In any given year, there are about a dozen Idaho news stories that warrant significantly more ink in a newspaper, a bigger slot on the evening telecast or a greater amount of broadcast time on the radio. In the past, that traditionally meant multiple broadcast episodes or a series of feature-length articles in print. But in an always-evolving media landscape, a select few stories are grist for a podcast, the burgeoning platform for non-fiction storytelling. If that story also lands at an intersection of cultural debate, a podcast is the made-to-order platform to allow the breadth and depth that the story requires. In 2019, People's Exhibit No. 1 is the case of Adree Edmo v. The Idaho Department of Correction.
"When I began looking into the story of Adree Edmo, I quickly learned about the potential precedent of the case; and when I started diving in with research and record requests, I couldn't stop," said Amanda Peacher, regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau who works out of the Boise State Public Radio newsroom. "I was deep into the story, nerding out about it, when (BSPR community engagement manager/reporter) Frankie [Barnhill] and (BSPR digital content coordinator) Lacey [Daley] said, 'This is definitely a podcast.' I hadn't conceptualized it in that way, but they have the brains to understand that this is a big story, and works best as a podcast."
Barnhill is that rare Idaho reporter to have already had podcast success—she co-hosted 2017's Speaking of Serial, chronicling the ordeal of Idaho native and former Taliban prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl, and the currently in-production Wanna Know Idaho, which allows listeners to accompany Barnhill on reports from the field.
"Podcasts have this amazing ability to take people very deep into a character and complicated topic. We work in audio, so we're very confident about doing that. That audio can convey emotions while also laying different elements near each other. As a result, listeners can hold multiple ideas in their heads at the same time. And listeners want more of that," said Barnhill. "They want the backstory and to understand multiple sides of an issue."
- Black and Pink, Facebook
There are plenty of layers to 31-year-old Adree Edmo's story. Given the name "Mason" at birth, Edmo began seeing herself as a female around the age of 5. She began living as a woman at the age of 20, legally changing her name to Adree and changing her sex to "female" on her birth certificate. In 2012, she was convicted of sexual abuse of a child under 16 and was sent to Idaho State Prison, where she's locked up with male offenders. Prison officials still refuse to identify her as Adree. Soon thereafter, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, which triggers "conflict between the way a person feels and think of themselves and their physical or assigned gender," according to the American Psychological Association.
"I didn't ask [for] or want to develop gender dysphoria, but it happened," Edmo told Boise Weekly in January. "Now, I'm faced with needing treatment for it."
That treatment would be gender reassignment surgery, which Idaho officials have refused to accommodate. But in December of 2018, a federal judge said prison officials ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution when they stigmatized Edmo with "deliberate indifference."
"The Rule of Law, the bedrock of our legal system, promises that all individuals will be afforded the full protection of our legal system,' wrote Chief U.S. District Court Judge R. Lynn Winmill. "This is whether the individual seeking that protection is black, white, male, female, gay, straight, or, as in this case, transgender."
Idaho officials pushed back against Winmill's ruling, and in January, then-newly inaugurated Governor Brad Little weighed in, saying, "The hard-working taxpayers of Idaho should not be forced to pay for a prisoner's gender reassignment surgery."
That propelled Edmo's case to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which, as this issue of BW was going to press, was expected to rule on the matter any day now. Depending on that outcome, several legal experts agree that Edmo's case might head to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- BSP/Mountain West News Bureau
For the BSPR podcast, dubbed Locked, Peacher traveled to San Francisco to cover the Ninth Circuit hearing, and has also spent some time in Eastern Idaho, where Edmo grew up as a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes.
"It's a fascinating, beautiful place. It's also a very difficult place to live. Many people told us about that. We wanted to give this story the nuance and detail that it deserves," said Peacher, who added that another member of the Locked team, BSPR reporter James Dawson, traveled to Moscow, Idaho, where he met with Dr. Geoff Stiller, one of the few surgeons in the nation who performs sexual reassignment surgery. "James spent a lot of time with Dr. Stiller to understand the procedure. Plus, he was able to talk to a transgender woman, Dr. Stiller's first sexual reassignment surgery patient. It turns out that she now assists other transgender patients go through the procedure."
To be sure, Edmo's story has been grim. It has also, at times, been gruesome. When prison officials repeatedly denied Edmo's requests for sexual reassignment surgery, she attempted self-castration using a razor blade on two occasions. She suffered tremendous blood loss and required hospitalization. The details make for a less-than-family friendly podcast. But Peacher and her Locked colleagues understand all too well the importance of the story, even its graphic nature, being accurate.
"We use the words that we know, based on medical records, and based on her own accounts. It's important for us to be extremely factual, but not include language that is more dramatic than what happened," said Peacher. "The language is stark, and it should be. It was a very stark act."
Ultimately, Peacher said Locked seeks to shed insight on several critical checkpoints.
"If you've never met someone who is transgender or have never had a family member or friend go prison, you may not have reason to dig into these issues. But they're critical issues. We're at a pivotal moment in terms of transgender rights, and a critical moment for our criminal justice system," said Peacher. "With a story as compelling as this, at this particular moment in time, we're telling a story that, quite frankly, some people have been afraid of, or don't care to look at. But we need to."Listen to a preview of Locked by clicking here.