Pigs, poker, and prisons: remembering Carlos Jayne

Marty Ryan first published this reflection on the life and legacy of his good friend Carlos Jayne (1935-2022) on his blog.

As he lived, he died—fighting authority!

Legendary NFL Coach Bill Parcells said, “A friend’s someone that knows all about you and likes you anyway.” Carlos and I liked each other, even though he was a big Green Bay Packers fan, and the Pack was my least favorite football team. Therefore, we never talked football. We had coffee and chatted for about two hours monthly. As his health slipped from him, the frequency of our visits diminished.

I first met Carlos when I was a novice lobbyist for the Iowa Civil Liberties Union (now the ACLU of Iowa) and a bill reinstating the death penalty was introduced. A fellow lobbyist pointed at Carlos and told me, “You need to talk to that guy.” I introduced myself to him and he said: “It’s about damned time the ICLU had a lobbyist up here,” and he turned, walked away, and continued to do what he did—talk to anyone who would listen.

I thought he was angry with me. I found out later he was just Carlos.

He had a reason for his attitude. He was either starting a fire or putting one out. Turns out, as a kid, he really did start a fire as a teenager. He wrote a blog post about the time that he, his friend Ed Whipple, and their two girlfriends burned a cross on a family’s lawn as a prank. As usual, the guilty get caught.

He also wrote about another incident that occurred that night. I’ll relate it to you in his words:

In recalling my time in Laceyville, I will start out with the zaniest experience of my early life. It’s the flag incident. It came out of being bored.

There it was on the wall of the gym, that giant Russian flag, as bright red as anything I had ever seen, with the sickle and hammer in yellow, menacingly dominating the whole place. And it was closer to the ceiling than the American flag at the other end of the room. Kids streamed in through the doors, as did the teachers from the First Grade through the Twelfth of Laceyville school. Laceyville, Pennsylvania, that is. In the tail end of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My sister, Pat, was the first in the school to see it and rushed back out the door to tell her friends and soon the gym was filled with kids and teachers. Gasps were heard together with laughter as people milled around, seemingly mesmerized by the sight. Finally, Prof Forscht (pronounced forest), as he was called by everyone, who was the Principal, came in and his eyes seemed to bug out of his head and his faced turned about as red as the flag, but he couldn’t seem to say anything.

My friend, Ed Whipple, and I stood there without saying a word when we joined the excitement — watching the reactions. It seemed pretty entertaining until we heard some girl start to cry –and then one of the teachers said to Prof that “We better get these kids out of here!!.” Maybe she was thinking of Joe McCarthy. After all, this was 1952 and the “Commie Scare” was running high. Turning angry, Prof Forscht started pushing us out the door of the gym and the teachers hurried us into our rooms.

It was a great school day, of course, because nothing talked about by the teachers was even heard unless it had to do with “the flag.” Every time we got a chance, Ed and I would start a discussion about it. Who do you think did it? And why would they do something like that? Is there a band of “Commies” around here?

The town cop, county sheriff, the head of the local American Legion, the County School Superintendent, and lots of townspeople came and stood around looking at the flag with varying degrees of amazement and anger. None of them laughed when we heard them talking about it. This was turning serious. My stomach was churning, as was Ed’s. My friend, Ed, and our girl friends at the time, Elanor Evans, and Francie Davis, hung around together, as we usually did any way, since we were kind of a “mixed clique” of “The kids with the high grades – teacher’s pets, kind of ”. On this day, and those following, however, it was for moral support. The fact is, we were the culprits!!! The “little Bastards,” as we would be referred to by many townspeople once the truth got out.

Well, how did anyone find out? Maybe we could have kept our mouths shut. Except for one thing, it was hard to fool Prof. Ed and I had tried to talk up the possibility of “outsiders” having come in to whip up local feelings. But even that backfired on us when some locals actually began to suspect a new family with foreign accents of maybe being responsible and they even called a special meeting of the American Legion to talk about just that. Prof knew from the beginning that it was students. He gathered the school together and announced that “He knew who it was and when he got the lowdown they would be kicked out of school for good.” The thing is, he suspected the wrong people. He never would have thought it was me or Ed or our girlfriends. He thought it was my brother, Bill, and a couple of his friends, who were “always getting into trouble.” Ed and I were Juniors and Bill and his friends were Freshmen, but they had been hell-raisers quite a while. At first, we weren’t concerned since there couldn’t be any proof since they hadn’t done it. With Prof, though, he usually pronounced judgment and then claimed he had the evidence – and that’s what he did in this case.

The whole town was talking, newspaper reporters were coming, and after a few days this thing was getting out of hand. Ed and I decided we would “come clean” and we would take the rap ourselves since the girls were Seniors and Elanor’s brother was the one we had gotten the flag from. He was a sailor working in D.C. and had been given a bunch of these “Russian” flags which had been confiscated and told to burn them. He had kept a couple and showed them to us one Sunday night when we were sitting around bored (Why not in Laceyville, Pa., population 600 without even a movie theatre). The upshot was that we decided to hang this sucker in the school gym as a joke – it would be easy enough to break in, having done it before. And what an exhilarating experience it was to do this!! Knowing how funny it was going to be to everyone – what a great prank!! It was a real high!! The night was perfect for it, and no one could see us anyway. Hearts pounding, laughing to ourselves. We never figured on getting into real trouble for this.

But they did get in real trouble. An FBI agent came to the school. They were not arrested, just given a good lecture. You can read the rest of the story here.

I wanted to be humble as a lobbyist, but Carlos gave me some great advice. “Ya gotta toot your own horn,” he would tell me, “’cause up here, no one is going to toot it for you.”

Sometimes, tooting his horn was cause for mild embarrassment. Always looking for a story that was born of gossip, Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen checked out an annual pool for the NCAA College Basketball March Madness Tournament. Carlos, the face of anti-gambling legislation in Iowa, had his name on one of the entries in the pool. Although the entry may have cost only five dollars, Yepsen made sure the contradiction was publicized in his “Great Mentions and Trial Balloons,” with lots of bold ink.

Carlos, the late Judy Hoffman, and I were the leading advocates for legislation allowing Iowans with past felony convictions to obtain voting rights. One afternoon we had a meeting of several lobbyists in what is called the crow’s nest, above the House speaker’s desk. Two lobbyists who were former Democratic members of the House attended the meeting as well. They told us we needed to work hard on getting a few Republicans to vote our way.

Carlos looked at one of them, a former speaker, and scolded him: “Did you happen to notice that the two co-sponsors of the bill are Republicans? We’re not having problems getting Republican legislators to agree with us; it’s the Democrats!” Carlos was always appropriately outspoken.

It didn’t happen that year, but a few years later we were working on the same issue. Carlos, Judy, and I met with Governor Tom Vilsack’s legal counsel, Gary Dickey, and demanded that something be done before lawsuits erupted. (We had no idea who was going to file a suit, but it sounded good.)

A few weeks later, we received a call from the governor’s legal counsel to inform us that Vilsack was going to sign an executive order granting voting rights to all who had completed felony sentences. Could we be present at the announcement of the executive order?

We showed up on that day in the Kennedy Conference Room below the governor’s office, believing that the three of us would be thanked by the governor. The room was full of people. When Vilsack came into the room, he had many gather around him. After all our years of hard work, Carlos, Judy, and me were aggressively elbowed out of the photo shoot. Carlos looked at me and said loud enough for half the room to hear: “Marty, who are all these people?” It may not have been the place or time to toot our horns, but it was time for Carlos to say what was on his mind.

One day in the Capitol rotunda, Carlos pointed out a man and told me that he was a spy. Yeah, right. No, really! It was true. A businessman from eastern Iowa had sent the spy to Des Moines to investigate what Carlos was lobbying on. Although a Methodist like Carlos, the businessman didn’t like some of the positions Carlos was taking on behalf of the church. Carlos smiled. He felt a certain sense of pride knowing that he was representing the position of the church, and the businessman obviously was representing his own personal interests. That day was a joyful day for Carlos. Nothing came of the so-called investigation, and he knew that’s how it would end.

Recognizing the growing need for a strong passionate voice at the Capitol, Carlos and Jean Basinger founded Justice Reform Consortium, a conglomeration of organizations dedicated to lobbying the Iowa Legislature for reform of Iowa’s criminal justice system, especially advocating for restorative justice. Unfortunately, JRC shut down a few years ago. Cowles Library at Drake University has agreed to store the consortium’s documents in its archives, along with Senator Tom Harkin’s and Member of Congress Neil Smith’s.

With licensed social worker Dianne Fagner, Carlos founded Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners, a group that meets on the third Tuesday of each month from noon to 1 pm at Wesley United Methodist Church, 800 East 12th Street, Des Moines, Iowa, to discuss, learn about, and support women incarcerated at Iowa’s Correctional Institute for Women in Mitchellville.

Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners continues to be an active organization. When it was first organized, the warden at the women’s facility told Carlos it was a great idea and that she intended to show up. He told her she couldn’t participate, because they were going to talk about her. Once again, speaking his mind.

He also founded Iowans For Gun Safety and was instrumental in the Friday morning Human Needs group.

If Carlos wasn’t creating an organization, he was participating in one. He was always busy. He wrote letters to the editor at a furious clip. He may have been the first to email legislators in bulk. He always kept everyone informed of what he was doing and what he wanted from them to help him with his goals. I have no idea how he had time to be a minister, or prepare a sermon, for that matter.

Carlos coined the phrase “Pigs, Poker, and Prisons” as he summarized Iowa’s economic development plans in the 1990s. As he wrote in a letter to the editor, “Policies and laws were implemented to benefit big pig (CAFO) operations, big poker (casino) operations and big prisons (size and number of prisoners). Seems these “p’s” superseded people.”

His moral compass always pointed in the correct position. His back may have kept him from being erect in his final years, but assembled with those fighting for truth, justice, and the real American way had him standing as erect as could be. He was a superman!

Carlos loved pie and retiring from projects. He had Lana make pies for every one of his several retirement parties. I attended each one. Unfortunately, this is his final retirement party, but fortunately, it includes Lana’s pies.

God bless the soul of a great man, my friend, Carlos Jayne.

Top photo of Carlos Jayne originally published on his Facebook page. You can read his formal obituary here.

About the Author(s)

Marty Ryan

  • Celebrating Carlos

    Thanks to Marty for the remembrance and celebration of the Rev. Carlos Jayne.
    Shame the local news media seemed clueless about how much he contributed, how hard he labored on behalf of the poor, the under-served and the rest of us, too, of course.
    Herb Strentz

  • What a nice tribute to Carlos Jayne...

    …and one of the nicest things was also being reminded of the legacy of Judie Hoffman. Like Carlos Jayne, Judie worked hard for what she believed in, and like Jayne, she will be long remembered and missed by many of us who knew her.