Saturday, May 30, 2009

The County Farm was No Gitmo

During the early 1900’s and possibly as far back as the late 1800’s there was a farm established in East Texas that was called during my school days, The County Farm. It was located up in the Upper Eastern part of Smith County Texas. It was almost impossible to find. To get to the sprawling farm you had to get off highway 69 or County Road 2710 and then take blacktop, back roads to either the front or back gate. When I was in elementary school, our school bus cut right down the middle of the picturesque farm.

Nestled above the Sabine River, the farm had a large white ranch house, several small houses for the families of the hired hands, a vast orchard of huge pecan trees, large wide open meadows where the cattle and other livestock grazed, the meadows enclosed on all sides by the deep East Texas forest that the massive farm was cut out of. The ranch house was a part of the large cluster of buildings which included the afore mentioned hired hand houses, a long tractor barn, a huge barn and a two story square concrete cell block. That’s right, a cell block.

The cell block could hold, it appeared, up to 24 prisoners. The prisoners were county prisoners. Ordered to “hard” labor by county judges. Across a small ravine to the left of the cell block was an old hickory tree. Underneath that hickory tree was a small grave yard of men who died in that cell block and then were buried there.

I recently tried to research detailed information about the County Farm but could not find any information. The farm has been sold several times since those days for millions of dollars per each sale to rich people. The old ranch house has been torn down, replaced a few hundred yards on down the old county road that runs through the middle of the place with a new sprawling one story ranch style house. The farm recently was opened as a place for people to go dove and quail hunting if they called ahead and paid a fee to do so, as well as its own going function as a cattle ranch. The old county road that cuts through the middle of the County Farm has since been privatized and gates block both ends of the road.

One thing I do know. The prisoners there were required to work. Not lounge around in a jail house or jail yard. They worked from dawn to dusk. They provided their own food. They built the buildings, cleared the forests, and planted the pecan trees, and dug out the stock ponds and tended to the large number of livestock on that farm.

Now that is what I call rehabilitation.