Because the truth hurts, Alabama prison bans Pulitzer-winnning book

I ran across this story on Douglas Blackmon’s facebook page, and it deserves repeating:

Prison officials in Alabama will not allow an inmate to read the Pulitzer-prize winning book that Blackmon wrote about the South’s infamous convict-lease system. They claim Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II  is “too incendiary.”

The inmate, a white man serving a life sentence, has sued over the state’s refusal to let him read the book. From the New York Times:

(Attorney Bryan) Stevenson, who is also the director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, said he considered the lawsuit to be less about the rights of people in prison but primarily about the country’s refusal to own up to its racial history

Stanley Washington, a former inmate who is now a caseworker for the equal justice group, said that at the Alabama prison where he was serving a sentence in 2001, inmates were forbidden to watch the mini-series “Roots.”

“They didn’t give a reason,” Mr. Washington said. “We figured they thought it would rile up the blacks against the whites.”

To read the entire article, click here.

I’ve read Blackmon’s book, and participated in a panel discussion about it with Blackmon that was sponsored by the Atlanta Journal-Constiution.  It is a painful read, but essential for those who want to understand the South. (By the way, in the movie version of Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara uses convict labor to rebuild her fortunes–but the prisoners are white! Which is exactly NOT the way the system worked.)

For those of you that don’t know about the convict-lease, it was a method of forcing black men after the civil war to work on plantations, railroads, and in coal mines. Brutal, inhumane conditions were the norm. How bad was it? Here’s the opening passage on the subject from The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia, by Donald L. Grant:

Being a peon was not the worst thing that could happen to a black in Georgia.  After the Civil War and until it was abolished in 1908, the convict-lease system became, next to lynching, the most brutal manifestation of black oppression in the South.  The forced labor of its mostly black victims mainly benefited a small ruling elite. Leased convicts were prisoners who were given, rented, or leased by a governmental unit to individuals and companies that forced them to work, usually under atrocious conditions. Lessees wanted to maximize profits and were not held accountable for the prisoners’ condition.  As a result, the brutalization of prisoners was unparalleled. Driven to work by the lash– often when sick, underfed, and provided with miserable quarters — many died while serving their sentences.  Southern historian Fletcher M. Green called it “a system that left a trail of dishonor and death that could find a parallel only in the persecutions of the Middle Ages or in the prison camps of Nazi Germany.”

Fergit, Hell.


“Show Me” the money … please. After great fundraising year, MO PTA is missing $13,000

When I started this blog, I was determined to keep up with PTA embezzlement stories.  Turns out it’s harder than I thought, because PTAs are getting looted, looted all across this land, I tell you. And the crooks are going to get caught, because they’re rank amateurs, most of them. Here are some of the rules to follow for volunteer organizations: All checks should take two signautres, presidents should never sign a blank check, audits should be performed yearly, and PTAs should take out insurance to cover loss by theft. And one other thing: THOU SHALT NOT STEAL. Especially from kids.

Here’s the latest, from my home state of Missiouri, courtesy of

The Blue Hills (near Kansas City) PTA had big plans for the 2011-12 school year.

From teachers’ grants and field trips to starting a much larger purchase that involved iPads, the Fort Osage School District school’s budget had already been developed to spend some of the association’s more than $17,000.

But those plans quickly changed when executive board members discovered that thousands of dollars from the PTA’s account were missing.

“We have $3,400 in our account right now,” said Chris Ford, president of the Blue Hills Elementary PTA. “Our estimate is that more than $14,000 is not there as it should be.”

The problem was discovered last month, when the current treasurer was working on the annual internal audit of the PTA’s financial records. Ford said by state law, the previous treasurer must turn over the books by July 1. After weeks of phone calls, he said he began to suspect that there was a problem.

When the books were finally returned July 26, Ford said there were a number of inaccuracies and discrepancies, and immediately the magnitude of the situation became clear.

“… There are so many inaccuracies,” Ford said. “We can prove that between $12,000 and $13,500 is missing. But our estimate is that there is well over $14,000 unaccounted for.”

The Blue Hills PTA is working closely with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation, although no charges have yet been filed.

To read more, click here.


When will it end? Kentucky PTA volunteer indicted

This is getting old. But we persevere.

WLKY in Louisville reports that an Oldham County, Kentucky school volunteer has been indicted after an audit showed she may have stolen more than $13,000 from the Liberty Elementary PTA.

According to the indictment, bookkeeper Melanie Winkle forged the PTA president’s signature on a total of nine checks from the school’s PTA account between 2010 and February 2011 totaling $13,327.14.

Officials said that the money was returned to the school.

To read more, click here.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever, even if it involves a church brawl

As a former police reporter, I’ve got to step back in awe and say the first sentence of this story is an absolute masterpiece.

From the Huffington Post:

A deacon at an Alabama church stabbed the minister of music’s mother after her son tased the church’s pastor in a church brawl on Sunday evening after services.

The brawl involved between 12 and 15 people, said Lori Myles of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, and allegedly began when the pastor of the New Welcome Church in St. Elmo, Ala. fired the church’s minister of music and gave him his final paycheck.

To read the rest of the story, click here. But it goes downhill after the lede.

Debt, school issues lead psychiatrist to kill son, self

A horrible tragedy, with a horrible logic behind it.

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON — Ben Barnhard finally had reason to be optimistic this summer: The 13-year-old shed more than 100 pounds at a rigorous weight-loss academy, a proud achievement for a boy who had endured classmates’ taunts about his obesity and who had sought solace in the quiet of his bedroom, with his pet black cat and the intricate origami designs he created.

But one month before school was to start for the special-needs teen, his mother, psychiatrist Margaret Jensvold, shot him in the head, then killed herself. Officers found their bodies on Aug. 2 in the bedrooms of their home in Kensington, Md., an upper-middle class Washington suburb. They also found a note.

“School — can’t deal with school system,” the letter began, Jensvold’s sister, Susan Slaughter, told The Associated Press.

And later: “Debt is bleeding me. Strangled by debt.”

Read on.

Mom gets new trial in jaywalking death case

Latest update: The judge has thrown out the reckless conduct charge. See story.

Update: After her plight received national publicity, Raquel Nelson receives a sentence of probation and community service–along with a chance to clear her name.

While she was convicted of walking outside a crosswalk after deboardint a Cobb Transit bus with her three children, she pointed out during her trial that the nearest crosswalk was nearly a third of a mile away.  Her four-year-old son was killed when the group was hit by a car driven by Jerry Guy, who was convicted of vehicular homicide and served six months in jail. Ms. Nelson and her younger daughter received minor injuries. Her older daughter was not injured.

Read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article for the details.

Original post: That’s Harsh

A Marietta, Georgia pedestrian has been convicted of killing her own child in a jaywalking incident, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This sad and strange result comes on top of a conviction  for the driver in the incident, who was impaired at the time and also has a history of being a a hit-and-run driver.

The mother, Raquel Nelson, faces up to three years in jail.

The newspaper reports:

Nelson was attempting to cross at the intersection of Austell Road and Austell Circle with her three children when her 4-year-old son was struck by a car, said Savoy. The child later died from his injuries.

Nelson and her younger daughter suffered minor injuries and her older daughter was not injured, according to an article published at the time of the incident.

The man driving the car, Jerry Guy, confessed to having consumed alcohol earlier in the day, taking pain medication and being blind in one eye, Flocks said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year that Guy was charged with hit and run, first degree homicide by vehicle and cruelty to children. Charges were later dropped to just the hit and run charge. He was sentenced to 5 years prison and probation, said the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office.

Court records show that Guy was previously convicted of two-hit-and-runs on the same day, Feb. 17, 1997.

The first hit-and-run also happened on Austell Road, but when Guy fled from that scene he hit another car, seriously injuring that driver and passenger, records show.

Guy pleaded guilty and received a two-year prison sentence, but was out in less than a year, according to the Department of Corrections website.