Tag Archives: Kingston Jail

Jail Vocational Training Program Benefits All

Roane County News 04-12-19

By Danielle Brown, Roane County Executive’s Administrative Assistant of Communications

We have all made those decisions, a few steps too far in the wrong direction. For some, those decisions resulted in debt, a lost job, a lower grade, or ended a relationship. Others gave up their freedom. Regardless, yesterday has been spent, and today we reap our investment. We can choose to learn and evolve or do more of the same. Hindsight can redirect many paths, but what of the men and women whose mistakes cost their freedom?

A few years ago, the opiate epidemic flooded our jails with people who made a few wrong choices. Agencies worked overtime, and over budget towards solutions, we have yet to find. We lost sons and daughters, and the jails began accumulating a population of citizens freshly branded with a scarlet “F” for felony. Their full potential, forever limited by a checkbox found on nearly every job application. Long after their official sentence has ended, there will be a gap in their resume and a felony that must be explained. Even for those with the best intentions, choosing daily redemption will be that much more difficult. A statewide study of recidivism from 2010, by the Vera Institute of Justice, found that 46 percent of prisoners released in Tennessee were reincarcerated within three years. A costly cycle for the imprisoned and the society that pays for the prison.

Sheriff Jack Stockton, never one to accept the unacceptable, directed Deputy Robert Sparkes to combine his 20 years of contracting experience with his seven years of law enforcement to train a few prisoners in what is now called the Vocational Training Program or VTP. Sparkes took a few well-behaved prisoners to the Sheriff’s Training Facility and got to work. The prisoners, tired of serving their sentence in windowless rooms, were eager for a chance to do something more active, not to mention eating home-cooked meals. The improvements have continued to this day. Now, counties and the FBI travel from all around to use the facility.

Since then, Sparkes has mentored a revolving team of prisoners by building community docks, painting walls, refurbishing county landmarks, all the while instilling skills that can’t be taught in a traditional classroom. Mrs. Whitney Moore, Midway High School science teacher, witnessed this firsthand when the Vocational Training Program inmates installed the new greenhouse for Midway High School. “It was just as much of an outdoor classroom for many of the inmates,” Moore said. She saw that Sparkes does more than “work with them to teach them how to do different things with concrete, electrical and construction work. ”He also empowers them to work as a team. “There were guys on site that had some previous knowledge, and it was neat to see those guys work alongside Sparks to teach the other inmates,” she said.

So much of recidivism can be attributed to the social stigma of being convicted, the lack of basic needs due to unemployment and zero to few community ties. Not only do participants of the program gain valuable trade skills, but they also develop relationships with community leaders such as Joe Eskridge, president of the Roane County NAACP, and Stacey Vance Whittenberg, director of the Roane County Animal Shelter.

When the NAACP meeting hall flooded, they knew who to call. “Had it not been for the inmates, the Roane County NAACP Meeting Hall would not look as good or be as useful. They were a godsend,” he said. Eskridge knows the men by name, and they all greet him with warmth. He is still in touch with some of the program’s alumni and continues to work with one former prisoner to help with maintenance.

The prisoners unanimously agreed that the animal shelter was their favorite place to work because they get time with the animals. Paying it forward, the NAACP donated their old sound system to the animal shelter. Now, thanks to the Vocational Training Program and in part to the NAACP, the animal shelter’s roof has been repaired and extended, the walls are freshly painted, the dogs are walked, and the staff bobs their head to music while they work. “I don’t know the words to explain what a blessing they have been to the animal shelter. They wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to help make things better. It changes the lives of the animals and the prisoners,” Whittenberg said.

One alumni of the program graduated with a new best friend by his side. As a part of his rehabilitation, he picked a dog from the shelter and named him Jip. Every time the men worked, Jip was there raising everyone’s spirits. The inmate even received special permission to take Jip out on weekends. This man’s family are ecstatic to have him home and have welcomed Jip to the family. Thanks to Jip and the rest of his family, this man has a reason to be responsible, a reason to stay out jail. Miss Maggie May, a new pup, has joined the team and will be loved and adored by every trainee by day, and at Maggie’s forever home with Deputy Sparkes by night.

Sheriff Stockton’s choice to begin this program began a series of reactions that have echoed through the jailhouse halls, into our local schools, non-profits, government organizations, churches, and out to local businesses inspired to invest in our county. The community’s involvement has allowed the program to run for three years with no budget. A few men chose to pay their debt to society working, rather than sitting and waiting for their sentence to end. In return, they gain skills, make connections in the community, find and inspire hope. Hope that can be seen in the army of volunteers that cooks for the program trainees and in the Kingston United Methodist Clothes Closet, who keeps the men warm with donated shoes, jackets and more. Not to mention, Scandlyn Lumber, Rogers Group, Twin K Concrete, and Rockwood’s Roger Daniels Trucking are just a few companies that have donated goods and services.

These particular actions have not only saved our community countless thousands in manpower hours, and in repurposed and donated goods, but it also invests in our county’s most valuable resource, its residents. Instead of taking men into a system and spitting them out worse off, we are sending out a higher functioning citizen; A new man with new skills, connections, confidence, and a better chance in life.

A local courtesy dock made possible in part by the Roane County Jail VTP.

Midway High School Greenhouse

Miss Maggie May

A Path Forward Make Roane County Better – July 2018

We are finishing the 2019 Budget with hopefully an adoption by Commission on July 9th. A new Commission will be elected on August 2, 2018, which will consist of at least five (5) new commissioners. We welcome two (2) new commissioners who are running unopposed: Shannon Hester will be replacing Carolyn Granger, and Ben Gann will be replacing Todd Fink. Not seeking re-election are Peggy Collier, Renee Kelley, and Chris Johnson. With a number of new commissioners, a new fiscal year and a number of initiatives the staff has been working on are some of the items we are going to be addressing. We hope to have an orientation and planning session in mid-September for the newly seated Commission.

Briefly here is a list of items we are working on:

  • Jail Phase II
  • School Improvement Plan
  • Old Caney Creek Campground
  • Riley Creek Campground
  • Ambulance Stations

Operational Issues/Concerns/Consideration of Policy:

  • Property and Liability Insurance-Market or Pools
  • Health Insurance State Plan or Market Plan
  • Workers Compensation – Self Insurance Performance
  • Opioid Crisis
  • Back Tax Property Management
  • Ambulance Department
  • Consolidation on Partnering of Municipal Services
  • Potential Impacts of School Consolidation
  • Management of Swan Pond Sports Complex
  • Asset Management (Back Tax Properties)
  • Solid Waste Collections and Disposals

We are pleased to have put into place a financial infrastructure that helps us have a long term planning process. The planning of making County government begins with a “Vision,” and twice a year internally we aspire to create or refine our previous visions. We encourage you to help us in the process. Give us a call or send us an email of what you think can make our communities better.

Budgets, School Building Program, Elections – Another Busy Summer – June 2018

{Ron Woody, Roane County Executive}

2019 Budget: The Budget Committee has just about wrapped up the 2019 Budget. Final work should be concluded with the Budge Committee and Public Hearing scheduled for Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at 6:30 pm. The committee has reviewed and has recommended all county budgets.
The Highway Fund has a 5% raise scheduled for all their employees with all other funds having a 2% raise. The Highway Fund has a new state gasoline tax revenue. The other funds are suffering from the lack of revenue growth prohibiting a greater raise.
The General Fund which includes the Sheriff Department and Jail operations continue to create budget challenges due to jail overcrowding, which increases inmate medical care, housing cost, and staffing over time.

The School Building Program continues to receive the most attention, and it appears that additional research and study is needed to ensure that the potential largest County investment ever, which will not only be a large dollar investment but also be an investment that will be used for at least five decades. Much research and analysis should be made for the County’s future.
We have published a number of articles on the county website that we hope are thought provoking. Please take time to review these articles on our websites publication page and under the heading Education Capital Projects. Also, on the county homepage under special announcements, you can find two school presentations.

Election Time: Roane County will most definitely see a few new elected leaders as our Trustee and County Court Clerk has chosen to retire (a future newsletter shall address their faithful service). Two officials are unopposed, Sheriff Jack Stockton and Circuit/Sessions Clerk Ann Goldston. A number of Commissioners are also choosing not to run. It will be a busy “hot summer.” Please get out and Vote!

The Last Execution in Roane County

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

The last execution that took place in Roane County was the hanging of Isaac Fain in the courtyard of the historic courthouse in November 1884. Fain had been tried and convicted of murdering Thomas Curren. The case was a spectacular one and was well covered in newspapers of the day, (often with conflicting information), but the salient facts seem to be as follows: Fain worked as a section hand on the Cincinnati Southern Railroad. He was a small black man about 21 years old with a violent temper.

On March 29, 1884, while working near Emory Gap, he had an altercation with his section boss, Thomas Curren. Sharp words exchanged between the two men, and Fain was fired. He hung around the work site most of the day, muttering threats against Curren, then left in the late afternoon and returned with a double-barreled shotgun. He stayed out of sight until he had a clear shot at Curren, cursed him and emptied the gun into his victim’s back, killing him instantly. Fain threw down his gun and fled to the mountains.

A large party of men scoured the countryside for about a week until he was captured near Loudon. He was jailed at Kingston but moved to Loudon for safekeeping because of word that a large lynching party was on the way. He was later returned to Kingston, charged and tried for first-degree murder in the historic courthouse. After about 40 minutes of deliberation, the jury brought in a guilty verdict, and he was sentenced to death. Although his case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the death sentence was upheld.

Fain spent the last months of his life studying the Bible and praying while a gallows was being built on the south lawn of the historic courthouse. The scaffold was walled with boards on three sides, and canvas covering on the east (Third Street) side. On the fateful day of his execution in November 1884, he was led to the gallows by the sheriff, securely shackled. After he climbed the steps to the platform, the canvas was thrown back, and Fain faced a crowd of 3,000 to 4,000 people who had come to town to witness his execution. The doomed man then preached a sermon, confessing his crime and urging his audience to turn aside from sin and accept God. He stated he was ready to go to Jesus, saying, “It is much better that I die today and go to glory than to live out my sinful life and go to hell.” As he stood with the rope around his neck, he uttered his last words: “I ain’t scared one bit, hanging ain’t anything. Tell Aunt Julia I’m going home on the evening train.”

After he was hanged and pronounced dead, Ellen Curren, the 16-year-old sister of Thomas Curren, entered the enclosure and stared at the body, leaving with an expression of pity on her face and tears in her eyes. The Chattanooga Daily Times stated: “The last legal hanging in Roane County previous to this occurred in 1860 when Joseph Jones . . . was executed for outraging his mistress.”

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, December 2016 and March 2018.

The Killer Poet

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

The hands of justice sometimes moved slowly in the history of Roane County. One of the best examples is the killing of Thomas Galbreath in September 1884. It took 25 years before anyone was tried for the killing, in spite of the fact that the murder took place in broad daylight in front of several witnesses. Willis Maberry was Tom Galbreath’s brother-in-law and according to the records found in the Historic Roane County Courthouse archives, including a transcript of the trial in 1909, the shooting took place in Old Oakdale in Roane County (now renamed Elverton) located between Harriman and Oliver Springs.

Testimony reveals that Thomas Galbreath was in the front yard of his brother’s home with two other men when Willis shot him with a shotgun hitting him in the left side, on the arm, the back of the neck and through the leg. Lucy Galbreath was sitting inside the house peeling apples when the shot rang out. She rushed to the door, saw Maberry with a gun in his hand pointed at Tom and called him not to shoot any more since he had already killed her pig. Maberry offered to pay Lucy for the pig and did not shoot again. The pig died instantly and Tom died about 24 hours later. Some of the shots also went through a fence and Lucy’s feather beds which were drying on the fence. Witnesses testified that Maberry shot from an ambush under porch steps of the house across the street. The musket was found near the steps and had recently been fired.

Another witness, John Staples, testified that Maberry had told him some months previous to the shooting that he was going to kill Galbreath “if powder will burn for cutting (stabbing) him”. Other witnesses said the two men were close friends, but deputy Sheriff, W.C. Lyles, testified that Maberry told him he had been “cut” by Galbreath and was angry about it. Maberry took the stand on his own behalf and denied everything. He did admit that he left Roane County soon after the killing “but not until after the funeral” and traveled extensively for about 25 years, working in places in St. Louis, MO., Baltimore, MD., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Nebraska.

According to relatives, Maberry came back to Roane County in 1909, after the death of his father to claim part of the family’s property and was arrested for the Galbreath killing. He was convicted for the crime in the historic courthouse in Kingston, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court and upheld. He was sent to the state prison in Nashville but the story doesn’t end here.

While still being held in jail in Kingston, (pictured at the left) he began writing a poignant poem which was entitled “Roane County Prisoner.” He later finished the poem, it was set to music and became quite popular after the turn of the century under the title, “The Hills of Roane County.” Many Roane County residents remember hearing it played on the radio in the 1930s and 40s. The words to the song vary slightly, but the following is believed to be the first rendition:

In the beautiful hills, in the midst of Roane County,
There’s where I have roamed,
for many long years;
There’s where my poor heart’s been tending most ever,
There’s where my first steps of misfortune I made.
I was thirty years old when I courted and married,
Amanda Galbreath was then called my wife.
Her brother stabbed me for some unknown reason;
Just three months later, I’d taken Tom’s life.
For twenty years this old world I rambled;
I went to old England,
I was captured and tried in the village of Kingston.
Not a man in that county would speak a kind word.
When the jury came in with the verdict next morning,
A lifetime of prison were the words that I heard.
The train it pulled out; poor Mother stood weeping.
And sister, she sat all alone with a sigh.
The last words I heard were:
Willie, God bless you;
Willie, God bless you,
God bless you; goodbye.
The train left the shed at about eleven thirty;
The chains they did rattle,
The handcuffs were tight When Sonny Gibson took the throttle
The engine one-thirty was soon out of sight.
In the scorching hot sun I’ve been toiling;
Just working and worrying my poor life away.
You can measure my grave on the banks of old Cumberland
After I’ve finished the rest of my days.
No matter what happened to me in Roane County;
No matter how long my sentence may be,
I love my old home way back in Roane County,
Way back in the hills of East Tennessee.

Maberry became ill while in prison, Was released and returned to his home in the hills of Roane County. Exactly when he was released is not known, but apparently, he suffered from poor health for the rest of his life. He lived alone and his Galbreath kin folks made sure he had care and enough to eat. He died on October 30, 1925, in Knox County, TN and was buried in the County Cemetery. Sources for this article are: “The Rockwood Times”, newspaper, September 9, 1909; The State vs. Willis Maberry Loose Papers, Historic Roane County Archives; Oral history taken by Mrs. Andy Harvey from Richard Louis Galbreath, Tom Galbreath, Jr. (son of Tom Galbreath), and Frankie Galbreath Eskridge; Loose Papers, Historic Roane County Archives.

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, February 2018.

The Hills of Roane County