I was tooling around the south edge of Amarillo this afternoon, crossed the intersection of Hollywood Road and South Georgia Street and looked to the south and noticed the Randall County Jail complex.
Then it hit me: I remember the intense public debate many years ago as the county revealed plans to relocate its lockup from the Courthouse Square in Canyon to this location in a rural portion of the county. I say it was “intense,” because I recall the NIMBY faction — those who said “not in my backyard” — raising all kinds of heck about the location.
They didn’t want it anywhere near them. If not there, then where? It didn’t matter. Just not at that location.
That was back in 2000, when the jail opened its doors to inmates.
What came to my mind this afternoon was the absence of any of the nightmare scenarios predicted by those who wanted no part of the jail.
I recall one particular escape from the lockup not long after it opened. Some young inmate managed to conceal his activities from security officers, busted through the ceiling in his cell, climbed to the roof, jumped to the ground, then got over the fence and ran out. I can remember one aspect of the story, which is that he hitched a ride with a couple of men, actually told them he had escaped from the jail — but the men in the car thought he was joking. They returned later that evening to the jail area, noticed all the police cars and lights and reported to the cops where they had taken the escapee.
He was caught several hours later in a neighborhood in central Amarillo. Sheriff Joel Richardson took full responsibility for the guy’s escape and vowed to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. To my knowledge, he’s kept his word.
I guess the lesson of the county jail is not unlike a lot of similar lessons that people have to learn the hard way. It is that circumstances that you fear quite often don’t actually materialize those fears.
Thirteen years after it has opened, the jail remains relatively isolated. The neighbors in the subdivisions north of the site have gone about their lives. Indeed, they cannot even see the jail from the homes where they live.
I’m wondering now — just as I did then: Why all that fuss?