As a journalist there are stories that you do, then there are stories that define what you do and who you are as a journalist. My “Why Is Genarlow Wilson In Prison?” Story that appeared in Atlanta Magazine is the latter for me. In many ways this feature, the first in-depth account of the controversial teen sex case in Georgia, has drawn the most attention and has simultaneously yielded the longest lasting impact so far. My story is widely considered responsible for sparking the national and international coverage of the case – from ABC Prime Time and The New York Times to the BBC and ESPN – that ultimately contributed to a change in Georgia law and Wilson’s early release from a 10-year prison sentence. That’s a pretty big deal considering the fact that prior to my report the case had been virtually ignored by other local media outlets, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This long-form feature and subsequent stories I wrote about the case, including another piece for Atlanta Magazine and two for Ebony Magazine, have faced criticism (especially after a controversial, inaccurate headline that I did not write appeared with one of my articles). I was awarded the Atlanta Press Club Print Journalist of the Year award, along with Journalist of the Year honors from the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists in 2007 for a body of work that I’d produced, including Wilson’s story.
He has since graduated from Morehouse College and is married with a daughter, but I still remember him as that diminutive young man in an orange prison jumpsuit peeking out from behind a murky prison window as he spoke to me via telephone. All seriousness of the case aside, I still laugh when I remember the fact that I had to dig notebook paper that I’d stashed away out of my bra to take notes and that his mother had hidden an ink pen in her hair for me to write with, so that I could conduct this exclusive jailhouse interview. The case remains a hot-button issue and probably will do so into infinity, but I remain indebted to Juannessa Bennett for entrusting me with her son’s story.