10/22/09: From the ferry

Posted: October 22, 2009 in from the ferry
Tags: , , ,

My commute to and from the prison includes a twenty minute ferry crossing plus however long I get to sit in line to wait to board. It’s a good time to reflect on the night at Monroe, to record first impressions and document those moments that are resonating with me the most before I have a chance to filter them or make them academic. I’ll post these thoughts from the ferry each time I go to Monroe.

I have a dark sense of humor. I always have. It has something to do with growing up with a doctor for a father, I think (we blame our parents for everything, right–so why not this as well?). Our dinner time conversations were often not like my friends’ dinner conversations. Early on I learned that human beings and their bodies are darkly humorous. At least you have to find a way laugh, otherwise it is often all just so terribly tragic. Sometimes my “darkness” surprises those who generally see me as an accommodating, motivating person.

But at the prison tonight, I discovered there is a dark sense of humor that even tops mine.

We had a great group. Everyone did their homework. Everyone is starting to flush out solid stories to work on. Everyone took notes when we started to teach a bit on opening scenes (as a teacher, I’m learning, there’s nothing I love more than watching a student write down something I’ve said–narcissistic? Perhaps. But it’s reassuring to think that I might have actually said something worth noting on paper.) At the end of our time I walked the hall back toward the front desk with Gloria and thought about how I’m settling into this new setting, these new guys.

And then, while waiting for the guys to finish movement (movement = the ten minutes the inmates have to move from programs back to their cells or units) so we could “safely” cross the yard and exit the prison, I saw it. A chalkboard hanging on the wall, which said: Welcome to WSR. Since we meet in the building where many volunteer programs are hosted I figured this “welcome” was meant for us volunteers, and I thought, well that’s nice. But then, in the corner of the board, written in relatively pretty, girly cursive, I saw the subheading: Come for a year, stay for a lifetime.

That’s not funny. Is it? I didn’t laugh. And I laughed when the kid in the backseat of the car in Pulp Fiction was accidentally shot by John Travolta (don’t judge me too harshly). All the way home I tried to find the humor in it, the dark, dark humor that I typically enjoy. Tried to imagine the custody officers and the inmates sharing a joke with one another about the reality of the situation. Tried to tell myself that it is always in the darkest of places that people must search the hardest to find a reason to laugh. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t laugh about the several men in our group who only refer to the length of time they’ve served as “I’ve been here a long time”. I couldn’t laugh about the man who said, “All my life I’ve been defined by my skin color or this place (prison).” I couldn’t laugh about the young kids who came in at eighteen and have known no other adult life then the one they have lived behind bars.

It’s not funny. A lifetime behind bars has no humor in it. And it surprised even me that I couldn’t get or take the joke.

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