Steubenville is a small Ohio town that borders West Virginia, just 30 minutes from Pennsylvania.
In the 40’s-60’s, Steubenville earned the nicname “Little Chicago”, for its gambling, brothels, and drug deals.
The birthplace of movie superstar Dean Martin, closed down factories and steel buildings line the cities edge that border the Ohio river.
This is the town that changed my life.
It was a clear blue day as we drove up the West Virginia turnpike.
Crossing into Ohio through a town called Bridgeport, I began to see the remnants of the depression era.
Dilapidated and foreclosed buildings that used to house “mom and pop” store fronts littered the cityscape.
Heading up the Ohio River to Steubenville we entered Jefferson County around 4 PM.
A golf course that sits on the river was the only jewel that we seen during our stay in the rusty city.
The hills, some as steep as mountains, led to various places to eat and drink.
We checked into our hotel that overlooked the bridge leading to Weirton, West Virginia.
We tried to find a place to eat, but as the town is primarily comprised of people of the Catholic faith, most restaurants were closed for Easter.
Easter, I thought, “What a fitting day to be here. Resurrection, growth, change.”
We decided to go have our Easter at the local sushi place that the hotel manager recommended.
The food was great, and the locals were hospitable. I found a cool statue out front that I liked. It was a small hidden gem on a hillside in this otherwise quiet town.
We retired briefly to our room to unpack. The accommodations were nice. On one side, your hotel room faces a steep rocky hill, spotted with trees still barren from last years winter. On the other, You are facing the Ohio river, and the higher up, the better the view.
We decided to go out for a drink to unwind from the 7 hour journey. Exploring, we found a place called Damon’s.
Damon’s is a small bar attached to another hotel, who also serves food. We ordered the spinach dip, which was superb.
Unwinding with a little bourbon, we began to befriend some of the locals.
One was a lumberjack by trade, cutting down trees for utility lines on hillsides. A big friendly man who hasn’t seen his daughter much in the 5 years he has been “stationed” in Steubenville for work, as he too, was from North Carolina.
On the other side of the bar, a man was irate with some sort of dispute he had with a family member earlier that day. He exclaimed that his daughter died 9 times during birth, but survived, and had lived for 5 years.
This man needs someone to talk to him.
I could not fathom why anyone could be angry over their daughter dying, yet surviving. Nor use that as a chip to barter with during any sort of quarrel.
I spoke up and explained that our daughter had died in January, stillborn.
He dropped his fork, his head lowered, and he wept as he stated he was sorry over and over again.
I was not looking for his sympathy, I explained to him, but rather wanted him to count his blessings. Life is short and you should appreciate what you do have, instead of taking it for granted while focusing on little things.
He said that we helped put things in perspective, and we were bought a drink from the lumberjack.
We retired to our hotel room for the night, watching T.V. and of course, missing our daughter very much.
The next morning, I decided to take in the sites where it all began.
First thing was first, I had to get some food in me.
I took a trip to Yorgo’s, a small diner that specializes in what can only be explained as the best damn gyro you will ever eat.
I chose Yorgo’s because during my course in activism, Yorgo’s fed hundreds of hungry, freezing protesters out of the goodness of their hearts.
I wanted to personally thank them, so after I ordered, I looked the manager square in the eye and told them how much it meant that there are good people in this world and thanked them.
It was nostalgic being in Steubenville. I read about the corruption in the area, and looking around, I could see why so many people in that area stay in trouble with the law.
Aside from a small historic fort, we could not find anything to do to occupy the rest of our time before court began.
Steubenville changed my life. Some of the change has been destructive, and some has been good, equal on both parts.
One thing is for certain, it has made me into the man that I am today.
I lost everything because of my crusades for justice, eventually ending up homeless.
It would take years to build myself back up again, finally conquering my fears, getting my life under control, only to gain everything in the form of one person, my wife, Jennifer.
On these courthouse steps, in 2013, thousands of people filled the streets from all over the world.
People from all walks of life stood in the blistering cold for hours demanding justice for “Jane Doe”, an underage rape survivor who was attacked by the local football team players, Trent Mays, and Ma’lik Richmond.
It was because of these people, that the corruption that caused the police force to be replaced in it’s entirety back in the 1990’s, could not protect their star football players.
A part from the 1997 ruling reads:
“The United States brings this action to enforce Section 210401 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141. The United States alleges that officers of the Steubenville Police Department have engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and that the City of Steubenville, the Steubenville Police Department, and the Steubenville City Manager (in his capacity as Director of Public Safety) have caused and condoned this conduct through inadequate policies and failure to train, monitor, supervise, and discipline police officers, and to investigate alleged misconduct”
WuTang rapper “RZA” wrote about his hometown and the corruption in his memoire, “The Tao of WU”
The world was watching, standing ever so vigilant thanks to the actions of many.
Trent and Ma’lik would go on to receive jail time, then attending college in other cities.
4 School officials were indicted on the cover-up of evidence, contributing to minors, and other activities stemming from that fateful night, thanks to the actions of the hacker/activist collective, Anonymous.
Steubenville is no stranger to sexual assault.
Many cases have been reported, most ignored. Some sexual assault survivors often turn to sex as a means of comfort or a way to cope. But, perhaps the most famous of it’s residents brought all that to light when she spoke up during the rape trial.
“My damage drove me into porn. I mean, I was a little girl. And I had like all of this stuff. I’d been raped. I’d been molested. I’d been abused. I was messed up. And I was angry. And the same thing that later helped me to change my life when I was 18 and out of that world that helped me to get sober and helped me to gather the courage to go and do the work I needed to do, to look at some things in my life that were so ugly.”
Traci Lords lived in Steubenville, where, as a rape survivor, she began nude modeling at the age of 12 using a fake birth certificate and driver’s license.
She was subsequently arrested in 1986 by the F.B.I. and then went on to become a singer and actress, appearing in T.V. shows such as Roseanne, Married with Children, Melrose Place, and MacGyver.
During the rape trial, Traci unleashed her angst on the town of Steubenville with the release of her hit music video, “StupidVille”.
Steubenville is forever immortalized because of the efforts of everyone to get justice for Jane Doe, and rightly so.
Her life was forever changed that night.
A lot of people’s lives were forever changed that year.
Traveling to Steubenville finally put to rest some inner demons I had been struggling with since the case broke.
Finally, I can rest a little easier having answered my questions.