Transcript

509:

It Says So Right Here
Transcript

Originally aired 10.25.2013

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/509

Prologue.

Ira Glass

A couple years ago, a guy named Lanail Hudson-- Lanail Thaddeus Hudson, actually-- goes to a government office in Jacksonville, Florida to get a new Florida state ID, and they ask him to wait. And then they call out a state trooper, because a man in Miami with the exact same name, Lanail Thaddeus Hudson, had gone to the authorities and flagged the name. Said there had been identity theft. Said, somebody's got a fake driver's license under this name.

So the trooper shows up, and he's got to figure out what's going on. And the guy walks up to him in the lobby and says, well, maybe we can straighten this out now. Great. So the trooper asks the guy for any proof of who he is. Here's the trooper, Richard Blanco.

Richard Blanco

And he opens the backpack, and he starts pulling out all these identifications. Just numerous IDs. The passport, social security card, 20 to 30 pieces of identification on him.

Ira Glass

There's a government-issued ID that lets him walk around the port in Jacksonville unescorted. There are two naval IDs that allow him onto Navy vessels. There's a birth certificate.

Richard Blanco

You know, he's slinging all these identifications on the desk. This is me. This is who I am. These documents, these IDs depicted his photograph. So then I had a little doubt in my mind.

Ira Glass

Your doubt meaning what?

Richard Blanco

This could be the true Lanail Hudson. He could be the victim.

Ira Glass

So he fingerprints the guy and runs it through the system, and sure enough, the fingerprints match the fingerprints on file for Lanail Hudson. Whoever this is standing in front of them has been arrested all the way back in 1989 as Lanail Hudson. He's actually served in prison as Lanail Hudson.

But then Trooper Blanco gets the other Lanail Hudson on the phone-- the guy in Miami. That Lanail Hudson turns out to be a corrections officer down in Dade County, and that Lanail Hudson said that ever since his wallet was stolen back in 1989 with his driver's license and his social security card inside, he'd had problems. He tells them--

Richard Blanco

This guy's taken my identity. He's lived in my identity for 23 years, since 1989. He's caused me all kind of grief. My driver's license is suspended.

He's cashed checks in my name. He has children in my name. On and on.

Ira Glass

At this point, Trooper Blanco strongly suspected the guy standing in front of him in Jacksonville was probably a fake, living under a stolen name. But vexingly, the guy would not admit this, even after he was arrested. At his job, with his wife and kids-- he had an 8-year-old and a 15-year-old at the time-- everybody knew him as Lanail Hudson. In fact, when this went to trial, the guy from Jacksonville still insisted he was Lanail Hudson.

Richard Blanco

His version was that he was Lanail Hudson, and that's all he's ever known himself to be is Lanail Hudson.

Ira Glass

And in his version of the story, the other guy is the criminal.

Richard Blanco

No, no. He didn't accuse the other guy of being a criminal. He just insisted that he was the real Lanail Hudson. Today, we still don't know who he is, and he's been incarcerated since September 30, 2011.

Ira Glass

Well, today on our radio show, It Says So Right Here. We have stories where what is written on official papers in black and white can determine the rest of your life. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass.

Act One. Doe-ppelgangers.

Richard Blanco

There's a good possibility that it was Leroy Mayer or Meyer.

Ira Glass

Those names show up on police paperwork on September 29, 1989, when he was arrested for four charges, including attempted murder and aggravated battery. He's identified as Lanail Hudson in those police reports, but the paperwork also says that he sometimes goes by the name of Leroy Meyers or Leroy Mayers, and his nickname today is Leroy. That's the name his wife calls him. During his trial, he explained that this way.

Richard Blanco

He says, well, when I was a young man, I got involved in a fight, and I licked the guy pretty good. I whipped him. And when I got done, all my friends call me Bad, Bad Leroy.

Ira Glass

Like the Jim Croce song? "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown"?

Richard Blanco

[LAUGHING] Yeah.

Ira Glass

And what's your read on this? Like, what do you think is his real story?

Richard Blanco

You know, I don't have proof, but I think he's a foreign national. He could be wanted for a crime, could be a fugitive from his country. Even his wife thought he was from another country, but I couldn't prove that he was from another country, so he can't be deported unless you have proof.

Ira Glass

And when you run Leroy Meyer or Leroy Mayer-- when you run down who that might be, do you see someone of his age with a criminal record or anything like that?

Richard Blanco

Nothing came back to Leroy Meyer or Mayer. We could find nothing. He went to prison as John Doe, so he never told us who he was.

And the real trick is once he's released from his 10-year sentence, who's he going to be when he gets out of jail or out of prison? That was a concern of the judge. Who will you be when you're released from prison? What will be your identity?

Ira Glass

You think if I ran him down now and asked him, he would still insist that he's Lanail?

Richard Blanco

You know what? I'd like to invite you to do that. I'd like to invite you to go and interview him and see if he'd grant an interview, and see what he would say.

John Doe

Hello?

Ira Glass

Yes, hi. Is this John Doe?

John Doe

Um, yes. I guess according to the state, I am.

Ira Glass

I reached the man that I suppose I'm going to call John Doe at the Federal Correctional Institution in Jesup, Georgia. I asked him what his real name was, the one he was born to.

John Doe

Lanail Hudson, and this is the only name I've ever had, the only name I've ever known. I'm dubbed John Doe at this point. I hate when people call me. They don't have the decency to say, well, call me Mr. Doe. John Doe. To me, it represents a nobody, and this seems unreal.

Ira Glass

Now, the other Lanail Hudson, the man in Miami, he has family members. He has school records from when he was a little boy. If this was your name, why not bring those to your trial to prove it?

John Doe

I couldn't really-- you know, I didn't have a case. He had a mother that came in and said, this is my son, and a dad that said that. And I had no one to say that, and I think that was the turning point. I don't know who my parents are. I don't know if I have any siblings.

Ira Glass

At his trial, he said he was homeschooled. That's why there were no school records. He said he was raised by a woman who's now deceased named Gertrude Hudson, who told him when he was 12 that she wasn't his real mom. And he said in court, and also on our phone call, that all the other paperwork and photos from his childhood were burned by a girlfriend in 1985 after they had a fight.

John Doe

And that was the last time that I really had anything really tangible to reflect of my past. I still don't have any of those things.

Ira Glass

Can you see how when the prosecution looks at that, they say, well, that looks very convenient. That looks very suspicious.

John Doe

Well, I don't know how it would. I'm telling the truth as it is, what had happened. My perception of how it looked didn't conceive in my mind. I'm just explaining what had happened in my past.

Ira Glass

I came out of that conversation still wondering who he was. So here at our radio show, we set out on a search. We called the church where he said he'd been baptized in Miami. Found nothing. Looked for the woman who he said burned his stuff in 1985. Zilch on that one, too.

Then we saw in his police records that the attempted murder and a bunch of other incidents in 1989 all happened at one house. And it named one of the people who lived there, and we found her.

Martha Rolle

He used to date my sister, but she's dead now. Used to date my sister.

Ira Glass

This is Martha Rolle. She says she knew him for a year, year and a half. Did you ever hear the name Lanail Hudson? Did he ever call himself Lanail Hudson?

Martha Rolle

No. I don't remember that.

Ira Glass

What name did you know him by?

Martha Rolle

Leroy. Leroy May-- Meyers. I don't know which one it is, but Leroy was Mayers. I knew him by that. I don't know any other name.

Ira Glass

And where was he from?

Martha Rolle

I don't know. I think he was from some kind of island. I don't know if it's Barbados, or somewhere, but he's not from here. He's not from here. He had an accent.

Ira Glass

I have to say, 10 years later, his accent's pretty faint. He's gotten rid of his accent.

Martha Rolle

Oh, he has?

Ira Glass

Mostly, yeah.

Martha Rolle

Oh my goodness. He sounded to me almost like Jamaican, but not Jamaican.

Jonathan Marshall

[INAUDIBLE] Leroy, he was from Trinidad. That's where he said he was from, Trinidad.

Ira Glass

This is Martha's brother, Jonathan Marshall. He also never heard Leroy use the name Lanail Hudson.

Jonathan Marshall

I used to talk to him all the time. He was staying at the church right in the back of my house. He used to go with my sister, and him and my sister used to fight a lot. My sister was on drugs and everything, and we all tried to tell him not to deal with my sister, because she was HIV-positive and everything like that. He really wasn't a bad guy.

My sister hit him in the top of the head one time with a clawed hammer and busted his head open. I took him out to the hospital, and he laid his head all on my shoulder, and we were just crying and all that type of stuff, and I just was constantly telling him to leave the girl alone. But he wouldn't do it.

Ira Glass

Two weeks after his sister hit Leroy with a hammer, after she told him not to come around anymore, Leroy was lurking outside the house looking in the windows, and Jonathan went outside to shoo him away, and Leroy shot him. Four or five bullets missed. One hit him in the back. That bullet is still inside him.

That shooting is the attempted murder charge that Leroy racked up. And when the police arrested him for it, this is one of the first times that they booked and processed this guy who everybody called Leroy as Lanail Hudson. This is the moment where it seems like he's making the transition from one name to the other. Jonathan said that if I wanted more information about the guy, I should call the pastor at the church near his house-- the one where Leroy lived.

Jonathan Marshall

Reverend Scott. Elder Scott. He'll be able to give you all the information that you need.

Ira Glass

When I reached Pastor Selwyn Scott and his wife Thomasina, they didn't want to record a conversation for the radio, but they totally remembered Leroy. They said a member of their church found him living on the street when he was 19 or 20. They put him up in the trailer behind the church for maybe a year.

Pastor Scott talked to Leroy a lot, and say that Leroy told him that he was from Guyana. Conveniently for us, Pastor Scott has lived in Trinidad, Barbados, and Guyana, and said that Leroy's accent was definitely from Guyana. And in fact, though most of his arrest records do not list a country of origin or list the United States as the country of origin, one of them, from September 21, 1989, lists his country of origin as Guyana.

Without any prompting, Mrs. Scott brought up the name Lanail Hudson. Actually, she wasn't sure if it was Lionel or Leonard or Lanail, but she said that Leroy found a wallet with the ID in it-- a name like Lanail Hudson-- and she said they told him to mail it back. And after Leroy left the neighborhood, she said that she heard that the young man whose ID it was was dead, and that Leroy had assumed the young man's identity. I let her know that the young man is still very much alive-- no longer perhaps so young-- and I talked to him.

Lanail Thaddeus Hudson

How much money has he cost me?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Lanail Thaddeus Hudson

It wasn't too much. I would say maybe $6,000 or $7,000, he cost me.

Ira Glass

This is Lanail Hudson, the one that I think is the real one. The one who lives in Miami and works for the Department of Corrections. If the price tag on 23 years of identity theft seems shockingly low-- just $6,000, after all-- you should know that that price does not count endless hours on the phone straightening out his credit. He says it took years to convince the IRS that he didn't owe them money. They wanted to garnish his wages for a while.

He says that Leroy, or John Doe, or whatever it is that we're calling him, would buy cars and not make payments, rent cars and not return them, leave hospital bills unpaid. The real Lanail was careful to pay his bills on time and play by the rules. But he couldn't buy a house, because his credit was ruined.

Lanail Thaddeus Hudson

I believe the most frustrating one-- I believe-- let's see. Let me think. I believe the companies like Sprint and the hospital. These are the companies that are so hard to prove, because they just want their money. And even though they know this person is a criminal, they know this person stole your identity, but I just want the money.

I'm like, well, that is not me. I don't have a phone. I'm proving to you that. They don't care about that.

Ira Glass

On top of all that, he had an attempted murder charge on his name, which was kind of a problem whenever he got pulled over by a cop or applied for a job. Here's what I think we can accurately say about Leroy/John Doe. It seems clear he had some kind of rough childhood, lived on the streets. Went to prison for shooting his girlfriend's brother, and when he got out in the early '90s, he used Lanail Hudson's good name to start a new life.

Moved to Jacksonville, found a church, met his wife Rosemary there, and told her that he wanted to start over. She says she could see that he'd been broken and thrown away by other people, and fell in love with him. She said he was sweet, quiet, a good dad. They had a house.

Trooper Blanco saw his pay stubs. Said he made good money. As best as we can tell from police records, his violent criminal behavior mostly stops by 1993.

That said, it does seem that if he thought he could get away with not paying a bill, he would try. That seems to have continued as he built his new life. Talking to him, I think the way that he sees it is he didn't steal. He didn't run up bills on someone else's credit card. I don't think he ever considered how he might be hurting the Lanail Hudson who lived down in Miami.

I do believe that he wants to get back to his family and kids when he gets out of prison. And so he's stuck as John Doe, because admitting that he's Leroy or somebody else probably does get him deported.

Act Two. What Are You Doing for the Test of Your Life?

Ira Glass

Act Two. What are you doing for the test of your life? The woman in this next story is waiting on a piece of paper that-- I think it's not an exaggeration to put it this way-- is going to determine how she will spend the rest of her life. The paper that she's waiting on is a test result-- a genetic test-- for Huntington's disease.

Huntington's disease is a progressive brain disorder. There's a wide range of symptoms, but in the worst cases, people who have it can end up losing physical control of their bodies, sort of like Parkinson's disease. They can also have mental symptoms that are like Alzheimer's or schizophrenia. If you have a parent with Huntington's disease, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it yourself.

That's the situation in this story. A woman named Kelly-- her mom has Huntington's. Kelly is the youngest of six sisters, and she decided to get tested. She kept an audio diary about what happened.

Kelly

It's 8:30 in the morning. I have an hour and a half until my results, and I'm getting ready. I feel nervous. I'm nervous today. I was a little nervous last night. It started to kick in about midnight, and today, I'm like-- I can't explain it. It's like butterflies.

Like Kayla said, it's like Christmas, almost, except when you open your present, it's like the [BLEEP] present you ever got. Or it could be the best. So I guess it's kind of like that ugh in your stomach.

Kyle

I'm holding us up. I'm holding us up. I'm cooking breakfast, and we've got to leave.

Kelly

I'm 28 years old. I live in Levittown, PA. I live here with my fiancee, Kyle.

Kyle

I'm trying to avoid this.

Kelly

My mom has Huntington's disease. Her father had Huntington's disease. I have five sisters. I would say right now, there's at least two of them that show signs. And I've decided to get tested now.

I am here with my sister, and we're going to ask her a few questions. My oldest sister, Cathy, who is 42 years old, was the one that took care of my mother when she started to get very sick. She's showing symptoms of the disease. How are you feeling now?

Cathy

Good.

Kelly

How did you feel before? We'll say a month ago.

Cathy

A month ago? Horrible. It feels like your mind is going. It's just, you try to think, and your body doesn't allow it to think. It's like, you can't remember.

And you look at something, and you're like, OK, I know how to do this. Like, I know it, I know it, I know it, I know it. And you can't do it. Your brain is just not working. And you feel like you're dying, as someone would describe it.

Kelly

Like you're panicking, almost?

Cathy

Yeah, yeah. And then it's kind of like, you wake up confused and try to-- you know you have to go to the bathroom, but you can't make it fast enough.

Kelly

So then you would pee yourself when that happened?

Cathy

That happened. Yeah. That happened recently.

Kelly

My biggest fear is like, what if your mind is trapped inside this body that can't move?

Cathy

That's why I kept telling everybody. I was doing the one word thing, and it was kind of--

Kelly

What was your one word? Because Mommy's was funny, funny, funny.

Cathy

Funny, yeah. Mine was don't know what to do. Like, don't know, don't know, I don't know. That's-- don't know. Don't know.

That's why I can't go see Mommy. Remember? I just can't go, because I just get--

Kelly

Psychologically messed up.

Cathy

Yeah. It just kills me.

Kelly

I mean, from what I hear, my mom was actually getting sick when she was pregnant with me. So she was pretty much sick from when I was born. I think I was 15 when she went to the nursing home. So it's been a while.

And she's-- I can't even explain it. It's like, she's very atrophied. Her arms are stuck up. Her legs are basically stuck. Like, she doesn't move at all. She does nothing.

Like, the best thing you could say is just a shell sitting there. No kid should ever have to see the [BLEEP] that went down in my house when we were kids. Like, crazy stuff.

I came home one day and everything was in plastic bags. Everything was contaminated, and disgusting, and she was allergic to everything. I'd come home and be like, what the hell? She's nuts again.

My friends would come over and say to me, like, your mom's nuts. What's going on? Yeah, I know.

And I was embarrassed. I was actually mad at her. I had terrible feelings towards her. Even when she went to assisted living, she'd call like 80 times a day.

Stop calling! And I'd hang up on her. And I was so mean to her. But I didn't have that understanding of what it was at all.

Kelly

So now another question I want to ask. Why haven't you ever gotten tested? Why didn't you think, even now-- what was your biggest fear? The insurance aspect of it?

Cathy

Insurance. The denial of wasting my life.

Kelly

Like, you feel like you didn't do what you should have done.

Cathy

Yeah. Like I should have lived more.

Kelly

Lived. Yeah. For me, it's I don't know if I'll be liberated if they tell me I have it, because like you said, you think about it every day. And if you know you have it, like you said, I'm going to live balls to the wall. I'm going to do everything. I'm going to make a list and do everything I want to do.

Cathy

Uh-huh. None of us should be having kids.

Kelly

For me it's moreso the care of the child. Now, I don't want my kid to go through what I went through. I had you to raise me, thank God, but with Mommy, I saw the most terrible part of someone that was supposed to be my mother.

Cathy

That's why I didn't want Kayla taking care of me, because I did it with Mommy.

Kelly

Yeah, it's so hard. Like, with Kayla-- so if Kayla has it, what would you feel? Like, [BLEEP].

Cathy

Yeah, I'd feel guilty.

Kayla

I don't feel like you have it, Kel.

Kelly

I hope not.

Kayla

I don't. I don't think you do.

Kelly

My niece Kayla's here with me today, because she's going to come with me to come get my results.

Kayla

I hope I'm right.

Kelly

It's a flattering thought.

Kayla

My name is Kayla. I'm 21 years old. My mom is Cathy. I recently got tested for Huntington's, and I was told that I definitely have the gene, just not displaying signs yet. Like, physical signs.

I decided not to tell my mom, because I don't want her to feel guilty for me having it. She's already depressed and on edge, and I wouldn't want to push her over. I literally don't have any family support besides Kelly. Like, Mom or Dad's side. Kelly is the only person I have who understands it that is behind me on it.

I haven't told anybody, really, in my family besides Kelly. We've talked about it our whole lives, and I don't want her to have it. But it's like, one part of me that if Kelly has it, I'm not alone. So I have really mixed feelings on it.

Kelly

OK, we're in the backyard just hanging out. Kayla's on her fifth cigarette. Clearly she's more nervous than me.

Kayla

Actually, since I found out my results, I feel like I smoke more. I really do, because now I'm like, screw it. Before, people were always like, oh, it's so unhealthy. You'll get cancer. And what more can happen, you know what I mean?

The first thing I wanted to do after I got my test results was I wanted to order food and watch stand-up. And that's what I did the whole night. Ate pizza. But I just treated it as another night, you know?

Kelly

I booked the day, because I knew that I wouldn't be sitting around. And I have a wedding shower Saturday at church, because now we have to start going to the church for the wedding. And then dinner plans with his mom, so I kind of booked the entire weekend to make sure that I don't have a second by myself to cry.

Kayla

All right, here we go. We're getting in the car and getting ready to leave. Do you want me to brush your hair? That's another thing. If I do get sick, just make sure you do my hair. Like, brush my hair and don't cut it short.

I don't want short hair like my mom. They did that to my mom. I hate short hair.

You don't have to do the makeup thing. Unless you want to. Like, when you take me out to dinner.

Kelly

See, I'm cool. Just stick me in a nursing home. I'll be fine.

Kayla

We'll put you in one of those nice homes down there.

Kelly

Yeah.

Kayla

We'll settle you in nicely. We'll make--

Kelly

I'll make friends. I'll make friends. My mom made friends. She loved the assisted living place. Remember she had a boyfriend there?

Kayla

Yeah. That's what I'm saying. I get to just chill out and play checkers all day. Sounds good.

Kelly

Probably you're gonna be a little shaky. Nobody's gonna want to play with you.

Kayla

Probably shouldn't play Jenga. [LAUGHING] That's terrible.

Kelly

All right. I've got to go in there. What time is it? Wait. [BLEEP] It's getting real now.

OK, it's 10:30, and we're about to go into Shayna's office for my results.

Shayna

Have you been nervous, or pretty chill, or--

Kelly

Yeah. I feel like I might throw up.

Shayna

You do? OK. Do you want me to just cut right to the chase?

Kelly

I don't know about that.

Shayna

OK. Well, I'm happy to do that. Unless you guys wanted to talk a little bit--

Kyle

No, I want to get to it.

Kelly

No, we just want to know.

Shayna

You just want to know. OK, I was going to say, some people want to have a conversation about what would happen. OK, great. Your results were normal. You're not going to have Huntington's disease. So it's not what you were expecting, I know.

Kayla

See, I told you.

Kelly

[CRYING] Oh my god. [CRYING] Oh my god. I'm sorry.

Kayla

It's OK.

Kelly

I can't even believe this. Like, are you sure?

Shayna

I'll show you the paper. I can show you the words. But yes, you inherited both normal alleles. Right there, the negatives. So negative is normal.

Kelly

[CRYING] Can we have that?

Shayna

Absolutely. I do need to make photocopies, but you can absolutely have it.

Kayla

[SNIFFLE] You mind if I just step outside?

Kelly

No, go ahead. That's fine.

Shayna

If you go to the right a little bit, you can have some privacy in that space.

Kayla

I'm just going to go to the lobby.

Shayna

OK.

Kelly

It's hard. It's hard for her.

Shayna

Yeah. And a lot of people think that just normal is easy, and everything's good, but it's complicated, you know? It's really complicated.

Kelly

The good thing is, at least I'll be able to take care of her.

Shayna

Yeah.

Kelly

That's the good part of it.

Shayna

Yeah.

Kelly

But I don't want her to be alone. It probably wasn't a good idea for her to be here, now that I think about it. Like, I wanted her for her support, but then it seems like she's probably going to be upset about it.

Shayna

Yeah.

Kelly

It says, result negative. This patient is predicted to be unaffected by Huntington's disease caused by the expansion of the CAG repeat in the HD gene. Laboratory results and submitted clinical information reviewed by Franklin Quan, Ph.D.

Like, you have to keep looking at it to make sure that they didn't screw up somewhere. Like, are you sure? Are you sure?

Ira Glass

Kelly's audio diary was produced by Paige Cowett of WNYC. Coming up, how your life can change because of something that happens with your parents in the parking lot of a Kohl's department store. That's in a minute. From Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Three. There's a Signed Line Between Love and Hate.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme. Today's theme, It Says So Right Here. Stories where what is written on paper in black and white has enormous power over somebody's life. We've arrived at Act Three of our show. Act Three-- There's A Signed Line Between Love and Hate. Ben Calhoun has this story of politics and one very particular piece of paperwork.

Ben Calhoun

If you took a wholesome storybook version of the state of Wisconsin and you turned it into a person, you might get a college student named Josh Inglett. Josh grew up in Portage, this small city near the middle of the state. His dad, a Lutheran minister. His mom, a substitute kindergarten teacher.

Josh got good grades in high school, where he played quarterback for his school's mostly losing football team. For college, he only looked at Wisconsin state schools. And listen to how he's paying for it.

Josh Inglett

Well, originally, my parents helped me out a little bit, but I kind of rejected the idea. I noticed some of my friends whose parents were paying for school or were assisting them in school didn't really take ownership, I guess, of their education, and they did some extracurricular activities that were not as fruitful, I guess, towards their education, and wouldn't help them, along the way, get the full learning experience at school.

Ben Calhoun

OK, I just want to note how he's so politely trying not to slag his friends for partying instead of studying, and that he's being so earnest and trying to live by principles. This is what it's like to talk to Josh.

Josh Inglett

I've actually turned away-- last year, I didn't even accept any financial aid. I decided I wanted to try paying for everything and graduate from college debt-free and relatively unassisted from my parents.

Ben Calhoun

Our story with Josh actually starts right here, once Josh is at college. He ended up going to the University of Wisconsin at Platteville, and his sophomore year, to pay his tuition bills, he became an RA. And because of that, he ended up going to the statewide convention for RAs throughout the whole UW system. And this is key, because this RA conference kind of blew Josh's mind a little.

When he was there, he started hearing about students at other UW schools who were helping to make their schools better. They were getting money and starting programs. And Josh was just like, I want to do that for my school. Almost on cue, he hears about a student position with the Board of Regents for the University of Wisconsin system.

Now, the Board of Regents might sound like some obscure, meaningless hunk of bureaucracy, but it's actually the governing board for Wisconsin's entire $5 billion a year university system. It's got two seats for students. So Josh applies.

Soon, he gets a call from the governor's office. That's what a big deal the Board of Regents is. The governor actually appoints the student regents.

So Josh goes to the state capital, Madison, to interview with Governor Scott Walker's staff. He's a little nervous at first, but he hits it off with the guy who's running the selection process. Josh is telling him about playing quarterback in Portage, and as it turns out, the guy running the interview actually grew up in a nearby town called Waunakee.

Josh Inglett

We had shared a joke, actually, that he went to Waunakee High School, which is a big time rival of Portage in sports and things. And they always beat us, too, so that was a good laugh. I felt like it was probably the best interview that I had ever had.

Ben Calhoun

Josh goes through weeks of interviewing and vetting, and then it happens. Governor Walker's office puts out a press release announcing Josh's nomination. This is what Governor Walker says about Josh in it. "I am pleased to appoint Joshua, and I know he will serve the UW system and his fellow students well."

A couple days later, Walker's staff calls Josh back to Madison for this big day of official stuff. They coach him and introduce him to lawmakers, who have to approve his nomination. There's meeting and greeting. There's a big long day of that. And then Josh goes home.

Josh Inglett

I got a call 5:30, so it must have been about an hour, probably, once I got back. I got a call from the governor's office-- the adviser on education to the governor. He told me that I had done a good job. That's kind of how he started the conversation, and then continued to ask me if I had signed the recall petition.

Ben Calhoun

The recall petition. Maybe you remember this whole political bloodbath Wisconsin went through a little while ago. Maybe you don't. But quick synopsis.

Scott Walker, conservative Republican, gets elected in 2010. And almost immediately, he announces a ton of really controversial things-- dramatic budget cuts or, more inflammatory, eliminating collective bargaining rights for most public sector employees-- nurses, teachers, et cetera, et cetera. The state goes bananas.

A year later, people organize an attempt to recall Walker and kick him out of office. And they collect about a million signatures for that. More than a quarter of all the registered voters in the state signed to have Walker recalled.

And so they do it. They have a vote, and the organizers fail. Walker wins. Stays in office.

OK, all of that happened before all this. The recall petition happened when Josh Inglett was barely out of high school. And yet, that's what this person from the governor's office was asking Josh about on the phone. Had he signed a petition to have Walker recalled?

Josh Inglett

And I asked him why, I guess. And he said, I just need to know. And I didn't even remember, I guess, at that point. It was something, I guess, that I had kind of forgotten about-- something that was not a big point in my life. Not something that I marked on my calendar by any sense of the imagination.

Ben Calhoun

Had it been something that Josh marked on his calendar, the date on the entry would have been December 26, 2011. Josh was home from college for the holidays, and he was out with his family after Christmas sale shopping. Josh says he remembers they were in the parking lot of a Kohl's department store, and there was this guy collecting signatures.

And Josh says while he was at home, he'd been hearing what Walker's collective bargaining legislation and budget cutting-- what this was going to do in his hometown of Portage. His parents were talking about it, and so were his old teachers.

Josh Inglett

We were preparing ourselves, I guess, for teachers in my district to be fired and to lose their jobs. There was going to be a downsize, I guess, of 20 or 30 teachers who were going to get fired or dismissed because of Governor Walker's policy against the unions.

Ben Calhoun

All of this was bad news for Josh's mom. Again, she was a substitute teacher. Mostly taught kindergarten.

And around this time, with Josh off at college, she was looking for a full-time teaching job. She hadn't been able to find one, though, and with Walker's budget cuts and union legislation, Josh knew her chances would only get worse. So he's there in the parking lot, standing there with his mom, and there's the guy with the clipboard who's like, sign here, kid.

Josh Inglett

And so I signed it.

Ben Calhoun

It sounds like it was mostly out of support for your mom, actually.

Josh Inglett

Oh, very much so, yeah. I knew that she wouldn't be able to get a full-time position if Governor Walker's policies came to fruition. It seemed like a violent situation for the people who were my role models-- my parents, my teachers, my coaches. They all were being affected by it, and it was something that I didn't really even think about. It just seemed like that was what I should do. That's the best thing for the people who I love in my life.

Ben Calhoun

OK, so back to this phone call from the governor's office. Walker's staff had spent a couple months interviewing and vetting Josh. It had just been hours since they were parading him through the capital. Now they were asking him if he'd ever signed the recall.

And again, at first, he couldn't even remember. Josh actually had to get off the phone with the staffer and call his dad to ask him if he had, in fact, signed the petition.

Josh Inglett

It was something that I guess I had to think about, and I think that may have turned him off, and that he was kind of upset about that. But I ultimately told him that I had signed it, and he said, thank you. And I asked him, is there a problem?

And he said, no, it's just something that my boss needs to know. And so I said, OK. And he said, all right, we'll call you later.

Ben Calhoun

Josh was stressed out by all this. And so that night, he wakes up. Middle of the night. 4:30 in the morning.

He has a voice mail from Walker's chief of staff, saying, whenever you get this, call me right away. It's possible the chief of staff did not mean, even if it's 4:30 in the morning, go ahead and give me a ring. But Josh gives the man what he's asking for.

Josh Inglett

And 4:30 in the morning on that Thursday, they told me that I was being rescinded.

Ben Calhoun

Rescinded. They were withdrawing Josh's nomination.

Josh Inglett

And the tone of the conversation was very somber. Not welcoming. And that was by the chief of staffer, the gentleman who was very powerful in the governor's office. I really felt lost. I guess I felt a sense of betrayal, because I viewed these people as people I looked up to.

Ben Calhoun

Josh says the governor's staff didn't ask about his reasoning-- why he'd signed. He didn't get to explain that despite his signature, Josh was, politically speaking, actually on their side. He's a Republican.

Josh had grown up listening to debates between his Republican grandparents and his Democratic parents. But when he signed the petition, he says, he wasn't political at all. Remember, Josh was only 18. He didn't even care enough to vote in the recall election. Then, after he signed, Josh did what a lot of people do in college.

Josh Inglett

That's really when I came into my own, and that's where I developed my own beliefs and my own political thoughts. And I like a smaller central government, and we need to balance the budget. Those are issues I see facing my generation, and that's something that I'm really passionate about.

Ben Calhoun

And Josh doesn't just support Republican policies. Specifically, he supports Governor Walker.

Josh Inglett

Oh, very much so. I'm a great advocate for entitlement reform, and the policies that he's putting in place there, and what he's doing for our workforce and things. I have great admiration for the man.

Ben Calhoun

And yet, Walker's staff thought Josh was the enemy because his signature was sitting there on that petition, and there would be no convincing them otherwise.

As for how Josh's signature even came up in the first place, the story had been broken by a couple conservative websites the same day Josh was at the capital for all the official stuff. Those websites found out because when Wisconsin politics had gone all nuts and the recall happened, a few conservative and Tea Party groups decided to put the recall signatures online. Several of them went through the petitions, activists and volunteers painstakingly data entering nearly a million signatures.

So a couple conservative blogs found Josh's signature and posted stories and called the governor for comment. Publicly, the governor's office didn't say why it was taking Josh's nomination back, only said they were withdrawing his name and choosing someone else. But once the news came out and people read about the signature, they connected the dots with a very straight line of common sense. And just like that, the governor's office turned a non-story-- a story of an appointment that nobody would usually hear about to a government board that a lot of people don't know exists-- they turned that into a juicy news story, one of political revenge and partisan warfare.

State Senator Dale Schultz

I think I heard it on the radio in the morning is how I think I got the news. I was stunned.

Ben Calhoun

This is Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz. And to be clear, like Governor Walker, Dale Schultz is a Republican. He's not some Democrat looking to embarrass Walker. He's been serving as a Republican in the Wisconsin state legislature since Governor Walker was a freshman in high school.

When the governor's office had broken the bad news to Josh, they told him they had to do this, because with the recall signature, Josh would never make it through the Republican-controlled state Senate. Senator Schultz is on the committee that was in charge of Josh's appointment.

Ben Calhoun

So when they said that they didn't want to drag him through the process of going through the legislature, how confident are you that if the governor had pushed him, that he would have made it through?

State Senator Dale Schultz

100%. I've been in the state Senate over 20 years, and the Wisconsin legislature passes on all gubernatorial appointments. Rarely do we say no to anyone. And this young man was very impressive.

Ben Calhoun

Schultz says he likes the governor. Voted for him. Supports him. But the Josh Inglett thing-- he says he didn't like it.

State Senator Dale Schultz

The only time I've ever seen or heard of a list like this being used before was Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, when they tried to recall him down there. It seems to me I remember reading an Economist article on that subject that it became a list of enemies, so to speak. And I was just shocked.

Ben Calhoun

Hearing the news, Senator Schultz fired off a letter to the governor that very same day, actually, which I have a copy of it here. "Dear Governor Walker, I write to respectfully ask that you reconsider rescinding the nomination of UW Platteville student Joshua Inglett to the UW Board of Regents. I'm not sure about you, but as for me, I know in my youth, and particularly during college, that I experimented and made decisions that, upon further thought and growth, I wouldn't make again. I'm thankful others gave me opportunities to learn and grow as a person and professionally."

In the following paragraphs here, Schultz points out that after Scott Walker won the recall election, he said he regretted all the ugliness, and he called for bipartisanship and healing and peace. And then Schultz's letter continues.

"I agree with you that for our state to heal, we must look past those issues which divided us and focus on those passions we share and move our great state forward. I can think of no greater way to put these feelings into action than by reconsidering Mr. Inglett's appointment."

I've called Governor Walker's office repeatedly. After weeks of calls, I have yet to hear anything. They haven't even declined to comment. The only statements from the governor about Josh Inglett that I've been able to find are in newspapers and in a few TV stories, and they all seem to have come from this one question and answer session Walker did right when all this happened.

Reporter 1

Joshua Inglett-- why did you decide to withdraw his nomination?

Governor Scott Walker

We got plenty of other good candidates, and we're not going to get into specifics about it. We've made a decision in our office to withdraw the nomination, and we'll be submitting another student to be one of the regents.

Ben Calhoun

Another reporter asks if Walker checks all candidates against the recall petition. Walker avoids saying what people in his office do. He just speaks specifically about himself.

Governor Scott Walker

I don't do anything in that regard, but in terms of that, like I said, my comment's just going to be that we went through the nominations.

Reporter 2

So it wasn't because he signed the petition?

Governor Scott Walker

Again, as I said before, I'm not going to comment one way or the other.

Ben Calhoun

The governor mostly repeats a vague line about how they don't want to, quote, "drag him through the details of that."

Reporter 2

You keep saying you don't want to drag him through, talking about this reason, but he is saying that he hasn't done anything wrong.

Governor Scott Walker

We're not saying there's anything-- all I'm saying--

Reporter 2

That's indicating that he did something wrong.

Governor Scott Walker

No, it didn't indicate anything. You're putting words in my mouth. I said we're withdrawing the nomination, and we'll be submitting another name from the wide list of students that we got.

Ben Calhoun

Josh Inglett is not the only case of this. There are other instances where the recall petitions are being used as a political enemies list-- a blacklist.

Charlie Sykes

OK, Thomas Wolfgram, the judge from Ozaukee County who signed the Walker recall petition, is having now to explain why he signed that.

Ben Calhoun

During the spring of 2013, the same time Josh was interviewing with the governor's office, another situation was playing out in a judicial election. Wisconsin is one of the states that elects its judges. And at some point, a newspaper had run the names of judges through the recall database. It found 29 signed the recall petition.

Among the names, Thomas Wolfgram, a judge from Ozaukee County, one of the most conservative counties in the state. That spring, Wolfgram was up for reelection.

Charlie Sykes

This has now become an issue in that campaign because a young conservative attorney who is an extremely good candidate-- an Iraq war vet, former clerk for the Wisconsin Supreme Court-- is raising the issue.

Ben Calhoun

What you're hearing is a talk show host in Milwaukee, Charlie Sykes. He was one of the conservatives who turned Wolfgram's signature into an issue. Sykes highlighted the story on air, explaining to listeners that Thomas Wolfgram had been exposed-- how he was this closeted Democrat living among the conservatives of Ozaukee County. And he explained how the judge with the signature had outed himself.

On the air, the judge is referred to as a, quote, "flaming liberal" and a "unionista," among many other things. One of these segments also showcased the judge's challenger, a Tea Party backed lawyer named Joe Voiland, who had decided to run against Wolfgram after finding out about the recall signature. In this audio you're about to hear, the host of the show, Charlie Sykes, speaks first.

Charlie Sykes

He's never actually stepped forward and said, I signed it because I wanted to throw Scott Walker out of office. I signed it because I'm a liberal, pro-union Democrat, and I wanted to overturn the 2000 election.

Joe Voiland

Well, he put his John Hancock on that piece of paper, and your signature-- your John Hancock-- is who you are and what you stand for. Now, look. The judge in his private life supported lawlessness. The recalls were about lawlessness and selfishness, and lawlessness and selfishness are two things that a judge should not support.

Ben Calhoun

In reality, Thomas Wolfgram, the guy being called lawless-- he made a career as a criminal prosecutor, first as an assistant DA, then as a deputy district attorney.

Thomas Wolfgram

And I eventually ran for and was elected district attorney here in Ozaukee County.

Ben Calhoun

And what were you running as?

Thomas Wolfgram

I ran as a Republican.

Ben Calhoun

A few things to know about the guy being lampooned as a lawless, pro-union flaming liberal, other than the fact that he's a former prosecutor and a Republican. Wolfgram was originally appointed to the bench by a Republican governor. And once he was on the bench, people liked him. In 2008, Wolfgram was named Judge of the Year by the Wisconsin State Bar Association.

Given his reputation and his record, when the signature thing hit, a lot of people rallied to the judge's defense. He was endorsed by every police chief in his county, the county sheriff, the Deputy Sheriffs Association, a number of district attorneys, prominent private attorneys, other state judges, state Supreme Court justices. On talk radio, these people were simply referred to as Wolfgram's, quote, "courthouse cronies."

So this campaign went on for months. And remarkably, during that time, the challenger, Voiland-- he actually never criticized any part of Wolfgram's nearly two decades on the bench.

Thomas Wolfgram

To my knowledge, no one ever questioned my criminal sentencing practices, my decision making in civil or family law cases. They never quarreled with my judicial demeanor. It was limited to one issue-- that I had signed a recall petition.

Ben Calhoun

Joe Voiland, the lawyer who ran against him-- he told me, yeah, that's true. He actually never had any problems with how Wolfgram did his job. But he said Wolfgram's signature permanently compromised his ability to be seen as fair and impartial.

Wolfgram, for his part-- he told me he'd signed the petition not as a political statement about Walker's policies, but because he thought the public wasn't given enough time to digest the policies. That's what made it traumatic for the state. This is actually something Walker later said himself.

But so for months, Joe Voiland sounded the alarm in speeches, on the internet, on the radio, in mail to voters. Wolfgram's signature had tainted him. Wolfgram went on to lose by a landslide-- by more than 25%.

After Wolfgram lost, the head of the Republican Party in his county wrote an editorial for the local paper. The title was, "Calling a Spade a Spade." Quote, "A big thank you is in order to all the Democrats and liberals who signed the Recall Walker petition. As was clearly shown in our election for judge, the signed petitions will be utilized as an effective tool to determine the most viable candidates for future elections."

He says Wolfgram's huge defeat is a warning, not just to people who signed the petition, but to people who support anyone like that. It's a not so veiled threat to people who stood up for Wolfgram-- people like the Republican county sheriff and the Republican district attorney. Essentially, he says, look out. We're coming for you next.

I talked to one of the bloggers who first outed Josh Inglett for having signed the recall. He's a young conservative named Brian Sikma. He told me, while Governor Walker's office doesn't say whether it checks who signed the recall, he said, frankly, he finds the idea that they don't check-- he called it far-fetched. And if somehow they didn't know before Josh Inglett that bloggers and activists would look at each and every appointment they make and call people out, Brian Sikma says he hopes they learned a lesson-- that outing people like this is now just standard procedure.

Brian Sikma

Sure. Well, there are district attorneys, assistant district attorneys. We found some judges. We also found people that serve on the judicial ethics board. Candidates for school board would probably be about the lowest rung that would be checked and would end up in the public debate, as far as during an election.

People in the past may have been left to wonder, well, whose side are they on politically? But now with the recall petition database, we can go in there, enter their name, and we can get some idea, some perspective as to whether or not they would be siding with Governor Walker, or whether they may not be using their position to slow down the governor's agenda, or at least have a certain perspective on an issue being debated in the state right now.

Ben Calhoun

In terms of the environment this has created within Wisconsin politics, I had a pretty telling conversation with a Republican staffer. The staffer told me Josh Inglett's story in particular made him worried, because, he said, he saw himself in it. He'd also signed the recall petition. Actually, he signed it the day after Josh did.

The staffer's mother was a teacher, just like Josh's mom, and the staffer had signed the recall as a Christmas present to her. This person, who we'll keep anonymous for obvious reasons, says he was really afraid that someone would find out about his signature. And he worried it wouldn't just be embarrassing for him, but it could hurt his boss and his boss's standing within the Republican Party-- make it harder for both of them to do their jobs. Describing what this time was like, he said he was seeing people, quote, "exposed and publicly shamed nearly every week." He said, quote, "I lived in fear."

Ben Calhoun

What do you feel like this has taught you about politics?

Josh Inglett

I guess there's always a larger game that's at play.

Ben Calhoun

For his part, Josh Inglett's reaction to all this-- to his name being withdrawn-- wasn't to get mad at all. When reporters came calling, Josh says he was honest, and his honest reaction was to accept what was happening, not to retaliate or point fingers.

Josh Inglett

Not to show any hatred towards the governor, but to show compassion and love, I guess. Not to reject them, but to be supportive. And it was not a time to act childish or to be yelling and kicking and screaming and pouting because of what had happened.

Ben Calhoun

Was that at all hard to do? Were you feeling that way?

Josh Inglett

No, that was something that I've always been raised to do. When I played quarterback in high school, that was what I had always done. When you play quarterback in Portage, you don't win very many games, but you always take the blame for things.

And when you win, it's always the line. The line is the reason that you won the game, and you are the reason that you would lose the game. Credit the line for your wins, and take the blame for your losses.

Ben Calhoun

Josh says maybe it was advice from his dad, the Lutheran minister, or from his mother, who had always encouraged him to send personal thank you notes. Which that was actually something Josh did in this case, including one to the governor's office, who he told if they ever had any positions in the future, and he could be helpful, he'd still love to serve.

Ben Calhoun

Given this experience that you've had, if you had the chance to take that signature back, would you do it?

Josh Inglett

No. I wouldn't. I still love my mother, and there's no reason that I should waver away from my love for my mother due to politics like that. That's not something that should interfere there.

Ben Calhoun

So for the Walker administration, if you're looking for somebody who agrees with your politics, who's a fan of yours, and who's still excited to serve, but who won't sell out his mom, for your consideration, Joshua Inglett. He says you've got his cell number.

Ira Glass

Ben Calhoun is one of the producers of our show.

[MUSIC - "PERMANENT RECORD" BY THE GOLDEN DOGS]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Jonathan Menjivar with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Miki Meek, 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.

Music help today from Damien Graef and Rob Geddis. Research help by Michelle Harris and Julie Beer.

[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, who explains how he got the nickname Lollipop.

Richard Blanco

I got involved in a fight, and I licked the guy pretty good.

Ira Glass

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

Announcer

PRI. Public Radio International.