Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Most of the chain e-mails I receive, I delete. Occasionally I read one that appears to be humorous or interesting. My mother sent me one titled SHERIFF JOE IS AT IT AGAIN. This e-mail, while not humorous, is definitely interesting.

The chain e-mail is about Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the operation he runs in Maricopa County, Ariz. The e-mail says the inmates live in tent cities, there are female chain gangs and inmates eat brown-bag lunches. I had received Sheriff Joe e-mails before, as had my husband, and we always dismissed them as urban legend, amazing, entertaining, but certainly not true.

Intrigued by the latest e-mail, I thought a bit of investigation was in order.

The Web site for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office includes information about many of its programs. The inmates do in fact live in tent cities. They wear pink underwear, which has eliminated the problem of underwear being stolen. The POSSE program assists in collecting child support from deadbeat dads. In addition, the Web site posts pictures of area residents recently charged with crimes.

Based on my initial Internet research, I concluded that Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a real person and runs a real operation. My next step was to talk to a person in the department. I reached a public affairs officer on the phone. He was very professional, nice, providing me with an e-mail address and stating, “We all have Blackberries, so just e-mail your questions.” I typed up a list of questions, e-mailed them out and a few hours later received a call from Sheriff Joe Arpaio himself. Now I was really intrigued. The voice matched the persona and reminded me a bit of John Wayne, deep and husky with the underlying feeling that he was shooting straight when he talked.

I asked Arpaio if all the information in the e-mail was true. No, he said, “we didn’t take over the county animal shelter, we started our own.” The jail, which once housed inmates, became empty after the tent cities were built. Now the facility has become an animal shelter, housing 200 dogs and cats. The horses, which “do not fit in the cells,” are kept in the tents with the inmates. Sheriff Joe noted, “The women prisoners take care of the cats and dogs and the men take care of the horses.”


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.