Criminal Justice Reform Advocate
"Find what no one knows is missing.
Lend a voice to those who have none.
Embrace a cause for which some will hate you.
Encourage hope, love and understanding for those society condemns."
TEDx talk, Nov. 2022
...................................... New Stories ..................................
The Crime of
Reform advocates call for stronger oversight of Virginia’s prison system
After his arrest in April 2015 for stealing $5.05 of candy, 24-year-old Jamycheal Mitchell — repeatedly diagnosed as psychotic and delusional — starved to death over four months, alone in a cell at Hampton Roads Regional Jail.
A federal lawsuit filed by Mitchell’s aunt states that, “by the time Mitchell died — officially, of a heart condition ‘accompanying wasting syndrome of unknown etiology’ — jail staff had allegedly denied him many meals, cut off the water to his cell and left him naked with no bedding or shoes as he smeared feces on the window of his urine-covered cell … citing numerous inmates who served time with Mitchell.” The lawsuit was settled for $3 million in 2019.
Click the image for my story in the January, 2024 issue of Richmond Magazine on the call for better prison oversight in Virginia.
The Secret Word was 'Anarchy'
How four Richmond art students became an essential part of the debut season of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”
We can rightly consider it the most insanely innovative program in Saturday morning television history. And with the recent death of creator Paul Reubens, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” is drawing renewed attention to the show and the Richmond talents who helped create it.
Click on Phil Trumbo's dinosaur to read my 9-23-2023 story in StyleWeekly.com on the remarkable Richmonders involved in season one of the show.
A Follow-up to
Somehow, a copy of the January 2022 issue of Richmond magazine containing my story “The Unbroken” made its way inside the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, then into the hands of Shebri Stacey Dillon (inset, left), an inmate serving a 30-year sentence for nonviolent white-collar crimes. “The story shook me,” she explains in an email from prison.
Dillon had to thank Arey for telling his story. Her daughter located the address of his former real estate
office, and she mailed him a thank-you note. “I just wanted him to know that he made an impact on me,” she says. “I will never forget his struggles or what he had proven with his success.”
And then, something amazing started happening.
Click the photo to read my follow-up feature story to "The Unbroken" in the Dec. 2022 edition of Richmond Magazine.
Eat Your Art
Artist and Sweet Fix Bakery owner Amanda Robinson perches cross-legged on the counter of her West 10th Street shop under dozens of filled apothecary jars and starts talking. Loves, likes, dislikes, non-stop ideas, past successes and disappointments, and future aspirations bubble out in an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative.
During a brief lull, I ask her if there is anything she does not do well.
“I won’t wire a house,” she admits after a pause. “I’d kill myself.”
What Robinson does best, however, is create art. And while she is proficient with traditional oil paints, brushes, and canvas, she also utilizes flour, milk, vanilla, eggs, and Italian buttercream to create astonishingly detailed specialty cakes comparable – and even superior to – those seen on television baking shows.
Click on the picture to read my story at Style Weekly, published Nov. 23, 2022.
Fifty years ago, a group of five maximum-security inmates at the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond bucked the commonwealth’s brutal and racist corrections system — and won a significant victory for prisoners nationwide. Calvin Arey, who was one of those inmates, shares his story for the first time.
Click on the picture to read my cover story at Richmond Magazine on the remarkable Calvin Arey, published Jan.. 24, 2022.
"The Unbroken" was awarded first place for open feature story writing in 2022 by the Virginia Press Association.
Lincoln in the Centerfold
IT WAS A CENTERSPREAD. The picture of Lincoln in his coffin buried in the time capsule retrieved from the former Robert E. Lee monument pedestal was not a glass negative worth thousands of dollars. It was the center spread from the April 29, 1865, issue of Harper’s Weekly. And it doesn’t even show Lincoln’s face at all — just a casket labeled with the name “Lincoln.”
Maybe disappointing, but not surprising.
The opening of the copper time capsule evolved into a fascinating distraction. On Dec. 28, national media reporters and photographers momentarily abandoned their endless stories about COVID-19, gas prices, inflation and rancorous politics to jam the conservation lab at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources on Kensington Avenue to record the big reveal of this Confederate relic.
Click on the picture to read my blog post at Richmond Magazine on the Lee Monument time capsule opened in Richmond Dec. 28, 2021.
THE DEATH PENALTY has been Virginia’s longest continuing tradition dating back to 1608, when George Kendall was shot for treason. Since then, Virginia executed 1,390 people. That is more killings than any other state, including Texas.
During the Jim Crow era, Virginia used hangings, then the electric chair, as legal lynching. Mostly young, Black males were frequently convicted in minutes-long trials then rushed into execution, sometimes with no legal counsel, and for such non-homicide crimes as highway robbery, attempted assault, or even scaring a white schoolgirl.
Click on the picture to read my cover story in the March 16, 2021 edition of Richmond's Style Weekly magazine on how Virginia abolished the death penalty.
SEVENTY YEARS AGO, ON MARCH 5, 1951, the decomposed body of an estimated five-year-old boy was found stuffed in a blue denim army duffel bag just south of U.S. 250 near Oilville Virginia, about 26 miles west of Richmond. This little boy was never identified. His mode of death was never publicly divulged. Unbelievably, he was never reported missing and his body never claimed.
Today, his identity and death remain shrouded in secrecy. Click on the picture to read the story.
If you have any information on this tragedy, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"American Grotesk historytelling" at Medium.com here.
SEE AN ALMOST COMPLETE LISTING OF ALL MY ONLINE STORIES AT MUCK RACK
Diamonds in the Rough
“There have been remarkable people creating remarkable myths in Richmond,” poet and cult personality Lester Blackiston wrote in 1969 of a creative renaissance that had begun a decade earlier, in 1959. “At the very center of the region/province/city is the ‘Fan District,’ and the ‘Fan’ is home to the mythmakers of the last decade — and now, the Fan is daily becoming home to another phenomenon, a remarkable community of numerous individuals whose apparent intentions are to set in motion a pattern of artistic and spiritual consequences. These are the seeds of the garden, and it appears that spring is not far away.”
Click the illustration to read this story of the very beginnings of Richmond, Virginia's counterculture scene, in the Nov. 4, 2019 issue of Richmond Magazine .
Excavating the Past
Human remains discovered at the former Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond -- in what is the largest mass burial ever discovered in Virginia -- may include national folk hero, John Henry. As researchers work to identify descendants and find out who these remains may be, the broken bodies tell their own stories.
Click the illustration to read this story in the June 25, 2019 issue of Style Weekly magazine .
Two nukes outside Goldsboro, North Carolina
Declassified documents show that in 1961, the United States Air Force accidentally dropped two armed nuclear bombs near the outskirts of Goldsboro, North Carolina, and came breathtakingly close to melting North Carolina’s east coast.
Click the illustration to read this story.
While the National Weather Service reports Richmond Virginia has more annual “fog days” than Afton Mountain 90 miles to the west, the dense fog between mile markers 99 and 104 on I-64 tends to blow in quickly and remain unusually uniform for long periods of time due to the unique geography of this part of the Blue Ridge.
Motorists in these first few interstate years often slowed to a crawl in visibility sometimes reduced to as far as their hood ornaments, and like their forefathers on Route 250 were even forced to sometimes navigate by opening the driver side door and following the centerline.
Click the illustration to read my Aug. 25, 2018 Staunton News Leader story on Afton's deadly fog. Subscribe to read all my stories there.
A Mystery on Monument Avenue
The pedestal of the Robert E. Lee monument might hold an amazing secret — a legendary and irreplaceable artifact related to President Abraham Lincoln worth upwards of a quarter-million dollars. Or it could be a fake.
Click the photo for my story in the December, 2017 issue of Richmond Magazine
Before Loving there was Kinney
In 1967, Virginia couple Richard and Mildred Loving prevailed in their fight to overturn the ban on interracial marriages in their state, and the 2016 movie "Loving" chronicles their harrowing experiences.
Eighty-seven years earlier, another courageous couple also went to court to try to change Virginia law prohibiting marriages between blacks and whites, but with far less success.
My feature story in USA Today
Click the photo for the story
When Ruth Tinsley resisted a police officer’s order in 1960, a young journalist captured a moment in Richmond civil rights history
Story by Dale Brumfield
Photos by Malcolm Carpenter
Click the photo for the feature story in the January, 2017 issue of Richmond Magazine.
An Executioner's Song
Jerry Givens has carried out the deaths of 62 men, yet walks around a free man.
From 1984 until 1999, this soft-spoken man, living in eastern Henrico County, was Virginia’s official executioner. He performed his duty in anonymity, never telling his friends, family or even his wife, in compliance with the state’s original execution law and an oath of secrecy he and eight of his fellow corrections officers took in 1982 as its first “death team.”
Click the photo for the whole story in the April, 2016 issue of Richmond Magazine.