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BONUS: The Whistleblower Playbook | S2: New Folsom

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Composite photo showing two women: Mary Inman on the left, smiling with short, curly hair, wearing glasses on top of her head, and a dark jacket; Poppy Alexander on the right, smiling with shoulder-length hair, wearing a dark blazer, sitting with hands clasped. Both are partners at the whistleblower law firm Whistleblower Partners, LLP.
Mary Inman (left) and Poppy Alexander (right), partners at the whistleblower law firm Whistleblower Partners, LLP. (Photo courtesy of Whistleblower Partners, LLP)

View the full episode transcript.

Sukey sits down with Mary Inman and Poppy Alexander, two whistleblower attorneys who talk about the cost of speaking up, and unpack the playbook that employers use to keep people quiet. They also discuss a shift in thinking that can protect both whistleblowers and their organizations.


Mental health resources

If you are currently in crisis, you can dial 988 [U.S.] to reach the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

SAMHSA National Help Line
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Helpline
US Health and Human Services
Warmline Directory

Whistleblower resources

Whistleblower Partners, LLP (where Mary and Poppy are partners)
The Lamplighter Project
The Signals Network
Whistleblowers of America
Government Accountability Project
National Whistleblower Center
Whistleblower Aid

Mary Inman was profiled in the New Yorker piece, “The Personal Toll of Whistleblowing.”

The Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism was a key partner in making Season 2 of On Our Watch.

The records obtained for this project are part of the California Reporting Project, a coalition of news organizations in California. If you have tips or feedback about this series please reach out to us at onourwatch@kqed.org



Episode Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript. While our team has reviewed it, there may be errors.

Chris Egusa: Before we start, I just wanted to give you a heads up that this episode references suicide. If you or someone you know needs support, we’ve got links to resources in the episode description. 

Sukey Lewis: Hi, listeners, it’s Sukey. We’re back. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be bringing you some brand new bonus episodes. We’re going to dip into some of the stories that didn’t make it in the podcast, and talk to some experts to help us understand Correctional Officer Valentino Rodriguez and Sergeant Kevin Steele in a broader light. We’re starting off this week with a really interesting conversation about what it means to be a whistleblower. 


When my colleague Julie first spoke to Val Senior about his son and his friend, Sergeant Kevin Steele, he was hesitant to call them whistleblowers. 

Valentino Rodriguez, Sr.: That name doesn’t do justice to people that have come forward, for me. When we were kids, being a whistleblower is tattletale. 

Julie Small: Oh, see I think of it as heroic. 

Sukey Lewis: The term and its many fraught interpretations are woven throughout our story. 

Dion Green: But I’m a whistleblower rat for ex- exposing this ongoing corruption of staff and that I need to be taken out. 

Sgt. Kevin Steele: It can take on a bad connotation sometimes, but it is, again, a government program intended to expose corruption. That’s what it’s designed for. 

Tinkerbell: I still haven’t been confirmed with whistleblower status, so that’s another reason why I’m a little still… I mean, I would venture to say that hopefully, the legal system would protect me. 

Sukey Lewis: And so we wanted to spend some time talking to two people who can help us understand this term and the challenges of coming forward. Thank you both so much for coming in. Could we just start off by having you each introduce yourselves? 

Mary Inman: Sure. My name’s Mary Inman. I’m a partner at the law firm Whistleblower Partners, and I’m in the San Francisco office, and we specialize in representing whistleblowers under the various U.S. whistleblower reward programs. 

Poppy Alexander: And I am Poppy Alexander. I am Mary’s partner here at Whistleblower Partners in the San Francisco office. 

Sukey Lewis: We wanted to talk to Mary and Poppy to better understand the journey that Officer Valentino Rodriguez and Sergeant Kevin Steele went through to become whistleblowers, and to see if they had any solutions for how to better support people like them in the future. 

So, yeah, these were two correctional officers. Well, one was a correctional officer, the other was a correctional sergeant, who both took it upon themselves to report the misconduct of their fellow officers, which is, you know, a very difficult thing to do. And, you know, had pretty serious consequences because of it. And I was just wondering, Mary, if you can put their stories in a broader context, you know, how common are experiences like theirs, among whistleblowers that you speak to or that you have, you know, studied? 

Mary Inman: Yeah. Unfortunately, the experiences that both Valentino and Sergeant Steele had are incredibly common. There seems to be a playbook that organizations — whether they’re private or public — have when someone blows the whistle. It’s often people reverting to what I call a ‘medieval mindset,’ where the playbook says we shoot the messenger to divert attention from the message. 

So that certainly seems very much to be the case that happened here. But it happens regardless of industry or sector. Poppy and I have represented whistleblowers in the tech sector, in health care, in transportation, in finance, and it’s very similar. When you would hope that what a whistleblower does is just shine a light on a fraud for people to look at it or wrongdoing for people to examine it is incredibly demoralizing to a whistleblower that the spotlight gets moved away from that and shown solidly on them. And that can be incredibly disorienting and incredibly demoralizing. 

Poppy Alexander: Mary is absolutely right. We see this all the time in every industry. But I do think that there’s something special about the prison context here. We’re talking about folks who are literally locked up, whether you are a guard or you’re a prisoner, you’re in the same space. You’re sort of stuck together. That is inevitably going to lead to a different mentality that is very much about, you know, circling up, guarding the wagons. That is more extreme even than what we see in sort of the normal context as well. There is a real incentive in these kinds of spaces to guard the institution, to shoot the messenger, to keep the doors closed. 

Mary Inman: There’s all these perceptions from very- when we’re a very young age that, you know, you don’t rat out or you don’t tattle. That is just magnified a thousand fold when you enter the scenario of military or security or in this case, prison guards. 

Sukey Lewis: Yeah. And peace officers as well, kind of have, you know, a unique bind or perhaps a unique bind, which is that they’re often both required by policy to report misconduct and not insulated from retaliation if they do so. And if they end up stepping outside the chain of command to report misconduct, you know, to the media, for example, they can get disciplined for sharing confidential information. And I think it also just makes it so difficult for peace officers, in particular, to know what the right thing to do is, you know, they’re they’re bound by all these conflicting rules. And then where does their own moral compass come into things? 

Mary Inman: I totally agree, and I think, as you were pointing out, Sukey, the the fact that there can be all of these competing obligations that you have… One of the things that can be most difficult is what was present here — is that the wrongdoing that both Valentino and Sergeant Steele were trying to expose went to the very top. And so it can be- it feels like it’s, it’s futile in a way to expose that internally when you’re exposing it to the very chain of command that’s engaged in the wrongdoing. I do understand that, you know, the Office of Internal Affairs is supposed to be, you know, playing a particular ro- role, but it’s incredibly fraught when the fraud has really been designed, and the architects of the fraud are the people who really control your fate. 

Sukey Lewis: And as you’re saying, you know, if the whistleblower is exposed internally, that can create incredible psychological and emotional pressures on them. And I think we saw that with both Sergeant Kevin Steele and Valentino Rodriguez, in that kind of isolation and ostracization that they experienced. There are also a number of other officers, you know, who have died by suicide after reporting misconduct and feeling like everyone has turned against them, and I think also that their efforts aren’t aren’t- don’t amount to anything. So that frustration that, ‘I did risk so much, I did put my ass on the line to expose the misconduct. And still there’s nothing being done.’ I know you have, you know, this is an area that’s near and dear to your work, Mary. Can you talk a little bit about the psychosocial impacts of whistleblowing and, you know, these very, very serious, you know, deadly consequences? 

Mary Inman: Yeah. I mean, I think we’ve seen this, you’re alluding to, unfortunately, I’ve had the great tragedy of losing two clients in my life. And one of them, The New Yorker did an article talking about the personal toll of whistleblowing. But we’ve also seen it very recently with John Barnett, who’s the whistleblower in the, in the, in the Boeing case, who it appears that he took his life. There’s still, you know, I think some questions about that. 

So I think one of the hardest pieces, and where I think we would all be really well served, is creating a level of psychosocial support, not just for whistleblowers, which I think is vital, but also for the first responders, for the people who deal with whistleblowers — for lawyers like myself. I learned the hard way on having to know more about resources that whistleblowers need. 

One of the best things that anyone can do when they’re first dealing with a whistleblower, whether it’s someone in H.R., or it’s the lawyers who they ultimately come to, or even the media, is to say, ‘I believe you.’ Right? Because that’s the issue, is that they have been in this unreality where, you know, they have been made the problem, and the problem they’re seeking to expose has been swept under the rug. So their whole world has been turned upside down and they’ve lost their support network. So everyone at work now knows that they are, you know, they’re radioactive. ‘Don’t do what you know, Valentino did because it’s not it’s not going to inure to your benefit.’ 

So all of a sudden you’re- you’re isolated. You’ve lost your support network. Then you magnify this by going at home and you’ve lost your job, and your spouse is now or your significant other is incredibly angry, and resentful. So you, you know, the walls do start to feel like they’re closing in. And that’s why I think society we’re at a point — we need whistleblowers so much. They’re often I, I like to say the ‘Fifth Estate.’ They’re they’re a lot of the folks who are actually exposing and holding people to account, but yet we don’t have the even most basic, psycho- psychosocial supports for these people. 

Sukey Lewis: And it feels like this kind of vicious cycle as well, too, that, you know, then because you’re under the psychological pressure and you, you know, begin to feel gaslit or what have you or you do take your life, then we see these cases where the employer or the organization can point at them and say, ‘Look, see, we don’t have to believe what they said. They were the ones having trouble. They were the one, you know, they were in mental distress. They were crazy.’ And so discount their reports even after, you know, their deaths. 

Poppy Alexander: I mean, first of all, that’s not good logic. And secondly, I hope that the folks, the other folks that that message is directed to, which, of course, is the other employees can recognize how circular that logic is and how self-serving, and how it simply doesn’t reflect the truth. And again, that’s why it’s so important that those whistleblowers who are in a position to do so can be public and can come forward and say, ‘Look: I did this. I survived, and this is what the process looks like.’ No one sets out to be a whistleblower. No one. You know, this is not anyone’s life goal or career aspiration. It happens. You’re forced into it for all sorts of different reasons. And knowing that people have come before and have made it through to the other side is really important. 

Mary Inman: Totally agree. And I think one of the one of the hardest things for whistleblowers that results in these, very desperate situations in terms of whistleblowers taking their own lives, I think, is that whistleblowers start out not thinking that they’re whistleblowers at all. They’re just trying to expose wrongdoing. And then the world gets turned upside down and the wrongdoing is ignored and the spotlight gets turned on them, that they’re the problem. What makes it so difficult is that I think they have an abiding sense of, ‘There’s an injustice, there’s something wrong, and it hasn’t been addressed. And yet all of this energy, like enormous amounts of energy and resources which could have been used to address the problem, are now being focused on me as the problem.’

I think those are just- it’s so hard to reconcile that. And I think one of the best services that Poppy and I can offer is to describe the playbook to the whistleblower and say, ‘If you talk to me early on, I’m going to spell out for you how this is going to go.’ And then at least it takes some of the sting out of it. And it’s, it’s really quite ironic. Our clients are like, ‘You are completely prescient. Do you have a crystal ball? Like, how did you know this was going to happen?’ And we just said, unfortunately, this is just the path. And so if you know that that’s going to happen and you can try and plan for it, it does help whistleblowers to at least absorb those blows. 

Sukey Lewis: And I think that, like you’re talking about the psychological journey of the whistleblower. And I think, you know, especially for Sergeant Kevin Steele, he… he really did you kind of see this arc of his, you know, disillusionment with his institution and that the place that he begins in is one of such faith in these, you know, pillars that he believed in and that were of, you know, fairness and accountability. And, you know, he’s just so kind of by the book, dude. And the betrayal that he experienced when he did try to report misconduct and having that not be taken seriously was incredibly crushing to him. 

Mary Inman: Yeah. I mean, I think with Sergeant Steele, it’s a particularly acute scenario because in addition to him feeling, you know, having the expectation that all of these policies and, you know, oaths that they took would be taken seriously. And to have the scales fall from your eyes is, you know, it’s a very disillusioning process. But I think what magnified it for him and amplified it, is that he became close with Valentino’s father and he was really traumatized by Valentino’s death, and this question of whether or not this was, you know, a suspicious death. Whether he died under particular circumstances. So I think there was also a level of guilt, because Valentino was on his team and someone that he should protect. 

This is absolutely the same thing we see. I- we see this day in and day out with whistleblowers in terms of the journeys that they have. And I think that a lot of us have observed this that there’s sort of this culture, at least, at least in the United States, as to whistleblowing that they’re either heroes or villains. And I think a lot of us believe that one of the best things, psychologically, for whistleblowers is if we could normalize it. They don’t want to be either. And I think that that is probably one of the things that they get caught up in [Laughs] is in this, in this sort of dilemma. 

We saw with the MeToo movement that a lot of this is- the psychological journey can also involve gaslighting and starting to doubt yourself. I think that’s what we see with Sergeant Steele is that he believed all of these things to be true. And then his reality started to change. And then that really makes you start to doubt yourself. And, and the circling the wagons phenomenon that Poppy talked about just makes this worse, is that everybody else is trying to suggest that this is not how it happened. And you start to then that makes even more self-doubt, which can be a very vicious cycle. 

It’s interesting. There’s some studies that talk a lot about what happens to whistleblowers. Because of the pressures they lose their friends, they lose their social network. And so the New England Journal of Medicine did a study on pharmaceutical whistleblowers who expose the pharmaceutical industry. You know, they’re seeing higher incidences of divorce, of depression, anxiety, substance abuse. I think these are all outward indicators of tools that- and the occasion of what happens when, you know, you expose something and then, instead of it being corrected, it gets covered up. And then you yourself, as the whistleblower, often become persona non grata. The retaliation is done by your employer as a way to send a signal to other whistleblowers, ‘You shouldn’t do this.’ So your sort of almost made, basically made an example of. So I think all of these are, you know, is an environment that’s just incredibly difficult. And it adds insult to injury. 

Sukey Lewis: You mentioned the MeToo movement, and I think one of the things that we have found in our reporting as well, is how, you know, discrimination, misogyny, racism also become tools to enforce the code of silence and to keep people from speaking up. I mean, I know as a woman, that feeling of like, oh, I’ve got to be cool to get along. You know, I’m not going to like, rock the boat or push back if somebody makes an inappropriate comment — you know, taken to a much more serious level, obviously, with Valentino Rodriguez. But does that translate to other contexts outside the prison as well? 

Poppy Alexander: Absolutely. Unfortunately, we see this a lot. It is rarer than any of us would like to see female whistleblowers, to see whistleblowers of color. And so much of that has to do with that mentality you just mentioned. That, you know, ‘we’re trained to get along,’ and we’re trained that ‘to get along’ means to value the traditional workplace culture of white cis men. And that obviously is amplified in the prison context. But that’s true everywhere. 

I- this is my completely uneducated guess, but I do feel like we’re starting to see a shift there. And certainly starting to see more female whistleblowers just coming in the door. And I do wonder how much of that is the MeToo movement. I wonder how much of that is people just being fed up with that attitude. But it still is very much a problem. And, you know, as Mary said, we have this tradition of we either see whistleblowers as heroes or villains, but either way, it’s oftentimes this sort of mentality of, you know, the single man standing alone on the hilltop shouting, you know, shouting the truth. 

And that’s not true. Women have been whistleblowers forever. People of color have been whistleblowers forever. They have found other ways to make sure that that information gets out. You know, some have been very public about it. Erin Brockovich is, you know, maybe the quintessential example on some level. But, and other people do it in different ways. They help their community. They make sure that the information gets out via a whisper network, what have you. There’s all sorts of strategies to make sure that the truth gets told. 

But when it comes to this sort of ‘in-group outgroup mentality’ of making sure that you were sort of getting along in a confined space, whether that’s a workplace, whether that’s a prison, whether that’s whatever it might be, there certainly are added incentives to put your head down, do your work, ignore what is oftentimes right in front of your face as a wrong. 

Mary Inman: Yeah, I agree, the power differential is something that is really significant, right? In terms of you see, a lot of studies have shown that women and people of color are more likely to leave an organization than to report. And I do think that MeToo started to show us a way that, if we can create a solidarity among whistleblowers, I think that’s one of the strongest way we can encourage, reporting. 


And I would love to see us have more avenues to find ways to bring whistleblowers together. So it isn’t, just that lone wolf as Poppy said. But that there are multiple people linking arms, saying that this happened to them as well. And then you really do have to pay, give it more credence than if it’s just one sole person. 

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Sukey Lewis: I think within, you know, the California Department of Corrections and going back to the policy of their, you know, ban on the code of silence, there’s been an unintended consequence, at least according — or maybe it’s intended, I don’t know — but at least according to the correctional officers that we spoke to, which is that if you don’t report right away, you can then get in trouble when you report later. Like, if you see an incident happen, excessive use of force, maybe you’re fearful to come forward initially, and then you- you gather that internal fortitude and you decide to make that report, you can often then get disciplined for, you know, holding to the code of silence thus far. And it creates a disincentive to come forward rather than, you know, the stated purpose of this policy, which is to create an incentive to come forward. 

Poppy Alexander: That’s such a challenge. You know, we have clients who come forward sometimes and tell us about information that’s many, many years old. And there’s lots of reasons why they might suddenly wake up one day and say, ‘Now’s the time. I have to tell someone.’ Of course, it’s probably better in terms of trying to solve problems, when people come to us with fresh information, we can usually do more with it. But that doesn’t mean that that’s a less valid whistleblower simply because they waited. It usually means that there’s something else going on in their lives that prevented them from coming forward first. And we need to recognize that in how we design our policies and how we think through this. 

Sukey Lewis: Yeah, we’ve heard from a number of correctional officers since the podcast came out saying that just hearing these stories made them feel like, you know, they might have an opportunity to speak up. [Laughs] And that’s, you know, really heartening, obviously, in terms of just the rewarding work of getting these voices out into the world. But I’ve also talked to correctional officers who have, you know, tried to get whistleblower protections, and often they want to do it before they blow the whistle. They want to know, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be protected ahead of time. Like, where do I go to, you know, get my whistleblower card or whatever.’ [Laughs] And, you know, from my understanding, it really doesn’t work like that. Like it’s very based on, you know, retroactive retaliation. And if you can prove that you were retaliated against, maybe you can get some retroactive protection. But can either of you address that issue? 

Mary Inman: I think there really, it can be very difficult to prove retaliation. Sort of the statistics of the ability of someone to succeed in a retaliation claim in the United States are very dire. [Laughs] They’re not great. And I think part of that is because it’s very difficult to prove that you were retaliated against for speaking up as compared to some- any other reason that someone can pretextual come up with, right? Like, oh, you’re chronically late, even though your chronic lateness was something that everyone tolerated for years. But until you spoke up, then all of a sudden that becomes a problem. 

Sukey Lewis: Is there something that needs to change in the law to make that an easier argument to make, or to, you know, the lower the standard of proof that you have to reach in order to prove that retaliation happened? What are some fixes that you see for that? 

Mary Inman: Well, it’s interesting, in Europe there’s now something called the European Whistleblowing Directive. And one of the changes that they made that I would love to see being made across all of the various retaliation protections laws, is this burden- shifting the burden of proof. That the burden initially, and for too long, remains on the plaintiff. To have to prove that, you know, they were retaliated against because they spoke up. And if we can reverse- shift that burden of proof and put it on the employer, actually, to prove that, you know, they did do it for a legitimate reason, I think that would be one concrete way that we could improve the odds that people could succeed. 

Poppy Alexander: I think the, you know, looking domestically, I think the SEC also provides a really excellent model here where the SEC takes very seriously any accusations of retaliation related to someone who has reported securities fraud to the, to the agency. And they take it very seriously and they, you know, will tell employers at every opportunity that they take it very seriously. And that public messaging has been extremely important and protective. And then oftentimes it then puts whistleblowers in the somewhat uncomfortable position of having to decide where they’re going to publicly declare to the company that they, in fact, did report to the SEC, because then that does provide them some level of protection. 

That only applies to some small subset of the whistle blowing world. But there’s no reason that has to be true. There’s lots of other ways to try to build off of that same level of protection that we see. There’s other agencies that are involved and whistle-blowing in all sorts of forms, we have- you know, OSHA is involved in many of these cases. There’s- we have lots of agencies here. So I think there’s lots of other strategies to try to build in more of a protection. But it does. It always starts with culture. Right? And that’s culture both from the government side of telling companies and telling organizations what’s important. And then of course, it starts on the company side. 

Sukey Lewis: Yeah. I think the- the long tail of fear that correctional officers experience after- even after they leave… Like, they’ve retired for years, but they’re still afraid to speak up. They don’t know if their pension can be taken away. They don’t know what power the institution still has over them. There’s also, you know, obviously just their their friendship groups and their culture that they’re afraid of losing. But there’s just this very long tail of oppression, I would say, that they experience psychologically and that it’s not entirely dissipated when they leave the prison at all. 

Poppy Alexander: Absolutely. And you know, so, so many times prisons, right, are and very small towns. And so even if you’re not working at the prison, you’re still- most other people in the town are going to be. And that then means there’s really no way to sort of escape that. But of course, you shouldn’t have to. You shouldn’t have to lose all your friends and community simply because you’re willing to take a stand and tell the truth. That should never be a consequence of telling the truth. And- but of course it acts as a disincentive for coming forward, for speaking out against the pack, for what have you, which can only be remedied by changing the culture, can only be remedied by encouraging people to see that as a good. 

Mary Inman: And Sukey, you’re right that the retaliation doesn’t stop when they leave the prison. And there’s sort of a long tail of retaliation, right? Which is often when you go to that next job, unfortunately that next employer will often call for a recommendation or a reference to your existing employer. And, we often see that even if they’re not doing it directly, there’s word of mouth that, ‘You don’t want this person. This is, this person is disloyal. They, you know, they’ve exposed us and created all this difficulty. They’re a troublemaker and you shouldn’t hire them.’ 

And so that certainly, you know, in the case of my whistleblower client that was featured in The New Yorker, that was really ultimately his undoing, right? Is that he ended up, because he couldn’t leave the, the part of Florida where he was practicing. He would get interviews and get to a certain place, and then in, in getting his next job position. And when it got to that reference point and they’d say like, ‘Oh, he seems great.’ And you get all these signals. And then all of a sudden when it came to closing the deal, they would never hire him. So that ends up in you draining your 401K, you now don’t have, you know, you’re no longer gainfully employed, and now you’re blocklisted or blacklisted. 

So I think that is one of the other problems that just makes it, again, incredibly insidious that… I always talk about there’s this ‘Scarlet W’ on your chest that’s emblazoned. And that you may want to put it down, you may even want to put down the mantle of whistleblower, but often you’re not allowed to. And that is a cross that you are bearing again and again. 

Sukey Lewis: You know, one of the things that really struck me just doing this reporting is the disconnect between the formal institutional stance, which says, you know, ‘The code of silence is banned. And we want, you know, we take all reports of employee misconduct very seriously, and we want people to come forward.’ And then that what actually happens in response to that. And I’m just wondering if either of you can speak to… is there a policy change that can fix this? Or because there is this disconnect already between policy and action, you know, do we need a different intervention? 

Poppy Alexander: This is a cultural problem much more than a policy problem. Though the policies obviously are then tied together because if you know that the company’s policy is that they’re going to, you know, they’re going to take every whistleblower complaint with this huge grain of salt, they’re not going to start from the presumption that the whistleblower is correct. They’re not going to start from the presumption, which is usually true, that the whistleblower is reporting this because they love the company or the organization or, you know, the group. They’re doing it out of love. They’re doing it because they want it to be better. They’ve, you know, they found a problem and they want to fix the problem, and they want to do it before someone from the outside finds out about the problem. 

That so often is what the energy is that our clients bring when they’re coming forward. And what they’re met with is this culture of silence there. You know, you talk into a black box, you never hear what happens again. All too often, our clients say to us that we are the first person to ever listen to them about what they’re talking about. And that’s sad because we are never someone’s first call. We really aren’t. They’re always trying to get some change to happen before they resort to calling a whistleblower attorney — as as they should be, quite honestly. And if smart organizations and smart companies would just listen to their whistleblowers, they would put us out of a job. But that’s good. That would be better for everybody. 

Mary Inman: I agree, and there’s some really great empirical data and research coming out of George Washington University and the University of Utah that really reinforces this idea that whistleblowers are actually your best risk management tool. They’re the canaries in the coal mine that actually help you see a problem before we’re all overtaken by noxious fumes. And this research really basically underscores that companies that actually see whistleblowers in this way as, as, you know, people who can help mitigate risks and deal with problems before they metastasize into something like a big public relations scandal… If you use them in this way, it actually allows companies to be more profitable. 

So I think one of the biggest things that needs to happen is just an education on who whistleblowers really are. As Poppy said, whistleblowers are- not only are they not disloyal, they are your most loyal employees because it takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to be the type of employee who is going to tell you the hard truths at considerable potential risk to themselves. 

Sukey Lewis: Thank you for coming into the studio and just lending your expertise and your empathy to this conversation. 

Mary Inman: Yeah, it’s been a real pleasure to be on this podcast. It’s a real testament that the only way we’re going to get change is, is to, you know, point to really great investigative journalists like this. 

Poppy Alexander: Absolutely. It’s, it’s a horrible topic, but it brings great joy to talk about it because it’s so important and so misunderstood, quite honestly, I think, so much about the process of whistleblowing. And so every opportunity to be able to talk about it and really go in depth as you are in this podcast series is just invaluable. And it’s invaluable for the future whistleblowers, for the next person who finds themself in an uncomfortable situation where they really need to speak up and they don’t know what it means and they don’t know how. You know, the education of learning what that process looks like is something we all need to work on. 


Sukey Lewis: Again, that was Poppy Alexander and Mary Inman. They are also working right now with federal legislators to try and introduce a bill that would provide mental health support for whistleblowers. We have a link to Mary and Poppy’s website in our episode description, along with other resources for whistleblowers. Please continue to send tips or feedback about the series to On Our Watch at K-Q-E-D dot O-R-G. 

This episode was hosted by me, Sukey Lewis. It was edited by Jen Chien, who is also KQED’s Director of Podcasts. It was produced, scored, and cut by Chris Egusa. Final mixing by Christopher Beale. Original music by Ramtin Arablouei, including our theme song. Additional music from APM Music and Audio Network. Funding for On Our Watch is provided in part by Arnold Ventures and the California Endowment. Thank you to Katie Sprenger, our Podcast Operations Manager, our Managing Editor of News and Enterprise, Otis, R. Taylor, Jr., Ethan Toven-Lindsay, our Vice President of News, and KQED Chief Content Officer Holly Kernan. 

And thanks to all of you for listening.


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