2017 Story of the Year

Isolation rooms are seen at Solid Rock Ministries on Spring Hill Ave. and Ann Street are pictured in Mobile, Ala. (Sharon Steinmann/

This story recently won 2017 Story of the Year from the Alabama Press Association, as well as Best News Feature.

Lucas Greenfield was prepared to scale the razor-wire topped fence surrounding Restoration Youth Academy if it meant his freedom.
While an instructor was busy, Greenfield seized his chance. He was nearly out the door when another student ratted him out. His punishment for the attempted escape was “isolation,” an empty 8×8 room lit by a lone bulb that burned overhead day and night.


The blog post shortly after it ran.


Child welfare, Health

Black babies die at 3x the rate of white babies in Alabama

An overall improvement in infant mortality rates in Alabama may appear as welcome news, but there are troubling findings within recent state health reports. The gap between infant mortality rates for black and white babies in Alabama is huge – and it’s growing. Black babies in Alabama died at three times the rate of white babies in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available.

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Mo Brooks outspoken in Senate run: ‘I believe we need another Jeff Sessions’


Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks announces his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Huntsville, Ala. on May 15, 2017. (Bob Gathany/

To understand Congressman Mo Brooks, it’s helpful to understand the man he almost became. In the early 1970s, Brooks was a student at Grissom High School in Huntsville, Ala. It was the final days of the Space Race and his father had moved the family from South Carolina to take an electrical engineering job on Redstone Arsenal.


Health, Maternal health, Uncategorized

Facing lack of birth choices, an Alabama nurse heads for the border

Jessica Thompson didn’t take her eyes off the glowing dashboard clock as her husband sped their minivan through the night, heading north on a deserted country highway somewhere in Lauderdale County. The contractions were two minutes apart now, on the dot.

She tried to focus on breathing. It was just after 4 a.m. on a mild April morning.


Child welfare

86 kids hospitalized for food poisoning at day care, Alabama could change church loophole

When Angela Foster arrived at the Sunnyside Child Care Center to pick up her kids on June 23, 2015, she found the front door locked and the window shades drawn. That wasn’t normal.

A line of parents snaked down the narrow sidewalk in front of the day care, waiting to pick up their children.

Something’s not right, she thought.

Foster had arrived about 3 p.m. to pick up her son, daughter and two grandsons from a summer program run by the day care, which operated in a tiny strip mall in West Montgomery, a few miles from her house.

It was hot outside – 92 degrees by the time she arrived, though the heat index was nearly 100. Some of the parents decided to go around back to see if they could get in that way. Foster followed.

A child, about 11 or 12, was at the back door, letting parents in. Nobody asked for Foster’s ID. She could hear children crying inside.

When she walked in, the stench was overpowering. As her eyes adjusted to the dim interior, she saw chaos.


Child welfare, Education

Christian boot camps and Alabama loopholes

storyI spent a couple of months researching and interviewing for this piece, which I posted last week.

Former students share harrowing stories of life inside Alabama’s worst religious private school

It ran in The Huntsville Times, Birmingham News and Mobile’s Press-Register this past Sunday.

What touched me the most was interviewing the kids who spent time in this place, listening to them for an hour or more as they worked through the abuse they say they suffered.

It was difficult to hear.

The response to the story has been surprising in its volume. I’ve heard from former students and one former instructor who read the story, confirmed the accounts of the students I quoted, and thanked me for shedding light on what they feel is a very real problem in state law.



A battle for the soul of the schools

Lately I’ve been reporting on the complex web of issues surrounding the 2015-2016 school year in Huntsville City Schools. The biggest component was a piece from last week about the kinds of conversations happening among parents, teachers and school administrators about what’s working and what isn’t in some of our city center schools. Below are PDFs from the paper; here’s the link to the story online and you can find a story package there with further coverage from my colleagues and me.

desegregating huntsville city schools


Desegregation changes roil Huntsville parents

Court-ordered school integration efforts are rare these days.

School desegregation peaked in the late 1980s and federal judges have released hundreds of school districts across the South from court-enforced integration over the past 15 years.

Huntsville City is not one of them.

“We need to be out from under a desegregation order,” said Mary Scott Hunter, a member of the Alabama State Board of Education who has three children at Blossomwood Elementary.

When Huntsville City Schools chose to follow a court-approved desegregation plan that would transfer hundreds of students from predominantly black schools to predominantly white schools in the fall of 2015, the conversations started.

One semester in, they’ve hardly abated. spoke with more than 20 parents, leaders and administrators – all with strong opinions about the state of Huntsville City schools and their future.