The fire department was here first, the cops came after that and the building inspector would be on his way.
The legislative chamber was quiet Tuesday morning when Sen. Anna Wishart stepped to the microphone to explain her unease about the role she played in a recent compromise over Title X funding.
For five minutes, during final reading of the budget bills, the room became her 72-foot-by-85 foot confessional, of sorts. She was pained, she said, and disappointed in herself that she couldn't convince more of her colleagues to remove Gov. Pete Ricketts' provision that shut off payments to Nebraska's Planned Parenthood clinics for low-income women's health care.
After the previous week's vote that advanced the mainline budget bill, with the controversial provision, she had had a long weekend to reflect on the compromise. And she needed to get it out of her head and onto the record that morning, so she could move on.
Wishart, a member of the Appropriations Committee, was one of the handful of senators who had worked days on a provision rewrite after the Legislature stalled out on two attempts to stop a filibuster and move the state budget to a final vote.
The compromise got the budget off-center, got it passed and signed by the governor, but with the "blatant carve-out of Planned Parenthood," as Wishart called it, which haunted her. Could she have pushed harder?
In two sessions as a state senator, there is one major piece of advice Wishart has taken most to heart: When you make a mistake, allow a day or so to beat yourself up, then remember: Everything is a learning experience. Apologize and move on, with a clearer understanding of how to better do your job.
"The thing is, I just learned this as a human being. This is something that will help me in my life moving forward," she said.
Wishart, at age 33, is one of the youngest members of the Legislature. But in 158 days of debating and voting, shepherding bills and representing her southwest Lincoln district, she's already made her mark with subtle, dogged persistence and a willingness to fight for difficult issues.
That includes the Title X funding. And legalization of medical marijuana, a bill and a resolution stuck at the first round of debate and that will die when the Legislature adjourns sine die April 18. And her work on the Appropriations Committee, helping to shape the state's $8.8 billion, two-year spending blueprint, with all its pressure points.
Wishart is comfortable in her role, even as an open-hearted kind of person in an atmosphere where debate and back-room wrangling can be sharp and frequently defeatist.
She seems to have the temperament needed, a result of both nature and nurture, said her mother, Sarah Disbrow.
Wishart grew up with a fraternal twin sister, Vanessa, and parents Disbrow and David Wishart, who carted the girls with them to faraway places, the first being China.
"David and I were teaching, and we decided that we could be changing lots of diapers in a much more interesting place," Disbrow said.
As toddlers, the girls learned Chinese, and songs in Mandarin and Cantonese. And although they don't consciously remember the experience, their mother said, it gave them the instinct to learn new things and be open and receptive to people and experiences.
They would also live for a time in New Zealand and Australia, and visit their father's homeland of England every other year. Anna Wishart fondly remembers the long walks her family took there, down paths through uncultivated land to a small town where they would visit the candy store and then take a bus home.
The twins look like sisters, sound like sisters, but Vanessa is more introvert, Anna more extrovert.
"We're sort of yin and yang," Vanessa said. "(Anna's) much more extroverted and creative. And I'm much more introverted and practical ... more analytical."
Anna has learned patience from Vanessa.
"She's taught me to breathe, and really think through the decisions I'm making before I take action," she said.
Vanessa has learned from Anna to be more creative and adventurous, to think bigger and get out of her comfort zone more often.
"She has big ideas, and she goes out and does them," Vanessa said. "Sometimes, I think, I've expressed doubt to her about her big plan. And I'm always wrong. She's always been able to accomplish these really interesting, big, bold goals that she sets for herself."
Anna Wishart says her parents taught their daughters to live fully, step into their lives and enjoy them. She learned moderation from her mom, and the love of place from her father, and the people, architecture and everything that comes with it.
She was born and raised in her Lincoln district, graduating from Lincoln Southeast High School in 2003. But she went away for college, to Middlebury College in Vermont, to study film.
Out of college, at age 23, she worked on a film set in Iowa as a production assistant, then as assistant location manager.
Wishart's husband of six years, former Lincoln police officer Joe Coleman, also has a degree in film studies, but from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He works now as the customer support specialist for the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia.
"I didn't know if the film life was for me because it was so nomadic," Wishart said. "You travel a lot because you travel where the film is."
So she returned to Lincoln, and fell into a job working at the Capitol as an administrative aide for Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar, where she stayed three years before helping on Omaha Sen. Rick Kolowski's campaign, then working as his legislative aid.
"She was intelligent and creative and connected," Kolowski said.
Wishart remembers the very moment that would shape her future as she knows it now.
She was 25, at a luncheon celebrating the late Lincoln Mayor Helen Boosalis, listening to state Sen. Amanda McGill, elected at age 26, talk about the importance of young women being involved in politics.
"It just hit me, like cold water in my face. I turned to my mom, who was sitting with me at the table, and I said, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm going to do this. I want to run for office.' And a week later I collected enough signatures to run for the Lincoln Airport Authority Board."
She became the first Democrat elected to the board. And it whet her appetite enough that she found herself running for the Legislature five years later.
Wishart was elected in 2016 in southwest Lincoln's District 27 with 73 percent of the vote. And after she was sworn in last year, she landed a seat on the Appropriations Committee.
This is a key time in her life, she said, learning about important issues, and about herself and who she wants to be as a leader.
She takes her responsibilities seriously, and worries about letting down people who have put their faith in her.
Which is why last week was such a hard one for her, why she found herself consulting with family and friends and constituents over the weekend to hear how she could have done a better job in navigating the intense politics that came with Title X.
When she stood up to speak Tuesday, taking measured deep breaths, she assumed full responsibility for her inability to negotiate with and educate enough of her fellow senators so that people who rely on that Title X funding wouldn't lose their health care.
But she defended herself, too, saying no one could say she didn't try or didn't care.
"This budget process has been one of the most painful lessons I have had in my short time as a senator on the growing political nature of our Legislature," she told her fellow senators.
But she will learn from the experience, she said, and come back next session sharper and more prepared for tough negotiations, and with legislation to protect women's health care.
A Nebraska inmate working on prison grounds near the Lincoln Correctional Center in mid-February made a rare discovery, a high-tech hint of what may be in store for staffers tasked with trying to keep contraband out of prisoners' hands.
The inmate on work detail came across a crashed drone with bags of marijuana and tobacco attached, according to a search warrant tied to the Nebraska State Patrol investigation to track down the culprit.
While drone air-drops haven't taken off here yet, according to prisons spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith, they're definitely on the radar for Christopher Connelly, the agency intelligence administrator at the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.
It's likely just a matter of time, given that drones have gotten more affordable, and that wherever there's a prison there are smugglers trying to sneak contraband — drugs, weapons, cellphones, anything — inside.
"That's pretty much their job description: Find new ways to get around the rules," Connelly said.
He said the prisons' Centralized Intelligence Unit, which formed last year, keeps an eye on what's going on elsewhere, and keeps up with technology, to try to get in front of the game.
And it's been happening elsewhere.
Last year, the Justice Department reported seeing an increasing number of attempts to use drones to smuggle contraband into federal prisons over the past five years.
"Really, there's so many ways that contraband can come in, whether it comes in through the front entrance or a laundry cart or delivery truck," Smith said of the broader issue at play.
"Or dropped in by a drone," Connelly added.
In Europe, he said, smugglers have been known to use carrier pigeons.
Connelly said it comes down to this: In prison, anything that the state doesn't provide, inmates want. Cellphones, ink pens, jewelry, drugs, even Nike shoes. In part, just to show they can get it.
"I call it job security," Connelly said.
He's seen people hollow out books, fill them with dope and donate them; manufacture pallets with tobacco hidden inside; and sneak in liquid K2 by spraying it onto prison mail.
"They're creative," he said.
The "submarket economy" can lead to violence, he said. For instance, if an inmate gets to a point he can't pay.
But it can lead to other problems, too.
Like the deadly disturbance March 2, 2017, at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution after staff discovered and confiscated a footlocker that held 150 pounds of homemade alcohol.
And the June 2 death of Daelan Lamere, a 22-year-old inmate, who had methamphetamine and Ecstasy in his system.
Cellphones, which are banned in prisons, lead to a slew of safety issues. Connelly said inmates can use them to track down staff home addresses or transact business, "whatever that business might be, from inside."
Smith said Prisons Director Scott Frakes has put a renewed focus on locating and recovering any contraband, including cellphones, which have been a growing problem.
Last year, prison staff seized 166 cellphones in the state's 10 prison facilities, 71 of them at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, according to a Corrections Department report.
In 2016, they found 64. A year before that, 79.
Smith said last June they started using new technology, Cellsense, to help them find cellphones that have made their way inside.
Connelly said they also have a dog specially trained to find them.
But, while the numbers of cellphones discovered within prison walls is going up, drugs and alcohol still top the list of contraband found in the state's prisons. A drug-testing program shows some inmates are finding ways to get their hands on drugs and alcohol.
Amphetamines, alcohol, cocaine and marijuana were detected in the systems of inmates across the penal system in nearly 5 percent of cases in 2016, according to the latest available data.
In 2016, some 126 inmates tested positive for marijuana at the State Penitentiary.
Positive drug tests are most common at the Diagnostic Evaluation Center and the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women, where some inmates are coming right off the streets, according to the department.
Last year, corrections officers also seized 285 weapons at the state's prisons, including 130 at the State Penitentiary. That's up from 73 the year before, according to data provided by the department.
Connelly said the thing is, there's just so many ways people can try to smuggle things in.
It means staff must be hypervigilant, Connelly said, "and really look at every single thing that goes in and goes out."
Living at the Economy Lodge was hard enough for Sara Kriha and her mother, but more pain came after they moved out.
They’d left behind some of their family belongings — paying the motel a storage rate — but then the manager broke the news. The ceiling had collapsed from water damage.
“And she told us all of our stuff was completely damaged, and she’d thrown it away,” Sara said. “We were really heartbroken. My grandpa’s stuff, my son’s stuff, that was stuff we could never get back.”
Her son’s fifth-grade graduation certificate from 2013. Her grandfather’s high school diploma from 1930. And decades of memories that defined the years in between: scrapbooks, photo albums, framed portraits, the tangible history of a family.
Sara and her mother, Mary, had ended up at the motel near Cornhusker Highway and Interstate 80 in early 2013, searching for a step up from the City Mission.
“We found out really fast it was not a place to get back on your feet,” Sara said. “The cops were there every day; there were drug deals in the parking lot.”
She had shared custody of her son at the time, she said, but she would turn down visits because she didn’t want him around there.
They lasted about a year, though they met others who had lived at the motel for nearly a decade. They also met those who would never leave alive; when an old man wasn’t seen for several days, he was found dead in his room, she said. They’d considered him a friend.
She and her mother moved to another motel in 2014, and then to an apartment. Last year, the Economy Lodge was sold to Doctor John’s, which opened an adult store in its free-standing office and closed the motel rooms.
Or tried to close them. Some people refused to leave at first, and others keep coming back, jimmying locks, breaking windows or crawling through ground-level air conditioner vents.
Since it closed, the motel has also been visited regularly by police, and recently by the fire department, a fire inspector, a building and safety inspector and the newspaper, which took a tour last week with caretaker Martin Bream, who moved in a few weeks ago after he was hired to secure and clean the 133-room property.
The fire department was here first, the cops came after that and the building inspector would be on his way.
Bream pointed out black mold, tunnels between rooms, strange white powder on some carpets and, midway through the tour, he opened the door to the room full of memories.
The scrapbooks, photo albums and framed photos were stacked on the floor. These must have been good people, he said, bending down and flipping through photos. Someone cared enough to take all of these pictures.
The newspaper published the story and photos Thursday, and Sara and her mother recognized their memories. And they started crying.
“When we saw that in the paper, we were like: Are you kidding me?”
Bream had hoped to reunite the photos and scrapbooks and other items with the family that cared for them. He’d even moved some of the oldest pieces — like Sara’s grandfather’s World War II scrapbook — to the safety of his own room.
He was happy to hear from Sara, who sounded ecstatic when he described all that he had found, and he was happy to invite her to search the room for more.
“I don’t know what to look for,” he said. “There may be some little sentimental thing.”
His job is a challenge, he said, with the garbage and the squatters and the violations from the city, but this was a bright moment in a desperate setting.
“It’s a good feeling when you can help,” he said. “I’d want someone to do that for me, you know?”