Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Playing the Game

"You should play as long as you can and as long as you enjoy the game."
There's a small Pensacola connection to the huge Florida prison scandal that was revealed late last month.

If you depend on Pensacola newspapers for your news, then you don't know much about the Florida prison scandal. And nothing of its local connections.

Indeed, few journalists anywhere in Florida are covering what is surely one of the biggest stories of statewide importance to arise in years, right after the horrible hurricane season and Terri Schaivo. Certainly, no one from the Pensacola News Journal, where a new round of lay-offs has decimated the place.

Oddly, national news outlets, with some help from the Miami Herald, are doing a better job of explaining how the nation's third largest correctional system was corrupted into a "wild and crazy" scandal by a succession of Jeb Bush administrative appointees.

Millions of taxpayer dollars apparently have disappeared. Dozens, if not hundreds, of corrections officers were corrupted. Although the (grand) jury is still out, it seems our prison system was being greased at the very top by bribes, drugs, brutal mistreatment, favoritism, rampant sexual harrassment, "suspicious deaths" -- and likely much, much more ugliness.

This past Sunday's Los Angeles Times brings us up to speed on the latest:
Last month, [newly appointed Interim Corrections director James R.] McDonough fired four wardens, three assistant wardens and two regional directors, saying they did "not have my trust and confidence to lead department personnel in the way they deserve to be led."

McDonough told state legislators he was examining the propriety of two multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts awarded to a Tallahassee company to provide inmates with prescription drugs. He also said he had frozen more than 50 employee club funds, opened by prison wardens, that weren't under department oversight. The accounts might hold more than $1.5 million, he said.

Though the funds were intended to pay for morale-boosting events such as family picnics, McDonough said, they were used to pay for employee softball teams, the teams' hotel bills and other activities "only a few could partake in."

Under Crosby, a network of "good old boys" from rural northeastern Florida — where many of the state's largest prisons are — came to dominate the department, McAndrew said. "It was run as a fiefdom," he said.

Sometimes, he said, wardens and other department officials covered up for "goon squads," groups of prison guards said to have beaten and terrorized inmates to keep them in line.
The Pensacola connection to this "tragedy of epic proportions" is slight, as such things go, and a little sad.
... a former minor league baseball player had been placed in a no-show job in a prison library so he could help prison guards win a softball tournament.

* * * The ringer, Mark Guerra, has agreed to reimburse the state $1,400 and complete 50 hours of community service, Crist said.
Mark Guerra had a respectable 14-year career as a minor league pitcher, half of them with Triple-A ball clubs. Mark is the son of June Guerra, owner of Jubilee Resturant on Pensacola Beach and the Capt'n Fun nightlub in Pensacola.

Apparently, Guerra was cut loose by the pros and, according to the Associated Press, he wound up "accepting paychecks for work never done at a North Florida prison library. Instead of working, he took the money to play on the winning team in the former DOC secretary Jim Crosby's softball tournament last May."

As we say, sad. If your life is baseball and all that's left to you is pitching for a prison team -- well, some would follow Willy Mays' advice that "You should play as long as you can."

Obviously, Mark tried.

We can't help wondering, though, if he's the one who got played. There's a decided lack of equivalency, but seeing Guerra as the only one to take a fall, so far, out of some 26,000 employees in Florida's thoroughly corrupted correctional system somehow brings to mind a lot of other contemporary scandals involving Bush family members and their cronies.

Think Abu Ghraib, Halliburton, Enron, Plamegate, Jack Abramoff's K-Street Project, the Medicare cost coverup and bribe, Tom Delay, Coingate -- and on and on and on and on.

You fill in the blanks. The low-level grunts get hauled off in chains while the top dogs who engineered the whole thing skate away free nearly every time.

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