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Michael Kruse: Missing Central Florida lottery winner just fed up or was it foul play?


Before Abraham Shakespeare became the most famous missing man in Central Florida, before he won the lottery, before he went on a spree of either stunning generosity or profligate stupidity, before a co-worker sued him saying he had stolen the ticket, before a woman showed up late last year and ended up living in his palatial home after he had disappeared — before any of that — the lanky black man with the dreadlocks was the broke son of a citrus picker.

On Nov. 15, 2006, Shakespeare was 41 years old, had $5 in his wallet and was making eight bucks an hour.

He had no car, no driver’s license, no credit card. He had grown up in Lake Wales and spent time in homes for juvenile delinquents. He could read and write, but not much.

He had a long criminal record. Mostly he loitered, he drove when he wasn’t allowed to drive, he stole, he hit people, and later he didn’t pay for the children he fathered. He went to prison twice. After he got out in 1995 he lived with his mother.

He worked as a garbage man. He unloaded trucks. He washed dishes. He did day labor.

That’s what he was doing that day in November 2006. He was assigned to ride shotgun for a truck driver named Michael Ford on an overnight food route to Miami. They made a delivery in Lakeland. They made a delivery in Winter Haven. Then they stopped at the Town Star mini-mart in Frostproof.

Ford asked Shakespeare if he wanted anything. Shakespeare asked for a pair of Quick Picks and gave Ford two of his $5 bills when he returned.

That’s how he ended up with the ticket with the numbers 6, 12, 13, 34, 42 and 52. The jackpot was $31 million. He took it in a lump sum of $16.9 million. After taxes, he later said, he got $11 million and change.

Still, he thought, this was his dream. He was rich.

Within three years, most of his money would be gone — and Shakespeare, too.

Michael Kruse is a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times. Read the rest of this story here.

Steve Israel: Music legend relies on power of prayer

Little Sammy Davis’ grandmother, a slave in Mississippi, never saw her grandson grow up to play the blues with greats like Muddy Waters, Elvis Costello and Levon Helm.

She never got to see him win the blues equivalent of a Grammy — the W.C. Handy Award — or hear him sing on radio’s “Imus in the Morning.”

But Little Sammy Davis’ grandma — “Martha Sanders,” he tells you, enunciating each syllable — taught her grandson deep, bedrock truths.

They’re as much a part of his long, hard road of life as the bluesy harmonica he began playing on the dusty streets of Winona, Miss., more than 70 years ago.

Listen: “You got to be real particular picking cotton to let it grow; you don’t want nothin’ to crowd it,” he says, sitting in his Port Jervis apartment.

And then there’s this bit of folksy wisdom:

“I stepped on a light bulb walking home once, and I had three miles to go,” says the man who didn’t own a pair of shoes until he was 12. “Then my grandma got some clay and put it on the cut. Heals you right up.”

Little Sammy Davis, 80 years old and recuperating from a stroke that’s left his memory “kind of a struggle,” learned one truth from his grandmother that rings truer than ever, especially on this holy day of Easter:

The power of prayer.

Steve Israel works at the Times Herald-Record. Read the rest of this story here.

Celina Ottoway: The Hour Before a Party

I love the hour before a party even with its inherent flutter and pathos. I tiptoe around my unrecognizable house, which is now in a state of awkward polish like some wild teenager who’s been stuffed into an ill-fitting suit and slathered in hair gel for his first court date. Where are my sticky floors? Where is my chaos? Where is my comfortable clutter?

I’ve finished what is likely to have been a four or five hour scrubbing binge and am now saying silent and not so silent prayers that I didn’t invite any timely people. Most of my friends tend to show up an hour or two late, and this is one of my favorite things about them.

The cooking music is on and a glass of wine poured. I want to relax, to sink into the scent of roasting vegetables that is now mingling with the last whiff of Tilex. I’m a little worried about the fact that I can’t remember how many people I’ve invited or if any of them responded to my invitations. But there is nothing to be done about that now.

Perhaps, no one will show up. This is whispered in a voice I remember from high school. The one that told me that no guy would ever kiss me, that I’d never get to dance a slow dance, that I’d be pimpled and chubby and a geek until I was wrinkled and chubby and geek.

Of course, the voice was mistaken. I’ve learned that you can have pimples and wrinkles at the same time, and that’s just wrong in a deep cosmic sense — like pairing broccoli and tomato sauce — it shouldn’t even be possible. But it is. And these are the things I worry about an hour before a party.

Celina Ottoway is the former writing coach for the Albany, N.Y., Times-Union. Find her writing about food here.

Ben Montgomery: For Their Own Good

MARIANNA — The men remember the same things: blood on the walls, bits of lip or tongue on the pillow, the smell of urine and whiskey, the way the bed springs sang with each blow. The way they cried out for Jesus or mama. The grinding of the old fan that muffled their cries. The one-armed man who swung the strap.

They remember walking into the dark little building on the campus of the Florida School for Boys, in bare feet and white pajamas, afraid they’d never walk out.

For 109 years, this is where Florida has sent bad boys. Boys have been sent here for rape or assault, yes, but also for skipping school or smoking cigarettes or running hard from broken homes. Some were tough, some confused and afraid; all were treading through their formative years in the custody of the state. They were as young as 5, as old as 20, and they needed to be reformed.

It was for their own good.

Now come the men with nightmares and scars on their backsides, carrying 50 years of wreckage — ruined marriages and prison time and meanness and smoldering anger. Now comes a state investigation into unmarked graves, a lawsuit against a dying old man. Now come the questions: How could this happen? What should be done?

Those questions have been asked again and again about the reform school at Marianna, where, for more than a century, boys went in damaged and came out destroyed.

Ben Montgomery is a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times. He and Waveny Ann Moore have written extensively about the Dozier School for Boys. Find more of their work here.

Meghan Murphy: Rebuilding Borden

Tongs rest on the spinach salad frozen in a mold of ice, still sitting in the silver bowl in the dining room.

The chairs are pushed back, woven placemats are strewn across a table missing a few leaves and smeared with ash.

Elisabeth Hoyt, 87, was hosting a holiday dinner party Dec. 29 when the family noticed flames outside the window of the John G. Borden House.

Three weeks later, the poinsettia plant droops on its stand next to a toppled Christmas tree.

The fire, which started on the roof, devastated the 1771 Dutch building built by the Hasbroucks. There is no second floor, the doors, windows and walls up there caved in. The belongings, beds and beams, all doused with water from the firefighters’ hoses, froze into a glacial mass.

“We’re going to have to use an ice pick to get it all out,” contractor Scott White says.

Meghan Murphy covers the Town of Montgomery and Education for the Times Herald-Record. “Rebuiling Borden” is a new project, where she will write about the rebuilding of the historic John G. Borden home . Meghan writes:

This is a place for me to breathe in my writing in the days of the 10 inch story. And flex my story brain in finding interesting tales in the minutia of this process.

The project will culminate with a Sunday story. Find the blog here.

Lee Hill Kavanaugh: Raytown woman puts Christian charity into direct action, takes in a homeless young mother

Her phone rings at 10 p.m. The voice on the other end is quiet, uncertain
I just got picked up by the police. … Do you hate me?

Donnette Siems takes a deep breath and looks down at Victoria’s baby cradled in her lap.

Maddie. Seven pounds of hope.

Big eyes and silky curls. A near copy of her mother. Innocent. Vulnerable. Helpless.

No, Victoria, I don’t hate you, Donnette says. What happened?

Donnette had expected this roller coaster to start, but right after a drug rehabilitation meeting? She didn’t think she was naive when she invited the very pregnant Victoria Taylor to stay with her family. At 55, Donnette isn’t afraid of risks. Almost three decades ago, she met her husband, Greg, who was then a helicopter pilot. They live on 10 acres in Raytown, in a two-story farmhouse with a wraparound porch and a high-back swing.

They raised four children here and baby-sit their grandsons two or three times a week. Their refrigerator door is covered with a collage of smiling faces of their children, their grandchildren, their friends’ children, and anyone who has ever stayed with them or visited their home.

Donnette and her husband sit in the third row at church most every Sunday morning. They host church groups in their home. Donnette has taken in troubled teens before, trying to help them find their way. She worked for
years as a counselor for a crisis pregnancy center. More than a few members of the church call her Gram.

Her invitation to Victoria came after some hard questions with her husband. Could they trust her? Would she follow their rule of no drugs in this house? They shouldn’t ever leave her alone in their home, should they?

It was a risk.

Lee Hill Kavanaugh writes for the Kansas City Star. Read her full story here.

Paula McMahon: The journey of Anthony Caravella

(Anthony) Caravella was arrested when he was 15 and charged with the rape and murder of Ada Cox Jankowski, 58. The victim, who had moved here from England after World War II, was stabbed 29 times and strangled as she walked home from a local bar. Her body was found on the grounds of Miramar Elementary School.

Police soon started to focus on Caravella, who came from a troubled family of 11 children and who frequently stayed with a family that lived near the murder scene.

He has an I.Q. of 67, which experts say is mild mental retardation. He was arrested on an unrelated theft charge, and made progressively more incriminating statements, eventually confessing that he alone killed Jankowski. The defense says that was the sole evidence against him; prosecutors say there is other information that supports the conviction.

The Sun Sentinel started looking into the case in 2001 when Caravella’s younger brother, Larry Dunlap, contacted the newspaper after reading about the DNA exonerations of two other men wrongfully convicted in Broward County.

Dunlap, now 30, was 4 at the time of the murder. He said his family never believed Caravella was guilty.

A reporter put Dunlap in touch with the Broward Public Defender’s Office.

(Broward Chief Assistant Public Defender Diane) Cuddihy worked diligently on the case, and this year, at the defense’s expense, the evidence was sent for testing to California. The prosecution and defense agreed to the step, but not on whether the results could legally prove Caravella’s innocence.

Caravella could not be contacted for an interview Wednesday because he is behind bars at Everglades Correctional Institution in western Miami-Dade County. Cuddihy said Caravella reacted calmly when she told him of the test results at about 3 p.m. Wednesday.

He teared up and quietly said, “I told you I didn’t do it, Diane” and “When am I going home now?” the lawyer said.

Paula McMahon writes for the Orlando Sun Sentinel. Find all the stories about Caravella’s case and release from prison here.

Scott Waldman: Reaching out to his future

Ocasio Willson is standing in front of the corporate office of M&T Bank in a trench coat and dress shirt, his hair in cornrows.

In 15 minutes, the Albany High School senior will attempt to sell a group of bankers on funding his Student Society of Finance, one of two after-school groups he started this year. After weeks of phone calls and e-mails from Ocasio asking for his help, mayoral candidate Corey Ellis has not only set up the meeting, but driven him there in his Lexus.

Ocasio turns 18 today. In a week, he will graduate from an urban high school at which only 29 percent of the Class of 2008 went on to attend four-year colleges.

In August, Ocasio plans to cross the Hudson River to Poughkeepsie, where he’ll enter Vassar College. He made the waiting lists at Harvard and Columbia. He recently was awarded the Gates Millennium Scholarship, given to only 1,000 seniors nationwide, which will pay for all four years of college.

With every high school graduation season, the region sends forth thousands of its young people. What makes Ocasio unique is that he found a way to use local resources — to create his own village that stretches from Arbor Hill to City Hall.

His is not, as Ocasio wrote on his college application essay, the story of a poor black child who wants to get out of the ‘hood. It’s the story of how one young man has learned to seek every hand that might stretch out to him then grab it in return. Because, Ocasio says, that’s how he’ll someday get to the U.S. Senate.

“It’s important to work hard, but you have to master the social part. In doing that, that’s where opportunity sprouts up,” he says.

Scott Waldman is a reporter at the Albany Times-Union. Read the rest of the story here.

From Scott: At the workshop, I learned how to blend narrative with some analysis, to remind the reader why he or she should care about this one kid, even as I describe minute details about her, like the way she walks. Read that story here.

Neil Swidey: Trapped under the sea

The divers packed themselves into the basket and prepared to be lowered by a crane down the 400-foot shaft. But they couldn’t move until DJ Gillis got into the basket with them, and he wasn’t about to be hurried.

“C’mon, DJ,” one of the guys yelled. “Let’s go!”

Tap Taylor, who was DJ’s boss, started yelling, too. “Let’s go!” It was a radiant summer morning, and they were standing on Deer Island, a peninsula that hangs down like a comma from Winthrop into Boston Harbor, curling in front of Logan Airport. It also happened to be Tap’s 36th birthday, and he didn’t want to waste it waiting for DJ to move his tail.

Neil Swidey writes for the Boston Globe. He wrote this two-part series shortly after last year’s workshop. He is returning again in 2010 as a writing coach. Read the entire story here.

Lindsey McCormack: What about us, DREAM Act?

Bhaskar Chitraju came to the United States from India at the age of 13, and has never been back, living legally in the U.S. for the past 10 years. In Southgate, Mich., he played soccer, excelled at Quiz Bowl, and indulged in Battlestar Galactica marathons with his buddies. High school was easy for him, he remembers, because people accepted him for who he was.

However, the aspiring business owner is as far from American citizenship as the day he stepped off the plane. And two years ago, a clock started ticking down on the only life he knows.

His father, a computer programmer, applied for a green card as soon as he could file the paperwork. Bhaskar would have benefited from that petition, but at 21, he was hit by a provision called “aging out” — a consequence of a visa processing backlog that affects thousands of aspiring Americans a year. He continues to live in the United States on a student visa, but Bhaskar may be legally obligated to leave after he graduates from business school next year.

“I feel frustrated and helpless most of the time,” said Bhaskar, who insists he is determined to play by the rules,. “There’s so much uncertainty in my life — I don’t know if I’ll be here next year or not.”

Lindsey McCormack says: At last year’s workshop I received terrific editing and encouragement from Celina Ottoway. The final story, titled “What About Us, DREAM Act?” appeared in Miller-McCune on May 29.

Read the story here.