Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Abuse and Neglect in the County Jails of Arkansa
THERE ISN’T MUCH to the town of Walnut Ridge, the seat of Lawrence County in northeastern Arkansas. You have to drive about a hundred miles on old Rock ‘n’ Roll Highway 67, through towns like Minturn (population 107) and Alicia (population 121) to get there. Its only claim to fame is that the Beatles once changed planes at the regional airport in 1964—which it commemorates with an Abbey Road mural, a Beatles’ Guitar Walk, and an annual Beatles on the Ridge festival. Other than that, the town has a drugstore, a couple of churches, acres of farmland, and the county courthouse, which houses the county jail.
I first visited Walnut Ridge last summer when Seeds of Liberation, the nonprofit I was working for, was asked to speak with an inmate at the jail. When I arrived at the run-down courthouse, it was pretty clear the heels I had brought along wouldn’t be necessary. It was pouring rain that day, so I waded through the parking lot in dress pants and sandals and asked the secretary at the court office for directions to the jail. She led me down a dim hallway to a room with 1970s-style paneling and a receptionist in a T-shirt advertising the local high school football team. A few minutes later, I was sitting in what amounted to a computer closet around a tiny table with Scott Archer.