In a story yesterday about the uprising at the federal detention center in Oakdale, La., the local weekly newspaper was incorrectly identified. It is The Oakdale Journal. (Published 11/27/ 87)
OAKDALE, LA., NOV. 25 -- At dawn today, Pat Jones was mopping the floors at the Oakdale Tribune office on Sixth Avenue. It was about the only task she had not performed already in the 84 hours since the Cuban uprising began at the federal detention center. Jones is the weekly newspaper's editor. She is also its only reporter, layout person, photographer and custodian. She opens the mail and renews subscriptions.
News and gossip travel fast in small towns, but in this one they reach Pat Jones first. Even when scrubbing her floors, she seems to know more about what's happening at the prison than the newshounds in the national media pack scrambling and yelping around her home turf this week.
Jones had just about finished polishing the front room when a report came over the big color television set (donated by Duck's Furniture next door) that officials had decided to restore power to the prison so Cuban inmates and their hostages would be more comfortable.
She had to laugh. Her accountant, Peggy Fontenot, shook her head. They knew that wasn't quite the way it happened. Dozens of the guards and officers on the battle line at the prison's perimeter are their friends, relatives and neighbors -- informed sources, in the parlance of the news business. And some of these sources had informed Jones that the Cuban inmates restored the electricity and lights after discovering the facility's auxiliary generators.
"The way our sources described it, it was actually kind of funny," Fontenot said. "All of a sudden all the lights went on, and some Cubans behind the fence looked over at our boys and smiled and gestured, like they were saying, 'Hah! Hah! You can't fool us.' "
Jones has been racking up such scoops from the moment the riot broke out last Saturday evening. For the first two hours of the rebellion, she was at the police station handling the telephones as a volunteer. Then she was the first reporter to enter the prison and the first one to talk to a Cuban inmate. Since then, like the rest of the press, she has been kept away from the scene by security forces, but it as though she were there. She has kept her office open round-the-clock, and after midnight many of the young guards -- friends of her sons -- stop by to relax and chat.
Not that Jones, an indefatigable woman in late middle age who raised five children in Oakdale, is looking to break the big story. If the prison riot had been more than 10 miles away, up in Alexandria, say, or down in Lafayette, she probably would have given it a few inches of coverage inside her paper, she said. The biggest story before this week was the 50th reunion of the Oakdale High class of 1937. "That was a real community event," she said. "Everyone who was alive came back."
On the wall of her storefront office hangs one framed edition of her paper. It is the front page of Feb. 16, 1983. In red type, big and bold, the headline blares: "WE GOT IT!"
That was the day the governor called with the news that Oakdale had won over two cities in Oklahoma, MacAlister and El Reno, in the competition for the new federal detention center. Jones got the word at 3:24 that afternoon. "By 4:30," she wrote, "there was hardly a person in Oakdale without a smile on their face."
Jones was one of the smiling faces in the front-page photograph she ran that day. She and other members of the town's industrial development board were shown giving the thumbs-up signal. She had to bring a photographer in from her sister paper in Eunice to take the shot.
There are fewer smiling faces around here today, with 28 local people still held hostage and the town's meal ticket -- the shiny new $17 million detention center -- in ruins. But crises have a way of bringing people together. Most of the shopkeepers along Sixth Avenue stopped by Jones' office this morning -- delivering advertisements and notices, wondering whether the riot issue was back from the printer, and trading gossip, much of it about the Cubans and the national press corps.
The shoe store owner came by with the latest word on a Cuban prostitute who arrived in town two weeks ago. "One of the guys took her home a few nights ago and discovered she wasn't what she looked to be. She was a he. Or what do they call it back East -- an it?"
So much for small-town innocence.
Jones and many townspeople have been alternately awed and troubled by the massive news media presence here. The press has taken over a Lion's Club hall two miles from the prison; a dozen enormous TV satellite trucks hum day and night in the parking lot. Reporters regularly invade the Dairy Queen and Pizza Hut in search of telephones, or the Catholic church or hospital in search of quotes from hostage families. Twice Jones has been pushed aside by television crews at the press center.
"Before this is over, there's going to be one fatality," she told her friends this morning.
"Oh, really?" Fontenot said.
"Yup. Someone's gonna be killed over at the press center."