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Saturday, March 23, 1996

Vounteer counselor banned by jail - Talk about inmate AIDS suspected

Memphis Commercial Appeal, March 23, 1996
By Patti Patterson

A longtime prison ministry volunteer has been banned from the Shelby County Jail.

Novella Smith Arnold, executive director of We Care Inc., the criminal justice ministry of Calvary Episcopal Church, no longer is allowed to visit the jail, according to a March 12 memo from sheriff's Inspector Allan Smith to captains and lieutenants. The memo gives no reason for the ban.

Arnold said she thinks she was banned because of comments she made March 9 about the spread of AIDS among inmates.

Sheriff's Department spokesman Kay Black said Sheriff A. C. Gilless increased security at the jail after the March 5 escape of two inmates. She would not say whether other individuals had been banned by name.

"It's the sheriff's prerogative who can come into the jail and who can't," Black said. "He doesn't care to talk about it. He's just restricting access. That's all it is, period."

Smith's memo does not mention anything about overall jail security. Instead, it specifies Arnold as the subject of the memo. The one-sentence text says that "effectively immediately" Arnold "is not allowed entry in the Jail."

Arnold and state Rep. Kathryn Bowers (D-Memphis) had a press conference Friday morning to call attention to Arnold's ban from the jail and their concerns about AIDS in the jail.

Bowers was the moderator for a March 9 forum at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church. The topic was "HIV/AIDS Among African American Youth: Developing an Action Agenda for Leaders and Policymakers." The forum was an invitation-only event for appointed and elected officials, Arnold said.

"This wasn't a forum to air dirty laundry to the public," she said.

Accompanying Arnold at the forum were three individuals infected with the AIDS virus. One was a former inmate who discussed sex among inmates, including rapes.

On March 14, Arnold said she received calls from inmates telling her she would not be allowed in the jail. She said she called and talked to a Sheriff's Department official who told her that the information was correct and that he had been told it was because of something she said at Mississippi Boulevard.

"I find that so insulting," she said. "I've been there from the day the jail opened."

Arnold has been a regular jail visitor since before the Criminal Justice Center opened in September 1981.

Arnold was denied access once before, from May 26 until June 2, 1989. Gilless, who then was chief deputy, said she was being kept out for "security reasons." Jack Owens, who was sheriff, reinstated her visiting privileges.

Arnold said she doesn't fault Gilless for keeping her out this time. She said she thinks lower level employees banned her and did not tell him. She said she has a good relationship with Gilless, but hasn't talked to him because she was giving other employees a chance to rectify the situation.

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Edition: Final; Section: Metro; Page: B2
Copyright (c) 1996 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

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