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Filmmaker Lynn Novik

Filmmaker Lynn Novik

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Filmmaker Lynn Novik

Renee speaks with Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Lynn Novik about the upcoming PBS documentary series College Behind Bars that explores the transformative power of higher education for the incarcerated.
S14 E33 Length 28:27 Premiere: 7.14.19

Filmmaker Lynn Novick on How Education in Prison Transforms Lives

As state and federal lawmakers debate how to address jail overcrowding, spiraling incarceration costs, and other criminal justice reforms, a forthcoming PBS documentary considers a more fundamental question: What is prison for? Is it simply a place to warehouse those who have broken the law, or is it a place to rehabilitate offenders and enable them to reenter society as productive citizens.

College Behind Bars explores that issue through the lens of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), a program that offers free college classes in six New York state prisons for men and women. The documentary, which premieres this fall on KET, is produced and directed by Lynn Novick and executive produced by Ken Burns, the team that has created many acclaimed historical documentaries for PBS.

Novick appeared on KET’s Connections with Renee Shaw to preview her documentary. The program also included two BPI graduates featured in the film.

Novick’s production credits include sweeping documentaries about the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War, as well as histories of baseball and jazz, But with College Behind Bars, she tackles a contemporary political and social issue: the nature of incarceration.

“If we do have prisons,” Novick says, “we should be using that opportunity to get the people that are there a chance to transform themselves and to leave prison in a better position to become members of society.”

These issues began to occupy Novick in 2012 after she and long-time colleague Sarah Botstein visited a BPI class in a maximum-security prison to discuss their documentary about prohibition. They found a group of students hungry for a thoughtful discussion about that period American history.

That’s when she and Botstein decided to make College Behind Bars. With their production team, they spent four years filming classes and interviewing students, their family members, teachers, BPI administrators, and prison officials. They whittled down the 400 hours of material they collected into a two-part, four-hour documentary for PBS.

“It’s a very hard process of distilling and focusing over time,” Novick says, “and then wrestling the material to the ground with our editors. That was a several year process.”

Making College Classes in Prison a Reality

Novick hopes her film will foster public dialogue about criminal justice reform and the role education can play in rehabilitating individuals in prison. Up until 1994, college classes were commonly available in many American prisons. But the federal crime bill that passed that year banned inmates from receiving federal Pell Grants to help them pay for those classes. When inmates could no longer afford their tuition, those learning opportunities disappeared.

The Bard Prison Initiative was the brainchild of a Bard College student, who worked with his classmates to convince school administrators, New York correctional officials, and donors to create BPI. The tuition-free program launched in 2001 and now serves about 300 full-time student-inmates each year. They can select from more than 165 academic courses taught by college professors and visiting lecturers.

“I continue to be impressed every day with the level of sophistication and engagement with the material, and the seriousness of purpose that the students have,” says Novick.

Since 2001, BPI has awarded nearly 550 tuition-free degrees. The initiative also provides transitional services for alumni upon their release to help them adjust to life on the outside. The result is that BPI graduates have a 2.5 percent recidivism rate. The average recidivism rate in the United States is almost 68 percent within three years of release.

’Amazing Things Can Happen’

Novick is traveling the nation to preview the film and attend town-hall forums about criminal justice reform. She stopped in Louisville in June for a KET event featuring Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley and Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey. Two BPI graduates featured in the documentary accompanied her on the Louisville trip: Tamika Graham and Salih Israil.

“I want the outside world to see what takes place behind bars and the struggles that you endure, especially while trying to get an education,” says Graham, who got an associate degree in liberal arts through BPI. She’s now working as a criminal justice reform advocating and taking classes to complete her bachelor’s degree.

Israil got a language and literature degree from BPI and then took additional courses in computer science. Now he operates his own information technology and data solutions business.

“Every chance I get I want to share what [BPI] meant for me, and what it could mean for anyone else who gets the opportunity,” says Israil, “particularly for men and women who are incarcerated who otherwise didn’t have that opportunity.”

In one critical scene in the documentary, Graham’s mother visits her in prison. They end up in a heated exchange with the mother asking why Graham should get a free education in prison while she has to pay to put her other children who aren’t incarcerated through traditional college.

Graham says her mother is actually proud of her for being able to get a degree while incarcerated. She says she was determined to derive some benefit from her prison experience.

“I made a mistake. I’m not going to allow that mistake to dictate the rest of my future,” says Graham. “I’m not going to allow that mistake to dictate who I am, and I’ll be darned if I leave out of here with nothing. There was just no way that I was going to sit behind bars and not gain anything.”

Graham says many people like her mother don’t want tax dollars paying to educate inmates. But she’s quick to point out that BPI receives no government funding, but instead operates largely on donations and foundation grants.

“The tax-paying dollars are going to all the things that’s wrong in a prison… the disrespect, the inhumane treatment, the unhygienic environment, the toxic environment,” Graham says. “It’s not going towards anything that’s going to help someone not return” to prison.

Israil says he grew up thinking that sitting in a classroom was punishment. He says some of that feeling came from living in a neighborhood that had the worst schools. That’s what made having free access to a quality education so transformative, he says.

“What BPI has done,” says Israil, “is when you allow someone to think beyond where they’re at, you give them the opportunity to think beyond where they’re at, amazing things can happen.”

’People Are Capable of Change’

Novick says she’s grateful to Graham, Israil and the other BPI students who allowed the production crew to film them in prison, and in some cases after their release.

“All the students that we engaged with for this project feel it’s very important for the world to understand what this educational opportunity has meant for them,” says Novick. “It would be a way to share their story and their experiences and hopefully that would show the rest of the world why this is important and we should be doing more of it.”

Novick says BPI provides a lesson about the tyranny of low expectations that Americans place on some people in society. She contends we shouldn’t assume that some individuals aren’t capable of academic accomplishment just because of where they come from, how they were raised, or the crime they committed.

“People are capable of change,” she says. “But if we don’t give people the tools and the access to the information and the resources to do that, then we’re not holding true to our ideals as Americans.”

College Behind Bars airs the November on KET and PBS stations nationwide. watch a preview of the documentary below.

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Former Louisville Courier-Journal columnist and editorial writer Betty Baye discusses her career and columns, new paradigms of journalism, the impact of digital media, and her future projects.

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Ruth Brinkley, president and CEO of KentuckyOne Health, a coalition of leading health care providers in Kentucky, discusses the health care system, Medicaid expansion enabled by federal health care reform, and more.

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Renee speaks with Attorney General Daniel Cameron about his priorities for the legislative session and other topics.

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Innocence Project - S9 E9

Renee's guests are Innocence Project Policy Director Stephen Saloom and prison exoneree Calvin Johnson. In 1983, Johnson was falsely convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison. The Innocence Project took his case and arranged for forensic testing that proved his innocence 16 years later. Renee talks with Johnson about his experience and with Saloom about the work of the Innocence Project in all 50 states.

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Diabetes Prevention and Control - S9 E10

Experts discuss the statewide education and prevention methods being dispatched and the changes individuals can make to avoid diabetes.

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Human Trafficking - S9 E11

Renee talks with guests about recent legislation that strengthens Kentucky's human trafficking laws and provides more services to victims and other topics.

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The Forgotten Minority - S9 E12

Renee talks with advocates for Kentuckians with disabilities about the challenges facing those with mental and physical limitations and illnesses, the resources available, and the policy changes needed to better serve this population.

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Middle Class Struggles and Poverty - S9 E13

Renee's guests are Ron Crouch, demographer and director of research and statistics in the Office of Employment and Training for the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, and Myrdin Thompson of Louisville, an activist with RESULTS, a nonprofit whose mission is to fight hunger and poverty.

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Tuskegee Airmen Historians - S9 E14

Renee interviews a trio of men who are either making history or working to preserve it: Reginald "Reggie" Thomas, the third African American in Kentucky history to be elected to the Kentucky Senate; Ron Spriggs, Tuskegee Airmen historian; and Bobby Scroggins, art professor and sculptor.

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Renee talks with Mississippian Sabrina Butler, the only female death row exoneree, about her wrongful conviction and her quest to end capital punishment, and with American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kentucky spokesperson Kate Miller.

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Dr. Vershawn A. Young - S9 E20

Renee talks with University of Kentucky professor Vershawn A. Young (aka Dr. Vay), an expert of the contemporary African American experience, about his latest published work, Other People's English: Code-Meshing, Code-Switching, and African American Literacy.

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Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker - S9 E21

Frank X Walker, named Kentucky's 2013-14 poet laureate, talks about his latest collection, Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers, and other works and projects.

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50th Anniversary of the March On Frankfort - S9 E22

Renee discusses the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1964 March on Frankfort with historians and participants including: NAACP Louisville leader Raoul Cunningham and former state Senator Georgia Davis Powers.

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Aaron Thompson - S9 E26

Aaron Thompson, executive vice president and chief academic officer of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, discusses the state budget for higher education and the impact on student tuition.

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MaryLee Underwoood and Chastity Ross - CCDD - S9 E27

MaryLee Underwoood and Chastity Ross with the Commonwealth Council on Developmental Disabilities (CCDD) discuss recent legislation to protect vulnerable adults against abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

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Former Miss Kentucky Djuan Trent talks about her decision come out as a gay woman, reaction from family and friends, her activism in advancing gay rights and marriage, and more.

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Renee speaks with former Kentucky Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Hasan Davis, about recent juvenile justice reform. Davis was featured in the recent PBS Frontline program "Prison State," about Kentucky's correction system, and interviewed for KET's follow-up program, Prison State: A Kentucky Community Conversation.

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Prison Reform In Kentucky - S9 E32

Renee continues the discussion about Kentucky prison reform recently highlighted on the PBS Frontline program "Prison State." Her guests are: Mark Bolton, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections; Sheila Schuster, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and mental health advocate; and Ray Larson, Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney.

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Ted Strader - COPES - S9 E33

Ted Strader, the director of the Council on Prevention and Education: Substances, Inc. (COPES) in Louisville, discusses how partnering agencies with the corrections system can help former inmates with successful re-entry into society.

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Colene Elridge - S9 E34

Renee speaks with human resources professional and life coach Colene Elridge, better known as Coach Colene, owner of Be More Consulting.

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  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 12, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY

Dana Branham - S8 E36

  • Friday January 17, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 17, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Frank Minnifield - S8 E35

  • Thursday January 16, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 16, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jakobi Williams - S8 E34

  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 15, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Beth Dotson Brown - S8 E31

  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 14, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Lexington Artists - S8 E28

  • Monday January 13, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 13, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Ashli Watts - Kentucky Chamber of Commerce - S15 E15

  • Saturday January 11, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 11, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 12:00 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 11:00 am CT on KET
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday January 5, 2020 7:00 am CT on KETKY

Byron Hurt - S8 E25

  • Friday January 10, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 10, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Janet Steele Holloway - S8 E24

  • Thursday January 9, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 9, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Jane Beshear - S8 E21

  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dr. Alexandra Bradner - S8 E20

  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday January 7, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Thrivals 5.0 - S8 E19

  • Monday January 6, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday January 6, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Dayna Seelig - S15 E12

  • Saturday January 4, 2020 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday January 4, 2020 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 10:30 pm CT on KET
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 6:00 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 5:00 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 6:00 pm ET on KET2
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 5:00 pm CT on KET2
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 1:30 pm ET on KET
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 12:30 pm CT on KET
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 8:00 am ET on KETKY
  • Sunday December 29, 2019 7:00 am CT on KETKY

Derek Anderson - S8 E18

  • Friday January 3, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday January 3, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Bianca Spriggs - S8 E16

  • Thursday January 2, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday January 2, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Cathy Holloway Hill - S8 E15

  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday January 1, 2020 4:30 am CT on KETKY

M.A.D.E. (Motivating Youth All Day Everyday) - S8 E13

  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Tuesday December 31, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Susan Pope - S8 E12

  • Monday December 30, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Monday December 30, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Pastor Edward Palmer - Racial Bias and Juvenile Justice Reform - S15 E2

  • Saturday December 28, 2019 4:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Saturday December 28, 2019 3:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 11:30 pm ET on KET
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 10:30 pm CT on KET

Mimi Pickering and Dr. Catherine Fosl - S8 E7

  • Friday December 27, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Friday December 27, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY

Tara Betts - S8 E6

  • Thursday December 26, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday December 26, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday December 26, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Thursday December 26, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Thursday December 26, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Thursday December 26, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY

dream hampton - S8 E5

  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 10:30 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 9:30 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 2:00 pm ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 1:00 pm CT on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 5:30 am ET on KETKY
  • Wednesday December 25, 2019 4:30 am CT on KETKY
Top

Season 14

The 'I Was Here' Project

S14 E36 Length 27:42 Premiere Date 8.4.19

Mike Runyon and Sherita Miller; Wendy Kobler

S14 E35 Length 26:57 Premiere Date 7.28.19

Filmmaker Lynn Novik

S14 E33 Length 28:27 Premiere Date 7.14.19

Brent Hutchinson; Christine Thompson - Education

S14 E32 Length 27:37 Premiere Date 7.7.19

Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton - Youth Mental Health

S14 E31 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 6.2.19

Julie Cerel - Youth Suicide Prevention

S14 E29 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 5.19.19

Dale Suttles - Sunrise Children's Services

S14 E28 Length 27:33 Premiere Date 5.12.19

Education in Rural Eastern Kentucky

S14 E27 Length 28:13 Premiere Date 5.5.19

Joshua A. Douglas - Voting Rights Reform

S14 E25 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 4.21.19

Jay Box - Ky. Community & Technical College System

S14 E24 Length 26:32 Premiere Date 4.14.19

Author and Life Coach Colene Elridge

S14 E23 Length 26:19 Premiere Date 4.7.19

FIRST STEP Act - Criminal Justice Reform

S14 E22 Length 27:44 Premiere Date 3.31.19

Cheryl A. Oldham

S14 E21 Length 26:38 Premiere Date 2.22.19

Linda Hampton - Early Childhood

S14 E20 Length 29:47 Premiere Date 2.15.19

Donald Mason

S14 E19 Length 26:34 Premiere Date 2.8.19

Community Action Council; First 5 Lex

S14 E18 Length 28:53 Premiere Date 2.1.19

Seamus Carey

S14 E17 Length 26:57 Premiere Date 1.25.19

Michael Benson

S14 E16 Length 27:32 Premiere Date 1.18.19

Dr. Aaron Thompson

S14 E14 Length 28:13 Premiere Date 1.11.19

Mary Todd Lincoln and Lincoln Lexington Walking Tour

S14 E13 Length 28:55 Premiere Date 12.14.18

Youth Suicide

S14 E12 Length 29:22 Premiere Date 12.7.18

Jean Schumm and Amanda Gale

S14 E11 Length 28:22 Premiere Date 11.16.18

M. Christopher Brown II

S14 E10 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 11.9.18

Frank Harris

S14 E9 Length 25:17 Premiere Date 11.2.18

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr

S14 E8 Length 29:16 Premiere Date 10.26.18

Amy McGrath

S14 E7 Length 29:02 Premiere Date 10.19.18

Kevin Chapman - Youth Mental Health

S14 E6 Length 28:47 Premiere Date 10.12.18

Carol Cecil; Resa Gonzalez - Youth Mental Health

S14 E5 Length 26:03 Premiere Date 10.5.18

Joe Bargione - Youth Mental Health

S14 E4 Length 28:57 Premiere Date 9.28.18

WKU President Timothy Caboni

S14 E3 Length 28:40 Premiere Date 9.21.18

Dr. Neeli Bendapudi

S14 E1 Length 28:47 Premiere Date 9.14.18

Explore KET