Listen: Where Life is Precious, Life is Precious

Prisons helped rural towns, while Black communities in Chicago paid a heavy price. Now, rumors swirl that parts of Pontiac prison may close.

Motive Season 4 - Alt Crops v2
Motive Season 4 Laura Vergara / WBEZ Chicago
Motive Season 4 - Alt Crops v2
Motive Season 4 Laura Vergara / WBEZ Chicago

Listen: Where Life is Precious, Life is Precious

Prisons helped rural towns, while Black communities in Chicago paid a heavy price. Now, rumors swirl that parts of Pontiac prison may close.

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A woman goes back to the Chicago neighborhood where she grew up. The public housing building she lived in is gone but the trees her grandmother planted are still there. She reflects on how the neighborhood paid much of the bill for the prison “sweepstakes” that provided jobs in rural parts of the state. But a guard explains how those jobs can sometimes hurt the people who work them.

Meanwhile, rumors begin to swirl that Illinois may close parts of its oldest prison, Pontiac, where Major Prentice worked and where mental health workers Demaria Bates and Jamia Stokes faced racist harassment.

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About the host

Shannon Heffernan is the host and a criminal justice reporter for WBEZ in Chicago. She has spent much of her career reporting on prisons. The work for this podcast began nearly four years ago when she got a call that an inmate at a prison had died under suspicious circumstances.

TRANSCRIPT

(AMBIENT SOUND)

COLETTE PAYNE: It was actually this corner right here. Um, 681 East 37th Street. So it looks totally different now.

(PAYNE FADES UNDER)

SHANNON HEFFERNAN, HOST: Colette Payne grew up in Ida B. Wells public housing complex in Chicago, built in 1939 and named after the famous anti-lynching activist.

PAYNE: This was my place. Like, we would walk through the park. Everybody would be in the park when it’s hot.

HEFFERNAN: She remembers parents would sit and chat while the kids played, and sometimes when it was really hot, they’d sleep in the park to stay cool.

PAYNE: We would sleep on this basketball court, like take pillows, and they would be out there playing their music and drinking beers (LAUGH).

HEFFERNAN: When she was first growing up in the 70s, she loved how family and friends were always nearby.

PAYNE: They had monkey bars, swings for the kids. Like, I couldn’t walk down the block and do something that I wasn’t supposed to do without the neighbor calling my grandma. It’s like, I don’t know what kind of wire lines they had, but she would know quickly, and I would get in trouble for it.

HEFFERNAN: Hearing her talk, it’s easy to see why she loved the place.

PAYNE: And behind me is where my children came home to when they were born, which is torn down now. It’s two trees right there, which their grandmother actually planted. And they are big and tall now.

HEFFERNAN: It sounds really beautiful.

PAYNE: Mhmm, it was. Once upon a time.

HEFFERNAN: But starting around the 80s and continuing into the 90s, Payne says a lot of people were having a hard time finding work. Just like the guys in Brown County in the last episode, the economy wasn’t working for them. And like the people of rural Illinois, she said she felt forgotten by government.

There was a tightening on social service programs. More rules and restrictions—ways to keep so called undeserving people from getting aid. She remembers a case worker coming by and noticing her grandmother’s bright red nails.

PAYNE: They were like, “Hmmm, you get on red polish. You can afford that with all these children?” Like they’re not deserving of red fingernail polish.

HEFFERNAN: She says the city stopped fixing the public housing she grew up in. It fell into disrepair. In many ways, it was another Forgottonia a 4-hour drive away from Brown County. But they didn’t end up with a sweepstakes.

PAYNE: What started happening or what I began to see is the monkey bars coming down, the clotheslines coming down, and that is so the police can drive up the back ways where there wouldn’t be, you know, any interference. They’d have a clear path.

(THEME MUSIC STARTS)

HEFFERNAN: I don’t know if this is literally true—that the city tore down the monkey bars and clotheslines to make room for police. But I do think it’s a good metaphor for what we do know happened. Across national and local governments, a smaller focus on support and services for the poor and a bigger focus on policing and prisons.

Payne said she noticed a bunch of neighbors getting shipped away to prisons. Young people, her peers. She says she ended up incarcerated too at age 14 and then three more times as an adult for crimes she relates back to poverty and her battle with drug addiction.

PAYNE: You know, they say it’s a place of corrections, but if corrections is to start, it should start before. What do communities need to stay healthy and whole?

HEFFERNAN: She imagines it could have been different if she’d been offered something other than prison.

(THEME MUSIC PEAKS)

HEFFERNAN: I’m Shanon Heffernan, and this is Motive.

Episode 7: Where Life is Precious, Life is Precious.

(THEME MUSIC ENDS)

HEFFERNAN: Jim Thompson was a prosecutor who became Illinois governor from 1977 to 1991. You may remember him from the last episode. His administration oversaw the sweepstakes, but he also was a governor who cut back parts of the budget. He said there wasn’t enough money coming in.

JIM THOMPSON: Well, you had to cut spending, and that’s the only answer. Does that hurt people? Absolutely. Hurts school districts, and welfare advocates would start beating you on the head the minute you touch the welfare budget. But that’s where the money is. You have no choice.

HEFFERNAN: This is from a series of archival interviews of Thompson reflecting back on his time in office. And in this same series of interviews where he claims there wasn’t money for welfare or education, he also boasted about how he built the most prisons in state history.

According to Illinois Issues magazine, from 1973 to about 1996, Illinois appropriated $1.2 trillion dollars to expand prison capacity—one-fifth of the total capital spending.

THOMPSON: Look, you can’t do halfway things when you’re talking about law enforcement. That is the very first obligation of government, is to protect our citizens. It’s more important than anything else because if you don’t have that, you can’t have anything else.

HEFFERNAN: I was trying to make sense of this. The way he describes cutting one type of spending as a difficult choice and ramping up another kind of spending as inevitable. I was wrestling with how these things were tied together in the era of the prison boom.

And so I reached out to someone who has studied both types of Forgottonias: prison towns and the neighborhoods that people in prison often come from. Ruth WIison Gilmore.

RUTH WILSON GILMORE: Well, good day to you.

HEFFERNAN: While he’s setting that up, I’ll just tell you a little bit. So this is part of a podcast we’re doing…

(HEFFERNAN FADES UNDER)

HEFFERNAN: Gilmore is a geography professor at CUNY, The City University of New York, and she just published a book, “Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation.” She’s also an activist and has done a lot of on the ground work around prisons.

Her ideas sometimes can be dense to follow, at least for me. But I really think it’s worth it because they give a framework of how all the different things happening in this era overlap and intersect. I told her about these quotes from Governor Thompson.

HEFFERNAN: And In some senses, he’s describing a budget conversation. But I also feel like he’s telling us what he thinks the job of government is. And I’m curious from your studies how you saw how government and the public change how they thought about what the job of government was around the 80 and the 90s when there was this prison boom.

GILMORE: The shift from a somewhat robust welfare state designed to provide opportunities and protections in general turned over time into the carceral state in which all opportunity and protection narrowed into a very, very, very specific and distorted view of what quote-unquote safety is. Which is to say police and prisons and guards.

(MUSIC STARTS)

HEFFERNAN: In other words, the definition of safety started shifting from one that at least included things like fighting poverty and expanding education to one that was more narrow. That meant policing and prisons.

I think back to the way Reagan’s crime commission was described: not to find the causes of crime but to control it.

(MUSIC PEAKS)

HEFFERNAN: That shift from a focus on services to law enforcement had a profound effect on Colette Payne who would find herself no longer with family in the park on a hot day, but in a prison cell, multiple sentences, with years away from her three children.

Gilmore said Colette Payne going away was a loss for the whole community. They lost her labor in the workforce or unpaid work, caring for family and neighbors. And each person who is taken out of the neighborhood makes the community a little weaker.

You may remember Christopher Knox; he was locked up in Pontiac. He was the friend of Anthony Gay, the guy who had a sentence go from seven years to over 100. Knox is now back home with his family.

(MUSIC ENDS)

HEFFERNAN: It’s good to meet you.

SAMELLA KNOX: You too, you too.

HEFFERNAN: I went out to see him at his mom’s house.

HEFFERNAN: Samella. Am I saying that right?

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: Yeah. Yeah

HEFFERNAN: Her name is Samella Knox.

SAMELLA KNOX: Chris, can you get me some water please.

HEFFERNAN: We sat in their living room eating donuts.

HEFFERNAN: I don’t know what flavors I’ve got here.

(HEFFERNAN FADES UNDER)

HEFFERNAN: Her living room is set up so if you are on the couch, a bunch of family portraits stare back at you—on the wall, on the table, on the shelves. It’s like looking into an auditorium of smiling faces.

SAMELLA KNOX: These are all my grandchildren.

(SAMELLA FADES UNDER)

HEFFERNAN: Samella and Chirstopher Knox lived in a different public housing building than Payne, out on Chicago’s West side. But just like Payne, Chris said he got arrested and incarcerated at a really young age.

SAMELLA KNOX: He was about 9, 10 years old. Yes. Yes.

HEFFERNAN: What was the trouble when he was 9 that got him sent away? What happened?

SAMELLA KNOX: What was it Chris?

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: I snatched the, uh, gold chain off somebody’s neck.

HEFFERNAN: And for that, at 9 years old, they sent you away?

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: Yup.

HEFFERNAN: He says he spent 30 days in a juvenile jail. He must have been at least 10 years old by then because that was the youngest age kid they kept at the jail.

SAMELLA KNOX: You know, after that, you know he started having more legal problems, you know, like, you know, just, I don’t know. I was really worried and scared for him.

HEFFERNAN: Chris got in trouble over and over again. And the charges got more serious as he got older.

Eventually, at 19, he shot a man during a carjacking. The victim survived. Knox was charged with attempted murder. His brother was there too. And they both eventually ended up at Pontiac prison together.

Chris wound up in solitary which he said turned him into a “monster,” deteriorated his mental health, and he acted out. He was charged with spitting on an officer, another time for kicking an officer. He served over two decades behind bars.

SAMELLA KNOX: He was gone 26 years, you know, and that’s just this time, not counting the other time he was away from home. You know, and I know I can’t get that time back.

HEFFERNAN: What does that lost time mean to you?

SAMELLA KNOX: You know, we lost a lot of holidays and family gatherings and a lot of memories and stuff.

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: It was a lot lost. You know, I mean, I. It was a lot. I can’t, I can’t explain because there’s so much, you know, that I wish I could have did.

HEFFERNAN: Samella and Chirs talk about how he missed his father’s funeral, and they talk about Chris’s sisters. When he left the youngest was just 6 years old, but when he and his brother came back, she was in her 30s.

SAMELLA KNOX: And. They missed that brother and sister thing. You know, how they, “Leave my sister alone.” You know, stuff like that. So they really didn’t get to know each other. And now they are like struggling, you know, going back and forth, trying to get to know each other.

HEFFERNAN: As she talks about Chris’s sisters. Chris starts crying, then weeping. He wipes the tears from his face with his t-shirt. I’ve talked to Knox a lot over the years about his allegations guards beat him, put him in a cell with blood and feces, embarrassing strip searches. But I’ve never seen him upset like this. He takes a few moments to breathe. His mom gets him a wet washcloth, pats him on the back.

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: I didn’t get a chance to– I didn’t get a chance to bond with them. So I didn’t get a chance to do that. It looks like it repeated itself the same thing with my sisters.

(MUSIC STARTS)

HEFFERNAN: Chris says one of his sisters has been having trouble lately. Reminds him of himself. And he feels like if he had been around, he could really relate, help out. Instead of worrying that the same thing that happened to him will play out all over again.

He says he does what he can now: got a good job, pays well, helps out his mom. But he mourns what was lost, what continues to be lost. The relationship with his sister that he can’t quite figure out how to repair.

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: And so now it’s like to not hurt, I just cut them off.

HEFFERNAN: When Chris got locked up, the fallout of that was about more than him. It was about his family, his neighborhood. And this is part of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore thinks about when she thinks about places and spaces, how they relate to each other.

As a geographer, she asks what resources are moved from one area to another and why? And she’s struggled to answer this question when it comes to the two Forgottonias. What exactly is being extracted from Chicago neighborhoods when people go to prison. What’s that resource that’s transferred to rural areas?

GILMORE: So I thought and thought and thought for a long time. And I finally got to the answer, and the answer is time. Now time is a resource we all who are alive have, and it’s a resource that cannot be renewed. When you’ve lived a minute of your life, that minute is gone. It never comes back. What prisons and jails and detention centers do is turn the time that’s extracted from the people who are held against their will in those facilities—that time is turned into money.

HEFFERNAN: Money to pay people to build prisons or to be guards, to deliver food to prison doors.

GILMORE: The money obviously comes from somewhere. Where does it come from? It comes from federal, state, municipal budgets. And that huge amount of money, which should belong to all of us to keep the monkey bars up and the clotheslines flapping with laundry instead has been diverted in order to turn that commodity time, which nobody who’s in prison wanted to give up, into the ability for people who work for the prison system or who sell goods and services to the prison system to make their livings and their profits and their lives.

(MUSIC STARTS)

HEFFERNAN: Days and years of people’s lives. Time. Extracted from them and turned into jobs.

(MUSIC PEAKS)

HEFFERNAN: So what happens when those jobs are under threat? On February 9th of this year, something big happened at Pontiac Correctional Center. That’s the prison where Christopher Knox was incarcerated. Staff say buses pulled up unexpectedly, AND they were told to start loading men up.

(SOUND OF BUSES)

HEFFERNAN: Will Lee, the local union president and a Pontiac Lieutenant, was out of town, but he drove back and got to the prison by nighttime.

WILL LEE: I went out there and saw the buses myself. Staff were helping because they were told to, and you have to do as you’re told. But there’s a lot of confusion, a lot of concern, a lot of uncertainty as to why seven buses just pulled up.

HEFFERNAN: Dozens of men were being sent from Pontiac to another prison. Staff said it was chaos. No one understood what was happening, and they felt suspicious. Why was the state doing this in the dark of night? What were they up to so suddenly?

DOC said the moves were because of a hot water problem. But not long after that, staff said they learned of a draft plan made by higher ups in the Illinois Department of Corrections to close parts of Pontiac.

(MUSIC STARTS)

HEFFERNAN: And the union decided to put up a fight. That’s after the break.

(MUSIC ENDS)

HEFFERNAN: As we were wrapping up this season of Motive, we got word there was going to be a big townhall about the potential closure of parts of Pontiac. That’s the prison where Major Susan Prentice was interrogated by state police about cover ups and abuse. And the prison where the two mental health workers say they faced harassment and racism. The place where the state’s attorney prosecuted men in solitary with mental illness.

So we drove there. It was a hot day. Around 100 people packed into the school auditorium, some wearing prison t-shirts. Like one that said “Pontiac Correctional Center. Established 1871. HIstory speaks for itself.” The mayor, a state senator and a county official all sat on stage while pictures of the prison flashed on a screen behind them.

JASON BARICKMAN: Okay, we’re gonna get started. We are concerned about the moves the Pritzker administration has taken. I’m gonna walk you through a timeline of some of the events that have occurred.

(BARICKMAN FADES UNDER)

HEFFERNAN: They opened up a mic at the front of the auditorium, and people came down to speak. One man who worked at a Walmart said a closing would affect the whole county and beyond because the prison was such a big economic driver.

UIDENTIFIED MAN: So if you’re going to lose all these jobs in this town and not only this town, but this county, I mean, you might just fold up Livingston County. You might as well fold it right up and bring in the sidewalks.

(APPLAUSE)

JIM BLACKARD Pontiac has a long history, and the state needs Pontiac as much as Pontiac needs the prison.

HEFFERNAN: Another man, a retired Major from the prison, talked about how Pontiac was an essential piece of the whole prison system, necessary for everyone’s safety because it’s where the “worst of the worst” get sent, and staff are specially trained to handle more dangerous situations.

JIM BLACKARD: If you ask any other prison across the state, they’re glad Pontiac is there because they don’t want to deal with some of the inmates that these guys deal with every single day.

(APPLAUSE)

(MUSIC STARTS)

HEFFERNAN: People at the town hall were angry about how hard it’s been to get information about what’s happening, which I can relate to. There’s not a lot of clarity. But the department has said some infrastructure at the prison is in bad shape, and it’s understaffed even though they’ve tried to hire people. So shrinking the prison makes sense, and they promised no one who works there now will be laid off.

But there is a bigger trend going on; the prison population is dropping drastically. Down from a peak of nearly 50,000 in 2013 to about 28,000 in 2021. Some of that is COVID, but not all of it. Besides Pontiac, the Department of Corrections draft plan also shows another prison, Vandalia, partially closing.

(MUSIC PEAKS)

HEFFERNAN: Some campaigns to stop closures have been successful in the past. A different plan to close Pontiac failed in 2009 when the community rallied. The then governor issued a statement saying keeping the prison open meant 600 jobs stayed. Families would not get uprooted, and Pontaic would maintain one of its largest sources of revenue.

But the situation is different now with the shrinking prison population, and there are political movements to defund police and prisons.

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: They need to close the whole prison.

HEFFERNAN: Christopher Knox, maybe unsurprisingly, is one of the people who would like to see Pontiac Prison gone forever.

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: That prison. That’s both physical and psychological torture on anybody that’s there. I mean, you know, I went through a lot at that institution.

SAMELLA KNOX: It is inhumane to treat those people like they treat them.

HEFFERNAN: So when they say, look, we need to keep this prison open because it’s especially designed to be secure.

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: It messes people up. It’s an all segregation joint.

HEFFERNAN: They say it makes people safer. Does it make–

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: It makes people dangerous. I’m a prime example of that. You created a monster. And now you say–you created this. You created this. This is what y’all created. You kept me in a cell for 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year totally isolated. What you thought you gonna get?

HEFFERNAN: So you think closing it would make people safer?

CHRISTOPHER KNOX: Yes. It’s most definitely not helping.

(MUSIC PEAKS)

HEFFERNAN: When it comes to these closings, it seems like the battle lines are drawn. Rural white areas on one side. Black urban areas on the other. Couldn’t be more opposite.

But Gilmore—remember she’s not just an academic geographer, she’s also an activist. She works with groups in California like Critical Resistance and the California Prison Moratorium Project. And they’ve taken on a difficult mission—to try and convince people in rural towns that prisons aren’t in their interest either.

She argues that studies show economic benefits are slim. The most recent study I could find showed prisons did add jobs, and stable ones at that. But the spillover effect of lifting the whole economy wasn’t particularly strong. Still, even beyond the economy, you have to ask… What are those jobs actually like for people?

HEFFERNAN: You’re about to retire, huh?

STEVE HOWERTER: I am. I have 14 working days left, I think.

HEFFERNAN: Steve Howerter and I met over video right before he was about to retire from his job at Illinois River Correctional Center.

HEFFERNAN: Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you don’t know the exact number. I feel like if I was that close, I’d be counting down.

HOWERTER: Well, I’ve been counting down for so long, and my schedule is so crazy. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track.

HEFFERNAN: We talked while he was at work in a nondescript room, blank and institutional. Illinois River opened in 1989, part of the big prison boom in Illinois, and Howerter got a job as a CO. He was just 18 years old.

And like almost everyone I spoke to who worked in prison, the job got to him. Sure there were the assaults on staff, but there was also all the other stuff you witnessed: people in prison attempting suicide, medical emergencies.

HOWERTER: The bottom line is that every facility is its own little city. So we don’t have a fire department. We don’t have a rescue squad per se. I mean, it’s the security staff, the officers that are responding to everything until help arrives, so you name it, they’ve seen it.

HEFFERNAN: When he was younger, Howerter wasn’t into talking about trauma, what seeing that kind of thing on repeat does to you. He thought people were making excuses, a bunch of crap.

But then his dad died by suicide, and he was forced to wrestle with issues of mental health. Howerter is a tough looking guy—speaks plainly, stares straight ahead. But there is a softening in his face when he talks about this. He says he started thinking about officers he worked with, the suicides he’d heard about, the way he himself picked up smoking because of the stress of the job.

HOWERTER: And the mindset for years has been suck it up, drive on, make sure you’re at work tomorrow. And I need that incident report 15 minutes ago.

(MUSIC STARTS)

HEFFERNAN: Howerter got really involved in a program that gives peer support to fellow officers. One hope is to shrink the number of suicides. According to the union, there were a dozen in 2019.

(MUSIC PEAKS)

HEFFERNAN: Gilmore, the academic and activist, has a quote I think about a lot: “Where life is precious, life is precious.” And the way I’ve heard her explain it is sort of like this: Treating life as precious, by say, not using the death penalty or not putting someone behind bars forever shows life is precious. And when we do that as a society, as a government, it shows the value of life. Reinforces it. And it makes people less likely to try and solve their problems with deadly force, like on the street with guns.

Where life is precious, life is precious.

GILMORE: But the other thing I want to say has to do with the opposite of “Where life is precious, life is precious.” And that is to say what we see working itself out is human sacrifice. So that guard that you talk to is no less being sacrificed than others, even though the power between them is really starkly different when they’re at the facility.

HEFFERNAN: I understand her to be saying is where life is not shown as precious, it won’t be treated as precious. People in the prison system on both sides of it suffer.

And this is one way Gilmore arrives at a surprising conclusion, one about the two Forgottonias: prison towns and the urban places where many people in them come from.

GILMORE: Well, first of all, they’re one place. And what we’ve done is convinced ourselves that there are two places, but they’re not. They’re geometrically discontinuous, but they form a kind of constant place.

HEFFERNAN: The two Forgottonia are of course different, separated by miles and miles of highway. But Gimore says both places were economically abandoned, and then both places were sacrificed, their lives devalued to make prisons. And now their fates are tangled together, intertwined.

GILMORE: So that is how I think as a geographer, and I try to convince people that that’s what geography is. It’s not lines on a map.

HEFFERNAN: It takes a bit of mind stretching to see what she’s talking about, but by imagining these two places as one—a shared space with the prison at its center—she makes a case that there is a potential for solidarity, a way to work together. To imagine something different for everyone, prison staff included.

GILMORE: I’m not interested in defunding households. I don’t mind that you have good pay and benefits. I mind that you have them for sitting and watching somebody in a cage. What if we agreed that you keep the pay and benefits and do something else with your time and talents?

HEFFERNAN: I was really interested to see if the people of Pontiac would buy into this idea. Would people in prison towns support a change, if they were offered different jobs? But as far as I can tell, for the people of Pontiac—at least the ones who decided to show up at that town hall—it’s about more than jobs for them. It’s about a fundamental belief in what they do.

LEE: I guess I’d say prison is a necessary evil that is needed in society.

HEFFERNAN: Lee, the local union president, said he wasn’t interested in some other job.

LEE: There’s a lot of pride in what we do. I know people that grew up here in Pontiac their whole life, and they know the prisons here. Just the idea of public service that you get to provide to your neighbors and even your family.

HEFFERNAN: For Lee and a lot of the prison staff who spoke at the town hall, at least in the context of this current fight, it was a matter of principle. Of doing a job they believed in. And when I asked Lee if there was a potential for another kind of job like Gilmore suggested, he said he was only interested in Pontiac as a prison, and a max one at that.

(AMBIENT SOUND OF PROTESTING)

HEFFERNAN: Back in 2020, after police killed George Floyd, there were these massive protests in the streets.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTORS: No justice, no peace. No racist police.

(PROTESTORS FADE UNDER)

HEFFERNAN: And suddenly mainstream news outlets were interviewing activists who wanted to defund police and prisons—abolitionists like GIlmore who wanted to see them disappear entirely. And people fighting for big reforms were having success.

NEWS ANNOUNCER: This is a comprehensive reform package pushed by the legislative Black Caucus after the death of George Floyd

(FADES UNDER)

HEFFERNAN: In Illinois, there was a massive new crime bill that passed. One that did things like eliminate cash bail, so fewer people are stuck in jail.

NEWS REPORTER: Governor J. B. Pritzker signed the 700 page bill known as the Safety Act into law today.

(FADES UNDER)

HEFFERNAN: But then, recently I’ve noticed it shifting again. Violence in Chicago has reached historic highs. There were 800 homicides last year. Understandably, people want solutions.

There’s been a familiar focus on law and order and a backlash against reforms. Look no further than the Illinois governor’s race. Here’s an ad from Richard Irvin, the fundraising frontrunner on the Republican side:

RICHARD IRVIN:I went to college on the GI Bill, then law school to become a hands-on prosecutor, going on police raids, taking back one corner or apartment complex at a time. Putting gangbangers, drug dealers and wife beaters in prison.

HEFFERNAN: And then the current governor, J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat who pushed through that huge criminal justice bill. Here’s his ad about Irvin:

J.B. PRITZKER AD: For 15 years Irvin has been a defense lawyer profiting by defending some of the most violent and heinous criminals. Domestic abusers and sexual assault.

HEFFERNAN: It all has a “Tough on Crime” era ring to it.

(MUSIC STARTS)

HEFFERNAN: So, there is this fork in the road. Which way will we go? Gilmore, the activist and scholar, advocates for abolition. But when she talks about abolitioN, she’s not just talking about tearing down prisons. She’s talking about trying to build a world where prison isn’t necessary.

(MUSIC ENDS)

GILMORE: Yep. Abolition isn’t about ending things. It’s about making things otherwise.

(MUSIC STARTS)

HEFFERNAN: A world where we build what’s needed. Places for people to get food, mental healthcare, housing, so the awful things we can do to each other are less likely to happen. And if they do, we focus on how to heal whatever was hurt to make sure victims get what they need.

I am guessing listeners have arrived at a bunch of different conclusions about what they think needs to happen. Some may agree with Gilmore about abolition. Others may think we need to keep prisons—maybe even grow them, give them more resources to do a better job. Or reform them and provide more oversight.

And I don’t expect nor will I try to convince you of any of those paths right now. But after listening, if you believe as I believe that what we have now is not inevitable, that it was made through specific choices, then I think it’s worth at least imagining what other choices could be made. What would it look like in your mind if we made life more precious?

(THEME MUSIC STARTS)

HEFFERNAN: Motive is a production of WBEZ Chicago. I’m Shannon Heffernan. Jesse Dukes is our producer. Additional production by Joe Decealt, and our wonderful associate producer, Marie Mendoza. Our editor is Rob Wildeboer. Our executive producer is Kevin Dawson. Our chief content officer is Tracy Brown. Nicole Pasulka is our fact checker.

(THEME MUSIC PEAKS)

HEFFERNAN: This is our last planned episode for this season of Motive, Though we do expect to pop in with updates and other things we have up our sleeve. Doing a podcast like this takes a huge group of people. And we are so grateful for all the support.

Thanks to everybody who listened and gave us feedback, including Susie An, Cate Cahan, Lauren Frost, Sylvia Goodman, Alex Keefe, Natalie Moore, Alexandra Salomon, Kristin Schorsch, and Patrick Smith.

Our gratitude to Yohance Lacore and Katie Mingle. And thanks to ProPublica. Some of the reporting for this podcast was developed during my participation in their Local Reporting Network. We had additional production and reporting help from Colin McNulty, Candace Mittel Kahn and Arno Pedram, and archival assistance from Justine Tobiasz.

Original music by Cue Shop. Musicians include Sam Clapp, Steven Jackson, Andrew Meriwether, Will Clapp and, our producer, Jesse Dukes. Nicole Pasulka is our fact checker.

Archival recordings in today’s episode are from the Governor Jim Thompson Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Special thanks to Charlie Schlenker. Thanks to Dave Miska and all the Master Control Engineers at WBEZ, and thanks to the WBEZ newsroom for the advice, support, and encouragement. Especially the criminal justice desk which operated with a slimmed down team so we could make this project.

Thanks to Betsy Berger, Marquita Wiggins, Victor Lim, Laura Vergara and everybody who helped us get the word out about this season of Motive. Gratitude to the legal team at Jenner and Block.

And most of all, thanks to everyone who spoke to us for this podcast. Including those voices who were never aired. This is not always easy stuff to talk about. And we are only able to do the work we do because people share information, ideas and stories.

Motive is made possible by listeners like you. Thank you.