Azibo Aquart

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After a decade on death row that ended with 13 back-to-back executions and two deaths due to
medical neglect, Azibo Aquart (Uhz-EE-boh Uhk-AR) is no longer one of the approximately 40
remaining prisoners scheduled for lethal injection at the infamous Indiana federal prison unit for the
condemned. Azibo’s four “consecutive” death sentences were overturned by New York’s U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Second Circuit due to prosecutorial misconduct. But instead of his conviction being
thrown out, on October 21 st , 2021, he was resentenced to three life terms, four forty-year terms, and ten
years to be served concurrently all based on the evidence and charges (and the work of the same
investigators and prosecutors) you just learned about.
If you believe there is a wrong that should be set right in Azibo’s case and would like to help do
something about it, you can start by going to www.change.org (real URL) and add your name to the
petition and tell a friend or family member to do the same.
Azibo (affectionately referred to by friends as Az) has since late 2021 been in prison in Florence,
CO where all prisoners’ rights have been suspended for over six months and counting. The Bureau of
Prisons’ administration has gotten away with refusing to even open the cell doors to allow for regular
showers, much less a single hour a day out-of-cell time afforded to inmates by law. Inmates were not
allowed visits, phone calls to family, or to purchase stamps to write home or send out legal or media
correspondences. There were multiple stabbings, including two murders. However, excuses for this illegal
and inhumane treatment has gone from the level of violence to a prison remodeling to being short of staff
due to officers refusing to vaccinate or where a mask to now a Covid red alert status as a result of those
same officers’ actions. Cellmates violently turn on one another out of frustration or in an effort to seek
transfer (inmates being disciplined in segregation have showers in-cell, two phone calls a month, receive
an hour recreation, two envelopes a week, better treatment than the entire prison population that has
committed no infraction).
Az is an inventor addicted to listening to (and supporting) national public radio (NPR) and
juggling reading a ton of books at the same time trying to learn a little bit of everything. For over twenty
years, a several-time award winning Certified Literacy Volunteer of America, he has been a GED tutor
specializing in students for whom English is their second language. Az is also a writer. Whether he is any
good or not, if you’re interested, you can decide for yourself. Read an excerpt from his latest project, a
book titled “Great Tale: Never Told” based on a fictional podcast created and hosted by NPR’s Ira Glass.
Also, see the Van Goh/Seurat-inspired first piece Az painted after leaving death row and arriving in his
new cell in Colorado.

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Great Tale: Never Told
By Azibo Aquart

I’d like to welcome and thank all our listeners tuning in for this special edition of “Great Tale:
Never Told” podcast, brought to you courtesy of WBEZ Chicago Public Radio and our producers at NPR.
I am your host, Ira Glass. And for those of you just discovering us – in large part I suspect due to our next
guest – this is a show where we don’t exactly investigate or uncover or do more than so much as just
listen. We listen to what we realize is one of the most unbelievable accounts we’ve ever heard, told by
everyday, ordinary people; people like me and you. And we’ve been fortunate enough since our debut
episodes to receive the interest of some celebrities with quite the tale never told as well. As a bit of a
recap, we’ve had ex-prisoners and the prison guard put in charge of them. A high school teacher that must
have had a codename in the past and made some enemies a long time ago that may have found her and
put someone in her class to confirm she was, in fact, her.

In case you missed it – we had on an elementary school custodian…Yeah, a Florida man. I know
what you’re thinking but his take isn’t that type of story. He survived for nearly a year after four stories of
a school crumbled on top of him when it suddenly fell into a sinkhole. Lived…only because he was in his
office, listening to jazz in the basement at the time the sinkhole decided to open up. And the school
cafeteria located directly above him…dropped its storage freezer and pantry within inches of where he
was praying for his life. His toaster oven…still worked.

He said he survived off school pizza. Turns out it’s not that bad. Who knew? He couldn’t be
heard or helped. No one even figured he was in there. Forgotten. After months, he could hear machines
and things shifting in the rubble. Everything he touched, everything they touched, made other things
move for better or worse. He had to do something. A section of wall with coat hooks on it, he’d been
looking at it for months, began to call to him. For some reason, he had to get to it.

One day, he did – what did he find? In the pocket of one of the lunch lady’s aprons was a cell
phone she confiscated from one of the kids the day the school sank. What do you know? Turned it on,
miraculously…it worked. But his ordeal didn’t just end there. And I don’t mean the complexity of the
rescue. I mean…convincing Florida officials this was not a hoax and getting people to stop hanging up
and believe he was an actual real person that exists. And was in fact surviving. Surviving, trapped,
beneath the school.

Could he do it? Well, from the looks of things it wasn’t going to be easy. There was no one
looking for him. The janitor kept to himself. Family…they’d moved on with their lives a long time ago.
There was no one to count on or contact. No one could confirm he was who he said he was, much less
verify his predicament. We found out how he discovered who the phone belonged to. An eleven-year-old
school bully that – with zero knowledge of who the Great Spigoli was – liked to order pizza of all things
from a nearby shop and have it delivered to class which of course may or may not have been against the
rules…Somehow that’s actually still in the same “gray area” it was back when I went to school. Go
figure.

The story of the prisoners and the guard who down on his luck, going through a divorce, losing
his wife to another correction officer – his ex-best friend and supervising officer – alimony and custody
issues with the kids, purchases lottery numbers pushed on him by a group of inmates in his cell block.

He doesn’t win. No big deal. But they convince him to play them again. In fact, every day for the
next week. They’re persistent. So, Friday comes, nothing. Saturday, he doesn’t play. Picking up an extra
shift Sunday, figures he’ll do the same. Lie. Say he did. Didn’t think they’d ask for proof. They did. By
the end of the night, they talked him back into it. Monday, he’s walking in flashing the ticket, on it before
they can even say anything. He said, his thinking was “It’s only a couple dollars more spent at the liquor
store. What the hell.”

He was off Tuesday. Wednesday, he came to work with no idea that he and the inmates of cell
block four of the maximum security housing unit at Rahway Correctional Facility in Rahway, New Jersey
had just hit the Mega Millions Money Ball Jackpot! And from that point on – for everyone even remotely
involved – things…got…crazy.

There was the mysterious case of Mary McCoy. Remember her? She told us about one of her
students, Sven. Peculiar kid. All her colleagues agreed – knew practically nothing. No background in
education or anything, it was all new to him. He was speaking English in two months, writing Spanish in
three, both perfectly in four. Advanced math, trig, geometry, he didn’t get a question wrong. Someone
ruined some computers, kid took a run at them. Took them apart after school, put them back together
again. Good as new. Made the basketball team, baseball. No JV, varsity. They needed him. School
testing? An impossible perfect score. And then, the funniest thing happened. Mrs. McCoy remembers it
because everyone was dressed up and she looked for him. Said something about being curious to see what
he would wear. It was picture day at school. She says the kid never showed up. In fact, Sven never
returned to school. His home number; didn’t work. His address; fake. Parents; those people weren’t real.
They didn’t exist.

In his locker, he left nothing; nothing but a Valentine’s Day card. Valentine’s Day was more than
a month away. It sneaks up on you. Nobody plans that far in advance for Valentine’s Day. Not even
people in love. He’d had it but it wasn’t filled out. Maybe he’d seen one he liked and purchased the one
single card in advance, figuring he had more than enough time so he never wrote in it.

None of this bothered the school. It didn’t really seem to bother anyone. Anyone not in hiding,
going by the name Mary McCoy and once in the employ of a certain secret agency where before her and a
list of others’ covers were blown by a rogue agent; she answered to call sign…Valentine. Was he in
danger, missing or was everything they thought they knew about him a lie? Did he learn all they had to
offer and move on? Was he a genius pretending not to know all these things? Was he a spy? From all
those questions the school moved on in no time. But Mary McCoy began to search. She looked for him,
hired a private investigator and everything.

What’d she find? Well! Let’s just say it made for one Great Tale. So fascinating indeed – with a
bunch of twists and turns – we were afraid men in black suits with government license plates were going
to show up and tell us we had to kill the story. But I can tell you, in the end, they confirmed nor denied
anything, yet requested several minor changes and we got the go ahead.

I don’t know. Maybe they figured “Its NPR, how many people are actually going to hear it?”
Either way, we were able to bring our listeners a tale that had everyone wondering about the true identity
of teachers they had decades ago and could those same boring teaching have been double-agents during
the Cold War?

In episode four, we heard a tale that many of you – myself included – wished we hadn’t because
it changed the world and dumped everything you thought was good in it on its head when a one-time
assistant editor turned successful publisher’s death revealed that had he not engaged in a campaign to
change Atticus Finch and risked his job claiming to have lost the original final draft manuscript…Harper
Lee would’ve written Scout’s dad as a racist! This guy managed to keep this and other things about the
iconic book a secret all these years. Right along with how he even came to possess the true “To Kill a
Mockingbird” and have it locked away in a safe until his children began a battle over his estate. I think I
can speak for all of us here when I say never have we received so many death threats after a story as we
did 24 hours after people downloaded the tale that shattered the image people had of the beloved lawyer
and dad.

In episodes five and six, we managed to add a couple writers to the mix – Stephen King told us
about the one story he just couldn’t get published. Can you believe that? Stephen King was rejected 23
times. What was it about? What did he do with it? We couldn’t believe it. Then, George R. R. Martin told
us the ending to that one story he could never finish. Yes, that one. He didn’t write it, it’s not in print – he
told us what the books and series couldn’t or didn’t. The Internet. was. on. fire.
Hollywood insiders George Waters and Peter Evans had been speaking into personal audio
recorders for over forty years. In episode seven, these recordings told us about how it was behind the
scenes to some of our favorite movies and not only the amazing story how some of our favorite actors got
the roles we know them for but who originally was supposed to have them. Singer-songwriter Diane
Warren in episode eight did the same for us regarding the music industry. She told the tales of a dozen of
our favorite songs – songs we attributed to the artist who sung them and the things they were going
through. Diane turned that world upside down and gave us the winding road some of the greatest songs of
all time took to get to us. Who wrote them for who? Who turned them down? And who’d do anything to
sing them?

So, that’s a bit of what we’ve done here on the “Great Tale: Never Told” podcast. Finally, for our
first full season finale we have a three-part episode about someone we sort of all know or at some point
thought we knew a fairly decent amount about whether we wanted to or not. They were everywhere. They
bursted on the scene seemingly out of nowhere, a short video captured by a random shopper following a

voice echoing in a pharmacy from the next aisle over. That video, posted to the internet…the rest was
history.

Suddenly, this person, this, this…micro-teen with a huge voice became everything. With the
success that came with the voice, people had to know everything. It was a media craze. Despite that, we
didn’t actually get much. And what we did get wasn’t exactly adding up. It became less about number one
songs on the charts, selling tens of millions of records, ringtones…But more about who is this person?
Where’d they come from? And oddly enough, who is in charge of their life? While people battled that out
in the media, legal briefs, and the court of public opinion, the person with the voice disappeared.

More than a decade later, you still hear their songs on the radio. Even now, movies can’t stop
featuring their music. There are supposedly battles still going on over the right to the contracts in
courthouses around the country. The latest one, a woman claiming she is the biological mother of our
guest, and that our guest was a minor and kidnapped by record executives nullifying any agreements
made as a result of that crime. Our guest has never commented, answered, given any interviews, not a
tweet beyond anything in the early months when they first came on the scene and as mesmerizing as it
was, they appeared to be rather generically repeating for the world this sort of script. A script equipped
with cute little anecdotes but a script nonetheless. One that once fans and reporters began to pull at its
threads has long since been proven false. Although a singer, we at the Great Tale, Never Told podcast
want to warn you. They are not here to tell a tale about songs. Diane Warren did that. This is something
entirely different.

We also want to say, some of the content in this story, touches on issues of mental illness, severe
depression and or grief, child abuse, sexual abuse, alcohol abuse, an act of terrorism, and an accusation of
witchcraft. Yes, folks, you heard me correctly, witch – oh. My producers are telling me I should just use
the word “magic” in this context. And for those of you in that community, you have my sincerest
apologies. I didn’t mean to offend. I said magic. Postpartum depression, trauma, and autism. We want to
remind our listeners that autism is on a spectrum and unique to each individual and NPR is not
responsible for how it is depicted in our guest’s story. Again, lastly, like with all tales featured on our
podcast, we allow them to tell it. They may be edited down for clarity and time, however this one we
decided not to touch. You decide if you believe this one or any others that have been told. Due to the
Coronavirus, we have not resumed in-studio recording. Our guest joins us from their own location that I
have been asked not to share. This account was prerecorded on New Year’s Day. Without further ado, I’d
like to introduce our listeners to our guest…

Chapter 1

As you listen to me and try to picture me, those of you who know me and those of you that don’t,
please note: I wasn’t always this way.