02 July 2009

Penitentiary Life, Weeks 13 and 14

A two-in-one post, for no reason other than the past few weeks have been busy and hot. Between those two things, my energy level once I get home is just slightly more than that of a dead person ...

There have been more and more kids showing up at Eastern State, now that school is out for the summer, and there are a lot of children's camp groups visiting. Taking young kids on a tour poses its own challenges and revelations, as well as just being plain amusing most of the time.

My last two tour groups of kids left me - quite happily - with the impression that there are some parents/teachers/camp counselors/caregivers who value manners and good overall behavior. I am really glad that I've had these experiences, because it can be frustrating to think that "kids today" are ill-mannered and not interested in the world around them. (Plus, I start to feel like Grandpa Simpson, 'cause at least in my mind, I'm saying, "Well, back in my day," "When I was a kid ..." )

The first group of kids were pretty young, about 7 and 8 years old. They were part of a day camp for underprivileged children, and were very excited about visiting the penitentiary. There were at least 10 questions every time I asked if anyone had questions, and many comments at random times. Though they really did not have the attention span or interest in the detailed general history tour, they were really intrigued by the place, and the rules the prisoners had to follow.

The counselors kept them on a pretty tight leash, and it was clear that every single one of them, regardless of how "underprivileged" they might be, had learned very good manners. No one spoke without first raising their hands, and their questions were related to topics being covered. One of my favorite things was when one of the boys asked me why Al Capone was "dressed up" in his mugshot. I explained that a lot of gangsters at the time dressed like they might be going to an office job so they wouldn't call attention to themselves. He responded with, "Well he's not like gangstas today. They got lotsa bling!" (No argument from me there ...)

But what was really the best thing was just how sweet they were. Yes, I'm sure they were on their good behavior, and I only spent about an hour and a half with them, but never before have I received so many hugs from the people on my tour. (Trust me, usually I really don't want hugs from people on my tour ...) And there were a couple of little girls who told me before they left that they "really wanted to learn more," and were going to try to go to the library for some books.

I really don't care if they immediately forgot the whole experience once they got back on the bus, I had a blast with them, and felt good for the rest of the day!

The second group were a bunch of middle-school aged children who were on a bus trip from Quebec. They arrived very early on a Saturday morning, but they were ready to go! The chaperones told them to pay close attention, because there would be no more French spoken until they go back on the bus at the end of their tour.

They were also well-behaved, and paid very close attention (either due to interest or needing to listen carefully to English). Shortly after we got started, it turned dark and started pouring. A couple of the girls complained, but really only to each other, and we carried on, getting wetter with each step. At one point, one of the girls said, "Could we just stay inside, please?" Before I had a chance to say anything, the girls she was with said, "No, we want to do the tour!" and that was pretty much the end of that.

A bit later, as we were inside, and they were all looking at something before we moved on, one of the boys in the class came up to me and said, "I don't know why they were so upset that it was raining. It's only water." (I might add that all of us were soaked through to the skin by this time.) I had to give him credit for his practical view of the whole thing ...

Then, completely unexpectedly, another girl came up to me and handed me the silk scarf she had around her neck (the French-Canadian students who visit seem to always be well- and fashionably dressed), and said "I would like you to have this, to dry your face and clean your glasses, since you have been taking us around in this terrible rain." It was such an unexpected thing, I didn't know what to do for a moment, but then I assured her that I had a handkerchief* in my pocket that would work, without ruining her scarf.

So yes, Virginia, good children do exist, maybe even in your own neighborhood. Here's hoping that the world around them won't dampen their outlook as they grow older.

*Pilfered from the husband's dresser drawer - I haven't seen a woman's handkerchief in years ...


Lynn said...

How nice to have such good experiences with kids. It doesn't always happen. I know, esp when I've chaperoned a few field trips myself.

Channon said...

Ah... There's something special about truly thoughtful children, isn't there?

Marie said...

I always enjoy your posts about the penitentiary. Thanks.
BTW, there was a show on the Travel Channel several days ago that included a piece on Eastern State. They talked about the ghost that supposedly haunted Al Capone and left when he did. They allowed as how that might also be connected to his having syphilis and the insanity from it emerging.

KSD said...

I can only guess that children are both the best, and the worst, tourists.

Carrie K said...

Aww, sweet. There are an awful lot of nice well behaving good hearted kids out there, glad to hear about a few more.

Men's hankies are better. They're a decent size, for one thing.