Friday, January 13, 2017

Joe Keith Bickett--The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia

Last evening despite the pouring down rain and high winds, me and about fifty other Kentuckians attended a standing room only book signing at Carmichael's by first time author and Kentucky native, Joe Keith Bickett. Mr. Bickett is somewhat of a hometown legend and hero and his book is a memoir entitled The Origins of the Cornbread Mafia: A Memoir of Sorts.

The gathering had the feeling of a large family reunion as most of the audience members were originally from the author's hometown in Marion County, Kentucky (located in central Kentucky southeast of Louisville.) Many of the audience members were very familiar with the author and I overheard several people proudly explaining their personal connections to both Marion County and the Cornbread Mafia. The event even brought out those who wouldn't normally attend a book signing as one woman told me she was 71 years-old and attending her first book signing. She said, "I do read, but I was just busy raising children my whole life." She added that if anyone in her family or from "back home" knew she was at a book signing they would laugh at her.

If you're not from Kentucky, you may not be familiar with the infamous Cornbread Mafia. They consisted of a large group of men who in the 1970's started a huge marijuana cultivation and distribution ring in Marion County. Mr. Bickett was reluctant to reveal the origins of the name of the group because he wrote about it in his book and wanted everyone to read the book, but I would bet one could Google it if curious.

Mr. Bickett was one of the originators of the so-called mafia and spent 21 years in prison for his criminal involvement in the group. During that 21 years he wrote snippets of his life story which eventually became this book. He read from a chapter that described a scene in which he and several other men were driving a convoy of three trucks moving marijuana plants from one farm to another to evade the law.

Mr. Bickett took questions from the audience including one about the legalization of marijuana. He unsurprisingly went on the record as being in favor of legalization, citing the large amount of money the state is missing out on by keeping the crop illegal. He added that he is not the only man who was sentenced to Draconian prison time for marijuana charges. Additionally Mr. Bickett briefly mentioned his good friend and past colleague, Johnny Boone, who was recently arrested in Canada where he had been hiding out for decades.

Mr. Bickett appeared to be a colorful character with an interesting past, and I have no doubt that his book is entertaining.

As an aside, there was another book written about the Cornbread Mafia by Kentucky native and journalist, James Higdon entitled The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate's Code of Silence and the Biggest Marijuana Bust in American History. This book provides a journalistic take on the history and legacy of the group.

You can follow Joe Keith Bickett on Twitter @JoeKeithBickett.