Archive for ‘Featured stories’

January 17, 2012

Interview – Christine M. Grote, Author of Dancing in Heaven

RED! the breakthrough ‘zine Interview with Christine M. Grote

RED! contributing writer, Elizabeth Bryant, recently interviewed RED! writer and blog/technical consultant, Christine Grote, about the publication of her first book, DANCING IN HEAVEN: A Sister’s Memoir.  It is an evocative exploration of the life and death of Christine’s sister, Annie.  The book delves deeply into the complexities of caregiving and the endless – and endlessly loving – attention the family gave toward assisting a sister and daughter who, profoundly disabled, was never able to speak, nor was she capable of mobility without help.  Christine’s memoir, a truly innovative work in the literature of caregiving and family relationships, most of all captures the joyous spirit of Annie, who constantly in her limitations still communicated great warmth, laughter, and love to anyone around her. Christine Grote, also a contributing writer for RED!, is an original member of RED!’s staff, and for four years has assisted in the publication’s editing, design, promotion and marketing, and technical advancements.

RED! – After reading your book, it is obvious that Annie was a very big part of your families’ lives and that you all loved her dearly. At what point in your life did you really start to think that you would like to write about Annie’s life?  

Christine:  Not until I was an adult and had children of my own.

RED! – How did your family feel about you writing this story of Annie? Were they supportive?

Christine: Some of my family members were supportive and some were not. I think my mother supported me both as a writer and because I was recording a piece of our family’s history. I think she is happy to have and to be able to share Annie’s story.

RED! – I love the way the pictures in your book aid in telling Annie’s story. The front cover and the picture on the back cover really add to the story as well. Can you tell me about how you chose the pictures and cover that you chose?

Christine: I just tried to make the picture relate in some way to what I was writing about. Some of the pictures I moved around a few times. Originally I wanted to use more family group photos, but when two of my siblings were unwilling to sign release forms, I had to remove most of the group shots. My daughter designed the cover. It was her inspiration, and I loved it.

RED! – Do you feel that writing this book has helped you in a sense deal with Annie’s passing?

Christine: I think it has, in the sense that rubbing salt in a wound expedites the healing. It was painful to write, but it forced me to face a lot of things that were difficult.

RED! – Do you think that it has helped your family cope better with her passing? Have they read the book?

Christine: I think it is beginning to help my mother. She has read it three times now: twice in the original version that included all family members and once in the rewrite version. My sister Carol has read it. My father is unable.

RED! – I think this book will be very helpful to others who have or are currently going through similar circumstances in their lives. Is that something you had in mind when writing your book?

Christine: Absolutely. In fact, I sent one of my books to my friend Jim, who is in the book. He read it, and then gave it to a co-worker whose four-month-old child was just diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He told me he thought it would give her inspiration and strength.

RED! – What advice can you give aspiring writers who are thinking of writing a book, particularly a memoir?

Christine: I believe memoirs are very important because they record a piece of history, or what is happening in the here and now. They are also tricky. Memoir stories have to be told in the context the events were lived, which requires including other people. Some people, as I unfortunately learned first hand, do not want to be in a book. My advice would be this: if you are writing about someone else, check with them every step of the way, so you don’t end up with a complete story that you are unable to publish.

RED! – Thank you again, Christine; I hope your family is doing well.

Christine: Thank you.

You can contact Christine at:


Dancing in Heaven is available at: (print and Kindle)
(print and Nook)
(multiple ebooks)

To read excerpts from Dancing in Heaven and book reviews, please visit the Dancing in Heaven page on Christine’s blog.

October 19, 2011

Street Talk: Neutralizing Violence

August 19, 2011

Amanda’s Tapestry: The Art of Achieving – by Deb Scott

I met Amanda when she was incarcerated in 2007 at Franklin Pre-Release Center, and she entered and completed the Vineyard Columbus mentoring program. In her words, “If I wouldn’t have had the mentoring program, I wouldn’t have had such a strong belief system.”

Amanda says that this strong belief system helped her be the strong-minded person she needed to be to re-enter the community after being incarcerated. She was released after serving five years in February 2011.

Amanda completed over 50 re-entry and rehabilitative programs while incarcerated. For example, she completed her GED and worked for four years with two off-site work programs at Ohio Penal Industries and the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Amanda also completed two years in Tapestry, a segregated therapeutic community for addicts in prison. Even though she used hertime wisely, taking advantage of every opportunity inside, as she stepped outside the walls of prison with fresh hope and in anticipation of a new start, she was not prepared for the overwhelming discouragement and frustration. She submitted 60-80 job applications with only four job interviews. Because of her felony record, Amanda said there are too few resources for jobs and housing. She found out that “…no one wants to hire a felon or rent to one because, they think you’re trouble, it’s very discouraging and frustrating. It’s hard, really hard.”

Recently, Amanda was a resident in transitional housing and she valued this post-release living environment. She believes this enabled her to make a better transition back into the community because, Amanda said, “They offered a schedule, direction and the ability to totally re-locate yourself.”

Transitional housing facilities are a great place to live, but it’s still hard. The residents are expected to get a job, but a job search requires bus fare which is expensive and most women don’t have the money necessary. Amanda was able to secure bus fare with the help of her family and church community. She acquired a job and rode the bus 1-3/4 hour with four transfers each way.  As she noticed, “A lot of women don’t have this option and they return to old places, people and things…what they know… because old ‘friends’ will give them a place to stay and a meal, but they end up back in the same lifestyle that sent them to prison in the first place.”

While in prison, Amanda finished 2-1/2 years of college but on the outside, when she applied to three different colleges, she experienced discrimination because of her felony conviction. She found college admission offices difficult to work with and very rude once they knew her past. Amanda recognized that in order to get a better job she needed more education, but if she didn’t persevere that wouldn’t happen.

Again, she saw how discouraging it was to try and better oneself after being incarcerated and understood why so many women didn’t make it on the outside. The paperwork alone is overwhelming and, she says, “You have to explain yourself 50 milliontimes as to why you did what you did.” It was her faith in and her relationship with God that reminded her of who she is now.  She says, “Good thing I know the Lord ‘cause He had plans for me that nobody else could stop.”




Editor’s Note: Amanda Marks is doing very well in her new living environment. She is making positive contributions to society and re-connecting to family. RED! also acknowledges the superior work that Deb Scott does as a mentor to women incarcerated in prison in Ohio, particularly in Ohio Reformatory for Women and in Franklin Pre-Release Center.


August 10, 2011

RED! Alert: ACLU-Ohio on Voting Rights

Laurie Brigg, board member of the American Civil Liberties Union-Ohio (ACLU), recently visited Partners with Justice (, informing attendees about significant – and often alarming – details regarding individuals’ voting rights.

In this very important meeting, on August 4, Brigg indicated that, in Ohio, under House Bill 194 which was recently passed in the Ohio legislature, “time procedure for early resident voting is to be cut in half,” she said. “The impact of ‘comprehensive voting changes’ in House Bills 194 and 224 now severely cut early and absentee voting, among other things.

Go to those sites above for more prominent information about the critical aspects of the Bills.

“These changes are going to be confusing to the voter,” Brigg said. “There are many changes and they’ve come quickly.”

That is, one significant change is that early voting now begins two weeks before Election Day voting. House Bill 194 also eliminatea weekend voting. It also restricts hours of voting to Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. and, on Saturday, 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Under the Bill, mail-in, or absentee voting, does not begin until 21 days before Election Day.

House Bill 194 prohibits poll workers from assisting voters. “People are needing to know their correct precinct,” Brigg said.

House Bill 194 also stipulates that a “Presumption of Voter Error” would make “any error as the voter’s error or fault and not election officials’ fault,” according to Brigg.

HB 194 stipulates that military identification, a passport, current driver’s license or state identification will be acceptable identification.

It’s important to check the ACLU website for updates at


A date of significance: Former Director of Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, Dr. Terry Collins, will speak at Partners with Justice (PWJ) Thursday, September 1 meeting. The meeting will be held from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. at Macedonia Living Word Fellowship Church. The address is: 353 Kemper Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45246.  The church is located in Springdale, a suburb of Cincinnati. 

Report by Diane Rogers, Executive Director of Partners with Justice (PWJ)

May 21, 2011

Welcome Home, Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell !

We welcome home celebrated RED! columnist, Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell, who was released on May 16, 2011, from a facility in Lewiston, California. 

Our RED! team is ecstatic over Hook’s current re-entry, his plans to work, write, remain healthy, and persist in helping others – his humandkindness is aglow again outside the arena of incarceration, and, given Hook’s past dedication as a writer, mentor, and facilitator, he will surely thrive. As Hook is fond of saying, “It will surely be a blessing.”

A basketball legend and supreme athlete, Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell is considered perhaps the greatest player never to make the National Basketball Association, experiencing a range of incarceration setbacks that disabled a promising professional career.

The 2003 film directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker, Michael Skolnik, “Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius ‘Hook’ Mitchell,” profiles Hook and presents insights into the human chasm of destructive behavior, which ironically paralleled some of the greatest basketall and athletic feats ever displayed by one person – Hook himself.

Yet, the film goes to extraordinary lengths in also emphasizing Hook’s transformation during his first prison incarceration, the individuals who mentored him, and Hook’s geniunely wise understanding of how personal change must occur. Hook’s wisdom is transparent, and it should be noted, especially, by every youth in the country, especially those on the verge of making “negative” life choices. Hook is that powerful a testimony and that wise a person.

In his most recent incarceration period, Hook applied himself in the most positive and humanitarian ways, befriending and mentoring a range of peers, dedicating his time to education, mentoring, and leadership within the institution.

He is a close friend of RED! editor and publisher, Jeffrey Hillard. Hook’s desire to reach others is contagious. He is an abundantly gifted mentor of youth, possesses a knack for educating others on nutrition and healthy-eating matters, exudes an authentic leadership ability, and most importantly, Hook does not mire himself in self-doubt or bitterness over not making the N.B.A. years ago. He understands his need to live and to make positive life choices – now.  In 2011 and beyond.

In a recent “Mistakes 143” column, on the verge of appearing in RED! just before his release, Hook Mitchell writes:

“Yes, I am patiently waiting for my next feat. (It’s God’s calling for me and a blessing.) My book, “Do You Want to Learn How to Fly?”, has been on the table just waiting for its opportunity. (There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come, and there is nothing so detrimental than someone who is still thinking old ideas.) It seems more and more apparent, since God has allowed me to witness Mr. Blake Griffin perform what I patented 20-plus years ago. (Logon to, or Hook Mitchell on

“You see, I’ll have to perform most of the feats that you see on N.B.A. t.v.: the T-Mac toss-off-the-glass; the dunk over any and everything – I started most of it. (God is the greatest.) What I was blessed with was an innate ability to perform things then that others perform on the hoop court and place a “10” on it (tweak it). It all started when I was on the eight-feet-high basket and told myself that I wanted to dunk on the 10-feet-high basket; everyone was dunking on courts at Prescott, Cole, Lafayette, and all the schools in Oakland. I would ride my bike to see the action, or dribble my basketball to see them.

“I’m patiently waiting!

“Here is the hypothesis to come: #30AT (Hook Mitchell) can perform a feat such as leaping and dunking over a car in four different decades. I first started this feat in the late 1980s (1988). I performed it in the 1990s, and in the decade of 2000. I was on the first cover of my friend Bobbito Garcia’s Bounce Magazine in 2005.

“Now, it is 2011. Can I pull it off? Mr. Rob Stone (of Fader Magazine) has always said that ‘Hook loves to keep it interesting.’ At 42-years old, sure God knows best.

“I am at ‘Fire Camp’ at this time [mid-April 2011], but I am training for my next feat!

“Even with all the hatred I’v endured in my life, people always disapprove of what God has blessed me with. I really don’t pay that much attention to it. Individuals seem to “hate” the fact that the C-O’s and Fire Captain [at the time of this writing in April] have caught wind of what God has blessed me with (not hearing it from me).

“As I mentioned earlier about my preparation for what’s to come (42-year old man dunking over a car), there are individuals that can’t see the big picture and say that they disapprove of my working out so much on a daily basis [mid-April].

“Mike Skolnik and Rob Stone…and as to Mr. Fader’s family…here I come: bigger, stronger, tougher, and wiser than before.


“Cordially, #30AT (Slam Magazine’s  “#3 playground player of all-time”).”


Above, the editor supplied information in the brackets.

May 9, 2011

APHRODITE JONES – Interview – True Crime with Aphrodite Jones on I.D. Channel


RED! the breakthrough ‘zine editor, Jeffrey Hillard, recently interviewed best-selling author, Aphrodite Jones, who is also the producer and host of her current, highly-rated, true crime investigation show, “True Crime with Aphrodite Jones” on ID (Investigation Discovery channel). The show is in its second season, airing on Thursday from 10:00 – 11:00 p.m. (est). 



RED!: You’re coming off of a stellar first season of investigative stories. What plan did you come up with to decide on stories for the new Season Two?

APHRODITE: For Season Two, I wanted to be sure that my show, “True Crime…,” could branch out a bit further, and not only concentrate on murder. To that end, I chose to include stories about Anna Nicole Smith and also a twisted ponzi scheme (with a murder in the middle) to show my viewers that I have as much of an interest in social injustices and social issues as I do in helping crack murder cases. 

RED!: Because you’re on a learning curve from the first season, what adjustments did you make in pursuing these new stories?

APHRODITE: The difference between Season One of “True Crime” and Season Two – well, it’s hard to distinguish. In Season One, I was able to cover O.J. Simpson, Chandra Levy, Scott Peterson, and other very high profile cases. In Season Two, while the high profile cases continued, with Jon Benet Ramsey, Anna Nicole Smith, and Betty Broderick, I would say that I decided that my audience seems to like to see me follow up on the lesser-known cases as much as anything in the front headlines. So, I chose certain stories that people may “know,” but that are not headline news everywhere, such as: the West Memphis Three and the Dating Game Killer. 

RED!: You’re a gifted and seasoned best-selling writer of investigative true crime books. What have been some challenges in transitioning from writing books to producing a television series?

APHRODITE: It has been a great challenge to move from writing books to hosting and producing a TV show. But, of course, I have a great team behind me in TV; whereas, with a book, I am all on my own. I really do like the collaborative nature of television, and I have to give so much credit to my producing team at Discovery Studios, as well as to the top executives at ID, who have worked tirelessly to see that “True Crime…” is one of their best products. It’s really all of us working together — and I can hardly take the credit for the transition, because they made it easy for me! 

RED!: In this second season of preparing new stories, have you encountered any information or made discoveries that really startled or intrigued you?

APHRODITE: In Season Two of “True Crime…,” I think I was most impacted by the details I learned regarding the botched Jon Benet Ramsey investigation. I must admit that, after having met with Mr. Ramsey in person, my heart felt broken, and I came home in tears, thinking about what he and his family have been put through for almost 15 years now. To think, not only are they innocent, but they are victims. Andyet, Mr. Ramsey and his son are still being treated – by the Boulder Police Department – like criminals. It’s appalling. 

RED!: Are you finding that television is now a natural progression in which to showcase your work and vision, or will the book writing re-emerge at some point?

APHRODITE: Well, about TV vs. books…it just so happens that I am on my way to relocate to Orlando for the next two months to cover the Casey Anthony trial. While there, I will write a new book. And I feel that it’s about time!

March 30, 2011


One of the best television shows currently airing is Investigation Discovery’s (ID) “True Crime with Aphrodite Jones“. If the first season is indication of what the future of this extraordinary show will reveal, the second season is bound to offer some of the most astute and orginal explorations of contemporary crime ever done.

Season Two begins Thursday, March 31, from 10:00 – 11:00 EST.

Here’s a superb press release on the show. It’s a series, so note the future shows. Do not miss them.

And the trailer. From Investigative Discovery.

The authenticity of the show lies in several areas. Aphrodite has secured unprecedented access to a number of key individuals associated with each and every case in the series. Now, in t.v. journalism, or in a reality crime show as such, this may not seem original. But, it is.

Aphrodite’s access enables her to sift through and present information and details that have frequently not yet surfaced. In doing so, as cases in the first season evidenced, the deeper a case goes (the more minutes into the show), the more we observe the depth of understanding Aphrodite has for victims or family or acquaintances or officials involved with a case. Her persona does not come across as trite. Her patience in handling interviews and details contributes to this authenticity, and yet she’s exuberant and opinionized once we realize she’s discovered new case details in the process of doing a show.

The commercials don’t necessarily break the rhythm of how deeply Aphrodite delves into these cases. ID’s commercials – every channel breathes because of them – don’t disturb the deepening scenarios. You know the case is going deeper until Aphrodite captures some serious closure. In some cases, it may not even be closure for Aphrodite; it may be an unsettling, mystifying end to a case. But, she’s tackled it from her perspective, and she is confident of the story she ‘s presented. Again, it’s a bullseye perspective.

Aphrodite’s first investigation – the first show – deals with the festering chaos and dumbfounding investigation over years of the case of Colorado’s JonBenet Ramsey, as her murder 15 years ago startled the country’s imagination.

The second show features an exploration of past and new details surrounding the death of celeb Anna Nicole Smith.

RED! will be following the show and presenting updates with Aphrodite.  One of the genuinely hardest working journalists in television (and print), she is also one of the most generous.

Check out her website and order her best-selling books.

February 27, 2011

Erin’s story of transformation—Video

Erin’s story of transformation from REDwebzine on Vimeo.

February 27, 2011

Growing and Evolving

Greetings, RED! the breakthrough ‘zine Readers,
As RED! moves into another year of publication, and nears its third anniversary, we are proud to unveil a new look. RED! continues to grow and evolve.

Thanks to the design talent and innovations of RED! web editor, Christine Grote, we are moving to a blog format. Please be patient with the transition.

You’ll soon notice that news and information will be even more quickly delivered. We went “fluid” (more than weekly) in April 2009, and now that fluidity will be ramped up. The opportunities for you to offer feedback and interact with RED! will be more prominent. The new site will enable RED! to come alive in a fresh new way.

If you currently rely on the RED! rss feed to stay informed, as part of the transition you may need to sign back up on our new page. We recommend you also subscribe. There will always be new posts.

So, here’s what’s coming soon:
• more regularity of news, features, Jeff’s Blog, and columns – with additional columnists forthcoming
• heightened multi-media
• new work (including inmate art) in the next few days and weeks by columnists, The Legend – columnist Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell – Karyn B. Alexander, Angela Derrick, and Melissa Vanover; drawings by inmates Jimmy Brown and Matthew Moore; stories by writers Melissa Parnell and Drew Fox; and “Action Words” essays by Brian Crawford, Dale E. Jones, and “Irish” Johnny Harvey; video interviews and more
• look for a video feature by Grant McDonald
• intensified coverage of two organizations with which RED! partners: Sonje Ayiti and MissionRise
• quicker updates on urgent issues facing the criminal justice system globally

I thank you endlessly for your support. I thank you for your dedicated reading. Thanks for spreading the word on, what we believe, is one of the most unique and original internet magazines in the world. It’s because of your belief in stories of transformation, hope, positive life-changes and breakthroughs, and innovative leadership that RED! generates the thousands of readers it cherishes.


Jeffrey Hillard
Editor & Publisher / RED! the breakthrough ‘zine

February 23, 2011

Unconditional Love—An essay by Melissa Parnell

My father, whose name I will leave anonymous, is what the courts would call a career criminal. Yes, he has committed many crimes in his life and has paid for them in many ways. The hardest payment has been regret. If he paid in regret, the amount would equal the national debt. Currently, my father is serving his five-year sentence in London Correctional Institution (LCI). He was recently moved there from Lebanon Correctional Institution (LeCI).

Prior to his time in Ohio, he served four years in North Pointe Training Center in Kentucky. Both of these sentences were served concurrently for his convictions of aggravated robbery. My father, the man I call Dad, robbed two pharmacies and threatened people to get the drugs he needed. It was in 2004 when his face was on every news channel and his name was released for television viewers to be on the alert in order to notify crime stoppers. I couldn’t believe this same monster on TV was my dad. I thought, if they only knew who he really was – not just the man who was feeding a horrible addiction. I was devastated.

Now, the story of a life-long struggle of many addictions led my father to his fate. In my opinion it ultimately saved his life. My father has made many bad choices, lots of them taking place in front of mine and my brother’s eyes. I can remember countless times seeing my father buy drugs and do drugs right in front of us. I could literally write a novel of the dysfunction I have witnessed. I am not interested in replaying the bad choices he has made, because I learned at a young age that they were his choices, not mine. Sure, I could blame him for a lot of things. One would be the influence his choices have made on my younger brother; or the sadness I feel for all the things he has missed. The list could go on, but to blame him would be foolish; he blames himself enough.

It wasn’t all bad, though. My dad taught me to be loving and non-judgmental and, most importantly, at his lowest of lows he taught me the most valuable lesson: how to love unconditionally. You see, through all the things he has missed – my graduation, the birth of his grandchildren, walking me (his only daughter) down the wedding aisle, the death of his only brother, the self-destruction of his youngest son,  and more – I feel no anger.  I only feel sadness over the fact that he has missed some of the happiest times of my life, and I feel relieved that he missed some of the hardest times, because his only coping mechanism is to get high. So, for that I am grateful, because he is alive.

Thus, my lesson is this: many people come from far worse situations. It is our own power and will that determines the person we will be. I am only myself. I am not my father’s choices although I am his daughter. I love him and no choice he could make would change that. I am sure he would feel the same. I feel sorrow for the victims of his robberies, and it saddens me that they will forever remember a monster. I will forever remember a troubled man, one who made me laugh when I was sad, gave me the answers to life’s trivial mysteries, loved me unconditionally, and is the first man I ever loved – my dad. We talk on a weekly basis and I remind him of this, yet time is a heartbreaker and I long for the day when he is free. I hope he has learned how precious time is and that death is not the only way to lose it.