Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Vermont Public Radio 2018 Murrow Entry: Excellence In Writing

Artist Lois Eby, farmer Greg Cox and Supreme Court Associate Justice Marilyn Skoglund.
Amy Noyes/Nina Keck/Angela Evancie

Every month, VPR's people-powered journalism project, Brave Little State, takes on a listener question about Vermont. Its answers come in long-form audio documentaries that consistently draw the listener in and hold her attention with snappy writing. 

The three excerpts in this entry are from stories that answer the following questions: 1) "Those aging hippies who moved to Vermont...Where are they now?" 2) "Why are there so many African-Americans incarcerated in Vermont? Is the rate higher here than in other states?" 3) "What's it like to hike the Long Trail?"

Excerpt #1: Those Aging Hippies Who Moved To Vermont...Where Are They Now?

Find the full episode here

Angela: Picture a young woman in the 1970s. Long brown hair and a definitive counter-culture style.

Marilyn: This is when I was pregnant with my child you know wearing a tablecloth with fringe and being this, you know, Hippie-Hippie royalty thing. // And here was the day I decided that if I was going to eat meat I had to learn to kill my own chicken.

Angela: Marilyn Skoglund is going through old photos of herself, from around the time when she lived in the orbit of Goddard College, in Plainfield. She came here with her then-husband in 1973.

Marilyn: Duncan was teaching painting and printmaking and drawing at Goddard College. // And I had this adorable little baby. // We rented this fabulous little tiny shepherd's cottage in the middle of this 500-acre dairy farm. No insulation, wood heat. But the farmer was fabulous. I mean we grew a huge garden of vegetables and he'd give us. I'd go dip raw milk out of the bulk tank and you know he'd give us a chicken once in a while and it was a lovely way to live.

Angela: It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and Marilyn and her fellow hippies wanted to make art and reject materialism and live sensibly...

[auto-harp music fades up thru next act]

Marilyn: ... do well by our neighbours and honor the earth and all those lovely ideals that we all came with back then. // To give you an idea of how much of a hippie culture we had embraced. I played I was playing the autoharp harp at that point and I had handmaid a sheepskin autoharp case which we would tuck our daughter into on the floor while we played music at the Grange. I mean it was great. It was just great. (Angela: I actually don't know what an autoharp is. How is it different from a … it's like maybe my music teacher played one?) Yes exactly. Very very mountain Ozark Mountain kind of thing.

Angela: But, that was then. And now?

VT SUPCO tape: [Gavel] Good morning your honors, the matter before the court this morning is the case entitled…[fades under]

Angela: Well, things are little a different now.

Marilyn, on bench: What bothers me here is your argument that the commission was properly declined to exercise its discretion in favor of an opportunity to …. [Fades under]

Angela: This is tape from an oral argument that the Vermont Supreme Court heard in April. Where Marilyn Skoglund, formerly a raw milk-drinking autoharp-playing hippie mama -- is an associate justice.

This month on the podcast, where those hippies are now.

[original Brave Little State theme drops]

Excerpt #2: Why Are There So Many African Americans Incarcerated In Vermont? (And Is The Rate Higher Here Than In Other States?)

Credit Paul Hayes / Caledonian Record, courtesy
Caledonian Record, courtesy
Corey Jones, shown here in St. Johnsbury while on furlough in early 2018, is serving up to three years in the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. He says he's been targeted by law enforcement since he came to Vermont in 2013.

Find the full episode here

Angela: We’re gonna take the second part of Rosie’s question first, about the *rate* of African American incarceration in Vermont.

Rosie: Is the rate higher here in Vermont than most other states?

Angela: Short answer? Yes.

Ashley: So, you know, it's an outlier for sure.

[Music: Blue Dot Sessions: Three Stories]

Angela: This is Ashley Nellis.

Ashley: I'm a senior research analyst at The Sentencing Project.

Angela: The Sentencing Project is a research and advocacy group in Washington, D.C. And Ashley Nellis is the author of a 2016 report called --

Ashley: The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons.

Angela: So how does Vermont measure up?

Ashley: Right, so in Vermont it actually has the highest rate in the country of adult black male incarceration. // And it has the third highest rate of incarceration for African-Americans overall.

Angela: The third highest rate of incarceration for African-Americans in the country, according to Ashley’s report. Vermont was just behind Wisconsin and Oklahoma. Here are some other ways to wrap your head around the numbers. You can compare Vermont to the rest of the country:

Ashley: Nationally the ratio is about 5 to 1 black:white incarceration. And in Vermont it's more than 10 to one.

Angela: Or you can think in terms of our state’s population:

Ashley: Only 1 per cent of the population in Vermont is African-American but 11 percent of its prison population is black.

Angela: Now, while we were reporting this episode Vermont’s Department of Corrections published *newer* numbers from 2017. Those show a small decrease in the percentage of black inmates in Vermont -- from 11 percent down to 8.5 percent. But when Ashley ran the numbers in 2016, Vermont’s ratio of black-white incarceration was higher than Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.

Ashley: The data in Vermont is striking because the black incarceration is so much higher than the national average and of its neighboring states. So it's you know it is very curious.

Angela: What the Sentencing Project report doesn’t tell us is where these African American inmates are from. How many are Vermont residents versus those arrested while visiting or passing through? That’s the subject of ongoing research — and we’ll get back to it later on.

[phone rings]

Operator: Northern State Correctional Facility, Officer [unintelligible]

Amy: Hi, it’s Attorney Amy Davis, I’m calling to speak with my client Corey Jones…[more tape of processing call]

Amy: Hey, Corey? // Corey: Hey. // Amy: Hey, it’s Amy. They wouldn’t let Angela into the facility, so we’re sitting outside in my car, and want to do the interview over the phone. Is that OK? // Corey: Yeah, that’s fine. // Angela: Hey Corey, it’s Angela, can you hear me OK? // Corey: Yeah I can hear you. Sorry about all the background noise, there’s a lot of people.

Angela: Corey Jones is serving time in the Northern State Correctional Facility, in Newport. We’re talking over bluetooth in Amy Davis’s Subaru.

Amy: I’ve worked with him for, I don't know Corey, what, two years now?

Angela: Corey is servingup to three years, for distributing $40 worth of heroin. He was arrested in St. Johnsbury in 2016 as part of a big series of controlled buys -- basically sting operations. He maintains his innocence.

Corey: I had my Supreme Court thing today, too. I don’t know -- you wouldn’t hear anything about that, would you, Amy?

Amy: Oh, you had your argument today?  // Corey: Yeah. // Amy: Did you get to go? // Corey: No. // Amy: Oh, shocker. // Corey: Didn’t get to go, didn’t get to participate by phone, or nothing.

SUPCO tape: Justice: Good afternoon...[Gavel] Good afternoon your honors. The matter before the court this afternoon is the case entitled State of Vermont vs Jones...

Angela: The Vermont Defender General’s Office has appealed Corey Jones’ case to the Vermont Supreme Court, arguing that the jury convicted him based on insufficient evidence. The attorney arguing the case, a woman named Dawn Matthews, also suggested there was bias involved. Corey is black.

Dawn Matthews: In light of the statistics and our continuing history of racism both in this country and in this state, a judge has to be especially alert in a drug case with very weak facts … [fades to bed]

Angela: Her argument was basically Implicit Bias 101.

Dawn Matthews: It’s not just judges. It’s prosecutors, it’s defense attorneys, it’s courtroom staff, it’s jurors. It’s everybody that has this kind of shorthand that works in our brains where we have a tendency to associate people of color with crime without even realizing we’re doing it.

Corey: I have had nothing but problems with St. Johnsbury.

Angela: Corey Jones says he experienced more than bias almost as soon as he got to St. Johnsbury, in 2013. He’d moved from Florida to be near his sister in Danville, and he was looking for a job and apartment in town. He says someone on the street called him the N-word, and he ended up getting in a fight, and then on law enforcement’s radar.

Corey: ...And it just went from there …

Angela: Corey mentions one instance outside a Dunkin' Donuts.

Corey: ...Smoked a cigarette outside of Dunkin Donuts, I’m “loitering.” Well, I just bought a coffee!

Angela: His misdemeanor charges and convictions piled up. Simple assault, violating conditions of release, violating a trespass notice...Headlines in the local paper would refer to him by name, like a person of infamy.

Corey: Now, on paper, I look like some menace in St. Johnsbury. And I just don’t feel that’s a clear representation of who I am. I’m 43 years old and I’ve got more charges in Vermont, in a year that I’ve been on the street, than I had my whole life in Florida.

I don’t know. I just don’t feel like this state -- I feel like there’s some kind of stigmatism or stereotype of up here, because it’s not a very racially diverse state. Had I known that -- I didn’t like look it up to see, this state’s 93.3 percent white, and I’m gonna come up here and start my life over, I didn’t look at that situation -- I didn’t think it would be a situation -- I’m biracial as it is. My mother’s white, my father’s black and they’ve been together my whole life.

Excerpt #3: What's It Like To Hike The Long Trail?

Find the full story here.

Alec: Hi, day 3. All is well, having a great time. But it is raining, and rain is in the forecast for a long time.

Angela: We here at Brave Little State sadly could not thru-hike the Long Trail to answer Eliza’s question. So we were thrilled to meet Alec Fleischer, because he documented his own journey super well.

Alec: So the plan is probably to camp at the base of Stratton Mountain. I could go up it and down it to a shelter, which would be nice in the rain.

Angela: In every video he takes, Alec is wearing the same blue Under Armor t-shirt. He films himself, then he turns his camera toward the trail, and we can see him moving slowly through what thru-hikers call the green tunnel. Just a narrow trail surrounded by dense woods. The occasional tree has a white blaze painted on its bark -- that’s how Alec knows he’s on the Long Trail. And he pretty much … just … walks.

[walking ambi]

Alec: Um, it’s around noon now, a little later, I've been hiking since 8, I don’t know, that’s about it. Signing off for now.

[Music: Blue Dot Sessions: Building the Sled]

Angela: Alec is 21. He grew up in New York City, and he goes to Middlebury College. He just finished a summer job at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and he’s doing this hike before classes start. He’s an environmental policy major, and he is clearly loving his one-on-one time with nature.

Alec: Hello. Day 5? I think it’s Day 5. Um, so we’re in this spruce forest. I figured out the difference between spruce and fir...

Angela: A newt in the trail warrants a quick video:

Alec: Let’s bring you a little off trail. There you go. Good newt.

Angela: More often than not, though, Alec’s captain’s log is about more basic stuff. Things like the weather, and how his body feels.

Alec: So yesterday it was drizzling. I was a little cranky, I had six blisters on one foot. // I feel much better now, hasn’t rained yet today, although the forecast is not great.

Angela: He talks about his forays *off* the trail to restock on food...

Alec: I needed to go into Manchester Center to resupply anyway, and there was this super cool hostel there, 10 out 10 recommend, cheap // cool people, ate a ton of food.

Angela: Talks a lot about food, actually. He films his dinner while it’s cooking:

Alec: So I’m eating some beans. They’re just cooling off now. It was a boil-in-bag rice thing …

Angela: And he tells stories about strangers giving him food:

Alec: I was low on food, well not low but starting to ration, // So I was about to go to bed hungry, and I got up and there was this Boston College orientation trip and of course they had extra food. So I begged, and it worked, got some pancakes. And they also gave me a bag of granola, which I still have, [bleep]ing love granola. Nothin’ better.  

Angela: And he tries to psych himself up for hard sections of the trail:

Alec: So I am right now south of Mt. Abe. That is Mt. Abe. // Oh, wow, that’s a hike [laughs] // Oh man, oh man. OK, I can do it. I can do it easily. It’s just work. It’s just hard. // This is treacherous.

Angela: And then there are these moments of seeming bliss, usually at the end of the day, or on top of a mountain.

Alec: I just took a nap here, and really really don’t want to leave. It’s [bleep]ing gorgeous.

Angela: This video shows Alec’s legs splayed out on the rocks near Mount Grant. He’s got a clear, panoramic view.

Alec: This is a world-class view, right here in Vermont. Plus it’s beautiful temperature, it’s warm, sunny and windy. Man. Heaven.

Latest Stories