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The Trouble


Trouble — we've all been in it. Some more than others. Some worse than others. Award-winning storyteller Shannon Cason has faced a few problems of his own. Now he talks with others about getting in, and out, of trouble of all stripes.

In episode 1 of The Trouble, Shannon talks corruption, side deals, and kickbacks.

KC Wilbourn was a rising star in education, turning around some of Detroit’s most troubled public schools. But in order to do that, she cut some legal corners that put her in prison. Do the ends justify the means?

Listen to the entire episode on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Here are some of the highlights.

On realizing the public school system was broken

KC Wilbourn: Principals are expected to make miracles happen with no resources. “Go clean up that school!” “Make sure that we’re not in the news!” “We don’t want any school fighting!” Well, what are you going to give me to help me do this?

You find yourself in need of funding, and if it’s anything that doesn’t relate to math, reading, or science, it’s denied by the district. I wanted to do unconventional things in the school, and there were no funds to do it.

On taking illegal kickbacks

Wilbourn: My soul wanted to help [the students]. When I decided that I was going to be resourceful, it placed me on a path that compromised my integrity.

KC Wilbourn when she was principal at Denby High School in Detroit. (Courtesy of KC Wilbourn)

I just started doing. “Hey so and so [vendor], I really want to get these kids shoes.” “How much?” “It’s gonna be $1,500.” “Okay, come get the money.” You’re gonna remember that I asked you for that favor. And when it’s time to open up bids for contracts, I’m now gonna feel obligated because you helped me, so I’m going to make sure you have an opportunity to participate. I’m gonna use you again. And you’re gonna use me again, too.

It’s a reliance [on the vendors]. And because it’s a hand-to-hand, no matter what it’s used for, it went into my hands.

And because now, it feels like you’re sneaking. Then all of a sudden, you know it’s not all the way above board.

On buying a Maserati

Wilbourn: People always talk about my Maserati. Anybody that works in education should be able to afford a Maserati, whether they are a teacher or a principal. Police officers — Maserati. People who work in the military — Maserati. Doctors — Maserati. Pastors? You know they’re driving Maseratis.

KC Wilbourn getting into a Maserati. (Courtesy of KC Wilbourn)

On reflection after being indicted and sentenced to one year in prison

Wilbourn: I changed lives. There were kids that were really in need, and there were no resources for me to “above board” provide for them. You can’t turn a blind eye and ride in on your white horse to save — you can’t be missionary about this work. I don’t shy away from my actions.

Don’t pretend like KC Wilbourn f---ed up education in the city of Detroit. That’s not what happened! Even though every time something comes up about the city of Detroit and education, my face is plastered all over it. I wish I could get a royalty. I wish I could get a kickback from that!

Contrary to opinions about me, I’m a good person who made bad decisions. But we all make bad decisions. Some of us are caught, and some of us are not.

These interview highlights have been edited for brevity and clarity by Candace Mittel Kahn.

Some of the music used in this episode comes from the album "Jules Lives" by Ari De Niro as found on, has been adapted, and used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.

Join the conversation on Twitter @thetroublepod. Email if you have a trouble story of your own. And subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

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