Two East Baltimore neighborhoods only a mile apart but separated by race, outlook, and years of noncommunication joined today in an appeal to a Maryland legislative subcommittee to reject a state proposal for a 890-inmate prison in their community.
The neighborhoods of Orangeville and Kenwood do not have much in common. Orangeville is an old, working class where it is not unusual to find three generations of one family living side by side in nearly identical houses on the same street.
Kenwood is a black community, unusually stable and homeowner-occupied for industrial East Baltimore, where blacks seeking to buy homes 20 years ago were forced to pay up to $30,000 for the kind of houses that sold for about $9,000 in the rest of the city.
In the past several months, though, the two areas have found a cmmon element; a fear of what will happen to them if the state builds a medium-security prison on the site of an abandoned Continental Can Co. factory that sits between the two communities.
"If this prison becomes a reality, it will immediately destroy Orangeville, with Kenwood close behind," BurlWolfe, president of the Orangeville Neighbourhood Improvement Association, told the joint Subcommittee on Law Enforcement and Transportation.
"...These neighbourhoods will go from quiet, peaceful communities, where people walk the streets at night, to communities masked with fear," he said.
Kenwood, said community leader Latella Giles, is a community of about 20,000 residents who "have put all we have into our homes.. From wherever we look, we see (the Continental Can factory) threatening the lives we have worked so long and so hard to build."
About 300 residents of the area showed up for the Saturday morning hearing before the Subcommittee that will recommend to the General Assembly whether it should approve a $26 million item in the budget submmited by Gov. Marvin Mandel for construction of a prison on the Continental Can site.
The testimony was preceded by a procession of U.S. Congressmen, Baltimore City Council members, and state legislators from the area, who all hinted strongly that the proposal to put the prison on the factory site smacks of political favortism.
The can factory is owned by developer Morton Sarubin, a cousin of Mandel's principal political and financial patron, Irvan Kovens. Sabrubin paid $1.9 million for the factory in August; by Dec. 3, Mandel's office had negotiated an agreement under which Sarubin would receive between $3 million and $4.5 million for the site, if the legislature approves it.
Rep. S. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who formerly represented the area on the Baltimore City Council, said the state "was negotiating for the Continental Can site" on the opening day of Mandel's political corruption trial in September, a month before Mandel aides said the state first become aware of the possibility of using the site as a prison.
"I don't feel we were dealt with in good faith," said Mikulski, in a refrain joined by several Council members who attended a meeting with Mandel on Sept. 8.
"The tyranny of government doesn't happen by itself," said Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.), the state's only black congressman, but occurs because of the "avarice and greed of those who want to sell something to the state, and the avarice and greed of those in government who accept the sale."
Gordon Kamka, warden of the Baltimore City Jail, said he opposed the master prison plan in which the Continental Can proposal is contained because "it doesn't make good correctional sense."
Kamba said the plan was prepared "in absolute secrecy" entirely within the governor's office and his criminal justice commission, without consultation with state corrections officials, judges, or police.
A month ago, when residents of the same two neighbourhoods came here to oppose the Continental Can plan before a committee chaired by Mandel, their demonstration was vocal, unruly and disorganized.
Today, the opposite was the case. Members of the audience had clearly been cautioned by their organizers to be quiet, polite to Subcommitte members, and responsive to the Subcommitte's request that there be no applause during the hearing. They seemed most unwilling to antagonize the legislators who they feel will determine the fate of their neighborhoods.
"To tell you the truth, these two neighborhoods never communicated very much before," said Pat Dicarlo, and Orangeville resident. "In one good sense, this has brought us together . . . It's been the only good thing to come out of this."