In the 1960’s, a Paul Newman movie called “Cool Hand Luke” became an instant classic. Newman played the role of Luke, a man who would not conform to a Florida prison system.
Luke was initially arrested for cutting off the heads of parking meters during one drunken night of escapades. Initially, he was asked why he would do such a thing. He said, “Small town, not much to do in the evening”.
He was sentenced to two years of prison, but failed to adapt to prison life. His troubles came from not complying with rules of the inmate pecking order or the prison warden.
I remember the vivid images of Newman working on the chain gang. The movie shows all the prisoners in the hot sun; surrounded by armed guards, while working to pave a highway. Luke never does conform and the movie tracks the discipline, escapes and sad ending of Luke.
Songs have been written about working on the chain gang. Even today, there are times when I drive by a highway site, and see a bunch of men in orange uniforms, picking up trash. Usually, it’s now the local sheriffs department that coordinates these community work forces, that get things done along the highway at cheap labor prison prices.
The chain gang labor is not as bad as it used to be. There aren’t men being whipped, for not keeping up the grass mowing pace. Plus, I don’t think that it’s as physical. I do remember, though, a few stories where sheriffs would have the “work-force” over at their house, tending to the grass. Some sheriffs faced charges of misappropriation or malfeasance, for such conduct.
Now, California is floating the idea of paying for your traffic ticket by doing community service or by picking up Litter. You can get a traffic fine reduced by $50 for every eight hours of community service that you work. This has become more popular, as a result of the unemployed having difficulty in making payment for their tickets.
In Tyler, Texas, full-time students and the unemployed are eligible for programs, similar to those in California. The community service may also include working for non-profit organizations.
Usually, I try to end my blog with some kind of wrap-up thought or story. Here, I just think that it seems like a good idea and might even get some involved in projects, that may actually want to do more as volunteers.
No,I don’t think we should expect to see someone at the Salvation Army Christmas kettle, wearing an orange jumpsuit that says “inmate”. Maybe we will start seeing novelty items that say “I got caught speeding, and all I got was this T- shirt and 8 hours of hedge trimming”. (Couldn’t help it)