In our formative years, we were taught the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That’s something we can all agree seems good, fair and accurate in theory.
In reality, though, that theory can sometimes go the way of the open-minded Baptist and fall short of actuality. Life does not operate in straight lines. Life operates in circles and angles, rhombi and crooked slopes.
Case in point: A mega-prison might be constructed in Tallassee, as Elmore County was one of the three sites (along with Bibb and Escambia counties) announced by Gov. Ivey last week.
Now, this is a column I’ve put time and effort into researching and will be referencing credible media sources and not the uncut and uninformed pundits who use the ol’ book of faces. Also, in researching varying pieces of information, I can confidently say while this prison facility may have a rogues gallery within its well-built walls, among them will not be the Joker, Riddler, Bane or even Mr. Freeze. Those rogues reside in Arkham Asylum, which is in Gotham and neither place is rumored to be built in and around Tallassee.
The idea of building new prisons is not one unique to 2020, as it was first floated by Gov. Ivey during the State of State and brought to the fore during that year’s legislative sessions. That was last year, this year, it was again mentioned as Federal mandates were coming down from the Beltway to the Big House at the end of the Blackbelt on an almost regular basis as conditions within the state’s facilities — by some estimates — were reaching third-world-country levels of neglect and safety for the residents.
Now — I know the argument — prisons are there to reform, not to play putt-putt golf and plant petunias. However, the state does have a responsibility to safely and humanely house the residents while they are held in custody.
Overcrowding and assaults within those facilities fall short of that mandate.
Thus the Alabama Prison’s Program was created with the mantle of: “replacing prison facilities that pose the greatest risk to public safety, place the largest financial burdens on taxpayers and inhibit the development of programs for inmate rehabilitation.”
J.K. Rowling, who knows a thing or two about building prisons of both the mind and the body once said: “Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.”
A prison coming to Elmore County is nothing new. Wetumpka has Tutweiler, the state’s only women’s facility; Deatsville has Draper and Elmore has Staton Correctional Facility.
According to television news reports: “the county’s combined prisons employ nearly 700 people and bring in close to $30 million in payroll.”
“Part of our population,” county commissioner Troy Stubbs told WSFA, “here in Elmore county is very comfortable with having prisons located here.”
The problem — and this is me talking from my experience — is the fact something new could be taking roots here and there are people here who don’t handle change well at all.
Look at the latest Tallassee municipal election for reference. Despite the work done to improve the ward a candidate chose to run because they didn’t like having stop signs impeding their routes of egress in and out of the neighborhood.
A quick scroll through the area’s uncut pages on Facebook will find vitriol and venom spewed for various reasons regarding the prisons and the main two points of contention are 1) it’s a prison and 2) somebody hide “the wives and the kids” because the big bad boogie man is going to come after them. Remember what I said earlier about straight lines — this is where it ties together. People in Tallassee want to have nicer things and grow the community and want to find reasons to not have to go to Wetumpka, Montgomery or Auburn to have a good time.
This prison, from the construction end along will create an estimated 3,900 construction jobs.
Now, I’m not naïve in thinking it’s going to be 3,900 workers beating down the doors to find places to live. It does, however, increase the demand for a new hotel (which will create more jobs) and even more fast food peddlers (again, more jobs).
Once the facility is constructed, it will have a sustained number of jobs that will be scattered among those existing within the Department of Corrections and other new moving into the area.
On top of those opportunities to introduce new blood into the community comes with it new faces and, more importantly, wallets that will be opening to spend money here.
Even if the workers choose to drive into town, they are commuters and commuters spend money at the gas pump at the grocery store and various other places.
Also, there is the utility end of things as a facility this large will have to buy water and other services from Tallassee, even if it is put just outside the city limits.
Now, as to the pearl-clutching escapes are a real fear and should not be taken lightly as it’s not uncommon to see a face on the news that was on the lam, having walked out of some random facility.
To that, I say this one of the companies that’s part of the CoreCivic team built a model wall for the southern border. There was no complaining then about folks getting out or getting in.
According to their website: “safety is the foundation of quality facility management ..”
and this is a group that employs nearly 13,000 at more than 70 facilities throughout the country.
Following with press release snippet: “the facilities will feature 37% more programming space per inmate, as well as increased educational, training and recreational space which will provide for a more meaningful visitation experience with their inmates and their loved ones.” Also … “There will be four times more celled spaces than open dorms as compared to current facilities which will reduce the potential for violent incidents to occur and improve the quality of working conditions for our staff.”
Also, again, I’d like to reiterate … they were ready to build a southern border wall to keep the “bad, bad, men from down south out.’
The support and faith were there then; it should be here now.
I’m not saying this will be the thing that brings Arby’s to Tallassee, but it could be the thing that brings the thing that brings Arby’s to Tallassee.
It’s that simple.
Griffin Pritchard is a Tallassee native, longtime correspondent and weekly columnist for The Tribune.