Southern Tier, Post 48
Day 53, post 48: The Prison Industrial Complex -- I have been noticing quite a few "Correctional Institutions" and "Correctional Facilities" along Highway 90 since I left Pensacola. These are prisons. In Florida, those called "Facilities" are run by private corporations. Those called "Institutions" are run by the state. There is only one prison in Florida actually called a prison. It is run by the state and is called Florida State Prison. I passed close by it. But what got me thinking most about this topic was seeing 4 prisons in 20 miles just east of Lake City, where I was biking yesterday morning. Two of those prisons were right beside each other - the Lake City Correctional Facility (private), and the Columbia County Correctional Institution (state). Turns out there are 68 prisons total in just Florida alone, and a significant number - but not all - seem to be in the northern part of the state.
I almost stayed in Live Oak, FL on the day I ended up in Lake City. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. I had just ridden past two "budget" motels (meaning, in this case, seedy-looking) and I was checking my phone to determine whether to check out either motel, depending on the distance to the next town. A man approached and asked me if he could use my phone to make a call when I was finished using it. I said I'd be happy to dial a number for him (I didn't want to hand my phone to a stranger when his plan might be to bolt with it). He gave me the number, and I dialed. I put the speakerphone on for him - no one on the other end picked up and there was no setup for messages. So I called again a few times, and eventually sent a text to the recipient on the man's behalf. The man explained to the friend receiving the texts that his phone had died, and he was going to walk four miles to Walmart to replace it. Then he and I got to talking. He lived at one of the motels I had passed. He said it was safe, but I should watch my stuff if I stayed there - the majority of people he knew were strung out on meth and petty crime was constant. Then, he told me he had been in prison a couple of times. I said that I had passed quite a few prisons and he said, "Yea, the state likes to send criminals to the woods". I mentioned that I had seen more than one sign advertising job openings at the prisons. "Oh yea", he said. "The locals love that there are jobs - but, goddamn, some of the guards are so dumb they don't know how to tie their shoes". Well, I have no idea if that is true or not, but I decided while I was talking to this guy to push the extra 24 miles to get to Lake City where my choice of motels would be more diverse. So I sent one last text to help him out, and said goodbye. About a mile up the road I stopped again for a more thoughtful accounting of my choices. As I was studying my phone, I heard another voice, "Have you come far"? I looked up. It was a cop, who had pulled up beside me and was getting out of his car. I explained just how far I had come (San Diego). I queried the cop's opinion of the motels I had passed by. He said, "You made the right choice. I'd never stay at either of those motels". I then asked about meth addiction. He answered that there was some in town, but now that OxyContin was harder to get the cops were more worried about heroin. (It is the preferred drug substitute for OxyContin addicts and is cheap and easy to get.) I mentioned I had cycled past a lot of prisons in the Florida Panhandle. He replied, "Drugs are our biggest problem. There's not enough work, and people do crazy stuff to get the drugs".
So, communities want prisons for the jobs. And a lack of jobs fuels drug abuse, which fuels petty crime, which helps to fill the prisons. Seems kind of circular to me. And more evidence of the decline of rural America. I spend a lot of my time worrying about climate change. But when towns just don't work very well in the here and now, worrying about something a few decades away from being life threatening probably doesn't seem like much of a priority.
Pic 1, Run by a private corporation. This is Jeff Sessions' preference; Obama tried to phase them out. Should prisons be a profit making business? Most people who advocate on behalf of incarcerated individuals don't think so....
Pic 2, Looking for work? If farming, and then agribusiness have let you down, maybe you can get a job at a local prison? looking for work?
Pic 3, A map of prisons in Florida.
One more blog to come before the Southern Tier tour concludes.