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Remembering the past, unfortunately, isn’t always as much fun as a wagon load of fresh cardboard and a hot backyard construction project just waiting for a young boy’s touch.
There were some bad times, too, including jail time – that my father, the late Major Evans, saw more than I did when he was county sheriff.
To me, jail time has to be the worst. I know I don’t want to experience any confinement first hand.
However, I have come to the conclusion that young folks who commit grown-up crimes shouldn’t be housed in the same cells with adult or long term prisoners. They don’t need any additional training in the art of crime.
All it took to keep me on the straight and narrow was a wooden bridge and a work crew in shackles. After seeing what those fellas were going through, I had little desire to run afoul of the law.
Years ago, Lancaster County was pretty rough on its convicts.
Now, I know we think people who do bad stuff ought to rightfully pay the consequences. But pit bulls were treated with more compassion than those who drew hard labor sentences at the county farm.
The work was hard, food was in short supply, sanitary conditions were lacking and changes of clothes were few and far between.
To make matters worse, shotgun-toting guards who would just as soon shoot first and ask questions later, kept things in line. I’m telling you, I felt sorry for the men living that way.
At the time, we had our share of old dirt roads, many of which were main thoroughfares roads for heading to town.
There was only one road scraper in town and taxpayers always had to beg and plead with the county’s road commissioners to get ditches pulled and roadwork done with it.
I guess they figured the best way was to let the chain gang do it since convicts always dug ditches, broke rock and cleared away the wild thorn bushes that covered the roadways each summer.
These days, the road that led to our family farm is called Major Evans Road. When I was a boy, I don’t recall its named.
But I do remember the wooden bridge spanning a wide creek along one stretch of it. It fell into such disrepair that it was closed.
The closing didn’t impact our trips to the family farm since it was between the creek and Great Falls Road.
However, Kershaw and Heath Springs folks who worked in Flopeye textile mills weren’t so lucky. They used it as a cut-through, so the bridge being out messed them up pretty bad. It was just one of many bridges in the county that needed to be replaced at the time.
Now, some things never change and the squeaky wheel is still the first one that gets oiled. All of those aggravated lint heads put the squeeze on the road commissioners to get the bridge repaired.
With the pressure on to get the road reopened as fast as possible, they decided to use the chain gang.
One afternoon, we drove down to see what was going on.
The first thing I noticed was a big cage on wheels that looked like something circus folks kept lions and tigers in. It was as big as a trailer on a freight truck.
Daddy explained that chain gang prisoners called the cage “home” when they were out working on big road projects. Meals were prepared right there.
“Well, at least they brought an old outhouse on this job,” Daddy said.
There was one part Daddy didn’t need to explain.
The men were dressed in black and white striped clothes and had iron clamps fastened to their legs from which a long iron chain kept the convicts shackled in pairs.
In a very short time, the bridge was repaired and the convicts moved on to another job.
Years later, using the cage as a home-away-from-home was stopped and those stripes and the chains also disappeared.
I know that jail conditions have improved, but no matter what, the view outside has to better than peeping through those bars. Given the view, I doubt if jail inmates would vote for longer sentences.
But it has to be better than looking out of that cage.