Real America

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Your World2012121120121212 (WS)

One in five people in Philadelphia owe around $1.5 billion in criminal court debt.

Rufus Taylor led a pretty sheltered life growing up in Philadelphia, but he likens his late teen years to a kind of "Rumspringa" (a time when Amish-born teenagers "run around outside the bounds"). Taylor's "Rumspringa" however, didn't take him to nightclubs, but rather resulted in multiple counts of car theft and ultimately, a charge for armed robbery. He served a total of 13 years in prison and is on probation. When he completed his sentence in 2008, he thought his time had been served, and his debt - both financial and moral - was settled. Then in 2011, he applied for welfare and was denied because he had apparently not paid off all of his debts - he owed the courts almost $42,000, an amount never mentioned when he was released.

Taylor is one of more than 300,000 people in the city of Philadelphia who owe an estimated $1.5 billion dollars in unpaid bail, fees and fines to the courts that date back to 1971. The debt collection affects one in five people, in a city of 1.5 million.

This documentary examines the complexity of criminal court debt, which is a growing problem in cities and towns across the United States trying to pay for increasingly expensive prison systems.

01Your World2012091520120916 (WS)
20120917 (WS)

In the United States, religion - in particular Christianity - is a driving force behind African-American culture.

Under slavery and segregation, the black church provided both spiritual and social services to African-Americans.

Today, many African-Americans see anything short of embracing religion as not just heretical but a denial of one's very blackness.

But there are a growing number of African-Americans who openly don't believe in God or the church.

We find out how they are trying to make their voices heard and seeking acceptance in their community.

Contributors to the documentary include writer Sikivu Hutchinson and musician Landon Taylor.

Reporter: Sarah Richards

Producer: Roy Hurst

(Image: Attendees listen to speakers during the National Atheist Organisation's 'Reason Rally'. Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

The African American Atheists.

02Your World2012092220120924 (WS)

Even though waiting in line is an essential part of the human experience there is no such thing as a universal queue.

Many people now believe that the American queue is shedding its British "first-come, first-served" character and is taking on a new form.

In this Your World documentary for BBC World Service, Benjamen Walker examines how in the United States, the system is changing to the priority queue.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's operational management guru "Dr Queue", most priority queues are invisible but Walker spots them in airports, amusement parks, highways and community colleges.

Benjamen questions if the idea of allowing people to buy their way to the front of the line is compatible with traditional American values like equal opportunity and fairness.

He also asks if the priority queue offers freedom of choice or if it creates a two-tiered society.

(Image: A steward holds a sign that says 'end of queue'. Credit: BEN STANSALL/AFP/GettyImages)

There is no such thing as a universal queue - every country and culture does it differently.

Many people now believe that the American queue is shedding its British "first come first serve" character and is taking on a new form.

Benjamen visits airports, amusement parks, highways and Santa Monica Community college to better understand what happens when some people are allowed to buy their way to the front of the line.

According to MIT's operational management guru "Dr Queue", priority queues are more efficient but Benjamen questions whether they are compatible with traditional American values like equal opportunity and fairness.

(Image: A steward holds a sign that says 'end of queue'. Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/GettyImages)

03 LASTYour World2012092920120930 (WS)
20121001 (WS)

Bon Voyage brings the listener along on the intimate, emotional journey of a same-sex couple coping with mortality.

It's about how we try to meet death on our own terms, but death has its own agenda.

Paul Perkovic is dying of inoperable pancreatic cancer - he's 65.

Paul isn't picking out his death shroud, though. He's sizing his tuxedo.

Rather than let Paul hunker down and wait to succumb, Paul's husband Eric Trefelner, throws him a lavish "bon voyage party" at San Francisco's finest museum.

The $250,000 bash is meant to commemorate not only the end of a life, but also the end of a life together.

When relationship breakdowns develop that neither man expects, Paul and Eric confront deep-seated problems and realise that dying - unlike a party - cannot be choreographed.

Producer: Julia Scott

(Image: Paul Perkovic (L) and Eric Trefelner (R))

A dying man and his husband try to meet death in style.