Pensacola, Florida
Thursday October 23rd 2014

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Outtakes: Unwritten Stories

The Christmas holidays are the time to recharge one’s batteries. One can look over the past year, tally up the wins and loses, and make plans and resolutions for the next year. I find myself thinking about the stories that I didn’t do — the investigations that I couldn’t quite pull off.

There was the story of the mother of two entrapped in our criminal justice system. The army veteran appeared in court for violation of parole. She admitted to the judge that she came out of the service “messed up.”

Her original arrest was for driving under the influence. In tears she told how the arrest had cost her a job at the Lakeview Center. The electricity was turned off at her apartment, forcing her family to live in series of shelters.

Finally she got her act together, finding help from the Veterans Administration. She had been sober for over six months and was holding down two jobs to take care of her family. However, she hadn’t paid her $1,160 in fines and enrolled in the DUI classes.

Her attorney asked for work release. The judge sentenced her to a year in jail and put her children under the care of Department of Children and Families. She was handcuffed and taken to the jail.

This mother’s story haunted me for days — bad decisions leading to even worse decisions, poor people trapped in the criminal justice system. I just couldn’t find the time to gather all the information to make it a full cover story.

Then there was Warrington Middle School. I won an award for my investigation into the failures of the troubled school that Superintendent Malcolm Thomas had committed to make the best in the state. After the article, he made a few changes, but nothing significant. Despite the problems at Warrington, Woodham and other middle schools, Thomas easily won re-election in 2012.

This past year, I heard of cover-ups of teachers being threatened by students, students fighting and students having sex in closets and restrooms. I hesitated to act because my writing had little impact in 2011 and possibly made the situation worse. The school district saw this kids as moneymakers for it, not human beings.

When the state released its school grades last summer, Warrington Middle was given a “F” and ranked the 10th worst middle school in the entire state. I felt no sense of satisfaction in Thomas’ failure, only regret that I didn’t tackle it one more time.