Wackenhut's state contract at Holly Springs was up for renewal. Mr. Calabrese said he couldn't renew if it meant Wackenhut would keep losing money. Mr. Johnson said he didn't have the budget to pay for the company to house more inmates, and only the legislature could change that. Mr. Calabrese perked up. What was the legislature's view? he asked. "They're meeting now," Mr. Johnson said, and the executive could go to the statehouse and find out.
"I better get over there," Mr. Calabrese said. He hadn't planned to stay in Mississippi overnight, so he bought a fresh shirt for the next morning.
Two blocks away at the statehouse, the part-time legislature was completing its three-month session. State tax revenues had come in short of projections because of the faltering economy, and Gov. Ronnie Musgrove was battling lawmakers for more money for the state's public schools. The legislature had made a one-year reduction of $30 million for classroom supplies and textbooks and ended a program that funneled 25% of any state budget surplus to the public schools.
Messrs. Calabrese and Sage went door-to-door in the statehouse, a domed granite edifice that stands on the former site of Mississippi's first prison. In a corridor, they buttonholed Carl "Jack" Gordon, Democratic chairman of the Senate appropriations committee and one of Mississippi's most powerful legislators. They also chatted with Republican Sen. Robert "Bunky" Huggins, another political heavyweight whose district is home to a regional prison and CCA's Greenwood facility.
In Sen. Huggins's office, Mr. Calabrese emphasized that Wackenhut was not an interloper. "We didn't build a prison on spec and start looking for prisoners," he recalls saying. "You invited us."
He continued the discussion over dinner with Sens. Huggins and Gordon at the Parker House, a local restaurant. Mr. Calabrese, 50, made his case with the crispness and deference of the former courtroom attorney that he is. He told the senators it was "fair" and "commercially reasonable" that Wackenhut be restored to 90% capacity at Holly Springs -- 900 inmates -- because overall the state's prisons were 90% full. "We're willing to share the pain," he recalls saying, "but give us 90%." And he picked up the check for dinner.
Unlike the regional prisons, Wackenhut and CCA had no inmate guarantees in their contracts. The contracts obliged Mississippi only to make its "best efforts" to keep the facilities filled. Weeks before, CCA's local lobbyist,