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696: Low Hum of Menace

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Prologue: Prologue

Ira Glass

I got my teeth cleaned this week, and I was asking the hygienist how it was going with the global pandemic and all. And she was like, just yesterday somebody stole two face masks from the counter right there. And so I was like, do you know who? And she was like, yeah, she knew exactly who, because she caught her red handed, and the woman wasn't sorry at all-- wouldn't give the masks back. I mean, there's a national shortage, but still.

I heard about this woman, Kim, who decided a couple weeks ago to buy some face masks for her mom. Her mom works at a home caring for the elderly, and face masks are recommended for people like her mom. Kim went shopping for some. CVS-- sold out. Rite Aid-- sold out. Target-- sold out. She called pharmacies around town in northern California, where she lives. No luck, until she reached this one woman.

Kim

She said they were sold out, and then she paused for a second. And then she said, well, I have a stash at home. I might be able to sell you some masks. Let me call you after work.

Ira Glass

Wait, and so suddenly it's like you're doing an illegal drug deal or something over a mask?

Kim

Kind of felt that way. So I called her after work. We set up a time and place, and we met the following day in front of the Safeway, next to the Glacier water bottle vending machine.

Ira Glass

Wait, wait.

Kim

And--

Ira Glass

Wait, that's what she said? She said, OK, we're going to meet in front of this Safeway in front of the Glacier bottle vending machine?

Kim

Yes. I found her easily, gave her the cash, got the box, said thank you--

Ira Glass

Now, describe the actual physical transaction. Now, when you handed her the cash, was it a kind of like your hand was over top of the cash so someone else couldn't see it, and she palmed it away from you.

Kim

Pretty much, yeah.

Ira Glass

The woman asked for $100 for 10 masks. Kim talked her down to $70. Regular price would be $1 per mask, maybe $2.

Kim

And she told me that she had two boxes left. So if I wanted more, I could come back.

Cameron

I work at a local co-op here in Seattle, Washington called PCC Community Markets, just a little bit different clientele. They're kind of like a Whole Foods clientele, a little more particular.

Ira Glass

Cameron works in the produce department, and he's a cashier. Washington state, you may know, has more cases than any other state, and most of them are around Seattle. So the co-op started selling out of toilet paper, beans, flour, hand sanitizer when this first hit the news.

Cameron

It's been pretty tense, very just on edge. A lot of people are upset that we don't have hand sanitizer wipes for our carts. I've had a few customers vocally yell at me because of how I was touching their cans when I was checking them out at the register.

Ira Glass

Like this one guy, who had a lot of cans.

Cameron

It was a kombucha energy drink. I can't remember the exact brand. He probably had a couple dozen. Some of them had fallen over, and I'd grabbed the top of the can versus the bottom of the can when scanning it, which, I mean, I can understand. But at the same time, I probably wasn't the first person to touch that can, so.

Ira Glass

What did they say to you?

Cameron

He just wanted me to be aware of what I was doing. It took me a minute to understand what he was saying, because he was so frustrated. I don't remember the exact words, but paraphrasing he was asking me in a pretty passive aggressive way why I'm touching the cans the way I am.

Ira Glass

Somehow that's exactly what I would have pictured. I'm picturing sort of Fred Armisen in Portlandia.

Cameron

You're so spot on it's gross right now. [LAUGHS] He was wearing glasses, for sure, and some sort of fleece. But he was just telling me how I need to be touching the cans without touching the tops, and yeah.

Ira Glass

Some people have more to fear than others right now, I think, like Jasmine Reese. She works at Los Angeles airport, LAX, cleaning out planes after they land, including international flights. Coronavirus became a very real thing to her over a month ago when a plane arrived from Hong Kong.

Jasmine Reese

Even as I'm getting on the plane, and I see first class, business, I'm walking down. And I'm seeing co-workers with face masks, and I'm like, what's going on? Why does everybody have a face mask? They're like, oh, because there's a virus. There's a virus, and you have to clean this plane. This is one of the planes that, you know, this is Hong Kong. And I'm like, oh, let me go downstairs and go get me one, because keep in mind that I'm five months pregnant.

Ira Glass

And did they have face masks? Were you able to get one?

Jasmine Reese

Yeah, but we don't have them every day, and we work every day, but we're kind of low on supply, so meaning that we may not have face masks every day. We may not have gloves every day.

Ira Glass

There have been days since the virus when you went in, and you had to clean a plane without a mask?

Jasmine Reese

Yeah, there's plenty. There's plenty of days that we get on there and we don't have no mask. We're cleaning. Sometimes we get on there. We don't have masks and gloves.

Ira Glass

One job the crew does-- they reach deep into garbage bags on the plane and pull out the garbage by hand. Jasmine cleans American Airlines planes. She works for a contractor called Jetstream Ground Services. A number of Jetstream employees have been quoted in the press saying the same thing about gloves and masks that Jasmine says.

We reached out to a spokesperson for the company, Eric Rose. He said in emails, quote, "we are at a loss as to why the employees are making these false claims." Jetstream Ground Services has always had an abundant supply of safety equipment for all employees to fulfill their daily assignments." End quote.

Just this week, the Service Employees International Union started distributing masks and gloves to workers like Jasmine in LAX, saying Jetstream has not properly provided them. The day I talked to Jasmine, two people who work at LAX had at that point tested positive with the virus. Jasmine thought one of them worked at terminal seven.

Jasmine Reese

So we have a person all the way down at seven that got sick, and then now they're saying a person, I think, from terminal five was sick. We're at four.

Ira Glass

Damn.

Jasmine Reese

So we're right next to a person that could have possibly came to the food court at our terminal, you just never know.

Ira Glass

Do you feel like it's only a matter of time before somebody you work with gets sick?

Jasmine Reese

Yeah, it's how it's going, and it's on the news, and it's spreading so wide. I wouldn't be surprised if someone-- if the news popped up and said somebody is sick within the next week or two. I could be walking around with a co-worker right now, and they probably have it. You don't know that they have it.

Ira Glass

So when you're cleaning planes, is this what you're thinking about all the time?

Jasmine Reese

If it's internationally, yes. I'm thinking, why do you have clean this plane? And I'm trying not to stress on it too hard.

Ira Glass

And I can't totally tell. How worried are you?

Jasmine Reese

Truth-- I'm very worried, but I've still got to work and get my money. I have to survive, yes, but I am very worried about it, certainly because I am pregnant.

Ira Glass

Right now as I'm saying these words to you, dozens of people have already died in our country, but somehow it still feels like the calm before the storm. For now, it's like streets are a little emptier, store shelves are emptier. Some people are working from home. Some schools close. Other schools-- everybody's waiting to hear if they're going to be called off. Things are not as awful as they're certainly going to get, so we're all waiting for it to get awful, with no idea of how awful that's going to be.

If I had to say what this feels like, I think to me what this feels like is-- I don't know-- the only experience I've ever had like this is sort of like waiting for medical results, trying to find out how bad things are going to be, but on a global scale. We're going to be documenting more about coronavirus in upcoming shows, but for today's show, we thought we would stick to this one part of things, this low hum of menace.

Here in our staff we were talking about when else does somebody actually feel that feeling? And we found some examples of that to share with you, and that's going to be our show today. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Ira Glass

Act One-- Do You Hear What I Hear? So this first story is about a recording that captures this exact thing today's program is about, that low hum of menace. The recording was made secretly by a woman trying to catch a man who'd been harassing her. Heads up to listeners, this story is about sexual harassment, so there's some sexual content to this.

One thing I have to say that's interesting about this recording and the man's behavior in it is how understated it is. He doesn't raise his voice. He doesn't overtly threaten, but he just gets his point across. Also interesting, the woman who made the recording-- her name is Khristen Sellers. Years later, today, when she hears this recording, she hears it very differently than she did at the time. It raises a whole set of questions she didn't think about much back then. Reporter Jessica Lussenhop met Khristen years ago putting together a story for the BBC. Here's Jessica.

Jessica Lussenhop

The recording is just 10 minutes long. The man Khristen was trying to record was her home inspector. This is back in 2012. At the time, she didn't have a cell phone, so she borrowed one from her friend.

Jessica Lussenhop

Can you just sort of explain how you made this recording in the first place?

Khristen Sellers

OK. I had on some around the house cleanup clothing, like baggy clothing. So I had a phone, and I took the phone, and I put it in my shirt. Put it in, I think, it was my bra strap or something, sitting some type of way odd.

Jessica Lussenhop

Because of the phone under the shirt secured by a bra strap, the recording is hard to hear. Hiding the phone there, Khristen's nervous. She gives herself a task-- raking the yard-- as she waits for Eric Pender to pull up. He is who she wants to record.

She's kind of afraid of him, but she's focused on all the things anyone making this kind of recording might be. She wants to stay calm, not look suspicious, act natural. And most importantly, she wants to get audio of Eric Pender harassing her so she has undeniable proof. Eric Pender's red truck pulls up and parks on the street.

Khristen Sellers

There was a long driveway. So I'm in a wooded area, ain't no whole bunch of houses near me or nothing, and he was walking up. But I was still raking, doing both. And he was coming up towards me, and I was kind of trying to turn the other way. That's when he kind of got real close, and he was like, I'm--

Eric Pender

You know, Ms. Sellers, you need to be careful of who you talk to. I'm not worried about me.

Jessica Lussenhop

Be careful who you talk to. I'm not worried about me.

Eric Pender

Just somebody you think that you can trust, and I'm just letting you know you probably can't trust them.

Jessica Lussenhop

But if there's somebody you think you can trust, then I'm just letting you know you probably can't trust them.

Khristen Sellers

He basically was saying I need to watch what I'm saying to people and how I'm talking to them, and I'm like, what am I saying to people? I'm trying to put the face on of I'm not saying nothing to nobody. What are you talking about?

Jessica Lussenhop

How far away is he from you when he's--

Khristen Sellers

Probably like how me and her is right now.

Jessica Lussenhop

My producer, Robyn-- she's about two feet away. This recording is the fourth time Khristen had spoken to Eric Pender ever.

Khristen Sellers

All right, I already know how people use lies. I ain't-- look, you need to-- look, if you think-- [INAUDIBLE].

I'm super nervous, and nothing-- I'm so nervous at that point I was shaking, and I couldn't believe he didn't see it. It was like a tremble in me that I just was trying to hold on to the rake as hard as I could so that he wouldn't see the tremble in me. You know what I mean?

Jessica Lussenhop

Were you making eye contact with him?

Khristen Sellers

I really was like down to the rake, down to the rake. It was like, if I was somebody else, the way I was raking in the same spot, I would have been like, what is she doing? But I was still in the same spot because I was scared to move. I was just nervous.

Jessica Lussenhop

The house Eric Pender was coming to inspect wasn't Khristen's yet. It was a house she was hoping to move into with her three kids. The only thing she needed to move in was his signature on a form.

She needs this house. Just two weeks earlier, Khristen was staying at her mom's, just home from a prison stint. She served six months for a probation violation. She was looking for a house for her and her kids. If you needed a Section 8 voucher in Laurinburg, a small town in a rural area of North Carolina, one of the only places to go was a nonprofit called Four-County Community Services.

The problem was the only house they were willing to give her was a house no one else seemed to want. Khristen was like, OK. I'm not picky.

Khristen Sellers

They had a house, and they said that house in particular was abandoned. And if I was to clean that house out, that I would go ahead and be able to move in the house, and wouldn't have to pay a deposit. They actually called the landlord, and they will pay the first month's rent. I think that's how it went, yeah.

Jessica Lussenhop

So if she cleaned the house, it'd be hers, but cleaning the house, she'd come to learn, was a big project. It was a three bedroom house with a dining room and den, and all the rooms were filled with junk. It smelled awful. There were roaches, lots of poop.

Khristen Sellers

The neighbors had told me that's why it was so many feces and stuff in the house, because they had left the dog. And then finally, I guess, the dog either died or left, and they got it out. I don't know. But by the time I got there, I just was there with the leftover-- the house being full of clothing and food in the cabinets. It was all this stuff. It was just horrible.

Jessica Lussenhop

She cleaned and cleaned. She had a list of tasks that she'd been given from the nonprofit.

Khristen Sellers

It took weeks, like maybe two weeks or so, three weeks, maybe even more than that. I can't even really remember remember. I just remember going a lot of times doing it. Well, I called down there, and they sent the inspector out. I thought I had everything done that was my duty to do.

Jessica Lussenhop

Eric Pender showed up. He was the housing inspector for Four-County. He's a tall man, older, light skinned black man with a taste for cowboy boots and belts, khakis. Pender was there to review Khristen's work. If she passed his inspection, she'd get approved to move in.

Khristen Sellers

Anyway, he was like, you need to have a man to help you. Why you don't have a boyfriend? And all this. And I'm like, I don't have one because I'm just coming out from prison. I'm trying to get on my feet for my kids. I'm trying to explain to him, and he was like, but if you had a man here, a man could get this stuff done. And I'm like, I did it. What are you asking me to do?

Jessica Lussenhop

This talk of men quickly turned explicit. Khristen said he asked her about her sex life, if she performed oral sex before.

Khristen Sellers

And I was like, what? I was totally thrown. And he was like, because you have had men to take you out to dinner and stuff. And then I had told him, yeah, I have. And he was like, well, you having people take you out to dinner. That's what they were paying you for. They were paying you for sex. He said, let's say your rent's $600 times 12 months.

Jessica Lussenhop

Her rent was $600 a month. So to be clear, he was laying out her exact situation. He proposed sex with him as a kind of home insurance policy that Pender valued at over a year's worth of rent.

Khristen Sellers

And he was like, that's way over $6,000. My signature is over $6,000. So you'll be having sex for-- basically, he mapped it out just like that.

Jessica Lussenhop

Did he even acknowledge that you had cleaned the whole house?

Khristen Sellers

He didn't. He didn't want to. He wanted to let me know that I still had stuff to do.

I'm stuck, because I know I'm in here with this man. And I'm like, he can sign this paper, and he can not sign this paper. He can say whatever, and my word against him is what? So at this time, I'm like, what do I do? I just don't know. So I just knew to try to keep a distance between me and him as much as I could.

Jessica Lussenhop

Pender toured the house with Khristen following behind him. He starts pointing to stuff that wasn't Khristen's responsibility to clean up, that wasn't on the list that the nonprofit gave her-- broken mirrors, a broken toilet.

Khristen Sellers

That's where he was telling me the toilet needed fixing, and he kind of pulled me by the hip in the bathroom. And he pulled himself out in front of me.

Jessica Lussenhop

Wait, what?

Khristen Sellers

Yeah, he pulled himself out, and I looked down. And I looked up, and I kind of like-- I need to get out-- find a way out. So I kind of got out of the bathroom.

Jessica Lussenhop

And he's blocking you. He's in the bathroom door.

Khristen Sellers

Yeah, he's blocking me.

Jessica Lussenhop

And you're in the bathroom and can't get out.

Khristen Sellers

Mhm, yeah.

Jessica Lussenhop

And he exposes himself to you.

Khristen Sellers

Definitely. And he was like, you know what to do. You know what I'm saying? You know if you want this house, you know what you got to do. That's what he was saying at that point.

Jessica Lussenhop

She says the only thing she was sure of was that there was no way she was going to do what he wanted ever. She managed to push past him, gets him to leave. He doesn't sign the form. It was overwhelming.

Khristen Sellers

I broke down, because I felt like, when you're in situations like I was in, you feel kind of like you've got low self-esteem already. And so dealing with that situation is just kind of like-- you just feel like that's what-- he looks at you like-- is that how men look at you? And so it's just like I'm going to say whatever to her because she is who she is.

Jessica Lussenhop

Khristen did not go to the police. She thought it was her word against his and that, because of her record, she wouldn't be believed. She thought she needed to bolster her claim in some way, collect some evidence or something. She called a private investigator, wondering if they could surveil him, but they were too expensive. The private investigator she talked to gave her this tip. North Carolina is a one-party consent state, meaning it was legal for Khristen to record him, try to get proof without his permission.

Eric Pender

But your friends know enough to hurt you.

Khristen Sellers

Yeah.

Eric Pender

You see what I'm saying? They know--

Jessica Lussenhop

Which brings us back to the recording Khristen made on that Sunday in April back in 2012. Pender is coming back ostensibly to inspect the house. He still hasn't signed the form she needs to move in. Remember, Khristen is trying to record Pender propositioning her, but when he walks up, he's not doing that. He starts talking about his job at the housing office, how he is in charge of handling complaints.

Eric Pender

Any time I deal with a complaint, the complaints come to me all the time.

Jessica Lussenhop

He says, any time I deal with a complaint-- he's talking to you about a complaint. Do you know what he's talking about?

Khristen Sellers

See, that's what he was saying. He was saying that somebody told his boss that I said that he was making advances and bothering me.

Jessica Lussenhop

Which she hadn't. She'd only told a few people and that private investigator about Pender. Confused, Khristen tries to play it off.

Khristen Sellers

You sure?

Eric Pender

I'm positive. You want to [BLEEP] me?

Khristen Sellers

I just can't see that now.

Eric Pender

Just don't stir it up. Don't say nothing. Now, I'm just telling you when somebody's in your business. The sum of all this for Khristen-- she's realizing that telling her housing office about Pender, filing an actual complaint is out of the question.

Khristen Sellers

Instead of calling me, they call him and tell him everything instead of calling me, saying, is this happening to you? So at that point, you know that nobody on your side.

Eric Pender

Now, the people that's close to you know that you've got a task ahead of you. I don't see them.

Jessica Lussenhop

It's a weird recording because Eric Pender says things that sound simultaneously like a threat and like they could be the advice of someone who's protective and caring. Pender had what Khristen considered a supreme confidence, where he could finesse words, make insults sound flowery and innocent.

Khristen Sellers

It's like, to me, he was just trying to make me his friend. And I was trying to keep myself afloat in the conversation while I was feeling like I was drowning at the same time.

Jessica Lussenhop

For example, as she's raking, Pender starts lecturing her about her kids.

Eric Pender

You really should've had your kids over here, too.

Khristen Sellers

Yeah. No, I mean, but they're not here. They don't be here none.

Eric Pender

Well, I know, but I'm just saying, if they were here, you should have them here raking in this yard. And you've got a son, right?

Khristen Sellers

Mhm.

Eric Pender

This is part of being a man. When I was coming up, my mama-- that's how I learned to work in my yard. It's a part of that growing up process. I don't where your daddy fits in this life, but you've got to give him these two-- look, you tell what's-his-name, little man, say look, you're going to be a man one day. You're going to need to know how to change a tire. You're going to need to know how to light the grill. You're going to need to know how to take care of this yard.

Jessica Lussenhop

All Khristen can think is this is not what she was hoping to get recorded.

Khristen Sellers

I didn't think none of this was going to work, because I was-- I'm used to him coming, saying, what's up [BLEEP]. You going to have sex. You're going to do this, being very blunt on what he want, and why he want it, and when I'm going to do it, and what I get for doing it. When I'm recording something, it's like--

Jessica Lussenhop

It's all over.

Khristen Sellers

--all over the place. So I'm like, oh, this is not going to work. So that's how I felt at that point.

Jessica Lussenhop

But also, all that advice about how she should raise her kids--

Khristen Sellers

He's arrogant, and he's like I'm beneath. In his mind, he could say what he want to say to me, no matter who's involved. You're beneath me, so I know how to raise your children. Now, you're beneath me, so I know how to get you in this house. And you're beneath me, so I can help you. Everything was talking down, or making me feel like I'm not enough, or I'm not a good enough mom. Everything was to try to belittle me into nothing.

Jessica Lussenhop

Pender keeps talking, but not about home inspection. He still doesn't explicitly proposition Khristen, like the first time that they met. He's suggestive, though. He mentions for no apparent reason how women need to stop acting like they don't know how they got pregnant.

Eric Pender

[INAUDIBLE] get mad. Y'all know where babies come from. You [BLEEP], you get pregnant. Damn, I mean, don't be mad at the world.

Jessica Lussenhop

He goes further. He reminds Khristen how he came by her house and, quote, "asked her for some."

Eric Pender

And seeing how I came by and asked you for some anyway. I said, well, damn, maybe-- and then I start thinking-- I say, well--

Khristen Sellers

Well, maybe it's--

Eric Pender

It's maybe because you like women, and maybe I should never even approach you.

Khristen Sellers

I do not like no women, Mr. Pender.

Eric Pender

I don't know. I don't know. I don't know what you like.

Khristen Sellers

Oh--

Eric Pender

This is my first-- second time even seeing you, so--

Khristen Sellers

What if I was gay? You know what I'm saying? So what? Why would you use that against me? You know what I'm saying?

But he would do that. Anything that he felt could be a target to hit you in a way to make you feel like I've got to prove him I'm not this. Then he would use that.

Jessica Lussenhop

Did you feel like he was trying to make you angry?

Khristen Sellers

Yeah.

Jessica Lussenhop

Right, that's--

Khristen Sellers

Yeah, I did. I felt like he was trying to make me give in to say, no, I'm not like that. I'll do it to prove it or something.

Jessica Lussenhop

He hints at making a deal with her to help her with her housing, but doesn't spell out what she'd have to do in that deal. Khristen keeps recording. He reminds her that he has a lot of authority and can help her.

Eric Pender

I do have some discrepancy on how I enforce the rules. It may be a situation-- your power might be off. You got 48 hours sometimes with your power off. I'm going to come--

Khristen Sellers

[INAUDIBLE]

Eric Pender

I'm going to come back in three days, instead of two. That's going to be your extra day to get your power back on, so forth and so on. I want--

Khristen Sellers

That's back to what I know. The previous conversations, when he do ask for sex and all that, that's how he get to that-- is I'm helping you, so let me tell you what you got to do to get that help. So that tone is what I was used to, so when he got to that calm place, I'm like, here you go. Finna try to make me feel like he's helping me, because if I have sex, I have somewhere to stay for having sex forever.

And he's getting ready to go on today. I want you to do such and such. I did. At that point, I really knew, OK, it's coming.

Jessica Lussenhop

But it doesn't come. Pender instead brings up the most on topic housing inspection related subject of his visit-- the barn. There's this little barn-type shed in Khristen's backyard. It's filled with garbage, and Khristen had put snake repellent around the outside of it to keep snakes, if there were any, trapped inside. Pender says, I'd get that barn cleaned out.

Eric Pender

Get this barn cleaned out. I'm going to say something.

Khristen Sellers

Now, he said that he was--

Eric Pender

Get it clean up because--

Khristen Sellers

The guy that was here, he was paying them.

Eric Pender

All this--

Jessica Lussenhop

Pender starts listing all the things she could use the barn for-- card games, an escape from the kids. He's suddenly singly focused on the potential greatness of a rundown barn.

Eric Pender

You could keep stuff in that barn. You and your friends want to have a card game away from the kids [INAUDIBLE] just get one [INAUDIBLE].

Khristen Sellers

Mhm. Yeah, because you can go in the barn, and you see how the window in the barn-- and say, we can go in the barn. And you can have this here. It was just like, the more he was describing, the closer he was trying to get to the barn. He was trying to find a way to get me there, and mind you, we're outside. So I guess him trying to do anything-- that would probably be the best place for him.

Jessica Lussenhop

Pender keeps insisting she go in the barn with him. Khristen keeps avoiding it. She won't go. She finally says, if I see a snake in there, I'm going to pass out and die.

Khristen Sellers

And they met at [INAUDIBLE] so he mailing him a check.

Eric Pender

[INAUDIBLE]. Yeah, I would certainly take-- even if you had to do it, I would take these two bags at a time.

Khristen Sellers

He mailing a check for them today. I'm not going in with the snake. I'm going to passed out die. I felt like, if I would've went in that barn, he definitely-- it would have been OK for him in his mind that she's saying OK. And I knew I wasn't going in there, so.

Jessica Lussenhop

It seems to work. Pender backs off slowly. They have one last back and forth. He starts to walk away, says, all right then, we straight.

Khristen Sellers

[INAUDIBLE]

Eric Pender

All right, well, we straight.

Jessica Lussenhop

Finally, he says the most damning thing he's said in the whole recording.

Khristen Sellers

Well--

Eric Pender

Well, we almost straight. You'll take care of me later on.

Jessica Lussenhop

Well, we almost straight. You'll take care of me later on.

Eric Pender

Just take it and rake it.

Jessica Lussenhop

Khristen stopped recording. She worried immediately that what she had recorded wasn't enough, and if it wasn't, that she was stuck right where she started-- her house hanging in the lurch. She felt desperate.

Khristen Sellers

How is this going to be over? When it's going to be over? Him saying I still got to take care of him-- it was just like, so this ain't going to be over until I do it. In his head, it's-- that's what it is. Until I have sex with him, this isn't over. It's not over.

And in my mind, I knew that he had come to expect every year-- every year. And him having to expect every year, that means I had to have some kind of a sexual thing with him for him to approve it every year. I just was praying that that recording was enough proof that he's been doing it. So I just didn't know if I had enough proof.

Jessica Lussenhop

This recording kicked off a pretty remarkable series of events. Khristen used it to file a criminal charge against Eric Pender. He was convicted of simple assault, but appealed and got the case dropped. She also played the recording for a young lawyer, who didn't even have an office yet or know for sure if what Khristen was describing was illegal, but he listened to the tape, believed her, and took the case. Khristen's lawyer filed a civil suit, and a local paper ran a story about it.

More and more women started coming forward with stories about Eric Pender and Pender's boss, John Wesley, who was also asking for sex in exchange for vouchers. The case grew from three women to eight, and then to 16. Six of the women went along with the men's sexual demands. One of them lost her housing anyway.

The lawsuit ran on for years, which became its own form of punishment for Khristen, because Eric Pender was still her home inspector. He continued working for them. At one point, he tried to cancel Khristen's voucher. Her lawyers blocked it.

The case was moved from state to federal court. Department of Justice lawyers got involved. Khristen got called all the names-- liar, felon, opportunist. Once, in a grocery store, a woman Khristen barely knew approached her.

Khristen Sellers

She really felt adamant on telling me you're messing this up. You're messing up how we get our vouchers. And that's--

Jessica Lussenhop

She was saying we-- like not just me, a bunch of us.

Khristen Sellers

Yeah, so that's when I kind of understood-- when she said this to me, it just kind of hit me on how they were able to do it for so long, how he was so confident, because look at how this woman feel.

Jessica Lussenhop

There aren't any good numbers on how common sexual harassment is in housing situations. No one seems to be tracking it. In July of 2015, three years after Khristen made the recording, the federal lawsuit ended. Four-County settled with the Department of Justice. Pender and Wesley were banned from working in Section 8, or renting or managing any property permanently. Neither admitted to any wrongdoing. Both denied all the allegations against them.

I reached out to Pender and Wesley for this story. Wesley didn't call me back. I called Pender's lawyer, tried previous addresses, called old numbers, and his ex-wife. No one knew where he was. Four-County didn't respond either. They've changed their name since.

The women were awarded a $2.7 million settlement, the largest sexual harassment in housing settlement in US history at the time. Ultimately, the number of victims in the suit was 87. Khristen's recording was evidence of Pender's behavior, but now, years later, when she listens to it, she hears it very differently than she did at the time. What she hears is herself, who she is in that recording. She hears how small she becomes around him.

And she thought about the recording a lot. When I first called her in November to see if she might be willing to talk to me for this story, almost immediately she said, I'm glad you brought this up. She told me she'd never talked it through with anyone the way she's always wanted to. I visited Khristen in the house she moved to right after the case settled-- a three bedroom in Greensboro, where she lives with her two youngest kids. I played the recording for her. She hadn't heard it in years.

Khristen Sellers

Even listening to it, I'm like, god, you could have said this. You could've said that. You could have did this. I beat myself up for some of that.

Jessica Lussenhop

Really?

Khristen Sellers

Yeah, because I feel like I could have argued more or something. And I know that it did have a good outcome, but I just feel like, if I would've told him more-- and sometimes I wish I would have just told him off. I do beat myself up for some little things.

Jessica Lussenhop

The way she dealt with Eric Pender, she says, is something lots of women do with men, particularly men who have power over them. She laughs, deflects, pretends, tells half truths, demures, changes the subject, bites her tongue, smiles too much, agrees too much, hides her anger, hides all her emotions, buries her personality. It's so familiar I asked every woman I talked to in this lawsuit about it, and then nearly every woman in my life about it. As we talked, Khristen and I started calling it the tactic.

Khristen Sellers

The tactic come in place when it's somebody who has control or somebody who I have to see on a regular basis and they're affecting my livelihood, because your like, my dream is on the other side of that person. You know what I'm saying? My livelihood is on the other side of this person. So if I try to tear this person down, then they can stop me from reaching that. You know what I'm saying?

Jessica Lussenhop

When do you think you learned it? When do you think you-- what's the first memory you have of trying to use this as a strategy to get through a difficult situation?

Khristen Sellers

I had a certain family member that would do things to hurt me, but I didn't want them to hurt me. So I knew I got to be in the same house with him for a certain period of time.

Jessica Lussenhop

This family member abused Khristen both physically and sexually until she was about 12 years old. As a kid, she never told anybody.

Khristen Sellers

Being in low income families, a lot of people shelter these things because it would cause more pain to the family. We already struggling. We already going through this. We already going through that, so why would I put more on the family? You know what I mean?

Then you also have the fact that it's embarrassing. And what if don't nobody believe you? And now you got all those things. So it just seems better to shelter it.

Jessica Lussenhop

She didn't start using these tactics with Eric Pender, and she didn't stop using them after him. In the years since the lawsuit, Khristen said she found herself in a job where, again, someone in a higher position than her started making sexually explicit comments to her. She was afraid to offend him, so she used the tactic, made up an excuse to redirect him. She told him, I'm not for you. I'm too crazy, and you should steer clear of me.

Not long after, Khristen says the guy walked right up behind her and grabbed her breast. Khristen quit that day, walked out, never went back. She told me, I can't file a federal lawsuit every time something like this happens to me.

So like I said, Khristen's thought about the recording with Eric Pender and how she handled him in the recording a lot over the years. I asked her, after all this, if you could go back to when you first met Eric Pender, what do you wish you'd have said?

Khristen Sellers

Oh yeah, now, on that note-- [LAUGHS] look, on that note, yeah, I just-- I wish I could have just looked at him and said, Mr. Pender, I'm not interested in you. I don't want you in no type of way, form, or fashion. I don't want to have no dinners with you for a voucher here, now, or forever more. I don't want no dinners with you, and I wish you would just stop asking me, because to me, I felt like he didn't think I could complete a sentence like that.

And if I would have said it to him like that, maybe he would've been like, wow, whoa. She talk a little bit better than I thought. That would've been the best thing for me-- to be able to say it to him in a way where it's like, OK, you're not beneath me-- I mean, I'm not beneath you. We're eye to eye hear.

Jessica Lussenhop

Just the other day, Khristen told me she has a new tactic. She used it with a guy at her work who kept trying to tell her these sexual jokes. Khristen was not having it. In a roomful of people, with her boss watching, she tried her new move, and it worked. He backed off. She said to the guy, Google me, because I will record you.

Ira Glass

Jessica Lussenhop. Coming up, idle chit chat about a dog with an FBI agent can feel very threatening. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Two: Reality Show

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. So it's March 2020, and in this week of schools closing, and people being quarantined, and the NBA, and Disneyland, and Broadway all shutting down, and still not enough tests out there to even begin to figure out how far coronavirus has spread, we have stories about moments when people feel a low hum of menace, a sense that things might get much worse. And it is not clear how much worse that means. We've arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two-- Reality Show.

So the first act of our program today was about a man who was breaking the rules. This act is about men enforcing rules. In this case, it's FBI agents. They're questioning a suspect. This interrogation happened in June 2017.

It's a real interrogation that happened. The suspect was an NSA contractor named Reality Winner. The FBI actually denied a request for the recording of this. They said it was not sufficiently in the public interest. Fortunately for us, theater director Tina Satter says she read the transcript of what was said and thought, this is a play, a thriller. This woman, alone in her house-- these men who arrive and question her. And Tina Satter put this on stage, more or less verbatim, with actors playing the agents and playing Reality Winner.

Even the most casual small talk between them has this air to it. The entire thing on stage takes 70 minutes. We're going to play you an edited down excerpt. Emily Davis plays Reality Winner. TL Thompson and Pete Simpson play the special agents. Just so you know what's happening, when they get to a word, or phrase, or sentence that has been redacted in the original FBI transcript, they play this sound--

[RUMBLING]

So you can hear that sound now and then. The action starts outside Reality Winner's home in Augusta, Georgia, and then it moves inside. Here it is.

Agent 1

Let's show you who we are.

Agent 2

Well, the reason we're here today is that we have a search warrant for your house.

Reality Winner

OK.

Agent 2

All right, do you know what this might be about?

Reality Winner

I have no idea.

Agent 2

OK, this is about a possible mishandling of classified information.

Reality Winner

Oh my goodness.

Agent 2

Mhm.

Reality Winner

OK.

Agent 2

So what we've got is-- again, got a warrant, and I'm happy to show it to you. What I'd like to do is sit down and talk you with-- talk with you about it, kind of go over what's going on. Talk to you, kind of get your side of it.

And of course, you-- completely voluntary to talk to me. We can talk here. Our office is about five minutes away. If you want to, we can talk there, if you'd rather. We can do either one. It makes no difference to me.

Reality Winner

OK.

Agent 1

Do you have any pets?

Reality Winner

I do, I have two--

Agent 1

Because you've been gone for a while.

Reality Winner

I do--

Agent 1

Do you live by yourself?

Reality Winner

Yes.

Agent 1

What we're going to have to do is we're going to have to go into the house first to make sure it's safe.

Reality Winner

Absolutely.

Agent 1

We have a search warrant, so we're going to.

Reality Winner

Absolutely.

Agent 1

And what we'll do is we'll keep you out here until we do that, and once we secure it, well, then we'll kind of go from there, OK?

Reality Winner

Of course.

Agent 1

Is your dog friendly?

Reality Winner

OK, so she does not like men.

Agent 1

OK. So that's a problem.

Reality Winner

However, and she might come towards you. She's never bitten anybody. She's not aggressive. She's just got a really good growl going. She'll probably just hide under my desk.

Agent 1

OK. Do we have a leash or something?

Reality Winner

I have a leash. I can get her leashed up.

Agent 1

OK, so what we might want to do is maybe let you go in there with her. You're not to touch anything else.

Reality Winner

Yes, I can do that.

Agent 1

You're not to do anything else.

Reality Winner

Yeah, I can lead her straight to the backyard.

Agent 1

But the get the dog, and bring it out here.

Reality Winner

Yes.

Agent 1

Are we cool?

Reality Winner

I understand

Agent 1

Because otherwise, if we're going to have a problem, we're not going to do that, so.

Reality Winner

I understand.

Agent 1

OK.

Agent 2

OK.

Agent 1

House key?

Reality Winner

House key.

Agent 1

OK. Are there any weapons in the car, in the house?

Reality Winner

In the house, yes.

Agent 1

What do you have?

Reality Winner

I have an AR-15.

Agent 1

Is it pink?

Reality Winner

It's pink. How did you know?

Agent 1

OK.

Reality Winner

I have a Glock 9 under the bed.

Agent 1

OK.

Reality Winner

And a 15 gauge.

Agent 1

You sound like my house. OK.

Agent 2

OK.

Agent 1

We're good, then.

Agent 2

All right, just don't make any movements for anything [INAUDIBLE].

Reality Winner

Right, yeah. Yeah.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

Agent 2

Being kind of obvious.

Agent 1

We're all cool.

Reality Winner

Yeah. Yes, yes. And you won't even--

Agent 1

Then we'll get a water. We can get her a water--

Reality Winner

You won't take your eyes off of me.

Agent 1

--and all that kind of stuff, but let's do that.

Reality Winner

Of course.

[CLAPPING]

Come here, girl.

Agent 1

We're going to get the dog and bring it out here.

Agent 2

Right here. I got her.

Reality Winner

All right, let me get your leash. Leash. I know. I know. There's people outside. I want to make this as easy for you guys as possible.

Agent 2

OK, likewise. Just hopefully explain a couple things and--

[BARKING]

--to figure this all out, and wrap it up.

[BARKING]

How long you had your dog?

Reality Winner

She's actually a foster. I'm rehabilitating her so that hopefully she can get adopted later on. She's actually a rescue. I think I got her in March.

Agent 2

Yeah, my-- one of my dogs was a rescue, and when I got him, he wouldn't-- I was the only guy who could touch him. And this was probably all of three years. Anybody else came in the house, especially male, he'd pee all over the place, but I could touch him, and it was fine. But it was funny, I mean, he's seven years old now. He just comes up to everybody, licks his hand, and he's great. Whoever had him before was a real-- was a real piece of work. All right, so would you like to talk here or talk at the office?

Reality Winner

Let's go ahead and talk here.

Agent 2

OK.

Agent 1

You want to talk here?

Reality Winner

Sure.

Agent 2

Let's-- I'm trying to think if we have any place in the house that we can kind of sit down that's private. Is there anything-- anything there in the house we can sit that's kind of away?

Reality Winner

Away?

Agent 2

How many rooms in--

Reality Winner

So it's a one bedroom. I do have a spare bedroom that I don't use that's empty. I don't like to go back there. I guess I don't have anything that's completely closed off, though.

Agent 2

OK, OK.

Reality Winner

Except for that back room.

Agent 2

That back room.

Reality Winner

Yeah.

Agent 2

And it's completely empty.

Reality Winner

Yeah, you'll go in there. There's one dog kennel cage. Other than that, I don't use the room.

Agent 2

OK, all right. You said you don't like to go in there?

Reality Winner

Yeah. It's just creepy. It's just weird. It's like an addition to the house that's behind the kitchen, and it's always dirty.

Agent 2

OK. We can talk back there if you're fine going back there. OK?

Reality Winner

Yeah, we can go back there. So I do have to ask, just however this goes-- and I'm not making any assumptions or anything like that, but is this going to be like a-- I brought my phone into the building type situation where I don't see my phone for three weeks, or?

Agent 2

So we'll go over the warrant itself.

Reality Winner

OK.

Agent 1

So we do have a warrant for the phone, so.

Reality Winner

I'm not making any assumptions or anything like that, but I do teach yoga tomorrow, and the phone has music on it.

Agent 2

OK.

Reality Winner

No, I get-- I can make do, I guess. There are bigger problems in the world, I guess.

Agent 2

Yeah. OK, we're good.

Agent 1

Want to go back here?

Agent 2

Yep. You can go ahead and go back in there.

Reality Winner

Oh, this room is dirty. I am so sorry.

Agent 1

That's OK.

Agent 2

No, that's fine.

Agent 1

Not a problem.

Agent 2

All righty, so what I want to do is kind of explain that we do have a search warrant. You're welcome to see the warrant. You're welcome to read the warrant, and then explain a little bit about it. Now, if you're willing to talk to me, I'd like to go through just kind of how this started. Sound good to you?

Reality Winner

OK.

Agent 2

OK.

Reality Winner

Yes.

Agent 2

I'm going to take-- right here-- I'm going to take notes.

Agent 1

Where were you born?

Reality Winner

Alice, Texas.

Agent 2

Alice, like?

Agent 1

Like?

Reality Winner

Like the girl's name, yeah.

Agent 2

Like the name, OK. And currently you're employed as a contract linguist with Pluribus.

Reality Winner

Yes.

Agent 2

OK, how long have you been employed by them.

Reality Winner

I started 9 February, 2017.

Agent 2

OK, and where are you currently assigned?

Reality Winner

Currently assigned? Like the NSA 21 code, or--

Agent 2

You can tell me the building.

Reality Winner

OK.

Agent 2

Because, yeah--

Reality Winner

OK, Whitelaw building, second floor.

Agent 1

I'm sorry, what languages you said? I heard--

Reality Winner

Farsi, Dari, Pashto.

Agent 1

OK.

Agent 2

OK, any other?

Reality Winner

No.

Agent 2

I'm kidding. OK. All this stems from a report that we received that you had mishandled classified information, OK? So that's the broad scope of it. My question to you is, does that ring any bells to you whatsoever?

Reality Winner

It does now. When I started working at Whitelaw, I had-- do you know PKI passwords?

Agent 2

Mhm.

Reality Winner

I had a printed out email in my folder, and I didn't have a desk yet. So I took it with me, passed through security, went to a Starbucks, and then came back, and they looked through it. And unfortunately, that email that I had printed out was classified, and they filed a report for that.

Agent 1

And you had gone to Starbucks, come back, and they checked a bag, or they--

Reality Winner

They checked my folder. If you're familiar, with Whitelaw, you go through the turnstiles just to get to the cafeteria in back.

Agent 2

All right. You had gone to the cafeteria?

Reality Winner

Yeah.

Agent 2

So you were in the building, and they nabbed you for--

Reality Winner

Yeah.

Agent 2

OK, all right, but you're still in the building.

Reality Winner

Uh-huh.

Agent 2

OK, all right, so what's your work role there at Whitelaw?

Reality Winner

Currently I translate graphic documents and then-- yeah, that's all I do-- from Farsi to English.

Agent 2

Graphic documents?

Reality Winner

Yeah.

Agent 2

OK. When did you process out of the Air Force?

Reality Winner

I processed out of the Air Force December-- December 14, 2016, and up until that time, I had been looking at contracts to try to get my clearance renewed.

Agent 1

OK, and when did Pluribus pick you up?

Reality Winner

Pluribus picked me up-- I believe they gave me the notification around January-- between 11th and 13th, around that day.

Agent 2

OK, all right, so your clearance just kind of passed through.

Reality Winner

It passed through, yeah.

Agent 1

So as far as you're aware, you haven't committed any security violations or anything that you're aware of other than this PKI thing?

Reality Winner

Other than that PKI thing, no. I mean, I do print out documents at work, just because it's easier for me to translate them by hand, but then I put them in the bin box. And then they don't get mixed up with my class notes that I take, because they are-- I use pretty paper, so I never take out white paper.

Agent 1

Got it.

Reality Winner

Because I know that sounds really dumb, but that's just how I can do it now. After that whole PKI thing, I was like, no more white paper out of the building.

Agent 2

OK, so you said you printed out stuff.

Reality Winner

Yeah, I printed out stuff.

Agent 2

Is there a-- why did that come to mind, as far as security?

Reality Winner

It just-- I guess it all-- I just think about having actual papers. I can't imagine any other way to get things out of the building, I guess, and I'm old fashioned, so I'm just thinking about that. And especially with the PKI thing, just making sure I didn't accidentally have something in my lunchbox or anything like that.

Agent 1

Nothing got out of the building?

Reality Winner

Nothing.

Agent 1

You didn't carry anything out of the building.

Reality Winner

No. No, I definitely let everything get searched all of the time, so I haven't had any other accidents.

Agent 2

OK. Have you ever gone searching for stuff that's not related to your work role?

Reality Winner

No. Not unless I have someone in Maryland ask me a question.

Agent 2

OK. And, I mean, you kind of already answered this, but have you ever taken anything out of the NSA facility. I mean, you mentioned the PKI--

Reality Winner

Yes.

Agent 2

But have you ever taken anything out of the facility?

Reality Winner

No.

Agent 2

No? Whether it's a piece of paper-- you ever downloaded anything? Ever emailed anything out?

Reality Winner

No.

Agent 2

No? OK. Have you ever discussed any classified material with anybody who wouldn't have the prior US government authorization?

Reality Winner

No.

Agent 2

No? OK.

Reality Winner

Not many people ask about Iranian aerospace, so I lucked out.

Agent 2

So you never discussed any work or anything classified with anybody?

Reality Winner

Uh-uh. I use a lot of paper, but never anything outside of Iranian and anything else out of that, and never outside of the building.

Agent 2

OK, Reality, what if I said that I had the information to suggest that you did print out stuff that was outside of that scope?

Reality Winner

OK, I would have to remember.

Agent 2

OK. What if I said you printed out information that was related to reports on [RUMBLING].

Agent 1

Reality, we obviously know a lot more than we're telling you at this point. And I think you know a lot more than you're telling us at this point. I don't want you to go down the wrong road. I think you need to stop and think about what you're saying and what you're doing, because telling a lie to an FBI agent is not going to be the right thing.

Again, we are here voluntarily. You're talking voluntarily. I'm not asking you, forcing you to do anything but think. That's what I'm asking you to do-- is to think. So think about what he just asked and let--

Reality Winner

There was one I printed out because I wanted to read it.

Agent 2

Can you remember what day you printed it out?

Reality Winner

I might mess up the-- late March, early April, the first two weeks of April.

Agent 2

In the first two weeks of April?

Reality Winner

Mhm.

Agent 1

And what was it?

Reality Winner

It was an NSA Pulse article about [RUMBLING], and yeah, I did. I did print that one out.

Agent 2

OK, why'd you print that one out?

Reality Winner

I wanted to read it, and the way I had downloaded it, it was just hard for me to read. And I wanted to just look at it, because it looked like a piece of history. So I wanted to have that on my desk for a day. And yeah.

Agent 1

What did you do with that article?

Reality Winner

I kept it on my desk for like three days, and then I burn bagged it in the box that has the slats on it by the fridge.

Agent 1

How about any other times?

Reality Winner

Any other times?

Agent 1

Did you search for anything on the [RUMBLING] any other times.

Reality Winner

That did spark my curiosity, so I just kept tabs on reading those articles, looking at the [RUMBLING] was interesting to me. So I did read some of those.

Agent 1

OK, did you print out any of those articles? Did you ever go searching for them? Ever go digging?

Reality Winner

Nothing more than like a 10 minute detraction from work.

Agent 2

OK, what were-- how would you do it?

Reality Winner

Just type in the search box and scroll.

Agent 1

OK, all right, did you print out any of those articles?

Reality Winner

No. The only one was just the one that was like [RUMBLING].

Agent 2

OK. You're pretty sure it was late April, early March. Think about it-- try to remember personal details of your life and your-- OK?

Reality Winner

I know. I'm trying to. So I remember-- I remember that week. I got into a fight with a boyfriend that week. It had to have been sometime in April. I'm just-- I'm trying to think what week-- what weekend after that was like-- I'm sorry. I'm just--

Agent 2

No, it's OK.

Reality Winner

I'm trying. Just yeah, like mid-April is all I'm thinking.

Agent 2

OK. All right. What if I told you that I know you searched for and printed out a document on the 9th of May?

Reality Winner

9th of May? I guess I can't argue that.

Agent 2

OK.

Reality Winner

I mean, if you-- I, mean obviously you know.

Agent 2

OK.

Agent 1

This would have been three and a half, four weeks ago, roughly.

Reality Winner

Mhm, yeah.

Agent 1

Do you remember what-- how you-- what you did to get to the article?

Reality Winner

Other than seeing it on the front page or linking it from another--

Agent 1

Do you remember what search terms you might have put in?

Reality Winner

Probably [RUMBLING]. I'm not very sophisticated.

Agent 2

OK, so you printed out the doc-- you printed out a document, an intelligence report on this. You do recall that?

Reality Winner

Yeah, I do remember now, yes.

Agent 2

OK, so what did you do with that document?

Reality Winner

Like I said, I kept it on my desk for a couple of days because I thought that it was interesting, and I thought that I would read it. And then I said, no, and I need to not keep this out on my desk. So I put it in the burn bin.

Agent 2

You put it in the burn bag, OK.

Reality Winner

Yeah.

Agent 2

All right, Reality, are you sure that's what you did with it?

Reality Winner

Yes.

Agent 2

Are you positive?

Reality Winner

Yes.

Agent 1

You didn't take it out of the building?

Reality Winner

No.

Agent 2

OK, you didn't take it out of the building, give it to anybody else.

Reality Winner

No.

Agent 2

You didn't send it.

Reality Winner

No.

Agent 1

You didn't send it to anybody?

Reality Winner

No.

Agent 2

OK. Reality, can you guess how many people might have printed out that document?

Reality Winner

No.

Agent 2

It's not too many. That document has made it outside, OK? Obviously, because we're here.

Reality Winner

Yeah, obviously. Crap.

Agent 2

The most likely candidate, by far and away, is you. I don't think you are a big bad master spy, OK? I don't. I don't think that. But I think you might have been angry over everything that's been going on politics-wise. Can't turn on the TV without getting pissed off, or at least I can't. And I think you might have made a mistake. Now, why I'm here, and why I want to talk to you is to figure out the why behind this, OK? So I ask you again, did you take it out and send it?

Reality Winner

I didn't. I put it in the burn bag. I mean, I'm trying to deploy. I'm not trying to be a whistleblower. That's crazy.

Agent 2

So how do you think a document like that would end up getting out?

Reality Winner

I would-- let's be straight. I mean, there's little to no security on documents.

Agent 2

OK, but you said you remember. You remember putting it in the burn bag, sliding it in there.

Reality Winner

Folded in half. I mean, I remember it.

Agent 2

Folded in half?

Reality Winner

Yeah, because it didn't-- yeah, I folded it in half.

Agent 2

OK. What if I told you that that document, folded in half, made its way outside NSA?

Reality Winner

I don't know that.

Agent 2

Yeah, made its way out in an envelope postmarked Augusta, Georgia. See, things are getting a little specific.

Reality Winner

OK.

Agent 2

OK, it made its way to an online news source that you subscribe to. Getting really specific. Would you agree? Looks awfully bad.

Reality Winner

It looks really bad.

Agent 2

So how'd you get it out of the office?

Reality Winner

Folded in half in my pantyhose.

Agent 2

OK. And what did you do with it?

Reality Winner

Put it in an envelope and sent it to [RUMBLING]. That day, that week, it was just too much to sit back, and watch, and think, why do I have this job if I'm just going to sit back and be helpless? And it did-- it just-- sorry. I just thought that that was the final straw.

Agent 2

It was just something that just kind of did it? Because you don't seem like the type to do this. I believe it. I want to believe it.

Reality Winner

I'm not. I'm not. I want to go out with our special forces. I mean, that's why I got out of the Air Force. That's why I'm here in Augusta. I wanted my clearance back so I could apply for a deployment, and it was just at a time when I wasn't applying for any deployments. And I had seven or eight months left of a job that didn't mean anything to me, because it's Iran, and I'm a Pashto linguist. What am I doing translating Farsi?

And it just-- I just felt really hopeless, and seeing that information that had been contested back and forth, and back and forth in the public domain for so long, trying to figure out with everything else that keeps getting leaked and keeps getting released, why isn't this getting out? Why isn't this getting out there? Why can't this be public?

Ira Glass

Actors Emily Davis, TL Thompson, and Pete Simpson. As you may know, this was all in the news. The document that Reality Winner leaked to the website The Intercept was an intelligence report confirming Russian hacking in the 2016 election. She's still serving her five year sentence. Sounds design and music for the stage production by Sanae Yamada, and Jimin Breslford. Tina Satter's theatrical adaptation of the FBI transcript is called Is This a Room. They have a tour scheduled. Information at halfstraddle.com.

Credits

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Nadia Reiman. The people who put together today's show includes Bim Adewunmi, Susan Burton, Ben Calhoun, Dana Chivvis, Sean Cole, Noor Gill, Damian Grave, Michelle Harris, Chana Joffe-Walt, Seth Lind, Miki Meek, Lina Misitzis, Stowe Nelson, Ben Phelan, Robyn Semien, Lilly Sullivan, Christopher Swetala, and Matt Tierney.

Our managing editor is Diane Wu. Our executive editor is David Kestenbaum. Special thanks today to Kelly Clarke, Craig Hensel, Kendra Hanna, Kendra [? Munroe, ?] Madeleine Ball, Andrew Hagelshaw, and Maria Hernandez. Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.

And I will end this show about the low hum of menace with this very theme appropriate program note. Just a few hours ago, as I was doing some last editing on the show, I learned that a few days ago I shook hands with somebody who now has symptoms of coronavirus, whose wife is a confirmed case. So the plan is I am going into quarantine myself when I leave the studio today, and we are shutting down our office. Most everybody in our office was already working from home.

I just want to say I feel fine. Hopefully I'll stay that way between now and next time I talk to you. Avoid contact with others as much as you can. Stay well, and wash your hands, OK? And by the way, if you're tired of reciting the happy birthday song twice as you wash, turns out one chorus of the song "Stayin' Alive" is the perfect length, and whether you're a brother, or whether you're a mother, just stay alive. Stay alive.

[MUSIC - "STAYIN' ALIVE, BEE GEES]