CHICAGO (March 16, 2022) – It’s a common belief that the U.S. prison system exists to keep us safe from lawlessness. But in many cases, prisons are among the most lawless places in the country. Now WBEZ Chicago’s investigative podcast, Motive, returns with an unprecedented view into one of the most hidden places in the country: America’s prisons.
In the fourth season of Motive coming March 28, WBEZ Criminal Justice Reporter and Host Shannon Heffernan investigates the factors that shape conditions inside prisons, from the hidden world of prison towns to the deep-seated issues within prisons that go largely unseen. The podcast is a culmination of years of Heffernan’s investigative reporting on criminal justice for WBEZ.
The first episode of Motive covers WBEZ’s investigation into accusations of repeated abuse in a camera blind spot in one Western Illinois prison. When Illinois prisoner Roger Latimer said he had been beaten by guards in a part of the prison with no cameras, nobody paid attention. He was autistic. There was no video footage to prove his claims. These accusations went ignored for years by people both inside and outside the system. But then another prisoner died after an altercation with guards in the same blind spot.
Deeper into the podcast, listeners will hear about an officer who prisoners and even prison staff refer to as “the devil” and “the red dragon.” Records uncovered by WBEZ show prison staff emails where a staff member reminisced about the time this officer asked him to bite her so they could make it look like a prisoner had done it, and justify beating him.
“Prisons are among the most hidden places in the United States. Even people working or incarcerated inside cannot access important stories and information,” said Heffernan. “I wanted to explore how prisons function. Not just between individual guards and prisoners, but everything inside and outside the prison walls that must be in place for serious problems to go seemingly ignored.”
Throughout this season of Motive, Heffernan shares first-hand accounts from prisoners, guards, and mental health staff inside the Illinois Department of Corrections that demonstrate how the prison system is often structured around punishment, rather than correction and reform. Her investigation takes her to prison towns in the most remote corners of Illinois, from small town chili cookoffs to rural State’s Attorney offices. And she also combs through a trove of emails between guards that show secret affairs, family relationships, an evident strain on their mental health, and attitudes towards prisoners and punishment.
“We hope this season of Motive fosters a true understanding of what is happening inside our prison system, not only in Illinois but nationwide. Through Shannon’s rigorous investigative reporting, unprecedented access, and compelling audio storytelling, listeners will hear directly from those imprisoned as well as those working inside prisons,” said Kevin Dawson, managing director of content development for WBEZ Chicago.
This new season of Motive follows the podcast’s 2019 debut. The first season was based on reporting by the Chicago Sun-Times to chronicle the unforgettable saga of Thaddeus “T.J.” Jimenez, wrongfully convicted for murder when he was just a 13-year-old boy. The second season was set in Spain and explored allegations of sexual assault during study abroad, following a year-long investigation by WBEZ that included interviews with dozens of women, most of whom had never spoken publicly before. And, the third season investigated the rise of white supremacy, extremism and the rise of the white hate movement in America.
Season 4 of Motive will be available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, NPR One, Pocket Casts or wherever listeners get their podcasts. Listeners with information pertaining to this story can email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Motive Season 4: WBEZ Production Credits
Host/Reporter: Shannon Heffernan
Executive Producer: Kevin Dawson
Producer: Jesse Dukes
Editor: Rob Wildeboer
Podcast Fellow: Marie Mendoza
About WBEZ Chicago
WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR news station, serves the community with fact-based, objective news and information. WBEZ’s award-winning journalists ask tough questions, dig deep for answers and expose truths that spark change and foster understanding. In addition to its local and national news programming, WBEZ Chicago is home to a growing portfolio of popular podcasts, including the “Making” series of Making Beyoncé, Making Obama and Making Oprah; an investigative podcast series, Motive; 16 Shots: A podcast about the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald; Nerdette; and Curious City. WBEZ Chicago has a legacy of innovation as the birthplace of nationally acclaimed programs such as This American Life, and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and the ground-breaking podcast, Serial.