A Peek at the Darker Side

Jeffrey here.  Joey was too discouraged to write, and gave me the floor.

The TV in the motel breakfast room displayed political ads, all from Alabamians who call themselves Republicans, for lieutenant governor, state legislator, state attorney general, chief justice of the state supreme court, and others.  Every ad referred to the candidate as a “Conservative Christian”—never mind the promises made.  It put me on edge.

Then movieman David and I made a side trip to Gadsden, seat of Etowah County, recently famous for Sheriff Todd Entrekin’s purchases of Florida real estate with at least $740,000 allocated, but not spent, to feed inmates of the Etowah County Jail.  A 1930s law allows (and Sheriff Entrekin wants us to think that it requires) Alabama sheriffs to pocket unspent food money.

Some Etowah County prisoners are immigration “detainees” who obeyed American law by presenting themselves to immigration officials and asking for refuge.  They are jailed, sometimes for years, while their cases are pending, at an average cost of about $170 per detainee per day.


Etowah County collects federal money for each of its non-criminal immigration prisoners.  The less a detainee is fed, the more the county—or the sheriff—profits.

David and I entered the jail and spoke with two detainees the only way allowed: via a telephone/video device, limited to 20 minutes.  Both were African men: a Christian, and a gay, both threatened with death on account of at least one protected ground.

Consider the Christian’s case.  He said he was denied asylum by an immigration judge who found the Christian “not credible” based on inconsistencies between the man’s testimony and an asylum officer’s notes.  But according to the Christian, the inconsistencies exist because the notes were riddled with errors, such as rendition of a year in 5 nonsensical digits (such as “19951”).  The Board of Immigration Appeals rubber-stamped the immigration judge’s decision.  Now the Christian hopes for relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.  But the best that court can do is remand the case back to the BIA.  And it can’t do even that unless the court receives a timely winning appeal.  That’s not easy even with a lawyer.  The Christian has no lawyer.

These visits made me sad.

Then David led me to the site of a 1906 lynching.


Here is the train trestle from which innocent Mr. Richardson was hanged.


Sadder still.

The old Gadsden synagogue still stands.  It was firebombed in 1960.  Now part of it is occupied by a music school.


L to R:  Jeffrey, David.  This photo was taken by a kind passerby.


The past lynching and the firebombing; the present political ads and the jail; I had had enough of Gadsden.

Then Robbie and Brandon cheered me up a little.


Pawnbroker Robbie likes the president, he likes the sheriff, he has his reasons.  But probe a little and you see that Robbie wants what most of us want: a safe, humane, prosperous country.  After he talked to David and to me, he put his arm around me and said, see, we can disagree and still be friends.  Yes . . . and I told him that we agree on more than he might think.  Robbie wants immigration to continue in an orderly way.  He wants asylum applicants to have lawyers to help them get fair and prompt consideration of their claims.  He wants people to stand on their own if they can, without “communist” dependence on government.  I’m with you, Robbie!  Let’s keep talking about how to reach these goals.

Brandon, a car dealer, ran out of gas in a parking lot.  His snazzy little BMW is seen over his left shoulder.  We had neither gas, nor gas can,to offer.  That was ok.  Brandon was happy to talk.


Brandon was quite taken with the Ride.  He thinks it would be of interest to the local newspaper.  But alas, we had to move on.  Brandon sent us on our way with hugs and good wishes.

David will be away on business for the next few days.  I pedaled Joey 27 miles to Cullen, Alabama, arriving just after sunset.  Tomorrow we continue west.  David will catch up with us when he returns.

4 thoughts on “A Peek at the Darker Side

  1. It is because of the dark side that you are riding. Thank you for your courage. Zena

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. I feel for those two asylum seekers you met. Truly sad. Of all places to be detained. I’m sure your visit offered some respite to their misery.


  3. I had a professor in graduate school, a Jew from Gadsen, Alabama, who spoke of his family being shot at. Eager to hear Jeffrey and David speak at West End Synagogue’s Retreat June 1-3.


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