Trey Kay, Samantha Gattsek Published

Us & Them: 2023 Had Some Serious Trust Issues


It’s the time of year to look back on where we’ve been and prepare for what’s ahead. 

Us & Them host Trey Kay has been reflecting on 2023, and a theme that’s been consistent — trust, or more importantly, our lack of trust in each other and our institutions. In this episode, we’ll explore how that reality could shape the year to come and its social and political landscape. 

Kay will also remember several people he met during the year who have passed away unexpectedly and reflect on the work they were so passionate about. We’ll hear from friends and colleagues about how their legacies will continue. 

In 2024, there’s a lot at stake and the Us & Them team will keep learning about it all in our conversations across the divides. 

This episode of Us & Them is presented with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council, the Daywood Foundation Daywood Foundation and the CRC Foundation.

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Ethan Zuckerman is a professor from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He’s spent years studying trends in civic and public life and wrote a book called Mistrust: Why Losing Faith in Institutions Provides the Tools to Transform Them.

“The biggest danger is that the most likely response to mistrust is to exit the arena and sit on the sidelines. If you feel like every institution, from the government, to the banking system, to corporations, to religion, all the way down, if you feel like all those games are rigged, all those decks are stacked, there’s a completely rational thing to do, which is just to withdraw from the public sphere.” — Ethan Zuckerman

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Christopher Regan writes for publications such as the Charleston Gazette-Mail and The Atlantic, and he’s a former vice chair of the West Virginia Democratic Party. In 2022, Regan wrote a widely discussed piece for the Gazette-Mail, that suggested Manchin’s reelection in 2024 looked questionable. He said the electoral math just wasn’t there for the two-term senator. It turned out that he was right.

“Sen. Manchin does not like to lose. He is not a ‘fight the good fight and lose and come back another day’ kind of guy. He likes to win every time. He only lost one race in his 40 plus year political career. And he took it so poorly. In 1996, when he lost his primary, that he ended up helping the Republican win the governorship in West Virginia. He had won only narrowly against Patrick Morrisey in 2018, despite the fact that Patrick Morrisey is not nearly the politician that his new opponent is, Jim Justice. Jim Justice is very popular. The environment’s only gotten worse in West Virginia. And it just didn’t look good for him to win at all. And he could have been beaten badly.” — Christopher Regan

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Listen to the episode that featured Chris Regan’s prediction that Sen. Joe Manchin would not seek reelection: Manchin In The Middle.

Joanna Tabit was a circuit court judge in Kanawha County, West Virginia, and led a juvenile drug court for about seven years. Judge Tabit passed away at the end of September — leaving behind family and friends who were all touched by her presence in their lives. 

“There’s a recognition that incarceration and placement for these kids in detention facilities is not the answer to this problem. And when we can work with adults, frankly, in the community and we can work with youth in the community, the outcomes regarding their treatment and their future and their ultimate success in the community are much greater.” — Joanna Tabit

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Gregory Howard is chief circuit judge in Cabell County, West Virginia and oversees the Adult Drug Court. 

“[Judge Joanna Tabit’s death] was just a real tragedy. She was just a shining star in the judiciary and she was a great friend and a mentor to me. I’ve known her for years, a couple of decades now, actually. And I was just heartbroken by the loss. I listened several times to the interview that [Us & Them] did with her on the Court of Second Chances last year, and it was just amazing to listen to her in action, singing at one point during your, during court she was just an amazing lady, so vibrant, just gone way too young, but I miss her.” — Gregory Howard

Credit: Trey Kay/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Listen to the episode that featured Joanna Tabit and Gregory Howard: Court Of Second Chances?

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Ashley Omps died in October 2023. She worked as a lobbyist and testified at the West Virginia State Capitol before the Senate Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority. She told this group of powerful strangers about the worst experience in her life — a time when she was incarcerated in the Eastern Regional Jail after an intense, traumatic event, and said she was denied mental health treatment. Omps said it was uncomfortable to share her personal story, but it made a difference. West Virginia law has changed, because people like Ashley took their stories to the capitol.

“I was in jail for three months on my first offense. I lost my daughter, my home, my career, and my 21 acre farm that I had successfully managed for 12 years. That was three years ago. And since then, I’ve been incarcerated for 15 months. Not for new charges, but for technical violations of failed urine analysis. I’m sharing my story here today because I believe we can work together to come up with long lasting solutions to the jail overcrowding and find alternatives to incarceration that actually help people heal from trauma, recover from substance use disorder, and feel a part of the community again.” — Ashley Omps

Credit: Trey Kay/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Listen to the episode that Ashley Omps was featured in: Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars In West Virginia.

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Deborah Ujevich is the interim executive director for the West Virginia Family of Convicted People. Ashley Omps worked with this organization.

“I think that the best thing to do for Ashley, to honor Ashley, was just to continue this work. She was so passionate about it. She was so good at it. She was just naturally good. I know some of the voting records of some of these legislators and how unfriendly they are. There are certain ones that are just lost causes. They don’t want to hear about second chances. They don’t want to hear about rights for incarcerated people. They don’t want to hear about rights for anybody who is justice impacted in any way. She didn’t know these, like political background things, and she would just run up to anybody and just start pouring it out, and it flowed from her so naturally, and she didn’t frame it a certain way because all I know this person is generally hostile to our issues. She didn’t know those things. So she was so open and so natural about it. And she just was a breath of fresh air. I know that’s a cliche to say, but it really is true. She loved what she did and people loved her. I saw some of the most hostile to our causes, legislators literally hug her.” — Deborah Ujevich

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Darrin Lester passed away in 2023. He had spent a good amount of time incarcerated and subsequent to his release, he devoted much of his time helping incarcerated people transition from prison to functioning in society. Trey Kay met Lester when working on an episode about medical care behind bars. Darrin spoke about his experience early in the pandemic. In August 2020, he contracted COVID-19 while at Mt. Olive Correctional Center.

“I have a fever that’s hovering between 103 and 105, and you give me Tylenol and cough medicine and they did that. And I put me in that room and there was other than come and check on my vitals. They wasn’t planning on taking me anywhere. There was a new nurse who had, she maybe been there maybe a month or so. And she had duty that night in the infirmary. And she took my vitals and she called a doctor at home and said, ‘man, we got to do something with him.’ And the doctor said, ‘okay, take him to the hospital.’ That’s how I got treatment. When I get to the hospital, I got to Montgomery Hospital, and when I get there, within 15 minutes, the doctor says, ‘man, he’s in stage 4 kidney failure, and he has double pneumonia.’” — Darrin Lester

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Alice Moore, who died in September, was a member of Kanawha County Schools Board of Education. In 1974, she objected to a new series of language arts textbooks, which sparked a turbulent public controversy that made national headlines and impacted how textbook publishers produced educational material. This photo shows Moore at a pivotal meeting during the textbook controversy reviewing transcripts as protesters watch through the board office auditorium windows.

“I felt like I was standing still and the world was just flying in circles around me. There was a whirlwind alright, and all I did was just stand where I had always stood and it was driving liberalism crazy.” — Alice Moore

Credit: Charleston Newspapers
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Trey Kay visited his friend Alice Moore at her home in Acton, Tennessee in July 2023. It was their last visit.

Credit: Amy Tillman

Listen to Us & Them episodes that feature Alice Moore in: