This American Life

Built around the innovative vision of Ira Glass, this program documents and describes contemporary America. Using radio monologues, mini-documentaries, “found tape,” and unusual music, it is radio storytelling at its best.


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Saturday, November 1, 2014 Permalink

This American Life: My Pen Pal

 Donovan Beeson / Flickr

Donovan Beeson / Flickr


Ira talks to historian Ted Widmer about two of the first pen pals in the New World. John Winthrop and Roger Williams were both Puritans in Massachussetts in the 1630's. Then Roger Williams was banished for suggesting the revolutionary idea that there should be separation between church and state. John Winthrop was the Governor of Massachussetts, which exiled him. But the two men somehow stayed friends, writing letters long after Williams was sent away.


Act One

The story of a 10-year-old girl from small town Michigan named Sarah York, and how she became pen pals with a man who was considered an enemy of the United States, a dictator, a drug trafficker, and a murderer: Manuel Noriega.

Sarah is in a band called Orienta Carwash. Their latest album is Goin' to Town.


Act Two

When Janice Powell's husband went to prison, he wrote her a letter every day for eight years. When he was at home, he'd drink and get violent, but Janice said that the years in prison were the best of their relationship. Her story was originally produced by Alex Kotlowitz and Amy Dorn for the Chicago Public Radio series Speaking of Sex.