ORLANDO, Fla. – America loves a good mug shot. The more frizzed, frazzled and frantic, the better.
An Orlando entrepreneur has seized on that fascination, recently starting "JAIL," a weekly newspaper filled with nothing but the unflattering thumbnails. Page after page, with only a few ads in between.
"A mug shot is a couple notches below your driver's license picture," said Devin James, 41, dressed casually in sweat pants, sneakers and a ball cap. "And everyone takes a messed up driver's license picture."
Mug shots have gained popularity online thanks to sites like The Smoking Gun, which feature arrest photos of professional athletes, musicians and Hollywood A-, B- and C-listers — Nick Nolte, Glen Campbell and Mel Gibson, among them.
In JAIL, the stars are the readers' neighbors, charged with everything from drug possession to prostitution to murder.
Some mug shots beg for more detail, like the bare-chested man arrested and charged with burglary. Perhaps a shirt was one of the items he hoped to steal.
James carefully chooses the mug shots on the front page — issues with attractive women on the front move fastest.
"Sex sells," James said.
James said he got the idea nearly a decade ago after a three-month stint in the Orange County Jail after he says he got into a loud fight with a girlfriend and the police sided with her. He denies hitting her. He published two issues in 1999, but gave up when it didn't take off.
Using $600 he earned moving furniture, James launched again in December.
"The timing is right for this paper now," he said. "America is in the midst of a crime wave."
Before jail and JAIL, James' journalism experience consisted of reading the occasional magazine or newspaper.
"I was always bored with English and anything that had to do with that in school," James said.
James said he now distributes more than 8,000 newspapers weekly and struggles to keep stores stocked.
The papers are sold for $1 at about 175 mom-and-pop convenience stores throughout Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. James delivers them himself.
The merchants provide counter space in return for half the profits.
"We sell out of them each week," said Rafael Gil, manager of the Plaza Market in downtown Orlando. "I had to place the paper by the cash register because customers thought it was free and were walking out the door with it."
Thousands of arrests each week in the paper's three-county distribution area provide plenty of material, all obtained free from police and sheriff's departments.
Some of the pics are organized into sections of cold cases, convicted state prisoners, missing persons, sex offenders and impounded dogs and cats.
Sue Cravens, a bail agent in Sanford who advertises in JAIL, said the paper may have helped authorities capture some suspects, thinking of one in particular.
"I can't say the newspaper got [the suspect] caught," Cravens said. "But I can say his picture was shown one week and a few days later he was off the streets."
James said the secret to the paper's success is simple: "It's like that expression from a long time ago. A picture is worth a thousand words."
Sindy Lowe said she's seen several people she recognized in the paper — even members of her own family.
"Once I even saw my sister-in-law in there after she violated her probation," Lowe said. "I didn't even know she had been arrested.
"You need to know who your neighbors are," said Lowe, who also manages a gas station that sells JAIL. "Somebody might be living next to you and they may be a killer or a child predator."