Our Nov. 8 cover story, “Leaving Johnson County,” caused a flurry of responses. To mix a metaphor, it seems as though writer Peter Gorman hit both the tip of the iceberg and a nerve, concerning the questionable activities of various kinds going on down there. The good-ol’-boy structure in those parts apparently looms even over those who write to the Weekly.

One reader said in an e-mail, “The corruption in Johnson County is something everyone knows about, but few attempt to do anything about it due to their reputation for retaliation.” Another noted, “You are so ‘on’ with your article – I have a nephew doing five years in state [prison] because [District Attorney] Dale Hanna decided to get him … ” – but the letter-writer asked that her name be “withheld to protect family.” A third wrote that she’d lived in Cleburne for many years, and “I have heard from more than one city official how corrupt it is inside.” She, too, asked that her name not be used because “I know how the system works.” A fourth writer also wanted anonymity for fear of retaliation – and she doesn’t even live in Johnson County anymore.

Modern Lights

“The obvious corruption in all municipal functions, lack of economic opportunity, and socio-economic stratification, represented quite literally by the divisive railroad tracks in many of its towns, are the reasons I left the area,” she said. Even a former law enforcement officer from the area weighed in: “The moment I began reading your article on Johnson County’s criminal justice system, I thought to myself, ‘about damn time’,” he wrote. He too wanted to remain nameless.

Makes you wonder about the health of free speech in Johnson County if the fear of retaliation connected to just writing a letter to the editor runs so high.

Put Their Names In

Static got dolled up and went to a banquet over the weekend. Not as good as the Emmys or Oscars maybe (no one wanted to know the name of Static’s designer, and the flashbulbs were not blinding), but the Katie Awards, handed out by the Press Club of Dallas, are what we wretches of the (de)press have in these parts. The drinks were strong, there were no odious former bosses sitting at the table, and the usually interminable ceremony went along at a much brisker clip this year. The young woman at the next table did not fall out of her dress before the evening was up, thus disappointing men in all directions, but her tablemate, after hours of nonstop chatter, did finally fall silent, proving there is a God, if a stern one.

Good parts included the brief, moving tribute to late KERA newsman Glenn Mitchell and the equally well-deserved Legacy Award delivered to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for its series on conditions in the Tarrant County jail. (Zingers aside, the Weekly tries to deliver credit where due.)

Best part, of course, was the trio of Katies awarded to Weekleteers. Peter Gorman won in the Features category, for his riveting tale of a screwed-over DEA snitch. Jeff Prince took home the Art Features trophy for his story on the boom in early Texas art. And Betty Brink won in Series for her revelations of conditions at the Carswell women’s federal prison hospital.

The Star-T’s stories helped spur some changes in conditions at the Tarrant County jail. Static can only hope that someday the same will be true of the hell-hole at Carswell, which has yet to draw so much as a yawn of interest from federal prison officials or local members of Congress.

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