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Slaves, Serfs & Odd Birds: Part 1
February 21, 2006: Sometimes life reads like Jim Thompson wrote it. On February 6th in the small (pop. 4,287) town of Lonoke, Arkansas, Mayor Thomas Privett was arrested. Along with Police Chief Ronald Jay Campbell and his wife Kelly. The Campbells face the more serious charges. Chief Campbell has allegedly been brewing up methamphetamine and doing a little residential burglary. His wife is also alleged to have been committing burglaries. When actually invited into homes, Kelly Campbell had a Bermuda Triangle effect: prescription painkillers and jewelry disappeared. In between calling on friends and neighbors, Mrs. Campbell reportedly spent quality time with prisoners from the Lonoke County jail. Supplying them with booze, drugs and her own sweet self. Inmates favored by Mrs. C. could leave the jail whenever she pleased. Security cameras might have caught the comings and goings (or lack thereof) but alas, a freak lighting strike wiped the tapes.

Sheriff Campbell and Mayor Privett also used prisoners for private purposes. Albeit more prosaic ones. The sheriff had his boat worked on and a walkway installed to the family swimming pool. The mayor got his porch and air conditioner repaired, his garden tended, and his Christmas lights hung.

The prisoners who served as chore boys were state prison inmates. Placed in the Lonoke County Jail under Arkansas' Act 309 program. The intent of 309 is to reduce prison crowding at state levels and provide cities and counties with free labor for tasks categorized as either "309 In-Jail" or "309 Work". The former jobs are to be done within jail premises, the latter can involve other public properties and projects. Counties and cities that accept 309 inmates receive stipends for their upkeep. Lonoke County Jail had five such inmates and received 75 dollars a day (15 dollars per head) for upkeep.

By Arkansas law* cities and counties are responsible for making sure 309 inmates aren't used "to provide personal services for private benefits". Nor can 309 inmates be used "to replace city, county, state or federal employees". Both stipulations have holes big enough to drive a truck load of slave labor through.

How likely is it that officials in cities and counties will report 309 abuses? Did Mayor Privett or Sheriff Campbell drop a dime on themselves? And even non corrupt officials are loathe to rock the boat of any state or federal program that provides local funding and/or reduces property taxes. Besides, little dictators in small ponds can be nasty. For instance, Sheriff Campbell had a rep for coercion in a prior law enforcement job in another county and some of his current charges involve setting someone up for a drug bust.

Then there's the proviso that 309 inmates not replace city, county, state or federal workers. Let's see-- if prisoners don't maintain jails, repair official vehicles, clean parks and sidewalks, remove hazardous environmental materials such as asbestos from public buildings, etc. who would? Try paid employees. Receiving market wages.

Proponents of all prison labor programs, including not just the 309 ones which supply workers for public facilities in cities and counties in various states, but the federal Prison Industry Enhancement (PIE) programs servicing private industries across the nation, claim such programs don't take jobs away from other workers. Or encourage employers to rely on subsidized or cheap forced labor rather than employees free to bargain, either singly or collectively, for wages and benefits. Maybe so. And maybe human nature has been struck by the same bolt of lightening that wiped out the surveillance tapes at the Lonoke County Jail. Also consider that the majority of prison inmates are high school drop outs. And that the types of jobs inmates perform via 309 or PIE programs are typically manual labor or entry level manufacturing and office jobs. The same kind of jobs which can give potentially prison bound high school dropouts a proactive lift into another way of life.

Incidentally, telemarketing is among the office work PIE inmates sometimes handle for private industry. So next time a telemarketer asks for credit card info it might be wise to inquire if they're currently attending crime school. PIE inmates have also manned telephones for companies handling political campaigns. No big surprise there.

In Lonoke, the investigation into misuse of the Act 309 inmates began with the Arkansas Corrections Department then moved into the realm of the state police. The case against Mayor Thomas Privett will be prosecuted by the county prosecutor. The mayor sez the prosecutor is a political enemy out to get him. Despite the scandal Privett refuses to resign. No one can make him. The narcotics, burglary and conspiracy related charges facing now X Sheriff Campbell are felonies, but Mayor Privett is merely charged with a misdemeanor having to do with improperly using prisoners. Only a felony charge would make his resignation mandatory. Unless an indictment upgrade is made, the citizens of Lonoke are stuck with their Privett as is.

Blaming "enemies" and not resigning when poop hits the fan is a trend among sullied pols. Back in the day they headed for the hills. Now they cling like stubborn stains as their attorneys issue statements how their clients welcome the opportunity to clear their names. While using every legal dodge possible to keep their clients from getting the opportunity to clear their names. If the scandal is about sex or substance abuse rather than say, graft, pols turn teary. Even ones who eat nails for breakfast go on TV and talk of childhood trauma and inner demons. While their flaks chat with pundits and define political maturity as the public not expecting leaders in the halls of power to behave any better than Joe Blow in the Happy Valley Trailer Park.

Another trend. Slaves and serfs. Not only prison inmates need apply. Check the urban scene. Where public officials and non profit profiteers increasingly use the homeless and rehab facility residents as low or no paid labor. Guaranteed 100% union free. Workers dependent for the very roofs over their heads are in no position to bargain. As tenant farmers in upstate New York in the 19th century realized. Eventually said farmers launched the Rent Wars and tossed out the patroons who ruled their world. Yet traditions die hard. To this day some folks look back with nostalgia at serfdom. Hoping for its regional renaissance via government use of eminent domain in support of private developers. Aka real estate negotiation at gunpoint.

Hey-- did you hear the latest gun funny from the Park South neighborhood in the upstate city of Albany, New York? The low income nabe's most recent redevelopers, Winn Development of Boston, say they won't use eminent domain to seize private property except in "unusual cases where a strategic parcel cannot be obtained".** Whew. Local opponents of eminent domain in the service of private developers can rest easy. When faced with the specter of challenging local pols in local courts, plus the cost of doing so, refusal to sell is indeed unusual.

Talking northeast, recent municipal corruption cases in Springfield, Massachusetts have included charges that certain public officials treated homeless shelter residents and welfare recipients enrolled in job training programs like the 309 inmates of Lonoke, Arkansas. As in-- a source for free labor and sex. Though the latter was doubtless the fault of the comely homeless and cunning welfare wenches. Who led susceptible public servants astray in order to gain cubbies or HUD subsidies. Actually, all sorts of people receiving help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) via local officials and non profit agencies can get the shaft. Including those who sign on for home purchase and rehab assistance from the agency's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

Rio Dell in Humboldt County, California is a beautiful small town. In the northern section of the state, amidst redwood forests and framed by mountains, Rio Dell resembles the town of Twin Peaks in the uncanny TV series of the same name. Residents Steve and Sharon Wolfe have found Rio Dell to be just as strange as Twin Peaks. Though for non supernatural reasons.

A few years ago the Wolfe family moved to California from Oregon. They bought their first house in Rio Dell. With assistance from CDBG's First Time Home Buyer and Housing Rehabilitation program, as delivered by Rio Dell public officials and the Redwood Community Action Agency (RCAA). Humboldt County's most powerful and ubiquitous non profit agency. The weirdness began almost immediately...

To be continued in Part Two.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

"This is a tragic endeavor to disrupt the mayor and city council in their efforts to complete the important functions of municipal government."

Mayor Thomas Privett, Lonoke, Arkansas 02/15/06

"Get it get it get it (whoooooah) get it get it get it (ooohhhh)"

Britney Spears, I'm A Slave 4 U, Chad Hugo, Pharrell Williams, 2001

*Administrative Regulations, State of Arkansas Board of Corrections, Inmates Housed in County Jails and City Jails (Act 309) 06/27/97

**"Park South vision built on a massive scale," Brian Nearing, Albany Times Union, 02/08/06

Sources include:

"Police chief quits; Search for replacement begins," Ed Galucki, The Lonoke Democrat, 02/15/06

"Police Chief, his wife, mayor in Lonoke, 2 others charged," Charles Frago, Arkansas Democrat & Gazette, 02/07/06

"Mayor, police chief and wife arrested; freed on bond," Ed Galucki, The Lonoke Democrat, 02/08/06

"No wonder Lonoke jail so popular," Garrick Feldman, The Leader, Covering Lonoke, White and Pulaski Counties, 02/08/06

"Suspension of prisoner program to continue," Ed Galucki, The Lonoke Democrat, 11/09/05

Administrative Regulations, State of Arkansas Board of Corrections, Inmates Housed in County Jails and City Jails (Act 309) 06/27/97

Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP), U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs

Prison Labor: Some Facts and Issues, Karen Miller, 2000,

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Copyright (c) 2006 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.

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