Archive for November, 2008

It’s a sentimental spot for some, a slice of the Mayberry myth for others. But either way the old city jail on City Hall Street leaves visitors and former employees distraught at its current condition. And now’s not a time to pour much money into successful tourism attractions, let alone decaying ones.

Enter Hampton Inn, which runs a program that rejuvenates historical sites across the country. The jail has been nominated, but whether it’s selected depends on how many folks go to Hampton’s site and vote to have it saved. Seems simple enough, but the old city jail’s competition is … well … older. A 19th century plantation and a 18th century home both carry more historical cache than a 20th century lockup. The wild card, of course, is the King of Andy. The old city jail is a tourist attraction because of its connection, however contrived, to the jail seen frequently on The Andy Griffith Show (which in reality was no more than a set in California). We’ll see if that translates to votes this month, or if the jail’s potential saviors bestow landmark status elsewhere.

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prisonIn the coming weeks, Mount Airy Commissioner Dean Brown will be giving a series of presentations on the virtues of having a state prison in Mount Airy, a project he’s been spearheading for several months now. The city council got the hear his spiel first Thursday night, and the result was something akin to those “he’s just like us” political ads trying to paint a candidate in a relatable light. Except instead of trying to humanize politicians, this one humanizes the prisoners who would be sent to Surry if the county lands one of three correctional facilities needed in North Carolina during the next several years. It was complete with slides of prisoners doing everything from sports to landscaping to music to reading to fishing. Yes, even fishing (they earned a trip for good behavior). Some excerpts from Brown, who spent decades teaching in state prisons:


“They’re people just like us. We need to remember that. They’re not wicked, evil people who want to kill.”

“They form bands … in their spare time they learn to read. And they love to eat junk food.”

“If you walk through a prison at night, you’d think you were at an Army barracks. You’d hear people sleeping, saying prayers, crying — yes, grown men do cry — people playing chess, cards or checkers, someone playing guitar. You’d find pictures of loved ones and all the letters that were ever sent to each inmate. For some reason they save every one.”

“You will not find shanks under every mattress the way you see on TV. You will find a lot of Bibles.”


“You’ll have to be reminded after the facility has been built for a few years that the prison is even there. It will not be built on Main Street. It will not affect Andy and Barney in any way. You can ignore it if you don’t like having a correctional facility. It won’t affect you at all.”

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Regardless of statewide voting that saw Democrat Kay Hagan win comfortably and Barack Obama win very marginally, Surry County still gave a resounding nod to the GOP. 

Take a look at the breakdown of votes by county and it’s clear that the northwest Piedmont was very much McCain country. Here in Surry, every Republican running for state or federal office did better here when compared to the district or state as a whole.

Democrats have gained pockets of support in the municipalities — which can be seen in the breakdowns of straight ticket voting or the Dole/Hagan race — and the number voting Democrat in the presidential race is up slightly from 2004. But there’s no spinning the fact that Republicans are still strong across the board, even though they aren’t in the majority in terms of voter registration. They even managed to elect one of their own, Sarah Stevens, to a House seat held by a three-term incumbent in Jim Harrell whose district leans Democratic.

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