slaves:
Slaves are people who belong to other people; these people are the owners of the slaves.

grapefruit:
a large, yellow fruit, similar to oranges and lemons but larger

bug:
insect (an informal word)

paycheck:
a check (promise to pay) that is given to someone in payment for work

bank account
your ‘bank account’ contains the money you’ve put in the bank

end up:
when you ‘end up’ somewhere, that is the final point you reach after a series of experiences or events

Michael Lee (easy version)

In August, 2001, when he was forty-three years old, Michael Allen Lee was sent to jail for four years. He was sent to jail because he had been keeping slaves.

When he went to jail, Michael was living in Fort Pierce, a town in Florida in the south-east corner of the United States. There are a lot of grapefruit and orange farms near Fort Pierce. Michael sent his slaves to pick fruit on those farms. The owners of the farms paid Michael for the work. He was supposed to use the money to pay his slaves but, in fact, they got only a part of it.

Michael found his slaves in the city of Orlando, not far from Fort Pierce. They were living there, very poorly, in special ‘homes’ for men who had nowhere else to live. Michael told the men he found in these places that, if they came with him to Fort Pierce, their lives would be much better. Some of them believed him and went with him.

When they got to Fort Pierce the men found out that their lives were really going to be much worse there. Fifteen men had to live in a very poor house with only four bedrooms. They slept in small beds or on the floor. Some of them had to sleep in the halls. They couldn’t drink the water that came out of the taps. It was green or brown and it smelled bad. There were bugs everywhere.

They got up every morning before the sun came up. They were taken to the farm in the back of a small truck. There wasn’t much room. Some of the men had to sit on the floor.

On their way to the farm, they stopped at a small store and Michael gave each of them about $5.00US to buy their breakfast and lunch. When they got to the farm, they worked all day, until about six in the evening. There were no bathrooms for them to use on the farms. They had no way to wash their hands. They had water, but they had no cups to drink it from.

After work, Michael gave them some more money—$5.00US or less—to buy their supper. Then the men went shopping together and they cooked together. Sometimes they cooked a chicken. Sometimes they had hot dogs. Sometimes a man who Michael knew brought a wild animal to the house and cooked it for the men.

Every Friday, Michael brought the men their paychecks. He told them to write their names on the checks. Then he took the checks and put them in his bank account and brought the men money. Before he gave them the money though, he took off what he’d already given them for food. And he also took off the money they owed him for rent on the house. He took off money for other things too —sometimes he couldn’t even explain why he was taking it off.

The men were supposed to be getting paid between $500 and $600 a week, but often more than half of that was taken by Michael before he gave them any money. And sometimes, instead of giving them money, he gave them liquor or drugs. He told them that if they didn’t agree to take these things instead of money, they would get nothing.

Michael knew his slaves were very unhappy. He told them if they tried to run away, he’d find them. One of the men, George Williams, did run away. He went to work on another farm in Fort Pierce. When Michael found out, he went to get him. He pulled George into his truck and he took him to another one of his houses. There, Michael had another man hold George down while he hit him again and again. George was hurt badly. Afterward, Michael made him wipe his own blood off the walls. Then he locked George in the house.

Michael tried to keep George locked up but, in the end, George got through a window and ran away again. Then George went to the police and told them what had happened. That is how Michael ended up in jail.

- information from: St. Petersburg Times, 01.08.16, (Thomas C. Tobin); Palm Beach Post, 01.02.16 (Molly Hennessy-Fiske); The Miami Herald, 03.09.16 (Ronnie Green);