Both Northern and Southern Nevada have been making international headlines this week.
In Las Vegas, the tragic massacre at a country music festival captivates the nation.
In the north, and closer to home, O.J. Simpson’s release from the Lovelock Correctional Center a few days ago also continues to capture the news.
I first met him in the early 1970s when I was teaching journalism at USC, my alma mater. O.J., who had won fame as a star USC football player, was a member of the Buffalo Bills at the time and, a few years earlier, had won the Heisman Trophy. He was USC’s most famous athlete, and often visited the campus to see old friends when he was in town.
O.J. was scheduled to hold a press conference at USC, and I was invited to attend and bring along some of my students. Although I cannot remember what the conference was all about, O.J. met with my students and me when it was over. He was outgoing, friendly, and when I saw him on campus during the following months and years, we did the “high five” and said in unison “Fight On!” the USC football slogan.
Well, O.J. Simpson’s life took a decided downturn following the end of his football career and, later, his career as a movie and TV actor. Although he was acquitted in 1995 of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, he was subsequently found guilty in a civil trial and ordered to pay millions to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. But he was able to avoid prison time.
O.J.’s luck ran out in 2007, however, when he was arrested in Las Vegas following a botched attempt to retrieve some of his memorabilia from a hotel room at the point of a gun. He was found guilty and sentenced to 33 years in a Nevada state prison and spent nine years at the Lovelock Correctional Center before being released on parole last Sunday.
The Nevada parole authorities had announced several months earlier that O.J. was to be released in early October, and two weeks ago I drove out to the Lovelock prison to check it out and familiarize myself with its surroundings. I knew in advance that prison officials had forbade the press to interview Simpson while he was still in prison and awaiting release.
My drive from Fallon to Lovelock along the aptly-named Lovelock Highway took about an hour. I’ve always had a soft spot for Lovelock, the Pershing County seat. I made several friends there from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s when I owned the weekly Review-Miner, the only newspaper in the county. Following lunch, I headed to the Lovelock Correctional Center, about a 15-minute drive eastward along Interstate 80.
After passing a roadside sign that warned in bold letters, “PRISON AREA: Hitchhiking Prohibited,” I made a right turn at Exit 112, the Coal Canyon turnoff. From there, I continued to another aptly-named road, this time Prison Road, and soon came upon the prison.
Surrounded by several guard towers and high rows of barbed wire, this place is desolate, menacing and lonely. There are no trees ... only low-lying scrub and sand, lots of sand. Off in the distance are the Black Ridge Mountains of the Humboldt Range. To the north lies the highest peak, Buffalo Mountain, 8,206 feet. The old mining towns of Rochester and Unionville, which were established in the 1860s, also are to the north. The author Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the pen name of Mark Twain, lived in Unionville for several months during 1861, where he had a failed, short career as a gold miner.
David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News & Fallon Eagle-Standard. His column was awarded first-place honors during last week’s Nevada Press Association awards in the Best Local Column category.