Have you ever watched someone slowly but surely kill themselves? Have you ever tried to save someone’s life? Have you ever felt like nobody even cares?
Welcome to the world of Logan Magistrate Court.
For nearly every day of my adult life I have taken virtually the same route to reach my Logan destination, be it the office of The Logan Banner newspaper for 10 years or untold years of work at the Logan County courthouse — 20 of which as one of three Logan County magistrates.
Whether coming from or going to my daily workplace, I generally see the same people walking as soon I enter the stretch of highway that is known by several names, such as Black Bottom, Ellis Addition, Deskins Addition, Power House Addition or Shanty Town. It is an area that is the past setting for numerous floods over the last 100 years, which accounts for the nickname of “Black Bottom.” It was given the nickname because of the rich soil that came as a result of repeated flooding and is not so named because of the number of African Americans who at one time lived in what were referred to as “shanty” homes in the area nearest the Appalachian Power plant that lies across the river from Logan.
There have been many businesses operate in that quarter-mile piece of real estate, with only Baisden Brothers Hardware and Appalachian Power seeing sustained longevity. Although there are a few structures remaining that once were businesses, those are either vacant or dilapidated beyond reasonable repair.
Some people will find it hard to believe that there have been at least four car dealerships in that stretch of real estate, specifically Hartman Motors, Milne Pontiac, American Motors and Paul Cooke Ford. Another used car dealership was located nearby at the Mount Gay location today known as the business, “Stereo Video.” Greg Yeager Auto Sales preceded two used auto dealerships operating there now — Butler’s and Logan Auto Discount.
Younger folk might have a difficult time visualizing it, but the fact is that part of the same property — at one point or another in Logan history — served as a baseball park (Ellis Park) and was even referred to as a Logan airstrip.
At one period of time, there was at least one hotel (Sidebottom Hotel) and many beer joints, restaurants, pool halls and grocery stores. There was even a barber shop and shoeshine parlor at the mouth of Coal Branch.
During the glory days of Logan’s success there were circuses that regularly became the highlight of the area and some people may remember the various traveling carnivals that set up for business in the locale, even as recent as the 1970s. Of course, there have been other businesses in what I prefer to call Black Bottom. Strip clubs and other clubs serving alcoholic beverages were once a common sight throughout what some just call “the bottom.” A state-run liquor store also operated where now I go to visit optometrist Arabel Hatfield for eyeglasses, Ms. Hatfield being the great-granddaughter of Devil Anse.
More recently, a Shoney’s restaurant operated in that area next to what is now Taco Bell. However, at the location that used to be Anderson Wholesale, there was once a bar whose name originated as far back as at least 1932, when it was referred to then and thereafter as the Green Lantern. I believe the place finally shutdown sometime during the 1980s. It was from this club, which allegedly could not dispense alcohol during Prohibition time, that a witness worked and later testified in the murder trial involving Mamie Thurman in 1932.
By now, you should be wondering why I began this writing as I did, and then going totally off target by subjecting you to some local history that at least some of us can identify with.
Regardless, I have never defined myself as a writer, so I do not feel like I must follow the writing course of a normal journalist. I am, after all, a mere storyteller. My objective was to grab your attention, so I might relate the following.
You see, as I mentioned earlier, I witness the same pedestrians walking through the bottom each day, and keeping in mind that Shanty Town once was noted for its prostitution availability, I am aware of those persons who currently engage in that type of endeavor; several of which I have dealt with in court for various charges, including prostitution.
Knowing well that prostitution is known as one of the oldest professions in world history, I have never found in my research that so called “ladies of the night” were in business because of drug addiction. Unfortunately, the 21st century has given us a social problem that is taking far too many lives of mostly our younger generation and creating misery for others.
For several years now, I have watched as young, usually somewhat attractive ladies, gradually become walking skeletons. Their admitted drug addiction is visible in their eyes, as each day takes its toll on their spirit and the human body. They are someone’s children; someone’s sister; someone’s grandchild; and yes, in some cases, someone’s mother. They are pitiful.
Over and over, as magistrates, we are asked by a mother, a father, a grandparent, or others to ‘help” a particular person who has chosen the slimy path to hell. Usually embarrassed, heartbroken and desperate, families are trying to regain the person they used to know; indeed, in some cases, the child they raised.
Unfortunately, jail is about the only remedy magistrates can offer to most people who cannot either afford rehabilitation facilities or to be able to get the addicted person to agree to rehabilitation.
Recently, I arraigned two girls — two females I’ve witnessed destroying themselves for years now — and I placed them in jail in the hopes of perhaps saving their lives. But, here are the cold, hard facts.
Even if the two girls stayed in jail for as long as a month, it is likely they will return to the actions that have placed them there to begin with — in a facility that is anything but a rehab center. The cost for the combined stay of the girls in the regional jail for 30 days would be around $3,000.
At a time when our society is living in virtual fear of COVID-19 and Logan County children are not even attending classrooms, social distancing is not an option in our overcrowded jails. Building more jails should not be an affordable option, at least in my opinion; nor should jails be classified as rehab facilities, although sometimes a short stint in jail will keep a young person from continuing down the wrong path.
My point is just this. How do you place a dollar amount on a human life? Is it a $1,500 per month taxpayer jail bill for an inmate, or is it an unimaginable amount to a mother, father or grandparent?
I happen to agree with a new legislative law that is designed to reduce our jail population and to reduce county budgets across the state. In addition, no one should have to remain in jail because they are poor and cannot afford even a reasonable bond. While some people can gain their pretrial freedom by someone posting even a $100,000 bond, there are those who cannot afford even a $100 bond. Too often, those individuals get lost in the system, sometimes remaining in jail longer than the sentence the person may have incurred for the crime in court.
The new law that magistrates and their assistants across West Virginia are struggling to adhere to during a virus epidemic requires a hearing be conducted within 72 hours for anybody arrested and unable to post bond, whether it’s a misdemeanor or felony charge. Obviously, the idea is to try and get the person out of jail custody as soon as possible.
The problem is that it is difficult for an attorney to be assigned in a 72-hour time frame, especially if the arrest occurs on a weekend or holiday; the idea being that an attorney could address the court about bail.
New legislation requires magistrates release individuals on PR bonds on many misdemeanor charges and it limits the bond amount a magistrate may set. Another change in law means that a person who receives a citation by a police officer, DNR officer or anyone else authorized to write tickets does not lose their driving privileges if the person fails to pay the fine and court costs assessed by the magistrate.
It appears to me that officers might not want to issue as many citations as usual or make as many “petty” arrests, since tickets do not have to be paid and certain arrested individuals must be released on a personal recognizance bond.
Magistrate Leonard Codispoti has been in office for 40 years and I am in my 20th year of service to Logan Countians. Neither of us has ever received a telephone call from any legislator regarding a bill that affects the magistrate court system.
I hear through the grapevine that the next legislative session will address some problems that resulted from some laws previously passed.
In the meantime, the law is the law. Oh, and those two girls that I placed in jail? Let us offer our prayers.