This is a story about a way of life put on trial. Jeffory Young was a beloved farmer and major landowner in scenic Short Mountain, Tennessee, a place about 90 minutes southeast of Nashville that’s long been a magnet for interesting people.
But when police charged Young in a major marijuana distribution operation in 2006, they were able to seize much of his coveted property and send him to prison for more than a decade.
Yet Young never became a local pariah — instead, his community rallied to his defense and wrote impassioned letters to the judge seeking leniency. A retired Air Force master sergeant, for example, called Young, “without a doubt, the best kind of neighbor any person could have … with a big heart … who could be a friend to anyone.”
Ultimately, some locals helped work through a seldom-used law to make sure that Young’s land was conserved as a wildlife area, and not sold off to be developed — a rare move nationwide, and by far the largest such seized land deal in Tennessee.
That effort has since yielded great leaps forward in documenting rare species of crayfish and salamanders, and defending the quality of natural spring water that bubbles up on the mountain and flows down to surrounding communities (see video feature by Wild Side TV).
Now the 60-year-old Young has returned home from prison, and he is finding that the people and the land that shaped him are now providing what he needs to get his life going again. His is an unusual story of re-entering a rural society after prison, as most everyone he encounters wants to help.
Young obviously broke the law, but there’s long been a dissonance between how he and his neighbors view what he did and how heavily the authorities came down on him.
Nashville reporter Tony Gonzalez has been following this tale for several years, and he and Young recently spent a day hiking on Short Mountain, about a month after Young’s return home from federal custody. They trekked alongside several state experts and wildlife enthusiasts who, to the surprise of some, have found a natural bond with Young — despite being the new keepers of nearly a thousand acres that Young had held so dear.
Listen to the full story by pressing ‘play’ above.
The shows editors are Mack Linebaugh and Anita Bugg. Music in this episode by Podington Bear, Doctor Turtle, Cud Eastbound, and Jason Goforth. Special thanks to WSMV for providing archival news clips.