Penn Manor Writers Earn Top Award

 By Tim Harris

“It was one of the first articles I ever wrote.”

That is how Eastern University Freshman and former Penn Manor student Bryan Hess described his National Scholastic Press Association contest winning story.  It was chosen as the top high school news story in the country for the year.

Brian and Sarah, winners of the 2011 National Scholastic Press Association "Story of the Year" contest. Photo Courtesy of the Sunday News

Recently Bryan, along with Penn Manor senior Sarah Schaeffer entered the story which was one entry of hundreds from all over the country.

Hess’ motivation behind the article came shortly after his journalism class at Penn Manor studied court and crime reporting.  After several initial ideas, Hess became interested to find out why so many youths in Pennsylvania, more than any other state or country, were being sentenced to life in prison.

“We had just finished a crime unit, and I think he was interested in working on some aspect of that when I assigned the final,” Penn Manor journalism teacher Susan Baldrige said.

Hess started off by reading about teenagers that were in prison for life and the story grew from there. With help from Schaeffer the story grew into a contest worthy article.

“I’d say the last three weeks of the semester went into editing and making sure the story was perfect,” Schaeffer said.

Hess intended for the story to be his final for the class, which required he develop outside resources and complete research for the story, this led him contacting and getting to know various teens who are in Pennsylvania and in prison for life.

“I developed some good relationships with a couple of the prisoners that I contacted, and there are a couple that I still talk to weekly,” Hess said. “They were all somewhere around my age and it’s hard to see myself in that situation.”

In one case Hess told of one juvenile who was in jail for simply just being at the scene of a murder when friends of his broke into a local store.

“It was interesting to hear the other side of the prisoner’s stories, not all of them are them are cold-blooded killers like you would imagine,” Hess said.

One of these prisoners, Anthony Lewis, was simply standing standing guard when friends of his robbed a convenience store. When someone in the store shot and killed the store clerk, Lewis was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced for life without parole.

As of 2008, there are approximately 500 teens in jail for life in Pennsylvania according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and both Schaeffer and Hess saw this story as an opportunity for the teens to tell their stories, and for the students it became very meaningful for both of them.

“I really believed it was important for me to be able to give the inmates a voice to let others know that actions really have consequences you have to live with.” Hess said.