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647: LaDonna

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Prologue

Ira Glass

When she was a kid, LaDonna Powell would go to Easter parties at her mom's work. It was great, because her mom worked at JFK airport in New York City. LaDonna and her brothers and sisters and cousins would gather Easter eggs out on a parking lot by the tarmac in what's now the American Airlines terminal. Planes were taking off and landing right overhead. They liked that.

A bunch of her family works at JFK. Her mom makes airplane meals, but there's also her uncle, two aunts, three cousins, and her sister. Everybody has a role. They feed the passengers, they deliver their bags, they clean up the planes after them. And when she was 20, LaDonna found her role-- she'd keep the airport safe. She got a job with TSA. She scanned bags and laptops. She took it seriously. Like, she would picture the pipeline that runs below the airport, carrying millions of gallons of jet fuel, blowing up if there were any kind of bomb.

LaDonna Powell

Like, if the bomb goes off in this airport, what happens to everyone here, everyone that I care about if we don't commit and do our job properly here? It was like, I used to have this terrible dream of a woman walking up to me and pressing, igniting a bomb. Every time-- I would go to sleep and have this dream all the time. So when I came to work, I was always very adamant on staring at the X-ray machine.

Ira Glass

After a few years at TSA, she moved to a different job, this one out on the tarmac with a private security firm that works at the airport, a firm that eventually became part of Allied Universal, which is a huge company-- the largest security firm in North America, with 150,000 employees all across the country. At JFK, Allied guards screen the vehicles and the airplane catering trucks and all the other stuff that's down there on the runway. LaDonna was excited to work with them. She went through training and then was assigned to shadow a more senior guard.

LaDonna Powell

My first day in the field was not great. I was put with this guy. He was an older white guy. And he was very nice to me but very mean to the people we were screening going onto the runway, because a lot of the duty-free trucks come through that load the planes with food for first class, and he was saying the nastiest things to them.

Ira Glass

Quick warning that we've un-beeped the curse words here on the podcast. If you prefer a beeped version of our show, maybe you're listening with kids, it's at our website.

LaDonna Powell

He was saying all types, like things hurry the f-- hurry the fuck up, move the fuck on, get out of his fucking face. He would try to get free things. So he would, like, threaten them. Like, oh, I'm not going to let you through if you don't give me free food. And they would give him water and juices and stuff. So it's like he was extorting them, basically. Yeah.

He kept telling me he was a Russian badass. That's what he kept saying. He was like, I'm a Russian badass. And he had-- it was like a baseball cap flipped backwards. We're supposed to wear it forward, with the-- and he flipped it backwards, and he opened his shirt, and he was saying, I'm a Russian bad boy. You know I'm a badass, right? And I was like, I have no idea who you are. Today's my first day, I don't know who this guy is. He's freaking me out already.

Ira Glass

After checking cargo vans and trucks for a while, the guy told LaDonna that he was going to be inside the security booth by himself for a bit. She should stay outside by herself and wait. He played music in the booth and started looking at what LaDonna says was a Playboy magazine. LaDonna had read the employee handbook and knew that both of those things were a violation of company policy. And she had also read a book that her best friend gave her, Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office. And she thought of it now, the way that guy dismissed her, treated her like, you know, a girl.

LaDonna Powell

Like I'm overly nice and easy to walk over. Like, OK.

Ira Glass

Wrong. Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office spends a lot of time on not being easy to walk over, on the need to speak up, on the need to stand up for yourself. LaDonna reads lots of these business books and management and self-help books. She watches talks online-- not for motivation. She is so motivated, in general, one of her friends calls her Olivia Pope-- like, always wanting to fix something.

She reads this stuff because the worldview in these books matches the way that LaDonna already sees things. Like, they give her words to describe what she is feeling all the time anyway-- always try to elevate, always be moving ahead. And this dude, disrespecting his job and her, he was an affront to that entire worldview. So even though it was her very first day out in the field doing her brand-new job, right then, on the tarmac, she decided she had to confront the problem.

LaDonna Powell

So I was riding back with him in the car, and I said to him, why do you do things like that at work? And he was just like, he hates the job. He was like, he hated that place, and that's just what he does. He does whatever he wants to do. And I was like, well, you know, you make it bad for everyone else. If you don't want to be here, just don't come. And then he started calling me, like, Sister Souljah, and then he made a joke about it. And that was it.

Ira Glass

She was not diminished. LaDonna had no respect for a person who did not value this place or this job. And when they got back to the supervisor's office-- LaDonna did not feel great about this, but she told a supervisor about the Russian badass and his behavior. In other words, she handled it. Spoke her mind to the dude, check. Reported him, check. He did not get to her, check and checkmate. And eventually-- she explained this to our producer, Chana Joffe-Walt, who was the one who actually talked to her-- she explained that the Russian badass, he got fired-- for something totally unrelated, actually.

LaDonna Powell

He stole water from Port Authority, and they fired him.

Chana Joffe-Walt

What do you mean he stole water?

LaDonna Powell

The water coolers, how they have-- he would take them out of the storage and put them in the trunk of his car.

Chana Joffe-Walt

[LAUGHTER]

LaDonna Powell

And they caught him-- exactly. And they caught him.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Those jugs that go in a water cooler?

LaDonna Powell

Yes. They had him on CC camera going to his car with the water, because he's a badass. He probably walked out with it on his head and carried it to the car.

Chana Joffe-Walt

So he got fired for stealing water, not for looking at pornography while he was on the job?

LaDonna Powell

Right. Yeah.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Dude likes water.

LaDonna Powell

Yeah, exactly. Clearly.

Ira Glass

LaDonna Powell is not a Russian badass. She's a totally different kind of badass. It's like she's a dedicated student of how to be a great employee, the kind of employee who excels and rises in an organization. And now she was entering a company that would be the greatest sort of challenge for an employee like that, a place where people are not playing by the rules. The Russian was just the very first obstacle she faced. It was about to get way uglier.

What you're about to hear is the story of a willful and principled person who sets out to figure out, first, how to rise in this company and, second, how to remake the way the entire place runs, which requires some ingenious strategizing on her part. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One: The Old Guard

Ira Glass

Act One, The Old Guard. Well, Chana Joffe-Walt has been talking to LaDonna, plus lots of other people at Allied Universal at JFK, for months, and now she's going to take over telling LaDonna's story. Just a heads up that there is provocative language and content in here that might not be right for every listener. Here's Chana.

Chana Joffe-Walt

When you board a plane, sit down, and look out the window, you see the guys throwing the bags, and then, beyond that, just concrete expanse. That's where LaDonna worked. That's where the Allied guards are, stationed in booths along the tarmac. The booths are basically checkpoints for everything that goes out there-- food, fuel, water, duty-free purses. The booths are about the size of a U-Haul trailer, metal and steel with big glass windows.

At the beginning of each eight-hour shift, LaDonna would go to the Allied locker room, change, and stand in line for roll call outside the supervisor's office. Then the supervisor would tell her which posts she had that day out on the tarmac, and she'd head out there to a booth in the pavement. The guard she was relieving would drive away. Trucks would come by. She would check for bombs, drugs, food packages to see if anything was open. And she would wait-- lots of waiting.

Occasionally, a supervisor would come by to check on her. One night, it was an older, gruff supervisor named Kevin McNamara. LaDonna says he came in to her booth--

LaDonna Powell

And he asked me to open my jacket. And he took his phone out to take a photo of me. And I was like, excuse me. He was like, open your jacket and turn around. And I was like, I'm not.

And he tried to say, oh, I'm just taking a picture of you. The company has a policy where we take a photo of you. And I remember reading it when they gave us a handbook, and I said, no, you're supposed to take a picture of my outside, my outer garment. And he's like, no, you're going to open your coat and turn around. He was so abrupt and aggressive with me-- just, you're going to do what I say. Like, you're going to turn around, you're going to do what I say, and that's it. And I was like, that has nothing to do with the job.

Chana Joffe-Walt

The job was to guard the post. LaDonna felt like Kevin wanted a show. LaDonna is small, just under 5 feet tall. Her resting position is almost always perfect posture, standing at attention, hands clasped at her belt, elbows out. The booth was a very tight space for two people.

LaDonna Powell

And I was like, you're going to get the fuck out of my face. Like, I'm not turning around, and I know that's not what you're supposed to be doing, and I'm not supposed to open my clothes for you. And he told me, oh, if I didn't listen, he was going to make it hard. He's like, you always have something to say. You always have something to say.

Chana Joffe-Walt

But then he dropped it. He drove away. LaDonna took note. Success-- she drew a line, and he backed down.

JFK airport covers 5,000 acres. There are approximately 300 Allied guards. LaDonna met some of her coworkers in the locker room before and after shifts. That's where she learned that one of the worst posts was called Post Hotel. It got the most traffic. Second worst was Post Papa. It was distant and remote, though I don't think that's how it got its name. LaDonna noted that nobody wanted these posts, and she also noticed that she started to be assigned them, shift after shift.

LaDonna Powell

You feel forgotten, in a way, almost, because how do you go to the bathroom? How do you-- you can't do anything. You're just there. At first, it was like, OK, solitude, you know? But then it's like, all right, are you guys coming to relieve me? Can I go to the ba-- can I eat something? Am I going to get to go home? Sometimes, you'll be stuck there 12 hours. They'll forget to send you a relief.

Chana Joffe-Walt

There are cameras in the booths so supervisors in the main office can check on their guards. Of course, she couldn't see the supervisor's office, but they could see her. Were they watching her? When she did get a response on the radio, the supervisor would say they didn't have anyone available to relieve her. She'd squirm, needing to go to the bathroom. Did they see that?

Most nights, Kevin was her tour supervisor. He worked in the supervisor's office with the other supervisor on duty. Sometimes he'd drive around to check on people. She'd wonder, are they're busy? Are they not there? Or maybe--

LaDonna Powell

Are they picking on me? Am I not getting to go to the bathroom because I spoke up? Am I not getting a lunch break, are my hours being cut because I spoke up about what's happening? And I would always have these thoughts, are they doing this because I keep talking back?

Chana Joffe-Walt

When traffic was low, LaDonna would sometimes take out her reading, and suddenly a voice would come into the booth, put that away. Or when she'd eat, no eating in the booth. So they were there. But then, silence for hours. As families took off in planes above her for Florida and business people came in from Dubai, LaDonna was stuck in a box below, amid 5,000 acres of pavement.

In the locker room, another guard told LaDonna, there's a corner of the booth where they can't see you. The cameras don't reach there. They can only see your feet. So LaDonna started packing peanut butter and jelly triangles and standing in that corner to eat them. Sometimes that would work. Sometimes she'd hear the supervisor, Kevin's voice suddenly, come forward in front of the camera.

LaDonna Powell

And I kept trying to understand, what am I doing wrong with my interactions with him? Because someone else tried to tell me, oh, he's nice to this girl. She's Spanish. It's not because you're black. I--

Chana Joffe-Walt

He's a white guy?

LaDonna Powell

He's an older white man. It's something else. And I said, OK, maybe my approach is wrong with him. So I didn't know how to manage him. He was just-- he would have these outbursts.

He would always say, oh, he's management, and we're not like him, and he's better than the rest of us because he gets an expense card and he wears the blazer. He can do what he wants. Oh, I've been here for years. It's like, how do you manage that? How do I correct you?

Chana Joffe-Walt

Kevin McNamara did not want to talk to us for this story. LaDonna says it was around this time that she started to repeat phrases to herself from the book Managing Your Manager by Gonzague Dufour. It lays out three strategies for handling a bully boss. Number one, don't take it personally. Two, find the humor. And three, most important, limit the pain, target the game. Done correctly, you build skills, you level up, and you move on to a place where you'll get a better boss. View the bully as temporary.

This is how she would correct Kevin-- do her job extremely well, get through this part, and be seen by the people above Kevin. She'd repeat to herself, everyone has a boss. And it was that boss-- Kevin's boss-- she was focused on. At the worst post, on the worst shift, without breaks, LaDonna targeted the game. It was busy, lots of opportunities for growth.

LaDonna Powell

I really learned a lot, just working out there. You're outside in the field, so it's very hands-on. You're using a mirror, you're checking under vehicles for bombs, you're checking under vehicles for any anomalies, anything that's not supposed to be there, just making sure when it goes on the runway that it's safe. So it felt good, purposeful. Like, OK, I'm actually doing something.

Chana Joffe-Walt

This appeared to go unseen by Kevin. Everyone has a boss, she'd tell herself, but she never heard from Kevin's boss. What continued to be noticed was her failure to put her body where the supervisors could see it. She'd hear their voices in the booth, telling her to come forward in front of the camera. When she worked hard, nothing. When she needed a bathroom relief after 8 or 10 or sometimes 12 hours, no answer. So she'd limit the pain. On her way to work--

LaDonna Powell

I would go to the-- there was a convenience store on Lefferts Boulevard before I got there, and I would go to the convenience store. I would get a juice or ask for a coffee and get an extra cup on the bottom of it.

Chana Joffe-Walt

In the locker room, before her shift, LaDonna would throw in the cup with the rest of her stuff for when she had to pee. She'd head to roll call, with Kevin.

LaDonna Powell

And I would be there. I would have a roll of tissue-- like, I'd roll it up on my hand in the locker room-- and an empty cup with me all night. Oh, and that was another thing. He would come and look at your bag, because you have a clear plastic bag. They want to make sure you're not carrying any electronics out there onto the field, or you're not stealing anything. So you have a transparent bag. OK, fine.

You can see straight through my bag, but then he still would make comments about my pads and my tampon-- oh, why do you need so many pads? It's like, why do you care? It doesn't bother you, and clearly you can see that it's not something I stole from here, so why do you care?

Chana Joffe-Walt

Everyone has a boss, she told herself.

LaDonna Powell

Don't go back at him. Tone it down and say, OK. Just try to focus on me. How can I get past this stage?

Chana Joffe-Walt

LaDonna stuck to her plan, did her job extremely well, worked hard. And then, just as the book said, she was noticed-- not by Kevin or his boss but by a manager at the airport. This man had seen LaDonna working, seen how hard she worked, and he recommended to Allied that they promote LaDonna to supervisor. This recommendation likely carried weight-- the airport is Allied's client-- and it definitely had an effect on LaDonna. She'd never even thought about being a supervisor. That was many levels above what she'd imagined.

And then she read Lean In. Lean In is by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. It explains why so few women make it to the top of their professions. Sandberg argues that women-- and this is the line LaDonna slowed down on-- women systematically underestimate their abilities. LaDonna had been so focused on her bosses underestimating her abilities, maybe she had underestimated herself. Now she'd been noticed. Someone saw her as supervisor material. She just had to answer one question for herself, the question posed by Sheryl Sandberg, one of the most powerful female executives in the world-- could she picture herself as a boss?

LaDonna Powell

It was like, do I really want to be in charge of other people? And then I have to take a step back and say, do I really want these kind of people in charge of me? It's like, I never had that moment until then. These are the guys in charge of me? I'm peeing in a cup outside. These are the people in charge of me. So I really had to evaluate what I was doing-- what I was doing mentally to myself. Like, I was literally my biggest enemy.

Chana Joffe-Walt

That voice in the booth, the unseen authority that LaDonna had found so unnerving, suddenly seemed ridiculous. Why is he counting her pads? Why can't she just eat her PB and J? They seemed desperate and threatened.

LaDonna Powell

I can do the job you're doing. You're not Jesus right now because you're a supervisor. I can read and execute this job just like you, if not better, because all you're doing is acting like Adolf Hitler, an insane person here, and you're treating people like animals. Let's try the other way.

Chana Joffe-Walt

After two years at Allied, LaDonna made it to supervisor. She went from $15 an hour as a guard to $32 an hour. And in June 2014, she entered the supervisor's office.

LaDonna Powell

I get to walk in, and now they're going to see me in my blue shirt-- because the supervisors wear a different blue shirt from the security guards-- and I was like, oh, they're going to piss their pants. They're going to be so pissed off because now I'm equal. We're both in the same field. We're both in the same position. You won't call me a bitch. You won't do that because now, possibly, you might view me as an equal.

Chana Joffe-Walt

The supervisor's office was about the size of a large bedroom, an open space with three desks, computers, a printer-copier machine, and schedules all over the walls. There were about 12 other supervisors, different races, mostly men. They worked in shifts of two. LaDonna met her new boss-- Kevin's boss, the boss of all the supervisors-- a tall black man named Chris Timberlake. And she was given 50-something guards of her own to manage each shift, guards who needed schedules and overtime arrangements and to be counted at the beginning and end of every shift. She managed payroll and drove the premises to check on the guard booths. She went to daily supervisor briefings. Every part felt urgent and exciting, especially the meetings, where they talked strategy.

LaDonna Powell

Sometimes I can't wait for them to finish a sentence. I just jump in. I said, sometimes, I feel like they're thinking slower than me.

Chana Joffe-Walt

[LAUGHTER]

LaDonna Powell

Like maybe they're still figuring it out, and I'm already at the end point. And I'm like, well, that's not going to work.

Chana Joffe-Walt

LaDonna had new ideas. She was nice, but not too nice, assertive, but deferential to her boss Chris Timberlake, bringing things to him first. Like, one time, she went to his office across the hall--

LaDonna Powell

And I said to him, we have a training class. I'm just talking to him-- now, I'm a supervisor at this time-- and he's like, come here, come around the desk for a second. I want to show you something on the computer. I'm like, OK, what's going on?

So I come around to look. I'm like, hey-- and it's women pole dancing, and they're, like, licking on each other in a strip club and pole dancing. He's like, can you do this? And he's calling the other male sup-- come here, come here, let me show you what I'm showing Powell. And they're both showing it to me. He's like, yeah, I seen that. I seen that on YouTube. It's crazy, right? Powell, you could do that, right? You could do that? You do that at home?

Chana Joffe-Walt

In LaDonna's head, she's Sheryl Sandberg right here. They were imagining her in a porn show, pole dancing.

LaDonna Powell

And I was like, you know what? Fuck the both of you. And I just walked out. I just walked out. I was like, you two are the worst, the worst type of people. I walked out.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Did you say that to them, or did you just--

LaDonna Powell

I said that to them, and they just laughed me off. They laughed me off.

Chana Joffe-Walt

So it wasn't just Kevin. It was Kevin's boss too-- Chris Timberlake, who was now her boss. He told LaDonna, you have nice lips, made comments about her body. When she'd go to the copier, he'd come up behind her and push into her. Chris Timberlake, like Kevin McNamara, did not want to talk to us for this story. LaDonna says she'd come in to work to find other supervisors gathered around someone's phone, watching videos of people having sex. They'd invite her over and ask her if she could do it like that.

LaDonna surveilled the supervisors in the same way they used to surveil her. She studied how they operated and just how closely they watched the women who worked there. Like with one guard, Marsha-Nique Irving.

LaDonna Powell

She would change her hair often or her makeup often, and they would make sexual comments about it.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Like what?

LaDonna Powell

Like, oh, you saw Marsha-Nique? Her titties look good today, and she got her hair done. Or she would change her lashes-- like, they were longer. Like, oh, she got porno-star lashes, things like that. And she would always brush them off. And she was very feisty, and I loved that-- I loved to watch her answer them. And it was like, good for you. You know? It was like, good for you.

Chana Joffe-Walt

LaDonna was working one night, and she heard Marsha-Nique radio in to her supervisor, Osvaldo Ortiz-- everyone called him Ozzie. LaDonna was doing paperwork. Ozzie was sitting with another male supervisor, monitoring the guard radios. And Marsha-Nique radioed to say she needed bathroom relief.

LaDonna Powell

And I watched him tell her four times, oh, give me a few minutes. I'm trying to find somebody. They were never trying to find somebody. Never once did they call anybody else, ask anybody else, check a sheet to see if you had somebody else. The two men that were in there was like, fuck her, she always talking shit, fuck her. And it made me look up, because I was doing paperwork. And I turned, and I was like, this is what they were saying about me when I was asking to use the bathroom. And it was so much validation. My assumptions were validated. It was like, wow, this is really what you guys are doing.

Chana Joffe-Walt

This went on for hours. LaDonna didn't say anything at first. She just watched, as Marsha-Nique radioed again.

LaDonna Powell

Calling to go to the bathroom-- and she said to them, I have my period. You could tell she was already hesitant to say it, because she's saying it on a live stream. Not only can all of us hear it-- which is like 57 radios of people-- now you're making her say that, and the client can also hear her. So that's our 57 radios and eight radios Port Authority in Manhattan and Port Authority in JFK can hear.

Embarrassing. She ended up using the bathroom on herself and bleeding on herself that day. Nothing, no sorry. They were all laughing about it, thought it was hilarious. Oh, she going to sit in her piss until she gets off. Like, they had no concern for her.

Chana Joffe-Walt

The supervisor, Ozzie, did not want to talk to us. I did talk to Marsha-Nique. She describes this the same way LaDonna does. But of course, at the time, Marsha-Nique couldn't see what was happening in the supervisor's office, the things LaDonna was now seeing clearly.

LaDonna Powell

I'm not just paranoid. This is in stereo. Because seriously, I really was like, OK, maybe you're just paranoid. And then you get in the office, and it's like, oh, no. They're disgusting.

It's just disgusting. This is what you're doing at work-- at work. I think they need a shirt that says "At Work." Maybe they don't get it. We are at work.

Chana Joffe-Walt

It's just like a little T-shirt reminder.

LaDonna Powell

Right. Every time they start to do it, they're like, oh, wait, at work. Yes, you're at work.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Being at work means something specific to LaDonna, something she assumes is universal but not everyone feels. To her, you're at work. It's almost like saying you're at church. You're supposed to be your best and look out for others.

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg tells a story. When she was pregnant-- she was working at Google-- it was the early years of the company. And she was late for a meeting. She had to park way far out. The company was growing so fast, there was no parking close by.

And after running, with a big belly, to get to her meeting, Sandberg marched in to speak with Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google. We need pregnancy parking, she said. Oh, they said. Sure, of course. They just never thought of it before.

Sandberg writes, "That is the power of being in the room. The other pregnant women must have suffered in silence. Having one pregnant woman at the top made the difference." That was the power LaDonna felt she had, in the room, when Marsha-Nique called in. And she used it.

LaDonna Powell

And when I said it to them, the first time-- like, so she's not going to get to go to the bathroom? No, I'm not going to send that relief over there for her. She'll figure it out. How? There's nowhere for her to go. She's not a-- she can't just pull her penis out and pee in the woods. And then he just-- he was like, this is what she's calling for? And I'm like, you get a period?

And he looks at me. I'm like, you tell me if you get a period, if you know exactly-- a woman doesn't want to keep a pad on more than four hours. And it's that kind of thing that I just wanted to be in the room to be able to say-- consider this person, consider them as a person.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Consider this person-- that is what LaDonna's presence was supposed to do, to induce empathy, the kind of consideration she had wanted from her boss, Kevin, when she was out in the field. LaDonna put herself in the supervisor's room with him, made him see her-- blue shirt, just like him. But LaDonna says when she came in as supervisor, Kevin's response was not to consider her. She says his response was, wow, they must have been scraping the bottom of the barrel to bring you in. LaDonna says Kevin would violate protocol and change the schedule without regard to people's medical needs. LaDonna would correct him. Consider this person. When he told the LaDonna to change the payroll so they wouldn't have to pay one of the guards overtime he was owed, LaDonna held onto the piece of paper and said, no.

LaDonna Powell

And then he took the paper, and he threw it back in my face. And he was like, you're always talking back. You're always talking back. It was like, I just-- I didn't know what to say. And then he was like I'm tired of seeing you niggers' faces, and he walked out the room. That was just like, wow. So now we know why you feel like I'm the bottom of the barrel and those kind of things and I'm disgusting. So thank you for letting me know.

I remember being so enraged. I was like, there's got to be a law against this. And I remember there was a book with all the codes and everything from the company. And I went through the book and I found discrimination, I found hostile work envir-- ugh, I'm sorry.

Chana Joffe-Walt

That's OK.

LaDonna Powell

And I wrote it up. And I wrote the pages, and I did all this stuff, and I wrote a four-- I wrote a complaint. It was, like, four pages long. I turned it in to the woman who was in human resources. I gave it to the man-- I hand-delivered it to them. I can't experience this anymore. Like, I'm tired of working under Kevin. I said, every time I'm by myself with him, he finds a way to tear me down, talk to me disgusting. I'm tired of it. Forever I have to experience this, just because I stood up for myself? It's just not fair.

They gave me the most nonchalant response. Oh, Powell, you're reading too much into it. I told you before, Kevin's just like that. If you can't handle the position in there, let us know. We'll put you back in the field.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Everyone has a boss. LaDonna complained about Kevin to their boss, Chris Timberlake, and to his boss, project manager Martin Feeney. Martin Feeney also declined to talk to us. There was a union for guards, but LaDonna wasn't a guard anymore. She was management. According to Allied protocol, every employee complaint triggers an investigation. LaDonna says nobody followed up with her about what happened with Kevin beyond that one conversation with HR and Martin Feeney, which she says ended with Martin Feeney telling her, kick him in the balls next time.

LaDonna knew this strategy already. She knew it didn't work. When she was 19, working at Applebee's, she says a coworker grabbed her ass and said he liked Jamaican bodies. She turned around and smashed him in the face with a big metal spoon. Didn't help. LaDonna had tried all the things. They weren't working.

LaDonna Powell

And no matter how far I leaned into my career-- I made it-- I'm the first female to ever start there as a guard at my age and make it to a supervisor. I leaned all the way in without letting anyone touch me, with just showing I was capable-- I could read, I could type, I was able, I understood the job. I made it all the way to supervisor. Still, I'm still being harassed. It just didn't work. It worked as far-- OK, now I've excelled in my career, but I'm still being harassed. Now what? Now what do we do?

Chana Joffe-Walt

LaDonna settled on a new idea for how to fix it all at once. She could see clearly how the male supervisors were treating the guards now that she was on the inside. She could also suddenly see the female guards and how they were responding. She was in the office every day with another male supervisor, and the women guards would show up in there.

LaDonna Powell

They come in, they're bringing him lunch, shirt open, breasts out-- oh, hi. So some of them were benefiting, using it as a tool to get what they wanted out of it. And watching them with the men supervisors, it was like, why are you doing that? But they're doing it for a good post, for overtime, for a better break.

It's like, don't do that. Just don't do it. If we all would say no, it would make it easier for all of us saying no. But you saying yes makes it harder for me saying no. Let's just say no, because we're at work. Let's say no.

Chana Joffe-Walt

This was it. When LaDonna heard Allied needed someone to train the new recruits, newly-hired guards, she immediately volunteered herself.

LaDonna Powell

Let me be the first face they see.

Chana Joffe-Walt

These people are new. She could teach them. This was her new idea. She would change the entire culture of the place by starting at the beginning, when people were hired. She would train them correctly. She could teach the women not to respond to sexual advances. She would teach them to focus on work, security. And all the new hires would take root in this place, like an invasive species. They would change the entire ecology. The supervisors would not respond to LaDonna telling them to change, so she'd change the world around them.

Ira Glass

Chana Joffe-Walt. Coming up, the re-education campaign begins. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two: The New Guard

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, "LaDonna." We're telling the story of LaDonna Powell and watching as she brings her enormous sense of mission to the job of securing JFK airport in New York, and to making the company that she works for, Allied Universal, a better place to work. We've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, The New Guard.

So, as you heard in the first half of the show, LaDonna had tried managing up, to reshape her boss's behaviors. Now she went in the opposite direction. And she created something brand new. She was going to start from the beginning, training the new recruits. Again, here's Chana Joffe-Walt.

Chana Joffe-Walt

LaDonna did not actually have any experience teaching or training anyone. So she did what she does-- she read, collected tips, watched online videos about giving presentations. She bought The Essential HR Handbook and read about onboarding, how to set company culture from day one.

LaDonna Powell

Because it talks about, in HR, knowing your people. So I made sure every time they came into the class I knew who was wearing-- oh, you had a pink shirt on yesterday. People like to know you know them.

Chana Joffe-Walt

First class, LaDonna opened with the piece of education people at Allied seemed to have missed-- how to act in a workplace. She held up the AlliedBarton employee handbook. She explained, Allied has a multimillion dollar contract to protect this airport. That is our job. It is what the airport, the client, wants us to be focused on 100% of the time.

LaDonna Powell

The client is paying us for a certain quality of work environment. The client is paying us for a certain quality of person working here. For one thing, I would always tell them, this is a sexual harassment-free environment. And I would say to them, you want to read this page-- I can't remember the page at this moment, but I always said, you want to read this page. You want to know your rights. This is a place where you should be able to come to work, not be touched or solicited for sex. You don't want to let people think it's OK to solicit you for sex. This is a place of security. No matter what's happening here, don't adapt to that.

They should know they're allowed to use the bathroom. They should know they can't walk off the post. Things will happen here. And if it happens, you want to take note. That was always one of my biggest things to them-- you want to write it down. You have a right.

Chana Joffe-Walt

You were, like, starting a revolution.

LaDonna Powell

I was trying. And I'm like, listen, open your mind to what I'm saying to you. And then I would just give them morals my mom dropped in my brain, hoping it would stick to them.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Like what?

LaDonna Powell

Like, take your book. She would always say that, because in West India, they say, "take your book," meaning "go to school." She's like, you don't need bagga fren, you don't need man, you don't need-- you need your book. I'm like, OK, this lady.

Chana Joffe-Walt

LaDonna was improvising her own book, her own workplace manifesto. She had gathered bits and pieces from this book and that one, adding her own experience, her insights, wisdom from her mom. And she was trying it out on her first audience. For a long time, LaDonna had imagined what her book would be if she ever wrote one. She told me she had even thought of a title, Do a Little More-- it's something her mom used to say to her. And her trainings did what all those best-selling motivational books do. She said, do what I did, it can work for you too. She encouraged them to push themselves, imagine themselves on a grand stage.

LaDonna Powell

Don't be afraid. Be motivated to go forward. You do a little more than the other workers and do your training, you elevate. You're worth it. It was like, you're definitely worth it.

Chana Joffe-Walt

People were into it. I talked to guards who went through the LaDonna Powell training, and it was a thing. It was motivating and clear. LaDonna trained hundreds of people after that-- new recruits, and she started to do refresher trainings for the existing guards. People would leave class saying, we're going to vote Powell for president. You've got my vote, Powell.

She taught people from retail jobs and former military people, men and women. She liked them. The women were focused-- not on sexual favors but on work. There was one in her class who was super talkative, opinionated.

LaDonna Powell

And she was like, you know what? I'm going to be a supervisor. And I was like, OK. Do it. You can do that. You can do whatever you want. Honestly, always in my mind, those guys are gone, and we can just fix it better.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Oh, you're picturing the future workplace?

LaDonna Powell

Right, up there-- if they had, like, two more women there, just to speak logic, like, no-- you know, just someone to say, no, instead of, yeah, dude, that's good, bro, yeah, do that-- it might be better.

Chana Joffe-Walt

LaDonna trained 330 people at Allied-- 80% of the workplace, between new people and refreshers. 80%. She felt good, like it was going well. And then, one day, LaDonna was teaching a refresher course. She was standing in front of the classroom, by the projector, in the middle of class, and a black guard raised his hand.

LaDonna Powell

He told me the story of the supervisor calling him a nigger. And he was like, it's not the first time. And this is in front of the class. This is is a class of-- roughly, this night, it had to be, like, 11 people in the class. And he's telling the story, and everyone knew. So I said to him, who else in here?

And they all were just looking at each other. I was like, you guys can tell me. I was like, you know you can trust me. I'll take it to management. And they were like, no one's going to do anything about him. They never do anything about him.

Chana Joffe-Walt

They we're talking about Kevin, which LaDonna had already assumed. Again, we asked Kevin for a response to this. He declined.

LaDonna Powell

And I was just trying to tell them, listen, if you write it down, maybe-- you know, we can try. Let's just try.

Chana Joffe-Walt

When they said to you, who am I going to complain to, when you--

LaDonna Powell

I said, to me.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Mm-hmm.

LaDonna Powell

I said, you've said it to me, I'm not just going to leave it here. It's not OK. It really bothered me so much to even hear that being said. And the fact that the people we're managing are mostly African-American, minorities, Latin, that's a problem. You shouldn't be overseeing those people, because you don't value them either. You don't value us.

So I go to management. They look at me, they look at each other, they kind of smirk. They're like, you know how he is. I don't know why you keep taking this so personal. Well, sorry. The black color of my skin would be one reason. And that's not OK.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Allied is an enormous, multibillion dollar company. LaDonna knew the rules come from the top, and these supervisors at JFK were not the top. Allied JFK is one of 20,000 Allied locations. Allied provides security to libraries and museums and malls and baseball stadiums and government buildings. Allied guards are in the waiting rooms of hospitals. They're standing at the gates of universities. They're riding Segways at parks. They protect nursing homes and resorts and construction sites. They are in all 50 states.

All of that to say, this is a huge company with a chain of command that expands well beyond the airport. Everyone has a boss, and there were many, many bosses at Allied. Good leadership was up there somewhere.

This is why LaDonna insisted her students report infractions. They needed documentation. Maybe if these written complaints built up, they could build a ladder up high enough to reach the responsible leaders. There were more complaints from guards in LaDonna's classes, especially in the refresher courses-- harassment, racist comments. Keep writing things down, she'd say. Take notes. Call this OSHA number and report a safety violation. A woman came to her and said Kevin had been harassing her.

LaDonna Powell

So I said, did you write this down? And she was like, I don't know. You know how he is. And I'm like, I understand everything you're saying, but you have to fight for yourself. I'm going to go fight for you right now. But what I need you to promise me you're going to do is also fight for yourself, because there's a lot of fighting I'm doing right now for everybody, and I kind of need you guys to fight back also.

She did what I told her to do. And then that resulted in her being a target. So I don't know. It's like, I felt like I told her the right thing, honestly. I felt like I told all of them the right thing, because you are supposed to speak up for yourself. Why can they just not stop?

Chana Joffe-Walt

Do you still feel, though, that that was the right-- the approach that you took to those classes was, I'm going to teach people to be like me.

LaDonna Powell

Yes.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And this woman is saying to you, I did the thing that you told me to, and it did not end up well for me so far, right?

LaDonna Powell

Right.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Does that make you doubt your approach?

LaDonna Powell

It doesn't make me doubt my approach. It makes me feel like their response is wrong.

Chana Joffe-Walt

There was one thing that did make LaDonna doubt everything. One woman, an enthusiastic, ambitious guard whom LaDonna had trained a few months earlier, came to her and told her she'd been sexually assaulted by another guard-- not on the premises and not during work, but by a coworker. LaDonna says she listened and told her that it wasn't OK, what had happened to her, and they needed to do something. No, no, no, the woman responded, she just wanted to tell someone. LaDonna says she didn't think anything needed to happen.

LaDonna Powell

It's like somebody has to help her. And I can't hold something like that inside, because then it's going to drive me insane. I just couldn't. There's no way.

Chana Joffe-Walt

LaDonna went to the other supervisors. She says she told them the woman had been raped, and she told them who raped her. She asked the woman's direct supervisor, at the very least, don't put her on duty with him. But LaDonna says he didn't listen. And every day after that, LaDonna went to work, and so did the woman, right alongside the man.

LaDonna Powell

I don't know what kind of psychological warfare that is. I don't even know how she still does it-- currently working, and they still put her with him after they found out. I don't know. It makes my skin crawl.

Chana Joffe-Walt

The woman did not want to be interviewed for the radio. She wanted to handle this her own way. LaDonna wanted to go to upper management, but the woman didn't want to. She wanted to keep her job. She told LaDonna she didn't need anything to be done. To LaDonna, that was acceptance.

LaDonna Powell

People are not supposed to take from you without your permission. I just wanted her to understand she's worth fighting for. They should make you feel worth fighting for. She just-- ugh, she just doesn't see it that way.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And there was nothing, no evidence LaDonna could point to to convince her otherwise. LaDonna was trying to force a reckoning that would require this woman, and everyone on staff, to see themselves differently, to be vigilant at all times. But many of them were flagging. They were losing their sense of urgency, turning inward, away from revolution. LaDonna never turned away. Nine months after this, she was pulled into a meeting with HR and the project manager, the big boss at Allied JFK.

LaDonna Powell

I was like, am I fired? I asked three times. Am I fired? Tell me what I'm fired for. Am I fired for talking up?

And he's like, oh, I wish you would close your mouth. And I said, what am I fired for? And I started reeling off everything. Am I fired for talking up? About what, the sexual harassment? About being called a nigger?

And I started saying ev-- I said, all the stuff that goes on in this place, everybody sleeping with everybody, people don't even do their job. And I just started saying everything to him. I said, so am I fired? No, you're not fired. We'll call you in a few days, and we'll let you know something.

Chana Joffe-Walt

LaDonna says they didn't call. Weeks later, when she logged into Allied's online portal, that's where she saw she had been terminated. LaDonna had cycled through so many different strategies at Allied, but she had actually never thought about a lawsuit until this point. And when she talked to a lawyer, the lawyer said, this would be a stronger case if you knew other people had experienced the same thing.

I do, LaDonna said. I trained them. I trained everybody. I was a supervisor. I saw everything. The lawyer perked up. Well, if you can get other people to join you, you'd have a stronger case.

LaDonna sat down, made a list of women she knew had experienced harassment and were no longer at Allied, and one morning she went through the list. The first woman she called said, I can't talk. She wouldn't explain why. LaDonna called the second woman, can't talk. Again, why? Eventually, this woman explained she had already sued Allied herself, settled the case, and signed a non-disclosure agreement-- an NDA. Next woman LaDonna called, same thing.

LaDonna Powell

Wow. This is what they've been doing. These guys are still here. It's insane. It's kind of insane to me.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Did you even know that was an option?

LaDonna Powell

I didn't.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Yeah.

LaDonna Powell

But you know what? It's not an option. I hope you guys are listening. It's not an option.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Wait, who are you talking to, "I hope you guys are listening"?

LaDonna Powell

Allied.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Oh.

LaDonna Powell

I hope they're listening because I feel like, how many times do they get to do that? How many times do they get to do that before they actually take this serious and start making a change?

Chana Joffe-Walt

We found court records for 11 lawsuits against Allied at JFK that allege workplace discrimination. It's unclear how many more Allied might have settled before the cases formally went to court. So LaDonna wasn't alone trying to push back. Other women were fighting back too. She had no idea. They did come forward. The information was conveyed to a higher authority, to a court of law, and it did not make LaDonna or these women more secure. It made them invisible.

LaDonna filed her lawsuit last October. Soon after, three more people from Allied got in touch, asking to join her lawsuit. And then, after that, there were two more workplace discrimination lawsuits filed against Allied at other New York sites-- the World Trade Center and LaGuardia Airport. LaDonna waited. Everyone has a boss.

LaDonna Powell

What else do you guys need to happen-- just what else, before you say, all right, let's get these guys out of here, they've went too far?

Steve Jones

OK, my name is Steve Jones, and I'm the CEO of Allied Universal.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Steve Jones became CEO in 2016 when his security company, Universal Services of America, merged with AlliedBarton, becoming the largest security firm in North America. He told me LaDonna was fired because of her failure to comply with her supervisory duties. He wouldn't say more about what duties but was clear it was not for speaking up about sexual harassment and racial discrimination. He said he only heard those complaints after LaDonna filed her lawsuit and there was a local news story about it. He adds, "This is despite Allied's many systems in place for employees to communicate concerns."

Steve Jones

There's literally a half a dozen avenues to where you could communicate to us, and then we would launch an immediate investigation. Why didn't LaDonna Powell choose to take one of those avenues of communication and inform us of it? I don't know. We're obviously--

Chana Joffe-Walt

So wait, you're saying she didn't-- you're saying that she did not report any of this behavior, verbally or in a written form to supervisors or HR?

Steve Jones

What I'm telling you, yeah, is the first time we were made aware of this was through the media.

Chana Joffe-Walt

There's lawsuits-- I mean, there's lawsuits going back to 2014. There's three lawsuits that describe very similar behavior that LaDonna is describing in the-- there's two more in 2015. There's formal complaints that I've seen written to HR that describe very similar behavior. There's calls to OSHA about being denied bathroom breaks. There's an employee at Allied JFK who left a letter and distributed it publicly that described widespread sexual misconduct by supervisors. And not to mention, I've been talking to many, many staff at Allied who have heard about these things. So it does not seem true that you were not made aware of some of the issues that LaDonna's raising.

Steve Jones

So what I would tell you is LaDonna Powell did not make us aware of her specific claims. And what I would say is, with regards to any other claims, every claim that gets brought to our attention is investigated thoroughly and responded to. And obviously, if it's a pending legal matter, I clearly can't comment on that.

Chana Joffe-Walt

No, they were settled. There are lawsuits that were settled. And for the most part, it seems like the people who settled those lawsuits signed nondisclosure agreements, so they can't talk about it.

Steve Jones

OK. That does not change the fact that we don't take all allegations of either harassment or discrimination very, very seriously, and then we investigate each and every one of them.

Chana Joffe-Walt

One of the things that did not make sense to me was, if there are multiple complaints about certain employees, and Allied is having to pay out money in settlements over and over, why not just get rid of those managers? Setting aside what's fair or what's right, it just seems like there'd be strong financial reasons to do that. I asked him what he made of the fact that some of the same men were accused again and again.

Steve Jones

We can't speculate that because someone has an allegation that that means those facts are correct. Again, our position--

Chana Joffe-Walt

Of course, but it's repeated. I mean, that's the difference, right? It's not a single allegation. It's repeated allegations that are similar to one another against the same people.

Steve Jones

And again, any time an allegation is made, we conduct a thorough investigation-- is that allegation true? Is there a portion of it that is true? And what type of behavior was being done or wasn't being done? We have to get to the facts.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Allied says that is what they're trying to do now. They told me that since the lawsuit was filed, JFK management and supervisors have received training on discrimination and harassment, and HR staff got specialized training on how to respond to such matters. They've launched their own investigation and an independent investigation into what happened. Those investigations got started seven months ago-- which, to be clear, was four years after LaDonna says she first complained verbally and filed a written complaint against Kevin.

Kevin and the four other men named in LaDonna's lawsuit denied all the allegations to us through their lawyers. I got an email response from the lawyer for Kevin McNamara and Chris Timberlake and the head boss at Allied JFK, Martin Feeney. It said, "We're confident that once the facts of the case come to light, it will be clear that Mr. Feeney, Mr. Timberlake, and Mr. McNamara did nothing wrong. It is unfortunate that these individuals' professional reputations are being tarnished as this case is debated in the court of public opinion."

There is one other investigation to come out of this lawsuit. The Port Authority, which runs New York's airports, says it is now reviewing LaDonna's allegations, and others, as well. A statement from the Port Authority says, they'll "take aggressive measures against Allied if they find those allegations to be true." And then, just recently, I started to hear rumors about some aggressive measures. I started to hear that the entire leadership of Allied JFK was gone.

Female Guard 1

Oh, it's beautiful now.

Chana Joffe-Walt

This is a guard who works at Allied currently. She didn't want me to use her name. None of these workers did.

Female Guard 2

I didn't believe it at first, because I thought maybe it was just a rumor, but then my phone started blowing up, so I was like, oh, wow. Wow.

Male Guard

Yeah, it's about time. It's like, how can they get away with this, and why isn't someone doing something about it?

Chana Joffe-Walt

The Allied guards say management did not explain what happened to the supervisors, or even why something was done. But they say they all know why it was done-- LaDonna.

Female Guard 1

I love it. I thank her for moving all these no-good people out, who have so many records on accusing women and doing all that stuff. I thank her.

Male Guard

And for years, you've heard the people doing stuff. And all of a sudden, bingo, finally something was getting taken care of. Yeah.

Chana Joffe-Walt

A lot of people I spoke with didn't want to share their opinions on the record at all. And then there was this woman, who said she couldn't talk to me, but then stood next to her coworker yelling while I interviewed him.

Male Guard

Yeah. They said that women are tired of what's going on--

Female Guard 3

Yeah, you get tired of it.

Male Guard

It's true. It's like, you know--

Female Guard 3

After a while, [INAUDIBLE].

Male Guard

Yeah, enough is enough. And--

Female Guard 3

It's always been a big issue.

Male Guard

Yeah. As you said, it's always been a big issue.

Female Guard 3

Women are speaking out now.

Male Guard

Yeah. Yeah.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Allied told me three people were fired. They wouldn't tell me who. As far as I can tell, Kevin McNamara and Chris Timberlake were not fired. They, along with most of the leadership from Allied JFK, were reassigned-- meaning they still work for Allied but not at JFK. I asked Allied CEO Steve Jones why many of the supervisors were reassigned.

Steve Jones

So, we reassign employees all the time, whether it's promotion opportunities or new different challenges or--

Chana Joffe-Walt

Right. But are they being moved because they were at fault of some form of harassment or discrimination?

Steve Jones

No. So, I would say-- are some of the allegations found to be true? I would say no.

Chana Joffe-Walt

So why are people being reassigned?

Steve Jones

Well, again, we reassign people-- we reassign people all the time.

LaDonna Powell

It's just not an answer. Somebody just say it. We hired these guys. They're animals. We fucked up. We must stop. As a company, we frown upon this, and we're making changes. What's so hard to say that?

Chana Joffe-Walt

It occurred to me at some point that I've asked LaDonna the same question almost every time I've talked with her, did that make you feel powerful? I've asked her this about so many different things. Did that make you feel powerful when you made it to supervisor, when you were training all those people, when a fancy Manhattan law firm filed a lawsuit on your behalf, when the CEO of the company was responding directly to your complaints?

No. LaDonna's answer was always no. It did not make her feel powerful. It was the same when the leadership of Allied JFK was removed. LaDonna heard that news, especially the part about the men from Allied being reassigned, and she was not thinking about her power. She was thinking about theirs. She was imagining Kevin arriving at his new job, putting on his same Allied uniform every day.

LaDonna Powell

That you can continue to walk around, just doing whatever you want to whomever you want, however, and nobody can touch you, it's almost like you're the boogeyman. You're untouchable.

Chana Joffe-Walt

What LaDonna could now see was that he was protected, thoroughly, and she was not. She was alone. What LaDonna believed from all those self-help books is you have the power. There may be barriers, but if you act right, set your mind right, if you're strategic and ingenious, you can thwart their efforts to take your power away.

This news made her feel like, not really, because, yeah, everybody has a boss, but it was not just Kevin. It was not just the supervisors. It was also the project manager and the HR manager and the legal department at Allied Universal that paid women and the law that allows them to do that. It was a system designed to withstand her refusal to comply, to absorb her whole onslaught, all her strategic thought, passionately executed, carefully taught. It just ate it up and kept doing its thing. And now that LaDonna has seen all of that, she's not sure how to see herself.

LaDonna Powell

I just-- I keep having these moments, like, it still leaves this lasting feeling that I was so vulnerable to these people, and they damaged me.

Chana Joffe-Walt

That damage is not visible, except to her. LaDonna still works at the airport. She works for the government now, for Customs and Border Protection. She's making more money, and it's a more prestigious job. LaDonna walks Terminal Four, her torso doubled in size by her bulletproof vest, head high, scanning the area like someone who owns the place. A couple months back, she was at work--

LaDonna Powell

And I'm walking. I have a M4 in my hand, my vest, pistol on my side. I'm walking, and I'm doing an escort. It's, like, five of us, and we're escorting someone. He's a diplomat.

Chana Joffe-Walt

She's not allowed to say from where.

LaDonna Powell

He gave us a little pin and everything from his country. It's a regular day. And so we're escorting him. And we're walking, and everything's fine. And then I see one of the men.

Chana Joffe-Walt

One of the men from Allied, a supervisor named Osvaldo Ortiz, the guy LaDonna says let the guard bleed on herself instead of giving her a bathroom break. He was coming into Terminal Four to get a coffee from Dunkin' Donuts.

LaDonna Powell

And then I just-- literally, I'm walking, and I'm fine. I'm talking, duh-duh, we're laughing, very militant, walking. And I'm fine. I got my gun. I'm holding it like this.

And I turn, and I get a sign of him. And then he sees me. And then I just turned my whole body, shifted to the left, and I ducked down.

Chana Joffe-Walt

LaDonna ducked as she was telling this to me. This is a man who, at this point in time, has no official power over her. She doesn't work for him. She's not financially dependent on him.

LaDonna Powell

Literally, I am-- I felt afraid. It's like, I'm nervous. Like, I started sweating and everything. It's like, why am I scared of this guy? It doesn't make sense to me. Regardless of me being, oh, badass Customs Agent with a gun, still the sight of him makes me cringe.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And you're escorting a fancy diplomat.

LaDonna Powell

Exactly.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Who's here for important business.

LaDonna Powell

Yes.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Who needs your protection because you are able to provide protection.

LaDonna Powell

Protection. Right, right. And then I feel like I couldn't protect myself in that moment, yes.

Chana Joffe-Walt

And you have a gun.

LaDonna Powell

And I have a gun. It's kind of horrible.

Chana Joffe-Walt

Yeah. And that guy has a Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

LaDonna Powell

Coffee And I still feel, yeah, at his mercy. So power? No. I feel like I am caged because of them.

Chana Joffe-Walt

The cage is invisible, of course-- or it was until recently, just like the NDAs, and the reassignments, and everything else LaDonna can now see. She's still trying to map the contours of this cage, its full size and shape. It's hard. It's not written down anywhere or clearly marked. And that's what makes it scary. LaDonna needs to know exactly what she's dealing with. Then she can figure out her next move.

Ira Glass

Chana Joffe-Walt is one of the producers of our program.

[MUSIC PLAYING - "SECURITY" BY ETTA JAMES]

Credits

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Diane Wu. The people who put together a show includes Zoe Chace, Dana Chivvis, Sean Cole, Chana Joffe-Walt, Seth Lind, Miki Meek, Alvin Melathe, Nadia Reiman, Robyn Semien, Christopher Swetala, and Matt Tierney. Our senior producer is Brian Reed. Our managing editor is Susan Burton. Mixing help today from Katherine Rae Mondo and Sharif Youssef. Editing help from Sarah Koenig and Nancy Updike. Special thanks today Rebecca [? Vitale-Dokolah, ?] Nava EtShalom, [? Amina ?] [? Kotkin, ?] and Matt Chase.

It feels crazy to say this, but this is the very last week we are working with two of the people who you never hear on the radio but who have helped run the administrative side of things here at our radio show just for years-- Elise Bergerson and Kimberly Henderson. They are both off to bigger adventures elsewhere. We are so dependent on them and on a million things they do every day. It is not entirely clear how this is going to work around here, for those of us who are still here. If we are not on the air next week, that is the reason why. You guys, we will miss you. Come back. Visit.

Our website, thisamericanlife.org, where you can listen to our archive of over 600 episodes for absolutely free. Or get the This American Life app. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, he keeps infiltrating my Facebook account. And when I call and ask him why, why are you doing this, he says--

LaDonna Powell

I'm a Russian bad boy.

Ira Glass

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