*Adventures in prison bureaucracy, chapter…I’ve lost track

* Refers back to an entry I promised to say more about Monday night.

Getting in and out of the prison at all and the yard in particular is often a challenge and a hassle but has been streamlined lately. First, the lobby guard who somehow managed to have the metal detector go off when we passed through no matter how thoughtful our metal-less prep has retired. The volunteers from Hamilton’s hearts sank when we saw him behind the desk on our approach. Second, the second tier guards who made it a point to put me into the yard and in serious harm’s way before the van had arrived seem to have been reassigned. I’d long ago figured out that I could simply refuse to leave the building or the pre yard cage until the van was there, still, feels much better not to be urged to exit dangerously prematurely.

Over the last several years my meeting evenings have coincided with, on one night a week a pair of Mennonites, and on another a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both sects have interesting views about the relationship between religion and the state, and politics, and share a related view about the complete unimportance of all things worldly. But the Mennonites were as a rule taciturn with everyone they came in contact with at the prison, it seemed, whereas the Jehovah’s Witnesses are (or were) jovial and chatty and liked to give me a hard time about politics and even the study of philosophy — all in fun. They’re in the proselytizing game after all. But they took that mission too far; they’ve recently been barred from the school/religion program for having contacted inmates directly by US mail, something we all well know from orientation is verboten. The good thing for me is that I no longer have to wait for them to arrive before heading in or out of the school via van. But I am sorry for the men they met with regularly who counted on those gatherings.

Speaking of being kept out, I learned recently that they (the system?) had lost my fingerprint records. So I had my fingerprints redone early this morning with a crew of new(ish) people at a different factility.  I found it pretty unnerving to be in prison — not my prison, that is — to my surprise. But the fear was offset in a conversation with another instructor waiting to get processed who in passing mentioned that she had learned last week from the boys that… Wait, the boys? We are instructed to refer to the men in our groups as “offenders” (at the moment; it used to be “inmates”) and not to use their first names, or, for that matter, the title “Mr.” Most of us either use their first names, or Mr.; I don’t think any of the six or seven other instructors I know well has ever stuck to the solo last name practice. I draw the line at nicknames, which seriously, in prison you’d mostly really rather not know (early example that moved me to the policy: “Maldito”). But “the boys” was a new one for me. I confess that I found it charming. Why “confess”? Because it certainly borders on the sentimental. And I do my best not to sentimentalize this work. Among other things it’s insulting to the men.

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