Bad Behavior, Crime, Crime Justice System, Prison, And Reading
It was Christmas Eve morning, 1980, in a small quaint college town – Montevallo. Within a few hours most everyone had heard the gruesome news. A long-time 86 year-old distinguished widow of the former Dean of the Alabama College (now the University of Montevallo) Mrs. Orr, had been found brutally raped and murdered in her home.
I grew up in this quiet, relatively safe town where I began the first grade, graduated from Montevallo High School and, literally across the Oak Street, I earned several degrees from the University. While teaching four years at Montevallo High School I began to work part-time as a police officer at both the City and the University police departments. Soon I would make an unprecedented career move and was appointed as the University Police Chief. This is where my direct involvement with this hideous crime began.
Before the sun set on my hometown that Christmas Eve, we had two suspects in custody as they left a trail of evidence from the widow’s home to their own homes. Interestingly, I had taught both of these young men at Montevallo High School and eventually assisted in taking them into custody. The day before, they had done yard work for the lady which ended in a dispute over what she paid them versus the quality of their work. The evidence and their confessions matched perfectly. Both Victor Kennedy and Darrel Grayson were eventually tried, sentenced to First Degree Murder, and the death penalty.
Montevallo served as the model town-gown community. Yet, it was more than one community. It was a city with segregated neighborhoods and racially integrated schools. The University was a beacon on a hill to some with its cobble stoned streets, rows of big beautiful pecan trees and ivy covered buildings with an air of academic arrogance in the halls of higher learning. Its location was near the center of the town and within walking distance to most of its diverse neighborhoods.
The University and three public schools were in close proximity and worked collaboratively in the best interest of each. Obviously, as with most other universities the University of Montevallo selected some of the highest achieving students from many public schools. However, the Montevallo schools were typical public schools.
By the time these two boys arrived at the High School neither of them could read on grade level and, as is often a result, they misbehaved in school. They dropped out of school after the tenth grade and did yard work and drank alcohol to excess. It should be clear that not learning to read is no excuse for misbehavior of any kind. However, we know that approximately 70% of Alabama’s prisoners are illiterate and some correlation exists between illiteracy and contact with the criminal system.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) with regard to an illiterate person, “The average costs to the U.S. economy is approximately $240,000 over his/her lifetime in lower tax contributions, higher reliance on Medicaid and Medicare, higher rates of criminal activity, and more reliance on welfare.” Also, the NCES reports that the 2011 statistics show that only 62% of Alabama eighth graders could read at or above the basis reading level.
In his book, The Educated Child, 1991, William (Bill) Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, stated that if a child cannot read on grade level by the end of the third grade they have an 80% chance of dropping out of school. Local educators and the State of Alabama have certainly made strides in raising tests scores in math, science, and reading. Yet, as Winston Churchill said: “Never say we did our best. Do what is necessary.” In essence we pay taxes to have our children educated and then when that ends in failure we pay even more taxes to house them, feed them, incarcerate them and for services to protect ourselves.
A few years ago, I took a day off to visit a few locations in Montevallo. Among them was the Montevallo Cemetery where many folks I’d known were laid to rest. As I walked among the head markers and graves I happened up on a simple footstone which read “Victor Kennedy” with his dates of birth and death…he was electrocuted at age 38. As I stood there I looked up the hill and, to my near wilted surprise I could see the name “ORR” on a large head stone.
All parents are urged to become active in your child’s education. For those in the early grades it is you responsibility to demand to know on what level your child is reading and if it’s not proficient demand to know why.
Dr. David Nichols, Ed. D. is a retired education administrator and a law enforcement leader. He has served at every level of K – 12 Education and in several roles at the
university level. He is a graduate of the prestigious FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He served on two local school boards and earned the “Master Level” School Board member awarded by the Alabama Association of School Boards. Dr. Nichols has published widely in both careers.