I made a quick stop at a quick stop as I was leaving Fayetteville, Arkansas, last Sunday morning - for gas and to purchase a couple of Arkansas lottery tickets. While I was in the store, I noticed a stack of folded pulp publications on the counter. Assuming that they were free "shoppers," I picked one up. Then I noticed that it wasn't a shopper at all, nor was it free. The publication was something called Arkansas Jailbirds and it appeared to be a small newspaper containing color booking photographs and write-ups on several hundred criminals (or accused criminals) from northwest Arkansas - Washington, Madison, and Benton Counties.
"This could be entertaining," I thought - so I gave the clerk a dollar and took one to my car. The publication was folded over and stapled shut so as not to give casual viewers a free peek at the contents. Of course, ten "jailbirds" along with their criminal biographies were pictured on the front cover for all to see.
Once I got the multi-page rag home, I carefully removed the staple and started perusing the contents. I found that it contained over seven-hundred-and thirty photos and write-ups, along with ads for bail-bond companies, pawn shops, and a convenience store - as well as a few public-service types of ads promoting positive behaviors and providing hotline numbers. There was even a poem about mothers that a reader had contributed. (Merle Haggard would have loved that!)
The publication also contained some specialized collections of criminals including: Frequent Flyers, Registered Sex Offenders, Mugs of the Week, Birds' Bandits of the Week, Weekly Contributors, Jailbirds of the Week, Special Bird of the Week, Bird Gone Wild, and the Weekly Beating (specializing in people accused of assault and battery).
I was reminded of a high school yearbook with special sections for student royalty - and I had visions of clandestine gatherings of criminals where tattooed yahoos eagerly pored over the publication checking to see if they had made it into print and to see if their names were spelled correctly and all of their crimes were included.
And the proud parents and sbilings, eagerly calling up friends and family to brag that bubba had his picture in the paper!
Mocking the disadvantaged in nothing new, nor is it peculiar to northwest Arkansas. In Arizona where I used to live, one of the local newspapers had a feature with the funniest police booking photos of the week. One of our local radio stations where I now live likes to run stories about criminals who were so dumb that they brought about their own capture through stupidity. Yesterday they ran a story about a burglar who broke into a house with his cell phone in his back pocket. He inadvertently butt-dialed 911 while robbing the place!
I suspect the publishers of Arkansas Jailbirds have stumbled upon a gold mine. For some readers, it is a window into sordid types of lives that growing up in poverty often generates - much like reality television cop shows, and for others it is their fifteen minutes of fame - "Hey look, Ma, I got my picture in the paper!"
But for those who don't take pride in seeing themselves or their relatives made out to look like pathetic criminals, this warning is posted clearly on the front and back covers"
"Innocent until proven guilty" - but they get their pictures in the paper nonetheless where they are collectively known as "Jailbirds.""All content provided in Arkansas Jailbirds is deemed to be in the public domain. Arkansas Jailbirds only compiles information from public records for public consumption. Arkansas Jailbirds assumes all records are accurate but does not guarantee accuracy. Corrections or complaints should be made to the department or agency providing said records.
"The data in this publication provides arrest and booking information and should not be relied upon to determine an individual's actual criminal record. This data may not reflect charging decisions made by State Attorney's Office or the outcome of criminal trials. An acquittal or dismissal of a criminal charge does not necessarily negate the validity of an arrest. To obtain the final disposition of any criminal charges, contact the Clerk of the Court's Office. ALL SUSPECTS ARE INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY IN A COURT OF LAW."