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In this special year-end episode, Making Contact producers and staff turn the spotlight on some the best shows they aired in 2021.
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Contributors The Making Contact Team
The Making Contact Team
- Xylo Ziko – “Termites,” “Lemu”
- Storby – “Whatever”
- Blue Dot Sessions – “Arbic Tallow,”
- Scanglobe – “Drive”
- Meydan – “Underwater”
- Tree As Man – “Snowy Eyes”
MONICA: I’m Monica Lopez and this week on Making Contact… 2021 is wrapping up as another year of big changes. Not only in the world, but also at Making Contact.
We had a change of leadership this past Fall, and I’m here with our New Interim, Executive Director Jessica Partnow…
JESSICA: Hey Monica. I’m super excited to be joining you to talk about some of the highlights from this past year. What was one of your favorites?
MONICA: There were so many. I really liked reporter Lee Romney’s story about the effect of wildfires on kids with asthma. We’ll hear some of her work later in the show… in my segment. What about you?
JESSICA: It is so hard to choose! But one that I loved came from 70 Million. A podcast that tells stories about prisons and criminal justice. One episode looked at the transformation that can happen when Black women hold positions of power in the criminal justice system. Let’s hear a clip from that.
The picture, that eventually went viral, was simple. Eight Black women in a metro Atlanta courtroom dressed all all black.The city of South Fulton’s chief judge, city solicitor, court administrator, public defender, interim police chief, and three clerks posed for the photo. An entire criminal justice system, just outside Atlanta, run completely by Black women. It struck a chord, worldwide. Rogers: I had a girlfriend, a sorority sister, who called and said, one of my friends in Australia called and said, do you know her? Like, Yeah, she’s my soror. So yeah, it became to be a phenomenal feeling. . I think it was an inspiration and an eye-opener for the rest of the world to say, “Hey. Wait a minute. This can happen.”
MONICA: Jessica, you and all of us producers rounded up some of the most thoughtful and well-produced programming on Making Contact this year.
JESSICA: Yes! This is our Best of 2021. First we’re going to hear from producer Salima Hamirani.
SALIMA: Hi everyone Salima Hamirani here and I just want to tell you a little bit about why I chose these two particular shows for the end of the year. This year was different for me as a journalist because we were in COVID and I think there’s certain things that really stood out as I was reporting on these pieces and there were two main things that I kept thinking about over and over again, and one was watching the failure of public health as an idea In the United States and abroad.
And the other was watching the virus mutate before our eyes, which in some ways is fascinating but also terrifying. And so the two pieces that I picked were related to these two ideas.
The first one, produced at the beginning of this year on COVID in prisons. So there is the public health idea on one side, which is that we should free people and on the other side you have this way that we see the world that incarceration is natural, and that there’s no way around it that there’s no changing it.
Releasing people is never seen as a real solution.
Swati Rayasam: At any carceral facility, any place like San Quentin, it’s a powder keg. The buildings, especially San Quentin, the building is so old. It has seen numerous outbreaks before based on the fact that the building is really poorly designed. It is overcrowded. All of our institutions are grossly overcrowded. And so, you introduce one person and it is just the case study of how fast an infection spreads.
Chanthon Bun: One time I was scared COVID with the open cell I blocked where I slept at so the air don’t get in there with towels and stuff. They try to write me up. I’ll write you up. I said, “do you know it’s COVID, right? Yeah, I could catch it. Nah, I’m write you up”. And me getting a parole date already, like oh, I can’t get a write up. That’ll stop my whole parole date. So, I left it open. So, I started getting symptoms. My roommate, he has COVID. I was like man I hope is just a headache, but I’m getting night sweats. And I was scared that if I say I got COVID, they’re going to take my date, lock me up, do something.
Salima Hamirani: At first, Bun’s symptoms were light. They even seemed to disappear once in a while.
Chanthon Bun: they come to check me. My temperature is fine. My oxygen level is fine.
Salima Hamirani: But in reality, the virus was all over San Quentin and Bun did have COVID. It got very, very serious.
Chanthon Bun: I was severely sick. I almost died because of COVID. I was so sick and actually I didn’t have no hope of being free. I was like, I’m going to go. I wrote a last letter to my family in case I died and left it in my property.
And you know there was a scientist at the end of the piece who talked about how the existence of prisons will harbor disease, you know, act as a super spreader event and that essentially it would increase the numbers of any kind of disease during a pandemic. That’s over half a million additional cases of COVID just linked to the presence of prisons. And that’s just by August of 2020.
Gregory Hooks: For me that number was eye popping. Again, this is in August. And compared to current rates, that seems like a small number because the US has a pandemic out of control. But as of August 1st, if you compare the number of cases that we linked to mass incarceration, to the total number of cases reported in the world. That would have been fifth in the world, and I suspect if I rerun these numbers, rerun these analyzes and updated through the year, you’re talking about caseloads that are just staggering. This is the tip of the iceberg. I believe.
SALIMA: And I guess I left that piece thinking what if we learned something from this year and we did put public health first? What would that do to the way that we think about each other?
And what would that have done for the number of people that we lost this year?
And as I mentioned, I’ve been thinking a lot about how quickly the virus is mutating and that maybe would not have happened if we had given the world, the option to access the treatments and the medicines and the vaccines that we have here in the West and in the global north.
Watching the virus mutate like this, watching it take advantage of what is really the relics of the colonial past. This huge disparity between the global north and the global South.
It just become extremely clear from the pandemic how bad that disparity is.
News Clip: India has reported more than 40,000 new cases in a day. And this is not a sudden rise. The number has been rising for almost a week now. In the last six day, India has breached the 40,000 mark every day, 40,000 new cases every day
Leena Menghaney: In March. It started in March. I remember that day when, you know, I started to feel everyone around me was getting sick. Every second person I was hearing had a parent or family member getting sick with COVID. By mid April, it became very clear that India was going through a massive surge. You had 4,000 people dying a day and those were government figures. You probably have much higher figures and unaccounted for deaths
News Clip: body after body being brought into this crematorium in India’s national Capitol New Dehli. That has seen a huge surge, not only in cases that in fatalities as well, family members pulling out bodies, such as this one from ambulances lined up in this crematorium ground and taking them for cremation.
Leena Menghaney: And at that point India said, hang on. Why should we be just vaccinating just 10 – 20% of our population? We need to vaccine as fast as we can and all adult population
Salima Hamirani: That sentiment was global, especially as a poorer countries, watched Northern countries lift COVID restrictions and just return to life as normal
Leena Menghaney: people wanted to vaccinate developing countries. Africa union wants to vaccinate all its people. So they said, hang on. We are vaccinating everybody. And that’s when we ran over vaccines very quickly.
Marcela Cristina Vieira: So one of the things that we have been doing is checking COVID-19 vaccine access.
Salima Hamirani: That’s Marcela Christina Vieira She’s a project coordinator of the Knowledge Network for Innovation and Access to Medicines at the Global Health Center in Geneva.
Marcela Cristina Vieira: And that information has been pretty difficult to find, but from the sources that are publicly available, it clearly shows that most of the current available vaccine doses are going to high-income countries. And very few are going to low-income countries. So, we see a clearly unfair distribution of the vaccines according to income level. Uh, high income countries, they have secured enough vaccine doses to vaccinate about 350% of their population while low-income countries they have only enough doses to vaccinate 3% of their population.
SALIMA: So for me, both of these pieces – COVID in prisons, the vaccine piece – you know there’s ways to stop the pandemic, and I think we’ve lost sight of that a little bit. This year because we have sort of returned to life as normal as much as we can. But we could release more prisoners and that would stop them acting like super spreader events and also lower the overall transmission in every community in which a prison is located. And we could release the patents on all tests, diagnostics, vaccines and medicines. And I hope that in the next year, as we continue to live with COVID-19, we do start to take these solutions more seriously so that next year my production work could possibly be about the successes. Of public health ideas and how they can help us save lives during huge emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
MONICA: You’re listening to Making Contact’s Best of 2021. You can click through our favorite episodes at radioproject dot org… or find a Spotify playlist of all these shows also on our website. That’s radioproject.org. We’ll be right back.
MONICA: With two COVID surges in 2021 from Delta and now the Omicron variant, the pandemic continues to affect every part of our lives. Here’s Making Contact producer Anita Johnson.
ANITA: In 2021 I produced a show titled Life during COVID that looks at the many ways the pandemic transformed our lives from physical and mental health challenges to struggling to find or maintain housing and the balance of parenting during the pandemic. The clip you’re about to hear begins with Amy Arlund, a registered nurse at Kaiser Fresno Medical Center. Dedicated COVID-19 unit. Here she describes the toll of COVID. And it wraps up with Derek, a husband and a father of a four year old girl dealing with homelessness during the pandemic.
Amy Arlund: By that point, we were at 100 percent ICU mortality for our covid patients, we were losing them all. And that was the biggest kick in the gut for us because we were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at these people and they weren’t working. This was death on a massive scale. I mean, we went from an average of maybe two to three deaths a month in our ICU to having 23 deaths a month. I stopped counting after about one hundred and seventy five death.
Anita: Due to the rising number of COVID deaths, and the ICU consistently being short-staffed, the responsibility of body disposal regularly fell on Amy.
Amy Arlund: We were short staffed most of the time to bare bones, barely scraping by. So I would have to be the one to take that patient down to the morgue. And when the morgue was full, we had to take them outside to a refrigerated truck. And yeah, we usually just stack them like cordwood.
Anita: As of August 2021, an average of more than 700 people per day continue to die of COVID-19 in the U.S. Many healthcare workers like Amy Arlund continue to be overloaded by caring for COVID-19 patients. Globally, COVID-19 has presented unique challenges, leading to increased mental health issues among healthcare workers.
Amy: There were many nights that I didn’t think I could go back and do it again. You know, you only are responsible for two patients as an ICU nurse, and when you lose them both in one night, after you’ve given everything you’ve got and you really start to feel like what you do is pointless, there are many times that I almost called it quits. I didn’t think that I could do this anymore. I couldn’t be a nurse anymore. I reached a really low point where I started to resent that I hated my patients. I hated the people I worked with. You know, it was a pretty miserable few months when we had our third surge. And I said, if I survive this surge, that’s it. I’m done.
Anita: Daja Mayner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker based in North Carolina. She offers perspective on the realities of trauma and grief.
Daja: It is pretty much inconceivable right to imagine that she, you know, in particular, and all of the other you know healthcare frontline workers who decided to you know push through, you know who are still pushing through. It would be inconceivable for them to develop any kind of resiliency to sort of all of the, all the things that make such a such a situation like this distressing.
To continue their work, and I think in this particular uh, with this particular situation, you know PTSD is about, you know it’s a trauma response in that the brain cannot be certain that any situation that is like that sort of initial trauma that original sort of entry point of that trauma isn’t.
It is actually different, so your your brain and your body is responding as if the trauma is still ongoing and in this particular instance right, the length of the pandemic is kind of like the subsequent retraumatization, right?
Like this person is constantly in the same situation. It’s sort of those initial trauma, wounds, and so I think that trying to trying to do our best as those outside of it, you know. This is kind of sort of splitting the difference here because I am therapist but doing our best to try to try to understand, you know, sort of the depth and breath of that is kind of where that that empathy and that support you know that that genuine empathy and support, I think can come from, you know where we can really sort of make it OK for people to talk about their grief, right?
The grief is immense. We understand grief absolutely when people pass away, but I mean I often talk with my clients about needing to grieve expectations to the loss of a safety net. You know, recognizing that before they could save most people to realizing that most people you know they’re not going to be able to save that isn’t in its own necessitates its own grief process.
Derrick: I was staying with some friends that renting a room out to me and my family and we stay there for a while, but once things started shutting down due to covid, they were getting scared themselves. So they basically gave us a month to move out.
Anita: That’s Derrick, a pseudonym – he, his wife, and child found themselves homeless at the start of the pandemic.
Derrick: I couldn’t find a place within the city, the area or even the state that I could literally move to. So I have to literally move out of state. And because I had to move out of state, I had to quit my job. I couldn’t continue to drive back and forth, you know, from another state eight hours away just to get to work. I mean even though there were a few places that were hiring, for almost every job I applied to, I got denied work. So it just made a bad situation worse.
Anita: Before experiencing homelessness, Derrick worked at Amazon in California. Then COVID hit, and the little bit of security he had was stripped away. In an attempt to locate affordable housing and greater job opportunities, he moved his family to Nevada where the cost of living was cheaper.
Derrick: My first big concern was trying to find housing. That’s where I ended up, where I’m at now, which is the budget suites. It’s like a hotel, but they rent either weekly or monthly, this particular place to bi-weekly or monthly. And I and I mean, I like this campus better than where I was staying at before.
But now it’s like trying to find work, which was difficult during a pandemic because there were quite literally no place hiring. And casinos were shut down so a lot more people were going on unemployment. I mean, it did and literally at one point the unemployment rate in the state reached 30 percent. Very recently, over the last month, you know, they dropped back down to below 10 percent. So I’m still trying to be hopeful.
Anita: Since relocating to Nevada, Derrick has had some successes. He found housing and was able to get some temporary assistance. But he has run into other challenges trying to navigate complex social service systems.
Derrick: I feel grateful for being able to get what we’ve been able to get. And it’s funny, after talking to lots of people in and out of the government assistance sector and so forth, a lot of times they have said, you know, it’s very easy for a woman and child to be able to get assistance, but to include the man. It’s not quite so easy because lots of times they think or consider that the man should be able to go out and get a job.Which for me that really put a lot more pressure upon me that I have to be the person to find work. I have to be able to provide for the family. And hearing that my daughter and wife will be better off without me. Felt. It has a particular type of sting
MONICA: That was an excerpt from Life during COVID produced by Making Contact producer Anita Johnson.
JESSICA: To round out our Best of 2021 episode, here’s Monica Lopez with a few of her favorite segments from the past year.
MONICA: Hello again, I’m Monica Lopez Co-host of this episode and staff producer at making contact before I talk about some of the work that I produced, I’d like to thank the many talented freelance contributors to the show this year and highlight some of their stories as well. They’re reporters, researchers, community survey builders, filmmakers, radioheads and of course, audio producers.
Reporter Lee Romney produced this story about Geraldine, a Northern California grandmother advocating for her grandson’s education.
LEE ROMNEY: She’s had full custody of the kids for a while now, but even as toddlers they lived with her on and off. Her grandson showed early red flags for dyslexia.
GERALDINE: His letters was backwards for sideways or maybe even upside down. He would have such a hard time trying to distinguish.
LEE: Geraldine read to him a lot.
GERALDINE: Doctor Seuss books.
LEE: And the Amelia Bedelia series.
GERALDINE: She was a busy body.
LEE: Geraldine gave me permission to look at her grandson’s records. They show he got speech therapy and was pulled out of Gen Ed classes to get some extra help but none of it involved the type of reading instruction that dyslexic learners need. His annual special Ed documents were supposed to address his strengths, but mostly they didn’t. They did spell out ambitious goals for him year after year, but.
GERALDINE: They never achieved the goals. He’s never achieved a goal. Most of his teachers say that he could do better, but he doesn’t apply himself and I said, it’s not that he doesn’t apply himself.
LEE: His dyslexia, she says.
GERALDINE:Makes it harder for him.
MONICA: Filmmakers Stephanie Welch and Emily Harris produced this fascinating show on the money behind the faulty science and propaganda that promote white supremacy in the US.
CROWD: Jews will not replace us.
ANNOUNCER: To be white is to be a striver, a Crusader, an explorer and a conqueror.
PROTESTOR: Hail Trump, hail our people, hail, victory.
REPORTER: After more than 15 years of research into this world, what bothers me is how little attention is being paid to the sources of propaganda that feed the ideology of white supremacy. And I’m not talking about Fox News. I’m talking about a century of unscientific claims from social scientists, psychologists, anthropologists. Some respected, others not as much, that are still trotted out by white supremacists when they claim to have science on their side.
MONICA: I picked one of my shows to highlight this year which was produced as part of a six month Long Data Fellowship project at USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. This is the second health journalism project I’ve worked on through their program and I am very grateful to have been part of it. So this second data fellowship project was looking at the drivers of first time gun ownership in 2020. Who was buying guns and whether an increase in panic gun buying was related to an increase in homicides and suicides. This clip sets up the show.
MONICA: 2020 was unprecedented in many respects. The COVID-19 pandemic, a reckoning with policing in the US, and a contentious presidential election. If we knew before last year that major events trigger spikes in gun purchases, it should be no surprise that 2020 and even the first few months of 2021 are shaping up to be some of the biggest years ever for firearms purchases.
LAWRENCE TAYLOR: My name is Lawrence Taylor, AKA DJ Styles and I just became a gun owner last year for the first time.
MONICA: Lawrence is a California school teacher and a DJ.
LAWRENCE: When we went into lockdown on coronavirus, I feared the worst. I just thought we were gonna have like food droughts and water rations and putting gas in in in plastic bags. And, you know, I just I feared the worst and so part of me like I really went into prepper mode and started stacking up like all of my food rations. And stuff like that. If you have all the food and other people didn’t prepare, you become a target. You need to protect yourself. And I mean amongst all the other things. So it was something in me clicked with I need to get a firearm at this point.
MONICA: Lawrence was not alone. According to our estimates across the country, more than 22.7 million guns were ordered last year and in California over 1.3 million guns were ordered. But the sales estimates don’t tell you who bought those guns or why first time buyers like Lawrence were motivated to make that purchase.
MONICA: When I started the project, I dove in and wanted to experiment with pretty much every tool that was presented as part of the fellowship curriculum. In hindsight, that was probably not the best idea, but I did it anyway and one of the community engagement tools was to put together a survey with the goal of finding first time gun buyers to get a better picture of who they were and what motivated them to buy a gun.
TOM: Alright, so we’re gonna do reckless shooting. Looks like we have enough room for up to three shooters, OK?
TOM: Yeah, so so the next thing I did was. I decided you know what I’m just going to post a video of me shooting guns and with Vanna shooting guns, you know, no caption, No comment and just just kind of test the waters and see how people react. And I was fully expecting to get a lot of pushback to maybe, you know my followers saying. What is going on? With Tom right? What is this? Right, what is he doing with a gun? And surprisingly, the first comment I got was a direct message from an acquaintance of mine. He’s in one of my favorite bands, one of the most gentle souls. I know in LA and he messaged me he was Tom. You shoot guns like of all the people he thought would would be into guns. I was the last person right? Right? And he felt comfortable in confiding in me. Hey, you know what? I actually bought a gun. I don’t know how to shoot it, but with the unrest and pandemic you know my wife and I.
We just bought a new house. I just want to feel like I can defend ourselves and so I took him to the range and taught him how to use the gun.
MONICA: Among the gun owners who answered our survey, 90% said they had sought out some firearms training or support after buying again. One disturbing change last year is that gun homicides increased in major cities across the country. According to data from the California Department of Public Health, the state also saw an increase in gun homicides. From the previous five years, gun homicides last year increased by over 25% in California.
MONICA: I appreciate the opportunity to be able to reflect on a longer term project like this, and I hope to do more of them in the future.
JESSICA: You can check out the full list of credits and a playlist with all these great episodes on our website, radio project-dot-org.
MONICA: We want to end this year sending a huge thank you to Sonya Green who was our executive director through September 2021. She leaves a legacy of new partnerships, new supporters and new energy. Thank you Sonya!
That’s it for making contact this week. I’m Monica Lopez.
JESSICA: And I’m Jessica Partnow. Thanks for listening and see you next year!