Sunday, March 27, 2011

Past Story

I first met Marcee Lee Winthrop in March at an open mic night. She and her daughter, Tammy, were sitting in the shadows of The Orange and Brew, anxiously awaiting Marcee’s turn at the mic.

Feeling out of place at a poetry event and in desperate need of a source for my story, I approached Marcee and Tammy’s table. The anxiety that shared their table was welcoming to me, even as I was every bit as anxious as they were. I asked that dreaded reporting icebreaker:

“Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

That was months ago. Now I’m no longer the only person banging on Marcee’s door looking to tell her story. And what a story it is.

Marcee’s story of an upward ascent out of poverty is one that reads like a fairy tale.

Impoverished for the last two decades, abandoned by her husband of seven years, and left to be a single mother to her 14-year-old daughter and having to go without many of the things most of us take for granted, she struggled.

“We flat-lined,” she said. “We were already poor, but now we were indigent.”

Until one day, a fairy godmother appeared. Though not the kind you would expect. Marcee’s fairy godmother was Marcee.

“I was on a journey to get out of poverty and it started with a mind change,” she said. Her mindset changed from “I can’t” to “I’ll try” to “I will.”

And for the sake of her daughter, she promised that they would be out of poverty by the end of the year, “and I don’t lie to my daughter.” So in January she decided to give it a go. Her New Year’s resolution, she declared, was to lift herself and Tammy above the poverty level.

And now, with three months left in 2009, Marcee has transformed from a housewife-turned single-mother to something of a local celebrity. With her first book, “Poverty Revolution Part One: Skimming the Surface,” already under her belt and another on the way, Marcee now must try to make time for all the new media engagements.

In the coming weeks, she’s scheduled to share her work with a women’s studies class, sing for World Peace Day and to participate in a panel on homelessness in Gainesville, FL. At a recent appearance for the University of Florida’s Association of Black Communicators, Marcee’s metamorphosis was on display for students to see. Clutching two crumpled, heavily-scribbled-on sheets of paper, Marcee charmed her audience with inspiring life stories about poverty, happiness, her daughter and a nearly-sold-out book.

Several on-line bookstores carry “Poverty Revolution,” she said, but not “I’m sure I’ll get them,” she laughed. “They’ll get the second edition.”

She even came with a personal photographer. David, she says, was a student recommended by the Department of Journalism to take pictures for her upcoming second edition.

Marcee has achieved a remarkable amount of success in a short period of time. Poetry, she hopes, will be her ticket out of a poverty that has haunted her for much of her life and for all of her daughter’s.

Marcee’s tale is empowering. Without much work history or money, but with an abundance of determination and will power, she has managed to carve out a livable niche with her daughter.

Like a flower growing between the cracks in a sidewalk, Marcee’s talent and acclaim have blossomed in a city notorious for treating its impoverished populace like second-rate citizens.

But for Marcee, it is the struggle that she wants to inspire people not the success.

“I want people to know that it is possible to start with absolutely nothing.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


UT Scientists May Help Unravel Hunley's Mysteries

KNOXVILLE –- A team of scientists from the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y12 National Security Complex left Sunday to inspect the Hunley to see if they can help unravel the mysteries of the Civil War submarine that sank off the Charleston, S.C., shore 142 years ago.

The local scientists' involvement has grown out of the relationship between UT and best-selling author Patricia Cornwell.

"Ms. Cornwell has been a strong supporter of UT and the National Forensics Academy for the last four years," said Mike Sullivan, director of the Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC), part of UT's Institute for Public Service.

Cornwell recently donated $500,000 to help scientists solve the lingering mystery surrounding the loss of the Hunley and its crew.

Her donation is being used to ensure Hunley scientists have the latest forensic technology as they try to determine what caused the demise of the Confederate submarine. The Hunley disappeared after it successfully sank the USS Housatonic, a Union ship that was involved in the South Atlantic blockade off the Charleston shore. The sunken Hunley and the remains of its crew were discovered in 1995 and raised in 2000, but scientists are still trying to determine why the vessel sank and how its crew died.

In February, at a press conference in Charleston announcing her donation, Cornwell said the Hunley's sinking is "a 19th century crime scene, where evidence has been corrupted by its underwater environment. We will need to push modern technology to the limit to extract the information that is needed to discover what happened to the Hunley."

Sullivan said Cornwell recently contacted him to see if scientists from UT, ORNL and Y12 might be able to help with the Hunley.

Cornwell regularly visits UT to talk with crime scene investigators attending training programs at LEIC's acclaimed National Forensics Academy. NFA instructor Jamie Downs is the medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Hunley case.

"About a month or so ago, I took Patricia Cornwell to Oak Ridge National Laboratory to help her get acquainted with the tremendous forensic science capabilities there," Sullivan said.

Knowing that Hunley researchers are struggling to examine the submarine's sediment-encrusted hull to determine what caused the vessel to sink and what killed its eight crewmen, Cornwell asked Sullivan if local scientists might be able to help by lending their expertise on metals and metallurgy.

Sullivan said he thought local scientists could help.

"At UT, ORNL and Y12, we have some of the world's leading experts in metals and metallurgy," he said.

Cornwell and Maria Jacobsen, an archaeologist from Texas A&M University who is leading the Hunley excavation, recently came to Knoxville to visit scientists from the three institutions. They invited the scientists to travel to Charleston to view the Hunley.

The group will be in Charleston through Tuesday examining the submarine to determine if they can help researchers peel away the built-up sediment on the vessel's hull. Researchers want to see the damage on submarine's metal surface, figure out what caused it and determine, if possible, what caused the vessel to sink and what killed its eight crewmembers.

On the evening of Feb. 17, 1864, the Hunley became the world's first successful combat submarine when it sank the Housatonic. That night, after the Hunley's crew signaled to shore that the mission had been accomplished, the submarine and her eight-man crew vanished. Lost at sea for over a century, the sunken Hunley was located in 1995 by Clive Cussler's National Underwater and Marine Agency. The hand-cranked vessel was raised in 2000 and delivered to the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, where an international team of scientists is trying to preserve the vessel.

A bestselling author in more than 35 countries, Patricia Cornwell is a New York Times best-selling author of both fiction and non-fiction. Her most recent No. 1 New York Times bestsellers include the novels "Predator" and "Trace," and her non-fiction book, "Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed."

Cornwell published "The Body Farm" in 1994, which attracted worldwide media attention to UT's Forensic Anthropology Center, where scientists and law enforcement personnel study the decomposition of the human body under various conditions. Her new novel, "At Risk," will be published by G.P. Putnams Sons on May 23.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chicago Murder Trial Begins for "Suicidal Blond"

Chicago Murder Trial Begins for Suicidal Blond

Former Model Killed 3 Beloved Musicians With Car in Bid to End Her Life, Prosecutors Say

They probably never saw her coming.

It was July 14, 2005. Lunch hour in Chicago.

Three local musicians who worked day jobs together at an audio electronics company we’re stopped at a traffic light in a Honda Civic in a suburb north of the city.

At a speed authorities estimated at 70 miles per hour (Check the speed. I found stories that said the speed was about 90 m.p.h.), then 23-year-old former model Jeanette Sliwinski who, police said, was trying to kill herself ran three red lights and slammed them from behind in her red Mustang convertible.

Both cars flew airborne on impact, witnesses said, and each landed crushed upside-down on the pavement.

The three young men died. The suicidal woman walked away with a broken ankle. ( I’m uncomfortable with calling her a suicidal woman. At this point, it was unconfirmed that she was suicidal. This includes the headline.)

This week, more than two years later, her murder trial begins.

"The one thing that would have brought this thing to closure would have been had she been successful in what she set out to do that day,'' said Dave Meis, older brother of victim Douglas Meis, referring to the alleged suicide attempt by the ex-model.

Sliwinski's lawyers have denied that she was attempting suicide. Her current attorney did not return a call seeking comment on the case.

The suicidal crash and subsequent arrest brought Sliwinski internet infamy. Many blogs and websites have posted modeling pictures of Sliwinski since she was arrested. (Click here for pictures.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring Break Photos

Tabitha Taylor, 22, takes photos outside of Tison Tool Museum in the Matheson Museum Complex in downtown Gainesville on Saturday, March 12, 2011.
Shannon Parrish, 21, poses on the deck of Paynes Prairie on March 12, 2011.
Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos speaks on the steps of the Capitol in Tallahassee during a Tea Party rally on March 8, 2011.
Supporters gather outside the Capitol in Tallahassee during a Tea Party rally on March 8, 2011.
Supporters gather in front of the Florida Capitol during a Tea Party rally in Tallahassee on Tuesday, March 8, 2011.

Shannon Parrish poses for a picture with Gators mascot Albert at a baseball game against the University of Miami on March 5, 2011. The Gators beat the Canes 1-0.