Q&A/Rural county baffled by judges’ punishment
“Run him out on a rail” is a southern phrase for a way of getting rid of ne’er do wells — a practice in which God-fearing townfolk round up the Godless and put them on a train with a one-way ticket to Somewhere Else. It is a reference to the distant past, when trains were more common than trials.
Not too distant, as it turns out. On Sept. 30, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported that, for decades, Atlanta judges have punished criminals — usually stalkers, forgers and minor felons — by telling them to hit the road. However, since Georgia’s constitution prohibits banishing anyone from the state, the judges have done the next best thing: They have banned the criminals from 158 of 159 counties. Rural Echols County — the only Georgia county without incorporated municipalities — is the exception.
According to AJC, the judges chose Echols County as Georgia’s Somewhere Else because they believed the criminals would leave the state rather than move there. Turns out, they were right. Lamar Raulerson, chair of the three-member Echols County Commission has lived in the county all of his 48 years, and he has never heard of anyone moving to the county as part of a criminal conviction.
Q: What was your reaction to the article?
A: I was shocked, and I have a hard time believing that it’s true. I feel like somebody down here would have been aware of it and would have let somebody know about it before now if it really was happening.
Q: Were you at all insulted by the notion?
A: Not really, because it takes more than that to insult my opinion of Echols County.
Q: What has been the reaction from people in the county?
A: I think most of them just really can’t believe that it’s a true thing. I think somebody with real [credibility] down here would have to say that it’s going on for most people to believe that it’s true. I think maybe one of our Superior Court judges would have to come out and say, ‘This is true. They’re doing this, and we are aware of it.’ before I would really believe that it’s going on.
Q: When people think of a place that criminals might be banished to, the typical idea is a place like Siberia.
A: Well, I can tell you this much, there’s not a better place to be banished to than Echols County. Some people think it’s the jumping-off place; I think it’s the jumping-on place. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.
Q: What are some things that make your county a good place to be?
A: It all boils down to the people. Of course, I’ve never had any desire to leave. It’s just a great place to live.
Q: So why might Echols have even been chosen as a place to send criminals?
A: If [the story] is true, I think it’s because it’s a rural area. Of course, our whole southern border is on the Florida line, and it’s almost in the corner of the state. Other than that, I can’t imagine a Superior Court judge sending somebody to Echols County as punishment. I mean, they’re doing them a great favor to send them to Echols County. It would be a lot worse punishment to be sentenced to downtown Atlanta. Honestly, anyone that’s banished to Echols County should turn around and thank the judge.
Q: If someone were banished to Echols and decided to move there and start a new life, are there places that they could easily find a place to live and start working?
A: Yes. We have people moving in all the time. You put an acre of land up for sale in Echols County, it sells the next day. Usually it doesn’t even go on the market, it sells just by word of mouth. Our population went up 61 percent from 1990 to 2000. The jobs that are here are strictly agricultural — either tobacco, produce or forestry-related. It’s more like a bedroom community for people that work jobs other than farming.
Q: Can you recommend another county in Georgia to send criminals to?
A: If they’ve done something severe enough that they need to be banished, they probably need to go to jail. I think too much of the whole state to even really and truthfully answer your question. I hate to say I’d banish them anywhere because I think the whole state’s a great place.