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Monday, February 8, 2016

Peyton Manning surely is pleased to have earned a second Super Bowl Ring, but I was thrilled to watch the game from home and not from an Alabama jail cell

Peyton Manning
(From bleacherreport.com)
Probably no one enjoyed last night's Super Bowl 50 more than Peyton Manning. The 39-year-old quarterback overcame serious injuries to his foot and neck, plus a string of disappointing post-season finishes, to guide the Denver Broncos to a 24-10 victory over the favored Carolina Panthers. If Manning, as expected, now retires--he has a hip that likely will need replacement in the not-too-distant future--he will close out a Hall of Fame career with a second Super Bowl championship and a bushelful of records that aren't likely to be broken any time soon.

That's a lot to be pleased about. But if Manning was No. 1 on the happy meter during last night's game, I might have been a fairly close second.

Why? Well, I was able to watch the game from the comfort of our home--or at least from the pay-by-the-week motel that currently serves as our "home" in the Missouri Ozarks. The last time Denver played in the Super Bowl--at the end of the 2013 season--I watched it from the "cozy confines" of the Shelby County Jail in Columbiana, Alabama.

What was a guy, who (best I can recall) does not even have a speeding ticket on his record, doing in jail? Well, I had committed the "crime" of writing a blog about legal and political corruption in Alabama--especially the kind that white, male elites have used to help turn a beautiful, high-potential state into a low-production backwater. Rob Riley, the attorney son of former GOP governor Bob Riley, has benefited mightily from Alabama's dysfunctional environment, so he filed a defamation lawsuit designed to shut me down.

I challenged the lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds, due to unlawful service, and was set to then pursue First Amendment issues, when deputy Chris Blevins entered our home on October 23, 2013--without showing a warrant or stating that he had one--and I was assaulted (knocked to a concrete basement floor three times), doused with pepper spray, handcuffed, and hauled to jail in the back of a squad car.

My apparent infraction? Contempt of court for failure to remove certain items about Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke from this blog--even though those items, by law, had never been found to be false or defamatory. In fact, they still--to this day--have never been found to be false or defamatory, under the law, by a jury. But I spent more than five months in jail anyway--finally earning my release on March 26, 2014.

My mugshot after being roughed up by an Alabama cop
Rob Riley and his father's corrupt political machine are the reasons I watched Super Bowl 48 (XLVIII) from jail on February 2, 2014. What do I remember about that experience?

First, I learned quickly that perhaps the biggest challenge of jail is figuring out how to pass the time. Jails, unlike prisons, are not designed to hold people for very long, so that means there are almost no semi-useful ways to spend your time--no library, no computers, no real recreational opportunities. Your options are pretty much TV (a show not of your choosing, with the volume at ear-splitting levels), eating, sleeping, TV, showering, walking in circles, playing cards, getting into a fight over the TV (or the phones), or TV.

I met probably a couple of dozen guys in jail who also had spent time in prison. Each one said he would much rather be in prison than in jail.

I was excited about Super Bowl 48 for two reasons: (1) All the inmates seemed to agree that was the show to watch, so there were no arguments about the merits of American Idol vs. Housewives of Atlanta; (2) Because of  all the commercials and the "halftime spectacular," Super Bowls usually are interminable, taking four to five hours to finish--not counting the hours of pre-game hype.

"Gee, this will be a great way to kill time," I thought. "And since neither Alabama nor Auburn is involved, that reduces the chance for harsh words and possible brawls. Peyton Manning is getting old, so maybe I can sit back and enjoy watching him try to nail down a second Super Bowl before he rides off into the Denver sunset."

What happened? Seattle's defense suffocated Manning and the favored Broncos, jumping to a 22-0 halftime lead. The lead eventually grew to 36-0 before the Seahawks finished off a 43-8 rout, in one of the most lopsided Super Bowls ever.

So much for my dream of having an entertaining way to kill four or five hours in jail. The game was worth watching for little more than an hour. After that, I gave up on hoping Manning could penetrate the Seattle defense and laid down on my bunk, staring at the bunk above me.

Even in our current spartan accommodations--Carol and I have come to call it "The Shiftless Drifters Motel"--watching last night's game was an utter joy, compared to my jail experience of two years ago.

Denver's defense, led by Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, was impenetrable this time. In fact, the Broncos more or less did to Carolina's Cam Newton what Seattle did to Manning two years ago.

My appreciation for being able to watch the Super Bowl in a state of freedom was not the only reason I was hyped about last night's game. As usual, the state of Alabama was well represented in the game, with eight players who call our state home. The only states with more players--California (24), Texas (14), Georgia (13), Florida (12), and Ohio (10)--have significantly larger populations than Alabama. On a per-capita basis, Alabama had more players in Super Bowl 50 than any other state.

In fact, I even feel a certain kinship with one of the players from Alabama--a quarterback who was one of the most exciting college players I've ever seen live. You might assume I'm talking about Cam Newton, who won the Heisman Trophy while playing at Auburn. But I'm actually thinking of Joe Webb, who played quarterback (and wide receiver) at UAB, and now serves on special teams for Carolina. In fact, he returned one kickoff for 24 yards in last night's game.

The 6-4, 235-pound Webb is from Birmingham, flew under the major recruiting radar, and developed into a dynamic run-pass quarterback threat for UAB. I've seen some awfully good football players live--Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Ozzie Newsome, and many more--but Joe Webb will always be one of my favorites. Plus, I got to interview Webb several times, and he always seemed to be a thoughtful, likable guy. In the right offensive system, I still think he could be a standout in the NFL.

A second mugshot, after I had been transferred to the
Jefferson County Jail and back--and after I had lost about
25 pounds. The Jail Weight-Loss Plan? I don't
recommend it. As you can see, this image still is out there
at jailbase.com. Considering there were no lawful
grounds for me to be in jail, this picture is the
defamation that keeps on giving.
Joe Webb and Cam Newton are in their 20s and still have plenty of time to win a Super Bowl. But last night belonged to Peyton Manning and Denver. And that could not help but remind me of my experience of watching the Super Bowl from jail.

According to my fellow inmates, there was at least one guy in our 64-man unit who had done time for murder. He apparently had served his prison sentence for that and was in the Shelby County Jail for a lesser offense. Most of the guys I met in jail were in for probation violations (usually related to alcohol), drug offenses (marijuana, meth, heroin--in that order), DUI, domestic violence, and such.

The really bad dudes--alleged murderers, rapists, child molesters, etc.--were in the unit next to ours. Thankfully, there was a nice thick wall between us and them.

I'm quite sure I was the only person in the jail--at that time, or any other time--who had been arrested for blogging.

Do I have memories of my jail time--or have I tried to block it out, as if it never happened? Oh, I definitely have memories. For one, the vast majority of the inmates were pleasant and likable guys, at least to me, and some of them were uber funny. I really would like to see some of them again, but it seems that once you get out of jail, the thought of seeing those people again is troubling--even if you like them.

I'll never forget the inmate who committed suicide just a few feet from me. And during Super Bowl 48, I distinctly remember thinking, "I can't believe I'm watching the Super Bowl, with a convicted murderer right over there."

The murderer actually seemed like a pretty nice guy. But still, it sure was nice to watch last night's game with Carol. I might not have been as happy as Peyton Manning, but it was pretty darned close.


Anonymous said...

Cool post, LS. Very thought provoking.

Anonymous said...

You might want to look at Bill Britt's article on Senator Whatley.There is more to this story,possibly similar to the Garrison foreclosure deal.Also ,when you first reported on the Garrison deal,the BIG DOG bank investigator paid a visit to the Heritage Bank in Auburn.There is some connection to the banks in the foreclosure papers.

Anonymous said...

Most of us take our freedom for granted, especially when watching the Super Bowl. Thanks for the reminder that it can be taken away--for no valid reason at all.

Anonymous said...

I wonder who the murderer had in Super 48--Seattle or Denver. If I were you, I would have been pulling for Seattle, just to make sure that guy stayed calm.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for the heads up, @3:51. I will check out the Britt article on Whatley. Please feel free to stay in touch on this. This issue hits close to home because, as you probably know, my wife and I went through a foreclosure on our home of 25 years, and it came right as I was in jail and had almost no opportunity to do anything about it. I've never felt I got to the bottom of the Jessica Garrison house-buying deal in Mountain Brook, on a foreclosed property. Need to take another look. If you can share, who is the "BIG DOG bank investigator" who visited Heritage Bank in Auburn? You think this was prompted by my reporting on Garrison deal? Perhaps I need to learn more about Heritage Bank.

legalschnauzer said...

Funny thought, @4:33. Ironically, the murderer was the guy who tended to get up pools on ballgames and such, especially on college football. Not sure if there was a pool on the Super Bowl or not. I stayed out of the pools, but my understanding was that losers paid off with food items. I should say that I don't know for sure this one particular guy had been convicted of murder--I heard the same story about at least one other guy in our group. I'm guessing that everything you hear in jail isn't accurate.

In that Seattle-Denver game, the inmates tended to break down along racial lines. Seattle had a black QB, Russell Wilson, so the black guys tended to pull for the Seahawks--with white guys tending to pull for Denver, with Peyton Manning.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shout out to Joe Webb and UAB Blazers football. Love it!

Anonymous said...

Jail and the outside world are a lot alike. There are good people and there are bad people. When you say "I'm guessing that everything you hear in jail isn't accurate," the same holds true for the real world.

Anonymous said...

Great post, LS, one of your best. Made me laugh, made my cry, made me angry. Hope you will include this in a book someday.

Anonymous said...

Arrested for blogging? I still can't process that one. Rob Riley should be ashamed of himself.

legalschnauzer said...

Yes, @11:10, and that leads to one of my fond memories from jail. (It's possible to have a few of those.) Probably the most common thing inmates do is ask each other, "What are you in for?" That's especially true for those of us who don't look like the standard prisoner. I would always answer that question, "I got arrested for blogging." Some guys were incredulous and would say, "Ah, c'mon, what did you really do?" When I assured them that's what I really was in for, they would howl with laughter--and usually call out to several buddies to introduce them to the "blogging prisoner." Some would say, "I heard there was a guy in here for blogging, but I didn't think it could possibly be true. And I sure didn't know it was you." Then they often would start telling me their stories and encourage me to blog about them.

You hear all kinds of bizarre stories about arrests, but I don't think anyone could top my "arrested for blogging" story.

legalschnauzer said...

@3:51--Did Renasant Bank acquire Heritage Bank? Are all of the Heritage branches now called Renasant Bank? I don't know a lot about Renasant, but looks like they started in Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

My source said the Heritage Bank was raided and a man was spotted inside the bank who only showed up when something big was happening.I am probably wrong, but I have always thought Heritage Bank began in Georgia. Renasant Bank acquire Heritage in 2015.The connection was thru Countryside Bank, which was mentioned in the documents.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for the update, @12:37. The banks's full name, I gather, is Heritage Bank of the South, and I think its roots are in Georgia. Sounds like Renasant has been awfully busy in Alabama over past 8-10 years.