One of the fastest growing newspapers in the country contains only one feature: mug shots, thousands of them.
It's called The Slammer. Pages and pages of shame and humiliation are hot off the presses, and all the editors do is group the mug shots together in different sections. One is simply titled "Wanted," another "Hairdo's and Don'ts."
And the weekly tabloid doesn't discriminate. The Slammer shows every suspect's mug, no matter what the crime; whether a person was arrested for public intoxication or is a fugitive on the run, no suspect is spared.
Each week, more than 100,000 copies are delivered to convenience stores in 11 major cities in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Kansas and Texas. Loyal readers have been known to sometimes line up to get a first look at who was arrested the previous week in their city.
Price: $1. The tabloid is also subsidized by advertising.
Isaac Cornetti publishes The Slammer in Raleigh, N.C. and said he came up with the idea four years ago. In the beginning, he used his parents' minivan to deliver the first editions.
"My first job was, ironically, delivering newspapers," he said.
Now the former paper boy sits atop a growing media empire. When asked if he ever felt bad about what he is doing, Cornetti said, "I probably don't feel as bad as they do when they when they wake up and sober up the next morning," referring to the faces in the Slammer's pages.
Being in The Slammer can bring a measure of fame. In fact, officers at the local county jail have started noticing that new inmates are requesting more than just a call to their lawyer.
"They will ask if [their mug shot is] going to be in The Slammer newspaper, they will ask us to try to prevent that from occurring," said Sam Pennica, director of Wake County's City County Bureau of Identification. "Others almost seem proud of the fact that it is going to be there, inquisitive 'Is it going to be there?' They seem to be happy that it's going to happen."
Along with mug shots, The Slammer occasionally will help with unsolved crimes, featuring pictures of missing persons and wanted fugitives. Recently readers helped bring home a missing girl in Arkansas and put an accused killer behind bars in Ohio.
Not surprising, The Slammer's toughest critics are those whose mug shots have graced the pages. Bryan Peterkin, 19, said the tabloid jinxed him -- he picked up a copy one week and the next week, he was in it.
"I read it one time, saw people I knew in there, and was like, 'Oh, man, that's crazy,'" Peterkin said. "Next thing you know, I'm the next person. I'm receiving calls like, 'Man, you were in The Slammer.'"
He said it was humiliating to know his family, friends and employer could see his mug shot in print, even though he wasn't convicted, just arrested.
This is the problem Raleigh defense attorney Karl Knudsen has raised with the tabloid. Knudsen called the paper "trashy" and "voyeuristic," and said it tramples on the rights of his clients, some of whom are eventually found not guilty.
"There is not a magazine called 'Freedom, Freedom: These People Were Found Not Guilty,'" he said. "So the problem is you get exposure just from an accusation and yet, it may just be that, just a false accusation."
However, Knudsen admitted, he does take out an ad in The Slammer from time to time to promote his services. One of his recent ads proudly proclaims, "If you're in The Slammer, you need him."
While The Slammer may cause heartburn for civil libertarians, there is little they can do to prevent the tabloid from printing the mug shots, which are considered public records in most jurisdictions.
Cornetti said his favorite mug shot was of actor Nick Nolte, but The Slammer's best-selling issue featured hometown Sen. John Edwards' trademark grin on the front page. Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas), Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), and Congressman Jim Traficant (D-Ohio) have also had their mug shots snapped.
"I think politicians have definitely figured out how to take a good mug shot," Cornetti said.
While critics claim The Slammer does little more than exploit people at their worst possible moment, humiliating others for sport, Cornetti disagreed and said his paper doesn't single out any one person.
"Obviously people aren't going into The Slammer for singing too loudly in church. People's actions have consequences," he said. "Stop using drugs, slow down, stop drinking and driving, stop writing bad checks, keep your hands off other people, behave, it's really not that difficult to stay out of jail."