Letters
Letters for 02-16-2017

Inmates take jobs most of us wouldn’t
I don’t know what it is – maybe sad – that
there are a lot of people in Louisiana who
don’t know where Farmerville is.
As you’d expect, it’s primarily people
who think Louisiana above Interstate 10
should be a separate state altogether. For
those folks who actually have humans who
answer the phones, they’ll ask the “ name,
number and who are you with” type message.
When we say “The Gazette in Farmerville,”
many invariably ask, “Where’s that.”
My pat reply is “Almost in Arkansas.”
A few weeks ago, though, one of our
stories made it all the way to Baton Rouge,
via our sister publication, the Ruston Daily
Leader. Someone in Lincoln Parish shared
it with one of those pesky bloggers who
made it a much better story than it was
originally. Only problem is, the part they
added to it wasn’t entirely true. Truth of the
matter being, none of the embellishment
had even a shred of truth to it.
Our story dealt with why a private jail
management firm took a pass on the offer
to run the Union Parish Detention Center.
In the hands of the blogger, it became
something about how Foster Farms was
receiving a $2,400 income tax credit for
every inmate who worked there.
That ain’t happening. A spokesman for
Louisiana Economic Development said
the way the state’s deal with Foster was so
heavy on the front end - $50 million in up
front money – that the state basically said,
“No. You can’t claim a $2.4 million income
tax credit each year for your employees.”
A subplot to that debate was the arguber ment that “inmates are taking jobs that
people want and can’t get because inmates
are working.”
I’ve heard this before. Even experienced
it before. I can tell you its hogwash.
As much as I love what I do, there have
been times where it slap wore me out. For
most of 10 years, I was editor of a paper that
published five days a week. Eighty-hour
weeks ran into months and years, and it
got to me more than this fat boy could take.
So I took off.
A company from Mississippi was opening
a plant in Bastrop. They needed someone
who could make sure chickens got to
the plant on time and ultimately where they
needed to be after they left. I became that
guy. Mike Tubbs, the sheriff in Morehouse
Parish, asked me to speak to the general
manager about putting a few inmates to
work.
At first the GM was resistant, and I offered
this assessment.
“There’s three things I know about work
release inmates. They’re always going to be
on time. They’re going to be straight and so-ber
and able to work. And generally they’ll
work hard, because even if its only 40 cents
of every dollar they earn that they get to
keep, it’s better than the nothing they’re
making sitting on their bunk.”
At first, he allowed Mike to send eight
inmates. Then it grew to 16 and 24. It’s been
a steady 100 inmates a day now for about
six years.
A former chief of police in Bastrop said
something to me one day about how he
didn’t like that “inmates are taking jobs
that people want and can’t get because
inmates are working.”
I shared this bit of truth with him.
“If we bring 10 new employees in for
training on Monday, one of them won’t
come back after lunch. By Friday, four of
the remaining nine aren’t there any longer
either.”
I’d wager dollars to doughnuts the folks
at Foster would tell you the same thing.
Even if you’re giving them with an income
and a chance for health insurance and other
benefits they don’t have, there is a large
number of people who think standing for
eight hours a day cutting up chickens isn’t
something they want to do.
As for the “Why would they when we
give them food, money and health insurance
for not working,” that’s a whole, different
column.
Mark Rainwater may be reached at the
offices of The Gazette, 104 N. Washington
in Farmerville, by calling 318.368.9732 or
emailing mark@fgazette.com.