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U.S. Defense Secretary, Joints Chief Chairman Update War in Ukraine; Interview with "Corrections in Ink: A Memoir" Author Keri Blakinger. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired June 15, 2022 - 13:00 ET
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BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
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and potential consequences with retired U.S. Army General Ben Hodges:
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climate change fading amid the world's other crises? NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt joins me.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If this framework becomes the actual piece of legislation, it's a step forward.
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KERI BLAKINGER, AUTHOR, "CORRECTIONS IN INK": Anyone who succeeds after prison is succeeding in spite of prison, not because of it.
GOLODRYGA: She went from ice skater to inmate. Now "Corrections in Ink" author Keri Blakinger tells Hari Sreenivasan how she's fighting to fix the
broken prison system she endured.
ZAIN ASHER, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: OK, we interrupt AMANPOUR to take you to Brussels, where U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs
Chairman Mark Milley are holding a press conference right now.
Let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Lloyd Austin.
LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Glad to be joined by General Mark Milley, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff here, this evening.
Good evening, everyone.
We have had a very productive afternoon at the third meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. And it's great to be back together in person after
our initial meeting at Ramstein in April.
And, once again, we met with Ukraine's minister of defense, my good friend Oleksiy Reznikov.
Everyone here is acutely aware of the dangers that Ukraine faces, as Russia renews its reckless assault on the Donbass. And Minister Reznikov and his
team gave us important insights into the changing battle space, and a clearer understanding of Ukraine's priority requirements as the war shifts.
We also had some important discussions about how to fortify our midterm and long-term support for Ukraine, through training and sustainment. I'm
especially pleased that defense leaders from some 50 countries came together here today.
It's a testament to the on-the-ground impact of this Contact Group that it continues to grow. And I'm glad that we were joined today -- at today's
meeting by several new countries, including Ecuador and Georgia and Moldova.
And that's a reminder of how Russia's unprovoked and indefensible invasion of Ukraine has horrified and galvanized the world. But it's also a sign of
the global admiration for the heroism and resilience of the Ukrainian people.
You can see that in the progress that we have made since this Contact Group's previous virtual meeting a few weeks ago. In May, the U.S. Congress
approved $40 billion to provide additional security assistance, economic and humanitarian support for Ukraine.
And, on June 1, President Biden authorized an additional $700 million to meet Ukraine's critical needs for today's fight, and that included HIMARS
rocket systems with guided MLRS munitions.
This package also included Javelins, helicopters, counterbattery radars and ammunition. And I'm especially pleased to be able to announce today that
the United States will provide an additional $1 billion security assistance package for Ukraine.
And that includes our 12th drawdown from DOD inventory since August of 2021. And it includes guided MLRS munitions, 18 more M777 howitzers and the
tactical vehicles to tow them, and 36,000 rounds of 155-millimeter ammunition.
This package also includes $650 million in Ukraine security assistance initiative funds, and that will help Ukraine defend itself with two
additional harpoon coastal defense systems and thousands of secure radios, night-vision devices, thermal sights and other optics.
Now, our allies and partners have also risen to the moment. We heard some significant announcements this afternoon about new security assistance
packages for Ukraine. And many countries are providing Ukraine with urgently needed systems and ammunition. Other friends have made new
commitments to train Ukraine's forces and sustain its military systems.
But there are too many countries to properly thank here. I will just take a moment to highlight a few. I want to thank Germany, which announced today
it will provide three multiple-launch rocket systems and guided MLRS munitions to Ukraine.
We're working shoulder to shoulder with both the U.K. and now Germany as we develop Ukraine's long-range fires capabilities. This effort also builds
upon our transfer of HIMARS.
Let me also thank Slovakia, which announced a significant donation of Mi series helicopters and the urgently needed rocket unit ammunition. And we
also discussed important new artillery donations from many countries, including Canada and Poland and the Netherlands.
These are key investments in Ukraine's long-range fires capabilities. And they will be crucial to Ukraine's efforts to repel Russia's assault in the
Donbass. I'm very thankful to these countries and to all of the countries that are helping Ukraine to defend itself, even as the war shifts and
Ukraine's most urgent needs continue to evolve.
Since the Contact Group first came together nearly three months ago, we have built tremendous momentum for donations and delivery of military
assistance. And after this afternoon's discussions, we're not just going to maintain that momentum. We're going to move even faster and push even
We will deepen our coordination and cooperation and we will bolster Ukraine's armed forces to help them repel Russian aggression now and in the
future. So, we will continue working closely and intensively together with this Contact Group. And we will keep on strengthening our support for
Ukraine's self-defense, and we will continue to stand up for the rules- based international order that protects us all.
Thank you. And I will turn it over to General Milley.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thanks, Secretary Austin, for your words and for your leadership in putting together this
Contact Group. It is indeed making a significant difference. And it, frankly, wouldn't be happening without Secretary Austin.
And I want to thank also, as Secretary Austin said, the around 50 countries who participated in this third iteration of the Ukraine Defense Contact
Group. And I also want to thank Ukrainians' Deputy Chad (ph), who attended Lieutenant General Moisuk to today's meeting.
The collective efforts of this group have helped achieve undeniable effects on the battlefield against the Russians. And we collectively will continue
to support Ukraine as they defend against the unprovoked war, the illegal war being waged by Russia on Ukrainian sovereign national territory.
In the current phase of this conflict, the Ukrainians are fighting hard, tooth and nail, every day, inch by inch, yard by yard, kilometer by
kilometer, against the Russian advance in the Donbass. The ministers of defense and the chiefs of defense who met today are committed to providing
Ukrainians the means to halt Russian aggression and defend their sovereign territory.
The world has a significant stake in the outcome of what happens in Ukraine. The so-called rules-based international order is at stake that has
been in place since the end of World War II to prevent great power war and to prevent large powers from conquering smaller countries with military
Ukraine is under threat. They are at war. And we will continue to support them. But the rules-based international order is also under threat due to
the actions of Russia in the Ukraine. The international community is not allowing this unambiguous act of aggression by Russia to go unanswered.
To do so, the risks to the world returning to an era when large powerful countries can invade smaller countries at will, that is what the
international community is up against. Since the initiation of hostilities in late February, the global community has responded in an unprecedented
The Ukrainian security assistance program has been calculated, responsive and relevant to Ukrainian defense requirements. Our close and ongoing
relationship with Ukraine's military leaders has informed our process to provide a tailored, timely assistance based on Ukrainian needs.
Leaders at multiple levels, including the U.S. European Command, led by General Wolters, have maintained consistent contact with Ukrainian
counterparts. Additionally, I have remained in active communication with Ukrainian Chief of Staff General Zaluzhnyi each week, several times a week,
sometimes several times a day.
At the onset of the Russian invasion, the global community took action in the form of security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself. This
immediate assistance had exceptional impact on the battlefield. Russia halted and turned back their initial advances in the face of fierce
As Russia now invades the Donbass region, which began this offensive on 16 April, some 60 days ago, we, along with our allies and partners, have
provided dozens of 155-millimeter howitzers and almost a half-a-million rounds. By the end of this month, we will transfer HIMARS systems,
ammunition, train crews for operational use in the defense of Ukraine.
We and other countries are building a platoon at a time in order to certify the Ukrainians to make sure that they can properly employ and maintain the
system. In a few weeks, the Ukrainians will have trained long-range rocket artillery in the fight.
To date, we have trained 420 Ukrainians on the M777 -- M7 -- or M777 howitzers, 300 Ukrainians on the self-propelled M109, 129 on the 113
armored personnel carrier, 100 on unmanned aerial systems, and 60 most recently graduating today on the HIMARS.
Additionally, we have provided, the United States has provided over 6,500 Javelins and 20,000 other anti-armor systems. Collectively, the
international community has provided almost 97,000 anti-tank systems, more anti-tank systems than there are tanks in the world.
We have also provided over 1,500 Stingers, more than 700 Switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems, 20 Mi-17s, and thousands of small arms,
and thousands, hundreds of thousands of small arms ammunition.
The speed that we have delivered security assistance is without comparison .From the time the requests are validated and authorized, it is only a
matter of days until the requirement is sourced, shipped and in the hands of Ukrainians. In some cases, it may take a week, but most of the time,
it's measured in days.
While more work is required, we could not have achieved this progress without the active assistance from the countries who were present today. We
gathered today both in the defense of Ukraine and really in the defense of the world. It is only through the preservation of the rules-based
international order that we're going to continue to have a peaceful international system that everyone benefits from.
As we move together, we will continue to coordinate with our allies and partners around the globe to help support the Ukrainians with the training
and the tools they need to fight and maintain their country's defense.
I look forward to your questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peter Martin, Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
Secretary Austin, Ukraine has publicly asked for a long list of weapons, including 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks, and 300 multiple-launch rocket
You have repeatedly stressed that U.S. assistance needs to be driven by Ukraine's needs. And with that in mind, do you think that this latest
package risks providing Ukraine with too little too late?
And then, for Chairman Milley, at this point, do you see the consolidation of Russian control in Eastern Ukraine as inevitable?
AUSTIN: Well, thanks for the question.
You're right. We remain focused on Ukraine's needs. And we understand what those needs are because, as you heard the chairman say, he's in contact
with his counterpart sometimes a couple of times a week.
I talk to the minister of defense, Reznikov, routinely. And one of the key benefits of having this Contact Group is that we can -- we have the ability
of bringing the Ukrainian leadership in,minister of defense, the vice chief of defense, and have them give us a lay-down of the battlefield dynamics,
and then talk again about what their current requirements are.
As you know, the battlefield is dynamic. The requirements, needs will evolve over time. And they have identified those needs currently to be
long-range fires capability, armor, and some anti -- mid-range anti- aircraft capability.
And so -- and also howitzers, which is different from the HIMARS. And so we remain focused on what their needs are currently, and also in the near
term, looking out several weeks and months. Eventually, we will want to work with our allies and partners to build a capability that -- to sustain
themselves over time.
But we really are focused on what the leadership believes that its current needs are in this fight. And I think we have done -- the international
community has done a pretty good job of providing that capability. But it's never enough.
And so we're going to continue to work hard to move things, as much capability as we can as fast as we can, and to ensure that Ukraine can be
successful on the battlefield.
MILLEY: So, on your question of the Donbass -- but on the numbers just real quick, I'm not sure what the number -- what you're referring to.
But I talk to General Zaluzhnyi. We get lists. These are official requests from their Department of Defense. They asked for 10 battalions of
artillery; 12 battalions of artillery were delivered. Again, I say 97,000 anti-tank systems. That's more than anti-tank systems than tanks in the
They asked for 200 tanks. They got 237 tanks. They asked for 100 infantry fighting vehicles. They got over 300. We have delivered, roughly speaking,
1,600 or so air defense systems and about 60,000 air defense rounds. This is -- when I say us, I mean the international community.
You're looking at 260 artillery tube systems, either rocket or tube artillery, have been already delivered. There's 383 committed, and, like I
said, almost half-a-million rounds of artillery.
The bottom line -- and I can go down the whole list of everything. The bottom line is, everything Generals Zaluzhnyi asked for, as rapidly as
possible, we get a source through the international community, through the United States and our allies and partners, and we get it done as rapidly as
So I don't know where those numbers are that you're coming from. But we are supporting -- we in the international community are taking it very
seriously. And we are supporting the Ukrainian military as rapidly as humanly possible.
With respect to, is it inevitable that the Russians will consolidate power in the Donbass, as I said, that the war started on 24 February. They were
defeated in and around Kyiv. They took their forces. They marshaled them and massed them in around the Donbass. And so, right now, that's where the
battle is taking place.
Two oblasts are in the Donbass. One is Luhansk. The other is Donetsk. It's really the Luhansk Oblast where most of the significant fighting is
happening in and around Severodonetsk. Right now, the -- Severodonetsk, the city, is probably three-quarters taken, so -- by Russian forces, but the
Ukrainians are fighting them street by street, house by house.
And it's not a -- it's not a done deal. There are no inevitabilities in war. War takes many, many turns. So, I wouldn't say it's an inevitability.
But I would say that the numbers clearly favor the Russians. In terms of artillery, they do outnumber. They have gun and outrange. You have that
many, many times. And they do have enough forces.
But this -- the Russians have run into a lot of problems. They have got command-and-control issues, logistics issues. They have got morale issues,
leadership issues, and a wide variety of other issues. So, the Ukrainians are fighting a heroic fight. This fight down in the Donbass has been going
on since 16 April.
And the advances that the Russians have made have been very slow, a very tough slog, very severe battle of attrition, almost World War I-like. And
the Russians have suffered tremendous amounts of casualties.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jonathan Beale from the BBC.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
If I can ask Secretary Austin, I think the deputy defense minister of Ukraine has said that the West has given Ukraine 10 percent of what it's
asked for. Do you recognize that figure?
And if I can ask General Milley, do you really think that sending -- U.S. sending four HIMARS systems, the U.K. sending three MLRS rocket launchers,
and Germany sending three is really going to tip the balance in the Donbass in Ukraine's favor?
It doesn't seem that much when you look at the numbers. I know you have given me lots of other numbers. But do you think it's really going to tip
AUSTIN: Second part of that question, I think you have to be careful about equating HIMARS capability or an M270 capability to other MLRS systems.
These are precision munitions. They -- and with a properly trained crew, they will hit what they're aiming at. And it provides some pretty good
capability in terms of distance.
But a capability is a weapon, a trained crew, and munitions. And so, as we train those crews up, we're able to provide them with systems and
munitions, and then you have an initial capability, and then you build on it. So, over time, yes, we think the combination of what the -- what the
allies and partners can bring to the table, it will make a difference.
But, again, this is a different kind of capability than what you have seen from other multiple-launch rocket systems.
On the 10 percent issue, I don't know if you're quoting the minister of foreign affairs,or if you're quoting the minister...
QUESTION: Deputy defense minister.
AUSTIN: Deputy defense minister.
Well, we just spent time with his boss in the room next door. And, as we have on a number of occasions and gone down line by line of what they need,
it's relevant in this fight. So we feel pretty confident that we're working hard to give them what they think is relevant.
In terms of where the big number came from, I can't speak to that. You will have to let that gentleman explain his numbers. So -- but I would only say
this. General Milley and I have been in a number of fights. And when you're in a fight, you can never get enough. You always want more. You always
believe that you need more, and I have been there.
And so I certainly understand where the Ukrainians are coming from, and we're going to fight hard to get them everything they need. And so -- but,
again, we want to make sure that we're focused on what they think they need for this current fight and beyond.
And I think this Contact Group brings together the right elements to be able to sort through that. And, again, this is a constant effort. We don't
-- we don't believe that we're going to meet every need by tomorrow. And two weeks from now, requirements will probably have evolved a bit.
So I think we have to put things in perspective. You can never -- when you're in the fight, you can never get enough, and you can never get it
quick enough. So -- but, having said all that, we're going to work hard to make sure we're doing everything humanly possible. We're going to continue
to move heaven and earth to get them the capability that they need.
MILLEY: So let me -- first of all, in warfare, no weapons system is a silver bullet ever. So, no weapon system, singular weapon system ever --
quote, unquote -- "turns the balance."
It's the combination of -- it's a combined arms fight. It's a combination of ground maneuver with air and artillery, and so on and so forth. And
that's where the HIMARS comes in.
In this case, in terms of fires, this is a battle of fires. So the Ukrainians have mortars. They're going to go out to five, seven, eight
kilometers. Then they have got the tube artillery. That's going to take you out to 25 kilometers with precision fire or accurate fire with the 777s.
Then they have also got rocket-assisted projectiles, which will go out to 40 kilometers. And now the HIMARS will go out to 85 kilometers. So we're
providing them, as you said, with the Brits and others, about 10 systems. They're going to have well over 100 rounds of ammunition. That's initial
We're training a platoon at a time in Germany. The secretary has directed the next platoon to be trained and so on. So, this capability will build.
But, because it's a precision weapon, the amount of ammunition that we're given, if they use it properly -- and we just ran the certification
exercise in the last 48 hours for these guys -- if they use the weapon properly, and it's employed properly, they ought to be able to take out a
significant amount of targets.
And that will make a difference, in combination with the 777s hitting at 40 and 25 kilometers and the mortars. So, you want to echelon these fires. I
will say this. The Ukrainians' artillery, their skills, the artillery skills of the Ukrainians are very, very good. They're top-notch gunners.
And the effect that they're achieving on the battlefield right now with the 777s has been very, very -- very, very good, very effective. And we expect
the same out of the HIMARS.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Idrees Ali from Reuters.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in the past, you have talked about the United States in Ukraine being to help the Ukrainians win the war and weaken
Is that still the United States' goal? Or is that out of reach now that Russia seems to make -- be making incremental gains in the east?
And for the chairman, Ukrainians have talked about losing between 100 and 200 soldiers a day. Is that your assessment? And is this level of attrition
sustainable for a military the size of Ukraine's?
AUSTIN: Thanks for the question, Idrees.
I think you recall the op-ed that the president, President Biden, published here just recently. And in that op-ed, I think he laid it out in
straightforward terms, in terms of what our goals are. And that is that we want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine
with the means to deter and to defend its sovereign territory.
So I think that addresses the question in terms of what our -- what our goals and objectives are. But, again, we have said all along that we want
to help Ukraine by providing it the security assistance, the means that it needs to do what I just said.
What's been impressive about the Ukrainian people, and especially their soldiers, they're willing to fight to protect their sovereign territory.
And so if we can -- we get them to means, the materials, the weapons, they have demonstrated that they can put it -- put them to good use.
So we're going to continue to support them with as much as we can and get it to him as fast as we can. And we're going to remain in contact with them
to make sure that we understand their needs as this battlefield evolves.
And so, again, I point back to the benefit of bringing ministers from around the globe together -- again, 30 members are NATO, 50 -- around 50 or
so ministers of defense in this meeting today. And I think that sends a powerful message about how much people around the world care about making
sure that we have -- that countries have the ability to protect our sovereign spaces, and that we respect the rules of the international rules
MILLEY: On the assessment, let me caveat by saying casualties' estimates in war are always extraordinarily difficult, and most of the time, the
initial casualty estimates are inaccurate. And it may take months or even years sometimes to get accurate casualty estimates.
But, having said that, in the media, you see reported that Ukraine is taking 100 killed and 100 or 200 or 300 wounded per day. I would say those
are in the ballpark of our assessments. I don't want to give you the actual assessments.
And can they sustain that? For Ukraine, this is an existential threat. They're fighting for the very life of their country. So your ability to
endure suffering, your ability to endure casualties is directly proportional to the object to be attained. And if the object to be attained
is survival of your country, then you're going to sustain it.
And as long as they have leadership, and they have the means by which to fight, ammunition, artillery tubes, et cetera, then I think Ukraine will
continue to fight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, one last question will be from Yuri Shako (ph) from Deutsche Welle.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
I have two questions also about numbers and artillery.
So, Secretary, you said that there were some other countries that also announced some additional artillery. Can you tell us a little bit more,
what you can, of course?
And another question, you said a lot about the advantages of HIMARS and also of advantages of 777s, because they're very precise. It's clear.
But if we look really at the numbers of what Ukrainians got, and we compare it with many, many hundreds of artillery systems that Russians had, and
also hundreds of MLRS systems that the Russians have, and even if we look at what Ukraine had, it had also many hundreds of artillery pieces and also
a lot of MLRS, but Ukraine is running out of ammunition for these older systems.
And if we look at this gap that Ukraine has now, as it's running out of ammunition, what Ukraine received from the West is not really close to --
to close this gap.
So why -- why now we hear only about like 18 additional howitzers, which is not really that much to close that huge gap? Thank you very much.
AUSTIN: Yes, so I think you -- you made the point in the first part of your question there that other countries are -- are providing artillery systems
and munitions as well. And I'll let the chairman speak to -- to the inventory but I can assure you that they, the Ukrainians have a lot of 155
munitions or ammunition at this point.
We -- the United States has -- you know we've pushed you know by -- on our own 108 155 systems into -- into country and this next package includes
another 18. But there are systems coming from a number of other countries around the globe. Some of are self propel systems, some are toad systems.
And they're also providing ammunition.
AUSTIN: Now again, it's a combination of -- of the howitzers, the cannon artillery and the -- the long range rockets what will create a pretty good
capability. And again, as you target things with that long rang capability, you'll look -- you're going after things like command and control nodes and
-- and logistical nodes and those kinds of things which will begin to atrit the adversary's ability to sustain itself and command and control itself.
But, yes, with the systems that we have provided them to date, I mean the M777 have been absolutely lethal. The problem with the 152 howitzer is that
they're no longer making munitions for those howitzers and so we're going to very quickly have to transition completely to the 155.
But other countries are providing capability in addition to what we're providing. And even today other countries stepped up to the plate and
volunteered to provide more.
MILLEY: So first of all, the Russians do outnumber -- in terms of artillery they outnumber the Ukrainians. The estimate varies, some say four, five,
six to one, others say 10, 15 to one, others say 20 to one. What the true accurate number is, I'll keep our assessments in the classified realm but
they outnumber them and that's important.
But war is not just a game of numbers. It's how you use them.
The Russians are using artillery to just do mass fire on Ukrainian positions but also civilian populations and urban areas. This is about,
according to public estimates, some 20,000 Ukrainians civilians have been killed. The 7 million internally displaced Ukrainians, the 6 million
So the Russians are just doing mass fires without necessarily achieving military affect, shall we say. The Ukrainians on the other hand are using
much better artillery techniques and they're having pretty good effect on the Russians.
The Russians have lost probably somewhere in the tune of 20 to 30 percent of their armored force. That's significant. That's huge. So the Ukrainians
are fighting a very effective fight tactically with both fires and maneuver. And that's significant.
In terms of the numbers, just from today's conference, pledges of almost 100 additional tubes were being made. So you're looking at probably 300 or
400 artillery tubes, not rocket artillery but tubes, that'll be provided in total to the Ukrainians. And then on top of that will be the long-range
rocket artillery that -- what you're seeing with the HIMARS is just the beginning.
STAFF: Thank you, everyone.
QUESTION: No one (ph) question from (inaudible). America (ph) (inaudible).
QUESTION: (Inaudible) OK for this question, (inaudible). My question is how long United States as a whole group of Ramstein can provide support and
armament supply for Ukraine? Because don't know how long the war will go on.
Second question, did you convince your German partner and Hungarian partner also to provide weapon which they promised to provide to Ukraine?
AUSTIN: So on the first question, how long can we maintain this? We will -- we will stay focused on this for as long as it takes. And I'm glad you
asked that question because one of the -- one of the remarkable pieces that I take away from this conference is the resolve of all the ministers in the
room. And, again, these are ministers from around the globe and not just -- not just NATO.
And it's strong, strong resolve to remain focus, to remain together and to find ways to create additional capability. That may be working with --
partnering with another country to create some capability or working to expand capability in a defense industrial basis.
So I -- my answer to you is we'll stay focused on it for as long as it takes. And, again, the commitment that I heard today was very, very
And your second question?
QUESTION: German and Hungary, which did promise but didn't (ph) supply.
AUSTIN: Yes, so Germany today, again I think you may have heard me say earlier in my remarks that they committed to providing a couple of MLRS
systems. And in the past they committed to providing other things and they're still working to make sure we get those systems into theater.
We track everyone of those and so part of the benefit of coming together every month it to make sure that we can see where we are, we remind
countries of what the challenges are and we can work with them to ensure that that capability gets there.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAKINGER: I guess things looked OK on paper.
BLAKINGER: But then by the time I got to Cornell, I was already pretty heavily into drugs and continue to use drugs while I was there.
SREENIVASAN: When you were writing the book, was there a moment that you figured out why drugs entered your life?
BLAKINGER: I think that during the years that I was escaping, people that knew me probably would have been pretty aware that I was intense and
obsessive and depressed. I was struggling with eating disorders. And when my skating career fell apart, that seemed like I was losing my whole social
circle, my whole present, you know, my future. Like, that was the future I envisioned for myself. And I kind of liken it to getting divorced and fired
from your job and also every job forever.
And at 17, I was not particularly stable and not well equipped to handle that. And I was already on a self-destructive path. So, I don't think
looking back that it was particularly shocking that I took it to that sort of dark place.
SREENIVASAN: There is a line that says, on the one hand, I was staying sober and had even started working a summer job at a genetics lab. On the
other, I was working in a toxic world of shady New Jersey strip clubs and selling eight-balls of coke into the wee hours of the morning.
How did you just physically balance this, much less kind of create the separation in your brain where well, you thought this was still possible?
BLAKINGER: I mean, 37-year-old me looks back and has some of the same questions in terms of how I manage all that. But you know -- I mean, I
think -- like, I said, I think that part of it, for me, was, on the one hand, I was really depressed and, you know, self-destructive.
BLAKINGER: And, you know, I let drugs fill the hole in my life where skating had been. And so, on the one hand, I was working towards self-
destruction, but on the other hand, I was trying to, you know, do well enough at school that I could tell myself that there -- that I wasn't
completely a lost cause. I think that also have been brought up to value academic so much that they seemed tantamount to, like, moral good. And I
think this was also part of why I was so interested in making sure that I can maintain this, you know, dual life that seems so wild in retrospect.
But, you know, I took almost for granted as my normal at the time.
SREENIVASAN: It's clear in the book that you're smart in the sense that, you know, schoolwork was pretty relatively easy for you. There -- you don't
write about anything being a structural stumbling block. And even when I read the parts about you dealing drugs, I mean, there's a level of
entrepreneurism. There is some calculation. There is risk assessment, critical thinking, not in the way that we think about it, but a lot of
things required by a smart person not to, you know, get caught. And yet, when you do get caught, it's, you know, incredibly just a tragic sort of
scene. You have a Tupperware full of heroin that you're caught with.
BLAKINGER: Yes, although, I have to say in terms of why I didn't get caught sooner. It's not just about being, you know, smart or savvy about
your drug use. I mean, race has a lot to do with this. I can make up a lot of interactions that I had with police over the years that I think would
have gone differently if I were black or brown. And, you know, I think that that has a lot to do with it. There's no amount of being smart that will
really prevent you from getting caught forever. You know, drug use is, you know, it's legally risky. And eventually, your luck runs out.
SREENIVASAN: What were the charges, I guess, and how much time did you serve?
BLAKINGER: I was charged with drug possession and I ended up serving 21 months on two and a half year sentence. And, you know, there is a few
factors that went into that sentence. But one of the things that I think about a lot, aside from, you know, the racial privilege that I mentioned
before which I think sort of always has a role in criminal justice outcomes. But another thing that had a big role was the dumb luck of
timing. Because I was arrested 2010, and that was right after the Rockefeller Laws have been progressively repealed over a number of years.
Some of the big parts of them were repealed in 2004 and 2009. And those laws have been some of the most draconian three-strikes type laws in the
country. At the point in which they were enacted.
And had I been sentenced under those laws, I would've gotten 15 to life. And I would still be in prison and not even eligible for parole yet. But by
the time I got sentenced, those laws have been repealed and I was able to get a two and a half year sentence.
SREENIVASAN: When you get into prison, what were -- what was the thing that kind of shock to you?
BLAKINGER: Oh, wow. You know, jail and prison is just such a different world. It's sort of its own kingdom in a lot of ways to an extent that I
think a lot of people don't understand. And I think one of the things that really illustrates this was actually not from my first days in jail. But
months later when I got sentenced and I went to prison.
And my first morning in prison, I -- we were -- a bunch of us newbies were waiting to be transferred to another facility. And as we were waiting for
the draft bus that would, you know, the bus that would take us to the other facility, I remember overhearing two guards talking about this woman who
was in solitary and she had, you know, she had taken a dump on a tray and pushed it back out the slot at the guards. I don't know why. I don't know
if she was being vindictive. If she was mentally ill. If she's just been in there long enough that she was breaking. Like, I have no idea what prompted
But I was listening to the guards talk about it. And one of them was wondering, they had -- well, they decided to turn off the water in her cell
in response to that act.
And one of them was wondering what she was going to drink and the other one said, well she would just drink out of the toilet. If it's good enough for
my dog, it's good enough for her. And that was a moment at which I, sort of, it really drove home the idea that prison is really a dumb kingdom.
There are effectively no rules. Like, sure, there are rules. But in the moment if, you know, if the system, if the staff want to do something,
there's no oversight in that moment to prevent that from occurring. And that's one of the things that really stuck with me.
SREENIVASAN: You had the sentence in there that struck me and it said, solitary is not so much being alone as it is being buried alive. Explain
BLAKINGER: Yes, I think a lot of people, when they hear solitary confinement, they think that solitary is just like spending time alone. And
they'll say, oh, I like spending time alone. It would be like a great break from all the stress of jail in prison. It wouldn't be that bad. And I might
have thought that before I actually went in. But as soon as I first walked in that cell and they slammed the door behind me, I realized how incredibly
wrong I was about that.
It's, you know, a room the size of your bathroom or maybe a large elevator and it was sort of neon white and there's no clock. And nothing to do and
no one to talk to. And there was like a little window slit over the bunk but you'd get yelled at if you stood on it to talk to anyone.
And, you know, that -- that's bad enough. But then when you add to it that this isn't voluntary, I think that people might think, I can hang out in my
bathroom for a while or whatever and it's not great but I'll survive. But the fact that you have no control over it, I think definitely adds another
And in the end, I think solitary takes away sort of two of the core things about being human and how we define ourselves. You know, one of the ways we
define ourselves as people is in relation to others and our ability to interact with them. You know, self versus other, like this is part of how
we define us. And then part of it is also just to the ability to have agency, to make decisions, to take the steps and actions that define us.
And solitary really takes away both of those.
SREENIVASAN: It struck me how easily accessible drugs were through so many different facilities that you were incarcerated in. And I think most people
would have a tough time understanding, wait a minute, she's describing this as commonplace. She -- how is it so accessible?
BLAKINGER: Yes, I think a lot of people assume that if you put someone in jail or prison, at the very least, they will be forced to dry out, you
know, they'll be forced to stay sober for a little bit. They won't have access to drugs. But that is typically not true. You know, when I was in
prison, I could get heroin delivered to my bedside if I wanted. And frankly, the places where I was incarcerated are not as drug-soaked as some
of the persons I write about now as a reporter.
SREENIVASAN: And do you think that that's -- is there an incentive for the jail, the prison, to let that continue?
BLAKINGER: Well, I think it is difficult to stop. Because some of the sources are the staff. I mean, that's -- in a lot of systems that is one of
the big sources of how all kinds of contrabands gets in. And, you know, if your staff are going to participate in that, that's really hard to rut out.
SREENIVASAN: In your work now as an investigative reporter at The Marshall Project, you've been focusing a lot of stories out of Texas. You wrote
recently about the death of two prisoners from a fire. And we just don't think that that's possible and inside a prison. This is an area where
people are watched. We have safeguards for this. What went wrong?
BLAKINGER: Well, for one, I mean, many Texas prisons do not have working fire alarms in housing areas. And the state fire marshal has flagged them
on this for more than a decade. And you know, they are several million short of what they would need to be able to make functional fire alarms. I
think it was $55 million is what they said they expected it would take to put functional fire alarms in every facility.
But you know, this is also about, sort of, broader problems in terms of staffing and the way that prisoners are treated. In this instance, one of
those fires wanted to get Lewis Unit, was started by a man who was trying to get higher-ups to respond to an issue. And this is a thing that happened
sometimes in Texas prisons, where people will start a fire if the officer on their unit is not responding to their needs. And the idea is that the
fire will force someone from higher up to come to respond to them. You know, maybe it's because they're not getting showers for days or they're
not getting fed or, you know, sometimes there's other very basic needs. And the idea is that by starting a fire, they hoped that a major or somebody
will come down and ask what the problem is.
But in this case, you know, nobody pulled the guy out of the cell. And he ended up being left in there while it was burning for, by several accounts,
roughly half an hour. And he ended up dying of smoke inhalation. And, you know, as somebody who's been covering Texas prisons, I wasn't particularly
surprised by this outcome because I've written about this problem before. About the lack of fire alarms. About, you know, understaffing. About the
fact that prisoners were starting fires in their cells to protest conditions or, you know because they were acting out on mental health
So, yes. That was -- that's a situation that I think would be shocking to the average person, who doesn't know what really goes on in prisons. But as
someone who's been covering it for some time, it seemed foreseeable.
SREENIVASAN: What has the pandemic done to how we think of the incarcerated? What kinds of things change for people behind bars?
BLAKINGER: I mean -- I think, predictably the pandemic was stark. It was bad in prisons. Prisons are essentially a Petri dish for disease because
they are communal living environments. And the best, you know, the best thing that a lot of prisons could think of was to put everybody -- to lock
everybody down. Confine them to bunks or, you know, keep them in solitary which is not a great solution.
So -- I mean, in that sense it was dark. But it also was one of the first times that I can remember seeing so many people care about the
deteriorating conditions behind bars. Because for once, people realized that this could affect them. Like, if these prisons just became, sort of,
Petri dishes of disease that would then come back out into the surrounding communities, it would affect everyone.
And I saw there was a, you know, time period at the beginning of the pandemic where prisons and prison conditions actually got more coverage
than I've seen for quite a while. I'm not sure it made a difference. There were still, you know, conditions were still bad. There were still a lot of
lawsuits, you know, food got pretty inedible looking in some prisons. There was a lot of fires and, you know, some -- I mean, just really appalling
Although one of the other interesting side effects was that it became easier to document some of that. Because in some facilities, prisoners were
more able to hang onto contraband phones when there were fewer cell searches. So, as bad as the conditions got, it was not only a time where
for some point people seem to care a little bit more, but also it was easier to document.
SREENIVASAN: So, look, you're a fantastic journalist today. And covering things that you feel are important to you. And I wonder if it's because of
the experiences that you've had in your life and the prison system or in spite of it?
BLAKINGER: Well, I think that anyone who succeeds after prison is succeeding in spite of prison, not because of it. But I think that in terms
of my ability to cover presents, yes, it -- that inside knowledge has given me a different starting place than a lot of reporters. So, I approach some
of these stories in a different way. And I think that some of the people that I cover see that.
SREENIVASAN: The book is called, "Corrections In Ink", investigative reporter for The Marshall Project, Keri Blakinger, thanks so much for
BLAKINGER: Thanks for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: A really important journalism and what an incredible story.
And finally, tonight, sky watchers were treated to a strawberry supermoon that sweetened the sky last night. Supermoons are the brightest and biggest
full moons of the year. Now, this happens when the moon reaches its closest approach to the earth.
Here you can see the moon rising behind an ancient temple along the Coast of Greece. But you may be wondering why it's named after a pink berry when
it doesn't have a strawberry hue. Well, the celestial body is in fact named after the beginning of the strawberry picking season in the Northern
hemisphere. See? We learned something new every day.
Well, that is it for now. You can always catch us online on our podcast and across social media. Thank you so much for watching and goodbye from New