Countless mug shots are snapped every day, but few of them ever leave the hands of Johnny Law. Action news teams beam out a select bunch: the sensational, those tied to newsworthy stories — and, in the case of this respected news source, the really godawfully strange-looking ones.
The rest languish unseen, the public records that never go public.
But then along came 216 Hard Times, a local entry in the burgeoning "arrest magazine" market. You may have noticed the rag — usually around 20 pages or so, published every other week, packed front to back with hundreds of mug shots and little else — popping up in convenience stores and gas stations for the bargain price of $1.
216 Hard Times, and its parent company Hard Times Press, is the brainchild of Jason Trosky, a 37-year-old former cellular employee who ditched the travel and long hours of his job to curate mug shots for a living. His empire started with a Youngstown version, which moves about 15,000 copies a week, he says. But insatiable demand for a compendium of local criminals soon made expansion inevitable. The Cleveland edition hit shelves late last year.
Why a mug shot magazine? Community service, of course.
"Our intention is to help," says Trosky, who lives near Boardman. "There are criminals in every community. With the information age and technology the way it is, hiding and committing crimes ... those days are over. If you choose that lifestyle, you're going to be recognized for that lifestyle. You have to know who the bad guys are."
Trosky collects mugs with help from the sheriff's department. The process, as with anything involving public records and Cuyahoga County government, was arduous from the start. Initially, the department had no system for compiling the info in a simple report, says sheriff's spokesman John O'Brien. Each mug, name, and charge had to be pulled up individually. The task required the effort of a full-time worker.
Thankfully, with nickels, dimes, and a roll of twine, the county IT department put together a program that significantly lowered the necessary manpower to supply the nation's few mug mags with their butter.
Public reaction to Trosky's homegrown America's Most Wanted has been oddly enthusiastic. Hard Times Press' Facebook wall is littered with notes from readers who were either featured themselves or know someone who was. Many display a strange sense of pride, or at least the same brand of unhinged craving for attention that leads people to audition for reality shows.
"I would like to see my boyfriends picture in the 216 edition of April 14, 2011," reads one grammatically challenged post.
"My boyfriend wants his mug shot," says another.
Of course, not everyone is thrilled to make the rogues' gallery. Trosky fields up to 30 complaints every day.
"I get it. But for every one person that doesn't belong in there, there are ten people that do," he says. "Everybody has a story. Some of these guys say they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but what were you doing there? I have a hard time believing everyone in there's innocent."