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2015 Keating Competition

First Place: Grace Palmieri -- Indiana University

 

Ivy Estep takes out a small, pink tube of paint. She rests her right elbow on the table

to steady her drawing hand.

 

Two girls have come into Brow Art 23, a cosmetics shop in Circle Center Mall, to have

henna designs painted on their skin.

 

Estep begins painting the flower pattern onto the hand in front of her.

 

A thin line for the stem.

 

A half circle for the flower’s center.

 

And then she begins on the petals.

 

Estep likes to fashion many of the patterns herself, but admits she gets some inspiration from Pinterest. The 19-year-old is a makeup aficionado and loves working with cosmetics; the henna painting is just a small perk, something she and her friend do for fun.

 

“I just like making women feel beautiful,” she says.

 

This is Estep’s second job. For about a year now, she has also waitressed at the P.F. Chang’s downstairs. But she needed more income after moving into her own apartment in August.

 

The move was by choice, but Estep almost felt she no longer had a choice.

 

The uncertainty of living with her stepdad, who was constantly being laid off and could never keep a steady job, was wearing on her. She felt repeatedly abandoned.

 

Estep decided to leave.

 

She was a senior at Arsenal Tech High School. And now, she was homeless.

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

Estep remembers the mountains of Oregon as her happy place. She remembers being able to drive down the street and see both Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood at the same time, one on either side of her. She remembers the fog setting in every morning and being able to find beauty in the simple things. For some time, the valley between the two volcanoes – located almost directly on the Oregon-Washington border – was her home.

 

Estep was preparing for her freshman year of high school when her stepdad, an iron worker, decided to move the family out west in hopes of abundant opportunity.

 

“He kept hearing rumors that everything was booming out there, that there was a whole bunch of work,” she said. “In reality, there wasn’t a whole lot of work, especially for someone who was going from local to local (business).”

 

They sold almost everything they owned and drove out to Oregon with the only money remaining -- $500 cash, just enough to cover the cost of gas. Other odds and ends – pillows and clothes – were strapped to the top of the car, with a big, blue tarp covering it.

 

Estep recalls driving through the windy plains of Nebraska. A string would snap, and one item would fall off the top of the car.

 

Then another.

 

“You could feel the car about to tip over,” she said.

 

Through 11 months in Oregon, Estep’s stepdad was always between jobs. Estep says she spent 6-8 hours per day traveling from one job to the next – her dad would be on Mount Hood one day and the deserts of southern Oregon the next.

 

Estep, along with her two younger siblings and her parents, lived out of the car.

 

Her mom always tried to stay optimistic, constantly reassuring her kids that they were just “camping.”

 

“I was like, ‘I know what’s really going on here. You can’t fool me,’” Estep said.

 

She was enrolled in a brick and mortar school, which involved sitting down with two other students while all three tried to use the same computer.

 

Despite being miles away from her friends back home, Estep was happy. Happier than she had ever been. She loved the traveling, and the mountains, and learning about herself.

 

Then her parents got divorced, and Estep was forced to move back to Indianapolis with her stepfather.

 

Most kids’ lives consisted of going to school and soccer practice – or maybe band or dance – and then home to eat dinner and finish homework. Estep never lived that way, she said.

 

For her, high school was four years of moving in and out of homeless shelters, motels and friends’ houses. She was never in one place for longer than a couple months. When she turned 18, her stepdad expected her to start paying bills.

 

“My first check was like $97,” she said. “And he expected me to turn on the electric, which is a $300 bill.”

 

Estep’s stepdad is living in a motel with her younger brother and sister.

 

She’s still working on her high school diploma.

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

Estep has always considered herself an independent person. Now, she’s putting that to good use.

 

She’s living by herself and working two jobs, while trying to balance online classes – she only has a few credits left to complete. Because she doesn’t have enough money to pay for school, Estep is taking class through the Excel Center, a program funded by Goodwill.

 

Her life is finally settling down enough that she can begin to think about the future.

 

Estep wants to become an occupational therapist so she can help children who have been through similar experiences.

 

That’s a long-term goal, though. At the moment she wants to do what makes her happy, a feeling that was missing from her life for too long.

 

She still thinks about Oregon. Aside from the beauty, it’s the people of Portland that make her want to go back.

 

“It’s so artistic,” she says. “They have a street performer downtown on almost every corner. They don’t care what you think of them. They’re just like, ‘I’m gonna show you what I’ve got.’”

 

 In July, Estep is going back.

2nd Place: Anicka Slachta -- Indiana University

 

If you’re not looking for her, you might miss Tina Johnson. It wouldn’t bother her, though —

she’s never been the type to want to be found.

 

Johnson, 54, sidles along the interior edges of the Circle Centre Mall, pushing her mop

across the black tile in front of glossy storefronts.

 

Past Forever 21, where fluorescent lights shine on styled front-window mannequins. Past

GameStop, Francesca’s, Roshini. Past Andrews Jewellers, with its limitless cases of

expensive, shiny trinkets. Diamonds blink from thousand-dollar engagement rings.

Fourteen-karat gold stares back at her.

 

The only jewelry Johnson wears is a simple band on her right ring finger. Its silver isn’t as

bright as it used to be; the garnet birthstone that used to shine in the middle has grown

darker over time. Her mother gave it to her when she was twenty-one.

 

Johnson pushes her cart across the empty floors of the mall, four minutes before stores open. She wipes down the lampposts. She cleans the leather massage chairs.

 

She can still hear the sound of the cart’s smooth wheels against the tile. When her radio crackles, it’s a little too loud for 10 a.m.

 

Johnson’s been a maintenance worker here for a little over two years, she says, after having scrambled for a job and favoring looking after her grandchildren as a pastime. Her son helped her out — he’s a manager at this mall.

 

She’s been back in Indiana for almost six years now. Six years since she ran away, back to what used to be home. Six years since she left her ex-husband of 23 years, who threatened to find and kill her if she ever left him. Six years since when she went looking for something better.

 

Circle Centre Mall transformed Indianapolis in the mid-1990s, saving it from being a city plagued by crime, violence and unemployment.

 

Now, it’s saving Tina.

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

Johnson can’t quite remember how old her children are. There are five of them, after all, she says, leaning against her maintenance cart.

 

Her long hair is loose around her shoulders, straight-cut bangs falling over her eyebrows. Her face is worn and most of her top row of teeth are missing, but that doesn’t keep her from smiling.

 

She wears thick black eyeliner under electric blue eyes.

 

“Ah,” she says, remembering. “The oldest was born in ‘83.”

 

Johnson loves her kids, loves them more than anything. They’re all clean — no drugs, no alcohol addiction — like she is, despite having Randy as their father.

 

She never tried to hide him from them, she says. She never tried to hide anything.

 

“Kids are nosy,” she says. “They’re going to find out anyways.”

 

She shielded them, tried to protect them while they grew up in and out of motels along the U.S. Route 40 highway, somewhere in between Greenfield and Indianapolis.

 

Sometimes, when they ran out of money, they’d go to Florida, where Randy had family who could help.

 

But she couldn’t always protect them. Johnson didn’t hear the horror stories until much later, when her children told her about the times he would shake them awake at midnight and throw them against the wall.

 

When they were still little, and Johnson had just given birth to her youngest, he stumbled through the front door, drunk and angry.

 

He pulled his family out of their beds and into the car, where he started hitting Johnson.

 

Her children sat in the backseat and watched.

 

They sat smallest to tallest, she says, like stairsteps.

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

As the mall fills closer to noon, it’s harder and harder to find Johnson.

 

Wearing black from head to toe — save the bright pink stripe on her sneakers — she blends in among swells of people, working quietly, contently, in corners and across the food court floor.

 

She cleans up after messy children who have lives she could only wish her children had. While she works, she passes bored dads sitting in mall lounge chairs, waiting for their 12-year-old daughters to come out of Claire’s. She passes groups of teenage girls and stylish single women, all swinging brand-name bags at their feet.

 

She isn’t like them. They don’t acknowledge her.

 

She’s thorough when she cleans, but thinks aloud while wiping down the aluminum elevator doors of level three.

 

She blames herself for not being able to get a job fast enough for her children to stay with her in Indiana. They all started moving to Florida when they met their boyfriends and girlfriends, who eventually became fiances, then wives.

 

She was living in an apartment with her son for some time, but had to move out.

 

“He went and got married on me,” she says with a laugh, a smile brightening her tired face. She reaches for her strawberry-flavored vitamin water. “How could he?”

 

She lives with her dad now, in Greenfield, where it all started.

 

“Am I happy?” she says, spritzing Renown Air Cleaner on a gray rag. It doesn’t take her more than four seconds to answer.

 

“No.”

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

It was never a love story, not with Randy.

 

Johnson’s sister knew Randy and had convinced Johnson to get out of her usual pajamas for food stamp night at Marsh Supermarket. She met him there, in the grocery parking lot.

 

“I wish that I didn’t,” she says. “I married him out of fear.”

 

She was scared for her life and scared when he got out of jail — domestic violence charges, this time — and forced her to marry him so she wouldn’t be able to testify against him in court. He drank, too much and too often, and eventually turned to crack cocaine.

 

He and Johnson worked in the same job in the beginning, putting up drywall for new buildings. He kept making her quit, worried that she would find someone else at work and leave him.

 

And his work hours didn’t count, Johnson said. It all went toward drugs and alcohol, anyways.

 

“I told him that once the kids were grown,” she says, “I’m out.”

 

And when she got out, just like he promised, he found her.

 

She was at work, in the long gray corridor behind the Colts Pro Shop, when she was radioed that her husband was there to see her.

 

“Instant fear,” she calls the immediate feeling. He found her cleaning the ladies’ bathroom.

 

“Just answer me one thing,” he said. “Is it over?”

 

She told him it was, she says. It was the wrong answer.

 

Randy pinned her neck against the cold, tiled wall. Her mouth strained, she says. The blood vessels in her eyes burst. She fumbled for her radio, but he was too strong. She thought she was going to die.

 

“He was throwing me around like a ragdoll,” she said.

 

A security officer found them, too late. Johnson’s face was swollen and bruised.

 

Randy should have been in jail for up to sixteen years, she says — for nine felonies — but only served his time for a year and a half.

 

She never once told anyone in her immediate family about the abuse. It was too embarrassing, she says, since she was supposed to be the strong one. Of four children, she was always to go-to for helping someone through a rough time.

 

That included when her mom was in a car crash on the way to Bingo more than two decades ago. It put her in a coma and killed Johnson’s niece.

 

It was her dad that kept her mom alive for fourteen months, Johnson said. She calls him a healing man — he once visited a sick girl in Kentucky who was cured by the touch of his hand. Still, her mom slipped away from them.

 

Johnson straightens her fingers to look at her faded garnet ring.

 

“I’m never taking it off,” she says. “Not ever.”

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

Joy comes in small moments for Tina Johnson.

 

Sometimes they take the form of talking to her siblings, all of whom she’s close with, but lives far away from.

 

“Facebook, calling, texting…” she says. “All of that.”

 

The mall isn’t necessarily something that she loves, but she likes her job, she says. She’s earning money. She misses having her own place.

 

Still, people walk right by her. Later in her shift, a teenager in a bright blue hair ribbon settles into a massage chair on the second floor of the mall.

 

Does she think about the woman who ran a rag over the leather cushions an hour earlier?

 

Johnson isn’t one to mind. She doesn’t gravitate toward attention, doesn’t even pick up her phone when someone calls because she’s worried it might be Randy.

 

“I never know,” she says. “I really don’t.”

 

But still, there are good moments.

 

She recently visited her son in Florida and got to see her granddaughter, who she hadn’t seen in years.

 

“I have this thing,” she said, “Where, instead of kissing my grandbabies, I kind of lick the tips of their noses.”

 

Her granddaughter is six now, she thinks, straining to remember, and tried to give Johnson a gift when she arrived. She tried one hard plastic bracelet made for tiny wrists, then two, before giving up and handing Johnson a thick pink bracelet wide enough to fit her hand.

 

It’s right there, on Johnson’s right hand, bright next to her black sleeves.

 

It’s like the ring from her mother — generations of women who have dealt with too much too young, feared too many people, but were able to find light in their family relationships.

 

Johnson smiles and fiddles with the bracelet given to her months ago.

 

“I haven’t taken it off since.”

 

3rd Place: Annie Garau -- Indiana University

 

Jada Elkins and her friends are inspecting a pair of cheetah-print high heels. The shoes

could be helpful for Audrey’s cat Halloween costume, they muse, but they’re not certain

she would be able to walk in them. Plus, they figure the four-inch, bedazzled stiletto is out

of their price-range, seeing as they’re sixth graders.

 

Today is Jada’s twelfth birthday and her three best friends are her party guests. Jada’s mom,

Shelly Elkins, has brought the girls to Circle Centre mall in downtown Indianapolis for a

shopping expedition.

 

It’s a fitting activity, Shelly explains, for girls who are just reaching the age when they

start to care about fashion.

 

The birthday celebration began last night with a surprise slumber party. Shelly remembers

having a sleepover with her friends back when she turned twelve, but she doesn’t remember

twelve seeming as old as it does today.

 

A mom of four, Shelley has watched as technology has changed the way children grow up. She thinks that constantly knowing what their friends are doing, wearing and saying has created an environment where it’s hard for kids to feel fully confident.

 

“Especially with social media today,” she says, watching the girls pick out earrings and bracelets. “And the things they see on TV and in magazines. It’s just all around them; this pressure of what you should look like.”

 

All of the girls have Instagram accounts, filled with selfies and song quotes. Without looking at their screens, they can each recite how many followers they have on the photo-sharing app. At 523, Jada has the most. But she humbly admits the number isn’t that important.

 

Brooklyn, 11, says she doesn’t take selfies because she’s not photogenic. She says she thinks makeup helps a bit and points to the mascara that makes her round and unblemished face seem older than her years.

 

Unlike most of the girls at her school, Jada doesn’t feel the need to wear makeup yet. Her wide brown eyes aren’t lined, her dark brows aren’t plucked, her long lashes aren’t coated in goo and her freckled cheeks aren’t smeared with blush.

 

Her hair, however, is another story. Though her friends say her natural waves are beautiful, Jada either straightens or curls her sandy blond locks almost every day.

 

“My normal hair makes me look like a homeless person,” she laughs.

 

Stepping in unison, the girls make their way down the shiny, kiosk-lined hallways. Shelly trails behind, giving them the space that preteens treasure. Out of the mom’s earshot, the girls discuss clothes, boys and middle school drama.

 

The sixth grade social hierarchy is determined by where you sit at lunch, they explain. Jada and Brooklyn used to be in the popular group, but aren’t anymore. They say they’re not too upset about the change.

 

“The popular girls are super rich and they go around wearing pink clothes,” Jada says. “They bring their perfume, and hand sanitizer and their other beauty supplies to school just to show off.”

 

This pink-clad group always has the most expensive clothes and the latest technology, the girls say.

 

Though Jada has a laptop, a tablet, a phone and an iPod, she still gets made fun of for not having an iPhone.

 

Even so, Shelly and her husband think a flip phone is best. They feel the skewed beauty ideals aren’t the only negative consequences of the smart phone culture.

 

“We’re getting to the age where there’s the added complexity of boyfriends,” Shelly says. “Younger and younger girls feel like they need a boyfriend and like they need to have done certain things with boys by a certain time.”

 

Jada had a boyfriend last year, in fifth grade. They went to the movies together and he was nice, but she wasn’t too sad when they broke up.

 

Now she has her heart set on Paxton, a boy from her church.

 

“He’s a fourth grader but he’s supposed to be a fifth grader,” she explains, slightly worried about the age gap.

 

“That makes it so much better,” Brooklyn says, adding that she’s heard of adult couples who are more than six years apart.

 

This seems to make Jada feel better as she turns a set of fake pink nails over in her small hands. She will see Paxton at the church Halloween party tonight and she wants to look perfect.

 

There are different things girls do to impress boys, the girls say. Some of their classmates wear push up bras to try and make their boobs bigger.

 

“People are afraid to be themselves,” Lydia says. “Everyone says that they’re ugly and fat and it’s so annoying cause they’re not.”

 

It’s comments like this that make Shelly feel better about the world her daughter’s growing up in.

 

Though she sometimes feels she’s fighting a losing battle with technology, she hopes that the people her daughter is surrounded by will influence her more than anything she sees on a screen.

 

The family stays very involved with their church, hoping the children realize that God’s standards are more important than those of the girls at the popular table.

 

They don’t let their girls watch a lot of TV and she makes sure they know that the women in the catalogues aren’t real.

 

“It’s just like you’re always working backwards, trying to undo what the world says to do,” Shelly says.

 

The girls pass store after store filled with slight mannequins and sleek dresses. The only store they squeal at though, is the one stacked with boxes of twizzlers, chocolate, jelly beans and lollipops.

 

Watching Jada fill a bag with sour watermelon gummies, Shelly smiles. In the midst of all of the clothes and gadgets, the candy store is still her daughter’s favorite.

 

 

Additional finalists:

 

Dakota Crawford -- Ball State University

 

Smoke swirling around in a pipe bowl mesmerized a 15-year-old Kylie Ann Pratt.

 

She was at a party, drunk and on xanax — or at least she thinks it was xanax — when a

couple guys pressured her to take a hit. Pratt didn’t know what it was swirling around in

there, but the gentlemen convinced her she’d like it. “Just take a hit,” they pleaded.

 

“That was it right there,” she says now, working a seven hour shift at Subway. “I started

to sober up and my buzz went away, then all of a sudden I was high. That was it, that night.”

 

The guys at that party didn’t tell her it was meth swirling around in the bowl. As the sensation

from alcohol and that lighter drug slipped away, Pratt started to feel the isolated rush from the

methamphetamines that had entered her body.

 

Those two guys convinced her she’d like it, and they sure were right. For the next five years she rarely went one day sober. Pratt was addicted. The meth made her feel alive, awake. Awake, sometimes, for 18 days at time.

 

Pratt has been counting the days of late, as she’s just made it through 97 sober. She is about one month into a six-month recovery program through Indianapolis-based Seeds of Hope, a transitional home for women recovering from addiction. 

 

Subway customers at the Circle Centre Mall walk up to Pratt all day and put their orders in, but they’d never notice the GPS device strapped to her ankle. It tracks her location at all times. She’s only allowed so much freedom at this point in her recovery.

 

She wakes up, she does chores, she attends a daily Narcotics Anonymous meeting, she even helps cook. Every woman chips in to keep the house ticking — it’s a tight, regulated community.

 

“I have my shit together today,” Pratt said. “Just yesterday I was telling my boss ‘I’m so proud of myself. I know what I’m doing. 

 

“I feel like I’m an adult now, finally.’”

 

She gets just $40 dollars per week to spend for herself, and another $105 goes toward rent at the transitional house. The rest goes into a savings account that will help pay for a place to live when she graduates from the program.

 

She’s 21 years old now, and headed in the right direction. Finally.

 

A little more than three months ago she was pulled over and charged with operating while intoxicated twice in an eight-day span. That scared her, not because she was afraid for herself, but for her children.

 

“I love them, and I don’t want to go to prison,” Pratt said. “I love my kids more than I love the dope. I’ve got to do it for them.”

 

She has two sons, a one-year-old and a three-year-old, that are living with their fathers as she completes the program. Though she’s sure her babies are comfortable, and in a good place with their fathers, she wants to sober up for them. 

 

A desire to be “the best mom possible” is always in her thoughts. She recently broke up with an abusive boyfriend of two years in an effort to make things better for her children.

 

She’s escorted to the parking garage by mall security every night because her ex-boyfriend has assaulted her at work. He’s shown up at the Subway and yelled at her. He recently ripped the windshield wipers off her car.

 

He continues to use meth, and Pratt says a relationship with him made it hard to break her addiction. She’s dedicated, and wasn’t going to get thrown off course by a broken relationship.

 

“A lot of people aren’t serious about (recovering),” she said. “I feel like if I can do it, anybody can do it.”

 

For a while, she’d wake up with a pressure in her chest, something compelling her to go back and use meth again. But she’s already passed the 90-day milestone that recovering meth addicts look to. She’s excited to give her

 

She used to hang out with a tough crowd, “not the best people,” she says. Meth was always available at a moment’s notice, given the right contacts. Pratt says finding the right people wasn’t too hard in her hometown, Rushville, Indiana.

 

“It’s everyone there,” she said. “They’re walking around with eyes the size of dinner plates, no eye color — all pupil — it’s crazy.”

 

The Indiana Meth Suppression Unit seized two labs in Rush County in 2014. That’s the fewest of any in the eight-country district that includes Delaware and Madison County, two of the state’s most meth-ridden counties.

 

But a lack of lab seizures doesn’t necessarily mean it’s hard to find meth.  At one point, she spent three months living in her car, moving from place to place, bouncing around between highs. Now that she’s out of Rushville, it’s easier to avoid the drug.

 

She drives into Subway and does her job, stopping only for the occasional smoke break. She follows security through Circle Centre Mall out to her car and she drives home in time for a 6 p.m. dinner. And there’s no pressure to do anything differently right now.

 

“Nobody knows me here,” Pratt said. “That’s helped me get past that stigma.”

 

Hannah Fleace -- Indiana University

 

Just after 10 a.m., Circle Centre Mall is quiet aside from the two laughing voices inside

New York & Company. Behind the glass windows and past porcelain-skinned mannequins,

manager Amanda Arnold is dressed in a hot pink boa. A purple and white unicorn horn

bounces with each nod of her head as she weaves through racks of sweaters and jackets.

 

The company has a reputation for pricy, chic clothes. But today, Arnold and sales

representative Katie Walker are handing out stickers to kids in the spirit of Halloween.

 

“Look! A kitty cat,” one child says when Walker, dressed as a cat, gives her a sticker.

 

The women chat about their evenings and work to remove all the sale signs from the

previous day. Both women worked at other stores in the mall before New York & Company,

but this place is home for them.

 

Tucked between Grand Slam Sports and Bath & Body works, New York & Company is one of the original stores from when the mall opened 20 years ago.

 

But on this platinum year anniversary of the Circle Centre Mall completion, the state of shopping centers in America is bleak.

 

Skeletons of shopping malls past are boarded and empty across the United States. Real estate analytics firm, Green Street Advisors says 15 percent of all malls will close in the next 10 years according to the New York Times. Mega retailers like JCPenny, Sears and Target have all announced widespread closures. Since 2010, Sears has closed 300 stores.

 

Malls in nearby Louisville and St. Louis have shut down and Circle Center Mall manager Simon Property Group Inc. is talking about pumping $20 million in Circle Centre to modernize and add residential space. The project is one way for the mall to become fashionable again and bring in more businesses. Four years ago, the mall lost one of its biggest tenants – Nordstrom. In 2014 the malls occupancy rate stood at almost 90 ninety percent.

 

The realm of online shopping is putting malls out of business, but Arnold, who spent most of her life working in retail, doesn’t have that fear for Circle Centre.

 

“Mayor Bill Hudnut had a vision to build a city around a circle,” Arnold said. “We get people from all over, we really are the Crossroads of America.”

 

Through a map of tunnels and skywalks, the mall connects to the Indiana Convention Center, at least seven hotels and the Indiana State Capital Building. Arnold said thousands of people flock to the mall each day because of its central location.  

 

“Hello, how are you today?” Arnold asked a woman perusing the store.

 

“Good, thanks.”

 

“Just so you know, all our sweaters are buy one get on half off,” Arnold, 40, said. “Are you from around here?”

 

“No,” the woman said. “London.”

 

She was the fifth customer through the door. The first customers were from Lafayette, Indiana headed to Dublin. At the end of June, the international Kiwanis Club celebrated their 100th anniversary and brought women from Jamaica, Aruba and the Bahamas through the store’s doors.

 

“We get people from all over.” Arnold said. “And it’s a city like no other, and the reason is there are friendly people here and everyone feels said. It’s the same in the mall.”

 

There is a turquoise mural on the roof of Circle Centre Mall; four constellations watch over the shoppers zigzagging through the stores. The theme of circles carries throughout the mall’s four floors in arches and globe lights. Historically, the circle represents wholeness, cyclic movement and infinity.  

 

Downtown Indianapolis used to be a dangerous place. For more than a decade, the core of the city was ripped apart so the $100 million mall could be built. For two decades, the mall was part of the reason downtown Indy transformed. It helped the city become whole.  

 

And on July 4, 2013, it made Arnold whole too.

 

The mall was closing early for the holiday and Arnold was leaving work, looking at her phone and passing under the arches on her way to her car.

 

“We’re gonna crash,” a deep voice said.

 

Arnold looked up at a big, black man who’d crossed into her lane on purpose.

 

“Hello,” he said. “How are you?”

 

He was going to buy a watch. Now, a year and four months later, Arnold is going to marry him.

 

For Arnold, the mall more than the location of her job. It’s where she announced to her friends and coworkers that she was pregnant – twice. It’s where she works everyday to empower women to feel better about their bodies. It’s where she gabs with Walker about long distance boyfriends and faith.

 

She isn’t worried about the mall’s future. Tonight she is taking her son trick-or-treating and tomorrow she’ll come back to this place where so many of her memories were made.

 

“It’s my favorite mall,” she said. “And it’s a staple to this community.”

Danielle Grady -- Ball State University

 

If it’s not a Thursday or Sunday, Monica Maxwell is sitting outside Circle Centre Mall.

 

Today is a Saturday.  

 

“Good morning everybody,” she shouts to passerby.

 

Some return her greeting. Others glance around—up to the sky, down the street —

anywhere but at Maxwell.

 

She’s used to that reaction. 

 

Maxwell is one of a handful homeless people who panhandle near the mall.

 

Everyone has a spot. Hers is at the corner of Illinois and Maryland streets.

 

The 46-year-old has sat there for three years—conducting her business from a small, grey crate bent inward from repeated use.    

 

Her duties include pointing out the mall’s entrance to confused pedestrians. To her, everyone is a “sweetie”—a “baby.”

 

“I’m the sweetest person you could ever meet,” she says. 

 

We’re all blessed by God, she says, and that means everyone deserves kindness.

 

But it wasn’t kindness that brought Maxwell to the streets.

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

At 16, life wasn’t too bad for Maxwell. Her mother was alive, she had a place to stay and she had just started dating her first boyfriend.

 

The relationship began well. They always do, says Maxwell—with pretty words and false intentions.

 

Things start to go wrong a year or two later. Doting boyfriends become something to be feared—monsters, she says.

 

She’s been beaten until her eyes turned black and her head split open. She’s even been stabbed.

 

She’s spent half her life in abusive relationships.

 

Her last one, which began five or six years ago, started like the others. It ended like them, too.

 

This time, however, Maxwell retaliated. She turned the knife onto him.

 

It earned her a felony, an inability to get a job and a life confined to sidewalks and inexpensive hotels.

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

Maxwell’s day starts at 7:30 a.m. She gathers her things—a neon yellow sign, the crate, a blue bag—and settles into her spot outside of the mall.

 

Her other belongings are few in number. She stores clothing at Horizon House, an Indianapolis day center for the homeless, and her blankets behind a dumpster.

 

Her position at Circle Centre is crucial to her survival. She’s sat outside other places, but this one is the most profitable.

 

She needs to collect at least $45—the price for a one-night stay at the Skyline Motel on East Washington Street.

 

Failure forces Maxwell to sleep underneath a bridge. She’s done it before, but she doesn’t like too. She’s constantly on edge—scared of ending up at the mercy of a man like the ones from her past.

 

“I don’t trust nobody,” she says. “No man, nobody.” 

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

Today, change and a few dollar bills fill Maxwell’s torn Burger King cup.

 

“Thank you, baby. God bless you,” she says to a man who adds to the collection.

 

She’s doing well this morning.  Her evening will probably end with a bed—maybe even a warm spaghetti meal.

 

But nothing is for sure on the streets. Maxwell will continue issuing kindness to others. She doesn’t know any other way.

 

 

Alison Graham -- Indiana University

 

Faith Taylor steps up to the mat.

 

Don’t mess up, she thinks. Don’t screw up a stunt.

 

She beams at the crowd and smiles through the red lipstick painted on her lips. She looks

at the stands, not full, but still overwhelming.

 

This is what all of your hard work is for.

 

Lucas Oil Stadium seems to swallow her and the other twelve cheerleaders on the squad.  

The stadium could seat her entire town — 67 times over. They traveled more than 150 miles

north to compete in the Indiana Cheer Championship State Finals, representing not only their

small high school, but also the entire town of Lynnville.

 

The first thing they do is cheer.

 

“Tecumseh High School has taken the floor. The red, white and blue are here, wanting more. Working harder than ever before.”

 

They’ve never won the competition. They’ve never made it to the final round.

 

After their cheer, they pause for a few brief moments before the music starts. When the song, “Grease Lightning” starts playing, Taylor zones out as the muscle memory kicks in.

 

“You just do what you know you’re good at.”

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

Two months ago, Taylor wasn’t on the cheerleading squad.

 

She didn’t try out for the team her sophomore year. She wanted to focus on school and the theater productions. She didn’t think she could handle all of that and the cheerleading squad at the same time.

 

At cheerleading practice one day, a girl attempted a backhand spring. She landed on her hand wrong, spraining it so badly she wasn’t able to compete.

 

There were only two practices left until the squad’s first competition.

 

The coach called Taylor and asked her to join the team again. She accepted, learning the entire routine in two practices. Everyone else learned it over four months.

 

The competition in Lowell, Indiana, went better than any of them could have imagined.

 

They took home first.

 

“No one knew who we were when we walked in there,” Taylor said. “But everyone knew who we were when we walked out.”

 

The next competition was the state championship.

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

Every time the cheerleading squad gets off the bus, they remind each other that they represent Tecumseh Junior-Senior High School and the town of Lynnville.

 

With about 900 residents, Lynnville is the type of place where everyone knows everybody else.

 

Just 30 miles northeast of Evansville, the town has a couple of restaurants, a post office, library, city hall, funeral home, gas station and a convenience store.

 

“That’s about it,” Taylor said.

 

The town has lost someone every year for the past three years. When someone dies, everyone feels it.

 

In 2013, Hunter McDaniel, 15, was killed in a motorcycle accident.

 

Last year, Garrett Ward, 19, was killed in a boating accident. He got tangled in the 24-foot boat’s propellers and was pronounced dead at the scene.

 

Six months ago, Kolin Clutter, 13, was killed in an ATV accident. He took a sharp turn on Gore Road, causing the vehicle to flip over on top of him. A few days later, grief counselors came to Tecumseh High School to talk the students through their emotions.

 

Everyone knew Kolin.

 

With each competition, the Tecumseh cheerleaders bring the entire town with them. The people they’ve lost and the people that still live there. Everyone wants to see the team do well.

 

Competing in large competitions and taking home first place trophies means a lot to a town that has dealt with so much grief in the past three years.

 

Winning a state championship would put Tecumseh High School and Lynnville on the map.

 

                                                                                   * * * * *

 

When the music ends, Taylor and the twelve other cheerleaders finish in two half-circles. They hold one hand in the air and smile at the judges before running off the mats and the field.

 

We just did that, Taylor thinks.

 

Six months of practice for a two-minute routine.

 

“That feeling when you get off those mats,” Taylor said. “That’s what it’s all for.”

 

As the other teams enter the stadium, Taylor and her squad wish all of them good luck. They don’t try to make rivals at the competition.

 

“When you’re the smallest school in your division, you’re definitely the underdog,” Taylor said. “We’ve worked our biscuits off and we definitely deserve to be here.”

 

After the competition is over, the squad waits until 4 p.m. for the first round results. The top five teams in each division will move onto the finals.

 

Tecumseh has never made it to the final round. It’s a goal of theirs, but Taylor said they aren’t expecting to make it. They’ll cheer as loud for the participation trophy as they will for first place.

 

“Not a bunch of kids from little hick Lynnville get to do something like this,” she said. ”In our eyes, we achieved everything we could have imagined.”

 

Kaitlin Lange -- Ball State University

 

Rocks and Metal

 

It was an average night at Kilroy's Bar and Grill in Bloomington for Stephen Risk, until

Kara Buckinghamwalked up to him wearing a hot pink dress and a wide smile. She thought

he was someone else – adifferent Stephen actually – and said hello. Risk was confused,

but went with it, and by the time Buckingham realized he was the wrong person, it was

too late for her to just back out. They were

already sharing drinks.

 

They became friends, then the infamous friends with benefits and then started dating.

Three years later, Risk is planning to propose to her.

 

He has the ring picked out, and pulls it out of the glass case at Andrews Jewelers, in the Circle Centre

Mall in downtown Indianapolis. He has worked there for five months, attempting to save up money for

law school.

 

Risk is a sales consultant alongside Derrick Gaddie, a 24-year-old who also has never been married. They're the only two in there on Saturday morning – just two unmarried men in their 20s essentially selling the idea of love.

 

Risk used to work for The Walking Company, where it was more about the practicality of the product. He would help customers find comfortable footwear, or help them deal with foot pain. He says an engagement ring is much different than a pair of shoes.

 

“It's pretty rocks and metal,” Risk says. “That's all it is practically. Emotionally it's a completely different story. The ring is never about the ring, it's about what's behind it.”

 

Gaddie and Risk bring different life experiences and personalities to the store, turning over customers to each other when things just don't click.

 

“If you're not clicking with that person, you're not going to care what they show you,” Gaddie says.

 

Gaddie is the comic relief. He even jokingly says people call him “Derrick the Great”. He works well with couples, using banter to build a relationship with them. He's the more relaxed of the two, wearing a dressy navy shirt and pants, orange tie, glasses and brown shoes with blue and green striped socks peaking out.

 

Risk, who is wearing a black suit jacket and red tie, knows how to explain the details, and works well with individuals.

 

“We can literally fit what anybody needs,” Risk says. “It's not that we don't have what they need. It's whether or not they're clicking with the person talking to them.”

 

He likes the job for the people, and the stories that come with them.

 

Risk once had a woman visit the store who recently had a stroke. She had always wanted a pair of diamond earrings, and said life was simply too short to not buy them. So Risk was able to help her out, fulfilling her small but meaningful dream.

 

He's had his fair share of “important customers,” from Mick Jagger's daughter, to the boyfriend of his friend, whom he helped pick out an engagement ring for. And then there's been the regulars who convince their whole family to shop at Andrews Jewelers

 

His favorite are the guys like him who are about to get married.

 

“A lot of the young guys that come in, I click with them because I'm in the same boat,” Risk says. “You have the guys who have absolutely no idea what they're doing. You sit them down and talk about their girlfriends. The guys know in general what the girls want, they just don't know that they know.”

 

Both Gaddie and Risk value marriage. They don't feel like they're at a disadvantage because they're still bachelors. Both can see themselves getting married, Even Gaddie – who when asked if he was in a relationship, said he has “lots of friends.”

 

Risk doesn't think marriage will be easy, even just working at the jewelry store has shown him that. But that's one of the beautiful parts of it, for him.

 

“Diamonds are the stone that represents engagements and weddings,” Risk says. “It's one of the hardest and most beautiful stones, but it's created under serious amount of pressure. I like to think of that like marriage. Marriage is beautiful but it's because it's something that can be difficult; It's something that you've got to put a lot of time and patience into, but once you do, it becomes strong and beautiful.”

 

And Risk has put a lot of time and patience into his own relationship. For their first date, Risk rented a car and drove from Bloomington to Indianapolis to see Buckingham. After the date she told him she just didn't feel a connection. Still, with a little help from Buckingham's roommates, they eventually started dating.

 

Though he doesn't have a set date or even plan, he know he wants to propose at Indiana University. And he knows he'll give her the white gold diamond ring he picked out himself from Andrews Jewelers

Mary Katherine Wildeman -- Indiana University

 

As a gaggle of teenage cheerleaders, all in red, white and blue uniforms with buns secured in

tight knots on the top of their heads, passed the specialty shop he manages in the Circle Centre

Mall, Michael Griffith sighed.

 

“See, this is the kind of clientele that you get,” he lamented.

 

They always browse, but never buy.

 

The teenagers who populate the mall rarely have money to spend on the sort of high-end

products Griffith sells in his shop. He requested the name of the store not be published

because his views don’t necessarily represent those of the company he works for.

 

Griffith needs serious shoppers who don’t mind spending money for high quality. Unfortunately, he can’t count on those people coming to Circle Centre without other upscale stores, like Nordstrom and Coach, both of which left the mall in recent years, to attract them.

 

Griffith was not the only store manager to vent his frustration. Others also complained about a lack of high-end stores, the building’s lackluster interior and rising crime inside Circle Centre and the downtown area.  

 

Mall manager Simon Property Group announced in late September plans to spend $20 million on renovations. Money would be funneled into a new entrance, a paint job, fresh lighting and refurbished common areas, among other updates, according to an earlier IndyStar report.

 

But managers working inside the mall worry that revamping the mall’s image won’t be enough to cure faltering traffic and low sales.

 

“It’s getting a little chintzy and cheap,” Griffith said.

 

Myriad of problems

 

In an interview with the IndyStar, David Contis, president of U.S. malls for Simon, admitted that the Circle Centre Mall had lost its luster. The mall has struggled to fill its retail space — its occupancy rate hovered at about 90 percent in 2014.

 

A Nordstrom departure from the mall in 2011 not only left 777,000 square feet of leasable space open, but was also a loss that other retailers said has affected their own business.

 

Nathan Jones, general manager for Teavana’s downtown Indianapolis shop, said losses like Nordstrom and Coach have meant Circle Centre is no longer a destination mall.

 

Circle Centre is lacking in some of the most popular types of stores, too. Saria Ortiz, manager of The Perfume Company, doesn’t know what to tell customers who ask where they can find a nice makeup store.

 

There is no Sephora in the mall, nor an Apple Store — two retailers Ortiz thinks could improve her own business by attracting more mall-goers.

 

Jones agreed that Circle Centre is in need of updating. The building lacks color and brightness, he said. But he doubts that such updates will help his tea shop bring in the customers it needs. Simon’s talks of adding apartments or condos to the building have also left him concerned.

 

Jones is doubtful that new housing inside the mall would help his business. There are plenty of luxury apartments downtown, but Jones hardly ever sees that kind of shopper. The reality is that there are no luxury stores for them to spend their money, he said.

 

“I’m not entirely sure what that’s going to do for us,” Jones said. “It will help Simon’s pockets, not mine.”

 

Crime inside the mall

 

Ortiz said crime has been a factor in driving businesses away from Circle Centre. On one occasion, a homeless man came inside her store and started spraying perfume everywhere. Ortiz had to call security.

 

Sometimes, areas of the mall are so crowded with security officers and unruly teenagers that it’s hard to navigate one’s way out of the building, Ortiz added.

 

Griffith always sees officers escorting teenagers down a nearby escalator in handcuffs. He recalled an incident when a girl — it seemed to Griffith she was high on drugs — flailed on the ground in handcuffs as officers tried to arrest her.

 

“It detracts from the class that could be at the mall,” he said.

 

Griffith is frustrated with the ‘teeny-boppers’ that come to the mall on weekends without their parents and “raise holy hell.” Security officers do their best to keep those teenagers under control, but Griffith said their misbehavior makes for an uninviting atmosphere.

 

He worries that some of his customers see the chaos and decide to leave.

 

Still, he doesn’t know if Simon can do much to change the situation. It’s just a reality of running a store in downtown Indianapolis, he said.

 

Falling traffic

 

Teavana’s atmosphere is welcoming: all earthtone packaging, warm lighting and health products. But on a chilly Saturday morning, only two people, a pair of women who didn’t end up buying anything, trickled inside.

 

Teavana’s traffic at its Circle Centre location has fallen year by year, Jones said. He recently counted an average of 120 customers inside the shop per week, about 30 fewer than last year.

 

While Teavana’s other two locations at the Fashion Mall at Keystone and Castleton Square Mall have struggled with traffic and sales, business is better in the northern Indianapolis locations than at Jones’ shop.

 

He and other store managers remember how when Circle Centre first opened, people would go out of their way to come downtown for the higher-end stores.

 

“Circle center used to be posh,” Griffith said. “And now it’s ... eh.”

 

The only additions Griffith has seen lately are convenience stores, kiosks and other pop-up shops. And nobody will travel downtown for that kind of store, he said.

 

The location where The Perfume Company operates now used to be a Nine West store, Ortiz said. After Nine West left, the perfume shop moved downstairs into the better location. Despite the move, Ortiz said the store’s traffic is still falling.

 

“It’s less and less every day,” she said.

 

Many store owners and managers have complained about falling traffic and suffering sales, Ortiz added. They worry that Simon’s efforts are misdirected. Condos, schools and ‘mom and pop’ shops are not likely to bring more foot traffic to the mall, managers said.

 

Jones would like to see Simon direct its efforts toward bringing in the sort of stores people would go out of their way to visit. But he doesn’t have high hopes.


“I almost think it’s too far gone,” he said.

 

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