07 April 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 3

The "season" officially started last week at Eastern State Penitentiary, and I survived relatively unscathed. (So did the prison ... I think ...) My first official day working as a tour guide was last Tuesday, the last day of March. Except for the fact that I went to lunch half an hour before I was supposed to, it went just fine. And in my defense, the daily schedule is printed in a very confusing fashion, honest! As a matter of fact, the next day, one of the guides who was returning from last year said, "Can someone explain this to me? I forgot how hard it is to understand." I can't tell you how relieved I was to hear her say that.

Still, it was tres embarrassing to have made the mistake. However, I decided to let the whole thing amuse me and move on.

The biggest event of the week was the official opening and blessing of the restored synagogue and exhibit space. This was significant for two reasons: 1) it is believed to be the first synagogue located in a prison in the United States, and 2) it is the only part of the site that has actually been restored. (The remainder of the site is maintained as a "stabilized ruin.") The opening drew a lot of people, and the national and local media as well, so it was pretty exciting. Here is an article from the New York Times, and here is a clip of a local news station's report.

I also had my first official tour group to take through on a guided tour. It was a group from a New Jersey school for students with special needs. There were approximately sixteen of them, with varying levels of physical and mental disabilities. Before we got started, the teacher told me that she had really brought them for a tour for visual purposes, that they did not really have very long attention spans. So instead of the usual "text" I had in my head, I gave them highlights, and then pretty much let them just determine what I would talk about next. It all went very well, and they were really interested in the place. Which I have to say, if you are most interested in visual, gives you a pretty amazing experience.

Then there was the young boy (about 10-11 years old), who ran up to me while he and his family were touring. I could tell he was really excited.

Excited Kid: Is that Death Row? (pointing towards the building with the sign that said, "Death Row.")

Me: Yes.

EK: How many people died in there?

Me: No one was ever executed here, they used those cells for prisoners headed to execution at other prisons.

EK (somewhat disillusioned): Did anyone die there while they were waiting?

Me: No.

EK (practically deflated): Well ... did any guards accidentally shoot any of the prisoners on Death Row?

Me: No.

I felt like such a disappointment to the kid!

Then on Sunday afternoon, two boys who appeared to be about 15 years old came to the Gatehouse (entrance) while I was there, each one of them carrying a lizard. They told me that they were taking their bearded lizards out for "a UV walk," and thought they would visit the prison. I told them that they wouldn't be able to take their lizards with them, and they couldn't believe me. They had purposely brought them along, thinking that while they were taking the audio tour, the lizards could go in the cellblocks and eat some of the mice! Then at the end of the tour, they would collect their [well-fed?] pets and head home!

I am pretty sure they thought I was lying when I said they would have to come back another time and leave their lizards at home.

This proves that just when you think you have seen and heard just about everything, two teenagers show up with their pet lizards and throw you a curveball ...


Marie said...

You write such interesting stuff!

Lisa said...

Damn, I so would have paid good money to see lizards wandering the cell blocks.

Temple's CLA is hosting a tour I believe next Saturday (18th) and I hope that you're working that day because, well, I still have some affinity for my alma mater and think you'd amuse them more than any other guide. :) Tell them the lizard story!

MrPuffy said...

I'm enjoying getting a glimpse into this new vocation of yours. My mother always says that when you deal with the public you will never be bored.

Re your prior post ~ if you are finding this a challenge then it's a good thing you are doing it! I vote for the Darkside Cowl for what that's worth - LOL

Lorette said...

I think you should have let them sneak the lizards in. Just think what great photos that would be for your blog!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I feel like an "UNstabilized ruin."

Poor little boy. ???

The synagogue factoid is remarkable!

Lisa said...

Eggs are for fertility, rabbits are for shagging--Eddie Izzard

I love the bunny eggs picture!

Kathleen said...

Some docents don't realize that they need to tailor their tours to the needs and wishes of their group (my mom's a docent at the Art Institute of Chicago) - great job making the adjustment! I'm sure your special needs group got much more out of your tour than they would have with the "standard".