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On the Run

Escapes from Tennessee work crews exceed some larger states.

By Janel Davis

Five weeks ago, a work-crew inmate of the Middle Tennessee Correctional Complex Annex in Nashville left his work detail by sneaking away from his landscaping assignment outside the facility. Everette Muth was spotted the next day walking down a road by a Williamson County sheriff's deputy and was captured.

The incident marked the fourth Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) inmate to have escaped or walked away from work crews this year. All inmates have been captured, with the final inmate taken into custody two weeks ago. That inmate, Freddie Day Jr., had been missing from the Northeastern Correctional Complex in Mountain City, Tennessee, since October 3rd and was found in a barn on property belonging to his parents in Jonesville, Virginia.

"That number is small considering the amount of inmates out in the communities," said Steve Hayes with TDOC. "I would think that our state's program ranks just as good, if not better, than other states'."

While the number is a decrease from last year's six escapes, it is still more than some states with double the work-crew population.

Florida, whose work-crew population includes 3,000 inmates, has only experienced two attempted escapes this year.

According to Hayes, each TDOC work crew is composed of from five to 11 inmates, with as many as 900 inmates across the state in the program at one time.

Texas, whose work-crew inmates number "well over 1,000," according to spokesperson Larry Todd, has only recorded one attempted escape this year. He said inmates are strongly discouraged from running. "We let them know that the use of deadly force is authorized if they try to escape," said Todd. "But we don't have too many problems. The prisoners like the program because they get to leave the facility and the communities like it because it's an invaluable service."

"If an inmate escapes they could lose credits towards their release date," said Hayes of TDOC inmates. "And in some cases, the escapee can be prosecuted for felony escape." Felony escape in Tennessee carries a one- to six-year prison sentence.

Inmates involved in the work-crew program are listed as minimum-level security and are approaching their release dates. One or two TDOC officers are deployed with each crew. Assignments include picking up trash along roads, completing construction projects, performing renovations on schools and libraries, and even constructing a press box at a Tennessee high school.

Work crews account for $7 million each year in work, based on minimum-wage rates and manhours. The inmates also earn an hourly wage ranging from 17 to 59 cents, while crews working a fire-fighting detail can make as much as $1 an hour. Inmates from all 14 TDOC locations participate in work crews. During the one-year period from June 2001 to June 2002, TDOC crews performed 1.3 million hours of work.

According to Hayes, there are no plans to end or reorganize the TDOC program.


How Dredge-ful!

Marina harbor at McKellar Lake finally gets cleared.

By Mary Cashiola

After years OF their boats hitting bottom at McKellar Lake, a group of citizens who say the Riverside Marina harbor needs to be dredged may be getting some relief.

This week, the Memphis City Council will discuss transferring funds from Pine Hill Park to Martin Luther King Riverside Park to dredge McKellar Lake, home to the Riverside Marina. A group of people, including James "Buttercup" Butler, who has owned the marina for almost 30 years, came before the city council earlier this month looking for funding for the project.

Butler said it's been over 20 years since the marina -- on the east bank of McKellar Lake, actually a cut-off channel of the Mississippi River -- was last dredged: "It's gone aground every year for the past 10 to 12 years. ... If it isn't dredged, we'll be aground again in the spring."

With the water levels low, houseboats and other vessels docked at the marina actually sit on the bottom.

Sam Hines has owned a jet-ski rental business at McKellar Lake for the past three years: "The first year I had the jet skis, we didn't have any water to jet-ski on. I said, 'This is a problem.'"

Hines said it becomes a safety issue because everyone who uses the lake has to cluster in one area when the water is low. "I think they've been trying to get the marina dredged for quite some time," said Hines. "There were a lot of snags. We tried this and that and finally we just decided to go straight to the city council."

The city's Park Services Division isn't sure how much the dredging will cost but estimates it will be in excess of $200,000.

"The marina needs to be dredged periodically," said Ned Turner, administrator of park operations. "The Corps of Engineers dredge the main channel [of the Mississippi] every year."

In fact, the Corps was dredging the river last week. Butler had hoped the dredge could be quickly moved to the marina, but the city has to get the project approved by the city council, bid the contract out, and then get a contract.

"The company wanted $50,000 a day just for the dredge to sit out here," said Butler. "We estimated it costs about $30 a minute to run the dredge."

And asked why everyone calls him Buttercup -- the retired firefighter doesn't look like a buttercup -- Butler said he didn't know: "If I had a dollar for every time I got asked that, I could have it dredged out myself."


Luck of the Irish

Did Silky's goat break Grizzlies' bad spell?

By Mary Cashiola

Maybe it was the team finally gelling under new coach Hubie Brown's leadership. Maybe it was the players-only meeting after they lost to the Spurs -- their 13th -- that led the Grizzlies to victory on Saturday. Or maybe the win over the Wizards had nothing to do with skill, ability, or hard work at all.

Maybe it was the work of a goat.

"I'm taking full credit," says Silky Sullivan, owner of Silky O'Sullivan's on Beale. "You know how the Grizzlies were on a losing streak? We figured that pharaoh at The Pyramid was mad because they were moving to a new arena down here by Beale and put a hex on them."

Sullivan says that he took Sir Maynard, the goat, along with an Irish admiral, down to The Pyramid on Friday to "get the mojo off" the team. "We walked around The Pyramid and threw shamrocks. The goat ate half of them, but the team won the next day."

Apparently, it's just Maynard being Maynard.

"It's an old Irish custom for the goats to break hexes," said Sullivan. "I'm going to have the team kiss the Blarney Stone so that they can beat the Lakers."

And now that Maynard has proved that he's got the power, Sullivan says the duo's next destination is Wrigley Field in Chicago. He plans to have the goat walk around the bases backward, from home to first, in hopes of bringing the Cubs to the World Series.

"They laughed at me when I brought the goat down to the Pyramid," said Sullivan, "but they're not laughing now."


Making Tracks

Tennessee railroad plan could ease traffic woes.

By Bianca Phillips

Tired of getting stuck in traffic when a train is stalled on the tracks? According to a proposal from the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), that may not be a problem in the future.

TDOT has outlined a new rail plan for West Tennessee that will reroute the five major rail lines that currently run through Memphis to a superterminal located at Frank C. Pigeon Industrial Park in southwest Memphis.

Each of the five lines has its own yard where the trains stop to load and unload freight, but this new plan would allow construction of about 140 miles of double-track to reroute all the lines to the superterminal.

"It would divert traffic around the eastern and southern edges of the city, providing safer intercity traffic," said Ben Smith, director of public transit, rail, and waterways for TDOT.

The existing track that runs through the city would still be used as a light-rail corridor to haul local freight, but according to Carter Gray, metropolitan planning coordinator for the city's Office of Planning and Development, it would probably be utilized only during the night when there is less traffic on city streets.

The superterminal would be built on 1,000 acres at the southwest Memphis site in an area that is currently an empty field. TDOT estimates that the project would cost $1.02 billion.The state hopes to fund the project in part through the U.S. Transportation Re-Authority Act which is due out next summer. There is also talk of building a new railroad bridge across the Mississippi River. The Frisco Bridge is more than 100 years old, and TDOT believes a new bridge is long overdue.

"This is still just a plan, and there's a long way between a plan and track on the ground," said Gray.


Hot off the Presses

American Magazine begins publication in Memphis.

By Bianca Phillips

A national magazine focused on American culture has found a home in Memphis. This month, American Publishing, LLC, launched the first issue of American Magazine, a publication that depends on reader submissions for stories and photographs.

The 72-page premiere issue contains articles on everything from the history of carousels in America to trapeze artists to American flag etiquette. The bimonthly publication is primarily geared toward family-oriented women ages 25-54.

"I hope this magazine can be a vacation from everyday reading," said publisher Mignonne Wright. "I want it to make readers stop and think about how great it is to live in America."

The magazine thrives on reader participation, and the first issue contains a full-page ad inviting readers to write 500- to 1,000-word pieces on topics such as "15 Ways to Make Your House a Home" and "Memories of a Childhood Vacation." But Wright points out that these are just suggestions, and readers can feel free to contribute articles in any of the magazine's 10 basic categories -- travel, culture, money, health, home, history, perspectives, entertainment, family, and heroes.

Wright, who spent most of her youth in Memphis, started the magazine as part of her lifelong dream of heading a national publication. Her father served as editor of Hospitality Magazine, and before his death the two discussed the idea of her going into the magazine industry.

American Magazine is currently available at Wal-Mart stores nationwide and in Memphis at Davis-Kidd Booksellers and the Tobacco Corner. Wright says she's working on getting the magazine onto shelves at Target, Schnucks, and Walgreens.

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