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HIV Positive Former Inmates Face New Obstacles in Society

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By Tamara E. Holmes, NNPA Correspondent –

Life isn't easy for African American men and women re-entering society after incarceration, but the prevalence of HIV in the Black community creates a new set of challenges. Many former inmates may find themselves at an increased risk of contracting HIV once they leave prison, and those who are already infected often have difficulty finding sufficient medical and emotional resources on the outside.

The barriers for anyone leaving prison are great, says Lena Asmar, director of clinical and support services for AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, an organization that advocates for people with HIV and AIDS. Finding affordable housing and getting a job can be frustrating. "All of that coupled with HIV is huge," Asmar says.

Despite urban legends exaggerating the presence of HIV/AIDS in prison, only about 1.5 percent of state and federal prisoners are HIV positive, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. For men and women who don't have HIV, there are inherent risks when they return to their homes and communities.

While it's true that many inmates engage in high-risk behavior--such as unprotected sex, injection drug use, and tattooing--while in prison, it's wrong to assume that former inmates play a huge role in the high HIV-infection rate in the Black community. The data just doesn't support that fact, says Joseph B. Richardson, Jr., Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Maryland's Department of African-American studies. In fact, in many communities where the HIV-infection rate is high, former inmates may have a higher risk of contracting HIV on the outside, Dr. Richardson points out.

One of the biggest mistakes a former inmate can make is assuming that a partner has been celibate while he or she has been in prison. Men, in particular, often assume their partners were faithful while they were incarcerated, says Dr. Richardson. However, that partner may have been engaging in other relationships during that time, and new partners whom former inmates meet "can possibly be engaging in unprotected, high-risk sex," Dr. Richardson adds.

Precious Jackson, a women's-health educator at the Los Angeles-based Center for Health Justice, stresses how important it is for couples to communicate about sex, as well as the risk of HIV after a partner has been released from prison--and suggests that both parties get HIV tests. "You want to make sure that both of you are healthy," she says.

For those former inmates who have HIV, the greatest challenge may be maintaining their health. The prison system is responsible for inmates' care while they are incarcerated, says Edward Harrison, president of the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, but once inmates leave prison, they must find health-care coverage on their own. Not doing so immediately could be harmful. "You need to take HIV medications with regularity," Asmar says. "If you don't, they may not work."

Not surprisingly, it can be difficult to find affordable medical coverage or receive help from programs that provide HIV treatment for the uninsured, such as AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs), which often have waiting lists. In addition, the difficulty that a former inmate may face finding a home and a job could also affect his or her health. "What often makes people's health decline after they get out of incarceration is not having stability to take their medication," Asmar says.

If you know someone with HIV who is scheduled to be released from prison, help him or her obtain appropriate care and treatment by following Asmar's tips:

Find an advocate: Local AIDS service organizations, often called ASOs, can provide information about programs and services that may offer financial help. They can also provide contact information for other organizations that can help out with other needs, such as housing and job placement.

Explore local hospital offerings: Some hospitals have community health centers that provide services for free or at a discount. "Look for one that does infectious-disease work and has providers that are not judgmental and know about HIV," Asmar says.

Get emotional assistance: Former inmates often experience feelings of isolation after returning home from prison. "People sometimes come out with no support. Sometimes their families have turned their backs on them and don't want anything to do with them," Asmar says. Look for HIV/AIDS support groups that can find people who are experiencing some of the same fears and frustrations.

The key is for HIV-positive former inmates to start making connections so that they can better handle the challenges that accompany living with HIV. "The problems of isolation and stigma are huge," Asmar says.

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes frequently about emotional health and wellness.

Tax Delinquencies Hampering Black Communites in Pittsburgh

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By Christian Morrow, Special to the NNPA from the New Pittsburgh Courier –

A new audit of the city’s real estate acquisitions and holdings shows that although the bulk of the properties taken for tax delinquency are in predominantly Black neighborhoods, most saw more properties resold.

The audit released last month by Controller Michael Lamb found the City is the major owner of vacant, tax-delinquent properties in the following city neighborhoods: Perry South, California-Kirkbride, Garfield, Homewood North, Homewood South, Beltzhoover, Hazelwood, Middle Hill and Larimer.

“Many City owned vacant and tax-delinquent properties are in our most underserved communities,” he said. “We must make every effort, including working with the citizens in the community in which these properties are located, to get these properties back on the City tax rolls. We also must create a system so these properties are given regular maintenance. They are contributing to neighborhood blight and in some cases are safety hazards.”

Lamb’s audit further notes that the city’s recent practice of only taking properties that have a high probability of resale—rather than taking all delinquent properties—has reduced its holdings and generated new tax revenue.

During the period covered by the audit, July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2010, the city sold 466 properties assessed at nearly $11 million for $3.6 million. Its share of the tax revenue now being generated is just under $118,000 per year.

Of the neighborhoods indicated above, only Hazelwood saw a net gain, of six, in delinquent properties. However, the delinquent properties not acquired by the city remain—just off the books. The audit indicates little can be done about them.

Some can be adapted for reuse and may be given to communities for other purposes than residential use such as community gardens like those in Homewood, East Liberty, or Hazelwood, or like the apiary in Homewood, or for parklets like the one in Polish Hill.

Conveying these properties to other community owners, even for promising uses has also been limited because several such owners are themselves delinquent and are forbidden to take on additional property.

Nonetheless, the report recommends the city increase its efforts to work with neighborhoods schools and other groups to utilize vacant properties for community purposes.

“We have properties that continue to be delinquent, so we have to reach out to communities, even if its’ just to help maintain empty lots,” said Lamb. “The system is working, the side-yard sale program is successful, but it’s not enough. It’s an ongoing struggle.”

Dr. Henry Givens Jr. Retires as President of Harris-Stowe State University

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By Rebecca S. Rivas, Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American –

Dr. Henry Givens Jr. is the longest serving president of any university in Missouri – leading Harris-Stowe State University for 32 years in May.

Last week, Givens told a room of longtime supporters – including elected officials, business leaders, and staff – that the time has come to retire. Givens will stay on board until the university’s national search produces a new president.

Under his leadership, the university has nearly tripled its student population. It has grown from one building with only one degree to what will be eight facilities in the fall and 14 degrees.

“He has overseen the renaissance of this institution over the past 32 years,” said Thelma V. Cook, chairperson of the Board of Regents. “His unwavering dedication and passion for the students at Harris-Stowe, as well as his commitment to providing them with affordable, accessible higher education option is heroic.”

The list of his achievements is exhausting, but Givens said every bit of it has always been for the students. “Without the students we serve, there is absolutely no reason for Harris-Stowe State University to exists,” he told the audience.

What students most love about Givens is his open-door mentality, said Derek Collins, student representative of Board of Regents. In most universities, it would be frowned upon for students to try to cut around the staff and go directly to Givens, he said.

“And, it probably is here as well, but students catch him going to his car or in the hall,” he said. “And, no matter what the issue is that they bring to him, he jumps right on it. He has his ultimate interest in the success of his students and I’ve seen it time and time again. No matter how large or small the issue is, they are able to go to him directly.”

Givens keeps books in his office, just in case students can’t afford them and need to get them on loan. He admits it’s a little selfish, but he loves the students coming to the office.

“When they come, I can hear them outside my door. I pick up the phone and ask, ‘Are there students out there? Let them in,’” he said. “That’s what I love about Harris Stowe. It’s small enough that you can get your arms around them. Rarely are there students that don’t know I’m the president. I keep in touch with them.”

Givens would have never dreamed as a student at Lincoln University in the 1950s that he would become a university president. "It wasn’t my dream because I didn’t think that you could ever do that,” he said.

Yet the impression of then-university president Dr. Sherman Scruggs stuck with him. Givens said Scruggs was sharp, wore a nice hat and knew all of his students. “I thought, ‘Boy I’d love to be just like that,’” he said. “But, it never dawned on me that I would.”

Once he started taking education courses, he didn’t turn back – receiving his master’s at University of Illinois, his Ph.D. from Saint Louis University, and his post-doctoral studies in higher education administration at Harvard University.

His career started a teacher at Webster Groves School District, and then he became a principal at the first prototype of a magnet school in the nation. He became the first African-American assistant commissioner of education in Missouri, where he served for five years. In 1979 he became president of what would become Harris-Stowe State College some years later and a university in 2005.

“He has been a pioneer for our state’s work in education,” said Gov. Jay Nixon.

Selecting education as his career path has been one of his proudest achievement, he said. It comes second to “meeting the right young lady to marry, to raise our family, and to educate our children.”

Belma Evans Givens received two standing ovations at the press conference.

“I want him to be happy,” Belma said in an interview after the conference. “I hope there will be somebody who will have that commitment, who will have that passion that he has had for Harris-Stowe because it has been his life.”

Belma said one of the highlights of their career at Harris-Stowe was in 1987, when their daughter graduated from Harris-Stowe. That same year, the governor asked Givens to serve as the interim president at Lincoln University during its financial crisis.

“I told him that it was okay, but I wanted him to go and get a complete check-up before you go and try to take over two institutions,” she said. “He came out okay, but it was really tough.”

Givens read a long list – which encapsulated everyone in the room – and thanked them for being the “village” that has raised the university’s children.

U.S. Rep. William. Lacy Clay, Jr. has known Givens for most of his life, he said. In 1994 as a state senator, Clay championed the bill to expand Harris-Stowe’s mission by adding more baccalaureate programs.

“Listening to Dr. Givens remarks today, you can tell that his parents at an early age stressed the importance of education, and Henry followed through on their advice by first getting an education and then providing an education for thousands of others,” he said. “This community should be grateful for the service that he’s given.”

His grandson Jarrett Woolfolk, a junior at Harris-Stowe, said he once had a friend who was not sure college was for him, but he wanted to give it a try.

“My grandfather gave him a full opportunity to come to school and get the books,” he said. “And, that’s one of those stories that’s pretty meaningful to me – giving people chances who don’t have it.”

Givens has a knack for reeling in students on the fringe. About 90 percent of the student population are first-generation college students.

“So, once we get them, we work with them,” he said. One of the biggest ways he does that is through scholarships. Last year, he headed the most successful fundraising campaign in the university’s 152-year history, reaching $45 million.

When the Anheuser-Busch School of Business was established, Givens helped to create the African-American Business Leadership Council for business leaders interested in providing support for the school. David Steward, founder of World Wide Technology, Inc, said Givens urged him to chair the council.

“I view him as much as an entrepreneur as an educator can possibly be,” Steward said. “I know what it takes as an entrepreneur myself. I have such admiration for him.”

By example, Givens inspires community leaders to push forward and never give up on their visions, said Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett, who represents the university’s Ward.

“He has created the vision and legacy to educate, empower and inspire new brainpower for our region,” she said.

In January, Givens stepped down as the chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Statewide Celebration Commission, a position he held since its inception in 1986. It’s now the second largest statewide celebration in the nation.

“That is the cause of Dr. Givens’ commitment to the process,” said St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

Dooley also applauds Givens for transforming what was once a one building teaching college on the verge of failing in the 1970s to a full university campus with residence halls, a business school , and early childhood development/parenting education center.

“It’s a great place to be,” Dooley said. “It makes you feel that someone is doing something right. It doesn’t get done by itself. He has been a contributed to the quality of life in the St. Louis area.”

Givens endured and overcame many challenges, particularly in keeping higher education affordable. Historically, Harris Teachers College prepared White elementary school teachers for the City’s public schools and Stowe prepared the Black public school teachers. The two schools merged in 1954, and Givens took his position when the college had become the newest member to the public higher education system.

It takes someone with unique qualities to build such a great institution from a modest base, said Donald M. Suggs, publisher of the St. Louis American newspaper.

“His leadership has been indispensable in bringing to fruition the dreams he had for Harris Stowe three decades ago,” Suggs said. “He has been tireless and totally focused.”

Lea Sutherlin, executive secretary to the president and secretary to the board, remembers five years ago when Dr. John E. Moore, Jr. retired as president of Drury University. Moore sent Givens a card with a bear on it that said being a university president is somewhat like dancing with a bear.

“In the beginning you have the exhilaration that you’re dancing with a bear,” she said. “The problem is when you want to sit down; the bear still wants to dance.”

Every since he got that card five years ago, Givens would come into Sutherlin’s office and say “the bear is doing the watusi today or the bear is doing the twist and I don’t feel like twisting,” she said. “So when it was time for him to retire,” she said, “he looked at me and said, “the dance is over.’”

Dr. Henry Givens, Jr. shares his plans to retire as president of the Harris-Stowe State University on Tuesday, as Board of Regent member Wayman Smith stands in support. The announcement came at a mid-morning press conference in the university's Bank of America Theatre.

Blacks Ponder Loss of Majority Status in D.C.

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By James Wright, Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer –

Blacks in Washington, D.C. are barely in the majority, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau figures.

African Americans in the District of Columbia are concerned, but not alarmed about the likely loss of majority status in the city in a few years.

Statistics from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report reveal that Blacks comprise only 52 percent of the population of the District, which is a sharp decline from 71.5 percent reported in the 1975 census count. However, Blacks in the District aren’t worried about the lower percentage.

“The economy is hurting everybody and people are looking for cheaper housing,” said Bonnie Barrett. “People are moving out to Maryland with Section 8 vouchers and other programs because they will be able to find better housing there,” the Northwest resident said.

Barrett, 62, has identified one of the main reasons many Blacks have left the District. The city’s housing costs have always been somewhat pricey compared to other major metropolitan areas in the country.

Today, the District’s population is 601,723, with the arrival of 29,600 residents since the 2000 census. However, city officials and demographers note that the overwhelming majority of new residents are not African Americans.

David Hedgepeth, a Black resident of Ward 3 in Northwest who ran against D.C. Council member Mary Cheh in the Nov. 2, 2010 general election as a Republican said that Blacks have moved to other parts of the metropolitan area because of bad city policies.

“I think it shows the failure of Democratic policies,” Hedgepeth, 42, said. “The Democrats have not delivered the city that Black people want to live in. We are losing ground to Prince George’s County (Maryland).”

Hedgepeth also noted that Blacks who live in the Atlanta metropolitan area are leaving in droves and moving to prosperous suburbs, such as DeKalb County.

Hedgepeth, an attorney, said that he moved to Washington because of its dominant Black population.

“I am originally from the Bronx in New York and I came to D.C. because it was a ‘Chocolate City’,” he said. “I am disappointed that it is no longer a ‘Chocolate City.’ Our city leaders need to implement policies that African Americans might find attractive and come back into the city.”

Joseph L. Askew Jr., of Northwest D.C., said that many Blacks in the District do not feel as if the city government cares about them.

“We need affordable housing, workforce development and quality health care in this city,” said Askew, who serves as chairman of the University of the District of Columbia’s board of trustees.

“Our city leaders need to connect with people of all classes to create a solid structure in which people can live comfortably.”

The 2010 report showed that Ward 2, located in Northwest D.C., had the greatest population change from 2000 to 2010 with an addition of 11,046 residents. Ward 6, which touches all four quadrants in the District and includes Capitol Hill, had the second largest gain with 8,563 people.

Predominantly Black Ward 8 in Southeast was the only ward to lose population.

The District’s White population had an increase of 55, 370 people from 2000 to 2010 and consist of 38.5 percent of the population according to the 2010 census. Hispanics in the city grew by 9,796 and represent 9.1 percent of the population with 54,749 people. The Asian population ballooned from 15,189 to 21,056 in the last decade.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray appeared satisfied with the city’s growth.

“The growth in the District’s overall population and the growth in diversity is good news for our city in a number of ways,” Gray, 68, said.

“On the other hand, these census numbers speak to the importance of developing more amenities east of the Anacostia River so that as we grow as One City, current residents will want to remain in the District even as others move in. All residents -- new and old alike -- should enjoy an outstanding quality of life no matter which ward or neighborhood they call home.”

Barrett, who works for a fundraising company, said that cheaper housing is the key to getting Blacks to return to the District.

“Blacks are moving to Maryland to buy houses for 10 cents,” she said half-jokingly. “Whites are tired of making long commutes, some as long as 70 miles a day to go to work and that is why they are moving to the city. It seems that the city government is making it more convenient for Whites to come and live here.”


Handguns and Havoc on Los Angeles Campuses

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By William Covington, Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly –

To most students enrolled at Jefferson High School on Sept. 16, 1971, it was just like any new semester school day. Classes were held as usual. Some students hurried, while others lalligagged on their way to class, and the usual toughs roamed the grounds.

Although guns had been seen on campus at various times before, none had ever been fired. This day would be different. A small group of gang members ran around the campus, grabbing guys’ Ace-Deuce brand stingy-brim hats under the pretext that only their gang members could wear them. “If you are not a [gang’s name] you don’t deserve an Ace-Deuce,” the leader was heard to exclaim.

However, one of the confiscated hats belonged to a member of one of five rival gangs known to be active at “Jeff” at the time. Angry over the loss of his hat, he and members of his set [gang] scurried to the car belonging to the hat thieves and let the air out of its tires.

Then they found the hat thieves and chased them to the disabled vehicle, knowing there would be no speedy getaway. That’s when the chasers opened fire, striking the leader several times before fleeing.

The incident seems lost in school district annals, although former students recall it clearly. But, the incident may be important as the first known shooting on a Los Angeles high school campus, and it may have changed the way education is pursued locally from that day on.

Carver Junior High, a feeder school to Jeff, mirrored Jeff with a second on-campus shooting weeks later. Donald Anderson, a former LAUSD security agent, remembers that a Carver student was shot in the arm with a zip gun (a home-made device) outside the boy’s locker room in 1971.

Slightly less than a year later, in November 1972, five teenagers were shot near a homecoming float on Jeff’s campus. This second shooting was believed to be part of “a continuing feud between two rival gangs,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Several hours later a 15-year-old youth believed to be a Jeff student was arrested in his home. Later still, a 17-year-old was booked on the same charges.

Security agents had already been assigned to some campuses years earlier because of the discovery of handguns on campus. Jomo Uhuru-Adafo, formerly Harry Blakely, remembers that among the measures the district took was to assign the first security agents to Jeff as early as 1966 as result of the occasional handgun found there long before any shootings.

By the 1990s—and there is no evidence that the incidents at Jeff or any Los Angeles school started the trend—guns were popping up in schools throughout the nation.

In March 1992, campus gun violence had become so widespread that a Newsweek article by Tom Morganthau, stated: “Tragedy came to Crosby, Texas, over breakfast in the high-school cafeteria. The victim was Arthur Jack, 17, captain of the varsity football team ...” The article said Jack was helping himself to a glass of orange juice when a bullet from a .38-caliber revolver fired by a 15-year-old pierced his heart.

“Gun violence is on the rise in schools all over America, and the nation’s children are trapped in its path,” Morganthau warned. “According to the federal Centers for Diseases Control, one student in five reports carrying a weapon of some type and about one student in 20, or 5.5 percent, reports carrying a gun.”

In 1993, a 16-year-old Fairfax High School student Demetrius Rice became the first student to die in a classroom when he was shot in the chest after a. 357-magnum dropped out of student’s backpack and discharged. Another student was wounded.

Rice’s mother, Mildred Hunt, lost her only son. She reportedly lobbied the Los Angeles Unified School District to institute more stringent security measures, including metal detectors. The metal detector random search policy was implemented that year, no easy task in the second largest school district in the nation, behind the New York City Department of Education.

By 1994, Sen. Dianne Feinstein estimated that about 100,000 students across the nation were carrying handguns to school. In a July 29 Los Angeles Times article she stated: “It’s time to stop making excuses about gun violence in schools so that our law-abiding students can learn in safety... “Thirty-two of the 44 largest school districts in the country now use metal detectors to keep guns off campus. By adopting a gun-free school policy, the Los Angeles Unified School District has seen gun-related incidents decrease by 14 percent in the last year,” she said.

Still, after decades of school violence, the nation has become so inured to it that there was little public outrage when the Fairfax-style shooting was played out again at Gardena High School—where a 17-year-old student would come to school packing a weapon.

On Jan. 18, the student entered his third-period classroom and removed his backpack to take his seat. What happened seconds later that led to two classmates being shot is murky. Gardena students have given different versions of the incident. One said the youth appeared to have been looking for something in his backpack when the weapon discharged. Another thought the impact of the backpack hitting the desk caused the .9-millimeter Beretta to fire.

The police report said the gun discharged when the student reached into the backpack to get a snack.

The bullet struck a 15-year-old male student in the neck before striking a female student of the same age in the head. The young lady, now released from the hospital, was in critical condition for a time. Friends of the young man said he was carrying the handgun for protection.

Officials decided to try the alleged shooter as a juvenile rather than as an adult. He was given a nine-month sentence in juvenile camp, after admitting to the weapons charge. Although the teen, whose name has not been released, was already on probation for a misdemeanor battery charge, LAPD Assistant Chief Pat Gannon said he “was not hard-core, had no gang affiliations and was filled with remorse that his gun had gone off...”

Retired LAUSD police officer Charles Wilson recalls that scanning youths for weapons with metal detectors was “a joke.”

“When we would start scanning students at a particular entrance ... other students who were aware of the security checks would notify their friends via texting or Twitter,” he said. “They were able to avoid the scanning by passing their contraband weapons over school fence to a friend or taking it through another entrance. You would practically have to tear down every school and build them as secure as a judicial courtroom or the Pentagon, with a courtyard open field in the center,” he said.

Ken Trump, a school security consultant, suggests that metal detectors would have to be used around the clock to be effective, otherwise they prove to be too costly. Officers would have to scan everyone at every event, kids on their way to basketball and cheer practice, he said. Any evening event on campus would allow a student the opportunity to visit his locker and store a weapon and retrieve it that following day.

Trump sees metal detectors as a quick solution for complex a problem. With parents searching for peace of mind, metal detectors provide false hope. He believes the best tactic for using metal detectors is to conduct unscheduled scannings on campus. Unannounced, such scannings would be a complete surprise to students.

There was a history of guns on campus long before any shootings began.

“A few of us started carrying small pistols ... because the Slausons of Fremont High and the Businessmen of Jefferson High had a fight, and there were going to be possible retaliations,” Jomo Uhuru-Adafor, who attended Jeff in the ‘60s, said. Drive-bys did not exist then. Guys would stand up and aim and shoot.”

If you were seeking tough guys during the ‘60s and ‘70s, you could usually locate them in autoshop, says mechanic Anthony Bailey, who learned his trade at Jeff. Bailey believes almost every gang had one member who had a gun stashed away somewhere on campus, most of them taken during burglaries.

“However, things were different back then,” he said. “It’s almost as if the guns were used the same way countries used their nuclear arsenals, having it in case things escalated. Back then we fought heads up, with no guns involved.”

Another former gang member agreed. He said that in the earlier years they never brought a gun on campus to shoot anyone, but needed them for protection on the way home.

By the time of the homecoming incident, the Los Angeles Board of Education had toughened regulations concerning the possession of a deadly weapon on school campuses, which included immediate suspension and the initiation of an expulsion process.

To discourage a tide of guns on campus, in 1994 the Antelope Valley Union High School District proposed offering students a $25 reward to inform on classmates who brought guns or drugs on campus. Los Angeles Unified began a hot line for the same purpose, although it offered no reward.

An Antelope Valley Sheriff’s department spokesman said in the three years he had been in the department no guns had been confiscated at the schools.

Of course, guns, although primary, are not the only weapons of choice. There have been numerous incidents of knives, hatchets and other devices brought on campuses.

In an odd twist on the youth-with-guns-in-schools issue, at the end of December a plant manager at Henry Clay Middle School reportedly walked into the school gymnasium and questioned the presence of a few staff and students in the gym at that hour. Not getting what he felt was the proper response, he left the gym and returned with a weapon, demanding that the occupants exit the gym.

For his troubles, the 62-year-old assistant plant manager has been allowed to cool his heels in the Men’s Central Jail, according to the Sheriff’s department. Co-workers who wish to remain anonymous believe he started carrying the weapon after an assault by a co-worker in 2006. “We all think he armed himself after this incident,” one co-worker said.

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