Book caps iReporter’s Mississippi journey

By David Williams, CNN iReport Community Manager

REPUBLISHED FROM THE CNN iREPORT BLOG

World traveler Neal Moore let us follow along with him on iReport when he made his solo canoe trip down the Mississippi River in 2009, so we were really excited when his new book about the journey arrived in the mail.

“Down the Mississippi: A Modern-Day Huck on America’s River Road” chronicles Moore’s five-month journey from its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana. He made the trip because he wanted to find and tell positive stories about the people living along the river.

Mark Twain and his iconic character Huckleberry Finn were a big influence on the project — his co-author Dr. Cindy Lovell is the executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.

Moore’s been living in Taiwan, but is back in the United States to promote the book. We were able to catch up with him by email to ask him about the project.

What are you doing now that your book is out? Are you doing book tours or anything like that?

Yes, my co-author, Dr. Cindy Lovell, and myself are currently out promoting the launch of the book here in the States (as a bit of a mini-tour). I did a book release in Oxford, Mississippi. We just launched the book in Hannibal, and we’ll be taping a segment for NPR/St. Louis Public Radio.

Where do you live these days?

I’m moving back to Cape Town, South Africa, this coming week, a gem of a city I’ve lived in, off and on, for the past twenty years.

How long did it take to write the book?

The book took two years to complete from the time my co-author and myself began, just following the completion of my Mississippi River canoe journey in late 2009. In the book, Dr. Lovell conjures up Twain’s words directly into the text. So you’ve got the physical journey, the stories of the towns, and Twain, who encourages, reprimands, and comments on the characters encountered all along the way.

Where did you write the book?

I wrote my portion of the book in some of my favorite locales along the Mississippi River journey: in Oxford, Mississippi, a literary-minded village; Hannibal, Missouri, Twain’s hometown; and northeast Iowa, on a rambling family farm. I then flew on to East Asia where I completed the writing of the final third of the book, late last year.

Where can people buy the book if they’re interested?

The eBook version is now available via Kindle. A print edition of the book is available at the Mark Twain Museum and will soon be available at leading independent bookstores nationwide – to be found on http://moderndayhuck.com/.

What’s your next big adventure?

I’m currently gearing up for the next big adventure to take place in South Asia. I’m intending to set it up as a rambling, roving report similar to the Mississippi River expedition, but with a different twist.

Congratulations Neal! We can’t wait to see your stories from South Africa and around the world.

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Filed under In the News, iReport, Literary Reverie, On CNN, Wanderlust

CNN.COM: A modern-day Huck Finn

ATLANTA, GEORGIA (CNN.COM) –

iReporter Neal Moore left the northern source of the Mississippi River in July and ended his trip in New Orleans in December, traversing the Mighty Mississippi the whole way by canoe. His mission was not only to document his canoe journey but also report on and participate in positive and uplifting stories of American communities along the way. To see the CNN.com expedition interview CLICK HERE and to view CNN.com’s “Down the Mississippi” retrospective CLICK HERE.

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Brad Pitt’s Green Building Boom

LOWER NINTH WARD, NEW ORLEANS

Considered one of the most famous neighborhoods in America, New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward is presently undergoing a transformation from the poster child of post-Katrina devastation into the epitome of green, sustainable living. I met with key players on the ground to discuss how this is taking shape and how the environment is playing an active roll in the psyche of the Lower Ninth Ward’s returning populace.

Interviewed in this piece:  Tom Darden, Executive Director, Make It Right NOLA; Robert Green Sr., Resident, Lower Ninth Ward; Darryl Malek-Wiley, Regional Representative and Environmental Justice Organizer, Sierra Club; James Perry, President, Louisiana Housing Alliance and Mayoral Candidate for the City of New Orleans; Dr. Douglas J. Meffert, Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane University; Professor Mark S. Davis, Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Institute on Water Resources, Law and Policy, Tulane University

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Filed under Americana, Community Project, Mississippi River Town, On CNN

Four months, Twenty-Two days later – New Orleans!

Fought severe weather to guide “The Andrea” safely into New Orleans. Wind and waves and rain and a plethora of barges and tankers as well as borderline hypothermia couldn’t keep me from this fine town.  Here’s some final thoughts on the journey of a lifetime.  My sincere thanks to everyone – could not have made it without your encouragement and support.  

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Neal Moore Canoes the Mississippi

MISSISSIPPI RIVER

I’ve been at this now for going on five months… my quest to canoe the Mississippi River from the source at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, to New Orleans.  Here we have some random video footage shot en route.  Am planning to make New Orleans Tuesday, December 1st, between 4pm and 5pm, if the weather cooperates.  If all goes well, the next blog should be from NOLA…  Once again, here’s to adventure!

Follow the journey…

CNN.com’s iReport: http://www.ireport.com/ir-topic-stories.jspa?topicId=321427

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mooreneal

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Filed under Americana, On CNN, On the Mississippi, Wanderlust

A Prison Without Walls

ANGOLA, LOUISIANA

I had no idea there was no perimeter wall at Angola as I canoed along the natural barrier that surrounds three sides of Louisiana State Penitentiary – the Mississippi River. The sun had broken thru the morning mist as I made my way upstream from my camp the previous night on Shreves Bar Island, about one and a half miles downstream. The short upstream trip was work but at long last I reached the prison’s ferry landing. I had read online that this was a ferry for prison guards only, and as such, I had hoped to catch a ride into the prison. The ferry was not operating and I was later told that due to high water, they were using a “crew boat” for foot passengers only, but that this only took place during a shift change.

I was preparing to make the trek up to Angola on foot when I met my first convict “trusty”, Charles Martin. Mr. Martin had driven up in a truck while I was pulling my canoe out of the water and had busied himself working on the ferry structure moored into the banks of the river. When asked how far it was to the gate of the prison, Mr. Martin turned towards the road from where he had just come and replied, “What gate?”

Angola has transformed itself from what Collier’s Magazine once called “the most dangerous prison in America” into what observers are now calling the safest. According to Warden Burl Cain, this about face has taken place with two words: “morality” and “communication”.

The communication in the prison, afforded by Warden Burl Cain, gives the men a sense of freedom, a sense of hope. It is a psychological barrier that has been taken down – and the men are truly appreciative. From my interview with the warden, I was led to a meeting with the radio station, newspaper, and television station, before being brought to the prison’s hospice, into a room where Richard Vinet was on vigil, awaiting his death. Mr. Vinet, age 54, whose liver is failing, has been at Angola since 1984 and is officially now “on vigil” which means he was not expected to last the next 24 hours. As I spoke with Mr. Vinet about his love for the radio station and the chance he had had to request his favorite songs, a USA Today photographer snapped photos. When asked what it was that he wanted most to say, Mr. Vinet pointed towards his nurse, as well as one of Angola’s vice-wardens, Cathy Fontenot, stating, “I want to thank these two women here.” According to Ms. Fontenot, “No inmate here dies alone, a stroke of compassion which tends to lead the prisoners here in hospice to the realization of the gravity of their past actions.” When asked for specifics, Ms. Fontenot quoted a late prisoner who had spent time here in hospice as saying, “I realized the last person I was with when they died was my victim,” going on to say, “I’m truly sorry.”

Warden Burl Cain takes a similar approach when it comes to the men on death row, a people he refers to as “his children”, taking the trouble to hold their hand as they are executed by lethal injection. In so doing, Mr. Cain, who will have worked with these inmates on getting as right as possible with their maker, is able to “communicate” in a wholly different fashion. There is nothing fake or pretentious about Warden Cain. The man commands respect thru his presence alone – when he enters a building. Among multiple people I spoke with, both outside and inside Angola, the idea of Burl Cain as a good and honest guy was unanimous.

Approximately 86% of the 5,000 inmates at Angola are never going home – a sentence of “life” that in the State of Louisiana actually means it. The strategy of Mr. Cain is simply to let these men he has custody over have the chance to better their lives, to communicate, to be men.

As the sun began to set, I asked to be taken out to the prison’s old cemetery, a place where 1/3 of all those who die here will be buried, having no family or friends to take their remains away. I found a bronze marker set up for the “Unknown Buried Here” with the dedication: “Remember not my name nor my sins nor guilt nor shame; only that I was a man.”

In the end it was two inmates who pushed me and my canoe back out into the Mighty Mississippi. The sun had gone down, and the Mississippi was shiny black, reflecting the lights of the crew boat. I was not afraid. I knew exactly where my island lay, having approached the night before under similar circumstances. There comes a time on this river when you become one with your craft, where the danger of a seriously dangerous river is outweighed by a sense of calm, of a cocoon that envelopes you and lets you know you’re going to be alright. It could very well be due to the fact that I was only a visitor, but I felt this same safety – this same calm feeling the entire day at Angola – my very first day in a maximum security prison. My canoe with my gear in it had been loaded on a truck, and together we heaved it out and into the water. It was a strange feeling to step in and glide away. The convicts whose names I had forgotten to ask waved and wished me Godspeed. The sliver of a moon had broken thru the clouds for a moment and as the current took me, I waved back, feeling a certain camaraderie with the prisoners and their warden, but thankful to be free.

Thanks for making this story possible:

Vice-warden Cathy Fontenot.

My guide for the day was Major Joli Darbonne.

Interviewed for this story on video at the “Ranch House” – Warden Burl Cain.

KLSP (Louisiana State Penitentiary) — a 100-watt radio station that operates at 91.7 on the FM dial from inside the prison to approximately 6,000 potential listeners including inmates and penitentiary staff. The station is operated by inmates and carries some satellite programming. Inside the walls of Angola, KLSP is called the “Incarceration Station” and “The Station that Kicks Behind the Bricks.” Interviewed for this story is KLSP disk jockey Keith Alexander. Mr. Alexander is 44 years old and has been incarcerated at Angola for 21 1/2 years.

LSP TV Station 21 is a one-room television station that serves Angola State Penitentiary. Interviewed for this story: Matthew Morgan, sports editor; and Shawn Vaughn, editor.

The Angolites interviewed for this story are: Lane Nelson, managing editor, age 55, incarcerated at Angola for 28 1/2 years of a life sentence for murder; Kerry Myers, editor, age 53, incarcerated at Angola for 19 years of a life sentence for murder; and Klye Hebert, age 44, incarcerated at Angola for 9 years of a life sentence for attempted murder.

In the hallway of Maximum Security Cell Block D are: Marlo Green and Devon Morris.

Interviewed at Angola’s Hospice: Richard Vinet, age 54, incarcerated at Angola for 25 years.

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Filed under Community Project, Mississippi River Town, On CNN, On the Mississippi

New Orleans Finish Planned for Tue, Dec 1st

I’m now on my final approach into New Orleans with plans to arrive into the city on Tuesday, December 1st to land at 5pm – if the weather holds up!  I’ll plan to be in town from Dec 1st thru Dec 8th.

Today is my birthday and I’ll be paddling with local Natchez kayaker Adam Elliott for the second part of the day. This is a sincerely beautiful portion of the river and the weather forecast for the next several days is bright and sunny. I couldn’t ask for a better day or for that matter spell of my life.

I’m really excited to be on this final stretch of the Mississippi. Am trying to enjoy the beauty of it all and to take it all in as the experience is about to come to an end.

So whether you can make it to New Orleans in person or meet up with me via this blog – I’ll look forward to seeing you all come NOLA!

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