Sidney 2.0: Tales of Jumpsuits in a Laundry Room

I can’t look at pictures of the two suspects in the Sherry Arnold case. Their jumpsuits haunt me.

I remember walking through the holding area of the Richland County jail, curiosity getting the best of me as I craned my neck for a peek into the chamber filled with cells. I asked a lot of questions.

I also caught a glimpse of the laundry room. The orange- and white-striped jumpsuits didn’t leave much of an impression at the time.

Two weeks passed. Then news broke that the two suspects pleaded not guilty. Of course, a photo of one of the suspects’ appearances in court accompanied the Sidney Herald’s article.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he wore a jumpsuit. But the image startled me.

I sat in my Modern Islamic Civilization class listening to a lecture on the fall of the Ottoman Empire when I noticed the image appear on the Sidney Herald’s Facebook page. As soon as I clicked on it, I froze.

I was back in Sidney standing 100 feet away from two alleged murderers. A thick cell wall and two locked doors separated us. The story felt more real as I let my mind wander from my professor’s world of power-hungry princes, bazaars and diplomacy to the jail’s laundry room 6,000 miles away.

I must have seen dozens of jumpsuits – clean and folded – as I stood on the threshold. Each had been stacked neatly, one on top of the other. Now they cover two seriously evil men.

I know the world’s seen the same picture I saw. News outlets across the country picked up the story.

It’s interesting to read the national media’s take on the town and even more fascinating that people in places like New York City are interested in a crime that occurred in a prairie town of 5,000.

I keep replaying the words of Sidney Herald Publisher Libby Berndt in my head. When news of the murder first broke, she received swarms of calls from CNN, Nancy Grace and People Magazine, just to name a few. HLN even interviewed her live over the phone.

They wanted the latest information. They wanted to know how many sex offenders lived in the area. They wanted to paint a picture of an innocent town infiltrated by dirty oil workers.

Libby told me she did her best to explain that wasn’t the case. She wanted to talk about the close-knit community. She explained to me that even if the town grew to 10,000 people, its citizens would still care for one another.

But many of the national news outlets wanted a juicier story, she said. In the end, I’m not sure it makes a difference.

“These people have to realize that when all is said and done, they will pack up their bags,” Libby said. “They will walk out the door, and they won’t cover this again. They won’t even think about it again. We will still be here. We will still cover things like Sherry’s birthday and the family.”

I’ve written a lot about Sherry Arnold, but I can’t seem to shake the image of the suspect in a jumpsuit out of my mind. Who knew a piece of clothing could leave such a lasting impression?