A common maneuver in the marketing/public relations business is to send reporters packages containing news releases plus a little something extra inside.
The extras usually aren’t worth much – an individual-sized jar of jelly or mustard, a little bag of yeast, or a giant box with a single pencil in it. The notion is that the little surprise – which reporters aren’t allowed to keep, by the way – will motivate someone to read the news release.
That’s what made one letter stand out when it arrived in the newsroom last week.
The letter was from the county jail. We get letters from prisoners now and then, complaining about this or that, or pleading their cases through the mail.
I don’t blame people who are locked up for complaining. When you’re in jail, there isn’t a single thing that I can think of that would be pleasant, and a lot of complaints are quite possibly legitimate.
We’ve done stories in the past about prisoners who were being released from the jail complaining about stopped-up toilets and drinking fountains that didn’t work and stopped-up drains and lack of ventilation. The letter that arrived this week, though, was unique. The writer had various complaints, but what caught our attention was the little extra that he included in the letter: a slice of bologna wrapped up in some sort of plastic wrap.
The jail diet was supposed to be 2,800 calories, the writer said, but look at how thin the bologna slice was, he said.
The bologna slice was awful thin, but the problem was that in the process of going through the mail and all the machines at the post office the bologna had been squeezed out of the plastic and left big meat blotches on the letter, obscuring portions of it. I suppose I could have used a fingernail to scrape the meat off to reveal the words underneath, but I didn’t want to.
Toward the end of the letter, the writer complained that there were no more GED classes and that it was cold in the jail.
I talked to Jeremy Tinkel, public information officer for the sheriff’s department, about the complaints.
Regarding the food, “It’s jail,” Tinkel said.
The food is prepared by an outside vendor who is expected to provide meals that meet nutritional requirements, he said.
As far as the GED classes go, the county isn’t required to provide them, and the classes had been canceled because of budget cuts.
Medical expenses are costing the county millions of dollars a year, Tinkel said. “Look at all the money we have to fork over,” he said.
If a man’s teeth are rotten, you have to take him to the dentist – and pay the dentist.
“We have to cover pre-existing conditions,” and average citizens don’t even get that benefit, he said.
“If a prisoner is pregnant,” guess who gets to pay for the birth of the baby, Tinkel said.
A GED might benefit someone, Tinkel said, but one should remember that getting a GED is popular when you are in jail because it will get your sentence reduced.
So much for hunger for knowledge.
I understand, I told Tinkel, but I got this letter with a piece of bologna in it, and I’ve just got to write about it.
By the way, future letters with bologna in them will be discarded.