for nonprofits; interactive panel discussions; and immersive storytelling experiences for tech companies. Hinojosa is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Jennifer Gollan

Jennifer Gollan is an Emmy Award-winning reporter for Reveal.

Gollan has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to shoddy tire manufacturing practices that killed motorists. She uncovered rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry. The series, Caregivers and Takers, prompted a congressional hearing and new state legislation. Gollan also exposed how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured, spurring a new federal law and a review by the Pentagon.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian US and Politico Magazine, as well as on PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera English’s “Fault Lines” program. Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing awards. Gollan is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.