Yesterday I was driving by the Barry County Friend of the Court and noticed that the county was getting free landscape work courtesy of an inmate at the county jail. Well, free if you ignore the cost to the taxpayer to keep someone in the county jail and to drive them to a work site and to pay someone to keep an eye on them so they don't escape.
I know that often the tattooed arms that restrain the pets at the local shelter which get photographed and printed in the local paper belong to jail inmates who do jobs to help pay for their 3 squares and a bed at Sheriff Leaf's B&B. So it didn't seem unusual in any way to see one of trimming the lawn. In fact, it was nice to know some guy wasn't getting paid 3 times my hourly wage to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine while I toil away inside an office not quite enjoying the stale air and flourescent lighting.
Various citizens of Hastings were out walking the streets on a nice day. I noticed a few women strolling along a sidewalk not far from the inmate doing some weed whacking. I wondered how they felt looking over to realize a convict was standing not too far from them, without any apparent cuffs, leg irons, shackles or other implement to impede his movement that I could see. Even that didn't seem too odd given that this was at perhaps the busiest corner in the county, despite not seeing any armed guard or other presence to prevent an incident, since chances are this guy would like to hurry up and serve his time so he get out and perform the same menial task for at least minimum wage (if he's lucky enough to find employment, but that's another story I suppose). Maybe I've seen too many films but I half expected the Sheriff to be chewing on a toothpick or match, hand on his revolver or cradling a shotgun while keeping a watchful eye on his ward, but if any one was keeping an eye on the inmate while he performed his duties I didn't notice. I drove off without giving it any more thought.
Then today I drove by that same spot and what I saw did seem a bit off to me- enough to remember what I'd seen, and nearly forgotten, from the day before. The same jail inmate in his orange jumpsuit was in nearly the same spot behind the Barry County Friend of the Court building in downtown Hastings. This time instead of doing the yard work he was performing another task, a surprising one, at least as I saw it. This time the orange-adorned inmate was buffing a shine onto a nice looking black Chrysler (a 300, I believe).
Now, I have no way of knowing just from driving by and seeing this fleeting image whether the car in question is a county vehicle or privately owned but I didn't see any department insignia that would lead me to believe this car was official government property and I guess I didn't think a nicer car such as this would be used as a county vehicle- then again I still don't get why the Sheriff's Department has to drive gas guzzling SUVs while the state cops and city boys still seem to be able to fit their gear in a car just fine.
Is it just me or does anyone else see a different between making jail inmates do some yard work and having them shine a car, especially if the car isn't county property? If someone in the county might order him to clean their car would they then also ask to get their shoes shined? What is the limit of what these inmates are forced to do? Does any one care or does this fall into the common attitude that we don't care how prisoners are treated as long as we feel someone is "bring tough" on them?
Blogger's note: I though about waiting on this since I know local law enforcement is a bit pre-occupied tonight (my condolences to those affected) but I figured if I waited I'd just forget about it or put it off and it would be another month before I posted something.