A few weeks earlier, Hollon had been working as a foreman on a 700-acre horse ranch in La Cygne, Kansas; on the side, he had a business breaking horses. On January 31, Hollon was driving his pickup to Paola for a load of supplies when a Paola cop pulled him over for rolling through a stop sign. Next thing he knew, the officer was arresting him on an outstanding warrant. According to police records, he owed more than $10,000 in child support to his ex-wife in Nevada.
Protesting that he was innocent, Hollon spent the next two weeks in the Miami County Jail while authorities arranged for his extradition to Nevada. Sometime after sunset on Valentine's Day, they loaded him into a white van divided into three chain-link compartments.
He was now a passenger with TransCor America, the biggest name in the human-traffic industry. Get a speeding ticket out of state? Have unsettled legal troubles in California? If there's a warrant with your name on it and local lawmen find you, odds are that TransCor will fetch you. And cheap. The Tennessee-based discount prisoner-delivery company can cut inmate shipping budgets by 30 percent, its Web site brags. TransCor has done business with more than 1,700 law-enforcement agencies across the country, schlepping more than 70,000 prisoners a year, the site says.
But it's a mostly unsupervised industry.
For example, federal regulations mandate that a prisoner not spend more than 15 hours in a transport van without 8 hours of rest. By conservative estimate, Hollon's 1,500-mile trip from Kansas to Nevada should have taken about 30 hours. But Hollon spent almost 17 days in transit; for much of that time, he was locked in a contorted position, bouncing from state to state like a lost package. Watching road signs, he charted his route through Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, California and Nevada.
Other prisons became rest stops. Showers were infrequent. His one set of clothes went unwashed. At one stop, he says, guards handed out medical forms for the prisoners to report any illnesses but refused to give them pencils. Hollon ate fast-food meals with his arms shackled to his waist. On a bus in Texas, Hollon says, he went for more than 12 hours without water. He says he sat in a van for more than 48 hours in California alone. Hollon could see little through the two mesh-wire-covered windows at the back of the van, but piecing together information from guards, new prisoners and glimpses of road signs, he marked his passage through El Centro, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Modesto, Stockton, Sacramento and Yuba City before making a nonsensical U-turn back toward Sacramento.
"They said they did that because the drivers were out of time so they had to take us back and switch to two more drivers," Hollon says. None of the prisoners knew how long his trip might last. "You hear rumors," Hollon says. "You say something to one of the drivers, and they say you got 190 days to get where you need to go."
Since the mid-'90s, TransCor has faced repeated lawsuits for mishandling the merchandise. Like Hollon, prisoners often complain of long trips in cramped spaces, some without adequate food or bathroom breaks. Others complain about erratic driving and injuries they've suffered in fender benders. In July 1997, a prisoner in transit suffered neck injuries in a car crash outside of Leavenworth. The company's promotional materials boast that "professional extradition specialists have an average of over eight years experience in corrections, military and criminal justice." However, TransCor requires its guards to have only two years' corrections experience, a stipulation that can be waived for time served in the military.
The company's agents have been blasted in recent years because some prisoners have escaped. In December 1997, 11 inmates traveling from Kansas to Minneapolis escaped by overpowering a guard while his partner was ordering food inside a Burger King. Newspapers reported at least two more escapes in 2000 and a hijacking in 2001.
The company also has been sued over allegations that guards sexually and physically abused their cargo. In 2002, the American Civil Liberties Union won a lawsuit for unspecified damages against TransCor after a company driver was convicted of sexually assaulting a female inmate. During the trial, TransCor lawyers admitted that they knew of at least five other cases of sexual misconduct. And in January 2003, William Mullin of Shawnee filed a claim against the company alleging that he had nearly frozen to death on a road trip in January 2001. TransCor settled that lawsuit out of court.
Company spokeswoman Ashley Nimmo tells the Pitch that each TransCor voyage should average about five days. To monitor this, each company van is equipped with a GPS system that can track its whereabouts within a tenth of a mile. She says that even though pickup and drop-off logs confirm that Hollon's trip lasted nearly 17 days, she has no evidence that he was mistreated. Nimmo says all GPS records are deleted from the TransCor tracking system after one month.
Kansas Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Miskell says the state once used TransCor's services "very sporadically" but hasn't contracted with the company since 2001. (State officials now haul prisoners using a network of sheriffs and officers who are already traveling to and from other states.) Missouri follows the same in-house transport policy, says Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman John Fougere. He says that Missouri has contracted with TransCor only once, in 1996, when prisons were at 163 percent capacity and the state was shipping convict overflow to a private prison in Texas.
"It's much more cost-effective and more effective from a public safety standpoint to transfer them ourselves," Fougere says. "We used them in that one time, and we don't intend to use them ever again."
But Miskell and Fougere acknowledge that TransCor can still snatch prisoners in Kansas and Missouri through warrants executed by out-of-state officials.
"One to two times a month, TransCor will either bring an inmate or parolee to a Kansas correctional facility or pick up an inmate from a Kansas correctional facility and move them somewhere else," Miskell says.
"I had been in Desert Storm, and I'd treated POWs better than they treated us," Hollon says of his days spent with TransCor.
In Nevada, Hollon learned that his trek was the result of a paperwork error. He has two ex-wives -- both mothers of his children -- one raising a son in Nevada and one raising a son and daughter in Ohio. Because he had not clearly specified that his bimonthly paycheck garnishments be divided equally between his former spouses, Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services had been routing all of his child support to Ohio.
Hollon pleaded guilty to the charge to get out of the slammer. His trip home was shorter. On March 3, he took a Greyhound to Las Vegas, a cab to the airport and then a late-night flight back to Kansas City. It took him less than 10 hours. Hollon was scheduled to appear in Nevada for a preliminary hearing in April, but the charges against him were dropped.