Posts Tagged With: Preble County

‘Cornbread Mafia’ Describes The Rise, And Fall, Of Marijuana Production In Kentucky

As I examine my county’s long-term relationship with marijuana, besides researching our past, I’ve turned to books that highlight the history of marijuana production in the United States.

Ohio, which recently approved medical marijuana, began its love affair with the drug in the early-to-mid 1970s. Preble County saw an increase in production, and consumption, that mostly correlates with the return of Vietnam vets. According to articles from the late 1970s, one Preble County farmer — and Vietnam vet — was caught up in a drug smuggling deal that left two dead and several imprisoned. By the late 1970s, this farmer was receiving weekly shipments of 25-50 pounds of pot.

Each week’s delivery would supply 100-200 users with enough pot for a year.

Cornbread Mafia

The Cornbread Mafia by James Higdon takes place about three hours south of Preble County in central Kentucky. It is a story of a code of silence, murder, crooked cops, and ‘good ole boy’ farmers perfecting their product through careful breeding until the weed grown in Kentucky can command top dollar.

Even though the author begins the book with some earlier history to help frame the belief system of Marion County, Kentucky, their pot production also begins in the mid-to-late 1970s. Much of the production was hidden in plain site due to the players involved. Higdon writes,

For the first decade of the marijuana era in Marion County, all processing from a number of top growers was centralized in one location, a place no one would suspect of housing a multimillion-dollar illicit factory — on a farm owned by a prominent doctor, whose brother had once been mayor of Lebanon. No one would have guessed that the stately proportioned barns and outbuildings concealed several tons of high-grade sinsemilla in any given October between 1972-1980.

Native Tells Story

Higdon, a Lebanon native and journalism major, wrote the book shortly after college, and since he has an understanding of the mindset of the region, it gives him an edge in telling the story. The characters come across as authentic, and not caricatures. It is a region, that for the most part, view the book’s main character, Johnny Boone, as a local Robin Hood type hero. By the end of the book Boone, who served two prison terms, is a fugitive.

The story is fairly complicated with its cast of 5-10 characters who are heavily involved in the central Kentucky’s marijuana business. As the feds start cracking down on the group, they are eventually forced to grow their crops in other Midwest states — but they always bring it back to Marion County for processing, which also ensures they get top dollar when they distribute it.

Eventually, 70 Kentuckians are arrested, and true to their values, they refuse to ‘rat out’ each other or accept plea bargains that will harm their partners. This is phenomenal since the sentences they receive range from six months in jail to 20 years in prison.

Quicken The Pace

My main critiques of the book is it starts off a little slow as the author explains the mores of the region, which is essential to the story, but it could have been trimmed. Also, the stories of minor characters could be condensed.

For the most part, it is a story of impoverished, yet entrepreneurial, Kentucky farmers doing what they do best — perfecting a crop and marketing it. If not for the handful of murders in the story line, the book would have a ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ feel to it.

Published in 2012, the book is a little dated because the story of Johnny Boone has evolved (I won’t link to it in case you want to read the book first), and at least one member of the Cornbread Mafia has written a memoir, which, of course, adds to the story. At some point, I’ll have to read that one as well.

Rating 4/5. If you are looking for a crime story — or are interested in marijuana production in the 1970s and 1980s — this is a very enjoyable read with very interesting characters.


Local Eyes Only

1982 marijuana bust in Preble County netting an estimated $10 million in drugs and equipment — or nearly $26 million in 2017 dollars.

Advertisements
Categories: American History, drug use, My America | Tags: ,

Shopping For My Own Version Of Reality In Trump Town

Sign popping up in the various communities in my county. This one is near the Eaton Municipal Court (pictured in the background).

(Note: Since the presidential election was won at the county level, I’ve come to believe that counties like Preble are a microcosm. And, how we deal — or do not deal — with problems is vitally important because the societal problems that are plaguing small towns are also negatively impacting the country.)

According to one local politician Preble County has a great workforce. It’s a great tagline, but it’s at odds with what the official said just a month earlier when he commented on the local job market. A month or so ago he said there were ‘plenty of good jobs, but workers can’t pass a pee test.’

The pee test comment may be closer to the truth since help wanted signs — mostly for temp service jobs — are popping up in the community.

But the politician’s shifting viewpoint speaks to the issue many Americans face these days. As Matt Taibbi points out in Insane Clown President, we now shop for our preferred version of reality. Those on the right shop at Fox News while those on the left shop at MSNBC. And, some find even more extreme venues of liberal and conservative information. This consumer-based approach to information led to the breakdown of a common narrative — a common set of facts we all can agree on.

Without a common narrative, solutions are improbable.

Gatekeepers Hold The Key

American history has shown that various regions of the country hold wildly divergent views on civic involvement. In southwest Ohio, with our strong historical ties to both the Backcountry and Virginia colonies, we have a tendency to look to leaders to solve our problems — as opposed to the New England colonies’ ‘town hall’ approach which tends to be more community based.

So, locally, if a public meeting has members of the public in attendance it is because someone is receiving an award or — most likely — because people in attendance are on the receiving end of a detrimental rule, law or ordinance. In a general sense, what the citizens in attendance say falls on deaf ears because the governing body is simply engaging in a CYA action to satisfy a public notice/public meeting regulation. By this point of the process, the governing board is not overly interested in citizens’ concerns because the political leaders are in the ‘selling/marketing’ phase.

So, our approach is simplistic: The leaders have reached a decision, and the public must accept it. Understandably, this method of governing generates a high level of mistrust from the average citizen. It also perpetuates a system where elected officials tamp down opposition as they bulldoze an agenda into law.

Not As Well Off As We Were

Ad from 1950s Twin Valley News publication in West Alexandria.

Like many communities in the Rust Belt, our level of affluence has fallen significantly in the past 50 years. In the 1950s, the community I grew up in the 1970s, West Alexandria (pop. 1,200), was able to generate the equivalent of  $400,000 — to build a community swimming pool. An editorial in the town’s newspaper bragged about how the community was able to accomplish this, without tax dollars, despite the lack of ‘wealthy’ citizens.

The approach used in 1953-1955 by the village differs significantly from the recent approach of local school districts to build athletic complexes. In these cases, the fundraising relied heavily on a handful of wealthy donors. This speaks to two current realities. First a strong sense of community binding people together in a common goal has weakened and, local residents do not have enough discretionary income to donate. The latter speaks to the quality of jobs that exist — or the skill level of the workforce and the jobs those skills can attract. In the 1950s, we were awash in manufacturing jobs, many with union wages. Today, in the United States, retail salesman is the most popular job title. In Preble County, retail is the second most popular segment, manufacturing is still our most popular segment, however, we are mostly a union-free county.

Heroin Addiction And The Workforce

Ohio’s job prospects — and its economy — has not performed as projected and as CNN recently reported, American workers are failing drug tests at the highest rate in a decade. Preble County is presumably no exception since we have a heroin problem.

But, one common theme in the heroin story is that heroin addiction does not distinguish by class. In other words, the rich and the poor are equally affected by the drug. Another common thread locally, at least with some of the gatekeepers, is ‘if you make a bad decision I can’t help you,’ which, although a popular stance, displays ignorance about drug addiction — and it’s politically lazy.

Living in a should’ve, could’ve world is a fantasy-based reality. People are addicted to heroin in Preble County and it needs to be solved, not vilified. It needs to be solved so employers can employ. So workers can work and spend. So a local economy can thrive.

It’s Economics 101.

Incriminating The Indigent

Preble County heroin cases, at least those processed through Common Pleas Court, suggest heroin addiction does discriminate based on class — unless, of course, wealthier users are able to bypass the court system through insurance-based treatment. Of the 63 cases processed between July 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016 in all but four of the cases the defendant was ruled indigent by the court.

This, of course, creates a financial drain at the county level while increasing the anger many non-addicts feel toward the addicted, making it easier to dehumanize heroin users. This is especially notable when political leaders refer to them as ‘druggies.’ Since I personally know friends, former co-workers and family members who are addicts or recovering addicts, I resist terms like ‘druggies’ because the individuals I know did not wake up one morning and decide that today was the day they would become addicted to a chemical.

Besides, it’s also about treating people humanely. A chemically-dependent individual is someone’s child, parent, sibling or relative.

Political Impotence

In a recent article, it was noted that my county is refunded, by the state of Ohio, 48 percent of the cost associated with indigent cases. The tone of the statement suggested county gatekeepers had negotiated us back ‘up’ to the 48 percent threshold, when in reality (I listened to the audio of the discussion) county officials did not negotiate. As a small, impoverished county we have the political power of a gnat. Ohio told us how much we would receive. It’s a twisted version of ‘what’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander.’ Although gatekeepers relish in their ability to ‘tell’ the indigent what they will receive and when, these same gatekeepers — based on their recorded posturing — are less open to the methodology when they are told by a more powerful gatekeeper what they will get.

Do We Have A Problem?

If anecdotal methods are proof of the type of workforce we have in Preble County, I will relay what one worker told me. They said the company they worked for had a lot of turnover because the ‘younger guys’ work until they were paid and then they ‘quit showing up.’ They indicated drug use was the culprit.

Other indicators include newspaper ads and articles which suggest local firms are struggling to find quality workers. For example:

  • One company, seeking manual laborers, has run an ad in the local newspaper for months to fill the position(s). The same holds true for a local bar seeking kitchen help. Their ad has run for at least two months.
  • Another company recently highlighted the fact that it is paying a higher starting wage in an effort to attract applicants.
  • A local government agency recently filled a position with someone already within the agency, which could indicate a lack of applicants.

But it may be the county’s own marketing site that offers the best clues about our workforce. Information on their site shows that prime-aged workers — those aged 25-54 — are moving out of the county. It also shows that the number of available jobs within the county has declined since 2007.

Categories: 8th congressional district, American Workplace, My America, Understanding Trump Counties | Tags: , , , ,

Preble County Church Plays Role In Underground Railroad

Historic Hopewell Church, founded in 1808 in Preble County, Ohio.

Historic Hopewell Church, founded in 1808 in Preble County, Ohio.

If you visit the Preble County Library website, you will find a list of more than 50 churches in this county of about 40,000 — and at least one of these churches has been here for 200 hundred years.

It is possibly the most recognized historical church in Preble County — the Hopewell Church — near Hueston Woods. In 2008 the church celebrated its bicentennial. One of the defining marks of the church was its position on slavery — the church was established by some of Preble County’s first settlers, families from Kentucky and South Carolina, because of their opposition to slavery and the church openly encouraged worship by African Americans.

It was also part of the Underground Railroad network that operated in the southwest region of Ohio.

Bunker Hill HouseOne of its member, a free black man Gabriel Smith, known as ‘Old Gabe,’ lived in nearby Fairhaven in the Bunker Hill House. Gabe’s room at the Bunker Hill House was a small closet built underneath a stairwell in the summer kitchen. As a conductor on the route, Old Gabe would lead runaway slaves along Four Mile Creek until they reached Bunker Hill House where they would receive refuge until they could continue their journey north to Canada.

The Hopewell Church, which spawned four daughter churches, closed its doors in 1915, although it held annual meetings in the church building until 1958. When talks of demolition began in the mid-1960s, former members created an organization to save the building and started having services in the church. In 2000, the church was restored to its current condition.

Historic Hopewell Inc. the non-profit organization that maintains the church has posted several online photo albums showcases the church and the restoration project.

If you visit the area during the summer months, you can attend a Sunday morning church service.

The church also has a special Christmas service in December.

Underground Railroad

freedom-centerYou can learn more about the Underground Railroad by reading the words of the slaves that escaped in The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts (African American). If you are in the Cincinnati area, you can also visit the National Underground Railroad Museum Center to learn more about the region’s impact on freeing slaves.

Preble County Churches

>>View images of more churches throughout the county

Categories: 8th congressional district, American History, Preble County | Tags: ,