Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hump Day

So, I haven't "written" anything in a very long time. I've actually had a pretty good week so far.

It should be noted that I spent the entirety of last week trapped inside my house with one sick child and one child itching to get out. Oh, and my brain. I was trapped inside my house with that, too. It wasn't very much fun.

But on Monday, I went back to work and had completely forgotten that I had agreed to chaperon a fieldtrip to a prison! Aside from the hassle of getting together subplans and rearranging meetings, I was pretty excited. I mean, I might have felt like a prisoner last week, but I was about to meet real detainees, and the prospect thrilled me. So, on the bus we went. Fortunately, a coworker who had chaperoned the trip the previous year informed me that the prison would not be feeding us so I wolfed down a Dunkin' Donuts triple chocolate muffin and a coconut coffee (cream, one sugar) before we left. (Seriously, wouldn't you think they would have a culinary arts program inside a prison?! What are these people supposed to do upon their release?) The bus ride was the typical noisy riot, but upon arriving at the prison, and the entrance of one of the guards, Mr. Santiago, the 43 students (all of whom are 17 or 18) became entirely mute. He was a hardass; he told us we would be yelled at (teachers included) and to just get used to it because that's the way things are done in (fuckmeintheass) prisons. So, off the bus we went. I was (appointed) first to lead the charge and I was so nervous that, sure enough, I got yelled at by the security officer, whose job it was to scan our coats and metal detect us. I had forgotten to take off my dangly earrings. "For Christ's sake!" he yelled. "I know he just told you to take those off on the bus! Don't you people listen?!" My students thought this was very funny -- until it was their turn, and the confiscated cell phones, studded belts and hair scrunchies all went into the bin marked "retards from ** High School." Yeah, who's laughing now?! Assholes.
We were then taken into a confined area, told about the bulletproof glass, the weaponry onhand should all hell break loose, and the thickness of the walls. They were nervous. I had calmed down considerably since Major ----- (a 6'3" 62 year old man of steel, but also a hardass) told the other chaperon and I to take it easy and consider it a personal day -- the kids wouldn't be giving us any trouble today. So we went into yet another confined area (the prisoners' visiting room), were shown flashcards of all the canines (some of whom apparently only speak Dutch or German), and were allowed to ask questions, which, not surprisingly, all of us were too afraid to ask until we got yelled at about that, too. So the questions came and then, suddenly, we were divided into two groups. While one group sat through more forced reversed questioning, the other (mine) was taken into the cell block. On the way, we had to pass between buildings well guarded by the Dutch and German speaking dogs and their handlers. They barked incessantly. One looked like Satan's own hound. According to the flashcard, that was Argos. That cracked me up.

We went up into a "tower" that was made completely of bullet-proof, mirrored glass. We looked at the prisoners. It was like being in a zoo. Although we were assured they could not see us, we were later told by the prisoners who would speak to us that they knew we were there because they could hear us. I was mesmerized. There were puny guys, big guys, white guys, Hispanic guys, old guys, black guys, braided guys, glasses-wearing guys, middle-aged guys, kids, and lonely guys. There were two televisions on in the "common area." One had on a Hispanic channel, the other the Discovery channel. (On Sundays, the third TV has sports apparently; a risk, as it can cause fights.) They seemed bored. Some would wander in and out of their cells or chat with the guards, while others lounged in the Naugahyde chairs. Those in orange were awaiting trial; the tan-clad were serving time. Their shoes were exceedingly white. We were then taken back to the visitor area while group two went into the "hold." As we waited, the guard in charge of us confessed that he thought Major --- was a hardass, that his approach was more mild. We tried to ask questions, but in the face of his pussiness, we didn't really feel the pressure to do so. Say what you want about hardasses; they get what they want.
Finally, the "prisoners" (OMG!!!) came in to scare our suburban teens "straight." I have to say, it worked -- on them and "us" (the two thirtysomething chaperones). Here it is, two days later, and I still can't stop thinking about them. Do you know what? It turns out you can make just one bad decision and you can land your ass in prison. Fuck. And do you know what else? If you go to prison, your mommy is the only one who will go visit you (if she's still alive, that is, because you haven't killed her by putting your sorry self in prison). No shit. All five of them confirmed it.

They spoke to us for over two hours, sharing the darkest and most intimate moments of their lives as we looked upon them in horror. Apparently this was some sort of privilege for them. I just felt bad -- for them, because their lives seemed irretrieveable fucked up; and for us, almost out of shame (even though this is, by far, the best learning experience our students have on any field trip in their young lives -- and that includes Plimoth Plantation). Our stomachs rumbled (and then convulsed when they sent around the lunch tray to show us what a prisoner gets to eat every day -- two slices of slimey bologna (the kind with chunks of peppercorn in them), four slices of bread, two cookies, a packet of mustard and an apple). As we sat and listened to them, I wondered what they were thinking of our gorgeous 18 year old female students, and when we shook their hands, I wondered how it felt for them to be able to touch a female (which they can't even do during visitor hours if anyone shows up to visit them). Did they want us to pat them on the back or maybe rub their triceps as we shook their hands? I found myself wanting to do that.

And then we left. That was it. They went back to their cells, we got on the bus and went to Burger King. Then it was back on the bus. We belched our self-satisfied Dr. Pepper indigestion all the way home to our safe little suburb by-the-sea.

Yeah, it's been a good week so far. At least I'm not in prison. Yet.


Beverly Hamilton Wenham said...

Ok. First i always thought Plimoth Plantation was very prison like. That being said, Yikes! The only thing worse then being in prison I think would be being in prison with an imagination. I know I say this too much but I love the way you write. It's like a perfect curve ball that leaves you asking,"how'd she do that?' Plus of course yours is spelled right.
I hate you.

Eva said...

I love Bev's comment... And that story... wow! I'm still amazed that they let you talk to the prisoners... I'm not surprised that the kids were silent and those guards seemed to be meaner than the prisoners themselves... I need to get out more...

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun trip! I've actually never been to a prison. Me, I had my pastor to scare me straight.

Ana said...

Thanks guys! I didn't think this was very good but at this point I'm just happy that someone out there is still reading and hasn't utterly lost faith in me!

Brandon! Help! I can't link to your site through your name anymore!

Gorilla Bananas said...

This is very interesting. Do you live in Texas?

Ana said...

GB: LOL, no, but I imagine there's a prison-a-year educational program in place there.

Thanks for visiting!