Former inmate: Prison would be secure

Published 9:16 am Sunday, April 22, 2007

Clarence “Bear” Anderson Jr. has lived on both sides of CCA prison walls.

It’s easy to get in from the outside, he said. A drug charge did the trick for him. But getting out from the inside isn’t something he even dreamed of attempting.

Anderson, a Natchez resident, served eight months in the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

Email newsletter signup

CCA wants to open a federal prison in Adams County, but a group of citizens is leading a petition asking for a vote on the prison. The deadline for the petition is Tuesday. It must have 1,500 signatures to bring the issue to a public vote.

Local politicians have endorsed bringing a private prison to the county, saying it will provide much-needed jobs.

Some residents have questioned what kind of danger a prison might put local residents in.

Anderson said the CCA prison he was held in was secure to say the least.

“Every step you take, a door opens in front of you, and a door closes behind you,” he said. “Escape is not going to happen. It would take a tank and a helicopter to get out, and it might not even happen then. It’s really tight.”

Even if an inmate tried, he wouldn’t get very far, Anderson said. He said he never even thought about escaping during his time there.

“There’s not going to be any breaking out of there,” he said. “If you can climb that razor wire fence from bottom to top without getting sliced up like a hog, you’re Superman. One guy I talked to said you couldn’t give him a million dollars to try to get out of there.”

Not only would it be incredibly difficult, but it would be unwise to try to make a break for it, Anderson said.

“Most of (the inmates) are going to have a year or two sentence at most,” he said. “They’re not going to jeopardize their chances of getting out by trying to escape and getting sent back for even longer.”

CCA officials have said they would house low- to medium-security prisoners in an Adams County facility, mostly illegal immigrants.

Anderson said that fits with his experiences in Wilkinson County’s CCA state prison.

“I had a drug offense,” he said. “They’re mostly going to be there for shoplifting, check writing and immigration (violations). You’re not going to have hardcore prisoners.”

The prison also provides benefits for the inmates, Anderson said.

“The rehabilitation program is top-of-the-line, like going to high school and college all over again,” Anderson said. “And the drug and alcohol program is top notch. It did me a whole lot of good.

“They train you for society, and they do it good.”

Most of all, the prisoners are treated the way they ask to be treated, he said.

“People treat you with respect, how you want to be treated,” he said.

Charles Wheat, one of a group of Adams County residents spearheading the petition, said he had never been inside a CCA prison, but that he worried about the safety of such facilities.

“What a prison company is after is profit,” Wheat said. “That’s what all big companies are. And when things get tight, all big companies cut where they can. Labor is the only thing they can cut back on sometimes.”

Wheat used the example of International Paper, where he worked before the plant closed.

Adams County residents Tom and Ann Julia Hughes have experience in Wilkinson County’s facility, too, and they said they’ve never seen safety cutbacks. The couple has participated in prison ministries for 11 years, visiting the WCCF since it opened.

Their experience has been “very positive,” Tom Hughes said. “They are very happy to have faith-based ministries come in.”

Both said they were not at all politically involved in the current debate over a prison locating in Adams County, but never felt unsafe while in one of the CCA prisons.

“We’ve never had an uncomfortable situation,” Tom Hughes said.

“Most of (the inmates) are men who just made really bad choices in their lives,” Ann Julia Hughes said. “They want to change and grow.”

Tom Hughes said he wouldn’t mind having a CCA prison in Adams County.

“I wish they didn’t have to build any more, that people could find the Lord outside the prison and not have to get locked up,” he said.

“But if there is a need for another prison, we don’t have a problem with that.”

Anderson said he thought a prison in Adams County was a good idea, especially if it brought jobs.

He said he wouldn’t mind living near a prison, if one located here.

“Not at all,” he said. “I’d be more worried about the people on the outside.”