Thoughts from a day long odyssey in North Florida

Cold day on Interstate

As I was traveling the highways and byways of North Florida on my mortorcycle in December, it occured to me that the history and culture of Florida is one of subjugation and exploitation that has found expression in slavery, share cropping and prisons. It was as true in 1849 as it is today in 2011.

The media has done a fine job of capturing the culture of the south in such movies as Deliverance (Deliverance @ netflix.com), Mississippi Burning (Mississippi Burning @ netflix.com and Gone with the Wind (Gone with the Wind @ netflix.com). Now, Deliverance may seem like a little over the top but it is worth mentioning that in 2008, Deliverance was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

However, for a better tast of Florida in particular and especially as they relate to law and order, there is Cool Hand Luke (Cool Hand Luke @ netflix.com) and Gideon’s Trumpet (Gideon’s Trumpet @ netflix.com). Like Deliverance, Cool Hand Luke was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” The writer of Cool Hand Luke was an inmate at Florida State Prison. Gideon’s Trumpet was a book and movie based on “..Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that criminal defendants have the right to an attorney even if they cannot afford it…” The incident took place in Panama City, Florida and at the time (1965) Florida had a law that no defendent would be provided legal representation by the state in trial that could result in a prison sentence unless it was a capital crime.

As I was headed west on I-10, I was reminded of the recent closing of Dozier School for Boys by the feds for what amounted to 108 years of state sponsored child abuse. (Department of Justice Releases Investigative Findings on the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center in Florida which follows a Florida Department of Law Enforcement Dozier abuse reportin 2010 which gave the school a clean bill of health. Read more at Abuse at Florida’s closed ‘White House Boys’ reform school unconstitutional and THIS IS THE FIRST, ORIGINAL AND THE OFFICIAL WEB SITE OF THE “WHITE HOUSE BOYS.” and again Feds condemn conditions at Florida youth prisons

Madison County Courthouse

Happen to pass an exit sign for Madison County and so took the exit to get a sense of what the extreme North of Florida was like. Passed Madison CI (with a staff of 316 and 1,189 inmates in residence) on my way into the County seat. (As a point of interest; I am told and have seen it written that there are only 3 counties of th 68 in the state of Florida that do not have a DOC facility). That has to make it one if not the single largest employers in the county. Located at the town center was the court house. Nothing remarkable as it resembled every southern county court house that I have seen in all my travels in the south. Nothing out of the ordinary here so I returned to I-10 and continued my ride west to Jefferson County. 

Entry to Jefferson CI

Turned off I-10 at the Georgia Florida Highway headed into Jefferson County and on my way in passed a sign for Jefferson Correctional Institution. This is a prison that has a staff of 253 and holds 1,179 inmates. Like the prison in neighboring Madison it has to be one of the biggest if not biggest employers in the county. The court house in Jefferson was not only similar in style and it to was located at what used to be the town center. As I was taking a photo a couple of things occurred to me.

The first was that the court house acted as traffic circle around which the Florida Georgia Highway went. The second was that in the south, the center of town was occupied by a court house where as in Latin America the center of town was reserved for public gatherings. The church was on the East side and the public offices was on the west side.  To a limited degree the church and state were forces that checked each other. However, in the South you will find the church embeded in the courthouse. The symbolism is powerful.

The court house was the center of power and the judge, sheriff and prosecutor (The holy trinity if you will) where elected and the most powerful figures in the county. This was  rightly so because in a society where suppression to the key to economic and political survival they were the law and commanded the guns. Jails and prison as well as public hangings were used to isolate trouble makers who threatened the established order be they slaves, share croppers or prison inmates. When the law failed there was vigilante justice. Think this is not so, then I invite you to look at the history of the KKK and more recently the death of Frank Valdes in 1999 at Florida State Prison and know the state held no one accountable.

The 10 Commandments

Somebody had parked a truck with a table of the 10 commandments close by the court house. This triggered a question as to why would people be predisposed to adhere dogmatically or iconoclastically to a religion. Another thought was triggered whereas in in a culture based of subjugation and exploitation there is an inherent understanding that once a race or group is exploiting another there has to be a powerful need for a salve to rest the conscience.

The Decaying Old South

The decaying south. This photo was  taken not all that far from the court house and was rather symbolic of the decay that sets in after over 150 years of subjugation and exploitation. The days of slavery and sharecropping may be gone but the final straw is the parasitic imprisonment of their own race for a living.

The supreme irony is the occupants in the small shopping center to the northern edge of town. To the left is a Department of Agriculture office. The middle store is celebrating the grand opening of a ‘Cashino’ gambling hall. On the right is a storefront church. It was Saturday so we know the Agriculture office was closed but no telling what the other cars were doing. The chuch parking lot was full and the lights in the church were off. Makes ya wonder if church here did provided cover for gambling. Again, it makes a person wonder if there was no church there would the ‘Cashino’ have put a church there for cover. Then again down the street on the left was a grayhound track.

Turned the motorcycle north and headed up to Thomasville, Georgia. The temperature was starting to drop and by the time I got there the weather was turning cold. Stopped to eat. Had a most unremarkable waffle at a rather unremarkable Huddle or Waffle House and headed home. In part, the ride was also about testing a new bag as well as how to carry the tent poles on a make-shift PVC carrier wraped in cloth to keep from scratching the mortorcycle. It all worked and the Dragon Princess performed like a mustang running the plains for 9 hours and three full tanks of gas.

PS:  When talking of prisons and North Florida, there is a lot of off the record talk of counties that are dependent on the prisons to sustain the county. This is the first time I have not only see it in print but seen where the legislature supported the fact:

“…Closing prisons also can be tough politically. Palm Beach County lost Glades Correctional Institution, which hurt the rural Glades. Last week, one day after defeating the privatization bill, Sen. Bill Montford, D-Gainesville, prevailed on the Budget Committee to shift $10 million that for a year will prevent the closing of Jefferson Correctional Institution east of Tallahassee. Sen. Montford said the economic loss would be more than the budget of Jefferson County, population 15,000….”Schultz: Private or public, prison system can’t be a profit center

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This entry was posted in Politics, Prison and Jails, Rural Poverty Program, The Journey, The Problem. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Thoughts from a day long odyssey in North Florida

  1. Mark O'Leary says:

    You just know that 10 Commandments monument is going to be installed in the courthouse. This should worry people no end: the fact that a US judge cannot recognize that three (some people would say four) of the 10 Commandments are unconstitutional.

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