21 May 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 8

When last I regaled you with any tales of my life as a tour guide at Eastern State Penitentiary, you met "Donald," aka Boy o' Questions. Well, last week there were no Donalds (at least not on any of my tours), which I will admit was a relief.

However, this past Sunday was Alumni Reunion Day, when former guards and inmates return with friends and family for a barbecue followed by a Q&A session open to the public. I was really curious to see how this worked. I guess I have watched too many old prison movies, where guards and inmates are at each others' throats just because they are. It's not that I really thought anything awful would happen, I just wanted to see what the interactions would be like. They were quite what you would expect from any group of people who used to be together all of the time, and then went their separate ways. It was a sense of overall friendliness, and what sounded like good-natured ribbing.

Of course, I realized later that a) many inmates could not attend even if they wanted to, since they are still in prison someplace else, and b) that if you were a person with a true grudge, you would be unlikely to attend the reunion. (I know - duh!)

However, it did mean that I had conversations with visitors that I never really expected to have with anyone during my lifetime, once I'd stopped to think about it.

For instance, one of the attendees stopped me to ask a question. He had what appeared to be his family with him, including some very young children. He wanted to know where the exhibit case that had the confiscated shivs was located, because he couldn't find it where it was the last time he was there for Alumni Reunion. I told him that a visitor had broken into it a couple of years ago, and stole a couple, so now those were kept in the prison archives. He wanted to know if he could see them, and I said he should ask the archivist, who was on site for the day. To which he responded, "Well, I sure hope we can see them, I wanted to show my family. Especially my grandchildren here - because I made a lot of those!"

Another guy stopped me to tell me which guard tower used to be his station. I mentioned that my supervisor, who has been everyplace else on site, had never been able to get into that guard tower, because no one can get the door to open. At which point, he gave me detailed instructions on using a blowtorch and a crowbar to open "any rusted door" I might come across. He even made me repeat them back to him to be sure I understood!

I figure it's always good to learn new things. And now if the need arises, I know who to call when I need a shiv that is well-made, and how to handle myself if I ever get trapped in a room with a rusted door - provided of course, I'm carrying my blowtorch and crowbar ...

11 comments:

sprite said...

That's awesome! I definitely want to be on your team if it comes down to a blogger's version of Survivor!

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

NOOOOOOOOO WAYYYYYY. I am floored. That is truly amongst the strangest things I've ever heard. I can't believe the prior inmates would dream of coming back to this place ~ for all of the obvious reasons. Really amazing.

Lisa said...

Good Mary, it's like being at PHS all over again--except breaking into the archives usually only required a paper clip and a Twix.

Carrie K said...

It's good to do good work. Seriously, he wanted to show his shivs to his grandkids? That's hilarious.

Jasmine said...

Life is stranger than fiction...I have been away from the blogosphere for a bit how did you come to be a prison tour guard?

Quilting Mama said...

I'm sure the archivist was thrilled to show off the work of granddad's hands. Wonder if he's trainning the next generation.

Bridget & the blow torch - I see lifetime movie in the mix.

Lorraine said...

Bridget- Which is why you have to have an open mind, and you can learn alot from different people.

I would imagine that alot of the inmates would not want to come back.

Channon said...

Whoda' thunkit? But neat that some inmates do come back, and that the guards are willing to share a fun day of reconnecting and remembrance with them.

KSD said...

This is all oddly charming!

I expect your crowbar/blowtorch bag to be on the needles any day. . .

Brigitte said...

Not quite Shawshank Redemption then. I have to say, I was surprised they'd actually have a BBQ for former guards and inmates...surprised in a, well, now I've heard it all kind of way!

april said...

MCGUYVER!!!...that is all