Transcript

503:

I Was Just Trying To Help
Transcript

Originally aired 08.16.2013

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/503

Prologue.

Ira Glass

Sharon Snyder was a clerk for a circuit court judge in Missouri. And she remembers when she first heard of a man named Robert Nelson. He was in prison, and his brother and sister came in looking for a document that he needed. And this happened all the time-- she had been working there as a clerk for over 30 years.

Sharon Snyder

So I talked to them at length, and they kind of told me the story. You know, that he wasn't guilty.

Ira Glass

And everybody who comes to see you tells you they weren't guilty, right?

Sharon Snyder

[LAUGHS] That's right.

Ira Glass

That was not a novel thing at all.

Sharon Snyder

No, no.

Ira Glass

But Sharon believed him in this case for a simple reason-- Robert Wilson was imprisoned for rape, and he had decided to file a motion asking for a DNA test. His trial was so long ago-- he was convicted in 1984-- no DNA test had ever been done.

Sharon Snyder

To file one of those, you have to know that it's going to come back, you know, that you're not guilty. Why would anybody file it if they know they're not innocent, because it's just going to come back that they're not innocent?

Ira Glass

Yeah. Yeah, so he won you over right there.

Sharon Snyder

He won me over right there, yeah. Yeah.

Ira Glass

Robert Nelson didn't have a lawyer. He was writing up his legal paperwork himself from prison, and his motion asking for a DNA test was turned down. Apparently, he didn't do it the right way. Sharon said his sister asked her for advice and she suggested that he resubmit, which he did, and was turned down again.

Sharon Snyder

Now she was just beside herself. She didn't know where to go from there. And I didn't know what to tell her either or offer any suggestions.

Ira Glass

Then Sharon remembered another case that was being tried where somebody filed a motion for DNA testing and it was granted.

Sharon Snyder

And I thought, well, I have the file right here in my file cabinet. And I thought, I will just go ahead and maybe if I just give her a copy of that motion, she'd send it to her brother.

Ira Glass

Oh, I see. You thought that Robert Nelson could just imitate whatever this guy did.

Sharon Snyder

Right. Exactly, exactly. And of course, I'm not an attorney. I have no idea what the difference was that made the judge grant it. Evidently, there was something in there.

Ira Glass

This is a public document that anybody could have requested and gotten a copy of. If Robert Nelson or his sister had known enough to research it or ask for it, they could have gotten it themselves. And it worked. The judge granted the motion, the DNA test proved Robert Nelson's innocence, and four years after his first request for a DNA test, he was set free. Justice had been delayed, but a mistake was corrected, an innocent man was out of prison.

And then, five days after his release-- it was the end of the work day, 4:30, Sharon says-- the court administrator and Judge David Byrn, who she worked for, called her in.

Sharon Snyder

--and gave me a letter stating that I was going to be suspended without pay for my involvement and that there would be an investigation. And I was blown away.

Ira Glass

Blown away, totally caught off guard. Two weeks later, she was fired. She was 70 years old, had worked there for 34 years. She was nine months away from retirement.

She was told she violated Canon 7 of the county code of ethics for court employees, which says that they cannot give legal advice or give their opinions when people ask them questions like, how should I fight this case? Though, as a lawyer named Joe Patrice pointed out in a column on the legal news website Above The Law this week, after Sharon's firing became a news story, quote, "Handing out a public document as a model is not really legal advice, especially when the inmate has already demonstrated what legal action he means to take."

You can see how Sharon could be confused about where to draw the line in this case.

Ira Glass

I mean, do you think it was even wrong what you did?

Sharon Snyder

Not really. Not really. I did, maybe, at first. I was willing to chastise myself and say, you've been a very bad girl. But in thinking it over, being it's a fact that it is a public record, she could've obtained that, then I made it just a little easier on her.

Ira Glass

So can I ask you-- and I hope you feel you can be honest about this-- do you feel mad?

Sharon Snyder

Well, no. I feel hurt, which has always been a problem of mine. I never get mad, but I certainly get hurt.

Ira Glass

A spokesman for the Jackson County Circuit Court, where Sharon worked, declined to be interviewed, saying only, quote, "Because of legal and ethical considerations, we cannot comment on a personnel matter." Sharon still gets her pension, but she got a much smaller severance payment than they would have paid her if she hadn't been fired. And I asked her if anything good had come out of this. And I don't know, I suppose I was thinking that maybe she would say she's enjoying her slightly-early retirement, seeing her grandkids more, doing interviews on TV and radio. And I guess her answer shouldn't have surprised me, but it was nice to hear.

Sharon Snyder

The only positive thing is that Robert Nelson is free, and I'm so happy for him. And I'm glad I did it. I believe that this was a worthy cause. And even though I lost my job and, financially, it put me in a bind, I think it was worth it. So I would do it again.

Ira Glass

Well, today on our radio program, people who were just trying to help, doing the best they can think of. But as in Sharon's case, it is not always so clear what the best way is to help somebody without unintended consequences, either for the people being helped or the people doing the helping. We have two stories today, including a sheriff who is trying to do right by marijuana growers.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One. Money for Nothing and Your Cows for Free.

Ira Glass

Act One, Money for Nothing and Your Cows for Free.

So there are charities that try to help poor people around the world in just about every way that you can possibly imagine. They give computers, they dig wells, they'll build schools, they send teachers or solar lamps. But a few years ago, four young guys-- they were grad students at the time-- decided they were going to try something simpler. They wanted to try just giving money to poor people.

After all, they figured, that's their problem-- they don't have money. That's what makes them poor. That's the definition of poor, they don't have money. Why not just give them money? No strings attached, they don't have to pay it back. Let people do whatever they want with it. The idea being, like everybody else, they will know what they need better than anybody else could. Give them money and they can buy what they need.

Michael Faye, one of the guys who had this idea, decided he was going to test it out himself. During a break from school, he flew to Kenya and tried giving away some of his own money, and it didn't go exactly as planned.

Michael Faye

Some people said no to the money. And I'll be honest, that first trip, we had one village that said, thanks, but no thanks. We don't believe you. We think you're going to ask for something in return or need me to spend the money in a certain way. And I don't want the money.

Ira Glass

Faye did his best to convince them. Really, he said, I don't need the money back.

Michael Faye

I tried. They were pretty adamant that they didn't want it. They said, I just don't believe it. I think you will come back in six months or a year and ask me for something. And I don't know what that is, but I don't trust you.

Ira Glass

Which sounds totally reasonable to me. If somebody walked up to me on the street and just said, "I want to give you money," I would be suspicious. But on that trip, Faye did manage to find people who were willing to accept free money, and Faye and his buddies went on to start a charity. It's called GiveDirectly, and it just gives money to poor people.

Faye and his friends have big plans. They think that, in the future, this could be one of the major ways that we help poor people. Jacob Goldstein and Dave Kestenbaum of Planet Money recently went to Kenya to see how this was working.

Jacob Goldstein

There are lots of reasons charities don't usually just hand out cash.

David Kestenbaum

Chris Blattman tells this one story. Blattman is a professor at Columbia who spends a lot of time in the international aid world. He was working with this charity that was trying to help former soldiers, some of them child soldiers, become farmers. They gave them land, they gave them training, they gave them almost everything they could need.

Chris Blattman

But they wouldn't give cash. They said that they were very worried about what people are going to do with this money. They thought it was going to be spent on sex workers. They thought it was going to be spent on drugs or alcohol. The last thing they thought it was going to be spent on was agriculture.

David Kestenbaum

This, of course, is one of the risks. If you give someone money and tell them they can spend it on whatever they want, they can spend it on whatever they want.

Carol Bellamy

Cigarettes, alcohol, weapons--

Jacob Goldstein

This is Carol Bellamy. She's a former director of UNICEF.

Carol Bellamy

--just gambling it away. All the kinds of things that you don't want to have happen with money that, just, you find in your pocket.

David Kestenbaum

Is it fair to say you think most of your colleagues in the charity world would be skeptical of this idea?

Carol Bellamy

I think they are.

Jacob Goldstein

It seems to be true. When we got to Kenya, we checked in with people at local charities, people who have grown up in Kenya, who've spent their lives doing aid work, and most of them shook their heads. They had a whole list of reasons why giving money wouldn't work.

David Kestenbaum

Sam Owoko, with a local group called KMET told us, giving money is a handout. Handouts don't work.

Sam Owoko

What we have learned is that giving people money creates a sense of dependency. People would not go out of their way to improve, to even look for other sources of money. They know they are going to get it, so they sit there and wait and don't care about anything else in the long run.

Jacob Goldstein

People told us if you give money to some people but not to others, you could create real tensions between neighbors or even within families.

David Kestenbaum

And, inevitably, someone brought up the "give a man a fish" thing.

Alfred Adongo

I would rather teach them how to fish than to fish for them.

David Kestenbaum

This is Alfred Okeyo Adongo with a group called SANA.

Alfred Adongo

He will be able to eat well for one year, but beyond that, what else?

David Kestenbaum

Adongo did see something appealing about the idea of giving money, though. You could see him wrestling with it. And he said this thing you rarely hear anyone say. He said, maybe I'm wrong.

Alfred Adongo

I'm curious. I would want to see how it is working. And if it proves to work, we would be very, very grateful.

Jacob Goldstein

There is one other big reason no one had set up a charity to give money to poor people. Until a few years ago, it was really hard to do.

David Kestenbaum

Poor people often don't have bank accounts, so if you wanted to give someone money, you'd have to physically hand it to them, which could mean bringing lots of cash into very remote villages. You'd need security so you didn't get robbed. You'd need some sort of ID system to make sure the people lining up are who they say they are. All that would be expensive.

Jacob Goldstein

But today in Kenya, if you want to give away money, you don't need bags of cash. You don't need an armored car. You just need a cell phone, any crappy cell phone.

David Kestenbaum

Kenya has this amazing system where you can send money instantly from one phone to another. It's called M-Pesa. There are M-Pesa stores everywhere in Kenya. They have these bright green signs. The one we went to, "store" isn't really the right word for it. It was in an old van.

Man

It's an old VW bus.

Allan Obiero

Sure, sure, VW.

Man

My mom had one of these.

Alfred Adongo

Ah.

Man

We used to go camping in it.

Alfred Adongo

Ah.

David Kestenbaum

It's like a snack shop. It's like we're under a little awning here.

Man

Except it's a bank.

David Kestenbaum

Inside the van/bank is a woman with a ledger book, a cell phone, and a box of cash.

Jacob Goldstein

I'd give her 100 Kenyan shillings-- about $1-- and right away I get a text message saying the money is now in my M-Pesa account. And then I'd press a few buttons and send money to the only person in Kenya who I have in my phone, our interpreter, Allan. And it works.

Allan Obiero

Sum received. Kenya shillings 90 from Jacob Goldstein.

Jacob Goldstein

M-Pesa makes it really easy for GiveDirectly to give away a lot of money. In Kenya, we met Piali Mukhopadhyay, who works for GiveDirectly. With just an old laptop and a spreadsheet with people's names and numbers, she can send money to hundreds of people.

Piali Mukhopadhyay

Violet, Adeline, Celine, Benta, Rose, Risper.

Jacob Goldstein

Have you met any of these people?

Piali Mukhopadhyay

I don't know any of these people, but I know them in the sense that I send them money each month. [LAUGHS]

David Kestenbaum

This year, GiveDirectly is giving away $5 million. We wanted to meet some of the people who were getting the money. So we got in a car with Piali and we went to find them.

[ENGINE TURNING OVER]

Jacob Goldstein

And it turns out, while sending thousands of dollars to people in rural Kenya has recently gotten a lot easier, going to visit them-- still really hard.

[VEHICLE ON BUMPY ROAD]

To get to this one village, you drive on the main road past the sign that says "Equator"-- because that's where the Equator is-- and then you turn off onto these increasingly rough dirt roads. And of course, there aren't any street signs because, really, there aren't any streets. No one has an address. You have to stop and ask for directions. Eventually, you have to get out of the car and walk down a path.

[DOG BARKING]

It's very green. There are trees and birds, little farm plots where people are growing corn. And then, finally, by the side of the path, you find the guy who got the money on his phone.

[NOKIA STARTUP TONE]

Bernard Ohmondi

Nokia.

David Kestenbaum

This is Bernard Ohmondi. He's 25 years old and he's got two kids. He lives in a small house with mud walls, a dirt floor, and an old couch. There's no sink because there's no plumbing. There's no running water. There's no electricity. The way it all happened, he says, is that one day the village elder came by with some people he'd never met. They explained that they wanted to give him $1,000, which, to him, seemed like a very strange idea.

Bernard Ohmondi

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

I had to be suspicious because in African setup we believe somebody cannot give you such kind of huge money without working for it. Even our own president cannot give you, so I had to be suspicious.

David Kestenbaum

But Ohmondi said, fine. I'm a poor man-- you want to give me money, I'm not going to say no. The visitors gave him a cheap cell phone and then, a while later, he got the text message.

Bernard Ohmondi

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

It was sent very early in the morning.

Bernard Ohmondi

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

(LAUGHING) I was still in my bed. I jumped up.

Bernard Ohmondi

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

My wife asked me, Bernard, what is it? Then I told her, the guys of GiveDirectly have sent us the money. It's here.

Jacob Goldstein

He still has the message on his phone.

Allan Obiero

"Confirmed you have received 41,000." [FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Jacob Goldstein

All over the village that morning, people were getting their first payment from GiveDirectly and having that jump-out-of-bed experience.

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Jacob Goldstein

This is one of Bernard's neighbors, Daniel Otieno Ombock.

Allan Obiero

I got the message when I was in bed.

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

And I told my wife, hey, you also read this message.

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

Immediately she saw it and read, she burst into laughter. She laughed and told me, now, my husband, what do we do?

David Kestenbaum

It's worth pointing out just how much money $1,000 is in this village. $1,000 is about what one of these families spends in an entire year, so you could think of it as someone coming up and offering to double your salary. But really, it's a much bigger deal than that. Most of the people in this village have no savings at all, so $1,000 is just this unimaginable sum. Daniel had never had this much money at once, nothing close to it.

Jacob Goldstein

So what do you do when more money than you've ever had in your life suddenly drops onto your cell phone? If you're Bernard Ohmondi, you buy one of these.

[MOTORCYCLE ENGINE]

Allan Obiero

This motorcycle is called Bajaj Boxer.

Bernard Ohmondi

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

It consumes low fuel.

David Kestenbaum

The motorcycle cost him about $600, and this is not the kind of motorcycle you ride around so everyone will think you're cool. Around here, where most people live on dirt paths too narrow for cars, motorcycles are basically used as taxis, and Bernard bought his so he could become a taxi driver.

It beat his old job. He used to work as a laborer. Often, he would spend all day carrying heavy stones from one place to another. That's when he could find work. A lot of days, there was no work at all. Now that he has his motorcycle, he says, his work is much steadier. His kids used to go hungry and they don't anymore.

Jacob Goldstein

People bought all kinds of things with the money. One family bought a little mill to grind corn for people in the village, another started selling soap and cooking oil. Daniel Otieno Ombock, the other guy who jumped out of bed when he got the message, bought something he'd always wanted.

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[FOREIGN LANGUAGE] Mattress high-density beds.

Jacob Goldstein

"Mattress high-density bed," it turns out, is basically just a mattress. He used to sleep on a mat on the ground.

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

Now I look like a human being. I'm now human being.

Jacob Goldstein

What were you before?

Allan Obiero

(LAUGHING) [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[LAUGHS] [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

[FOREIGN LANGUAGE] Before, I was an image of a human being, but in real sense, I wasn't a human being.

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

David Kestenbaum

The thing that really changed his life, he says, was the new roof. Daniel bought a metal roof to replace his old one, which was made of grass. He showed it to us. And if buying a new roof sounds like something that's nice to have but isn't really going to help Daniel in the long run, you've probably never owned a grass roof. Just about everyone we talked to had replaced their grass roofs with metal ones.

Caroline Odhiambo

I was, yes, very happy. I was very happy about the money.

Jacob Goldstein

This is Caroline [? Odhiambo, ?] who also bought a metal roof, and who explained why everyone was doing it. First of all, grass roofs are terrible roofs. They leak, failing to perform what is arguably the single most important job of any roof. When it rains, everything you own gets wet, it's hard to sleep, you have to keep moving around to find a dry spot.

But also, grass roofs need to be constantly maintained. You have to keep replacing the grass and, apparently, you can't just cut any grass from the field. You need a special kind of grass, and often you have to pay for it.

Caroline Odhiambo

The grass is very expensive. Because you have to buy grass every year, even three times a year, and it costs a lot.

Jacob Goldstein

A metal roof costs more up front-- $200 or $300-- but it can last for more than 10 years, and in the long run, it's way cheaper than a grass roof. So buying that metal roof means that, every year, Caroline and the others won't have to spend money buying new grass. It's like they just boosted their income for the next decade. They'll have more money in their pockets-- money to pay for school fees or food or to buy a cow.

David Kestenbaum

And buying a cow, that was also really common.

Jacob Goldstein

Oh, there. That's your cow.

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

I named her Apala.

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

It's a female cow. A very good one, because it produces milk.

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

A lot of milk.

Daniel Otieno Ombock

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

David Kestenbaum

Daniel told us his cow cost about $400. He says it produces 2 liters of milk a day. His family drinks 1 liter and sells 1 liter for about $0.50. Caroline also bought a cow, but she says don't think of it as a cow. Think of hers as a bank.

Caroline Odhiambo

The cows are just like bank. When we put there, it's just as if we have saved it in the cow.

Jacob Goldstein

And why buy a cow instead of putting the money in the bank?

Caroline Odhiambo

In the bank? You know, money in the bank, sometimes you can just go and take it, small, small, small, small, until it got finished.

David Kestenbaum

A cow, on the other hand, you can't fritter away a few shillings at a time. If you want to get your money out of a cow, you have to take your cow to market and sell it.

Jacob Goldstein

All these things people spent money on-- cows, roofs, a motorcycle-- they seem like reasonable choices. In fact, they seemed so reasonable, we started to worry that people were just telling us the good news stories. So we asked a different question-- not what did you do with the money, but what did your neighbors do?

David Kestenbaum

And then we started to hear different stories. Bernard told us, sure, I spent the money well, but not everybody did.

Bernard Ohmondi

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

There's so many guys who are very careless, and I know as you are going to walk around in some homes, you're going to see guys who misuse their money. You'll get that some of them didn't even put up a house.

Bernard Ohmondi

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

They didn't even buy a motorcycle.

Bernard Ohmondi

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

Some of them are still staying in their grass thatched houses.

Bernard Ohmondi

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

You'll just see there's nothing, there's no change in his life, and they misused the money.

Jacob Goldstein

What did they do with the money?

Bernard Ohmondi

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

So some of them are drunkards, so they probably used it to buy alcohol. Others just spent the whole amount on food. They just ate and became fat and there's nothing to see, nothing has remained of it.

David Kestenbaum

Bernard didn't name anyone in particular, but another guy in the village, a guy named Julius, said, my neighbor right over here. Look, he still has a thatch roof on his house. He wasted his money. He was so embarrassed, he didn't even want to talk to you.

Allan Obiero

He saw your vehicle and he knew that you were around. He decided to run away. They're not here now.

David Kestenbaum

So we went to the neighbor's house and, just like Julius said, he wasn't home. There were two little kids there who told us that their parents had gone into town.

Jacob Goldstein

It seemed like Julius might be right, so we asked GiveDirectly about the neighbor and a woman named Lydia Tala, who works for GiveDirectly and is from the region, managed to reach him on the phone the next day. He told her he wasn't hiding and he wasn't embarrassed.

He said his first wife had died. He wanted to get remarried, but in this part of Kenya, the groom traditionally has to pay the bride's family. So that's what he spent the money on. He spent it on a dowry so he could get remarried, and that's why he still had a thatched roof.

David Kestenbaum

There was one problem we did see in the village-- the money sometimes created tensions between people who got it and people who did not. Bernard told us he lost some friends over it. They'd come by and say, hey, I heard you got a bunch of free money. Share the wealth. He told them, sorry, I can't. Daniel told us he started staying late on his farm plot to avoid people.

Jacob Goldstein

And if you think it's tough getting free money when your neighbors don't, try being the guy who doesn't get money.

Charles Odhiambo

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

I was feeling pretty bad.

Jacob Goldstein

This is a man named Charles [? Odhiambo. ?] We ran into him one afternoon while we were walking along a dirt path. He was herding cattle. He said his neighbors got $1,000, he got nothing.

Charles Odhiambo

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

Those who benefit from the project are laughing at us, saying that us who are-- we are sort of becoming a bother to them.

Charles Odhiambo

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Allan Obiero

It's been bothering me all the time, because I always ask myself, why did myself not benefit from the project?

David Kestenbaum

The issue came up again when we were talking to a village elder. We were asking him lots of questions and, as we were leaving, he said, can I ask a question? We said sure. It was a question for Piali from GiveDirectly, who was traveling with us that day, and it was about the people who didn't get the money.

Allan Obiero

He's saying those who are not enrolled in the program, are there plans that they could be enrolled in the future?

Piali Mukhopadhyay

So, unfortunately at this time, the enrollment is closed for this area. So we typically come to a village, enroll as many people as we can who are eligible, and then we move on. So we wish we could help everyone here, but we're moving on to other places at this point.

Jacob Goldstein

Here's how GiveDirectly decides who gets money. They pick a poor village and then they go to the village and find everyone with a grass roof, because people with grass roofs tend to be the very poorest. Those people get money.

David Kestenbaum

Piali says GiveDirectly is aware that handing money to some people in the village and not others is an issue, that it's creating tensions between the super poor and the slightly less poor. In fact, GiveDirectly is now testing out a new approach where they just pick a poor village and give money to everyone, no matter what kind of roof they have.

[COW LOWING]

Jacob Goldstein

We wanted to compare what GiveDirectly is doing with what other, more traditional charities are doing, so we went to another village nearby. It looked a lot like the GiveDirectly villages, except for one thing-- the cows. The cows we saw in this village were much, much bigger.

David Kestenbaum

The cows were given to the people in this village by a charity called Heifer International, working with another charity called Send a Cow. And let's just say right off, these were some very impressive cows. They looked strong and healthy. They looked like they could eat the other cows we saw in Kenya. In fact, there was a minute where I thought one of them was going to eat me.

Woman

[SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

[CORRAL RATTLING]

[COW LOWING]

David Kestenbaum

Maybe it's not a good idea.

Jacob Goldstein

Yeah, maybe it's not a good idea. We should just step out of the corral and ask her to tell us. Why don't we step back?

The people got these cows told us not only did they get an impressive cow, they also got a lot of really useful training. They were taught how to make sure the cow is getting the right nutrition. They were taught how to keep detailed logs to track milk production. They got visits from someone from Heifer to make sure everything was going well. And people told us all that made a huge difference.

One woman, Grace [? Ochang, ?] told us her cow produces an enormous amount of milk.

Grace Ochang

Mine is 14, 15 liters per day.

David Kestenbaum

It used to be--?

Grace Ochang

One. The local cows.

David Kestenbaum

1 liter, compared to 14 or 15? So it's 14 or 15 times better?

Grace Ochang

[LAUGHS] Yes.

David Kestenbaum

This cow makes her a lot of money. She sells most of the milk, and there's this other nice thing about cows-- they have babies, and a calf you can sell for hundreds of dollars.

Jacob Goldstein

As part of the Heifer Send a Cow program, Grace is supposed to give away the first female calf to another family. That family will also get training and then pass on their firstborn calf to another family, and so on.

David Kestenbaum

Which is a nice idea. If you're a donor, you give one cow and you imagine it turning into lots of cows, helping lots of people. And all that training-- you could argue this is one of the most valuable things the developed world has to share. All that knowledge about how to get the most milk out of a cow and keep it healthy. If you just give people money, you're not passing on that knowledge.

Jacob Goldstein

So if you want to help poor people in Western Kenya, what's better? Should you give them training and a giant, impressive, somewhat-frightening cow, or should you just give them the money instead?

David Kestenbaum

The guys who started GiveDirectly think that question can be answered. They're great believers in data. In fact, Michael Faye, one of the founders, told us that's part of the reason they started GiveDirectly.

Michael Faye

We literally just wanted to give away our own money. We don't have a very exotic story of founding the organization. We were in graduate school, we were studying development economics, we had a little bit extra money to give, and we wanted to know the best place to give it. Surprisingly, we had no idea.

Jacob Goldstein

Faye and his friends were in grad school and they wanted to give away a little money to help people in the developing world. And despite the fact that they were all studying the economics of the developing world, Michael Faye says they could not figure out which charity to give money to.

Michael Faye

There are two questions that we wanted to answer about charities that we found hard. One is, where does my dollar go exactly? If I want to trace it, where does it go? And two is, what's the evidence of impact? Not the anecdote, not the story, but real, scientific evidence that would convince a bunch of geeks at Harvard.

Jacob Goldstein

As geeks, there was one thing that did stand out to them, one place where there was lots of data-- giving money. In the past decade or so, dozens of governments have started giving money directly to millions of their poorest citizens, and the results are pretty remarkable.

David Kestenbaum

In Mexico, families' incomes went up for years after they got the money. In Malawi, HIV rates dropped. In South Africa, one study found children ate better and actually grew taller. Giving money made kids taller. Faye and his grad student friends read the evidence on giving money and thought, wow.

Michael Faye

This is incredible. Cash is one of the most researched interventions in development, and there's no one doing it.

David Kestenbaum

There's no charity doing it.

Michael Faye

There's no charity doing this exclusively. And then you started to get this idea that, wow, this could be something quite big.

David Kestenbaum

Michael Faye says the whole idea just made sense to him. Poor people know what they need, so give them money and let them decide how to spend it.

Jacob Goldstein

Now, in a lot of the programs with those impressive results, people did not just get money with no strings attached. Parents had to do things like take their kids to school or get them vaccinated, and the money usually kept coming for as long as families qualified. But the GiveDirectly guys thought, let's keep our charity as simple as possible. Just give cash to poor families for about a year, no strings attached.

David Kestenbaum

To figure out whether giving money with no strings attached is working, GiveDirectly is doing something that's very rare in the charity world-- they're doing an actual experiment. The fancy term for it is a "randomized controlled trial." Basically, you take a bunch of people who are all similar-- in this case, they're all really poor, they all live in thatch roof huts in villages in Western Kenya-- and you randomly put them into one of two groups. Group one gets money, group two doesn't.

Then you follow everybody and you see what happens. You compare the two groups so you can tell what difference getting money makes.

Jacob Goldstein

The experiment is being done by independent researchers who go out to the villages. And they do this incredibly detailed survey with people. It takes about six hours per family. Michael Faye says there are hundreds of questions.

Michael Faye

Have health outcomes improved? Has your income improved? Have you been able to feed yourself and have basic nutrition? How have family dynamics evolved? Do you feel like you have more respect in the family? School attendance, all these sorts of things. You do those in both cases and you compare.

David Kestenbaum

They also measure kids' height and weight to see how they're doing. The results from the study are due out later this year and will be made public.

Jacob Goldstein

This study is not just about figuring out how well giving money works. It's also a challenge to other charities. Michael Faye's co-founder, Paul Niehaus, was pretty blunt about it. Providing training, flying in experts, paying staff-- all that costs money. If you think what you're doing is better than just giving that money to people, prove it.

Paul Niehaus

We would like to see organizations make the case that they think they can do more good for the poor with a dollar than the poor could do for themselves. That would be fantastic. And I think some may be able to make a convincing case. But if you go to the websites today, I don't think you're going to see that argument being made. Nobody even bothers.

David Kestenbaum

So for example, if you're trying to figure out which is better, giving cows or cash, you could do an experiment. Take one village, give the people cows and training, and the next village over, take the money you would have spent on cows and training and just give it to the people. Paul, not surprisingly, loves this idea.

Paul Niehaus

It'd be great, wouldn't it? It would be fantastic. That's exactly what the sector needs.

Jacob Goldstein

We called up Heifer International to see what they thought of the idea. We talked to Elizabeth Bintliff, vice president of Heifer's Africa programs.

David Kestenbaum

How would you feel about a head-to-head trial where one village gets cash, the other village gets the same amount of money spent on cows and training, and we see which does better?

Elizabeth Bintliff

[LAUGHS] Well, let me say this-- I mean, as an African woman, that sounds to me like a terrible idea.

David Kestenbaum

[LAUGHS]

Elizabeth Bintliff

I mean, it sounds like an experiment, and we're not about experiments. These are lives of real people and we have to do what we believe is correct. We can't make experiments with people's lives. They're just-- they're people. It's too important.

David Kestenbaum

I think the GiveDirectly response to that would be, we have to do experiments, because that's how we can figure out the very best way to help people.

Elizabeth Bintliff

It's just not that linear. It's not an equation. It's an ecosystem-- that's the only way I can describe it.

David Kestenbaum

Is part of what you're saying that you feel like there's a limit to data?

Elizabeth Bintliff

Well, data has its value but it cannot capture everything. There is a limit to it.

David Kestenbaum

If you're someone who got into the aid world to help people, the idea of dividing them off into two groups and tossing a coin to see who gets this and who gets that could just feel cold, especially if you've done this work for years and you've seen that you're helping people.

Elizabeth Bintliff

I was in Zambia in September of last year, and, I was with a woman whose name is Flora, who I will forever remember. And she had received a couple of draft animals from Heifer. And within two years-- and she had really good records-- within two years, she had more than tripled what she was getting out of that farm.

And for her, it wasn't just about the money. I talked to her about what the real value is and she said, I am a proud woman and I can stand up and I can talk and people listen to me and I have a voice. And you can't measure that stuff. Sorry, I'm getting emotional. You just can't measure that stuff.

Jacob Goldstein

Elizabeth Bintliff told us Heifer does try to measure certain things about their programs. She said Heifer's worked with independent researchers who study Heifer projects.

Elizabeth Bintliff

The University of Western Michigan evaluates Heifer's projects and has found that there is a very positive return to families in terms of income, nutrition, and other indicators-- gender relations, children's welfare, education, and so on.

David Kestenbaum

Do you know what any of the numbers are from that study?

Elizabeth Bintliff

I can send those to you, yes.

Jacob Goldstein

But after we talked to Elizabeth, we got an email from Heifer. It said, thanks for your interest in those Western Michigan evaluations but, quote, "as the sources cited are unpublished, we're not able to provide further information publicly at this time."

David Kestenbaum

So we asked Heifer for whatever they could show us about what their projects cost and what they achieve. They told us that, according to a progress report for the project we visited, families make about $950 a year off their cows. But they said that number, quote, "is not meant to be considered an analysis of the project. It is information collected at the project level by field staff." And they wouldn't show us the report.

Jacob Goldstein

We also asked how much it cost to provide a family with a cow and training. Heifer told us it varies from family to family, and they couldn't provide a number.

David Kestenbaum

Giving cash with no strings attached clearly has limits. Even if it works in rural Kenya, it may not work so well in Asia or in urban areas. It won't magically fix all the other things that keep people poor. It won't end civil wars or fix corrupt governments or create new vaccines. But even if it just helps poor people climb up a couple rungs, that would be a huge accomplishment.

And here's something else-- until pretty recently, the charity world has been about doing stuff that helps without really thinking, well, how much does it help exactly, and how much does it cost? And there does seem to be this shift that's happening, a shift away from glossy brochures and smiling children and happy anecdotes, a shift toward data. Philanthropy is getting nerdier.

Jacob Goldstein

Last year, the GiveDirectly guys gave a presentation at the corporate charity office of Google, a place where data counts for a lot. In the presentation, they didn't show any pictures of people. What they did show were charts and studies and lots of numbers, and the people at Google were impressed. In fact, they gave GiveDirectly $2.4 million and told Paul and Michael, you're thinking too small. Go figure out how to give money to lots more poor people.

Ira Glass

Jacob Goldstein and David Kestenbaum for Planet Money, which is a co-production of our program and NPR News. Their blog and twice-weekly podcast about economics, but for the rest of us who don't necessarily give a damn about economics, is at npr.org/money.

Coming up, a sheriff tries to keep lots of deputies on the street, tries to make their jobs more efficient, tries to bust big illegal drug operations, all by making peace with marijuana growers. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. Nipped in the Bud.

Ira Glass

This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each week on the program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, "I Was Just Trying to Help"-- stories of people, you know, doing exactly that.

We've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, Nipped in the Bud.

So here's a problem that somebody's gotta step in and help with-- what are we going to do about marijuana, you know? Lots of states have made moves to legalize it in various ways in recent years. It has just made it more complicated. It's really kind of a mess.

Case in point, it's been over a decade since California allowed medical marijuana and they still have not figured out exactly how to handle it. Lots of people with no actual medical need are getting lots of marijuana. How much you're allowed to grow or buy or possess varies from county to county. State law says that you can possess up to 8 ounces of processed marijuana, but it also says that if your doctor decides you need more, it's OK to have more. At one point, in Mendocino County, in the northern part of the state, where most of the pot is grown, it was legal to have up to 2 pounds of the stuff. But if you went to Lake County just right next door with that amount of pot, you were breaking the law.

It's confusing even for cops. There are situations for cops without any clear path about what you're supposed to do. This next story is a story about one of those situations and a cop who was trying to do the right thing, trying to help his community as best he can figure out to, in Mendocino County. Mary Cuddehe tells what happened.

Mary Cuddehe

When I sat down with Tom Allman, the elected sheriff of Mendocino County, I asked him what I thought was a pretty straightforward question about marijuana.

Mary Cuddehe

Do you have any estimates of how many people are actually growing in Mendocino County?

Tom Allman

That is the funniest question I have heard in a year. Do I have any estimate of the percentage or the number of people who are growing in Mendocino County? I know I have never thought of that question. I've never thought of the answer.

Mary Cuddehe

When California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, growers started flocking to Mendocino looking to cash in. Mendocino's a couple of hours north of San Francisco, and picture it for a second-- it's huge, mostly rural, there's lots of dense forest. It's basically the perfect place to hide a pot garden. And now there's so much pot growing, it's not even worth guessing how much is there.

All kinds of people are growing, from old hippies tending a few plants in their backyard to-- and this was the big problem-- criminals running massive industrial size pot farms in the forest on both public and private land. Sheriff Allman knew these illegal growers were wreaking havoc in the forest. They'd lay miles of pipe to divert water from rivers where salmon run, spray pesticides, and then just leave their trash behind after harvest.

And they posed an even bigger threat-- they were armed. At a meeting with the County Board of Supervisors in 2010, residents gave Sheriff Allman an earful.

Tom Allman

I believe 11 citizens spoke that morning. And of the 11, 8 said something similar to, "In the National Forest this year, I was shot at." Or, "In National Forest this year, I was out grazing my cattle or I was out recreating and someone started shooting at me."

And every time a citizen got up and said that, there were five members of the board-- and I was sitting there in uniform, just like this. And every time someone would say, yeah, I was up there, you know, driving around and I got shot at, there were five sets of eyes who all turned and looked at me like, Sheriff, what are you going to do about this?

Mary Cuddehe

Sheriff Allman actually had an idea, an idea that would free up his staff to go after the bad guys. His idea was, to get those guys, first bring order to the world of small-time legal growers. He couldn't just ignore the small fry, because no matter how small they were, his office kept getting calls about them.

At the start of each growing season, Allman says the number one 911 call was about the smell of blooming pot gardens. It can be pretty bad-- it smells like skunk. And each time, the Sheriff's Department had to respond, even though county law said it was legal for residents to have up to 25 plants with a doctor's recommendation.

So people would call the cops, the Sheriff's Office would have to send someone out, check if the grower had a doctor's note, check that the note was legit, count the plants, fill out paperwork. Best case scenario, the deputy has spent an hour verifying that everything is perfectly fine. It was a waste of Allman's resources and he thought, there has to be a better way.

Tom Allman

So I came up with the idea of zip ties. You know what a zip tie is? A piece of plastic that has a serial number on it that is about 18 inches long. And we said, all right, here's what the plan is-- if you have a legitimate recommendation from a doctor and you bring that into the Sheriff's Office, we will give you zip ties, no cost.

And what you're supposed to do is take these zip ties to your house and go to the base of the mature, flowering, female marijuana plant. And that way, when our law enforcement officers come to your house, we could actually look at that serial number and we could track it back to you and say, all right, you were growing these with legitimacy.

Mary Cuddehe

Around the same time Allman was looking into zip ties, the County Board of Supervisors was also trying to find a fix. They proposed new rules saying that marijuana could only be grown a certain number of feet from schools and churches. It couldn't be visible from the road. You could already grow 25 plants, but the board knew people were growing much more, saying they were running co-ops, growing for other people.

So after a big debate, the board decided that co-ops could have up to 99 plants, but there was a catch-- if you wanted to grow that much pot, you were required to sign up for Allman's zip tie program. And you'd have to pay-- $1,500 to register as a cooperative, $50 per zip tie. You'd be subject to inspections-- those cost $500. And all of that money went straight back to the Sheriff's Department. So if you've got 99 plants, you're paying around $8,000 a year for the cops to keep tabs on your weed.

All these new rules would be rolled into Mendocino County Ordinance 9.31, and that's what everyone called the 99 Plant Program, 9.31. As with any new rule to regulate pot in Mendocino, it attracted a ton of debate and critics. Even Sheriff Allman's own staff wasn't 100% behind him.

Mary Cuddehe

What did your deputies think?

Tom Allman

The sheriff is off his rocker. The sheriff is nuts. The sheriff is in on this. The sheriff supports marijuana. Well, no, I don't. You know, I'm sure that if you put a survey out to the deputy sheriffs, "Do you like the zip ties idea?" I surely wouldn't win a majority of the popularity contest.

Mary Cuddehe

Actually, there was a survey done-- an audit commissioned by the Board of Supervisors. And in it, some deputies said they supported the program, but others said it was, quote, "potentially criminal friendly, reduces morale, and is poised to bring more crime to the county and potential corruption to the department."

The board passed the new rule by a vote of three to two, and once 9.31 got up and running, it worked. The first year, 18 people signed up. By the second year, 94 people had stepped forward to register with the Sheriff's Office. It meant that those people were out in the open, paying fees and-- this was new-- inviting cops into their homes to count their pot.

Tom Allman

I was very excited to have clear regulations. I feel that overall it was a very healing time for the community.

Mary Cuddehe

Matt Cohen was one of the first farmers to sign up. He's known around Mendocino as the poster boy of 9.31. He's the guy who would talk to TV reporters and give them tours of his garden.

Matt's operation was called Northstone Organics. His customers could get fresh vegetables, pasture-raised eggs, goat cheese, and 40 varieties of premium buds delivered straight to their door. Matt ran the operation on a 10-acre property where he and his wife also lived. They invested a lot of money and took the business seriously.

Matt Cohen

We had 15-plus full time employees and a half dozen seasonal employees. There was a field out back that had the medicine growing that was in a very, very secure security system. We'd even had false alarms go off and the sheriff show up in less than 10 minutes.

Mary Cuddehe

Northstone employees made between $19 and $28 an hour. They had health insurance and workman's comp. The county authorities saw Matt's co-op as a model for what regulated pot could be, because, remember, Matt Cohen wasn't just paying his employees, he was paying the county.

At the time, Mendocino, like counties and states all across the country, was facing huge budget cuts. Allman had already been told that he needed to lay off five deputies. But 9.31 brought in almost a million dollars in the first two years, enough to keep those jobs.

Allman felt like he had the resources to do what he wanted to do all along-- go after the big guys.

Kira Klapper

We continue our coverage tonight on Operation Full Court Press in the Mendocino National Forest.

[HELICOPTER FLYING]

Mary Cuddehe

Allman orchestrated a huge bust in the summer of 2011. He called it Operation Full Court Press. It targeted illegal marijuana farms in the Mendocino National Forest. It was massive. Allman's forces were there, along with hundreds of agents from five other counties, the state, as well as the DEA and FBI.

Lauren Hallacher

Over the past two weeks, Operation Full Court Press has seized over 460,000 marijuana plants, raided 56 grow sites, and made a total of 102 arrests.

Mary Cuddehe

Pesticides and dozens of weapons were seized. The raid uncovered miles of irrigation piping, man-made dams, and 46,000 pounds of trash. Even the White House's drug czar commended the raid. Allman was succeeding on two fronts-- he was cracking down on the big, destructive growers and, with 9.31, he could keep an eye on some small time farmers.

But the problem, of course, is that even though the state of California has legalized pot in all sorts of ways, the federal government says it's illegal, no matter what. Every year, the DEA raids small farms in Mendocino and other counties that under California law are perfectly legal. Medical marijuana dispensaries across the state have been shut down by the feds.

Allman knew that his program was a violation of federal law, but he's the county sheriff, so he's supposed to enforce state law. So really, in the scheme of things, Allman thought his program was safe because, again, his zip ties were just a way to streamline things, save his deputies some time, and get some money back for all the effort he was putting into marijuana. Plus, he'd been upfront with the federal government.

Tom Allman

On August 24, 2011, I spent an hour and a half briefing the US Attorney for Northern California, the FBI supervisor of Northern California, four other sheriffs, and four district attorneys about 9.31. I told them all the aspects of it. This is what we're doing, this is how we're doing it, these are the problems we expect, this is how we're going to take care of the problems. And on that date, I didn't have anybody, especially from the federal government, stand up and say, you can't do that. They all said the same thing-- oh, this is interesting.

Mary Cuddehe

The Department of Justice wouldn't agree to an interview for this story, but a spokesman for Melinda Haag, the US Attorney for the Northern District, says she didn't take the news quietly, that she stood up during that meeting and said, what he's describing is not consistent with federal law.

I talked to a couple of other people who were there and their accounts differed slightly. They said that Melinda Haag simply reiterated the federal position, saying marijuana is a violation of federal law. And the Mendocino County district attorney told me she added, "But I'm not passing judgement at this time on the Mendocino model."

Then on October 13, 2011, a little over two months after that meeting with federal officials, Allman got a call.

Tom Allman

Just to let you know, Sheriff, we're raiding Matt Cohen's property. And certainly, Matt Cohen can tell you his side of the story of what happened.

Matt Cohen

Sure. Not my most fun memory. Well, my wife and I were sleeping in our home, in our bed, and I heard the dog start barking. And I jumped out of bed and looked out the window, and there was what looked to be federal vehicles driving very fast into our driveway. I looked to my wife and I said, "We're being raided by the federal government." Because obviously, we never expected to be raided by the Sheriff's Department.

And they showed up at the front door with machine guns drawn. There was, I think, eight of them. I said, "Don't shoot the dogs, they're friendly, and I'm cooperating." And I told them there was an alarm that would call the Sheriff's Department if they kicked down the door.

Mary Cuddehe

They did kick down the door, tripping the alarm, but the DEA told the sheriff not to come. The agents handcuffed Matt and his wife and put them on the front porch. They sat there for eight hours while the agents took chainsaws to their 99 plants and tore through their house. His computers and cell phones were seized, along with any paperwork related to Allman's zip tie program.

Matt Cohen

I mean, I got the impression that they thought the Sheriff's Department was just as much of a crooks as they thought we were. [LAUGHS]

Mary Cuddehe

Did somebody say that?

Matt Cohen

Yeah. Yeah, they said it was a sham and that-- I could be paraphrasing, but it seemed like they thought that those guys should be in jail.

Mary Cuddehe

So when they arrived and you said, look, this is a program regulated by the county, they laughed it off?

Matt Cohen

Yeah. I actually thought that they were at the wrong house. I said, do you know who we are? We're Northstone Organics. I mean, you can see on TV who we are, that we're legitimate, that we're licensed, that we're doing everything right. There's 99 plants here, why are you guys here? And they didn't respond.

Mary Cuddehe

Matt wasn't charged, but there are a lot of theories in Mendocino, or at least rumors, about why he was raided. Theory number one, almost everyone I talked to said that shutting down the poster boy of 9.31 was payback. The county program flew in the face of federal law, was an embarrassment to the US Justice Department, and so the DEA pulled the plug in the most public way possible. Or maybe Allman's deputies, who didn't like the zip ties, had complained to the feds.

The most interesting theory I heard was from John McCowen, another member of the Board of Supervisors. He had worked closely with the sheriff to develop 9.31 and he thinks that when the Feds came to Mendocino to help with Operation Full Court Press, that big bust in the forest, they didn't like what they were seeing.

They felt like they'd stepped into the Wild West. People were openly growing marijuana with a rubber stamp from the sheriff. In Matt Cohen's online newsletter, for instance, he advertised his product this way-- "Pedigree medical cannabis plants growing this week on our Mendocino County Sheriff's Department permitted farm." You can imagine how that sort of thing would rankle the DEA.

County Supervisor John McCowen says he thinks federal authorities wanted to make sure no other county adopted the Mendocino model, which was getting a lot of attention.

John Mccowen

I do have it on good authority that the federal attorney and others were actually getting calls saying, "We understand what Mendocino County is doing is working very well. How do we do that?"

Mary Cuddehe

Again, the Department of Justice wouldn't speak with us, but they did confirm that the Northern District got at least one call along these lines and that they replied that the Mendocino program was a violation of federal law. Sheriff Allman told me he had also spoken to half a dozen sheriffs from other counties, both inside and outside California, who all wanted to know how the program worked.

Shortly after the raid on Matt's co-op, the County Board of Supervisors decided the pressure from the federal government was too much. They amended Ordinance 9.31, shut the program down. You couldn't grow 99 plants anymore. You could still buy zip ties, you could still grow 25 plants if you had a letter from the doctor, but the inspections, the fees, the oversight-- everything that had made the small farmers feel protected and Allman feel like he was making some progress-- all of that was gone.

Even so, the Department of Justice subpoenaed the county, demanding they hand over all records of the 9.31 program, including the names of everyone who participated. It really freaked people out. What exactly was the federal government planning to do with that information? Eventually, last spring, the two sides struck a deal. The county handed over some records, but withheld the names of the farmers.

Mendocino's experiment is over, and for Allman, it means that he's right back where he started.

Tom Allman

Think of it. Two years ago, people were paying cops $500 a month to come to their house, count the number of marijuana plants, make sure they weren't stealing water, make sure they weren't using dangerous environmental practices and they weren't spilling diesel. I mean, what better solution is there than to have this open communication? But we're not going to have that now.

Mary Cuddehe

In Mendocino, you can still walking into Sheriff Allman's office and buy zip ties. When I talked to him earlier this year, he figured no one would bother, not after the raid and the federal subpoena. He hadn't even ordered a resupply. But surprisingly, 69 people have bought zip ties so far this year. He just sold some the other day. That's 69 people who know their pot won't get confiscated by the sheriff. They can't be so sure about the DEA.

Ira Glass

Mary Cuddehe.

[MUSIC - "MARIJUANA, THE DEVIL FLOWER" BY JOHNNY PRICE]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Jonathan Menjivar with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Miki Meek, Lisa Pollak, Brian Reed, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Production help from Dana Chivvis. Seth Lind is our operations director, Emily Condon's our production manager, Elise Bergerson's our administrative assistant, Adrianne Mathiowetz runs our website. Research help from Michelle Harris and Julie Beer. Music help from Damien Graef, from Rob Geddis.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Torey Malatia. And he called everybody on staff to find out how they all spent this year's annual bonus. He just gave me a report--

Allan Obiero

--so some of them are drunkards, so they used it to buy alcohol. Others just spent the whole amount on food and became fat.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

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