Part one of a two-part series.
Before Literacy Center classes at the Coconino County Jail, inmate Kevin Wright’s only formal schooling in his 35 years was his first day of kindergarten.
“I went home after school and I remember throwing my homework away. For whatever reason I didn’t want to do it,” Wright recalled of the incident in his Florida hometown. “I remember my parents telling me they didn’t like the curriculum. 'Course, I just recently learned what that is.”
Wright’s parents decided to home school him after that, but Wright described their teachings more as “life lessons,” with Wright not learning to read until he was 13.
The unstructured time on Wright’s hands and lack of accountability are what he said led him to make some bad decisions when he reached adolescence. Working as a mechanic by day and a mortician by night, Wright admitted that he struggled with drugs for over a decade.
“Thank god I got caught here,” Wright said of getting cuffed in Flagstaff after he fled house arrest in Montana with his girlfriend’s car. “Every time I’ve been in jail--and I’ve done about eight-and-a-half years--I’ve always been in a cell.”
When Wright was booked in May 2018, he was initially placed in Pod A, the maximum security unit. By September of that year Wright's classification status had been moved down to medium, meaning he was not seen as a high safety concern and was allowed to apply for the jail programs. He was moved to the jail’s Exodus unit, which helps inmates with substance abuse. In October, Wright graduated from Exodus and was recruited into the re-entry program after holding a one-on-one interview with Crystal Luna, the jail’s inmate development specialist.
In the Exodus program, Wright “gained a healthy and strong appreciation for sobriety and the importance of self-development,” explained Luna. “Once he entered into re-entry he was able to explore his previous life decisions and just how far one person’s actions can affect others.”
Luna, whose primary job is to provide educational development opportunities to all individuals in the facility, said Wright’s personal growth was inspiring to many men in the program, helping them to open up and change themselves as well.
"I like to motivate people. Helping others helps me," Wright said. "This program here was my first experience with anything that was kinda like school. That’s why its been really fun. I always wanted to go to school."
When Literacy Center volunteer Richard Parsons walks to the front of the Pod C lobby Jan. 17, it does seem like a classroom, albeit with a dress code of navy jumpers with “CCSO inmate” printed on the backs.
The 20 inmates offer each other chairs, place their hand-drawn name cards on the table in front of them, and ask around for spare pencils.
Before Parsons begins the lesson of the week, he explains what the Literacy Center is and the plethora of services that the Sunnyside establishment can do for released inmates, including waiving their $25 yearly learner fee, paying for GED practice tests, helping with resumes and writing letters to prospective employers, in which they need to state why they were in jail.
“Do you have SAT testing?” one inmate asks.
“No, but we can point you in the right direction,” Parsons responds.
“Hell yeah,” the inmate replies.
Parsons starts his lesson on irregular plural nouns, citing examples such as mouse changing to mice, man to men (not “mens”), foot to feet, etc.
“Folks laugh when you get it wrong, don’t they?” Parson asks, adding that louse changes to lice. “Do you know what a louse is? I have a lot of them on my head.” he jokes.
“Laos is a country,” one inmate replies.
Instead of shouting at the inmate for speaking out, Parsons and the inmates laugh and move on to thesis and theses.
A retired USPS letter carrier, Parsons has been a volunteer tutor at the Literacy Center for over five years. Parsons said he likes the fact that the Coconino County Jail “places more of an emphasis on rehabilitation and reducing recidivism than most other jails.”
Although like most jails, a library is available to inmates, Parsons said a library is not often enough for many inmates who previously spent little to no time reading.
“Many of them have a very low level of reading ability. I feel that we provide an entrance point, a path to enjoying reading. Once they begin to feel the pleasures reading can provide, and see a larger world open up to them through literature, news of the world, poetry and critical thinking, I believe it may start them on a lifetime journey of becoming fuller human beings,” Parsons said, adding that gaining communication and reading skills also helps inmates find and keep jobs.
Of the re-entry program’s inmates in 2018, approximately 25 percent had not graduated high school or received their GED when they started. Around 33 percent had graduated from high school, 18 percent had their GED and 24 percent had some college credits or a degree.
Wright’s only experience in Flagstaff was speeding through the town before he got pulled over and arrested. But when Wright is released in the spring, he said he will stay in Flagstaff to utilize the Literacy Center’s programs and other programs the city has to offer.
“Initially I’m gonna take advantage of these resources. I’d be crazy not to,” Wright said. “I’m gonna be able to get out with absolutely nothing, and have somewhere to go. Normally I’d be left to the wolves, so to speak. And a person like myself – I may not have a choice but to make the same mistakes. This time is different.”
Wright noted that he will be able to get a bus pass, an ID, as well as clothing and shoes with help from the Goodwill Career Center on East Route 66, which also assists released inmates with finding jobs and housing.
Inmates in the re-entry program are members for life, Luna said, being able to take advantage of the Literacy Center's one-on-one tutoring and the Goodwill Career Center.
After an inmate makes it through the seven-week re-entry program, there is a graduation ceremony for them the following Friday.
“We have special hats and certificates and there is a special moment for people to speak about each grad,” Luna said. “We give the graduates a moment to speak as well. It’s a pretty big deal and we try to go the extra mile.”
Wright graduated from the re-entry program in December.
“This was my first experience with any kind of schooling, structure, accountability – it’s life-changing. I’m a completely different person than I was,” Wright said, adding that he has grown more in the few months in re-entry than he has in a decade. “I’ve never graduated anything because I never went to school. So what’s cool, when we graduate here, we get to wear funny hats, and then everybody gets a chance to talk about you.”
In the future, Wright hopes to help with the recovery community and find a way to assist single parents with their cars for little or no cost.
“There’s so many people that have had a hand in my recovery [and] something I learned in AA is to keep it, you have to give it away,” Wright said.
With the modern prevalence of smart devices and online sharing, almost anyone can make a podcast, the growing medium that allows users to listen to everything from news to dramas.
It takes something extra to make it succeed, though, and Northern Arizona University’s Frank von Hippel seems to have found the right formula.
Von Hippel, a professor of ecotoxicology, released the first episode of his Science History Podcast in December 2017, combining his passions for science history and podcasts in a way that all science enthusiasts can enjoy. The episodes have reached listeners in 70 different countries and have been downloaded more than 5,000 times.
“Frank is just one of those people with a talent for interviewing because he is a curious guy,” said Brian Rackham, director of the NAU Media Innovation Center and executive producer of the Science History Podcast. “Frank is able to bridge that gap and make the podcast accessible but very interesting and very cutting edge.”
Each episode features a specific moment in science history by combining historical audio and interviews with scientists who helped make that history. Episodes often tie into current events, especially in politics, to inform listeners and therefore prevent historical mistakes from occurring again.
The podcast also serves as von Hippel’s means to improve science literacy.
“We have to make decisions in our personal lives and our political lives every day that rely on knowing something about science," he said. "One of my goals of the podcast is to create citizen scientists, to enable people to be fluent in science at a level that allows them to make informed decisions, personally and politically, around science issues.”
The podcasts typically range from half an hour to an hour each, featuring prominent internal scientific experts from all fields. Each month brings a new topic from British explorers to this month’s episode, bioterrorism, which will be released Monday.
This upcoming episode is the longest to date, at approximately an hour and a half, and will be the first to feature another NAU professor: Paul Keim, a specialist in infectious diseases who helped find the origin of the anthrax attacks after 9/11.
The key to the podcast’s success is a combination of an effective team, presentation, interviewees, sound quality and timeliness.
Von Hippel primarily works with sound editor Cassidy Zimarik, an NAU senior studying creative media and film, as well as Rackham, who advises on possible improvements.
Rackham introduced von Hippel to Zimarik, who has been his student assistant ever since, as well as to the necessary equipment such as high-quality microphones and a multitrack recorder.
“Brian knew how everything should work, Frank is the brain, and I’m just the student in the background who knows how to edit audio clips," Zimarik said. "I think all together, we’ve learned how to make a pretty incredible podcast.”
Von Hippel’s work has relied largely on his teaching. With 23 years of experience as a professor, his innumerable moments of presenting and responding to questions have translated to interviewing skills. His work has also allowed him to contact the foremost science experts, even in areas far from his own, and often to interview them in person during work-related travel.
“Scientists like talking to each other, so I’m able to schedule interviews with people,” he said. “Because I’m a scientist, I can also ask questions at more sophisticated levels, the kind of questions that interest the scientist.”
Though the podcasts can drift into scientific jargon at times, von Hippel says he does his best to define terms when possible. He says most of the material can be understand by anyone, so he encourages listeners to endure the brief sections they may not understand, before the conversation returns to the familiar. He often asks scientists about their personal lives for that reason.
For example, the most recent episode featured Nobel Laureate Peter Agre and revealed that this recipient of the 2003 prize in chemistry for the discovery of aquaporins – proteins that act as water channels in cell membranes – once moonlighted as a boxing ringside physician.
Once the interviews are completed, the next step is to edit them. Rackham said high technical standards are the biggest challenge and depend on good editing.
After working with von Hippel for more than a year, Zimarik said she now recognizes the waveforms of his audio clips, as well as many of his vocal mannerisms.
“I have been a professional radio personality since I was 16 years old, so I learned how to edit when I was 15. I can see where breaths are taken, I can see where fumbles happen without listening to the recording. It’s like second nature to me,” she said.
Zimarik's role includes removing repetitive words, coughs and background noise as well as matching volumes of different speakers and historical clips to make the podcast easier on the ears. The use of a multitrack recorder allows her to mute one person’s audio while another is speaking and adds a level of professionalism to the final product, she said.
Together, von Hippel and Zimarik spend about 20 hours preparing a one-hour podcast.
All three team members agree that the quality of the podcast has increased significantly over the last year, and will continue to do so as they embark upon new topics. Von Hippel already has a list of 100 ideas he hopes to share with listeners, especially with relation to modern perceptions of science.
“I think it’s particularly important in the last couple of years, when science has been under such attack by the Trump administration, that people understand what’s under attack and what to do about it,” he said. “In this country, science has been heavily politicized and we see that particularly around issues like climate change and they really shouldn’t be politicized. They should be issues that everybody wants to solve because they affect all of us.”
The Coconino County Sheriff's Office released new information saying the Idaho man who was aggressively brandishing knives was fatally shot twice by a police officer outside of The Guidance Center on Sunday, Feb. 3.
Sheriff's officials explained that body camera footage shows that officer Tyler Romney fired three of his shots during the altercation within one second. The footage reportedly shows that Russell reacted by immediately turning to his right. One shot hit Russell in the leg and another struck Russell in the back.
The medical examiner performed an autopsy on Monday and confirmed that Russell was struck twice by gunfire, with one wound in the right leg and one wound in the back. The completed medical examiner’s report is pending toxicology and is not expected to be completed for several weeks.
This officer-involved shooting was committed 11 days after the first shooting in West Topeka Avenue in January.
Sheriff's officials are looking into Russell's background before the shooting took place.
Russell was convicted in Idaho in 2005 for sexual abuse of a child under 16 years old and had served time in prison multiple times, according to the Sheriff's Office. They state that the conviction required Russell to register as a sex offender.
Russell had not registered with local law enforcement as required by law, according to the Sheriff's Office. Russell had recently been released from the Idaho Department of Corrections on Dec. 3, 2018, but had not requested permission to leave the state according to Idaho Department of Corrections parole, and violated his parole conditions.
Sheriff's detectives confirmed that Russell was not a patient of the Guidance Center and it is unknown why he was at that location on Sunday. Investigators found Russell had stayed at Flagstaff Shelter Services on Jan. 28.
It is still unknown exactly how long he had been in the Flagstaff area. Russell did not have any known family in Flagstaff or connections to the Flagstaff area, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Russell had no contacts with local law enforcement in and around the Flagstaff area prior to the shooting. Additional information indicated that Russell had been admitted to the Flagstaff Medical Center with an overdose in mid-January.
At approximately 9:27 a.m. on the day of the shooting, two Flagstaff police officers were leaving The Guidance Center in Flagstaff on an unrelated call when an individual, identified as Henry Harold Russell, 47, from Boise, Idaho, confronted the officers brandishing two knives.
As Officer Romney backed away from Russell, he gave Russell commands to drop the knives. Russell allegedly charged the officer with a knife in each hand, prompting the officer to discharge his weapon striking Russell.
Officers on scene provided lifesaving measures until paramedics arrived. Russell was transported to Flagstaff Medical Center and was later pronounced dead.
The officers involved in the incident were not injured in the altercation. Romney is a more than three-year veteran of the department. He was placed on administrative leave by the Flagstaff Police Department pending the outcome of the investigation, in accordance with department policy and procedure.
The investigation is ongoing.
FLAGSTAFF — A U.S. investigation at Grand Canyon National Park has ended with the exoneration of the park's superintendent and an announcement that she'll return to work soon.
Christine Lehnertz was reassigned in October while investigators from the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General looked into undisclosed allegations against her.
In an email to park employees Thursday, National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith praised Lehnertz and said the allegations against her were "wholly unfounded."
Nancy DiPaolo, a spokeswoman for the Office of Inspector General, said the investigative report wasn't ready to be released publicly. The office typically releases such reports to federal agencies about a month before posting either a summary or the full, redacted report online.
Lehnertz told The Associated Press the allegations haven't been disclosed to her, either, and she would know more when the report is released.
"Until I read the report, I'm really not going to be able to comment on it," she said. "For me, I'm excited to get back to the canyon and eager to get back to work."
Lehnertz is a trained environmental biologist who has been with the Park Service for more than 10 years.
She took the Grand Canyon job in 2016 as the park's first female superintendent after a sexual harassment scandal led to the retirement of its former chief. She was reassigned during the investigation because the Park Service said it wanted to protect the integrity of the probe.
Lehnertz spent the past four months working out of the agency's regional office in Denver on a project doing development and training for park superintendents, she said.
The investigation had been a distraction from spending time with her family in Denver, she said, after the recent death of her mother.
She's expecting to return to her job at the Grand Canyon after the Presidents Day holiday and about a week before the park celebrates its centennial. The Grand Canyon is among the country's busiest national parks with more than six million visitors a year.
"Over the months, my resolve only grew stronger to return to Grand Canyon," Lehnertz said. "It's been a rough go, but as I return to the park, my focus is going to be the same — building a respectful and inclusive workplace."
Lehnertz was tasked with changing the culture at the Grand Canyon after an earlier report by the Inspector General's Office found that some male employees in the now-defunct river district demanded sex from female colleagues and retaliated against women who refused.
Then-Superintendent Dave Uberuaga was forced to retire in May 2016. He wasn't implicated in the allegations of sexual assault, but federal investigators accused him of failing to properly look into and report them. He kept his job during the investigation.
Lehnertz said she's worked to create an environment where employees feel safe and supported, using healing circles, talking about organizational resilience and zeroing out the backlog of complaints about misconduct.
She said most employees have been receptive but certain personnel actions have been hard on others.
"It's my job to uphold those and keep people accountable," she said.