Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Alabama Resurrects Prison Chain Gangs

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Alabama Resurrects Prison Chain Gangs

Article excerpt

Grumbling prisoners shackled together by clinking leg chains shuffled along a busy highway Wednesday, chopping weeds and picking up trash, as Alabama became the first state to bring back chain gangs.

Passing motorists blew horns and students on school buses shouted at the inmates. Several accidents nearly happened as drivers slowed down to gawk.

The 12-hour workday started with shotgun-toting corrections officers standing watch while about 320 prisoners from a medium-security facility were made to kneel in the cold, dew-covered grass with shiny steel chains clamped to their legs.

"It shows how Alabama is going back to slavery," said inmate Larry Clinton, who is serving 15 years for theft.

The day remained cool as the men shuffled along Interstate 65 hacking at tall grass with two-foot blades attached to wooden handles.

Each gang was made up of five inmates linked together by 8-foot lengths of chain. They worked in squads of about 40 men each, with an armed officer watching each squad.

White prison coats and billed caps were emblazoned with the words "CHAIN GANG" - a sight unseen in most states for decades.

Motorists who stopped at a Tennessee state welcome station a few miles north of the work site seemed largely unaware of what was going on along the highway.

"I thought it was a religious group or something out doing a good deed with all the white on," said one woman who wouldn't give her name.

Kim Davis of Birmingham said she had no problem with seeing chain gangs: "They're not hurting me. They were just out there working."

One chain gang member, James Sears, a robber who violated parole by fighting with his girlfriend, called the experience degrading.

"You can't even chain five dogs up on the side of the road without the Humane Society doing something," Sears said.

Dwayne Rowe, serving seven years for selling cocaine, said: "I hope and pray I don't never come back. …

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