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The Best American Newspaper Narratives, Volume 3 (Number 3 in the Mayborn Best American Newspaper Narrative Series)

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This anthology collects the ten winners of the 2014 Best American Newspaper Narrative Writing Contest, run by the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. The event is hosted by the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas. The contest honors exemplary narrative work and encourages narrative nonfiction storytelling at newspapers across the United States.  First place winner: Dan Barry, "The Boys in the Bunkhouse," published by The New York Times, exposed thirty years of physical and mental abuse of intellectually disabled men living in an Iowa group home.  Second place: Christopher Goffard, "The Favor," published by the Los Angeles Times, describes the plea bargain sentence of the son of a former California assembly speaker, after the son pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, and whose prison sentence was later reduced by then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Third place: Stephanie McCrummen, "A Father’s Scars," published by the Washington Post, about a Virginia state senator one year after he was stabbed multiple times by his mentally ill son before the son killed himself.  Runners-up include Nathan Bomey, John Gallagher and Mark Stryker, "How Detroit was Reborn" (Detroit Free Press); Monica Hesse, "Love and Fire" (Washington Post); Sarah Schweitzer, "Chasing Bayla" (Boston Globe); Sarah Kleiner Varble, "Then the Walls Closed In" (The Virginian Pilot); Joanne Kimberlin and Janie Bryant, "Dangerous Minds" (The Virginian Pilot); Molly Harbarger, "Fred Nelligan" (The Oregonian); and Mark Johnson, "Murray's Problem" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

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The “Boys” in the Bunkhouse

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The “Boys” in the Bunkhouse: The New York Times / By Dan Barry

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The “Boys” in the Bunkhouse

The New York Times

March 9, 2014

By Dan Barry

Waterloo, Iowa

A man stands at a bus stop. He wears bluejeans, cowboy boots, and a name tag pinned like a badge to his red shirt. It says: Clayton Berg, dishwasher, county sheriff’s office.

He is 58, with a laborer’s solid build, a preference to be called Gene and a whisper-white scar on his right wrist. His backpack contains a jelly sandwich, a Cherry Coke and a comforting pastry treat called a

Duchess Honey Bun.

The Route 1 bus receives him, then resumes its herky-jerky journey through the northeastern Iowa city of Waterloo, population 68,000. He stares into the panoramic blur of ordinary life that was once so foreign to him.

Mr. Berg comes from a different place.

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For more than 30 years, he and a few dozen other men with intellectual disabilities — affecting their reasoning and learning — lived in a dot of a place called Atalissa, about 100 miles south of here. Every morning before dawn, they were sent to eviscerate turkeys at a processing plant, in return for food, lodging, the occasional diversion and $65 a month.

 

The Favor: Los Angeles Times / By Christopher Goffard

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The Favor

Los Angeles Times

A Two-Part Series, December 21, 23, 2014

By Christopher Goffard

Would Power Trump Justice?

* A stabbing on a college campus leaves a student dead. One of the accused is the son of a former

Assembly speaker. The victim’s family hopes that won't matter.

First of two parts

A young man’s grave sits on a cemetery hill. To reach it, his parents drive through serene, graciously shaded neighborhoods where they see him still. As a toddler, throwing bread to the ducks. As a sixth-grader, on a razor scooter. As a lanky teenager with a cocky sideways smile.

Fred Santos, the father, steers his Toyota Prius into Oakmont Memorial

Park in the Bay Area suburb of Lafayette and follows the road to the

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summit. He parks amid the pines and oaks. He carries sunflowers as he and his wife, Kathy, walk to the spot.

LUIS FELIPE WATSON DOS SANTOS

June 27, 1986—October 4, 2008

 

The Favor

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A Father’s Scars: For Creigh Deeds, Tragedy Leaves Unending Questions: The Washington Post / By Stephanie McCrummen

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A Father’s Scars: For Creigh Deeds,

Tragedy Leaves Unending Questions

The Washington Post

November 2, 2014

By Stephanie McCrummen

HE WAKES UP, and even before he opens his eyes, he can see his beautiful, delusional son.

Gus, Creigh Deeds thinks.

He lies in bed a few minutes more, trying to conjure specific images.

Gus dancing. Gus playing the banjo. Gus with the puppies. Any images of Gus other than the final ones he has of his 24-year-old, mentally ill son attacking him and then walking away to kill himself, images that intrude on his days and nights along with the questions that he will begin asking himself soon, but not yet. A few minutes more. Gus fishing. Gus looking at him. Gus smiling at him. Time to start the day.

He gets out of bed, where a piece of the shotgun he had taken apart in those last days of his son’s life is still hidden under the mattress. He goes outside to feed the animals, first the chickens in the yard and then the horses in the red-sided barn. He leads the blind thoroughbred outside

 

A Father’s Scars For Creigh Deeds, Tragedy Leaves Unending Questions

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How Detroit Was Reborn The Inside Story of Detroit’s Historic Bankruptcy Case

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How Detroit Was Reborn: The Inside Story of Detroit’s Historic Bankruptcy Case: Detroit Free Press / By Nathan Bomey, John Gallagher, and Mark Stryker

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How Detroit Was Reborn: The Inside Story of Detroit’s Historic Bankruptcy Case

Detroit Free Press

November 9, 2014

By Nathan Bomey, John Gallagher, and Mark Stryker

City rises from horrific debt to incredible hope

U.S. District Chief Judge Gerald Rosen wondered what the hell he’d gotten himself into.

Rosen was in Florida in August 2013 for a quick golf vacation but was rising before dawn each day to read Detroit’s massive plan to restructure its debt. The numbers were horrific: $18 billion in liabilities, 78,000 blighted buildings, four of every 10 dollars already devoted to debt, pensions and retiree health care.

Thousands of elderly retirees were facing deep pension cuts—their livelihoods. Detroit's world-class art museum was at risk of losing its treasured pieces in a fire sale. The city needed hundreds of millions of dollars just to begin to climb out of the hole.

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Rosen, the appointed federal mediator in the city’s historic bankruptcy case, picked up his pen and doodled an idea on the cardboard back of a legal pad. He wrote “art” and drew a box around it, representing protection for the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts and its billions of dollars in masterpieces.

 

Love and Fire: The Washington Post / By Monica Hesse

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Love and Fire

The Washington Post

April 10, 2014

By Monica Hesse

In Virginia’s rural Accomack County, a troubled romance was behind a string of 77 arsons

Accomack County, Va. —The corn was harvested, and the field was a dirty sort of brown.

Deborah Clark would think about that later, how at a different time of year she wouldn’t have seen anything until it was too late.

A friend had come over to her house in Parksley, Va., once the kids from Clark’s living-room day care went home. He left about 10:30 that

Monday evening, but a few minutes later knocked on her door again.

“Hey,” he told her. “That house across the field is on fire.”

She knew which one he was talking about. It had been a nice house once: two stories, white paint. But now it was empty, and it had a peeled, beaten look to it. It had been a long time since anyone lived there, so she

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couldn’t think of how it could have caught fire — except that it was so dry that maybe the weather had something to do with it.

 

Love and Fire

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Chasing Bayla

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Chasing Bayla: Boston Globe / By Sarah Schweitzer

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Chasing Bayla

Boston Globe

Oct. 25, 2014

By Sarah Schweitzer

“Thirty meters,” Dr. Michael Moore called out.

Moore braced himself against the steel of the Zodiac’s platform tower as the boat closed in on the whale in the heaving Florida waters. Through the rangefinder, he could see the tangled mass of ropes cinched tightly around her. It was impossible to tell where the ropes began and where they ended.

This much he knew. The ropes were carving into her. Bayla was in pain.

He was tempted to look away. It was almost too much to see.

Her V-shaped spray erupted then disappeared into a mist as she slipped beneath the surface. A spot-plane circling overhead radioed. They could still see her silhouette. She hadn’t gone deep.

“Get in close if you can,” Moore said to the boat’s driver.

Bayla would come up again soon.

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Then he would have his chance.

For nearly three decades Moore had dedicated himself to North Atlantic right whales like Bayla. He knew every inch of their anatomy, every detail of the strange and glorious physiology that made them so astoundingly powerful and so utterly defenseless against the ropes.

 

Then the Walls Closed In: The Virginian-Pilot / By Sarah Kleiner Varble

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Then the Walls Closed In

The Virginian-Pilot

June 29, 2014

By Sarah Kleiner Varble

Part 1 of 4

Patrick Ryan arrived home from work one day to find his wife glaring at him over the second-floor banister.

Their month-old daughter was stripped to her diaper.

“Something's wrong with the air conditioner,” his wife yelled. “It's

85 degrees up here.”

It was August 2006, and Jennifer Ryan was on maternity leave with their firstborn. Patrick was puzzled. The unit in their new house in Isle of Wight County was only 3 months old.

A couple of years later in Virginia Beach, Liz and Steve Heischober were having a different kind of trouble.

Liz used to stay up until midnight, but she had begun drifting off to sleep after dinner. Her doctors couldn't explain her fatigue.

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Night after night, as his wife slept in her chair, Steve gave her a nudge and said he was going up to bed. Sometimes, he'd come downstairs hours later and find that she hadn't budged.

 

Then the Walls Closed In

ePub

 

Dangerous Minds/Insane System: The Virginian-Pilot / By Joanne Kimberlin and Janie Bryant

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Dangerous Minds/Insane System

The Virginian-Pilot

April 27, 2014

By Joanne Kimberlin and Janie Bryant

Part 1 of 3

Bruce Williams couldn't sleep. It was after midnight and quiet in his

Portsmouth apartment complex.

Quiet, except for the voices in his head.

He'd told people about them—the way they shrieked for violence, his fear they'd win.

It's all there in his records. In the long lists of diagnoses, including schizophrenia. In the ominous references to homicidal thoughts. In at least 20 warnings, relayed by Williams himself.

Those voices had led him to kill before.

There was a time when someone like that would have been locked up in a mental institution.

Not anymore.

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On that restless winter night in 2011, Williams lay down, but the voices would give him no peace. He left his apartment, walked down the hall, stepped into the elevator and pushed No. 4.

 

Dangerous Minds/Insane System

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Fred Nelligan: The Oregonian / By Molly Harbarger

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Fred Nelligan

The Oregonian

Nov. 12, 2014

By Molly Harbarger

In the grip of ALS, Fred Nelligan struggled with when to use Oregon's Death with Dignity law

As the man on the television screen charged up Mount St. Helens, the room fell silent. Off screen, Fred Nelligan sat in his maroon armchair, silently sobbing, his body atrophied and thin.

The September 2013 climb was possibly the last time Nelligan stood truly in his element—surrounded by friends, enjoying the physical accomplishment, soaking up nature.

Despite his robust presence in a video Nelligan shared with friends at his Milwaukie-area home last month, the longtime outdoorsman had struggled to keep up that day. Climbing the slope with his GoPro camera, he could see the backs of his friends grow smaller as they neared the summit.

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Maybe, he thought at the time, it was age. At 60, Nelligan was at least

10 years older than most of his climbing partners. Maybe it was his 40pound pack. As a volunteer in the backcountry and a search and rescue veteran, Nelligan always climbed with a full load of emergency supplies.

 

Fred Nelligan

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