My mom always worried for my safety when I told her I was going back to Mingo. Sometimes, when I would arrive in Williamson and drop by the courthouse, the folks there were quick to tell me that they had already heard I was in town. It left me with an eerie feeling, and I made it a personal rule to never be inside the county after dark.
It's been many years since I last stepped foot in Mingo County. Other beats and newsroom jobs led me in different directions. But, now, as each story breaks in this latest sordid Mingo saga, it takes me back ... and makes me wonder why so little has changed.
In 1994, I did a story about a man named David Baisden. He was a construction worker who was passing around a petition to have the Mingo county commissioners thrown out, alleging they took part in a politically motivated hiring scheme.
He didn't succeed, but he did get his name in the news enough that he was elected assessor. Years later, he became a county commissioner.
And, now, Baisden looks to be just one more Mingo politician who succumbed to the petty power of the office, who threw his weight around and, according to federal prosecutors, tried to use his authority to -- of all things -- pressure a local tire dealer into giving him a sweetheart deal for his personal vehicle.
Baisden's case seems like unbelievably small potatoes when you consider the point-blank-range killing of Mingo Sheriff Eugene Crum in April. Or when you read through the charges against Mingo Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury, who appears to have run the county's legal system like his own personal fiefdom.
Corruption indictments tend to come in waves in Southern West Virginia, and we're riding a monster right now.
But federal investigations like these are few and far between, meaning corruption likely stays at a low simmer for years before boiling over.
Politician after politician, political appointee after appointee -- they just come to accept the shadiness as a part, or perk, of the job. And the public keeps its head down lest they get on the wrong side of the bullies in power.
A poll question on our website asks if readers believe the latest arrests in Mingo will clean up the county once and for all. Looking at the ongoing results, it seems only 12 percent are optimistic.
Don't count me among that group.
Byers is the Gazette's executive editor.