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Student partners with abuse survivor to create podcast

Many people aren’t sure how to react to Ernest Samuel Christie III’s traumatic childhood tale of how his abusive, serial killer father once forced him to help bury a body.

Not SUNY Cortland English major Allison Hall. The Whitney Point, N.Y. native reached out and asked if they could create a podcast together.

“I’d never done a podcast,” Hall said recently. “I didn’t know how to do a podcast. But I knew I wanted to help him tell his story, and I somehow knew I’d be able to do it.”

The result is “Frankly, Ernest,” a weekly podcast available on Spotify and other platforms that uses Christie’s stories as a launchpad to discuss larger issues such as interpersonal violence, gender expression, racism, faith and healing.

It’s a labor of love for Hall, who records a conversation with Christie once a week and then spends whatever free time she has on her laptop, transforming it into the podcast.

It’s also a final project for her minor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, where students are required to integrate their major or career focus into a discussion of systems that treat people differently based on gender or sexual expression.

“The story itself springs from the intersection of all of the topics we talk about in WGS,” said Professor Jena Nicols Curtis, program coordinator for the minor. “Ally has really found a meaningful way to bring to life  the research and theory  behind the issues through the incredible stories of this man.”

Christie made national headlines in 2010 when, after years of internal stress and guilt, he reported his father to police and led them to the body of a woman who his father had tortured, killed and forced him to help bury when he was a young boy. He showed them a hollow tree where his father, who died in 2006, had kept one woman in chains before she escaped. Police suspect the father of other killings and Christie believes he murdered Christie’s mother, who his father also abused. 

It was the start of an ongoing healing process for Christie, who was physically abused by his father throughout his childhood, and carried the emotional and social scars into adulthood. Part of that process is to share his story, which he began doing this year with very short videos on TikTok, @thevelvetbrick, which now has more than 100,000 followers.

Earlier this year, Hall said she was hanging out in her room, scrolling TikTok, when she stumbled onto one of his videos.

“I couldn’t stop watching it,” Hall said. “I watched all his videos and realized that somehow it was midnight and I needed to go to bed.”

But instead of sleeping, Hall sent Christie a message of support and offered to help him with a podcast. To her great surprise, he agreed.

It’s not like Hall had time on her hands. In addition to being a student, she also works full time at SUNY Cortland, previously as a secretary in the Admissions Office and currently as an administrative assistant trainee in the Economics Department. She plans to graduate in December.

Hall is the host and producer of the podcast and works with Christie on the content. She does most of the work herself, although she plans to have SUNY Cortland faculty and staff participate as experts in various fields during podcast discussions.

“I decided to be an English major because it gave me an opportunity to be involved in everything, history, psychology, it touches everything,” she said. “And now, by doing this podcast, I know what I want to do for a career.

“I’m basically a fly-by-the-seat of your pants person when I want to do something. I’m not afraid to figure it out as I go,” Hall said. “So far, it’s working. We’ve got a lot of listeners, and we’re getting better with every podcast.”