A night in jail

Two summers ago, following a game in our 35-and-up baseball league, I posed the following question to my teammates:  Anybody been to jail?

Almost every hand went up.  Mine was among two or three that didn’t.

One guy had been locked up on domestic violence charges (he told us he was innocent, by the way, despite the 30 days he’d spent in the Cobb Co. jail).  Several had DUIs or public drunk charges that dated back to college.  One mild-mannered outfielder had actually gotten caught stealing a car as a kid, which kind of blew us all away.

My team wasn’t exactly composed of miscreants.  The coach was an engineer.  Two pitchers were medical professionals.  We had some high-salary salesman types.  We had blue collar workers.  All of them seemed stable and mature.  Most had families.

Typically, when we produce TV stories about folks who land in jail, the accused is depicted as an irredeemable screwup at best, a psychopath at worst.

When I met Kevin Fidler in the Gwinnett County Jail during a shoot one evening, I found that I had an unaccustomed measure of sympathy for his plight.    He’d been charged with DUI.  Police told me he blew a .08 in a roadside test, the bare minimum for drunk driving.  The 55-year old said he’d gone to dinner with his wife, had a couple of beers, and drove home.   A Snellville cop intercepted him.  Fidler said he’d never been to jail before, and his story checked out.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Fidler’s story became the thread for a WXIA piece that I produced (and shot and edited) on the intake / booking area at the Gwinnett County Jail.  It was a Friday night, and the place was pretty jumpin.’

Butch Conway, the Sheriff of Gwinnett County, deserves praise for allowing us the access.  He told the deputy in charge to let us shoot whatever we wanted.  His PIO, Stacey Bourbonnais, took a laudable hands-off approach to managing us; she opted to stay home that night.   Conway may run one of the most accessible jails in America, media-wise.   It stands in stark contrast to other jails and state prisons whose administrators consider their facilities to be more high-security than Guantanamo.   Jails consume a boatload of tax money.  They ought to be reasonably accessible.

Fidler was among a few dozen folks charged with DUI that night.  The others I encountered were in much worse shape than he was.  A coworker said Fidler struck her as the kind of guy who would go play a round of golf with her dad, then have a couple of beers in the clubhouse afterward.

Or maybe, a guy who’d have a beer or two with the guys after killing a night on a baseball diamond.

I’m to blame for this video, shot with a camcorder with no manual focus setting.  Oh — and the Nuts need pitchers this season.  If you can throw a curve and / or a changeup for strikes and want to play weeknights, holler.

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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

8 thoughts on “A night in jail

  1. Bill Hartman

    Doug…really enjoyed the story. Mr. Fidler’s plight is an eye opener. The walking standup with you holding the camera looked better than most shot by pros. As far as the baseball story, it was NOT better than those shot by pros. Richard Crabbe’s job is safe.

  2. Jim

    Ouststanding story. I really liked the “time lapse” fades of the people going through the door.

    Kudos to the gentleman who let you tape his experience as well. He managed to put a face on something that’s normally demonized.

    “I mean, come on, Mexican food and cold beer just goes together, man.” Great line!

  3. JeremyK

    I’m always struck by how much each of our stories depends on luck, ie: finding someone as friendly and forthright as Fidler.

    I am curious about the thought process behind the hand-held walk-and-talk standup, especially one that was so short.

  4. arky

    A very well put-together piece… except for the aforementioned standup. Nice idea and great execution. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, though, I wonder about the legal implications. I don’t know precisely how Right to Privacy works in Georgia, but judges in some jurisdictions have said that media do to have the automatic right to tape anyone and anything going on with inmates in a jail, even if the warden gives permission.

  5. itpdude

    As almost always, Mr. Richards, great story. You are one of the best story tellers in news.

    I’ve never been to jail but know a bunch of people who have been in jail. Most are booze related. . . . what is interesting to me is how calm they’ve been recounting their experience. It seems like a place I don’t want to be at all and I wonder if I would be the fellow banging on the door and screaming.

    Dumbest arrest story I know is a buddy of mine had a truck and a bucket of paint tipped over and covered half his license plate. A rookie cop arrested him. My buddy was in jail for about 3 hours. The bookers could not believe why he was there. Finally, a Sgt. came in and released him and dropped all charges.

    On the upside, my friend saw a lot of old acquaintances.


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