Voices of Minnesota: Rosalie Wahl

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Hour 2 of Midmorning featuring Voices of Minnesota. Rosalie Wahl was the first woman on Minnesota Supreme Court, Sister Dianna Ortiz at The Center for Victims of Torture 10th Anniversary, Michelle Hensley of Ten Thousand Things Theater on a play by Maria Irene Fornes.

Transcripts

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KAREN BARTA: From the FM news station, I'm Karen Barta. Violent crime in the Twin Cities increased last year. According to FBI figures, murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults reported to police increased 9% in Minneapolis and 1% in Saint Paul. Per capita, more violent crimes were reported to police in Minneapolis last year than in New York City, where violent crime dropped 11%.

Doug Hicks, a crime analyst for the city of Minneapolis, says Twin Cities residents may be more likely to report crimes because of crime prevention programs and victim support services.

DOUG HICKS: All of these programs, to a certain extent, stimulate reporting to the police that when a person has become a victim, in many instances to take advantage of a program, they may have to make a report or that as part of the counseling services, they may be encouraged to make a report.

KAREN BARTA: The new statistics place Minneapolis 21st in reported violent crime among the nation's 180 largest cities. Minnesota lawmakers are beginning a long final day at the state Capitol. Items that need to be addressed before the legislature adjourns at midnight include a workers compensation bill in the House and a minimum wage bill in the Senate.

The state forecast today, scattered showers and thunderstorms in the east and north. There's a chance of showers and thunderstorms in the west, mainly this morning. Strong thunderstorms are possible in the southeast this afternoon. Highs today from the middle 50s in the north to the lower 70s in the southwest. And for the Twin Cities today, partly sunny at times, scattered showers and thunderstorms redeveloping, and a high in the upper 60s.

Around the region this hour in Duluth, it's cloudy and 53 degrees, partly sunny and 69 in Rochester. In St. Cloud, it's and 61. And in the Twin cities, partly sunny and 60. That's news. I'm Karen Barta on the FM news station. It's six minutes past 10 o'clock.

Today's programming is made possible in part by the advocates of Minnesota Public Radio. Contributors include Pentair, Incorporated, a Minnesota-based worldwide manufacturer of industrial products and paper, and Channel 11, KARE 11 cares.

[THEME MUSIC]

PAULA SCHROEDER: If you walk into one of Minnesota's law schools or courthouses today, you see women everywhere. Female attorneys try cases and female judges hear them. Until last year, Minnesota's Supreme Court actually had more women than men. But women's entry into the law is really quite recent. Less than 20 years ago, there were no women on the state Supreme Court. The woman who first broke that barrier, who opened the door for all the women who followed her was Rosalie Wahl. Justice Wahl became the first woman on the state Supreme Court in 1977.

Today, in our continuing series of interviews, "Minnesota Voices," we hear from Rosalie Wahl, who retired from the bench last year. Justice Wahl told reporter Catherine Winter that when she started practicing law in the late 1960s, there wasn't one female judge in Minnesota and she never expected to become a judge.

ROSALIE WAHL: Back in the days when I became a lawyer, it just wasn't one of the things that was sort of there that women aspired to. But I don't know. I'm not very ambitious, so I might not have aspired to it anyway.

PAULA SCHROEDER: Are you really? Is that true that you're not ambitious?

ROSALIE WAHL: Well, I had to think pretty hard. Well, it may be. I mean, once I set my mind on something, then I can turn on the pressure. But to just sit around and wish I was this or wish I was that, I don't spend a lot of time doing that. There was an old legal fraternity that was a woman's legal fraternity. And the only reason I joined it-- because I'm not into organizations with Greek names-- was because it was women, women lawyers. And I had never known any women lawyers.

And I can still remember walking into this-- they had a breakfast. Oh, this would have been in the early '60s when I was in my second year in law school. And walked into this room and it was, like, full of women lawyers. And, you know, all of a sudden, I felt like the ugly duckling.

PAULA SCHROEDER: Like, you knew who--

ROSALIE WAHL: I thought I was a duckling. And suddenly I discovered I was a swan because here they were, and it was-- just, it was great.

PAULA SCHROEDER: What year would that have been?

ROSALIE WAHL: 1964, the spring of 1964. And we became Minnesota Women Lawyers. And one of the early things that we did, and this was in the early '70s, we thought, well, the reason the governor doesn't appoint women to-- to judgeships and to, you know, boards and commissions and all that things, he doesn't know we're out here. He doesn't know. I mean, it's a very naive point of view. It's just sort of like if the governor knew, he'd appoint.

So we thought, well, we'll do a questionnaire amongst our membership, which wasn't very great. I mean, in those days, you know, I knew every woman lawyer in the state. And we were asking women what their area of practice was and if they would be willing to serve on boards or commissions or if they'd be willing to serve on the bench.

And there were a number of questions, and we sent this questionnaire out at length, and I got one of them. And I had about two years before I sent it back. And one of the reasons was that when I came to the point of thinking, did I want to be a judge, I really wasn't sure. And then finally I concluded that you either had to put up or shut up. I mean, we were saying appoint women. And so you had to be willing to do it. And then once you make the decision to get involved, then you really work. I mean, then you don't sit around and wait for it to come to you because it doesn't come to you. I mean--

PAULA SCHROEDER: Did you think the Supreme Court would come to you, or were you expecting maybe a district court judgeship?

ROSALIE WAHL: Oh, it all happened so relatively quickly as this was coming together. In the early '70s, you see, there was a lot of movement amongst women. And the women lawyers were, you know, developing the Women's Political Caucus, the DFL Feminist Caucus and the IR feminist caucus. All of those were developing in Minnesota now. I mean, they were all, you know, developing along about the same time in the early '70s.

And there never would have been an appointment of a woman to a Supreme Court, certainly not at that time, except that the DFL Feminist Caucus had really gotten out there. And, you know, they were at that time saying, you know, if we can't make policy, we won't make coffee. And they were the ones who said to the governor, they looked at the Supreme Court and they said, you know, nine-zip won't do it.

I mean, they knew. I mean, a governor can appoint women all over the place, but he's out of office or she's out of office and there go your executive appointments. But if you're on the bench, that's a long-lasting thing. And women really began to set their sights on having-- they hadn't had women on the bench, and here they comprised half or more than half of the population.

PAULA SCHROEDER: When I know that I've read accounts. And when the governor did make the announcement of your appointment, there was wild cheering. And I'm sure it must have made national news. And overnight, you went from being Rosalie Wahl, one of many women lawyers, female lawyers, to being a symbol.

ROSALIE WAHL: Yeah.

PAULA SCHROEDER: What was that like?

ROSALIE WAHL: That was the year that the Congress had given every state money. I don't remember how many thousands, but money so that there could be a meeting of women from throughout the state. And the women worked on it a long time. And it was across the board. It was all kinds of organizations, all classes, all races.

And Joan Gross stopped the meeting. And first I think she announced that Governor Perpich was going to appoint Esther Tomljanovich to the district court in the 10th district. And she would-- there had never been any woman there. And then she announced who the person that he had chosen to appoint to the Supreme Court.

And the women were just standing and cheering. And, you know, even those who were a little disaffected by some of the issues forgot themselves and cheered. And it was, this was at a time when the ERA was a possibility still, and we were working to get that approved, you know, as a Constitutional Amendment. And I made some comment in the speech about, you know, remembering Sojourner Truth and how she said, ain't I a woman, too? And I said, ain't we women, too? Ain't we women enough to make the ERA the law of the land?

And everybody just stood up, you know. And everybody stood up and cheered. Oh it was-- I think that whole, and my knowledge of what it meant to women who had, it was like the vote in a way. But it was something that affected you in every part of your life and you'd never had anybody there. And this was a person-- that was one of the reasons why it was very important to me to, as they say, stay the course and stay on the court till my time was up.

PAULA SCHROEDER: So you begin your appointment with this heady excitement being among all these women. And then the next thing that happens is that a whole bunch of people start saying she's not qualified. And three men, I think, filed against you in your first election, even though at that time and even now, hardly anybody ever runs against Supreme Court justices.

You ended up beating all three of them, but I wonder if-- do you think that their filing against you was at least, in part, prompted by the fact that you are a woman, that you were a woman?

ROSALIE WAHL: I don't know that it was specifically because I was a woman. I don't think any of them would have thought that or said that, but I think they saw my being a woman as being a sign of weakness and that I wasn't political and that I didn't have connections, and that I was vulnerable. And when there have been races on the Supreme court, ordinarily you'd do it the first time around, because that's before a person has run statewide, has had their name on the ballot and so forth.

So I think it wasn't unusual. But, after all, I was taking a job that was a man's job. I mean, you know, judge and male were just synonymous in those days. And I'm sure there was some of that thought. How could I be qualified? I mean, I was only a woman.

PAULA SCHROEDER: The claims that were made as to your supposed inexperience or your not being qualified also-- my understanding is-- arose from the fact that you didn't come from the traditional background of a Supreme Court justice. You hadn't worked for a private law firm. You worked for the state public defender's office, and you taught law, I think.

ROSALIE WAHL: Yes.

PAULA SCHROEDER: But do you think perhaps that background actually helped you as opposed to hindered you as a Supreme Court justice? I know that you've talked in the past about how much experience you had working with people who didn't have any money, working with people who were the underdog.

ROSALIE WAHL: And I actually think, yes, your answer to the question is yes. But I actually think that that's the reason that Governor Perpich did choose me eventually, partly because I had a criminal defense background and there was never been anybody on the court who did have. I mean, there were prosecuting attorneys. I mean, in many ways, it made as much difference, you know, that I knew how hard it was to make a phone call from the jail, as it did that I was a woman.

PAULA SCHROEDER: Do you think that background influenced the decisions you make? The other criticism one hears of Rosalie Wahl is that she's a liberal. She was a liberal justice. And you did, for instance, author decisions such as the one dealing with crack cocaine and powder cocaine. In that decision, I believe the finding was that it was illegal to make the penalties for crack more severe than those for powder cocaine, because Black people are more likely to use crack and white people more likely to use powder cocaine. And there are other decisions you've made regarding search and seizure, that sort of thing. Were you liberal?

ROSALIE WAHL: Well, when I was a student of the law at William Mitchell, I really liked constitutional law. And I really was-- I was committed to the protection of the rights of the people. And one of the-- and, you know, I suppose because of that, I served as a public defender in the appellate area. But the thought, the whole idea that you don't take somebody's life or their property or their liberty without due process of the law has been a really guiding principle with me.

And it's so easy to overlook, you know, some of these rights that may have been ignored or violated, when you've got somebody who's guilty. You know, we always had what we call the "so guilty" rule. I mean, I think it's called weight of the evidence, et cetera. So you had to be really careful. I felt, so, I mean, if that's liberal, I hope it was. But my whole time on the court, it was like when I think, well, did I plow any new ground, did I open up any new horizons?

It almost felt like the whole time, and I did. There were some things. But for the most part, I kind of felt like I was fighting a rearguard action. Because the kind of rights that we had and that people were, you know, that protected them from the government and the violation of their rights were being rolled back, were being-- by the US Supreme Court. And it was like just trying to at least keep what we had rather than eroding, seeing it erode. And so I did. I fought.

PAULA SCHROEDER: Our interview with Rosalie Wahl, the first woman on the Minnesota Supreme Court, continues on Mid-Morning. It's coming up on 10:18 o'clock. This is the FM News Station. I'm Paula Schroeder.

Rosalie Wall spoke with reporter Catherine Winter. In the second half of her interview, Justice Wahl talks about her work to make the court system more fair to women and people of color.

CATHERINE WINTER: When I talk to people about you, they often mention this passion for justice. And it does seem to run through both your work and your life. You chaired the Task Force on Gender Fairness in the courts. And didn't you also chair the Task Force on the Race Bias one?

ROSALIE WAHL: Mm-hmm.

CATHERINE WINTER: And I read recently that you, even back when you were in college when you were at the University of Kansas, you worked to try to integrate the dormitories there. Where does that come from in you? Did that come from some person in your life, or some event, or do you know?

ROSALIE WAHL: Well, it's hard to tell. When I was at the University of Kansas, of course, I was there during the years of the Second World War. And it was a time when it was not exactly like going to a girls' school, but in the sense of being able to exercise leadership, it was kind of that situation. Because the men were gone from the campus except for the military units and so forth. I mean, they were not in the student body in the same way.

So, you know, we got to do all kinds of things. We edited the paper and we edited the Jayhawker and we headed the student council and all those things that there had never been women doing those things before. And it was a time of, it was really an idealistic time, a time when there was a great passion for social justice.

And I was exposed to this there. And I became persuaded of a lot of the reasons for social justice. And I was very active in the YWCA, the student Y. And so that was when we established a cooperative living house. There were only 10 of us. Five of us were white and five of us were Black. And we had to go through all of this stuff. You know, we had to persuade the board. And the University insisted that we write and get our parents to approve.

And, I mean, even the neighbor, we had a coal furnace there and the man next door didn't want this integrated living situation next to him. So he pulled out his-- he didn't put the coal in his feeder, and we had to shovel by hand all winter long. But within two years after that, housing on the University of Kansas campus was integrated. I mean, because of that, because of that thing.

And at that time, I mean, this is like before. It's 20 years before the Civil Rights movement, I mean, or 15 or so. And those of us who lived in the house had all been members of the Y. So we at least, you know, we had this common basis, but we agreed when we went in that none of us would do-- no one of us would do what all of us couldn't do. And it was at that point that I really realized I think I would have had a revolution by then. You know, I felt like, how can you stand this? What-- you know what, to be treated this way? I mean, when you go to the movies and you have to sit up in the-- and there was segregated seating in the movies.

So we had sit-ins. And we had sit-ins at the local, you know, at the Jayhawker Cafe. And we had swim-ins. And I couldn't even swim very well, in the swimming pool.

CATHERINE WINTER: Tell me what you think now about-- you did so much work on these issues, on race bias and gender bias in the courts. Are things changing? Are things getting better, do you think?

ROSALIE WAHL: Yes, things are changing. And yes, they're getting better in some ways. One of the ways that I think the change has really been-- I mean, and specific changes have been made. I mean, there are things you can do and the court did immediately, like change all the language. You can at least have language that's gender neutral in all your rules and your jury instructions and all those kinds of things.

And you can-- I mean, there are-- and you can change the Rules of Professional Responsibility and the rules of Judicial Conduct. You can change. Those were done immediately. And legislation can be urged which will affect, you know, whole subsidy areas of the law which were to the disadvantage of women, these kinds of things that came out.

People are more free to come forward. I mean there's a more openness in the system. It's a-- we've never directly addressed one of the big, big issues in the race by a steady. And one that we didn't have the funds and we didn't have the time to address, and it wasn't directly within our scope of our study, we were studying the race bias in the judicial system.

Flashpoint, you know, in race bias is between the law enforcement and the communities. And this is longstanding and it's smoldering. And I just-- I mean, the thing that will just break your heart would be to sit and listen to people of color talk about the things that have happened to them. I mean, when you learn that almost any Black man who goes through the Selby-Dale area, at some point has been stopped and frisked. When Officer Hoff was shot, Black men driving through that area were stopped and searched. No matter if they worked for a law firm or no matter what.

You know, I mean, that kind of violation, if it happened routinely to those of us who are white, we would scream our heads off. And so, but what do you do? I mean, you know, people have just-- the people of color have just, they put up with so much. And they're just-- they don't want to do it anymore. And yet we aren't somehow able to really be able to sit down and address those things. And I'm hoping that that will happen more. They're working on implementing the recommendations. And we did that in gender and we implemented a lot of them.

But what difference does it made? I mean, that's the question you asked me to begin with. And that's something that I still don't know for sure.

CATHERINE WINTER: You eventually sat on the only Supreme Court that has ever had a majority of women on it. And there are now many, many women judges in Minnesota, female judges. Governor Perpich appointed a whole slug of you.

- Yeah, yeah. And so has Governor Carlson's done very well, too.

CATHERINE WINTER: And your own daughter is an attorney now, isn't that correct?

ROSALIE WAHL: Well, she's been an attorney since 1976, I guess.

CATHERINE WINTER: Do you think that she or at least other young attorneys, other young women, young people, appreciate the work you had to do to pave the road for them?

ROSALIE WAHL: I don't know. I don't know if any of us appreciate what the ones that went before us did. I'm sure some of them don't really think about it. I mean, you know, when I went to law school, there were two women in my class, and now it's like 45% women. It's just a completely different atmosphere. And I think women, they may-- the reason there's been such a kind of a furor and such a concern in the bar, the women and its involvement in the bar is the glass ceiling.

I mean, you can get in, but can you get up? And I think that's where it's really kind of hitting people that, you know, you think to begin with well, maybe gender doesn't matter, which it shouldn't. But then you find out that eventually in our system, it still does.

CATHERINE WINTER: They made you retire, but it sounds like that's OK with you, huh?

ROSALIE WAHL: Well, they didn't make me retire. I mean, let's put it like I hung in. I hung in till my time was up.

CATHERINE WINTER: But they do have mandatory retirement at 70.

ROSALIE WAHL: The legislature passed that back in, I think, the '50s. And I think it's a good law. The legislators-- at least at the time-- they were lawyers who passed this. They were young lawyers. And they all had the experience of being in front of old judges who should have left the bench and who didn't. And, you know, we ourselves are not-- I or other people, as we get older, we are less and less able to determine when we're really capable of doing something and when we're not. And I think it's a reasonable thing. And we upheld it under the Minnesota Constitution.

CATHERINE WINTER: You said when you left that you were going to spend some time not being so reasonable, that you felt like school had finally let out. And I know that you do a lot of reading, and I know that you write some poetry. Have you been writing?

ROSALIE WAHL: I haven't had time, really, to write. And poetry, it's been a very important part of my life. And other people's poetry kept me alive in law school. But from the time I started law school, I knew there was no poetry in the law. And there's just so-- for that whole period of time, I've done very little poetry has come to me. And I'm not a working poet, I mean, in the sense that I'm going to sit down and write a poem. I mean, poems kind of get distilled out of my experience and, you know, what happens to me.

But I do have some from the earlier days and a couple of years ago, I did one when I made a trip back East with a friend. And we visited some of the haunts and burial ground of women writers who had been very important to me.

CATHERINE WINTER: Did you bring anything along of yours to share with us?

ROSALIE WAHL: Well, I brought that one. I also thought, and I don't-- my poetry has been pretty private and I haven't published or anything at this point. But it has meant something to some people, and that's what cheers a poet's heart, I suppose. Earlier, I will just say, my relationship to nature is very important to me, and that's why I live where I live. And it was back in the '50s that this one came to me, which is--

There is some part of me would die

If kept too long from Earth and sky,

From sweep of fields, from rush of cloud,

An unreality would shroud

That innermost vitality,

That sense of being even me.

And then in 1962, when I was-- I did this little four-liner about--

"On Considering"--

The title's longer than the poem.

"On Considering the Advisability of Studying Law."

That one,

Who would through thistles pass,

Need shoes,

Else barefoot stay on grass.

And I had a friend who always referred to the shoes of the law.

This is called "The Journey."

We bring them still our love.

Cather and Jaffrey in the Old Burying Ground.

Dickinson anchored in family behind wrought iron in Amherst.

Millay somewhere off the wooded Hill Road in the Berkshires, up from Austerlitz.

To whom we came no closer than the shadow of the small post office on Mrs. Heron's, front porch

From which Eugene never went up the hill again either after his death.

Others before us have come with gifts of remembrance.

On Cather's grave, a rain-drenched clutch of brown gold wheat with a ribbon, the color of poppies,

While balanced atop the stone, marked Emily, two gladioli, magenta-hued and dewy.

I bring only my Midwest heart, long nourished by these I come to find.

But had I thought to bring out of such fullness some small offering, it would be this

For Cather, all two hands could hold of the shaggy red grass under which the land near Red Cloud still gallops like herds of Buffalo.

For Dickinson, the tallest purple clover I've ever seen growing wild amongst my flowers to make a prairie of no bees required.

And for Millay, the blue flags long since gone.

Why, Burdocks, dear, of course, though her mother thought them weeds.

PAULA SHROEDER: The poetry of Rosalie Wahl, the first woman on the Minnesota Supreme Court. Justice Wahl retired from the court last year after serving for 17 years. She spoke with reporter Catherine Winter. Our series of interviews relies on the research expertise of our colleague Teresa Calis, with help from Dan Romeo and Carol Sylvester. The producer of the "Voices" interviews is Dan Olson.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

You're listening to mid-morning on the FM News Station. I'm Paula Schroeder. And here's Karen Barden now with the news.

KAREN BARDEN: Good morning. The Supreme Court says states may not limit the time a lawmaker serves in Congress. The 5 to 4 decision strikes down an Arkansas term limits measure, something. 21 other states have passed. The ruling says it would take a Constitutional Amendment to limit terms.

Israel's government has suspended a plan to seize Arab land in Jerusalem. Arab legislators were protesting the move, forcing a vote of no confidence that could have brought down the government.

Proposed changes in the state's workers' compensation system await action in the Minnesota House today. The House approved a bill backed by the state's business community earlier, and the Senate on Friday amended the House bill and sent it back.

Minnesota lawmakers face a busy day today as they try to finish work on the state budget and other legislation before the midnight deadline for adjournment. House and Senate floor sessions are expected to continue into the night.

Freshman representative Ron Krauss, an IR from Albert Lea says it's been a productive session and he says the welfare bill is a perfect example that the system works.

RON KRAUSS: I've been real excited about, you know, governor Carlson pushed hard for that. He made it his number-one issue. And I think the legislature came through there. I personally would have liked to have seen it just a little tougher. But again, nobody gets 100% of what they want.

KAREN BARDEN: Representative Ron Krauss.

The state forecast today, scattered showers and thunderstorms in the east and north. There's a chance for showers and thunderstorms in the west, mainly this morning. Strong thunderstorms are possible in the southeast this afternoon. Highs ranging from the middle 50s in the north to the lower 70s in the southwest. And for the Twin Cities, partly sunny at times, scattered showers and thunderstorms redeveloping with the high around 68 degrees. Tonight, there's a 30% chance of thunderstorms and a low in the middle to upper 40s.

Around the region In St. Cloud, it's cloudy and 61. It's partly sunny in Rochester and 69, cloudy and 53 in Duluth, and in the Twin Cities, partly cloudy and 60. Paula, that's a news update from the FM News Station.

PAULA SHROEDER: All right. Thank you so much, Karen. It is now 27 minutes before 11:00. Minnesota Public Radio News is supported by 3M, generously matching more than 800 employee contributions to MPR. I'm Paula Schroeder. This is "Midmorning" on the FM News Station.

Well, the Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis wants to double its size and the number of people it serves. The center observed its 10th anniversary Sunday, and an audience of about 200 heard from Sister Dianna Ortiz, a US nun tortured by the Guatemalan army for her work with Indigenous people in that country. In this report filed by the FM News Station's Dan Olson, Sister Dianna told the audience at the center's anniversary observance that the mere mention of the word torture makes her tremble.

DIANNA ORTIZ: Strange as it may sound, I find myself traveling back in time, returning to the clandestine prison where I and other Guatemalans were tortured.

DAN OLSON: Guatemalan army troops kidnapped and tortured Sister Dianna in 1989. She was repeatedly raped, bound and suspended on a rope over a pile of bodies, previous victims of the tortures. She says the decision to talk about her experience is traumatic. The memories, she says, cause her to feel and to smell the presence of the torturers. Sister Dianna, a slight, dark-haired young woman, works for the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. The commission tracks reports which sometimes lead to the US government.

DIANNA ORTIZ: A dear friend of mine, Jennifer Harbury, an American citizen who has fought tirelessly for three years to discover the whereabouts of her husband, learned finally that he had been killed, tortured and murdered, in fact, by a Guatemalan Colonel who was on the CIA payroll.

DAN OLSON: The Commission's work and Ortiz's public appearances are putting pressure on Congress to investigate the link between US support for the Guatemalan army and torture. Several members of Congress, including Senator Paul Wellstone, want a torture victims assistance program. Wellstone says victims would be given priority in being granted political asylum.

PAUL WELLSTONE: And we can provide the funding for what we do in our own country without adding $0.01 to the deficit. The only thing we have to do, and it would be symmetry, and it would be justice, is just reduce the military support that we provide to governments that torture their citizens and put it in the centers for the victims of torture. That's what this legislation does. Thank you so much.

DAN OLSON: In the early 1980s, Minneapolis attorneys and medical doctors from Rochester's Mayo Clinic convinced then-governor Rudy Perpich to visit the first center in Denmark. Perpich says he returned and decided to seek support for one in Minneapolis. Then later, he says, when he returned to the former Yugoslavia for business, his faith in the ability of centers to have an impact in the face of the huge numbers of torture victims was severely tested.

RUDY PERPICH: You know, they're barbecuing people alive, crucifying them alive. It's, you know, what they're doing, it's beyond description. But without them, let us say, I'd like to say this. Without the Center for Victims of Torture, things would be much worse. And I think the future is a little bit brighter. And there's some hope because we do have this center. And the fact is that they're coming from different parts of the world and establishing these centers elsewhere.

DAN OLSON: The center in Minneapolis has treated over 550 people from 40 different countries in 10 years. Besides medical doctors, psychiatrists and physical therapists, the center's staff also includes a lobbyist working in Washington on torture prevention issues. Director Doug Johnson wants to double the center's $1 million budget and 10 member staff in the next few years. Amnesty International asserts the governments of 112 countries use torture as a political strategy for suppressing opponents. Johnson says nearly half the victims treated at the Minneapolis center are women and children.

DOUG JOHNSON: Historically, in fact, about 20% of our clients were tortured as children, usually as a weapon against their parents. Now we're seeing more families and beginning to look at the secondary effects of torture as it starts to ripple down through the society and through the generations.

DAN OLSON: Sister Dianna Ortiz says to keep focused on her work, she keeps a list of people who have disappeared, been tortured or assassinated. She calls it her hope list and says it gives her courage to speak out on behalf of others.

DIANNA ORTIZ: Treatment centers like the Center for Victims of Torture are like a pair of gentle hands, tenderly cupping our brokenness and empowering us to reclaim our inner strength and giving us the courage to restore our hope and life.

DAN OLSON: For the FM News Station, I'm Dan Olson.

PAULA SHROEDER: It's 22 and a half minutes before 11:00. 10,000 Things Theater Company doesn't perform in typical theater venues. It's presented plays in juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters, and now, in adult literacy classes. "Mud," a new play by Maria Irene Fornés, is a powerful story of an illiterate woman and how her thirst for knowledge affects the people around her. The theater's founder and artistic director, Michelle Hensley, says she began the theater company with the goal of bringing imaginative, vibrant theater to audiences who are often denied access.

MICHELLE HENSLEY: I actually started it in LA about five years ago, and the impetus was, there was a particular play that I loved a lot called "The Good Person of Szechwan" by Brecht. But as I started to think about doing it for the traditional LA theater audience, it's usually composed of actors, agents, and people there sort out of a sense of obligation because they have a friend in the play. And they kind of have to go even though it's Thursday night, and they'd rather be someplace else.

And it just was depressing to think of doing this play for that audience. And I started-- "The Good Person of Szechwan" is a story of a poor woman who is trying very hard to be a good person even though she has little money. And I started to think about, well, who might really understand and appreciate this play? And the idea came to me that homeless people might. So we actually got together and took the play around to different homeless shelters in LA. And they were wonderful audiences. They were just the best.

And it made me decide this is the kind of theater I want to do, doing it for people who haven't been trained to watch theater in a funny way. And so they kind of respond with their hearts open, and it's great.

PAULA SHROEDER: It's kind of like the old fashioned way of doing theater, or the ancient way, almost.

MICHELLE HENSLEY: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, and we just-- we pack up our sets in my hatchback and set up in the lobby or the cafeteria or the community room, wherever. Just take it right there.

PAULA SHROEDER: Now, these can't be paying customers.

MICHELLE HENSLEY: No, they're not. So we get grants to fund our work. Yeah.

PAULA SHROEDER: You've ended up now in Minneapolis. Why the Twin Cities?

MICHELLE HENSLEY: Well, first, because LA, I couldn't ever afford a house and I couldn't send my child to public schools. So I wanted to move up to a place where that was possible. And I knew that Minneapolis had a vibrant theater community, and it really does. And I've been able to get really wonderful, committed, dedicated actors who aren't always rushing off to do commercial auditions or auditions for TV movies of the week, as often happens in LA. Yeah.

PAULA SHROEDER: Yeah. What have you done since you've been here now?

MICHELLE HENSLEY: Well, this fall, our first project, I just moved here about a year and a half ago, was to take a 17th century Spanish play called "Life's a Dream," and we took it around to groups of youth at risk. So we performed in juvenile prisons. We performed at a center for runaway teens, and that was quite an exciting experience as well.

PAULA SHROEDER: What's the reaction of an audience like that, that literally-- in a juvenile detention facility-- it would be a captive audience.

MICHELLE HENSLEY: It was. And in a funny way, it made them a wonderful audience, because I guess probably when you're a kid in prison, you sort of know you don't have anything else to lose. And oftentimes, teenagers come with a big emotional armor and they don't want to show you if they're move or affected by anything.

But these kids just let all that go because they were in prison and they really listened in the most attentive way, just this sort of deep quality of listening. And I think that they were able to make that leap into the 17th century world, you know, in a way that a lot of audiences aren't able to.

PAULA SHROEDER: Now, "Mud" is a contemporary play. It's brand new, in fact. What's it about?

MICHELLE HENSLEY: It's the story of a woman who is living in extreme rural poverty somewhere. And she has a desire to learn things, kind of reaching for the light that comes from learning. But she has-- she's up against enormous obstacles, obviously, the obstacle of poverty. She has people living with her, living with her who are dependent upon her.

So she has all these burdens that she has to carry around, and so it's about trying to keep alive your love for learning in the midst of all that. She's really going to school to learn to read. Reading is sort of at the level where she is.

PAULA SHROEDER: We have three of the actors here today, and who are going to do a brief scene. Can you tell us who the actors are and set up the scene for us from "Mud?"

MICHELLE HENSLEY: Yeah. We have Mae, the character of Mae, who is the woman who is trying to learn to read, played by Marin Perry. And then we have Lloyd, who is a young man who has been living with her. Lloyd is slower. His mind works in a slow way. And that, he's played by Mike McGowan. And then we have the character of Henry, who is played by Luverne Seifert.

And Henry is a man from the outside who's kind of come into their lives because he can read. He's not a great reader, but he's sure better than Mae or Lloyd. And so he's come into their lives. And this particular scene, Henry is staying for dinner. And he is being served sort of an odd meal. Mae and Lloyd don't have a lot, so they're having pieces of bread with milk poured on top.

I think Henry is feeling a little uncomfortable in this place. But he starts out. Mae asks him if he would say grace at the beginning of the meal, because that's not something that's ever been done in her house before. And she is figures that he must know about that since he's sort of her source of light and learning.

So he begins the meal saying grace, and then Mae starts into a dinner table conversation, which also is probably unusual for her. I don't think she and Lloyd have much conversation at the table, usually. So this is a treat for her to have someone to talk to about the thoughts and feelings inside.

SPEAKER 1: I don't retain the words. I never do. I find it hard to retain the words I learn. It is hard for me to do the work at school. I can work on my feet all day at the ironing board. I can make myself do it, even if I am tired. But I cannot make myself retain what I learn. I have no memory. The teacher says, I have no memory. And it's true, I don't. I don't remember the things I learned too well, not enough to pass the test. But I rejoice in the knowledge that I get. Not everything, but most things make me feel joyful. Do you feel that way, Henry?

SPEAKER 2: I am not sure. I like to know things, but if I didn't remember what I learned, I don't think I would feel any pleasure. If I didn't remember things, I would feel that I don't know them. I like to learn things so I can live according to them, according to my knowledge. What would be the use of knowing things if they don't serve you, if they don't help you shape your life? Lloyd, do you take pleasure in learning if you forget what you have learned?

SPEAKER 1: Lloyd doesn't like learning things.

SPEAKER 3: I like to learn things.

SPEAKER 1: Why don't you, then?

SPEAKER 3: What is it I haven't learned?

SPEAKER 1: Henry, would you say grace again?

SPEAKER 2: Again:

SPEAKER 1: Is that wrong?

SPEAKER 2: No, no, no. Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for he is. Good for his mercy. endures forever. For he satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry soul with goodness. Why are you crying? I am a hungry soul. I am a longing soul. I am an empty soul. I cry with joy. It satisfies me to hear words that speak so lovingly to my soul. Don't be afraid to eat from our dishes, Henry. They are clean.

PAULA SHROEDER: That's Maren Perry, Mike McGowan and Luverne Seifert performing a scene from "Mud." And we're talking with Michelle Hensley, who is the artistic director of 10,000 Things Theater Company and the director of "Mud." Michelle, this play is, again, not going to be performed in a place like the Guthrie or the Southern or anything like that. You're taking it around to reading classes, basically,

MICHELLE HENSLEY: Yeah. Adult literacy classes.

PAULA SHROEDER: Adult literacy classes.

MICHELLE HENSLEY: Yeah. So it will be for people who are themselves learning to read.

PAULA SHROEDER: I have the sense that the character Mae is one that you hope a lot of people will identify with.

MICHELLE HENSLEY: Yeah, I think so.

PAULA SHROEDER: What is she-- we got a glimpse of her in that scene, I guess, about her hunger for learning. Have you come across any people who are in this process of learning that have exhibited that same quality? Well, it's interesting. Maren and Mike sort of researching the part, went to visit an adult learning class. And they met a 75-year-old man there who was just learning to read. He had had 10 kids and had lived his whole life as a construction worker.

Some-- I think one of his children had even turned out to be a PhD, but he hadn't still learned to read or was just now doing it. And they said that he was so excited and so thrilled to finally be unlocking these secrets, that I think that there are people like that. It's quite surprising.

- Yeah. Well, in this scene too, it was obvious that the play is trying to get across a love of learning just for the sake of learning. You know, do you find it inspirational? Do you think it will be inspirational?

MICHELLE HENSLEY: Well, actually, it's interesting. The scene is somewhat misleading in that this play has a dark side to it, too. And it doesn't present a rosy picture of how easy it is to keep a love, a keep alive your love for learning. And actually, at the end of the play, Mae is shot.

PAULA SHROEDER: Oh, no.

MICHELLE HENSLEY: Yeah. Lloyd-- she's decided she's going to go. She's going to make a new life for herself. And Lloyd and Henry have become so dependent on her, they cannot bear to have her go. And so she is shot. Now, that is our big puzzle. We're not sure how the audience will respond. Certainly, we don't want to throw them into the brink of despair. But I think my sense in the past is that people in these audiences already know that life doesn't have a happy ending and they're full aware of how hard things are, and so they appreciate that realism.

In any case, we're hoping that it will stimulate lively conversation, which is really one of the things that we're all about.

PAULA SHROEDER: Michelle Hensley is director of "Mud," a story of an illiterate woman's struggle to learn and its effect on the people around her. The play is appearing at adult literacy centers around the metro area through June, and there will be a special benefit performance open to the public tonight at 8:00 at the Twin Cities Friends Meeting House in Saint Paul. It's on Grand Avenue next to Ramsey Junior High.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

It's 10 minutes before 11:00. You're listening to "Mid-Morning" on the FM news station. I'm Paula Schroeder. We're expecting scattered showers and thunderstorms across the state today with highs from the middle 50s in the north to the lower 70s in the southwest. Tonight, partly to mostly cloudy with a chance of showers in the northeast and southeast. And then tomorrow, we should have partly sunny skies, still a chance of showers in the southern part of the state, highs again from the middle 50s to mid-60s. So a little bit cooler tomorrow.

Scattered showers in the Twin Cities today, partly sunny, otherwise, with highs in the upper 60s. Partly sunny tomorrow with a high in the low 60s. Right now, 62 in the Twin Cities, 53 in Duluth, 69 in Rochester, 53 in Fargo-Moorhead, and in St. Cloud, 61 degrees.

Well, the rain is nice to see for gardeners. For city-dwellers, gardening can be a challenge. The options often are limited to windowsills of impatience or pots of basil on the deck. Washington writer Pat Durkin was pleasantly surprised when her efforts actually changed the scenery near her home.

PAT DURKIN: If the black swallowtail butterfly was off course in our cluttered inner city alley, it wasn't evident. She landed on my potted parsley, deposited the last of her eggs, then sailed off to die. My suburban friends ask why a nature lover like me lives in downtown Washington, DC. They think I spend my days dodging bullets, but our real problem here in the city isn't violence, it's what's in the alleys behind our homes, drugs, prostitution and the homeless, a legion of people with nothing to do, no place to put their trash, and nowhere to go to the bathroom.

We joke about it, but our daily cleaning chores and chemical-proof gloves wear us down and harden our hearts. Last year, looking for something to revive my spirits, I planted a flower garden in the alley. It's small, no larger than a couple of ping pong tables squeezed between the house and the roadway, right in harm's way, my neighbors pointed out. Determined to attract some of the butterflies that lived here before the houses were built, I planted purple coneflower, zinnias phlox, lavender and a butterfly bush.

In June, they began showing up. First, tiny spring azures, then monarchs, tiger swallowtails, and painted ladies, 16 species before the summer's end, swirling in the blossoms like miniature watercolors. And one more surprise, the bottles, chicken bones and condom wrappers disappeared. That spot was no longer used as a bathroom. More than once, a homeless person lingered just to watch the butterflies.

As the body of the black swallowtail decomposed somewhere in the alley, her lime green caterpillars began their relentless chewing. They shed several times, then slung themselves on silken threads and became teardrop chrysalids. At last, the miracle, first, one black swallowtail with velvety wings, then the others. A new generation with spangles of yellow, blue and red. For me, there's no need to live anywhere else. The return of the butterflies has transformed this place.

PAULA SHROEDER: The comments of Pat Durkin, who lives and writes in Washington, DC.

GARY EICHTEN: Hello? Yes, you've reached the mid-day office at the FM News Station. Gary Eichten here. Uh-huh, yeah, that's right. Bob Newhart. Mm-hmm. Yeah, he's at the National Press Club today. No, no, I don't think he's running for president. You never know, though. Well, it should be fun. Yeah, we start at 11:00 this morning with the news. Right, "Midday." FM News Station, KWFM 91.1 in the Twin Cities. Thanks for calling.

PAULA SHROEDER: I hope you got that, right? OK, Bob Newhart does the telephone routine. Thank you very much, Gary. Gary will be talking with the co-chairs of the education conference committee, Senator Larry Pogemiller and representative Alice Johnson in the 11 o'clock hour of "Midday." He'll also talk with Curt Johnson, the chair of the Metropolitan Council, about last-minute negotiations on transit and transportation and all of the news of the day as well on "Midday" at 11:00. But first, we're going to hear from Garrison Keillor.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

GARRISON KEILLOR: And here is the Writer's Almanac for Monday. It's the 22nd of May, 1995. In 1455, the Yorkists defeated the English royal forces in the first battle of The War of the Roses, which went on for 30 years and which led-- in the course of time-- to Woody Allen's great line. He told his wife he was going off to the Thirty Years' War.

So the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1859. Doctor who practiced medicine even after he had written his very popular stories about Sherlock Holmes, the first one in 1887, "A Study in Scarlet." He got tired of Sherlock Holmes and tried to kill him off in 1893, but then the public demanded that he be brought back to life. Conan Doyle wrote many other novels. He wrote historic novels, and he wrote books about medical life. And none of them found many readers at all compared to Sherlock Holmes.

It's the anniversary of the founding of the Associated Press in 1900, a co-operative of newspapers and radio and television stations in the United States. It's the anniversary of the birth of Georges Remi, the Belgian cartoonist born in 1907, the creator of the "Tintin" strip when he was 21 years old under the name Hergé.

It was in 1908 on this day, Wilbur and Orville Wright finally got around to taking out a patent on their flying machine. It was about four years after the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk. It was the same machine, but they'd improved it. It was making flights of about 40 minutes long, traveling up to 25 miles at altitudes of 150 feet.

It was on this day in 1972 Richard M. Nixon became the first American president ever to visit the USSR. It's the anniversary of the birth of writer, critic, biographer, Garry Wills, 1934, Atlanta, Georgia, Author of "Nixon Agonistes" and many other books.

Here's a poem by Billy Collins, entitled, "The History Teacher."

Trying to protect his students' innocence, he told them the Ice Age was really just the chilly age, a period of a million years when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the gravel age, named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more than an outbreak of questions such as how far is it from here to Madrid? What do you call the Matador's hat?

The war of the Roses took place in a garden, and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom for the playground to torment the weak and the smart, mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses.

While he gathered up his notes and walked home past flower beds and white picket fences, wondering if they would believe that soldiers in the Boer War told long rambling stories designed to make the enemy nod off.

"The History Teacher" by Billy Collins from his book, "Questions About Angels," published by William Morrow and Company, and used here by permission on the Writer's Almanac.

It's Monday, the 22nd of May, made possible by Cole's Magazines, publishers of aviation history and other magazines. Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

PAULA SHROEDER: Well, that's "Midmorning" for this Monday, May 22nd. Going to be kind of a gray day today. Partly sunny skies expected at times, but look for some showers and thunderstorms across the state today. If you have any questions or comments about our program, call our comment line at 290-1191 and we'll try to get you the answers that you need or just a comment as well. I'm Paula Schroeder. Thanks for joining us.

I'm John Rabe. And on Monday's "All Things Considered," we'll talk with Disney composer Alan Menken. It's "All Things Considered," every day at 4:00 on the FM News Station, KNOW FM, 91.1.

PAULA SHROEDER: You're listening to Minnesota Public Radio. 62 degrees under cloudy skies at the FM News Station, KNOW FM 91.1, Minneapolis, St. Paul. "Midday" is next.

GARY EICHTEN: Good morning. It's 11:00, and this is "Midday" on the FM News Station. I'm Gary Eichten. In the news this morning, there's talk today that the Minnesota legislature may have to return for a special session to finish its work on the education bill. State Constitution requires the legislature to adjourn by midnight tonight, and several major issues still must be resolved, including how to spend some $6 million in the public schools-- $6 billion, make that.

In Washington Senate Democrats today are offering a number of amendments to the Republican budget bill. Democrats say they want to restore proposed cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. US Supreme Court has ruled that states may not impose term limits on members of Congress. The ruling is expected to increase pressure on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment limiting congressional terms.

And interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, is in St. Paul today to officially launch a new program to preserve and restore the Mississippi. Those are some of the stories in the news today. Coming up over the noon hour, something a little different, comedian Bob Newhart at the National Press Club.

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