Longform Philly

Month: January, 2015

‘I Want to Kill Him’

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Mark Kram Jr. | Philadelphia Daily News | 2002

Cold fear gripped George Khalid Jones as he boarded the Acela Express in Newark that summery day last July. Over and over he pondered: What would people say when he showed up in Washington at the funeral? Would they spot him in the crowded church and whisper among themselves, “There he is. The guy who did it!” He could feel their eyes upon him, the anger, the accusation, welling up from behind shiny pools of tears. And what would the widow say when she saw him? Would she become hysterical and scream, “You killed my husband! You killed my husband!” She would be there with her three children, suddenly fatherless because of him. How could he ever face them? How could he ever face any of them?

“George, come along with me to the funeral,” Lou Duva, his promoter, had told him. “View the body, see the family, and go to the reception. Go down there and let people see you.”

Two weeks had passed since Jones had stopped Beethavean “Honey Bee” Scottland in the tenth and final round of their light-heavyweight bout aboard the retired aircraft carrier USS Intrepid on the Hudson River in New York. Carried unconscious from the ring on a stretcher, Scottland underwent two surgeries at Bellevue Hospital Center: the first to gauge the pressure building up in his brain, the second to drain blood in an effort to relieve that pressure. He lingered in a coma for six days, during which Jones  found himself overwhelmed with an ever-deepening anxiety. Nightmares filled what few hours of sleep he could get, spooky harbingers of the phone call that would finally come on July 2: Scottland was deat at age twenty-six of a subdural hematoma, a rupture of the veins between the brain and the skull. Uncertain if he could bring himself to attend the funeral seven days later, if only because of the profound shame that had enveloped him, he agreed when Duva told him simply, “George, this is the right thing to do.”

Writer bio: Mark Kram Jr. was a senior sports writer specializing in feature stories for the Philadelphia Daily News for 26 years. In 2013, Kram received the the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing for his book, “Like Any Normal Day,” about the impact of a debilitating injury on two brothers’ lives.

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Meet the original Snowdens

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Steve Volk | Philadelphia Magazine | January 2015

John Raines sat in the family station wagon, parked in a dark lot on the Swarthmore campus, waiting to see if his wife would return to him, or if police lights would appear, flashing doom. In years past, he and Bonnie had sat together on this same front seat, three kids lining the back bench, and driven to his parents’ vacation house near Lake Michigan. Even now, back in Germantown, those three children slept soundly. Would they wake to find empty spaces where their parents used to be? Raines passed a couple of hours like this, his mind a crazy haze of worry, till finally a car drew near and he realized that it was Bonnie.

The night of March 8, 1971, had passed so slowly. Now he needed to speed up. Raines flung open his door, popped the trunk, and helped transfer four heavy suitcases from this arriving car to his own — all part of their meticulous getaway plan. Once Bonnie was beside him in the passenger seat, he drove, glancing anxiously in the rearview mirror.

The Raineses brought all this on themselves, after plotting to rob an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, motivated by their intention to stop the Vietnam War. The burglars, a total of eight Philadelphia peace activists, had planned this action for months on the third floor of the Raineses’ home. Now, the deed done, they came together in four separate cars at a small Quaker farmhouse just a few miles from the scene of the crime. They opened a bag of sandwiches and bottles of beer. Then they donned gloves and divided up what they’d stolen — a trove of 1,000 files from the FBI’s own offices.

No one remembers who shouted first. But someone started reading aloud from a memo urging FBI agents to increase interviews of anti-war activists and student protest groups. “It will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles,” the document stated, “and will further serve to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”

J. Edgar Hoover, they’d find, had ordered surveillance of anyone who’d expressed views critical of the Vietnam War or espoused civil rights, of hippies, intellectuals and black people. Much of the country still regarded Hoover as a heroic figure. But the truth, which the burglars now held in their hands, was that he’d run the bureau as a political suppression unit.

As dawn neared, Bonnie drove her husband to a pay phone outside a gas station near Chestnut Hill. John called a reporter at Reuters and anonymously announced the burglary, reading from a statement he’d led in crafting. A break-in had been mounted, he intoned, by a group calling itself “The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI.”

Raines got back in the car, settling into the passenger seat as Bonnie drove home. He breathed deeply. And somewhere along Lincoln Drive, all the anxiety he’d felt disappeared, quickly replaced by a sense of relief, of joy. John Raines filled the station wagon with his great, resonant laugh. He cackled. He hooted. He tore the announcement he’d read to the reporter into pieces, rolled down his window, and sent the bits of paper spiraling out into the air — a secret, celebratory confetti whirling in the wind of Fairmount Park.

The Temple University professor and his wife planned, like the other burglars, to get the documents they’d stolen to the press and disappear — to take their role in this story to their graves. But sometimes even the gravest of secrets lasts long enough to take on new life — to be revealed, and wielded, in the waging of an old war.

Writer bio: Steve Volk is a writer-at-large for Philadelphia Magazine. Volk, a University of Florida graduate, wrote for alt-weeklies in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for 20 years. He is one of the city’s foremost narrative journalists.

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Leaving Penn to find herself

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Sarah Smith | The Daily Pennsylvanian | October 2014

The first step is the website ad: $10 for each post and $10 more each day to promote it. The cost adds up, but the payoff more than covers the investment. Jara Krys’ payoff comes at $300 per hour, non-negotiable.

The next step is a mutual vetting by phone. Cops ask too much, and some men just want to get off on the sound of her voice. The man on the other end of Jara’s phone paid for three hours on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. He told her to meet him at a hotel on 17th Street.

When the three hours were up, Jara walked from the hotel back to her University City apartment, with a stop at Wawa to pick up spicy chicken fingers, Slim Jims, Red Vines and one doughnut. At home, she settled in for her version of the post-coital cigarette: multiplayer-online game DotA 2. Midway through the game, her phone rang. It was the man she just left sad-eyed in the hotel room.

“I want to see you again,” he said, asking her to come back to the hotel.

He paid $1,200 for an overnight, and Jara abandoned her game to make her way back down to 17th Street.

“I only got two hours of sleep that night. I don’t know how I made it through the day,” Jara said the next week. Not that she regretted it, she added, as she reclined in a chair sipping iced tea. Let Jara talk and she’ll go on tangents for hours, starting with a story of a client that reminds her of a friend that reminds her of a problem in the transgender community. Eventually, she’ll circle back to how her life was before Penn.

If Jara had followed her original plan, she’d be a senior in Penn’s Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business, set to graduate next May. If Jara had stayed as she was freshman year, she’d still be a man named Christian Jaramillo, afraid to explore why she was drawn to dresses and ashamed to tell anyone that she’d turned to sex work for money. Since then, she’s accepted her identity as transgender and gone from male to an androgynous gender to more feminine. She talks about a career as an international sex worker as a real possibility. No matter what, she’s sure that she’ll be well-known in the future.

“If you want to be an icon,” she said, “you have to start somewhere.”

Writer bio: Sarah Smith, a native of Marblehead, Massachusetts, is a senior studying English and political science at the University of Pennsylvania; however, she spends a majority of her time reporting for The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s independent student newspaper. She previously interned at POLITICO and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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