Serving time in county jail

Published 10:30 am Monday, June 17, 2024

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Monday morning, I spent a few hours in the Lowndes County jail. The experience was eye-opening and provided me perspective from both sides of the badge. 

I was there, not as an inmate but to talk with officers and Sheriff Chris West. We discussed the local crime rate, a new corrections officer and the latest four-legged deputy, K-9 officer. 

Over the next couple of hours, I “served time” in the waiting room. Alongside me were a couple of the inmate’s family members who were there to express concerns over the wellbeing of incarcerated relatives. 

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West wasn’t required to do it, but he permitted the concerned mothers to lay eyes on and talk with their incarcerated sons. Knowing each person is a human being, West and his jail staff showed care for the mothers’ concerns and for the inmates. 

About a year ago, I sat in on drug court hearings and listened while people from Butler, Lowndes and Crenshaw counties, there to turn their lives around, provided updates on efforts toward meeting program requirements — staying clean, doing community service, getting a job and paying fines and restitution.

The individuals who appeared before Lowndes County District Judge Adrian Johnson, who presided that day, had been convicted of drug-related crimes and were admitted to the program to make a change for the better. They spent a day in drug court to receive admonition for failures, instruction for next steps and praise for progress. I spent a day in drug court to bear witness to their efforts.

Late Monday afternoon, I pondered my day in jail and chuckled at the recollection of a text I sent during drug court last year.

Gary Sport, general manager at ITAC in Luverne, had texted me to say that he was free for a requested interview. I responded by saying, “I’m in drug court.” After a long pause, I clarified, “For an article… not a hearing for myself.”

We laughed together but in reality, each of us is one mistake away from landing in jail or appearing in court. A pastor serving with a jail ministry once told me he often counseled inmates serving time for a terrible mistake — a manslaughter conviction after running a stop sign — or an error in judgment which led them to long-term drug use.

I am glad that Sheriff West, Judge Johnson and others like them see the humanity on both sides of the badge or bench. Knowing they go above and beyond the call of duty to offer a hand up helps me see there is much good happening among those working in and through the criminal justice system.

This Friday, I will be back in drug court, this time for a graduation. I love hearing the successes of the graduates. It is a beautiful testament of what people can do when given the opportunity.