Best of '16: Jailhouse Lawyer & Citizen Kahn

Dec 27, 2016

The end of the year is a time for reflection, celebration, and for media outlets--Best-of Lists and we are no exception. All this week, we’re presenting our favorite stories and interviews of 2016. Today we revisit a conversation with Derrick Hamilton, a jail house lawyer who fought the wrongful conviction that put him in jail for 21 years. He explains why he still believes in the power of the law.

Then, the story of Zarif Khan, who migrated to America in the early twentieth century and became prosperous and beloved in his Wyoming town, even though the law prevented his citizenship.

All this week, we're revisiting some of the team's favorite segments from the past year. Read some of the reasons why they were chosen below. 

Derrick Hamilton - Jailhouse Lawyer

"It exemplifies a lot of issues within the criminal justice system, it is a personal narrative that is so important to understanding the importance of the issues of criminal justice, and understanding it deeper He was so human, a delight to talk to, and he shared a ton." -Jimmy   

For someone who never went to law school, Derrick Hamilton has a pretty good record. He learned about the law while serving time for a murder that he didn't commit. Hamilton is well known among so-called jailhouse lawyers. He filed federal complaints against inhumane treatment of inmates, and helped others obtain hearings in addition to fighting his own conviction - which was vacated after 21 years on the inside.

Soon after leaving prison, Hamilton had met Ilya Novofastovsky, a civil attorney with an interest in wrongful convictions. Novofastovsky runs the Novo Law Firm, in Manhattan, and Hamilton urged him to start the Novo Innocence Project – he now works at the law firm as a paralegal.

We read about Hamilton in a profile called "Home Free" by the New Yorker reporter-at-large Jennifer Gonnerman.     

Listen to this segment again at this link

Saying Goodbye to Hollywood Park

 "I loved the storytelling in this piece, David really captures the essence of this park closing down and what that means to the people that work there." -Logan

In 2013 one of the oldest horse racing tracks, Hollywood Park, closed its doors. Producer David Weinberg brings us the story of the rise and fall of one of America's most iconic landmarks.

A quick update on the story: While the horses ran their last race at Hollywood Park in December of 2013, off-track betting continued at the site. Now Hollywood Park will be getting a dramatic face lift. Last month the NFL voted to move the Saint Louis Rams back to Los Angeles where an 80,000 seat football stadium will be built on the former racetrack's site.  

You can listen to this story again at PRX.org

Citizen Kahn

"Like many people, I was shocked by the vehement and threatening language being used to describe and being used to other-ize immigrants, so getting some historical perspective on that experience really intrigued me. And I’ve always admired the long form work of Kathryn Schulz…but the thing is that even dogged, great print reporters don’t always make terrific storytellers. Kathryn Schulz does, fortunately." - Virginia 

In fall of 2015, members of a small Muslim population in Wyoming came together and bought a house in the northeastern town of Gillette with the goal of turning it into a mosque - the third in the state. A group called "Stop Islam in Gillette" emerged and responded with protests and threats of violence - arousing the interest of the FBI. It's by now a familiar narrative - local groups rejecting foreigners and newcomers - but in this case, the Muslim community is neither foreign nor new. Many trace their roots back to the frontier- era American West and have been considered locals in Gillette for far longer than some of those now openly harassing them. 

Kathryn Schulz won a Pulitzer Prize for her feature on the seismic risk in the Pacific Northwest. She is a staff writer for the New Yorker, where we read her article, "Citizen Khan"  - a profile of Zarif Kahn, the successful businessman and patriarch of what is today nearly 20% of Wyoming's Muslim population.

Listen to this segment again at this link.