Hardin (“Gateway to Lame Deer”) lies on Montana’s Northern Plains, about 50 miles east of Billings. It’s not in the middle of nowhere, exactly, but you can see it from there. It’s a woeful town of 3400 residents, struggling with an unemployment rate of better than 10%. Five years ago the town council decided to do something about it.
So they built a Hooters. The local talent pool was too shallow to staff the place, however, as very few area women had the, uh, intelligence and pride needed to fill out those Hooters t-shirts and skimpy nylon shorts. So that learned institution closed down, and was replaced by a 464-bed, minimum security prison.
Even before the prison was completed, Hardin begged state officials to send them prisoners from everywhere and anywhere. They had beds to fill and people to hire. Give us your mother rapers, your father stabbers, your father rapers, they said. Send us gang bangers from Solano. Send us your overflow from the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women, especially if they have experience working for Hooters.
But they were denied their Hardin criminals (ha ha). The governor declared the prison little more than a college dorm with no college, and elected to leave it empty. Hardin was thrust into deep kimchi when the $27 million worth of bonds that paid for the construction went into default. All, it seemed, was lost.
But then President Obama delivered on one of his campaign promises, ordering the closure of Guantanamo Bay. Before the Iraq invasion, the Cuban detainment camp had originally been used to warehouse attempted illegal immigrants to the U.S. who were captured, later to be set free to give it another try on the next high tide. Just after 9/11, though, President Bush took advantage of the panicky atmosphere to make one of his many end runs around the Constitution by signing an executive order that, in effect, allowed the Dept. of Defense to lock up suspected terrorists as long as they wanted. The prison was soon filled with hundreds of “illegal combatants” captured in Afghanistan. There were no charges, no trials. Sounds kind of like Escape From New York.
But then Snake Plissken, in the form of the U.S. Supreme Court, intervened and ruled that the prisoners held in Gitmo (its kicky, fun-to-say nickname) must be given the protections afforded under the Geneva Conventions. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were forced to abandon their plans for Abu Ghraib, Pt. 2: Hot For Torture.
When the folks in Hardin got wind of the plan to close Guantanamo and disperse the prisoners, there was much rejoicing. “Send ‘em here!” they said. Critics immediately pointed out that the Hardin prison was a minimum security facility, and inmates would be escaping with the ease of Corporal LeBeau creeping through his doghouse tunnel in Hogan’s Heroes. “Oh, don’t worry,” Hardin officials said. “We’ll put in a dead bolt.”
Montana’s congressional delegation, however, would have none of it. “Not in Big Sky Country,” they said. “Not in the Last Best Place,” they said. Even though a full (or even partially-full) prison in Hardin would bring 100 jobs to the desperately impoverished town, our Senators and lone Representative stood firm behind their wall of slogans. Take Sen. Jon Tester’s well thought-out line of reasoning: “These Gitmo guys, they’re a scary bunch.” He makes it sound like someone is trying to transfer Freddy Krueger, Hannibel Lecter, and a live T-Rex into Hardin’s hoosegow. Scary!
Who the hell do these political shrinking violets think are inhabiting our prisons right now? Sure, a lot of U.S. convicts are witless dope-peddlers, but there are some seriously bad dudes behind bars in this country. Thomas Silverstein, an Aryan Brotherhood member who killed two inmates and a prison guard, has been securely held in Leavenworth for 14 years. California’s Pelican Bay State Prison has some 3,300 of the nation’s most dangerous child molesters, armed robbers, killers, and other assorted subhuman miscreants. But in its 20-year history only one prisoner has escaped. He is now believed to be teaching school somewhere in Los Angeles.
Besides, this is Montana, where the Second Amendment is revered, sometimes to the exclusion of the rest of the Bill of Rights. Hardscrabble Westerners who idolize the NRA as much as they hate free speech will buy up even MORE ammo than they did when President Obama was sworn in. Greg Smith, director of Hardin’s economic development agency, actually said that while Hardin doesn’t have an actual police force, the town’s residents are armed to the teeth and would comprise an “official redneck patrol.” So, obviously, any jittery citizens could sleep better at night knowing that anyone walking the streets of Hardin with skin darker than, say, a Chips Ahoy, would be shot on sight.
The point is, our prisons are already full of bad guys. What’s a few more bad guys, once you strip away the political baggage and the paranoia-fueled NIMBYism of incarcerating these “enemy combatants” who have been held illegally in a facility that was carefully chosen by the Bush/Cheney regime because it was deemed outside of U.S. jurisdiction, placing it beyond the moral and legal rules of our country? Hardin is a troubled Montana community that needs the economic Viagra that the Guantanamo prisoners would bring.
Of course, if and when it happens, lawyers will converge on Hardin from all over the country like sugar ants on a chicken gizzard, to defend the inmates should they go to trial in the U.S. And who’s to say that once the political prisoners begin to be cut loose on technicalities (“Your honor, Mr. Abru-Jibberjabber was not given access to an attorney after he was caught trying to detonate an IED in the Jalalabad library”), they couldn’t be successfully integrated into our society, starting right there in Hardin. Newly released ex-cons rarely start out with anything other than service-industry jobs, so Hardin may find itself with a ready labor pool, an added benefit of the Guantanamo prisoner transfer.
Lawn care, for instance. “Hey, Shazeb,” I can hear a proud Hardin homeowner saying, “Why don’t you get the hedge trimmer and declare a jihad on those shrubs next to the garage?” Who would do a better job as the city dogcatcher, for example? Picture it, as an ex-terrorist drives around Hardin in his Animal Control truck: “I hate your freedom, you cur! Get in the truck.” Or maybe pest control would be a good opportunity. I can see a former prisoner stalking termites in a goat barn: “Death to the infidels!” Squirt, squirt. “Death to the infidels!” Squirt. You get the idea.
So I say let’s keep the door open, Hardin. Well, not after they’re in there, of course.[Bookmark NewWest.net/BobWire before it’s too late.]