Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 23, 1972 · Page 29
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 29

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 23, 1972
Page 29
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They return to prison as though its gate is a revolving door. Are they habitual criminals or is it like the prison guard said when Ashlock came back the third time: 66 ... he came through that door an 9 it was home again." Jim Ashlock Is Prison A Home? HOME: THIRD TIER, »C» BLOCK, MISSOURI STATE PENITENTIARY Does Jim Ashlock Represent the Institutionalized Being? By Bernard Gavzer Sundrn (ia/ollo-VIuil c urrent f fairs Charleston, H W; \ irginia July 23, 1972 1C JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.-tfi-His voice solemn with sincerity, serious as though his hand is cemented to a stack of bibles, James Lynn Ashlock, a journeyman' burglar of modest renown, swears up, down and slantwise his best dream is to · one day get out of prison. Warming to the subject, Inmate No. 21267, Missouri State Penitentiary, Jefferson City, Mo., cites the times he has fled from authority, times going back to childhood, saying: "I'm a runner. You get hold of me, you have to cuff my wrists and hang on, or I'm gone." Yet, in the metallic-stone coldness of the prison's nightmare midnight hours--when loneliness puts an icy grip upon men's hearts--he sometimes lies sleepless; staring at the bunk above, wondering if at the age of 31 he has become the kind of man who can't get along except inside a prison. The common label applied to Jim ·Ashlock is recidivist. That means-he repeats criminal activity and returns to prison as though its gate is a revolving door. Supposedly three out of five men now in the nation's state prisons' have that kind of record. Their lives and backgrounds have many similarities. Ashlock senses he already is on a treadmill like a guinea pig madly racing to nowhere. He is now serving his third term in the penitentiary. In one moment, he seems resigned to the dreary prospect that his life will be lived out behind prison walls, accepting that fate as other men powerlessly accept changing seasons. In another, he sees a straw to clutch, grasping at it as though there will be a miraculous rescue. L. T. Anderson Getting Us Together... Since 1949, the year in which I discovered to my horror that I was smarter than practically everybody in the federal government, .1 have exercised my First"Amendment right to petition for redress of wrongs. As you might have guessed, I have received only antiseptic responses from the various government agencies to which I dispatched my petitions. But the winds of change are being felt everywhere, and it is my hope that the reforms instituted by the Democratic party and the innovations of President Nixon will result in a closer citizen-government relationship. THE PRESENT circumstances, I believe, permit me the belief that now is the time to offer a list of proposals to both Mr. Nixon and Mr. McGovern. My proposals, which would mean richer lives for all Americans, are as follows: *- Prohibit the playing of portable radios in the stands at sporting events unless earphones are used. *· Require all service stations to price gasoline in whole numbers. *· Place drastic limits on the length and width of motor vehicles. *· Ban Afro and beehive coiffures from motion picture theaters. *- Outlaw neckties. +· Put a 10-year moratorium on newspaper pictures showing ladies in old fashioned dresses making apple butter in a copper kettle. *· Give the President emergency powers to use the armed forces at his disposal to stop the Corps of Engineers from building dams across every hollow in America. *· Provide appropriate.punishment, not to exceed five months in jail, for executives who instruct their secretaries to ask, "Who's calling, please?" before disclosing the whereabouts of their employers. . ' * Revoke the licenses of slow drivers in the fast lane. »- Revoke the licenses of restaurants which charge, extra for Roquefort dressing. · *· Prohibit the practice of taking up collections at events advertised -as "free." *· Regulate advertising to the extent that "in compact car sizes" appears in type no smaller than the bargain tire prices above it. *· In a country where everybody is bigger than his parents, require stores to carry large sizes without charging extra. *· Place a 50-year moratorium on television showings · of "The Wizard of Oz." *· Prohibit impressions of Kirk Douglas. *· Conduct the religious and patriotic exercises AFTER the football game, for those .who wish to remain for them. *· Outlaw plastic. JAMES LYNN ASHLOCK asks himself whether he has-become an aberration of the 20th century: a completely institutionalized man. That is, a man who .finds his real comfort and contentment inside a prison. He speaks freely. Nothing off limits. It resembles the kind of talk that goes on between cell partners, -particularly ones who were fall partners (that is, committed crimes together). "Well, the last time I got out was Sept. 9,1970," he recalls. "The first thing I did was steal a Cadillac. The first bust I got was October 7. "I can't rightly say that I started stealing again to make sure that I would be sent back to. Jeff City. It may seem that way. I admit I wonder on it some time. I wonder is there something wrong with my head that maybe makes me want to do things to get me back in even though I'm not aware of it. On the street, it- seems like everything is set up to put me right on the road to my house in 'C' block."' _ An oldtime guard, speaking easy in his Missouri twang--a tone of voice that suggests no hurrying, the world will still be there in the morning--was a guard · when Ashlock got his first sentence as an ' adult and came to Jeff City on July 17,1962. "I don't rightly remember him from then, but when he got here for the third time, back last fall, he come through that door an' it was home again. You just knowed it lookin' at him. He's makin' that little smile a his, and' a-noddin' here an' there. Yesireee, it was home again." stitutionalized. That means to me that I depend on the prison as a place to live. But when I came out and when I got married to Lana, I wanted to stay out. That's the first time I ever had a reason to want out." "Now I still do. Fve got six years and more coming on some other convictions If they give me 15 years, then I can tell you I've had it. I'd be more than 40 years old, and I guarantee you there'd be no place I could live but prison." THOUGH Jim Ashlock is but one inmate, he represents the emerging phenomenon of the institutionalized being. How many others there are is simply beyond count. But the fact of their existence is what confounds the hopes and . dreams and purposes of rehabilitation. How do you rehabilitate a man who deep inside himself finds the prison magnetic and needed? How indeed? Some clue may reside in seeing the .world outside, the one in which Ashlock dysfunctions, the one in which he seems constantly to foul up so that his return to prison is almost guaranteed. That is the street. And to Ashlock, on the street means Maplewood and the environs of St. Louis. It is here particularly that he had his rep as a hot burglar. A St. Louis newspaper once had an editorial suggesting that Ashlock be locked up and the key thrown away. "HOME" is a compact 40-acre world on a.promontory overlooking the Missouri River. Ashlock knows it probably better than any other place in the world. In it, he'd never wind up in a blind alley as he did one day fleeing from the cops in Maplewood, his own home town in suburban St. Louis. There's an aura of self-confidence which he apparently rarely ever had on the street, even though he had a rep as a very hot burglar. His status on the street, however, had to constantly be proved by being willing to steal cars for others, or playing big spender in the bars, or making dangerous scores. In the prison, there are no big spenders and he deosn't have to prove he's a heavy dude day after day. He has respect and status. On the outside, there was no regularity in life. But the closely-structured penitentiary gives him the only stability he really knows. There's fruit juice in the morning and hot and cold cereals and coffee and he doesn't have to make any of it, or shop for it or pay for it. Meals are there, and clothes, and laundry. Maybe no $300 suits or $1,200 watch, but he has his tailored prison.fatigues and the kind of jewelry · that shows he's not on his uppers. When he was on the street, there were no things like movies or regular work or knowing what tomorrow might be like. Any minute, the cops might come busting down the door. Or someone would be contacting him to make some score. Inside, he has a TV in his cell and goes to a movie once a week. "There's no denying it," be says. "The last time I was here, when I was doing my string of 10s, I thought I was in-. "That's one of the troubles on the street," Ashlock says. "You have a rep as a hot burglar and you always have to worry some rookie cop is not going to try to make a reputation off you, like getting to be detective if he can only catch you in a bad mistake." It follows that Ashlock just naturally sees the street as a place where cops are corrupt and venal, where just about everytime he looks up the bondsman is there with his hand out and the lawyer is _ there for cash on the barrelhead. . "The first time I got in trouble, I was about the age of. 12," he recalls. "I stole a car with another boy. The police called my rna and pa, but there wasn't much they could do about it. Since then, more than half my life has been spent in juvenile homes or jail or prison." His sister, Betty, a blondish woman in her 40s, speaks of him with tones of heartache. He's her favorite, being the .youngest of five Ashlock children, and she. remembers when he was four or five. "Jimmy was with mama at a carnival in the county and he took one of those little straw hats," Betty remembers. Mama took him by the hand to carry it back to. the man, and Jimmy was pulling and I fussing all the way, asking, 'Why do I have tq give it back? The man has lots of them. Why?"' To this day, Jim Ashlock can't get it through his head that it is not only illegal but morally wrong to steal another person's property. "I never had what you'd call a guilt complex,." he says. "My wife, Chi Chi, asked me the last' time she visited, "Didn't you feel bad going into somebody's house, taking stuff some of them worked hard most of their life to get? How'd you feel if they did it to you? Well, I told her I know how I'd feel. I'd be just furious. "But when I'm stealing, it just doesn't make no difference. Take a kid's piggy .bank. I'd breaic it open. Ain't no tellin' what anybody's saving for-it might be for the boy to go to college or the little girl to get an operation. It don't bother me. I know it should. But it don't." from anybody who needed what he stole or who couldn't afford the loss, and he never would hit anyone. He always says it's'one thing to take stuff, and'another to hit people." "I admit I still like stealing," he says. "It grows on you, maybe like a sickness. It's like a game. It's you against all the police, and if you can beat 'em all right, and if you .can't, all right. You have to pay the bill." There was another kind of exilement in his life; even as a child. He was using pills. "It began with dexies, those pills you · take to stay awake," says Chi Chi. "Jim my's papa was driving cars and trucks all over and he'd take Jimmy along with his older brothers. Jimmy'd about be ready to pass out from the long rides but his papa and brothers would put pills into him to keep him awake. That's how he got to loving drugs." Ashlock admits that drugs have been a major part of his life, in many aspects the driving force behind his existence. He prefers to shoot drugs, and prefers speed or other amphetamines. A year ago January, shortly after his marriage to Lana--who is his .second wife--he was driving a stolen car .and realized that the police had a trap set for him. He had to find some way to stop and get out of the car because "once you are away from the car all they can get you for is d r i v i n g w i t h o u t the owner's permission." There was a hot pursuit, with cars going 100 miles an hour, until he was able to bail out. Running was difficult because he was hit in the heel, so he fell to the sidewalk and put his hands over his head. BACK WHEN he'd just passed his 13th birthday, he graduated from .juvenile homes. The basic training in crime was taking place. No one needed to provide specific instruction. What about school? "Oh, damn, that was boring," he remembered as he spoke of the past while working in the prison's mainyard. It was a warm day and the Missouri sun baked the pate of his head. He bent to his task, grunting and groaning as he shifted the end of a four-inch hose being used to pump muck, from a sewer. Two black inmates were at the other end of the hose. Ashlock seemed at ease, like a man appears when he is doing what he knows he can do well.. No matter that the sewer smell was strong enough, as they say in Missouri, to fell Adam's ox. "I just about finished grade school, but I don't have any education and I don't know where I could get a job that would amount to anything," Ashlock says, matter-of- factly and without bitterness. "Supposedly I could do plumbing, which is 'supposed to be rehabilitating me. But the onliest place you can do this kind of steam plumbing is in a penitentiary. Teaching me this kind of plumbing is like learning how to make wagon wheels. So, it turns out if I'm going to do work I know how to do and can do, I've got to come back here to do it." JIM ASHLOCK Recidivist? LANA "CHI CHI" ASHLOCK Going to Wait WIFE CHI CHI her name is Lana but she's been called Chi Chi since she was a young girl because she reminded friends of a chihuahua-and his sister, Betty, and others in the family shake their heads at how awful that is, but then come to his defense. "Jimmy figures that everyone is corrupt and that, if he doesn't, take it someone else will," explains Chi Chi. Betty insists that Jimmy "never stole ASHLOCK was in his house, as cells are called, on the third tier of "C" block. He wanted to show a photo of his wife, Lana. There she was, with a toothpaste commercial smile, slender face featuring an up-turned nose. Pixie-like. To hear Ashlock speak of her is to see him open a chink and reveal--in a split- second flashback--vulnerability. "I've knowed her a long time: She was a square girl," he says. "She's something for me to live for.. I think if there's any chance for me to give up stealing and stay out of this place, it wculd be with her and her kids." Why? "Because I love her. Because I finally found, someone who matters. I care about her." Lana believes him, explaining: · "The only time I ever saw him cry was when he went in last time. He looked at me and he had tears in his eyes." He's been married once before. Just going onto 18, he had a job on the docks working as a night watchman. . Except for that job,. Ashlock has'never held any job consistently, except in prison. When he was released after his second term, coming out Sept. 9, 1970, he immediately was ready for action. There was no thought of a job. He'd served. nearly six years on three concurrent 10- year sentences and was commuted rather than paroled. This meant there was absolutely no supervision over him. · "I was laying over with some prostitutes," he says'. "I had three of them hustling girls and was getting $150 to $200 a day from them. · · ( "I wasn't doing any stealing. Didn't have to. But the cops started leaning on the girls. Each bust meant going to bail them out, and then money for the bondsman and the lawyer. They were losing time because of the arrests, s6 it was a very hard time for us. That same September, he ran into Lana after not having contact with her all the time he was in the pen. He gave her a kiss and, as Lu says wow. They- went out a couple of times and one night he gave her a little diamond ring. . "I asked him, 'Did you steal it?' and he said no. that he wasn't stealing anymore, that he was selling cars with his papa. What kind of sense is there in having a husband who is going to be locked up in some prison for x-number of years? Why would someone with her eyes open do that? How can such a marriage survive? "It's not like that," Chi Chi says. "Hove him, My kids love him. I really think if he- comes out in two or three years, we'll be able to make it. I don't see anything so terrible about having to wait. Having him is better than anything else in my life. So I'm going to wait."

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