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Hearst Winners

In Awards, Hearst on June 28, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Today, Hearst released the winning stories from IU’s Danielle Paquette and Caitlin Johnston, who placed first and second, respectively, at this year’s national writing competition in San Francisco. Here’s how some of their winning stories start.

DANIELLE PAQUETTE (HEARST)

Ana Alvarez remembers the sudden chill of handcuffs on her wrists, the internal storm of fear and relief, the sleepless night in San Francisco County Jail.

That’s when the 23-year-old former crack cocaine dealer, who undercover police arrested on 16th and Mission Street in August 2009, made a promise to herself.

“I was never going back to that overcrowded, smelly place,” she said. “It was time to turn my life around.”

Her attorney recommended Back on Track, a criminal reentry initiative founded by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

The program, in partnership with Goodwill Industries, is open to first-time, nonviolent offenders between the ages of 18 and 24. Coursework guides participants through constructing resumes, acing job interviews and, eventually, becoming community leaders.

“Back on Track gives young adults the tools they need to succeed out there,” program director Joanna Hernandez said. “It is a tremendous effort to keep them from going back to jail.”

And it’s working, she said.

CAITLIN JOHNSTON (HEARST)

Debbie Mesloh still remembers the meeting where Kamala Harris proposed her anti-truancy initiative.

“I’m going to prosecute parents,” announced Harris, the then San Francisco district attorney.

Mesloh, her friend and adviser, watched as the room erupted in a chorus of protests. It was an election year, after all. The plan was political suicide. But Harris held firm. She had the political capital, and she was ready to spend it.

To Harris, a career prosecutor known for innovative techniques, it was a matter of accountability. She pored through murder profiles from 2004 to 2008.The results showed 94 percent of victims under the age of 25 were high school drop-outs. In Harris’ mind, keeping kids in school was a life or death battle.

Initiatives like this place Harris in stark contrast to archetypical law-and-order district attorneys. Supporters praise her creativity and pragmatism. Detractors point to her blunders in office, including having to drop hundreds of drug cases as a result of a crime lab technician skimming cocaine samples.

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