The Story Behind the Story: Season 2 of the True Crime Podcast "White Lies"

Campbell Hughey

Campbell Hughey

Friday, March 10, 2023
The Story Behind the Story: Season 2 of the True Crime Podcast "White Lies"

Photo by Joe Songer, Birmingham News. Donated by Alabama Media Group to Alabama Department of Archives and History.

NPR's White Lies is a true crime podcast in which two journalists from Alabama investigate and solve interesting unsolved cases. Season 1, which explores the 1965 murder of white civil rights activist and minister James Reeb, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in audio reporting. My uncle, Chip Brantley, is one of the journalists who makes the podcast. He has put a lot of hard work and dedication into this podcast, so I interviewed him about some of the experiences he had making the second season of White Lies, “The Men on the Roof.” It focuses on the little-known story of Cuban detainees who took over a prison in Talladega in 1991.  

First, I asked him why he and his partner decided on this topic. He said that he found a newspaper while searching through the Birmingham library's archives. A headline said, “Cubans Take Over Prison.” Immediately, questions started to flood his head. He wanted answers so he researched this topic for months. The more he dug, the more interesting it got. After he completed lots of research about this prison takeover, he knew it would be a great topic for White Lies, season two.  

Once he and his partner, Andrew Beck Grace, were set on this story, they had to figure out how to get into Cuba as journalists because of the near impossibility of getting a journalism visa in Cuba as Americans. The reason Cuba does not want journalists is “the country is in shambles,” says Brantley, and there are many major protests happening. Getting into Cuba became their focus. NPR, which is producing their podcast, did not want them to get caught in Cuba without a journalism visa. Years before he went to Cuba for a film festival as a University of Alabama journalism professor. He realized they could get into Cuba without visas if they attended the same film festival.  

I asked how they could find information relevant to their podcast in Cuba. It seemed like it would be challenging to find people who were involved in a prison takeover in the 90s in a different country. He said that "Cuba is a tight-nit society and the word on the street is still relevant, meaning that they do not have much internet access, so information is passed through gossip and conversation." They had people working for them from Cuba to help find the people they needed to find. 

I asked him why they named it “The Men on the Roof.” He said, "The photos in the archives of the Birmingham News, mostly boring photos because there were no photos from the inside of the usurped prison, had been taken from far away. But there were nine photos of Cuban men who had taken over the prison and were standing on top of the roof with homemade signs for the media to see, saying things like 'please media justice or death' and' pray for us.'"

He said this takeover was different and asked himself why they were asking us to pray for them. They wanted to find the men on the roof and ask them why they did what they did, so that is what they tried to do.

If you want to learn more about "The Men on the Roof," check out Season 2 of "White Lies" right here or wherever your get your podcasts.

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