Monday, July 6, 2009

Third Grade Jail Trip

Wyatt and I went to see Public Enemies on Sunday. It was okay. Has a lot of jailbreaks and so forth. At dinner we were talking about the movie, and he said he'd seen something on TV once about how prisoners can make weapons out of toothbrushes. "Oh yeah," I said. "They grind them to an edge on the floor to make it sharp. And you can melt them with a lighter too to get the edge started."

"How do you know so much about this?" He asked.

That's when I remembered how my third grade class toured the county jail on a field trip. Upon reflection, I surmised that maybe it was not an age-appropriate activity for us. It was downright fucked up. On the other hand, it was so freaky that it's the only field trip I remember in any detail.

Our elementary school classes took the trips everybody takes - To the History Museum in Greensboro, for example. All I remember about that is Dolly Madison's dress. All I remember about about Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill is that the seats were comfortable and it was rumored that B.S. kissed R.S. in the dark there. The jail trip was a whole 'nother memorable matter. The drawings of naked women on the wall of one of the big cells definitely made a big impression. It confused me, because if somebody wrote a swear word on the bathroom wall at school, there was always big fuss. The offending graffitti was removed immediately and there was a large scale interrogation conducted into Who Did It. Surely full frontal female nudity, poorly done at that, is worse. How come you get away with more in jail? I thought. And how come that wasn't cleaned up before we got here? Didn't they know company was coming? Along with the confusion, I felt uneasy about seeing nude women's body parts in the company of boys my age. It's rude to subject a guest to that, I thought. What kind of place is this?

There were some scruffy guys in their late teens and early twenties in the cell with the drawing. I compared them to other scary males I knew - the eighth graders who rode my bus. To me it seemed that once they hit middle school, guys must get more obnoxious and frightening with age until a certain point when they just get old and turn into Dads, and become too tired to be a problem anymore.

Roggie A. was ahead of me in line and right in front of the cell. He asked the fat uniformed man leading the tour if he could ask the prisoners questions. One of the prisoners said "Sure, we'll talk if you give us some peanuts." Then they all laughed, and it was like they were laughing at us, and it was unpleasant. But looking back on it, that was an appropriate comment to make. This was being presented like a trip to the zoo.

Then the cop took us downstairs to an office and talked while he showed us his framed collection of shivs. Modified toothbrushes, bedsprings, and similar items. It was basicly a lesson on how to make weapons out of everyday stuff. All they same, they didn't look very dangerous to me. And they were ugly, so it didn't make sense to me why they were framed in a box. And maybe I was a dumbass but I couldn't figure out why anybody would need weapons in jail.

On the way downstairs to the kitchen, the cop told us about the trustees in the jail, good prisoners who they could trust to have more freedom and do jobs. In the kitchen we saw a scrawny hippie mechanically take plates out of a sinkful of steaming, soapy water. He held them pinched between the thumb and forefinger of each of his raw red hands. Then he dipped them each a single time into rinse water before he put them in a drainer. He moved like he was handling bomb components and his watery blue eyes stared ahead blankly. He never looked at us. Clearly, there was something wrong with that guy. And he's one of the trusted ones? I thought. If I'd thought in profanity at that age it would have been more like What the Hell? Those clowns in the cage upstairs seemed more like normal people.

Yesterday I asked Mike if he remembered that field trip. He did, and he thought it was a lot of fun. Maybe he enjoyed looking at those breasts drawn on the wall. All I remembered getting out of it was a feeling of unease and wondering why we were there. Maybe it was discussed in class, but if so I don't remember it. I can't imagine that any third graders would be taking any trips like that these days without a lot of parents raising all grades of Hell.

1 comment:

Mike C. said...

It was cool, thinking back, bad people went to jail and I feel like we all had a sense of consequence for actions outside of the laws and social mores of society. On the flip side, it left a strong impression on any ideas on becoming a criminal that you better be really good at it because the reprecussions were much worse than getting the belt for a bad grade. I strongly believe that too many of today's children and adults have a sense of entitlement. We new if we were bad, we could end up in jail, which was a vile, terrible, horrible, shocking place compared to the safety of our small golden ruled, christian Mayberry sub-cosmos. It also was a good life lesson that there are bad people in the world that did not have your best intentions in mind, and if cutting a corner and taking an easier path meant hurting you in the process they would.

On an additionally totally cool note, I talked to Mom if she remembered the school's purpose in sending us to the Jail. She recollected that it was a version of Randolph County's Scared Straight Program. You will get a trip out of this but she remembered her own trip in the vivid detail that Rhonda did. She said she remembered how dirty it was, how one prisoner left an impression on her, he had long stringy hair and a beard and formed his hands into claws and made growling animal noises at them. Mom commented on how terrified she was and never wanted to do anything that would result in her having to ever go back.

Life has so many angles to it that we each look at through eyeglasses with different focuses, different maginifications and many varying shades of gray. But we had a strong sense of right and wrong and the thought of jail scared the hell out of me.