Sometimes history happens with fanfare and fireballs.
But sometimes it happens quietly in the dark.
The hushed kind of history happened just before midnight on Friday. That was when prisoners were moved in orderly lines out of the 1941 jail on the third floor of the courthouse and into the 2020 Webster County Justice Center.
The prisoners could easily have jaywalked across the intersection from one building to another, as the new jail is catty-corner to the courthouse, at the corner of Jefferson and Crittenden streets. For security reasons, the prisoners — 47 of them — were transported in several trips of the Sheriff's Office van. They wore handcuffs and ankle chains, and they carried their belongings in garbage bags.
Up in the old jail Thursday night, lights-out happened in the usual way, with the notion that prisoners would be awakened for the transfer. The prisoners seemed to know that something was up, however, and they were ready to go when the lights came back on.
The event went off without a hitch, as prisoners were moved from a facility where a large number of them were housed in rows of bunks to one where two-person cells open out into a dayroom for occasional use throughout the day. There are five pods, one for women and four for men.
Each cell has natural light and good ventilation, and the pods are watched from a central control area.
Before the prisoner transfer, Sheriff Roye Cole gathered his staff and offered his appreciation to them.
"None of this is possible without any of you all," he told them. "I know that I get a lot of credit because I’m the sheriff. Seriously, you guys are the ones who make this happen."
He added, "There is no law and order, there is not justice, there is none of that without you all."
Sheriff Cole added that nobody is in law enforcement for the money. "Ain't nobody getting rich off this job,” he said. “We do it because we think this is what our community needs, and I think we all take a little bit of pride in that."
Sheriff Cole noted that the facility was a long time coming.
"The first six years we were just preparing to get this on the ballot … and we never could," he said. "Finally we were able to after six years of trying, and we’ve spent the last six years trying to build this."
Sheriff Cole offered his appreciation to jail administrator Tina Davis, who devoted many hours to getting ready for the facility to house prisoners.
In an interview prior to the prisoner transfer, Davis said, "I'm very excited — and very nervous, all at the same time. This has been a long time coming."
Davis spent the four days prior to the transfer making lists of things to do to prepare. In fact, she was still making a list before coming in on Thursday night.
Sheriff Cole, too, acknowledged that experience in the new facility will suggest new ways to manage policies there.
"We are going to change policies as we learn to run this building," he said. He added that he planned to ask prisoners for their patience in the early going.
Asking prisoners for patience may seem like an unusual way of running a jail, but a view of the Webster County Justice Center reveals that we are not dealing with Sheriff Andy Taylor and Otis with a key on a ring in Mayberry. It is a sophisticated structure that will run most smoothly with everyone’s cooperation.
Before he broke up Thursday night's pre-transfer meeting, Sheriff Cole invited those present to pray, if they were so inclined.
"Father, we pray that you will bless this building and bless all the people in it," he said. "Bless this entire event and keep us safe."
And that seems to be exactly what happened on Thursday night on the deserted streets around the square.