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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

Scurvy Is A Serious Public Health Problem – Even If You’re Not An 18th Century Pirate

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

[From Slate, November 20, 2015]

In the winter of 2009, Eric Churchill was called to a patient’s bedside at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, to help out with a medical mystery.

The middle-aged man had shown up with bleeding gums, unexplained swelling, bruises, and fatigue. His team of internists suspected a skin infection, but every bacterial test came up negative. They were stumped until, Churchill recalls, “someone eventually thought to ask about this person’s diet.”

It turns out the man, who was mentally ill and lived alone in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, had eaten nothing but white bread and American cheese … for years. “And this had led to these very severe nutritional deficiencies,” Churchill says.

The man’s vitamin C levels were so low, he qualified for a disease Churchill hadn’t thought about since medical school: scurvy. The same scurvy made famous by pirates and British sailors from the 1700s, who would go for months or years at sea without fresh produce, experiencing symptoms from rashes to hemorrhaging. Back then, scurvy killed more seafarers than storms and shipwrecks combined….

To continue reading on Slate, click here

The Thinning Ranks of Frontline Medicine

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

The Boston Globe, June 23, 2015, FRONT PAGE

By Karen D. Brown 

 SPRINGFIELD — Dr. Katie Jobbins rested her forehead in her hand, tapping her fingers rapidly as she waited for a crisis counselor on the other end of the phone to pick up. It was a busy spring day at the clinic on High Street, and one of Jobbins’s regular patients needed help.

“I have a patient . . . who is actively suicidal and homicidal, who I’m going to send to the ER,” she said urgently into the phone. As nurses buzzed around, Jobbins searched for the right admission forms.

At 30, Jobbins is new to front-line medicine, and is still deciding whether to stick it out. She was among nine junior doctors at Baystate Medical Center training in primary care at a time when young doctors are more drawn to lucrative specialties than life as a family doctor. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of 45,000 primary care doctors by 2020.

The consequences hit everyone. As veteran doctors leave primary care faster than they can be replaced, waiting times for appointments stretch longer, and coordination of care becomes more haphazard….

To continue reading in the Boston Globe, click here

Extreme Parenting: On Snowshoes and Rollercoasters

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

The New York Times’ “Motherlode” Blog, April 3, 2015

By Karen Brown

When I was growing up, my father was terrified of roller coasters, but he would still ride on them with my sisters and me. Our favorite, the Rebel Yell, had several towering, rounded peaks and a rickety wooden track. My father would pace nervously for the 45 minutes in line, feel sick in the trek to the top, nauseated on the drop, green and queasy as we rolled back to the gate and then just shake his head the rest of the day in shock and relief. 

Then one day, after he had endured this routine for a decade, he had a revelation: “I don’t have to do this!” He realized he could let us get on the ride alone and wait for us at the bottom, happily eating his corn dog.

And guess what? While we might have preferred that he join us, when we got off the roller coaster, we loved him exactly the same.

I thought about my father’s epiphany a lot in the weeks leading up to my four-day snowshoe hike in the White Mountains with my son. I signed up for this guided trip, not because I was dying to trudge through several feet of snow and sleep in an unheated hut, but because my son loves extreme adventure. It’s not easy to curry favor with a 16-year-old, and this seemed like a potentially winning entry in the sweepstakes called: ‘How do you get your teenager to love and appreciate you?’ (My daughter, thankfully, is happy with a Broadway show.)….

To read full essay, click here

“It’s Monday. Why Does It Always Have To Be A Snowday.”

Monday, February 9th, 2015

The New York Times’ Motherlode Blog, February 9, 2015

By Karen Brown

All around me, doors are swinging open and closed, boots are dripping on the wood floor, the dog is jumping up and down with white flakes on her snout, siblings are arguing over who gets more of the shoveling money, and my husband is reorganizing our books and doing the laundry.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. 

It’s a Monday and I should be home alone. 

It’s my “me” day. And I will do many things for my family, but I will not give this up. Even on a snow day.

O.K., officially, Mondays are my day to freelance. After 16 years of full-time reporting at a public radio station, I negotiated one day off a week, unpaid, to have some control over my own time and try my hand at new kinds of writing. And, in fact, this new schedule has allowed me to take on jobs that I didn’t have time for in the past.

But here’s what I really do on my freelance day….

To read full essay, click here

What Makes a Resilient Mind

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Published on NOVA Next (PBS online) 1/14/2015

By Karen D. Brown

Standing at a podium in a Philadelphia hotel, Amanda Lindhout—a poised, elegant woman in her early 30s—told a harrowing story.

She survived a violent childhood and adolescence in Canada with an alcoholic and abusive stepfather, relying on her own grit and imagination to get through. After high school, she worked as a cocktail waitress and pored wistfully over exotic photos in National Geographic magazines. She eventually tucked away enough money to travel and become a freelance foreign correspondent.

Then in 2008, she was kidnapped while reporting in Somalia and held captive for more than a year, subjected to torture, hunger, and rape.

“I had lost everything,” she told the rapt room. “I had lost even the things you thought couldn’t be taken away from you. My own name. The sky over my head. Laughter. Light. And I never knew if I could make it through the day. So I would break it down and ask myself, ‘Can I get through the next minute?’ ”

She was eventually released after family members scrounged their every resource to raise the ransom her captors demanded.

When something happens to you that extreme, you could begin to fray at the edges, descending into depression, perhaps substance abuse, or post-traumatic stress. Or you could emerge relatively intact, like Lindhout seems to have done, able to speak articulately in front of hundreds of academics and journalists at the 2013 conference of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, which had invited her as keynote speaker. The theme that year was “Resilience.”

“No matter how many times in captivity I suffered abuse, it never got easier, but to survive in there, I had to learn how to crawl out of this dark space in my own mind,” she said. “I began to nurture something inside myself, a tiny seed of compassion inside of me.”

Lindhout’s case is not scientifically unique. There are hundreds, thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of people around the world who have gone through their own version of hell—some of them resilient, some not. But in this room of psychologists and neuroscientists, Lindhout was a warm-blooded reminder why the work they do matters.

Resilience as a branch of trauma studies has grown rapidly in the last few decades, as no shortage of mass traumas, from genocides to war to mass shootings, have raised questions about the psychological fortitude of individuals and populations. That’s in addition to the quieter trauma—domestic abuse, illness, sexual violence—that happens outside the public’s view.

(continued)

To read the full story on NOVA Next, click here.