Small Illinois town willing to be next Guantanamo
President Obama wants to ship Guantanamo Bay detainees to a rural Illinois state prison. Why are locals welcoming the detainees?
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"Being a federal prison, I would guess wages and benefits would be pretty good," she says.Skip to next paragraph
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Both say any stigma of relying on a prison for jobs is beside the point. "Not only will it bring jobs, all these people will move here to work," says Kim. "We have a lot of empty houses here in Carroll County. If people move in, they'll buy these empty houses."
Few people have more interest in how the prison may affect businesses than Beaver Miller, co-owner of a Dairy Queen, a BP gas station, a local housing subdivision, and WCCI-FM, the local radio station in Savanna. He says it's unfair to stigmatize correctional facilities.
"Personally, I'd feel safer being here than being 200 miles away from it. I don't think the fear factor is real legitimate," he says.
"We need a shot in the arm," he says, noting that the facility would help the local tax base. "If it's going to come to America, why not us?"
To outsiders, the solitude of the upper Mississippi Valley may seem like an unusual choice for a prison expected to hold some of the most notorious detainees in the war on terror. Rolling farmland bounds the area to the west while the downtown sidewalks of Mount Carroll and Savanna offer quaint eateries for the bed-and-breakfast weekender.
Long history of aiding nation
But as only longtime residents know, Carroll County's history in aiding the country in wartime dates back 93 years. It is home to Savanna Army Depot, a Defense Department facility that opened in 1917 to test, manufacture, and store munitions during both world wars up through the Gulf War. At its height of activity during World War II, the depot employed 7,000 people, but when the Defense Department shuttered it in 2000, just 423 people still worked there.
"Without understanding the nature of rural areas, it's harder to understand the devastating impact of [losing] 423 jobs," says Diane Komiskey, executive director of the Savanna Depot Park, which is trying to lure economic development.
Ms. Komiskey says the prison would be right in line with the area's heritage in helping the war effort.
"I don't think you can underestimate the patriotism here," she says. "The fear we've heard expressed by some individuals is not shared by the region because they know we've been a target for years."
Komiskey laments the fact that both her children left the area to find work: "Our best export is our kids. The saying here is, 'It's the thing we produce the best.' Unfortunately, we're exporting them."
But she is hesitant to cheer the pending prison sale because so much has to happen before the prison is updated and open for business.
That tentativeness is shared by Paul Fritz, a pastor at the United Methodist Church in Thomson. He says some people expanded their businesses with hopes the state prison would generate new traffic to town – only to see their investments hit a wall when the prison sat mostly empty due to lack of state funding.
"They built it and then didn't allocate any funds to run the thing, so most people are in a wait-and-see mode," he says. "Until the ink is dry and the federal government is going to buy it, we don't have a whole lot of confidence that anything will happen until we see it happen."
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