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RTNDA-Submission Excellence In Writing, David Martin Davies

Submission: Excellence in Writing

3 stories:

Lessons Learned From A Night In The Bexar County Jail

Texans Help With Louisiana Flood Relief

Artist Vincent Valdez Paints The Ku Klux Klan in The City.

Lessons Learned From A Night In The Bexar County Jail

Airdate: October 20th, 2016

Reporter David Martin Davies

TRT: 4:40



This past summer there were four suicides in four weeks at the Bexar County jail. This spike in the number of deaths raised questions about operations at the detention center. To find out what’s happening on the inside of the jail TPR’s David Martin Davies recently spent the night there and found that anti-suicide measures are an around-the-clock effort.


Just west of downtown San Antonio, the Bexar County jail looms like a fortress. It’s a seven story building of stained concert floors, white cinder block walls and brown heavy steel doors that shut and locks with a certainty.

(AMBI: Jail door SLAM)

It’s an unforgiving place but it needs to be. It’s built to hold not-nice people against their will.

(AMBI Inmate: “Sir, My S.I.E. number is…. )

On any given day over four thousand inmates are captive, making it the 16th largest county jail in America. More than 800 of them are dealing with diagnosed mental issues. The challenge for the jail is how to keep the inmates safe when some are determined to kill themselves.

Padilla: “From the magistrates office they are brought in here.”

Lt. Mark Padilla says finding out who is likely to self-harm is their first challenge.   

Padilla: We ask four questions. Are you having suicidal thoughts? Have you ever attempted suicide? Are you under medication?

(AMBI: Booking nats)

Those questions are asked four times during booking. In booking it’s loud – chaotic and with bright florescent lights. The inmates are handcuffed and shackled. Many of these men and women know the routine. But for the first timers like Richard this is a nightmare.

Richard: I’m scared

Richard says he never thought he’d end up in jail. He works as a security guard and has been an evidence tech. He says he’s in jail because his brother is accusing him of assault. A charge he flatly denies.

Richard bite: I didn’t do nothing. This is ruining my career as a security officer.

Richard is like the majority of the people housed in jail. He hasn’t been found guilty. Most people here are awaiting trial or the resolution of their cases. Others have been convicted and given short sentences, had probation revoked or are waiting to be transferred to state prison.

As Richard tells me his story he’s panicking and the veins in his neck and arms are bulging – so much so that another inmate notices.

BITE: Calm down – look at your blood pressure. I can’t help it I’m scared.

Richard says as he was asked the four questions in booking he was so scared that he was tempted to say yes - he was suicidal.

BITE: I was so scared I was ready to say I was suicidal but she shook her head. No you don’t want to say that.

Had Richard had said those words – I am suicidal – he says his stay at the county jail would go from bad to even worse.

Instead of being in an open pod with other inmates where he could watch TV, talk with others and work to get released early. He would be placed in the locked down mental health unit.

(Padilla in the mental health unit-sound) “This is the mental health unit – these are acute individuals who are assigned to single man cells. The doctors and the mental health councilors have decided we can’t put them in a group setting in a stable mental health unit because they will either be a danger to themselves or others.”

Lt. Padilla opens the door of a cell in the mental health unit and the reek of urine hits me in the face. The cell is littered with trash and has two mattresses folded end over end.

It’s a wreck but if someone wanted to commit suicide in here it would be very difficult.

(Padilla explains) “the light fixture has been moved – it was mounted on the wall at about six feel high – now it’s at the ceiling.”

Also in the ceiling there’s a video camera for 24- hour surveillance. And a guard physically checks each cell every 15 minutes.

The bed is no longer metal with opportunities for self-harm – it’s now solid plastic. The air vent grate has also been upgraded to prevent tampering.

But even after all these modifications an inmate is exhibiting troubling signs. He can be confined in the padded cell.

(Padilla natz)

It’s a bare room. The walls are made from a beige heavy plastic material with some cushion. If an inmate slammed his head against the wall – they might get a headache but they wouldn’t crack open their own skull.

In this padded cell someone has carved a giant skull into the plastic wall. It looks like the emblem of Marvel’s Punisher. The face of the grim reaper with a grim reminder of what these jail guards are trying to prevent.

David Martin Davies Texas Public Radio News.

Texans Help With Louisiana Flood Relief


Air date: August 24 2016

TRT: 4:19


The people of Louisiana will always remember this past week as the Great Flood of 2016. And as they began the long process of recovery, some San Antonio residents arrived with help.  Texas Public Radio’s David Martin Davies reports from the hard-hit community of Denham Springs –about 15 miles east of Baton Rouge. 


(AMBI Parking lot)

Reporter Track: On Saturday in Denham Springs Louisiana the parking lot of a Sams Club was turned into a one stop shop for the victims of the massive flood.

(AMBI Parking lot)

Just days before the parking lot and the whole area was under water. But now this is where people can grab a shopping cart – get free cleaning supplies – cases of water –and some ice.

(want some ice? – yah we need that)

They can check in with FEMA 

(FEMA question)

And they can get a hot meal.

San Antonio’s Chow Train – a nonprofit food truck. It’s volunteers traveled to Denham Springs to help with disaster relief.

Cheever: “We saw the pictures of Denham Springs underwater on Wednesday night on TV. Shortly after that we decided that this is where we needed to be.”

This is the ninth disaster that Chef Joan Cheever has run to in the last five years – including the tornadoes of Moore Oklahoma, the Bastrop Fire and the floods in Wimberley and San Marcos.

Cheever: “What the Chow Train brings is some good food – some hugs – just to listen to some people’s stories and tell them that they aren’t forgotten.”

Quinn: “It’s horrible – just horrible what these people are going through right now.”

Dennis Quinn is Cheever’s husband and runs logistics for the Chow Train.

Quinn: “Driving down some of these side streets you can see the water marks up on the sides of some of these houses.  Four or five – six feet. They had to rip out 90 percent 100 percent of the interior of these houses because there is so much water damage.”

The streets of Denham Springs are over flowing with the things that used to be people’s lives.

Timmons: “You can look down the street and it looks like everybody’s house threw up. Like they all have a virus and everybody’s house threw up. Everybody’s contents are coming out.”

Jeremy Timmons is shirtless and pulling the soggy sheet rock out of his own home. The house is stripped bare down to the wooden structure – like bones. And just like his neighbors, all of his family’s ruined personal belongings are piled up in the front yard. He said that was tough for his children to witness.

“They’re watching us throw everything out and I’m going – you can’t save everything. I’m sorry but you know – the wet photos – the wet baby clothes. That was the hardest part. We’re throwing things out and having them pick through what you threw out. You can’t have it. You have to let it go.”

The folks of Denham Springs are having to let a lot go. Over three feet of rain fell over two days.  13 people died. According to city officials there were over 30 thousand high water rescues and 40 thousand homes are considered a total loss.

“That’s why they call it a tragedy. You lose things. It hurts.”

But the scale of the devastation makes this tragedy difficult for the residents to process.

Krautsdurfer: “Never seen anything like.. I’ve been through tornados and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Matt Krautsdurfer woke up Saturday morning when the toilets in his house began to bubble up storm water. He got his family to higher ground. Then six feet of water invade his home.

“With a tornado there’s just nothing left – there’s debris everywhere. With this you actually got to go in and pull everything out of your home and take all your memories and put them to the curb. It’s really hard to decide what to keep – what not to keep – what to salvage – what not to salvage.”

Annie Avants said she needed to be rescued by boat from her trailer. She’s back home now but she says the place is a mess.

Avants: “Flooded! – all way through and everything – I lost everything – the ice box – the stove – the washing machine – the drier – the beds -- everything.”

Avants is just one of the tens of thousands in Louisiana. She is trying to put her life and her home back in order.

“I cleaned all the mud out – and everything – and I got more mud in there and I’m still cleaning.”

And she says she’s got a long way to go.

“One day at a time sweet Jesus because I aint never seen nothing like this.:

Cheever and the Chow Train folks agree. They’ve never seen anything like this before either. But they expect there will be more disaster and they’ll be there with a hot meal.

In Dehman Springs Louisiana David Martin Davies Texas Public Radio News.

Artist Vincent Valdez Paints The Ku Klux Klan in The City.


TRT: 4:16

Air date: September 8, 2016


A massive painting of the Ku Klux Klan by San Antonio artist Vincent Valdez has the art world and many others talking. The scale and the scope of the artwork stops people in their tracks. And as Texas Public Radio’s David Martin Davies reports, that’s exactly what the artist intended.


Reporter Track: Vincent Valdez’s art studio is in an old San Antonio fire station built in 1910. Above the entrance stands a vintage statue of a vigilant fire fighter clutching his ax.

Inside, the art space is taken over by one colossal black and white painting - 43 feet long – broken up into six panels. It’s titled “The City.” It features 14 hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan caught in a candid moment on a bluff overlooking a city at night.

Valdez: “I felt that it was important that the viewer, when they first confront the piece, might even make the assumption that it is based on a historical photograph. That this is 1869 or 1920 but when they start looking at the details of the piece they’ll find traces of contemporary life like the iphone, the baby nikes, class rings, the cell phone towers and the modern day 21 century Chevrolet truck.”

Valdez started this painting last October. And after working on it seven days a week for eleven months he says he’s glad it’s finally finished. But he has been thinking about painting this image for years.

But Valdez says viewers make the mistake in assuming it’s a reaction to the current political climate.

Valdez: “People jump to the conclusion that this is Donald Trump’s fault – Oh, this is Trump all day right? This is about Trump. Well, I ask the viewer to step back for a moment. You don’t have to look very far and you really don’t have to look too deep to realize that this was here – this was present – long before any politician.”

That’s not to say there isn’t a connection to today’s politics. There is a rise in white nationalism in American and in Europe. And according to the Southern Poverty Law Center there is a surge in the growth of white supremacist groups - especially the Ku Klux Klan.

Valdez: “It’s strangely coincidental, fascinating. It strikes me as being a little bit surreal. I’m not sure what to make of it exactly. I guess all I can say about it is the timing couldn’t be more urgent.  

When the painting, in its early stage, was featured in March in the New York Times Valdez saw how he was touching a nerve in America.

Valdez: “I was flooded with emails.”

He says the majority of them were positive but there were also some threats of violence against him.

But one email wanted an apology from Valdez in a specific way.

Valdez:  “I know that you are the Texas state artist of the year and I demand that you wrap up your gold medal and hand it back to Texas Senator Ted Cruz.”

However, Valdez points out that in his painting of the Klan gathering. The members aren’t doing anything that is evil or nefarious.

Valdez:  “They are just people. That was my opportunity to strip them of their power.”

They are just standing there – staring into the eyes of the viewer. All but one is hooded. Even the infant being cradled in a mother’s arms in the center of the painting is wearing the iconic robe and pointed hood. But the baby’s cherub-like hands are reaching out to the viewer. 

Valdez: “This is definitely a statement reminding us all that this isn’t the way that we are born, right. This is something that is indoctrinated in us and something that is learned.”

The day of this interview was the day “the City” was to leave the fire house. Valdez had finished the final touches at 4AM the night before – working the details of the twinkling of the city’s lights. He signed the work. And now the specialty art movers are here to carefully pack up the panels and take them to the David Shelton Gallery in Houston.

Valdez says the arrival of these movers reminded him of another work crew that came to his studio and their reaction. They came into the studio and froze staring at the painting.

Valdez: “He looks at me – and he looks at the painting – and he looks around at the building – he looks back at me and says – what is this place?! What are we doing here? What is it? I said “no no trust me. I’m the artist. Come in, I can explain. And it turned into one of the most amazing conversations.”

Valdez says that’s what he’s trying to do - get people to talk about race in America. And he said that is the power of art.

David Martin Davies – Texas Public Radio News

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi