ELIZABETHTON — Never again will there be a show like the United Way fundraiser held at the new Carter County Jail on Friday night.
An assortment of needs were addressed in an entertaining night that included bluegrass music, an Elvis impersonator and some amazing demonstrations of law enforcement and correctional procedures.
Sheriff Chris Mathes said he has been told by the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service that it would be a good idea to give the new facility a workout with a sizable number of people to discover any last minute glitches or overlooked problems. Those would be a lot easier to correct before more than 200 prisoners are brought in.
So the nearly 200 people who took the guided tour of the new jail were serving a need for the sheriff’s department. They were moved in groups through all the cell blocks, up and down the elevators and even gave the new kitchen a workout by consuming a hearty meal of meatloaf, green beans, corn, biscuits and tea.
The tour also provided a need for many citizens who have heard a lot of stories in the past several years about the new jail. For the first and last time, the citizens were given a chance to explore the jail before the prisoners are brought in.
The tour guides included Mathes, Chief Deputy Ron Street and Capt. Tom Smith, who showed most of the cell blocks and the operational areas. They also answered plenty of questions and cleared up a lot of misconceptions about the jail.
More than just learning the nuts and bolts of the new building, the groups also got to see the operation of the jail, including the sally port where the prisoners are brought into the jail. The groups also saw the booking room, where each person could get a souvenir mugshot dressed in a jail uniform top, red for felonies and green for misdemeanors.
They also saw the cell blocks and the spartan living conditions and toured the special holding areas, the suicide watch cells, the drunk tanks and the medical area.
The night also served a need for the Elizabethton/Carter County United Way, which sold tickets for the event and sponsored other events held in the jail during the night.
One of the highlights was a demonstration of two different techniques used in controlling unruly prisoners or someone attempting to flee to avoid arrest. While the group was enjoying the jail meal, some corrections officers demonstrated how an unruly prisoner is subdued. The action was done at about half speed, Mathes said, but the violence and danger were evident as male and female officers took down and subdued a man dressed in a padded suit to protect him.
When the struggle was over and the man was subdued, the group received appreciative applause from the group. As the guards caught their breath, Mathes reminded the group that the officers were paid about $22,000 a year.
Then an even more stunning demonstration was presented. Deputy Brady Higgins had volunteered to receive a round from a Taser. The round was fired and Higgins immediately went stiff. Two officers held him to keep him from collapsing on the concrete floor.
Mathes told the group the electroshock weapon was obviously effective and could save a life in an extreme situation. He then told everyone to enjoy their meal.
There was some more enjoyable dining entertainment in the form of bluegrass and Elvis performing “Jailhouse Rock.”
The night ended with bingo and a silent auction.