Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Prison Diaries - No Place for an Airhead

As you all know, yesterday was my day at the prison. It must have been an exhausting experience, both physically and emotionally, because I slept all the way home and most of the evening. It's just been since about 3 a.m. that I've been awake and functional. So I knitted for a while and thought about my post for today.

One of the types of shows I love to watch are prison shows - you know, the ones on Discovery, A&E, MSNBC, etc. I think I've seen every one made several times. My love for this type of thing came from my childhood. Grandpa was a cop - a high-ranking cop with the nickname "Iron Balls Miller". My mother used to take me to the substation on the nights he worked so I could be with him. I had the run of the department - sending teletypes to agencies across the country, sitting in with the men during roll call, peeking at the prisoners in the holding cells, etc. - and I absolutely loved riding in the cruiser. He always wanted me to be a cop, and to this day, I don't know why I didn't. Now I'm too old and fat to even consider such a thing, but I can live vicariously through the shows and my twice-monthly visits to Folsom.

One of the things I learned today is that you can't be complacent in a prison. It's a dangerous environment, a microcosm of the free world - all crammed into little cells smaller than most people's bathrooms. I knew all this, of course, but even walking across the yard, I had no fear. I still don't have any fear, but now I have a healthy respect for what goes on inside.

I met the chaplain at the main gate and walked inside with him. We didn't have a cart, so we had to hike the entire way to the cellblock (which is a considerable walk). As we were walking, he mentioned to me that on Friday, there was a riot, which caused Block B to be on lockdown. Part of Block C was also on lockdown (that's the one I go to), but the men I work with weren't affected. Even those statements didn't really sink in. It wasn't until I left the building and walked onto the yard that I sensed something different.

First of all, there were very few men out there. Usually, the yard is crammed full of people. It was also quiet - way too quiet for a prison. We got to the chapel where my classes are held, and the chaplain called the towers to have the men report for class. Since it was a holiday, nobody was sure if I would show up. The guys showed up pretty quickly, and I was chatting with one of them in the office when he told me that there had been a war between two groups. I also found out that some of the men in my class wouldn't be attending anymore. I didn't ask questions. I just thanked him for telling me and continued chatting.

It was sinking in. I was in a Level 4, maximum security prison with very dangerous men who had nothing to lose.

Fortunately, I trust the men in my group. I know that they have sort of adopted me and look out for my welfare. They will be escorting me across the yard when I get my brown card and no longer need an escort. If you talked to any of these guys, you wouldn't give it a second thought. I've been treated like a lady at all times. I get the prison handshake and hug from them now. They're opening up. They're serious about their class and their spiritual path. I feel that I've been led to work with them. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

But I also realize now that I need to keep my eyes open and not be such a bumbling idiot as I bounce across the yard completely oblivious to what's going on around me. Everything could change in the blink of an eye. It's a comfort to know that five gun towers have their M-16's trained on me as I'm walking - not to shoot me, but to protect me. These gunners are sharpshooters who could probably shoot a mosquito off my jiggling ass from 500 yards away in a tall tower. However, I don't care to be involved in a war, a riot, or a hostage situation. It sounds strange, doesn't it? But it happens, and it happens all the time. I'm also a woman, and a lot of these guys haven't seen a woman out of uniform in a very long time. No wonder the prison has a hard time getting volunteers on a regular basis.

I've been invited to the Christmas program. Will I go? Absolutely. If I can, I'll sit with my boys. I guess they have outside entertainment come in like Johnny Cash did all those years ago. It sounds like fun. They have rodeos and all kinds of activities that the public can attend. It's a whole world unto itself. But as I said, it's a dangerous world. I'm responsible for myself and need to learn how to draw lines. My men respect me, but they know me and my limits. The other men in there don't, and inmates will push you to see how far they can get. I'm very conscious of the prison rules and adhere to them religiously. I don't want to have them take away my visits. I truly love going there. It's a really fulfilling thing to do, and unless you've done it, it's hard to explain why you would want to put yourself in that situation - not to mention driving four hours round trip and paying for a hotel to spend the night. I don't get reimbursed for anything, nor do I get a salary. The way I look at it, my salary will come later in some other way. I'd do it regardless.

I guess I'm in a reflective mood today. I'll get some sleep, follow Hubster to the body shop to drop off the truck for repair (sigh), and then knit all evening. I rarely get like this, but there it is. One really nice thing is that Hubster told me he was extremely proud of me for doing this, for sharing my gift with men who need something in their lives. That one comment made everything I've fought for right and good. It made me really happy.

On a more uplifting note, my pal's socks are finally going really well. They're looking killer, and I love the way the colors are wrapping themselves around the sock. I hope my pal feels the same way.

Hopefully, I'll have yarny goodness to show you tomorrow. I'm also going to work on the yarn review page tonight. It's been woefully neglected due to crap that's happened, but that's no excuse. I really need to get my act together and be a big, grown-up person who takes care of the things I'm responsible for.

I really don't have anything funny or witty to close this post with. So I guess I'll just say, "See you tomorrow.".

And watch your ass.

1 comment:

white oak studio said...

Hi Pam, I like your post today, it is reflective. You are courageous and you care, that's integrity in action. thanks for your prison work, Jana