Travel with inmates not easy journey for Bibb deputies

When Bibb County deputies transport inmates from out-of-state locales back to Macon, they do their best to blend in with other airline passengers.

Inmates are dressed in the same street clothes they wore when they were arrested. Handcuffs are covered with a coat.

“We have our bags like anybody else,” Lt. Greg Jones said. “You’ll never know.”

Jones and five other deputies have an unusual job: They make routine trips across the state and beyond to bring people accused of crimes back to Bibb County so they can be prosecuted.

Often, other travelers don’t realize what’s going on. Even with plenty of preparation, the deputies have a dangerous job, Sheriff Jerry Modena said.

The inmates being transported often are charged with violent crimes — murder, aggravated assault or armed robbery, said Jones, who’s been traveling about eight years to make pickups.

Modena said the deputies chosen to make inmate pickups typically are older and more experienced.

“It’s a pretty dangerous job,” he said. “It’s a high-stress job.

“In a second it can go wrong on you.”

Deputies are on the road almost daily to pick up inmates arrested in other parts of the state on Bibb County charges, Jones said.

Actually, the deputies are able to pick up two or three inmates at a time when traveling short distances by van, Modena said.

About once every couple of months, deputies board airplanes to make pickups from places farther away, Jones said.

Modena said traveling by air often is cheaper and safer than driving for long trips.

In a car, deputies have to stop periodically to allow the inmate to use the restroom and eat, said Lt. Fagan Fargason, another member of the group.

There’s also the cost of fuel and somewhere for deputies to sleep. Inmates are kept overnight at county jails along the route.

With more stops, the process can be cumbersome and presents the possibility for a variety of problems, Fargason said.

The deputies use a special device to help ensure that inmates don’t escape from their handcuffs and leg shackles during transport. It’s a sturdy, rectangular blue box that clamps down over the locking mechanism to prevent inmates from picking the locks, Fargason said.

When flying, deputies go through special airport checkpoints so they’re able to carry their guns on the plane.

While the deputies have traveled to numerous states, some as far away as Arizona, the tight schedule for the pickups keeps them from having time to sightsee.

Fargason said he’s always up at 3 a.m. on the day he leaves Macon so he can get to the Atlanta airport in plenty of time for an early flight. Then, after picking up the inmate, he builds in at least two to three hours at the airport to be sure they don’t miss a flight.

If the trip goes overnight, it’s not odd for the deputies to be in bed by 7 p.m. so they can be ready for another early morning, Fargason said.

“A lot of it is hurry up and wait,” Modena said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.