Carrie’s Letters From Jail

Carrie’s Letters from Jail

Intro from Jay Allison: One woman's personal account from behind bars.

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Listen to “Carrie’s Letters from Jail”

Mark is the News Director at KJZZ in Phoenix. In his job this is not an everyday sort of piece. He said:

“Carrie is a friend of a friend here, and I had seen the letters when Carrie was still in jail and I asked my friend if Carrie would be willing to share her story, to read the letters to tape when she got out. I didn’t really know Carrie at all prior to that, but got to know her fairly well during the process of making this radio piece and I think that happens to many journalists when they dig deeply into a rather personal story. You know going beyond the hard news, talking head stories of the daily news grind. You sort of start to seek out interesting and moving stories to tell. And then, whether this is good or not I don’t know, you start to root for the people you’ve come to know.”

Mark produced this piece a couple of months ago for local air on KJZZ. We liked the material, but had some questions about the use of music in production. You can read our email exchange on the subject, and you can also listen to the original piece (sorry: no longer on KJZZ’s website) to note the differences, if you are a true zealot.

“It was interesting because not knowing her really at all, she was very open and willing to share these letters. I mean there was always a little bit of hesitancy, but by and large she was very forthcoming and kept our recording appointments to a ‘T’, and I started to wonder, I mean, whether going through this process, which was obviously uncomfortable, was somehow cathartic for her. If in letting other people, even if it was a radio audience full of anonymous people, know about her problem, that she would somehow have more people pulling for her. It almost felt to me like this was like a trip to the dentists for her. She didn’t really want to do it, knew it would be uncomfortable, but felt like she needed to share these letters, that she would be better for it in the end.”

If you listen to this piece, we urge you to keep listening to the end. Also, please note that there are a few references that are adult in nature and not particularly appetizing.

Jail Lexicon & Letter Samples

Carrie's letter
Carrie's letter- detail

Carrie's letter- detail
Carrie defines commonly used prison terms, page 2
Carrie's letter and pen
“This is the kind of pen you get in jail.”
Carrie's letter- detail
“Sometimes I get pretty full of self pity in here.”
Carrie's letter- detail
“There are a few superstitions about jail.
You don’t leave without finishing your book,
or you’ll come back to finish it.”
Carrie's letter- detail
“By the time you actually read this I’ll be home.”

Editorial Email Exchange

RE: use of music in “Carrie’s Letters from Jail”

Sometimes, with permission, we include backstage email exchanges on Transom.org, believing that for a site dedicated to editorial process, the email trail is sometimes the best way to get at it. This begins after Mark initially directed us to a URL at KJZZ to hear the original version of the piece.

Mark,

We’re certainly interested. Would you be willing to work editorially with me at all on a version for transom.org?

-Jay


Jay,

I’d like to work with you on Jail Mail. I’d also love to talk with you at some point about what direction you think you want to take it, and whether broadcast on transom.org precludes me from pitching the story to other programs.

Mark


Mark, mainly I’m interested in discussing the use of music, its advantages and disadvantages, and if we determine that music is the way to go, whether the music you chose serves the material best.

I liked the material a lot, but sometimes felt lost in time, and found the boundaries BETWEEN letters to be a bit vague. Do you have a transcript of the piece? I would not anticipate wanting major changes, but might want to suggest some edits.

I’m not crazy about the title. It seems a little flip, less substantive than the piece itself. (Indeed, that was part of my problem with the music too…and that it seem to direct the emotions too obviously.)

We’d need to get permissions from the writer, and also some background on her (photo, etc.) for the site. I’d hope she’d be interested in getting this material to a wide audience. It carries a strong message.

Transom.org certainly does NOT prevent you from pitching to other programs–in fact we URGE you too and we’ll help–but it has to appear on the Transom FIRST and give a credit to Transom on the air. After a week on Transom exclusively, you are free to place it anywhere else. Check our “Acquisition Agreement.”

To get going, I think we’d need a copy (DAT or CD) of the piece, plus a copy of the unmixed readings and a transcript. It’d be nice if we could put this up next month.

let me know what you think… We can talk soon, if this sounds generally agreeable.

-Jay


Please do what you will. And let me know how I can help. And I’m working on some pics and Carries permission, which I feel sure is a given. Did the CD arrive?

-Mark


yes! thank you. We’re just going to jump in and make a first editorial pass with our suggestions for your reaction. Response here has been that the material and reading are solid, but that the intro sets up the wrong expectation and the music continues that expectation. The piece feels much quieter and simpler to us, but we will seek your judgement before we go forward. We can always link to the original piece too, as comparison may be interesting and the transom site is about process, after all.

-Jay


This sounds great. And I think all of the comments you make are right on the dot. I will be very honest about my use of music. I want to evoke strong emotion in the people who listen to these types of pieces and I think well-chosen music can take the content further, even very strong content, further than it can go on its own. Ira always tells me ‘use music like basil… sprinkle on lots and lots.’ Maybe I over-spiced in this instance. Call me sentimental, but after bumping a long for ten years in lots and lots of hard news, I want to make some touching, emotionally meaningful radio. Having said that,I work very, very hard not to become emotionally attached to my work so that I’m as subjective as possible during the editing process… having said THAT I can also say that I’m almost always dissatisfied with my stuff, and crave really good edits.

Looking forward to talking. Regards, mark


Re. Music as basil….

Ira and I disagree on this. He has made a stylistic choice, and in a way it’s a “branded” choice for his program, to use non-organic production music to create mood… note I say MOOD, not EMOTION. He and the TAL team are *masters* of the technique, and it’s not as simple as it sounds. In fact, they’ve done it so well, it’s almost a cliche. It’s the first choice you’d make if you doing a parody of their show.

Now, when I hear a producer trying to create MOOD in a documentary with music, I think: “This American Life.” (Curse them, they’ve ruined it for all of us!)

When I hear a producer trying to manipulate my EMOTIONS in a documentary through music, I rebel. I don’t like being told by music what to feel. (there are exceptions… like dramatic material within a documentary, etc…. and lord knows, sometimes you’re just not able to resist.) On the other hand, I often don’t mind if music is leading me through a story in an organic, integral way if it’s motivated, i.e. music that has a CONNECTION to the story or serves a structural function.

I think musical chapter breaks (from letter to letter) might be justifiable in this piece, but underlaid mood music is not, because it gets in her face.

Let me rationalize another way. If Carrie had created this piece directly for radio, if she had a hand in picking the music, I’d feel differently. But these are letters. They existed before the radio piece. She’s reading them. It’s the PRODUCER’S choice, not hers, to embellish her words. I find that intrusive.

The other option is to use music that she actually REFERS TO in her writing. Did she ever do that? That could provide an organic motivation.

I think these letters are strong enough to stand on their own. They don’t need basil. As good as it is, Basil isn’t always good on everything.

But, hey, it’s a matter of taste.

thanks and I’m looking forward to this. I hope the editorial comments are useful and I appreciate your openness and enthusiasm.

–Jay


Support for this work provided by the
Open Studio Project

with funding from the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting


Mark Moran

About
Mark Moran

I'm currently in my third year as News Director for NPR member station KJZZ in Phoenix. In addition to overseeing newsroom operations, I file regularly for a variety of national and international news sources, including NPR. I've been doing that for more than a decade from various locations. In fact, over the course of the last ten years, I've filed more than 120 in-depth news stories for NPR, and an estimated 1500 spot stories for the newscast unit. Prior to this job, I spent 7 years in the Midwest, during which time various NPR editors counted on me as the sole reporter to cover a host of issues, on deadline and off. In addition to scores of other stories, I reported on the historic Floods of 1993, the birth of the McCaughey septuplets and key political issues during the Iowa Caucuses political process. I ran a one person news bureau. Prior to my time in the Midwest, I reported on the oil and timber industries in Alaska. a decade ago.

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  • Jay Allison

    4.24.01

    Reply
    Carrie’s Letters From Jail

    CARRIE’S LETTERS FROM JAIL
    Produced by Mark Moran

    We recently had some discussion here (in Paul Tough’s Topic) about letters that get turned into radio.

    Well, here’s one.

    I’m sure Mark Moran would be interested to hear your thoughts about the of use of music. Our Transom edit took a different route than Mark’s original version which aired in Phoenix and which you can hear on The KJZZ Website.

    You can also read an email exchange between Mark and me about the decision to employ music or not behind Carrie’s spoken letters.

    It’s good to be getting submissions from producers like Mark at local public radio stations, where the daily grind is so demanding that projects like this are tough to undertake and difficult to find a home for beyond your hometown. It’s a good use of Transom.org, I think.

    Finally, this is one of those pieces where it’s better not to know in advance how it ends, so if we can discuss it for a while without revealing the ending, or at least make circumspect references, that would be considerate. After a little while, though, to hell with it.

  • Carol Wasserman

    4.24.01

    Reply
    Listening to Carrie’s Letters

    My introduction to this piece was by way of Mark Moran’s original KJZZ version. Most of you will begin by listening to the current incarnation.

    It is important to hear both.

    You’ll know why.

  • Nannette D.O.

    4.25.01

    Reply
    Versions

    Jay, won’t people listen and then read so we can talk freely here?
    Carol, I just listened to both versions and thought the one here said it all, since the differences are pointed out in the second version, and the use of music is discussed in the email exchange. (but if this is spilling the beans, feel free to delete this post.)

    I like the version here without music because that’s what life is like for Carrie in prison and out. She has to construct her life alone. But I wonder whether I’d expect and crave music if I were listening on the radio rather than here. Hope not.

    Nearly everything I’m tempted to urgently ask about this piece has to do with the subject (How is Carrie now? How many people are there like her? It’s a miracle nobody was killed and Carrie’s brain wasn’t pickled over the course of 10 years; can’t we put drunk locks on every car? etc. etc.) I guess this is a sign of the effectiveness of the piece.

    Carrie’s writing and reading is so direct and compelling. I wonder how much it was edited for the first version?

    I liked the shorter intro here much more. But: One additional sentence in the original was about how different Carrie is from her fellow inmates. I thought that was an obviously mutable, even annoying, remark. But now I wonder. Was that in there because Carrie emphasized this point? A friend of mine with similar circumstances told me often about how she was different from those other, less educated people. It might be a clue.

    I think this is the most important piece on the web site so far. Thank you.

  • Andy Knight

    4.25.01

    Reply
    Music

    I liked the original version and would have prefered that the music had been done differently rather than not at all. I don’t like the way it fades in just before a few seconds of pause (in reading) where it takes all focus and then fades out as soon as she starts reading again. I would have prefered it stayed fairly static and in the background, bringing it forward only a little between letters or big swings in mood. The music would be fine (IMHO) as long as the words are leading the music and the music only provides little more than a base for the speech to stand on. I also wouldn’t switch songs too often… keep it to about 2– and don’t switch between them too much. If the music is at the right levels and is non-obtrusive, no-one should be able to pick up on the fact that one song is repeating, or that a song was re-cued so that it can come forward (if necessary) on the right beat.

    ..probably more later, but I’m out of time

  • jonathan menjivar

    4.27.01

    Reply
    black and white and all the colors in between

    At a seminar on making radio that Nancy Updike held last year at KCRW I asked the dumbest question. I listened to Nancy’s presentation with glee and excitement, heard other people ask really intelligent questions, mustered up the courage to ask my question and said, "So where’s the music?"

    She was kind, smiled knowingly and said "I was waiting for that…Ira and I tend to disagree about music." So do a lot of other people apparently.

    I think one of the most insightful posts on the boards so far came from Joan Schuman in a post about Amy Silverman’s story:

    "forget about what you hear out there (the idols) and sit with the inspiration for the story."

    And I think in the case of Carrie’s Letters from Jail, inspiration dictates that the music be left out. I was enough of a zealot to listen to both versions and then came back and listened to the transom version a second time through. If I understood Nanette correctly, I think we share a similar sentiment. Without the music, the piece feels empty and alone. Which it should; the material packs enough of a punch on it’s own. The version with the music felt forced and it often got in the way of Carrie’s words.

    But enough about the music. Somewhere Mark you mention dealing with subjectivity/not getting attached to your subject. The existence of the whole subjectivity/objectivity thing is a real question for me anyhow, but I think you balanced it perfectly. It’s what impressed me most about your piece. I came away with all kinds of questions and uncertainties, feeling anxious to talk to someone about it. It says a lot about Carrie’s ability to convey complex issues clearly in her letters but I think it says more about your talent as a producer. That’s most evident in your interview w/ Carrie at the end. You touch on some gritty and hard to explore territory without ever marking Carrie as either victim or criminal, particularly in the transom version with the shorter intro. You’ve turned what’s normally discussed in extremely black and white terms into a much richer story that explores the issue of drunk driving in a way that seems more conducive to alleviating the problem.

    Jay said it’s a story without an ending but I didn’t feel cheated because of that. The story has stuck with me and that seems to be what’s important. Thanks.

  • Carrie

    4.28.01

    Reply
    Up late one night

    I am not even sure if this is appropriate or not, but I was up late tonight and decided to check out the web site. Mark told me about it from the beginning but I have been avoiding it.

    Music or no music? Music made it easier to swallow for me, more palatable. No music made me feel naked, exposed, raw. I personally liked to hide behind the music. Neither one better than the other. I guess it just depends on the intent.

    Did I feel different than others in jail in a way that made me feel unique and set me apart? We all had a lot in common with each other. All of us were women. We all were convicted of a crime. In nearly all cases, alcohol and drugs played a role in the crime. In nearly all cases, we could not afford a high paid attorney to represent us. Again, in nearly all cases, some form of domestic abuse either as a child or as an adult was a part of our histories. When I say that I was different from my fellow inmates (actually those weren’t my words, they were Mark’s)what I mean is, yes–there were many differences. I have had many opportunities and blessings afforded me in my life. My education level was higher than most everyone else in jail. I was the one they came to for help with writing letters to judges, etc. I was the dictionary. Throughout my life, I have always had medical insurance; my physical and dental health was better than most of theirs. This same insurance has enabled me to see therapists, psychiatrists and receive treatment for my alcoholism. Most importantly, I had a family and an extensive network of friends who supported me emotionally through letters, phone calls and visits. Society had not yet forsaken me. This, of course, is the baffling and hurtful point that those who know me struggle with–"how could someone who has, seemingly, everything going for her do this again?" I don’t have an answer. I don’t understand it myself.

    Today, I am sober. I have been sober since I got out of jail this last time. I am in limbo–just waiting for the courts to summon me. Once again, I am willing to accept and walk through the consequences of my behavior. I feel both devastated by what I have done to my life again and hopeful that I can achieve a lasting sobriety–one day at a time.

    Estimates say 4 out of every 10 drivers is impaired by drugs or alcohol. The scary thing is not that I got 5 DUIs in my life, even more scary is the number of times that I drove drunk and didn’t get caught. Drunk locks? Sure, but it wouldn’t solve the problem, would it?

    I think I’ll try and get some sleep now.
    Carrie

  • paul tough

    4.28.01

    Reply
    letters

    Mark, Carrie, etc.:

    This is really compelling material. I’m glad it’s on tape, and on the transom.

    I haven’t listened to all of the original piece, so I’ll avoid the music question. But word-wise, I liked the beginning of the KJZZ version better. The cut at the beginning of the new version, going right into quarters and coffee, seemed jarring.

    I’m not crazy about the KJZZ "nothing in common" intro, but I like the thermal underwear and getting up for breakfast and the different crews. (That’s not in the transom version, is it? Maybe it just got moved around and I spaced out.) I’d like to hear more of that kind of thing — not so much the gross-out, jail-is-hell, cleaning-up-vomit angle, but more the way that jail becomes a job, once you’re in it.

    Generally, I felt like I wanted some back story at the beginning of the piece. On Open Letters we did two incarceration letters, one in detox (by Jessica Willis) and one in a psych ward (by Mairead Meade). When I was editing those, I asked the authors to add to their original letters some background on what got them there. You could argue that it made those letters a little fake, but I think the trade-off was worth it; the story felt more complete, more caused. So in Carrie’s piece, I’d like to hear a letter early on, even if it wasn’t actually written in jail, about the moment of being arrested — what she’d drunk, why she got in the car, what she thought when she saw the police-car’s lights, what happened after that, what the whole experience felt like.

    I found the new material at the end of the transom piece the most compelling stuff, and mostly because it addressed, or started to address, the questions I was most interested in. (It also had a nice rhythm; I felt like I could hear more of Carrie in her interview voice than her reading voice.) I’ve been reporting on addiction the last little while, so maybe I’m especially oriented that way, but what interests me the most about Carrie’s story is not the jail, it’s the drinking.

    I’m not sure how that translates into practical advice; it may not.

    But I think there might be more to the story than what’s on tape now; maybe if Carrie was interested in keeping an audio diary now, during her next run through the system, through court dates and cravings and AA meetings, she’d/we’d end up with a story that felt more complete; a sequel to this piece, or just something new.

    My less drastic suggestion would be that maybe Carrie could write a new letter, about the day she was arrested, that could come at the beginning of the series. I think that would create a more powerful emotional bond with the listener early on.

  • Jay Allison

    4.28.01

    Reply
    Reading Aloud

    Ah, it’s good to have Paul back. We should dig up links to the jail letters on Openletters, or you can just go there and find them. http://www.openletters.net

    Carrie, thank you for writing. I don’t want to grill you and you obviously don’t have to answer anything here, but it was very interesting to hear your thoughts.

    It’s rare that producers and listeners and subjects have a chance to talk together about a media portrayal like this. Questions about effectiveness of technique take on a whole different dimension in this context.

    Your comments on the use of music were very instructive, I thought.

    I would like to know if reading your letters in a public forum has affected you in any way, expected or unexpected.


    (p.s. I’ll take the rap for the cuts in the beginning. Without music, it was feeling long and, well, I made some cuts–with Mark’s permission– to avoid setting up the listener too much with the reporter’s take on things, but may have inadvertently eliminated some valuable context from Carrie’s writing. If I recall my reasoning, it was that some comments might bring judgement too soon: "What are you complaining about? That’s no tougher than bad summer camp. You’re in jail for repeated drunk driving, after all.")

  • Jay Allison

    4.28.01

    Reply
    And

    it seems a reasonable moment to note that both Alcoholics Anonymous and Public Radio are testament to the power of a story shared out loud.

  • Carrie

    4.28.01

    Reply
    later

    I don’t feel as though I am being grilled. I don’t mind talking about it. Does it help? Or is it better to just be left with your own conceptions? I haven’t had a chance to talk with Mark about it so I don’t know how he feels.

    It’s not just the music missing from the original version, it is missing other bits as well. I miss them. Maybe that is just because I was comfortable and more familiar with the KJZZ version. I do like the addition of the post-arrest interview in the second version. It feels more honest to me. It is just a personal thing; I feel better about having it there. Although, that was probably the most difficult of all to listen to. I had thought that Mark would edit it and take out all of my sighs and "I don’t know"s. It was difficult to hear that much emotion even though a few days had passed at that point. But that is just my own personal shame.

    I don’t feel as though reading my letters in a public forum has really affected me much. It didn’t give me a big head. My egoism tends to lean toward the "I’m bad, I’m bad" side and not the "Ain’t I wonderful?" side. To tell you the truth, I pretty much stayed out of the process. I am uncomfortable being the center of attention (I was grateful for AA’s tradition of anonymity at the level of press, radio and film.) I don’t like having a microphone in my face and I don’t like hearing the sound of my voice recorded. If anything, I gave Mark too much information. I gave him full access to my letters to my roommate only editing out parts that would disclose personal information about her. I wrote her several pages everday for the entire 90 days that I was in there. By the time I was sentenced for this DUI, I had been sober for a year. My struggles in jail weren’t with staying sober. At that point, I was more interested in where my disease had taken me. And I wanted to let her know what my life was like while in jail. It was something that we had started with an earlier incarceration. Where, once again, in sobriety, I had to clean up the wreckage of the past and make amends to society. I wrote her letters and she saved them for me and they became something of a journal for me. Mark had access to all of the material from the latest incarceration. He sifted through them all and highlighted parts he wanted me to read and record. It was an emotional process to re-read and record the letters that I had written while in jail. They sounded so pathetic to me and too emotional. I was relieved when I was done recording. I figured my part was done. I did my time; I recorded my letters. The rest was up to Mark–it was his baby. There was way too much material to sort through. A lot of it was good. How do you let some of it go? I wouldn’t have wanted Mark’s job for anything. I think he did a good job (this is probably the first time he has heard me say that.) I refused to listen to any of it until the night before it aired. On the day it aired, I heard parts of it as we drove around town running errands.

    I did worry that people would think that I was whining too much about being in jail. That was never my intent. I was fully aware and acceping of the fact that it was my own behavior that got me there. I was merely trying to relate what it was like to my roommate. And somedays were pretty bad. I think it is important to hear what it is like in jail. It is a temple for sinners and I am an initiate who has been there. Even today, my friends ask me if I will be able to email them from jail. I have to laugh. I will be lucky if I can talk a C.O. into sharpening my golf pencil for me!

    Addiction vs jail angle. Not everyone that gets a DUI is an alcoholic. Be honest with yourselves, how many of you can say that you have never driven while under the influence of alcohol–not even in your reckless college days? Generally, the heavy fines, court dates, MADD attendance, and inconveniences like alcohol assessment and counseling are enough to deter the normal drinker from ever getting a repeat offense. Most multiple offense DUIs (if not all) are from alcoholics. It would depend on which audience you are trying to reach and why.

    My own personal interest today, lies in the addiction. Especially since the latest arrest which has left me and my friends and family reeling with questions and feelings of anger, betrayal, hurt and sadness…just to name a few.

    gotta go,
    Carrie

  • Jay Allison

    4.28.01

    Reply
    I don’t know

    I had thought that Mark would edit it and take out all of my sighs and "I don’t know"s.

    Mark told us about your arrest last week and we emailed about the possiblitiy of the interview and how it might be approached. He can tell you more. He sent us your 10-minute conversation and I cut it down to about 2 as soon as we got it because we wanted to put the piece on the site that day.

    At first, the "I don’t knows" were cut out, just as you expected, Carrie. That’s the way one would tend to do it for an NPR program, because the tape wasn’t overtly responsive or clearly informational. It felt like an obvious out-take. But it abided in memory, and on re-editing, it came to feel like the most important part.

    It’s where radio can do something print can not. It was a moment filled with non-literal, subtextual truth. It was the weariness behind your voice, the almost childlike quietness, the use of Mark’s name, the sighing wish for all to disappear or be different, that seemed to tell the most. At least that’s the way I heard it.

  • Viki Merrick

    4.29.01

    Reply
    I don’t know

    When Mark’s submission first came in – I was very excited about something so down to the marrow as letters from jail. The intro in the original piece completely threw me off while I listened to the first letters and I really didn’t listen through to the end. The intro was not deliberately trying to mislead, in fact in retrospect I might even say it was said out of consideration for Carrie, but it cast a shadow on Carrie’s experience, almost as if there had been no real experience. The second time I listened through to the end and felt ashamed for having cast a judgement – Carrie’s tone, choice of words evolved into something much more complex, quieter. I felt like I was in the "presence" of a very courageous albeit struggling woman.

    As for music, I completely understand why you felt raw and naked without it Carrie – because it was hiding you to be sure. I find that music in a piece is never just music, especially DURING a piece. It’s trying to tell me something, trying to bring me up to another level, impose an emotion on me in case I didn’t get it by the words alone. In the first version, perhaps combined with a sort of obfuscating intro, the music annoyed me, made me feel like it was forcing me to feel something I wasn’t. I wanted to swat it away so I could feel clearly. The letters, while not emphatically revealing in their content, became very much so WITHOUT the music because the letters themselves were quiet, busy with the work, but quiet, like Carrie was letting the glue set.The letters didn’t need a musical interlude to separate them, all we needed was to be quiet, with her.
    The "follow-up’" interview became intensely more revealing because it was unpolished and unadorned – as is Carrie’s reality right now. Without the sighs, the I – don’t – knows’ , I think the interview would have robbed not only the damage we witness, but also the sense of someone in pre-forward motion. despite the cliche’, after time, bottom can see only up. you can feel that "pre-motion" in the struggle for words, the no answers to bigger questions, the honesty of it.

    I also want to say to you Carrie, that this whole "exposure" thing has been remarkably courageous on your part, reflecting conscience and fight. Thanks for letting us in.

  • Nannette D.O.

    4.29.01

    Reply
    The power of story

    Maybe there should be email in prison. Maybe it should be required that every inmate has the opportunity to write part of her story every day and have someone listen.

    And maybe, if there is tax money for prisons but not for public radio, part of prison budgets should go toward financing jail stories on radio.

    Carrie, I’m grateful for this story. I know it is not your only story. It didn’t sound like whining to me. It did not seem pathetic to me,
    and the sharing of emotion made me feel more, not less, respectful of you.

    I’m scared for all of us and hope the addiction research is getting somewhere. It is such a riddle.
    Re: "being better than" I regret bringing it up because it wasn’t clear and helpful. I wasn’t very direct because I didn’t want to give the story away. The ‘better than’ question comes from my own desperate moments trying to find any clue in my close friend’s behavior, any cognitive quirk that I could point out and say, "see, just change this and then I won’t have to worry that you will kill yourself and your daughter!"

    You’ve clarified that the comparison to other people was a sideline, justifiably edited out.

    I’m guessing we all grapple with the self-esteem flip-flops. Do you think people get to a spot where they don’t feel they can share their thoughts and that triggers the speed drinking? Would you say we need a place where we feel worthy of telling our story even when it’s ugly? And it has to be the whole story, including the parts when someone made it hard for us to believe we’re worth it. And it has to be told over and over again?

    Was this experience anything like that?

    Maybe you can’t tell the whole story on radio, but listening to this much of it helps others tell theirs. It’s helping me with one of mine.

    Somebody in a live audience asked David Sedaris if he wasn’t embarrassed by some of the things he reveals in his writing, and he said THAT was the stuff we have most in common with other people.

    Thanks again.

  • Tony Kahn

    5.01.01

    Reply

    Hope I’m not coming too late to the discussion on this piece. I finally had a chance to hear the transom.org version this morning on the way to work. To do that, I recorded the realaudio stream and transfered it as an mp3 file to a little player I keep with me. This sounds unnecessarily complicated, but I like to give public radio pieces the "road test," listening to them in the car with all the pluses and minuses for paying attention that entails. Anyway, since I heard only one version, I can’t comment on the question of music vs no music, but the impact of the (without music) piece couldn’t have been much greater, it seems to me. And that’s because, for me, the power of this piece isn’t so much in the drama of Carrie’s time in jail as in the shock of realizing how little we really understand someone else’s problems.

    The main part of the piece is a narrative of a person who got herself in trouble and the punishment she experiences for it. We appreciate her frankness, her intelligence, the sharpness of her observations of her surroundings and her feelings. Her voice (once you realize it’s Carrie herself that’s reading, not an actress — the only thing that I think might have been made clearer at the start) takes you by the hand and leaves you (me, anyway) with the feeling she knows where she’s going and has learned enough to have changed for the better. In other words, she does what so many public radio narratives do — she takes you into a harrowing situation and then safely out of it with a lesson learned, an insight gained. And then — bam! We get hit with the ending. That moment of shock, of shattered certainty that you "understood" someone else’s problem is priceless. That’s the shock that’s stayed with me all morning and hopefully made me just a little bit smarter and more humble. It succeeds in a way a good public radio story should — it makes you listen to the story and it makes you listen to yourself. I should add that this is the kind of piece that ought to be heard more than once. The questions it raises the first time make you listen even more carefully for nuances and silences in what Carrie says the next time around.

    TK

  • Mark Moran

    5.02.01

    Reply
    Inspiration

    Hello,

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to listen to the piece. This
    really is a great venue for stories, and the covnersations that follow. I wanted to respond to a few of the comments that have been made here.

    1. I wasn’t happy with my voiced introduction, either. This piece really didn’t have any room for narration, and I shuold have found a way to leave it out… let Carrie do ALL the talking… the piece went through many, many iterations before it went to air on KJZZ.

    2. Jay and I had a good discussion, late on a Saturday night (esp. late for him as I recall) about the use of music. (You can read the discussion on the transom.org site). But in response to the many different opinions, I will simply tell you that I use music because I like the way it sounds in a piece like this one. As I said to Jay, Ira always tells me to use music like Basil… sprinkle it on generously. After writing hard news and feature stories for n-p-r and others for more than a decade, I decided to make a piece like this one for …. me, really. I decided it was time to make a story that, selfishly, conformed to everyting I like about long-form radio… a compelling story, suprise, uncertainty.. and yes, music…. it creates feeling for me… and while I know that Jay believes that act attempts to impose feelings onto the listener that might not otherwise be there, quite simply, I just like the way it sounds… So when I saw someone write that the piece sounded better without music because it cut to the ‘inspiration for the piece’ I wondered how that person who posted the message could claim to know what the inspiration for the piece was and is. Having said that, I think the transom piece is very, very strong. Raw, as one person put it… which makes it good on a different plane, with its own merits. But I believe having achieved that is more about working with one of radio’s best editors and producers than it was about the content.
    Granted, I think Jail Mail, as we called it locally, was extremely strong because Carrie’s willingness to share extremely compelling material… but Jay makes everything interesting… compelling.

    Thanks for the discussion… and the constructive criticism.

    Mark

    3.

  • jonathan menjivar

    5.02.01

    Reply
    Inspiration?

    Mark you’re right. I think I was just trying to make some connections between posts. Inspiration was the wrong word to use. I have no idea what the inspiration behind the piece was. I was trying to say that to me, the piece itself was asking to be left bare without music. In retrospect that opinion has nothing to do with inspiration.

  • Joan Schuman

    5.03.01

    Reply
    music or other sounds, maybe

    this piece is powerful. how do you sustain and prioritize that energy?

    this goes out of the usual public radio "format," but, what about bridging the intense emotions of Carrie’s letters with sounds of pages turning, pencil tapping, or sighs or deep breaths? i actually "heard" the quotidian, everyday sounds you’d hear in a prison cell.

    i’m not suggesting getting the sounds in a real-life way. i’m suggesting augmenting the piece as you would music, but with different sounds.

    if you use music, it should have some punch to it, some rhythm. the music i heard in the KJZZ version didn’t have much punch. also, i would have rather heard the music open after one of Carrie’s letters, not the usual fade up so we know it’s about to end.

    radio is an aural medium. i say, let’s utilize the aural space.
    break the mold.

  • beedge

    5.19.01

    Reply

    just got around to listening to this story, and gotta say,
    it’s an exceptional piece a radio. maybe transom’s best so far.

    for me, the transom team was unerring in their edits.
    I like the way the piece dumps us right into jail
    with a minimum of intro. it feels abrupt,
    it feels stark. like getting arrested.

    when i heard the Mark intro, i thought: damn fine writing.
    when later i heard the expanded kjzz vers, i thought: he does go on.
    get to the letters. they stand on their own.

    that’s why im not sure p.tough’s idea for an intro letter would work.
    these feel real. like she did write them in jail,
    maybe even read them from there.
    these are "carrie’s letters from jail."
    the piece should do nothing that would risk our believing that.
    (and what do we really need to know anyway.
    she’s in jail. it sux. read the letters.)

    as to music, i think what carrie wrote in her post above says it all:
    No music made me feel naked, exposed, raw.

    which is exactly the appropriate feeling for the piece.

  • Gretchen

    5.21.01

    Reply
    more narration?

    I confess I haven’t had a chance to listen to the first version (w/music) of "Carrie" so can’t speak to how I think music works, but when I listened to the transom version I did feel like the piece needed something between some of the letters. In several spots I thought the interchanged between letters about specific people/incidents and reflection worked really well. But I kept craving more info on Carrie and a little time to saok in what I’d just heard.

    Yes, her words are very powerful and descriptive. But I kept hoping for some sound of her environs–perhaps in the prison where she wrote the letters. I also felt a bit jarred to have an intense opening with Mark’s voice and then I never hear from him again. I thought the initial set-up begged for him coming in at other points in the piece.

    Only other comment is that I was a bit bothered by the follow up interview. Seemed a little judgmental against Carrie. Could it have worked out to have Carrie write a letter to Mark to explain what happened?

    That Mark locked into this women’s story is terrific and I’m so glad he took the time to get her to read the letters herself. Makes for some powerful radio.

    Thanks Mark and transom.

  • Jay Allison

    6.21.01

    Reply
    Update from Carrie

    Carrie said it was fine to post this here. She has a Transom tape recorder at the moment, and she and Mark may use it to chronicle her life for a bit.

    =====
    Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2001 13:55:43 EDT

    Subject: The latest

    Well, I went to court yesterday up in Prescott and signed the plea agreement
    for my latest offense. I feel both sad and relieved. I pled guilty to a
    class 4 aggravated DUI felony. Which means that I will definitely be going
    to prison. The sentencing range on this is a little hard to explain but I
    will try. If judge opts for probation, I could go to prison anywhere from 4
    mos. to 1 year, with up to 10 years on probation. If he doesn’t go for
    probation the term is from 1 year to 3.75 years. However, the state
    (prosecution) is recommending the minimum sentence, 4 mos., and probation and
    that goes a long way. At any rate, I felt it was a good offer because
    without it, when you add up all of my DUIs, the best I could’ve hoped for was
    something between 4.5years and 7 years. And truthfully, when I thought about
    it (which I tried not to do) I didn’t see how I could do that. With this
    offer I can see the end. 4 mos. seems doable.

    Of course there is still the probation revocation in Tucson to deal and
    that is another whole issue. I am hoping she will take the time that I am
    doing for Yavapai and run hers concurrent. That is what I am praying for
    anyway.

    My sentencing for Yavapai is at 8:30am on July 16. My disposition
    (sentencing) for Pima is at 8 or 8:30, I forget, on July 18.

    That is all for now. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts.

    Carrie

  • Bete Noire

    5.03.02

    Reply
    That’s it?

    Marks comment at the end left me with a "What? That’s it?…What the hell was that?" feeling. It seemed a bit exploitive actually. He seemed unsympathetic to Carrie, somewhat condescending-sounding almost like a parent scolding a child and then just ends abruptly with thanks, good luck.

    It’s not easy to admit to oneself that you messed up let alone talk about it on public radio. I hope Mark was actually more sympathetic than he came across in the interview.

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