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My time in state prison

Posted Monday, December 10, 2007, at 10:51 PM

I've been keeping a close eye on the proposal to turn the old Tennessee State Prison into buildings housing office space.

The old prison, which hasn't housed inmates for many years now, was used a few years ago in the movie "The Green Mile".

My interest in the old prison is because I've been in there, not as an inmate, but to play baseball.

This took place the summer I was discharged from military service. It was an interesting experience for several reasons.

That year the prison's baseball team had a good record and was written up often in the Nashville newspapers. I imagine they had a hard time finding opponents.

We went down early on a Sunday morning, was escorted into the prison and to the baseball field and the surprises started as we went through pre-game warm-up.

I pitched for the Shelbyville team and as I warmed up on the sideline an inmate handed me a resin bag. I never used a resin bag although many pitchers did back then, but I used it that day to show my appreciation to that inmate.

A few minutes before the game started the inmates started coming in to watch the game and one of them from Shelbyville was allowed to stand back of our bench.

The next surprise was a big majority of the inmates were cheering for us, not the state prison team. We asked the Shelbyville inmate about this and he explained the baseball team got some special privileges.

The state prison team was surprisingly good. A man who pitched some of the game for them had been a starting pitcher for the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Class AA Southern Association for several years. Many of us had watched him pitch against the Nashville Vols.

We had no reason to protest any of the calls by the umpires. The umpiring was good and very fair. We had been told in advance if we protested any calls they would let uas have it our way.

We won the game, about 7-4 as I recall, and then went in to eat a very good Sunday meal with the prison team and other inmates. I must admit it felt a little strange at first eating chicken and dressing while guards watched over the large prison mess hall. Soon we forgot it and had a good time talking with their players and other inmates.

The father of one of our players had been a guard at the prison for many years. He gave us a very good tour of the prison after our noon meal. The final place we visited was the women's section.

We talked with some of them as we passed through and one rather attractive woman asked the score, then demanded to know who was our pitcher. One of our players pointed me out.

She called me everything, and I do mean everything, except a pitcher. It turned out she was the wife of the former Chattanooga Lookout pitcher. They had been sentenced for the same crime.

After I truthfully told her I had seen her husband pitch for the Lookouts and we would never have even touched his pitches back then, her ruffled feathers fell back into place. Although they were in the same prison compound,they hadn't seen one another since arriving there. I told her I had talked with him during our meal and he was looking well.

It was an enjoyable experience.



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Bo Melson is a retired sports and police beat editor of the Times-Gazette.
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