Urban Stories

Life After Wrongful Conviction

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

[The New York Times, Sunday Review, May 29, 2016]

by Daniel Zender for The New York Times

Springfield, Mass. — IT’S hard to imagine worse luck than getting locked up for a crime you did not commit. And yet for people who have been convicted and later cleared — almost 1,800 in the United States since the late 1980s — the unlucky streak may continue. It turns out that where you spent your prison years determines how much help you get starting over, if you get any at all.

Take Mark Schand, who spent 27 years in the Massachusetts prison system for the 1986 murder of Victoria Seymour, a 25-year-old killed by a stray bullet outside a nightclub in Springfield.

For years, defense lawyers argued that Mr. Schand, who at the time was preparing to open a clothing store, was miles away from the crime, that witnesses had been coerced and that evidence had been manipulated. Mr. Schand eventually brought in investigators from the New Jersey innocence organization, Centurion Ministries, who persuaded a crucial witness to recant. In 2013, a judge granted a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, and he freed Mr. Schand. The local district attorney later dismissed the charges.

By then, Mr. Schand had missed out on raising three sons, pursuing a career in retail and living with his wife, Mia. Yet he wasn’t particularly bitter. “I was just happy I was out,” he said. “And I figured I’d just focus on that day forth.”

But after the initial euphoria of freedom, Mr. Schand assumed the state would come knocking to make things right. After all, offenders in Massachusetts get housing assistance, job training, health care, even help opening a bank account after they’re released. Isn’t an innocent man equally deserving?….

To continue reading at The New York Times, click here

When Schools Are Accused Of Abuse….

Friday, May 6th, 2016

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Over the past year, two schools in Western Massachusetts have been accused of abusing their emotionally and psychologically disabled students. The Eagleton School in Great Barrington was ordered shut down and sixteen employees now face criminal charges. Prior to that, the Peck School in Holyoke was also the subject of a scathing report. Which leads us to wonder — how can this happen, and what can be done? [Aired on New England Public Radio, May 4, 2016]

Kinder, Gentler Policing: Rethinking The War On Drugs

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

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Last year, the police chief of Gloucester Massachusetts made an unusual offer on his department’s Facebook page. Heroin addicts who come

Montague Police Chief Chip Dodge

voluntarily to the police station will not get arrested; they’ll get help.The post went viral and led to the creation of  the Gloucester Angel program, in which the police help addicts find drug treatment options. The Gloucester effort has gotten national press and spread to dozens of other police departments around the country. Karen Brown spent time with one New England police chief who was inspired by the Gloucester example – though with not quite the same results. [Aired on WHYY's The Pulse, Feb 2016, and New England Public Radio, March 2016.]

Wrongfully Convicted (for 27 years). Then Things Get Really Unfair.

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

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Mark and Mia Schand.

In fall of 2013, Mark Schand walked out of court in Springfield, Massachusetts, a free man – after 27 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit. Two years later, Schand is still getting his bearings. He’s living with the wife who stood by him — and is trying to find a way forward with little help from the system that locked him up. New England Public Radio’s Karen Brown reports.

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Shorter version aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Not Just for Pirates Anymore: Could Scurvy Be An Underreported Disease Of Poverty?

Friday, June 5th, 2015

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Walmart’s produce section. By Karen Brown.

Poverty often leads to a poor diet, and poor diets can lead to a host of health problems. Doctors in Springfield, Massachusetts, think they’ve identified a diet-related condition that many thought disappeared hundreds of years ago. If their research proves correct, it could be quite common.  [Aired on New England Public Radio, May 2015]

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Sequel: Lance and Nina – A Recovering Addict Moves On …

Monday, May 18th, 2015

Lance Rice graduates from ‘drug court’ in Greenfield, Mass., April 2015.

Last Spring, New England Public Radio aired a story about a recovering heroin addict in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, named Lance Rice and the woman whose house he robbed, Nina Rossi.

Back then, sitting in Rossi’s kitchen, Rice said, “I’m so grateful there’s people like Nina out there, because the normal person would automatically hate somebody who did that to their home.” And Rossi responded, “Well, I did hate you, Lance. We had your picture from the newspaper with ‘F.U.’ written on it on the refrigerator. Cuz we felt violated.”

And yet they forged an unlikely friendship as Rice entered a court program that offers treatment instead of jail.

A year later, many things have evolved – in Rice’s recovery, and in his relationship with Nina Rossi.

To hear the update, visit here.