Unforgettable Guests Share Updates On Year's Struggles

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In a special end-of-year edition of the weekly BackTalk segment, Tell Me More's "digital media guy" Lee Hill and host Michel Martin catch up with some of the program's more memorable guests from stories featured in 2010. Hear updates on their individual journeys to overcome a year of challenges and loss, having been affected by the Gulf oil spill, joblessness and the struggle to re-enter society after being incarcerated for sexual assault.


And now it's time for Backtalk where we lift the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere and get to hear from you, our listeners.

Lee Hill, our digital media guy is here with me as he is most Fridays. We're continuing with today's year in review theme, and we're doing it Backtalk style, so hey Lee, what's up?

LEE HILL: Hey, Michel. Well, few stories this year captured the attention of the world like the BP oil spill. Now, the deadly explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico back in April was said to be the largest of its kind, and led to one of the biggest environmental disasters is U.S. history.

And back in July, we checked in with Mike Frenette. He was in Venice, Louisiana, which was in the path of the oil spill, and there he owns the Redfish Lodge and operates a charter boat company.

MIKE FRENETTE: It took me 29 years to get this business to the level that it's in now, and our industry is a very strong industry. We've developed this to be the number one sport fishing destination in the country, and one of the top five in the world. And we basically are zeroed out right now.

HILL: And we heard from Mike again the other day just to check in, and Michel, sadly, recovery has been slow.

FRENETTE: For the most part, we're basically starting all over again. We're trying to let people know it's okay to come fishing, but the perception still is very bleak around the country, and all of our business comes from out-of- state customers. I mean, obviously, there may come a point where I'm going to have to make some decisions and some changes but who knows. You can't let it keep you down, because if you do, then you're in serious trouble.

MARTIN: Well, thank you Mike, we appreciate your staying in touch with us. Please do hang in there.

Lee, many people might remember a conversation we had in October on the challenges facing ex-offenders and their families as they try to re-enter society. Back then we introduced (unintelligible) Eugene Nelson. He's a Milwaukee man who served more than 20 years in prison for sexual assault.

He talked about his experiences of trying to find a job and trying to shake the stigma of being a threat to society, even though he's finished his sentence. This is what he had to say back then.

EUGENE NELSON: You can't make a split judgment just based on saying someone was incarcerated for a sexual offense, or someone was incarcerated for this offense. For me, it was discouraging being able to go back out into the work force and be denied an opportunity.

MARTIN: Now, Lee, we have good news to report about Eugene Nelson. He graduated with honors last week, with a degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. He's been accepted to the graduate program at the university, and he starts work on his master's in just a few weeks.

HILL: Congrats, Eugene. And Michel, as far as the economy goes, one word sums up the hardship faced by so many Americans in 2010: jobs, or rather the lack thereof. And back in August, we explained how the unemployment rate for black men was disproportionately higher than that of their white counterparts. And in case you're wondering, the current numbers haven't changed all that much: 16 percent for black men now, and 9 percent for white men.

And in our conversation about that disparity, we introduced listeners to Salamen Harris (ph). He's black, in his late 20's and lives here in the Washington D.C. area. And although he held a bachelor's degree in engineering, and a master's in information technology, what he did not have at the time was a job. Here he is, back in August.

SALAMEN HARRIS: Even though I have the book knowledge, I lack the work experience. But how can I get the work experience if no one's willing to give me a chance?

HILL: Well, things have also turned around for Salamen. I gave him a call this week, Michel, and he filled me in.

HARRIS: I have great news. I've been employed for a little over two months now. I'm currently working as a project manager on a construction project, and it's supposed to be a six-year project. So it looks like I'll be employed for quite some time.

MARTIN: Well, we are very happy for you. Good for you, Salamen. Lee, anything else?

HILL: Well, just one thing. In October, we reported on the case of the Scott sisters. The Mississippi siblings Jamie and Gladys were convicted in 1994 for their part in an armed robbery which made them $11 richer. A jury imposed two life sentences on the women for luring two men down a road where they were then robbed by three others.

Now, the other three pleaded guilty and were only sentenced to ten months. The Scott sisters' case prompted national cries of injustice. Well, Wednesday, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour suspended the prison terms for the women.

He released an order that reads quote, "The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society," end quote. However, one condition of release for Gladys Scott, she has to donate a kidney to her sister Jamie who is on daily dialysis.

MARTIN: Well, Lee, thank you for all those updates. And you know what, happy New Year to you.

HILL: Happy New Year to you too, Michel.

MARTIN: And remember with TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Please remember to leave your name, or you can go to NPR.org, click on Programs, then on TELL ME MORE and blog that out.

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