Stories by brandis friedman

Darrell Fair, an inmate at Stateville Correctional Center who maintains his innocence after 25 years in prison, speaks with “Chicago Tonight.” (WTTW News)

Fair’s Fight: Former Marine Still Proclaims Innocence, Despite Legal Setbacks and 25 Years in Prison

In the last 20 years, Illinois has released a spate of inmates who were wrongfully convicted, some after it was determined they were tortured into giving confessions. In fact, the state was faced with so many claims of torture that it created the Torture Relief and Inquiry Commission in 2009.

(left to right) Harry Lennix, ensemble members Alana Arenas, Glenn Davis and Jon Michael Hill with Tamara Tunie and Ayanna Bria Bakari in rehearsal for Steppenwolf Theatre’s world premiere of “Purpose.” (Joel Moorman)

Led by Director Phylicia Rashad, Steppenwolf Cast Explores Family Politics and Identities in New Play ‘Purpose’

The play about a Black political Illinois family is brand new — so new that cast members didn’t even have a complete script when WTTW News sat down with them.

The “Evicted” exhibit runs through March 10 at the National Public Housing Museum. (WTTW News)

Exhibit Explores Impact of Evictions With Help From People With Lived Experience

The exhibit at the National Public Housing Museum in River North is inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Evicted” by Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump appears on “Chicago Tonight” in an interview that aired Feb. 20, 2024. (WTTW News)

With Federal Progress Slow, Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump Takes On Police Reform Case by Case

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is responsible for making household names out of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others.

Common talks about his new book “And Then We Rise: A Guide to Loving and Taking Care of Self” in an interview that aired on “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices” on Jan. 31, 2024. (WTTW News)

Common Talks New Book, Criminal Justice Reform, and Self-Care as ‘Political Warfare’

Rapper, actor and activist Common was in Chicago this week to talk about his latest book, “And Then We Rise: A Guide to Loving and Taking Care of Self.” The Chicago native sat down with WTTW News to talk about the book and some of his activism.

Jimmy Soto and his sister, Pilar More, look at family photos. (WTTW News)

‘You Know You’re Innocent, Yet Nobody’s Hearing You.’ Jimmy Soto Looks to Future After Serving 42 Years for Wrongful Conviction

In December, Jimmy Soto saw the sunrise over Lake Michigan for the first time in 42 years. He is now discovering a completely different world from the one he left.

In History-Making Ceremony, Men in Prison Earn Degrees From Northwestern University: ‘We Want to Show What’s Possible’

Last week, the Northwestern Prison Education Program graduated its first cohort of students. The graduates are the first in the country to earn bachelor’s degrees from a top 10 university while incarcerated.

Richard Dyches is pictured in the Dixon Correctional Center in October 2023. (WTTW News)

With Few Granted, Time Is Fleeting for People in Illinois Prisons Hoping for Medical Release: ‘My Hope Is Waning’

For the last two years, Illinois has had a law that allows people who are in prison and are dying of a terminal illness or are physically disabled the opportunity to petition for compassionate release. However, few of the releases are granted. 

Edgewater residents protest outside Broadway Armory on July 27, 2023. (WTTW News)

Edgewater Residents Protest as City Announces Plan to Shelter Migrants at Broadway Armory

About 50 people gathered Thursday to protest the city’s process for deciding to use a Chicago Park District facility in Edgewater to shelter asylum seekers. The city has been under a state of emergency for months as it seeks to house the 11,500 migrants who’ve been bused or flown in from Texas.

Jalia Davis is participating in Free Spirit Media to tell stories of her neighborhood. (WTTW News)

Future Media-Makers in Chicago Learn to Change the Narrative of Their Own Communities

Free Spirit Media is a nonprofit that works with young people 11 to 25 years of age from the West and South sides of Chicago. Staff members work to teach students to create media arts projects, like short films and news stories, to amplify their own voices.

(WTTW News)

From Mobility Issues to Alzheimer’s and Cancer, Advocates Say Illinois Prisons Are Struggling to Care for an Aging Population

More than half of IDOC inmates serving a life sentence are 55 or older. Caring for an aging prison population is a costly endeavor, advocates say, and the health care elderly prisoners do receive often falls short. That’s why some are calling for a new parole system.

(WTTW News)

53% of IDOC Inmates Serving Life Sentences Are Over Age 55. Advocates Call for Giving Some a Second Chance

In 1978, Illinois shifted from an indeterminate to a determinate sentencing system — effectively eliminating parole as most people are familiar with it. Now some advocates are calling for changes to allow inmates over 55 the chance to be paroled.

Stores line the street in downtown Pontiac, Illinois. (WTTW News)

Outside of Pontiac Prison’s Walls, Area Residents See the Facility as Important Part of the Community

The town is also home to Pontiac Correctional Center, one of only three maximum security Illinois state prisons. Just outside the prison’s doors is a neighborhood of single-family homes and a playground.

Pontiac Correctional Center (WTTW News)

Inside Pontiac Prison Where Mental Health Issues, Violence, Officer Shortages and Aging Facilities Are Leading to Calls for Reform

The conditions that come with Pontiac Correctional Center’s age are just part of the reason inmates and advocates call it inhumane. Another reason is the climate inside. WTTW News details the issues facing the maximum security prison. 

(WTTW News)

Former IDOC Director on Plans for Pontiac Prison, Home to State’s Highest Concentration of ‘Seriously Mentally Ill’ Incarcerated People

Among Pontiac Prison’s challenges is its status as the most short-staffed facility in IDOC. But former director Rob Jeffreys said having a lower incarceration rate could work in the agency’s favor.

Twin sisters Ellie and Natanya Sterling arrived in Highland Park after a journey that began in Ukraine. (Family Photo)

After Months of Worry, ‘Big Little Miracles’ Born Via Ukrainian Surrogate Finally Arrive Home in Highland Park

From Ukraine to Highland Park, twin sisters Ellie and Natanya Sterling have taken their parents on the ride of a lifetime.

Brian Wallach and Sandra Abrevaya are pictured at their Kenilworth home. (WTTW News)

After an ALS Diagnosis, a Local Couple Turned Their Organizing Skills Toward Finding a Cure

Brian Wallach and his wife, Sandra Abrevaya, founded I AM ALS to find a cure for the disease and to advocate for those who have the progressive neurodegenerative disease. 

(WTTW News)

Permanent Punishment: In Illinois, People with Criminal Records Can Still Vote. Advocates Are Working to Make Them Aware.

When people are incarcerated in Illinois prisons, they cannot vote until they are released and re-registered to vote.

Former Prosecutor, Judge Says People With Convictions Need Ability to Provide for Themselves

One of the legal system’s goals should be finding ways to reintegrate people back into society after they have completed their sentences, says Patrick O’Brien. 

King Moosa performs raps that reflect his lived experience. (WTTW News)

Permanent Punishment, Part 4: Sealed Records, Expungement and Clemency Involve Complicated Mix of Paperwork and Expenses

Though there are about 1,300 permanent punishments on the books in Illinois — and countless more that aren’t — there are only a handful of ways to get around them. They often involve a complicated mix of paperwork and expenses. The records sealing or expungement process, for example, involves filing a petition in court, costing around $157 per charge. 

Kimberly Moss trains with the Chicago Women in Trades program. (WTTW News)

Permanent Punishment, Part 3: Barriers to Employment Are Frequent, Plentiful for Those With Records

Many people who’ve been impacted by the criminal legal system say they frequently face problems finding employment. Some local organizations are helping people build new skills, while others are aiming to address laws and licensing requirements.

Timesha Brown experienced trouble finding housing after she was released from prison. (WTTW News)

Permanent Punishment, Part 2: Women, Caregivers Face Specific Challenges in Legal System

The reasons women commit crimes are different, and often overlooked, researchers say. And since 58% of incarcerated women are mothers to children under 18, the permanent punishments they face affect not only them, but their entire families. 

After serving time in federal prison, Marlon Chamberlain now works with Heartland Alliance to reduce the legal barriers faced by people with criminal records.

Permanent Punishment, Part 1: Nearly 1,300 State Laws Prevent People with Criminal Records from Moving On After Serving Their Sentences

In Illinois, an estimated 3.3 million people have criminal records, which can include everything from an arrest to years spent in prison. But even once their criminal case has run its course, the punishment continues. Those who know the system best are working to make change for those looking to rebuild their lives.

(WTTW News)

Permanent Punishment: Guide to Resources and Organizations

A list of resources for formally incarcarated people and the organizations working to support them. 

Men at Stateville Correctional Center participate in a class through Northwestern University’s Prison Education Program on Aug. 15, 2022. (WTTW News)

Through Unique Program, Men in Prison Overcome Challenges to Earn Degrees from Northwestern University

While many schools will offer classes for credit to prison inmates, Northwestern University says its the only top 10 school that grants degrees to prisoners. And next spring, students at Stateville Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison in Will County, will be the first to receive their bachelor's degrees from Northwestern while in prison.

Jeff Sterling and Lilac Epstein’s twin daughters were born at just 27 weeks to a Ukrainian surrogate in the Czech Republic. (Courtesy of Lilac Epstein)

After Highland Park Couple’s Surrogate Escaped Ukraine, They Now Wait to Bring Their Premature Twins Home

A suburban couple’s Ukrainian surrogate — who had been moved to the Czech Republic — delivered their twin babies by emergency C-section at just 27 weeks. The early news was just the latest nerve-wracking development in what has been months of tense waiting.