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I just finished reading Colson Whitehead’s new novel “The Nickel Boys,” about a nightmarish reform school for boys in Jim Crow-era Florida. It gutted me even more than his previous book, “The Underground Railroad,” which was about the not-very-uplifting subject of … brutal, backbreaking slavery.

I was a bit stunned to learn that the book was inspired by a 2009 Tampa Bay Times investigation into the Dozier School for Boys. The series led to the discovery of unmarked graves of boys beaten into the ultimate submission, and eventually the school closed in 2011.

I finished the book just on the heels of completing Netflix’s limited series “Unbelievable,” based on the ProPublica/Marshall Project’s breathtaking investigation, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.”

Both of the original pieces that inspired those works tell the stories of young people who were completely, utterly failed by the justice system. And of course, they’re beautifully told, which helps make them bait for fictionalized accounts.

So, authors and screenwriters of the world, I decided to offer up the Voice of San Diego pieces from the last several years I think could use the Hollywood treatment. You’re welcome.

She Was 17. He Was Her 46-Year-Old Teacher. Despite Warning Signs, He Stayed in the Classroom for Years

Ashly McGlone laid out, in great detail, how a middle-aged teacher was able to groom and manipulate a young student into having a sexual affair. How their connection developed is a story and pattern we’ve seen emerge over and over in our investigation into sexual misconduct in public schools. The student’s realization, years later, that she’d been a victim of abuse, makes for a powerful story arc.

‘They Still Haven’t Given Her Back to Me’

The chaos and heartbreak that have played out at the U.S.-Mexico border over the last two years could fill endless movies and novels.

A particularly compelling example is the story of Sindy Ortiz Flores, and her 1-year-old daughter, Grethshell. Grethshell was separated from her father, who brought her across the border. Ortiz Flores made it to the United States days later, but was told by immigration officials she’d need to pay $2,000 if she wanted to reunite with her. All of this was happening long after a federal judge’s order was supposed to have put a stop to family separations. Eventually, their tearful and dramatic reunion was captured by dozens of news cameras eager to show the devastating human toll of the cruel and draconian policy.

What I Learned Helping My Sister Use California’s New Law to End Her Life

Kelly Davis’ personal essay about her sister’s decision to use California’s assisted suicide law – and to throw a goodbye party before she ended her life – is exquisitely told and has all the elements of a great story: It’s beautiful, heartbreaking and deeply human. There are so many pieces of it that could be more deeply fleshed out in a book or movie.

Guilt by Association: Facebook Pics Could Help Send a Young Man to Prison for Life

I’m, of course, partial to this story I wrote about the charges against Aaron Harvey, a young, black man from Lincoln Park with no criminal record who was part of the group of men charged by then-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis using a novel legal approach. The charges meant that Harvey was facing a potential life sentence for a crime he had no role in committing – all because of some Facebook posts. A judge eventually tossed the case. To make this even more of a slam-dunk for Hollywood, Harvey is now a student at UC Berkeley and plans to pursue a law degree. His federal lawsuit against the city over the ordeal is moving forward. Ryan Coogler, feel free to call me.

What VOSD Learned This Week

Ashly McGlone examined how local schools have spent funds from a massive statewide school bond passed in 2016 and found that many of them paid for projects completed long before the bond passed.

Speaking of school funds, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber says that she plans to make reforming the complex, controversial Local Control Funding Formula her next big priority.

Meanwhile, the latest round of test score data shows the opportunity gap is as stagnant as ever.


One interesting piece of the new plan to tackle homelessness: It pushes the city to re-evaluate the role of police in addressing the crisis.

Tasha Williamson, an activist who’s running for mayor, has plenty of thoughts about other ways to change how police interact with San Diego residents. She talked about her campaign in a special podcast episode.


Progressives told us after the November election that updating the city’s inclusionary housing policy was their No. 1 priority. Even with a City Council supermajority, that plan is now hanging by a thread.


Maya Srikrishnan detailed a wild case in which a woman was kidnapped at gunpoint in Mexico, rescued by Border Patrol agents – then mistakenly forced into an immigration process it took months to escape. It’s yet another example of the ways in which the Remain in Mexico program for asylum-seekers has upended immigration courts.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“Corgis, of course, are adorable full-size dogs with deformed, miniature legs. Part of the reason they are so adorable is that they always seem to be cheerful and smiling even though someone chopped their legs off, generations ago, through selective breeding.” – I asked my corgi to respond to this characterization, and he admitted it was tough but fair.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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