America loves a good mug shot. The more frizzed, frazzled and frantic, the better.
An Orlando entrepreneur has seized on that fascination, recently starting JAIL, a weekly newspaper filled with nothing but unflattering booking shots — page after page of them, with only a few ads in between.
“A mug shot is a couple notches below your driver’s license picture,” said Devin James, 41. “And everyone takes a messed-up driver’s license picture.”
Mug shots have gained popularity online thanks to sites like The Smoking Gun, which feature embarrassingly bad arrest photos of pro athletes, musicians and Hollywood A-, B- and C-listers — among them, a wild-haired Nick Nolte, a grumpy-looking Glen Campbell and a blowzy Wynonna Judd.
In JAIL, the stars are the readers’ neighbors, charged with everything from drug possession to prostitution to murder.
James said he got the idea nearly a decade ago after doing a three-month stint in the Orange County Jail following a loud fight with a girlfriend.
He published two issues in 1999 but gave up when it didn’t take off. Using $600 he earned moving furniture, James launched the paper again in December.
“The timing is right for this paper now,” he said.
Before jail and JAIL, James’ journalism experience consisted of reading the occasional magazine or newspaper.
Paper sells out
James said he distributes more than 8,000 copies weekly and struggles to keep stores stocked. The paper sells for $1 at about 175 mom-and-pop convenience stores in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. James delivers them himself.
“We sell out of them each week,” said Rafael Gil, manager of the Plaza Market in Orlando. “I had to place the paper by the cash register because customers thought it was free and were walking out the door with it.”
Thousands of arrests each week in the paper’s three-county distribution area provide plenty of material, all obtained free from police and sheriff’s departments.
Some of the pics are organized into sections — cold cases, convicted state prisoners, missing persons, sex offenders and impounded dogs and cats.
James carefully chooses the mug shots that go on the front page. (He has learned that attractive women on the front sell more copies.)
Sue Cravens, a bail agent in Sanford who advertises in JAIL, said the paper may have helped authorities capture some suspects.
Sindy Lowe, who manages a gas station that sells JAIL, said she has recognized several people in the paper. “Once I even saw my sister-in-law in there after she violated her probation,” Lowe said. “I didn’t even know she had been arrested.”
She added: “You need to know who your neighbors are. Somebody might be living next to you and they may be a killer or a child predator.”