HBM103: Fate's Notebook

Somewhere in Maritza Gulin’s basement, there’s a typewritten notebook that belonged to her father, Reynaldo. The notebook contains essential advice and warnings to Reynaldo, his wife Flora, and their five children.

Content Note:
Suicide, mental illness, animal sacrifice, language.

In his younger life, Reynaldo’s atheism was strong and biting. But chronic migraines would often flatten him for days at a time. A stranger approached Reynaldo one day on the subway to tell him that he’d always suffer until he got right with God.

Reynaldo subsequently became an adherent to two related Afro-Cuban* religions: Palo Mayombe and Santeria. Palo focusses on veneration of spirits of the dead and of the earth. Santeria focusses on a pantheon of demigods called “Orishas”, who are usually represented by equivalent Catholic saints.

A dream about flamingos avoiding deep water, as interpreted by Reynaldo. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

A dream about flamingos avoiding deep water, as interpreted by Reynaldo. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

The notebook in Maritza’s basement is notable for its specificity. When she recently rediscovered it, she found warnings for her father against eating beans, sleeping with all the lights off, a requirement for white pajamas, a prohibition on horseback riding. Reynaldo followed these rules. He believed in fate, and was pretty accurate at predicting the time of his ultimate death from old age.

Michelle Santana is a childhood friend of Maritza’s. She’s a psychic medium who’s not been formally initiated into Santeria, but she often consults the Orishas and the dead while working with her clients.  She’s done a number of readings with Maritza. Michelle, too, believes in fate, saying that, cruel as it seems, some people are just destined live bad lives, die young, and nothing can be done to change that.

Maritza’s youngest sister, Vanessa, was born when Maritza was already an adult, so Maritza helped take care of her youngest sister. Vanessa experienced severe depression, especially after the birth of her first child. She committed suicide.

After her Vanessa’s death, Maritza and her mother Flora lost their faith. They asked: if the future’s written, why weren’t they warned? Why weren’t they told either in the notebook or during their regular psychic readings. Flora says she’s mad at God. Maritza says she no longer believes in destiny.

Reynaldo Gulin at his funeral, wearing the clothes he wore on the day he was initiated into Santeria. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Reynaldo Gulin at his funeral, wearing the clothes he wore on the day he was initiated into Santeria. (Photo by Maritza Gulin)

Despite this, Maritza still treads lightly around some of her father’s belongings. Some of this is due to respect for her father’s desires, and some of it is based on an abundance of caution. She recently deconsecrated a black metal cauldron that her father used in ceremonies. Michelle told her to bury it in her backyard or throw it in a river. Maritza did the former. Inside, she found a toy revolver, a pair of ram’s horns, railroad spikes, and other small items.

Santeria’s practice of live animal sacrifice wound up in the US Supreme Court in the early 90’s as Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, in which a city in Florida passed an ordinance banning the practice of killing animals “in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption”. The court ruled unanimously that this ordinance was unconstitutional, citing its attempt to restrict religious practice.

Producer: Jeff Emtman
Editor: Jeff Emtman
Music: Circling Lights, The Black Spot, Serocell

*Today, Santeria and Palo are practiced across much of the Caribbean, especially Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. Other areas of Caribbean diaspora like Florida, New York and New Jersey also have significant populations of believers. However, solid numbers of followers are hard to estimate due to the religion’s decentralization, which also contributes to the varying beliefs across adherents of different origins. If you practice or used to practice Santeria/Palo/Ifa, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet at us @HBMpodcast.

If you are feeling suicidal, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help in the USA (phone: 1-800-273-8255). Outside the USA, consult Suicide.org’s list of hotlines. If you’re experiencing postpartum depression, Postpartum Support International has links to local organizations that can help you.

HBM100: Faraway Minds

Anna Klein thinks that tea tastes better on the Faroe Islands.  She thinks the water’s more pure there, and the Northern Lights let the sky be whatever color it wants to be.  She often thinks about moving there.

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Content Note: 
- Violence (momentary)
- Language (fleeting)

But she also worries that her fantasies of running away to the remote corners of the world may be a familial urge to isolate herself, the same way her father did...a tendency that ultimately contributed to his early death.

It was a loving and hurtful relationship that led Anna to retrace her father's life.  From her home in Aarhus, to his dying place of Copenhagen, to his hometown of Skagen, and then back to Aarhus again via the museum at Moesgaard.

Anna Klein produced this episode.  Jeff Emtman and Bethany Denton edited.  Nick White is our editor at KCRW, where there are a lot of people we don’t often get the chance to thank, but help us to make this show: including Gary Scott, Juan Bonigno, Adria Kloke, Mia Fernandez, Dustin Milam, Christopher Ho, Caitlin Shamberg, JC Swiatek, and many others.

We’ll be back in the fall with new episodes.  In the meantime, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for updates from the off-season.  Rate us on iTunes and tell a friend too.

Music:  Lucky Dragons ||| The Black Spot

A sandy beach in Skagen, the northernmost town of mainland Denmark

A sandy beach in Skagen, the northernmost town of mainland Denmark

HBM060: The Predators of McNeil Island [EXPLICIT]

Please Note: This episode is largely about sexual violence towards children.  Most of the descriptions throughout the audio are clinical, but one description from our court recordings is particularly graphic and disturbing.  Keep this in mind, especially if you are listening within earshot of children. 

McNeil Island sits in Washington State's Puget Sound, just three miles northwest of Steilacoom. For much of its existence, the island served as a fishing outpost for indigenous coastal people. But for the last 150-odd years, McNeil Island has been a place to house society's undesirables.  Soon after white settlers claimed it in the 1850s, they built a prison there--Charles Manson served a stint there, long before his infamous Hollywood killing spree.  At that point, McNeil Island was a sustainable community that consisted of the prison staff and their family members. There were houses, an elementary school and a graveyard.

But the world changed, and the island prison became too expensive to operate. In 2011 the prison closed, the inmates were relocated, and the staff moved to the mainland.

But by then, McNeil Island had sprouted a different kind of facility, also nested inside razor wire. It wasn't a prison, but its residents weren't exactly free to leave.

McNeil Island's abandoned prison is visible from the city of Steilacoom, Washington. 


It was a late summer morning in 1989 when Washington Governor Booth Gardner came to work at the state capital to find thousands of empty tennis shoes dumped at the capital steps. The shoes were left there by demonstrators calling for harsher punishments for sex offenders.  The group did it in response to several gruesome crimes that had happened earlier that year; crimes which the activists argued were enabled by lax sentencing laws and early releases for violent prisoners. The group called themselves the Tennis Shoe Brigade, and the shoes they brought were meant to represent the forgotten victims of rape. Their action prompted Governor Gardner to assemble the Task Force on Community Protection.

Booth Gardener, the former Governor of Washington State spoke highly of the Task Force on Community Protection during his 1990 State of the State Address

That fall, as the Governor Gardner's task force deliberated, serial child rapist Westley Allen Dodd raped and murdered three young boys in Vancouver, Washington.  Despite Dodd's long criminal history of child molestation, he never served a full prison sentence for his crimes. Even Dodd himself felt the legal system had failed him and his victims, telling one reporter, "If you add up all the prison time I was given but never made to serve, I'd be in prison until 2026... and those boys would still be alive."   Dodd wrote a pamphlet advising children on how to avoid violent sex offenders like him.

In the wake of Dodd's crimes, the task force penned the Community Protection Act of 1990. This act required law enforcement to keep a sex offender registry, and allowed for the civil commitment of Sexually Violent Predators, or SVPs.  This meant that this special class of sex offenders could be legally and indefinitely detained after they'd served their criminal sentences if the court deemed them likely (aka. more than 50% likely) to re-offend, if released into the public.  But, per the law, civil commitment would be rehabilitative, not punitive, and therefore wouldn't violate double jeopardy. The act passed into law RCW 71.09 also known as the Sexually Violent Predator law.

In order for a sex offender to be deemed an SVP in Washington, they must meet three criteria:

     1) They must have been convicted or charged of a sexually violent crime.

     2) They must be suffer from a "personality disorder" or a "mental abnormality", and

     3) That condition must make them likely to commit predatory acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility.

In Washington State, that secure facility is the Special Commitment Center (SCC) on McNeil Island.   It's not a prison–it's a treatment facility administrated by Washington State's Department of Social and Health Services.   They told us that 242 people are confined on McNeil Island as of publish date.  

There have been two supreme court challenges to Washington's SVP law (other states have challenged too).  One plaintiff claimed inadequate treatment, the other claimed they were serving a second prison term.  Both times, the court ruled in favor of Washington's law.   


This episode is about a man named Chris.  To protect him, his family and his victims, we're only referring to him by first name. 

Throughout his life, Chris has received a number of diagnoses, including:

Doctors prescribed him a number of psychotropics to meant to calm his symptoms, including:

According to court documents, Chris was nine years old when he started molesting his younger siblings in the mid 1980s. Eventually he started molesting other children in the neighborhood, and even had sexual contact with one of the family dogs.  The documents say that In 1995, at age 16, Chris was caught with a 12 year old neighbor boy who he'd pinned down; both boys were naked from the waist down and Chris had either penetrated the boy with his penis or had inserted it between the boys legs (records vary).  By the time he was convicted, further questioning established that Chris had forced sexual contact on other children hundreds of times, including his younger siblings. He was sent to juvenile detention for two years, where he stayed until he was 18.  He was released on parole. 

Within a few months of his release, Chris checked himself into an inpatient mental health facility in Seattle for a psych evaluation.  Court documents say that Chris kissed up to three other residents during his stay, and later asked staff repeatedly for contact information for one of the women. He started telling staff of his violent sexual fantasies about rape.  The documents also say he disclosed fantasies about having sex with human organs and body parts, as well as fantasies about having sex with large sea and land mammals.

Given his history of forced sexual contact and the graphic and deviant nature of his fantasies, the hospital staff filed a petition to have Chris classified as an SVP. He was given a number of tests to measure the severity of his sexual deviance. One of these tests was a penile plethysmegraph (PPG) in which they wrapped a pressure-sensitive, plastic band around Chris's penis and measured his arousal to sexual visual and audio stimuli. He was also analyzed through an actuarial tool called the Static 99R which attempts to statistically predict a sex offender's chance of recidivism.  Near the time of his commitment, one of the doctors analyzing Chris wrote this:

"Christopher clearly presents an extremely high risk of sexual assault of younger or vulnerable persons of either sex…Under no circumstances should he return to live with his family now or in the foreseeable future."

As a result, the SVP unit of the King County prosecutors' office drew up an SVP petition for Chris. This document would designate Chris as an SVP and send him to live indefinitely at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. However, Chris would be allowed to challenge his civil commitment in front of a jury of his peers.  And when he did so, the burden of proof would be on the state to prove that Chris continued to meet SVP criteria.

Soon after he got to the island, Chris said he changed.  Nearly immediately, he requested to take a "medication holiday" (see sidebar).  According to documents written by his lawyers, soon after he stopped taking the medications, the most egregious fantasies dissipated. He describes being on the medications as being in a mental fog, as if he were drunk. He does not claim that his offenses were a result of being overly medicated, but he does believe his inhibition was lowered. By the second year of his commitment, Chris stopped attending group therapy with the other SCC residents.  He says that by then he no longer experienced deviant fantasies, and that recounting his offenses week after week was not conducive to his recovery.  We found no evidence that he's sexually assaulted anyone since arriving on the island. 

In late 2016, per the stipulation he signed, Chris received a trial for his unconditional release. One of his attorneys, Andrew Morrison, contacted us to see if we were interested in attending the trial.  We said "yes." 

A month-long juried trial ensued.  After a day of deliberation, the jury's verdict was unanimously against the State of Washington.  They failed to prove that Chris continued to meet the definition of an SVP.  On March 17th, 2016, Chris was released from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.   According to Andrew Morrison, Chris registered as a Level 2 sex offender shortly after his release, as was required of him.  

The topic of recidivism for sex offenders is hotly contested, since sex crimes are often unreported and good data for long-term recidivism is sparse.  However, some of the best numbers we have come from a report put together by the Office of Justice Programs.  They reported that compared to other criminals, sex offenders are re-arrested at significantly lower rates.  They also report that after three years after a sex offender's release, five percent were re-arrested a sexual crime.  After 15 years, 24% were re-arrested for another sex crime.

One of several patrol boats that puttered around Steilacoom Ferry Dock.

An empty boat meant for transporting vehicles at the Steilacoom Ferry Dock. 


It's been almost 26 years since the Community Protection Act of 1990 paved the road to civil commitment laws in 20 states and the District of Columbia (see graphic earlier in this article). In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which instated a federal system of civil commitment.

In 2015, an advocacy group called Disability Rights Washington drafted a lawsuit against the SCC on McNeil Island. They claim that the SCC fails to provide adequate treatment for mentally disabled residents, making commitment there more punitive than rehabilitative. This claim is backed by a 2013 Washington State Institute for Public Policy Report that cites that special needs residents were receiving just 2 hours of treatment per week in 2011. 

That same WSIPP report cites that the cost of Special Commitment Center is roughly $150,000 per resident, per year (and significantly more for those in transitional programs).  The center received $47,609,000 in the 2013 state budget.  Civil commitment at the SCC is roughly five times more expensive than incarceration in a Washington State prison. 


Jeff Emtman and Bethany Denton produced this piece.  George Lavender fact-checked the audio for this story.  Nick White did content editing. 

People who appear on tape:

  • Bethany Denton - Host
  • Jeff Emtman - Host
  • Andrew Morrison - One of Chris's Defense Attorneys
  • Chris - Former SVP
  • Jennifer Ritchie - King County Prosecutor's Head of the Sexually Violent Predator Unit
  • Alison Bogar - King County Prosecutor
  • Bill Bowman - Judge
  • Dr. Harry Goldberg - Expert for Prosecutors
  • Dr. Joseph Plaud - Expert for Defenders
  • Dr. Holly Coryell - SCC's Head of Clinical Treatment

People who did not appear on tape, but provided background information:

  • Christine Sanders - Chris's other defense attorney
  • Kristen Richardson - King County Prosecutor
  • Chris Wright - Communications for Washington's Department of Social and Health Services

For this story, we were originally granted permission to visit the island to interview Dr. Coryell and Chris.  However, that permission was revoked because our scheduled date happened to coincide with Chris's release date.  The SCC was unwilling to reschedule us.  Mark Strong, the CEO of the SCC declined our request for an interview.  

Music: The Black Spot

Photos: Jeff Emtman

 

This episode marks the end of our 4th season of shows.  We'll be back soon. Please stay in touch via facebook, twitter, and email

Trains regularly pass by the Steilacoom Ferry Dock.  This one carries military equipment.  Presumably, this shipment is bound for nearby Fort Lewis.

Close-up of the abandoned prison on McNeil Island.

Close-up of the abandoned prison on McNeil Island.

HBM048: Barrie's Mental Tempest [EXPLICIT]

Barrie Wylie has heard voices for as long as he can remember. Growing up on a small island in Scotland, the voices in his head were like secret best friends that he could play with. When he left school to become a fisherman at 15, his voices told him he was a disciple of Jesus.  He believed he could control the weather and prevent harm befalling his boat and his crew.

As Barrie got older, his voices intensified. They became more aggressive, telling him to harm himself and others.

He learned to cope by silencing the voices with alcohol and other drugs.  He wound up in police custody more than once. 

When a family friend died under mysterious circumstances, Barrie was arrested and falsely suspected of murder.  While in custody, he told his doctor about his voices.   An autopsy later revealed that the friend died of natural causes. 

But Barrie spent the next seven years in and out of psychiatric hospitals, all while heavily medicated for paranoid schizophrenia. The voices don't leave him, no matter how much medication he took. They only got worse, until Barrie believed he heard the devil himself inside his brain. 

He tried to kill himself at least twice.  [Please note: this episode contains two descriptions of attempted suicide.] 

It was a social worker from the hospital who first suggested the Hearing Voices Network to Barrie.  HVN takes an unorthodox approach.  They say that hearing voices in and of itself should not yield a diagnosis.  They encourage people to talk to the their voices, treat their voices as if they're real people.  This approach is not universally accepted.

Barrie and Rachel's wedding.

But Barrie said that talking to his voices actively gave him agency he never had before.  He stopped trying to rid himself of his voices and instead learned how to have healthy relationships with them.  He stopped trying to hurt himself.  He stopped believing that his voices could control him. 

He joined Facebook support groups that advocated the Hearing Voices appoach.  And that's where he fell in love with Rachel.  She also heard voices.   Barrie and Rachel are now married and have a young child together.   He says he couldn't be happier. 

Barrie runs a website documenting his story and helping others through theirs. 

This episode was produced by Luke Eldridge.  Luke is an independent producer living in the UK.  

The episode was edited by Bethany Denton, with help from Jeff Emtman, and Nick White. 

Music: Serocell ||| Flowers ||| The Black Spot

Track image: Temptation of Christ, By Dutch-French painter Ary Scheffer, 1854. 

We recently released another (very different) story about mental illness and delusions of Jesus.  It's HBM039: A Goddamn Missionary, in which a man with Bi-polar Disorder learns to control his manic episodes through medication and altruism. 

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