17 June 2009

Penitentiary Life, Week 12

"Don't you get scared, working here?"

I get this question from visitors to Eastern State at least four or five times a week. And the short answer is no, I don't get scared. Which is saying quite a lot, as I am at heart a true chicken.

Last week, I got this question from an elderly woman, who was with her daughter and her grandson (I know this for certain because she told me ... in great detail). When I gave her my usual answer, she asked me why, and I said it was because I felt like I knew my way around well enough that I wouldn't be likely to get lost. And that's true, a lot of the time when something scares me, it's because I am not familiar with it at all, and if it's a place, I don't like the idea of not knowing exactly where I am. Anyway, she mentioned that she thought it was a scary place, and though she was enjoying touring with her family, she would never, ever want to come back.

When she told me that, it made me think about some of the people who have come to visit, and seemed to be really hesitant upon arrival. They often turn out to be the most enthusiastic about the place when they are leaving, saying that they will have to come back, bring their friends, etc.

I then remembered a trip about 20 years ago, to San Francisco. As one of our day excursions, we visited Alcatraz. I really enjoyed it, and found the whole place to be eerily fascinating, but I do recall being relieved when we got on the boat to head back to the city. The idea of an abandoned prison was interesting to me as far as the historical aspects of the place, and from having read about it and seen movies like "The Birdman of Alcatraz." But I was creeped out, thinking of the people who had probably lived in those cells, and what they had done to end up there. I was shocked to learn that there was a school there, for the children of people who worked there as guards, cooks, etc.

So now, here I am, a tour guide at an abandoned, historic prison. I have met some of the individuals, and/or members of their families, who either worked at Eastern State, or were incarcerated there while it was an active prison. For those people, it was where they worked, or where they lived with their families (for a while, the warden and his family lived on site), or where they spent a lot of years serving their sentences. They tell their stories just like the rest of us do, when we talk about family vacations, moving and going to a new school, or getting a new job.

Did I ever imagine myself in this type of place, talking about prison life and inmate activities as part of my job? Nope. But as a result, I have learned that the world can be even more interesting when you aren't scared.*

*(Now, if only I weren't still scared of the other 10,000 things that worry me ...)

12 comments:

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

I could see being scared if there were still prisoners creeping about....

More sad, really, that some people's lives and choices are so screwed up. Last week in Elkhart, Indiana an Ophthalmologist shot himself and his wife (his office assistant) rather than face going to prison for medicare fraud, wire fraud, etc. etc.

Then you have people like Bernie Madoff who it doesn't bother a bit.

Carol said...

Maybe they mean "are you scared of the rats?" Because the rats would scare me.

I have to say, Bridget, you are a really great writer, and I love reading your insights and observations about the Pen.

p.s. Have you thought about knitting yourself an orange jumpsuit?

Channon said...

As the freaky kid who begged to go tour the old, rock jail in my hometown, I think anything historic is fascinating. Adding the "living history" element would be touchy. Would it creep me out, or add another layer to it all?

Lisa said...

I don't think I'd visit Alcatraz because it's in the middle of water and I want to leave places when I want to leave--don't want to wait on transport. But I believe both to be haunted.

ESP rocks at Hallowe'en and is well worth every penny.

Boo!

Lisa said...

This, too. Bernie Madoff should have his nether regions invaded by fire ants.

Carry on...

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with being scared, as long as it doesn't stop you from doing things.

Carrie K said...

Argh. Anonymous=me.

KSD said...

So, are there any jobs available with those other 10,000 things?

Lorraine said...

Bridget- Things like that don't scare me either, in fact, I find them fascinating.

Whether I'd like to be there alone, overnight, would be another matter entirely.

Bookfool said...

Nice conclusion.

mary said...

How does that saying go...

Courage is just fear hanging on a few seconds longer.

Something like that.

Marji said...

I went to a photography show at a local gallery and it was MY kind of show -- old, abandoned buildings, barns, even a roller coaster apparently in the middle of the woods (which I bought). I came around the corner and laughed out loud because there were shots of Eastern State. I immediately thought of you and it made what you do seem so much more real!

Apparently, this woman was NOT an artist because she didn't complain about the cat sculpture installation. hehe