C.J. Chivers ’88 — senior writer for The New York Times — was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for “showing, through an artful accumulation of fact and detail, that a Marine’s post-war descent into violence reflected neither the actions of a simple criminal nor a stereotypical case of PTSD.”
The Fighter, the winning work by Chivers, depicts the story of Sam Siatta — a Marine Corps veteran diagnosed with combat-based PTSD, depressive disorder and alcohol-use disorder.
Chivers first met Siatta, age 24, at the Shawnee Correctional Center, where Siatta was serving his six year sentence for home invasion. Siatta had violently broken into a house in a drunken stupor and had gotten into a fight with another Marine Corps veteran, who stabbed him nine times in efforts to defend himself and his girlfriend.
Initially, Chivers was “interested but cautious” to cover Siatta’s story. As a Marine veteran himself, he knew that “some of these Marines turn criminal and deserve every bit of punishment.” However, as Chivers began to unravel Siatta’s life, he discovered behind the conviction a more complicated account of the reality of a soldier dealing with a severe case of PTSD.
Pulled in by Siatta’s eye-opening story, Chivers weaves together Siatta’s life through the death of his father at the age of 12, to his high school sweethearts, to the life-or-death battlegrounds in Afghanistan and to the penitentiary dominated by gangs and Latin Kings.
The resulting landscape is an extremely personal look into the mind of a PTSD-diagnosed veteran and his transformation from childhood innocence to overbearing depression and anxiety. It is an eye-opening account of the often overlooked realities of combat and the tangles of a legal system that has no easy answers to PTSD.
But it also a hopeful tale, a true account of a veteran who finds his way out of the depths of his depression. With perseverance, Siatta eventually wins the appeal, reunites with his sweetheart and becomes an amateur in mixed-martial-arts.
Chivers, a former infantry officer in the Marine Corps and a distinguished journalist, has written from conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Russia, Uganda, Uzbekistan and more throughout his career. A contributor to the International and Investigative desks, Chivers also served as the Moscow correspondent from 2004 through 2007.