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Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case. > Research > Katrina Family Journal (12-25-05)
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“Where do we go now?”(thanks axle;) 9/15/2005

There are so many stories to tell and so many places to be. In trying to find the place that I’ll be embedded for the next month or so, I am mostly thinking about how many different stories will I be able to tell in order to shed as much light on this phenomenon on American soil. Today I have called far and wide looking for what may be the meet this goal or what may end up being impossible to realize.

What gives me a little comfort with a story and opportunity of this magnitude is that I’m not the only one to be doing it. At this point late into the night, I have zero’d in on trying to check myself in to a shelter. In speaking to the Red Cross, there are many concerns they have addressed with me doing this. They’ve told me this isn’t just a family’s home, but it’s their bedroom. They are incredibly sensitive about exploitation of the families. I have assured them that my mission here is to help others on the outside to understand the totality of what it’s like on the inside and that the best way I know to do that is through total submersion.

At this point in the evening.. I don’t know where I’m going to be sleeping tomorrow night, let alone the next. And if I get let it, how do you pack when you’re moving into a shelter?

9/16/05 Where am I gonna go AGAIN, now WITH intense negotiations…

It’s the second day of the idea of this thing and I haven’t left New York yet. I think it’s only fair to be honest…the hurricane happened over two weeks ago, and it is now that we’re trying to find a family to get embedded with and I fear that as every minute goes by the sands are slipping through my hands–I have to get down there and I have to do it now–BUT WHERE? The natural inclination of course would have been to have started ridding out the storm with a family and followed them all the way through. But as we know most attempts to even forecast the weather or levees breaching, are only so accurate–journalists can’t and shouldn’t try to predict the future. In that regard, while may feel ’strung-out’ at the present moment, I accept the challenge… the New Orleans diaspora may have started, but now I can do my best to try to find the most articulate representative of what exactly that means.

I had the luxury (I say luxury in the context of this experience) of spending a week in Baton Rouge, the first sizeable stop outside New Orleans starting one week after the hurricane hit. Because my mom always worries about these types of things I want to paint a picture of what Baton Rouge was like that week, because she was worried I might get cholera. There were no floods, virtually no fallen trees… and if I would not have made it down to New Orleans, it may have been almost impossible to tell superficially that such a serious natural disaster had actually occurred nearby there. BUT, there was something in the air…this town was totally overrun and they weren’t used to it. In many ways it felt like the New Jersey Turnpike on a Friday afternoon, with the long lines, crowds and traffic, but this was a college town. It would take several different tries to make phone calls because whether you were using a land line or or cell, there were just too many people calling at once. There would be bumper to bumper traffic at 6 in the morning, and don’t even think about driving around 5PM because traffic just wasn’t moving. Then, if you dug a little deeper, you would see the no vacancies signs everywhere, the food lines that went so long that no everyone would get their stamps and a little deeper you would find the shelters.

This was Baton Rouge, but in these stadiums and churches where people were sheltered, you would find people playing banjos and speaking of New Orleans as if it existed there in these multipurpose venues. I come from Toledo, OH, spent most of my days as a midwesterner and have had to live with accusations that the culture from which I was raised was weak and flavourless–while this isn’t exactly true Toledo is a manufacturing town and I doubt many of you are planning to take your family there next President’s day weekend(you certainly could, please write and I’ll tell you were to eat). The reason why New Orleans’s number one industry is tourism is because their culture is particularly tasty and easy to locate. And while there certainly is culture in the strip malls that dot my native landscape, beyond Bourbon St., into the flooded areas where these evacuees came from, lies the everyday culture with a language and cooking all it’s own, that continues with or without the on-lookers, that is now being displayed here beneath a scoreboard or a cross.

I’m wasting all of your time and this space to illustrate how I’ve zero’d back in in on Baton Rouge. I’m leaving for there tomorrow. I’m trying to negotiate my way into staying at the Red Cross’s largest shelter called the River Center– a place I visited briefly, it houses approx. 3700 people right now–it’s a small town on to itself in one city block. What immediately comes to mind are the metal detectors that great you when you enter what appeared like a place where someone used to play hockey–not live. I’ve been talking to the Red Cross both on the ground there and in Washington, DC and they are very much concerned about letting a rooster in their hen house so to speak–”this is someone’s home right now”–they tell me, they don’t want someone like me to exploit them or treat them as if they’re animals in a zoo. I tried to assure them that this was not only the farthest from my intent, but that I want to work with them, under any restrictions that they may impose, with the exception of that I don’t get to check in as a resident into the River Center (I want to go to the largest and most institutionalised shelter by choice because it’s administered differently–you’re more like a number and people are constantly moving in and out all the time–but this is a choice, not necessarily the right one). I told them they can try me out for one night, if they don’t like me, they can banish me–I’ll sign a contract. There was talk late of possibly making a compromise and staying in the shelter with the volunteers instead–this may indeed be the way to go in the end, but I must push first for embedding in the shelter. The way I see this, I wish not to speak for my company or anyone else, but a societal issue has been exposed here by Katrina. Most of the people living in these shelters have in many ways lived in the shadows of society–now, for a brief moment, they are being exposed underneath the bright lights intended to illuminate a basketball game (and the clock is fortunately running down for this bizarro-type of living space). I know I need to find a family, with names and histories and faces…but at this point, I think it’s only fair, to understand this most unusual of events on American soil, that I need, for myself, to get acclimated to the mindset and physical set of what it means to be a human ‘displaced’ as best as I can.

This issue, unfortunately won’t be decided until I get there. I’m leaving tomorrow morning and where I sleep tomorrow night is uncertain–last time I slept mostly on the floor of a conference room at the Marriott Baton Rouge where news org. has sent up a temporary bureau. Most of our crew there either sleeps on the floor or in RVs–there simply aren’t any hotel rooms and the place is booked solid for as far as the eye can see. I must tell you that I’m lucky to be someone assigned to do an ambitious program like this. While I don’t exactly know how this notebook is going to work, I would like to invite whoever reads this to take me to task, to challenge me on what I write here and what you think I’m doing.

9/17/05– In transit
I will keep this day relatively short since most people I know don’t like to hear about the banalities of airport travel when they can avoid it. HOWEVER, when I approached the gate marked BATON ROUGE at the Dallas-Fort Worth Human Processing plaza for air travel… I knew I was headed back to that bizarro universe once again–the gate area was crowded, over-run…but this TIME with a unique flavor of people rushing to help out or come in with some officiated purpose. The hour plane ride becuase some what of a lounge for the helpful talking shop about the business of helping. I sat next to an insurance adjustor from Austin–he’d been to New Orleans in the flood of 94… he claimed only 1/5 of the city’s residence bothered to get flood insurance–home owners insurance, the more popular brand, only covered wind damage–he told me he was going to be making a lot of people very unhappy.

Behind me sat a CVS pharmacists opening up emergency pharmacy trailors and two gentelmen seeking to bring families temporarily out to Orange county, CA-CHA-CHING(for my purposes)–I’ll be sure to let you know if these characters enter the stage again later.

We land and I checked to see if my luggage that had been lost from when I left here five days ago just happened to be sitting around somewhere–it wasn’t and I don’t think it’s coming back. I only mention this becuase I shipped my very own camera–not news org’s, my very own DV cam here becuase I was so skittish about checking anything of value. It had 12 hours lead time or more ahead of me to get here to that Marriott Workspace I keep blabbing about–but it DIDN’T MAKE IT. Not easy to be a TV guy without a camera–I’m just reserved to recording sound for radio on my apple i-pod for the moment. Must get my bearings for the moment… I’m not going to rush into to sleep in a shelter tonight–my Red Cross contact said I should come on down tomorrow to figure my fate. For the moment, I akwardly “embed” with fellow news org folk at the HOMEWOOD SUITES by HILTON(R).

AM 9/18/05–APPROACHING THE RED VESTS–Skittish, with a side of “incredible purpose”
I went down to the River Center this morning and there still isn’t much of a resolution about what exactly I’ll be allowed to do there. This place has been the focus of great media attention for three weeks now and not only are they fatiuged, but the gut reaction of the Red Cross Media people on the ground protecting this place is to shut out and lock-up. Not only was my contact I’d been working with for so long on the phone not there, but these volunteer Media Escorts, most of which seem to have just been given this job today come with incredible purpose–it seems like with everyone in a red vest, if they could bottle and mass produce what ever inside fuels them, we would no longer have a concern for oil. But, I was asking them questions about how laundry was done, what people eat there–things they readily knew with no obviously exploitative features and the general line was that they would have to check and get back to me and they really never did.

The major concern that they have fronted with is the issue of privacy. This stadium/convention center is not just a person’s home, it’s their bedroom. There are no walls in between, absolutely no personal space. The red cross claims that my mere presence, with a camera or without, with a badge or without, could be perceived as an intrusion on the spec that is left of the evacuees personal lives. A politician came through, Rep. Sheila Jackson of Houston Texas… she came through and pulled me along to hear what the evacuees had to say to her…it should be noted for the record however that she talked TO the people… told them her platform essentially as she went through the place almost cutting the people off when they had a brief question or better yet brief praise for her effort–from my subjective point of view, she along with her entourage that was certainly making themselves noticed was treated with less suspicion from the Red Cross than myself.

The present deal, pending approval to be determined for me to check into the actual shelter or the volunter’s barracks, is that I can go into the shelter escorted and I can point at people and they can take me to speak to whomever I point to. I will be watched, they said they could do it from a far if I wish. They can also direct me to particular people that they choose ahead of time for me depending upon what I ask for. As a journalist I’m afraid this is an incredibly tough request to make. How am I supposed to know what a person is going to say just by looking at them? How am I to make an order for a family to speak to towards unknown specifications? I mean {cough, cough} isn’t this judging a book by it’s cover?–we certainly don’t want to do that!

What I believe is missing in this story–what I think may indeed be the intention of this ambitious project is to remove the line that seperates the rest of the country from these people who have been to some degree misunderstood for so long. In order for me to perform my duties, I need not pry into a person’s personal matters, but instead try to interact with them on as even a plane as possible. I need to develop on honest repore with them based on mutual trust–not prejudgements and prearrangments. This is the problem–the problem of genuine access that the media–especially the broadcast media becuase of our requirements to record that we always face. In addition to that, the understandable mistrust for the media, clouds ones ability to get an accurate picture if they are indeed actually trying to.

This depiction is NOT intended to be a diatribe against the Red Cross, the media or anyone else involved. What I’m trying to do here, is present some of the unique complexities that every person associated with this issue seems we’re all in unknown territory and trying to preserve what is truly best for all of our interests. As long as everyone is truly trying to find the best result for all involved, then whatever eventually happens here will be a compromise everyone could be comfortable to accept.

‘It got worse…but it may get better…”eems like with everyone in a red vest, if they could bottle and mass produce what ever inside fuels them, we would no longer have a concern for oil. But, I was asking them questions about how laundry was done, what people eat there–things they readily knew with no obviously exploitative features and the general line was that they would have to check and get back to me and they really never did.

The major concern t2in principle” access for me to the kitchen… which meant she still needed to get permission. No moving in with the evacuees, no cotting it up with the volunteers.

I started to walk along the levee in front of the River Center and shoot some static shots of the exterior of the River Center should I ever need them as I began to contemplate what exactly I was going to do next. I figured I had about a day to get some real movement on this, or the story would be the “Great Red Cross lock-out of 2005″. I tried to work the phones again and finally got through to the man in charge of public relations for the Red Cross on this project–this was a person I had only heard of through legend today–a man who was to decide what exactly I would be allowed to do here.

I went over to meet with him at the Red Cross field headquarters for this entire disaster and the PR chief immediately appeared a reasonable man. All he had time for was to tell me he wanted me to get my story–but to come back…Tomorrow I hope to figure out exactly what that means.

One of the reasons I’m drawn to a Red Cross shelter, is not to bash them–the truth is, the people there do impossible work and without them what would we do? It’s a large bureaucratic structure and it’s imperfect, but it’s not only the best we’ve got, it’s amazing that it exists at all in the first place–it’s a true testament to the civilized nature of mankind that such an organization, run mostly on the gas of volunteers was ever conceived. While most of my queries here may indeed seem trivial and compared to the people who have no choice but to rely on the Red Cross for how they live their days right now, my experience may seem almost offensive, but, at this point and from the testimonies of the evacs I’ve talked to..this mere slice, a superficial observation is a tangent of what it’s like to be a human being processed through a well-meaning institution.

“I’m In : Incredible purpose deconstructed”–9/19/05
I started my day at this corner of an abandoned Wal Mart that was now filled with life–THIS, the Red Cross field headquarters was indeed where the RED VESTS came from and they were swarming around there like bees in a hive–this was the MOTHER SHIP.

I came there at 9AM…they said come back at 1PM… got there at 12:53PM, they said oh, gotta run, lets meet back here at 1:30PM. Got there at 1:25PM and sat at a table till 2PM when the head PR media honcho sent over a Large Texan named David thrust out his hand and gave me the jolly welcome. “I’m gonna help ya get your story–like what y’all at news org have in in mind?”… that sounded nice… he then proceeded to change the subject to talking about this vietnameese restaurant that they all went to last night. Back to my story… when can I check into a shelter I asked? He said he would have an answer later today from the washington folks and then took me to table to find out directions to that vietnameese place(I still haven’t had quite enough of the BBQ down here to be quite honest)… and then sent me on my way.

I called the big Texan at 6PM and he said we had a deal,… why didn’t I go out to dinner with him and the gang at this place conveniently located right next to that MARRIOTT workspace I always seem to be talking about in this forum. This is where I normally shut down–it’s an instinct of mine–I’m not much of a drinker and so ‘loosing my edge’, is not my concern, I was just initially worried about what I might talk to these people about for a whole dinner and why exactly they wanted me to go. After speaking to some co-workers it occured to me that building trust was essential for this mission and this was a damn fine oppurtunity to do that.

The Texan brought the “minnesotan” and the “NYC tranplanted Oklahoman” on his side… I had a morning show booker and a DC-based justice guy on mine… they were journalists and we were too and this is where I found the “Incredible purpose” of the Red Cross volunteers to become more complex. You see, like most organisations with logos, you think that everyone follows some sort of a mold–for instance, if I ever imagine a Maytag repairman, unfortunately only one face comes to mind even though they obviously come in many shapes and sizes if you ever were to need one. The Red Cross is more complex than that–they people all WANT to come to a disaster. In fact, a great many of them may only indeed feel useful in TIMES AND PLACES OF DISASTER! I can actually relate to this…but now we were at a table of six journalists and the wall between the two missions seemed to come down.

I began to speak for the remainder of the meal with the “tranplanted in nyc oklahoman” who told me of his experiences at the Red Cross at 9/11 with regards to this “incredible purpose” that fuels all the volunteers. He told me the red cross is different from chapter to chapter and that his chapter in New York City was headed by a woman who said “throw out the guidebooks–just get people help–THAT’S IT”… and that became his style too. He told me I ran into some volunteers down at the river center that were breed from a different red cloth–one that says the book is what matters–you follow it, or it’s not the Red Cross. He told me of the career RED CROSSERs that live for these events, one of which–the Texan, was seated at our table. An aside note about the Texan, he has done a lot of interesting things… he got an advance on a pilot tv show, he’s “been there” and “done that” all over the place –Gov. Jeb Bush trusts him when ever there’s a disaster in Florida which happens all too often these days… the point is that you find people from all walks and persuasions coming down here for weeks on end sleeping in shelters themselves, volunteering for the Red Cross, but where they meet is at the search for this challenge and that “incredible purpose” they find within it .

By the end of the night they assigned me to “minnesotan”–a former desk guy for the AP who covered the white house and many foreign wars and he was starting to get excited about helping me to tell my story in the best way possible. He was coming up with good ideas up the wazoo–as a person getting embedded I thought, who could be better to be your “watcher” than a guy who wants to break this story out of there as much as I do…he told me not to worry, the access issue was settled–I sent out a note to the folks back at news org.–”I’m IN” it said.

9/19/05 AM– “Scrrzep!{sound of record player screeching to a halt: In comes Hurricane Rita”
So it was a good night’s sleep before what I thought would be my first night in a shelter–you may easily recall my break through the night before with the RC. Arriving back at the RC Field Office in the remnants of a former wal mart, I was greeted with those words you probably don’t want to here “We’ve got a change of plans”–said my big texan PR friend. Becuase of the impending hurricane Rita as well as many others and where as 12 hours ago they had the people to watch me in the shelters… now they’ve all been redeployed including him. There wouldn’t be anyone to help me with this for at least three more days and in order to sleep in a shelter, I needed a watcher. He shuttled me off onto Ryan who gave me a little more… he said that the shelter directors had sent up a communication saying they didn’t want any more outsiders in their shelters–that they had had enough. Ryan said he would work on this with me and I should get back to him.

I went to my car and called a contact at the nation red cross a co worker had just this morning emailed me. I explained to her that while the RC workers on the ground may be well intentioned, they are smoothering their ‘clients’(what they call evacuees) by not letting them speak to the media. The media is not the bad guy in this story–at least I tried to convince her that I’m not–what my concern was is that the people on the inside of these shelters, the few I’ve been permitted to speak to want people on the outside to know what’s happening to them. By the Red Cross shutting their voices off, they are not only turning the media interest away, they are silencing a rare opportunity for poverty in America to speak it’s true voice while a country with a short attention span is still interested in hearing them.

The national person agreed and said she would work on finding the man power to come down here to help me with this, and she would do it soon. She, like the people I had dinner with last night said she understood the value of the story to be told here.

At this point, I bet, if you’ve even read this far, you’re tired of hearing about the procedural nuances of this reporter’s assignment–let me assure you I certainly am too. But I think this again illustrates what an evacuee or client has to do with as well with this well-intentioned organisation, and I’ve only been trying to get in for what five days now? Imagine what it’s like to be on the inside–at this point that’s all I can do… but I’m going to give this one more afternoon to get some solid footing. I trust the national woman at her word that my assurances from the night before that “I’m in” are indeed still valid… and if tonight is not my last night embedding with my compadres at the HOMEWOOD SUITES by HILTON (R)… I will move my operation to the smaller, more communal experience of the faith-based shelters and initiatives.

A part of this log that I’ve left out, and if you’ve been following along with this thing at every syllable, are those characters from Orange County, CA that I met on the plane. They were from a church out there and were very anxious for me to get the word out of their work providing temporary relief for families who want to move out to another state first, and then after three months, either stay or move back to New Orleans depending upon what they choose. Sounds like a fantastic program that deserves attention… but I must tell you, I don’t want to abandon those people in the River Center or the Cajun Dome or any stadium turned home for that matter who at this point probably don’t have any intention of leaving those places until they are forced and who if you ask some of them they have claimed, the American people forgot about a long time ago before Katrina washed them out of what was once their homes.

9/ Shocked and awed

I don’t normally resort to rumsfeldian phrases so quickly, in fact in this instance I don’t know a better way to described what happened post meridien. It was absurd. Let me try to break this down–most of this is paraphrased since it actually took an entire afternoon to elapse. I stand behind all of the jists below…almost all the phrasologies are direct quotes, but of course names are protected.

DC WOMAN: I promise you’ll get in there if I have to come down there and take you in myself!

I may be a bit slow, but it was certainly beginning to occur to me this red cross thing might not happen… I had to pack what I like to call a parachute just in case, the mission would have to survive past the Red Cross. I called that California Church Group told them I may need a family to follow and document their story… they said “Sure we’ll help you find some people for your story” and they sounded happy to do it.

Back at the RED CROSS REGIONAL WAL MART HEADQUARTERS to see if more clarity had been achieved… still quite murky, so I instead shoot an interview of TEXAN on where he is going for Rita and the Red Cross Privacy Policy

4:45 PM–”All reporters an invasion of privacy”
I called back the California Church group–remember they were my parachute…,I could always go running to them and I would have my story. I was STUNNED–STUNNED at the tone I had heard on the other end of the phone–they turned MEAN and COLD in a matter of less than 3 hours…

“We can’t talk to you and more”–they said almost to infer that I knew already that I was to be treated as slim.
I said “hold on here, what’s going on?”-inferring I’m a nice guy who didn’t know what was happening to me–this was the case CALIFORNIA CHURCH GUY #1-”The Red Cross here told us that all reporters are an invasion of privacy and if we want to continue to do our work here, were not allowed to talk to you and you are not allowed to talk to us…goodbye”

Now that ain’t right. It’s one thing to say I can’t talk to people inside the Cajun Dome shelter where the Red Cross was doing there work, but I think they grossly overstepped their bounds here. First, threatening this non for profit, church affiliated group that was not only trying to help, but could possibly help more people in the country knew about the good work that they were doing. Secondly, this was a good way to protect someone’s privacy, by asking people who wanted to speak to a reporter–who WANTED to tell their story to be given access to the media. Using this church to politely ask the question means I don’t even have to see or know the people who do not wish to speak, yet it affords those who want to access that they may not normally have. On what grounds does the Red Cross at the Cajun Dome stand to depreive those who their story documented(which may have nothing to do with the Red Cross whatsoever) or to threaten a honest, decent, hard working volunteer group?

When I called back CALIFORNIA CHURCH GUY #2 and spent almost an hour on the phone with him, this was the crux of my argument… but I added most specifically, this isn’t about the Red Cross, this is about access and telling a story that normally doesn’t get any air time in this country. The story of the people who live in poverty and low income areas… now for this brief and fleeting moment in time, our country is showing interest and if we don’t seize this moment, because the Red Cross or whomever else is concerned with their image, when this issue gets swept under the rug again, who will listen to these people then?”

I had moved him–he reluctantly agreed to talk to CALIFORNIA CHURCH GUY #1 and then call me in the morning. He didn’t call me back in the morning, I called him. They meanly said they were working on it and hung up the phone. They then later that day called and said they had a family of 11, I could meet at the Bus Station in Lafayette, LA leaving around 3PM–THEY WOULDN’T GIVE ME ANYMORE INFORMATION than that. Lafayette was about 2 hours from Baton Rouge during those days… if I didn’t find another family another way I may have to take this chance.

You see at this point, the RED CROSS wasn’t merely defending their territory they were offensively trying to destroy mine. I can take a lie dectetor, I can go to an ombudsman, I would risk fire and brimstone–this project, this mission is well intentioned. We are not trying to exploit anybody here, at this point I can’t say the same about the people at this moment working on what now appears to be the “other side”.

I get an email from DC folks

DC Folks call in while I’m at shelter–tell me I’m in for that night, they’re working on a family for me to bunk with. I put a PR person on ground on the phone he says he will get back to me that night–he never did.

7PM– “Head PR honcho guy who’s been on the job two days and may be a volunteer tells me he’s firing the national Red Cross PR guy, i.e. the Texan” Head PR honcho guy–”That [Texan's] a loose cannon. He wrote checks he can’t cash! He’s out of here… he’s never coming back! I didn’t give him the authority to grant you access to anything!”

CHALMERS “Well [head PR honcho guy, you said he was the one who would help me, how am I supposed to know that he has no authority? YOU were the one that said he would help me get my story. You pointed him out to me, he was under your direction--aren't you responsible for his actions?"

HEAD PR honcho guy--"YI don't even know if [The texan] works for the red cross! He’s outta here, he’s a loose canon! Did he do an interview for you? He’s not authorized to do that–ERASE THAT TAPE!”

CHALMERS-”I tried to talk to you all morning… you kept breaking appointments, I came back every time you told me to on the hour… you told me the [texan] was going to handle me, how was I supposed to know otherwise?”

HEAD PR honcho guy–”You’re lucky I even talked to you in three weeks… that [TEXAN]’s a loose cannon–he’s outta here I tell you, he’s out!”

CHALMERS–” Well, what about these DC folks…they said I could get in too?”

HEAD PR HONCHO GUY–”I don’t even know who those people are?”

CHALMERS–”Well, one thing that David Ruddick didn’t have anything to do was the Red Cross at the Cajun dome bullying the foundationforhope group–saying that all reporters are an invasion of privacy and that if they talked to the media they would be out of the cajun dome–unable to do their housing work. People in shelters need housing–is it the official line of the red cross that all reporters are an invasion of privacy? People live inside these shelters and if they wish to speak to us, how are we invading their privacy? Why did you’re people there threaten this church group?”

HEAD PR HONCHO GUY–”I can’t speak to that, but what I can tell you is that [TEXAN] is out! He’s a loose cannon.”

CHALMERS–”So am I going to get to sleep in the shelter tonight like the [TEXAN] and the DC folks promised?

HEAD PR HONCHO GUY–”I don’t care what they say, that’s NEVER going to happen. You can take it all the way to the top, they’re never going to let a reporter sleep in a shelter, volunteer or evacuee–never!”

I call DC woman at dinnner, she promises that she will sort everything out and make everything better-go have a drink she tells me, all will be right in the morning, I’ve had a long day…

Try to enjoy a dinner accompanied with a tall Coca-cola classic with free refills whilst I try to sort this whole madness out with my coworkers who may be deserting me the next day…

Texan wants to meet me and co workers for some drinks? WHAT? Wasn’t he fired? Isn’t he OUT OF HERE? We head to the “Fox and Hounds”–a place located next to where we ate and sealed the deal last night, still with in view of the towering MARRIOT(R) workspace in the distance…

CHALMERS–” Do you now or have you ever in the past worked for the Red Cross”

He proceeds to show me his Red Cross credit card, his worker id… several other accolades, they seem real.

Coworker–”schedule a conference call in the morning…sort it all out”

TEXAN–”Look, that HEAD PR HONCHO guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about… just talk to the DC folks[he drops their names] in the morning.

Coworker–”schedule a conference call in the morning…sort it all out”
CHALMERS-”I have to tell I’ve have a really hard day and at this time last night, I was not only in, but I had been assigned a chaperone. I’m afraid you don’t hold too much credibility at the hour after all I’ve been through.”

TEXAN-”I don’t know what to say except that these people in Washington are powerful and they can hook you up… just talk to them in the morning”.

Coworker–”schedule a conference call in the morning…sort it all out”

END OF WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN THE LONGEST, QUITE POSSIBLY HARSHEST, DAY OF MY 25 YEARS on this planet. HEAD PR HONCHO GUY would never be heard from again Sorry CoWorker–there would be NO CONFERENCE CALL in the MORNING.

9/22 I’m soooo not in there… AM

It seems like the TEXAN is not the only one heading out for RITA… all of my news org. co-workers are now doing the same. I have to tell you, after what happened yesterday, with the whole mission in serious Jeopardy and no with everyone getting out of the ROUGE… I’m beginning to feel a bit empty inside.

Right now, I’ve got the following three prospects: RED CROSS, CALIFORNIA CHURCH GROUP and the BETHANY CHURCH SHELTER I had done work with on my first tour of duty–while the Red Cross was aware of their existence, they had always been quite welcoming of news org. News—BUT, by the end of the day not all would be there anymore and now that I’m writing this bit in hindsight, none of them would end up leading me to the family I was going to follow.

9/ 22 PM Late nite q & a before lights out

I rolled in to the shelter parking lot 10 mins before curfew(I just had to watch jet blue and knew they wouldn’t have it there.

Went to my plot rolled out my sleeping bag and then rolled myself a cigarette and wandered outside(I’m not much of a smoker but this was a good time)

Before I spoke to anyone, they noticed my news badge and despite all that back and forth about privacy with the red cross, they had questions for me:

1) Can you tell us, are they gonna make us evacuate again? Is the hurricane coming to baton rouge?

2) What did they tell you about this place on the outside-was it good?

3) What’s happening outside of here? They don’t get tv to the outside world only what we can see on tape?

4) Are they tryin to move all the poor people away from new orleans with all these trips to like utah?-cause we aint leaving.

Then…they started to tell me:
1) I aint had good food, you know soul food since I left my house… You know they try but I want some gumbo, some spice yknow?

2) A lot of the baton rouge kids have been bullying our kids-they say they’re from new orleans and are encroahing on their turf and they don’t like it.

3) I’ve been at this place without leaving much for over three weeks now. I just need some time to think and I aint got no where to go. The lord is helping me through this…the lord.

4) We had a sex offender in here the otther night and nobody knew about it till he moved his matress up against hers and she screamed… He’s not here no more.

Lights out happened around 10 p but noise out really didn’t happen till 11P. You could here several good night speeches going on simultaneously from various parts of the room ” you get a good night’s sleep now so you can be awake a school tomorrow.

For some reason by about. Midnight the chatting and cell phone glows were silenced…this mass group of people wanted to allow for the possibility of sleep.

But there were still people constantly going in and out of the room. When you close your eyes, you can’t see much after a while you forget so many people are sharing your bedroom. But that door opening and closing in the distance and those people walking by you, maybe even stopping for a second by your bed remind you you’re not alone.

All was good by 1am and I fell asleep, accept for this queit argument accross the aisle–”this is my blanket, why don’t you share?”–for a moment in my dream I thought someone was talking to me and it scared me. I only had this balckberry, a cell phone, a book and a sleeping bag that I just bought–certainly not all I had in life but for a moment a was scared to death of loosing it.

I went back to sleep, lights on at 6am and I heard and watched the scenes of kids getting ready for school, looking presentable in their uniforms for about two hours before I got up, did my 1st bit of business and left for the day.

I should have my family narrowed, down and finalised by the end of today, at the latest tomorrow.

9/22/05–Really gotta get a family now.

Talking outside Building #3-
I want it to be clear–there are a lot of people in these shelters and most of them are darn articulate. They aren’t in there becuase they can’t explain their situation. But again we confront the issue of people who don’t have that much left after they’ve lost just about everything–and if they speak out, if they speak their mind, will they be tossed out again. “You’ll have your story”, they’ll say, but

Meet my couple

9/23/05 AM–Public Relatons Primer PART ONE
I decided to go to the shelter and check out of it. My family was staying at another one and with hurricane Rita coming through, I didn’t want to take up a space that someone might need. Not only that, I must be honest, after spending most of my days in these shelters and then the night, in order to remain my line of separation as a journalist–my third person perspective, I had to use my spot of normalcy to gather my thoughts and do my work now at the Hilton Garden Inn out by the Baton Rouge Airport in a room that was once Monica’s, then Andrea’s now mine.

9/24/05 AM–Public Relations Primer PART TWO
It’s too bad when a person’s future gets in the way of a public relation’s campaign. When you’re a journalist and you have a ‘pre-discussion’ before starting an interview with an empowering PR person who says you’re not allowed to ask questions about boredom at a evacuation shelter–”that’s bias” she says most people would ask, well, what’s so bad about being bored?

I slept in this very shelter remember? I wasn’t bored, it was new to me. But when you’re waiting for housing and you’re amount of a privacy is reduced to a 100 person dorm, I don’t think the majority of the people that I spoke to were being biased when they confided that they tended to get a little bit bored–lets just lay it down folks, most people there were really bored and it doesn’t mean it’s a poorly run shelter–when most people wouldn’t live there by choice–most any suggestion to extent that the place is like a Caribbean cruise, is not only biased, it’s not reality.

I continued with the interview and I did not combat. The people she found, while in my true experience were in the minority, were happy to be in the shelter and also seemed to be content with staying there as long as possible. They had jobs there within the building, there are some very nice people there and after what they’d been through they really appreciated what they had–this is true.

This PR woman was very much concerned with how the church looked locally. In the national perspective, we probably won’t mention the name of the place in particular, what is more of interest to us is the particular situation within. As I was leaving and the watchers were ahead of me for a moment, I ran into one of the gentlemen sitting outside from Thursday afternoon. He saw what I had done… he saw how the administration was watching my interview and he just gave me this look…I asked him… “why didn’t they bring you to speak to me?”. he said, “you know I ain’t speakin’, but what you saw there, that ain’t the truth… they don’t want you to know the truth.”

I didn’t know what to do when I left there…maybe not everybody, but a large group of people need housing of their own–they need a way out. That story and what rests in their minds needs to get out. Lots of people are doing great things and they need to get credit and should get financial contributions to keep on doing it, but part of that should be to include the preservation of the general purpose–getting these people back on their feet again and then if that happens you can smile for the camera.

Almost got arrested


They get married

9/26/05-Ready or not this needs to be over

This morning it feels like Rita wasn’t the big one and so it swept away the problems of the prior storm from the national focus. These problems are very much real and compounding here in Baton Rouge.

Nigel and lattrice hed for the missisipi coast–they were bringing a camera but they forgot it, so they said they would have still pictures–it’s a honeymoon and it’s only a day trip.

Nigel’s mom, Ms. Jackie told me that they’re going to start thinking about trying to get to Little Rock, AR now–that’s where they want to go. They still don’t have a car

I s

LSU has their first home football game this season against the Tennessee Volunteers–it was delayed from Saturday becuase of Rita, the first home game played out of town becuase of Katrina. Whether the


9/27/05- Church and state

9/28/05- Dead Bodies and the news paper

This night, however, more than any other, and this could be chance, I got a lot of people on tape wondering where “my” was–My money, my house, my job…. and yes, most people have wanted their own of those, but what was different tonight was these folks–choosen and agreeable to do an interview at random, wanted to know why all their “my”s had not come to them without them going to it. They blamed the mayor, the president, fema, any place they could speak the name of. Before this, it seemed with the other people I’d spoken to, they could say all the things they’d done to try to get

9/29/05- They’re back from their one turned into three day honeymoon

We had a political discussion at dinner with one of the state representative’s aides that came to dinner. She wanted everyone there to stay in the shelter until it was alright for them to go back to New Orleans becuase she said y’all have to rebuild the culture. She represents a place called Mandeville on the north shore where reportedly a lot of rich people from New Orleans live and where there was significant wind damage, but very little to no flooding.

Nigel said he was leaving Louisiana becuase he got a chance to start a new life and he was going to take it.

I said that if someone didn’t stand up and get those trailors delivered for people to live in soon since there’s no housing in this town for those who want to stay, even the diehards will have no choice but to go once the shelters close–that takes strong leadership no one here’s seen.

We drove through McDonald’s later that night–Nigel and me that is… and Nigel offerred to pay for me.

9/30/05 - Nigel, Lattrice and the Wilson’s win the Showcase Showdown By the end of today, the Wilson’s would have an apt. set up for them in Little Rock, a way to get there in a new to them car and potential for Nigel getting a job–all configured by this one nice daughter and her family from the Church Center.

10/1/05 - Gotta pull out now of the shelters
I’ve really been working two different stories here… the shelters and the wilson family. The original mandate was to follow a family through their journey

I checked in for my last time today with Lionel, one of my regulars at the shelter. At the time that I was on the phone with SPRINT PCS to try to get his number out of their corporate sercurity becuase I wrote it down wrong, he paged me. You know with all of the characters I’ve met over the last two weeks, I’ve been here that long now, you never know if you’re going to see them again. I wonder what happened to this guy named Terry that wanted to go to the west coast–last time they said they paged him, there was no answer. I imagine most will have moved on–and I know that when the hockey game or plastics convention wants their space back, everyone else will have to move on to.

The boys from down in new Orleans came up to do the “Where’s the Trailors from FEMA” story that I’d been pushing. It had been in the New York Times yesterday. I’m leaving this place and to my surprise every time i go there it tends to get more bizarre. This time Lionel tells me they’ve got chains on the doors, and then he shows me them–on camera. These chains were on the inside to keep people in–the doors lock on the outside. There is one exit gaurded by a man with a large weapon that’s open, but the other four doors probably wouldn’t open if someone had to leave that place in an emergency. They have to know better than that don’t they?–they do, I have the Red Cross on tape saying that’s against the law and it is. Was this the bureacracy that caused this one?

This forum is probably one of the only places to find a trace of what happened inside that River Center shelter. I’m now leaving town on Tuesday, following Nigel and Lattrice on what appears to be a great story. But what will happen to these people that no one heard from before this story and no one really heard too much from during it? I’ve got all the tapes, I’ve uploaded it to a server so others can see them too, but what happens the next time Lionel pages me? He wants to stay in Louisiana so bad, he wants to rebuild New Orleans as if there’s no other way, that he’s living in that shelter he told me until he can move back into his home or someplace else in between, but only in Louisiana.

I’m from Ohio as I said here two weeks ago, I’ve thought a lot about that place in this time–in many ways I’m still so grounded there. But I’ve never had a connection to that place, nor any other that would make it worthwhile living in a stadium, standing in line for everything you need to survive for five weeks.

I’ve got a lot on tape and I’ll have something to show whomever may ask or speak differently about some of what went on at the Baton Rouge River Center in September of 2005.

10/2/05 - Went back to New Orleans

When I got back Lattrice was missing–well actually Nigel and his mamma knew where she was at., they said she went to her mother’s in Mobile, AL to clear her head. I’m going to sleep tonight not knowing exactly what that means, but it doesn’t appear to be a bad thing.

10/3/05 - Are we still going tomorrow?

10/4/05 AM - What went down last night?

I arrive at the shelter at 8:30 AM and nigel waves the camera away. I talk to his mamma and she says a lot of stuff went down last night. Apparently someone called lattrice and claimed that nigel cheated on her last night–went out to eat, basically did the town with her in their new car.

I know I left at around 10PM and Nigel was focused on leaving the next day. The cheating was to have gone down an hour later and to be honest with you all, this Nigel didn’t seem to be in the mindset to have a shelter affair just one hour later–I could be surprised. His mamma Jackie was there and certainly didn’t recall this happening.

Rumors were also shared with me that the woman who at this point is suspected to call lattrice aborted her own fetus the night before as well. I wont go much further into that, I only point it out to say that there was mass confusion this morning–a real sea change at a happy communal shelter and one has to wonder if this has anything to do with the Wilsons leaving to start their new lives. Was this all out of of jealousy? Why would someone try to wreck a one week only marriage, whether it be a fellow shelter resident or a newly wed husband.

After hearing about this, despite the fact that I’m pretty certain this situation is going to develop, it’s not something that I was welcome to be present for. Mamma jackie said they’re leaving now at 12N and I will come back around 11AM. I will hear about what happens later and in this case I feel it’s appropriate–otherwise, the worse thing that could happen is that I or this mission somehow gets involved–we’re supposed to see this as best as we can is if it were to happen without us there–like it may be happening in a parallel shelter where people are still sitting now five weeks after the storm.

What of this could I shoot? What part of it would people be willing to talk about? This was really complicated…

Ms. Jackie was saying somethings about Lattrice that from my outsider indepedant observer point of view she may regret at a later time. Additionally, Nigel and Lattrice may have said some things in the heat of the moment that they didn’t really mean, it would play somewhere on SBC and then a statement in the moment of passion that normally would not have been recorded could effect the future course of events. This again returns us back to the problem of not trying to effect the course of how this story would not have played out with out my participation.

BUT, what if this sequence truly effected the outcome of the entire story–would this be the pivital moment? Yes, we could always talk about it after the fact, but that’s when the so called “LAWYERS” or revised memories of the perceived events can be clouded. There needs to be some sort of representation of the actual moment?

I was about to get a shot of them arguing from a far, just so that we could talk over and explain that this happened and Pastor Butner came out at just that time and suggested that I not do it. I later came over to Lattrice, of whom I had the least information on about her side of it– she was surprisingly congenial to me, but requested that I leave an comeback later–they would call me when it was a good time, but until then it simply wasn’t a good thing that I was around–she said she hoped that I could understand that, and I said that I did. I drove away with her talking with Ms. Jackie–this seemed a good sign with consideration to the things Ms. Jackie said about her earlier.


10/4/05 PM - CLinton visits shelter
Lionel calls to tell me that Clinton came to visit the shelter today to listen to a carefully selected group of shelter residents about their living conditions at the shelter and about their lives. The conotation here was that the red cross was selecting a crowd that would make them look better than they actually were. I watched some of this question and answer session on the local news–if that was the Red Cross’s intention, I guess they couldn’t find enough patsys to tote their line. The questions were tough and were an accurate representation as

I went over to the Red Cross press people to try to get their explanation for all thi… thinking they certainly wouldn’t just want to leave it at what Lionel was saying. Everyone is always talking about getting both sides in a report… I wanted to do just that, but am I bending the rules when the other side is given a fair an equitable chance to respond to an accusation, they don’t take it and becuase I think, gee, the really must want to answer this, I wait and press and wait even longer?

My intention was to go in to the press chaperone’s table and get the RED CROSS’s side of the story. I approached security and was told that no media would be allowed into the river center for the rest of the day. It was around 2PM… there normal press availability was until 6PM. The RC people gave me no explanation for this change in rules and despite explaining the reason I wanted to someone to speak to–that presently the record would show that the Red Cross distributes clothes near the sewer line out front, they still had no answer. I told them I would wait until a supervisor would come down to respond. They seemed to acknowledge this idea and then they walked back to their table and sat there.

A Baton Rouge Police man–one who looked well decorated and senior quickly followed behind and asked what my problem was… I explained to him about the clothes outside and how I wanted to know if this was of the red cross doing.

He told me he was in charge there and said “What seems to be the problem with that? I’m afraid I don’t understand your question–how do you THINK clothes should be distributed to these people?”

I said “well sir, I’ve never picked my clothes out next to a sewer line, if you’re asking me how I get my clothes, they are normally off of a rack or quite possibly folded on a table. I would like to know if the Red Cross

“this is my building and anything that happens around it is my business and if that’s the way we want to hand out clothes than that’s the way we’re going to do… so I don’t see why you have any questions to ask here” said Mr. policeman.

I asked, “do you feel you’re able to speak on behalf of the red cross? It’s my understanding that the American red cross is a large, national not for profit organization. Do you feel authroized to speak on behalf of all of these people, as well as the mission in general of this red cross?”

Mr. Policemand said ” This is my building, we will treat these people in whatever way we see fit. There will be no media interviews today and I can speak on behalf of whomever I choose.”

I yelled over to the Red Cross media volunteers who were watching this from a distance but doing nothing to intervene, “ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT THIS MAN TO BE THE ONE ON RECORD AS TO WHY CLOTHES ARE BEING DISTRIBUTED ACCROSS THE STREET NEXT TO THE SEWER LINE OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET SOMEONE ELSE?”

One came over and pulled the police man aside without talking to me or looking at me. They got into a small argument and then I overheard the woman saying overheard “you shouldn’t do that” Mr. Policeman protesting and then the woman sending the smiling Mr. Policeman back into a deep part of the shelter. She then walked over to her media table again and did nothing to discount his statements.


A nice volunter–an older gentleman wearing tag “The OL MAN” came over and said he wasn’t a media person but he was in charge or had knowledge about how things were distributed. He said he couldn’t speak on camera, but simply explained to me that the red cross doesn’t distribute clothes. They can’t gaurantee that they’re clean if they did that (i wondered to myself how they could gaurantee that anyone entering a shelter was wearing clean clothes on their way in–that even I was clean enough under those circumstances… but I continued to listen) and that they give the cltohes that are dropped off there to St. vincent depaul or goodwill or a similar organization that specialized in distribution and that they handed out vouchers to the clinets(what they call their evacuees) so that they may go to those places to exhange the paper for clothes. The Ol’ MAN said he didn’t know why the clothes out front were there.

I told him, in order to counter the claims of Lionel, I needed someone on camera. He said he would get someone–again the media table people knew this was going on but ignoring us–begging the question of why a media table would exist and be staffed if no media was allowed and the media that was trying to get a fair question answered was being ignored.

I asked them about the chains on the doors–what would happen if the person with the key to those chains became incomasitated during an emergency that would force people to have to leave the building in a hurry. They said it was approved by the “fire marshall approved them”.

The time was 3:45 PM at this point… I was under so much pressure to get back to my family who was having a meltdown on the other side of town, but I didn’t feel it was right to leave without an answer.

I wasn’t upset or anything, yet I’m sorry to say that I instilled a small lecture onto these RC media folks, one they didn’t enjoy having. With LIONEL right next to me I explained to them that his concerns were AS valid as having Clinton visit here and that it didn’t take too much time to give me an answer to them. That I had extended them a courtesy of making sure, despite the wall that was put up, that I made sure I got their side of the story. It took 1 hour and 45 minutes to do this and most reasonable people would not have waited and they would have just went with the first police guy of whom apparently differed with them on their opinion of why the clothes were being distributed next to the sewer line. I told them that no one here extended the courtesy to me of explaining that CLINTON’S VISIT was the reason WHY the media rules had changed, and even though I didn’t consider that justification acceptable, it would have been something, some indication that they respect the role of the media in this situation at all–whatsoever.

They said they had new volunteers on that morning and that was reason for the misunderstanding.

I told them, they always had new volunteers on everyday–that was always the excuse, but these new volunteers knew that clinton was the reason for the change in the media hours–and that they felt it right not to give me the courtesy of sharing that information. They instead looked like they were covering up the reason for the

This would fortunately–I hate editorializing, but fortunately the last time I would see these particular stonewallers that I feel came from a long line of media people doing a disservice to the American Red Cross.

10/4/05 OVERNIGHT– Alabama getaway-getaway or Rasing Alabama?

Driving to Little Rock they had to take the bus, the trip took, but I had to drive with all my equipment.

10/6/05 - Arkansas is land of milk and honey

Where exactly is this Little Rock?
They didn’t know–you would think that someone would have pondered this, having lived here so long…

10/7/05 - O no not again!

Well don’t worry it won’t actually be today. We were supposed to leave for

10/8/05 - I could actually make a call today

A very telling sign that Baton Rouge and it’s sheters are starting to thin out a bit. It’s still busy here, no doubt, but for some it’s been 41 days living on a cot. Word has it Gov. Blanco wants all shelters closed by Oct. 31st and the South Baton Rouge church of Christ shelter has announced it intends to comply.

From my point of view and that of my family’s I’d like to bring in the functionality of a common household VCR. Their are certain times in one’s life, certain localities that a person may go where the functionality of a VCR really does best reflect the feeling of the moment.

For the past few days and in fact the past week, the Fast Forward button has been aggressively applied. In little rock, it certainly was as housing and schooling was established in a matter of two days. Back in baton rouge however, it’s not even pause here, it almost seems the longer we stay here, we’re in risk of looking backwards–rewinding, and we certainly don’t want to do that.

From my family’s point of view, it’s time to move on, they’ve got a plan in place and they know their future awaits them in Little Rock. From my point of view, I must tell you, the stagnation that falls over Baton Rouge reminds me of


Again another journalism 101, maybe lets graduate all this to a journo- 332– I’m following Nigel and Lattrice, what if they’ve been breaking the law all of these years by driving without driver’s licenses? What if they fail the VISION test, both of them and are unable to get their licenses today, but still continue to drive? I can’t get involved in the story–ONCE AGAIN–i can’t stop them from driving, but I’m concerned that my reporting of it, for some reason may effect them by brining Mr. Policeman to their front car door.

Lets just leave it as confusing and Nigel and lattrice like to make these things… they failed their eye exam yes indeed, but who’s really sure about their license. I wasn’t there in the room with them, media wasn’t allowed… they’re continuing to drive and they don’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing so maybe there is nothing wrong with what they’re doing since when I ask them if it is, they change the subject. So that’s what I’ll do right now….

10/10/05 PM –a difference a week makes
Today I called LIONEL reluctantly… I was concerned about what might have happened to him this week after the scene that went down at the River Center a week before. He answered the phone to my surprise—cheerfully, he was at work in Meterie–a New Orlean’s suburb far from Baton Rouge. He told me he moved in a trailor and that he was very happy with what he has over there–he invited me to come by and take a look. Unfortunately, since he was at work so far away, he wouldn’t be back for several days and his new roommate, would have to show me around his “new castle” without him.

This was a relief on many counts… first of all I never really could tell if LIONEL was just an unhappy person all around. He always was complaining when he talked to me–yet with this recent phone call his credibility shot through the roof–the MAN will tell you if it’s good and boy he’ll certainly tell you when it’s not. Additionally, it appears that he does actually hold a job and his other arguments about how he was trying so hard to get housing, he wasn’t lazy but just loved living in Louisiana, appeared to be panning out as well. YAY for LIONEL!


Today the southern bureau called me and asked me to find people that were going back to the 9th ward. I would have to go back again to the River Center–at this point, I must tell you


I haven’t mentioned brother felix in all this time but that was a mistake–I definately should. Brother FELIX was the african american preacher that came in to marry Nigel and Lattrice–he counciled the two a week later when it seemed like they were on their way to divorce–and now, he was helping Ms. jackie, a woman who wanted out of town and would take any junk heap running to make sure that she got a car that would not just work, but would keep her running for many years to come.

I know now and after today that Brother Felix, like so many of the people I met here on this voyage will be burned into my pyshce probably for the rest of my days. He tried very hard to convince me of the powers of Jesus Christ–he tried all day long as a matter of fact–and to be most candid with you, on this day, this eve of YOM KIPPUR–a very important holiday for the religion that I am supposed to be part of — I gained a very deep understanding and appreciation for exactly what the power of Christ means to so many people.

It certainly fuels Brother Felix… without getting into too many of the details… again lets just avoid journalism class on this one and I hope you will take this as it comes… Nigel and his mother Jackie know Brother felix becuase his is a Chaplin on behalf of the Church of Christ at the Louisiana State Penatentury–THE BIG HOUSE. This is the place, in a state with some of the worst poverty stricked areas of the country that it sends it’s hardest criminals. Brother Felix goes there to try to bring out the humanity in these souls–to try to get them to believe in God. He is not necessarily wanted there by the prison or it’s inhabitants, but for the last ten years, he’s gone there almost every single week anyway.

What I’m leaving out here on purpose is that the reason that Ms. Jackie and Nigel know Brother felix is becuase of this state pen. The reason I’m telling you this is not because Nigel, nor Jackie have served anytime there, but I want everyone to know how far Nigel has come. How much I respect him when he, as BROTHER FELIX chides him “acts like a man”. I have seen Nigel joke around, that’s for sure, he’s personality is infectious with most who come by him. But when he’s disciplined, when you see it in his eyes that he’s taking care of things as well, a man, that’s something that comes from inside him–from just knowing to resist those who were just sitting there and having hurricane parties while they ran out of food and water the day after the hurricane. It’s what is so great about the opurtunity that Nigel and also Lattrice have in moving to Little Rock tomorrow, but it’s also what will be in the interesting part to follow. Will Nigel be able to handle the oppurtunity that’s being handed to him by staying a man?

That is something that brother Felix would probably answer, that it will be hard for Nigel, but that if he keeps his faith in god, if he remembers the lessons learned in Baton Rouge and that if he remembers that he was baptised a christian while staying at this shelter… that there is not much to worry about here.

As a Jew in Baton Rouge, who’s not very religious thinking towards to Yom Kippur on this evening before I think we may actually get out of this town… if Nigel keeps in faith in Jesus, I DO BELIEVE, that it will see him through.

10/13/05–TODAY, we move on.

10/14/05- First Day for Everybody-last day for me.
Malike actually started his first day at his new school yesterday, but you wouldn’t know it by the theatrics we saw there today, now that his mother and step father were there to see it. It mirrored my own first day in 1st grade where I ran out of the room after my mom because I was scared of the new place-arguments can be made to either side about whether I turned out alright, but by the time Malike was back in the classroom it was almost like he had forgotten why he had ever left.

Nigel and Lattrice moved on and I stayed a little while with malike and his new class to talk about why I was there. Ironically, a girl from Malike’s old school was also evacuated to this same class room-I wonder what they’ll talk about in a few years in the unique accent that only these two will share.

They move in to the house..

The last tape to be shot on this leg was shooting the Wilson’s reactions to the video that I shot of the addresses they gave me to look at in New Orleans. Now several hundred miles away and almost 2 months since the storm hit, they were talking about the storm as it was fresh and new again-shocked by what they were seeing, relieved and reaffirming their decision to not go back there.

In the end, Malike and Ms. Jackie when to sleep while Lattrice and Nigel and I went to the Arkansas State Fair… it was a good time-as Nigel and Lattrice said, whenever there together there’s no way and to place that a good time won’t follow. They also told me to remember if I find them fighting, to wait a little bit till the sea changes again.

It reminded me again that at 25 I’m situated right between Lattrice, 22 and Nigel, 28 in the age spectrum and how these two really hadn’t had much time to themselves as a married couple, but also as I guess as contemporaries of mine since the univited Katrina blew their house in.

I would be going back to New York tomorrow and I didn’t want to. I felt like I was falling off the face of the earth-this is where stuff actually happens-out in Arkansas. Yes, there’s lots of people in New York and lots of stories to tell there, but it seems at this point, nothing as presently active as what I’ve been a part of without much time off really since the storm hit August 29th. I’ve been addicted to the whole thing the whole time and I’m worried now about the prospect of slowing down.


I only include this last part, I know it would appear it has nothing to do with my family, and the experience, but it certainly does. I could not help but think about how the culture of race exists in the south with comparison to my own home town of Toledo Ohio. Not only was this a homecomming of sorts to report on one’s own’s demise…

11/18/2005 Checking back in… what’s to be thankful for?

The Weekend News show seems interested in sending me back to Little Rock for thanksgiving-they haven’t firmly committed, yet it seems possible enough that I want to let the Wilson’s know that I may be coming.

When I left Little rock, as you know, it seemed like "things were going great and they were only getting better"… what didn’t follow however was the part about "doing all right, making good grades…" the future right now may apparently look similar to the past for Nigel and Lattrice and the entire Wilson Family.

In speaking to their Little Rock sponser Ms. Pat on the phone, it’s been about five weeks and despite attempts to get the Wilson’s employed, the Wilson’s haven’t shown up. Also, news to me and now to you, also according to Ms. Pat, Nigel has had a relapse of his drgu addiction in Little rock. Let me give you a little bit more on this-the first thing Nigel did when we got to little rock was get a hair cut…then five days later he went again. I asked him why he needed another one so quickly and he told me that he liked this one better and I left it at that. Ms. Pat said that second occasion was where Nigel scored-she’s tried to convince him to get into treatment, but as of yet he hasn’t been willing to go.

All of this news is according to Ms. Pat-the Wilson’s themselves haven’t said anything of that sort, except it was different when I spoke to them on the phone.-they seemed more grabby. Ms. Jackie actually asked me what she was going to get out of being part of this project, Nigel asked me to bring warm coats from new york-but then quickly said he would have something for me as well-Nigel prides himself on his generosity and as far as this whole project is concerned.

Ms. Pat is telling me that if Nigel doesn’t go into treatment, and if the others don’t get jobs soon that the Baton Rouge Shelter that has been supporting them will not continue.

So far they have been giving them money for food and clothing, while the state of Arkansas has been paying for their housing and utilities up to November of 2006 as well as totally furnishing their home.

I may only truly know what’s happening there when I see it in person, although if Ms. Pat version is the gospel, then the Wilson family has been withholding a great deal of information from me the entire time.

11/23/05 – Not going anymore and the moment of reconing

Weekend news called me, they’re pulling the plug on the Thanksgiving story… but it certainly is not because there isn’t a lot going on.

Roger, one of the pastors from the Baton Rouge shelter who helpedset up the Wilson’s in Little Rock is going home there for thankgiving. I’m told, while there he will sit down with Nigel and ask him why he hasn’t kept up his end of the deal-that if he kept clean and got a job, the church would continue to support them where their funds fell short.

If this meeting doesn’t turn out well, then the Wilson family would still have housing and heat, but not much to eat if they didn’t either get jobs or on some other assistance. Thinking of little Malike and how well he’s doing in his new school, and how stable it seems, Roger plans to remind Nigel that he’s the head of a family right now and ask him what he’s doing for them.

I haven’t been able to get through to Ms. Pat or Roger, but I did speak with Nigel who said he was speaking to me from Lattrice’s mother’s house in Mobile, AL-a roughly 10 hour drive that you may remember taking from earlier in this odyssey. Nigel wouldn’t talk about what Roger said, nor was he willing to talk about much of anything, but he did say things were not working out very well and that he’d call me later.

11/28 –The 5PM Call
You never know when you’re going to get the call and mine came at 5PM on a Monday night. World News tonight was interested in the Wilson family… I was to try to get to Little Rock, AR that night. Despite my best efforts, I only got as far as Cincinnati. It was one of those situations where my prior flight was late cause there was no one there to usher the plane in and when I got to the connecting gate, the plane was there, but they said it was too late to let me on
I only mention the significance of this because I had to be back in New York for work on Wednesday and since I wasn’t able to make this flight tonight, I would only have about 3 hours spent with Nigel and Lattrice, none without camera crews around.
Before I left I spoke wth Nigel on the phone-he said they were driving back from Mobile, AL and that they’d be very happy to see me. They said they were all deserted out in Little Rock-they would get lost going to the grocery store in this foreign town.
I called Nigel’s sponser, Ms. Pat and they basically said that they did not want to be interviewed on camera, nor really have anything to do with the Wilson family at this point. They did speak to me about their point of view though-they felt they did everything that they could reasonably do to support the Wilson family in Little Rock. From chauffeuring them around to finding them and apartment, to financially supporting them with the help of the funds given to them by the Baton Rouge Shelter to getting them appointments for jobs and counseling at this point the only thing they felt they could do it has nothing more to do with them.
I wasn’t able to reach Roger from the Baton Rouge church, but it is evidently clear that his meeting last Wednesday with Nigel didn’t turn out very well.

11/29-The big interview
I got in around 10AM and despite the fact that I confirmed the interview the night before with the Wilsons I wasn’t getting a call back. I arranged for the crew to meeting me at a Krogers and we were going to go over to their apartment together. By the time 12N rolled around, I still had not heard from Nigal and Lattrice but we came over anyway.
I was able to talk to Roger from Baton Rouge who would not give me the details of his meeting with Nigel but said that the church had no choice but to cut them off soon. He told me what I would find in the Wilson apartment would not be a very good situation.
When Nigel opened the door he was happy to see me and said he was about to call. I found a fully furnished apartment with new furniture in every room. There was a nice X-BOX with about 10 video games in the living room that I knew Nigel was enjoying quite a bit. A journalist is supposed to be a bit nosy, and all looking in good shape except for the broken door frame on the entrance to the apartment, followed by a red stain on the carpet in the middle of the living room.
The Wilson’s finally got a new dog and although he was sick on this visit, he seemed to well fed enough. Nigel Told me that the new to them Buick that the students at the shelter had gotten for them had recently been stolen straight out of their parking space at their new apartment. A free car was normally worth as much as it you get it for, who ever took that car probably wasn’t going to get much for a 1989 Buick Century, even if they chopped up the parts.

It took Nigel and Lattrice over 2 hours to get ready for the interview. I will admit that our camera crew in Arkansas took their time too, but it wasn’t until 2:15 that we finally sat down to talk about all that was going on and since this story was for World News that night, I had until 3PM to talk before I would be concerned about the tape making back in time for air.

We talked about a lot of things-I didn’t come right out and talk about Nigel’s alledged drug problem… but I did press them hard about why they didn’t have jobs, if they felt they let the Baton Rouge church down and what they were going to do next.

It was a noticeably somber interview at parts, I felt that both Nigel and lattrice were holding back a great deal from now. I don’t blame them necessarily-why would anyone want to go on national television and talk about how bad their lives are.

They said what was holding them back the most of was not seeing their family that was scattered all over the region. Nigel said he didn’t know how much longer his grandmother would be walking this earth and until now he was always able to simply walk over to her house. At one point Nigel said that maybe other people in other parts of the country that have gotten back on their feet may simply be stronger than he is. He claimed he never sat down with Roger about the deal he had set with the church but that it was their decision to cut them off-he didn’t think they made the right decision, but that it was their decision to make.

The look on Lattrice’s 22 year old face during most of this was that of disappointment… although she said she was planning to start school in January, you could tell she’d been through a lot since I left in mid October.

By 2:50 PM I had to run to feed the video, since I needed to be back to New York the next day for work, the last flights were leaving soon and I had to be on them. I didn’t get a chance to say good bye to Nigel and Lattrice in person. I didn’t get to see Malike or Ms. Jackie at all. I didn’t get to sit down with them with no cameras rolling and ask them if Ms. Pat’s accusations were true about Nigel’s drug abuse, how they were REALLY planning to eat next week without any more handouts and about their recent trip to Mobile-if they somehow made it there, why couldn’t they get to Texas to see Nigel’s biological son-if that was the reason that they couldn’t find work.

They did call me when the piece didn’t end up airing on World News Tonight. They wanted me to find out why when I got back to new York and they invited me to come to Houston for Christmas to see their family there which I guess means they will be trying to make it there.

As I told Nigel’s sponsers while trying to convince them to be interviewed, this story should not be about the specifics of the Wilson family’s struggle but more so how hey are to represent what hundreds of other families may be going through as they try to navigate the New Orleans Diaspora. As a journalist, my job is to try to understand as much as possible and highlight for my audiences the places in which I think common themes exist.

This means that there are certain things that I’ll find out about the Wilson family that aren’t necessary to report because they have everything to do with the Wilson family personally, and not much to do with the storm that has effected them. It’s hard… and the Wilson family has got to trust that I’m not trying to exploit these particulars for some entertaining gain.

I don’t like having the accusations of their sponsors unanswered. It means that I have to be extra careful in how I report this story because even though I found them to be admirable people, without getting confirmation myself their point of view could be more askew than my own.

From this point forward, however, without them, I will have to totally rely on what the Wilsons have to tell me and while they say they realize this, their story is one that never gets told very often and is ever more important to those hundreds of other families out there that are still suffering, now more than three months after Hurricane Katrina blew away the only place they ever knew.

12/24/06, 11:23PM–The CHRISTMAS EVE HOUSTON Mass of Occurance

The man that was here came with 6 or 7 guys, one of which one of the
kids here said was carrying a gun.

The man was one of lattrice(the wife)’s former boyfriends from childhood
who was in the pen-lattrice hadn’t seen him for four years.

He came here to set nigel up… I came in with nigel and the guy came
out of the bedroom with the drunken couldn’t focus on anything gaze–he
wanted food-said he was married to lattrice and wanted her to get him
food–then he started wanting my food–i told him it was very spicy and
that he may not want it…

They brought him outside where they were trying to provoke nigel into
dark part of conplex where 6 guys were waiting. Lattrice yelling for
nigel to go inside–lattrices sister yelling for 11 kids to lock
themselves in bedroom–3 were out watching, youngest 10 years old(one
who saw the gun).

Lattrices sister called the police while yelling between man provoking
nigel and lattrice standing in between taking place in courtyard.

Police came and broke up situation–nigel feels bad he didn’t have more
people to back him up–lattrice mad he didn’t go inside–kids saying
nigels a good man for not fighting but they’re scared…coming out of
rooms to see if its ok and then running back in/peeking out the window
then hiding–the kids keep apologizing to me and telling me nothing is

Nigel was strong but conflicted–hes trying to better himself he says
but he wants to stand strong… Its been about an hour now he’s still
wondering if he did the right thing by not fighting back. He feels like
god has tested him…

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