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A special Thanksgiving Riddler edition.

The Investigator

November 26, 2020 | spotlightpa.org

Happy Thanksgiving! Today we're sending a special Thanksgiving Riddler edition to share with family and friends. We'll see you next week.

This Thanksgiving, we're thankful for you — our readers and Spotlight PA members. Whether you enjoy our newsletters, our stories, our events, or more, we are truly grateful to have your trust and support.

Let's state the obvious out loud: 2020 has been a tough year, with news flying at you from all angles. We at Spotlight PA hope we have helped cut through the noise and partisanship to deliver fair and fearless journalism.

We're a different kind of newsroom, launched more than a year ago to provide high-quality investigative and accountability reporting about the state government and urgent statewide issues. But this isn't just about Spotlight PA.

We provide our journalism at no cost to 58 community newsrooms across the state. And we can do that because of your support. We don't run ads or sell subscriptions, and every contribution goes directly toward our reporting.

This work is essential to the health of the state we all love and care deeply about. So to everyone who has contributed to Spotlight PA, I want to personally thank you on behalf of myself and our entire team.

If you value our work and want to join us, you can become a member now.

Thank you, and have a great holiday.

Warm wishes,
Christopher Baxter
Spotlight PA Editor in Chief


"Unless you just went into Act 47, you’ve already made yourself sustainable to weather these types of things."

— Greenville Borough Manager Jasson Urey on why financially distressed towns are faring better than others during the pandemic

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, and sign up for alerts for your county.

» Are you a Pa. contact tracer, or have you been contacted by one?

» Pa. declares Biden winner of state’s 2020 presidential election

» Bipartisan panel rejects Pa. House request to audit 2020 election

» Financially distressed towns faring better than expected, others in pain

» Did you go to Milton Hershey School? Tell us about your experience.

» Pa. budget doesn’t raise taxes, bail out industries hit by the coronavirus

» Lawmaker says Capitol unsafe after member tests positive for COVID

For families of prisoners, the holidays are always scary. This year is worse.

Every year for almost four decades, Theresa Shoatz and her sister have visited their father in Pennsylvania state correctional institutions for Thanksgiving. Their father, Maroon, is serving a life sentence for shooting a police officer in the 1970s. 

Shoatz said the pair would often fly from their homes in Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, rent a car, and make the 60-mile drive to the prison to visit him.  

The holidays are notoriously difficult to navigate for families with incarcerated loved ones, be it in state prisons or county jails. Institutions make it difficult, often restricting children from seeing their parents in person, and barring families from bringing in homemade meals, relying on vending machine foods.

But this year poses a different and more challenging task for people like the Shoatz sisters, who are trying to celebrate the holidays while also watching in fear at the increase of COVID-19 within the state’s prison system.

Their father is 77 years old, living with stage 4 cancer, diagnosed with COVID-19, and receiving treatment at SCI-Dallas, where six people have died from the virus as of Wednesday. Right now, Shoatz said, she’ll be lucky to get a phone call this holiday: “It’ll be up to the prison.”

With the coronavirus pandemic ripping through the state’s prison system — with more COVID-positive cases and related deaths in the past month than during the first wave and past summer combined — family members are terrified. 

Department of Corrections officials said they are conducting a large number of tests and quarantining inmates, and visits are still suspended for the holidays. 

“Even in the best of times, holidays in jails and prisons are traumatic for families and their loved ones now who are incarcerated,” said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, executive partner for the Pretrial Justice Institute in Washington, D.C. “So, here we are with COVID, with people who haven’t been able to see their loved ones, and they fear for their safety.”

For Shoatz, the fear is real. “Thousands of family members are being kept in the dark,” she said. “It’s inhumane.”

Joseph Darius Jaafari, Spotlight PA

» THE PERFECT GIFT THIS SEASON: Become a member of Spotlight PA today for $15/month or more, get this exclusive tote bag designed by a local artist and printed by a local small business.

Thank you to the 6 people who have claimed their totes so far. Only 44 left! What are you waiting for? Support journalism, get this awesome swag.
FRIENDLY AUDIENCE: Having failed to gain traction in court, President Donald Trump’s campaign brought its case challenging Pennsylvania’s election results to a state Senate meeting Wednesday in Gettysburg, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Spotlight PA report. Also on Wednesday, a state judge issued an order temporarily barring Pennsylvania from finalizing its election results — something Gov. Tom Wolf had already done.

MAKE OR BREAK: This Thanksgiving could make or break the nation’s coronavirus response, the Associated Press reports. Pennsylvania is mostly relying on compliance with existing mandates, though one top expert said the state is "seeing a lot of resistance" and expects cases to spike. The state's health secretary, meanwhile, is warning that Pennsylvania could run out of ICU beds next week.

FEELING GOOD: No, Democrats didn't take a majority in either chamber of the General Assembly, but they're feeling confident going into the 2021 redistricting process. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, the political power structure now is very different compared to 2011, which was disastrous for Democrats.

'MAJOR DISASTER': Months after the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program launched, people who need help are still facing major obstacles getting it, WESA reports. The top issue? Getting someone to pick up the phone.

INCOMING PUSHBACK: President-elect Joe Biden plans to tackle climate change as soon as he steps into office but might receive pushback here from the Republican-controlled legislature and industry groups. However, some officials told State Impact that Pennsylvania could become a leader in clean energy if Biden is able to reach local leaders and mayors.

Yaasmeen Piper of Spotlight PA

Egged On (Case No. 66): Jasmine and Sally are arguing at Thanksgiving dinner over proper grammar. Jasmine says it's correct to say, "The yolk of the egg is white." Sally insists it's,"The yolk of the egg are white." Who is right?

Mystery Meat (Case No. 67): Grandma joined the family dinner by zoom and issued a challenge to her grandchildren. She told them she would send a chocolate to the first who could find what's at the center of casserole. They dashed for the dish and tore it apart but found nothing. What's the answer?

Literal Twister (Case No. 68): If Tarik always screws the top on the cranberry sauce by turning it toward the right with his left hand, which hand would he use and which way would he turn it to take it back off?

This week, you can check the answers here. Thanks for all of the feedback last year from folks who didn't want to wait until next week!
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: If you throw the gourd directly up, it will come back down to you without touching anything.
Congrats to Valerie H., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Alice O., Bruce B., Joseph M., Dennis F., Michele M., Jenn M., Lynda G., Sandy O., Matt E., Jason C., Annette I., John D., Roseanne D., Heather B., Jody L., Joel S., Lou R., Eileen D., Robert K., Norman S., Tim P., Beth T., and William H.
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