Friday, February 6, 2009

Capitol Debts to Pay
by Hollis Gillespie
Georgia Online News Service

I wouldn't say I was surprised to find a criminal at our state's Capitol, just that I was surprised he would admit to it so readily. "Oh, yes, I got arrested on a drug charge," said Andrew Stargell. "I'll be out of prison in 30 more months." Not to be picky, but it really looked to me like he was out of prison already, seeing as how he was standing right there in the cafeteria of the Coverdell Office Building at the Georgia State Capitol. Of course, I understand that the concept of "prison" can be relative. I once worked as a copy editor for a city magazine, for example, where I had to share an office the size of a guest bathroom with three chain-smoking old acid vats. They complained to the management that my loud laughter lowered their concentration level, which I thought was a good trade off, considering their smoking lowered my life expectancy.

I used to consider that job a prison of sorts, but now I realize it was not prison, but rather Hell. There is a difference. Prison is meted out in terms, where Hell is supposed to be permanent. Both are touted as inescapable, but actually they're not. To escape the former you need strong force, and to escape the latter you need strong will. Stargell, for one, did not look like he had either, and I don't mean to say that in a bad way. He simply looked resigned to his post.

"I like it here," Stargell told me, explaining the work-release program that gives him access to the cafeteria in the Georgia State Capitol. "They let me out during the day to work here, then at night I go back to prison. In the end it will help me fit back into society."

He wore white pants, black shoes, a black belt and a white button-down shirt made of thin cotton, and through the thin cotton of his button-down shirt I could see the bold black letters on the back of his undershirt that spelled out DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. It wasn't super noticeable, so it wasn't any wonder when Stargell said he'd been working there six months and I was the first to ask him about it. I also asked him about, you know, society – because it seemed to me that the cafeteria at the state Capitol is not very representative of society as a whole. Everyone is very nicely and expensively suited up, for example, with the exception of me. I have never even been to actual prison and I wasn't fitting in here myself.

But what do I know? Except that Mark Twain once said, "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no more distinctly an American criminal class than Congress," and history has a habit of backing him up. Take former state senator Charles Walker, who was indicted in 2004 for defrauding his Augusta company of hundreds of thousand dollars because he had debts to pay. Gambling debts. According to the indictment, he also wrote checks to a casino from his campaign account, which was also the source of money orders to a few imprisoned nephews, and rent and car payments for other family members as well as mortgages for a condo for himself in Atlanta, the indictment said. I just remember thinking at the time that Walker must have been a bad gambler.

And who can forget Georgia Senator Patrick Swindall, who was convicted in 1989 of lying to a federal grand jury and sentenced to a year in prison. He had sought a debt of nearly $1 million in order to finance his luxury home in Stone Mountain, but evidently he was hanging out with the wrong people and evidently had no problem agreeing to accept laundered drug money. Swindall managed to postpone serving his sentence for five years via a myriad of appeals, even continuing to serve in a Georgia politics throughout, before his ultimate and unsuccessful appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court finally landed him in jail.

I don't think Walker or Swindall ever admitted to their mistakes, not like Stargell here, who freely admits he should not have been in possession of and/or addicted to drugs like he was before the state of Georgia imprisoned him and made him work in the cafeteria of the Georgia State Capitol. I looked around, but I didn't see any other criminals there, not any that are identifying themselves as such, anyway. Stargell politely shook my hand and said farewell. He had to get back to work. He had debts to pay.

Hollis Gillespie is one of Atlanta's best known literary personalities. She has published three books, and a fourth is on the way. Gillespie for years was a columnist for Creative Loafing. She now writes for the Georgia Online News Service and Atlanta magazine, giving readers her unorthodox and often-hilarious point of view on life in Georgia. She also runs a writing academy.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia. It's the end of another week that's seen temps plunge into the mid-teens overnight across Georgia to not even breaking freezing while the sun's up. Now we're heading into the weekend with darn-near balmy temperatures. While it's a welcome change from the past two days, I'm siding with the sage senior citizen I encountered at my local YMCA this morning who said: "Warming up is good, but these changes'll kill ya!"

If state Senator Eric Johnson gets his way, change will come to our schools by way of vouchers. In today's Green Sheet you will find his Soapbox column that outlines why he has introduced legislation to create vouchers that would allow parents more choice in choosing schools for their kids. His column is a direct refutation of the stand GONSO Editor John Sugg took recently and we're offering a link to Sugg's original column here for you to use as a counterpoint on your op-ed pages. Put 'em side by side and see for yourself.

GONSO's Wendy Parker spends signing day with new Georgia State football coach Bill Curry as he recruits his first class of players for the debut 2010 team.

The Senate could vote as early as Monday on Georgia Power's plan to start charging residential customers for a nuclear power plant that has yet to be built. GONSO's Maggie Lee has a powerful preview of our electrical future might be.

And GONSO's bon vivant columnist Hollis Gillespie made a visit to the capitol and came away thinking it takes all kinds to make the government work, from the suits to the criminals. Now, who's who, exactly?

As always, we'd like to hear from you. Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org. You can also call us at 800-891-3459.

Your input is crucial to what we do. Have a great, and warm, weekend.

-- Lee Landenberger, Managing Editor


Today's GONSO

Nuke Financing Passes Committee, Goes to Full Senate

by Maggie Lee
The Senate could vote as early as Monday on Georgia Power's plan to start charging residential customers for a nuclear power plant that has yet to be built. GONSO's Maggie Lee reports.
Full Story

Eight months in a cloud of dust and paperwork lead to GSU's very first football players

by Wendy Parker
For schools like Georgia and Florida, Signing Day is about landing football players who can take their team to the championship. For Georgia State, which will field its first NCAA football team in 2010, this year's Signing Day meant the birth of a team. GONSO's Wendy Parker follows Head Coach Bill Curry as the school signs, after an 8-month chase, its first players for the upcoming season.
Full Story

Capitol Debts to Pay

by Hollis Gillespie
Bon vivant columnist Hollis Gillespie made a visit to the state capitol's cafeteria and found that sometimes it's hard to tell who's a criminal and who's not. Then again, there's the guy wearing the Department of Corrections shirt who works in the cafeteria.
Full Story

SOAPBOX

Vouchers are the way schools can improve themselves

by Senator Eric Johnson
Competition is one of the keystones of American society. Without it, writes state Senator Eric Johnson of Savannah, schools won't improve. His legislation to create a voucher system would change the landscape for the state of Georgia, a landscape that, he writes, desperately needs improvement. He's at odds with GONSO Executive Editor John Sugg, who sees vouchers as exactly the wrong idea.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
Legislators prep bills to tackle Georgia's sex trade 'underworld'
by K. Patrick Jensen
Set 'em up Joe for another round on Sunday alcohol sales
by K. Patrick Jensen
Peanut catastrophe shows Georgia must be aggressive in protecting consumers from food contamination
by J. Randolph Evans
Time for Georgians to get real about taxes
by Rep. Stacey Abrams

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