A few weeks ago, my buddy Kari turned me on to the podcast, Breakdown, by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Bill Rankin, with whom I have fallen in love.
I'm not sure why I have gravitated to the kinds of podcast that show, no pun intended, breakdowns in the criminal justice system across the US. Well, maybe I haven't really thought about why.
I love mystery novels. My sad lack of imagination (thinking about ooey gooey things with Michael Fassbender does not count here, I think) means I will never be a detective but I love seeing how their minds work. As crime novels shifted into including perspectives of the criminal and victim, they got juicer and more fascinating. I love Nordic Noir, cozies, Regency and WW mysteries, anything set in not the US. I have no affection for US crime writers.
I suppose that led into a decent segue into true crime podcasts. I did not care for podcasts. A friend of mine pointed out that there is so much media in the world now and not enough time to address it. He had to abandon podcasts in order to read and watch tv. I have set the reading aside to listen to podcasts and watch tv. Podcasts became essential to my morning commute for the months I had to car it to work because of my foot. I couldn't keep showing up to work with a blistering headache from reading in the car.
I've been trying to remember what came first, listening to Criminal with John on the car ride upstate last year, or Serial. I think it might have been Serial first as I had been hearing about it taking the world by storm in Fall 2014 and I heard in 2016 that Adnan Syed had been granted a new trial. So I binge-listened and was stunned by the insanity that was the Baltimore police and prosecutorial arms. The Wire did not prepare me.
Then came Criminal, which wasn’t really about raw deals, but about, well… criminals! My favorite episode is still The Portrait, episode 25. The blurb on the This Is Criminal website is: "More than eighty years ago, a North Carolina family of nine posed for a Christmas portrait. Two weeks later, all but one of them had been shot dead." I read books about the Lawson family later on. It’s pretty epic.
Anyhoo. Because the internet has to be up in your beewax, I kept getting “recommendations” for other similarly-themed podcasts. I had downloaded NPR One and was listening to Stuff You Missed in History Class, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and stumbled on In the Dark. I am on a one-person mission to get the world to listen to that one. If anyone even mentions they like podcasts, I blurt out, “Listen to In the Dark! It will change your life.” That’s the one that moved me into podcasts about breakdowns in the criminal justice system.
Then came Accused, Up and Vanished, and Someone Knows Something. The last one is Canadian. Then Kari hit me with Breakdown and Bill Rankin. Those 3 seasons of heartbreaking cases are not for the faint of heart. Whether you believe in the guilt or innocence of a person, the lack of fairness in pursuing “justice” is … well… criminal. I can’t imagine being caught up in situation where laziness, tunnel vision, or ineptitude determines my fate forever.
My most recent listen is Undisclosed, a kind of Serial-addendum, if you will. Rabia Chaudry, a family friend of Adnan Syed, was featured in Serial. Rabia found Susan Simpson and Colin Miller from their legal blogs about Syed and Serial, and they created Undisclosed. The first season is about the trial(s – there were 2, the first ended in a mistrial after most of the prosecution’s case), the people, the places, the lawyers, the cell phone evidence, and Susan’s amazing catch about a fax cover sheet that turned the case on its head. It also covered the post-conviction relief hearing and the outcome. I won’t spoil it if you don’t know.
She could not have found 2 better people to podcast with. Rabia brings a lot of heart to the show. She has known Adnan since he was a child and he is her brother’s best friend. She is also a lawyer, although not a criminal one. So she knows things and actually asks Susan and Colin very intelligent questions about procedure.
Susan is amazing. She is unafraid to express her outrage at the State for its misrepresentations. She doesn’t sugar coat her opinions. I like her bluntness and her well-reasoned rants about those misrepresentations.
If I didn’t have Susan Abraham as my Evidence professor at New York Law School, I’d want Colin Miller. He must be an amazing teacher. He brings the legal and his case citations are on point. I really cannot say enough good things about this team. As a lawyer, I find the paths to their conclusions fascinating. I love their passion because I love what I do as well.
Between season 1 and 2, they covered other legal issues related to wrongful convictions. Colin interviewed Bill Rankin and I died dead. I wish I loved research as much as they do because who wouldn’t want to experience the satisfaction they get from the results. I like the kind of in-the-weeds work I do, and I am very fulfilled when I see fruition from my efforts. So I guess I understand why I like these podcasts. I get it.